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Chris Riback's Conversations
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Chris Riback's Conversations

Author: Chris Riback

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Engaging smart thinkers on issues of the day. Subscribe for newsletter & show notes at chrisriback.com (podcast formerly "Political Wire Conversations")
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This is a special live Zoom edition of Chris Riback’s Conversations, the first in our new series of political book conversations sponsored by Cornell’s Institute of Politics & Global Affairs. What does it mean for democracy when the President attacks the free press as fake news? How should journalists balance the need to avoid becoming the “opposition party,” as Steve Bannon described them, while also standing up when individual reporters – frequently women, frequently minorities – are publicly ridiculed? Jonathan Karl is ABC News’ Chief White House Correspondent. Jon’s also President of the White House Correspondents’ Association and author of the new New York Times Best seller: “Front Row at the Trump Show” As Karl writes: “Our democracy is built on trust…. That’s why I fear President Trump’s war on truth may do lasting damage to American Democracy.”
Chances are, you may not have heard of New Rochelle, NY before about a month ago. It’s New York’s 7th largest city, located just 30 minutes north of Manhattan. It was founded by refugee Huguenots – French Protestants – who were fleeing religious persecution in France in 1688. During the 1930s, New Rochelle was the wealthiest city per capita in New York state and the third wealthiest in the country. For listeners of a certain age — or any of you who watch the classic TV shows on YouTube — you’ll also know that New Rochelle is where Rob & Laura Petrie lived in the Dick Van Dyke show. It has a strong business community and cultural scene. And it’s beautiful. It sits right on the water is known as the Queen City of the New York Sound. Of course, right now, New Rochelle, NY has become known for something else: One of America’s multiple ground zeros of the coronavirus. Nearly every major media organization has suddenly paid a visit. And if you Google "New Rochelle" now, as you might imagine, nearly every result has something to do with the virus. And the face of New Rochelle through all of this – the one racing from town meetings to food distribution centers to senior living homes to religious groups to 60 Minutes interviews – is the city’s hometown mayor Noam Bramson. And I mean hometown – Noam was born in New Rochelle. He grew up there. After leaving for college, he returned. He’s been mayor since 2006. And it’s where he’s now raising his own family. So how do you run a municipality through a pandemic? And what’s it like to see the place you love – your home – go through this kind of challenge? That’s what we discussed. Before we begin, let me put my bias on the table right away: I’ve known Noam for nearly 30 years. We met in grad school. He was very smart, unnecessarily modest, and always friendly. As you’ll hear, some things don’t change, even when you’ve had to lead your hometown through a pandemic. For show notes & my newsletter, go to chrisriback.com.
When I first scheduled an election analysis discussion with former U.S. Representative Steve Israel, it’s fair to say that my initial set of questions had nothing to do with how to run for President in a time of Coronavirus. That’s where this conversation begins, but not where it ends. Because while we all navigate this new reality, we’re also still trying to understand the Democratic primary: What in the world just happened? How did Joe Biden get blown out in the first three caucuses – and then turn it all around to basically run the table? And assuming Biden holds on, did the moderate wing of the Democratic Party really win the ticket – or did the progressives set the agenda and took moderates along for the ride? How unified is the party? And what about Biden’s running mate – he said he’ll choose a woman VP candidate. Ok, beyond that, what are the practical and political factors that matter? More background on Steve Israel: He spent 16 years in Congress representing New York's 3rd Congressional District – that’s on Long Island. He’s the former Chair of DCCC and today serves as Director of Cornell University’s Institute of Politics and Global Affairs. He’s also author of two political satire books, and we talk about his most recent one that took on the gun lobby – it’s called “Big Guns,” and it’s an excellent read. For show notes & my newsletter, go to chrisriback.com. As referenced in the intro, here is a link to the special edition of The 180 Podcast on the coronavirus with Dr. Pamela Cantor, Turnaround for Children’s Founder and Senior Science Advisor, about how to address the fear, stress and disruption caused by the pandemic.
