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The Backchannel

Author: Zaid Jilani and Leighton Woodhouse

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For our regular listeners of Extremely Offline: It’s been a while! Since we effectively closed down XO, the world has gone to shit. We’re not necessarily saying the one caused the other, but just in case, we’re bringing the pod back, but under a new name. Zaid and I, along with our friend Shant Mesrobian, have launched a new show on YouTube called “The Backchannel,” and we’re going to stream it here as an audio podcast, as well. The format is a little different, and a little looser, than XO, but with the same spirit of free discourse, and with some of our past guests popping in from time to time. Hope you’ll stay a subscriber.—Leighton
38 Episodes
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Amy Coney Barrett appears to be on a glide path to confirmation to the land's highest court. Why haven't Democrats been able to find a cohesive narrative to stop her? Zaid and Shant discuss.
The U.S. Department of Education takes Princeton literally, but maybe not seriously. Education Secretary Betsy Devos is opening an investigation into Princeton University following the president's claim that racism persists at his university. Is Devos's civil rights investigation just trolling or is there a more serious point to be made about how careless statements can make civil rights enforcement difficult?
*Please support us on Patreon to help keep this channel going*https://www.patreon.com/TheBackchannelNational Public Radio recently featured a provocative new book called "In Defense of Looting," which is exactly what it sounds like. It wasn't long before every corner of the Internet was picking it apart, sharing absurd material from the text of the book. At the Backchannel, we decided it would make for a hilarious game show. We took five real passages from the book and created five of our own. Play along with us and see if you can tell what is real from what is satire.
Kenosha isn't just a place where riots broke out after a controversial police shooting. With the media and the President of the United States converging on the Midwestern town, we invited journalist Steve Horn, who grew up there, to tell us about the Kenosha we don't know. We explore the town's history, economy, culture, and political climate in an in-depth interview.*Please support us on Patreon to help keep this channel going*https://www.patreon.com/TheBackchannel
WTF is happening in Portland? A lot of Americans are asking themselves that as protests and riots have now rocked the city for over 80 days following the death of George Floyd. Reason contributor Nancy Rommelman, a former Portland native who has reported on the demonstrations from the ground, joins us to lay out what's happening.Read her latest dispatch from Portland here: https://reason.com/2020/08/24/when-you-say-yes-to-hate-dispatch-from-portland/
Is the Democratic Party serious about addressing wealth inequality? During negotiations with Republicans about upcoming coronavirus stimulus packages, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer wants to repeal the cap on the federal deduction for state and local taxes, which would primarily benefit the wealthiest Americans. Shant and Zaid discuss the wider Democratic Party's approach to inequality, or lack thereof, by talking about the party platform for 2020.
It increasingly feels like parts of the left and right agree that they should be able to dictate your personal morality, forcing you to adopt certain norms and values.One new study suggests that this is because parts of the far-right and woke left share the same "Dark Triad" personality traits -- including narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. Another finds that these same traits are associated with strategically deploying victimhood to manipulate people. Shant and Zaid discuss these studies and what it says about contemporary politics. Read the first study here:https://scottbarrykaufman.com/wp-cont...and the second one here:https://www.gwern.net/docs/psychology...Please support this channel:https://www.patreon.com/TheBackchannel
The right has spent years arguing that immigrants don't assimilate well into American culture, while the left has played up America's flaws, arguing that the country simply isn't as desirable as we're told.What if they're both wrong?On this episode, Zaid and Shant talk about a recent piece Zaid wrote for the online magazine Persuasion, in which he argues that immigrants are among the most patriotic and hard-working Americans, and that if we want to strengthen America's civic culture, we should embrace immigration.Zaid's Persuasion piece on immigration:https://www.persuasion.community/p/immigrants-are-far-more-patrioticPew's data on what countries are most optimistic about the future:https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2014/10/09/emerging-and-developing-economies-much-more-optimistic-than-rich-countries-about-the-future/Brookings survey showing poor blacks and hispanics are more optimistic than poor whites:https://www.brookings.edu/articles/why-are-black-poor-americans-more-optimistic-than-white-ones/Chris Arnade’s piece at American Compass:https://americancompass.org/immigrants-and-the-american-dream/
