#162 The Fall and Rise of Small Towns: Dar Williams

America's landscape of towns and cities is ever-changing. Countless Main Streets and small downtowns were eviscerated by big box stores, globalization, online commerce and poor planning.

But today, many resilient communities are fighting back. Called "one of America's very best singer-songwriters" by The New Yorker, our guest, Dar Williams, tells us how towns and cities can turn themselves around. 

"What I Found in a Thousand Towns: A Traveling Musician's Guide to Rebuilding America's Communities" is an impassioned account of the fall and rise of small American towns she cherishes. Dar chronicles practical success stories and challenges, delivering her message with hope and love.

"The opposite of division is not unity. It is collaboration," says Dar.

We discuss the power of positive proximity and how working on local projects together can bring different parts of a community together. Dar speaks of the strength of weak ties and why they help build networks of people who act as stewards for the places that they love. 

From improving police-community relations in Gainesville, Florida, to the revival of Beacon, New York, we learn of many examples of how communities can succeed and thrive. 

#161 A Fresh Look at Freedom: Russell Shorto

We discuss the American Revolution and the meaning of freedom with acclaimed historian and journalist, Russell Shorto, author of the 2018 book, "Revolution Song: A Story of American Freedom."
Russell Shorto is also the writer of a fine new podcast series, "American History Tellers."

As the nation struggles with a political crisis and national discord, this episode-- released during the week of the July 4th vacation--  has special resonance. We look at fundamental ideas of democracy and founding principles developed before and during the American War of Independence.

As he did with "The Island at the Center of the World," which looked at the Dutch impact on New York, Russell's latest book examines American values, drawing deeply on personal diaries, letters and autobiographies to flesh out six important lives. They include an African-American man who freed himself and his family from slavery, a Seneca tribal warrior who became a wise and respected political leader, and George Washington himself. 

When he began working on "Revolution Song" six years ago, "I thought I was doing history," Russell tells us. "I thought these things were long ago settled. I didn't think I would be living in a time when freedom of the press, freedom of religion and freedom of speech would be even debatable or under attack."

"The intertwined stories of "Revolution Song" give a sense of how far-reaching a phenomenon the War of Independence was," wrote a book reviewer  in the New York Times

#160 The Good News About Drones: Mehdi Salehi

Do a Google search of drones, and scary headlines pop up instantly. "Dangerous Drones Invade Protected Airspace Daily," says one. While others talk about "spooky, scary" drones that invade privacy; get in the way of firefighters, or lead to new types of warfare.

These concerns are real, but there are also many constructive use for drones that save livesmake cities safer and boost the economy.

"Wherever there's a problem, I'm pretty sure you can find a use to overcome that problem utilizing drones," says our guest, Mehdi Salehi of the Parsons School of Design. His company, Drone Labs, specializes in drone design, R&D, data collection and analysis.

Mehdi draws on his own experience as a refugee "leaving Afghanistan, going to Europe and then coming to New York" to build on a lifelong fascination with flight. "I've always believed that you can utilize this technology for good," he tells us in this episode.

Drone technology is rapidly improving. Artificial Intelligence, or machine learning, will lead to many new breakthroughs in the near future. Among the civilian applications that we discuss: 

  • Using drones to help first responders in flood, fire and other natural disasters.
  •  Inspections of high-rise buildings and wind turbines.
  • Tracking refugees in flimsy boats and rafts, who are in danger of drowning before rescuers can get close.

#159 Blockchain: The Next Big Thing? Dan Patterson

Blockchain technology was created a decade ago as a new kind of database for the digital currency, Bitcoin. Within the next ten years, it may transform the internet. 

Today, the blockchain is emerging into a business of its own with many different potential applications. 

Information can be stored and transferred by networks of computers without a central system being in charge. No single large entity can abuse or lose control of the data. Industries, governments and other institutions are investing in blockchain technology to share unique digital records and transactions in a decentralized way that is really hard to hack.

"This code is truly novel. It is something the world had never seen before, because it strengthens itself over time," says our guest, Dan Patterson, a senior reporter for TechRepublic and CBS News. "The chain is strengthened by multiple computers, by tens of thousands or millions of computers, pointing their processing power back at the chain."

In this episode we look at how blockchain technology works and why it may revolutionize real estate transfers, healthcare records, financial transfers, and even the diamond industry. 

More useful links: This article by Nathaniel Popper covers more potential uses for blockchain technology. We also speak about Ethereum in our episode of "How Do We Fix It?"