Today we continue with our check on the state of American democracy. We began with Harvard professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt to get an update on “How Democracies Die” and the question: How much more can our institutions take? Today we’ll look at the cornerstone of our democracy and a question that’s as shocking to ask as it sounds: Can America run a fair election? I told you – crazy. But whether that’s Putin’s great accomplishment, the post Iowa Caucus fiasco reality, or simply the result of the disintegration of nearly all of society’s institutions over the last years, well, that’s where we’re at. Look at the evidence: The latest headlines that U.S. Intelligence briefed Congress that Russia is already attacking our elections again, trying to help Trump win in 2020…and trying to help Democratic front-runner Bernie Sanders, too. Voter suppression in Kansas, Georgia, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Texas, and elsewhere Unproven claims of voter fraud to hurt confidence in elections. Regular threats – or so-called jokes – to not leave office… from Trump to recently-ousted KY Gov. Matt Bevin Massive, targeted disinformation campaigns – even from within the U.S. And of course, election irregularities in Broward Country, FL, election debacles like the recent Iowa caucus, and even NY Times reporting from the Nevada caucus of “errors and inconsistencies” similar to Iowa. While concerns around the viability and fairness of U.S. elections have been raised in the past – anyone listening to this podcast seen a hanging chad? – it’s fair to say the distrust and concern have never been as great as they are today. It all adds up to one of the major threats to American democracy and the question I asked at the top that few of us ever expected to seriously hear. So where are we? How bad is the problem? And perhaps most importantly – how does American democracy survive if Americans don’t trust their elections? Rick Hasen is the one to ask. Hasen is Chancellor’s Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine and author of the new book “Election Meltdown: Dirty Tricks, Distrust, and the Threat to American Democracy.” Hasen writes the often-quoted Election Law Blog, which – like his excellent Twitter feed – is an absolute must read. Rick is co-author of leading casebooks in election law and remedies, as well as author of over 100 articles on election law issues, published in numerous journals including the Harvard Law Review, Stanford Law Review and Supreme Court Review.  For show notes & my newsletter, go to chrisriback.com.
It’s time for a democracy check. With the Trump Impeachment Trial over and the 2020 presidential primaries in full bloom, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I imagine many other people are wondering, too: How’s our democracy doing? Are America’s democratic norms still valid? How much more can our institutions take? And this was even before the Roger Stone sentencing reduction news broke. So I decided to dedicate the next two conversations to the topic. The first one looks at democracy itself – coming out of only the third impeachment trial in our 250-plus year history, how stable are we? The second looks forward: If free elections fill the center of a true democracy, how stable is our election process? Both conversations are with previous podcast guests. Today’s is with the two Harvard professors  -- Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt -- who I talked with two years ago and who first brought the issue to national prominence with their New York Times bestseller “How Democracies Die.” As I relistened to our previous podcast – and as I note in this one – it’s crazy how predictive they were about the way things could go. The second podcast will be with Rick Hasen, UC Irvine Law and Political Science professor, creator of the Election Law Blog, and author of the new book “Election Meltdown: Dirty Tricks, Distrust, and the Threat to American Democracy.” Some background on Levitsky and Ziblatt, Professors of Government at Harvard. Levitsky’s research interests include political parties, authoritarianism and democratization, and weak and informal institutions, with a focus on Latin America. Ziblatt’s interests include democratization, state-building, comparative politics, and historical political economy. His focus is on European political development.  Together they’ve spent more than 20 years studying the breakdown of democracies around the globe – places like Germany, Italy, Chile, Venezuela, Peru, among others. Among my questions to them was an update to one of my previous questions: After so much work on shaky democracies in other countries, can they believe even now that somehow our country has become their new laboratory. One editorial note: As you’ll hear, near the end of our conversation, I got Roger Stone – Department of Justice headline alert on my phone just as my guests were talking about Attorney General Barr and the ways in which various manipulations of legal systems can impact a democracy’s health. Talk about real life proving the point in real time. While I interrupted the conversation to ask Daniel and Steven’s reaction, the news had just broken and no one had had time to fully consider what it could mean. And one listening note: Daniel took our call via Skype from Germany. Sometimes his audio is a little digitized, but that’s the price of primary research. For show notes & my newsletter, go to chrisriback.com.
