Chris Riback's Conversations

Feb 28 2020 373

Engaging interviews and discussions of elections and the political issues of the day

Mayor Noam Bramson: From Patient Zero to New York as Epicenter
Mar 25 2020 30 mins  
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

Rep. Steve Israel: Running for President in Time of Coronavirus
Mar 20 2020 29 mins  
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 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.

Rick Hasen: Can America Run a Fair Election?
Feb 28 2020 35 mins  
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

Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt: Revisiting “How Democracies Die”
Feb 17 2020 37 mins  
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

Chief Justice John G. Roberts: 2019 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary
Jan 11 2020 14 mins  
(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

Matt Stoller: The American Battle Between Monopoly and Democracy
Jan 02 2020 40 mins  
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

Fintan O'Toole: Think It’s Crazy Here? Time to Look at Brexit
Nov 12 2019 39 mins  
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

Amb. William B. Taylor: Opening Statement to US House Impeachment Investigators
Oct 29 2019 37 mins  
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

Julie Hirschfeld Davis & Michael D. Shear: Inside Trump's Assault on Immigration
Oct 18 2019 45 mins  
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

Andrew McAfee: Why Capitalism & Technology Will Save the Planet
Oct 11 2019 34 mins  
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

Isaac Stone Fish: Why China is America’s Biggest Threat
Oct 04 2019 30 mins  
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

James Poniewozik: How the Trump Show Happened
Sep 27 2019 34 mins  
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

Philip Mudd: Trump & the Attack on U.S. Intelligence
Aug 02 2019 41 mins  
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

Robert Tsai: Is Justice Possible? Your Supreme Court Questions Answered
Jul 19 2019 56 mins  
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

Angela Stent: Explaining Putin’s World
Jul 05 2019 32 mins  
Here’s a parlor game: Outside of President Trump, who’s the most curious figure on the world stage today? China’s Xi? North Korea’s Kim? MBS of Saudi Arabia?As Trump’s interactions with global leaders raise never-ending questions, few are as perplexing – or, if we only could understand it, might explain so much – as the one with Vladimir Putin.When the Cold War ended, it all seemed so clear: History was over, and liberal democracy would deliver a new Russia. But as the so-called liberal modernizers and democratic reforms emerged, so too did a period of extreme poverty and oligarchic wealth – a debilitating era of Russian economic and social challenges, even humiliation. As that time ran its course, an apparent savior emerged – a single man who refused to consider Russian weakness and instead redefined Russian power and pride. A man who recently told the Financial Times: “The liberal idea has become obsolete.”So what happened? How is today’s polarized, disrupted world one in which Russia can thrive? That’s what Angela Stent explains through history and analysis in her remarkable new book, Putin's World: Russia Against the West and with the Rest.Professor Stent is director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies and a professor of government and foreign service at Georgetown University. She has served as national intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia at the National Intelligence Council, as well as in the Office of Policy Planning at the U.S. State Department. She has written numerous publications, including “The Limits of Partnership: US-Russian Relations in the Twenty-First Century, which earned her the American Academy of Diplomacy’s Douglas Dillon prize for the best book on the practice of American Diplomacy. She’s also a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. For show notes & my newsletter, go to

Joseph Stiglitz: Saving Capitalism From Itself
Jun 21 2019 31 mins  
It’s already one of the major issues of the 2020 presidential campaign: Does American capitalism still work? In the face of ever widening income disparity – not just exponential upward movement at the top, but also, at best, stagnation near the bottom — economic inequality is a key social and political topic. Which is why Joseph Stiglitz’ 55th high school reunion was so telling. It was about four years ago, the Nobel Prize winning economist was reminiscing with old friends in Gary, IN, when he heard a story that made him stand up straight. Then he heard another. And another. These classmates’ stories brought to life the statistics Stiglitz had been seeing in his economic charts: Lost jobs, poor access to health care, shorter life spans, diminishing hope. The numbers hadn’t lied, and now they were talking to Stiglitz at his high school reunion. Their message: The economy was broken. In fact, more than just the economy wasn’t working – Capitalism itself seemed off. Following that class reunion, Stiglitz further saw an erosion of society’s pillars, and – being an economist – connected them all: The economy, capitalism, and democracy. He sounded the alarm, and the result is his new, powerful book: “People, Power, and Profits: Progressive Capitalism for an Age of Discontent.” Beyond the Nobel Prize, Stiglitz' career highlights include: He served as President Clinton’s Chair of the US Council of Economic Advisers and Chief Economist of the World Bank. He’s the best-selling author of more than 10 books and today is a University Professor at Columbia University. For show notes & my newsletter, go to

We're Back: New Season, New Name
Jun 19 2019 3 mins  
A few updates: First, we’re back. I’ve been doing a lot of prep for this new podcast season. I think you’re going to like it. Second – and maybe this should be first – you may have noticed the name change from Political Wire Conversations to Chris Riback’s Conversations. Why the change? I love politics and public policy. In these podcasts, I’ve talked with Senators, Governors, Mayors, and candidates; Generals, historians, journalists, and professors; Strategists, pollsters, and more – thinkers, writers and doers across the political spectrum. But these aren’t my only conversations. I also talk with leaders, thinkers and doers in business, technology, science, and the global marketplace. Guests include Nobel Prize laureates, a U.S. Presidential Medal of Science winner, global CEOs, two U.S. Council of Economic Advisers chairs, tech & media entrepreneurs, the most incredible cancer researchers, and more. I like these conversations a lot. More importantly, I don’t see them as distinctly different from the so-called political podcasts I do. For example – is climate change science or public policy? Are economics for business audiences or political ones? Cancer researchers are often funded, in part, by government agencies – politics or medicine? The fact is: Today, everything connects. In our extraordinarily divided times – when reason and nuance and context feel like Stone Age relics – understanding those connections simply must be our way forward. Let me know what you think at Thanks for listening – and welcome to Chris Riback’s Conversations.

Sen. Maggie Hassan: 'No More Medical Surprises'
Dec 06 2018 18 mins  
So you’re in a restaurant. Great meal. The bill comes, and it’s got a surprise – an unexpected $10 charge because, well it turns out your entrée required a special ingredient the server forgot to mention. Would you pay it? Would you expect to have to pay it?Now look at our health care. You go to the Emergency Room. They take your insurance. Only it turns out, your in-network ER is being staffed by out-of-network providers. Suddenly, in addition to the surprise of having landed in the ER in the first place, you’ve got thousands of dollars in surprise medical costs.What you wouldn’t stand for in a restaurant can happen any day in an emergency room – and New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan wants to do something about it.Sen. Hassan has introduced a bill titled the “No More Medical Surprises Act.” As you’ll hear, her bill aims not only to protect patients from the outrageous bills that suddenly land folks deep in medical debt, she borrows from baseball to find a market-based solution to the problem. And no, that doesn’t involve using a baseball bat… though I bet she wishes it could.While I had Sen. Hassan for the conversation, I also wanted to take the opportunity to ask about another important and divisive issue that – like health care – went to the heart of the recent Midterm elections: Border Security and Immigration. Sen. Hassan sits on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and I wanted to know: Do Democrats have a clear message on border security and immigration?In our extraordinarily partisan times, is it reasonable to hope for agreement on a health care bill? What about immigration? You’ll want to hear Sen. Hassan’s answers.

Michael Lewis: Who’s Actually Running Our Government?
Oct 12 2018 30 mins  
How do you make the most arcane, overlooked, eyes-glaze-over – and most critical – aspect of the U.S. government – interesting? How do you help folks understand that the so-called deep state – the parts of the bureaucracy that some people ignore and belittle – is actually vital to our safety, well-being and, frankly, our future?Simple: Have Michael Lewis write about.And now he has. In his new book, The Fifth Risk, goes inside several government departments – Energy, Agriculture, Interior, EPA – and reveals the truths that might seem funny if they weren’t so scary: Not only was the Trump Administration unprepared to run the government, the plan may have been crafted and executed by design. Want to shrink government? The easiest way is simply not to staff it.And why does this matter? Well, do natural disasters like hurricanes or fires matter? Is it important to find black market uranium before terrorists do? What if we no longer feed kids at school?Lewis does for government bureaucracy what he’s done for the unsung part of a football team’s offensive line, credit default swaps and a baseball executive’s approach to talent: He pulls it apart and exposes the fascinating, essential elements.Lewis does what no politician has taken the time – or, seemingly, has the ability to do: Make clear why government matters. Reagan famously said, “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem." Maybe that’s because Reagan never read Michael Lewis’ new book.

