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Current Affairs

English, News, 1 season, 509 episodes, 1 day, 3 hours, 38 minutes
A podcast of politics and culture, from the editors of Current Affairs magazine.
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The Authoritarian Nightmare Donald Trump Is Planning (w/ Radley Balko)

Get new episodes early at!Radley Balko is one of America's leading journalists on policing and criminal punishment. His book The Rise of the Warrior Cop is a remarkable expose of the militarization of local police forces around the country. Recently, Radley has produced several excellent essays on the authoritarian promises of Donald Trump and those in his circles.Radley's pieces compile frightening evidence of what a 2nd Trump presidency might look like. In "Lines in the Sand," he discusses some of the possibilities like invoking the Insurrection Act, arresting or deporting critical journalists, purging the civil service of anyone who opposes him, etc. In "Trump's deportation army" he looks specifically at immigration, and what it would actually involve to fulfill Trump's stated ambition of deporting all undocumented immigrants. Whether or not this nightmare will actually come true, it is what Trump is pledging, and we should take Radley's warnings very seriously indeed. The scale of this threat is one reason why we at Current Affairs insist that no leftist could want a Trump presidency, and Trump should be taken seriously when he vows to build vast new deportation camps.Radley has also recently produced a valuable three-part series (I, II, III) that responds to those on the right who excuse the killing of George Floyd."How we react to what Trump and Miller are promising will speak volumes about who we are and how we see ourselves. Will we see the kids — the kids they want to pry from the arms of parents and stash in an abandoned warehouse or crumbling shopping mall under armed guard — as our own kids, or as someone else’s? When they rouse parents and grandparents from their homes at gunpoint, herd them onto military planes, fly them to the border, then pen them behind barbed wire, outdoors, in 110-degree heat, will we see that as an assault on our own parents, grandparents, and ancestors, or as someone else’s problem? We can’t allow these things to happen, then later pretend we didn’t know. Because they’ve told us. There are no surprises here." — Radley Balko
7/24/202436 minutes, 51 seconds
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What Americans Don't Know About Iran (w/ John Ghazvinian)

Get new episodes early at!John Ghazvinian is the leading historian of U.S.-Iranian relations, the author of the indispensable study America and Iran: A History, 1720 to the Present. His book shows how opportunities for positive relations between the U.S. and the Iranian people have been repeatedly squandered. From installing and propping up one of the world's most abusive dictators (the Shah) to ignoring overtures from Iranian leaders interested in reducing tensions, the opportunity to be a partner rather than an adversary to Iran has been overlooked. Unfortunately, hostility is met with hostility, and Ghazvinian does not know whether the U.S. and Iran can pull themselves out of the downward spiral of relations. Ghazvinian does not defend the current Iranian regime, and is fair in criticizing Iranian failures as well as those of the U.S., but his book presents Americans with crucial facts about their government's policies (from U.S. support for Saddam Hussein's chemical attacks on Iran to the rebuffing of Iranian attempts to cooperate) that should unsettle anyone who sees Iran simplistically as an irrational rogue state, or part of an "axis of evil."“This myopic understanding of Iran carries over into the foreign policy arena as well. Today, every time Iran refuses to be dictated to, or attempts to protect its national interests, a chorus of U.S. congressmen, media pundits, and ideological opponents of the Islamic Republic portray it as “defiant.” Every time Iran shows flexibility or a willingness to compromise, it is accused of “stalling tactics” or “trying to divide the international community.” And anyone who tries to point out that Iran might have legitimate security concerns, or that it is behaving as a rational state actor, is smeared as an “apologist” for the Islamic Republic and is excluded from a say in decision-making. This points to a larger problem: the United States in recent years has painted itself into a corner in which the only acceptable response from Iran, ever, is complete and unconditional capitulation." - John Ghazvinian, America and Iran
7/22/202442 minutes, 35 seconds
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Is It 1968 All Over Again? (w/ Charles Kaiser)

Get new episodes early at !With antiwar protests jeopardizing a Democratic president's reelection and an upcoming party convention in Chicago, 2024 has some eerie echoes of one of the world's most tumultuous years: 1968. Perhaps by revisiting that year we can better understand our own time. To see what lessons it holds, we turn today to Charles Kaiser, the author of the book 1968 in America: Music, Politics, Chaos, Counterculture, and the Shaping of a Generation. Charles reminds us why the year 1968 went down in history, and we reflect on the legacy of the activists of that generation.Charles Kaiser's latest Guardian piece is here. Listeners may also enjoy Nathan's article "Life in Revolutionary Times: Lessons From the 1960s."“We did experience hope in 1968: hope and ambition and amazing joy. But to millions of us, Bobby Kennedy's assassination felt like the resounding chord that ended Sgt. Pepper's: a note of stunning finality. For me, at least, I hope the memory of that trauma and all the others of 1968 will now begin to fade away, so that our dream to make a better world may once again become vivid.” - Charles Kaiser, 1968 in America
7/19/202432 minutes, 5 seconds
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The Toxic Legacy of Martin Peretz’s New Republic (w/ Jeet Heer)

Get new episodes early at !Jeet Heer has written two major essays about the intellectual legacy of the New Republic magazine’s 70s-2000s heyday. The first, from 2015, excavates the magazine’s history of racism and its role in Clinton-era “welfare reform” and in pushing Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein’s The Bell Curve into public consciousness. The second piece, published recently, looks more broadly at the career of New Republic owner Martin Peretz: his racism, his hawkish foreign policy, and his role in creating the conservative “New Democrats” of the 1990s, who abandoned FDR-era liberalism.Jeet joins us today to tell us more about why this magazine once mattered, and the enormous effect that such a small publication and a single man have had on the politics of our time."[Peretz's New Republic] promoted many of the worst decisions in modern American history: the killing fields in 1980 Central America, the invasion of Iraq, the downgrading of diplomacy and preference to military solutions in foreign policy, the neoliberal economics that have fueled inequality and instability, the brutalization of the Palestinians, the revival of scientific racism, and the persistent whittling down of the welfare state." - Jeet Heer
7/17/202440 minutes, 57 seconds
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Jonathan Kozol on the Scandal of America's Apartheid Education System

Get new episodes early at !Jonathan Kozol is one of the leading critics of the U.S. education system, having written a series of widely acclaimed books across a 60-year career, including Savage Inequalities, The Shame of the Nation, and Letters to a Young Teacher. Today he joins to discuss his new book An End to Inequality: Breaking Down the Walls of Apartheid Education in America, which sums up his argument about what is wrong with the public schools and what we can do about it.
7/15/202435 minutes
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How Corporations Suck the Welfare State Dry (w/ Anne Kim)

Get new episodes early at!Anne Kim's book Poverty For Profit: How Corporations Get Rich Off America's Poor gives a partial answer to an enduring question: how come we spend so much trying to solve poverty but poverty persists? One major reason, Kim argues, is that parasitic for-profit industries suck a lot of the money out of antipoverty programs. The privatization of government functions has meant that plenty of money that should be going to the least well-off ends up padding the pockets of the already wealthy. Kim's book helps us understand why, for example, cities can spend so much trying to combat homelessness and not seem to actually do much to alleviate it. Kim shows us how our tax dollars get siphoned away, and lays out a blueprint for how we might use government far more effectively, if we abandon the mindset that privatization means "efficiency.""The infrastructure of poverty is big business. And as such, it is a major component of the systemic barriers low-income Americans face. No systemic understanding of poverty can be complete without a hard look at the businesses that profit from—and perpetuate—the structural disadvantages that hold back so many Americans... Self-serving private interests have hijacked the war on poverty. Failures in governance and public policy have enabled predatory industries to thrive at the expense of low-income Americans and of taxpayer dollars." -Anne Kim, Poverty For Profit
7/12/202433 minutes, 16 seconds
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Why Thomas Sowell is a Terrible Economist (w/ Cahal Moran)

Get new episodes early at!Thomas Sowell may be the best-selling economics writer of our time. For decades, the Hoover Institution pundit has published books and columns introducing economic concepts to a popular audience. He has been acclaimed as a genius and maverick whose insights are ignored by the academy because they discomfort progressives.But Dr. Cahal Moran, who runs the YouTube channel Unlearning Economics, argues that Sowell's free market talking points are shallow and mistaken. Cahal recently published the first of a two-part video debunking Sowell and introducing alternative ways of thinking about economics. Since Nathan has published his own long takedown of Sowell, we thought a conversation between the two of them might be illuminating and passionate.Cahal's co-authored book The Econocracy is here. A review in the Guardian is here. His Current Affairs article "The Death of Econ 101" is here. Our episode with Jonathan Aldred, a fellow critic of "Econ 101," may also be of interest.
7/10/202454 minutes, 45 seconds
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Why Do We Have a "Viral Underclass"? (w/ Steven Thrasher)

Get new episodes early at!Steven Thrasher is a professor of journalism at Northwestern University and the author of The Viral Underclass: The Human Toll When Inequality and Disease Collide. He has also recently been present at the Columbia protests over Gaza. He joins today to discuss what he saw at the protests, before moving on to discuss his concept of the "viral underclass," tracing how inequality and disease interact, from the AIDS crisis to COVID-19. An excerpt from this interview was played in our recent audio documentary on the Gaza protests. Prof. Thrasher's LitHub essay on the protests is here.“Viruses challenge the concept that any one of us “has” one body. As they move freely between the lungs, bloodstream, and genitals of one of us to another, they show how we is a more relevant concept than you or me...The most fundamental, largely unexamined premise we have in the United States is the belief that I am me and you are you and that each of us is the master of our own hero’s journey. What if viruses teach us that there is no “me” and no “you” at all and that we all share one collective body? And that such individualistic thinking creates not only an underclass, but alienation across lines of class?” - Steven Thrasher, The Viral Underclass
7/9/202441 minutes, 12 seconds
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Is Trump an "Aberration" Or the Logical Conclusion of the Right-Wing Project? (w/ David Austin Walsh)

Get new episodes early at !Today we talk to David Austin Walsh, a postdoc at Yale and the author of Taking America Back: The Conservative Movement and the Far Right, a new book about the history of the U.S. right wing. Walsh is particularly interest in what the boundaries are (if any) between "mainstream" conservatism and the "far right." He goes back to the time of William F. Buckley and talks about the relationship between fascist sympathizing reactionaries and the "respectable" right, and how that relationship evolved over time. He joins today to help us better understand how to think about terms like "right," "far right," and "conservative."A Current Affairs article about Buckley, including his King speech, can be read here. A previous Current Affairs podcast episode devoted exclusively to Buckley is here. A book review on the John Birch Society by Nathan at The Nation is here."Modern conservatism emerged out of opposition to the New Deal in the 1930s and 1940s, forming a right-wing popular front—a term coined by William F. Buckley Jr. in his private correspondence—with the openly racist, antisemitic, and pro-fascist far right. This coalition proved to be remarkably durable until the 1960s, when the popular front began to unravel as some conservatives proved to be unwilling to make even modest concessions to the demands of the civil rights movement and jettison explicit racism and antisemitism. These apostate conservatives would form the basis of modern white nationalism—and the boundaries between where “responsible” conservatism ended and the far right began were usually blurred... Twentieth-century American conservatism did not equal fascism, but it evolved out of a right-wing popular front that included fascist and quasi-fascist elements. This is the key to understanding how American conservatism embraced MAGAism in the twenty-first century." - David Austin Walsh
7/5/202441 minutes, 40 seconds
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What Will New Weight-Loss Drugs Do to Us? (w/ Johann Hari)

Get new episodes early at !Bestselling author Johann Hari, whose Lost Connectionsand Stolen Focus have previously been discussed on this program, returns today to discuss his new book Magic Pill: The Extraordinary Benefits and Disturbing Risks of the New Weight-Loss Drugs. New weight-loss drugs have proved remarkably effective, but invite a whole host of questions. First, is a society where people take drugs to lose weight a healthy place? Should we be encouraging positive body images rather than the use of drugs to shed pounds? Shouldn't we be reforming the food system to be healthier rather than trying to counteract its effects with obesity drugs? And are the drugs even safe? Johann done voluminous research on the drugs and their effects and joins today to discuss what it means to have a society where people can radically change their bodies by swallowing a pill.We need to radically change the kind of food we are given from an early age, so the next generation doesn’t become hooked on shitty, satiety-sapping foods and they don’t feel the need to drug themselves to escape them. There are risks to the weight-loss drugs; there are no risks to becoming more like the Japanese. - Johann Hari, Magic Pill
7/3/20241 hour, 3 minutes, 34 seconds
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Inside the MAGA Movement on the Ground (w/ Isaac Arnsdorf)

Get new episodes early at !Who actually comprises the MAGA movement? Where do Trumpian politicians come from? How do they defeat "establishment" Republicans on the local and state level? How much is organized from above? What's the role of Steve Bannon in all this? In Finish What We Started: The MAGA Movement's Ground War to End Democracy, Isaac Arnsdorf of the Washington Post investigates the MAGA movement around the country, from Arizona to Georgia, showing how ordinary people get sucked into it and how Bannon and others are part of a long game that aims to fundamentally alter American institutions. Arnsdorf's book offers vital insights for those concerned with stopping this movement in its tracks.“Are we gonna have some losses?” [Bannon] said. “Fuck yes. We’re going to get fucking rolled. And we may get rolled today. But that’s OK. At every defeat, there’s enough seeds of other victories that are there. People just gotta stay on it, understand that we’re winning more than we’re losing. That’s why—a revolutionary vanguard. This has happened before in human history, right? We have to take over and we have to rebuild it. Remember, it’s a Fourth Turning. ... That’s all to come. I’ve got a task and purpose. That’s for others behind me and others that are at the vanguard of taking this on and tearing it down to rebuild. It will have to be rebuilt. That’s gonna be huge. We’re not going to be rebuilding any time in the foreseeable future. We’re going to be taking things apart. They say Trump’s a divider. This is what I keep saying on the show—what’s my mantra? One side’s going to win, and one side’s going to lose. No compromise here” - Steve Bannon, quoted in Isaac Arnsdorf, Finish What We Started
7/1/202426 minutes, 4 seconds
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How The Dollar Became America's Most Powerful Weapon (w/ Saleha Mohsin)

Get new episodes early at !When we think of American power, we often think of missiles, guns, and tanks. But operating in the background is an incredibly powerful weapon whose use often goes unnoticed: the dollar. In her new book Paper Soldiers: How the Weaponization of the Dollar Changed the World Order, Bloomberg News correspondent Saleha Mohsin explains how the dollar's power actually works. What does it mean for the dollar to be the "global reserve currency" and how does this confer power? What do sanctions do and what determines whether they succeed or fail? How do changes in the value of currency alter the relative power of countries across the world? Mohsin joins us to answer a few basic questions that are crucial for understanding the world today.“ The seeds of its weaponization were sown in 1944 as World War II came to an end, began in earnest after September 11, 2001, and may have gone too far in 2022... If the currency falls from kingship, then the country won’t be the first superpower or empire to collapse because of fiscal mismanagement. While the dollar has changed the world, the world may now change the dollar. The biggest threat to its dominance doesn’t stem from outside its borders but from a rolling series of self-inflicted policy wounds further stoking doubts of whether the United States should remain at the center of the global financial system.” - Saleha Mohsin, Paper Soldiers
6/28/202430 minutes, 14 seconds
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In Praise of Excess (w/ Becca Rothfeld)

Get new episodes early at !Becca Rothfeld is the nonfiction book critic for the Washington Post. Her new essay collection, All Things Are Too Small: Essays in Praise of Excess, draws together and expands on some of her best work. It covers subjects including Marie Kondo and minimalism, the films of David Cronenberg, the novels of Sally Rooney, and the new sexual puritanism. However varied the topics, a few important themes recur, including a rejection of utilitarian minimalism and an embrace of pleasure, and a view that fulfilling "basic needs" is not enough, because our "wants" matter too. The declutterers and the puritans strip away some of what is most essential to the good life. Becca joins today to talk about her arguments, including why she thinks Sally Rooney's egalitarian Marxism rings false.Declutterers’ books, it turns out, are every bit as insubstantial as their slender clients. All the staples are short and snappy: though they are padded with cute visualizations and printed in big, bubbly fonts, they are rarely much longer than two hundred pages, and all of them can be read (or, perhaps more aptly, gazed at) in a matter of hours. In place of full paragraphs and complete sentences, they tend to opt for sidebars, acrostics, and diagrams. Kernels of advice are surgically extracted from the usual flab of prose. Language is a vehicle for the transfer of information, never a source of pleasure in its own right. To enjoy the sound or look of a word would be to delight, illicitly, in something needless, something exorbitant. Hence the declutterer’s penchant for lists and bullet points, for sentences compressed into their cores: “You Know You Are an Obsessive Organizer When . . . ,” “12 Ways I’ve Changed Since I Said Goodbye to My Things,” “15 Tips for the Next Stage of Your Minimalist Journey.” Visually, the results are reminiscent of an iPhone, with apps sequestered into adjacent squares. Each page in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up does its best impression of a screen. — Becca Rothfeld, All Things Are Too Small
6/26/202438 minutes, 45 seconds
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What Would a Left Foreign Policy Look Like? (w/ Van Jackson)

Get new episodes early at !We know the left is, generally speaking, anti-war and anti-imperialist. But if a left-wing government ever took power in the U.S., what would its foreign policy look like? How would it deal with, say, human rights abusing governments? Would it shun them? Sanction them? Would a leftist government send weapons to the victims of aggression? What would a left policy on Ukraine look like, for instance?Van Jackson is a leading left foreign policy thinker. His new book Grand Strategies of the Left aims to think through the toughest questions about what it would actually mean to have a "progressive" foreign policy. Jackson notes that because the DC think tank world is dominated by hawkish "blob" types, a lot of the most thorough research and thinking on foreign policy is done by people whose values he rejects. In this conversation, we talk about how the existing establishment sees the world, and how we can look at it differently."In prioritizing what it sees as the foundational sources of global insecurity, the progressive perspective portrays itself as uniquely realistic compared to its prevailing liberal internationalist alternative. It diagnoses the problems that preoccupy militaries as the surface level of deeper political dysfunctions, making mainstream grand strategy and security studies appear solution-less insofar as they deal only with national defense policy or strategy. Progressive worldmaking, in other words, directs us to reshape the very context that gives rise to traditional security problems." - Van Jackson, Grand Strategies of the Left
6/24/202441 minutes, 10 seconds
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How Cars Make Life Worse (w/ Daniel Knowles)

Get new episodes early at !Daniel Knowles is a reporter for The Economist (yes, that one). His book Carmageddon: How Cars Make Life Worse argues that cars are a problem, and shows all the ways in which we could have more satisfying, sustainable, affordable lives with fewer cars. That's a tough sell in a car-loving country like the U.S.A., where we love our giant-ass trucks and our drive-thru daiquiri stands. Daniel is British: who is he to tell us we have to trade in our pedestrian-mashing SUVs for Chairman Mao-style bicycles?Today, Daniel joins to make the sell for walkable communities, showing us all the ways cars cause problems, why the situation we're in wasn't inevitable, and how we can change our deadly, inefficient, climate-killing ways and have transit that better serves human needs.“There is simply no good reason that the sustainable option—living in a decent-size apartment or rowhouse, in a neighborhood where you can walk, cycle, and use public transport to get around—ought to be so expensive, while living in an enormous detached house and using vast quantities of natural resources is the cheap option. It is only the case because of decisions made by our leaders over decades that have compounded to create a world where wasting resources is normal, and sustainable living is rare.” - Daniel Knowles, Carmageddon
6/21/202434 minutes, 11 seconds
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Debunking Popular Talking Points on Israel-Palestine (w/ Ben Burgis)

Get new episodes early at !Ben Burgis is a philosopher and occasional contributor to Current Affairs, who runs the Philosophy for the People Substack and hosts Give Them An Argument. Today, Ben joins to respond to common arguments made to justify the policies of Israel and the United States in Gaza. "Israel has a right to defend itself," "Palestinian violence is the root cause of the problem," and other talking points are put to Ben, who gives logically precise but passionate defenses of the Palestinian people's rights and dignity. Ben offers a crash course in how to effectively argue the case against the war on Palestine.  
6/19/20241 hour, 35 minutes, 29 seconds
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Why We Need Solidarity Now More Than Ever (w/ Leah Hunt-Hendrix)

Get new episodes early at !“While there is a lower class, I am in it, while there is a criminal element, I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.” ―Eugene V. Debs"Are you willing to fight for someone you don't know as much as you're willing to fight for yourself?" —Bernie SandersPolitical philosophy is full of talk about liberty and justice. But in Solidarity: The Past, Present, and Future of a World-Changing Idea, Leah Hunt-Hendrix and Astra Taylor argue that another concept is just as crucial when we consider how society ought to be ordered and what we owe one another: solidarity. A solidaristic ethic means seeing other people's fates as intertwined with your own, and being committed to fighting for the interests of those whose problems you do not necessarily share. It has underpinned the socialist project from Eugene Debs to Bernie Sanders, and as Hunt-Hendrix and Taylor show in the book, it has deep historical roots. They trace the origins of the idea of solidarity, showing how it evolved as a crucial part of left thought and practice, and argue that what we need today is a reinvigorated commitment to it. They explain what it would mean to practice it, and the demands it makes of us. Today, Leah Hunt-Hendrix joins us to give us a tour through the history and show us what solidarity means. (Our recent interview with co-author Astra Taylor is also worth a listen and touches on some of the same themes!)"With the planet swiftly tipping toward climate chaos and a right-wing reaction gaining influence globally, we have no choice but to attempt to cultivate solidarity from wherever we happen to sit. Individually, the vast majority of us are locked out of the halls of power and lack wealth and influence. The only viable pathway to exerting power is to organize from the bottom up. The solidaristic, internationalist, and sustainable world order we desperately need must be built virtue by virtue, relationship by relationship, struggle by struggle, day by day. Constructing a larger Us—one large and powerful enough to overcome the myriad obstacles in our way—is a hopeful and imaginative act: curious about other people, open to change, and determined to bring new possibilities into being." — Leah Hunt-Hendrix and Astra Taylor
6/17/202439 minutes, 36 seconds
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How To Communicate Left Political Ideas to Gen Z (w/ Jessica Burbank)

Get new episodes early at !Jessica L. Burbank is a broadcaster and commentator who appears on The Hill's Rising, co-hosts the Funny Money podcast, and now hosts her own online news program called Weeklyish News. Jessica is also big on TikTok, where she produces remarkable short videos communicating left political and economic ideas, such as this one on the power relationship between workers and bosses or this one on Elon Musk. Today Jessica joins to discuss how she thinks about the project of communicating ideas accessibly, using wit and operating within the limits of 21st century attention spans. 
6/14/202433 minutes, 32 seconds
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Why We Don't Need Borders (w/ John Washington)

Get new episodes early at !John Washington is a journalist with Arizona Luminaria, whose new book The Case for Open Borders rebuts common anti-immigrant argument and shows that a world in which people can freely move from one territory to another will not create a "crisis" but will in fact benefit everyone. Today he joins to discuss the bipartisan rhetoric about immigration being a disaster or crisis, and to help us understand why militarized borders cause a lot more harm than they prevent. Washington argues that fears of immigration are overblown and instead of moving toward greater "border security" we should be reforming the border to relax admissions. The photo above is of the Arizona-Mexico border circa 1899, when crossing from one country into another was as simple as crossing the street. See also the Current Affairs article "We Need To Make the Moral Case for Immigration." "The case for open borders must ultimately be a positive one, explaining why the freedom to move—coupled with the freedom and possibility to remain—is a necessary good, and why a world not divided into exclusive nation states with militarized borders would be more egalitarian, would promote and cultivate diversity instead of fear, and would help form a world where sustainability and justice take precedence over extraction and exploitation." — John Washington, The Case for Open Borders
6/12/202438 minutes, 35 seconds
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How Everyone Misunderstands Capitalism (w/ Grace Blakeley)

Get new episodes early at !Grace Blakeley is one of the left's leading economic thinkers. In her new book, Vulture Capitalism, Blakeley explains how capitalism really works and gives a crucial primer on the modern economy. She joins today to explain why conceiving of "free markets" and "government planning" as opposites is highly misleading, because our neoliberal "market-based" economy involves many deep ties between the state and corporations. Instead of thinking of "capitalism" and "socialism" as a spectrum that runs from markets to government, Blakeley says we should focus our analysis on who owns and controls production, and who gets the benefits."The choice isn’t “free markets” or “planning.” Planning and markets exist alongside each other in capitalist societies—indeed, in any society. The choice is whether the planning that inevitably does take place in any complex social system is democratic or oligarchic. Do we allow a few institutions to make decisions that affect everyone else, considering only their own interests, or do we move toward a system in which everyone has the power to shape the conditions of their existence? We must stop talking about “free-market capitalism” and instead accept that capitalism is a hybrid system based on a fusion between markets and planning. Rather than seeing the world in which we live as emerging from mystical market forces beyond our control, we must realize that the world in which we live results from the conscious choices of those operating within it. When we are able to view the world in these terms, the space for conscious, democratic design of our world expands." — Grace Blakeley
6/10/202435 minutes, 41 seconds
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Why Animal Liberation Is A Crucial Moral Issue For Our Time (w/ Lewis Bollard)

Get new episode early at !Lewis Bollard directs the farm animal welfare program at Open Philanthropy, and writes the organization's farm animal welfare research newsletter. In the newsletter, Bollard has argued that animal welfare is a crucial moral issue and tried to explain the dissonance between people's stated compassion for animals and their willingness to tolerate animals' mass suffering in factory farms. Bollard explains the massive amount of work it will take to reduce or eliminate factory farming, and the setbacks including the challenges plant-based meats have had. He also shows, however, that there have been striking successes that should make the issue feel less hopeless and insurmountable, and actually major improvements to animal welfare are within reach. Today he joins to explain why the issue is a priority, why it's so challenging to mobilize people around, what has been accomplished so far, and what could be accomplished with more activism and political pressure. "We face a mighty challenge: ending the abuse of more sentient beings than humans who have ever lived on earth. We do so with few resources: all advocacy for farmed animals globally has a combined budget smaller than the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. And yet we’ve already achieved progress for billions of sentient beings." — Lewis Bollard 
6/7/202433 minutes, 20 seconds
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How The Gains of 20th Century Feminism Are Under Threat (w/ Josie Cox)

Get new episodes early at !Journalist Josie Cox is the author of the new book Women Money Power: The Rise and Fall of Economic Equality, a history of the 20th century women's movement that documents the remarkable courage of the women who gave us suffrage, abortion rights, and greater equality across many dimensions of social and economic life. Today she joins to discuss how those gains were made, but also the failures (such as the story of the Equal Rights Amendment). She also talks about how many of the striking victories for women's equality are now under serious threat of rollback.   
6/5/202431 minutes, 15 seconds
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Inside The Chaos at Elon Musk's Twitter (uh, "X")

Get new episodes early at ! Zoë Schiffer is the author of the new book "Extremely Hardcore: Inside Elon Musk's Twitter," which tells the full story of how the richest man in the world took over a major piece of the 21st century "public square." Schiffer does not take a nostalgic view of pre-Musk Twitter, showing that the company was in many ways poorly run and Twitter itself highly dysfunctional. But she shows how Musk's capricious, self-aggrandizing approach to running the platform have altered it. We discuss the role of Twitter in 21st century America, Musk's radicalization into anti-woke politics, and the harms that come from having someone with so much wealth be given so much power to shape our public discussions.
6/3/202439 minutes, 43 seconds
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The Infamous, Blood-Soaked Legacy of Henry Kissinger (w/ Jonah Walters)

Get new episodes early at !The day Henry Kissinger died, Jacobin magazine released a book, which they had completed years before, called The Good Die Young: The Verdict on Henry Kissinger. In the book, edited by René Rojas, Bhaskar Sunkara, and Jonah Walters, a group of foreign policy experts trace Kissinger's career from continent to continent, showing the human consequences of his Machiavellian choices. But The Good Die Young doesn't just treat Kissinger as a uniquely malevolent figure, and shows how he fits into broader schemes of U.S. global dominance after the Second World War. Co-editor Jonah Walters joins us today to give a rundown of Kissinger's career, to explain what makes him an important figure, and to assess what his legacy will be."It’s small wonder that the political establishment regarded Kissinger as an asset and not an aberration. He embodied what the two ruling parties share in common: a commitment to maintaining capitalism, and the resolve to ensure favorable conditions for American investors in as much of the world as possible. A stranger to shame and inhibition, Kissinger was able to guide the American empire through a treacherous period in world history, when the United States’ rise to global domination indeed sometimes seemed on the brink of collapse." — from The Good Die Young: The Verdict on Henry KissingerRead a Current Affairs article on Kissinger by Ben Burgis here.
5/31/202439 minutes, 17 seconds
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What The Labor Movement Can Do For You (w/ Hamilton Nolan)

Get new episodes early at !Hamilton Nolan is a leading labor journalist whose new book The Hammer: Power, Inequality, and the Struggle for the Soul of Labor is both a study of recent labor organizing in our time and a strong case for why unions are vital to the health of the country. Hamilton goes around the country, from South Carolina to Las Vegas to New Orleans, showcasing the achievements of organized labor and revealing what is possible when working people come together to wield their "hammer" through collective action. He is highly critical of some of the country's largest labor unions for "fortress unionism" (protecting the gains of their existing members without organizing new ones). In today's conversation, he explains why union density has remained stubbornly low in the United States, and lays out a vision for what could happen once working people become conscious of the power that they can wield together. 
5/29/202443 minutes, 12 seconds
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A Leading Philosopher Makes The Case for Degrowth (w/ Kohei Saito)

Get new episodes early at !Marxist philosophers do not often write bestsellers, but as the New York Times wrote in a profile of today's guest, Kohei Saito's work has unexpectedly taken Japan by storm:"When Kohei Saito decided to write about “degrowth communism,” his editor was understandably skeptical. Communism is unpopular in Japan. Economic growth is gospel. So a book arguing that Japan should view its current condition of population decline and economic stagnation not as a crisis, but as an opportunity for Marxist reinvention, sounded like a tough sell. But sell it has. Since its release in 2020, Mr. Saito’s book “Capital in the Anthropocene” has sold more than 500,000 copies, exceeding his wildest imaginings. Mr. Saito, a philosophy professor at the University of Tokyo, appears regularly in Japanese media to discuss his ideas. ... Mr. Saito has tapped into what he describes as a growing disillusionment in Japan with capitalism’s ability to solve the problems people see around them, whether caring for the country’s growing older population, stemming rising inequality or mitigating climate change."Prof. Saito's book has caught on in Japan because it is a powerful statement of an important and challenging set of ideas. Saito points out the ecologically and socially destructive tendencies of capitalism, and argues for an alternative way of structuring the economy and society that could leave us (and the planet) better off. He calls these ideas "degrowth communism." Today he joins us to explain what he means, to respond to myths and challenges, and clear up misconceptions. Saito's book Slow Down: The Degrowth Manifesto is now available in English. 
5/27/202439 minutes, 18 seconds
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Understanding the Genocide Case Against Israel (w/ Jeremy Scahill)

Get new episodes early at !Originally aired January 29, 2024There is an ongoing case in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) brought by South Africa against Israel, which alleges that Israel's conduct in Gaza constitutes a serious breach of the Genocide Convention. The Court recently issued a preliminary ruling allowing the case to go forward and requiring Israel to comply with its obligations under the Genocide Convention. Jeremy Scahill of The Intercept joins us today to explain the basics of the accusations being made against Israel, the Israeli government's response, and to give his evaluation of the evidence that South Africa has presented so far. Note that this interview was recorded before the court issued its preliminary ruling allowing the case to go further. Jeremy's analysis of the ruling can be found here. An analysis of the case in Current Affairs is available here.During its presentation before the court, Israel made no arguments to defend its conduct in Gaza that it—and its backers in the Biden administration for that matter—has not made repeatedly in the media over the past three months as part of its propaganda campaign to justify the unjustifiable. Each day that passes, more Palestinians will die at the hands of U.S. munitions fired by Israeli forces and the already dire humanitarian situation will deteriorate further. - Jeremy Scahill 
5/24/202446 minutes, 4 seconds
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The Case for Limiting Wealth (w/ Ingrid Robeyns)

Get new episodes early at !Ingrid Robeyns is a professor at Utrecht University, where she specializes in political philosophy and ethics. She's the author of Limitarianism: The Case Against Extreme Wealth, a new book which argues for rational limits on how much money a single person can amass. Today on the podcast, Dr. Robeyns joins to explain how the super-rich keep everyone else poor, how large concentrations of wealth damage democracy and the environment, and how "limitarian" public policies can become a reality. "There are many different reasons why you might endorse a limitarian worldview. There is the principled objection against inequality. Or there’s the fact that so much excess wealth is tainted. Society’s richest have appropriated an unfairly large part of the economic gains of the past century, and they need to redistribute that surplus. Or you might support limitarianism because it would do a huge amount to address existing power imbalances and protect political equality—to halt the erosion of democracy, and prevent the domination of politics by the wealthy few. Or it might be the fact that limitarianism can take us a long way toward saving our planet, given that the lifestyles, business strategies, tax avoidance or evasion, and lobbying of the super-rich have led to civilization-threatening ecological harm. A world on fire needs a lot of money to extinguish the flames, and the super-rich are holding on to money they don’t need. It makes much more sense to take the money for dousing the fire from the super-rich than from the middle classes, let alone the poor. The same point also holds for meeting other needs beyond protecting the livability of the planet, such as fighting poverty and other forms of deprivation. Collectively acknowledging that at some point enough is enough would also make the rich themselves better off. Finally, and perhaps most fundamentally: no one can claim that they deserve to be a millionaire."- Ingrid Robeyns
5/22/202444 minutes, 22 seconds
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How the "Squad" Discovered the Reality of Power in D.C. (w/ Ryan Grim)

Get new episodes early at !Ryan Grim is the Intercept's D.C. bureau chief and the author of The Squad: AOC and the Hope of a Political Revolution. Ryan's book chronicles the rise of the "Squad" in Congress, but also chronicles the entire recent history of left politics in the United States including the Bernie Sanders campaigns and the legislative fights under Biden. The book is a fascinating insider account of how power really works. The Squad were all elected as insurgent Democrats challenging the party establishment. But once inside the House, they encountered a familiar dilemma: do you go to war against the party leaders, and alienate them, or do you try to work with them? Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez herself, Grim reports, had conflicting impulses, but ultimately axed staff members who pushed for a more confrontational approach. Did the more conciliatory path gain the hoped-for results? Grim joins today to discuss. Who is the "Squad"? Are they just a media creation or do they act as a group? What differentiates them from other progressives in the House? What is their relationship with the party leadership like? What compromises have they had to make? Has their approach worked? All of this and more is put to Ryan Grim in our conversation. “Her staff and many of the backers of Justice Democrats wanted to go to war against the people they saw as in the way of progress, Riffle said. They wanted a real political revolution. “The difference of what Corbin and Saikat and myself and other people in the incoming AOC camp thought was, ‘These are shitty people. And the reason that these policies are bad is that the party is being run by shitty people.’ I don’t think [the Squad] thought that,” he said. “We thought you should burn it down because the house was occupied by shitty people. They thought we should burn it down because, you know, we can build a better house with better policies.” - Ryan Grim, The Squad 
5/20/202443 minutes, 38 seconds
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What Can the U.S. Learn From Canadian Politics? (w/ Ed Broadbent)

Get new episodes early at !Ed Broadbent was perhaps the best-known democratic socialist in Canada. He served for 14 years as the head of the country's New Democratic Party, after beginning his career as a political theorist. Broadbent's new book Seeking Social Democracy: Seven Decades in the Fight for Equality (written in collaboration with, among others, Current Affairs contributor Luke Savage) is a tour through the last half century of Canadian politics, and for Americans it offers a fascinating window into what it looks like when a democratic socialist politician gets close enough to power to have to make serious policy decisions. Broadbent joins us today to introduce listeners to the basics of the Canadian political system and talk about what he learned over the course of his career, where he earned the respect of a wide swath of Canadians, to the point where he has been called "Canada's most iconic social democrat" and "the best prime minister we never had." We discuss how Canada built social democratic institutions, and how to have a politics critical of both state and corporate power.[Note: Sadly it was announced the day after this interview was originally posted that Ed has passed away.]"So, what is to be done? Are we going to sit back and watch conservative politicians capitalize on economic insecurity to erode the potential of the social democratic state and reimpose their new, hollow model of “freedom”? They see starving the state as the solution to our problems. Take away the power and money of the state, they claim, and humanity will be set free. I reject this blinkered vision. Generations of Canadians, notably after the Second World War, demonstrated that the opposite is the case. It was the establishment of social rights like health care, unemployment insurance, and national pensions that enabled millions of Canadians to feel free for the first time in their lives. Having been undermined by successive governments, the remarkable achievements of the democratic age are now at risk of full-blown collapse. Now more than ever, we require prompt and effective state action to respond to the new destabilizing threats to people’s livelihoods and preserve a sustainable life on this planet." — Ed Broadbent, Seeking Social Democracy
5/17/202435 minutes, 26 seconds
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How George Santos Scammed Everyone (w/ Mark Chiusano)

Get new episodes early at !Mark Chiusano of Newsday knows George Santos better than anyone else, having covered Santos’ political career from its start to its recent ignominious end. His new book The Fabulist: The Lying, Hustling, Grifting, Stealing, and Very American Legend of George Santos documents the full rise and fall of our country’s most infamous lying legislator. Today on the podcast, Chiusano joins us to explain how it came to be that, in a country as committed to honesty and fairness as the United States, someone who lies shamelessly could make it into a position of power. The lessons of the Santos saga may tell us as much about who we are as a nation as they do about the House of Representatives’ most infamous grifter.Transcript available here:
5/15/202442 minutes, 20 seconds
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The Bill Gates Problem (w/ Tim Schwab)

Get new episodes early at !Tim Schwab is an investigative journalist who's been reporting on Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation since 2019. His work has appeared in The Nation, the Columbia Journalism Review, and the British Medical Journal. He's also the author of a new book, The Bill Gates Problem: Reckoning with the Myth of the Good Billionaire, which compiles many of his findings. Schwab argues that Bill Gates is far from the generous, kind-hearted philanthropist he's often portrayed as in the media. Instead, his reporting shows how Gates has constructed a "PR halo" around himself through his extensive donations to news outlets, many of which fail to report their financial ties to the Gates Foundation. He also criticizes the culture of secrecy that surrounds the Foundation itself, and reveals how the monopoly capitalism Gates practiced at Microsoft influences his decisions today, including his pivotal role in restricting vaccine patents that prevent poor countries from making their own life-saving medicines. Schwab's book shows how Gates has bought himself outsized influence in everything from education to agriculture, and how his influence has often been a malignant one. A sober analysis of Gates shows he is just as worthy of the titles of hoarder and miser as he is philanthropist and mensch. Relative to his vast wealth, Gates is giving away a tiny amount of money—that he doesn’t need and that he could never possibly spend on himself. So the question is: Instead of celebrating the million-dollar gifts his foundation donates, why aren’t we interrogating the $184 billion that Gates isn’t giving away? Why aren’t we asking: How is it that the world’s most generous philanthropist is becoming richer and richer, year over year?- Tim SchwabCurrent Affairs' own coverage of Gates can be found here and here. 
5/13/202436 minutes, 56 seconds
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A Climate Scientist on What We're Facing and What We Need to Do

Get new episodes at !Peter Kalmus is one of the country's most visible and engaged climate scientists. He is the author of Being the Change: Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution and works at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Dr. Kalmus has advocated civil disobedience as a necessary means of spurring action to stop the climate catastrophe. Dr. Kalmus wrote a scathing article about the UN’s recent COP 28 climate summit, which was dominated by the fossil fuel industry. He joins today to explain why, as a climate scientist, he wants people to understand the basic fact that we have no choice but to eliminate the fossil fuel industry as soon as possible. "In fact, the laws of physics guarantee that it will get much too fucking hot if we keep burning fossil fuels. So, pardon my language, but I don't know what it's going to take. I'm really disappointed because I thought that at this level of heating, of obviousness, of disaster, that everyone would wake up and realize that none of our hopes and dreams will come to fruition if we don't have a habitable planet." — Peter KalmusA transcript of this interview is available here. Listeners may also be interested in our episode with Henry Shue, a moral philosopher on the obligation we have to future generations. 
5/10/202437 minutes, 10 seconds
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On The Persistence of Racist Pseudo-Science (w/ Keira Havens)

Get new episodes early at !Keira Havens is a science writer whose blog series "Box of Rocks" aims to identify and expose racist pseudo-science. She joins us today to explain some of the fallacious reasoning that is used to rationalize social hierarchies, and how proponents of toxic ideologies manage to cast themselves as mainstream researchers. We talk about the intellectual misdeeds of such figures as Charles Murray and Steven Pinker, and Keira shows us how to spot some of their bad arguments in the wild. "As profoundly boring as biological essentialism is, some people are very into it. The ones that are honest about it are easy to spot. It can be harder to identify those that cultivate a careful aura of plausible deniability and then go about building the rest of their career. By hiding their philosophy, they gain access to institutions and platforms, allowing them to pave the way for other useful idiots and convince the next generation that Science Says™ some humans are better than others. The networks manufacturing credibility for their theory of eugenics are not shallow. They run deep, across decades, built by people that devote themselves consistently and continuously to the promotion of hereditarian philosophies." — Keira Havens, Box of Rocks
5/8/202439 minutes, 45 seconds
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What Did the "Decade of Protest" Accomplish—And Why Did it Fail? (w/ Vincent Bevins)

Get new episodes early at !Vincent Bevins is a journalist who has written for the Financial Times, Los Angeles Times, and elsewhere, and is the author of the acclaimed The Jakarta Method. His latest book, If We Burn: The Mass Protest Decade and the Missing Revolution (PublicAffairs) is about the mass protests that took place around the world from 2010 to 2020. The book shows how these protests were sparked, how they often went in directions their originators couldn't have predicted, and what legacies they left in countries from Brazil to Tunisia. The book is an invaluable source of lessons for activists; as the Current Affairs review of the book (by Raina Lipsitz) says, "Bevins shows that we can, and must, analyze and learn from the failures of our most inspiring movements." Bevins joins us today to take us through some of this history (much of it unreported in the United States) and the most crucial takeaways for protest movements of today. “As I spent years traveling around the world, talking to the people that helped create the mass protests described in this book, and interviewing the experts and government officials who tried to grapple with their meaning, I would always ask what they thought had happened. But I never did so to cast blame or to establish that mistakes were made. Most people who spoke with me know very well that things can go terribly wrong regardless of intentions, and the conversations often became difficult. Many of these individuals have suffered for years trying to understand the events of the past decade. I always put my question something like this: “If you could speak to a teenager somewhere around the world right now, someone who might be fighting to change history in some kind of political struggle in their lifetime, what would you tell them? What lessons did you learn?” — Vincent Bevins 
5/6/202440 minutes, 21 seconds
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Current Affairs Presents: "American Radio"

Today we have a most unusual episode: a parody of American radio cliches, pieced together by Nathan. Using audio editing software, sound effects libraries, voice cloning technology, and "AI" music tools, he has created an absurdist soundscape satirizing media, politics, and commercialism. Filled with jingles, talk shows, news reports, and presidential speeches, it portrays the darkness lurking beneath cheery American mythology.The "Manatee Facts Podcast" mentioned in the introduction can be heard here. Nathan's article about the remarkable power of new audio technology is here.
5/3/20241 hour, 4 minutes, 49 seconds
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Can The Concept of "Philanthropy" Be Saved? (w/ Amy Schiller)

Get new episodes early at !Philanthropy is a problem. Lots of contemporary philanthropy is either useless (Rich people funding new buildings for Harvard) or shouldn't have to happen in the first place (Nonprofits fulfilling crucial social roles that the state doesn't take care of in the age of neoliberalism). The standard left critique of philanthropy is that we should redistribute wealth and income rather than depending on the largesse of the bourgeoisie, who have far too much damned money. But Amy Schiller, in The Price of Humanity, goes beyond this critique, and argues that we can engineer a better concept of philanthropy. First, she argues that we need a social democratic welfare state, so that the meeting of basic needs is not the domain of philanthropy (no more GoFundMes for medical care). But then we also need to go beyond a basic living wage to instead have a "giving wage," meaning we should all earn enough to be able to give some of it away. The things we support through giving should be special projects that aren't funded by the state but nevertheless enrich life. Schiller joins today to discuss her ideas for a better kind of philanthropy. She explains why she thinks the effective altruists have everything backwards and why the "roses" in "bread and roses" should not be considered optional. Listeners might also enjoy our conversation from last year with Prof. Linsey McGoey, author of No Such Thing As A Free Gift: The Gates Foundation and the Price of Philanthropy."The project of philanthropy is to make the earth more of a home, and to encourage inhabitants of the spaces and institutions it provides to feel at home in the world. Ours is a world for humans. It should serve all of us, not the few who can exploit the many for maximum profit. The money we use to build the common world communicates our belief in that world, and in all who inhabit it. It affirms the value of humanity beyond price." - Amy Schiller, The Price of Humanity 
5/1/202439 minutes, 26 seconds
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Why The Luddites Were Right (w/ Brian Merchant)