#158 Our Towns. Solutions & Reinvention. James Fallows - Part 2

Despite bitter partisanship and political paralysis in Washington, local democracy is alive in well in many towns and cities across the country.

That's the surprising finding in "Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey Into the Heart of America," by journalist James Fallows of The Atlantic magazine and his wife, writer and linguist Deborah Fallows. 

In this episode, part two of our conversation with James, we look at the ways many local business owners, city planners, educators and citizens have worked in pragmatic and inventive ways to improve life in their communities.

We discuss public/private partnerships, the enormous value provided by community colleges in the changing jobs market, infrastructure projects, and innovative ways downtown districts have been revived. 

“The good news is the solutions to our civic problems already exist,” said opinion writer David Brooks in a recent column, praising “Our Towns.” “We just need to take these civic programs and this governing philosophy and nationalize them. We need to transform these local stories into a coherent national story.”

#157 Our Towns. Solutions & Reinvention: James Fallows

Congress sank to a dismal 10% approval rating in a new poll.  Most Americans believe the nation is heading in the wrong direction. But ask people about their own lives and local communities, and you are likely to get a very different answer.

According to a Gallup poll, well over 80% of Americans are satisfied in general with the way their personal lives are going.

Despite negative media coverage of "fly-over country" and the "rust belt", exciting things are happening in towns and cities across the country.

"This still can be the country people would like to think it is," says well-known journalist James Fallows of The Atlantic magazine and co-author of "Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey Into the Heart of America." He says that most people don't realize how fast the country is moving toward becoming a better version of itself.

The book and our interview offer a surprising portrait of the civic and economic reinvention taking place. James and his wife Deborah Fallows wrote the book together, traveling to 31 towns and cities over four years in their single engine plane.

The America they saw is deeply conscious of its problems-- from the appalling opioid epidemic to decades of economic dislocation. But many communities are coming up with practical, lasting solutions, in contrast to the rigid paralysis of national politics. 

#156 The Next Debt Crisis: Maya MacGuineas

"The debt will be as large as our entire economy by the end of the decade", says Maya MacGuineas, President of the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. "Every indicator that you could look for in terms of the numbers is on flashing red alert."

The U.S. federal government debt is nearly $20 trillion and rising each year. Interest payments are the single fastest growing part of the federal budget, and higher interest rates in the near future will add to the enormous burden.

A recent report from the International Monetary Fund predicts that the U.S. will be the only advanced economy in the world to see its debt burden grow significantly over the next five years.

As seen recently with Italy's debt, a full-blown bond crisis can erupt at any time. But President Trump and both parties in Congress are barely focusing on the problem. Media coverage is usually confined to the business press.

This episode looks at why the 2018 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act expands projected annual deficits and is a huge gamble for the future of the economy.

Maya MacGuineas also discusses ways to restore fiscal balance through reducing unproductive tax breaks and putting the brakes on spending. Here's a link to a new interactive debt fixer tool and Social Security calculator, showing how your retirement benefits will be cut unless Washington acts. 

#155 The Great Environmental Debate: Charles C. Mann

Far too often, politics and policy are portrayed as a battle between liberals and conservatives, or socialists vs. capitalists. 

But one of the most profound divides of modern times is between optimists and pessimists-- especially over how they view the environment.

This episode looks at the debate between environmental optimists (wizards), who believe we can invent our way to a better, healthier future, and pessimists (prophets), who say we must impose limits on pollution, over-crowding other impacts of humans on the planet.

Our guest, journalist, Charles C. Mann, author of new book, "The Wizard and The Prophet", is a correspondent for The Atlantic, Science and Wired. Two of his previous books, 1491 and 1493, were widely-acclaimed best sellers.


We consider the dueling visions of two remarkable scientists. Norman Borlaug's research led to the Green Revolution, which saved hundreds of millions of lives, and boosted agricultural production. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work. William Vogt, who saw the world as bound by immutable biological limits, was the founder of modern environmentalism, perhaps the most successful ideology of the past century. His book, "Road to Survival", which inspired generations of environmental activists.

Do apocalyptic environmentalists sometimes seem heartless about the lives of poor people? Are technological optimists are too optimistic about the future, with ideas that lead to global domination by massive, centralized corporations and economic systems? We unpack these and other challenging questions.

#154 Fighting Gang Violence: Jonathan Green

From the streets of Chicago and Los Angeles, to indictments this month targeting criminal networks in Savannah, Georgia and white supremacists in Grand Prairie, Texas, tens of thousands of gangs are responsible for drug crimes, brutal killings and other forms of violence.

According to one recent estimate, nearly one-and-a-half million people are members of gangs in the United States.

