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My discussion with Federal District Court Judge Jed Rakoff on his new book Why the Innocent Plead Guilty and The Guilty Go Free.
If you viewed the mass demonstrations of 2020, you might have the impression that the majority of the country supports police reform. If you thought so, you may want to think again.Polls from the Pew Research Center indicate that, while approval for police has declined slightly over the past five years, Overall support for police still remains high But despite this support, ….most people polled regardless of race – about 90% – agreed that police should be better trained in nonviolent alternatives to deadly force.This leads us to the political slogan “Defund the police” … a slogan that has been intensely debated over the past year.    But how many people really know what it means?Will defunding the police lead to chaos and disorder as some voters fear?   And Is this fear being used by certain politicians to prevent serious reform?On the other hand …. Does the slogan mean that funds should be diverted away from police departments and, instead, reallocated to non-policing forms of public safety? Activists use the phrase with various intentions: some want modest reductions in police funding; others want a full divestment away from police – a full abolition.  But what they all demand …. Is change.  As I think deeper on this topic, I’ve realized that Police reform extends beyond forcing officers to wear body cameras and preventing them from using chokeholds.  Reform requires that we examine societal ills at large and determine who exactly should resolve them. From economic inequality to homelessnessfrom healthcare to mental health, from education to public safety.Whose responsibility is it to resolve these growing public needs? Is it the police?  Is it Government?  Is it private business?  Or a combination of all. And as a former public defender with first-hand knowledge, I can say with confidence that along with an overhaul of our criminal legal system ….police across America desperately need top-to-bottom changes – changes to their internal cultures, their training and hiring practices, their unions, and how they are governed.In this episode, we take a deeper dive into the movement for police reform.In doing so, we explore some of the issues you may not have considered, …. that indeed may have a direct correlation to police reform and public safety.  Today I have the wonderful opportunity to speak to professor Alex Vitale again. We were fortunate to have Professor Vitale interviewed for our first episode when we launched the podcast 2 years ago.   He’s a sociology professor and coordinator of the policing and social justice project at Brooklyn College.  He has spent the last 30 years writing about policing and consults both police departments and human rights organizations internationally.  He’s the author of City of Disorder: How the Quality of Life Campaign Transformed New York Politics and also the author of the book The End of Policing. His academic writings on policing have appeared in Policing and Society, Police Practice and Research, Mobilization, and Contemporary Sociology. He is also a frequent essayist, whose writings have been published in The NY Times and the Washington Post.   He’s also appeared on CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, NPR, PBS, Democracy Now, and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.
The infamous fact is that we in the US spend vastly more on healthcare than any other country without necessarily getting better services or outcomes.  The last time I checked, we spend about 20% of our national GDP on healthcare.  Anecdotally, I know tons of people, including myself, who have dealt with outrageous and unpredictable medical bills. In fact, in a 2009 study in the American Journal of Medicine, 62% of bankruptcies were caused by medical issues.  With that said, how should we view healthcare?  As a commodity like anything else that we consume?  Or as a social good, as a right, where any and everyone receives proper and affordable healthcare?   With the complexity of this issue, we could only do it justice by covering it in 2 parts. In part one, we dive into the area that most concerns us: cost.  We discuss the role that insurance companies, hospitals, doctors, and pharmaceutical companies play in cost.In part two: we compare the US system to other systems around the world.  You may be surprised but there’s a lot that we can learn.  We hope this series sheds light on the mystifying world of the US healthcare system while helping us understand the pressing need for us to reform it.  When we say that it’s time to build a new America, we mean that.  I got the amazing opportunity to speak to Dr. Elisabeth Rosenthal.  She's the author of the New York Times Best Selling Book  An American Sickness - How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take it Back. Dr. Rosenthal was for 22 years a reporter, correspondent, and senior writer at The New York Times before becoming the editor in chief of Kaiser Health News, an independent journalism newsroom focusing on health and health policy. She holds an MD from Harvard Medical School, trained in internal medicine, and has worked as an ER physician.