Get new episodes early at ! And if you like our work, please consider subscribing or donating to beautiful Current Affairs Magazine. Brian Merchant is the technology columnist for the Los Angeles Times and author of the new book Blood in the Machine: The Origins of the Rebellion Against Big Tech. Brian's book takes us back to early 19th century England, and the birth of the "Luddite" movement. The Luddites famously smashed new machines that were expected to take away jobs in the textile industry. Brian argues that the Luddites are often misunderstood and misrepresented, and that by examining their uprising, we can better prepare ourselves to deal with the socially disruptive effects of new technology in our own time.The Luddites, Brian shows, weren't anti-technology. In fact, they embraced new machines that helped them do their jobs better. They were against machines that destroyed workers' livelihoods and rendered their skills useless. The Luddites rejected technology when it was used to enrich capitalists at the expense of laborers. Their dispute is best understood not as being over "technology" but about who gets the benefit of new technologies and who decides what kinds of technologies will be implemented. Today, Brian joins to clear up misconceptions about the Luddites and show us what we can learn from them.“If the Luddites have taught us anything, it’s that robots aren’t taking our jobs. Our bosses are. Robots are not sentient—they do not have the capacity to be coming for or stealing or killing or threatening to take away our jobs. Management does. Consulting firms and corporate leadership do. Gig company and tech executives do...If the machinery or the robots are simply “coming,” if they just show up and relieve a helpless lot of humans of their livelihoods, then no one is to blame for this independently arising phenomenon, and little is to be done about it beyond bracing for impact. It’s not the executives, swayed by consulting firms who insist the future is in AI text generation or customer service bots; or the tech titans, who use algorithmic platforms to displace traditional workers; or the managers, who see an opportunity to improve profit margins by adopting automated kiosks that edge out cashiers; or the shipping conglomerate bosses, who decide to try to replace dockworkers with a fleet of automated trucks.” - Brian Merchant, Blood in the MachineThe Current Affairs article "The Luddites Were Right" pairs well with this episode. 
4/29/202440 minutes, 48 seconds
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Why Students Are Rising Up for Gaza

Today we have a documentary episode examining and analyzing the ongoing pro-Palestine uprisings at campuses around the country. We look at the horrifying facts on the ground in Gaza that have caused U.S. students to risk their academic careers in solidarity demonstrations. We discuss how universities have repressed the demonstrations an a manner disturbingly reminiscent of authoritarian states. We expose the myths that the protests are hateful, antisemitic, and pro-terror. And we put the demonstrations in context, looking at how prior generations of anti-war students were similarly motivated to take a stance against violence and injustice.This episode is free to the public and unlocked, because of the subject matter's importance. But Current Affairs is funded entirely by its readers, and can't continue to produce new work without your support, so if you enjoy our work, please consider purchasing a Patreon membership, magazine subscription, or donating to our organization.Jon Ben-Menachem's Zeteo essay is here.Rashid Khalidi's full interview is here.W.D. Ehrhart's full interview is here.More from Dr. Thrasher on what he saw at Columbia is here.The Intercepted episode quoting Yasser Khan is here.Full video of the quoted speech at the Columbia demonstration is here.Further coverage of the protests can be found in the Current Affairs News Briefing.Portions of this radio essay were adapted from the Current Affairs articles "My Date With Destiny" and "Palestine Protests are a Test of Whether This is a Free Country." Script and audio editing by Nathan J. Robinson, who is responsible for any errors.
4/26/202439 minutes, 9 seconds
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The Meaning of "Security" (w/ Astra Taylor)

Get new episodes early at !Astra Taylor is a filmmaker, writer, and activist whose latest book is The Age of Insecurity: Coming Together as Things Fall Apart, based on her CBC Massey Lectures. Today she joins to discuss the themes of her lectures, which are build around the ideas of security and insecurity. What makes us actually "secure"? Security is a word that has right-wing connotations (surveillance cameras, security guards, etc.) But we know that there is another kind of security, the kind promised by programs like Social Security. Astra explains why she, as a longtime activist for debtors, thinks we live in an "age of insecurity" and distinguishes between the kinds of "existential" insecurities we are stuck with and the "manufactured" ones we might be able to get rid of. “My perspective is shaped by the years I’ve spent focused on the topic of inequality and its pernicious effects on culture and democracy both in my creative work as a filmmaker and writer and as an activist. Nearly a decade ago, I helped found the Debt Collective, the world’s first union for debtors, which has become a bastion for people who are broke and overwhelmed. Inequality is, indeed, out of control, with ten billionaire men possessing six times more wealth than the poorest three billion people on earth.6 But numbers do not capture the true nature or extent of the crisis. Insecurity, in contrast, describes how inequality is lived day after day. Where inequality can be represented by points on a graph, insecurity speaks to how those points feel, hovering in space over a tattered safety net or nothing at all. The writer Barbara Ehrenreich, in her 1989 study of the psychology of the middle class, dubbed the condition “fear of falling.” But today there’s barely any middle left, and everyone is afraid of what lies below.” - Astra Taylor, The Age of Insecurity An article Nathan wrote commenting on the book's themes is here. 
4/26/202437 minutes, 21 seconds
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A Philosopher Explains Why It's Rational To Be Angry (w/ Myisha Cherry)

Get new episodes early at !Myisha Cherry is a philosopher at UC-Riverside whose book The Case for Rage: Why Anger Is Essential to Anti-Racist Struggle (Oxford University Press) argues that reason and emotion are not, as many people assume, opposites, but our emotions are often important expressions of our reason. We get angry when we our implicit framework for how the world ought to operate is violated, and Prof. Cherry argues that it's okay and even important to have this feeling. She shows that in the history of social movements, anger has been an important motivating factor, and argues that it can coexist with love, compassion, and thoughtfulness. Cherry does not advocate "mindless" rage. She says we need to be reflective, and figure out whether our anger is actually well-grounded in facts and sound morality. She distinguishes between different types of anger, some of which are healthier and more factually grounded than others. But she believes that if we embrace the right kinds of rage, they can help us "build a better world."Anger plays the role of expressing the value of people of color and racial justice; it provides the eagerness, optimism, and self-belief needed to fight against persistent and powerful racist people and systems; and it allows the outraged to break certain racial rules as a form of intrinsic and extrinsic resistance. This helps explain how the oppressed can feel affirmed when others get angry on their behalf, how people are able to fight against powerful systems despite the risk of abuse and arrests, and why WNBA and NBA players—who used their platform to combat racism—were viewed as radical for simply expressing their feelings. —Myisha Cherry, The Case for Rage 
4/24/202442 minutes, 3 seconds
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How is Capitalism Like a Bad Relationship? (w/ Malaika Jabali)

Get new episodes early at !Malaika Jabali is Senior News and Politics Editor at Essence magazine. She is also the only previous Current Affairs contributor whose writing for our magazine has won an award! Her exceptional piece "The Color of Economic Anxiety" won the 2019 New York Association for Black Journalists award for magazine feature. She has now published her first book, It's Not You, It's Capitalism: Why It's Time to Break Up and How To Move On. In accessible and entertaining prose (with fun illustrations by artist Kayla E.), Jabali presents an introduction to leftist economic and social analysis for the uninitiated reader. Uniquely, the book looks at economics through analogies from modern dating life, and shows how some of the things that keep us trapped in toxic relationships have parallels in the way we feel trapped with our dysfunctional economic system. Her book is also valuable for the way it introduce socialism by highlighting leftists of color. Instead of beginning with Marx and Debs, Malaika gives us W.E.B. DuBois, Assata Shakur, and A. Philip Randolph. Today Malaika joins to discuss not only the basic anti-capitalist argument made in the book, but how she's thought about presenting that argument in a novel and easy-to-read way. (Her book, incidentally, makes a fantastic holiday gift especially for young people.) We also talk about her award-winning Current Affairs essay about neglected Black voters in Milwaukee, who saw no point in supporting the Democratic Party in 2016, and whose "economic anxiety" Hillary Clinton saw little need to address."I broke up with capitalism around my junior year of college. Ever since, I've felt like the patient friend waiting for my bestie to see why she needs to break up with her toxic partner, too. While socialism has captured mainstream attention in the U.S. in the past decade or so, probably because of the popularity of Bernie Sanders and the Democratic Socialists of America, I didn't arrive at my anti-capitalism through electoral politics. It was through studying Black history as an undergrad that I started to see how messed up our whole system really was. Reading about how slaveholders were willing to kidnap, brand, torture, and work their labor force to near-death—oh and create a system of white supremacy to maintain their profits that still thrives today—will do that to you. I also soaked in the words of Black revolutionaries who spoke out against capitalism, including my godfather Charles Barron, a former member of the Black Panther Party. "We keep fighting the symptoms," he is prone to say, "But capitalism is the disease." - Malaika Jabali, It's Not You, It's Capitalism
4/22/202437 minutes, 41 seconds
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How to Spot Corporate Bullshit (w/ Nick Hanauer)

Get new episodes early at !Today we take a dive into the world of "corporate bullshit" with Nick Hanauer, who has become an expert on spotting and debunking it. Nick is a businessman who became known for warning of the devastating social effects of plutocracy, and who now hosts the "Pitchfork Economics" podcast which presents sharp conversations with leading progressive economic experts. Nick's latest project is the book Corporate Bullsh*t, written with Joan Walsh and Donald Cohen. (Listen to Donald's appearance on the CA podcast here.) The book dives into American history to show how every time a progressive reform was proposed, the corporate PR machine spun the proposal as a job-killer, a socialist plot, the end of civilization, etc. Some of the examples collected in the book are truly galling, as Nathan explains in his review of the book here. On this episode, we look at some of the common tendencies used in corporate propaganda and why they can be persuasive to people. We also discuss how Nick came to be a public opponent of plutocracy, and we have a short digression on the fraudulence of the "MyPillow," since Nick comes from a family of immigrants who spent a century making pillows and bedding.Over the past century and a half, on a broad range of issues including the minimum wage, workplace safety, environmental regulations, consumer protection—even on morally indisputable issues like child labor and racial segregation—the people and corporations who profited from the status quo have effectively wielded a familiar litany of groundless ‘economic’ claims and fear mongering rhetoric in their efforts to slow or quash necessary reforms. As even a cursory examination of the quotes we’ve included in this book will show, the wealthy and powerful are willing to say anything—even the worst things imaginable—to retain their wealth and power. But while there is simply no bottom to this well of shamelessness, there is a pattern. 
4/19/202443 minutes, 52 seconds
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Your Money or Your Life: A Physician on the Miseries of Medical Debt

Get new episodes early at !Dr. Luke Messac is an emergency physician and historian whose new book is Your Money or Your Life: Debt Collection in American Medicine (Oxford University Press). Messac also wrote the article "Why Medical Debt Forgiveness Drives Are Not Enough" for Current Affairs. Messac's book looks at the entire history of medical debt, how hospitals went from being (somewhat) charitable institutions to farming debt collection out to huge companies that make massive profits off shaking down poor people. He joins today to explain the harms that medical debt does to patients' lives (and to their relationships with their doctors), how the debt collection industry works, and why things don't have to be this way. "We must reckon with the bounty hunters of medicine: the debt collectors who haunt the lives of the millions of Americans who cannot pay for their medical care. Any solution that leaves intact an industry that profits off the financial captivity of the poor cannot credibly be called just. It is time to build a future without medical debt or its collectors." — Luke Messac 
4/17/202436 minutes, 51 seconds
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How Four Billionaires Are Creating A Horrible Future For All of Us (w/ Jonathan Taplin)

Jonathan Taplin has had a fascinating career, from being a tour manager for Bob Dylan and the Band to a film producer for Martin Scorsese to running the Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California's communications school. In recent years, he has turned his attention to writing critically about the tech elite. His book Move Fast and Break Things: How Google, Facebook and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy focused on leading monopolistic corporations. His new book, The End of Reality: How 4 Billionaires Are Selling a Fantasy Future of the Metaverse, Mars and Crypto, examines four leading billionaires (Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Peter Thiel, and Marc Andreessen). Each of them is extremely powerful and has a vision for the future of the world. Taplin thinks those visions are bleak, antidemocratic, and dystopian. He joins us to explain how he thinks these men are destroying our culture and even trying to "end reality." Taplin's background in rock-n-roll and New Hollywood gives him a distinctive perspective on the cultural degradation that these billionaires are contributing to, from the erosion of musicians' livelihoods through streaming services to the threat posed to quality cinema by a nonstop stream of billion-dollar AI-written superhero movies.“There is a choice about what the future holds, and it’s not necessarily Mark Zuckerberg’s or Elon Musk’s to make. The fight that remains will be to once again assert the possibility of constructing our lives as free and autonomous persons in a natural world not destroyed by industrial pollution and not ruled by the algorithms of the tech monopolies. It will be to resist this future of pseudo-experience and fantasy exploration. That resistance will require both government regulation and the individual decisions of millions of citizens around the world about how they are going to use technology. Fortunately these four technologies of the Metaverse, crypto, transhumanism, and space travel are in their early stages of adoption...[My greatest fear is] that enchanted by the magic of the Technocrats’ “immutable money, infinite frontier, eternal life,” we will sleep through a right-wing revolution and wake up to find our democracy gone and our children being turned into Meta cyborgs. Let us wake up and resist the end of reality.” — Jonathan Taplin, The End of RealityRead the Current Affairs critique of Andreessen's "techno-optimist manifesto" here. Our episode on the relationship between MySpace and music is here. The crypto story is fleshed out in our previous episode with Zeke Faux.
4/15/202437 minutes, 30 seconds
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The Rise and Fall of Crypto Lunacy (w/ Zeke Faux)

Zeke Faux of Bloomberg News is the author of a fascinating and hilarious new book about the crypto world and the collapse of the Sam Bankman-Fried empire, Number Go Up: Inside Crypto's Wild Rise and Staggering Fall. In contrast with Michael Lewis, whose recent book Going Infinite also looks at Bankman-Fried, Faux sees the scamming and lying of the crypto world for what it is, and his book is highly conscious of the harm done to victims by the fraudulence of Bankman-Fried and others. (Faux's book begins: "'I’m not going to lie,’ Sam Bankman-Fried told me. This was a lie.") Today, Faux joins to answer all of the most pressing questions about SBF, FTX, crypto, and the very dumb world of "NFTs," like:When did SBF's (alleged) crimes become detectable? Is Michael Lewis right that at the core of FTX was a "great real business" that was undone by bad luck?When Zeke confronted Jimmy Fallon about all the money people lost by investing in NFTs, how did Fallon justify promoting them?Since Sam Bankman-Fried rationalized his every action in terms of its "expected value" calculation, how did he justify playing video games all the time?Was SBF's "effective altruism" ever actually sincere?Why would anyone ever have bought a "bored ape" image for millions of dollars?What insights about the human condition can be gleaned from examining the world of crypto?Bankman-Fried said that I was wrong. Crypto wasn’t a scam, and neither was Tether. But he wasn’t offended by my question. He said he totally understood my problem. Then he did something that didn’t strike me as strange at the time. But knowing what I know now, I can’t help but wonder if he was trying to make some kind of winking confession. Bankman-Fried cut me off, nodding, as I tried to explain more. His tone turned chipper. He said: “It’s like the narrative would be way sexier if it was like, ‘Holy shit, this is the world’s biggest Ponzi scheme,’ right?”Right.— Zeke Faux, Number Go Up Listeners may also be interested in prior episodes on crypto/NFTs/"Web3" with Stephen Diehl, Molly White, and Nicholas Weaver. Incidentally, Sam Bankman Fried is testifying in his criminal trial today.  It's also never a bad time to reread our 2021 article "Why Cryptocurrency Is A Giant Fraud." 
4/12/202451 minutes, 14 seconds
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How The Occupation Shapes Everything (w/ Nathan Thrall)

Nathan Thrall, the former Director of the Arab-Israeli Project at the International Crisis Group, is the author of two books on Israel and Palestine: The Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine and most recently A Day in the Life of Abed Salama: Anatomy of a Jerusalem Tragedy, which focuses on the tribulations of a Palestinian father in the aftermath of a personal tragedy. Because his book is about Palestinians under occupation, several of Thrall's book events have been canceled since the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel. Based in Jerusalem, Thrall joins us to explain the current state of Israeli society, and to tell us more about the reality of life for Palestinians under occupation. “For all the blame that was cast, no one—not the investigators, not the lawyers, not the judges—named the true origins of the calamity. No one mentioned the chronic lack of classrooms in East Jerusalem, a shortage that led parents to send their children to poorly supervised West Bank schools. No one pointed to the separation wall and the permit system that forced a kindergarten class to take a long, dangerous detour to the edge of Ramallah rather than driving to the playgrounds of Pisgat Ze’ev, a stone’s throw away. ... No one noted that the absence of emergency services on one side of the separation wall was bound to lead to tragedy. No one said that the Palestinians in the area were neglected because the Jewish state aimed to reduce their presence in greater Jerusalem, the place most coveted by Israel. For these acts, no one was held to account.” —  Nathan Thrall, A Day in the Life of Abed Salama
4/10/202446 minutes, 37 seconds
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The Current Israel-Palestine Crisis Was Entirely Avoidable (w/ Jerome Slater)

Political scientist Jerome Slater is the author of one of the best one-volume summaries of the background of the Israel-Palestine conflict, Mythologies Without End: The US, Israel, and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1917-2020 (Oxford University Press). Slater argues in the book that the possibilities for a peaceful resolution to the conflict were consistently eroded by Israel’s refusal to withdraw to its legal borders and successive Israeli leaders’ staunch opposition to a Palestinian state. Slater’s exhaustively documented but accessible work also predicted that Israel’s policies toward Palestine were creating the conditions for a “disaster.” Three years later, Slater’s predictions have tragically come true. He joins to explain the background to the conflict.“I’ve become convinced that Israel, with essentially blind US Jewish and government support, is well along the road to both a moral and security disaster.” — Jerome Slater, Mythologies Without End (2020) This interview is available as a transcript here. 
4/8/202440 minutes, 51 seconds
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Why Wars Happen (w/ Michael Mann)

Michael Mann is a sociologist who has spent his life trying to understand how power works. His latest book, On Wars, surveys the entire history of warfare between human societies to try to understand why wars happen and how they can be avoided. It is the culmination of a decade-long effort by Mann to try to comprehensively understand the origins of war. (See the New York Times review of Mann's book here.) Today he joins to help us better understand war. Are humans naturally warlike? Are wars rational ways to achieve political goals? Mann addresses the Steven Pinker narrative that civilization and enlightenment have brought about greater peace—in fact, he says, "civilization" has allowed us to build more efficient killing machines than ever. And he tells us what he knows on the subject that should interest all of us in the nuclear age: How do we end war? Note that this episode was recorded before the recent explosion of the Israel-Palestine conflict, so it is not addressed in the discussion. “War is the one instance where losing one’s temper may cause the death of thousands. War pays us back more swiftly for mistakes than any other human activity. Humans are not calculating machines—more’s the pity, since peace is more rational than war. If the social world did conform to rational theory, if rulers did carefully calculate the costs and benefits of war, trying hard to set emotions and ideologies aside and ignoring domestic political pressures, they would see that most wars are too risky and inferior to economic exchange, the sharing of norms and values, and diplomacy as ways of securing desired goals..War is the least rational of human projects, but humans are only erratically rational creatures...Human beings are not genetically predisposed to make war, but our human nature does matter, if indirectly. Its tripartite character, part rational, part emotional, part ideological, when set inside the institutional and cultural constraints of societies, makes war an intermittent outcome. Human nature does matter, and that is why when wars are fought, they are mostly fought for no good reason.” — Michael Mann, On Wars
4/5/202445 minutes
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A McKinsey Whistleblower on Life Inside The Secretive Consulting Firm

Several years ago, Garrison Lovely wrote an insider account of McKinsey & Co. for Current Affairs. At the time he published using a pseudonym, but he's now gone public with a cover story for a recent issue of The Nation, entitled "Confessions of a McKinsey Whistleblower," where he recounts observations of the firm's work for ICE and the Riker's Island jail. Garrison joins today to tell us what McKinsey is like on the inside: how it justifies serving odious clients, why young "idealists" are tempted to join it, and what goes wrong with the logic of "optimization." The right-wing National Review's odd response to Garrison's piece is here. Our previous episode on the book When McKinsey Comes to Town provides useful context for today's episode. We are now living with the consequences of the world McKinsey created. Market fundamentalism is the default mode for businesses and governments the world over. Abstraction and myth insulate actors from the atrocities they help perpetuate. Businesses that resisted the pressure to rationalize every decision based on its impact on shareholder value were beaten out or eaten up by those who shed the last remnants of their humanity. With another heavyweight on the side of management, McKinsey tipped the scale even further away from labor, contributing directly to the increase in wealth inequality plaguing the world. Governments are now more similar to the private sector and more reliant on their services. The “best and the brightest” devote themselves to client service instead of public service. — Garrison Lovely, "McKinsey & Co.: Capital's Willing Executioners." 
4/3/202444 minutes, 37 seconds
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How Big Pharma Makes a Killing From Letting People Die (w/ Nick Dearden)

Get new episodes early at !Nick Dearden's Pharmanomics is an essential primer on how the pharmaceutical industry works, taking a tour across the globe to explain clearly why Big Pharma's profits come at the expense of public health. Dearden, an investigative journalist and director of Global Justice Now, destroys the argument that high drug prices are necessary in order to maintain innovation. He shows how the pharmaceutical industry has pushed drugs that don't work, buried harmful side effects, experimented on the Global South, and extorted the public to line its pockets. He explains why scientific research needs to be under public, rather than private control, and offers a vision for a healthcare system that actually takes care of people's health. Dearden shows how the infamous Martin Shkreli, who became notorious for hiking drug prices, was not a mere bad apple, but following standard operating procedure in the world of "pharmanomics." 
4/1/202433 minutes, 38 seconds
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What Makes For a "Strong Town"? (w/ Allison Lirish Dean)

Get new episodes early at !Allison Lirish Dean is a journalist and urban planner in North Carolina. She is the author of a recent piece for the Current Affairs print edition (and now available online) critiquing the "Strong Towns" organization. Strong Towns is highly critical of suburban sprawl and many of its suggestions for improving our cities and towns are sensible. But Allison argues that in its disdain for "government" and its rejection of important progressive notions of fairness, Strong Towns ultimately aims up pushing an approach to planning that will maintain existing unjust inequalities. Allison's critique has implications beyond this particular organization, though. It also illuminates the different possible approaches to thinking about how to make better places, and Allison articulates a clear progressive agenda for planning. If, like me, you’re a progressive and distressed about the state of our cities, you will like a lot of what Strong Towns has to say. But its approach is ultimately undergirded by a right-wing ideology that does little to alter the political status quo and further naturalizes austerity and infrastructure inequality: communities get what they deserve based on their ability to build wealth through entrepreneurship, not what they need from a system that prioritizes human rights and the delivery of universal public goods. — Allison Lirish Dean 
3/29/202443 minutes, 21 seconds
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How White Supremacist Ideology Made Its Way Into Music Theory (w/ Philip Ewell)

Get new episodes early at !Philip Ewell is a professor of music theory and the author of the new book On Music Theory, and Making Music More Welcoming for Everyone (University of Michigan Press). Ewell is one of the most "controversial" music theorists in the country, having sparked a major controversy in his field by criticizing the "white racial frame" that dominates in music theory. Ewell argued that much of mainstream music theory has been build around unstated assumptions about which kinds of music are sophisticated/interesting/worthy of academic study. Today he joins to explain how the idea of white supremacy translated into normative conceptions about music, why it's a mistake to think he's trying to "cancel Bach," and how music theory can be made, in the words of his title, more welcoming for everyone, meaning that it will break free of its narrow focus on a tiny group of European composers. A great YouTube video by Adam Neely featuring Ewell, discussing the themes of this conversation, is here. A comprehensive Current Affairs article on the controversy around race and music theory is here. Nathan's article on Charles Murray, including Murray's theories about music, is here. The main problem I have noticed as music theory faces its racial past is in how we confront what we see in the mirror as we look at ourselves. Understanding the exclusionist nature of the field is not difficult, and it is also easy to add to the music theory mix a few composers of color and think that this represents a solution to our racial dilemma. However, as Baldwin says in the epigraph to this chapter, all we ever see in that mirror is lies, whether we acknowledge that or not. The lie we are told by music theory, the lie that awaits in the mirror to be seen by the field if it is strong enough to glance, is that the dark secrets of our past are exceptional to our field, and that, by and large, our history has been one of social justice and decency. Of course, this is largely untrue of American music theory, since this is largely untrue of the United States as a country. — Philip Ewell, On Music Theory
3/27/202443 minutes, 48 seconds
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Gary Younge's 30-Year Panorama of the African Diaspora

Gary Younge spent three decades as a reporter and columnist for The Guardian, where he became one of the publication's most incisive and widely-read contributors. His new book, Dispatches from the Diaspora, collects some of the best of Gary's reporting and commentary. It is a unique collection of snapshots from the African diaspora, from Barbados to London to Ferguson to South Africa. Gary recounts meetings with Maya Angelou, Angela Davis, Desmond Tutu, and other greats, as well as highlighting lesser-known stories like the life of Claudette Colvin. Gary recounts historic moments he witnessed and reported on, such as being in South Africa when Nelson Mandela ascended to the presidency and seeing the reaction to Barack Obama's election on Chicago's South Side. Today Gary joins to discuss some of the events and people he covers in his book, and to expand on some of his unique opinion pieces (such as his "defense of Uncle Tom" and his case for tearing down all statues).“I sign off from this column at a dispiriting time, with racism, cynicism and intolerance on the rise, wages stagnant and faith that progressive change is possible declining even as resistance grows. Things look bleak. The propensity to despair is strong but should not be indulged. Sing yourself up. Imagine a world in which you might thrive, for which there is no evidence. And then fight for it.” — Gary Younge, in his final Guardian column
3/25/202437 minutes, 11 seconds
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Why The Cop City Indictment Threatens Everyone's Freedom (w/ Christopher Bruce)

Get new episodes early at !Originally aired 9/19/2023Dozens of protesters in Atlanta have recently been hit with serious charges, including domestic terrorism and racketeering, stemming from protest activity over "Cop City," a proposed police training center in the forest outside the city. The Defend the Atlanta Forest movement has been occupying parts of the forest and clashing with police and construction companies, and prosecutors have now come down hard on the protests. In Current Affairs, Nathan recently wrote that the indictment is both preposterous and terrifying. Preposterous because it criminalizes behavior that should obviously not be prosecuted (like buying a tarp, or being an anarchist). And terrifying because it will encourage prosecutors around the country to aggressively pursue dissidents. We are joined today by one of the leading legal experts on the case, Christopher Bruce of the Georgia ACLU. Christopher explains the background, the risks, and shows why all Americans should be deeply troubled by this outrageous prosecutorial overreach.  
3/22/202425 minutes, 3 seconds
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Why We Need Utopias (w/ Kristen Ghodsee)

Get new episodes early at !Kristen Ghodsee is Professor of Russian and East European Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of books like Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism and, most recently, Everyday Utopia: What 2,000 Years of Wild Experiments Can Teach Us About the Good Life. Today she joins to explain why she believes utopian thinking, and studying the utopian experiments that people have engaged in across history, can help us figure out what life ought to be like and how to change the world for the better. From Charles Fourier to Star Trek, Ghodsee takes us on a fascinating tour of attempts to dream up and build mini-paradises. We discuss where utopias go right and where they go wrong.The Liza Featherstone review of Ghodsee's book in Jacobin is here. The angry Wall Street Journal review is here."Imagination is more important than knowledge,” said Albert Einstein in 1931. “For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.” We stand on the cusp of a new age, with many of us striving toward a more positive vision of the future like the one Roddenberry once provided, where human beings find a way to build a better world for subsequent generations of humanity. Our old ideas about patrilineality and patrilocality are no longer fit for that purpose. We need new ideas, new dreams, and the courage to imagine alternative futures. Now is the moment to “think different.” If we can imagine them first in a galaxy far, far away, it’s only a matter of time before we boldly go and begin figuring out how to translate these inspired visions into our own everyday utopias. — Kristen Ghodsee
3/20/202442 minutes
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ZINNOPHOBIA - Why So Many Still Fear "A People's History of the United States" (w/ David Detmer)

Get new episodes early at !David Detmer is the author of the book Zinnophobia: The Battle Over History in Education, Politics, and Scholarship. David's book was published five years ago, after former Indiana governor Mitch Daniels became the president of Purdue University and immediately tried to ban Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States. Detmer, a Purdue professor and former student of Zinn, set out to understand the remarkable hostility ("Zinnophobia") that Howard Zinn's work has been met with, not just among Republican politicans but also among some of Zinn's historian colleagues. Were they right that People's History is a bad work of history?Today, Detmer joins to discuss Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States, and the criticisms that have been made of Zinn. We talk about Zinn's life and work and what made it so distinct from previous histories. Detmer explains Zinn's theory of what the role of a historian was. We discuss the backlash and go through some of the criticisms of Zinn. Detmer explains why he finds the criticisms to be so flimsy, and the way in which critics misunderstand what Zinn was doing. The fights over how American history should be taught are still ongoing, as we know, so it's a good moment to take stock of the most famous radical revisionist take on U.S. history. The quote at the beginning is, of course, from Good Will Hunting. Zinn's work lives on at the excellent Zinn Education Project. Highly recommended is Voices of a People's History, a companion volume to the original book that Zinn co-edited with Anthony Arnove. A 21st century sequel to Voices was recently released by Arnove and Haley Pessin. The original People's History has also been adapted into a beautifully-illustrated graphic edition."Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, a perennial bestseller, offers a version of American history that differs substantially from previous accounts. Instead of the standard story, in which the wise and heroic deeds of presidents, Supreme Court justices, military and business leaders, and various other wealthy and powerful elites are celebrated, Zinn makes the case that, whenever progressive change has occurred, it has resulted from the struggles of ordinary people—those who have participated in popular movements agitating for peace, for racial and sexual equality, for improved working conditions, and for environmental protection, among other similar causes. And in opposition to the triumphalist bias of the more orthodox histories, in which the misdeeds of the powerful are either sanitized or erased altogether, Zinn shines a spotlight on official acts of enslaving Africans, slaughtering Indians, lying, breaking promises, violating treaties, trashing the Constitution, exploiting workers, bombing or massacring civilians, assassinating foreign leaders, sabotaging elections, and propping up brutal puppet dictators, among other transgressions.”“As the continuing success of the book testifies (it was first published in 1980 and remains a bestseller 37 years later) many readers warmly welcome Zinn’s work... But the reaction of many other readers (and non-readers who know of Zinn’s book only by reputation) has been one of loathing. Such has been the typical response of political conservatives, the wealthy and powerful, many mainstream historians, and everyone else whose sense of “patriotism” engenders a commitment to the idea that our nation’s leaders, traditions, and institutions are uniquely great and moral.”“What I found, over and over again, is that Zinn’s harsh critics...produce incompetent work—work that, while it occasionally scores an isolated minor point or two against Zinn, nonetheless can be fairly characterized, on the whole, as uncomprehending, larded with errors, and not up to the quality standards one would expect in a term paper submitted for credit by a college freshman for an introductory level course." — David Detmer
3/19/202458 minutes, 38 seconds
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Why Do We Have Any Poverty In America When It's Such a Solvable Problem? (w/ Matt Desmond)

Get new episodes early at !Matthew Desmond's bestselling book Poverty, By America poses a straightforward question: Why is there any poverty at all in such a wealthy country as the United States? Surely we could solve the problem of poverty if we were committed to doing so. Desmond points a finger at those who profit from poverty and argues that there is no justification for our inaction. Desmond, a leading sociologist whose work has won the Pulitzer Prize and the MacArthur Fellowship, tries to understand what makes poverty so persistent and what it would take to "abolish" it forever. Today he joins to give a brief explanation of his ideas.“Lift the floor by rebalancing our social safety net; empower the poor by reining in exploitation; and invest in broad prosperity by turning away from segregation. That’s how we end poverty in America.” — Matthew Desmond“How many artists and poets has poverty denied us? How many diplomats and visionaries? How many political and spiritual leaders? How many nurses and engineers and scientists? Think of how many more of us would be empowered to thrive if we tore down the walls, how much more vibrant and forward-moving our country would be.” — Matthew Desmond“Poverty will be abolished in America only when a mass movement demands it so. And today, such a movement stirs. American labor is once again on the move, growing more boisterous and feistier by the day, organizing workplaces once thought untouchable. A renewed movement for housing justice is gaining steam. In a resurgence of tenant power, renters have formed eviction blockades and chained themselves to the entrances of housing court, meeting the violence of displacement with a force of their own. The Poor People’s Campaign has elevated the voices of low-income Americans around the country, voices challenging “the lie of scarcity in the midst of abundance” and mobilizing for things like educational equity and a reinvestment in public housing.They march under different banners—workers’ unions and tenants’ unions; movements for racial justice and economic justice—but they share a commitment to ending poverty in America.” — Matthew DesmondThe piece by Matthew Yglesias that Desmond is responding to is here. A short version of the argument was published in the New York Times Magazine. Note that Desmond's audio skips briefing in the middle of a sentence toward the end, due to a faulty internet connection. 
3/15/202420 minutes, 38 seconds
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Mini-Cast: Ending Period Poverty Through the "Menstrual Equity for All" Act (w/ Grace Meng)

"I’m pretty sure that some of my colleagues have signed on to my bill because they wanted me to stop talking about periods on the floor of the House." — Grace MengGrace Meng represents the 6th District of New York in the United States Congress. She recently reintroduced her Menstrual Equity for All Act, which aims to dramatically expand free access to menstrual products across the country. She joins today to discuss the problem of period poverty and what it would take to solve it. A transcript is available here. "When I’m talking about this issue, most people—men or women—do not necessarily prioritize this issue, and many are even surprised to learn about it." — Grace Meng
3/13/202416 minutes, 8 seconds
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There Is No Alternative to Ending Fossil Fuel Use (w/ Lorne Stockman)

Get new episodes early at !Lorne Stockman is the research co-director at Oil Change International, which is dedicated to exposing the harms caused by fossil fuel use and advocating for a green transition. Today Lorne joins us to rebut some common nonsense conservative talking points on climate change, to explain how a transition to 100% renewable energy can happen, and to give a clear assessment of how much progress we've made so far and how much is left to go. It's a crucial conversation for understanding where we're at in the fight against the climate catastrophe, and you may be surprised to hear that there is actually some good news. We discuss such topics as: Why Vivek Ramaswamy is full of crap when he says that continued fossil fuel use is essential for human prosperityWhy Vivek Ramaswamy is also full of crap when he suggests that fossil fuel energy can simply be used to cancel out the damage caused by climate changeWhy many other things said about fossil fuels and climate change are also false or misleadingHow far we've come in improving the cost effectiveness of renewable energy sourcesWhether nuclear power has a necessary role in a green transitionWhether the Inflation Reduction Act is really the boon for climate solutions that it's touted as, and how much it will actually doWhat kinds of fake techno-solutions to climate change we need to be on the lookout forWhat the fossil fuel industry does in the places where its extraction is based, with Lorne discussing his observations in the Permian BasinRead Lorne's writings for Oil Change International here. A recent article Nathan wrote on the latest phase in climate denial is here. This podcast pairs well with our recent conversation with Current Affairs contributor Jag Bhalla. "It is abundantly clear that the production and consumption of fossil gas must decline immediately, even if methane reduction goals are met. No amount of wishful thinking about upstream emissions reduction, carbon capture and storage (CCS), gas-based “blue” hydrogen, or whatever the latest magical techno-fix the industry imagines will save it can change this fact." — Lorne Stockman
3/11/202445 minutes, 2 seconds
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Why "Climate Optimism" Is Irrational and What Global Climate Justice Requires (w/ Jag Bhalla)

Get new episodes early at !Jag Bhalla is a contributor to Current Affairs who has also written for Scientific American and Big Think. His pieces for our magazine have frequently focused on debunking popular narratives about climate change and arguing that anything resembling a just future will require a fundamental change in the distribution of global wealth and consumption. Read his articles here:‘Climate Optimism’ Is Dangerous and IrrationalWe Can’t Have Climate Justice Without Ending Computational ColonialismThe 1% Are Many Times Worse Than The Rainforest WreckersWhite-Collar War Crimes and For-Profit Famines Taming the Greedocracy Today Jag joins to explain some of the core ideas underpinning his work in Current Affairs, showing how the assumption that the Global South doesn't matter is buried in U.S. climate discourse and explaining some of the bad math that allows for the rationalization of heinous injustices. Climate change is not just going to be “apocalyptic,” it’s already apocalyptic. It’s just that the apocalypse is not something that happens to the entire world at once. Instead, the apocalyptic events are experienced mostly by the world’s poorest people (who, incidentally, have contributed the least to creating the problem). Who, witnessing the scale of flooding in Pakistan last year, could possibly say that the climate crisis is not “apocalyptic,” unless you regard Pakistanis as unpeople whose well-being simply doesn’t factor into the equation? 33 million people were displaced, and millions of homes destroyed. When white Western elites publish books with titles like It’s Not The End of The World or Apocalypse Never or False Alarm, what they mean is “it’s not the end of the world for people like me,” “apocalyptic conditions will never be experienced by my sector of society,” and “those of us who are among the world’s richest do not need to be alarmed.” Of course, even these are false comforts—the mansions of Malibu are flammable, after all.
3/8/202443 minutes, 3 seconds
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Is Being "Moderate" Actually How Democrats Win? (w/ Alex Bronzini-Vender)

Get new episodes early at !Alex Bronzini-Vender has contributed several articles to Current Affairs, about progressive politics in the U.S. today. In his first, "Progressives Aren’t Hurting the Democratic Party—In Fact, They’re The Only Thing Saving It," he looks at his home state of New York. Bronzini-Vender argues that, contrary to the narrative that tough-on-crime Democrats are more "electable," the most progressive Democrats are in fact scoring the most important political victories and inspiring voters. In Alex's second article, "Moderates, Not Leftists, Have Created the Crises in Democratic Cities," he looks at the right-wing narrative that "leftism" has caused crises of homelessness and disorder in American cities. Is the conservative storytelling on American cities the product of ignorance, malice, or both? I couldn’t tell you—but the reason it’s irresistibly appealing to conservatives of both Democratic and Republican stripes is quite clear. For Republicans, leftist-induced urban malaise is a seemingly concrete, visceral argument for their policy agendas of “backing the blue” and being “tough on crime.” And, for conservative Democrats, it allows them to ignore the fact that, for decades, they’ve held political power in America’s largest cities—and have left behind only long legacies of failed policy. The present crises faced by the communities they’re responsible for are transformed, in their telling, into new and unique beasts brought about by a radical fringe, rather than outcomes decades in the making. And, most conveniently, this false narrative pins the blame for said crises upon burgeoning progressive movements, forcing them to answer for problems they bear no responsibility for. — Alex Bronzini-VenderThe article "Eric Adams' Moral Panics," mentioned by Alex, is here. The podcast with Mo Mitchell is here. The interview with Robert Peters is here. The story about Adams' fake photo is here. The thumbnail photo is an official homeless encampment that the San Francisco city government installed in front of city hall during the COVID-19 pandemic instead of giving people housing.
3/6/202438 minutes, 33 seconds
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The Many Layers of Injustice in American Criminal Punishment (w/ Stephen Bright & James Kwak)

Get new episodes early at !Today we are joined by Stephen Bright and James Kwak to discuss their new book The Fear of Too Much Justice: Race, Poverty, and the Persistence of Inequality in the Criminal Courts. The book is a comprehensive primer on the problems with the American criminal court system, from the power of prosecutors to the underfunding of public defenders to the biases of judges to the obstacles to getting a wrongful conviction overturned. Bryan Stevenson calls it "an urgently needed analysis of our collective failure to confront and overcome racial bias and bigotry, the abuse of power, and the multiple ways in which the death penalty's profound unfairness requires its abolition." The authors are leading experts on the system, and Prof. Bright has successfully argued Supreme Court cases challenging racial discrimination in jury selection. (Listeners might remember Prof. Bright from his previous appearance on the program, which specifically focused on the right to counsel.) “Excessive punishment is one of the most important problems facing our country today, causing misery for people subject to it and their families, wasting vast resources, and making it harder for millions of people to contribute to society...A just criminal legal system is one that considers people charged with crimes as “uniquely individual human beings” subject to “the diverse frailties of humankind,” as demanded by Justice Potter Stewart in the 1976 Supreme Court ruling that rejected laws making the death penalty mandatory. It takes into account the many factors that may make a person more likely to commit a crime—poverty, racism, neglect, abuse, witnessing violence, post-traumatic stress disorder, serious mental disorders, and so on—and the inability of prosecutors, judges, or juries to predict who that person will be in the future. A just system responds to a crime both with sanctions that fairly reflect the moral culpability of the person who committed it and with measures that help him become a positive contributor to his community. In an adversary system, justice demands that people accused of crimes be represented by skilled, zealous lawyers with the time, resources, and information necessary to fairly defend their clients, and that cases be heard by judges motivated solely by upholding the law and achieving a just outcome. And justice demands that both courts and governments actively work to redress the systemic racial discrimination that plagues the criminal legal system.” — Stephen Bright and James Kwak Nathan mentions Prof. Kwak's excellent book Economism, which debunks the misuses of economic reasoning. 
3/4/202436 minutes, 14 seconds
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Can The Concept of "Philanthropy" Be Saved? (w/ Amy Schiller)

Philanthropy is a problem. Lots of contemporary philanthropy is either useless (Rich people funding new buildings for Harvard) or shouldn't have to happen in the first place (Nonprofits fulfilling crucial social roles that the state doesn't take care of in the age of neoliberalism). The standard left critique of philanthropy is that we should redistribute wealth and income rather than depending on the largesse of the bourgeoisie, who have far too much damned money. But Amy Schiller, in The Price of Humanity, goes beyond this critique, and argues that we can engineer a better concept of philanthropy. First, she argues that we need a social democratic welfare state, so that the meeting of basic needs is not the domain of philanthropy (no more GoFundMes for medical care). But then we also need to go beyond a basic living wage to instead have a "giving wage," meaning we should all earn enough to be able to give some of it away. The things we support through giving should be special projects that aren't funded by the state but nevertheless enrich life. Schiller joins today to discuss her ideas for a better kind of philanthropy. She explains why she thinks the effective altruists have everything backwards and why the "roses" in "bread and roses" should not be considered optional. Listeners might also enjoy our conversation with Prof. Linsey McGoey, author of No Such Thing As A Free Gift: The Gates Foundation and the Price of Philanthropy."The project of philanthropy is to make the earth more of a home, and to encourage inhabitants of the spaces and institutions it provides to feel at home in the world. Ours is a world for humans. It should serve all of us, not the few who can exploit the many for maximum profit. The money we use to build the common world communicates our belief in that world, and in all who inhabit it. It affirms the value of humanity beyond price." - Amy Schiller, The Price of Humanity 
2/28/202439 minutes, 26 seconds
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What Would It Take To Have a Democracy? (w/ Thom Hartmann)

Thom Hartmann is America's #1 progressive radio host and the author of the "Hidden History" series of books. His latest, The Hidden History of American Democracy: Rediscovering Humanity’s Ancient Way of Living, encouragingly argues that democracy is the most natural form of organization. Drawing from examples from the animal kingdom to the Iroquois confederacy to Thomas Paine, Hartmann lays out a vision of what it would mean to have an actual democracy. He counsels against pessimism, though he is conscious of the ways in which the present American system is rigged and undemocratic. Today he joins to explain what the study of history can teach us about the possibilities for our future."The more unequal a society becomes, the more difficult it is to maintain a functioning democracy, as we've seen in the United States in the years since the Supreme Court legalized political bribery, and as a result, Congress changed the rules of capitalism and taxation to favor the morbidly rich. While democracy may be the resting state of the human race, [its force] is like gravity: Although it's eventually irresistible, it can be defied for long periods of time. If democracy is to survive in America, it's going to require a considerable reallocation of political and financial power in the wake of the Supreme Court's disastrous decisions that have handed our nation's political system over to America's oligarchs." — Thom HartmannThom's previous appearance on the program can be heard here.
2/26/202440 minutes, 56 seconds
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How Did the Idea of Being "Self-Made" Come About? (w/ Tara Isabella Burton)