In this episode, we look at the lessons learned from the successful police and federal crackdown against Sex Money Murder (SMM), New York City's most violent drug gang in the early 1990's. The Bronx had one the highest murder rates in the country. The notorious SMM was the most violent gang in the city.

Our guest, Jonathan Green, is the author of the new book, "Sex Money Murder: A Story of Crack, Blood and Betrayal." He tells the hair-raising story of how SMM brutally dealt with rivals and anyone else who got in their way, as well as the economics of the crack epidemic, which brought great wealth to gang leaders.

This episode looks at the work of Detective John O'Malley, housing cop Pete Forcelli. federal prosecutor Liz Glazer and others who risked their lives to take violent crews off the streets and win convictions against SMM'S leading members. Jonathan also tells the story of gang leader "Pistol" Pete Rollock and two his top lieutenants, Suge and Pipe. 

We look at what works today in the fight against gangs, including the use of federal RICO laws, and intervention by local communities.   

#153 A Solution for Israelis & Palestinians? Dahlia Scheindlin

President Trump's rejection of the Iran nuclear agreement and Israeli military attacks on Iranian sites in Syria are among the latest signs of rising tensions in the Middle East. The threat of war is ever-present.

Twenty five years after the signing of the Oslo Accords, relations between the Israeli government and Palestinian Authority are at a low point. There has been no significant peace process in many years.

We speak with Israeli public opinion analyst, strategic consultant and peace researcher, Dahlia Scheindlin, who is hopeful that a new peace agreement will emerge. In addition to her work with Israelis and Palestinian, she has expertise in conflict resolution in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Dahlia is co-host of the podcast, The Tel Aviv Review.

In this episode, we discuss the proposal for a confederation between Israel and Palestine. Unlike the hard borders in a traditional two-state solution, a two-state confederation would allow for greater movement of both peoples. 

While the idea has received little coverage in the international media, the confederation debate is gathering strength in Israel. The concept calls for a softer separation with more Palestinians living as non-citizens in Israel, while Jewish settlements with Israeli citizens may remain in Palestine. 

#152 Stopping Sexual Harassment: Claire Cain Miller

The growing #MeToo movement has exposed many cases of sexual harassment and retaliation in the workplace.

Among the latest examples is an upheaval at Nike. Female employees, fed up with years of gender discrimination, insensitive behavior and crude comments by male colleagues, took action. Covertly, they surveyed female peers, asking about their experiences. The findings led to changes, with at least six top male executives resigning or announcing plans to leave the company.

Despite widespread media coverage and outrage over cases of sexual harassment and abuse, little focus has been given to what happens next. We look at specific steps employers can take to improve the workplace environment.

In this repeat episode, New York Times journalist Claire Cain Miller, who writes about gender, families and the future of work for The Upshot, explains the challenges ahead in the fight for equality and respect. 

A recent survey found that nearly half of women said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment at work at least once in their careers. A 2015 study revealed that only one-quarter to a third of women who experience sexual harassment report it.

Empower bystanders to act, giving everyone the tools to help prevent harassment. Bystander training is still rare in corporate America, but it has been effectively used in the military and on college campuses.  In some cases, direct action may work. One example was Charles Sonder, in the Snackman case, who disrupted a fight on a New York subway train by standing between a couple and loudly eating chips. 

Other examples of how to disrupt harassment: Drop a book, ask the victim to come to a conference room or if they want to get coffee. Talk to the victim to make sure she is OK, You might say: “I noticed that happened. Are you alright with that?”

Encourage civility: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission designed a program to create a culture of respect for everyone, such as spotlighting contributions by people who are marginalized. The program also offers helpful things to say in situations when you want to act but don’t know what to do.

Claire Cain Miller says frequent workplace training programs can help. Employees and managers should be encouraged to report harassment. Professor Ian Ayres of Yale Law School has written "information escrows"-- creative and safer ways to help harassment victims who may fear that reporting wrongdoing to harm their careers. 

Among other potential solutions: Gender equity with more women in senior executive positions; greater diversity in occupations now dominated by either men or women; generous workplace and family leave policies.

#151 Microtrends = Big Changes: Mark Penn

When we focus on the future, we usually look at the big things: Will the current crisis with North Korea be resolved peacefully? Is President Trump likely to face a big setback in the midterm elections? When will the next recession hit?

Our guest, political consultant Mark Penn, argues that the future is not shaped by broad forces, but by quiet changes-- Microtrends-- within narrow slices of the population.

