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The X-Ray

Author: Issue One

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Political power: Who wants it? Who wields it? And why? Through compelling conversations with power players, newsmakers, and experts, The X-Ray answers these questions, providing listeners with insightful analysis of the biggest issues facing our democracy at home and abroad.

The X-Ray is brought to you by Issue One, producers of the Swamp Stories podcast.
73 Episodes
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Her vibrant son was driven to suicide by a relentless barrage of social media bullying. Carson Bride was like millions of American kids in the age of social apps: vulnerable to the algorithms that drive profitable engagement regardless of the psychological devastation they may cause. In our final episode of the season, Fernando speaks with Carson’s mom, Kristin Bride. She is on a mission to hold the mighty social media platforms accountable for the harms posed to young people. A member of the Council for Responsible Social Media, Bride is an activist, moral voice, and leader working to protect children from this menace.
¡Two Amigos!

¡Two Amigos!

2023-08-0326:22

The United States’ success as a country, the consolidation of democracy, its ability to conquer a continent and then project massive power across the world, is due in part to its relationship with Latin America.As the polymath author of the seminal book Guns, Germs and Steel Jared Diamond explained, geography is destiny. And the United States’ southern border, unlike those of France or Germany, for example, that have gone to war time and again, has created an unprecedented multi-century history of relative peace.In this episode, Fernando explores this unique legacy with Benjamin Gedan. Gedan is director of the Wilson Center’s Latin America Program. He’s also an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University. Benjamin is a former South America director on the National Security Council at the White House, and he also served at the State and Treasury Departments focused on Latin American issues. Gedan is a former Fulbright scholar in Uruguay and earned a Ph.D. in foreign affairs from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Why do most Americans strongly disapprove of Congress? It’s complicated. Addiction to power, fame, and money has always been part of Congress’ ick factor and the brutal politics of our era create all sorts of perverse incentives for members to cosplay TV stars. But is there something deeper going on? Is Congress broken forever?Fernando hunts for an answer with Dr. Kevin Kosar, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute studying the US Congress. He previously worked at the Congressional Research Service focusing on public administration issues. Kosar has taught public policy at New York University and lectured on public administration at Metropolitan College of New York. He has authored several books, including "Congress Overwhelmed: The Decline in Congressional Capacity and Prospects for Reform."
The 2017 neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville was a coming out party for the extreme-right movement. From that ugly debut, white nationalist groups are now literally marching across the country. Most recently in East Cobb, Georgia, Jewish worshippers were terrorized at a synagogue by swastika brandishing thugs. With a jump in attacks against ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities, the FBI’s far-right domestic terrorism warning sadly came true. White nationalism is now a clear and present danger to American democracy.Fernando goes deep into this threat with Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, the nation’s preeminent anti-hate group. Greenblatt previously served in the White House as Special Assistant to President Obama and Director of the Office of Social Innovation. He has also been a successful entrepreneur and corporate executive. Greenblatt is a Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Latino voter participation jumped dramatically in the last two elections — yet the Washington DC political class seems pretty clueless about these voters. And if the surprising midterm results are a real trend, the Latino vote is in play for both parties. How effectively Democrats and Republicans persuade — or repel — Latinos could very well determine the winner of the presidency in 2024.To help dispel the big mystery about these voters, Fernando gets into it with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Héctor Tobar. He is a Professor of English and Chicano/Latino Studies at the University of California, Irvine. Tobar is a former bureau chief and columnist for the Los Angeles Times, opinion contributor to The New York Times, and author of several novels and works of non-fiction. In his latest book, Our Migrant Souls: A Meditation on Race and the Meanings and Myths of “Latino,” Tobar explores being Latino in modern America — the contradictions, angst, hope, and dreams.
The Ukraine war took an unexpected turn — into Russia. The spectacular march on Moscow by Vladimir Putin’s rebellious henchman exposed the strongman’s surprising weakness. During these dramatic events, the Russian nuclear superpower teetered on the edge of chaos. And as America ramps up support for Ukraine, an unstable Russia is now an even bigger threat to the global democratic order.Fernando is joined by Admiral Mike Rogers who unravels the web of Ukraine war politics, shedding light on the almost Russian coup. Drawing upon his extensive experience as the former director of the National Security Agency (NSA), commander of the United States Cyber Command, and chief of the Central Security Service, Admiral Rogers shares unique, fresh insights into what’s really happening in a Russia destabilized by Putin’s war. Rogers is a member of Issue One’s National Council on Election Integrity and Council for Responsible Social Media.
Supremely Unpopular