Tara Isabella Burton is a novelist and the author of the new nonfiction book Self-Made: Creating Our Identities from Da Vinci to the Kardashians, a history of the rise of the idea of a curated self. Tara's book looks at the transition from seeing human beings as made by God to being made by our own individual wills. From Renaissance painters to the famous dandy Beau Brummell to Thomas Edison to contemporary Instagram influencers and reality television stars, Tara looks at those who have carefully manufactured the picture of themselves that they show to the rest of the world. Today she joins to discuss whether, in becoming free to "self-make," we have in fact truly been liberated, and what unseen forces shape people's ideas of the selves they ought to become.“[T]he seemingly liberatory promise that we can create ourselves has, as often as not, been warped into an excuse to create, implicitly or explicitly, two classes of people: those who are capable of shaping their destinies (and who thereby deserve their success) and those who are not (and who deserve nothing). This classification invariably places those who do not fit the dominant physical or cultural mold—women, people of color, the poor, the disabled—in the second category.That is not to say that it would be preferable to reinstate the image of a divine creator-monarch, Thomas Aquinas’s vision of a universe where the laws of the natural world and of the social world are inextricable from one another, where the right of kings to rule is as ingrained in the functioning of our earth as the propensity of heavenly bodies to fall. But we must all ask ourselves what it means—politically, ethically, socially—to live up to Stewart Brand’s predictions that we are as gods, that the world is nothing but what we make of it, and that our choices, our desires, our wanting to be or to have, are the only things that make us human, that make us us. We must, too, ask ourselves how often our desires are stoked by those with a financial interest in making us think that we both can and should shape ourselves, whether they’re selling us self-help manuals or Snake Oil skin cream." — Tara Isabella BurtonAlbrecht Dürer's Christlike self-portrait can be seen here. Tara's Current Affairs article "The Making of the Self-Made Man," which previewed some of the ideas discussed in the book, can be read here. Listen to Tara's previous appearance on the podcast, discussing her book Strange Rites, here.
2/23/202436 minutes, 5 seconds
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Our Plan to Make It Actually Enjoyable to Read The News

Current Affairs has recently launched a new project: the Current Affairs News Briefing, a twice-weekly digest of important (and often neglected) news stories. We're really tired of having to sift through a mountain of clickbait and ads every morning to "find the news," so we're putting together our own alternative, which relays the things that matter most in the distinctive CA style. We think fans of our magazine and podcast will enjoy it!The News Briefing's chief researcher and writer is Stephen Prager, who joins Nathan on the podcast to discuss the question: What's wrong with the US news media? We talk about the lack of foreign coverage, the endless trivia and fluff, the failure to pay attention to things that majorly affect people's lives, and what the media's priorities ought to be. Then we discuss our own approach to trying to remedy some of this through the news briefing. This new project is still young, so we welcome your suggestions and tips at [email protected]. What do you wish for from your news media that you don't currently get? 
2/21/202433 minutes, 11 seconds
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The Role of Drugs in American Life (w/ Benjamin Fong)

Benjamin Y. Fong is the associate director of the Center for Work & Democracy at Arizona State University and the author of the new book Quick Fixes: Drugs in America from Prohibition to the 21st Century Binge. From cigarettes to crack to opioids, Fong's book looks at how the United States became a country with a major drug habit. He talks about the role of private industry in monetizing addictive chemicals, and the hideous consequences of the war on drugs. For a leftist, drugs pose a certain conundrum: On the one hand, we believe in full legalization and an end to the horror of the drug war. However, we also don't take a fully libertarian "drug use as an expression of individual preference" approach, and recognize that drug use can be (1) a response to desperate conditions and (2) pushed by private actors who profit off misery. Legalization alone will surely produce more destructive industries like the cigarette industry, which profits from slowly killing its customers (and constantly addicting new ones). What, then, is the progressive approach to drug use? Quick Fixes offers a nuanced and fascinating look at the intersection of capitalism and chemical dependency. "Misguided and destructive as the War on Drugs has been, the key proposals of liberal drug reformism don't inspire much confidence in an alternative. Legalization has, for one, long been the principled position of the libertarian right: from Ludwig von Mises to Milton Friedman, free marketeers have loved pointing to the example of illegal drugs to prove their belief that markets solve everything. Place the drug trade in the stable hands of legal profiteers, they say, and away go the absurd profit margins, the government corruption, the distortion of local economies, the crime, the enforcement budgets, and the drug contamination... Unfortunately for their elegant argument, it's the legal drugs—cigarettes and alcohol—that are most hazardous to Americans. Letting profit-hungry corporations sell psychoactive drugs virtually assures abuses detrimental to public health... Illegal drug dealers can be dangerous sociopaths, but they are nothing compared to CEOs." — Benjamin FongThe chapter of the book on cigarettes actually began as a Current Affairs piece, which can be read here. The 2018 Current Affairs article "Death and the Drug War" may also be of interest. 
2/19/202437 minutes, 52 seconds
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The History of Arab-Jews Can Change Our Understanding of The World (w/ Avi Shlaim)

Avi Shlaim is a distinguished historian and Emeritus Professor of International Relations at Oxford University. He is one of the Israeli "New Historians" whose pathbreaking work debunked some of Israel's most cherished national myths. Now he has written a fascinating memoir, Three Worlds: Memoirs of an Arab-Jew that challenges conventional understandings of Zionism, the binary categories of "Arabs"/"Jews," and the very nature of nationalism. Prof. Shlaim is known as a "British-Israeli" historian, but as his memoir explains, he was actually born into a cultural world that has long since vanished: the Baghdad of the "Arab Jews," whose culture and language was Arabic but whose faith was Judaism. Shlaim's memoir tries to recapture this cosmopolitan existence, where Muslims and Jews lived in relative peace side-by-side. For families like Shlaim's, the birth of the state of Israel was something of a tragedy, because it shattered their world, creating new animus between Iraqi Jews and Iraqi Muslims. Prof. Shlaim's discussion of the early days of Zionism, and the effects it had on the Jews of Baghdad, shows that Israel's claim to operate in the interest of the world's Jewish population is highly questionable. Prof. Shlaim even claims that he has uncovered evidence that the Zionist movement was willing to resort to violence against Jews in Baghdad in order to build the Jewish state. His memoir, despite being tragic in many ways, is ultimately hopeful, because Prof. Shlaim still believes in the possibility of a country where ethno-religious binaries break down and different peoples can live side by side in a hybrid culture. “Time and again we are told that there is a clash of cultures, an unbridgeable gulf between Muslims and Jews. The ‘clash of civilisations’ thesis has become entrenched, supplying ammunition for rejectionists on both sides of the Arab–Israeli divide.The story of my family in Iraq – and that of many forgotten families like mine – points to a dramatically different picture. It harks back to an era of a more pluralist Middle East with greater religious tolerance and a political culture of mutual respect and cooperation between different ethnic minorities. My family’s story is a powerful reminder of once thriving Middle Eastern identities that have been discouraged and even suppressed to suit nationalist political agendas. My own story reveals the roots of my disenchantment with Zionism.” — Avi Shlaim 
2/16/202446 minutes, 40 seconds
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A HEATED Encounter with Chris Rufo: Critical Race Theory, The Left, and American History

Originally aired 7/23/2023. Get new episodes early at !Today we have another in our Contentious Arguments series, as Nathan clashes with Christopher Rufo, the architect of the right's "critical race theory" moral panic and a close advisor of Ron DeSantis. Rufo has lately been criticized by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education for appearing to retaliate against public university professors for their political beliefs in his capacity as a trustee of New College of Florida. His new book, America's Cultural Revolution: How The Radical Left Conquered Everything argues that 60s radicals have successfully staged a "long march through the institutions" and exhorts conservatives to stage a "counter-revolution." You can read the review that Nathan and Matt McManus wrote of that book here.The quotation "Has the goal of the left, for a century, been the destruction of every Western institution?" is from the book's official publicity page. Nathan's essay debunking Michael Shellenberger's climate lies is here. For more on the subjects covered in today's episode, read Nathan's article "Why Critical Race Theory Should Be Taught In Schools" and Responding to the Right: Brief Replies to 25 Conservative Arguments. Christopher Rufo: No, no, no, the United States was not founded on racism. I think that that is a total misunderstanding of history.Nathan Robinson: How many Founding Fathers were Black?Christopher Rufo: How many people in the Chinese Politburo are European? I mean, it's like the representation fact. Look, hold on...Nathan Robinson: There's not a big class of European slaves in China. But if there was, it would be a racist state.Christopher Rufo: That's true. But look, if you say "What was the United States founded on?" it's a very specific question, and I'll answer the question for you. The United States was founded on a vision of human nature, of natural rights, of equality and liberty.Nathan Robinson: That excluded Black people.This edited has been very lightly edited to fix cross-talk. (In the original, much of what was said was unintelligible because both Rufo and Robinson were talking at once.) A directionless several-minute tangent about the nature of artistic talent has also been excised. In the interest of avoiding any allegations of selective editing, that outtake can be heard here. Otherwise, the interview is presented in its entirety.
2/14/202452 minutes, 18 seconds
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The Dark Side of Fashion (w/ Alyssa Hardy)

Alyssa Hardy is a fashion journalist whose work has turned in recent years to exposing the underbelly of the industry, from the labor conditions of those who make the clothes to the colossal amounts of waste in our clothing industry and the climate consequences of "fast fashion." Today she joins to discuss her book Worn Out: How Our Clothes Cover Up Fashion's Sins, which is appreciative of good style but devastatingly critical of an industry where the people who make the clothes are mercilessly exploited and millions of dollars are spent trying to make consumers feel like they're not cool unless they keep buying new clothes. We discuss "microseasons," the lack of ethical standards in fashion journalism, and the radical turn of Teen Vogue, for which Alyssa has worked. “It pains me to say it, but so much of this industry, including the jobs that I dreamed about having for so long, is bullshit. When I was in high school, I had a cover of Teen Vogue taped to the inside of my locker so that every day I remembered exactly what I wanted to do with my life. It’s all I ever wanted and that’s why I want it to be better—I didn’t dream of pushing people toward clothing on Amazon that I wouldn’t even buy myself because the magazine gets 3 percent of the sale. It’s also why I want to empower you to make choices that feel good and to arm yourself with knowledge about how this whole thing works.” — Alyssa Hardy Our previous podcast about Vogue editor Anna Wintour's MasterClass is here. Our conversation with Sam Miller McDonald about menswear is here.
2/12/202437 minutes, 10 seconds
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How To Make Schools That Children Actually Enjoy Going To (w/ Lauren Fadiman)

School sucks. But why? And must it? For our print magazine, Lauren Fadiman writes about how radical leftists have historically tried to rethink schooling entirely, to create alternative schools that truly nourish the mind and soul rather than simply preparing kids to enter the workforce. Today she joins for a discussion of why we shouldn't just think of fixing schools as a matter of increasing their funding, but should broaden our imaginations and look to historic (and contemporary) examples of schools that truly care about preparing students to be empowered members of a democratic society.We discuss a Democratic education secretary's comment that meeting industry demands for a workforce should be a major purpose of education, the right's belief that children should go work instead of school, the attacks on public education, and why leftists should run for school boards and even found their own schools. We discuss the Summerhill school, the Ferrer schools, the Brooklyn Free School, and more radical alternatives to traditional education. And we discuss why kids' love of dinosaurs should be indulged and encouraged. "There is good reason, therefore, for leftists to start now to take back the American school system—not through programs like Teach for America, which sics largely untrained, prestige-hungry Ivy League grads on school districts, but in the old-fashioned ways: by becoming tutors and teachers, joining school boards, advocating for greater federal oversight of education. And—where the political environment is hostile to critical pedagogy—perhaps even taking matters into the Left’s hands and founding alternative schools." — Lauren Fadiman An article Nathan co-wrote on the purposes of education is here. The Financial Times article "Why Do Kids Love Dinosaurs?" is here. A response to the pro child labor arguments on the right can be found in Nathan's Responding to the Right. 
2/9/202444 minutes, 28 seconds
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How Rupert Murdoch Killed The Only Good Social Media Platform (w/ Michael Tedder)

Perhaps only those between the ages of about 30 and 35 will remember the golden years of MySpace, which dominated social media before Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok. MySpace was a mess, but it's looked back on fondly by many, in part because it encouraged individual expression and customization. Michael Tedder, in his new book Top Eight: How MySpace Changed Music shows that MySpace allowed musical culture to flourish in a way that succeeding social networks haven't. This was in part because the network was created by people who liked and appreciated music, which raises interesting questions about how a social media network can be built to either facilitate or inhibit the development of certain kinds of cultural forms. Tedder's book encourages us to ask questions like: What would a good social network look like? What parts of ourselves would it bring out? What bad tendencies would it discourage? While perhaps not as nostalgic for MySpace as Michael is, Nathan agrees that it had some quirky qualities that are sorely missed today. We talk about what it would mean to have an internet for the people, a crucial conversation at a time when much of the internet seems to be dying a depressing death. Alas, MySpace itself was killed after being bought by Rupert Murdoch, a part of the story that shows how ruthless profit-seeking capitalism can snuff out things that are valuable. The story illustrates why who owns social networks is so crucial, and the values of owners are reflected in user experiences. (Elon Musk's Twitter, for instance, is saturated with his personal stupidity and bigotry, while Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook is as bland as he is.)Nathan's article "Toward the Wiki Society" is here, and his article on Rupert Murdoch is here. Our interview with Cory Doctorow about the early promise of the internet is also relevant.
2/7/202436 minutes, 33 seconds
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How Labor Can Drive a Hard Bargain (w/ Jane McAlevey and Abby Lawlor)

On this program, we have previously discussed the inspiring fight waged by the Amazon Labor Union on Staten Island, and the confrontational tactics that can help unions win recognition despite the best efforts of corporations to thwart them. But even when unions win recognition, in many ways the battle is only just beginning. At Amazon and Starbucks, workers may have won recognition, but they haven't actually gotten contracts, because the companies are ruthless at the negotiating table (and ruthless about staying away from the negotiating table). So what happens then? What do workers do in Phase II, where they need to actually get a contract? Jane McAlevey and Abby Lawlor join us today to give us some answers. Their book, Rules to Win By: Power and Participation in Union Negotiations (Oxford University Press) follows on from McAlevey's earlier work on how to organize a union in the first place (see her previous interview with Current Affairs). They discuss how to extract concessions from intransigent employers and why the workers themselves (not an aloof, unresponsive team of professional negotiators) need to be at the heart of any negotiation. The lessons they offer are not just useful for unions, but as they explain, are practical for many other social movements who are trying to take on the powerful. "The labor movement presents some of the best insights for other social movements into how to negotiate effectively, because negotiations are a regular feature of union life. Sadly, very few social movements ever build enough power to pull up to serious negotiations—the kind that result in a written, enforceable agreement. Social movements, when they do win, often fail to secure good enforcement language. To this day, most provisions of the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, achieved some fifty years ago, have never been implemented. Not only can social movements learn from strong unions what it takes to build strong enforcement into an agreement, but also what it means to keep your organization strong enough to hold the inevitable opposition in check. This is true any time there are real stakes to a settlement, whatever the field." — Jane McAlevey and Abby Lawlor 
2/5/202436 minutes, 33 seconds
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Learning From Neglected Novels By 1900s Radicals (w/ the Rickard Sisters)

The Rickard Sisters, Sophie and Scarlett, have produced two wonderful graphic novel adaptations of books by early 20th century radicals. First they made The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, adapted from Robert Tressell's classic socialist story about a group of house painters who experience all of the horrors of laissez-faire capitalism. Then the Rickards made No Surrender, adapted from Constance Maud's neglected novel about the suffragette movement. Today, the Rickards join to talk about why they see the struggles of a century ago as so enduringly relevant. They have spent years adapting these novels for today, and the results are beautiful, colorful, funny, and moving. These two adaptations are some of the contemporary left's most accomplished and dazzling contributions to the graphic novel medium. But what is it that makes the original books so compelling? What can Robert Tressell and Constance Maud still offer us, so long after their deaths? Listen to the Rickards explain their project.
2/2/202437 minutes, 53 seconds
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Why Minimalism? (w/ Kyle Chayka)

Kyle Chayka is a cultural critic and staff writer for the New Yorker. (Incidentally, he also wrote a piece back in 2017 that covered the early years of Current Affairs.) Kyle's book The Longing For Less: Living With Minimalism, is a delightful, profound exploration of the idea of "minimalism." Beginning with the Marie Kondo phenomenon, Kyle tours world history and culture to discuss everything from Thoreau's cabin to John Cage's music to Japanese rock gardens to the sculptures of Donald Judd. Today Kyle joins to talk about why there have been periodic movements stressing the importance of having "less." We talk about how contemporary Instagrammable minimalism can actually be quite expensive. We ask whether Jesus was a minimalist. We probe the mystery of why Agnes Martin's minimalist paintings are so mesmerizing. Nathan is on the record as being a proud "maximalist" who loves ornamentation and chaos (he has even written an article called "Death To Minimalism") while Kyle is sympathetic to the minimalist instinct, even if he highlights some of its more absurd manifestations (such as the glass walls in the Apple headquarters that were so "minimalist" you couldn't see them, leading employees to constantly bonk their faces on them). But the important questions are: what leads us to want to reject the very things that supposedly make our consumer society so "abundant" and fulfilling? What's behind the Thoreau-like instinct to chuck it all away and do without luxury or adornment? Is the minimalist instinct the right response to a civilization of wasteful excess? If it is, however, how do we determine what is "enough"? “Maybe the longing for less is the constant shadow of humanity’s self-doubt: What if we were better off without everything we’ve gained in modern society? If the trappings of civilization leave us so dissatisfied, then maybe their absence is preferable, and we should abandon them in order to seek some deeper truth....Minimalism is a communal invention and the blank slate that it offers an illusion, especially given its history. It is popular around the world, I think, because it reacts against a condition that is now everywhere: a state of social crisis mixed with a terminal dissatisfaction with the material culture around us that seems to have delivered us to this point, though the fault is our own. When I see the austere kitchens and bare shelves and elegant cement walls, the dim vague colors and the skeletal furniture, the monochrome devices, the white t-shirts, the empty walls, the wide-open windows looking out onto nothing in particular—when I see minimalism as a meme on Instagram, as a self-help book commandment, and as an encouragement to get rid of as much as possible in the name of imminently buying more—I see both an anxiety of nothingness and a desire to capitulate to it, like the French phrase for the subconscious flash of desire to jump off a ledge, l’appel du vide, the call of the void...The popular minimalist aesthetic is more a symptom of that anxiety, having less as a way of feeling a little more stable in precarious times, than a solution to it.” — Kyle Chayka 
1/31/202440 minutes, 46 seconds
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Is U.S. Democracy Just Going To Be Dysfunctional Forever? (w/ Benjamin Studebaker)

Benjamin Studebaker's new book The Chronic Crisis of American Democracy: The Way is Shut is a provocative critique of contemporary American politics. Studebaker argues that "none of the existing political movements in the United States are capable of responding to [our] economic problems." He's critical not only of conservatives who stir up culture war issues to distract from people's economic suffering, but of a left which he sees as irrationally committed to goals and strategies that won't work. Studebaker's book is quite pessimistic, because he sees the existing system as incapable of satisfying people's needs, but also deeply resistant to being changed. He raises challenging questions for those of us who want to see that kind of change, foremost of which is: how do we expect to make it happen? Today Benjamin joins for a lively discussion with Nathan about his theory of American democracy. Nathan, who is of a sunny and hopeful disposition, rejects some of Benjamin's analysis, but admits it's important to wrestle with. Nathan puts his disagreements and queries to Benjamin, who offers his responses. (You might remember that a few years ago, Studebaker joined for an argument on whether a Joe Biden or Donald Trump presidency was actually worse for the left.)"[P]olitical professionals and their followers become politically estranged from the rest of society. What, then, becomes of everyone else?...Every political path these Americans might take is blocked. They cannot reform the global economic system, and they cannot overcome it by revolutionary means. The political professionals do not represent them. Their interests continue to be ignored, and politics continues to disappoint them. They have nowhere to turn, and there is nothing they can do. And yet, these Americans must go on living. They must continue to do the best they can to pay their bills, to pay down their debts, to keep their businesses open. What becomes of them?" — Benjamin Studebaker 
1/29/202459 minutes, 13 seconds
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What Happens to the Disappointed When Social Movements Fail? (w/ Sara Marcus)

Sara Marcus is the author of Political Disappointment: A Cultural History from Reconstruction to the AIDS Crisis. A lot of studies of social movements look at movement triumphs, but Marcus is interested in what happens when people fail, when they throw themselves into a cause and (at least in the short term) it doesn't react its goals. Often, she argues, disappointment ends up forming the basis of new culture, expressing itself through art and music, sometimes in subtle ways. There is also a sense of waiting, as movement participants try to hang on until the historical moment is ready for them to act again. She looks, for instance, at Reconstruction, where a nascent multiracial democracy was destroyed before it could be secured, and the AIDS crisis, where activists went through long years of bleak hopelessness.Today's activists suffer plenty of disappointments of their own, and as they sigh and try to figure out how to move forward, Marcus encourages them to look backward, to see how things looked to previous generations who were trying to change the world and usually not succeeding. Ironically, by learning how to be disappointed we may help ourselves become more optimistic and determined."Attending to the ways those we accept as forebears lingered with loss and found new forms and practices to accommodate, process, and transform their disappointment, we, too, can seek forms and practices suitable to our time, working in coalition with the dead as well as the living." — Sara MarcusListeners may also be interested in Sam Allison-Natale's essay "Keeping The Faith: Socialism In The Waiting Place," which discusses related issues.
1/26/202435 minutes, 28 seconds
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The Disaster of Privatizing Everything (w/ Donald Cohen)

You name it, it's been privatized somewhere in the United States. Schools, roads, libraries, courts, prisons, and even the law itself have been outsourced to private companies by state and local governments who buy into the idea that The Private Sector is more efficient at serving the functions of government. But this is baloney, as Donald Cohen shows in The Privatization of Everything How the Plunder of Public Goods Transformed America and How We Can Fight Back (co-written with Allen Mikaelian). Cohen, the founder and executive director of In The Public Interest, joins today to take us through case studies of privatization in action, like Chicago's disastrous deal to sell its parking meters. Cohen shows us that when we privatize, we are turning our own assets over to someone else who will sell them back to us and pocket our money. He explains why privatization is a bad deal and why public goods and services should remain in public hands. There is a right-wing effort to stigmatize public services as Big Government (calling public schools "government schools" for instance), and Cohen makes the case for why we need a pro-public culture that unashamedly demand that what belongs to the people stays in the hands of the people. "Understanding privatization means understanding that it is first and foremost a political strategy. It was born this way, and so it remains, but it has also become a grab for billions of dollars in contracts and fees. In the years since it sprang from the mind of Milton Friedman as a way to undercut government “monopoly,” it has also become a way for profiteers to tap into the $7 trillion of public revenue (which swelled to $9 trillion during the COVID crisis) spent by local, state, and federal government agencies each year and carve out a piece (sometimes a very big piece) for themselves. Privatization has also in recent history become remarkably bipartisan—Democratic president Bill Clinton arguably did more for the privatization project than did his Republican predecessor Ronald Reagan. And it has become surprisingly pervasive, to the point where there are now 2.6 times as many federal government contractors as there are government employees, and there is literally no public good that is not at risk of being privatized." — from "The Privatization of Everything"
1/24/202434 minutes, 40 seconds
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The Process of Leaving Jordan Peterson Behind (w/ Benjamin Howard)

Benjamin Howard is a Current Affairs reader who was once a huge fan of Canadian psychologist, pundit, and self-help guru Jordan Peterson. But Howard eventually became a harsh critic of Peterson's work, to the point where he is putting together a website called Today he joins us to explain how and why he changed his mind. We talk about the sources of Peterson's appeal and how Benjamin found that by getting to a different place in his life and learning critical thinking skills he became more able to see through some of Peterson's sophistry.An article about this conversation by Nathan can be found here. Peterson himself has reacted to this interview by insisting that he does not care at all. The clip about religion is from the Matt Dillahunty vs. Jordan Peterson Debate. The "clean your room" video is here."He’s also able to weave in a lot of different topics together, where he’s got the self-help, he’s got religion, he’s got psychology, and then the politics…If you listen to one of his lectures where he’s in this lecture hall talking for  an hour, two hours, he’ll go across all these different topics and weave them, like he’s trying to give the impression that they’re all unified together. But it’s this hodgepodge of different things that maybe aren’t related. It gives this feeling of “Wow, this guy knows about everything, and he’s just so knowledgeable, and he’s giving this profound insight that other people just don’t have. I think there is definitely an impression that you’re getting genius insights from this person. I think that’s what leads to over-trusting of his information, because if he’s a genius, then why look into anything he says? He must just be correct." — Benjamin Howard
1/22/202447 minutes, 18 seconds
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How The Super-Rich Really Live (w/ Michael Mechanic)

Michael Mechanic is a senior editor at Mother Jones and the author of Jackpot: How the Super-Rich Really Live—and How Their Wealth Harms Us All. Michael's book goes beyond quantitative statistics about inequality to take a close-up look at the actual lives of the American oligarchs. Today he joins to discuss life inside "the bubble" that the super-wealthy inhabit—why they ceaselessly pursue endless accumulation, how they rationalize their privileges, and how they rig the system to make sure they never lose any of their dubiously-acquired gains. “Rarely have our collective wealth fantasy and public attitudes toward affluence been more worthy of examination than the present—a time of staggering economic inequality, political divisions, racial reckoning, and a global plague that has rendered undeniable the truth that America’s economic game is rigged...It is rigged so powerfully, and in so many ways, that if it were an actual game nobody would bother to play—a game in which the winner is preordained, and the more you have, the more you receive. In which capital is crucial but few can obtain it. In which white men receive favorable treatment, while other groups are forced to play by alternative rules that leave them at a disadvantage. It is a game in which nearly all of the spoils flow to the top one-fifth of players, and the four hundred biggest winners end up with more than the 150 million biggest losers. We have reached the point at which our republic, founded upon egalitarian ideals (if not behavior), is so starkly divided into haves and have-nots, winners and losers, that some 0.1 percenters feel compelled to bribe and cheat their children’s way into our nation’s top colleges. Such is the fear of our progeny winding up on the wrong side of the wealth equation.” — Michael MechanicListeners may enjoy reading Rob Larson's Current Affairs article on the Wall Street Journal's "Mansion" section and Nathan's article about billionaire memoirs. 
1/19/202451 minutes, 6 seconds
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How to Explain Socialism To People Who Aren't Socialists (w/ Danny Katch)

Danny Katch is the author of the most accessible and entertaining existing introduction to socialist ideas, Socialism...Seriously: A Brief Guide To Human Liberation, available from Haymarket Books (in a new edition that promises 50% more socialism). Danny's book attempts something quite difficult: it tries to make reading about socialism fun. It's full of jokes and is non-dogmatic. It's a real blast and you should buy it! Today, Danny joins to discuss how he explains socialism in a way that ordinary people who aren't socialists can understand. We talk about misconceptions around Marxism, why we still need the word "socialism" and can't just "rebrand," how we can bring joy to the struggle, how you can talk to people who disagree with you, and why it's annoying when leftists pretend they're not surprised by anything. “The most essential ingredient of socialism isn’t its analysis of capitalism but its passion to fight on the side of the people. The theory only matters to the extent that it helps this fight (which it very much does). So before someone decides whether she is a socialist, she has to ask herself the more basic question: which side am I on?” – Danny Katch 
1/17/202449 minutes, 54 seconds
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Exposing the Spurious Anti-Semitism Accusations That Helped Bring Down Corbyn (w/ Asa Winstanley)

Asa Winstanley of The Electronic Intifada is the author of the new book Weaponising Anti-Semitism, a bombshell exposé of how the burgeoning socialist movement in the British Labour Party was destroyed by false accusations of anti-Semitism, amplified in the British press. The book is an important contribution to our understanding of why, after such a promising take-off, Jeremy Corbyn's party leadership came to a calamitous end. Asa joins us today to explain the history of what happened and the lessons we can take from it. Asa argues that we need to understand how pro-Israel forces, and centrists more broadly, wield these accusations cynically so that we can fight back against them.  "The British media’s attitude to Jeremy Corbyn was one of implacable opposition from the outset...The media, conservative and liberal alike, did everything they could to stop Corbyn becoming leader. When they failed in that, they tried to overturn the election result. When that too was unsuccessful, they did everything they could to stop him being elected prime minister—and that succeeded. British journalists, editors, and politicians showed extreme dedication to reversing the Labour membership’s democratic selection of the party’s most left-wing leader since it was founded." — Asa Winstanley Read Gautam Bhatia's tribute to Corbyn here. James Schneider's interview about Corbyn, with its different take on the factors that led to his political demise, is here. Nathan's personal account of his experience with false anti-Semitism accusations is here. 
1/15/202446 minutes, 9 seconds
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Dreaming of a World Without Wells Fargo (w/ Terri Friedline)

Terri Friedline is an associate professor of Social Work at the University of Michigan. She's also a contributor to Current Affairs, where she published one of our most unusual pieces ever: a piece of speculative utopian fiction about the end of Wells Fargo. Terri is also the author of the excellent book Banking on a Revolution: Why Financial Technology Won't Save a Broken System. Today, Terri joins to explain why Wells Fargo is so pernicious that she wrote a story imagining its obliteration. She explains how ordinary people are hurt by a financial system that concentrates so much power in a few giant mega-banks, and what the practical alternative to a world of Wells Fargos and JP Morgan Chases is. We talk about public banking projects and their prospects. We also talk about the way that "financial literacy education" perniciously tries to get people to accept responsibility for personal financial difficulties that are the result of systemic injustices, and what liberatory financial education (of the kind Friedline herself teaches) looks like."Eighteen years ago, a bank closure wouldn’t have gotten this kind of attention. Fortunately, things changed. People were radicalized by an onslaught of environmental and economic catastrophes, bank scandals (especially scandals involving Wells Fargo), and a creative use of financial education that, collectively, brought banks’ power into sharp focus. Banks spent millions of dollars each year telling people to take responsibility for their  finances and budget their way out of poverty. Organizers and academic researchers like myself started to leverage the  financial education that banks had financed. We didn’t just teach people how to contest their overdraft fees or fix errors on their credit reports. We taught popular education and built political power. We explained how private banks make money off of dubious account fees and how proprietary credit scoring algorithms surveil and discriminate. So, many people were ready to celebrate the closure of a bank that had once been deemed 'too big to fail.'" — Terri Friedline Listeners may also be interested in our recent conversation with the New York Times' Emily Flitter, who covers racism in the banking sector.
1/12/202439 minutes, 24 seconds
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How "Influencing" Became an Industry (w/ Emily Hund)

Emily Hund is the author of The Influencer Industry: The Quest for Authenticity on Social Media. Today she joins to discuss how "influencing" turned from something bloggers did, organically, to a giant industry where powerful commercial interests try to manufacture authenticity. Influencers are a paradox, because they have to work very hard in order to appear real, and if they ever stop seeming real they stop being paid. Hund takes us behind the curtain to try to sort out what's real and what's artificial in the frequently dystopian world of social media influence."What began as a belief, perhaps naive in retrospect, about the "realness" of early bloggers and digital content creators has, through the influencer industry's development, been transmuted into a particular aesthetic, textual vocabulary, and technological infrastructure leveraged by a wide range of people and groups for financial and ideological gain. Authenticity among influencers is not necessarily spontaneous, if it ever was; it is inextricable from the commercialism that now ensconces digital interactions." — Emily Hund
1/10/202432 minutes, 28 seconds
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Why Americans Don't See Or Talk About Their Wars (w/ Norman Solomon)

Today Norman Solomon returns to the program to discuss his new book War Made Invisible: How America Hides the Human Toll of Its Military Machine. Norman is one of the country's leading progressive media critics. In this book, he talks about how the media helps construct a mental wall between the people of the United States and the victims of U.S. foreign policy. He talks about how the reality of violence is kept from view and how heroic whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning and Daniel Hale are punished when they try to put cracks in the "wall" and show people the reality of their country's crimes abroad. Read the report from Brown University's Costs of War Project on the human toll of the global War on Terror here. A full discussion of the Iraq war by Noam Chomsky and Nathan J. Robinson is available here. The militarism that propels nonstop U.S. warfare is systemic, but the topic of systemic militarism gets little public attention. Ballooning Pentagon budgets are sacrosanct. While there can be heated disagreement about how, where, and when the United States should engage in war, the prerogative of military intervention is scarcely questioned in the mass media. Even when conventional wisdom ends up concluding that a war was unwise, the consequences for journalists who pro- moted it are essentially nil. Reporters and pundits who enthusiastically supported the Iraq invasion were not impeded in their careers as a result. Many advanced professionally. — Norman Solomon
1/8/202443 minutes, 14 seconds
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What "Economic Freedom" Would Look Like (w/ Mark Paul)

Mark Paul is an economist who argues that there can be no meaningful freedom without economic freedom—by which he does not mean the libertarian idea of the freedom to exploit others. Mark's book The Ends of Freedom: Reclaiming America's Lost Promise of Economic Rights explains how having a functional and free country will require establishing new rights: the right to employment, the right to housing, the right to healthcare, the right to a clean environment, etc. Today he joins us to explain how we can create a true "land of liberty." "While an economic bill of rights is indeed about material security—making sure all are able to put food on the table and a roof over their heads—it's also about advancing a new social contract, one that truly honors people's inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It's about rooting out the deep power imbalances that warp America's economy and society. It's about building a sustainable economy and world that works for current and future generations alike. It's about freedom." — Mark PaulListeners interested in the topic should also check out our conversation with Alan Minsky and Harvey Kaye, who discussed FDR's proposals and what an economic bill of rights would look like today. 
1/5/202439 minutes, 29 seconds
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Can The Love of Menswear Be Justified? (w/ Sam Miller McDonald)

Samuel Miller McDonald is a regular contributor to Current Affairs, where he has written about such disparate subjects as collectivism, the food system, Game of Thrones, cultural atrophy, ecofascism, His Dark Materials, the term "development," the history of oil, the fiction of Kim Stanley Robinson, the future of cities, and the forests of Madagascar. In our latest issue, Sam takes on one of his most challenging subjects yet: menswear. Sam is unapologetic about enjoying clothes, and showcases outfits on his "Mr. Clothes" account. But some on the left see men who like menswear as bourgeois, indulgent, even unethical. Must socialists wear overalls and Leninesque mariner's caps to be aesthetically authentic? Today we discuss Sam's argument, made eloquently in his print article, that clothes matter and there's nothing wrong with making yourself feel good by wearing nice clothes that you think look good. We discuss Twitter's "menswear guy," who has become infamous for savagely critiquing the attire of famous men (often right-wing men who think they look fantastic). We talk about the ethical questions that face all of us when we buy clothes: is it a luxurious indulgence to buy expensive clothes, or is it worse to purchase the cheapest clothes made under exploitative labor conditions? We talk about how, far from being the provenance of the bourgeoisie, style has often been a weapon of the marginalized to assert their dignity, from sapeurs to zoot suiters to working class mods and rockers. Nathan explains what he's trying to do by wearing the clothes he wears, and Sam offers tips for being a menswear guy while staying committed to left principles. 
1/3/202441 minutes, 11 seconds
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On Musical Plagiarism: The Case of Ed Sheeran vs. Marvin Gaye

Today on the podcast, we dive into the question of what kinds of musical borrowing constitute "influence" versus "plagiarism." In the news at the moment is a lawsuit against pop singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran, who is accused of lifting parts of Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On" for his song "Thinking Out Loud." We're going to listen to both songs, and you can decide what you think. But we're also going to go on a tour through musical history and see how supposed "original" artists are often blatant plagiarists. We're also going to discuss the history of the exploitation of Black music by white artists and the question of who should owe what to whom when someone gets rich off a song based in part on someone else's song. This audio essay is adapted from Nathan's recent Current Affairs article "The Ed Sheeran Copyright Lawsuit Exposes The Absurdity of Music Ownership." A playlist of songs played in the episode (plus a few more involved in plagiarism cases) is available on Spotify. 
12/20/202340 minutes, 51 seconds
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How Socialists Took Over The Cities (w/ Shelton Stromquist)

Today we hear a little-told story, the story of how idealistic socialists around the world, starting around 1890, took over city governments. Prof. Sheldon Stromquist  is the author of the book Claiming the City: A Global History of Workers' Fight for Municipal Socialism (Verso), which looks at how leftists in places from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to a small mining town in the Australian outback tried to implement socialist ideals in their cities and towns. In Sweden, in Britain, in Austria's "Red Vienna," these often colorful figures fought for public housing, public utilities, the 8-hour day, clean water, public schools, and much more. Today, Prof. Stromquist argues, we take for granted many things that the socialists of the late 19th and early 20th century had to fight to attain. In this conversation, Stromquist introduces us to some of the neglected stories of these men and women, who were inspired by the Paris Commune to try radical political experiments the local level. They can, he argues, offer important lessons to those of us today who want to continue their work. We talk about not only what they accomplish, but what they failed to accomplish—and why."I argue that the promise of a truly 'public city' that would meet the needs of its citizens in collective and humane ways—the legacy in many ways of the Paris Commune, Red Vienna, and countless other municipal socialist experiments—has remained a dream worthy of realization." — Shelton Stromquist
12/18/202335 minutes, 17 seconds
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Why Does The Law Fail Women So Badly? (w/ Julie Suk)

Julie Suk is a professor of law at Fordham University. Her new book After Misogyny: How the Law Fails Women and What to Do about It is about why the law has not succeeded at eliminating patriarchy despite advances in formal gender equality. Suk acknowledges that legal feminists like Ruth Bader Ginsburg helped bring about equal protection under law, but shows that, just as "colorblind" racial policies leave existing hierarchies untouched, "equal treatment" fails to alter gender imbalances of power. Suk also explains that, just as racism doesn't have to involve "hatred," misogyny shouldn't necessarily be defined as hating women. Rather, she draws our attention to concepts she calls overempowerment and overentitlement; that is, misogyny is men's excessive power over women and excessive sense of entitlement to women's labor. In this conversation, Prof. Suk explains her new framework for understanding gender inequality under the law. We talk about unpaid care work, abortion, and Prof. Suk even gives an interesting revisionist take on Prohibition, which many women saw as a way to curtail alcohol-fueled domestic abuse. Suk also explains how other countries around the world have tried to create real gender equality rather than just equality on paper, and gives her take on whether the Equal Rights Amendment would create meaningful equality or just more "on paper" equality. 
12/15/202342 minutes, 47 seconds
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Are "Family Values" The Problem? (w/ Sophie Lewis)

Sophie Lewis is a radical critic of the family. In Lewis's books, Full Surrogacy Now: Feminism Against Family and Abolish The Family, she argues that families are expected to take on functions that should be the responsibility of society as a whole, and that the results are disastrous. Families "privatize care." People have to depend on their families to fund their schooling or to take care of them in old age, which means that those who don't having loving and supportive families will simply end up not being cared for.Lewis argues that seemingly neutral pro-family rhetoric is actually pernicious, because we should be trying to create ways to care for people that do not depend on everyone being supported by family. At the core of Lewis' work is the idea that care is a basic right, that we all deserve to be cared for. In this conversation, we talk about how organizing society around the unit of the family reproduces inequality. We discuss why people should be able to live fulfilled and happy lives without having to depend on family, and why we'll be better off when we have a society in which family matters less rather than more. Lewis' work is challenging and openly utopian, but forces us to interrogate some of our most seemingly uncontroversial ideas (in this case, "families are good").Sophie's Patreon is here. Some of Yasmin Nair's critiques of gay marriage can be found here and here. An article about "family abolition" by Current Affairs managing editor Lily Sánchez, who cites Lewis' work, can be found here. Lily also cites the quote Nathan reads from the 1976 Republican platform, which reads as follows:“Families must continue to be the foundation of our nation. Families—not government programs—are the best way to make sure our children are properly nurtured, our elderly are cared for, our cultural and spiritual heritages are perpetuated, our laws are observed and our values are preserved. … [I]t is imperative that our government’s programs, actions, officials, and social welfare institutions must never be allowed to jeopardize the family. We fear the government may be powerful enough to destroy our families; we know that it is not powerful enough to replace them.”
12/13/202339 minutes, 22 seconds
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Why Our Healthcare System Needs to Do More than Just "Fairly" Distribute Scarce Resources (w/ Lily Sánchez)

Lily Sánchez is the managing editor of Current Affairs, and also a physician. In a new article for the magazine, Lily draws on her experiences practicing medicine to discuss different conceptions of what health justice requires. She reviews an acclaimed book called The People's Hospital by Ricardo Nuila, which covers a public hospital that Lily also worked at. Nuila sees this hospital as a model for fairness in healthcare. Sánchez, by contrast, sees it as a place that can't help but be unfair, because it's part of a healthcare system that is unjust to its core. The differences between the perspectives of Nuila and Sánchez help us to think about what it would mean to care for people "fairly." For Nuila, we don't need Medicare For All. For Sánchez, Medicare For All is only a start. In this episode, Lily and Nathan talk about the hospital that she and Nuila both worked at, what Lily saw in medicine, and what she thinks the limits of liberal healthcare reform are. Our episode with Mark Vonnegut can be found here. Listeners may also be interested in our old interview with Timothy Faust, the author of Health Justice Now. Lily's article on "zombie" medicine is here."We need radical change and a healthcare system in which for-profit health insurance is rendered irrelevant. Healthcare must be more than a commodity, something we aim to get a fair deal on. Our priority should be to build a healthy and sustainable society, prevent disease as much as possible (and treat it effectively when it arises), and give everyone the care they need when they need it, free at the point of use. This will require nothing short of a political movement as well as the willingness to challenge the market logic that is pervasive in healthcare." — Lily Sánchez
12/11/202343 minutes, 54 seconds
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Understanding Reactionary Political Philosophy (w/ Matt McManus)

Today we are joined by political philosopher Matt McManus of the University of Michigan. Matt has contributed to Current Affairs and collaborated with Nathan on articles about Douglas Murray and the right-wing disdain for college. At the time of this recording, Matt was reading Ron DeSantis' autobiography, which he has now written about for Jacobin. Matt has also written for CA about conservative faux-"populism", the right's long string of anti-"intellectual" intellectuals, and the American democratic socialist tradition. Nobody has a better command of the core literature in right-wing thought than Matt McManus.This conversation goes through some of the ways in which right-wing "thinkers" have tried to articulate a clear and consistent conservative philosophy. In the United States, these attempts tend to be muddled, because reactionary thinkers simultaneously believe in natural social hierarchies and have a disdain for "elites." European reactionaries are often much more open in their contempt for the people in and their belief in monarchical rule, but in the U.S., with its widespread belief in democratic self-rule, it's not really possible to come out against democracy openly (although some still do). Hence the "elitist anti-elitism" of people like DeSantis, who loathe democracy and are happy to impose the policy preferences of rich right-wing Christians on a reluctant populace, but do so by claiming to act on behalf of the People against the Elite. "The vulgarity of conservative populism à la Trump or De Santis is hardly some monstrous abnormality. While earlier figures like Buckley or Reagan may have argued for vicious policies in a more genteel manner, despotism delivered with a thesaurus is still despotism." — Matt McManus
12/8/202348 minutes, 13 seconds
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Why the Labor Movement Needs to be Creative and Disruptive (w/ Jono Shaffer)

Jono Shaffer is a legendary labor organizer who was instrumental in the Justice for Janitors campaign. J4J successfully unionized Los Angeles janitorial workers under unbelievably difficult conditions—the janitors were undocumented and worked for contractors rather than buildings themselves, so they were easily fired. J4J built a movement that successfully pressured building owners to respect the rights of cleaning staff. Today Jono joins to explain how they did it and what the lessons are for the labor movement today. It's an important conversation in part because Jono's take on what makes for successful organizing is a little different than conventional wisdom. He's skeptical of unionizing via NLRB elections, because even when you win, companies stall and won't negotiate a contract (this is happening at Amazon and Starbucks even when elections have been won). Jono thinks it can be a mistake to follow a predictable, orderly legal process. J4J took a different approach, working on building public pressure against building owners and figuring out what owners wanted, then finding ways to prevent them from getting it. They used disruptive and sometimes theatrical protest actions that meant it took longer to actually unionize, but which built worker power nonetheless. In this conversation, Jono discusses how power works and how those who want to force employers to capitulate can do it. He talks about the importance of building social movements that are bigger than just unionization campaigns around a single workplace. It's a conversation full of the wisdom that comes from a lifetime of experience doing crucial work in the labor movement. "Justice for Janitors unquestionably provides critical lessons for future organizing: As Wall Street and the finance industry increasingly take control over the global economy, we have to look up the economic food chain and target the real culprits. We have to bring as many stakeholders to the fight as possible, and creatively and aggressively organize to disrupt business as usual for those in control — that can mean strikes, civil disobedience, engaging shareholders, or directly challenging other business, social, and political interests and their exploitative practices and schemes. Workers’ lives have been disrupted enough. It’s time to turn the tables." — Stephen Lerner and Jono Shaffer, "25 Years Later: Lessons from the Justice For Janitors Campaign" Harold Meyerson's American Prospect article about Shaffer is here. Thank you to Leo Shaffer for arranging this conversation. 
12/6/202350 minutes, 48 seconds
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Can Our Times Even Be Satirized? (w/ Matt Bors and Ben Clarkson)