We hear about "Techno-Luddites", the rise of internet marriages, the huge increase in the number of Americans living into their nineties, and why these and many other trends will have a profound impact on the future of jobs, society and politics.

Ten years ago, Mark showed how the behavior of one small group can exert a surprisingly large influence over the whole country. Now, in his latest book, Microtrends Squared, there are more fascinating examples.

Mark Penn is a pollster and political consultant. He worked for Bill and Hillary Clinton, as well as for Microsoft. In the ‘90s he identified the rise of the “Soccer Moms” who helped elect Bill Clinton. In 2007, he wrote the book Microtrends, detailing many similar trends.

#150 The New Movement to Restore Civility

The National Week of Conversation is a bold attempt to reduce the yawning gap between Republicans and Democrats. More than 100 groups across the country are involved in online and in-person events  from April 20th to April 28th.

We look at how the project works and why it can make a difference.

With American politics increasingly dominated by personal insults, name calling and dogma, a growing movement for greater civility is emerging. "The ever-widening gulf..is one of the most significant trends to emerge in U.S. society in the past two decades," says a Gallup polling analysis.

Our guests in this episode, John Gable and Joan Blades, are leaders of a growing project to bring Americans together to talk it out, mending the bitter partisan divide "one conversation at a time." #ListenfFirst and #NWOC are the hashtags they use on social media.

"When you only talk to people just like yourself, and we only get information that confirms what we already think, we become much more extreme in our beliefs and much less tolerant," says John.

Living Room Conversations, the group Joan co-founded, is hosting five online events as part of the National Week of Conversation. AllSides, the website that features news reports from the left, right, and center, is also deeply involved. Big Tent NationBridge Alliance Partners, NCDD, The National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation, and The National Institute for Civil Discourse are organizing partners. 

Since we started our weekly news solutions show nearly three years ago, "How Do We Fix It?" has been committed to addressing the crisis of political paralysis. We are pleased to promote this cause.

Source: https://www.ted.com/talks/joan_blades_and_...

#149 Fixing Capitalism: Luigi Zingales

From internet giants Facebook, Amazon and Google to telecom titans AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, American capitalism is increasingly dominated by huge and politically well-connected business behemoths.

We look at the case for reform, including stronger anti-trust regulations, innovative use of the Interstate Commerce Clause, better pay for government regulators, and reform of the tax code.

Our guest, finance professor, Luigi Zingales of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, makes a crucial distinction between free markets and big business. Luigi is the author of two widely reviewed books: "Saving Capitalism from Capitalists (coauthored with Raghuram Rajan) and "A Capitalism for the People: Recapturing the Lost Genius of American Prosperity." He is also the co-host of the popular podcast, "Capitalisnt."

In this episode of "How Do We Fix It?" Luigi presents arguments to reduce the power of crony capitalism and restore competition at all levels as an engine for economic growth and fairness.

#148 The World Is Getting Better: Gregg Easterbrook

The facts are hard to deny. We live longer, infant mortality continues to fall, we are richer, less subject to violence-- and despite uneven progress, the world is more democratic than it was 50 years ago.

And yet so many people are gripped by pessimism and fear.

Donald Trump was elected President after repeatedly claiming "our country is going to hell." A recent poll found that just three-in-ten Americans think the country is headed in the right direction. The number of Americans who think the country has a strong national character declined sharply in the last two decades.

Our guest, journalist Gregg Easterbrook is author of the new book, "It's Better Than It Looks: Reasons for Optimism in an Age of Fear."

"If you're an optimist you think that problems can be fixed," says Gregg. "If you're a pessimist, you think the world is going to hell and there is nothing I can do about it."

We look at why our pessimistic outlook has been blurred by the rise of social media, and is getting in the way of urgently needed reforms, from reducing climate change to fixing the national debt.

#147 America's Leadership Crisis: Davia Temin

With turmoil and never-ending drama in the White House, and record numbers of departures from top levels of the Trump Administration, it is safe to say that America is facing a leadership crisis. According to recent polls, a solid majority of US voters disapproves of Trump's leadership.

In corporate America, the once-celebrated Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, is facing growing criticism over his late and insufficient response to privacy concerns and the Cambridge Analytica data hijacking scandal.

University administrators, media titans and the leaders of the US Gymnastics movement have all faced angry protests for mishandling cases of sexual abuse, assault and harassment.

This episode looks at how leaders can avoid the mistakes and embarrassment that could ruin their reputation, lead to their downfall and cause their employees and associates great harm. 

Our guest is the highly respected crisis communications and leadership strategist, Davia Temin.

