#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

#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.