#176 Bridging the Divide: Iowa

American democracy is in crisis and politics have become weaponized with name calling and personal attacks. Trust in national institutions and the media is at an all-time low.

Congress and The Supreme Court are much more likely than in the past to cast predictable party-line votes. As a nation we are failing to make creative solutions, based on compromise.

This episode is the first of three to report on local efforts that push back against the toxic impact of tribalization and political polarization. 

"This is not just a shake our fists at what Donald Trump has brought to our national discourse," Kathie Obradovich, Opinion editor at The Des Moines Register, tells us. "It goes deeper to our ability to speak to and understand each other."

"People who used to put party politics aside and work for common interests are just fewer and fewer. The number of prominent moderates in Iowa politics I can count on one hand."

In this episode, we report on the work of Revive Civility Iowa, a project of the National Institute of Civil Discourse, to bring a series of tools that help people overcome the degradation of our public dialogue. A two-hour workshop in Des Moines was organized by The Ray Center at Drake University, which works to improve civility and promote ethical leadership. 

More than two-thirds of Americans feel our incivility is a crisis. "How Do We Fix It?" looks at how neighbors, family members and local communities are responding in positive ways.

This episode is partially funded by "Renewing Democracy", an initiative of Solutions Journalism Network

#175 Bridging Divide. Renewing Democracy: Carolyn Lukensmeyer

Never before in living memory has America been so deeply divided, and this paralysis threatens to weaken and corrode democracy. Ideological silos have become much more common among both conservatives and liberals.

One opinion poll says 7 in 10 Americans believe that our politics have reached a dangerous low point. And most say the climate is a new normal— not temporary.

This is the first of four “How Do We Fix It?” episodes leading up to the Midterm Elections that discuss local and national attempts to push back against political dysfunction and the lack of rational, respectful debate. Forthcoming episodes will report on new initiatives in Iowa, Minnesota and North Carolina.

Carolyn Lukensmeyer, is a leader in the field of deliberative democracy and social entrepreneurship. She is the Executive Director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse

“Voters are frustrated, worried, and angry with their leaders and ashamed of how our political process works these days. Heated rhetoric and a dramatic shift away from bipartisan collaboration pervade national politics, leaving us unable to solve the major challenges confronting our nation,” the group says.

#174 Lessons from Reagan: Bob Spitz

At a time of fractured politics and failed leadership, what lessons can be learned from Ronald Reagan-- one of the most significant presidents in our history?

Considered a dangerous outsider by critics when he was elected in 1980, he appeared to be enthralled with happy endings and disinterested in many of the finer details of economic and social policy. And yet America's fortieth president presided over an economic boom and successful peace talks with the Soviet Union that helped lead to the end of the Cold War.

Our guest, best-selling biographer Bob Spitz, is the author of "Reagan: An American Journey", a richly detailed, riveting, and carefully balanced account of a remarkable life. The book looks clearly at Reagan's policy failures on AIDS, Iran-Contra and Star Wars missile defense, as well as his achievements and great skill as a communicator. 

"Reagan came to power at a very important time in our history," Bob tells us. "We had come through the Vietnam War, Watergate, a succession of failed presidencies-- and the country needed someone to pick up its morale. Ronald Reagan was the right man at the right time."

Unlike Donald Trump, another outsider with the aim of shaking things up and overturning establishment views of government, "Ronald Reagan didn't have a hostile bone in his body," says Bob. "Reagan was not a narcissist in any shape or form. He thought about the good of the American people above everything."

#173 Fighting Back Against Fake News: Steven Brill

recent poll finds that two-thirds of Americans often get news from social media. But many consumers are highly skeptical of the information they see on Facebook and other sites, expecting it to be "largely inaccurate."

Now a new company, Newsguard, uses journalism to fight the epidemic of false stories, misinformation and outright propaganda, helping readers to navigate through online news sites. Newsguard's web browser extension rates websites that appear in searches on their reliability. The easy-to-use plug-in includes a red-green symbol that shows if a site is trying to get it right or instead has a hidden agenda.