Ben Clarkson is an illustrator and animator who has produced work for some of the best magazines in the country, including our own Current Affairs. Matt Bors is a leading political cartoonist and founder of The Nib. They have now teamed up to produce one of the wildest satirical comic books of all time, Justice Warriors. Set in a horrifying dystopia called Bubble City, where the rich live in a bubble dome and mutants inhabit a wasteland outside, the comic chronicles the times and crimes of the police, the mayor, and urban terrorists. The book satirizes everything from policing to influencer culture to cryptocurrency. It's like The Wire, but with a mutant poop emoji as the protagonist.Today, Ben and Matt join to explain the world of Justice Warriors and how they created this bizarre and wonderful (but bleak) caricature of our times. We talk about the comic's influences, what they're trying to say with it, whether the world they depict is entirely hopeless, and what the power of politically sharp comics can be (including the "we should improve society somewhat" cartoon that Matt became famous for)."Readers are hungry for sincere and intelligent fiction in a landscape of reassuring fairy tales, to be able to bite into something meaty that doesn't beat you over the head with easy mythological lullabies." — Ben Clarkson
12/4/202342 minutes, 45 seconds
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How The "Big Myth" That Markets Will Solve Everything Was Foisted on the World

Naomi Oreskes is a historian of science at Harvard University. Erik M. Conway works as the historian at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Together they have just published The Big Myth: How American Business Taught Us to Loathe Government and Love the Free Market. We've talked a lot on this program about that failures of neoclassical economics and the myth of the pristine free market whose great Invisible Hand delivers justice to all. But Oreskes and Conway are historians of science rather than economists, so they are interested in where these damaging ideas came from. How did the "neoliberal consensus" actually form and why? How was the belief in New Deal principles destroyed over time? Oreskes and Conway showcase the formidable power of propaganda in changing the course of history. In this episode, we discuss both the origins of the "big myth" and somewhat more theoretical questions about how we can actually measure the effects of particular historical propaganda efforts. Oreskes and Conway are also the authors of the excellent book Merchants of Doubt, which shows how industry scientists obscured the truth about tobacco use and global warming. Our conversation with Oreskes and Conway pairs well with our recent interview with Jennifer Jacquet about the corporate playbook for obscuring scientific findings that could harm profits. "Five hundred thousand dead from opioids, over a million dead from Covid-19, massive inequality, rampant anxiety and unhappiness, and the well-being of us all threatened by climate change: these are the true costs of the 'free' market." — Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. ...We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of." — Edward Bernays, Propaganda 
12/1/202341 minutes
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How to Win Every Argument (w/ Mehdi Hasan)

Mehdi Hasan, who hosts The Mehdi Hasan Show on MSNBC, is known as one of the most formidable interviewers in journalism. He has tangled with Blackwater's Erik Prince, John Bolton, Richard Dawkins, Paul Bremer, and many others. A video of a powerful speech he gave defending Islam at Oxford University has received 10 million views. He has now written a book on his methods, Win Every Argument: The Art of Debating, Persuading, and Public Speaking, showing how to effectively confront and expose toxic beliefs. In this high energy conversation, he joins to discuss such questions as: Is debate "worth it"? Can it actually accomplish anything?What beliefs are not worth debating? How do you decide what to "legitimize"?Should Mehdi have Marjorie Taylor Greene on his program? (Nathan thinks so. Mehdi very much does not.)Are "ad hominem" attacks illegitimate? Or are they legitimate? When is it fair to use "rhetoric" over "reason"?“Philosophically, I consider argument and debate to be the lifeblood of democracy, as well as the only surefire way to establish the truth. Arguments can help us solve problems, uncover ideas we would’ve never considered, and hurry our disagreements toward (even begrudging) understanding. There are also patent practical benefits to knowing how to argue and speak in public. These are vital soft skills that allow you to advance in your career and improve your lot in life. There are very few things you cannot achieve when you have the skill and ability to change people’s minds.” — Mehdi Hasan Listen to Mehdi Hasan's previous appearance on the Current Affairs podcast here. 
11/29/202339 minutes, 34 seconds
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Lessons for Today's Movements from the Radical "Young Lords" (w/ Johanna Fernández)

Johanna Fernández is a historian of social movements who is the author of The Young Lords: A Radical History, a deeply researched history of one of the most vibrant and fascinating social movements of the 20th century.From their origins as a Chicago street gang in the early 60s, the Young Lords became an effective grassroots radical movement, the Puerto Rican counterpart to the Black Panthers. They helped produce an early version of the "patient's bill of rights" in medicine, organized lead testing for children, protested inadequate garbage collection, and demonstrated a model of how to fight for the rights and dignity of a marginalized community. Though short-lived, the Young Lords offer a great many lessons for those in our own time who want to work on the same kinds of issues.Today, Prof. Fernández joins us to recount the history of the Young Lords, to show us how they succeeded and why they ultimately fell apart. It's an important story that everyone who wants radical social change should be sure to familiarize themselves with.“Their intrepid organizing campaigns, literature, bold political analysis, and media savvy reclaimed the dignity of New York’s hardest-working and most exploited workers and replaced stereotypes with powerful images of radical, strategic, and articulate militancy….The Young Lords had their finger on the pulse not just of the moment but also of the future. They built a profoundly multiethnic movement: approximately 25 percent of their members were black American, and between 5 and 8 percent were non–Puerto Rican Latinxs, among them Cubans, Dominicans, Mexicans, Panamanians, and Colombians. The Young Lords’ membership reflected the demographic character of a postmodern city, of which New York and Los Angeles are today the best expressions…For today’s organizers, the Young Lords offer a wealth of practical lessons. First and foremost, if your intention is to build a movement that responds to the conditions of real people, there is no substitute for hands-on organizing on the ground and at the local level….”  —Johanna FernándezRead a Current Affairs article on the broad lessons to be learned from 60s movements here. 
11/27/202352 minutes, 32 seconds
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How Right-Wing Propaganda Gives People "Brain Worms" (w/ Adam Glenn)

Adam Glenn is a Current Affairs reader who has produced a free online book called Brain Worms: How Right-Wing Propaganda Destroys Reason, Conscience, and Democracy. Today he joins to discuss how (and why) to engage with conservative arguments (which Nathan does a lot as well). The text of Adam's book usefully explains in plain language the flaws in right-wing philosophy, but the comprehensive bibliography alone is well worth browsing through. Adam explains how familiarizing yourself with the other side's arguments thoroughly can help you feel less frustrated when you encounter those arguments, and we go through some of the key arguments. "Many liberals and leftists, however, don’t know the arguments. They might happen to be correct to think the Right’s arguments are flawed, but too often they don’t know why (or at least don’t know how to articulate why). When they’re confronted with the Right’s arguments, rather than responding in a rational manner, they’re often dismissive, combative, or taken aback—unable to find a rational foothold upon which to formulate a convincing counter-argument. This allows the Right to paint their targets as naive, unrealistic, “bleeding heart” saps who don’t understand “how the world works,” and gives the impression that the Right’s ideas are possibly correct. We should therefore do everything we can to neutralize the Right’s arguments and convince others to help make the world a better place, rather than allow right-wing propaganda to remain unchecked in the service of power and privilege." — Adam GlennThe Philip Agre article "What Is Conservatism and What Is Wrong With It?" can be found here. 
11/24/202341 minutes, 17 seconds
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Banishing the "Bootstraps" Mythology from American Life (w/ Alissa Quart)

Alissa Quart is the executive director of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project and the author of the new book Bootstrapped: Liberating Ourselves from the American Dream. Her book looks at the cruelty of the myths of being "self-made" or "pulling yourself up by your bootstraps." In the first part of her book, Quart examines the works of Emerson, Thoreau, Horatio Alger, Ayn Rand, and Laura Ingalls Wilder (one of Quart's chapters is called "Little House of Propaganda") to show how radically our images of what it takes to succeed depart from the lived reality. She exposes the constraints that keep people from achieving a decent standard of living, and shows how "dependency" isn't a bad thing—in fact, we're all interdependent by our nature. Quart's book shows how people help each other through mutual aid and presents an inspiring alternative to the existing vision of the "American dream." "As much as individualism dominates, millions in this country have also pushed against the singular and toward its opposite, coming together in cooperatives, collectives, and mutual aid societies...While the fairy tale of solo success fails many Americans, there are alternative models that can take that fiction's place, ones rooted in the tenet of interdependence and working together to life one another up. We might also accept our dependence, permitting an acknowledging societal aid and help from other structures of support." — Alissa Quart More on MLK's speech about car commercials can be read at Vox (note the mention of Current Affairs in the article.) Dolly Parton's horrible Squarespace ad is here. The book about "meritocracy" is The Rise of the Meritocracy by Michael Young.  
11/22/202337 minutes, 16 seconds
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How Come "Everyone Is Beautiful But Nobody is Horny"? (w/ R.S. Benedict)

R.S. Benedict is a speculative fiction writer whose popular 2021 essay "Everyone Is Beautiful But Nobody is Horny," published in Blood Knife, argued that the disappearance of sex from movies is linked to wider cultural trends toward the celebration of militarism and violence, the shunning of hedonistic pleasure, a utilitarian disdain for frivolous things, and increasing social isolation. Today, Benedict joins to discuss this essay as well as her 2022 piece on "safe fiction." We also tie in the rise of McMansions and defend messiness over sterility. The overarching theme of the conversation is the need to resist the drift toward a Spartan culture in which our bodies are built for fighting rather than pleasure, we are each worker-units whose job is to maximize GDP, and everything unnecessary, gratuitous, or chaotic is to be purged. Benedict is a defender of humanity in all its diversity, sloppiness, and, yes, horniness, and presents a vision for a culture—in film, architecture, and everywhere else—that lets us be ourselves and celebrates desire and fun."A generation or two ago, it was normal for adults to engage in sports not purely as self-improvement but as an act of leisure. People danced for fun; couples socialized over tennis; kids played stickball for lack of anything else to do. Solitary exercise at the gym also had a social, rather than moral, purpose. People worked out to look hot so they could attract other hot people and fuck them. Whatever the ethos behind it, the ultimate goal was pleasure. Not so today. Now, we are perfect islands of emotional self-reliance, and it is seen as embarrassing and co-dependent to want to be touched. We are doing this for ourselves, because we, apropos of nothing, desperately want to achieve a physical standard set by some invisible Other in an insurance office somewhere." — R.S. Benedict 
11/20/202344 minutes, 22 seconds
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How the U.S. "War on Terror" Spread Islamophobia Around the World (w/ Khaled Beydoun)

Khaled Beydoun is a professor of law at Wayne State and the author of two books, American Islamophobia: Understanding the Roots and Rise of Fear and The New Crusades: Islamophobia and the Global War on Muslims. American Islamophobia is a definitive analysis of the roots and spread of anti-Muslim animus in the United States, but The New Crusades expands the analysis to look at how the same bigotry manifests around the world, from France to India to China to New Zealand. The new book also shows how the "Global War on Terror" launched by the U.S. after 9/11 helped to fuel anti-Muslim bigotry elsewhere—for instance, China's persecution of Uyghurs deploys justifications and rhetoric lifted straight from the Bush administration. "The way in which the media was disseminating this violent, vile information about Muslims—people like me, who sat across from him—mobilized [the soldier] to enlist in a war in a place that he had no knowledge of. He just knew that he wanted to defend his country, he wanted vengeance, and that these Muslims, these Arabs who were a world away were the culprits of this 9/11 terrorist attack...When he came back from the war, you could tell that he felt deceived by this country...he didn't have the same love for country that he did before he left for that war because he realized how the war had broken people like him and told lies about people like me." — Khaled Beydoun Brown University's Costs of War project has produced a horrifying tally of the human misery caused by the "War on Terror," available here. The interview Nathan mentions with Vietnam veteran W.D. Ehrhart is here (part II). 
11/17/202346 minutes, 58 seconds
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Where "Effective Altruism" and "Longtermism" Go Wrong (w/ Émile Torres)

Émile P. Torres is an intellectual historian who has recently become a prominent public critic of the ideologies of "effective altruism" and "longtermism," each of which is highly influential in Silicon Valley and which Émile argues contain worrying dystopian tendencies. In this conversation, Émile joins to explain what these ideas are, why the people who subscribe to them think they can change the world in very positive ways, and why Émile has come to be so strongly critical of them. Émile discusses why philosophies that emphasize voluntary charity over redistributing political power have such appeal to plutocrats, and the danger of ideologies that promise "astronomical future value" to rationalize morally dubious near-term actions."A lot this is about working within systems. There's really no serious though within EA, at least that I've seen, about the origins of a lot of problems around the world, those origins being in systems of power, structures that have [caused] individuals in the Global South to end up destitute. There's no discussion of the legacies of colonialism... It's pretty appalling the extent to which these other considerations about colonialism, capitalism, [etc.] are just not even on the radar of a lot of EAs."  — Émile Torres Émile's Current Affairs article on longtermism is here. Nathan's article on effective altruism is here. Émile's forthcoming book is Human Extinction: A History of the Science and Ethics of Annihilation.
11/15/202355 minutes, 39 seconds
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How to Manipulate The Public Into Believing Corporate Lies (w/ Jennifer Jacquet)

Jennifer Jacquet is not actually an evil corporate consultant. She's a professor in NYU's Department of Environmental Studies and deputy director of the school's Center for Environmental and Animal Protection. But you might think otherwise if you flipped open her book The Playbook: How to Deny Science, Sell Lies, and Make a Killing in the Corporate World, a tongue-in-cheek handbook supposedly directed toward CEOs who want to fully follow Milton Friedman's dictum that "The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase Its Profits." The Playbook shows these readers what to do when they find that the spread of scientific knowledge is posing a threat to their bottom line. Using case studies from the cigarette industry, the fossil fuel industry, and more, it's a "guide on whom to hire, how to recruit experts, tips for effective communication, and ways to successfully challenge the science, the policy, and the scientists, reporters, and activists using science to further their policy agendas.”In fact, Prof. Jacquet is interested in exposing these techniques. Her book shows just how many insidious ways there are to sow doubt on scientific research that demonstrates a corporate harm, and she teaches readers to identify the familiar tricks that are used to keep effective public policies from curtailing corporate wrongdoing. Today she joins us to discuss the methods that have been perfected for protecting corporations from the ongoing risk posed by the public's exposure to truth.“In the same way that a casino can affect the character of a town, corporate-funded scientific denial has contributed to the erosion of scientific authority and mistrust in the government. In this casino, however, we are gambling with our health, the planet, and our most reliable way of knowing the world. The stakes could not get higher." — Prof. Jennifer Jacquet
11/13/202342 minutes, 10 seconds
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How U.S. Foreign Policy Is Making War With China More Likely (w/ Van Jackson)

Van Jackson is a dissident among foreign policy intellectuals, a harsh critic of the infamous "Blob." His Un-Diplomatic newsletter is essential reading (and its accompanying podcast essential listening), and his analyses of U.S. policy in the Pacific in Foreign Affairs are very useful for those who want to understand what is going on in the region. These include: Great-Power Competition Is Bad for DemocracyAmerica is Turning Asia into a Powder Keg The Problem With Primacy: America's Dangerous Quest to Dominate the Indo-PacificAmerica's Indo-Pacific FollyHe is the author of the new book Pacific Power Paradox: American Statecraft and the Fate of the Asian Peace (Yale University Press) and today he joins the Current Affairs podcast to explain why he thinks U.S. policy in Asia is dangerous and putting us unnecessarily on the path towards conflict with China. It's a vital conversation for understanding the most consequential tensions in the world today. "It's patently obvious that by pursuing primacy we're making ourselves the enemy of what remains of the Asian peace." — Van JacksonA Current Affairs article about U.S. relations with China by Nathan and Noam Chomsky can be read here.
11/10/202350 minutes, 46 seconds
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How to Spot Pseudoscience About Sex Differences (w/ Cordelia Fine)

Cordelia Fine is a psychologist and philosopher of science whose work brilliantly demolishes myths about the "nature" of differences between men and women. Prof. Fine has written three books, A Mind of Its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives, Delusions of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Differences, and Testosterone Rex: Unmaking the Myths of Our Gendered Minds.Today she joins for a conversation about various popular myths about how men and women are "wired" and why a lot of supposedly sound science on sex differences is, in fact, untrustworthy or downright wrong. Prof. Fine shows how these kinds of claims about the biological roots of social gender differences have a long, long history, and they're not any more sound now than they were in the 1900s when suffrage was being opposed on the grounds that women were biologically incapable of voting intelligently. We discuss the contemporary claims of people like Jordan Peterson and the Google memo guy about the supposed scientific foundations of various kinds of gender inequalities.“As the number of studies reporting sex differences in the brain pile up, the argument that sexual selection has created two kinds of human brain—male and female—seems to get stronger and stronger. Could John Gray have been right after all when he claimed that men are from Mars and women are from Venus? Some scientists have argued that although average differences in the way males and females think, feel, and act may, on a trait-by-trait basis, be relatively modest, the accumulated effect is profound. 'Psychologically, men and women are almost a different species,' was the conclusion of one Manchester Business School academic...If the sexes are essentially different, then equality of opportunity will never lead to equality of outcome. We’re told that 'if the various workplace and non-workplace gaps could be distilled down to a single word, that word would not be ‘discrimination’ but "testosterone"'; that evolved sex differences in risk preferences are 'one of the pre-eminent causes of gender difference in the labor market'; and that rather than worrying about the segregated pink and blue aisles of the toy store we should respect the 'basic and profound differences' in the kinds of toys boys and girls like to play with, and just 'let boys be boys, let girls be girls.' This is Testosterone Rex: that familiar, plausible, pervasive, and powerful story of sex and society. Weaving together interlinked claims about evolution, brains, hormones, and behavior, it offers a neat and compelling account of our societies’ persistent and seemingly intractable sex inequalities. Testosterone Rex can appear undefeatable. Whenever we discuss the worthy topic of sex inequalities and what to do about them, it is the giant elephant testicles in the room. What about our evolved differences, the dissimilarities between the male brain and the female brain? What about all that male testosterone? But dig a little deeper and you will find that rejecting the Testosterone Rex view doesn’t require denial of evolution, difference, or biology. Indeed, taking them into account is the basis of the rejection...Testosterone Rex gets it wrong, wrong, and wrong again. Contemporary scientific understanding of the dynamics of sexual selection, of sex effects on brain and behavior, of testosterone-behavior relations, and of the connection between our evolutionary past and our possible futures, all undermine the Testosterone Rex view.” — Cordelia Fine, Testosterone Rex: Myths of Sex, Science, and Society
11/8/202350 minutes, 38 seconds
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How to Respond to The Right—Introducing Nathan's New Book!

Today on the podcast: Nathan takes a turn as the guest, to discuss his new book Responding to the Right: Brief Replies to 25 Conservative Arguments. Get your copy now! Responding to the Right goes through arguments about abortion, minimum wages, trans rights, immigration, Big Government and much more and shows both why right-wing talking points are wrong and how to effectively defeat them. In Part I of the book, Nathan discusses how conservative arguments work and why they can sound persuasive to people. Then in Part II he responds to 25 different arguments. In each case, he uses direct quotes from right-wingers making the argument (to avoid the accusation of "attacking straw men.")In this episode, managing editor Lily Sánchez takes a turn as the host for a conversation with Nathan on the book, the question of why it's worth responding to the right at all, and the common structure of conservative arguments. "I've tried to make this book as comprehensive and useful of a handbook as I can. I think many of us on the left can get frustrated when we're not quite sure how to articulate a persuasive response to a conservative argument even when we know it's wrong. This book will help those who want snappy retorts that 'demolish' and 'destroy' the right, but it will also hopefully unsettle some conservatives who will be faced with definitive irrefutable proof that everything they believe is wrong." — Nathan J. Robinson 
11/6/20231 hour, 24 seconds
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What Living Under Jim Crow Was Like In New Orleans (w/ Adolph Reed)

“What I didn’t realize at the time was that what I was living through was the death paroxysms of the Jim Crow order.” — Adolph ReedProf. Adolph Reed Jr. has been called (by Cornel West) “the towering radical theorist of American democracy of his generation.” His new book The South: Jim Crow and Its Afterlives is a departure from Reed’s previous work in political science, as it is a personal reflection on his upbringing as part of the last generation to experience the Jim Crow south firsthand. Reed grew up mostly in New Orleans (where this interview also took place) and vividly recalls both the everyday realities of the Jim Crow order and the remarkable process by which the regime was shattered. His book discusses what has changed and what hasn’t in the South. Today he joins to discuss the book and tell us more about how the Jim Crow order functioned in practice, what brought it to an end, and how seismic historical changes happen (sometimes much more quickly than you expect).Adolph Reed’s previous appearance on the program can be heard here and watched here. He mentions the book Black Masters, and the Supreme Court cases Grovey v. Townsend and Smith v. Allwright. Ben Burgis' review of Prof. Reed's book for Current Affairs is here. The 2020 controversy over Reed's DSA talk is reported on here. The Preston Smith article Prof. Reed mentions is here. “When I’m out in different places in the South and see groups of coworkers or neighborhood friends at a Chili’s or TGI Fridays, they’re having drinks and a meal convivially—that doesn’t say anything major about who’s inclined to vote for socialism but that’s a level of complex experience and conviviality that wouldn’t have been possible before 1968.” — Adolph Reed
11/3/202348 minutes, 6 seconds
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Why Is The Internet So Broken? What Would a "People's Internet" Look Like? (w/ Ben Tarnoff)

Ben Tarnoff is the author of Internet For The People: The Fight For Our Digital Future. Today he joins to discuss what's wrong with the internet and how we fix it. Ben helps us to think more clearly about how the ownership of the underlying infrastructure of the internet affects our experiences—not just platforms like Facebook and Twitter but the "pipes." Ben takes us through the history of how the internet began as a public infrastructure project and gradually became privatized and shows us what the consequences of that privatization have been. He then helps us think through a vision for what a very different internet—one that operated in the interests of the people rather than for profit—would look like. "The profit motive is programmed into every layer of the network." — Ben Tarnoff 
11/1/202341 minutes, 21 seconds
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Exposing the Corporate "Mindfulness" Racket (w/ Ronald Purser)

"When the individualized self bears sole responsibility for its happiness and emotional wellbeing, failure is synonymous with failure of the self, not external conditions.” — Ron PurserRonald Purser is a Professor of Management at San Francisco State University and the author of McMindfulness: How Mindfulness Became the New Capitalist Spirituality. Prof. Purser’s book exposes how corporations have pushed pseudo-Buddhist “mindfulness” training to shift the burden of dealing with stress to employees without having to address the toxic work conditions that create that stress in the first place. Today, Prof. Purser joins to discuss how mindfulness became a “therapeutic solvent” meant to help individuals cope with their problems but how it ultimately ends up obscuring the systemic causes of those problems and shifting responsibility for dealing with them. Prof. Purser is not an opponent of mindfulness practice, which he believes offers some benefits, but he is highly critical of the way mindfulness is presented as revolutionary, when it can in fact be profoundly de-politicizing. He shows how a multi-billion dollar industry has sprung up that uses appropriated, watered-down Buddhist spiritual practices and pseudo-science to convince people that the causes of their discomfort are internal rather than external.Prof. Purser mentions the book The Happiness Industry by William Davies, as well as the work of Erich Fromm and Paulo Freire. A useful Truthout article on the corporate use of mindfulness, including “Ama-Zen,” can be found here. Prof. Purser mentions Lauren Berlant’s idea of “cruel optimism” and Kevin Healey’s concept of “civic mindfulness.” More on the Nazis’ interest in Yoga is here.“The fundamental message of the mindfulness movement is that the underlying cause of dissatisfaction and distress is in our heads.” — Ron Purser“Corporations have become really attracted to these mindfulness programs—because it lets management off the hook.” — Ron Purser
10/30/202342 minutes, 9 seconds
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Understanding The Right's Never-Ending War to Destroy Social Security (w/ Alex Lawson)

Alex Lawson is the Executive Director of Social Security Works and the convening member of the Strengthen Social Security Coalition. He has spent his career working to try to save Social Security from Republican (and sometimes Democratic) attempts to "reform" (i.e., cut) it. Today, Alex joins to discuss:Why Social Security is a huge social democratic achievement and the fight it took to get it in the first placeWhy the right has always hated Social Security (it shows government can work and successfully help people) and the history of their attempts to undermine itThe lies and propaganda that are used to convince people that Social Security is in a crisis and urgently needs reforms that will cut people's benefitsHow the strong popularity of Social Security means politicians all pretend they support it even when they don't, and why we need to be vigilant against politicians who pretend they care about maintaining it and then try to sneak through measures to cut benefitsWhy we need to go on the offensive, not just defending Social Security as it exists but demanding an expansion of benefitsAlex's testimony to the Senate budget committee from last year can be found here. Useful commentaries on Social Security by Matt Bruenig can be found here and here. Here is his explanation of the point Alex made about how raising the retirement age cuts benefits (the chart is very helpful in making the point clearer). The book Social Security Works For Everyone! is a useful primer on the issues. The philosophical bent of Social Security is an ever-expanding system of economic security delivered to more and more and more people. When FDR signed it into law, he said 'With this law, I lay the cornerstone that future generations can build upon.' And that's what we have to recognize. — Alex Lawson 
10/26/202346 minutes, 35 seconds
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How To Hold The New York Times Accountable (w/ Margaret Sullivan)

How To Hold The New York Times Accountable (w/ Margaret Sullivan)Margaret Sullivan is one of the country’s most astute media critics. During her time as Public Editor of the New York Times (essentially an ombudsman) Sullivan became widely respected for her willingness to call out the paper’s lapses, often to the considerable consternation of her Times colleagues. Sullivan criticized the paper’s reliance on anonymous government sources, its practice of allowing sources to approve their own quotes, its previous deference to the Bush administration's "national security" justifications for suppressing a story, its failure to adequately cover the Panama Papers, Chelsea Manning's trial, and the Flint Water Crisis, and even the paper’s habit of reporting nonexistent style trends as if they were real things (e.g., the supposed hip comeback of the monocle).Sullivan also spent much of her career in local journalism, serving as the managing editor of the Buffalo News. Her book Ghosting the News: Local Journalism and the Crisis of American Democracy is about the destruction of local newspapers and its consequences for the country. Her new memoir, Newsroom Confidential, discusses both her time running a city paper and her time as an in-house critic of The New York Times.Today, Margaret Sullivan joins to discuss why local news matters, why holding the media accountable is crucial to maintaining public trust in it, and how she tried to keep the New York Times trustworthy during her time there. Sadly, with the Times having eliminated the position Sullivan held, the paper is no longer conducting the same level of public self-scrutiny, which is unlikely to help it in the mission to rebuild public trust. Sullivan’s old Public Editor posts can be read here. Those interested in this subject should also listen to our interview with Victor Pickard, the author of Democracy Without Journalism?"I understand very, very well why they wanted to get rid of that position. ... The more powerful a media organization is, the more important some kind of oversight or accountability is." — Margaret Sullivan Audio note: Nathan sat too close to the microphone. Also someone started hammering in the background on Margaret's end toward the end. Apologies for these distractions. Subscribe to Current Affairs on Patreon to unlock all of our bonus episodes and get early access to new releases.
5/2/202340 minutes, 2 seconds
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The Pseudoscience and Faux Feminism of Sobriety Memoirs (w/ Jennifer Dines)

“It’s not that hard to let yourself be led by something that doesn’t match up with your morals, when you’re desperate.” — Jennifer DinesJennifer Dines is a Boston-based schoolteacher, poet, and essayist who has written an article for Current Affairs called "The Quit-Lit Pseudoscience and Faulty Feminism of Women’s Sobriety Memoirs," which critiques the bestselling books targeted at women recovering from alcoholism. In her piece, Dines shows how these books often try to sell women on expensive courses so they can "buy their way to health," disparaging free alternatives like Alcoholics Anonymous in favor of unrealistically expensive lifestyle changes (e.g. yoga retreats).Dines also discusses how these books use the language of social justice to try to convince readers that their own self-care (and their purchase of the authors' products) advances broader feminist goals. In this conversation, we discuss how difficult it is to get accurate information and receive quality healthcare, and how hard it is for desperate people to tell quacks like Dr. Oz from those who truly have their best interests at heart."[T]op-selling books are not rigorously fact checked (a serious problem in the world of nonfiction books), and authors often mix discussions of legitimate science with quackery or unproven practices, which is outright dangerous for the non-discerning reader. Authors in this genre also tend to appropriate the language of social justice (rallying against capitalism, patriarchy, and so forth) to make readers think that tackling their alcohol problems (or doing self-care) equates to a larger project of social change. These writers cleverly create a trail of breadcrumbs that leads vulnerable readers to programs such as expensive online courses and coaching services and related products and services, many of which are offered by the authors themselves. Aspirational big-money lifestyles are highlighted while effective programs like Alcoholics Anonymous are trashed. Most dangerous of all, this consumptive approach to alcohol dependency treatment makes products a substitute for healthcare from a qualified mental health professional." — Jennifer DinesThe books Jennifer does recommend are The Recovering by Leslie Jamison and How to Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell. Lily refers to an article by Nathan about COVID-19, which can be found here. Lily’s own writing about bad healthcare is here.Subscribe to Current Affairs on Patreon to unlock all of our bonus episodes and get early access to new releases.
4/24/202342 minutes, 6 seconds
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The Dysfunctions of Our "Democracy" and How To Fix Them (w/ Tom Geoghegan)

Thomas Geoghegan is a labor lawyer and writer whose latest book is The History of Democracy Has Yet To Be Written: How We Have to Learn to Govern All Over Again. MSNBC's Chris Hayes says of the book: "This book made me laugh out loud and also gave me glimpses of an entire horizon of possibility I hadn't seen before.” Indeed, while Tom's book examines the hopeless dysfunction of our political system (including amusingly describing his own effort to run for Congress), it's also a look at how we could make a much, much better system of government if we were committed to getting rid of the filibuster, making voting mandatory, restructuring congress, and passing the PRO Act. Even though we often assume that we stand on the cusp of an authoritarian end to democracy, we actually have within our grasp the possibility of making it far more stable and having a Congress that actually represents the people of the country. Today, Tom joins to discuss his book, telling us what it's like to run for Congress in Chicago in a freezing winter (not fun) and why democracy depends on making the labor movement flourish again."The labor movement is necessary to pull people into the political process. If it's the right kind of labor movement, it's going to have the goal of all true republican government: to help people govern themselves, to increase people's capacity to be citizens, to increase people's capacity to rule and take responsibility for all aspects of their lives." — Tom GeogheganSubscribe to Current Affairs on Patreon to unlock all of our bonus episodes and get early access to new releases.
4/17/202330 minutes, 25 seconds
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STAY WOKE: Vital Lessons From Black Musical History (w/ Samuel James)

“There’s an old adage ‘He who forgets history is condemned to repeat it.’ But what’s missing in that phrase is that there are the people who are in charge of keeping your history. And they can make you forget it. They can keep it from you. And then you’re doomed to repeat something that they want you to repeat.” — Samuel JamesSamuel James is a musician and storyteller from Portland, Maine, who specializes in blues and roots music. Samuel has a deep knowledge of American musical history and recently wrote a column in the Mainer magazine about the origins of the phrase “stay woke,” first heard on a Lead Belly record about the Scottsboro Boys. He shows that when we see attacks on “wokeness” like Ron DeSantis’ “Stop WOKE Act,” we should remember that it’s “an old, Black phrase being weaponized against the very people who created it.”Today, Samuel joins to explain how listening to the words of early 20th century Black songs provides critical context for understanding America today. From commentary on the prison system in the words of “Midnight Special” to Mississippi John Hurt’s unique twist on the “John Henry” legend, Samuel James offers a course in how to listen closely to appreciate both the rich diversity of the music lumped together as folk blues, and how to hear the warnings that the early singers passed down to Black Americans today. It’s a very special hour featuring some of the greatest music ever written, played live by one of its most talented contemporary interpreters.Nathan’s article on Charles Murray is here, and one on Joe Rogan is here. A Current Affairs article about John Henry songs is here. Beyond Mississippi John Hurt and Lead Belly, artists mentioned by Samuel James include Gus Cannon, the Mississippi Sheiks, Charley Patton, Skip James, and Furry Lewis. More information about the St. Louis chemical spraying is here. Follow Samuel James on Twitter here. His 99 Years podcast is here. Nathan mentions the “Voyager Golden Record” that went into space, which did in fact include a classic blues song.“This is the hammer that killed John HenryBut it won't kill me, but it won't kill me, but it won't kill me”— Mississippi John HurtNOTE: The n-word is heard several times in this episode, spoken by Samuel James, and in recordings by Lead Belly and Ice Cube.Subscribe to Current Affairs on Patreon to unlock all of our bonus episodes and get early access to new releases.
3/27/20231 hour, 7 minutes, 13 seconds
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The Entirely Predictable Collapse of FTX and the Future of Crypto Cons (w/ Stephen Diehl)

One of the world's largest cryptocurrency exchanges, FTX, recently imploded spectacularly. Its CEO, Sam Bankman-Fried, had been called "the next Warren Buffett" and was a Democratic megadonor as well as a major funder of the "Effective Altruism" movement. Overnight, Bankman-Fried saw his fortune and his company wiped out, and he is now under criminal investigation. To explain what happened, and why we keep seeing spectacular frauds in the crypto industry, we are joined today by Stephen Diehl, a longtime critic of crypto who has been warning for years that crypto assets can suddenly implode and that unregulated crypto exchanges like FTX are a terrible place to keep your money. Diehl is the co-author of the new book Popping the Crypto Bubble, an accessible explanation of how cryptocurrency works and why it's a terrible idea. He and his co-authors show how the history of financial bubbles and manias helps us understand crypto-hype today. In this episode, Stephen discusses the credulity that allows con artists like Bankman-Fried to flourish in the crypto industry, and that dupes supposedly savvy investors into believing in the digital equivalent of magic beans. We also discuss the complicity of financial journalists in promoting con artists as altruistic geniuses who can be entrusted with one's retirement savings. "To anyone who does due diligence, this thing [FTX] is papered in red flags. It’s a Bahamanian shell company set up in the least regulated environment on the planet, with no board of directors, no governance, completely opaque financials set up by a 28-year-old and apparently staffed by 17 kids all living in a frat house in the Bahamas. But the investors in this thing were some of the most sophisticated funds on the planet! … Apparently none of them did any due diligence on this thing." — Stephen DiehlThe FTX Super Bowl commercial with Larry David is here. The Bloomberg interview in which Bankman-Fried seemingly admits he is “in the Ponzi business” is here. For more on the subject, read our interviews with Molly White and Nicholas Weaver, or read "Why Cryptocurrency is a Giant Fraud." A delightful 1901 illustration of financial speculators being tormented in Hell can be viewed here.
11/29/202247 minutes, 56 seconds
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Why Socialism and Trans Liberation Need Each Other (w/ Shon Faye)

Shon Faye is the author of the book The Transgender Issue: Trans Justice is Justice For All, available from Verso. The title of the book is meant slightly ironically, because part of Faye's argument is directed against talking about a "transgender issue" in the first place. Faye's book is a manifesto for a specifically socialist form of trans liberation, which she contrasts with the politics of liberal inclusion, which is often "inclusion within deeply unequal at best and at worse quite oppressive systems." Faye argues that the things that make trans people's lives difficult (lack of housing and healthcare, incarceration) often oppress others as well and that we do not just need representation/diversity at the top but a caring society in which everyone has what they need. Faye prefers the language of "liberation" over "rights" and "equality" (though rights and equality are important), and argues that "the liberation of trans people would benefit the lives of everyone in our society." In this conversation, we discuss Faye's ideas as well as the difference between US and UK feminism's approaches to trans issues, how the right has tried to push a moral panic around one of the most marginalized groups of people, and what it really means to live in a "cisnormative society." We also discuss the British tabloid press, the BBC, the limits of debate, and "the Harry Potter Lady." “You tell people at JP Morgan to put ‘nonbinary’ on the job application form. Sure, that’s great. Who is applying for jobs at JP Morgan? College graduates who are white, middle-class, rich. This idea of liberal trans inclusion favors a certain kind of trans person on the grounds of class, ethnicity, citizenship. So for me it’s not a liberation movement if it’s only including really small echelons of an already-tiny community.” — Shon FayeThe Current Affairs article "Inclusion in the Atrocious" offers further discussion of the point about inclusion within inherently unjust institutions. We also have articles about both Matt Walsh and the "Harry Potter Lady." The U.S. politicians Shon mentions are Sarah McBride and Danica Roem. The internal clash in the Guardian can be seen here. 
11/29/202251 minutes, 3 seconds
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How a Marine Became a Critic of U.S. Imperialism (w/ Lyle Jeremy Rubin)

Lyle Jeremy Rubin is a veteran of the U.S. Marines who served in Afghanistan. He is the author of the new memoir Pain is Weakness Leaving the Body: A Marine’s Unbecoming, which documents his evolution from a Young Republican patriot into a socialist critic of U.S. empire through direct exposure to the front-line realities of the U.S. “war on terror.” He shows how the “politics of overcompensation” convinces young men who want to feel secure and masculine to submit to oppressive hierarchical systems and is astute in showing the connection between toxic masculinity and U.S. foreign policy.“At the time I told myself there were purely rational intellectual reasons for why I was being drawn to these certain types of politics but in retrospect I think it’s clear that there was a deeper need to no longer feel defenseless, to feel strong, to feel secure … While I was talking to my friends and family members and others about this kind of neoconservative vision of humanitarian intervention, it was clear when I was being honest with myself that I wasn’t all that dissimilar to a lot of my comrades-in-arms who just wanted to see action and feel like a man.” — Lyle Jeremy RubinShorter writings from Lyle on some of the subjects discussed in the book can be found in The Guardian and The Nation. (He has also written for Current Affairs.) The books Lyle mentions are Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America by Kathleen Belew and Reign of Terror: How the 9/11 Era Destabilized America and Produced Trump by Spencer Ackerman. The song is, of course, the Bush-era classic “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue” by Toby Keith.This interview pairs well with our recent interviews with W.D. Ehrhart (about Vietnam), Yasmin Nair (about Western views of Afghanistan), Craig Whitlock (about the Afghanistan war), and Chris Hedges (about war in general).“If you’re an occupying power, there’s no way you can really win the hearts and minds of the people. You are by definition a force of domination, an oppressive force. You’re an outsider force that is doing things without the express permission of the people there and the people themselves in one way or another have to submit to whatever your whim at any given moment is. ... The counterinsurgency ideal itself is an impossible ideal. This quickly becomes clear to front line troops. … Violence is guaranteed and required to ensure the maintenance of an occupying regime no matter how culturally sensitive it is.” — Lyle Jeremy Rubin
11/29/202243 minutes, 49 seconds
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Why The Market Is Not The Economy (w/ Nomi Prins)

Nomi Prins is one of the country's leading financial journalists, who has gone from working on Wall Street to exposing the inner workings of the economy and how it is rigged in favor of the powerful. Her books include Other People's Money: The Corporate Mugging of America, Collusion: How Central Bankers Rigged the World, and most recently Permanent Distortion: How Financial Markets Abandoned the Real Economy Forever. Today Nomi joins Nathan to explain how the financial markets and the "real economy" became so disconnected and why the actions of central banks make such a difference to our lives. She also talks about the real causes of inflation and what we need to do to avoid a future of unending economic and political crises. Last week we only released one episode instead of two, so this week we're putting out three to make up for it. 
11/29/202236 minutes, 6 seconds
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What Happens When McKinsey Shows Up?