Rebecca Traister: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger
Oct 02 2018 34 mins  
One thing is sure about the extraordinary, once-in-a-generation Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing last week: There was a lot of anger in the room.Judge Brett Kavanaugh: Angry. Senator Lindsay Graham: Angry.But it might have been the anger outside the room that changed everything. You’ve seen the video – two women somehow got hold of Senator Jeff Flake in an elevator, and they unleashed: “Look at me when I’m talking to you,” one shouted. “Don’t look away from me!”For many, watching that scene felt uncomfortable – not just the cornering of a U.S. Senator. The scene of women getting mad in public. But for others, including author Rebecca Traister, the scene was a remarkable, appropriate and much-needed display of what they already knew: Women have been angry for a long time – in fact, very likely as long as there have been women.Most of the time, as Rebecca Traister wrote in Sunday’s NY Times, “female anger is discouraged, repressed, ignored, swallowed.” That time, Traister argues in her landmark, must-read new book “Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger,” that time should be fully behind us.Keep your eyes open – something massive and important is happening again in America. The role and impact of women’s anger is evolving.The anger has always been there, of course. Even before Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Stanton and the women’s suffrage movement, there was Abigail Adams and others. We saw it in the 60s and 70s. We saw Anita Hill.But something new has been developing – through movements like #MeToo and new voices like Emma Gonzalez. And now, certainly, through Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.A note: I spoke with Rebecca last week, before the hearings occurred. But as you’ll hear, if you want to understand what’s happening – where we’ve been and where we’re going? Rebecca Traister is the one to explain.

David Kaplan: The Most Dangerous Branch of Government
Sep 07 2018 36 mins  
How important has the Supreme Court become in American life? From gun rights to personal relationships, from money in politics to healthcare, whether it’s access to abortion, the voting booth or even our borders, the Supreme Court increasingly dominates how we work, live, and play – it defines, quite often, what kind of country we are.You could argue that it was the deciding factor for millions of voters in the last Presidential election – potentially the deciding factor in the election itself.And this week, of course – between anonymous New York Times op-eds and Bob Woodward book drops – the Senate held confirmation hearings for our likely next Justice, the one who many believe will turn this purple Court decidedly red for the next generation.How did this happen? In Alexander Hamilton’s words, the Court would be based “neither on force nor will, but merely judgment.” While the president “holds the sword” and Congress “commands the purse,” the court would be “the least dangerous branch.”How did it all change? How have we we’ve transitioned our toughest political issues into judicial ones?That's the question and American challenge that David A. Kaplan addresses in his new and outstanding book, “The Most Dangerous Branch: Inside the Supreme Court's Assault on the Constitution.”In writing the book, Kaplan talked with a majority of the sitting Justices – incredible access. He tracks the shifts, outlines how the Justices took more and more political power, and explains why that is flat out dangerous for our country.Also, as we discuss, Kaplan top-ticked it in terms of timing – who else has been able to perfectly time a Supreme Court book with a Supreme Court confirmation? Even if you don’t like his analysis, which I think you will, you’ve got to admire his commercial sense.

Michael D’Antonio and Peter Eisner: Who Is Mike Pence?
Aug 30 2018 34 mins  
Who is Mike Pence? It seems strange, but more than two years after he entered our national stage, how much do you feel you know about the Vice President? He’s a man of faith – we know that… but what exactly does it mean? He has acted as something of an economic libertarian – he’s a favorite of the Koch Brothers. But again, what does that mean – and how does it connect with his religious beliefs? And then there’s his treatment of Donald Trump – George Will notably called Pence a “sycophantic poodle.” And we all remember the Cabinet roundtable in 2017 where Pence, as the Washington Post noted, offered “one expression of gratitude or admiration every 12 seconds” over three minutes of “impromptu praise.” How do these strands – faith, economics, and his exceptional handling of Donald Trump – come together? Who, in fact, is Mike Pence? That’s what Michael D’Antonio and Peter Eisner cover in their new biography “The Shadow President: The Truth About Mike Pence.” It’s an extraordinary and revealing story, tracing Pence from his youth in Columbus, IN through his religious awakening and political climb. It’s also an important story – Pence, of course, is a heartbeat away. About my guests: Michael D'Antonio is an author, journalist, and CNN commentator. He shared the 1984 Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting with a team of Newsday reporters and has written over a dozen books, including the 2015 biography The Truth About Trump. Peter Eisner has won national and international awards as a foreign correspondent, editor and reporter at The Washington Post, Newsday, and the Associated Press. He also was nominated for an Emmy in 2010 as a producer at PBS World Focus. As you’d expect from practiced storytellers, it was a terrific conversation.

Bill Browder: Vladimir Putin's Public Enemy No. 1
Jun 01 2018 36 mins  
If you know Bill Browder's story already, you surely won’t mind hearing it again. It’s extraordinary. If you haven’t heard it before, get ready. Bill Browder very well may be Vladimir Putin’s public enemy No. 1. Why? Remember that “Hillary dirt” Russia meeting that Don Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort had with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya in June 2016 – the one the White House said was about Russian adoptions?As you’ll hear, “Russian adoptions” is code for the Magnitsky Act – legislation passed in 2012 that now blocks more than 40 Russian government officials and businesspeople from entering the U.S., froze their U.S. bank assets and banned them from accessing U.S. banking systems. Bill Browder is the force behind the Magnitsky Act.Everything about Browder’s story is made for a movie – His upbringing, professional career, and especially his life since an early-morning November 2009 phone call informed him that his lawyer, Sergei Magnitzky had been beaten to death by guards on a Russian prison floor.And as we know from the recent UK poisoning of that Russian ex-spy and his daughter – as well as various journalist killings – sitting in Putin’s crosshairs is, to put it mildly, an uncomfortable place. Just this week – after our conversation occurred, so we didn’t discuss it – Browder was briefly arrested in Spain on a Russian arrest warrant. Turned out the warrant had expired, and Browder was released. But the threat is always there.

Mitch Landrieu: A White Southerner Confronts History
May 07 2018 22 mins  
Usually we drop these conversations on Friday mornings – you know, something to look forward to since the workweek excitement is about to end.But we’re posting this on Monday, May 7 because of my guest: It’s his last day as Mayor of New Orleans.Did you see the speech? It was about a year ago and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu stood up and explained to his city and the nation, really, why he removed four statues that honored the Confederacy: Robert E. Lee; Jefferson Davis; P.G.T. Beauregard; and the Crescent City White League.In that speech, Landrieu took on race and inequality and history. He asked: “Why there are no slave ship monuments, no prominent markers on public land to remember the lynchings or the slave blocks; nothing to remember this long chapter of our lives; the pain, the sacrifice, the shame... all of it happening on the soil of New Orleans. So for those self-appointed defenders of history and the monuments, they are eerily silent on what amounts to this historical malfeasance, a lie by omission. There is a difference between remembrance of history and reverence of it.”It was a powerful 20 minutes, and if you haven’t watched it, you should.For a mayor who had so much else to be proud of – his city: New Orleans has rebuilt itself incredibly since Katrina; and his family: his father Moon Landrieu was New Orleans mayor and HUD Secretary under Jimmy Carter; his sister was a U.S. Senator – the speech brought Landrieu into the national conversation at a time when there was a lot of yelling and not much talking.Landrieu has written a book about the statues and race in America – it’s called “In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History,” and it’s excellent.I spoke with Mayor Landrieu four days ago – before term limits meant he would give way to a new mayor. He was gracious with his time – and funny and thoughtful with his words.I asked him about the speech, the book, New Orleans, and of course the question everyone has about him: What about that running for President thing?

Ronan Farrow: Inside the War on Peace
May 04 2018 31 mins  
Iran, North Korea, Syria, Brexit, Paris Agreement, China. Prime Minister Abe, Macron, Merkel, Xi, a fellow named Putin. At a time when U.S. foreign policy – when diplomacy itself – requires as much clarity and coordination and skill as it has in decades, ours has been going through – to put it diplomatically – a major transition.You know the headlines: Thousands of State Department positions unfilled. Budgets slashed. Tillerson fired. One day we have the world’s biggest button; the next, we’re ready to travel across the world for a summit with a leader who just months ago was a madman.How’d we get here?That’s what Ronan Farrow has pieced together – through exceptional storytelling and just plain reporting – in his new book “War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence.” Farrow did the work, talking with every living Secretary of State. And what he’s pulled together is the story of not only the shrinking, but also the militarization, of U.S. foreign policy. And to be clear: It didn’t start with Trump.You might have heard of Farrow. He’s a bit ubiquitous and, if you ask me, extraordinary. He just won a share of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for public service: his The New Yorker articles helped to uncover the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse allegations and played an important part in fueling the #MeToo movement. He has been a lawyer, diplomat, journalist, and a Rhodes Scholar. He worked in the Obama State Department as Special Adviser for Humanitarian and NGO Affairs in the Office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, among other roles.And as you’ll hear, he’s also extremely gracious, which is not a bad quality, even if you’re no longer a diplomat.