Most people know that our country attempts to separate political power by dividing it amongst three government branches: legislative, executive, and judiciary.  Regarding the legislative branch, political power is further divided into two parts:: the House of Representatives and the Senate.  Lately, the Senate has been in the news for multiple reasons, most prominently for this raging debate over the Filibuster.  It’s a debate that’s been raging for decades but has returned because Democrats have a unique opportunity to pass sweeping voting rights legislation and a tremendously $1.9 Trillion Coronavirus relief package.  Democrats made huge promises to their voters during the 2020 election.  And when people vote, they expect those promises to be fulfilled.  Why else would you vote?Democrats, however, are at grave risk of disappointing their base largely because of this quirky filibuster rule.  Today we’re going to learn more about how the Senate operates, about the filibuster, and how it affects you.  And with so much information to cover, this will be a 2-part episode.  I’m happy to welcome Professor Gregory Koger.  He teaches political science at the University of Miami and specializes in legislative politics and political parties.  He has a BA from Willamette University and a Ph.D. from UCLA.  He’s worked as a legislative aid in the House for two years and served as a liaison to the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.  He’s also the author of the book ‘Filibustering: A political history of obstruction in the House and Senate, and he’s also authored another book: Strategic Party Government along with Matthew Lebo.
Most people know that our country attempts to separate political power by dividing it amongst three government branches: legislative, executive, and judiciary.  Regarding the legislative branch, political power is further divided into two parts:: the House of Representatives and the Senate.  Lately, the Senate has been in the news for multiple reasons, most prominently for this raging debate over the Filibuster.  It’s a debate that’s been raging for decades but has intensified because Democrats have a unique opportunity to pass sweeping voting rights legislation and a tremendously $1.9 Trillion Coronavirus relief package.  Democrats made huge promises to their voters during the 2020 election.  And when people vote, they expect those promises to be fulfilled.  Why else would you vote?Democrats, however, are at grave risk of disappointing their base largely because of this quirky filibuster rule.  Today we’re going to learn more about how the Senate operates, about the filibuster, and how it affects you.  And with so much information to cover, this will be a 2-part episode.  I’m happy to welcome Professor Gregory Koger.  He teaches political science at the University of Miami and specializes in legislative politics and political parties.  He has a BA from Willamette University and a Ph.D. from UCLA.  He’s worked as a legislative aid in the House for two years and served as a liaison to the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.  He’s also the author of the book ‘Filibustering: A political history of obstruction in the House and Senate, and he’s also authored another book: Strategic Party Government along with Matthew Lebo.**Book mentioned by Prof. Koger** - Julian Zelizer, On Capitol Hill.
#24 - Running Gotham

#24 - Running Gotham

2021-02-2533:23

Although we just finished one of the most important national elections of our generation, another key race is heating up in New York City.  In 2021, New York City will elect a new mayor to replace Bill de Blasio.  In this episode, I’ll be sitting down with one of the mayoral candidates to see why she believes she’s ready to lead Gotham. I have the wonderful pleasure of interviewing Dianne Morales, a native New Yorker, Afro Latina, and the former executive of one of the most instrumental social services programs in New York City, the Phipps Neighborhoods.  She’s an outsider to politics, but an insider to the issues that affect millions of New Yorkers.   
American monopolies dominate, control, and consume most of the energy of our entire economic system; they function the same as cancer does in a body, and, like cancer, they weaken our systems while threatening to crash the entire body economy.  American monopolies have also seized massive political power and use it to maintain their obscene profits and CEO salaries while crushing small competitors.In this episode, I speak with Thom Hartmann, America's #1 progressive radio host, to discuss his new book The Hidden History of Monopolies - How Big Business Destroyed the American Dream.
The novel coronavirus has catapulted the world into uncharted territory.  As arguably the most disruptive pandemic of our generation, it has forced the entire globe into a state of panic and confusion.  More than ever, the public has had to rely on experts for guidance and solace.  But in an atmosphere of significant political polarization and distrust of public institutions, our efforts to control the pathogen has been all the more difficult.  While this moment poses a formidable challenge, medical and economic experts have been working extremely hard to attenuate the damage of this global pandemic.  In this episode, I get the wonderful opportunity to discuss paths towards recovery with such an expert.  Dr. Zoë M. McLaren is an Associate Professor in the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and an Affiliate of the Health Econometrics and Data Group at York University.  Dr. McLaren’s research builds the evidence base to guide health and economic policy by developing rigorous applied econometric approaches that leverage existing data to answer important questionsShe received her Ph.D. in Public Policy and Economics from the University of Michigan and her B.A. from Dartmouth College.Highlights: How the pandemic became politicized;how the World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control made difficult recommendation decisions under uncertainty; how institutions build and maintain trust;how the US could have responded better at the beginning of the pandemic;the importance of testing and how often we should do it;why communities of color have been affected the hardest;the importance of evidence-based policymaking;what is herd immunity;why some people are skeptical about vaccination and how health professionals should respond;when will life return to 'normal?Make sure to give Dr. McLaren a follow on Twitter @ZoeMclaren.  