McKinsey & Co. is the world's leading consulting company. But it also does a lot of work that's, well, pretty downright sinister, and it's very secretive about that work. But in the new book When McKinsey Comes To Town: The Hidden Influence of the World's Most Powerful Consulting Firm,Walt Bogdanich and Michael Forsythe of the New York Times expose the hidden hand of McKinsey across the world. McKinsey has assisted opioid manufacturers, tobacco companies, fossil fuel companies, ICE, and authoritarian governments, and in each case has covered up its footprints. Bogdanich and Forsythe show that the firm often advises both the companies that create problems and the governments that are trying to solve them, "playing both sides" and making a tidy sum in the process. In this episode we discuss how McKinsey recruits young elites with promises of doing socially useful work but then tells them that their job is "execution, not policy," meaning that they aren't to question the underlying values of the institutions they're consulting for. This has helped them justify working for the shadiest of shady clients. And even when McKinsey consults for companies that aren't wrecking the earth or killing their customers, it often advises them on how to maximize profits in ways that do real harm. Again and again, McKinsey has come to town and left people worse off. Bogdanich and Forsythe show that many of the worst problems we face today have had McKinsey's hand in them—but of course, McKinsey stands to profit handsomely from advising governments on how to fix those problems. A Current Affairs article about McKinsey by a former McKinsey consultant is here. The New York Times reporting on the hospital that McKinsey advised to juice profits by stealing from sick poor people is here, and was written up in Current Affairs here. An article that partly discusses McKinsey’s role in the opioid crisis appears in the September-October print issue of Current Affairs. Nathan's article about famous ex-McKinseyite Pete Buttigieg is here and some speculation about what Pete did at the firm is here. “They advise almost all of the pharmaceutical companies around the world, making tens of millions of dollars in profits, at the same time as they also advise the Food and Drug Administration that is supposed to be regulating them.” — Walt Bogdanich “Yes, they do a lot of laughable things and silly PowerPoint slides that don’t really tell you anything, but they also do things that really make a difference, and sometimes a very malign difference." — Michael Forsythe
11/29/202236 minutes, 23 seconds
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The Editors Take a MasterClass: Anna Wintour Edition

The editorial team of Current Affairs is fascinated by the online learning platform MasterClass, on which A-list celebrities offer “classes” that are sometimes very cool but frequently of dubious educational value. We have previously taken and discussed the MasterClasses of Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton. (We have not yet mustered the fortitude to sit through the Leadership Lessons From George W. Bush MasterClass.) Today we take and discuss the class offered by longtime Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, who offers an introduction to the fashion world and lessons on "How To Be A Boss." We talk about the economic structure of the fashion industry, how fashion is made into something exclusive rather than universal, and the mountain of cruelty (to both people and animals) that sustain this bizarre self-contained world. We are particularly interested in the inner workings of Vogue because it’s a such an entirely different part of the magazine industry to the world of Current Affairs. So enjoy as Yasmin, Lily, and Nathan discuss how you, too, can become a famous fashion mogul.Read “The Socialist Case for Fashion” in Current Affairs here. The documentary about Wintour and Vogue, The September Issue, can be watched here. The “cerulean” scene of The Devil Wears Prada is here.
11/29/202247 minutes, 51 seconds
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Why Our Wars Never End (w/ Chris Hedges)

Chris Hedges, who appeared on this program a few months back after the publication of his book Our Class, returns to discuss his powerful new book The Greatest Evil is War, which shows the true face of war and exposes the propagandistic narratives that help to sustain and escalate wars. Hedges, a veteran war correspondent, shows us the people who actually do the fighting and the dying, from those maimed and traumatized for life to those who must collect the corpses from the battlefield. He shows how every war is presented by each side as a battle of the forces of light against the forces of darkness, and why the real story is almost always much more complicated. He shows how the darkest facts of war are kept from public view, and instead the population is presented with an image of war as something heroic and exciting. He shows how war memorials and the media get us to "admire the despicable beauty of weapons systems without seeing what they do to human bodies," and explains how those who benefit from continued conflict contribute to sustaining it. Hedges warns that history shows us that those who think they can keep wars from spiraling out of control are often deluding themselves, and policy-makers who think themselves rational have often led their countries into catastrophic and suicidally destructive conflicts. Hedges' TomDispatch piece about writing on war is here. Tomas Young's letter can be read here. Hedges refers to Johnny Got His Gun and the preface to Edward Said's Orientalism. Nathan's review of The Greatest Evil is War is here. The news story about the Congressional Progressive Caucus' letter is here. Apologies for the delayed release of this episode. CA staff are busy trying to finish up the new print issue, which will be out within days! Also Nathan still isn't quite over COVID.
11/29/202241 minutes, 3 seconds
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A Merciless Intellectual Brawl Between a YIMBY and a "Left NIMBY"

For some time, Nathan has been critical of the "YIMBY" (Yes In My Backyard) movement, which takes stances on housing policy that are sometimes classified as "market fundamentalist" or "trickle-down." Nathan's article "The Only Thing Worse Than a NIMBY is a YIMBY" is scathing, and Current Affairs has published a public service announcement discouraging people from letting their friends become YIMBYs. For their part, online YIMBYs generally do not care for Nathan, and he has been branded a leader of the "Left NIMBYs." But does this fight make sense? Darrell Owens of the group CA YIMBY argued recently in Jacobin that those who think YIMBYs advocate "Reaganomics" in housing policy are mistaken, and that the movement has been misunderstood by its critics. Owens said:"The overall YIMBY movement understands that we need more market-rate and public housing, more subsidies for housing, zoning reform, and stronger tenant protections, especially around eviction. And while there are some moderates and neoliberals that don’t support rent control, they’re in the minority. For example, the majority of local YIMBY groups across California endorsed the repeal of the ban on statewide rent control in 2020."Darrell and Nathan have clashed on social media before, and Nathan was listed as a major "Left NIMBY" on Darrell's Discourse Lounge Substack, so today Darrell and Nathan meet for the first time to hash out their differences and figure out whether Nathan is a NIMBY and whether YIMBYism has been treated unfairly by its critics. The title of this episode is intentionally misleading clickbait, because the conversation is polite and respectful and Nathan and Darrell both have positive things to say about each other's work and significant points of common ground. But they discuss such questions as:What is a YIMBY? What is a NIMBY? Are the NIMBY-YIMBY labels even useful? Isn't everyone a little bit of both?Is historic preservation just a NIMBY thing?How much of the YIMBY movement is "market fundamentalist"? Is it funded by dark money?Can we at least all agree that cars are terrible and trees are great?Do leftists tend to oppose building new housing? Are they "vacancy truthers"?Is AOC a YIMBY? Is Reason magazine YIMBY?If architects made new buildings less ugly would this whole debate become a lot less contentious?What does a comprehensive left housing agenda look like?Does Darrell regret making fun of Nathan's clothes?
11/29/20221 hour, 11 minutes, 36 seconds
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How Billionaires Plan To Escape The World They've Destroyed

Douglas Rushkoff is a media and tech critic who has been called "one of the world's ten most influential intellectuals" by MIT. He has hosted PBS Frontline documentaries and written many books including Life Inc., Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus, and most recently Survival of the Richest: Escape Fantasies of the Tech Billionaires. Today we talk about how Silicon Valley's elite are trying to shield themselves from the consequences of inequality and climate destruction. Douglas' new book builds on an experience he had several years ago, where several billionaires called him out into the desert to ask him how to survive "The Event," an anticipated apocalyptic catastrophe that would send them heading for their bunkers. He shows how the super-rich often don't feel like winners. They feel scared about a coming giant global rupture. Some want to upload their consciousness and merge with machines. They are lost in fantasies about a transcendent future that bear striking similarities to Christian ideas of the Rapture. Our conversation touches on many topics, including right-wing conspiracy theories, Timothy Leary, metaverses, simulated cats, James Brown, plants, bunker jacuzzis, and Mussolini. But we focus on what Douglas calls "The Mindset," the ideology held by the world's "tech bros" that envisions an escape from material reality and the merging of humans and machines: "Climate change is the excuse for them to think about the fantasy they've had since they were little baby tech bros. They've always been wanting to create some kind of digital womb around themselves that could anticipate their every need and make it so they didn't have to deal with real people. [It's] the dream of being the last person alive and getting all the toys." — Douglas Rushkoff Douglas makes the case for viciously mocking tech bros who entertain damaging and delusional beliefs. He shows how what we really need is to care for the planet, care about each other, and not lose ourselves in techno-solutionist fantasies about transcending the material world. The "bunker strategy" for dealing with chaos, he says, won't work, because human survival depends on the survival of society. "What happens when you need a new heater for the jacuzzi?" he asks. You can live alone in a bunker for a few weeks or months, maybe. But the only realistic long-term path forward is to build a resilient society and planet. The Vanity Fair article on neo-reactionary politics is here, and more on neoreaction can be heard in our interview with Elizabeth Sandifer. William Shatner discusses his visit to space here. The clip of Shatner and Bezos is here. Nathan's article "The Bezos Future" is here and his article on the metaverse is here. More on Yuval Harari can be read here and more on “longtermism” is here. For more on “Web3,” see our interview with Molly White.Note: Mike Davis has not in fact died, but it has been reported that he is terminally ill.
11/4/202249 minutes, 5 seconds
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How Giant Corporations Squeeze Every Last Penny Out of Writers and Musicians

Rebecca Giblin is a professor at the University of Melbourne and the co-author (with Cory Doctorow) of Chokepoint Capitalism: How Big Tech and Big Content Captured Creative Labor Markets and How We'll Win Them Back. The book is about how corporations that act as gatekeepers between the creators of creative work and the public are able to use their power to extract huge amounts of wealth from workers. From YouTube to Amazon to LiveNation concerts to news conglomerates to Spotify, Giblin and Doctorow look at how corporations that own the means of accessing content are able to keep musicians, artists, and writers from reaping the full value of their work. But Chokepoint Capitalism isn't just a critique of how these institutions hoard wealth and keep creative workers poor. It's also filled with clear and workable solutions that can change the situation and give those who produce creative work a fairer share of the value they produce. In this conversation, we discuss:How Amazon locks in its customers and uses its size to dictate extortionate terms to its suppliersWhy Prince was right about the music industryHow even Peter Thiel has admitted that it's monopolists, not innovators, who make moneyWhy copyright law as it exists doesn't actually protect the creators of intellectual propertyWhether monopolies and market concentration are actually the most important issue, or whether the real problem is that for-profit corporations are the ones with the power.Why Rebecca and Cory think they can make the terms "monopsony" and "oligopsony" sexyHow collective action by creative workers can be effective and why corporate power looks imposing but is actually quite fragileThe Peter Thiel lecture is called "Competition is For Losers." Listen to Cory Doctorow's interview with Current Affairs, which also touches on some of the themes in the book, here. The thumbnail for this episode is a nod to Amazon's infamous "Gazelle project" which tried to prey on book publishers the way a cheetah would prey on a "sickly gazelle.""Let's make interventions that directly support more power to creative workers rather than rights-holders." — Rebecca Giblin
11/4/202249 minutes, 40 seconds
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How to Save Sick Piglets While Avoiding Jail Time (w/ Wayne Hsiung and Matt Johnson)

Wayne Hsiung is a former law professor who was recently acquitted by a Utah jury after being charged with stealing two piglets from a factory farm, in a story that made national news. In 2017, animal liberation activist group Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) released a video showing the horrifying conditions of pigs in a facility run by Smithfield Foods, and showing the rescue of two dying piglets from the farm. The activists, including Hsiung, were pursued relentlessly for the next five years, with the FBI even invading animal sanctuaries in order to try to recover the stolen piglets. Hsiung faced significant jail time if convicted, but successfully managed to convince the jury to acquit him. The case is important because a conviction would have had a chilling effect on important activism exposing the abuses of factory farms. But jurors even went so far as to ask why Hsiung hadn't rescued more of the facility's sick piglets. Today, Wayne joins us along with DxE investigator Matt Johnson, to discuss the original nighttime operation, the Utah trial, and what DxE hopes to expose about the animal farming industry. We talk about why DxE chooses the tactic of going into factory farms and removing animals, how a Utah jury became convinced Wayne's actions weren't a crime, and the work yet to be done in creating a humane life for animals everywhere.More on the time Matt tricked Fox Business into thinking he was the CEO of Smithfield Foods is here. Wayne's blog The Simple Heart is here and information on the campaigns surrounding is at The interview with Marina Bolotnikova on factory farming is here. 
11/4/202245 minutes, 23 seconds
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How To Be A Smart Media Critic Who Knows Propaganda When They See It

Norman Solomon is one of the foremost progressive media critics, having founded the Institute for Public Accuracy and authored or co-authored many books on media including Unreliable Sources: A Guide to Detecting Bias in News Media, War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death, and The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media. Today Norman joins to give us a crash course in how to be an informed and careful consumer of news media who can spot bias and buzzwords. Norman explains how to read your morning newspaper to figure out what you're not being told, and gives examples of how dissenting opinions (particularly on war) are censored. He shows how words like "defense" and "reform" are used to obscure the truth, and argues that when you actually understand an issue deeply, you can easily see how bad the media coverage of it is. We discuss how social movements like Occupy and the democratic socialists are covered in the mainstream press, and what we can learn from a generation of prior media critics like Upton Sinclair and I.F. Stone. Norman also encourages us to be skeptical of progressive media as well, making sure that we're always concerned with a fair representation of the facts. As a bonus, Norman recounts his 1990s run-in with Dilbert creator Scott Adams. Long before Adams went full MAGA, Norman was warning that Dilbert posed as a satire of the workplace but was actually clearly written by a reactionary. He even wrote a book called The Trouble With Dilbert: How Corporate Culture Gets the Last Laugh. At the time, Norman was presented in the press as hysterical killjoy, but he has been fully vindicated over time and deserves credit for being among the first to see through Adams. Norman's Nation tribute to Robert Parry is here. The website of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) is here. The full conversation between Noam Chomsky and the BBC's Andrew Marr is here. Nathan's article on the 2019 DSA convention is here, and one can contrast it with the depiction of the same event on Fox News. Nathan's article on the Guardian incident is here. Ashleigh Banfield's full speech can be watched here. Philip Agee's CIA diary is here. How to Read Donald Duck is here. Upton Sinclair's The Brass Check: A Study of American Journalism can be read in full at Project Gutenberg. George Seldes' memoir is here.The thumbnail for this episode is from the Dilbert comic written about Norman Solomon in February of 1998. More on the episode can be read in 1990s newspaper articles like "Author dismisses Dilbert as corporate shill" (Tampa Bay Times) and "Dilbert detractor is not amused" (Los Angeles Times).These are the 17 pro-war media talking points that form the table of contents of Norman's 2006 book War Made Easy: 
11/4/202259 minutes, 12 seconds
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How Do You Create A Leftist Animated Cartoon That Is Actually Funny?

Shawn Vulliez and Aaron Moritz are the creators and hosts of the utopian leftist comedy podcast Srsly Wrong and also the creators of the new animated series Papa and Boy, currently making its debut on the worker-owned streaming platform Means TV. Papa and Boy is an absurdist comedy, but it's rich with political and social commentary. It's set in a dystopian world where fathers tyrannize over sons and justify their rule with a spurious ideology. Today Sean and Aaron join to discuss how they managed to make the series leftist while keeping it funny, and how Papa and Boy depicts:The role of propaganda in keeping populations docile and complacentThe way meritocracy forces those at the bottom to compete for scraps and meaningless baublesHow hierarchical relationships are not only oppressive but do not even serve the interests of those at the top of the hierarchyHow people who suffered personally sometimes use their own experience as a justification for keeping others in similar conditionsHow the oppressed are deprived of knowledge about the possibilities for alternate social arrangements and kept in the dark about the power of collective actionMuch else!The Current Affairs article Nathan mentions about meritocracy and bullshit jobs is here. "[The social order] requires the boys to be demoralized and it requires the papas to be fearful of what the boys can accomplish and to prevent them from collaborating, in the same way that in current society huge companies like Amazon and Starbucks are fighting tooth and nail to prevent unionization efforts, because they know that if workers work together they'll be able to extract concessions from them and to change how things are working.""If you can't imagine that another world is possible, or even that resistance to the current world is possible, it places you exactly where the hierarchical systems want you to be. That's why propaganda, and terms like 'It is what it is,' are so powerful in terms of keeping society the way it is, because they seek to limit the horizons of what people as see as possible. Having those moments of realizing 'Oh, maybe it is what it is but it doesn't have to be,' is so powerful." 
11/4/202251 minutes
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Why You Don't Need To Worry About "Superintelligent AI" Destroying The World (But Artificial Intelligence Is Still Scary)

Some, including both geniuses like Stephen Hawking and nongeniuses like Elon Musk, have warned that artificial intelligence poses a major risk to humankind's future. Some in the "Effective Altruist" community have become convinced that artificial intelligence is developing so rapidly that we could soon create "superintelligent" computers that are so much smarter than us that they could take over and pose a threat to our existence as a species. Books like Nick Bostrom's Superintelligence and Stuart Russell's Human Compatible have warned that we need to get machine intelligence under control before it controls us. Erik J. Larson is dubious about the chances that we'll produce "artificial general intelligence" anytime soon. He argues that we simply have no idea how to simulate important kinds of intelligent reasoning with computers, which is why even as they seem to get much smarter, they also remain very stupid in obvious ways. Larson is the author of The Myth of Artificial Intelligence: Why Computers Can't Think The Way We Do (Harvard University Press) which shows that there are important aspects of intelligence that we have no clue how to make machines do, and that while they're getting very good at playing Go and generating images from prompts, AI systems are not making any progress toward possessing the kind of common sense that we depend on every day to make intelligent decisions. Larson says that a lot of progress in AI is overstated and a lot of people who hype up its potential don't grasp the scale of the challenges that face the project of creating a system capable of producing insight. (Rather than producing very impressive pictures of cats.)Today, Erik joins to explain how different kinds of reasoning work, which kinds computers can simulate and which kinds they can't, and what he thinks the real threats from AI are. Just because we're not on the path to "superintelligence" doesn't mean we're not creating some pretty terrifying technology, and Larson warns us that military and police applications of AI don't require us to develop systems that are particularly "smart," they just require technologies that are useful in applying violent force. A Current Affairs article on the "superintelligence" idea can be read here. Another echoing Larson's warnings about the real threats of AI is here. The "Ukrainian teenager" that Nathan refers to is a chatbot called Eugene Goostman. The transcript of the conversation with the "sentient" Google AI is here.The image for this episode is what DALL-E 2 spat out in response to the prompt "a terrifying superintelligent AI destroying the world." 
11/4/202248 minutes, 43 seconds
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The Exciting Rise of the New U.S. Leftist Movement (w/ Raina Lipsitz)

Raina Lipsitz is a journalist whose book The Rise of a New Left: How Young Radicals Are Shaping the Future of American Politics profiles the young leftists who are bringing socialism back to American politics. Raina looks at high-profile campaigns like those of AOC and Bernie Sanders, but also at the left political victories that fly under the radar, occurring on city councils and in state legislatures. To anyone who wants to feel hopeful that a new generation of political leaders is rising that can take on the most serious challenges we face, Raina's book offers an encouraging assessment of the possibilities for a new movement. This episode should have come out yesterday but Nathan has COVID-19 and was feeling too weak and useless to press the "post" button. 
11/4/202240 minutes, 13 seconds
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Why We Have To Teach Kids to Analyze and Debunk Propaganda

Sam Shain is a public school teacher whose book Education Revolution: Media Literacy for Political Awareness argues that K-12 students need to be equipped with the ability to analyze media and spot misinformation. This crucial skill, which helps them become informed participants in democracy and resist demagogues, is not actually widely taught. Shain explains how he teaches his students critical thinking, including playing "spot the fallacy" with Ben Shapiro videos and having students write their own piece of "fake news." In our conversation, we talk about why it's important to bring politics into the classroom and how to make sure kids hear dissenting perspectives without trying to indoctrinate them. Shain also recounts his own disturbing experience being forced out of a job after a complaint from a Trump-supporting parent. Nathan's recent article "Six Subjects That Should Be Taught In School But Aren't" can be read here. The book that Sam got in trouble for teaching, Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist, is available here. "If the teacher is merely teaching something that happened [in history], or teaching a book that might be a little bit controversial, [administrators] need to hold the line [against parent complaints]. And teachers need to do this sort of thing." — Sam Shain
11/4/202241 minutes, 56 seconds
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How the "Economic Style of Reasoning" Came to Dominate Social Policy

Prof. Elizabeth Popp Berman is the author of Thinking like an Economist: How Efficiency Replaced Equality in U.S. Public Policy, which documents how a style of reasoning that heavily emphasizes efficiency over equality came to dominate U.S. social policy. In our conversation we discuss the rise of "cost-benefit analysis" and how applying the economists' favored framework excludes important values from being taken into account. We talk about what the "economic style" misses and the solutions it leads policy-makers to embrace in areas like student debt, healthcare, climate, and antitrust. (We also make clear that not all economists are the problem. Karl Marx was an economist, after all!) The Boston Review piece discussing Thinking Like an Economist is here. The Adrienne Buller interview is here, although it was not from "last week," as Nathan says. It was from July, and Nathan just forgot that time has passed and it is already late September. The image accompanying this episode is a stock photo depicting "Cost-Benefit Analysis" taken from Shutterstock. 
11/4/202244 minutes, 21 seconds
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Vietnam Veteran W.D. Ehrhart on What Americans Still Don't Know About the War (Part II)

Today we return to our interview with Dr. W.D. Ehrhart, for the second part of a conversation on what Americans should know about the war in Vietnam.The photograph is of Dr. Ehrhart himself in Vietnam. It appears accompanying his 2017 New York Times article "God, Jesus, and Vietnam." Edited by Tim Gray.
10/4/202234 minutes, 29 seconds
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Vietnam Veteran W.D. Ehrhart on What Americans Still Don't Know About the War (Part I)

Dr. W.D. Ehrhart is a Vietnam veteran, poet, teacher, and essayist who was active in Vietnam Veterans Against The War and has written multiple volumes of memoirs about his observations of the war and his return to civilian life afterwards, beginning with Vietnam-Perkasie. He has been hailed as "the dean of Vietnam war poets" and "one of the major figures in Vietnam War literature." His work offers a blunt and often haunting look at the realities of war. His collected poems, on Vietnam and many other subjects, can be found in the volume Thank You For Your Service. (Included are the poems featured in this episode.)Today, Dr. Ehrhart joins to discuss how the Vietnam War destroyed the image of America that he had formed during his upbringing in small-town Pennsylvania and give some insight into the true nature of the war for both Americans and the Vietnamese. It is a powerful and important conversation about a period in this country's history that we might rather forget but need to confront head-on.An article by Nathan on the Vietnam War is here. An old video of Dr. Ehrhart on YouTube talking about his war experiences has received nearly 20 million views and can be found here. Examples of Dr. Ehrhart's poems can be found on his personal website here.This is Part I of II. Edited by Tim Gray.
10/4/202231 minutes, 26 seconds
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How to Spot Copaganda (w/ Alex Karakatsanis)

Alec Karakatsanis is one of the country's most forceful and persuasive critics of the criminal punishment system. Alec is the founder and executive director of Civil Rights Corps, and as a civil rights lawyer he has fought against the vicious punishment system that cages the poor and plunges them into debt. Alec's work as a lawyer has been covered in the New York Times and he was recently a guest on the Daily Show. Alec's book Usual Cruelty: The Complicity of Lawyers in the Criminal Injustice System is a stirring indictment of the legal system. Today, Alec joins editor-in-chief Nathan J. Robinson to discuss "copaganda," and how media narratives about crime and policing keep us from having an intelligent conversation on how to reduce violence in our society. We discuss: The human reality of mass incarceration, including the wage slavery, family separation, and sexual violence, and how sentencing someone to prison takes years off their lifeWhy tough on crime policies are not tough on crime: jailing people makes crime worse, not better, and Alec argues that responding to violence with more police and prisons is so irrational that it should be compared to climate science denialHow only certain kinds of theft are considered crimes, and why we focus on shoplifting while ignoring civil asset forfeiture by police and wage theft by employersHow Democratic politicians have completely failed to make the case for real public safety and keep falling back on failed, racist "tough on crime" policiesWhy inflammatory anecdotes about individual crimes are a bad way to assess whether a given reform policy is workingWhat we actually need to do if we want to reduce violenceWhy we shouldn't treat people who hurt people as mere "criminals" who have to be locked in cagesHow people can learn to read news reports critically and watch to see when they are being subtly influenced to support punitive policies that will actually make problems worseAlec's Copaganda newsletter can be read here. Alec's Current Affairs article responding to Matthew Yglesias' argument that we need more police is here. Alec's contentious exchange with Ana Kasparian of the Young Turks on criminal punishment is here. "One of the most profoundly depressing aspects of my current job leading a national civil rights organization is that I often find myself in conversation with Democratic politicians. And by and large, these people are profoundly lost. They have no sense of what the actual evidence is on these issues is, and that's largely because they don't care. They have no sense of how to speak about these issues in a way that's compelling. They don't understand how to build a popular political project that actually brings to people the things they want and need to flourish." — Alec Karakatsanis "Jails are what we call 'criminogenic'—they lead people to commit more crime in the future. So when you jail someone you are actually making it more likely they will commit crime in the future. As opposed to, for example, trying to understand what led that person to come into the criminal system and trying to address the needs that they and their community have." — Alec Karakatsanis"There's this tendency to define people who've committed a crime as bad people. And they committed a crime because of that evil. That just fundamentally, in my experience, misunderstands human behavior. The vast majority of times when people hurt each other in our society it is not because the person is irredeemably bad, but because of very particular circumstances in which they found themselves. And we have control to a large extent over those circumstances." — Alec Karakatsanis
10/4/202241 minutes, 47 seconds
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Can The Minions Tell Us Anything?

"I will never again spend money on a Minion movie. ... I surprised myself. I went into this a huge fan of the Minions. And I thought 'Oh, they're so popular, we should talk about them on the left.' And I don't regret this conversation at all. It has deepened my understanding. But I have come out of it as an anti-fan." — Yasmin Nair Current Affairs podcasts have been deadly serious lately, with many shows devoted to U.S. foreign policy, including episodes on Palestine (Part I, Part II), Afghanistan, U.S. empire, and the threat of nuclear war. Today we take a break from eating our vegetables and indulge ourselves in a bit of dessert, with a much lighter subject (some might say a frivolous one): the "Minions" from the Despicable Me series. Films featuring the Minions have been hugely successful, being some of the top-grossing animated films of all time and spawning a multi-billion-dollar franchise with a vast range of products, from toasters that will imprint a Minion onto a piece of bread to toothpaste dispensers and Minion-shaped tic-tacs. On Etsy, one can choose among dozens of different crocheted Minion hats. The Minions have become ubiquitous in memes and a 2015 article called "How Minions Destroyed The Internet" argues that Minions have become a "template onto which we project ourselves." But can we learn anything from the Minions films? Today, Current Affairs editor-in-chief Nathan J. Robinson is joined by editor-at-large Yasmin Nair and managing editor Lily Sánchez for a discussion about the Despicable Me and Minions films, probing such questions as:In depicting unfree and uncompensated labor by a mass of nondescript fungible workers, do the films implicitly affirm a Marxist critique of capitalism? (Answer: not really.)Should children actually watch Minions films, or will they be corrupted in various ways? (Answer: Do not let your child watch Minions films unless you want them to start imitating Minions for weeks on end.)Are these films entirely stupid or do they have artistic merit?Do the films have some uncomfortable ethnic stereotypes and some stuff that is weirdly inappropriate for kids? (Yes and yes.)Does the fact that Minions have to "serve the most villainous master" explain why the films had to trap them in a cave for the years 1933-1945?Why has Yasmin gone from loving posting Minions memes to being an "anti-fan"?Does Hollywood's relentless search for giant profits mean we will be subjected to new Minions films for the rest of our natural lives?"I think I feel about the Minions the way I feel about shopping malls, which is that I can go to them or see them as sociological experiments mostly, as opposed to genuine enjoyment." — Lily"I am surrounded by ever-growing piles of Minions in my dreams." — NathanThe scene of Minions being tortured can be watched here. The full "banana song" can be heard (if so desired) here. Lily's article about families is here and Nathan's about J.K. Rowling is here. The Cracked article alleging that the film leaves open the possibility that the Minions have committed murder is here. The Vox article "Labor exploitation, explained by Minions" is here. A more basic Vox "explainer" on Minions is here. The academic article "Beautiful Exploitation. Notes on the Un-free Minions" is here. "Are children who watch the first three Despicable Me movies going to grow up to become laborers who don't understand their enslavement? Given the way capitalism is crushing the world, I seriously doubt it. ... It's a kids' movie about a bunch of yellow pills who like bananas and run around speaking gibberish. Those kids will grow up, they'll be fine." — Yasmin "No! The movie normalized and accustomed them to situations of exploitation by depicting the Minions as content with their condition!" — Nathan Please enjoy our detailed analysis of Minions. As Nathan promises at the end of the episode, we will never be revisiting the subject, no matter how many more of these films are released. Minions Being Tortured: 
9/23/202259 minutes, 26 seconds
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Palestine Part II: Rights and Crimes in the Conflict Today

In our previous episode on Palestine with Rashid Khalidi, we discussed the early history of the conflict. Today we speak with Noura Erakat, human rights lawyer and professor at Rutgers University, whose book Justice For Some: Law and the Question of Palestine (Stanford University Press) examines how international law does and doesn't apply in Israel and Palestine. We discuss why a two-state solution has not been implemented, and how international law has treated Palestinians over time.
9/23/202242 minutes, 17 seconds
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The Enduring Moral Insight and Satirical Power of Charlie Chaplin and The Twilight Zone

Today we dive into old cinema and television, looking at the films of Charlie Chaplin and the television show The Twilight Zone, both of which have recently been the subject of essays in Current Affairs by Ciara Moloney. Ciara has written for Current Affairs on subjects ranging from the 2020 Democratic candidates' range of merch to Hollywood's depictions of George W. Bush. Her essays on Chaplin's films and The Twilight Zone make the case that while both have become enduring cultural tropes and cliches, going back and viewing the original works shows them to have incisive and enduring satirical power. Today Ciara joins us to talk about how Chaplin skewered modern capitalism and how Rod Serling depicted anti-Communist hysteria, and why each showed the capacity of film and television to generate empathy. We also talk about how valuable it is to go back and view things that are old and neglected, since they are often fresher and more relevant than one would expect. The other films Ciara mentions in the episode are:Black Book (2006)Sidewalk Stories (1989)Final Account (2020)All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)The Heartbreak Kid (1972)More of Ciara's writing on film, television, and music can be found at The Sundae. The "feeding machine" sequence from Modern Times can be watched here. 
9/23/202256 minutes, 42 seconds
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Sensible Thinking About U.S. Foreign Policy: Russia, China, and the Threat of World War

Branko Marcetic is a staff writer for Jacobin and the author of Yesterday's Man: The Case Against Joe Biden. He is also a leading heterodox commentator on U.S. foreign policy, and has written critically about the U.S. approach to China and the war in Ukraine. Branko recently wrote an article for Current Affairs arguing that the Eisenhower administration's cautious response to Soviet aggression, prompted by the risk of nuclear escalation, offers an important set of lessons for us today. Today he joins to explain why he thinks U.S. policy toward Russia is much more dangerous than is widely perceived, and how he believes we are ignoring important lessons from history about how to avoid catastrophic wars. Branko's valuable interview with US Naval War College scholar Lyle Goldstein about China policy is here. His critique of Biden's foreign policy is here. His critique of Biden's approach to diplomacy on Ukraine is here. His piece on the International Criminal Court is here. His latest piece on the prospects for a negotiated end to the Ukraine war is here. 
9/23/202245 minutes, 15 seconds
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How Does the U.S. Exercise Power Around the World?

Vijay Prashad is a leading historian on the Global South and U.S. empire. His books include Washington Bullets, The Darker Nations: A People's History of the Third World and most recently The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power, which features Prashad in dialogue with Noam Chomsky. Today, he joins editor in chief Nathan J. Robinson for a spirited conversation on U.S. foreign policy. The discussion covers, among other things:Why the U.S. left has an obligation to pay attention to the way U.S. power operates abroadThe total lack of any accountability for the criminal wars waged by the U.S. and our lack of interest in applying the legal standards of the Nuremberg tribunals to ourselvesHow every rival power is always characterized as monstrous, bent on world domination, and impossible to reason withWhy the term "American empire" is useful and how American imperialism is similar to and different from other kinds of imperialismHow the U.S. operates internationally like a mafia godfather—and why the comparison might actually be unfair to the Mafia, who are more inclined toward diplomatic solutions"No country in the world has through its wars killed the number of people that the United States has killed in the last 35 odd years. And yet in the U.S. you sound insane to say: Why didn't we have Donald Rumsfeld give testimony at the ICC? Or why not ask George W. Bush to at least stand up and stop painting his ridiculous paintings and reflect a little on having conducted that war? There's just no space in public discourse for that kind of thing. In Nuremberg, there was the death penalty for a war of aggression. But the poison pen of Nuremberg is for others. It's not for the United States. I think that's the responsibility of intellectuals is to not allow amnesia to set in around these really quite consequential issues—consequential not only for the Iraqis, I must say, but also for the U.S. veterans who continue to be haunted by that war." — Vijay Prashad An article on the Clintons and Haiti can be found here. The Robinson/Chomsky article on China is here and the one on Afghanistan is here.  
9/23/202251 minutes, 23 seconds
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Why Is There an Israel-Palestine Conflict in the First Place?

Today, we see children killed in Gaza by Israeli airstrikes, but anyone who gets their understanding of the Israel-Palestine conflict from news reports lacks the context necessary to make sense of the horrors they are seeing. To understand why there is an Israel-Palestine conflict today, we have to go back a hundred years to see what Palestine was like before the state of Israel was established and how things changed. Joining us to explain the background of the conflict is one of the leading historians on the region, Professor Rashid Khalidi of Columbia University. He is the author of The Hundred Years' War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance, 1917–2017, edits the Journal of Palestine Studies, and in the 90s served as an advisor to the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid and Washington Arab-Israeli peace negotiations. Prof. Khalidi's book is essential reading for anyone who wants to know where modern-day Israel and Palestine came from in the first place. Among topics discussed:What Palestine was like in the early 1900s, when the Arab population of Palestine was about 95% and political Zionism was a long way from achieving its objective of establishing a stateHow 19th and early 20th century Zionist leaders understood that establishing a Jewish state in Palestine would necessarily involve a project of ethnic cleansing, because of the region's overwhelming Arab majorityHow Prof. Khalidi's own Palestinian great-great-great uncle, who served as mayor of Jerusalem, personally pleaded with Theodor Herzl (father of political Zionism) in the early 1900s to "leave Palestine alone" rather than establishing the Jewish state thereHow Palestinian resistance to the original establishment of Israel is misunderstood to this day: it wasn't a product of irrational anti-Semitism, but a response to being dispossessed and not granted the right of self-determinationThe myth that Palestinians have rejected fair offers of statehood and are the architects of their own misfortuneGolda Meir's infamous statement that there "was no such thing as Palestinians," and the argument that Palestinian national identity is a contemporary construct. In fact, both Palestinian and Israeli national identities are recent, as is the nation-state form itselfThe project of "memoricide": Israel's deliberate efforts to erase the memory of what Palestine was like in the years prior to Zionist colonization and frame the Palestinian resistance to dispossession as aggressive and terroristicWhy the establishment of Israel was similar to (and different from) other kinds of colonialism, and the way colonial projects always treat indigenous populations as irrational, violent, backward, and in need of removalHow changes in U.S. political opinion are essential if Palestinians are ever going to receive the right to self-determinationThe Israel-Palestine conflict is often treated as complicated. In fact, Prof. Khalidi argues, it is not very complicated at all: it is precisely the kind of conflict that can be expected to arise when a colonial project tries to displace a country's native inhabitants and denies them equal rights. Prof. Khalidi mentions Nathan's experience at the Guardian, which is discussed here. Discussion of the shooting of peaceful Palestinian protesters in 2018 can be found here.  Map of Palestine before the project of expelling, dispossessing, and occupying Palestinians had succeeded, taken from Before Their Diaspora: A Photographic History of the Palestinians 1876-1948
9/23/202256 minutes, 3 seconds
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Afghanistan Through Western Eyes

Current Affairs editor at large Yasmin Nair and editor-in-chief Nathan J. Robinson have both written articles that deal with the country of Afghanistan. Yasmin's Evergreen Review piece, "Sharbat Gula Is Not Lost" is about the woman pictured in the iconic "Afghan Girl" photo that appeared on the cover of National Geographic. Nathan's essay "What Do We Owe Afghanistan?" (co-authored with Noam Chomsky) appears in Current Affairs and is a history of the American war from 2001 to 2021, looking at the hideous consequences of U.S. actions for the Afghan people.In this conversation, we talk about how stories and photos shape Western perceptions of Afghanistan and how Americans came to believe that they were part of a noble endeavor to help Afghan people even as their actions actually severely damaged the country. The "Afghan Girl" of National Geographic is Sharbat Gula, who didn't want her photo taken and tried to cover her face. We discuss the photographer, Steve McCurry, whose work exoticizes (and sometimes even fabricates) the lives of non-Western people. We discuss how the aspirations and wishes of Afghans themselves are left out of Western depictions of the country.Laura Bush's speech using Afghan women's rights as a justification for the war is here. A critique of the way Afghan women were cynically invoked to justify U.S. geopolitical goals is here. A scathing New York Times review of McCurry's "astonishingly boring" pictures is here. The photo of Gula covering her face is here. The photo of the adult Gula holding the magazine is here. Photographer Steve McCurry with the portrait that changed his life (although not the life of the anonymous child depicted, who did not wish to be photographed). 
9/23/202251 minutes, 31 seconds
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How Can We Deal With America's Gun Problem?

David Hemenway is a professor of public health at the Harvard School of Public Health. He is the author of Private Guns, Public Health which argues that there are many practical ways to significantly reduce the epidemic of American gun deaths. In his book While We Were Sleeping Success Stories in Injury and Violence Prevention, David provides case studies of previous efforts at reducing injuries and deaths, showing 60 different success stories that have made us all safer.David previously worked for Ralph Nader and compares the situation with guns to the situation before auto safety measures came about. He has produced a great deal of research on what interventions would actually work to stop people from getting shot. Today he joins to discuss what we know (and don't know) about firearm deaths and how to stop them.
8/25/202242 minutes, 14 seconds
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The Moral Atrocity of Factory Farming and Why We Can't Look Away

Current Affairs is proud to be a publication that takes animal rights seriously. From our lighthearted looks at manatees, ants, and cats, to our more serious pieces on the Orwellian language of the factory farming industry, the reason animal communication shouldn't be the justification for animal rights, and the need for "Veticare For All," we have always believed that left politics and animal welfare go together.Today on the podcast we are joined by Marina Bolotnikova, a freelance journalist who covers factory farming and animal liberation activism. Marina has written for Current Affairs about the importance of direct action to the animal liberation movement and how the factory farming industry has gone from openly admitting that they view animals as profit-maximizing machines to pretending to care about being "humane."  In this episode we discuss why the treatment of animals is such a morally important issue, how the industry uses lies and euphemisms to conceal its barbarism, how phony industry-supported research is used to paper over atrocities, and why leftists and environmentalists shouldn't view animal rights as secondary.Marina's Intercept article on the cruel method used to boil and suffocate chickens to death is here. The episode of the Green Pill podcast featuring Matt Johnson is here. John Sanbonmatsu's Critical Theory and Animal Liberation is here. The thumbnail is the illustration by Nick Sirotich that appears alongside Marina's latest article in the May-June print issue of Current Affairs. 
8/19/202245 minutes, 22 seconds
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Jeffrey Sachs On Why He Concluded COVID-19 Probably Came From a Lab (And Why Nobody Wants to Talk About It)

Prof. Jeffrey Sachs is the Director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University and the President of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network. He has also served as the chair of the COVID-19 commission for leading medical journal The Lancet. Through his investigations as the head of the COVID-19 commission, Prof. Sachs has come to the conclusion that there is extremely dangerous biotechnology research being kept from public view, that the United States was supporting much of this research, and that it is very possible that COVID-19 originated through dangerous virus research gone awry. He recently said:"I chaired the commission for the Lancet for two years on COVID. I'm pretty convinced it came out of US lab biotechnology. Not out of nature... [That's] out of two years of intensive work on this. So it's a blunder, in my view, of biotech not an accident of a natural spillover. We don't know for sure, I should be absolutely clear. But there's enough evidence that it should be looked into. And it's not being investigated. Not in the United States. Not anywhere. And I think for real reasons, that they don't want to look underneath the rug."Prof. Sachs also believes that there is clear proof that the National Institutes of Health and many members of the scientific community have been impeding a serious investigation of the origins of COVID-19 and deflecting attention away from the hypothesis that risky U.S.-supported research may have led to millions of deaths. If that hypothesis is true, the implications would be earth-shaking, because it might mean that esteemed members of the scientific community bore responsibility for a global calamity.In this interview, Prof. Sachs explains how he, as the head of the COVID-19 commission for a leading medical journal, came to the conclusion that powerful actors were preventing a real investigation from taking place. He also explains why it is so important to get to the bottom of the origins of COVID: because, he says, there is extremely dangerous research taking place with little accountability, and the public has a right to know since we are the ones whose lives are being put at risk without our consent.  Prof. Sachs' recent article on the subject in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences can be found here. A Current Affairs article from last year about the questions over the origins of COVID-19 can be found here. 
8/19/202231 minutes, 58 seconds
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Why Children Make Such Good Philosophers

In this episode, we discuss the strange creatures known as children. Scott Hershovitz is a professor of philosophy and law at the University of Michigan and the author of Nasty, Brutish, and Short: Adventures in Philosophy With My Kids, which chronicles (hilariously) his philosophical conversations with his sons Rex and Hank. The book is a great primer on some basic philosophical questions for adult readers, but it also shows that children are more profound philosophers than they are often assumed to be. Because the world is unfamiliar to them, every child is a little Socrates, asking authority figures to justify their beliefs. The child's relentless query of "Why?" is a demand that knowledge be justified, and Hershovitz encourages us to take children's philosophical questions seriously. He also believes that philosophy ought to be taught much earlier than college, because it helps cultivate useful critical thinking skills. Today, we discuss how the "chaos muppets" that are children can actually be uncommonly profound. Here is Scott's New York Times article "How To Pray To A God You Don't Believe In," which discusses his son's unique perspective on how God is both "pretend" and "real."The image above is from a video of a child solving the "trolley problem." 
8/19/202244 minutes, 1 second
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The Life of Murray Bookchin / Revolution in Rojava

Janet Biehl is one of the leading libertarian socialist writers in the country. For several decades, she was the partner and collaborator of the late political theorist Murray Bookchin, who stood, in the words of the Village Voice, "at the pinnacle of the genre of utopian social criticism." In bracing works like "Listen, Marxist!" and The Ecology of Freedom, Bookchin laid out the basis for an anti-capitalist, ecologically-oriented, and anti-authoritarian left. Bookchin's analysis was often provocative, and in works like "Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism" and "Re-Enchanting Humanity" (which includes a satisfying takedown of Richard Dawkins) he challenged what he felt were the dangerous currents of anti-rationalist and primitivist thinking emerging on the left. Bookchin tried to forge a philosophy that was pro-technology while sensitive to ecological destruction, and which salvaged insights from Marx while avoiding the rigidities of 21st century Marxism. He was one of the first thinkers to warn that capitalism itself was causing catastrophic global warming.Biehl is the author of Ecology or Catastrophe The Life of Murray Bookchin, the editor of The Murray Bookchin Reader, and the author of The Politics of Social Ecology, a primer on Bookchin's ideas.In addition to her work on Bookchin, Janet Biehl is an artist and journalist who has documented the social revolution that has taken place among the Kurds of Rojava. Her latest book is the graphic novel Their Blood Got Mixed: Revolutionary Rojava and the War on ISIS.In Part I of this interview, we discuss the social theories of Murray Bookchin. In the second part, we move to Biehl's recent work on the Kurdish struggle, more information about which can be found at the Rojava Information Center. There is a connection between Biehl's work on both topics, because the "democratic confederalist" philosophy developed by Kurdistan Workers' Party leader Abdullah Öcalan was directly inspired in part by the writings of Bookchin. Bookchin did not in his lifetime get to see a movement that took his ideas seriously, and one of the more poignant parts of Biehl's work is her reflections on how delighted and gratified Bookchin would have been to see his theories expanded upon, developed further, and put into practice by courageous revolutionaries. 
8/19/202254 minutes, 46 seconds
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How Much Is a Whale Worth? (w/ Adrienne Buller)

In our last episode, we took a break from the depressing facts of the ecological crisis to simply marvel at the immense variety of experiences and sensations in the animal kingdom. Today we return to the tough stuff, although we begin with 30 seconds of whalesong to relax our spirits. Nathan's guest is Adrienne Buller of the progressive UK think tank Common Wealth, whose book The Value of a Whale: On The Illusions of Green Capitalism (Manchester University Press) is a thorough, devastating critique of market-based approaches to solving the climate crisis. The Value of a Whale is an essential primer for those who want to learn how to see through fraud and fakery in proposed climate policies. Buller shows how bad economic thinking has allowed corporations and governments to embrace pseudo-solutions that appear to address climate change but in fact do almost nothing. In this interview we discuss the futile (and dangerous) attempt to assign financial values to parts of the natural world (including whales), the harm done by using "cost-benefit analysis" and models of climate change that focus on its impact on GDP, and how we can tell real solutions to climate change from fake ones that are designed to avoid doing anything that would require sacrifices from rich Westerners. Adrienne's other book, Owning the Future (co-authored with Mat Lawrence), is available from Verso. 
8/19/202246 minutes, 38 seconds
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The Wonderful World of Animal Senses and How They Expand Our View of The Universe (w/ Ed Yong)

Ed Yong of The Atlantic is the author of the new bestselling book An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us, which is about all of the fascinating ways in which animal senses differ from our own, and how they show the immense amount of information in the universe that is inaccessible to human beings. Ed's book gives us a glimpse of what the subjective experiences of other species are like, and they are incredible. Today we discuss how mind-expanding it is to empathize with creatures very different from ourselves. Ed's Atlantic writings are here and his book on microbes is here. The writings of Ed's colleague Marina Koren about space and the James Webb telescope are here. A recording of Carl Sagan talking about the "pale blue dot" is here.WARNING: THIS EPISODE BEGINS WITH TWO FULL MINUTES OF ANIMAL NOISES TO HELP US APPRECIATE THE MAJESTY AND VARIETY OF OTHER SPECIES
8/19/202241 minutes, 36 seconds
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Have the Suburbs Ruined Everything? (w/ Bill McKibben)

Bill McKibben is a legendary activist and writer whose 1989 book The End of Nature introduced the problem of global warming to a general audience. Since then, he has been one of the world's leading environmental activists, taking major roles in the fossil fuel divestment movement and the campaign against the Keystone pipeline. In his latest book, The Flag, The Cross, and The Station Wagon: A Graying American Looks Back at His Suburban Boyhood and Wonders What the Hell Happened, McKibben looks at the Middle America he grew up in and how, beneath its image of cheery prosperity, it was accumulating moral debts that have yet to be paid. McKibben grew up in Lexington, Massachusetts, where he proudly told tales of the American Revolution as a tour guide on the town common. But he came to understand that Lexington was a far more complicated place than its mythology told him. While the town is a bastion of liberalism, and in his youth the residents came out to support Vietnam war protesters, at the same time it was deliberately keeping out affordable housing and making sure only the existing white residents saw the benefit of its skyrocketing property values. McKibben's book retells the history of his suburb and wrestles with its role in creating present crises. Today Bill McKibben joins us to discuss:The peaceful suburb of his childhood and how he came to discover its dark sideThe morally complicated role of the church in American historyThe debts that U.S. suburbanites have accrued through destructive carbon emissionsThe very disturbing sight on Paul Revere's famous "midnight ride" that is never mentionedWhy Jimmy Carter is underrated and the terrible path that America set itself on by electing Ronald Reagan in 1980Why Baby Boomers aren't all terrible and why we should involve older people in political activismNathan's article discussing Sam Walton's memoir is here. Carter's "Crisis of Confidence" speech is here. More on "where Mark hung in chains" can be read here. Find more about Third Act, McKibben's organization for older Americans looking to get involved in activism, here.
7/31/202242 minutes, 18 seconds
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A Set of Progressive Economic Principles That Can Actually Win Elections