The first time he said it – or rather tweeted it – was in January 2018. In describing his business, television, and political accomplishments, President Trump typed: “I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius… and a very stable genius at that!” He said it again at a NATO meeting that July. Again the following July 2019. And again in September. And October. It’s become one of this era’s defining lines of bravado and self-image that infuriates Trump detractors and fuels his supporters with equal amounts of pleasure. Now, it’s also the title of one of this era’s defining books – an exploration of Trump’s first three years, with deep context and new extraordinary reporting. Washington Post reporters Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig have built on the work they do every day – and, if you watch cable news, it seems every night – to deliver the No. 1 New York Times Best Seller “A Very Stable Genius – Donald J. Trump’s Testing of America.” When they’re not writing best sellers, appearing on television or breaking news, Leonnig and Rucker are also earning Pulitzer Prizes, five of them individually and as part of teams. They brought that focus and detail to their book, an overwhelming series of events and back stories that delivers a powerful narrative that defines our times. For show notes & my newsletter, go to chrisriback.com.
Rick Wilson – the sharp-witted, wise-cracking Republican political strategist, ad-maker, analyst, columnist, and crazy-good tweeter – joined me in Westchester County, NY for a live conversation about the 2020 election, impeachment, and his new book, “Running Against the Devil: A Plot to Save America from Trump – and Democrats from Themselves.” It was a terrific event, and we discussed everything: How Democrats can beat Trump? What has happened to his fellow Republicans, the ones he calls “bootlicks, yes-men, [and] edge-case weirdos?” How endangered is our democracy? Would Democrats be better off if they in fact do nominate a woman – and if so, who would make for a more compelling candidate, Elizabeth Warren or Amy Klobuchar? As a bonus, we also discussed his regular Waffle House roundtables for The Lincoln Project – breakfasts with his other #NeverTrump Republican strategists, including one named George Conway. No surprise for anyone who has heard Rick or, better yet, followed his Twitter feed: He was at his colorful best. You may notice this particular edition of Chris Riback’s Conversations carries an “explicit” label, and folks, it’s not because of me! At the end, we opened it up to questions from the audience – you’ll want to hear those. Over the next weeks, I’ll post the video from the event. For show notes & my newsletter, go to chrisriback.com.
(Note: This is a DocuPod – audio reads of important public documents. No conversation; no interview. Just the document itself.) You may have noticed: Especially with the impeachment, there’s been a lot of news, coverage and discussion – tweets, speeches, rallies, angry letters, hearings, cable panels – around two branches of government: The Executive and Legislative. But assuming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi indeed sends the two Articles of Impeachment to the Senate, and assuming Majority Leader Mitch McConnell indeed convenes a trial, our third branch – the Judiciary – will be front and center. That’s because, as you may know, when the President of the United States faces an impeachment trial in the Senate, the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court presides. And that person, of course, is John G. Roberts. Now, we don’t hear much from Chief Justices. Sure, they write some of the Court’s opinions. But they don’t really do interviews. They certainly don’t tweet. So when they speak, their words carry great power, and everyone scrambles to read between their lines. Just recently, Chief Justice Roberts spoke. Actually, he published – on New Year’s Eve, his annual Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary. And, of course, with the tensions among the branches of government – with an impeachment trial likely on the horizon – this year’s report was widely anticipated. You may recall Roberts’ last comments that seemed to be directed towards President Trump in 2018, when the Chief Justice reminded the President that, “We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges. What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them. That independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.” President Trump tweeted back: “Sorry Chief Justice John Roberts, but you do indeed have ‘Obama judges,’ and they have a much different point of view than the people who are charged with the safety of our country.” So what about now? Would Roberts say anything about President Trump? Would he reveal his feelings on the state of our nation – on whether we are in, or headed towards, a Constitutional Crisis? Chief Justice Roberts didn’t disappoint. As the New York Times described, Roberts “issued pointed remarks… that seemed to be addressed, at least in part, to the president himself. The two men have a history of friction, and Chief Justice Roberts used the normally mild report to denounce false information spread on social media and to warn against mob rule. Some passages could be read as a mission statement for the chief justice’s plans for the impeachment trial itself.”  For show notes & my newsletter, go to chrisriback.com.