Supremely Unpopular

2023-06-2237:36

A majority of Americans increasingly question the Supreme Court’s authority. Deeply controversial decisions have sparked public outrage, raising concerns about the Court’s legitimacy and its outsized impact on American democracy.Fernando digs into the Court’s growing unpopularity with Michael Waldman, president and CEO of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. Waldman is a constitutional lawyer and expert on the presidency and American democracy. His latest book is The Supermajority: How the Supreme Court Divided America. Waldman served on the Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court of the United States in 2021.
With the resolution of the debt ceiling crisis in sight, we’re asking the key question – just what did Americans get for all the fire-breathing threats to drive the country into a catastrophic default?Fernando speaks with freshman Congressman Seth Magaziner (D-RI) to find out how this madness looks from inside the tent, through the eyes of someone who only recently joined the circus on Capitol Hill.And on our special X-Ray Vision segment, an exploration of the real person behind the title, Fernando speaks with Zamaan Qureshi. He’s the Policy Advisor at The Real Facebook Oversight Board, a global organization driving real accountability from Facebook and its fearsome power over our democracy. He’s also a member of the Council for Responsible Social Media, a project of Issue One.
The drip-drip of revelations surrounding Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is sabotaging the legitimacy of the nation’s highest court. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in luxury gifts have gone undisclosed. It’s a troubling pattern of shady behavior at an institution that is considered a cornerstone of American democracy.U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), a longtime critic of the Supreme Court’s approach to policing itself, joins Fernando for an eye-opening conversation about the escalating ethics scandal at the Supreme Court.Senator Whitehouse is the Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee and a member of the Judiciary Committee. He was previously elected Rhode Island’s Attorney General after serving as a U.S. Attorney. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and follow the show on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram! For more information, check out thexray.org.
Two drones explode over the Kremlin. Giant fuel depots blow up in occupied Crimea. Mysterious detonations hit several cities deep in Russia. Are these the first attacks in Ukraine’s much anticipated spring counteroffensive? Will this campaign finally start liberating Ukraine from Vladimir Putin’s bloody invasion? And why should Americans care about yet another war in a faraway nation?Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta joins Fernando for a reality check – is Ukraine and its allies on the brink of victory or facing a long, costly war with no obvious end in sight? Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and follow the show on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram! For more information, check out thexray.org.
Here we go again. Congress is facing a June 1 deadline to avoid a totally preventable “debt ceiling” crisis. If no one flinches in this dangerous game of chicken, the U.S. economy will be dragged into a cataclysm, destroying America’s global reputation and unleashing unfathomable pain for every American family.An artifact from World War I, the debt ceiling comes back every few years to provide existential drama — the battlefield of partisan politics. It all sounds a bit insane, but it’s only the latest crisis to be spawned by our increasingly dysfunctional political system. On this week’s episode, Fernando is joined by Washington uber-insider Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, to discuss her mounting fear that a “default is possible” and what we can do about it.Also, Fernando chats with Nellie Gorbea, former Rhode Island Secretary of State, for the latest installment of the X-Ray Vision interview. In this quirky conversation, Nellie shares her dream superpower, transformative leadership vision, and why Puerto Rican rum is superior to scotch.Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and follow the show on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram! For more information, check out thexray.org.
Andrew Yang is at it again. Starting with his debut on the national stage in the 2020 presidential election, the entrepreneur without government experience jumped into the political arena with a fresh message and camera-ready charisma. And though he lost his quest for the presidency, he gained a national following and reputation for deep thoughts.Now, Yang is taking another big leap — creating a new political party that wants to inject more democracy and accountability into our sometimes shambolic political system. It’s a big, ambitious vision.Yet, Yang has been criticized for setting in motion a third party vote-splitting process that may — inadvertently — hand the White House back to Donald Trump in 2024. So, which is it? In an intense and surprising conversation, Fernando and Yang explore whether his latest Big Idea is a solution for political dysfunction — or a threat to American democracy.
Like a party guest that won’t leave, Donald Trump is the rare losing presidential candidate that is making another run at the White House. Twice impeached and now indicted, Trump is nevertheless the favorite candidate to win the Republican nomination, according to recent polls. But what does this mean for our political system overall? And what’s the impact on a divided Republican Party? Former Rep. Reid Ribble (R-WI) joins Fernando for a conversation about the future of the Republican Party and much more.And on The X-Ray Vision, our offbeat interview seeking to discover the real person behind the political title, Fernando chats with former Rep. Zach Wamp (R-TN) about who’s his hero, what his Sunday morning passion is, and why “scotch or bourbon?” is totally the wrong question.
Since Donald Trump entered the presidential race in 2015, his MAGA movement has grown exponentially, attracting millions of fervent followers and directly influencing political leaders across the country. In this episode of The X-Ray, Fernando and Greg Sargent, an opinion columnist at The Washington Post who covers national politics, have a wide-ranging conversation about Trump’s movement, analyzing what Greg calls "the Fortress MAGA phenomenon." They also dig deep into recent political developments, repercussions from the Ukraine war, and the 2024 elections.
When Donald Trump is arrested and formally charged this Tuesday for alleged crimes in New York, it will be a historic spectacle. As we all know, no U.S. president or former president has ever been charged with a crime. This unprecedented event puts the nation in uncharted, and some say, dangerous territory. To understand what this all really means, and what we can expect after Donald Trump’s historic day in court, Fernando speaks with Norm Eisen, one of Washington’s most respected legal experts.Now an analyst with CNN, Eisen was the Special Counsel for Ethics and Government Reform in the Obama White House. He also served as the U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic and was later appointed special counsel to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee where he drafted the first articles of impeachment against Donald Trump. He is now a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.
No one has done more to expose social media‘s threat to democracy than Frances Haugen, globally famous as the Facebook Whistleblower. Frances exposed how Facebook’s secret algorithms generated engagement by stoking hate, division, conspiracy theories and sometimes even violence.  Fernando and Frances discuss the risks social media poses to our democracy, the unique power of algorithms that shape human perception, and the ongoing risk these platforms present to a successful, democratic 2024 election.
Is the rise of authoritarianism in America real? Is democracy at risk? Just a few years ago, this would have been ridiculous. But after the rise of Donald Trump and the January 6 insurrection, fascism is no longer an old idea from history, some experts say it is a clear and present danger. Ruth Ben-Ghiat, author of the bestseller “Strongmen: From Mussolini to the Present,” joins Fernando for a fascinating exploration of authoritarianism in the U.S. – its rising menace and what we can do about it.Fernando also chats with Former Lieutenant Governor of Maryland and political pundit Michael Steele. In the first installment of the “X-Ray Vision” interview, Steele answers an unusual battery of questions – revealing the real person behind the political title. And whether he’s a Scotch or Bourbon man.
Introducing The X-Ray with Fernando Espuelas — a new podcast with a fresh take on political power: Who wants it? Who wields it? And why?Through compelling conversations with newsmakers, power players, and experts, The X-Ray answers these questions, providing listeners with insightful analysis of the biggest issues facing our democracy at home and abroad.Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and follow the show on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram! For more information, check out thexray.org.
After two years and nearly 50 episodes, Swamp Stories host Weston Wamp started a new chapter in his life. So we’re launching an awesome new show — The X-Ray, which will feature fresh conversations with some of the biggest newsmakers about challenges facing democracy — at home and abroad.We hope you'll join us every week on The X-Ray. Look for our first episodes dropping soon!
As season two of "Swamp Stories" comes to a close, so does Weston's time as host of the show.After nearly 50 episodes that cover a wide range of national democracy reform topics, Weston has turned his sights back home to Tennessee. He was recently sworn in as the mayor of Hamilton County, the state's fourth largest county.For Weston's final episode, he sat down with Issue One's Chief of Strategy and Program Ethan Rome to reflect on what led him to the political reform space, what it's been like being a Republican who works on these issues, and the moment we're living through as a country.The search is currently underway for a new “Swamp Stories” host.
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Comments (15)