Things do not look good for Joe Biden and the Democratic Party right now. Polls show that nearly 3/4 of Americans, including a staggering 94% of people under 30, do not want Biden to run for reelection. Biden's prospects look slightly better when people are asked if they prefer him or Donald Trump, and for Biden that's apparently enough. The New York Times says the president has a favorite aphorism: "Don't compare me to the Almighty, compare me to the alternative." (This is the worst aphorism ever.) "The alternative to us is Christian Fascism" might be a platform that allows some Democrats to squeak back into office. After all, the existing alternative is Christian Fascism. But what kind of agenda could actually produce lasting majorities and enthusiastic public support? What would a real alternative to the GOP, one that put forward a positive and transformative set of ideas, look like? To answer this question, we are today joined by Alan Minsky, Executive Director of Progressive Democrats of America (PDA), and Professor Harvey J. Kaye, author of The Fight for the Four Freedoms and Thomas Paine and the Promise of America. In a recent series of articles for Common Dreams, Kaye and Minsky have laid out the case for a 21st-century Economic Bill of Rights. They argue that if Democrats want to win, they should formally embrace the principles of the Economic Bill of Rights, which would make it clear to Americans exactly what people would be voting for when they are asked to vote. Kaye and Minsky's article series is here:A Call for All Progressive Candidates and Officeholders to Embrace a 21st Century Economic Bill of RightsWhy Should Progressives Embrace a 21st Century Economic Bill of Rights? Because They Already Do (w/ Michael Brennan)The Time Has Come for Progressives to Rescue and Renew American DemocracyThe Economic Bill of Rights consists of the following: 1. The right to a useful job that pays a living wage, and to a voice in the workplace through a union and collective bargaining.2. The right to comprehensive quality health care.3. The right to a complete cost-free public education and access to broadband internet.4. The right to decent, safe, affordable housing.5. The right to a clean environment and a secure planet.6. The right to a meaningful endowment of resources at birth and a secure retirement.7. The right to sound banking and financial services.8. The right to recreation and participation in public life.For Kaye and Minsky, having a clear set of principles like this, and legislation ready to pass that will actually ensure the rights are granted, is a viable route to progressive electoral success that can deliver the kind of lasting political transformation last seen in the years of the New Deal. In this episode we talk about what the progressive left should borrow from FDR in order to stop the creeping advance of far-right theocracy in its tracks. A previous Current Affairs interview with Harvey Kaye specifically focusing on Thomas Paine and FDR can be heard here. More interviews with Kaye and Minsky about the Economic Bill of Rights can be found here. A relevant recent Current Affairs article about the New Deal era Works Progress administration can be read here. 
7/31/202250 minutes, 47 seconds
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A Neuroscientist Critiques the Dangerous "Populist" Pseudoscience of Yuval Noah Harari

Yuval Noah Harari is an Israeli historian whose books have been major bestsellers, praised by Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Barack Obama. Harari not only offers a sweeping chronicle of the human past, but makes confident predictions about the human future. His visions of a future in which technology creates godlike humans has turned him into a kind of prophet, especially in Silicon Valley, though Harari insists he is a mere objective chronicler. Darshana Narayanan is a neuroscientist and journalist whose Current Affairs article "The Dangerous Populist Science of Yuval Noah Harari," available in our March-April 2022 issue, shows that Harari's claim to broad-ranging expertise is dubious and the stories he tell often lack sufficient factual foundation. Narayanan argues that belief in these unsupported prophecies is dangerous and experts need to do a better job of spreading the true findings of their academic fields so that populist pseudoscientists don't become our go-to explainers of reality. Today, Darshana joins to discuss her article and Harari's work. We talk about:Why deterministic visions of the human future are both wrong and harmful, because they inhibit our sense of the possibleHow many of Harari's statements become meaningless upon scrutiny, such has the idea that lions are more "self-confident" than humansThe comparison between Harari and Jordan Peterson, both of whom fill a void where a true culture of public intellectualism should be (the Jordan Peterson article can be read here)How experts are strangely resistant to critiquing and engaging with "popular" books, meaning those books don't get rigorously fact-checked or refutedThe Sapiens diagram explaining the "economic history of the world" that Nathan makes fun of during this episode looks like this: 
7/31/202255 minutes, 6 seconds
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Cory Doctorow on The Wondrous World of the Early Internet & How To Destroy Surveillance Capitalism

Pioneering blogger and science fiction writer Cory Doctorow has been an activist for online freedom since the early days of the history of the internet. He has long been one of the major voices opposing restrictive copyright and corporate domination, and a visionary defending a pluralistic online world where eccentricity and individuality are allowed to flourish. In books like Content: Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright and the Future of the Future (which, like all of his books, is available in full for free), Doctorow has shown what an internet created by the people, unconstrained by intellectual property law, Digital Rights Management, and monopolistic corporate gatekeeping, could be like. In this conversation, Doctorow joins to discuss the importance of a democratic internet, and his recent book How To Destroy Surveillance Capitalism, which argues that many people misidentify the main problem with what is called "surveillance capitalism," assuming that the problem is that corporations are amassing to manipulate us the power through intrusive collection of Big Data. In fact, Doctorow argues, the problem is less about a particular thing these corporations can do to us and more about the fact that monopolistic tech companies are in control in the first place. This has important implications, because it means that we cannot just regulate what companies do with our data, we have to fundamentally redistribute power over the internet. In this conversation, we talk about how Wikipedia provides an alternative vision for a participatory internet where the rules are set by users and there is oversight over governance. We do not need better and more benevolent Zuckerbergs. We need what Doctorow calls the pluralistic internet.Cory Doctorow publishes a daily link blog at Pluralistic. His books can be found at his website,, and his archive of posts at Boing Boing is here. His upcoming book Chokepoint Capitalism (co-authored with Rebecca Giblin) can be pre-ordered here. A Current Affairs article about "surveillance capitalism" is here and Nathan's article about the magic of Wikipedia is here.
7/31/202244 minutes, 11 seconds
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Debunking The Right's Bad History of Abortion Laws w/ Leslie Reagan

Prof. Leslie Reagan is the probably the country's leading expert on the history of abortion laws. Her award-winning book When Abortion Was a Crime: Women, Medicine, and Law in the United States, 1867-1973 is the most comprehensive available history of the era of criminalized abortion before Roe v. Wade, and Prof. Reagan is quoted regularly in the press for her knowledge of US abortion history. Her book on abortion law is distinguished by the fact that it focuses not just on the text of laws, but on the enforcement process, i.e., the lives of women who sought abortions. She exposes how criminalized abortion, even when it does not prosecute those getting abortions, is a horror for women and creates an intensive regime of the surveillance and policing of pregnancy. In this episode, we look at some of the history that the right chooses to ignore, including:How Samuel Alito's view that there is "no tradition" of allowing abortion is completely historically ignorant.Why The Economist is completely wrong to say that "there is no documented case in America of a woman being prosecuted for seeking an abortion since 1922." First, there is, and the outrage over one such prosecution helped fuel the movement that brought about Roe (see newspaper headline above). Second, even when doctors are the ones prosecuted, women could be arrested and coerced into giving testimony and subjected to intrusive interrogations by the state.The horrifying realities of what criminalized abortion meant, including sexual coercion by unlicensed abortionistsHow, even in the era of criminalized abortion, abortion was widespread and there was a divergence between the "public morality" of law and the actual practices indulged in, a fact that undercuts the idea of America as a historically anti-abortion countryHow legalization was a way to bring law in line with actual social practices, and how Roe was not a spontaneous departure from law, but the result of a social movement that sought to expose what women knew but had not been able to sayWhy Roe v. Wade was not a radical opinion, and in fact disappointed feminists, but came out of the Court's acceptance of the fact that criminalizing abortion was incompatible with any reasonable notion of liberty (though men of the Court appeared to care more about the liberty of doctors than women)This is the third in our series of episodes on abortion in America. Part I, in which Carole Joffe explained the "obstacle course" that (even pre-Dobbs) faced those seeking abortion, is here. Part II, in which Diana Greene Foster discusses the empirical evidence that abortion makes women's lives better off, is here. For an explanation of why Samuel Alito's legal reasoning was garbage, see here. For a discussion of how the abortion decision delegitimizes the court, see here. For the perspective of a doctor on how the decision will force medical practitioners to act unethically by withholding necessary care, see here. For more on the case of Shirley Wheeler, see here.   
7/20/202244 minutes, 40 seconds
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Robin D.G. Kelley on the Importance of Utopian Visions for Social Movements

Robin D.G. Kelley is a professor of American History at UCLA. His classic study Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination is about to be re-released in a 20th Anniversary Edition. The book looks at how, throughout Black history, movements against oppression have been inspired by (and produced) grand visions of alternate possibilities for what life could be. Kelley shows how radicals have, in circumstances of grinding oppression, managed to expand our minds as to what is possible. Kelley's book looks at communism, surrealism, Pan-Africanism, and even funk and jazz music, to show the colorful and marvelous dreams that have kept social movements alive. His book is invaluable for leftists, because it shows how in addition to our critiques of capitalism, racism, and patriarchy, we can present inspiring and creative new cultural practices. The revolution needs poetry, dance, and fiction, and Kelley shows us that movement activists have always been dreamers as well as doers.The Movement For Black Lives' "Vision for Black Lives" Agenda can be found here. More about the great Black Surrealist Ted Joans can be found here. Franklin Rosemont's book Dancin' In The Streets! Anarchists, IWWs, Surrealists, Situationists & Provos In The 1960s is another useful resource. The Times review of Kelley's Thelonious Monk can be found here.
7/20/202246 minutes, 59 seconds
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The 20-Year Catastrophe of the War In Afghanistan

The war in Afghanistan was a calamity from the start and four US presidents (Bush, Obama, Trump, Biden) have deceived the American public about it as they wrecked the country. This is the inescapable conclusion one gets from reading Washington Post reporter Craig Whitlock's bestselling book The Afghanistan Papers: A Secret History of the War (Simon & Schuster). Whitlock obtained internal government records showing that U.S. officials at every level knew that the war lacked coherent objectives and that it was costing untold Afghan and U.S. lives with little benefit to anyone. As the Pentagon Papers did for Vietnam, The Afghanistan Papers exposes the way U.S. officials manipulated public perception and buried inconvenient facts over the course of a 20-year quagmire. Today on the podcast, Whitlock joins to explain the revelations contained in this "secret history" and recount the true facts of a military mission that has ended with the Taliban back in power and the country in ruins. The Washington Post report by Susannah George on the starvation of the Afghan people is here. The 2001 story about the U.S. rejecting a Taliban offer to turn over Osama bin Laden is here.
7/20/202245 minutes, 28 seconds
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Oxford and the Making of the British Ruling Class

Financial Times journalist Simon Kuper's book Chums: How a Tiny Caste of Oxford Tories Took Over the UK argues that in order to understand how power works in the UK, you have to examine Oxford University, where most of its prime ministers are educated. The university has long functioned as the springboard to power for aspiring UK politicians, and Kuper takes us inside this insidious clubhouse, delivering a "searing critique of the British ruling class." Kuper argues that Brexit, far from being a "populist" revolt, would not have been possible without Oxford-educated Tory elites who were in search of a grand political project. Kuper discusses the disturbingly reactionary culture of the Oxford that nurtured Boris Johnson (as well as its low intellectual standards), and explains why—although certain improvements have been made—he believes the university should stop teaching undergrads altogether in order to diversity the pool of backgrounds of those who end up in British politics. The clip at the beginning is taken from the 1981 Granada Television adaptation of Brideshead Revisited, which Kuper says many Oxford students in Thatcher-era Britain watched and consciously tried to emulate. The Guardian's review of Chums is here. Nathan's own article on the life and career of Boris Johnson is here.  
7/7/202238 minutes, 42 seconds
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Why Web3 Is Going Just Great (w/ Molly White)

Molly White is the world's foremost critic of cryptocurrency, according to a recent profile in the Washington Post. A veteran Wikipedia editor and software developer, White documents the frauds and catastrophes in the so-called "Web3" space on her website Web 3 Is Going Great. Molly actually drafted the Web3 Wikipedia entry, and joins today to explain whether it is anything more than a buzzword and how we can make sense of the bizarre ecosystem of cryptocurrency, Web3, blockchain, etc. We discuss:The popularity of the Web3 buzzwordThe bizarre culture around cryptocurrency including the Fyre Festival-like "Cryptoland" island that some proponents tried to buildHow the critics of cryptocurrency are maligned and treated as stupidHow the uncritical endorsement of crypto projects by celebrities and politicians is causing ordinary people to be swindled out of their moneyThe failure of Congress to properly regulate the sector including the dangerously pro-crypto framework put forth by senators Gillibrand and LummisWhy blockchain is not going to improve Wikipedia, and why technology can't solve deep structural economic problems more generally"I think a lot of my criticisms of crypto come down to that: A lot of these projects are seeking to find technological solutions to what are truly social and political problems." — Molly WhiteMolly's writings can be found here. The open letter to Congress that she co-signed is here. Here commentary on the "Cryptoland" video (and a link to the video itself) is here. The celebrity crypto ads feature Matt Damon, LeBron James, Spike Lee, and Larry David. Note that in fine print at the end of the LeBron ad, one can see the ominous warning "Before deciding to trade cryptocurrencies, consider your risk appetite." Though the line is not quoted in this program, the Spike Lee commercial features the "do your own research" exhortation that Molly discusses. Here is the clip of senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Cynthia Lummis plugging the idea of investing retirement savings in cryptocurrency. The honey badger video, for those who want to take a trip down memory lane, is here."I put a lot of time into trying to figure out whether this was just an elaborate parody or not. But I believe they were in fact trying to build a real crypto island." — Molly White
7/7/202241 minutes, 49 seconds
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Thinking About Police After Uvalde and the San Francisco Prosecutor Recall (w/ Alex Vitale)

Alex Vitale is one of the country's foremost experts on policing and criminal punishment. He is a professor of Sociology at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center, where he coordinates the Policing and Social Justice Project. His book The End of Policing is a comprehensive critique of U.S. police and argues that nearly everything useful done by police can be done better by other institutions. (The book was published in 2017 but recently got an unexpected boost from U.S. senator Ted Cruz.) Prof. Vitale joined to discuss how the recent shooting in Uvalde (and the disastrous police response) and the successful recall of San Francisco's "progressive prosecutor," Chesa Boudin, should inform our thinking about police and punishment. We discuss: Why Ted Cruz thought of The End of Policing as "critical race theory"How the Uvalde shooting shows why policing can't be relied on to protect students from violenceWhy criticizing policing as an institution actually shows that individual police themselves are not the problem, because they are being asked to solve problems that the tools of police are inadequate to solveHow this was also evident in the San Francisco prosecution conflict: reformer Chesa Boudin was held responsible for problems that a prosecutor's office cannot solve (a problem that Prof. Vitale thinks shows the limits of the progressive prosecutor strategy on its own)How district attorney Larry Krasner in Philadelphia, another public defender pursuing a reformist mission, avoided being ousted like BoudinWhy we need to stop talking about stopping crime as if the question is "more policing" or "less policing," instead of talking about how to replace policingWhy Matthew Yglesias' criticism of The End of Policing is silly and wrongHow those of us committed to opposing the existing criminal punishment system can show that we actually care more about preventing violent crime than those pushing for more policingThe Scientific American article on Denver's Support Team Assistance Response (STAR) program is here: "Sending Health Care Workers instead of Cops Can Reduce Crime." The terrible Matthew Yglesias review of The End of Policing that Prof. Vitale responds to is here, and the article on it in Current Affairs by Alec Karakatsanis is here. The idea of "simultaneous overpolicing and underpolicing" that Prof. Vitale critiques is discussed here by Jenée Desmond-Harris. The interview with Rosa Brooks that Nathan mentions is here and the John Pfaff article debunking some misconceptions about the public response to progressive prosecutors is here. Derecka Purnell's book Becoming Abolitionists can be purchased here.
7/7/202245 minutes, 38 seconds
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Unearthing Queer History in America

Hugh Ryan is a writer and curator who unearths and preserves lost queer history. His books When Brooklyn Was Queer and The Women's House of Detention both tell stories of LGBTQ life before Stonewall, showing the vibrant and diverse lives of queer people in the United States in the early 20th century that have been left out of history textbooks. The New York Times calls When Brooklyn Was Queer "a boisterous, motley new history… an entertaining and insightful chronicle.” Writer Kaitlyn Greenidge says of Hugh that he is "one of the most important historians of American life working today" and The Women's House of Detention "resets so many assumptions about American history, reminding us that the home of the free has always been predicated on the imprisonment of the vulnerable." In this episode, we discuss how important stories get forgotten, and Hugh tells us the story of the Women's House of Detention in New York City, and why its ignominious history makes a strong case for prison abolition. 
7/7/202241 minutes, 51 seconds
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Destroying Democracy in Education: The Case of New Orleans

Celeste Lay is a professor of political science at Tulane University and the author of Public Schools, Private Governance: Education Reform and Democracy in New Orleans, which discusses the New Orleans charter school experiment. Since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, New Orleans has switched to an all-charter system, essentially abolishing public schools, as part of one of the most radical experiments in "education reform" anywhere. Prof. Lay discusses the politics that made this change possible, shows what the lack of democratic accountability for schools has meant for New Orleans, and evaluates the reform experiment. In this episode we discuss what happened and why, and what we know about whether the "all charter" system actually served children and communities. We also talk about the question of why democracy matters: what happens when you take it away? How does it change an institution? What does "private governance" of public institutions mean in practice? A New Orleans charter school sponsored by Capital One in a school building previously named for Thurgood Marshall (The Lens) 
7/7/202252 minutes, 52 seconds
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How To Create Beautiful Places - A guide to the work of the late Christopher Alexander

The architect Christopher Alexander died recently. As the (surprisingly good) New York Times obituary described him: [Alexander] believed that ordinary people, not just trained architects, should have a hand in designing their houses, neighborhoods and cities, and proposed a method for doing so in writing that could be poetically erudite, frustratingly abstract and breathtakingly simple... Mr. Alexander was a fierce anti-modernist who found traditional and indigenous structures — the beehive-shaped huts of North Africa, for example, or medieval Italian villages — more aesthetically pleasing than highly designed contemporary ones, which he saw as ugly and soulless.Alexander has long been an inspiration here at Current Affairs and his work has been mentioned in a number of articles. (1) (2) (3) (4)In this interview, Nathan talks to his old friend, city engineer and planner Daniel Ohrenstein, about why they both love Alexander's writing and how Alexander can help us think more clearly about what's wrong with contemporary architecture and how to build beautiful places. A transcript of this interview, with lots of photos including some of Alexander's own built work, appears here."What emerges from A Pattern Language is a vision of life and how it should be. A society where people are mixing and aren’t isolated. There’s a good saying: when the revolution starts, everyone should know where to go. And if you think about your town, what is the public square? Having a center or public square where people gather is part of being in a real city. Having civic life means having these public spaces. And in these spaces, you can have carnivals, you can have old people and young people playing chess outside. What makes an idyllic city? It’s certainly one that has social engagement. Another suggestion in A Pattern Language is animals everywhere. I was at Whole Foods the other day and I got startled by a sandhill crane. It came up to me and squawked. That kind of interaction is important. Like: Don’t forget there are other beings that inhabit the planet." — Daniel Ohrenstein
7/7/202256 minutes, 44 seconds
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Current Affairs Book Club: The Novels of Sally Rooney

The bestselling novels of Sally Rooney have been subject to endless chatter. She has been hailed as the great millennial novelist by some, her work called "extraordinarily lucid, gorgeous and nuanced." (Washington Post) On the other hand, there are those who say that "Rooney and her readers hope to bask in the self-congratulatory glow of their supposed egalitarianism without ceding any of their accolades." Current Affairs editors Yasmin Nair, Lily Sánchez, and Nathan J. Robinson decided to sit down with Rooney's books and figure out where they stand, whether they "hate" Rooney or are part of the "cult." 
7/7/20221 hour, 1 minute, 49 seconds
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How Can We Plan a Viable Eco-Socialist Future That Everyone Likes?

One of the most fascinating and thought-provoking books of our time is Half-Earth Socialism: A Plan to Save the Future from Extinction, Climate Change and Pandemics (Verso) by Troy Vettese and Drew Pendergrass. The book asks the question: how could we actually have a future for Earth that is both green and socialist? The authors dive into the history of attempts to plan the economy, unearthing useful insights from neglected thinkers like Otto Neurath (developer of the very cool Isotype system). They combine utopian fiction and serious scientific analysis to offer a vision of what humans might be capable of if we put our know-how to work. It's very rare these days to have serious scientific thinkers trying to imagine the path to radical futures, so Pendergrass and Vettese have given us a wonderful gift that all leftists should debate and discuss. The book has an eclectic mix of influences, as the authors write:Half-Earth Socialism draws on ecology, energy studies, epidemiology, biogeography, Chilean cybernetics, history, eighteenth-century philosophy, Soviet mathematics, the socialist calculation debate, Hayekian epistemology, cutting-edge climate modelling, feminist sci-fi, and the forgotten tradition of utopian socialism.Vettese and Pendergrass have even designed a free computer game to go along with their book, in which YOU can attempt to plan the entire global economy, reducing emissions and the destruction of life while keeping the population happy. It's like SimCity but with the whole world, and instead of your task being to build a city it's to maintain a viable eco-socialist global government. GOOD LUCK!  
7/7/202257 minutes, 14 seconds
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Inside the Real World of Union Organizing

Daisy Pitkin has been in the labor movement for two decades and is the author of the new book On the Line A Story of Class, Solidarity, and Two Women's Epic Fight to Build a Union, which tells the story of an effort to unionize an industrial laundry in Arizona. It's a moving account of the difficult grinding work of putting together a labor union under the most hostile imaginable conditions.In this episode, we discuss:The world of industrial laundries—hot, dangerous places hidden from public view, where workers toil in unhealthy conditions for unbelievably low payThe realities of union organizing: what it actually takes to make a campaign successfulThe difference between "top down" and "bottom up" organizing and why it mattersHow successful union fights change people's lives and give them a sense of their own powerHow the stories we tell about labor struggles often distort the truth and are too "individualistic" in their focusFinally, why moths feature heavily in Daisy's bookKim Kelly's Fight Like Hell, mentioned in the episode, can be purchased here. The book The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks is an excellent introduction to the real story of Rosa Parks. The story of the Uprising of 20,000 can be found here. 
7/7/202246 minutes, 6 seconds
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How the War In Ukraine Can Be Ended

Anatol Lieven is an international relations expert and journalist who serves as a senior fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. His books include Russia and Ukraine and most recently Climate Change and the Nation State. His commentaries on the Ukraine war have appeared in The Nation, The Guardian, and elsewhere. Anatol is a highly experienced reporter with a thorough knowledge of the region, and in this conversation he explains what he thinks is left out of mainstream discourse in the United States around the war. He explains Russia's motivations and shows the most obvious path to peace. He also discusses the risks of nuclear escalation that could come from a U.S. policy that pushes Russia past red lines. Anatol's explanation of the current state of the war and what happens next is clarifying and intelligent, and anyone wanting to have a better understanding of what is actually going on needs to read Anatol's work.Anatol's major Nation feature from before the war, "Ukraine: The Most Dangerous Problem In The World" can be read here.Anatol's latest Guardian piece making several of the arguments discussed in this episode is here.The delusional Daily Beast article that comments on "how little Putin and his spokespeople mention NATO in public justifications" is here.The Wall Street Journal op-ed arguing that we must "show we can win a nuclear war" is here.An article Nathan wrote mentioning several of the Cold War movies discussed in this episode is here.Our previous episodes with Katrina vanden Heuvel and Noam Chomsky cover some of the same issues.
7/7/202251 minutes, 17 seconds
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Why This Computer Scientist Says All Cryptocurrency Should “Die in a Fire”

Cryptocurrencies have been hyped in Super Bowl ads and promoted by everyone from Bill Clinton to Glenn Greenwald to Spike Lee to Larry David to New York City mayor Eric Adams (who has pledged to turn the city into a "crypto hub"). But times are tough for crypto. As the New York Times reports, “the crypto world [recently] went into a full meltdown... in a sell-off that graphically illustrated the risks of the experimental and unregulated digital currencies.”One of cryptocurrency’s most vocal skeptics is Nicholas Weaver, senior staff researcher at the International Computer Science Institute and lecturer in the computer science department at UC Berkeley. Weaver has studied cryptocurrencies for years. On today's episode, Prof. Weaver explains why he views the much-hyped technology with such antipathy. He argues that cryptocurrency is useless and destructive, and should “die in a fire.”Nicholas Weaver's YouTube lecture on crypto can be found here.Nathan's take on cryptocurrency is here and his take on NFTs is here.The writings of crypto skeptic Stephen Diehl make an excellent supplement to this interview.A slightly cleaned-up transcript of this interview can be read here.Note: Prof. Weaver's audio is of mixed quality for the first portion of the podcast but gets better as the episode goes on. Edited by Tim Gray. 
7/7/202253 minutes, 17 seconds
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How to Get Past the Need for Endless Economic Growth (w/ "Doughnut Economics" author Kate Raworth)

Kate Raworth is an economist at Oxford University whose book Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist is a radical attempt to rethink foundational concepts in economics and create a new framework for a sustainable economy that does not depend on "infinite growth." Prof. Raworth shows how the ideology that growth needs to be "maximized" causes catastrophic ecological destruction while not even building an economy that serves human needs. She goes beyond critique of the dominant paradigm, however, and actually works out some new models that help us think more clearly about what the goals of economics should be and can replace simplistic neoliberal ideas with more sophisticated and realistic models of the way the world works. This conversation offers a useful introduction to Prof. Raworth's revolutionary ideas, which help us think more clearly about what matters and how to balance competing human and ecological needs in the 21st century. Raworth's Doughnut, a diagram that helps us think about the targets for economic policy, which should aim to make sure the economy produces neither too little nor too much. The article Nathan mentions about the term "development" is here. The episode with Jonathan Aldred discussing the moral assumptions built into economics is here. The books of Mariana Mazzucato, which Prof. Raworth recommends, are here. Prof. Raworth's TED talk, in which she succinctly explains some of her core ideas, is here. CORRECTION: In the program, Nathan mentions a proposed highway expansion in Houston, which he says "is turning an 8-lane highway into a 12-lane highway," as an illustration of the insanity of continued highway expansion. In fact, the highway will be up to 24 lanes. 
5/31/202250 minutes, 37 seconds
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The Terrifying and Stupid Ideas of "Neoreactionaries"

A recent article in Vanity Fair about the National Conservatism Conference profiles figures on the "New Right," including Peter Thiel, J.D. Vance, Blake Masters, and a deeply unpleasant individual called Curtis Yarvin, a.k.a. Mencius Moldbug. Yarvin/Moldbug is an advocate of "neoreactionary" politics and explicitly believes in ending democracy and instituting a dictatorship in the United States. J.D. Vance, who may well be a U.S. senator soon, admits in the Vanity Fair profile that he is an admirer of Yarvin's thinking. For a long time, "neoreactionary" thought dwelled mostly in the darker corners of the internet, but we may well soon see these ideas become more mainstream as the American right becomes increasingly extreme and hostile to the democratic process.Today on the podcast, author Elizabeth Sandifer joins to discuss "neoreaction": what its tenets are and why it is both incredibly stupid and incredibly terrifying. Sandifer is the author of Neoreaction a Basilisk: Essays on and Around the Alt-Right. Sandifer's book profiles some key neoreactionary thinkers and is a witty demolition of their horrible ideas. In this episode, Sandifer explains the core of neoreactionary philosophy, including some of the more bizarre ideas to percolate through this ecosystem such as the "basilisk" of the title. We discuss why these ideas catch on and the threat they pose. The photograph above is of Curtis "Mencius Moldbug" Yarvin, who looks precisely like what you'd expect a sinister pro-dictatorship pseudointellectual named Moldbug to look. 
5/31/202249 minutes, 35 seconds
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Santa Claus for Alaska

Santa Claus is the mayor pro-tem of North Pole, Alaska. Yes, he's real, and he's a democratic socialist running for Congress in the special election against Sarah Palin. Current Affairs is honored to be joined by a man falsely thought to be a mere myth. In fact, when parents tell their children there is no Santa, they just don't want kids to know that the real Santa is a leftist who believes love is more important than presents.Note from Nathan: Apologies for the absence of new podcast episodes over the last week. I had to defend my PhD dissertation this week and it took all of my energy away! Good news is that's done and I am Dr. Robinson now. Many magnificent new podcasts coming soon so stay tuned!! Thank you so much for all your support we have great stuff planned for the next months.      
5/31/202236 minutes, 33 seconds
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How Do We Overcome Capitalism?

Tom Wetzel's forthcoming book Overcoming Capitalism: Strategy for the Working Class in the 21st Century (AK Press) is both a primer on the basic left critiques of capitalism and a handbook for creating a new economic system. Wetzel explains in clear, accessible language why exploitation, waste, and environmental destruction are built into the capitalist model and then explores possible alternative economic structures and shows how we might get there. He probes important questions like "What is the role of electoral politics?" "What kinds of unions do we need?" and "What cautions does the history of Marxism-Leninism offer us?" In the best libertarian socialist tradition, Wetzel is a critic not only of domination and hierarchy in the contemporary capitalist economy, but of attempts to bring about socialism through authoritarian institutions. He explains the importance of democracy and why it must guide everything we do. Overcoming Capitalism is an important contribution to the literature of the left, the product of over a decade of research and writing, and today Tom Wetzel joins us to explain the basics of his ideas. 
5/31/202244 minutes, 47 seconds
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How Corporations Get Away With Criminality—And How to Stop Them

Jennifer Taub is a law professor whose book Big Dirty Money: Making White Collar Criminals Pay is about the double standard in American law that harshly punishes street crime while giving a free pass to corporate criminals. Taub tallies up the immense costs of corporate wrongdoing from fraud to wage theft and exposes how CEOs commit acts of destructive criminal wrongdoing with complete impunity. But Taub isn't just bemoaning the corruption of the justice system—she also shows how we can change it, and her book is a manifesto for action as well as an indictment. As the San Francisco Chronicle writes, Taub "proposes straightforward fixes and ways everyday people can get involved in taking white-collar criminals to task." Prof. Taub joins Current Affairs editor-in-chief Nathan J. Robinson and online editor Lily Sánchez to talk about how corporate criminals get away with it and why we don't need to resign ourselves to a two-tiered justice system. 
5/31/202239 minutes, 31 seconds
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The Life and Crimes of Winston Churchill

Tariq Ali is the author of two dozen books and his career as a public intellectual and activist stretches back to the 1960s. His new book Winston Churchill: His Times, His Crimes is an effort to demolish the "Churchill myth" that has been built up since the Thatcher years. Ali demonstrates that Churchill was: - Not actually popular among the British public, who threw him out of office immediately at the end of World War II, and voted in the socialist Labour government instead- A virulent white supremacist whose core political beliefs were the violent maintenance of the British empire abroad and the suppression of class struggle at home- Not actually an opponent of fascism on principle, having highly praised Mussolini. Churchill saw the threat that Hitler posed to Europe but would happily tolerate far-right governments to stop the spread of Bolshevism- Responsible for hideous colonial atrocities such as the Bengal famineAli's book is not just a myth-busting biography of Churchill, but a history of imperialism and the British working class movement, and a case study in how falsified myths are used to justify the maintenance of the existing social order. Today, everyone from Boris Johnson to Volodymyr Zelensky invokes the Churchill of legend, but we need to understand the Churchill of historical fact, and face up to the horrors of the British empire and the way that powerful countries rationalize their misdeeds with appealing self-righteous rhetoric and the turning of morally repugnant rulers into saintly icons. A review of Ali's Winston Churchill has been published in Current Affairs here. Footage of the British public booing Churchill and chanting "We Want Labour!" can be found here.  
5/10/202255 minutes, 24 seconds
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A View of British Government From the Inside w/ former Labour MP Chris Mullin

Chris Mullin served from 1987 to 2010 as a Labour MP in the British parliament. During that time, he kept a daily diary of his observations, which has since been published in three acclaimed volumes. The diaries trace the rise and fall of Tony Blair's "New Labour." Mullin himself was associated with the party's left (he edited Tony Benn's book Arguments for Socialism and was the only member of Blair's government to vote against the Iraq war) but found himself trying to tread carefully to use the powers of government effectively. His diaries raise valuable questions about how an ordinary person trying to do good in government can negotiate the thorny ethical dilemmas that come with being close to power.Mullin is also the author of the novel A Very British Coup (adapted into a popular miniseries), about what happens when a socialist government takes power in the UK, and is known in Britain for his crusading journalistic effort to free the wrongly accused Birmingham Six, a case from the 70s that is still making headlines to this day.In this conversation, we talk about the frustrations of navigating bureaucracy, the catastrophe of Blair's support for the Iraq war, and whether a socialist government would indeed face the kind of existential threats that Mullin has written about in his fiction.Edited by Tim Gray.
5/10/202252 minutes, 36 seconds
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Dr. Mark Vonnegut on the Soullessness of Modern Medicine

Mark Vonnegut MD has been a pediatrician for over 30 years. He is the author of the books The Eden Express: A Memoir of Insanity, Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness Only More So, and most recently The Heart of Caring: A Life in Pediatrics. His new book is a collection of observations from his life treating children in the American healthcare system. In it, he shows how the for-profit private insurance industry has destroyed doctors' ability to provide effective care for patients, and he explains what he sees as necessary for doctors to treat patients well. His book is both an aggressive indictment of a profit-driven system and a vision for compassionate, empathetic care. Dr. Vonnegut shows that to reconstruct our healthcare system, we will need single-payer financing, but we will also need a form of medicine that centers the needs and feelings of patients, and in which medical care is administered free of meddlesome bureaucracy and out of a genuine desire to help people get better. In this conversation, Current Affairs editor in chief Nathan J. Robinson and online editor Lily Sánchez (who herself happens to be a pediatrician) discuss Dr. Vonnegut's hopes for a humane alternative to the contemporary practice of medicine. Edited by Tim Gray. 
5/10/202244 minutes, 56 seconds
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How the Amazon Labor Union Defeated the Bezos Behemoth

Justine Medina is a member of the organizing committee for the Amazon Labor Union and a packer at the JFK8 warehouse in Staten Island. The ALU recently won a historic victory, defeating Amazon's multi-million dollar union-busting campaign to make JFK8 the first unionized Amazon warehouse in the country. It was a victory many thought impossible. But Amazon underestimated the ALU and through persistent organizing work, the union pulled off an astonishing victory that is expected to be a game-changer for Amazon workers around the country. Justine's commentary "How We Did It" can be read in Labor Notes. In this conversation, we discuss how a group of dedicated Amazon workers, organizing independently of any major union, managed to pull off a stunning triumph for the labor movement. We talk about the lessons that others can take from the ALU's example.Find out how you can support the Amazon Labor Union here. Special thanks to Micheal "Airlift Mike" Ziants of Airlift Productions for narrating the trailer. Trailer edited by Tim Gray. Music: "The Descent" by Kevin MacLeod ( Licensed under Creative Commons: by Attribution 3.0Justine is the one in the glasses. 
5/10/202244 minutes, 6 seconds
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Why Are So Many Pedestrians Getting Killed in America?

Angie Schmitt is a transportation writer and planner whose book Right of Way: Race, Class, and the Silent Epidemic of Pedestrian Deaths in America examines the shocking and disturbing growth in pedestrian deaths on the streets of the United States. After declining for 20 years, pedestrian deaths began climbing drastically again around 2010: These gruesome tragedies are preventable—in Europe, deaths are declining rather than increasing—and in Angie's book, she discusses all of the factors contributing to the problem. These include:The proliferation of big trucks and SUVs with huge blind spots and killer front endsGentrification pushing poor people into the suburbs, where not having a car means having to walk to work across busy six-lane roads and take your life in your handsThe lack of any serious US national investment in making our roads safe and laws written by the oil industry (for instance, many state constitutions prohibit using gas tax money to build sidewalks)A lack of good public transitA culture of "blaming the pedestrian" that sees accidents as a result of walkers' foolishness rather than bad planningThe fact that the victims of these accidents tend to be poor people, old people, and people of color, whose lives are less valued and who navigate worse infrastructureAngie's book is filled with important information about an overlooked crisis. It's a serious issue of racial justice and shows the American class divide at its ugliest: rich people in giant trucks mow down poor people of color who have no choice but to dodge traffic. It's a dystopian tragedy, made all the worst by how avoidable it is. Instead of ensuring that everyone could navigate the built environment safely, America has shifted blame onto victims (as we can see in the concept of "jaywalking," which punishes pedestrians for crossing streets even when there are no crosswalks nearby). Angie lays out why we need to care more about this injustice and how we can address it at relatively little expense. Nathan accidentally used the wrong microphone so his audio is worse than usual. Apologies. 
5/10/202240 minutes, 50 seconds
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Noam Chomsky on How to Avoid World War 3

Noam Chomsky is "arguably the most important intellectual alive," the founder of modern linguistics, one of the most cited scholars in history, and the author of over 100 books. He is currently laureate professor at the University of Arizona and professor emeritus in the MIT Department of Linguistics and Philosophy. He recently co-authored the book Consequences of Capitalism: Manufacturing Discontent and Resistance and is soon to release The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power.Prof. Chomsky is one of the foremost experts on U.S. foreign policy, and today we discuss one of the most serious imaginable topics: the threat of world war and the path to reducing the threat of nuclear weapons. We begin by discussing the Hiroshima bombing and the dawn of the nuclear age, before discussing the present escalating tension with Russia and the means by which the U.S. can maintain peace and avoid a catastrophic global conflict. We also discuss the ways that Americans avoid confronting the suffering inflicted by their country on others around the world, the stories that the powerful tell themselves to rationalize atrocities, and the common thread running through Chomsky's work on foreign policy: an insistence that the U.S. confront the truth about its actions and that our moral condemnation of our enemies' crimes be matched with an equally intense scrutiny of our own. No topic could be more important than the threat of global warfare, and nobody in the world is more knowledgable about it. It is a great privilege to welcome Prof. Chomsky back to the Current Affairs podcast for this vital conversation. The books on the British empire that Prof. Chomsky cites are Legacy of Violence by Caroline Elkins and Inglorious Empire by Shashi Tharoor.The 1983 Soviet nuclear false alarm incident is discussed here.The Daniel Ellsberg anecdote that Nathan cites at the beginning is from The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner.The interview Prof. Chomsky cites with veteran diplomat Chas Freeman is here.The interview in which Carter national security advisor Zbignew Brzezinski discusses the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan is here. In it, he says: "We didn’t push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would [...] Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter, essentially: “We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war." Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war that was unsustainable for the regime, a conflict that bought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire." The war killed an estimated 1 million Afghan civilians.For more on how Biden administration policies are starving Afghanistan, see here and here.The John Stuart Mill essay that Prof. Chomsky refers to is 1859's "A Few Words on Non-Intervention."A helpful list of over 1000 books Prof. Chomsky has cited in his work can be found here.The previous Current Affairs interview with Noam Chomsky can be viewed here. 
4/22/202254 minutes, 51 seconds
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How Finance Ate The Economy - w/ Grace Blakeley

Finance expert Grace Blakeley is a staff writer for Tribune magazine. She has served as economics commentator for the New Statesman and as a fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research's Centre for Economic Justice. She is the author of two books, Stolen: How to Save the World from Financialization and The Corona Crash: How the Pandemic Will Change Capitalism, and editor of the book Futures of Socialism. Blakeley's writings argue that the finance sector has taken on an outsized role in the economy, with terrible results for working people. She shows how the profits of financiers have become more important than satisfying human needs, and analyzes the history of capitalism to expose the forces driving the increase in inequalities of wealth and power. In her latest book, she shows how the pandemic has worsened these tendencies. Importantly, Blakeley also provides solutions, showing what it would mean to "democratize the financial sector" and why we should be confident that it's possible. In this conversation, Blakeley explains for non-finance experts how the "financialization" of an economy works and why it causes crises. 
4/21/202249 minutes, 22 seconds
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Aviva Chomsky on Why "The Science" Isn't All We Need To Know About Climate Change

Prof. Aviva Chomsky teaches history and Latin American studies at Salem State University and has authored and edited numerous books including Central America’s Forgotten History, A History of the Cuban Revolution, and Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal.Her latest book Is Science Enough? Forty Critical Questions About Climate Justice tries to answer, in a clear and accessible way, the questions about what we ought to do to deal with the climate catastrophe. Prof. Chomsky takes the position that conversations about The Science often overlook important issues of justice, and the political and economic changes that will be necessary to prevent the worst suffering from climate change. She goes through proposed policy responses to the situation and shows what it will actually take to respond effectively and prevent the problem from spiraling out of control. Is Science Enough? is a useful primer for anyone who wants to go beyond the facts of IPCC reports and think seriously about the choices we now face. It's a book grounded in a desire to give people the practical knowledge they will need to take action. (It also answers the question of whether driving a Prius does anyone any good.) Edited by Tim Gray.
4/21/202237 minutes, 44 seconds
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How Does Economics Corrupt The World? - Jonathan Aldred, author of "The Skeptical Economist"

Jonathan Aldred is an economist at Cambridge University, but he is a fierce critic of the mainstream of his discipline. In his books The Skeptical Economist and License to be Bad: How Economics Corrupted Us, Prof. Aldred argues that while economics poses as a value-free form of scientific inquiry, it contains many buried assumptions that have deeply pernicious implications. Aldred's books offer excellent, clearly-written explanations of what economics is and how many of its most popular concepts bias our thinking about the world and rationalize selfishness and amorality. 
4/12/202241 minutes, 10 seconds
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Are We In The Middle of A Sexual Revolution? Journalist Laurie Penny on changes in gender relations

Laurie Penny is a journalist and activist who has authored seven books including Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution, Bitch Doctrine: Essays for Dissenting Adults, and most recently Sexual Revolution : Modern Fascism and the Feminist Fightback. Penny has been a finalist for both the Orwell Prize and the National Magazine Award. In today's conversation, we discuss the "sexual revolution" of Penny's new book, which they call "an exercise in pointing out the obvious," namely that relations between the genders have changed rapidly over the past decade. Penny argues that from the MeToo movement to the decline in birthrates to the trans rights movement, we are seeing a wave of pushback to the dominance of traditional heterosexual masculinity. Women are demanding more of men, refusing to accept the inevitability of harassment and hierarchy, and Penny argues that this is an important fact in explaining the rise of the radical right, which is in part comprised of men who feel threatened by this loss of power. In our conversation, we talk about Penny's concept of "sexual neoliberalism," which they use to describe the way that sexual relations are treated as freely-made contracts, without any analysis of the underlying power dynamics. 
4/12/202241 minutes, 1 second
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How Radical Teachers are Re-Igniting the Labor Movement - labor studies professor Eric Blanc on the Minneapolis strike

Eric Blanc's book Red State Revolt: The Teachers’ Strikes and Working-Class Politics is about the remarkable 2018-2019 educators' strikes that began in red states. It shows how successful labor struggles can be waged even in the seemingly unlikeliest of places and is a useful case study of one of the most important fights of our time. In the time since these strikes, however, educators have struggled. The COVID-19 pandemic meant that fights over school funding were sidelined, as teachers had to fight just to keep their classrooms free of coronavirus, and try to keep up teaching in an impossible situation. With the pandemic's severity having subsided now, it may be the case that we once again start seeing the kind of labor activism among educators that we saw in 2018-19. Certainly, that is the case in Minneapolis, where public school teachers are currently in a major strike. Eric has written about this strike for the Nation magazine, and it forms the basis of our discussion in this episode. We talk about why the Minneapolis action is happening (and why it's happening in Minneapolis instead of another public school system), the history of educators' organizing, the possibility that what's going on in Minneapolis will spread, and the factors that determine whether striking educators will succeed or fail. 
4/12/202242 minutes, 39 seconds
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How Pentecostal Christianity Is Taking Over The World - an interview with Elle Hardy, journalist and author of "Beyond Belief: How Pentecostal Christianity is Taking over the World"

Pentecostalism is the fastest-growing religious faith in the world—by one estimate it obtains around 35,000 new converts per day globally. It now has over 600,000,000 adherents. Elle Hardy is a journalist who has contributed previously to Current Affairs and has traveled the world to speak with Pentecostals from South Korea to London to Nigeria to South Africa. Her book Beyond Belief: How Pentecostal Christianity Is Taking Over The World (Oxford University Press) documents the rise of this faith and what it means for the rest of us. The Sunday Times says of Beyond Belief: "Hardy is a first-class reporter. [...] Beyond Belief makes for an often gripping story, full of twists and turns."In this conversation, we discuss what Pentecostalism is, why it's attracting so many people, and the political changes that are likely to result from its continuing growth. Elle shows that many of the working poor around the world are attracted to Pentecostalism because it offers both meaning and material gains—but it also pushes a reactionary social agenda that attacks LGBT people and is linked to the rise of far-right "populists" like Trump, Bolsonaro, and Duterte. To understand how to stop the far right, it may well help to understand the sources of Pentecostalism's appeal. We discuss:- Why "speaking in tongues" is part of the Pentecostal tradition—and what people think they are doing when they do it- Why some preachers in Appalachia still perform "snake handling"—and frequently get bitten- Where Pentecostalism came from (spoiler: Los Angeles) - Why Pentecostalism is spreading like wildfire across the entire world- The link between Pentecostalism and Donald Trump - What the "seven mountains" are and why certain Christian Dominionists want to conquer them 
4/1/202257 minutes, 1 second
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SPECIAL: How Leftists Can Run, Win, and Govern - featuring interviews with six Democratic Socialists who have been elected to public office