Stuart Eizenstat: Taking Another Look at the Carter Years
Apr 27 2018 39 mins  
Forget everything you think you know about President Jimmy Carter and get ready to ask yourself: Was he an ineffective, overwhelmed outsider who oversaw four of the worst years in our history… or, as my guest today argues, was Carter’s presidency one of the most consequential in modern history. I confess – I forgot just how much occurred during Carter’s four years – and how much of what he did set the stage for politics and policies today: Ideas like protecting the environment, putting human rights at the center of our foreign policy, energy conservation, the Middle East peace process, and perhaps most painful in today’s political ridiculousness: A post-Watergate President who ran for office on the promise that “I’ll never lie to the American people.”Say what you want about Carter; he kept that promise.But for all the success, Carter’s presidency is rarely hailed. He micromanaged. He tried to do too much. He ruined the economy. He oversaw gas lines in America – literally, lines of people in cars waiting to fill their gas tanks. Google it. And most terribly, he couldn’t free the American hostages from 444 days of captivity in Iran.So how should we consider Jimmy Carter’s presidency?Stu Eizenstat had a front row seat to it all. From 1969 to 1981, Eizenstat worked for peanut farmer, governor, candidate, and President Carter, ultimately as his chief White House domestic policy adviser. Eizenstat has written an historical take on Carter’s four years as President – one that Stu himself says is largely positive, yes, but doesn’t shy away from harsh criticism, too. As Stu writes: “I am not nominating Jimmy Carter for a place on Mount Rushmore. He was not a great president, but he was a good and productive one.”More on Stu: Before the Carter years, he had worked as a very young man in the LBJ administration. After Carter, he served as US Ambassador to the European Union and then Deputy Secretary of the Treasury under Bill Clinton. He has been a powerful presence internationally, and was awarded high civilian awards from the governments of France (Legion of Honor), Germany, Austria, and Belgium, as well as from Secretary of State Warren Christopher, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and Secretary of the Treasury Lawrence Summers. He now heads the international practice at Covington & Burling.His exceptional book gives insight and context to every crisis and challenge of the 1970s… We talked about many of them – most relevant for today, I asked him about how much of what Carter did is being attacked by Trump and Trump’s own approach to the Presidency.

Asha Rangappa: How Will the Mueller Investigation End?
Apr 13 2018 32 mins  
How will it end?For any of us following the Mueller investigation -- hanging on the latest leaks around the mood inside the White House and who might get fired or not fired – the wonder of what’s next is relentless. The possibilities seem endless.That’s why for many of us, we’re getting a crash course in Constitutional Law – indeed in our Constitution itself – seeing in real time how and whether our government works.What happens if Robert Mueller gets fired? Can he be? What about Rod Rosenstein? What does a Constitutional crisis look like – what does it mean?No need to worry – Asha Rangappa can explain. You likely know, Asha is a frequent CNN contributor and senior lecturer at Yale’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, where she teaches National Security Law and related courses. But as you’ll hear, Asha’s personal story is extraordinary and would make for a fascinating conversation on just its own: Asha is the Indian-American daughter of immigrants and speaks fluent Spanish. She was a Fulbright scholar and took that opportunity to Bogota, Colombia – where else, right? There Asha studied Colombian constitutional reform and its impact on U.S. drug policy. After Yale law school, she clerked in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in San Juan, Puerto Rico.Following that stint, Asha went on to do what any Princeton & Yale graduating, Fulbright-winning, Federal Court clerking person would: She joined the FBI as a Special Agent and later served as Associate Dean at Yale Law School.Sorry, I realize you likely now feel lousy about yourself. So do I. To make it worse, as you’ll hear in our conversation, Asha’s also really funny and smart and totally personable. I hate her. But I do think you’ll love the podcast.

Jennifer Palmieri: Who Will Be the First Woman President?
Apr 09 2018 38 mins  
Why is Hillary Clinton not the first woman President?Many people, political types, historians and sociologists will consider that question for many years to come. But besides Hillary Clinton herself, the people who surely must think about it most are the ones who worked with her for years and during the campaign.Jennifer Palmieri is one of them.You may know: Palmieri was Director of Communications for Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. Previously she served as President Obama’s White House Director of Communications, National Press Secretary for the 2004 John Edwards presidential campaign and for the Democratic National Committee in 2002. She also was Deputy White House Press Secretary under Bill Clinton.That’s quite a history in politics, but Jennifer hasn’t written a strictly political book. Instead she’s written – based on the campaign, certainly – a compelling and important reflection on the future. And it’s excellent.The book is “Dear Madam President: An Open Letter to the Women Who Will Run the World,” and it’s already a New York Times best-seller. Palmieri wrote it in the form of a letter – addressed to the future first woman President, whoever she may be.Palmieri considers it all – history, gender bias, campaign mistakes, Donald Trump – and offers advice to the girls and women who, as she puts it, will run the world.Why is this book breaking through? There’s no bitterness. More importantly, it’s incredibly reflective. Palmieri writes not only about political life, but also what she’s learned through death – specifically, her sister Dana and her friend and wife of her former boss, Elizabeth Edwards.In a time of #MeToo and even #EnoughisEnough, the result is a really thoughtful story that captures our times and provides clear insights about the future.

Rick Hasen: How Antonin Scalia was the Donald Trump of the Supreme Court
Mar 30 2018 35 mins  
Perhaps this is how the Framers wanted it, but has there ever been a time where more issues with the potential to more deeply divide us – has there ever been a time where more of them seemed so likely to head to the same place: The U.S. Supreme Court?I’m talking about the 2nd Amendment, and the inevitable gun rights issues surely to come out of the growing #enoughisenough movement. I’m talking about gerrymandering, the crazy geographical games that determine who sits in our state legislatures and Congress – that’s already in front of the Justices. And, lurking there in the distance, the potential biggest of them all: Can a sitting President be indicted?And yet, more and more, the U.S. Supreme Court feels less like a beacon of neutrality and more like yet another politicized branch of the U.S. government.How’d we get here? As you’ll hear in my conversation with Rick Hasen, the person we might want to thank for that isn’t even here anymore: Antonin Scalia.Rick Hasen is the Chancellor's Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine. He also runs the Election Law Blog. His latest book is: “The Justice of Contradictions: Antonin Scalia and the Politics of Disruption.”Hasen presents a new view of Scalia – not a political one – but a critical one, looking at how this strict originalist – this justice who argued that the Constitution’s meaning can be found through the original words – may not always have practiced what he preached.More directly: Hasen also argues, as you’ll hear, that Scalia was the Donald Trump – or the Newt Gingrich – of the Court. He was the ultimate disrupter, and much of the politicization the Court faces today traces directly to Scalia himself.

Michael Isikoff and David Corn: The Inside Story of Putin's War on America
Mar 15 2018 28 mins  
With the daily headlines on Russia – Nunes memos, Mueller indictments, Trump denials, continual cable TV panels – it’s easy to miss a powerful and – as it turns out, complicated – question: How did Russia happen? How did we get here?For many of us, the so-called “Russia story” started in 2015 with Donald Trump. It continued with Paul Manafort and Carter Page and WikiLeaks and, of course, picked up steam with Internet Bots and cyber war and what we now know is a continuing massive, coordinated attack on our democracy – on our very way of life.But as with any major attack, these things don’t just appear out of nowhere. Sometimes, like 9/11, the signs were there and once missed, create the opportunity for something much, much worse.So how did Russia occur? What happened during Trump’s campaign – and since? And how has all of that come together to put Trump and us in the situation – the divided democracy – we all now face?That’s the incredible road map and story put together by two of our country’s leading investigative journalists, Michael Isikoff and David Corn in their new book: “RUSSIAN ROULETTE: The Inside Story of Putin's War on America and the Election of Donald Trump.”You know them both. Michael and David are longtime award-winning reporters and analysts. Michael is chief investigative correspondent for Yahoo News. Previously, he was an investigative correspondent for NBC as well as a staff writer for Newsweek and the Washington Post. Isikoff has written two best-sellers. David is the Washington bureau chief for Mother Jones magazine, MSNBC analyst, and author of three New York Times bestsellers.

Chris Whipple: How the Trump White House Is the Most Dysfunctional Ever
Mar 09 2018 37 mins  
I’ve just got one thing to say: Thank goodness for John Kelly! I bet that’s not the one thing you expected me to say. But here’s why:With Kelly so much in the news – for the Rob Porter disaster, inexplicable non-existent security clearances, insulting the congresswoman who supported a gold-star widow from Georgia, his supposed role as a so-called “adult in the room” – for all those reasons and more, people are actually aware of and talking about what is arguably the most important White House job after, of course, the top one: Chief of Staff.I mean before Kelly, if I wanted you to turn off this podcast right now, I’d tell you that today I talked with the author of a book positioned as the ultimate analysis of the historical role of the Chief of Staff to the President of the United States.But that characterization vastly shortchanges the appeal and importance of Chris Whipple’s outstanding book “The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency.” After all, do you realize how much of a political junkie you have to be to care about the tactical approach of Hamilton Jordan or Mack McLarty or Ken Duberstein?This book is so much more than that. This book is less a “how to” than a “how it happened.” It’s story telling theater. Political inside baseball at the high and low points of history. It’s a fun and fascinating read. It’s also a work of history.You’re there when Ronald Reagan opens the door of his Pacific Palisades home two days after the 1980 election and warmly welcomes his former political enemy James Baker as his new Chief of Staff. You’re there when Chief of Staff Donald Rumsfeld gets Gerald Ford to let him hire his new deputy, despite the two DWI arrests that young Dick Cheney had.And most relevant to right now: You’ll hear some thoughtful analysis about why – in Chris Whipple’s opinion having studied four decades of how White Houses both function and fail – why the Trump White House is, in his words, the most dysfunctional in history. As you may know, Whipple is the guy who got the first on the record interview with Reince Priebus after Priebus left the White House.Whipple brings these incredible historical moments to life, making them feel like little movies. Which makes sense, because making movies is a big part of what Whipple does for a living.Whipple is a writer, journalist, documentary filmmaker, and speaker. A multiple Peabody and Emmy Award-winning producer at CBS's 60 Minutes and ABC's Primetime, he is the chief executive officer of CCWHIP Productions. Most recently, he was the executive producer and writer of Showtime's The Spymasters: CIA in the Crosshairs.