As our 2020 Presidential campaign becomes more intense and pointed, it’s clear there is a battle going on for, among other things, America’s economic soul. Politically, the debate has exploded a revival of -isms… Populism, authoritarianism, socialism. But through the issues – from Trump’s tax cuts to Elizabeth Warren’s Health Care Plan – the complicated arguments largely can be simplified to this: For our democracy to survive, do we need massive economic restructuring? If you think this battle is new, you might want to listen to Matt Stoller. Stoller is a Fellow at the Open Markets Institute. Previously, he was a Senior Policy Advisor and Budget Analyst to the Senate Budget Committee and also worked in the US House of Representatives on financial services policy, including Dodd-Frank, the Federal Reserve, and the foreclosure crisis. He new and important book is “Goliath: The 100-Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy.” As Stoller outlines, the tension between monopoly and American democracy is, without exaggeration, as old as our country. In fact he explains how concentrated financial power and consumerism transformed American politics, resulting in the emergence of populism and authoritarianism, the fall of the Democratic Party, and the need to create a new democracy. As Stoller has said: “We are in a moment where capitalism is being seriously questioned. There are corrupted and concentrated markets everywhere, not just search engines and social networks but dialysis, syringes, baby food, missiles and munitions. This isn’t just a threat to our quality of life, but to our democracy itself. We have been here before, and we defeated the monopolists. But to do that, we must understand our own history.” For show notes & my newsletter, go to chrisriback.com.
It started with the generals. Mattis. Kelley. McMaster. Along with Rex Tillerson, they were part of the “Axis of Adults,” the ones, as the story of this presidency has been told, who stood between President Trump and chaos – between President Trump and his own, unchecked impulses, particularly in foreign affairs. As we know now, only Trump is left standing. And he stands impeached, because, the U.S. House of Representatives found, he couldn’t withstand his unchecked impulses and withheld U.S. military aid and White House prestige from Ukraine unless our ally announced investigations into his political rival. How did we get here? What happened to the defense and security these generals – heads of defense, security and more – were supposed to provide? And, not for nothing, where are they and what are they saying now? Peter Bergen is here to tell us. His new book is Trump and His Generals: The Cost of Chaos. Bergen seems to have been inside the room for all of the details – the fights, debates, wins, losses. His goal: “To reveal what happens when the unstoppable force of President Trump meets the immovable object of America’s national security establishment.” For show notes & my newsletter, go to chrisriback.com.
If you’re feeling lousy about the state of politics in America, now might be the time to surround yourself with some Brits. As they surely must ask about us: What in the world is going on over there? The UK is now more than three years into Brexit, the unexpected, unplanned and so far unfinished move to pull out of the European Union. The latest delayed exit was delayed again when Boris Johnson – UK’s permanently disheveled Prime Minister – couldn’t, as we like to say, get the bloody ball over the goal line. Ok, we don’t say the “bloody” part. Instead, Boris called for and got new elections. So December 12, UK voters will decide whether to elect a new leader, or not, and through that choice, whether to leave the EU or not. In other words, Britain’s future is as clear to see as a plate that holds a double helping of bangers and mash. So what, in fact, is going on over there? How did they get into this Brexit mess – and will they ever get out? Few better – or funnier or more thoughtful – to help explain than Fintan O’Toole, the award-winning writer and columnist for the Irish Times, Guardian, and New York Review of Books. His own new book is “The Politics of Pain: Postwar England and the Rise of Nationalism.” O’Toole is Irish borne and loves England – both important facts as you read and listen to him analyze the English psychology around self-pity, colonization, and that terrible EU oppression that, we’re told, led to Brexit. In fact, among the surprising insights from O’Toole – at least to this American – is O’Toole’s argument that the Brexit push has less to do with the European Union than it does with England itself. For show notes & my newsletter, go to chrisriback.com.