The internet and social media have restructured the traditional media landscape by allowing anyone to bypass the traditional gatekeepers with a smartphone and an internet connection.  In the past, you had to be chosen by media executives; now you can choose yourself and bring your creations directly to your consumers.  While this has created unprecedented levels of collaboration and creativity, it has also resulted in intense competition for the attention of people - more people means saturated markets.  Though the traditional gatekeepers may have lost power, new gatekeepers have taken their thrones: social media platforms.  After all, notwithstanding the new perceived levels of creative potential, all creators must still go through a few platforms.   In this sense, the new gatekeepers are now algorithms, determining who sees your work.  Technology companies, already powerful and concentrated, have the potential for becoming even greater behemoths.   In this episode, we sit down with University of Minnesota economics professor Joel Waldfogel to discuss his new book The Digital Renaissance.  
As a result of the economic damage caused by COVID-19, New York City is facing a budget deficit of about $9B for the current fiscal year and a similar deficit in subsequent years.  Some commenters say that this is the most significant fiscal crisis we’ve faced since 1975, even factoring in the 2008 Great Recession.  For obvious reasons – because we’re in a global pandemic – the circumstances from 1975 are different, but there are still many similarities between 2020 and 1975.  For example:The City has begun to make significant cuts to city servicesPeople are out of work, and unemployment is at record levels In a press conference addressing the current gap, the Mayor raised the possibility of borrowing funds to cover operating expenses;Crime is supposedly risingThe president has scapegoated New York City for the problems caused by COVID; andFederal Senators have suggested that New York should go bankrupt.The importance of knowing history is what to avoid.  So in this episode, we are going to gain political, social, and economic lessons from that tumultuous moment in 1975 and apply them to now.  Photo Credit: Gary Hershorn 
In part two of this special two-part series, I continue my conversation with CUNY Law Professor Victor Goode about the 1960s Civil Rights movement's connection to today.  In this episode we discuss:why structural racism is cloistered from legal challenges against it;how black wealth was significantly curtailed in the 2008 Great Recession; how the National Conference for Black Lawyers became the Legal Arm of the Movement for Black Liberation;how the FBI used the Counter-Intelligence Program to blunt the Civil Rights movement and how a similar program is in effect today;how accusations of Communism against Civil Rights advocates have been a potent weapon against progress;the dangers of ideology;our shadow government.  
“If there’s no struggle, there’s no progress.  Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are people who want crops without plowing the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the roar of its many waters.The struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, or it may be both. But it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”Frederick Douglass uttered these words over 100 years ago but they remain relevant today.  With protesting occurring on every part of the earth, decades from now, we will reminiscence about this era as one of the most important in American and world history.  The only other movements that remotely compare to this one are the Civil Rights and the Anti-Establishment movements of the 1960s.  In this episode, I sit down with CUNY Law Professor Victor Goode to analyze the similarities and differences between what’s happening now and what happened then in the 1960s civil rights and anti-establishment movements. He teaches a variety of first-year courses and has also taught Housing Discrimination Law, and a seminar on Race and the Law.  Before joining the Law School faculty, he served as Executive Director of the National Conference of Black Lawyers, founded the Affirmative Action Coordinating Center (where he worked on landmark Supreme Court affirmative action cases), and taught in the Urban Legal Studies Program at the City College of New York. He’s also lectured widely on teaching professional skills and values, and has given Congressional testimony on police misconduct and racially-motivated violence
Our First Amendment guarantees the right to a free press.  In order for us to have a healthy democracy, the citizens –– people like you and I –– have to know what's happening in the world and, especially, what’s happening in our government.As the French writer Albert Camus once said:“A free press can, of course, be good or bad, but most certainly without freedom, the press will never be anything but bad.”Our freedom, it appears, requires a certain degree of knowledge about society’s everyday affairs so that we understand how things should work in order to diminish corruption and impropriety when institutions, including government, are left unexamined. But in our world of pressing deadlines, financial obligations, and distractions, acquiring this critical knowledge has become increasingly difficult.  How practical, for example, is it for the common person to know about the Dakota Access Pipeline issue or the increasing tension between the United States and Iran, while balancing the responsibilities of life and work? Rare, I would say.For these reasons, we depend on professionals, such as journalists, to gather this information for us. Considering the inherently oppositional nature of journalists to the government, danger is a consistent feature to those who exercise our critical freedom of the press.  