Steve Coll: Inside America's Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan
Feb 20 2018 31 mins  
About 13 years ago, I climbed on the bandwagon and, like lots of other folks, read several books to better understand our history in Afghanistan and Iraq and with Al Quaeda — how we got into the mess and, maybe how we’d get out.You may recall – it was a bit of a golden age of reporting and writing. Among them: “The Looming Tower” by Lawrence Wright; “Fiasco,” by Thomas Ricks; “Imperial Life In The Emerald City,” by Rajiv Chandrasekaran; “The Places in Between,” Rory Stewart’s crazy story of walking across Afghanistan, as well as his follow-up "The Prince of Marshes." But the first one I read has long stayed with me, and set the context for the all the others to come: That was the Pulitzer prizewinning “Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001” by Steve Coll.“Ghost Wars” outlined the CIA’s secret history in Afghanistan, the Taliban’s rise, the emergence of Osama bin Laden, and the failed efforts by U.S. forces to find and assassinate him in Afghanistan. It ends the day before 9/11.Now, finally, Steve Coll is back on the beat. His new book is "Directorate S: The C.I.A. and America's Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” It tells the story of America's intelligence, military, and diplomatic efforts to defeat Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan since 9/11.The book is as powerful and relevant and urgent as Ghost Wars was. It mixes details and insights and analysis that, once again makes plain — in painful ways — what happened after those planes hit the World Trade Center.More about Steve Coll — somehow, writing some of the most important books on our most important foreign policies is not all he does. Coll’s day job is serving as Dean of the Columbia School of Journalism. He is also a staff writer at The New Yorker, author of seven books, and a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner. There’s a lot more, but you get the idea. That’s also why at the end of our talk, I picked up on my conversation last week with Harvard professors Steve Levitsky & Daniel Ziblatt. They wrote the outstanding “How Democracies Die.” My question for journalism Dean Coll, rather than the author: How does democracy work with people who think facts are alternative facts, that real news is fake news? How does it work with people who believe anything – or nothing at all?

How Democracies Die
Feb 09 2018 38 mins  
I might not have a more important political conversation this year than the one I just had with Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. You’ll be tempted to look at the title of their book How Democracies Die and – particularly if you sit on the left side of things – think that it’s purely about President Trump. It’s not. Yes, of course, it covers Trump. Specifically, by looking at authoritarians across continents and throughout history, the authors outline four key indicators of Authoritarian Behavior. And, many of you may not be surprised – they find that candidate and President Trump has infringed on all four. But what you’ll also see – more clearly and ominously – is what we might call the Great Softening. What you’ll see is that the weakening of our democracy began long before Donald Trump came down his Trump Tower escalator in 2015 and announced his candidacy.Quite simply, this book will change the way you look at the last 40 years, daily events, our country, and even democracy itself. If you love democracy, you will love this book.Some background: Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt are 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 twenty years studying the breakdown of democracies around the globe – places like Germany, Italy, Chile, Venezuela, Peru, among others. Now, as you’ll hear, much to their own surprise, our country has become their laboratory. I should add that if you love democracy, this book also might worry you. While the authors make clear that American institutions are incredibly strong – and, indeed, to date they have held up – you’ll also see how things can change and how they can go south. Our days for taking democracy for granted are gone.

Peter Enns: Where Polls Live Forever
Jan 31 2018 42 mins  
If you’ve ever wondered: Where do public polls go to die, today we bring you the answer: They don’t. They live on forever at the Roper Center. One of the things I love most about doing this podcast is the opportunity to talk with incredibly smart people in fields where, under normal circumstances, our paths might not cross. I just finished talking with one of them.Peter Enns is Executive Director of The Roper Center at Cornell University, where he is also an Associate Professor in the Department of Government. The amount of data housed at the Roper Center will blow your mind: It’s the largest public opinion archive in the world with some 25,000 public opinion polls and nearly every survey question ever asked in the U.S. – more than 700,000 of them. And as you’ll hear from Peter, this matters for all kinds of reasons, perhaps most importantly to give us a clearest possible sense of how American views have evolved – in big ways and really nuanced ways – over time on our biggest issues: Immigration, criminal justice, religion, politics, and more. We discussed all of these.More background on Peter. His personal specialty is criminal justice. He’s author of “Incarceration Nation: How the United States Became the Most Punitive Democracy in the World.” He also received a 2017 Emerging Scholar Award from the American Political Science Association, which is presented to the top scholar in the field within ten years of her or his doctorate.

Chris Matthews: Looking at Today's Politics Through the Perspective of RFK
Dec 08 2017 39 mins  
First, where to begin? Roy Moore? Al Franken? Tax bill? Jerusalem? Government shutdown? Russia? The pace of politics is relentless – fatiguing, really – so you need someone of relentless energy to talk about politics with. And few have more relentless energy than Chris Matthews. But these times also call out for perspective and context. What in the world is going on? To many of us, it feels like there’s an all-out war – on decency, good behavior, justice – even democracy. What does history have to say? And how many people can bring a better historical context to politics than Chris Matthews?Finally, the more out of control 2017 becomes, the more fascinated I’ve become with revisiting 1968. I keep wanting to consider how the conflict and anger and uncertainty of that year not only compares to what we’re experiencing today – but also, what can we learn from it? Chris Matthews helps here, too.So let’s talk bio: If you only know him from cable television, you might not realize Chris’ full background: Matthews began his time on Capitol Hill as a cop, briefly working for the United States Capitol Police. He worked for four Democratic members of Congress, including 6 years as chief of staff to one of the giants – House Speaker Tip O’Neill. Matthews also served as a speech writer under President Jimmy Carter, though that’s far from his only writing: 8 books, 13 years as Washington Bureau Chief for the San Francisco Examiner, and then columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle.Even if you know none of that, you surely know that he’s host of MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews.And now, most recently, he’s an author again, this time of “Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit.” It’s not his first book about the Kennedy’s – he’s written two on JFK – but this one is different: “The endurance of the idea of “Bobby” is,” writes Matthews, “because he stood for the desire to right wrongs that greatly mattered then and which continue to matter every bit as much in the 21st century. Let me state that more starkly – now more than ever.”Indeed.

Preet Bharara: How to Flip a Witness
Nov 13 2017 28 mins  
I just finished talking with former U.S. Attorney and current podcast/analysis/and media star Preet Bharara. He claims to be a rookie at this whole media thing, but if you’ve listened to his top rated podcast “Stay Tuned with Preet,” you know that’s what someone in the law enforcement business might graciously call “pretext.” The guy’s a pro. Our conversation covered the topics you would expect – Russia, President Trump, flipping witnesses – and some you might not – like what was that Senate staffer (the one who looks an awful lot like Preet Bharara) thinking 10 years ago, when a recently-fired US attorney described the political pressure on the U.S. justice system – and the discomfort of receiving phone calls at home from top elected U.S. officials? And how might that experience have prepared Preet when he got his own phone calls 10 years later?You surely know Preet’s bio: Chief counsel to Senator Schumer, Assistant and then U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of NY. And now host of Stay Tuned with Preet, Executive Vice President of Some Spider Studios, Distinguished Scholar in Residence at NYU Law School.But before we begin, I want to tell you about our show’s sponsor, The Cook Political Report.What can we learn from the recent elections? What effect is President Trump having inside both parties? And what’s in store for next year’s Congressional campaigns? People who want to stay ahead of the curve turn to The Cook Political Report. With good reason. For 30 years, the Report has nailed the nation’s most important election outcomes and political trends. CBS News’ Bob Schieffer called it, “the Bible of American politics.” Nate Silver noted, “Few political analysts have a longer track record of success than the tight-knit team that runs the Cook Political Report.” Little wonder the New York Times called it "a newsletter that both parties regard as authoritative."People who make it their business to know politics, make it their business to subscribe to The Cook Political Report. Just go to to sign up.And one other item before my conversation with Preet. I want to repeat an ask that I’ve been making on these podcasts: I hope you like these conversations. If so, I’d appreciate if you’d take a moment, go to iTunes, and, if you’re so moved, leave a 5-star review. The ratings really matter. As always though, if you don’t like the conversations, please forget I ever mentioned it.That’s it. Here’s my conversation with Preet Bharara.