Across the United States, over the last few years, democratic socialists have been running for office in numbers not seen for a century. The Bernie Sanders presidential campaigns may not have been victorious, but socialists have run for city councils, state legislatures, and even judgeships and won. In this special 90-minute audio documentary, Current Affairs talks to members of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) who have reached elected office about how they campaigned, why they won, and how they have been able to use the power of their office to advance a progressive agenda.This presentation is meant to inspire those who wonder how you can effectively change things without compromising your principles. It touches on questions like: What kind of backgrounds do socialists who make it to office come from? How do they pitch their political views to voters? How do you assuage the fears of constituents who are, for example, worried about violent crime? What are the first things that happen to you when you become a state legislator? How can coalitions function effectively? How does corporate lobbying actually work? What do you do if you're in the minority and can't pass legislation? What kind of opposition will you encounter from the "party establishment"? Can you actually succeed at meaningfully changing public policy? Local and state offices are extremely important, and more within reach than federal office, but their activities are often unknown to the average person. This program peels back the curtain and shows how the "sausage" is made in state government and how leftists can be effective there.Elected officials featured in the program:Sara Innamorato (Pennsylvania State Representative)Nikil Saval (Pennsylvania State Senator)Vaughn Stewart (Maryland State Delegate)Emily Gallagher (New York State Representative)Robert Peters (Illinois State Senator)Franklin Bynum (Houston Criminal Court Judge)A transcript of the full interview with Robert Peters was published in Current Affairs here.Edited by Tim Gray.
4/1/20221 hour, 31 minutes, 39 seconds
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Understanding Putin's Criminal War in Ukraine - interview with Russia expert and publisher of The Nation Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel is the editorial director and publisher of The Nation magazine, as well as a columnist for the Washington Post. She is also the president of the American Committee For U.S.-Russia Accord and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Katrina has been studying, working in, and writing about Russia for decades. In columns leading up to the invasion of Ukraine, Katrina was warning that failures of diplomacy were leading toward disaster. In this conversation, we discuss what she believes those failures were. Katrina is no defender of Putin's regime, but she does believe that opportunities were missed to de-escalate the crisis, and that Western policy choices stretching back to the 1990s have made Russia's present aggression more likely. We also discuss the terrifying threat of nuclear weapons and the prospects for getting rid of them, and why it's critical to avoid further militarizing the world. Katrina's writings on Russia are both deeply-informed and uncompromisingly progressive, and she shows how those of us on the left can combine solidarity with the victims of Putin's war with strong critiques of American foreign policy. Katrina's recent columns on Russia and Ukraine:What A Sensible Ukraine Policy Would Look Like (Jan. 4, Washington Post)Stop The Stumble Toward War With Russia (Jan. 18, Washington Post)The Exist From The Ukraine Crisis That's Hiding In Plain Sight (Feb. 1, Washington Post)A Path Out of the Ukraine Crisis (Feb. 15, Washington Post)Putin's Invasion (Feb. 24, The Nation)We Must End The War on Ukraine—and Put an End To Perpetual Wars (March 1, Washington Post)War and Peace in Ukraine (March 3, The Nation)Some of the people and writings referred to in the conversation:An excellent Behind the News interview with Anatol Lieven, whose work Katrina cites, can be read here.Stephen F. Cohen's book War With Russia? can be bought here.Voices of Glasnost can be bought here.John Mearsheimer's 2015 prediction that Ukraine would get "wrecked" as a result of the West leading it down the "primrose path" is here. His article expanding on his thesis is here.An article by Jack F. Matlock, the last U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union, on how NATO expansion worsened tensions with Russia, can be found here.Patrick Cockburn's column on why Putin's war is a disastrous blunder is here. The Current Affairs conversation with him is here.Nathan's article on prospects for World War III is here."There's a history to everything and the history right now is very hard to speak about, as blood flows, with images of bombardment and barbarism. But I think history will be important for what emerges, and what is possible to mediate and lead to a cease-fire."  — Katrina vanden Heuvel      
3/26/202241 minutes, 43 seconds
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How Companies Make Us Worship Our Work - interview with Carolyn Chen, author of "Work Pray Code: When Work Becomes a Religion in Silicon Valley"

Carolyn Chen's book Work Pray Code: When Work Becomes Religion In Silicon Valley is about how something disturbing is happening in Silicon Valley: people are becoming so totally devoted to their work that their relationship to their companies is a kind of religious devotion. Prof. Chen interviewed scores of employees at tech companies and found that traditional ties of family, church, and community are disappearing in favor of ties to the company. Corporations are providing a site where people find meaning, some even saying that they became their "true selves" on the job, or describing a "conversion" experience. In this interview, we discuss the implications of this kind of extreme devotion to for-profit companies. A certain class of high-paid workers who might once have viewed a job as something you did to earn a living, so that you could go and enjoy your life, view serving the company as the very purpose of life itself, the source of meaning and joy. It is a far cry from Marx's description of "alienated" workers who must sacrifice a piece of themselves to get their daily bread. These workers think that life on the clock is better than life off it—and so they aren't particularly interested in civic participation.       
3/26/202236 minutes, 53 seconds
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"How Are You Going To Pay For That?" and Other Dumb Political Questions - interview with Ryan Cooper, managing editor of The American Prospect

Ryan Cooper is the managing editor of The American Prospect and co-host of the Left Anchor podcast. He is the author of the new book How Are You Going to Pay For That: Smart Answers to the Dumbest Question in Politics (St. Martin's Press), which exposes the faulty economic assumptions that are used to convince Americans that they can't afford generous social democratic programs. In the book—and in this episode—Ryan shows how to argue with libertarians and neoliberals who believe that the private sector drives the economy and that government is necessarily wasteful, inefficient, and parasitic. Ryan exposes the fallacious ideas underlying the prioritization of private property rights over the common good, and provides a blueprint for sensible policies on climate, labor, health care, and welfare. He shows that when it comes to funding collective social needs, we can absolutely "pay for that." Ryan's book is insightful and thorough and demolishes many of the bad ideas that prevent us from solving urgent problems. (It is also blurbed by Current Affairs editor in chief Nathan J. Robinson," who calls Cooper "one of the most reliably well-informed and thoughtful political commentators in the country.") An episode should have come out Tuesday but it was Mardi Gras and Current Affairs is based in New Orleans. As is well-known, all attempts to do work on Mardi Gras are destined to fail. We apologize for letting the debauchery of Carnival interfere with the regular production of quality podcasts. A previous episode with Ryan Cooper in which he talked about huge deadly trucks is here. The article Nathan wrote about climate change as a giant act of theft and pillage is here.  
3/26/202248 minutes, 52 seconds
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How To Be A Foreign Correspondent Without Swallowing Propaganda - interview with Patrick Cockburn, Middle East correspondent for The Independent, about his decades as a foreign correspondent

Patrick Cockburn has been a Middle East correspondent for The Independent for over 30 years and has become known for his combination of a deep knowledge of the region and a healthy skepticism toward the propaganda of governments. His books The Age of Jihad (Verso) and War In The Age of Trump (OR Books) collect his extraordinary on-the-ground dispatches from Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria in the decades since 9/11 and provide a rich understanding of the devastating wars of the last years, filled with the perspectives of the ordinary people trying to survive these conflicts. When Foreign Affairs awarded Cockburn its Journalist of the Year award, the contest judges said of his work:“Patrick Cockburn spotted the emergence of ISIS much earlier than anybody else and wrote about it with a depth of understanding that was just in a league of its own. Nobody else was writing that stuff at that time, and the judges wondered whether the Government should consider pensioning off the whole of MI6 and hiring Patrick Cockburn instead. The breadth of his knowledge and his ability make connections is phenomenal.”In this episode, we discuss what Cockburn has learned during his decades as a foreign correspondent about how to sift through competing narratives and arrive at something approximating the truth. We talk about how propaganda works, what Americans still don't understand about the Middle East, and why the quality of reporting on regional conflicts has declined over the last decades as news organizations have stopped providing necessary support for deep critical journalism. We also discuss the reissue of Cockburn's memoir The Broken Boy (OR Books), about his childhood during the Cork polio epidemic of 1956, which like his other work is a story of everyday people who find themselves caught up in the tides of history and having to struggle through as best they can. (The title of this episode refers to a 1976 essay by Cockburn's late brother Alexander, "How To Be a Foreign Correspondent," which skewered the kinds of hack war reporters that Patrick Cockburn has spent a career trying to be different from.) 
3/16/202253 minutes, 29 seconds
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How Bill Gates Makes The World Worse Off

Bill Gates has long cultivated a reputation as the Good Billionaire, giving away vast sums of money toward global health and education initiatives through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. For many years, the Gates Foundation was rarely criticized at all in the mainstream press, its work considered unambiguously good. The shine has come off Gates a bit recently, thanks to the negative publicity surrounding both his divorce and his staunch defense of corporate intellectual property rights over vaccines during the pandemic. Prof. Linsey McGoey of the University of Essex was one of the earliest major critics of the Gates Foundation's work, and her 2015 book No Such Thing As A Free Gift: The Gates Foundation and the Price of Philanthropy is a stinging criticism of "philanthrocapitalism." McGoey's book goes through the history of business tycoons trying to save the world through charity, beginning with Andrew Carnegie in the 19th century. McGoey explains clearly why charitable giving, though it may look like an unambiguous positive, has a number of major downsides including:- The lack of democratic accountability for what private foundations choose to fund (see the Gates foundation's funding of school privatization schemes)- The refusal to consider solutions that threaten the sources of the foundation's wealth or call into question the broader hierarchy of wealth and power- The funding of things that look good on paper and flatter the billionaire donor but aren't actually what people in need are asking forThese criticisms have been made by the left since the time of Oscar Wilde's "The Soul of Man Under Socialism," but McGoey brings them up to date by showing clearly how even an organization like the Gates Foundation, that presents itself as having a benign commitment to health and education, is actually insidious.In this conversation, Prof. McGoey and Current Affairs editor in chief Nathan J. Robinson discuss the career of Gates, the problems with billionaire charity, and the reasons philanthrocapitalists often escape serious criticism. They also discuss Prof. McGoey's work in the field of "ignorance studies." In The Unknowers: How Strategic Ignorance Rules The World, Prof. McGoey studies the way institutions carefully exclude ideologically inconvenient information, creating a kind of useful ignorance. The article that Nathan and Rob Larson wrote about Bill Gates is here. The piece on billionaires' memoirs is here."Charity creates a multitude of sins." — Oscar Wilde, "The Soul of Man Under Socialism" 
3/16/202254 minutes, 39 seconds
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Astonishingly, There IS An Alternative! Interview with Yanis Varoufakis, former Finance Minister of Greece about his book "Another Now"

Yanis Varoufakis is the former Finance Minister of Greece, professor of economics at the University of Athens, co-founder of the Democracy in Europe Movement, and member of the Greek Parliament. The Guardian describes him as "a motorcycling, leather jacketed former academic and self-styled rebel who took pleasure in winding up the besuited political class." He calls himself an "erratic Marxist," and has written economics textbooks, a memoir, and popular explainers of economic ideas. But now he has produced a novel: Another Now: Dispatches From an Alternative Present. Another Now is not a typical work of fiction. It is a novel of ideas, more like one of Plato's dialogues than an airport potboiler. Varoufakis draws on the tradition of leftist utopian fiction seen in 19th century works like William Morris' News From Nowhere and Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward. Those books tried to show readers a plausible depiction of what a socialist society might look like. In Another Now, Varoufakis is doing something similar: he shows us what our existing 21st century world might look like if the economy operated very differently and capitalism was done away with. He imagines a different timeline in which Occupy Wall Street had won and Wall Street itself had been consigned to the dustbin of history.But it's not quite right to describe this work as "utopian." Varoufakis is trying to do something extremely pragmatic: to show, using his academic training in finance and economics, that things that seem impossible are actually quite technically feasible. The attack on socialists generally is that their schemes are unworkable, and that without big banks and a class of wealthy capitalists, there could not be a dynamic, innovative economy. Varoufakis uses this story to show that this isn't true, and to explain in detail the concrete workings of a possible post-capitalist economy.If you're not used to novels that contain long descriptions of alternative banking systems, Another Now may be a challenging read. But it's exciting because it tries to seriously answer the question: "What would a realistic alternative to the capitalist economy look like?" In Varoufakis' "other now," the fruits of society's labor are not owned by capitalists, but by the people who do the work. There is some inequality, but there is a "democratic economy" in which corporate tyranny has been eradicated. Banks are public, not private, and poverty is eliminated. It is said that these days, the cramping of our imaginations has meant that it is "easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism." Varoufakis invites us to imagine the end of capitalism in our own time. The medium of fiction has allowed Varoufakis to include characters who are highly skeptical about whether this economy is possible, and who have to be convinced over time to believe in it. Another Now wants to speak to critics of the socialist project, and to show that the seemingly most insurmountable obstacles to eliminating capitalism (maintaining innovation and incentives, financing new projects, etc.) are actually easily solved problems. The most substantial difficulty is the creation of a political movement with the power to bring the necessary changes about.Another Now poses a serious challenge to capitalist dogma and offers an inspiring vision that should energize the left. In this conversation, Varoufakis and Current Affairs editor in chief Nathan J. Robinson discuss the novel and why a well-functioning socialist economy is more feasible than people assume. Warning: it gets a little bit heavy on the economics and it may be useful to read up on the history of the socialist calculation debate before diving in. The phrase "Astonishingly, There Is An Alternative!" is taken from Another Now, where it is a counterpoint to Margaret Thatcher's infamous dictum "There Is No Alternative."The interview Nathan did with the authors of People's Republic of Walmart is available here. 
3/11/202244 minutes, 15 seconds
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Why Suppressing "Fake News" Can't Fix Our Journalism Crisis

Victor Pickard is a professor of Media Studies at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication. His book Democracy Without Journalism?: Confronting the Misinformation Society is about the problem of misinformation: people not knowing what's going on in the world, or thinking they know what's going on but actually believing in propaganda or bullshit (see, e.g., Joe Rogan). There has been a lot of chatter about the problem of "fake news" and how it can be stopped, with many proposing that social media companies need to do more regulation of the internet and "content moderation." Victor thinks that this conversation misses something crucial: the need for well-funded public interest journalism. He believes that we cannot escape the "misinformation society" without changing the way that journalism is produced, since (regulated or not) the private market is incapable of fulfilling the public need for truthful information about topics that matter. In a democracy, where the citizens themselves are in charge of making important decisions, it's vital that we find a way to fund the production and dissemination of quality journalism.In this conversation, we discuss:- The catastrophic collapse of public interest journalism, and the "news deserts" across the country where there is no local journalism - Why, even as we recognize the effects of that collapse, we shouldn't romanticize the newspapers of old, because the profit motive has always corrupted journalism- How the need for for-profit media organizations to constantly and obsessively "chase clicks" makes it impossible for them to produce quality work - The alarming consequences of having news organizations that ignore climate and international news in favor of cheap, entertaining political "horse race" coverage- The distortions in public understanding that result from a situation where the truth is paywalled but the lies are free- Why Victor thinks we're "doomed" if we rely on commercial media for the news, and why you don't need to be a "conspiracy theorist" to see how the profit motive makes corporate media less likely to accurately depict the state of the world- What a public model for journalism might look like, and why city governments should fund publicly owned municipal newspapers
3/3/202247 minutes, 28 seconds
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What Policing Looks Like From The Inside

Rosa Brooks is a professor of law at Georgetown University and the author Tangled Up In Blue: Policing The American City, named one of the best books of 2021 by the Washington Post. The book chronicles Prof. Brooks' experiences as a reserve police officer with the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police Department. As an academic raised in a socialist household (her mother is a former Current Affairs podcast guest), Prof. Brooks wanted to get a better understanding of how police saw themselves and the sources of dysfunction in the system. In this episode we discuss:- How police officers are trained to fear the populations they police- The limits of police training: what police are taught (e.g., how to handcuff suspects) and what they're not (e.g., anything about racism)- How police officers are often called on to perform "social work" responsibilities that they are ill-equipped to handle, and why arresting and jailing people becomes an all-purpose tool- What it means to say that the problems with policing are "systemic" and why individual good-hearted officers cannot hope to change the fundamental nature of the institutions they work within- Explanations of polling that indicates that poor communities want more policing: they're offered a false binary where the only choice is more police or nothing- How many problems do not necessarily originate within the institution of policing itself but with lawmakers and with the United States itself- The problem of militarized institutions more broadly, which Prof. Brooks has explored in her previous book How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything- Why it's going to be more difficult than just "defunding" police: we need institutions that actually care for people properly, and we haven't built them yet"Much of what the average patrol officer does [every day] doesn't need to be done—and really should not be done—by a person with a gun and a badge and a uniform."  — Rosa Brooks
3/3/202247 minutes, 1 second
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War Zones & Prisons: The Places We Hide Suffering and The Ways We Rationalize It

Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and the author of many bestselling nonfiction books. He began his career as a war correspondent, and was a reporter for the New York Times for fifteen years, reporting from over 50 countries. He has written books on religion, culture, poverty, and war. For the last ten years, Hedges has been teaching a class in a New Jersey state prison. His latest book, Our Class: Trauma and Transformation in An American Prison, is about his experiences as an educator among the incarcerated. It is a searing indictment of the way the humanity of prisoners is denied, but it is also a moving testament to the way that culture and curiosity can flourish even in conditions of extreme deprivation. Hedges' class, all of whom were serious offenders, studied drama and wrote a play together. His book chronicles the development of that play, Caged, which was eventually performed to sold-out audiences in Trenton. In this episode, we discuss both Hedges' time reporting on war and his experiences as an educator in prisons. There are connections here: both the battlefield and the prisons are places of terrible human deprivation and suffering—suffering that is imposed by violent institutions based on stories about why it is justified and necessary. Hedges has dedicated his journalistic career to going to the places that most people prefer not to go, seeing the things we prefer not to see, and forcing us to confront them. We talk about:- The petty cruelties of prison officials and the thirst for knowledge among the incarcerated- How evil institutions are created by perfectly normal people who think they are doing good- How those we think of as killers and criminals, whether in battle or in the criminal punishment system, are often more similar to ourselves than we might like to admit- How even in a seemingly morally simple case, World War II (the "good war"), America' s actions were more morally ambiguous than it is comfortable to think about- How the realities of violence and suffering are kept carefully hidden from a population that  would rather not question simple stories about who the world's evildoers areOur Class is available from Simon & Schuster. War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning is available from PublicAffairs. Caged is available from Haymarket Books. 
2/24/202247 minutes, 11 seconds
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How Do Hedge Fund Managers Justify Their Existence?

Megan Tobias Neely is a sociologist whose book Hedged Out: Inequality and Insecurity on Wall Street takes a deep look inside the world of hedge funds, those small boutique investment banks that play with a sizable chunk of the world's wealth. Neely's book draws on her observations from time working in a hedge fund as well as from dozens of interviews with professionals in the industry. In this conversation, we discuss:- How hedge fund managers justify their value to society and why there are reasons to doubt them- The internal culture of firms and how they resemble feudal kingdoms- Popular myths, such as the idea that the "only thing that matters is whether you make money for investors" and "the firm is horizontal and non-hierarchical" - How people with degrees in astrophysics and artificial intelligence find themselves using their skills to make money for rich people rather than doing what they love- How super-wealthy men convince themselves that their decisions are based on objective reason when they are often based in stereotypes and prejudice- How a savvy actor with access to capital can actually take advantage of these blind spots through "perception arbitrage"The Bloomberg article by Matt Levine that Nathan cites is here. The review of Ray Dalio's Principles is here. 
2/24/202248 minutes, 25 seconds
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How To Think Sensibly About Apocalypse and Catastrophe

Phil Torres is a scholar of "global catastrophic risk," meaning that he studies the various ways in which terrible things could happen to humanity: nuclear war, global warming, asteroids, killer robots, pandemics, etc. His books include The End: What Science and Religion Tell Us About the Apocalypse and Morality, Foresight, and Human Flourishing: An Introduction to Existential Risks. Both are available free on his website. His upcoming book is Human Extinction: A History of Thinking About the End of the World.On today's episode, Phil joins to talk about how we can think rationally about the risks we face as a species, and figure out what to prioritize. Over the last decade or so, many more scholars have turned to thinking seriously about global catastrophic risks, trying to determine what threats we need to address. As Phil discusses, it's in many ways a good thing that more people are taking catastrophe seriously. As we can see from the COVID-19 pandemic, often we overlook these things until it's too late, and failures of preparation lead to millions of avoidable deaths.But Phil has also become critical of some of the popular ways of thinking about "existential risk." Institutions like the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford and the Center for the Study of Existential Risk at Cambridge have sprung up, and and many in Silicon Valley have started taking an interest in these questions. Certain tendencies associated with the "rationalist" or "effective altruist" movements claim to be interested in "existential risk," but Phil argues that they end up drifting into a kind of techno-utopianism rather than thinking seriously about how to stop the real harms that we face in the near future. Phil has argued, including in an article for Current Affairs, that while you may often hear people like Elon Musk talking about "existential risks to humanity" and about our "long term future," when you closely examine what they mean by this, it turns out to be a bizarre and dangerous secular theology. Phil, who was previously aligned with the effective altruist and rationalist movements himself, has become stingingly critical of those he sees as misusing rationalism and thereby taking the study of catastrophe in a deeply concerning direction. (He wrote a popular article last year for Salon about the New Atheists, in which he documented the ways in which many of them present right-wing prejudices as mere "reason.")In this conversation, Phil explains why he became interested in "global catastrophic risk," how he came to reject some of the mainstream approaches to studying it, and what he thinks the most important threats facing humanity are. There could not be a more important subject, and Phil Torres is one of its most serious and reflective scholars.The song at the beginning is "I Wish We'd All Been Ready" from the 1972 Evangelical Christian horror film A Thief In The Night (about which you can read a Current Affairs article here.) Edited by Tim Gray. 
2/16/202255 minutes, 9 seconds
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Why Is Climate Communication So Impossible and Frustrating?

George Monbiot has been working on issues of climate and environmental justice for three decades. A columnist for The Guardian, George's books include Heat: How to Stop the Planet From Burning, Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis and How Did We Get into This Mess? Politics, Equality, Nature. His latest essay collection This Can't Be Happening "calls on humanity to stop averting its gaze from the destruction of the living planet, and wake up to the greatest predicament we have ever faced." As a public communicator on climate change, George has experienced deep frustration in trying to convey the urgency of the crisis to a media and and political establishment that refuse to confront reality or accept the need for drastic changes to the status quo. That frustration was captured well, he says, by the recent Netflix satire Don't Look Up, which is about scientists who are unable to convey the importance of stopping a planet-destroying comet from crashing into Earth. In fact, the film is such an accurate allegory for the climate crisis that one scene in directly parallels a recent incident in his own life: the scientist played by Jennifer Lawrence, trying to get the hosts of a celebrity-obsessed TV morning show to take the problem seriously, breaks down in frustration. George has been on a very similar morning show himself to discuss climate change, with very similar results. Watching Don't Look Up, George writes in a column for The Guardian, "made me see my whole life of campaigning flash before me." On today's episode, George joins Current Affairs editor-in-chief Nathan J. Robinson for a discussion of why it's so difficult for climate scientists and activists to get their message across, and what we need to face up to when it comes to the climate crisis. George's work is not hopeless or apocalyptic, and is built around solutions and the determination to work for a better world. But to reach that world, we need to first look up, and start talking and behaving differently, demanding a political response that is proportionate to the magnitude of the problem. We can deal with this crisis but it requires willpower and focus. 
2/16/202248 minutes, 45 seconds
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Our Era of Scams & Hype: From the Fyre Festival to Trump's Career to NFTs

We live in an age where economic success can depend a lot more on hype and branding than offering actual useful things that help people. Occasionally, we see extreme examples of fakers and frauds, like Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos and Billy McFarland of the Fyre Festival. But those are the few that have seen their lies exposed and their careers come crashing down. There are others, like Tesla's Elon Musk, WeWork's Adam Neumann, and America's Donald Trump, who have reaped riches beyond comprehension by bullshitting and betraying people. Today on the podcast, journalist and attorney Gabrielle Bluestone joins to discuss how con artists get away with it, and the way scammers succeed in getting people to believe in images that depart completely from reality. Gabrielle is the author of Hype: How Scammers, Grifters, and Con Artists Are Taking Over The Internet and Why We're Following. She also produced the Netflix documentary FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened. Gabrielle's work exposes the ways that con artists take advantage of people's desire for status and fulfillment, in particular the pernicious and fictitious content produced by social media "influencers." In this interview we discuss:- How much of what appears on social media is fake or secretly being paid for by someone- How little meaningful accountability there is for those who rip others off, how Americans are oddly unsympathetic to the victims of scammers and sometimes even seem to root for the grifter- The empty lives of full-time influencers, who must constantly be striving to sell their personal brands and maintain their followings- How the world of cryptocurrency and "NFTs" has taken all of this to new extremes- Why we could all stand to become a little more cynical and think more critically about the ways we might be being taken advantage of. If a product has 5-star reviews, are they real? If someone posts a picture of themselves on a private jet, are they really on one, or are they in a rented photo studio designed to look like the inside of a private jet? Gabrielle reminds us that online, almost nothing can be trusted to be what it seems.
2/10/202246 minutes, 22 seconds
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How Did Anyone Ever Believe WeWork's BS?

Maureen Farrell is a business reporter with the New York Times and co-author of the book The Cult of We: WeWork, Adam Neumann, and the Great Startup Delusion, which documents one of the most bizarre stories in 21st century capitalism: the staggering rise (and subsequent collapse) of WeWork, an office space rental company that presented itself as a game-changing "technology company" that was going to revolutionize the world and change the way humans interacted with each other. Led by a strangely charismatic founder, Adam Neumann, who had sought his fortune in the baby clothes industry before pivoting to real estate, the company ascended to stunning heights, attracting investment from some of the most sophisticated capitalists in the world. Neumann successfully convinced legions of followers that WeWork was offering more than just co-working spaces, and developed what Farrell and co-author Eliot Brown call "the cult of We," infusing  the company's culture with quasi-religious belief in a destiny to change the world and earn a trillion dollars.But it was a house of cards, and it eventually came tumbling down. When WeWork attempted to go public, it came under heavy scrutiny and Neumann's grandiose claims and messianic vision were widely mocked. And yet: Neumann himself came out of the situation rather well, showing that in the 21st century U.S. economy, failure can be incredibly lucrative.In this lively conversation about a fascinating story, Farrell and Current Affairs editor-in-chief Nathan J. Robinson discuss:- How Neumann, despite being manifestly full of shit, managed to charm seemingly everyone who met him (and got them to ignore such personal idiosyncrasies as his habit of being drunk at work) - How WeWork successfully branded itself as a "technology company" when it was, in fact, quite obviously a real estate company- How the company evaded scrutiny and managed to hoodwink so many supposedly smart investors for so long- Why Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos is going to prison while Adam Neumann, who in many ways was similarly misleading, is still a multi-millionaire who is now going back into the very industry he failed in- How the WeWork story illuminates broader trends in contemporary capitalism, namely the ability to pass off grandiose and delusional visions as viable companies - How the stories of Adam Neumann and Donald Trump both show that there is no justice in the worldFor more on WeWork, check out Current Affairs editor-at-large Yasmin Nair's article on it.  
2/3/202249 minutes, 10 seconds
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Is The International Criminal Court a Functional Institution?

The International Criminal Court in the Hague is the place where war criminals are supposed to be tried and punished. It embodies a vision of global justice in which war crimes are universally forbidden, intended to carry forward humanitarian principles. But so far, the court has only completed a handful of trials, and it has been heavily criticized for focusing on crimes committed in Africa while ignoring Western atrocities. Yet the court has only existed since 2002, and many hold hope that it can someday be an institution that ensures victims of atrocities around the world receive justice. To better understand the court's operations, we are joined by ICC expert Richard Gaskins, Professor of Law and Social Welfare at Brandeis University and author of the book The Congo Trials in The International Criminal Court, available from Cambridge University Press.  Having closely watched and studied the ICC's first complete trials, Prof. Gaskins speaks to Current Affairs editor in chief Nathan J. Robinson about what the court has managed to accomplish so far, what its limitations are, and how close it is to achieving its mission of being a place where war criminals from around the world are held to account. Incidentally, reviews of the ICC on Google are decidedly mixed:
2/3/202243 minutes, 59 seconds
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Is Mocking the Deaths of Anti-Vaxxers "Necessary"? Or Cruel and Useless?

Michael Hiltzik is a Pulitzer Prize-winning business columnist for the Los Angeles Times. He has recently attracted a lot of (almost entirely negative) attention for a column and tweets arguing that mocking the deaths of anti-vaxxers is "necessary." Hiltzik joins to defend and explain his position to Current Affairs editor-in-chief Nathan J. Robinson, who believes that Hiltzik's stance is cruel and unhelpful. Michael argues that his argument is more nuanced than it is being characterized as. Nathan suggests that as the one who intentionally tweeted an offensive provocation, Michael is responsible for that characterization. Michael argues that dark humor is an important weapon, citing the Current Affairs article "The Necessity of Political Vulgarity." Nathan argues that while incivility can be tactically useful, directing it against people who have died of COVID does nothing to create more productive discourse on vaccines. But what about people in positions of power who use that power to spread damaging misinformation? Are they fair game? Should we "never speak ill of the dead"? With whom must we empathize? Are some people beyond empathy? Are we to show respect for the lives of those who do not respect the lives of others? These questions are hotly debated. Discussion of Michael's controversial column begins around 6:00. The "How to Talk to a Science Denier" interview is here. 
2/3/202248 minutes, 12 seconds
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Why Judge Judy Is A Reactionary Enemy of the Poor Who Must Be Destroyed

Judge Judy Sheindlin has long been one of the highest-paid TV stars, earning a staggering $47 million per year for her show, Judge Judy. She is universally known and loved nationwide for her acerbic, "take no BS" style of dispute resolution. "Who doesn't love Judge Judy?" asked Barack Obama. Current Affairs editor-at-large Yasmin Nair does not love Judge Judy. In a new article for In These Times magazine, Nair reviews Sheindlin's new show for Amazon Studios, Judy Justice, and argues that Judge Judy's judgments are full of implicit disdain for the poor, contempt for dysfunctional and broken people, and "bootstraps" ideology.While many of the cases Judy judges are amusing and trivial disputes over the custody of adorable little dogs, others illustrate the tragedy of American financial struggles at the bottom of the class ladder. And the spectacle of an extremely wealthy person snapping commands at those with very little can come to feel grotesque. Nair writes:"Nearly all of the people who end up on the show are poor or close to indigency. [...] In exchange for their appearance, participants agree to be humiliated and berated for the supposed choices that landed them there. They are screamed at by a woman who only works five days a month and who, after the shooting is don, hops on her private jet to fly to her 23-acre home in Naples, Fla., to enjoy a daily lunch with her husband at the Ritz-Carlton."In this episode, Yasmin and Current Affairs editor in chief Nathan J. Robinson dive into the problems with Judge Judy. We discuss:- Typical Judge Judy cases and the strange way that the show pretends it's trying to sincerely resolve legal problems- The dubious ethics of the show's recruitment process and of pretending to be a judge - The ideology underlying Sheindlin's strict belief in Manners, Decorum, and Respect for Authority- Sheindlin's racism, including her despicable treatment of long-serving bailiff Petri Hawkins-Byrd - Her support for Michael Bloomberg and attack on Bernie Sanders, because of course Judge Judy loves Bloomberg and hates Sanders. (Judy: "[America] is the most perfect country in the world and those people that are trying to change it and revolutionize it, don’t have a chance, because I’ll fight them to the death.”)- Why, for all Judge Judy's repellent flaws, the actual American court system is even worse and more cruel Subscribe to In These Times today. Yasmin's article can also be read online at the In These Times website.Edited by Tim Gray.       
2/3/202253 minutes, 16 seconds
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How Segregation Was Built—And Why It's Still With Us

Sheryll Cashin is the author of White Space, Black Hood: Opportunity Hoarding and Segregation in the Age of Inequality. She has been called "one of the most important civil rights scholars of our time." Her book "exposes the ways in which American policy decisions, from the early twentieth century to the present, have constructed a ‘residential caste system’ resulting in the entrapment of Black people in high-poverty neighborhoods while ‘overinvesting in affluent white space.’" In this rich conversation she talks to Current Affairs editor-in-chief Nathan J. Robinson about how racial segregation was created and why it persists. We dive deep into the mechanisms by which inequality reproduces itself from generation to generation. 
2/3/202256 minutes, 8 seconds
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Leadership Lessons from Bill Clinton

Editors of Current Affairs recently took Hillary Clinton's "MasterClass" and had a deeply unpleasant time. But Bill Clinton, too, has a MasterClass, and as public interest journalists committed to understanding and explaining the political world, we felt obligated to take this one, too. To save you the $180 MasterClass fee, we tell you everything you'll learn from Bill Clinton's "Inclusive Leadership" lessons, including:- How to associate yourself with the legacy of Nelson Mandela and other great civil rights leaders - How to discuss your record as a politician without mentioning anything you actually did, like gutting welfare and speeding up the death penalty - How to charm people while saying absolutely nothing- How to champion "inclusivity" without advocating anything that could fundamentally challenge the existing social hierarchy - How to produce a glossy course syllabus containing very little other than photos of yourself and your pets Bill Clinton is genuinely a master of the art of bullshitting people, a skilled and charismatic manipulator. In this episode we discuss how he does it and why the kind of politics he exemplifies need to be rejected and destroyed.To give you your own "coursepack" for this MasterClass, we're offering our Patrons a FREE digital copy of Nathan's book Superpredator: Bill Clinton's Use and Abuse of Black America, which gives an extremely thorough examination of his record and exposes all of the awful policies he continues to conceal and/or lie about. (See attached.) Print copies of Superpredator can be purchased on Amazon.  Superpredator - Bill Clinton's Use and Abuse of Black America.pdf      
2/3/202258 minutes, 53 seconds
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How Can Socialists Get Things Done In State Government?

Today, in our last episode of the year, we present a hopeful discussion about what leftists can accomplish in power. Sam Bell is a Rhode Island state senator and Democratic Socialists of America member. The Boston Globe has called him "the most outspoken member" of the RI state senate, and he has tried to use his position to advance left policies in a state historically dominated by extremely conservative Democrats and a powerful political machine. In this episode, we have what is hopefully an uplifting and exciting conversation about what it's like to take on "machine politics" and why some victories are more within reach than you might think. This episode is a useful primer not only on Rhode Island politics, but on the way that leftists can win office and then use that office effectively to change the politics of their state. We talk about: - How his state became dominated by extremely right-wing Democrats out of step with the progressive inclinations of the electorate- Why state legislators are more powerful than you might assume, and how to use that power - How many bills are passed without anyone scrutinizing them or exposing what they do, and why just putting in the effort to study and raise questions about bad legislation can thwart it- How machine politicians want you to think they're more powerful than they actually are- Why taking on the Democratic leadership can make you more popular with constituents, even if the leadership hates your guts- Why power doesn't always work the way you think it does, and how a seemingly weak left might able to do more than it assumes "When you do stand up and fight, sometimes you win. And when you lose, you gain power. You show that the machine is not as strong as it always was. When you have the dissent, you make it easier for the next person to stand up and dissent. And you weaken [the machine's] power. You push them to the left. When they're more afraid of the left than the right, then they move to the left." — Sam Bell We hope that this episode can offer encouragement and inspiration to those who want to take on the establishment and build the progressive left. In 2022, we will need to work harder than ever before. If you don't think you can change things, remember that those who hold power always want to make sure the powerless do not think they can successfully challenge the status quo. But often they're weaker than they seem and you have a greater capacity than you know. And if we don't do it, who will? 
2/3/202249 minutes
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Why Are Student Loans Such a Catastrophe?

Today Nathan is joined by Wall Street Journal reporter Josh Mitchell, author of The Debt Trap: How Student Loans Became a National Catastrophe. Under pressure from progressive Democrats, Joe Biden recently agreed to continue a pause on student loan payments. There has been a great deal of debate over whether Biden should consider canceling large amounts of student debt outright. Mitchell has spent years studying every aspect of the student loan crisis. On this episode, he helps us better understand what the crisis is and how we got here. We discuss:- What makes student loans a "catastrophe" to begin with, and why there needs to be some public policy solution - The mountain of human misery beneath the statistics, what life is actually like for people who can't pay their debts- Why Josh thinks the establishment of Sallie Mae was one of the most disastrous trainwrecks in the history of Congressional legislation - How college financial advisers have misled students into thinking their degrees are more valuable than they actually are - The cases of people with over a million dollars in student debt, or those so old their Social Security checks are being garnished to pay their student loans- How much of the crisis was created by Wall Street greed versus well-intentioned but disastrous public policy- Whether a solution is just to make public colleges free, like public high schools Josh's Wall Street Journal article on borrowers who have crossed a million dollars in student debt is here. Read some Current Affairs coverage of student debt and the financing of higher education in these articles:- Is Student Debt Cancellation Regressive? NO.- Cancelling Student Debt Reduces The Racial Wealth Gap- If You Want To Enact Free College, Cancel Student Debt Immediately- The Taxonomy of Student Debt Arguments  - Student Debt Forgiveness: Let's Do Some Math- How Student Debt Is Worsening Gender and Racial Injustice- The Case for Free College  - What a Better Biden Would Say About Student Loan Debt
2/2/202241 minutes, 46 seconds
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How Criminalization Destroys The Lives of Black Children

Kristin Henning directs the Juvenile Justice Clinic at Georgetown University Law Center. She has worked as a public defender for juveniles in Washington, D.C. and is the author of the book The Rage of Innocence: How America Criminalizes Black Youth.  In the book, Prof. Henning "explains how discriminatory and aggressive policing has socialized a generation of Black teenagers to fear, resent, and resist the police, and details the long-term consequences of racism and trauma Black youth experience at the hands of police and their vigilante surrogates." In this episode, we talk about why over-policing destroys the ability of many Black children to have normal childhoods and why it's so essential to respond to the transgressions of kids with empathy and compassion rather than brutality. It's not that difficult: it just means treating all young people, regardless of race, with the kind of mercy and generous due process that some (e.g. Kyle Rittenhouse) are already given. 
2/2/202245 minutes, 4 seconds
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Is Julian Assange Being Unjustly Persecuted By The U.S. Government?

A UK court recently ruled that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be extradited to the United States. Assange faces serious charges over violating the Espionage Act, based on WikiLeaks' publication of classified United States government documents and video related to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The prosecution has been condemned by a number of press freedom and human rights organizations, but there are those who argue that Assange is a criminal or even a "terrorist."To discuss the case, Nathan is joined by one of the leading experts on it, Nils Melzer, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture. Prof. Melzer is a specialist in human rights law who has served as a legal adviser to the Red Cross, and is currently Human Rights Chair of the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights and Professor of International Law at the University of Glasgow. His book The Trial of Julian Assange: A Story of Persecution is forthcoming from Verso.
2/2/202256 minutes, 44 seconds
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We Took Hillary Clinton's MasterClass So That You Don't Have To

Hillary Clinton has just released an online course on "The Power of Resilience" through the website MasterClass, where celebrities teach their skills. The course has made the news because in it, she delivers the speech she would have given had she won the presidency in 2016, which she did not. We were curious what else is in Hillary Clinton's MasterClass, so Current Affairs editors Yasmin Nair, Nathan J. Robinson, and Lily Sánchez paid the fee and took the class. In this episode, we reveal all of the class's secrets, so that you can take Hillary's MasterClass without actually taking Hillary's MasterClass. Her useful lessons on resilience, negotiation, and more are helpfully summarized in this delightful conversation. We discuss:- Why the class seems to be more about helping Clinton process her loss to Donald Trump than a good faith attempt to teach anyone anything- How the class rewrites history and leaves out all of the horrible things the Clintons have done over the course of their political careers- How Clinton presents politics as the struggle of ambitious people to achieve personal goals and fulfillment rather than as a collective struggle that necessitates social movements- Why it's necessary that nobody ever take the lessons of this class seriously, since the last thing we need is a new generation of vacuous Clintonian politicians- Why it's strange to get lessons on political success from someone whose decisions led to a catastrophic political failure (campaign in Wisconsin is not one of the class lessons) Yasmin's Baffler article on Clinton's dystopian elite feminism is here. Her article "Dynasties of Neoliberalism" also discusses Clinton. Nathan's book on Bill Clinton, Superpredator: Bill Clinton's Use and Abuse of Black America, is available here. His article dissecting the Clinton campaign is here. The quote from Bill Clinton about Obama is from a 2012 New Yorker article. 
1/19/202256 minutes, 58 seconds
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Have Feminists Been Too Quick To Embrace Criminal Punishment?

Prof. Aya Gruber teaches criminal law at the University of Colorado Law School. Her book The Feminist War on Crime: The Unexpected Role of Women's Liberation in Mass Incarceration makes the case that many feminists have been too quick to push for more severe criminal punishments for crimes against women, and have as a result ended up legitimizing or even contributing to the expansion of mass incarceration. Prof. Gruber makes a strong argument against "carceral feminism," claiming that it sees "putting offenders in prison" as the solution to harms women face, but that this remedy at best only imperfectly guarantees justice, and at worst reproduces cruel racist state violence. In this provocative conversation, we discuss:- How Prof. Gruber's experience in a public defender's office helped her see that some of the legal changes mainstream feminists pushed for ultimately ended up unfairly punishing poor men of color without helping women who were the victims of crimes- Why courts, police, and prisons are not good at delivering anything resembling justice to the victims of sex crimes- How trying to use prisons to punish people after offenses gets in the way of thinking about how to prevent the offenses from happening in the first place - The Brock Turner case, in which a judge was recalled and removed from office after being perceived as lenient on a sex offender, and why Prof. Gruber thinks it was misguided to push for increased mandatory sentences for defendants like Turner- Why feminism should abandon new calls for criminalization and instead see criminal law as an absolute last resort, addressing harms at their root causes
1/19/202258 minutes, 27 seconds
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What's Useful and Correct About Critical Race Theory? (w/ Randall Kennedy)

Harvard Law School professor Randall Kennedy has been known for decades as a critic of Critical Race Theory, which was developed in part by his late colleague Derrick Bell. But Kennedy's critiques come from a position of intellectual respect, and over the years he has become more sympathetic to some of the central claims CRT makes about the pervasive and intractable nature of American racism. His new book Say It Loud! On Race, Law, History, and Culture collects his essays from the past several decades, many of which deal with the question of how American racism has functioned historically, how it has morphed over time, and what a rational way to think about it is. In this wide-ranging conversation, he and Current Affairs editor in chief Nathan J. Robinson discuss:- The way Black intellectual thought has long had "optimistic" and "pessimistic" camps, and CRT fits squarely in with a long tradition of Black pessimism about racial progress- Why Prof. Kennedy thinks there are ample factual grounds for holding that pessimistic perspective, even as someone born in the Jim Crow South who has witnessed certain kinds of major progress during his lifetime- Why Donald Trump's birtherism was a sign of a deep ugly undercurrent of lingering racism that Kennedy does not expect to see disappear, and the disturbing ways that Republicans are rolling back important democratic gains- How law professors foolishly pretend the Supreme Court is politically independent and why we need to acknowledge that it is a powerful unaccountable institution seized by reactionaries- Why Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer have had completely delusional views of the role of politics on the court- The greatness of Thurgood Marshall, for whom Prof. Kennedy once clerked, and why Marshall was no more "political" than other justices - Why Prof. Kennedy has developed a deep respect for CRT scholar Derrick Bell in the years since Bell's death and why Bell was an impressive example of someone who mixed great scholarship with uncompromising activism Say It Loud! is available from Pantheon Books. Kennedy's essay on Derrick Bell is available on SSRN.  Nathan's essay on Ginsburg's decision not to retire and the illusion of the apolitical court is here, and his essay on critical race theory is here. The Manhattan Institute panel on CRT that Prof. Kennedy was on is here.
1/19/20221 hour, 9 minutes, 20 seconds
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How Have Elon Musk and Tesla Gotten Away With So Much Lying and Fraudulence?