Why is the left starting to act more like the right? To answer that question, The Backchannel is joined by two of the country's most prominent left-of-center writers: Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi and The Intercept's Glenn Greenwald. The five of us discuss how puritanical attitudes have become so prominent on the progressive left.If you enjoy our show, please help us to keep making it! Contribute via our Patreon: http://patreon.com/thebackchannelFurther reading:• Matt Taibbi on the left becoming the right: https://taibbi.substack.com/p/the-left-is-now-the-right• Matt Taibbi on "cancel culture": https://taibbi.substack.com/p/if-its-not-cancel-culture-what-kind• Matt Taibbi on "White Fragility": https://taibbi.substack.com/p/on-white-fragility• Matt Taibbi on the media: https://taibbi.substack.com/p/the-news-media-is-destroying-itself• Glenn Greenwald on "cancel culture": https://theintercept.com/2020/07/14/cancel-culture-martina-navratilova-documentary/• Leighton Woodhouse on Antifa (2017): https://leightonwoodhouse.com/the-ugly-side-of-antifa/
The U.S. is experiencing an unprecedented surge in gun purchases by first-time gun buyers amid the pandemic and a period of civil unrest. We talk about why it's happening and what studies show the long-term consequences could be.Studies:Pandemics, Protests and Firearms: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3593956Ecological and Cultural Factors Underlying the Global Distribution of Prejudice: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0221953
Facing a well-funded challenger from within her own party, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) dispatched a mailer pointing out that he is backed by a number of out-of-state big donors who made their fortunes on Wall Street. An article in Vice News quickly pointed out that every donor listed is Jewish, leading to complaints by some that these mailers are antisemitic. Omar's defenders argue that their religion is irrelevant. Who's right? Daniel Marans, reporter at HuffPost, joins The Backchannel to discuss.Apologies for the poor audio in this episode.• Vice article: https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/ep45wj/ilhan-omar-campaign-accuses-opponent-of-being-in-the-pocket-of-wall-street-and-only-references-jewish-donors• Daniel's latest on the race: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/unions-blast-antone-melton-meaux-ilhan-omar-challenger-jackson-lewis-law-firm_n_5f1a3cb5c5b6296fbf401fd4
Former Ohio Republican governor John Kasich will get a starring role at the Democratic Party's national convention this year. Meanwhile, a group of former Republican consultants are making big bucks with the Lincoln Project, a Super PAC blanketing the airwaves attacking Trump. The left, understandably, feels like it's lost control over the election's narrative. But is it is a self-inflicted wound? The Backchannel discusses.
Has the National Labor Relations Board gone woke? A ruling by an all-male, all-Republican three-member panel says that employees who use offensive language during a labor dispute can now be fired for that language. Zaid Jilani, Leighton Woodhouse and Shant Mesrobian discuss whether this move towards political correctness is actually cover to make it easier to fire workers during what are usually tense labor organizing campaigns.• Bloomberg story on the ruling: https://news.bloomberglaw.com/daily-labor-report/nlrbs-gm-ruling-gives-employers-more-slack-to-discipline-speech• The NLRB decision: https://aboutblaw.com/R8UCorrection to something said in this episode: In the anecdote about the Seattle Times reporter, he was actually suspended and then resigned about a month later. He was not fired outright.
The Backchannel's Zaid Jilani and Shant Mesrobian talk about the latest speech crime moral panic on a university campus, this time at Fordham University.
Faced with large scale protests and a dire economy, cities around America are defunding their police services. Everywhere from Baltimore to Seattle to Portland are considering large cuts or have passed large cuts in the recent weeks and months since the protests started after the death of George Floyd. Many would argue these cuts would improve policing by forcing cities to rely on non-police alternatives. But in this episode, we call into question that premise.• Read Leighton's 2015 piece here: https://gawker.com/50-years-after-the-riots-watts-projects-and-lapd-learn-1723326136• New Yorker story on the Albuquerque police: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/02/02/son-deceased
People's Policy Project founder Matt Bruenig tells us what the racial wealth gap in America really is and what to do about it.
