Talk Cocktail

Jeff Schechtman


Jeff Schechtman talks with authors, journalists, and thought leaders.

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1040 episodes

Why Harvey Weinstein Should Matter: A Conversation with Ken Auletta spite of the supposed transparency of the internet age, more and more we live in the age of complicity. Last month we saw it with the trove of documents and stories that came to light about UBER. Tim Miller’s recent book about Trump's enablers shows how it’s happened repeatedly in the White House, just as Michel Lewis showed us, several years ago, how it happened on Wall Street in the face of the 2008 financial crisis. For 20 years in Hollywood, the complicity around the actions of Harvey Weinstein was airtight. What is it about Hollywood and Wall Street and politics that encourages and even condones such complicity in bad behavior? Long-time media journalist Ken Auletta tells the thirty-thousand-foot view in telling the story of Harvey Weinstein, his rise and fall, through the lens of his enablers and his victims in his new book Hollywood Ending: Harvey Weinstein and the Culture of Silence. My conversation with Ken Auletta:

Aug 10
The Trump Roster of Toadies: A conversation with Mark Leibovich Washington has always offered up an impressive roster of toadies. Yet the Trump administration seems to have offered up a unique period of bowing and scraping. Historically, sucking up takes a variety of forms, from pretty compliments to cloying flattery and outright treachery.  But it doesn't stop there. The kind of sycophant we see from those in the GOP combines other attributes like hypocrisy, lying, and manipulation.    Throughout history we’ve certainly seen our share of sycophants; from the courts of Caligula to Dickens' Uriah Heep.    We certainly get to see a lot of this in Mark Leibovich's new book Thank You For Your Servitude    My conversation with Mark Leibovich:

Jul 27
Negotiation for Fun and Profit: A Conversation with Rich Cohen We spend our life negotiating. At work, at home, with kids and with friends. Rich Cohen stories of his father Herbie, is the story of making all of this work for you, and what it looked like up close and personal.     As Rich tells his story, it's not Geoffrey or Tobias Wolff seeing their father’s story through the lens of deception, but through a celebration of the power of imagination. Rich Cohen is the New York Times-bestselling author of Tough Jews, Monsters, Sweet and Low, The Sun & the Moon & the Rolling Stones, The Chicago Cubs, and The Last Pirate of New York.  His latest is The Adventures of Herbie Cohen My conversation with Rich Cohen:

Jul 18
Another Love Discourse the world makes little sense. That’s why when the right novel comes along, it helps us to look inward at the things that really shape us, move us and help carry us into tomorrow. For a time, amidst the dark days of the pandemic, there was a precariousness about life itself. When we felt more confident of coming out of that, it gave way to an equal uncertainty about our most intimate relationships. It opened a pandora's box, letting out our grief and fear and inadequacies. This is the stuff of Edie Meidav's new novel Another Love Discourse   My conversation with Edie Meidav:

Jul 04
Your Dreams Are Not What You Think we talk about our dreams, it's usually in the context of limitless possibilities. It’s the one often private place where we are free from the constraints of reality. Seemingly limited only by our imagination, our dreams often hold the key to how we see our future. But those dreams have a context. Our life experience, our social position, race, gender and status all shapes those dreams. It’s an interesting irony that the dreams that we think can move us to unlimited possibilities, can often hold us back. Our dreams both shape who we become, as we think we shape them. We explore this with Karen Cerulo and Janet Ruane in their book Dreams of a Lifetime - How Who We Are Shapes How We Imagine Our Future     My conversation with Karen Cerulo and Janet Ruane:

Jun 28
David Gergen on How Great Leaders are Made often look at leadership today as about celebrity or attention. In a time when we have elected a reality show star as President, when celebrity politics is the lifeblood of the American political class, it’s hard to imagine world class a politician or global leader emerging today It makes you wonder, Is there something in our culture that has become antithetical to leadership? We watch Valdamer Zalinsky in wartime, and we’ve seen the leadership qualities that are possible. We even see it in some of our military leaders…but why the seemingly dearth of political leaders today. David Gergen, who has devoted more than half a century of public service, and has served as a White House adviser to four US presidents of both parties: Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Clinton, examines the perils of leadership in his new book Hearts Touched with Fire: How Great Leaders are Made   My conversation with David Gergen:

Jun 22
Why Anxiety is Good for You! seems we live in a society where everyone wants to be protected. We don’t want to hear views we disagree with for fear that it might upset us, we don't’ want to go back to the office because we get stressed by a commute. We are afraid to let our kids go out and play unless they are supervised. We are anxious about money, about politics, about family…it’s no wonder there is an entire drug industry with provides for our every anxious moment. We live emerged in first world problems that pale compared to the Greatest Generation, that fought a World War, lived through a Depression and did duck-and-cover drills in fear of nuclear annihilation. Just maybe the fault is not in our society but in ourselves. Maybe instead of trying to eliminate all that might make us anxious, suppose we just got better at dealing with it. Just Maybe coping has fewer side effects than medication? Maybe that is what we were trained to do, as man first stepped onto the savannah, and the lion came after him. He learned very quickly to cope with anxiety. That coping is still buried somewhere in our DNA This is where Tracy Dennis-Tiwary takes us in her new book Future Tense - Why Anxiety Is Good for You .   My conversation with Tracy Dennis-Tiwary:

Jun 07
Has Mitch McConnell Destroyed the US Senate? In our lifetime and in the 246-year history of the republic, there was a time when great men walked astride the United States Senate. It was the crucible of democracy. Once referred to as the greatest deliberative body, and a cooling saucer to modulate the nation's passions, it now fails on all counts. Today it’s filled with small-minded men and women, whose desire for reelection, money, and partisan advancement over the interests of the people, rules the day. And while there may be more crazies and corruption on one side, the other side has proven itself to be weak freckles and lacking in imagination. All of which makes them just bad at politics. Certainly, the “how we got here” is a complicated story. There is plenty of blame to go around. However, since 2006, when he became minority leader, Mitch McConnell has sucked dry any moral compass the Senate might have. McConnell's actions during the Obama and Trump presidency may mark the end of the Senate as we know it. Whether it also marks the end of democracy is for today at least, an open question. That's the question that Senate historian Ira Shapiro takes up in his new look at McConnell Betrayal How Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans Abandoned America My conversation with Ira Shapiro: 

May 26
Another Way Forward for Democrats

Back in 2002 in the wake of the George W. Bush election political demographer Ruy Teixeira, along with journalist John Judas, wrote The Emerging Democratic Majority. It spoke of the changing demographics of America. It looked at ethic diversity and how it was destined to forever shape Democratic success in the 21st century. This has not worked out so well for a multitude of reasons. It turns out that the feature, not the bug, was the way our constitution was written. Rural voters matter. Books like Hillbilly Elegy, What’s The Matter with Kansas and Kevin Phillips’ Emerging Republican Majority, painted a different picture than Teixeira and Judas. One where rural votes would succumb to the seduction of populism, culture wars and the power of the evangelical right. Enter Donald Trump and his collection of populist crazies. But is this a permanent condition? Is this the real 21st century political future? Main State Senator Chloe Maxmin and her campaign manager Canyon Woodward think there is another way forward for the Democratic Party. They detail it in their book Dirt Road Revival. My conversation with Sen. Chloe Maxmin and Canyon Woodward: 

May 23
How Wars End: A conversation with Gideon Rose Garcia Marquez famously said that it’s much easier to start a war than it is to end it. Certainly, we’ve seen this up close and personal in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and even, if we look more closely at the history, both world wars. It’s difficult to lose a war, but just as difficult to win, since winning a war is certainly not the same as winning the peace. We see often in the corporate world that the founders of companies may be great at startups, but not so good at running mature companies. War is not that different. Those that start them, that direct them, and sometimes even win them may not be so good at ending them in a way that cements or makes worthwhile any victory. All these are important things to think about in the crucible of Ukraine, because someday this war will also end and whether it will be worth the loss of lives and treasure for the Ukrainian people or for Russia is certainly an open question. It’s hard to imagine that either side is thinking about that end game at this point, but certainly, they should be according to my guest on the WhoWhatWhy podcast former Foreign Affairs editor and CFR fellow Gideon Rose.   My conversation with Gideon Rose:

May 15
The Misinformation, Censorship and Noise That The Pandemic Gave Us: A Conversation with Joel Simon everyone is busy opining on the unknown and probably minor impact of a change of ownership of Twitter, we have literally ignored the chilling and perhaps long-term impact that the pandemic has had in enhancing government misinformation, curtailing free speech, and giving more powers to government. All while censuring information that actually might have helped people. And not just in China…but in the U.S. and around the world. It was Churchill who originally said, “never let a good crisis go to waste.” Certainly, governments of the world did not. In China, Israel, Brazil, Egypt India, and int the US Covid-19 gave carte balance to leaders to misinform, misdirect and take political advantage. Joel Simon writes in The Infodemic that throughout the pandemic many people felt as if they were drowning in information, yet in fact, they were being censored.   My conversation with Joel Simon:

May 06
Why the Internet Is Less Safe Than Flying or Driving or Eating: A Conversation with Bruce Schneier metaverse notwithstanding, the nexus between what happens on the internet, and what happens in the real, physical world, is disappearing. The blood-brain barrier between the two has broken. And every day, in our finances, in our interpersonal communications, in our entertainment, in our transportation, and even in what we eat, the connection between our digital world and our real world is further integrated. Reactions to this vary from, “I’m terrified of everything; the government should control the internet,” to, “There is no privacy; do I have nothing to hide; and why should I care if I’m being served up greater convenience?” The fact is that vast sums of data on all of us are being collected, sometimes in the name of convenience, sometimes in the name of national security, and it’s unclear exactly what’s going on. It’s unclear where security theater starts, and real security begins. In short, the cyber world presents 21st-century problems that have not yet been solved, much less, fully understood. We talk about that today with my guest, Bruce Schneier,  a public interest technologist working at the intersection of security, technology, and people.    My conversation with Bruce Schneier:

Apr 28
A Whistleblower Stands Up To China: A Conversation with Ashley Yablon about how different the world is because of whistleblowers. Think about the impact of Daniel Ellsberg, Coleen Rowley, Sherron Watkins, Jeffery Weigand, and Karen Silkwood. Each changed the trajectory of a company or a government for the better, and in doing so risked making their own lives so much worse. So why do they do it? Why do some individuals put their own moral compass ahead of the risks of being a whistleblower? Ashley Yablon might be able to answer some of these questions because he is a whistleblower. His information would have a profound impact on one of China’s largest technology companies. It would result in large fines for the company, but what impact did it really have, and was it worth what it cost Yablon? Ashley Yablon joins me to discuss STANDING UP TO CHINA.   My conversation with Ashley Yablon:

Apr 27
The Pandemic Profiteers: A Conversation with J. David McSwane if the details were never reported in real-time, you knew instinctively during the chaos of the early days of the Pandemic, in the winter of 2020, that some people would get rich. Testing, PPE, Government loans, PPP, small business loans, and all overseen by Donald Trump and his cronies. What could possibly go wrong? Obviously, a lot did go wrong. As a result, many died and many got rich. The pandemic in a way gave rise to a group of American oligarchs, many with a checkered history at best, who took advantage of both the inherent corruption and the blatant incompetence of the administration. And yet the stage was set for it all, by mistakes over the years that were made by both political parties and even some politicians with better intentions. Now, as the dust settles the story of what became Pandemic Inc. is being told by J. David McSwane. My conversation with David McSwane:

Apr 18
Is Crypto a Libertarian Dream or a Left-Wing Nightmare? A Conversation with Daniel Pinchbeck, NFTs, Dows, and the blockchain they ride on are still, in the view of many, the decentralized financial instruments of the future. Even if they never replace the fiat currencies of nations, their roles in markets are here to stay. And crypto, like everything else, has become politicized. You would think that an asset class that is almost pure speculation and not even about owning anything would be immune from the primal forces of partisanship. But no, both the left and the libertarian right have very different views of what crypto and its sister products on the blockchain and Web 3.0 should be. Few have been harder than the left, who sees in it some kind of pure evil of the market. The good news is that when my guest — author, thinker, and all-around wiseman — Daniel Pinchbeck talks about the politics of crypto, he also helps us to understand what it really is, why it matters and why to the folks on all political sides it should matter in the future. Daniel Pinchbeck has long been considered a Renaissance man and ahead of his time. He’s the author of the books Breaking Open the Head, The Return to Quetzalcoatl, Notes from the Edge of Time, How Soon is Now, and When Plants Dream. He saw around corners long before many others with respect to our ecological crisis and was a one-time executive director of the Center for Planetary Culture. His essays and articles have appeared in every major publication. He’s spoken at conferences around the world and had his work featured in a 2010 documentary. He currently writes the Daniel Pinchbeck Newsletter on Substack.    My WhoWhatWhy conversation with Daniel Pinchbeck:

Apr 15
A Nostalgia For the Journalism of Old: A Conversation with Brian Karem journalism, it may be the best of times and the worst of times. On the one hand the national media is more vibrant than ever before. The NYT, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, as well as broadcast news and cable news networks are thriving, even amidst the post Trump drop in ratings.     For these outlets the transition to digital has been painful but successful. In other efforts, recurring revenue models are driving the success of independent news outlets as well as individual journalists on Substack and similar platforms.  While romantics, like my guest Brian Karem rap quixotic about the 23 newspaper that once were available in New York, news websites and Twitter have now subsumed that, while new sites start up regularly with lower barriers to entry. In his new book Free The Press, Brian Karem argues that journalism, particularly local journalism, is dying and that he has a specific, if very traditional formula to save it. My conversation with Brian Karem:

Mar 23
Corruption is America’s Operating System: A Conversation with Sarah Chayes and journalist Sarah Chayes, argues that we can’t fix our floundering democracy until we face — and fix — our current levels of corruption. In her view, we are in a “pandemic of corruption,” fostered by a network of corrupt businesses and political leaders worldwide. Before we can begin to set things right, however, we first have to grasp what modern-day corruption really is. Behind this evolving crisis, says Chayes, is a shift in the very definition of power. Where society’s leaders once at least paid lip service to the concept of public service, today the only measure of social status, she contends, is money: The pursuit of power has turned into a no-holds-barred scramble for more and more wealth. Chayes, the author of On Corruption in America, explains how we got here, and how we must build a coalition of integrity that transcends ideology, one that has its roots in equity and the public interest.   My WhoWhatWhy conversation with Sarah Chayes:

Mar 10
The Battle of Banks Not Tanks: A Conversation with Bill Browder the minute-by-minute reporting of the ground war, the Twitter feeds, TickTock images, there are broader and more economically complex issues surrounding the war in the Ukraine, and the world’s response to it. Issues that include sanctions, the SWIFT system, and the seizure of assets, including yachts and private planes parked around the globe. All part of the interconnectedness of a global economic structure that Russia, for better or worse, has been a part of. Few understand the intricacies of these connections better than Bill Browder. Years ago, Browder made millions in Putin’s Russia. What he didn’t know was what kind of price he would pay for getting involved in the ever-entangling web of Putin and his oligarchs. The ultimate result was the brutal death of Browder’s lawyer and friend Sergei Magnitsky, who was murdered in prison after uncovering a multi-million dollar fraud committed by Russian government officials. Browder has carried on Magnitsky’s legacy, at great personal risk to himself. That legacy and the Magnitsky Act is a large part of the basis of the sanctions that we’ve been talking about. Long before current events, Browder’s been leading a campaign to expose Russia’s endemic corruption and human rights abuses. He’s the author of the international bestseller Red Notice and the soon-to-be-published Freezing Order.   My conversation with Bill Browder::

Mar 02
Recipe for Survival: A Conversation with Dana Ellis Hunnes: the way back in 1971, with the publication of Frances Moore Lappe’s Diet for Small Planet, the world began to take notice of the connection between what we eat, who we are, our environmental future, and the sustainability of our food supply. Since then, the external forces that impact all of these things have brought more pressures to bear. The state of our climate and its consequences, the quality of our food, and how long we live are all going in the wrong direction. Even more problematic is that each seems to be siloed. Dana Ellis Hunnes, in her new book, Recipe for Survival, takes a more modern and holistic approach in looking at ways to improve our health and at the same time improve the health of our planet. My conversation with Dana Ellis Hunnes:

Feb 28
Tell Me A Story: A Conversation with Frank Rose

It’s the power of narrative that shapes every aspect of our lives. We rush to tell stories to our friends and family to validate our experiences. We buy products and brands because of the story they tell us. We vote, make friends, and even enemies, because of the stories that we believe. Narrative has an emotional pull on us. Sometimes we take away joy, anger, laughter, or sadness. People don’t rush out in large numbers to see PowerPoints, policy discussions, or even most documentaries. But they will react to drama, comedy, or horror. They will like or dislike social media, based on the stories they have ingested. It all sounds so simple, so logical, but it’s often lost in the cacophony of noise, data, and information that surrounds us. Frank Rose writes about this in his new book The Sea We Swim In: How Stories Work in a Data-Driven World

Feb 23
How Global Migration is Actually Moving the World Forward: My conversation with Parag Kahanna no time in civilization have so many forces been at play in reshaping the world. The complexity of everything is growing. Global geopolitical risks are rising. Technologies are impacting everything and creating new anxiety. Climate change is reshaping our very topography. The economic gap within and between nations is rising, and a younger generation feels alienated from being able to control the levers that will shape their changing future. Arguably, this convergence of forces and events is having precisely the wrong effect in parts of the world. Instead of huddling together to take on these challenges, our anxiety and alienation has made the world more tribal, more fearful, more nationalistic, and we see the worst of populism on the rise. Rather than seeing the world and all this change as an opportunity, too many want to dig in, shelter in place, and simply be angry. How we move on from this is the work and insight of visionary futurist Parag Khanna. Khanna's latest book is Move: The Forces Uprooting Us.    My WhoWhatWhy conversation with Parag Khanna:

Feb 14
How Chinese Language is the Core of it’s Culture: A Conversation with Jing Tsu story of how the world's oldest living language adapted to the modern world is one that carries within it the story of how language itself shapes our vision and our thinking. How the quest for progress is often stronger than the pull of history. It’s how a language can literally be reinvented, iterated and adapted, and at the same time carry a country along with it. That is the story of the evolution of the Chinese language that my my guest Jing Tsu tells in her new book Kingdom of Characters: The Language Revolution That Made China Modern My conversation with Jing Tsu: 

Feb 04
A Love Letter to Spy-craft: A Conversation With Retired CIA Officer Douglas London as long as humans have interacted with each other, spies in one form or another, have been with us. To quote the legendary John le Carre, “Jesus had only twelve friends over for dinner, and still one of them turned out to be a double agent.” And while the nature of spy-craft has evolved, its fundamental missions remain the same. To gather actionable information. To get results. So when we look at our failure to fully understand the Soviet Union during the Cold War, our inability to understand what to expect in Afghanistan, our shock with the recent Chinese hypersonic missile launch, and the lack of certainty as to what the Russians are planning in Ukraine, what does it say about the state of American intelligence? Today we’re told that technology is the successor to human intelligence, but what has that wrought, and doesn't it still take humans, and their infinite capacity for suspicion, to understand and interpret that data? Retired CIA officer Douglas London write about this in his new book The Recruiter: Spying and the Lost Art of American Intelligence   My conversation with Douglas London:

Jan 25
Politics Without Celebrity - Kati Marton’s The Chancellor a political leader that is not about celebrity or attention? In a time when we have elected a reality show star as President, when celebrity politics is the lifeblood of the American political class, it’s hard to imagine a politician or world leader whose life is private; who keeps their own counsel, who listens first, who shuns celebrity, and yet proves powerful as a leader. Such was Angela Merkel, who served for 16 years as German Chancellor. Its first and only woman Chancellor, and without questions the glue that held parts of the world and certainly the Western Alliance together for many years. What can we all learn from this Greta Garbo of geopolitics? To find out we have to dip into Kati Marton’s new biography of Merkel,  The Chancellor: The Remarkable Odyssey of Angela Merkel    My conversation with Kati Marton:

Jan 14
January 6th Was a Rallying Point For White Hot Hate we witnessed on January 6th, the level of hostility and anger awash in the country today has real consequences. Demagogues and hateful rhetoric have real power. And while some argue that history teaches us that such rage burns white-hot and then dies out, what happens while it's burning hurts people and sometimes changes nations. It’s really no different than when we see protestors in other countries attacking America, burning the American flag, and taking Americans hostage. In a world moving at the speed of light, tribalism, and hatred for the other, for those that are different, are everywhere. Even in a small Kansas town, That is the story that Dick Lehr tells us in White Hot Hate: A True Story of Domestic Terrorism in America’s Heartland   My conversation with Dick Lehr:

Jan 04
How Fame, Fortune and Education Ended Objective Journalism: A conversation with Batya Ungar-Sargon often when talking about the media and journalism we engage in a board discussion of ideas, policy, and how the levers of power really work What we often forget is that all of this is made up of people. People who bring to the exercise of power and of reporting on it, their own values, education, and personal history. In that fact lies much of what is wrong with the media today. It's how we lost sight of the power of class in journalism, why we’ve tried to bury class differences inside racial differences and wokeness. If all of this sounds too nuanced, Batya Ungar-Sargon, the deputy opinion editor of of Newsweek, helps us understand how it’s shaping our media and democracy in her new work Bad News: How Woke Media Is Undermining Democracy   My conversation with Batya Ungar-Sargon: 

Dec 27, 2021
The Modern Era of Television Begins with HBO: A Conversation with James Andrew Miller The link between what we watch in movies and on television and the business, the money and the people behind it, are inseparable. Business decisions impact and shape what we see, just as one hit can change the finances of an entire company or industry   The story of HBO, and the way in which it disrupted television, beginning back in the early 1970s, is perhaps the penultimate example. Just as today we are going through a sea change with respect to how stories are delivered to us, HBO was the creative destruction of its day. Its motto, like Facebook, could easily have been “move fast and break things.” And just as HBO disrupted television. Blockbuster would eventually disrupt HBO, Netflix would disrupt Blockbuster, and technology and streaming would disrupt everything. But in many ways the story all starts with HBO. That’s the story that James Andrew Miller tells in his comprehensive and entertaining oral history Tinderbox: HBO's Ruthless Pursuit of New Frontiers     My conversation with James Andrew Miller:

Dec 15, 2021
The Shattering: America in the 1960‘s: A Conversation with Kevin Boyle of all that has changed as a result of startups and creative destruction. Nothing is the same as it was because of the sometimes revolutionary ideas of entrepreneurs. In a similar way the 1960s were a time of creative destruction for America and the world. The post war paradigms that had shaped the country through the late 40’s and early 50’s were shattered. And just as today we are struggling, socially, politically and economically to come to grips with the our technology disruption, on a grander scale we are still trying to come to grips with the social and political shattering of the 60’s We explore this with National Book Award winner Kevin Boyle, whose new book is The Shattering: America in the 1960s    My conversation with Kevin Boyle:

Dec 07, 2021
The Post-Pandemic Normal Will Never Be the Way It Was desperately wants to know what the post-pandemic world will look like. Adam Tooze has been thinking hard about it and he thinks he knows.  Comparing the US experience to China’s, he notes how cultural and political differences have determined successes and failures in dealing with the unprecedented challenge of COVID-19. Tooze argues that, like soldiers returning from mortal combat, we are suffering from a kind of national — and even global — PTSD. Tooze, Columbia University history and economics professor is the author of Shutdown: How Covid Shook the World's Economy My WhoWhatWhy conversation with Adam Tooze::

Dec 01, 2021
Has the Death of Faith Made Us More Tribal? The Universe Is on Our Side: Restoring Faith in American Public Life Bruce Ledewitz argues that there has been a breakdown in American public life that is beyond issues or politics. He argues that America is living with the consequences of the death of faith, which Nietzsche presumed would be momentous and irreversible. According to Ledewith, America's future requires that we begin a new story by asking a question posed by theologian Bernard Lonergan: Is the universe on our side My conversation with Bruce Ledewitz:

Nov 30, 2021