Rep. Jim Jordan: "Just Ask Me"
Oct 04 2017 20 mins  
So a couple of weeks ago, I saw Rep. Jim Jordan – Republican from Ohio’s 4th congressional district – say something on TV that I feel I see our politicians say all the time and I never believe: Call me.Rep. Jordan was reacting to something that had been written about him, something he said was flat out wrong. If you want to know what I think, he said, just ask me.So I did. And Rep. Jordan kept his word… this podcast is the result. Specifically, I wanted to ask the Freedom Caucus Congressman about two main issues – the budget and tax reform plans. I wanted to ask him about Republican leadership and any tensions within the Republican Party. And given the Las Vegas tragedy, I wanted to ask him about that, too – not to have a gun control debate… that’s for another podcast – but to ask him the straightforward question that’s on my mind and, I know, on the minds of many others: Is there any role government can play in helping prevent the proliferation of these mass murders?Rep. Jordan took on all of my questions, which I guess is what one should expect from a two-time NCAA wrestling champion – a fellow who won one of his titles by defeating a future two-time U.S. Olympic gold medalist and four-time world champion.Before we begin though, I want to repeat an ask that I’ve been making on these podcasts: I hope you like these conversations. If so, I’d appreciate if you’d take a moment, go to iTunes, and, if you’re so moved, leave a 5-star review. The ratings really matter. As always though, if you don’t like the conversations, please forget I ever mentioned it.That’s it. Here’s my conversation with Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio…

Jason Altmire: A Former Congressman Explains Our Divided Country
Oct 03 2017 41 mins  
So this is tough one. I just finished speaking with former Congressman Jason Altmire. He has written a new book that I really hope you read. It captures exactly what most of us hope for, but also seems like a ridiculous long shot at the moment: That somehow our divided country will come together around policy and politics. Congressman Altmire’s new book is "Dead Center: How Political Polarization Divided America, and What We Can Do About It." Some background: From 2007-13, Altmire represented PA’s 4th district – that’s in the south-central part of the state. However, he lost his seat when it got redistricted for the 2012 vote. While in Congress, Altmire practiced what he preached – at one point the National Journal calculated his voting record to be at the exact midpoint of the House -- the Dead Center -- giving him the most centrist voting record in Congress. Altmire argues that’s part of what did him in – but it’s also our way out of this mess. As I said, it’s a tough one. In a world of repeal & replace and delayed Puerto Rico hurricane relief and NFL national anthem divide and travel bans and tax cut debate and false “both sides” parallelism and rampant “Whataboutism” and Presidential popular votes don’t align with electoral vote results – I could keep going – there doesn’t seem to be an immediate path for the center to rise. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t discuss it. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be really clear about what got us into this mess and what it might take to get us out. That’s what former Congressman Altmire has done with his book, and as you’ll hear, that’s what he does in his conversation with me. Before we begin though, I want to repeat an ask that I’ve been making on these podcasts – from me to you: I hope you like these conversations. If so, I’d appreciate if you’d take a moment, go to iTunes, and, if you’re so moved, leave a 5-star review. The ratings really matter. As always though, if you don’t like the conversations, please forget I ever mentioned it. That’s it. Here’s my conversation with former Congressman Jason Altmire.

David Litt: My Hopey, Changey White House Years
Sep 20 2017 29 mins  
It turns out the key to a great conversation: Book a comedy-writing presidential speechwriter as your guest. That’s what we have for you today. David Litt worked in the Barack Obama White House as Special Assistant to the President and senior presidential speechwriter. Those are awfully formal titles, and David seems like he’s anything but awfully formal. What he is is awfully funny. And smart. He wrote many of President Obama’s funniest bits – from Correspondent Dinner speeches to his Happy 90th Birthday shout out to actress Betty White. David also knows policy, and wrote serious speeches on issues like immigration and race. To mangle a line from David’s book where he’s describing someone else: He’s the speechwriting equivalent of a two-way player. David is now Head Writer and Producer for Funny or Die’s Washington DC office. But more immediately and relevant to David’s personal interests, he is author of the new book: Thanks, Obama: My Hopey, Changey White House Years, A Speechwriter’s Memoir. It’s a great read, and you will really like the book. Here’s why: First, it’s funny. But, the guy’s a comedy writer. I’m not gonna lie – I expected it to be funny. A book by a comedy writer better be funny. But more than funny, the book reveals David’s stories – his sharp eye – about the White House and President Obama. Not look-at-me-saving-democracy-and-the-future-of-the-world stories. Human stories. I came away from the book feeling like I understood working in the White House and President Obama better. Finally, and I asked David about this, his book and David himself are not cynical in the least about the positive role government can play and the high honor that comes from working in public service. At a time when cynicism seems to know no bounds – especially about government and politics – it was really nice to read a book by someone who knows government isn’t perfect, but it’s a cause worth joining. Before I begin with David, I want to repeat an ask that I’ve been making on these podcasts – from me to you: I hope you like these conversations. If so, I’d appreciate if you’d take a moment, go to iTunes, and, if you’re so moved, leave a 5-star review. The ratings really matter. As always though, if you don’t like the conversations, please forget I ever mentioned it. That’s it. Here’s my conversation with David Litt.

Graham Allison: Are the U.S. and China Headed for War?
Jul 21 2017 33 mins  
That’s the provocative, timely, and somewhat scary question posed by one of America’s great authorities on international affairs: Harvard’s Graham Allison. Allison looks at the rising tensions between the two global competitors through a 2500-year lens in his new, important book: “Destined for War: Can America and China escape Thucydides’s Trap.” Don’t worry, Allison explains it very clearly, but it’s centered on a central principal that has resulted in 12 wars over the last 500 years: Situations when a rising power threatens to displace a ruling one. Indeed, on the one hand, from trade to North Korea and beyond, the U.S. and China seem to need each other. And yet on the other hand, from trade to North Korea and beyond, the two powers often seem at each others throats. Remember President Trump’s tweet from just a few weeks ago, and just months after the two leaders met and dined on chocolate cake at Mar-a-Lago: “Trade between China and North Korea grew almost 40% in the first quarter. So much for China working with us - but we had to give it a try!” Prof. Allison and I had a terrific, really interesting conversation. We talked about China, the U.S., North Korea, each country’s leader, the Peloponnesian War, and, simply because I couldn’t pass up the chance, a tongue-in-cheek beef I’ve had with the professor for many years. Suffice to say – we’re all good. As background, and in case you don’t know, Graham Allison is the Douglas Dillon Professor of Government at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and the Former Director of Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. He served as Assistant Secretary of Defense in the first Clinton Administration and Special Advisor to the Secretary of Defense under President Reagan. Professor Allison also has sole distinction of having twice been awarded the Department of Defense's highest civilian award, the Distinguished Public Service Medal, first by Secretary Cap Weinberger and second by Secretary Bill Perry. He served as a member of the Defense Policy Board for Secretaries Weinberger, Carlucci, Cheney, Aspin, Perry, Cohen, and Carter. He currently serves on the Advisory boards of the Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, and the Director of the CIA. And he’s written four books. Believe me, I could keep going on about Prof. Allison’s biography, but that’s enough. One last note: An ask, from me to you. I hope you like these conversations. If so, I’d appreciate if you’d take a moment, go to iTunes, and, if you’re so moved, leave a 5-star review. The ratings really matter. Of course, if you don’t like the conversations, please forget I ever mentioned it. Ok, no more bios or asks. Here’s my conversation with Graham Allison. I really think you’ll like it.

Al Franken: "I freed up the funny"
Jun 08 2017 34 mins  
So where do you start a conversation with U.S. Senator Al Franken? There’s so much to discuss. Russia investigations? President Trump? Congressional Hearings? Health Care? Which is why we started with the obvious: The Grateful Dead. He’s a big fan. But don’t worry. We quickly moved off the Dead and to the policies and politics that matter today. As Sen. Franken makes clear: That’s why he says this is the best job he’s ever had. You surely know some or all of Sen. Franken’s biography. You know he was an original and long-standing member of Saturday Night Live. You know he made a living for decades by being one of the funniest people in America. You likely know he became – by the smallest of margins and several months after everyone else got sworn in – a U.S. Senator in 2009. And you may know that he’s written a new book titled the way any modest kid from Minnesota would title it: Al Franken, Giant of the Senate. But even if you know all of Sen. Franken’s background or just a small part or, somehow, none at all – read the book. Unless you’re Ted Cruz. Then don’t read the book, because there’s stuff in there about you that you might not enjoy. But if you’re not Ted Cruz, read it. It’s really good. It’s moving. It’s funny. And it tells the traditional American tale of the kid who wanted to be a comedian and did. And then he became a Senator. Cliched, I realize, but give it a chance. Here’s my conversation with Al Franken.