Joel Brockenberry

this podcast is not stories about the swamp, but rather stories either by swamp creatures, or by those whose hearts are with the swamp. I thought that the title was tongue in cheek, but alas these guys are seriously repeating the most absurd statement ever made about an election. it would be silly to make such a statement, even if there were not countless anomalies, irregularities, and blatant disregard on election night

Mar 28th
Reply

Joel Brockenberry

After this one, "Swamp Stories" is Canceled!!

Feb 8th
Reply (2)

E J

👍👍

Oct 13th
Reply (1)

E J

Great public resource. Everybody should listen to this.

Sep 14th
Reply (4)

Michael Metz

First, great show(s). At the same time makes me sick to hear about all the sludge. To me, some simple first steps: 1. No lobbyist (or strict conditions) 2. Whe congress goes on recess how come they don't have townhall meetings (I know some do; I've seen the news). 3. Bills, keep them simple. If submitting something about infrastucture don't stick something in about overseas issues. Anyway, keep up the good work.

May 25th
Reply

E J

Wow! Very informative

Mar 2nd
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E J

Geez, I wonder how long this has been going on. I always knew politicians could not be trusted, but this is terribly overt of them. It seems like they believe they are "the anointed", like they deserve to be able to do this kind of cheating, left and right alike. We really deserve better representation.

Feb 24th
Reply (1)