Journalist Michael Tracey joins The Backchannel to talk about his trip interviewing people whose businesses were destroyed by rioting. Tracey's interviews highlight the human impact of the riots, demonstrating how many working class people and immigrants suffered from the consequences.
For our regular listeners of Extremely Offline: It’s been a while! Since we effectively closed down XO, the world has gone to shit. We’re not necessarily saying the one caused the other, but just in case, we’re bringing the pod back, but under a new name.Zaid and I, along with our friend Shant Mesrobian, have launched a new show on YouTube called “The Backchannel,” and we’re going to stream it here as an audio podcast, as well. The format is a little different, and a little looser, than XO, but with the same spirit of free discourse, and with some of our past guests popping in from time to time. This is our first episode, featuring Zaid, Kmele Foster from the podcast The Fifth Column, and Katie Herzog from the podcast Blocked and Reported, about one of the worst books ever written, White Fragility. Hope you’ll stay a subscriber.—Leighton• The Fifth Column: http://wethefifth.com/• Blocked and Reported: https://www.patreon.com/blockedandreported/posts
With Andrew Yang's insurgent bid for the presidency in the headlines, many are asking what it means to be Asian-American in today's America. To start with, what do we mean when we say "Asian-American"? Does it mean being descended from the world's most diverse continent? Is there a distinct Asian-American culture or politics?I'm Zaid Jilani and my co-host is Leighton Woodhouse. We're the hosts and producers of Extremely Offline, a podcast that brings people from different political tribes together to talk across differences. We also both happen to be Asian-American. But to help us decipher exactly what that means, on this episode we're joined by two other Asian-Americans.On the right, we have Wesley Yang, a contributor to Tablet Magazine and the author of the book Souls of Yellow Folk. On the left, we have returning guest Lee Fang, a reporter for The Intercept.We hope you enjoy the following conversation, where all four of us wrestle with what it means to be Asian in America. And if you'd like to help us continue to produce these episodes, please consider contributing to our Patreon at patreon.com/extremelyoffline.Further Reading:The Souls of Yellow Folk, by Wesley Yang
“Cancel culture” is the less-than-perfect name for the tendency of extremely online people to form mobs and publicly shame others in response to perceived cultural and political transgressions, from sending racist tweets to selling food of a culture that’s not your own. Sometimes it’s celebrities who are cancelled for choosing a “problematic” role in a movie or making an offensive joke on stage. Sometimes it’s regular people who posted something dumb or misconstrued on Twitter, or who got caught on camera doing something insensitive or misunderstood in real life.From the perspective of cancel culture’s critics, such incidents are examples of a dangerous tendency toward mob justice on social media platforms and in some offline spaces as well, like college campuses. From the perspective of its defenders, it’s the product of the democratization and social leveling of the internet, which has allowed for previously excluded voices to make themselves heard in the public arena, ruffling some feathers in the process.Osita Nwanevu, a writer at The New Republic, has made the latter case, in a provocative essay called “The Cancel Culture Con.” In it, he names, among others, the journalist Jesse Singal as someone who has raised a false flag against cancel culture. Jesse, who has, many times over, been targeted for cancellation himself, wrote two essays for his newsletter in response to Osita’s piece.If you have the time, you’ll get more out of this episode if you go back and read Osita’s piece in The New Republic, and Jesse’s two responses, which you can find at jessesingal.substack.com; our discussion gets somewhat into the weeds of that dialogue. And if the phenomenon of cancel culture is entirely new to you, we especially encourage you to read them first.Background reading/viewing:• Osita’s New Republic story: https://newrepublic.com/article/155141/cancel-culture-con-dave-chappelle-shane-gillis• Jesse’s responses1.     https://jessesingal.substack.com/p/on-cancel-culture-the-new-republic2.     https://jessesingal.substack.com/p/a-followup-point-about-narcissism• YA fiction article by Kat Rosenfield: https://www.vulture.com/2017/08/the-toxic-drama-of-ya-twitter.html• San Francisco mural controversy: https://www.citylab.com/equity/2019/08/george-washington-history-mural-san-francisco-arnautoff/595363/• Leighton's 2017 documentary adaptation of Angela Nagle's Kill All Normies, which Jesse appears in: https://vimeo.com/263452186
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