Sidney Blumenthal: 'Wrestling with His Angel'
May 20 2017 33 mins  
I just finished talking with Sidney Blumenthal, and I know, depending on which cable network you prefer, he’s someone you already likely either love or hate. But I’m telling you, regardless of where you fall, you’re really going to like this conversation. We spoke because Sidney has a new book, and it’s excellent – It’s “Wrestling With His Angel: The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln Vol. II, 1849-1856.” He has two more volumes to go, and wait until you hear about his process. It was not what I thought it would be. The book isn’t just a fascinating look back at our President to be living in one of the most compelling, dangerous times in our history The book also is incredibly, almost scarily, relevant today. A divided country. Intense fights over “popular sovereignty,” also known as states’ rights. Incredibly charged personalities – some of the most influential and divisive we’ve seen – people like Jefferson Davis, Stephen Douglas, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster. And then there is Lincoln himself. Blumenthal describes this as Lincoln’s time in the wilderness, where he reads and thinks and, yes, follows politics intensely. This is the time when the coming American icon develops an extraordinary level of self-discipline. You can hardly hear that description of a future U.S. President without thinking about today. And as for Trump… yes, we talked about him, too. And about Hillary Clinton. And confidential information. I came away from this book and conversation with an overwhelming thought. One for which we should not need reminding, but in case we do, here it is: Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it. As for Sidney Blumenthal’s biography. He’s been on the political scene for so long, that you might not know the details. He is or has been: • Assistant & Senior Advisor to the President Bill Clinton • Senior Advisor to Hillary Clinton • Writer, journalist, editor at Washington Post, The New Yorker, The New Republic • Author of 11 books • Executive producer of Academy Award and Emmy award winning Taxi to the Dark Side, a documentary that explored the American military's use of torture by focusing on the unsolved murder of an Afhgani taxi driver. But we started the conversation by talking about his book. Let’s get to it:

Tom Walker (a.k.a. Jonathan Pie): Political satire in the Trump era
Apr 11 2017 48 mins  
Today Tom Walker is going to set you straight on politics, liberalism, free speech, and more. Who’s Tom Walker? You might know him better as Jonathan Pie, the liberal British “newscaster” – and that’s in quotes – who keeps getting surreptitiously filmed talking off-camera to his producer Tim, who’s back at the studio. Here’s the YouTube video he posted 2 days after the Trump election. By Walker’s count it’s been shown in various formats more than 100MM times. A quick warning: This Jonathan Pie loves to curse: As you clearly can tell from that clip, Walker is a classically trained actor whose sights were always set on Shakespeare rather than political satire. Truly. Here’s the backstory: For years, Walker was a struggling actor right out of central casting. He waited tables. Worked odd jobs. Took the acting roles he could. Then about two years ago, it happened. A character, a fast-talking, foul-mouthed, frequently-frustrated newscaster named Jonathan Pie was born. Pie – or Tom – takes on the right and the left, but generally the left. He comes at them as one of their own, as you’ll hear in our conversation. Pie – or Tom – is disappointed and angry at the hypocrisies he sees – such as, liberals who should fully support free speech, but instead try to shut down so-called offensive ideas and look to safe spaces for shelter. For example, here was Pie on university students and the censoring of free speech: So what makes Jonathan Pie work? We’re clearly in a new age of political satire. From Pie to John Oliver to Samantha Bee and beyond, this generation combines research, insight and cutting humor with the Internet and digital distribution to build huge audiences while revealing social ills and political truths. It’s really good work, and really popular. Walker’s audiences are growing exponentially, and he just finished a big UK tour with a show at the Palladium. You can check it all out at or follow him on Twitter @jonathanpienews. I caught up with Tom the other day as he was about to check out of his Los Angeles hotel room – his first trip to the states. You’re really going to like this conversation – a wonderful journey by a previously non-political actor from the English countryside who’s become the one thing he never imagined: One of the top political satirists around.

Garry Kasparov: Why Trump Will Lose Playing Putin’s Dangerous Game
Mar 03 2017 42 mins  
What went on – and is going on – with Russia and the U.S., or more specifically, Presidents Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump? DNC hacking; the President’s continually positive characterizations of Putin; former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn; new questions around Attorney General Jeff Sessions – and calls for him to recuse himself from any investigations… the list goes on. And while the facts continue to trickle out, the overall context becomes increasingly relevant – including Russia’s apparent goals to create chaos in various democracies around the world. And few people in the world are better positioned to analyze the context than Garry Kasparov. Most of us know Kasparov, with Bobby Fischer of course – as the most famous, most significant person in chess history. Indeed, Kasparov broke Fischer’s rating record in 1990. Kasparov retired from chess in 2005 and moved into a new and certainly more dangerous arena – Russian politics. He ran for president of his home country in 2008, and later was named chairman of the Human Rights Foundation, succeeding Vaclav Havel, a role he continues to hold. Kasparov writes and speaks frequently on Russia, its internal dealings, and its relations with the West and indeed the rest of the world. I don’t want to give away the heart of the conversation, because I think you’ll find it most powerful hearing Garry himself. But one of the most surprising insights: Kasparov’s explanation of why President Trump is good for democracy. It was a fascinating, thoughtful discussion, exactly what one might expect from a chess grandmaster. I think you’ll like it.

Norm Eisen: Is Donald Trump Above the Law?
Jan 19 2017 34 mins  
It feels like every day we reach a new point of “well, this has never happened before” in American politics. And I’m not just talking about the Tweets. Ok, the tweets are something. Incredible, really. We can and will have a conversation on when to ignore and when to react to them. But let’s get past the Tweetstorms for a moment. I’m talking about actual questions about democracy and the Constitution and even America itself. Questions that take more than 140 characters to answer. Like this one: Is the President above the law? Ok, I guess that doesn’t take 140 characters to answer. It should only take two characters – three if you count the period. Truly, this question had never previously occurred to me. Most of us thought it was asked and answered, initially in the Constitution, and subsequently through 240 years of democracy. But in a time where things have never happened before, even that simple belief has come into question, most recently during that unbelievable first post-election press conference when Donald Trump said: “I have a no-conflict situation because I’m president.” Could that possibly be true? In America? Could the President truly be above the law? Say what you will about the Trump election – and regardless of where you sit, there’s plenty to say – if nothing else, he’s generated a national discussion on government ethics unlike anything we’ve seen in decades. Somehow it seems, we’ve all been transported back to high school civics class. And if it’s a class on government we’ve been taking, there’s no doubt that one of the lead professors – indeed, one of our country’s leading experts – is Ambassador Norm Eisen. Ambassador Eisen is a bit like the Emoluments clause – many of us were not aware of him a few months ago, and now we wonder why we haven’t been following him for years. Indeed, if you turn on the television or read any of our leading newspapers or journals or, yes, go on Twitter lately, you can’t miss Ambassador Eisen or his sometime partner Richard Painter. Eisen and Painter have become the bi-partisan truth squad of government ethics – a human Google search providing not only facts, but also analysis, interpretation, and precedent. Now, as I discuss with Ambassador Eisen, even with the laws and clauses we have, there is plenty of gray area. He gets into that. But if you want to understand what issues President Trump could find himself addressing – and what that might mean for our politics, policy, and even democracy – you’re really going to like this conversation. Some background: Eisen is a Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution. He also served as U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic. Previously, Eisen worked in the Office of the White House Counsel under President Obama. He was Special Assistant to the President and Special Counsel to the President for Ethics and Government Reform. Importantly, and particularly timely for where we are today: Eisen worked on the Obama-Biden Transition Project in the Office of the President-Elect. In this role, according to his bio, he “provided ethics training for President-Elect, Vice-President Elect, their spouses and other senior officials, as well as all members of transition teams. [He] also trained and vetted Cabinet members and other nominees and appointees, and assisted with administration’s policy development process regarding ethics, transparency and reform issues, translating campaign promises into action.” Sounds pretty relevant, doesn’t it? Ambassador Eisen is also Co-Founder and Chair of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. But perhaps his most important title: He’s an optimist. This really comes across in what he says and how he says it. We talked about that, too. Ambassador Eisen brings energy and humor and personality to an area that cynics may previously have called an oxymoron and even non-cynics may have thought was not particularly urgent. That’s all changed, of course. Here’s my conversation with Ambassador Eisen.