"We apply common sense to a problem that algorithms haven't been able to resolve," says Newguard's co-CEO, Steven Brill. During an extraordinary career as a journalist, author and business executive, Steven was founder of Court TV, The American Lawyer Magazine, Brill's Content Magazine, and The Yale Journalism Initiative

Now, his latest passion is fighting fake news.

Newsguard provides "nutrition label" write-ups for news and information websites in the U.S. and plans to expand globally. Employing scores of journalists and analysts, the growing venture also identifies suddenly trending fake news sites and warns internet users about them in real time.

More information here.

#172 Identity Politics: Dignity and Resentment. Francis Fukuyama

Are identity politics ruining democracy? National and global institutions are in a state of decay, and identity fuels much of today's debates in America and across the world.

On the right, Donald Trump seized on the grievances and resentment of white working class voters and others who felt let down by the impact of globalism and technology.  On the left, social and political movements based on gender, sexual identity, race and ethnicity play an increasingly large role. 

"The problem with our politics is that we have shifted from arguing about economic policies to arguing about identities," says our guest, political scientist, Francis Fukuyama. In his new book, "IdentityThe Demand for Dignity and The Politics of Resentment," he warns that unless we forge a universal understanding of human dignity, we will doom ourselves to continual conflict. 

In the United States, “it’s better if both parties actually stick to broad social policy issues that they can argue about, rather than lining themselves up according to biological characteristics,” he tells us in this episode.

We examine Fukuyama's provocative analysis of populism, nativism, white nationalism, radical Islam, and authoritarian tendencies that threaten to destabilize democracy and international affairs.

Francis Fukuyama is a political scientist at Stanford University. His best-known book is "The End of History and the Last Man", published after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

#171 Collaboration Beats Competition: Paul Skinner

In recent decades, business strategy has been built on the idea that we must compete to win.

But what if the competitive model of business is now broken? In today’s interconnected, digital world, strategies to create competitive advantage may be holding us back— with a negative impact on the workplace and the economy.

In his new book “Collaborative Advantage: How Collaboration Beats Competition as a Strategy for Success". British marketing and business consultant Paul Skinner presents Collaborative Advantage as a radical alternative to the conventional goal of Competitive Advantage. 

Skinner says: "We can be more ambitious in the way we grow our businesses, increase the impact of our non-profits and find better solutions to our most pressing problems when we view our opportunities through the lens of cooperation rather than competition."

This episode explores:

  • How Competitive Advantage can overshadow human purpose and the capacity for cooperation in businesses and other organizations.

  • How leaders can put cooperation-enabling ideas at the heart of their businesses and deepen relationships with customers, clients and employees.

  • How the dogma of Competitive Advantage may explain why solutions offered by previous guests “How Do We Fix It?” are not yet mainstream

Paul Skinner  is the founder of the U.K.-based Agency of the Future, and founder of Pimp My Cause, which uses cause-related marketing to boost the capabilities of teams and individuals. Paul is a regular listener to “How Do We Fix It?”

#170 The Codding of the American Mind: Jonathan Haidt

At the recent funeral for Republican Senator John McCain, former Presidents and leaders of both parties paid tribute to his belief that America "is a nation of ideals, not blood and soil." In the farewell statement to the country he loved, Senator McCain described our democracy as “325 million opinionated, vociferous individuals.” 

The funeral was a rare, and perhaps passing moment of bipartisan unity and friendship at a time of bitter partisan division. 

In this episode, we look at some of the roots of political tribalism, why some young people are turning against free speech, and the need to "play our way to a better democracy." 

Our guest is social psychologist, Professor Jonathan Haidt, co-author of the highly-praised book, "The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation For Failure."