This is a special episode of Chris Riback's Conversations. For this podcast, I read the opening statement of Lieutenant Colonel Alexander S. Vindman to the US House Impeachment Investigators on October 29. As you surely know, Lieutenant Colonel Vindman is the decorated Iraq war veteran and top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, who listened in on that July 25 telephone call between President Trump and President Volodymyr Zelensky. That’s it. No conversation; no interview. Just the 6-page document itself -- a DocuPod. Here’s why I believe there’s a need for this type of service – audio reads of important public documents. First, with our democracy under stress, these documents are interesting and essential; 2) with all of the spin, it helps to know the exact words ourselves; and 3) those exact words are powerful — much more powerful than that third-party spin. And of course: It’s really hard to find time to read them. For show notes & my newsletter, go to chrisriback.com.
This is a special episode of Chris Riback's Conversations. For this podcast, I read the opening statement of Amb. William B. Taylor, the senior U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, who testified behind closed doors before the U.S. House Impeachment Investigators on Oct. 22. His extraordinary testimony has been called “the smoking gun” of President Trump’s attempt to hold up Ukraine financial aid in exchange for political help from a foreign country. That’s it. No conversation; no interview. Just the document itself: Amb. Taylor’s 15-page opening statement – a kind of “DocuPod.” Why am I doing this? My gut is: There’s a need for this type of service – audio reads of important public documents. First, with our democracy under stress – and with continuing testimony and the House Impeachment Inquiry picking up speed – these documents are interesting and essential; second, with all of the spin, it helps to know the exact words ourselves; and third, those exact words are powerful — much more powerful than that third-party spin. Perhaps most important: It’s really hard to find time to read them. As I said, this is an experiment. Is it a good idea? I don’t know. So now the favor. I’d be grateful for your feedback – an answer to one question that you can send via email. My question: Is this service useful to you? Please let me know – along with any addition thoughts. Thank you. For show notes & my newsletter, go to chrisriback.com.
Between the alligator moat revelation and horrendous, inhumane taking of children from their parents, when considering Donald Trump’s immigration policy, it can be hard to get past the headlines. But it turns out, the immigration story serves as an incredibly useful way to consider the entire Trump presidency: Obsession, chaos, fear, depravity, and yet – meaningful, important, and potentially-lasting change that has shifted not only how the world views America, but how we view ourselves. The story has been told – through a combination of clear context, incredible detail, and expert storytelling by Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Michael D. Shear in their book, “Border Wars: Inside Trump’s Assault on Immigration.” As you’ll hear in our conversation, Davis and Shear bring us inside the rooms –uncomfortable places, really – as extreme ideas about immigration move directly from the collective minds of Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller and Jeff Sessions into the campaign and then presidency of Donald Trump. You’ll hear how Miller outmaneuvered generals and cabinet secretaries to seize control You also hear about the key player who might be most confounding of all: Former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. In fact as you hear more about these policymakers – and as you read Hirshfeld Davis and Shear’s book –it all seems to lead to the central questions of our time: Who are we, and what is America? Some background on Julie and Mike who, as far as I can tell from what is admittedly quick research, seem to have covered every important Washington D.C. story in the last 25 years. Julie is Congressional Editor at The New York Times; she also serves as a CNN political analyst. Michael is a White House Correspondent for The New York Times, and you can also catch him frequently on CNN. For show notes & my newsletter, go to chrisriback.com.