Celinda Lake: It Was Still the Economy, Stupid
Dec 24 2016 31 mins  
The Electoral College has voted. The next cabinet is essentially filled. And with the holiday season here, and our focus is turning to the little things like peace on earth and good will towards men. And yet, even with the time passing, even with the new challenges – Russia hacking our democracy, Congress promising to hack healthcare, Navy drones in the South China Sea – nearly every Democrat I talk with still has the same singular question: What happened? We know all the theories: The Democrats forgot to reinforce their blue wall. Fake news and foreign hacking combined to rig the system. Angry white males. The email server. Celinda Lake has another theory: It’s the economy, stupid. And Democrats forgot about that. Celinda is one of the one of the Democratic Party's leading political strategists – a senior advisor to the national party committees, dozens of Democratic incumbents, and challengers at all levels Celinda also has shown that she can work across party lines. She’s author of What Women Really Want: How American Women Are Quietly Erasing Political, Racial, Class, and Religious Lines to Change the Way We Live. Her co-author back in 2005? Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway. I asked Celinda about Kellyanne Conway. I asked her about what she sees in her polls and hears from Democrats since the election. I, too, have been curious about this question of what happened. Not so much from a political horse race point of view. And not so much from the question of Russian hacking. Yes, I’m hugely offended by that. It was an attack on our democracy. But here’s what’s really been on my mind: · How do we sustain as a country with our massive geographic split – the two coasts vs. the Heartland? · How do we fight a sense of disenfranchisement when the popular vote runs so counter to the Electoral vote? · What about the disenfranchisement that clearly existed before – why did we not hear that stronger? Say what you want about him, but Trump definitely did. I asked Celinda about all of this. I really enjoyed the conversation. I’m intent on using these podcasts to have meaningful conversations about where we are and where we are going next. There’s intense debate even within each party over what’s the best next step: For Republicans, every day now is Christmas. Apparently, Santa really does exist, and he delivered on November 8. Now, some Republicans wonder, did we get what we bargained for? How do we act when so many of Trumps policies run counter to Conservative principles over the last decades. For Democrats, they’re repeating the old Admiral Stockdale question: Who are we and what do we stand for? Should they find common ground where they can – or should they obstruct and block, essentially treat Trump they way Obama was treated? And for people who just want to see the country move forward… well, where can they find inspiration? I aim to find thoughtful responses to these questions. I started with Celinda Lake, and here’s what she said…

Neil Newhouse: The ‘Nose-Holder’ Election
Nov 04 2016 38 mins  
We’re down to the numbers game, folks. Don’t worry, I’m sure we’ll still have the name calling, threats, promises, rallies, commercials and more – I didn’t say the campaign is over – but all focus now turns to a single number: 270. What’s the best path for both candidates to get there? And what’s it like inside the campaigns in the final days. Few would know better than Neil Newhouse; because he’s been there. Neil was lead pollster four years ago for Mitt Romney’s 2012 Presidential campaign. He is partner and co-founder of Public Opinion Strategies, which the New York Times once described as the country’s “leading Republican polling company.” Neil himself is 3-Time winner of “Pollster of the Year” by the American Association of Political Consultants. He has seen and done a lot. And yet, as you might imagine, he’s never seen anything like this campaign. I know it’s naïve, but I keep getting amazed at how many political professionals I talk with who’ve been doing this for years – dozens of campaigns and so many Presidential elections – and yet to a person, they’ve never seen anything like this one. Neil didn’t hold back. He outlines the path to 270 for each candidate – which states must they win. Which ones we should watch on Tuesday. But he also calls this the Nose-Holder election. Trump and Clinton have some of the highest unfavorable ratings of any candidates in history. Among his really interesting points: Most of the time, you want your candidate in the news – you want the headlines. This go round, the only time Trump or Clinton gets attention is when something negative is happening. No news really might be good news in this campaign. The other thing he says we should watch for? Enthusiasm. Turnout will be key in a vote where supporters aren’t so much enthusiastic for their candidate as they are disgusted with the other. We talked as well about what’s next – no matter who wins, what will the political, social, and economic divides in our country look like. There’s no sugar-coating: While Neil sees a way out, he shares the view of so many others that we likely have dark days ahead – for the Republican and Democratic parties, and even for the country. What I liked most about this conversation: Neil has given much – maybe all – of his professional life to politics and governing. This guy cares, and that comes through loud and clear in his ideas and his tone. Whichever side you’re on, I think you’ll appreciate his concern, and I think you’ll really like this conversation.

David Wasserman: Can Democrats Put More House Seats In Play?
Oct 26 2016 25 mins  
It’s so hard to talk politics and not have the whole conversation be about Donald Trump. And with all of the coverage – even ours – seemingly centered on the Presidential race, it might be hard to remember that there’s another branch of government where the November 8 vote matters as well. We didn’t forget, though. So today, let’s talk about the House. You know the basics – the Republicans control it. And most people think Democrats would have to run a clean sweep of the so-called contested races to take back control. It seems unlikely. But what about this election season has been likely? Exactly. Among the key issues: If the Presidential race becomes seen as a blowout, will Republicans stay away from the voting booth on Nov. 8, depressing turnout and votes for the House races? Even if Republicans keep control of the House, what will that control look like? Will moderate Republicans fall in November, setting up a 115th Congress where sitting Republicans are dominated by the so-called Freedom Caucus? And what about Paul Ryan? What kind of juice does he have left? Will Nov. 8 be a referendum on his leadership? We knew the right person to ask about all of this. The hard part is tracking David Wasserman down. What’s life like for someone covering 435 House races? Well, let’s just say you better like airplanes. We caught up with David on a cell phone in Palm Springs, California. He just arrived from Washington, DC, and was to be on the ground for only a few hours before leaving for Chicago then Alabama then New York followed by who knows where? Apologies that the sound quality is our best, but at least David wasn’t literally running to a plane when we got him. In case you don’t know, David is U.S. House editor of ‪Cook Political Report and a contributing writer at 538. Few know more about the House – and each of the 435 districts – than David. Seriously, don’t sit at a bar with David and try to get into a contest throwing darts at a U.S. map and trying to name that district’s U.S. representatives. I promise you’ll lose. But we won – we got David, and if you only listen to one podcast on the House races, I think you’ll want it to be with David.

What's Going On with the Republican Party?
Oct 17 2016 37 mins  
I wanted to step away from the daily politics today and take a bit of a longer view, because maybe you’re wondering the same thing I am: What’s going on with the Republican Party? Everywhere you turn there’s another layer of erosion, whether from politicians or party elders or longtime political donors. Regardless of who wins the Presidency, something big has changed within the Republican Party. And I don’t care which party you belong to, if either of them looks like it’s disintegrating before our eyes, that means definitionally that our political system – the one that’s done us pretty well over the last 200 years – is changing. Now to be clear, I’m not saying change is bad or that it hasn’t happened before. And I’m definitely not saying it’s not needed. But change is underway, and for anyone the least bit curious, the question becomes: What’s next? That’s what I wanted to learn in this conversation: Where is the Republican Party today and what’s next? We pulled together two great guests to help us think about it. Matt Lewis is a senior contributor at The Daily Caller, a CNN political commentator, and author of Too Dumb to Fail: How the GOP Betrayed the Reagan Revolution to Win Elections (And How It Can Reclaim Its Conservative Roots). Matt also serves as a contributing editor for The Week and as a weekly columnist for Roll Call. Taegan Goddard, as we know, is founder and publisher of Political Wire. I’d tell you that Taegan thinks and writes about politics continually – even in his spare time – but I happen to know he has no spare time. So let’s leave it at continually. It was a really thoughtful conversation with these two who come at the question from different perspectives. And I hate to disappoint any of you who are addicted to the cable TV shows, but there’s no yelling or screaming in this podcast. There’s not even any name-calling. … maybe this conversation wasn’t as good as I thought it was. Well, you’ll have to judge.

Dan Drezner: Foreign Policy for Campaigns is Like an Unexploded Landmine
Sep 28 2016 37 mins  
I just finished talking with Dan Drezner, Professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Stay with me now… because Drezner is most definitely not your parents’ poli sci professor. For one, you’ve got to follow him on Twitter. He’s funny, topical, and as likely to tweet a goofy video as he is to include a scatter-plot graph. He’s also not above using a curse word every now and then. He also seems, on Twitter, like a guy you’d want to hang out with. For example, when he tweeted before the debate: “I'm stocked up on the necessary provisions for #debatenight. Are you,” the accompanying image wasn’t old Theodore White books on The Making of the President, but instead was a photo with bottles of rum, scotch, vodka, and ibuprofen. And the scotch was Blue Label. Like I said, definitely a new age professor – and we talked about that. In fact, it turns out that in addition to foreign policy and international security agreements and global trade, Drezner thinks a lot about how technology lets him and others like him become an important and growing part of every day political discussion. And if you listen to his analysis, you’ll understand immediately why Dan’s become a big player. But if you want to keep up with him, you better move quickly. In addition to teaching and tweeting seemingly non-stop, Dan’s a regular contributor to the Washington Post’s “PostEverything” blog. He’s also written 5 books, and is at work on number 6. He’s got a lot to say. Much of it’s really funny. All is incredibly insightful. I think you’re going to like this conversation...

