KCRW's To the Point Hosted by Warren Olney, To the Point is a fast-paced, news based one-hour daily national program that focuses on the hot-button issues of the day, co-produced by KCRW and Public Radio International. Featuring three discrete segments - Newsmaker, Main Topic, Reporter's Notebook - To the Point presents informative and thought-provoking back-and-forth discussion. A mix of guests cover a range of concerns - politics, international affairs, technology, the environment - the front-page stories that attract a savvy news audience. Olney and his talented team of producers understand that the key to a good program is casting. With one of the richest rollodexes in broadcasting, the producers spend considerable time and effort selecting the guests. The line-up is constructed to juxtapose ideas that illuminate the issue. Olney gets to the point with hard-hitting questions that advance the story. He keeps the pace of the program fast and exciting. And the result is smart, relevant radio.
KCRW's To the Point

KCRW's To the Point


Hosted by Warren Olney, To the Point is a fast-paced, news based one-hour daily national program that focuses on the hot-button issues of the day, co-produced by KCRW and Public Radio International. Featuring three discrete segments - Newsmaker, Main Topic, Reporter's Notebook - To the Point presents informative and thought-provoking back-and-forth discussion. A mix of guests cover a range of concerns - politics, international affairs, technology, the environment - the front-page stories that attract a savvy news audience. Olney and his talented team of producers understand that the key to a good program is casting. With one of the richest rollodexes in broadcasting, the producers spend considerable time and effort selecting the guests. The line-up is constructed to juxtapose ideas that illuminate the issue. Olney gets to the point with hard-hitting questions that advance the story. He keeps the pace of the program fast and exciting. And the result is smart, relevant radio.

Most Recent Episodes

Trump v. Biden on climate change

President Trump denies climate change. But Joe Biden has laid out "the boldest plan of any candidate in history," says UC Santa Barbara environmental scientist Leah Stokes. KCRW hears how climate change threads the political difference between fossil fuel workers — who are worried about their jobs — and advocates of the "Green New Deal."

A new low for US presidential debates and election integrity

The first debate of the 2020 presidential campaign was like no other. Forget Lincoln-Douglas, Kennedy-Nixon or Reagan-Carter. Can a hallowed democatic institution be restored before the November election?

America's caste system is more than just racism, says author Isabel Wilkerson

The U.S. has a history of repressing people of color, but systemic racism doesn't tell the whole story. Isabel Wilkerson traces it to the caste system in India, which had echoes in Hitler's Germany. She describes an infrastructure that is not seen by whites or people of color, but needs to be looked at.

America's caste system is more than just racism, says author Isabel Wilkerson

Promised vaccine and athlete activism: How will they impact the election?

The Trump administration claims a COVID-19 vaccine could be available as early as November, just in time for the election. Also pro athletes are being more politically active — will their message resonate with African American men?

Promised vaccine and athlete activism: How will they impact the election?

Nuclear war is as likely as ever, says former defense secretary William Perry

It's been 75 years since two atom bombs destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the world learned that nuclear weapons could annihilate civilization. Today, America's nuclear weapons policy makes that as likely as ever. What needs to be done to make the world safer?