We discuss the ideas and research in his book: Why so many college students are anxious and depressed and how recent problems on campus have their origins in three damaging, destructive ideas that have become increasingly woven into American childhood and education:

  • What doesn't kill you makes you weaker.
  • Always trust your feelings.
  • Life is a battle between good and bad people.

We also examine constructive ways to deal with microaggressions, helicopter parenting, "safetyism" and the growing intolerance for opposing points of view that threaten the future of our national political discourse.

#169 Astrophysics For People In a Hurry: Neil deGrasse

Tyson talks about the possibility of intelligent life on other planets, tackles science deniers on the right and left, and explains why we should invest more in pure science. Tyson also discusses his book, "Astrophysics for People in a Hurry.”

"What's curious to me is you have the liberal community claiming the (moral) high road ...against the science deniers of the right with regard to global warming and evolution in the classrooms... as though they are somehow untainted by non-scientific thinking,” Tyson tells us. "There is a whole portfolio of science denying that also happens in the liberal left."

Investments in pure science led to many remarkable breakthroughs in medicine, technology and physics - often decades after the research began. Following the discovery of quantum physics in the 1920's, "it would take forty to fifty years before we would see the rise of information technology," says Tyson. "There is no information technology without an understanding of quantum physics."

Tyson also discusses his sense of awe and wonder about the secrets of the cosmos.

““You can’t be a scientist and have discomfort with not knowing,” he tells us. “When there is a frontier that’s unexplored, where there are stupefying depths of ignorance, it excites you. It gets you out of bed in the morning and running to the lab.””

— Neil deGrasse Tyson

#168 The Case for Space Travel: Neil deGrasse Tyson

Neil deGrasse Tyson, America’s most prominent spokesman for science and Director of New York City’s Hayden Planetarium, talks about the benefits of a cosmic perspective, the case for manned space flight and much more in this first part of our wide-ranging conversation. We also discussed Tyson's book, "Astrophysics for People in a Hurry."

Richard and Jim met Tyson at his offices at The American Museum of Natural History. While insisting he is not an advocate for manned space flight, Tyson says "history tells us" space exploration "is one of the most potent forces to operate on the scientific ambitions of a citizenry." At the height of the Apollo program in the 1960's, "you didn't need special programs to get people interested in science," Tyson explains. "There were weekly headlines about our journeys into space and you knew you needed the best of the best to breech the frontier of space."

#167 Soaring Suicide Rates: Dr. Richard Friedman

The national suicide rate rose 28% from 1999 to 2016, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2016, alone, 45,000 people took their own lives.

This year's suicides of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain and fashion designer, Kate Spade, focused new attention on the crisis.

Why is the U.S. suicide rate as high as it was one hundred years ago? What are proven ways to save lives and reduce depression and chronic anxiety?

Our guest is Dr. Richard Friedman, a professor of clinical psychiatry and Director of the psychopharmacology Clinic at Weill Cornell Medical College, New York. 

"We should declare war on suicide," he tells us. "The federal government spends more money researching dietary supplements and headache remedies than it does suicide."

More here from Dr. Friedman's recent New York Times article.

#166 Populism: Bigger Than Trump? Salena Zito

Was Donald Trump's election a one-off event, or did it represent a fundamental realignment of American politics?

Washington-based political experts wrongly called the 2016 election, and our guest, Salena Zito, author of "The Great Revolt", argues that they keep blowing it today. Democrats who ignore the concerns of those who went for Obama in 2012, but then backed Trump four years later, do so at their peril.

We examine the spread of populism that is reshaping American politics on the right and the left, and why it may have much more staying power than critics would like to admit.

Despite President Trump's weak approval ratings, the coalition that brought him to the White House is largely holding together. Salena drove many thousands of miles on back roads, speaking with hundreds of Trump voters in ten Great Lake swing counties while reporting for the New York Post, the Washington Examiner, and contributing to The Atlantic. 

She takes them seriously. From "red-blooded blue-collared" conservative populists to "rough rebounders" and "girl gun power" supporters, we learn why so many believe that Trump stands up for working people against powerful corporate interests.