History is replete with stories of journalists being jailed or even killed for reporting on government impropriety. And history will continue to collect even more stories. In June 2020, CNN reporter Oscar Jimenez and his crew were arrested on camera in Minneapolis while they were reporting on the demonstrations following the police murder of George Floyd. In light of such an egregious violation of the First Amendment, how should journalists handle these times? Violations of this nature are not the only things that journalists should consider.  Thanks to the rise of social media and the fact that anyone can report a story with a tweet, how should journalists preserve the craft of researching and capturing important stories? Certainly, social media has increased the amount of disinformation. But, on the other, more positive end, it’s also allowed access for organizing against ruthless authoritarian leaders --most recently in Hong Kong, Egypt, and even Moscow.Journalism is not only a profession but a craft –– a craft that should be exercised with care.In this upcoming interview, I've discovered that those who become journalists have the added responsibility of paying special attention to respecting their craft and developing sound techniques to produce quality news. Especially in the time, we find ourselves living, our democracy depends on it. How do you remain objective? How do you deal with combative or evasive interviewees? How do you remain safe?Considering that I’m not a journalist, these are some of the questions that cross my mind when I think about journalism. And in this episode, I get the pleasure of bringing you those answers from a journalist who started her career before the internet and who continues in a different news environment. She’ll be sharing her professional experience and techniques with us. In today’s episode, I’ll be sitting down with New York-based broadcast and print journalist Susan Modaress Tehrani.  She’s currently a Diplomatic Correspondent at the United Nations.  Susan is also the Vice President of the association of foreign correspondents in the United States. She has reported from some of the worlds’ contemporary hotspots, including Egypt, Lebanon, Haiti, Iran, and Iraq.  She’s also covered stories across the US from Detroit to Louisiana, California, and Wisconsin.  Her work is featured in Newsweek, Newsweek Middle East, AL-Monitor, The Daily Journalist, Aljazeera, PressTV, and Euronews, among others.  
The events that erupted on May 29th in response to the killing of George Floyd symbolize the turmoil we’ve experienced intensely over the past five years.  Countless are the numbers of complaints we all have, but a major one is the rate at which our democracy seems to be deteriorating because of incompetent and dangerous leadership in the White House. During the 2016 presidential run, what shocked many about Trump’s decision to run was not only the fact that he was running but the unusual nature of his conduct. Take the way he used threats of violence.  From encouraging his crowds to beat up protestors at his rallies to threatening to lock up his political opponents: threats have been a consistent rhetorical tool.His questionable conduct doesn’t end there.  When confronted by the media about his lies, he resorts to labeling all criticism as fake news. When his arbitrary executive orders are struck down by federal court judges, he chastises them on Twitter and appoints judges — at a blistering rate — who will most likely uphold his laws. When inspector generals report the misdeeds of his agencies, he fires them and replaces them with loyalists.  His conduct is unlike anything any of us have seen before. But maybe not. Fascism is a term that’s been thrown around a lot lately.  Along with the rise of Donald Trump, numerous books and articles have compared his rise to those of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini - two of the most notorious authoritarian leaders of the 20th century.  As our cities devolve into chaos as a result of racism and police brutality and the President promises to bring ‘Law and Order,’ …. I ask myself if we are seeing the burning of the Reichstag  Building in 1933 that gave Hitler his enormous powers?  Are we seeing the rebellions of the Black Shirts that raised Mussolini in Italy to absolute power? But how valid are these comparisons between WWII fascism and Donald Trump?  When we consider the atrocities of those dictatorships, we have to ask ourselves if we are really living under a regime of neofascism.  As responsible citizens, we must be cautious about making tenuous comparisons simply because we strongly disagree with the current administration.  However, If we carefully analyze history in the context of this moment, I’m reminded about a famous saying: history doesn't repeat itself, it rhymes.  Understanding fascist and authoritarianism leaders reveal several themes; common tactics deployed by these leaders: corruption and violence, propaganda and disinformation, purging dissent, dismantling transparency, and accountability, all combined with a cult of personality.  So are we at a moment where history is rhyming?  In this episode, we’ll be discussing Fascism and if it’s reemerging in the United States and throughout the world.  Our special guest today is Professor Ruth Ben-Ghiat.  She’s a Professor of History and Italian Studies at New York University and a political commentator on authoritarianism, fascism, and propaganda.  She’s also a frequent contributor to CNN, The Washington Post, and other outlets, where she brings her knowledge of the past to bear on her analysis of threats to democracy in our world today.  She’s authored several books including Fascist Modernities, … Italian Fascism’s Empire Cinema, and the upcoming book Strongmen: From Mussolini to The Present, which will be published in 2021.  Ahe’s also an Adviser to the non-profit, non-partisan organization, Protect Democracy.