If one question has driven mankind’s quest for innovation, it very well might be this: How can we get more from less? For most of our time on this planet, the answer was simple: We couldn’t. As my guest Andrew McAfee points out, for just about all of human history – particularly the Industrial Era – our prosperity has been tightly coupled to our ability to take resources from the earth. We got more from more. That tradeoff yielded incredible positive contributions in nearly every field: Technology, industry, medicine. But there’s one glaring area – one of those “aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play” areas – where the trade wasn’t so incredibly positive. Of course, that’s the environment. As global industry rode the combination of human’s infinite ingenuity and Mother Nature’s finite resources – we all reaped the benefits and the costs: Exponential global warming. Perhaps it’s not an exact straight line, but the connection is clear to all but a few climate deniers. Luckily, we know the solutions: Consume less; Recycle; Impose limits; Live more closely to the land. Or do we? What if, instead, these central truths of environmentalism haven’t been the force behind whatever improvements we’ve made and, more importantly, aren’t the drivers that will solve the existential task at hand: Saving the planet? Instead, as McAfee argues in his new book, the answer is dematerialization – we’re getting more output while using fewer resources. We’re getting, as his title suggests: “More from Less: The Surprising Story of How We Learned to Prosper Using Fewer Resources – and What Happens Next.” McAfee argues that the two most important forces responsible for the change are capitalism and technological progress, the exact two forces “that came together to cause the massive increases in resource use of the Industrial Era.” Combined with two other key attributes – public awareness and responsive government – we can and do “tread ever more lightly on our planet.” McAfee knows his prescription to save the planet is controversial. He knows it will frustrate – if not outrage – most of his friends… assuming they’re still willing to call him friend. But as the saying goes: He’s done the math. He’s researched the data. And like it or not, he’s ready for the conversation. For show notes & my newsletter, go to chrisriback.com.
October 1st marked the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China – the name given by Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong in 1949. To understate the reality, a lot has happened in China over the last 70 years. The fact is, a lot has happened in China over the last 70 days – much of it unexpected, confusing, and on-going – politically and economically. Politically, of course, pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong capture global attention and concern. So, too, does China’s economic situation, in particular, its continuing – sometimes escalating – battle with the U.S. over tariffs, intellectual property, market access, currency valuation and more… all fitting somewhat neatly under the “Great Power Competition” with the United States. As the 2020 campaign heats up, several key questions will be asked and debated, including: How did we get here – and where do China and US-China relations go next? To find out, I talked with Isaac Stone Fish – a senior fellow at the Asia Society's Center on U.S.-China Relations, as well as a visiting fellow at the German Marshall Fund, Washington Post Global Opinions contributing columnist, and more. Stone Fish has studied China from the inside, having spent seven years living there. Today he continues to analyze China’s place in the world as a Truman National Security Project fellow, a non-resident senior fellow at the University of Nottingham's China Policy Institute, and an alum of the World Economic Forum Global Shaper's program. For show notes & my newsletter, go to chrisriback.com.
As regular listeners of this podcast know, I read a lot of books. Most of them, frankly, are excellent – smart people making thoughtful arguments in engaging ways. Every once in a while, though, I read one that’s not just excellent, but delivers something more: It shifts your lens on the world. Alters your focus. New York Times Chief Television Critic James Poniewozik has written that kind of book: “Audience of One: Donald Trump, Television, and the Fracturing of America.” He’s written that kind of book not despite the fact that he analyzes television and American culture for a living… but because of it. We know Trump loves TV. We know built his image through the NY media and that he was a reality TV star. We also know reality TV is hardly reality. What we may not have considered sufficiently is what has happened to us – how, as television and media changed over the last decades, so did we. And to put it bluntly: You might not like what we’ve become – or what’s required, virtually 24/7, to capture our attention. This book and conversation are part history, part current events, and all-important. As Poniewozik writes: “Follow the media culture of America over the course of Trump’s career, and you will understand better how Trump happened. Follow how Trump happened and you will understand better what we became.” And you may wonder – as I asked Poniewozik – whether any potential Democratic candidate understands any of this well enough to beat Trump. One note: I spoke with James before House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the official Impeachment Inquiry of Donald Trump. But already, in the early days, I see evidence of what James writes about at play in the way Trump and his team are responding. For show notes & my newsletter, go to chrisriback.com.  