What Americans' refusal to wear COVID-19 masks says about politics

Public health officials and many doctors are adamant that wearing face masks can greatly reduce the transmission of COVID-19. Vice President Mike Pence and Fox News are also suggesting that wearing a mask in public makes sense. But President Trump and some Americans are still resisting masks. Does America's devotion to liberty and rejection of government overreach explain why America is struggling to contain the spread of the virus? To understand the history and psychology behind the mask resistance, host Warren Olney talks with Catherine A. Sanderson, Life Sciences Professor at Amherst College and author of "Why We Act: Turning Bystanders into Moral Rebels;" and Clay Jenkinson, editor at large of the national magazine "Governing" and host of the podcast "The Thomas Jefferson Hour." Warren Olney: One of the mottos of the U.S. is "don't tread on me." Is that what the mask resistance is all about? Clay Jenkinson: "It's partly about public ignorance. As Thomas Jefferson said, 'If you expect to be a nation ignorant and free, you expect something that never has been and never can be in a state of civilization.' Well we're testing that right now, and there are millions of Americans who will resist doing the right thing for themselves and their neighbors, just because they have an attitude that the government and no outside entity, including experts, should ever tell them what to do. And of course, it doesn't help that the President of the United States is the chief rebel. If he were modeling thoughtful, scientifically-based public health behavior by wearing a mask and talking about these precautions, millions of people would comply, albeit reluctantly. But when they have a cheerleader who says, 'Oh, just go for it, do whatever you want, it'll go away,' those people become empowered, and their ignorance then becomes a public health threat to the rest of us." Americans in some states have no problem with wearing masks. Has this become a regional issue? Clay Jenkinson: "Yes, it's blue versus red. For example, I just flew back from Portland, Oregon to Bismarck, North Dakota. And in the Portland International Airport, 90% or more of the people wore masks. In Denver, where I had a layover, about 80% of the people wore masks. But the other 20% looked kind of defiant and angry. And when I got to Bismarck International Airport, about 3% of the people wore masks, and they were being sneered at by those who regard this as a hoax, who believe that masks are really just a way of saying you're a Democrat or a liberal, and that they have very little whatsoever to do with public health. So that's the state of things. We've allowed ourselves to weaponize even public health measures on really silly partisan lines, and it's deplorable. It would be one thing if this were just attitudes, but this affects my health. People don't understand that wearing a mask is not primarily about you or me, it's about everybody else." Are some people encouraged by others to act in a certain way? Catherine Sanderson: "Absolutely, it really speaks to the power again of social norms. If we had a president saying everyone should wear a mask, it's very normal, we would actually probably see a rise in mask wearing, particularly in the red states. I see some evidence already that we're maybe moving in that direction. Vice President Mike Pence is now wearing a mask, which he was definitely not doing earlier. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tweeted about the importance of everyone wearing a mask. But again, social norms are formed based on leaders. For some people, that might be the governor of their state. For some people, a sports hero. For other people, it might be of course President Trump." What role does gender play in mask resistance? Catherine Sanderson: "It's not as simple as male or female. It's probably not as simple as red state or blue state. What is most important is that if in a given community you reach a tipping point of maybe 25% of people doing a certain behavior, as long as they're the right 25% of people, people who are role models, people who have social capital, you can actually sway a community. As we start thinking about letting college students return to classes, letting high school students go back and so on, it's going to be extraordinarily important for people to make sure that the norms and the models in a particular environment are wearing a mask and being safe. Because that will encourage other people in a given group or community to do the same." Clay Jenkinson: "I agree with Catherine Sanderson's point that a critical mass can be reached. So if 5% are wearing masks, that gives everyone cover who doesn't wish to. If 25% are wearing masks, [it's] harder to resist. If 60% are wearing masks, then you feel you almost have to get onboard. We need to see people taking that leadership role." How is the Great Depression analogous to today? How did former presidents Herbert Hoover and Franklin Delano Roosevelt approach it? Clay Jenkinson: "Herbert Hoover said, 'Let's just ride this thing out, these laissez-faire capitalist things will get better. Adam Smith was right, the less government tampers with the economy, the better.' Not only was he wrong, but he was repudiated in an extraordinary way by the American people who elected Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who then went on to win three subsequent elections, serving almost four terms as president, which was unprecedented. I think we should all learn a lesson from that. President Trump is committing an act of self destruction in the way that he's handling this. The American people may not be highly educated about these things, but they do have common sense. And common sense is telling them that Pence is probably right and President Trump is probably wrong. ... The way the president has handled this is almost an exact analogy to Herbert Hoover in 1929 and 1930. And the polls are showing this. The American people are kind of rooting for Trump in some ways. But they think, 'Well, wait a minute, a moment like this, you want actual leadership. You want adults in the room, and this guy is sort of behaving like a bully and an adolescent when in our hearts we know we really do need to take the responsible social steps.' So I think that he's probably costing himself reelection by not stepping up and behaving like a true leader here."

Should local police be warriors or guardians?