Today Nathan is joined by Edward Niedermeyer, an investigative journalist whose book Ludicrous: The Unvarnished Story of Tesla Motors remains the definitive critical account of the rise of Elon Musk and Tesla. Edward is an auto industry expert whose work has been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg View, and elsewhere, and he currently hosts the Autonocast podcast about the development of autonomous cars. We discuss how Tesla motors has been built into a powerhouse in the automotive industry, and Edward argues that it has required a LOT of deception. We discuss:- Why Tesla has been so successful—is it mostly branding and hype or are there real innovations underneath it all?- Whether luxury electric cars are actually important in the fight against climate change- How government subsidies have played a role in making Musk's unprofitable venture survive- How dependent Tesla is on a constant hype machine that is not matched by its actual output- The strategies the company has used to discredit critics- The way economic value can be built on perceptions rather than reality- The parallels between Tesla's brazen violation of norms/standards and the similar behavior oof Donald Trump- The "culture of impunity" that lets corporate wrongdoers off the hook for ignoring laws and basic principles of safety and good design - How the lies of Elon Musk have now had deadly consequences: Tesla users have died in car accidents by taking the company's hyped-up claims about self-driving capabilities seriously - How the company is fine taking insane careless new risks like letting drivers play video games while they driveThe New York Times report Nathan refers to is here. Nathan's article on Elon Musk is here. 
1/19/20221 hour, 13 minutes, 38 seconds
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Has "Wokeness" Become a "Religion"?

In this contentious conversation, Nathan speaks to Prof. John McWhorter about his book Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America. Prof. McWhorter is a linguist at Columbia University, regular New York Times contributor, and host of the Lexicon Valley podcast. His book argues that anti-racist social justice ideology is properly described as a "religion" and that its practitioners are beyond reasoning with. It's a thesis Nathan takes serious issue with and the conversation illuminates deep points of disagreement on questions like:- Whether something having "religious" qualities makes it irrational- Whether the people Prof. McWhorter describes are really "beyond reason" - Whether Prof. McWhorter's characterization of several incidents of excesses by "woke religion" are presented fairly and accurately - If the California Education Department's new mathematics teaching framework really does, as Prof. McWhorter argues, constitute an abandonment of standards of rigor - Whether it's right to say that certain questions are "off limits" - Whether Eminem disproves the idea that there is a prohibition on white people participating in Black culture - Whether Prof. McWhorter has tried hard enough to engage empathetically with those he disagrees with The conversation is brief, as Prof. McWhorter had a limited amount of time available, but touches on many of Prof. McWhorter's most provocative theses. 
1/17/202239 minutes, 32 seconds
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How Did The COVID-19 Pandemic Actually Start? (w/ Alina Chan)

Today's guest is molecular biologist Dr. Alina Chan, a fellow at the Broad Institute and co-author of Viral: The Search for the Origin of Covid-19. She has been one of the most prominent commentators on the origins of COVID-19 and has attracted controversy for encouraging more serious consideration of the possibility that the pandemic began through an accident at a virology lab. She has been credited for changing the discussion about the issue and causing scientists and the media to pay more attention to the possibility of a lab accident than they were previously. In this episode we discuss:- The various possible ways the pandemic could have begun and why "lab leak" and "natural origin" can be somewhat misleading terms- How the politicization of the debate has gotten in the way of having a serious discussion about the facts, since the right is committed to the lab hypothesis and the left does not want to consider a hypothesis that the right is so committed to- What the actual evidence we currently have is (not much)- How investigations into COVID-19's origins have been compromised- What the stakes of finding the truth are, and how people's worldviews and narratives are threatened by conclusions they don't like- What a "lab accident" would look like and why it could easily come from well-intentioned research intending to stop pandemics, rather than nefarious attempts to manufacture a bioweaponThe articles in the Los Angeles Times and Science suggesting that the virus is unlikely to have been released from a lab are here and here. Nathan's own article on the origins of COVID-19 is here.
1/17/202251 minutes, 9 seconds
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Why We Should Reclaim Thomas Paine and FDR (w/ Harvey Kaye)

Prof. Harvey J. Kaye is the author of books like Thomas Paine and the Promise of America, The Fight for the Four Freedoms: What Made FDR and the Greatest Generation Truly Great, and most recently Take Hold Of Our History: Make America Radical Again. Running through his work is the argument that the social democratic left should draw more on the richness of the American radical tradition and take greater pride in the history of those who have struggled to achieve the promise of democratic equality. In this interview, we talk about why Kaye rejects the idea of leftist history as pure "debunking" of nationalist myths and sees it as important to create our own inspiring story about the path trodden by our ancestors. We talk about:- Why Thomas Paine, without whom the American Revolution would probably not have happened, and who alienated the other Founding Fathers and made himself despised, is the one member of the Founding generation radicals can be proud of and should celebrate- How we can take pride in the good parts of the New Deal without whitewashing FDR's indefensible decisions like Japanese internment- How right-wingers like Reagan and Thatcher have successfully crafted inspiring (but false) historical narratives and how we can combat these with true ones- Why Harvey has a certain grudging respect for Newt Gingrich - Why Bernie should have pitched democratic socialism as American rather than Scandinavian The clip of "Let America Be America Again" is performed by Danez Smith. 
1/13/20221 hour, 2 minutes, 24 seconds
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Why Is the Pursuit of Money Such an American Obsession? (w/ Lewis Lapham)

Today Nathan is joined by legendary former Harper's editor Lewis Lapham. Lapham is the author of numerous books including Money and Class in America, Age of Folly, and Lapham's Rules of Influence. He currently edits Lapham's Quarterly. He also wrote and starred in the delightfully strange documentary/musical The American Ruling Class. He was called "without doubt our greatest satirist" by Kurt Vonnegut, is a member of the American Society of Magazine Editors Hall of Fame, and went to India with the Beatles. The New York Times once called him "amusing." Lapham's books focus heavily on the culture of the American financial and political elite. In Money and Class in America he writes about his own privileged upbringing and the spiritual emptiness of life among those who see price as synonymous with value. We discuss:- The way that rich people go to great lengths to pretend they don't care about money even when it's the main thing they care about- The shallowness of an Ivy League education, and the emphasis on networking over learning anything valuable- How journalists self-censor to avoid hurting their access to the powerful- The social effects of having a publishing industry that cares far more about marketable books than good ones- Why David Graeber and David Wengrow's new book The Dawn of Everything offers a hopeful vision for a possible alternative society that does not worship money and consumer goods 
1/13/202248 minutes, 24 seconds
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Why All The Anti-Trans Arguments Are Ignorant Nonsense (w/ Julia Serano)

Julia Serano is a PhD molecular biologist, writer, and musician whose books include Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, Outspoken: A Decade of Transgender Activism and Trans Feminism, and the surrealist novel 99 Erics. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, TIME, The Guardian, The Daily Beast, Salon, and elsewhere.Dr. Serano is a patient debunker of anti-trans talking points, and has written a number of articles patiently taking apart common misconceptions. Her "transgender glossary of sorts" is also an essential resource for those who find gender and sexuality terms confusing or imprecise. Dr. Serano joined to go through some of the most common arguments made about trans people in the popular press and show why they are pernicious, factually incorrect nonsense. Having previously spent two decades as a professional biologist, she corrects the laughably ignorant claims that transgender people misunderstand or ignore "biology." In fact, it is the critics who are unacquainted with the basics of science. In this episode, we look at claims made by J.K. Rowling, Helen Joyce, Deborah Soh, Abigail Shrier, and Ben Shapiro. Julia applies the same kind of patient and informed explanatory approach that characterizes her prolific writing on the subject. We didn't get to all of the major talking points but you can check out Julia's writings on some of the common ones here:- Bathrooms and Sexual Predators - examining the claim that allowing people to use the bathroom of their choice will increase instances of sexual victimization. In fact, the opposite is the case. - Extinction of Lesbians - examining the claim that increased trans identification is a threat to the existence of lesbians - Social Contagion - examining the claim that young girls are experiencing "rapid onset gender dysphoria" and becoming trans because of peer influence - Autogynephilia - examining the claim that trans identities are built around sexual desire - Desistance and Detransition - examining the claim that trans children will grow out of it or are being pressured to - "Trans Women Aren't Women" - examining the claim that trans people are delusional about their biology- "Biological sex" - examining faulty claims made about biologyIn Current Affairs you can read Nathan's own articles on J.K. Rowling, Abigail Shrier's Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters, and the debate about trans women in sports. Natalie Wynn's video about Ben Shapiro is here. The Current Affairs article about a lack of access to supportive medical interventions for trans youth is here. 
1/5/20221 hour, 3 minutes, 32 seconds
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When YIMBYs Attack: Democratic Socialist Dean Preston on the San Francisco Housing Crisis

Dean Preston represents District 5 on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. A tenants' rights attorney and member of the Democratic Socialists of America, he was the first democratic socialist elected to the board in 40 years. Recently, a campaign by a group called the "YIMBYs" has accused Preston of denying housing to thousands of people. In this episode, we talk about why San Francisco has a housing crisis and how to solve it. We also talk about how pro-developer groups produce propaganda that portrays affordable housing activists as "opposed to affordable housing." Dean responds to the YIMBY charges and shows how corporate disinformation against socialists works. We discuss:- Why rent control is actually a very good thing - How the hypocrisy of San Francisco rich people has driven inequality spiraling out of control in the city- How the "YIMBY movement" paints anyone who opposes developers' interests as an anti-housing "NIMBY"- The things cities need to actually be affordable - How elected officials can use their positions to exact concessions from developers (and why this shouldn't be considered "opposing the development of housing")- How disinformation campaigns try to massage the facts to manipulate voters (and why voters are often too smart to be fooled) Nathan's article on YIMBYism is here. '
1/5/202251 minutes, 1 second
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Why Don't We Have Constitutional Rights Anymore? (w/ Aziz Huq)

Aziz Huq is an expert in constitutional law at the University of Chicago law school. He is the author of the book The Collapse of Constitutional Remedies, available from Oxford University Press. Prof. Huq's book focuses on the fact that constitutional rights are meaningless unless there are remedies for violations of those rights, and that while we ostensibly have the same rights as always, courts have steadily eroded our ability to get anything if the government chooses to violate our rights. We discuss:- Why cops get away with brutality and lying- How the US court system is not set up to protect people's rights, but we still did have some once- How the right-wing turn of the courts has meant strong protections for corporate rights and few protections for personal rights against state violence - How we can perhaps one day have some rights that are more than just words on a piece of paper Our "cynical know-your-rights poster," mentioned in the episode, is here. 
1/5/202248 minutes, 24 seconds
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What Is "Systemic Racism" and How Pervasive Is It?

Today's guest is Glenn Loury, professor of economics at Brown University. Prof. Loury has had a distinguished career—he was the youngest-ever tenured Black economics professor at Harvard and is known for coining the term "social capital." Prof. Loury is generally associated with political conservatism, but his books The Anatomy of Racial Inequality and Race, Incarceration, and American Values actually offer a rebuke to conservative "color blindness" rhetoric and sketch precise explanations for why contemporary racial inequality can only be understood in the context of historical racism. In this interview, Nathan tries to get at some of the seeming contradictions between Prof. Loury's written work on systemic racial inequality and his public statements heavily emphasizing the role of "culture." It is a contentious and challenging conversation. The Anatomy of Racial Inequality was recently reissued with a new preface. Prof. Loury's 2012 lecture "Race, Incarceration, and American Values," can be found here. 
12/14/202159 minutes, 51 seconds
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Does the Right to Counsel Actually Exist In the U.S.?

Today's guest is Stephen Bright, one of the best criminal defense attorneys in the United States. Prof. Bright teaches at Yale Law School and Georgetown Law, but has spent most of his life working as an advocate for poor people accused of serious crimes. During his decades in charge of the Southern Center For Human Rights, he argued multiple times in front of the U.S. Supreme Court and represented defendants some of the most difficult death penalty cases. Today we discuss the status of the right to a lawyer in the United States. Constitutionally, everyone is guaranteed an adequate defense, but in practice, the amount of representation one gets is based on the amount of money one can spend, and public defenders offices vary wildly across the country. Nobody is better familiar with the situation than Prof. Bright, whose writings include:Counsel for the Poor: The Death Penalty Not for the Worst Crime But for the Worst Lawyer (1994)Fifty Years of Defiance and Resistance After Gideon v. Wainwright (2013) (w/ Sia Sanneh)Prof. Bright has produced an entire 40-part online course on issues of race and class as they apply to capital punishment, which is available for free on YouTube:Capital Punishment: Race, Poverty, and DisadvantageMore of his work defending capital cases can be seen in the 2005 documentary film Fighting For Life In The Death Belt, which can be viewed free online. His lecture to Stanford law students on the ethical responsibilities of lawyers can be viewed here. 
12/14/202149 minutes, 42 seconds
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Abortion in America, Part II: Diana Greene Foster on "The Turnaway Study"

In this, the second part of our look into the realities of abortion in the contemporary United States, Nathan talks to Prof. Diana Greene Foster, Director of Research at the Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) collaborative research group at UC-San Francisco. Prof. Foster is the author of the new book The Turnaway Study: Ten Years, a Thousand Women, and the Consequences of Having―or Being Denied―an Abortion. The book is based on a remarkable study that followed a thousand women over a decade, some of whom had abortions and some of whom were denied abortions. The study compared life outcomes for the two groups and found that not only does having an abortion not cause lasting regret or harm, but not having a desired abortion creates a host of negative life outcomes. We also discuss: - How those who are denied abortions accurately predict the negative life consequences they will face from the denial - Why access to contraception is still a long way from being universal - How the need to quickly gather enough money to pay for a procedure can mean the difference between having an abortion and not having one - Why, regardless of debates over the moral status of the fetus, we need to acknowledge that allowing people choice objectively makes them better off
12/13/202138 minutes, 43 seconds
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Abortion in America: Carole Joffe on the "Obstacle Course" to Get Necessary Medical Care

Carol Joffe is one of the foremost experts on reproductive rights in the United States. A professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences at the University of California, San Francisco, she has been studying and writing about the battle over abortion rights for decades and received lifetime achievement awards from the Abortion Care Network and the Society of Family Planning. She is the co-author of the book Obstacle Course: The Everyday Struggle to Get an Abortion In America, and joined Nathan to discuss the various ways that the anti-abortion movement has already succeeded in creating obstacles to having abortions, as well as: - What a post-Roe America will actually look like: why it may not be quite as bleak as the pre-Roe era thanks to abortion pills, but will be worse if criminal punishments are widely deployed - The sneaky tactics that anti-abortion campaigners often use, including placing fake clinics next to real ones - Why the volunteer actions of ordinary people are essential to ensuring the protection of the right to choose Edited by Tim Gray
12/13/202143 minutes, 13 seconds
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How Did the Bloating Military Become a Cancer on the US? (w/ Andrew Cockburn)

Andrew Cockburn is a veteran journalist who serves as the Washington Editor of Harper's magazine. His new book, The Spoils of War: Power, Profit, and the American War Machine, available from Verso collects his reporting on the military-industrial complex and the way the public coffers are looted by profiteers. He joined Nathan to discuss why he thinks the ever-bloating military has become an out-of-control "virus," as well as: - The bureaucratic waste that means the US military isn't even good at defense - Why profit, rather than war, is what the military is built for - The defense companies that depend on constantly manufacturing new threats, which conveniently pop up just when it looks like the military budget might be scaled back - Why the new stories about Chinese hypersonic missiles are exactly this kind of self-interested threat inflation - The alarming situation with nuclear weapons, which are far too close to being used for anyone's comfort - Why defense spending isn't even a good way to "create jobs" - Why progressives should not just focus on critiquing "militarism" and disastrous wars but on scaling back the giant institution that channels so many of our social resources into manufacturing "weapons that don't work for threats that don't exist"
12/9/202152 minutes, 34 seconds
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Why Are Millennials So Into Astrology?

Tara Isabella Burton is the author of Strange Rites: New Religions for a Godless World. She joined Current Affairs editor Nathan Robinson to discuss changing religious practices in the United States. Traditional organized religion has been on the decline for years, as more and more young people are identifying as nonreligious. But are we really? Tara's book looks at the way that new communities and spiritual practices, from SoulCycle to astrology to online political communities, have arisen in the place of churches. We discuss: - To what extent these are identities versus beliefs - What a "religion" is and whether the term should apply to these other kinds of beliefs and practices - How charlatans sell people the promise of spiritual fulfillment - The pluses and minuses of having "bespoke" religions for everyone. On the one hand, everyone gets the faith that suits them best. On the other, we may lose our sense of belonging in the broader human community Edited by Tim Gray Nathan's audio is absolutely horrible for reasons unknown. Many apologies for this. Figuring out the problem so it can be fixed in future.
12/9/202147 minutes, 1 second
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What Does Moral Philosophy Tell Us About Our Obligation To Stop Climate Change?

Today Nathan is joined by Oxford University philosophy professor Henry Shue, author of Climate Justice and most recently The Pivotal Generation: Why We Have a Moral Responsibility to Slow Climate Change Right Now. Prof. Shue's new book is about the moral obligations conferred on people by the historical circumstances they find themselves in. The actions of living people have huge consequences for those born to subsequent generations. What responsibilities do we have to those who come after us? We discuss: - The important questions of justice that need to be central to the climate discussion - Why people living in the future are just as morally important as people living now - What elementary principles of moral philosophy can tell us about the political action we need to take on climate - Why individual lifestyle choices are insufficient to fulfill our moral responsibilities - What those countries most responsible for the climate crisis owe to those who will suffer the most from it Edited by Tim Gray
12/9/202146 minutes, 43 seconds
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American Machiavellian: The Rise and Fall of Andrew Cuomo

Ross Barkan, author of The Prince: Andrew Cuomo, Coronavirus, and the Fall of New York, joins Nathan to discuss the career of the infamous ex-New York governor. We talk about: - How an un-charismatic and unpleasant bully made his inspiring journey from humble beginnings as the son of the governor of New York to become the governor of New York - How Cuomo managed to keep a blue state from actually passing progressive legislation - How his Machiavellian ruthlessness, and New York's broken election system, kept him in power for so long - How the media allows politicians like Cuomo to portray themselves as heroes when their actual policies are disastrous Ross' book is an important document of the lies and manipulation of one of our time's shadiest state leaders. It offers an important case study in how centrists govern and the kind of politics we need to overthrow. Edited by Tim Gray
12/9/202146 minutes, 9 seconds
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Why Isn't the U.S. Trying To End the Pandemic? (w/ Lily Sánchez)

Current Affairs editor and physician Dr. Lily Sánchez joins Nathan to discuss her new (and first) Current Affairs article, "Continuing The Pandemic Is A Choice." Lily explains: - the many things the U.S. could do differently if it was actually trying to get COVID-19 cases as close to 0 as possible - the weird lack of a serious public education and messaging campaign around vaccination - why having 50 different state policies makes no sense when you're trying to control a pandemic - the need for us to refuse to accept the status quo, and demand the elimination of preventable suffering Correction: the horrifying Rosa Parks tweet is in fact from contrarian writer James Lindsay, not a Daily Wire writer. Nathan was thinking of a different horrifying recent tweet that was from a Daily Wire writer. That one was in defense of genocide. Point of clarification from Lily: "I did not mean to imply I endorsed a "vax or test" approach when I was talking about vaccine outreach and testing. "Vax or test" doesn't really make sense because anyone can spread the virus regardless of vaccination status. I do support a universal testing approach. What I meant was that doing a universal testing program can keep people safe even if you cannot convince everyone to get vaccinated." You can follow Lily on Twitter @lefty_md
12/9/202153 minutes, 33 seconds
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Is Christopher Hitchens' Life A Cautionary Tale For The Left?

Ben Burgis is the author of the upcoming book: Christopher Hitchens: What He Got Right, How He Went Wrong, and Why He Still Matters, as well as the host of "Give Them An Argument" on YouTube. His previous book Give Them An Argument: Logic for the Left was covered in Current Affairs and he and Nathan have co-written before. In today's episode, Ben and Nathan discuss Hitchens' career, writings, and beliefs, including: - The enduring value of Hitchens' leftist polemics against Henry Kissinger and Bill Clinton - The roots of Hitchens' repugnant and despicable views on Islam and the Iraq War - The question of how useful his strident "anti-theism" was - The way the 80s and 90s neoliberal consensus caused certain socialists to lose their way - The need for the left to avoid Hitchens' worst tendencies while learning from his erudition, debating flair, and love of skewering overrated sacred figures The Trial of Henry Kissinger can be seen on YouTube. Ben's book on Hitchens is now available for pre-order. Edited by Tim Gray
12/9/202147 minutes, 10 seconds
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How Do You Actually Convince a Climate Denier, Vaccine Skeptic, or Flat Earther? (w/ Lee McIntyre)

Lee McIntyre is a philosopher of science who serves as a research Fellow at the Center for Philosophy and History of Science at Boston University and an instructor in Ethics at Harvard Extension School. His new book, How to Talk to a Science Denier: Conversations with Flat Earthers, Climate Deniers, and Others Who Defy Reason, is about how we can actually successfully talk people out of dangerous erroneous beliefs. Lee recognizes that merely providing people with correct facts does little, but also believes it's a terrible idea to let bad ideas go unrebutted, or conclude that there's "no point trying to reason with people." His book discusses the importance of building relationships and trust as part of the process of getting people to be open to new ideas, and shows why it's essential in an age of vaccine skepticism and climate denial that we learn how to effectively defend scientific truths. He joined Current Affairs editor Nathan J. Robinson to discuss what works and what doesn't when it comes to talking people out of irrational beliefs. Nathan's article on QAnon is here. The story of the QAnoner who gave up his beliefs is from the Washington Post. The George Orwell piece about flat earth beliefs that Nathan quotes is here. If you enjoy the Current Affairs podcast, consider subscribing to our glorious print magazine. Current Affairs is entirely funded by the donations and subscriptions of readers and listeners, and depends on your support to survive.
12/9/202152 minutes, 31 seconds
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Why Does the Right Dominate Talk Radio? (w/ Thom Hartmann)

Thom Hartmann is the #1 progressive talk radio show host in the country. Today, he joins Current Affairs editor in chief Nathan J. Robinson to discuss the world of talk radio, as well as his book "The Hidden History of Monopolies: How Big Business Destroyed The American Dream." Nathan asks why the right has been so dominant in talk radio, and how leftists can effectively counter them. We talk about: - Why Rush Limbaugh was so good at what he did - Whether there is anything about talk radio as a medium that is inherently favorable to conservatives - How giant radio corporations limit the reach of progressive voices (including the billionaire station owner who once told Thom "I won't put anyone on the air who wants to raise my taxes") - What it takes to hold people's attention for 3 hours straight on the air - How to do a professional "radio voice" - How the left can produce successful radio (and why we need to) Thom's book on big business is here: Thom's Nation article about why the left should enter the talk radio field is here:
12/9/202151 minutes, 37 seconds
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How Do The Rich Profit From Racism? From Charter Schools to Private Detention

Author Jim Freeman discusses his book "Rich Thanks To Racism: How The Ultra-Wealthy Profit From Racial Injustice." Jim looks at three issue areas, education, policing, and immigration, and how in each, the ultra-wealthy have found ways to make vast fortunes off the suffering of Black and Brown people. Jim directs the Social Movement Support Lab, which provides multidisciplinary assistance to communities fighting for racial justice. He was formerly a Senior Attorney at Advancement Project, a national civil rights organization, where he directed the Ending the Schoolhouse-to-Jailhouse Track project. He served under President Obama as a Commissioner on the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans. His book is available here: Nathan's audio quality is crap because he accidentally used his computer microphone instead of his podcasting mic. He will try to avoid doing this again. Edited by Tim Gray.
12/9/202153 minutes, 44 seconds
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Kshama Sawant on How Socialists Can Win Victories In Cities

Seattle city council member Kshama Sawant was elected as an open socialist in 2013, long before the present wave of local socialist political victories began. During her time in office, she has taken on Amazon and helped make Seattle the first large city in the country to adopt the $15 minimum wage. In this interview, she discusses how she was able to get elected as a socialist during the Obama years, how movements can successfully pressure useless centrist Democrats to do what they are otherwise disinclined to do, why she doesn't think it's a good idea to associate with the Democratic party under any circumstances (but she supported Bernie anyway), and why she has recently joined the Democratic Socialists of America.
12/9/202140 minutes, 34 seconds
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Jeremy Lent on How To Find Meaningful Altenatives To Neoliberal Philosophy

Author Jeremy Lent discusses his new book "The Web Of Meaning: Integrating Science and Traditional Wisdom to Find Our Place In The Universe." Jeremy's book shows how the individualistic philosophical underpinnings of capitalism destroy our ability to find meaning and our appreciation of the wonders of nature. He shows us the environmental horrors that are unleashed by free market thinking, but then begins to construct an alternative worldview that can help us live harmoniously and sustainably in the universe. He integrates both the insights of the hard sciences and wisdom from traditional religious and cultural practices around the world, showing how even slime molds have something to teach us. The Web Of Meaning can be purchased from New Society Press: Jeremy's demolition of Steven Pinker can be read here: and the article in which Nathan J. Robinson cites Jeremy is here:
12/9/20211 hour, 7 minutes, 14 seconds
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#79: The Flannel Coalition

Current Affairs is joined this week by Jacobin staff writer Luke Savage! Together, the panel asks if there are countries that exist outside the US and if they are bad, investigate the trope "the left are so crazy that they drove me to the right", and give some TV recommendations. The flock this week was made up of Luke Savage, senior editor Brianna Rennix, business manager Allegra Silcox, and bird-in-chief Nathan J. Robinson. This episode was edited by Dan Thorn of Pink Noise Studios in Somerville, MA.
7/28/20211 hour, 5 minutes, 26 seconds
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#78: A Utopia of Rum

The Current Affairs flock investigate how the right created a moral panic around "critical race theory", dare to make all tax records public, and dream of utopia. The flock this week is made up of senior editor Brianna Rennix, finance editor Sparky Abraham, editor-in-chief Nathan J. Robinson. Your host is Lyta Gold. "How a Conservative Activist Invented the Conflict over Critical Race Theory": "Solidarity Never" by Current Affairs lyrebird Danny Bradley. This episode was edited by Dan Thorn of Pink Noise Studios in Somerville, MA.
7/13/20211 hour, 21 minutes, 30 seconds
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#77: Literalism in Art and Other Troubling Trends

Studio H3 of the Current Affairs World Headquarters is closed for renovations this week, so instead of the usual panel format, we have something different for you. Aisling, Allegra and Lyta discuss Aisling's article "Satanic Panic and the Death of Mythos" and use it as a jumping-off point for a freewheeling conversation about the current cultural landscape, including overly literal readings of art, fandom, moralizing, and YA...just, YA in general. "Satanic Panics and the Death of Mythos": Red Letter Media video on Darth Vader lore: "The Buzzfeed-ification of Mental Health": Allegra's favorite tweet: Petscop: This episode was edited by Dan Thorn of Pink Noise Studios in Somerville, MA.
6/29/20211 hour, 19 minutes, 21 seconds
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Tiffany Cabán for New York City Council (Election is June 22nd!)

This episode was originally on our bonus feed, but as Tiffany's election is tomorrow we're putting it out today for everyone! Pete speaks to Tiffany Cabán, public defender and organizer with the Working Families Party, whose campaign for Queens County District Attorney drew national attention last year, and who is now running for New York City Council in District 22. This episode was edited by Dan Thorn of Pink Noise Studios in Somerville, MA.
6/21/202140 minutes, 48 seconds
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#76: We Bite, We Vote

The panel give their NFT takes, propose a universal database of all human knowledge, and share some hard-earned life lessons. The nest this week was inhabited by finance editor Sparky Abraham, poet-at-large Cate Root, editor-in-chief Nathan Robinson, and amusements and managing editor Lyta Gold. "The Truth Is Paywalled But The Lies Are Free": "As Google Fights Fake News, Voices on the Margins Raise Alarm": This episode was edited by Dan Thorn of Pink Noise Studios in Somerville, MA.
6/15/20211 hour, 16 minutes, 21 seconds
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Is MMT Real? Season 2 Available Now!

You've been asking for it, you've been waiting for it. Now, episodes 6 through 12 of Is MMT Real? are available to our Patreon subscribers. They will eventually be made free to the public, but for those who can't wait, you can pay just $5 to subscribe to our bonus feed and gain access to all the episodes now, as well as all our other bonus episodes. Go to to learn more! Episode 6: Episode 7: Episode 8: Episode 9: Episode 10: Episode 11: Episode 12:
6/8/202138 seconds
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This episode was originally released on our Patreon feed last year, but we've decided to release it to everyone. Aisling McCrea and Oren Nimni discuss that time the American police firebombed Philadelphia. Along the way they discuss the stigma against communal living, death row, black liberation, the military-to-police pipeline, and the way the left deals with the more problematic aspects of its past. Please note that even though it happened in 1985, the story of the MOVE Bombing is still ongoing; in April it was revealed that the Penn Museum had kept the remains of some of the victims, and used them for research and teaching rather than return them to the grieving family. This episode was edited by Dan Thorn of Pink Noise Studios in Somerville, MA.
6/7/20211 hour, 7 minutes, 19 seconds
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Voicemailbag XV

Once again, we dig into your voicemails. (We hear you, and we see you.) Topics include personality tests, cryptids, political arguments with relatives, and rebooting the left after the pandemic. The bird's nest this week was made up of five eggs: amusements and managing editor Lyta Gold, finance editor Sparky Abraham, senior editor Brianna Rennix, editor-in-chief Nathan J. Robinson, and business manager Allegra Silcox. "An Oral History of Cryptid Currency": This episode was edited by Dan Thorn of Pink Noise Studios in Somerville, MA.
6/1/202145 minutes, 23 seconds
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#74: The Owl Council of Local Heterogeneity

The Current Affairs flock discuss the right to live wherever you want, the dubious value of patriotism, and the things we love to do even though we're terrible at them. (Please note this episode was recorded before the recent escalation of violence against Palestinians, hence why it doesn't come up despite being relevant to some parts of this episode.) The flock this week are senior editor Brianna Rennix, editor-in-chief Nathan Robinson, finance editor Sparky Abraham, and baby bird Charlie Abraham. Today's head bird in charge is Allegra Silcox. "Libertarian Lullaby", like pretty much all our original music, is by Danny Bradley and available here: This episode was edited by Dan Thorn of Pink Noise Studios in Somerville, MA.
5/18/202156 minutes, 16 seconds
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Pete Is Back...And He Has A Book!

Pete returns to talk about his new book Dedicated: The Case for Commitment in an Age of Infinite Browsing. Book is here: How a Surprisingly Anti-Capitalist Self-Help Book Could Help Deepen Our Democracy - This episode was edited by Dan Thorn of Pink Noise Studios in Somerville, MA.
5/12/202156 minutes, 10 seconds
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Activists You Should Know (feat. Lesley Williams)

This episode was originally posted to our Patreon feed a month ago, but we've decided to make it free for everyone. If you enjoy this kind of content, please consider subscribing to our bonus feed at! Contributing editor Eli Massey begins a series of in-depth interviews with local activists. To begin with, he speaks to his friend Lesley Williams (@lesleywilliams), a librarian and activist with Jewish Voice for Peace, and based in Evanston, IL. Amongst other things, they discuss the influences of Black and Jewish culture in her life, her travails arranging pro-Palestinian programmes for the local community, and her critique of Evanston's "reparations" policy. This episode was edited by Dan Thorn of Pink Noise Studios in Somerville, MA.
5/10/20211 hour, 50 minutes, 52 seconds
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#73: The Pro-Bird/Anti-Fandom Caucus

The panel discuss the recent slate of anti-trans bills, theorize on politics as fandom, and announce their vows for post-pandemic life. Today's flock consists of legal editor Oren Nimni, senior editor Brianna Rennix, amusements and managing editor Lyta Gold, and editor-in-chief Nathan J. Robinson. This episode was edited by Dan Thorn of Pink Noise Studios in Somerville, MA.
5/4/20211 hour, 7 minutes, 9 seconds
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#72: Are Property Taxes Real?

The team talk through the question of "vaccine passports", reimagine taxes, and judge whether it is obligatory to stay informed. For the vaccine passport discussion, they are joined by Magnus Jamieson, who has previously guested on the podcast to talk about risk and resilience, and who has been following the COVID situation closely in his capacity as a stats geek (not, he would like us to stress, as an epidemiologist). In some brief patches, Magnus's audio features interference due to extraterrestrial whales careening through the universe, for which we can only apologize. "Is MMT Real?" is an ongoing in-depth series that follows Sparky and Pete as they interview a series of economists and try to puzzle out the truth of MMT. You can listen to it now (along with all our other bonus episodes) for just $5 a month at The panel this week was associate editor Vanessa A. Bee, finance editor Sparky Abraham, poet-at-large Cate Root, contributing editor Eli Massey, editor-in-chief Nathan Robinson, guest science guy Magnus Jamieson, and host Aisling McCrea. This episode was edited by Dan Thorn of Pink Noise Studios in Somerville, MA.
4/20/20211 hour, 10 minutes, 6 seconds
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Immigration Update: Biden's First 100 Days

Continuing our series of semi-regular immigration updates, Current Affairs' resident immigration lawyers Brianna Rennix and Oren Nimni explain the Biden administration's supposed changes in immigration policy, and what they've seen on the ground so far. This episode, like all our immigration updates, is not paywalled. This episode was edited by Dan Thorn of Pink Noise Studios in Somerville, MA.
4/8/20211 hour, 5 minutes, 48 seconds
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#71: Collective Bargaining For Better Yachts (feat. Ryan Kekeris)

The Current Affairs panel welcomes a guest - Ryan Kekeris (@punished_ryan), director of communications of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades. In this episode, Ryan explains the ins and outs of the PRO Act, Sparky gives us a potted history of trade routes, and the team explore what it means to turn powerlessness into power. The panel this week was Ryan Kekeris, finance editor Sparky Abraham, senior editor Brianna Rennix, and host Nick Slater. Sign up for PRO Act phonebanking: William F. Buckley/Ronald Reagan Canal Debate: Otters helping each other over a wall: This episode was edited by Dan Thorn of Pink Noise Studios in Somerville, MA.
4/6/20211 hour, 13 minutes, 6 seconds
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Voicemailbag XIV

Once again we peruse, examine and eat your voicemails. Subjects include office animals, accusations of "childishness", the nature of the self and imaginary metros. The panel this week was made up of senior editor Brianna Rennix, administrative Zoomer Kate Gauthreaux, amusements & managing editor Lyta Gold, editor-in-chief Nathan J. Robinson, and host Sparky Abraham. This episode was edited by Dan Thorn of Pink Noise Studios in Somerville, MA.
3/24/202150 minutes, 7 seconds
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BONUS: Action Against Amazon

Sparky and Eli are joined by Max Alvarez, editor-in-chief at The Real News, and a very special guest—Michael Foster, an organizer with RWDSU (Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union), who has been at the forefront of the effort to unionize workers at the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama. Links: This episode was edited by Dan Thorn of Pink Noise Studios in Somerville, MA.
3/11/202146 minutes, 2 seconds
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#69: Nice

The team discuss going to Mars, the reopening of schools and go in-depth on qualified immunity. Next episode, we'll be listening to your voicemails! If you have a question, please leave a voicemail at (504) 867-8851 and it might get played and answered on the show. The panel this week was made up of associate editor Vanessa A. Bee, contributing editor Eli Massey, finance editor Sparky Abraham, editor-in-chief Nathan J. Robinson and host Oren Nimni. Whitey on the Moon: This episode was edited by Dan Thorn of Pink Noise Studios in Somerville, MA.
3/10/20211 hour, 20 minutes, 1 second
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UNLOCKED! Guantánamo Deep Dive

This episode was originally released on our Patreon feed, but we've decided to release it for all listeners. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to our Patreon feed at for more episodes like this! Eli and Oren speak to two experts who have each been working for twenty years to bring attention to what goes on at the Guantánamo Bay detention camp: Shayana Kadidal (@ShayanaKadidal), senior managing attorney of the Guantánamo Global Justice Initiative at the Center for Constitutional Rights (@theCCR), and Carol Rosenberg of the New York Times (@carolrosenberg), winner of the Robert F. Kennedy journalism award for her peerless work on the subject. Please be advised this episode contains discussion of suicide. This episode was edited by Dan Thorn of Pink Noise Studios in Somerville, MA.
3/8/20211 hour, 25 minutes, 1 second
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UNLOCKED! Infrastructure Nerd Hour: PG&E and California Wildfires

This episode was originally put on our Patreon feed back in November, but in light of the recent energy crisis in Texas, we've decided to unlock it for everyone. If you like this episode, please consider subscribing to our feed at! Infrastructure enthusiast Sparky Abraham is joined by Dr. Magnus Jamieson, an expert in electrical power systems, to discuss the fire which destroyed the town of Paradise, California in November 2018—the most destructive wildfire in California's history, caused by a single faulty electrical line and a whole bunch of systemic problems. Warning: this episode contains a lot of nerding out about transmission towers. The fire report: This episode was edited by Dan Thorn of Pink Noise Studios in Somerville, MA.
3/3/20211 hour, 8 minutes, 27 seconds
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#68: The Episode for Bacteria

The team uses the viral video of Handforth Parish Council as a jumping-off point to discuss the thorny concept of "community"; Sparky makes renting illegal; everyone explains something that makes them believe in the beauty of the universe. The panel this week was made up of finance editor Sparky Abraham, contributing editor Aisling McCrea, editor-in-chief Nathan Robinson, and host Nick Slater. Handforth Parish Council: Windowswap: This episode was edited by Dan Thorn of Pink Noise Studios in Somerville, MA.
2/24/20211 hour, 13 minutes, 38 seconds
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UNLOCKED! Orphaned Wells (feat. Megan Milliken Biven)

This episode was originally released only to our Patreon subscribers, but we're making it free for everyone today! In this episode, infrastructure enthusiast Sparky Abraham speaks to Megan Milliken Biven about abandoned oil wells. "The Wreckage of the Last Energy Epoch": This episode was edited by Dan Thorn of Pink Noise Studios in Somerville, MA.
2/22/202148 minutes, 15 seconds
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#67: Push-Ups in Space

The panel debates whether art has been over-moralized, argues the benefits of short-selling, and airs their petty grievances. At one point, someone triggers the Dialectics Calypso. The panel this week consisted of amusements and managing editor Lyta Gold, finance editor Sparky Abraham, and editor-in-chief Nathan J. Robinson. Your temporary host is Aisling McCrea. "Beyond the Guilt Tax": This episode was edited by Dan Thorn of Pink Noise Studios in Somerville, MA. Music by Danny Bradley.
2/10/20211 hour, 23 minutes, 21 seconds
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UNLOCKED: Fighting Joe Rogan (feat. Sam Yang of Southpaw)

This episode was originally posted on the bonus feed, but we're releasing it for everyone today! Sparky speaks to Sam Yang (@StuffFromSam) of Southpaw, a radical podcast about combat sports. In the first of this two-parter, Sam explains why he's building an alternative to the Joe Rogan universe, labor issues in the world of MMA, and exploitation and liberation in the Western practice of martial arts. Southpaw podcast is here:
2/5/20211 hour, 31 minutes, 4 seconds
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MMT Update

Sparky and Pete took a little break from the MMT series over the holidays. (You can see one of the reasons at the link below.) But don't worry—more episodes are on their way.
2/2/202151 seconds
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Medical Debt Special with Astra Taylor and Elizabeth Bruenig

Finance editor Sparky Abraham is joined by contributing editor Eli Massey, activist and filmmaker Astra Taylor, and journalist Elizabeth Bruenig to discuss the American medical debt crisis—who's behind it, what's being done about it, and potential paths to eradicating it. "Churches Step In Where Politicians Will Not": "A Saint's Sins": This episode was edited by Dan Thorn of Pink Noise Studios in Somerville, MA.
1/26/20211 hour, 4 minutes, 21 seconds
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Voicemailbag XIII

We dip once again into your voicemails! Topics include expectations for the Biden administration, anarchic education, and aliens. Stay tuned to the end so you can be sad. The panel this week was business manager Allegra Silcox, contributing editor Eli Massey, legal editor Oren Nimni, and editor-in-chief Nathan J. Robinson. Your host was, for the final time...Pete Davis. "Education Gamification": "The Past and Future of the Socialist Sunday School": This episode was edited by Dan Thorn of Pink Noise Studios in Somerville, MA.
1/12/202157 minutes, 39 seconds
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Jubilee Day 5: Shireen Al-Adeimi on the war in Yemen

Eli speaks to assistant professor at Michigan State University and writer for In These Times, Shireen Al-Adeimi, about the ongoing war in Yemen—its causes, its human cost, and the role of the Obama, Trump and Biden administrations. This episode is also available as a transcript: This transcript may vary slightly from the audio, as it has been edited for clarity. "Biden Must End The War on Yemen": International Day of Action on Yemen (Jan 25th 2021): This episode was edited by Dan Thorn of Pink Noise Studios in Somerville, MA.
1/8/202153 minutes, 55 seconds
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Jubilee Day 4: Libby Watson on American sickness

Aisling speaks to journalist Libby Watson (@libbycwatson), formerly of The New Republic and Splinter, about her new Substack newsletter, Sick Note. Towards the end, Aisling gets very enthusiastic about Libby's cat, Digby. Sick Note has launched! Read it here: This episode was edited by Dan Thorn of Pink Noise Studios in Somerville, MA.
1/7/202144 minutes, 27 seconds
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Jubilee Day 3: Samuel Moyn on democratizing the Supreme Court

With the Supreme Court very much in the news cycle, Oren speaks to Yale professor of law and history, Samuel Moyn, about why we should not "pack the court", as many leftists call for, but instead end the court as we know it. Articles by Moyn: This episode was edited by Dan Thorn of Pink Noise Studios in Somerville, MA.
1/6/20211 hour, 13 minutes, 15 seconds
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Jubilee Day 2: Is Anything Real?

The team discuss the ensmallening of culture, women in science fiction, and reveal which things they suspect may not be real. The panel this week was senior editor Brianna Rennix, amusements & managing editor Lyta Gold, and business manager Allegra Silcox. Your host is Oren Nimni. Music, as ever, is by Current Affairs musician-in-residence Danny Bradley. If you so wish, you can support Danny by purchasing "How Was Your Year?" here: This episode was edited by Dan Thorn of Pink Noise Studios in Somerville, MA.
1/5/20211 hour, 7 minutes, 40 seconds
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Jubilee Day 1 - Nick and Sparky's CA Gripefest

Hello all! We took a week off for the holidays, but now we're back—and we've brought presents! To ring in the new year, we're bringing everyone five free episodes throughout the week. Some of them will be brand-new, some will be former Patreon exclusives; some will be new episodes that would usually be Patreon-only, but that we want to share with you because we just like you that much. If you enjoy these episodes, we'd recommend you subscribe to our Patreon for more, but either way, we hope you like them. Today, we return to our Room 101 miniseries, in which two members of the CA team try and convince each other to consign their most hated objects, people and concepts to the deepest, darkest room. Nathan, Oren, Lyta and Brianna have all previously appeared in this miniseries; this time around, it's Nick and Sparky. Candidates for banishment include two geographical regions of the United States, one type of clothing, one political concept, and one beloved television show. Things get a little banish-happy towards the end. Episodes I and II of this series here: Cleveland: This episode was edited by Dan Thorn of Pink Noise Studios in Somerville, MA.
1/4/20211 hour, 21 minutes, 24 seconds
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PREVIEW: Yasmin Nair on the arts industry

This week, Lyta Gold had an extra-long, two-part conversation with Current Affairs editor-at-large Yasmin Nair, in which they dissect the arts industry, media gossip, creative labor, why writing doesn't pay, and why the arts culture today feels so stagnant. This is a preview of two episodes available in full to our $5 Patreon subscribers. To listen to the whole episode, as well as lots of other brilliant bonus episodes, please consider becoming one of our subscribers at!
12/22/20202 minutes, 21 seconds
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UNLOCKED! Cole Stangler on racism and policing in France

This episode was originally on our bonus feed, but we've released it so everyone can listen for free! Associate editor and real-life French person Vanessa A. Bee speaks to Paris-based journalist Cole Stangler about the recent French protests against police brutality and racism, as well as the broader context of protest and power in France. Some of Cole's work: This episode was edited by Dan Thorn of Pink Noise Studios in Somerville, MA.
12/21/202047 minutes, 16 seconds
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#63: Chip-Filled Rooms

The panel dissects Obama's new memoir and what it says about his legacy, investigate the concept of 'cabals', and share their favorite competitive reality shows. The panel this week was made up of newsletter editor Nick Slater, lieutenant editor Brianna Rennix, poet-at-large Cate Root, and editor-in-chief Nathan Robinson. Your temporary host is Sparky Abraham. This episode was edited by Dan Thorn of Pink Noise Studios in Somerville, MA.
12/15/20201 hour, 19 minutes, 41 seconds
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PREVIEW: Cole Stangler on racism and policing in France

Associate editor and real-life French person Vanessa A. Bee speaks to Paris-based journalist Cole Stangler about the recent French protests against police brutality and racism, as well as the broader context of protest and power in France. This is a preview of an episode available in full to our $5 Patreon subscribers. To listen to the whole episode, as well as lots of other brilliant bonus episodes, please consider becoming one of our subscribers at