It was a perfect week to have Philip Mudd, CNN counterterrorism analyst, on the podcast. Phil spent some 25 years at the highest levels of the CIA – reaching Deputy Director of the National Counterterrorism Center – and FBI, where he was hired to be its first National Security Branch Deputy Director by Robert Mueller. So when you have Mueller’s Congressional Hearings nine days ago followed by President Trump’s tweets five days later announcing his intention to replace our top intelligence chief with a Republican House member who, as the Washington Post wrote, has alleged anti-Trump bias at the FBI and Mueller’s team, directly accusing Mueller of violating  “every principle in the most sacred of traditions” of prosecutors – when you have that and you want to know what in the world is the state of our national intelligence and law enforcement agencies, well, Phil Mudd is who you call.But truth be told, that timing was mostly luck. The real reason I wanted to talk with Mudd: He has written an important, first of its kind book: Black Site: The CIA in the Post-9/11 World. Mudd not only takes us inside the CIA, but inside one of the most hidden parts of the CIA, the part known internally as “The Program”: The secret Black Sites where the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” and where our national debates on torture, waterboarding, counterterrorism, and the deep responsibility to prevent another attack were born.How were those decisions made? How were they justified? What did CIA officers, deputy directors, directors – even people who interrogated prisoners – think and feel about what they were doing? And how do they feel about it now?  For show notes & my newsletter, go to chrisriback.com.
What happened to the Republican Party? You’ve heard of it: One of the two major political collectives in America… the one that counts Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan among its heroes? The modern GOP branded itself on ideals of fiscal responsibility, fighting dictators from the Soviet Union to Saddam Hussein, and personal morality. Today, of course, the U.S. deficit is more than $1 trillion. New age dictators are our friends. And personal morality? Well, not so much. The GOP change has been swift, stark, and you might be led to believe, all because of one person: Donald Trump. But is that true? Was Trump the cause or the most logical outcome? Perhaps more importantly, is there any going back? Is the GOP now the POT – the Party of Trump?  That’s what I asked Tim Alberta, Politico Magazine’s Chief Political Correspondent and author of “American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump.” For show notes & my newsletter, go to chrisriback.com.
You may have heard last week’s conversation on the Supreme Court. Well, there’s something about the Supreme Court that gets listeners’ attention. I received a lot of follow-up questions – so many, that I wished I had immediate access to another constitutional scholar. Turns out, I did. I already had recorded the second half of the conversation you’ll hear today with Robert Tsai. Tsai is Professor of Law at American University and a prize-winning essayist in constitutional law and history. Previously, he clerked for two federal judges and worked civil rights lawyer in Georgia. He has written three books, the most recent of which is Practical Equality: Forging Justice in a Divided Nation. When we consider remedies to the various inequalities that define these times – from voting restrictions and oppressive measures against migrants to the rights of sexual minorities, victims of police action, and even racism in the criminal justice system – existing laws to address equality are often incomplete. But in exploring the Constitution and reexamining important historical cases, Tsai explains how legal ideas that aren’t necessarily about equality at all — ensuring fair play, acting reasonably, avoiding cruelty, and protecting free speech — have been used to overcome inequality in the past and can serve as potent alternative tools to promote equality today. Simply, Tsai offers a distinct view and outlines the possible innovative legal measures to overcome injustice. But with all the comments from last week’s podcast, I asked Robert for a favor – would he be willing to do a quick update call where I could ask him some of the Supreme Court follow-ups I got from listeners. He agreed, so here it is. For show notes & my newsletter, go to chrisriback.com
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