She speaks from a place of deep experience and passion about the crucial importance of ethics, honesty and diversity, as well as the need for leaders to communicate quickly and clearly, especially in times of crisis. We learn about the do’s and don’ts of crisis communications as well as the benefits of coaching and training. 

#146 Google is Forever. No Second Chances: Brian Hamilton.

Whether it's Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, or Google; internet platforms are a huge force in our daily lives. The recent scandal over the Steven Bannon-affiliated Cambridge Analytica is the most recent example of the downside of data.

This episode of "How Do We Fix It?" is about search, and how it can condemn former inmates to a life sentence without work. In their case, the internet is a "help not wanted" sign, preventing them from getting a job and putting their lives back on track. The cost to ex-prisoners and their families is enormous.

Three-out-of-four ex-offenders are unemployed at least a year after they finish their jail sentence. Less than half are working five years after their release. At a time of almost-full employment, this is a drag on the economy. 

"When people get out of jail, their internet profiles can stay with them forever," says business executive, Brian Hamilton, founder of "Inmates to Entrepreneurs," an outreach group that helps ex-offenders start their own businesses. "There is systematic discrimination against these people by employers who always Google people."

We discuss the social and economic cost and consider whether people should have the right to have their past removed from their search profile, say after ten years. We hear from Brian how learning entrepreneurial skills can help large numbers of former inmates get a foothold in the jobs market.

#145 Making Luck Happen: Janice Kaplan

What do Mark Zuckerberg, hockey great Wayne Gretzky, and best-selling novelist Lee Child all have in common? They all worked to make luck happen for them.

In this episode with award-winning author, editor and journalist, Janice Kaplan, we learn about the exciting ways you can grab opportunities and improve your life. 

There is a clear difference between random chance and luck. The case is made in the new book that she wrote with risk-taking expert Barnaby Marsh, "How Luck Happens: Using the Science of Luck to Transform Work, Love and Life ."

Luck includes chance, but it is not a one-time event and also involves a combination of talent, open-minded research, and hard work.

We learn to how change the odds, why it may be important to move to places where your chances of success improve, and why having a positive outlook boosts your chances of long-term success.

Winning the lottery, says Janice, "is not a great example of the kind of luck we're talking about, where you do have an input, where you can change things."

#144 What Works to Prevent Gun Violence: James Burnett

The debate over gun violence is deeply polarized, but almost everyone agrees it's an urgent problem and that far too many people are being killed and injured by firearms in the United States.

The toll is more than 100 deaths per day-- a much higher rate than in other wealthy nations. Unlike the appalling killings in Parkland, Florida, Newtown, Connecticut, and at other schools, most gun murders involve a single victim and don't get national media coverage. Mass shootings account for less than 2% of all gun-related deaths.

In this episode, we ask: of all the widely-touted proposals to reduce the rate of gun violence, which ones would actually work the best?

Our guest in James Burnett, Editorial Director of The Trace, an independent, nonpartisan newsroom that shines a light on America's gun violence crisis. 

We have an estimated 300 million guns in America-- about one for every household. But would banning military-style weapons and bump stocks be more effective than improving the system of federal background checks? Are red flag warnings a smart answer? 

Weeks after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, in which 17 people were killed, Florida Sens. Marco Rubio (R) and Bill Nelson (D) proposed new legislation that would encourage states to create gun violence restraining orders. Other proposals include improving gun safety education, more spending on research about guns, mental health treatment and public health solutions: recognizing gun crime as a preventable public health problem. 

#143 Will #NeverAgain Bring Lasting Change? Elizabeth Matto

Within four days of the mass shooting at Margaret Stoneman High School in Parkland, Florida that left 17 people dead, Never Again was born.

In this episode, we ask whether young millennials, who grew up after 9/11 during a time of school lockdowns, will become effective advocates for lasting social and political change.

Digitally savvy students-- survivors of the massacre-- turned to social media with the hashtag #NeverAgain. This activist campaign for sweeping changes in gun control laws became a national phenomenon with a mass following on Twitter and other social media platforms. 

March For Our Lives is planned for March 24th by kids and families "to demand that their lives and safety become a priority and that we end gun violence and mass shootings in our schools," says the group's statement.  

"This generation has become more in tune and in touch with the avenues of political power," says Professor Elizabeth Matto, Director of the Center for Youth Political Participation at the Eagleton Institute, Rutgers University, and the author of "Citizen Now: Engaging in Politics and Democracy.

"They understand that there's a difference between simply raising awareness and sharing something on Facebook, and directly linking it to the political process and showing adults how to hold politicians accountable," she tells "How Do We Fix It?"