Jim Messina: "It Was Always Going to be Close"
Sep 24 2016 32 mins  
So I just finished talking with Jim Messina, Barack Obama’s winning 2012 campaign manager. Boy this guy knows politics. He knows the numbers. He knows the states. He knows the strategies. He knows the personalities. And he offers this great mix of numbers and narrative – he’s a walking master class. The data doesn’t matter without the story, and if you’ve got a campaign message but no numbers to get to 270 votes, well that doesn’t matter much either. For background in case you don’t know, before the 2012 Obama for America campaign, Jim served as Obama’s Deputy Chief of Staff. Before that he worked on Capitol Hill. He almost literally grew up running campaigns, from his home state Montana to Alaska, New York, and more. Today, the Messina Group helps run campaigns around the world. Anyhow, we had a great discussion on the changing demographics in America and of American voters – and how that should be helping Hillary Clinton and Democrats. I asked him to help me understand why, despite that, the race is still so close and Trump has such good numbers in some key swing states. Jim’s got excellent analysis on that and more… Also, he comes across as he also comes across as a really nice guy. Now, I’ve got to warn you – Jim’s a bit quiet in this conversation and the connection isn’t the greatest. He was calling from an airport lounge, and I think he just really didn’t want to disrupt the people around him. That’ll teach me to talk with nice guys. Also, the cell service – I know this is shocking – but the cell service wasn’t the best. However -- when you’ve got the campaign manager of Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign on the line and he’s giving you color and insights into that election and the current one and Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton and demographics and his technology conversations with Steve Jobs, Eric Schmidt and Steven Speilberg… well, you forgive a couple of “Can you hear me now” moments.

Robert Costa: Reporting on a 'Wild and Weird' Election
Sep 08 2016 35 mins  
So I just finished talking with Robert Costa, the Washington Post National Political Reporter and political analyst for NBC and MSNBC. The call was perfectly timed, as just this morning, a bunch of publications – including the Washington Post and Bob Costa – were taken off the Trump blacklist. So I had a newly freed Bob Costa, ready to talk about Trump and the Republican Party and Congress and more. And he did. As you likely know, Bob is basically the pre-eminent political reporter on the Republican Party. He used to work at the National Review, and he’s built what must a crazy Rolodex of everyone even tangentially connected to the party. He reports on Democrats, also. But he breaks a lot of news on the Republican side. We talked a lot about what it’s been like to cover Trump – even with the blacklist – and what his campaign means for the Republican Party. I don’t want to give away the whole conversation, so for now, just two words: Wild and weird. I really liked the end of the conversation, too. Bob started to talk about how the wildness and weirdness of this campaign was actually making his job of reporting more the way he’d want it to be – less scripted, less corporate. I really got the sense that he’s having fun. That he just loves old-fashioned reporting – calling people, seeing people, asking questions, getting answers (or not getting answers). But true reporting, rather than having every moment manicured and staged. For everything else you can say about Trump – and we know there’s a lot – he certainly is changing a lot of the rules around a lot of institutions. Reporting is just another one. And Bob was really insightful on that and more.

Stuart Stevens: A Neutron Bomb Has Gone Off in the Republican Party
Aug 27 2016 53 mins  
Where does Stuart Stevens find the time? He is a founding partner of Strategic Partners & Media, the political consulting firm. He’s a Daily Beast contributor. He was the lead political strategist for the 2012 Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney. And he just released his 7th book – this one is a novel – titled “The Innocent Have Nothing to Fear.” It’s an excellent read whose narrative is also weirdly close to the plotlines of our current presidential campaign. Speaking of the presidential campaign – no surprise – that’s what we spent most of our time talking about. If you’ve spent anytime on his Twitter feed or read his columns: Is there anyone more active, more persistent, more consistent in arguing against Donald Trump than Stuart Stevens. The conversation also hit on a wide range of ideas – it was really interesting, very funny at times, and, frankly, really serious. This guy is worried. He’s worried about the Republican Party and about the level of civil discourse in our country. He’s worried about what’s next. And don’t misunderstand – he’s hopeful and confident. He has no doubts – not one – about America. But he cannot believe what is happening in the campaign or in the Republican Party. He was incredibly thoughtful, too, about what makes governing important. This guy has dedicated so much of his life to helping public servants serve. He believes in the cause. So this conversation with a political strategist covered political strategy, of course. But as you’ll hear, Stevens also gives a pretty good civics lesson. And he writes a great new book, as well.

Jim Lehrer: There's Never Been One Like This
Aug 03 2016
Jim Lehrer, the Dean of debate moderators, as Bernie Shaw once called him, joins us on Political Wire Conversations. Moderator of 12 U.S. Presidential debates. He’s also a current member of the Board of Directors for the Commission on Presidential Debates, the group that organizes and runs the general election debates – three with Trump and Clinton and one for the Vice Presidential candidates Pence and Kaine, assuming, of course, they all take place. Maybe Jim hasn’t seen it all, but he surely has seen nearly everything in modern American politics. In fact, that’s what I started with. I really wanted to know: Given everything he’s seen, has he ever seen anything like this campaign. His answer might surprise you. Of course, we spent most of the time talking about debates – future and past. Is there anyone more qualified to discuss Presidential debates in this country? By the way, in case you don’t know the rest of what Jim has done: Not only is he the former executive editor and a former news anchor for the PBS NewsHour, but he’s also written more than 20 books – fiction and non-fiction – along with some screenplays and plays. I’m telling you – check out his author page on Amazon. It’s really something. Oh yeah – one other thing: You may not know, but as a journalist, Jim not only wouldn’t register with any party – he wouldn’t even vote. He said that was a personal choice – he didn’t feel every journalist had to do that, but that’s how he felt. So I asked him – will you vote now? His follow-ups to my question were a lot of fun.

John Dickerson: Have We Really Never Seen a Presidential Election Like This One?
Jul 08 2016 44 mins  
We’re in the middle of a political campaign that everyone says is unprecedented. There’s never been a candidate like Donald Trump. There’s never been a candidate like Hillary Clinton. There’s never been a campaign like this one. Never more negative. Never more disorganized. Never more off the cuff. Never, never, never. Well, how truly “never before” is this campaign? Are we really in totally unchartered territory? His history in fact no guide at all? Does context matter? John Dickerson just might be the perfect person to discuss this with. You know his bio: He’s Moderator of CBS’s Face the Nation. He’s a Slate political columnist. But he also hosts an incredible podcast called Whistlestop, Slate’s podcast about presidential campaign history. And now he has published a new book of the same name: “Whistlestop: My Favorite Stories from Presidential Campaign History.” Dickerson goes through “the stories behind the stories of the most memorable moments in American presidential campaign history.” You can order it now at Amazon or your local bookstore or wherever fine books are sold. What’s great about this conversation – and what’s genius about Dickerson’s podcast and his book – is that we’re constantly told that we’re at this “End of Political History” moment, this time where nothing that’s happened before matters and we can’t possibly make sense of today’s political realities. Now some of that makes sense to me. I mean, it’s factual: Trump would be the first elected president with no political or military experience. Clinton, of course, is the first woman presidential nominee of a major party. We’ve never had a presidential nominee who tweets like Trump does. The list goes on. So is there nothing to learn from the past? Is EVERYTHING about this election new ground? Personally, I doubt that, and Dickerson is a perfect person for that discussion. It’s not just all of his current roles. Dickerson grew up in a house where politics and news were central – his mother, Nancy Dickerson, was TV News’ First Woman Star, as John wrote about in his outstanding memoir about his mother. This guy is an incredible source to help us try to make sense of this most incomprehensible election.

Noam Bramson, Mayor of New Rochelle
Jul 18 2014 26 mins  
Is political courage dead? The question gets asked a lot these days, most recently around President Obama and the immigration-border control disaster. Joe Klein of Time wrote what many of us feel: “True political courage is near extinct.” He continued: “Nowadays politicians are swaddled by their media consultants, who determine whether it is ‘safe’ to be ‘courageous.’”Of course, it’s not just immigration. Pick any issue – health care, gun control, voter ID laws – and the lack of political courage is astounding. And it’s taking its toll – as the public’s disapproval of government – Congress and the President – reaches all time highs.So today, a small but very bright example of political courage during times of very depressing headlines.Noam Bramson is the mayor of New Rochelle, NY. He recently put a personal confession on the top of his webpage. Bramson wrote about his own complicit silence in a recent city council meeting – silence when local residents complained that they didn’t want a group home for 5 men with autism opened on their street. He wrote about his shame, and his now public stance in favor of the group home some of his very good and loyal constituents don’t want.I guarantee the piece will move you and restore – if only for a moment – your faith that political courage may not have completely died.Before we begin, my own confession: I am not the most objective person on this topic. Not only do I have a sister-in-law who lives in a similar type of assisted living home, but I’ve known Noam Bramson for more than 20 years. I’ve donated to his campaign. So has Taegan Goddard, publisher of Political Wire.But I feel strongly that the sinking trust in government is a national crisis and small acts of political courage is a conversation worth having. And I’m confident, by the end of this conversation, so will you…

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