"Modern populism today is a healthy skepticism of large things, big institutions, big government, big entertainment, big sports," says Salena. "This coalition isn't just impacting the ballot, its having an impact on how we shop and how we consume things."

In this episode we look at the roots of populism, but also take a skeptical view of its future.

#165 Can Podcasting Save The Planet?

From ancient times to the present day, women and men have brought meaning to their lives through storytelling.

Before the invention of the printing press, ancient societies passed on the knowledge and wisdom of one generation to the next through oral history. 

Today, no other medium is as intimate and personal as podcasting. We are the town criers of our time.

In this "Quick Fix" episode, Richard and Jim discuss the future of podcasting-- an industry that faces both opportunities and challenges. 

More than 550,000 podcasts are on iTunes-- and the number is growing every week. So is the audience. But while two-thirds of Americans have heard of the term "podcast," fewer than one-in-five are regular listeners. 

Last week in Philadelphia at Podcast Movement-- the annual trade show, rally and conference-- Tom Webster of Edison Research said: "The key to moving from 48 million weekly podcast listeners to the 100 million mark is understanding why those people familiar with the term “podcasting” have never listened."

The launch of the new Google Podcasts app may go a long way towards reaching this goal. Until now, Apple has been the dominant player. Smart speakers present a great growth opportunity, bringing new ways to listen to podcasts. And each year podcasting reaches into an ever-widening circle of communities and interests. 

Find out here about how we make this show and other podcasts for our clients.

#164 The Fight For Free Expression: Deb Mashek

Free speech on campus is under assault at many colleges and universities. From disinviting commencement speakers to shouting down professors and others they disagree with, some students demand "safe spaces" from controversial remarks and what they call micro-aggressions.

So far, 1800 professors from the right, left, center and other political leanings have joined the effort to bridge the ideological divide. Heterodox Academy is part of a growing number of attempts to encourage greater civility and respect for different points of view.

Deb Mashek is the first Executive Director of Heterodox Academy. For 13 years, she was a professor of psychology at Harvey Mudd College. 

"My learning is improved when I get to engage with you, because you see things differently, Deb tells us. It's not just about tolerating other viewpoints. "If we're serious about solving the world's biggest problems, we need to be open to the best ideas, regardless of where they come from."

"A willingness to evaluate new ideas is vital to understanding our world," says Harvard University Professor Steven Pinker. "Universities, which ought to be forums for open debate, are developing a reputation for dogmatism and intolerance." Heterodox Academy was formed in 2015 to counteract the narrowing of viewpoints on many college campuses.

In this episode we look at why viewpoint diversity matters just as much as other forms of diversity on campus and in society at large.

Useful links: 
Heterodox Academy podcast.
OpenMind Platform.
"The Closing of the American Mind", by Allan Bloom. 

#163 The High Cost of America First: James Bacchus

President Trump has withdrawn from international agreements, criticized NATO, The European Union, and attacked the policies of Canada, Mexico, Britain, France and Germany-- all traditional allies. He praised President Putin, and continues to sow chaos in the international trading system, reportedly threatening to pull the U.S. out of the World Trade Organization-- W.T.O.

This last step, above all, could have the most serious impact on the American economy, damaging businesses, destroying jobs, and weakening U.S. influence around the world.

In this episode, we look at solutions for climate change, sustainable growth, the need for smarter international co-operation, and the reason why the W.T.O. is so crucial to the future of the global trading system. 

Our guest is former Florida Congressman James Bacchus, Director of the Center for Global Economic and Environmental Opportunity at the University of Central Florida. He was twice the chief judge of the highest court of world trade at the W.T.O. in Geneva, Switzerland.

Jim's new book is "The Willing World. Shaping and Sharing a Sustainable Global Prosperity."

"I believe our President is a pessimist," he says. "He doesn't really believe in America or the American people, despite all he says about putting America first."