The Coronavirus has put societies around the world in perilous positions.  It’s infected millions of people and unfortunately killed thousands.  On top of the loss of life, it’s also caused economic turmoil and obliterated economies,  The U.S. now has the highest coronavirus death toll in the entire world.  And the virus has struck New York City the hardest and has concentrated the most in the borough of Queens, where I so happen to live.With deepening concern over how both the federal and local governments are handling this crisis, it brings us to a topic we covered in an episode last year about the Emergency Powers of the Executive branch and the President specifically. In light of this pandemic, I think it’s important that we examine this topic again. The Constitution is not explicit about what a President can do in an emergency.  However, the Oath that the president takes requires him to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.  Considering this oath, Presidents throughout history have interpreted this to mean that they can act without Congress’ approval … but under limited, emergency circumstances.  Let’s take a look at history.  The first and most notable emergency declared was by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War when he suspended the writ of habeas corpus.  A writ of habeas corpus is an individual right under the constitution that protects people against arbitrary arrest.  If you get arrested, for example, you have the right to see a judge in order to determine if your arrest is lawful.  Article I of the Constitution says that only Congress can suspend the Writ of Habeas Corpus under a rebellion or invasion.  Lincoln suspended this right during the civil war in order to suppress the Southern Confederacy because they were rebelling against the union.  This is just one example of how a president can act under a crisis.  Fast-forwarding today, before I sat down to summarize this episode, I re-read a selection of the Federalist Papers to grasp what the Founders had in mind when they were drafting the Constitution.  They knew that there would be moments where the President would have to exercise extraordinary powers to protect the country and its people. But what struck me while skimming through the papers was the significant effort that they took to limit the president’s powers in an emergency.  They wanted to make sure that no president would take advantage of the moment and end up ruling by fiat like a King.  In this episode, I speak to Andrew Boyle.  He’s the Counsel in the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, where he focuses on emergency powers.  Here’s my interview with him 
Thomas Jefferson is quoted as saying that "a properly functioning democracy depends on an informed electorate."   If a government is by the people, and for the people, – as the Constitution says – then knowledge is an indispensable ingredient to a democracy.  When Jefferson said this, he couldn’t have possibly predicted the powerful technologies we possess now.  Before the internet, the barrier to knowledge was that information wasn't readily available.  Today, ironically the problem is that there’s too much information - and to make matters even worse, there’s an overabundance of misinformation.   Consider the term 'fake news.'  It's a notorious term that became infamous just a few years ago.  And debates are still occurring on whether it influenced the 2016 election.  But fake news has always been around.  Propaganda is nothing new.  When I was a kid, I remember being in the supermarket and seeing this tabloid newspaper called 'Weekly World News.'  It’s still around.  The paper always caught my attention because it featured a story about a 'batboy.'  On the cover was a boy with very pale skin, large, oval-shaped ears and sharp teeth with his mouth wide open, screaming.  This picture always confused me because it was right next to other newspapers like the NY Post and the Daily News.  At 8 years old, I didn’t know if it was real or fake. False information has been prevalent in history.  But the issue we face now is that the internet - particularly social media - allows it to proliferate at unprecedented levels.  I personally have blocked a number of pages and people that peddle outrageous conspiracies.  I've told friends that post dubious stories on Facebook, to consider taking it down.  And I've even gone as far as disabling my account in order to give my mind a break from all the information.  But unfortunately, we can't stick our heads in the sand forever.  False information flooding social media, whether from domestic or foreign sources, undermines our trust in the electoral process.  This flood of false information presses people’s emotional buttons, so that they lose the ability to vote with their heads, and often discourages them from voting at all.  According to Richard Hasen, in his new book Election Meltdown, there are four factors that drive voter distrust and cynicism: voter suppression; administrative incompetence in running elections; dirty tricks, both domestic and foreign; and incendiary rhetoric, especially from candidates and people in power.  That’s why democracy gets undermined by false information; it creates distrust for the very process we rely on to choose representative government.  Moreover, it’s not just making people believe false things—a new Pew Research study suggests it’s also making them less likely to consume or accept information.So how do you distinguish fact from fiction?  How do we remain an informed electorate as Thomas Jefferson said?      In this episode, we’ll be discussing how you can fact check statements made by politicians and pundits in this era of mass information and mass misinformation.  Our special guest today is Bill Adair, he’s the founder of the Pulitzer Prize-winning website Politifact, a nonpartisan, nonprofit and independent website dedicated to fact-checking statements made by politicians and pundits.  Mr. Adair is also the Knight Professor of the Practice of Journalism and Public Policy at Duke University, where he specializes in journalism and new media, with an emphasis on structured journalism and fact-checking.  
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