George Floyd's death has highlighted a long history of brutal interactions between the police and the people they are supposed to serve and protect. Blue ribbon commissions, police reforms, and improved training has helped to a degree but these efforts have not stopped the threats, which put minorities and particularly Black men at significantly higher risk. That's often the consequence of what's called a "warrior mindset,"which is drummed into recruits in training programs for some of the 18,000 police departments around the country. Modern policing is supposed to "keep the peace," but it evolved in part from the enforcement of slavery, and part of its legacy is racial bias, according to Seth Staughton. Since the death of Floyd,there have been multiple incidents of chokeholds, violent attacks on peaceful protesters, and even more killings by police recorded on cell phones and surveillance cameras, viewed by millions of people. Why is this happening? To find answers, Warren Olney talked to Seth Staughton, a former policeman in Florida, now professor at the University of South Carolina's School of Law and a recognized authority on police behavior. Warren Olney: What kinds of reforms would incentivize police departments to keep the peace and protect rather than being at war with much of society? Seth Stoughton: There are a whole range of things that need to happen, and a number of those changes aren't actually changes that need to be made within policing. A number of those changes need to be made in society more broadly. I don't think we have a race issue in policing, I think we have a race issue in society that is reflected and often magnified in police encounters. We will never fix race issues and racist issues in policing without ultimately fixing those problems in society more broadly. But one thing that we can do outside of the context of policing is to change how we evaluate the success or failure of police agencies. Right now, when we evaluate whether a police chief or the police agency is doing a good job, we look at crime rates. Policing definitely has a relationship with crime, but that's just one aspect. When we reward a police agency or a police chief because crime rates are going down, or when we punish a police agency or fire a police chief because crime rates are going up, we may be rewarding or punishing them based on factors that are largely and sometimes entirely outside of their control. We may also be creating perverse incentives when a police agency or a police leader is under pressure to reduce crime. They can adopt aggressive zero tolerance approaches that are effective, or at least that can be effective in bringing down crime rates in the short term, but can ultimately actually be criminogenic, meaning they can increase crime rates in the mid-term or the long term. If officers see crime fighting as the most important aspect of their job, they'll view things like civil rights as obstacles to their job rather than the fundamental tenets that help define their job. So that attitude of being "the thin blue line that separates society from chaos as part of a higher calling which should know no bounds," is problematic and can contribute to repressive and oppressive policing. Olney: How difficult is it to get officers to try to restrain one another in circumstances such as the one we saw with George Floyd in Minneapolis, where one officer was pushing his knee down on the man's neck and the others officers weren't doing anything about it? Stoughton: It's very difficult for one officer to criticize another officer, particularly if it could be considered as criticizing another officer in public. Policing has a hierarchical structure; there has to be a chain of command. It can be very difficult for officers to criticize higher ranking officers or senior or more experienced officers. So for a recruit to criticize a more experienced field training officer is to go against many of the cultural norms in policing. That's not an excuse, but it is something of an explanation and it helps inform us on what needs to change. There are programs like the New Orleans Police Department EPIC program; Ethical Policing is Courageous, which puts peer intervention at the center of agency culture. It recognizes that one of the most powerful forces in affecting how we behave is what we think our peers expect us to do in any given situation. Social psychologists call this normative conformity; in most situations we behave the way our peers and people around us expect us to behave. So what EPIC did was to take peer intervention and make it about helping other officers instead of just protecting the public from a rogue cop. Given the solidarity in what can be a very "us versus them" mentality, when one officer sees another officer lose their cool, he has an obligation to step in to help save them from making what could be a career ending mistake. If you want to protect other officers, you need to be courageous enough to criticize them and to stop them. That's been a very successful program that I think can be more widely adopted in other agencies. Peer intervention needs to be part of police culture. The Supreme Court and the Attorney General Bill Barr Later Olney talks with Dahlia Lithwick, on the latest decisions from the Supreme Court and what those decisions say about the Chief Justice, President Trump's conservative court, and the President's Attorney General William Barr.

Is the American identity undergoing a transformation?

Solidarity demonstrations continue across the U.S.protesting police violence and the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis officer. Diverse groups demand police reform now. The message has reached the White House, and President Trump has signed an executive order promoting what he called "the highest and strongest standards in the world." California Democrat Karen Bass, Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus is the lead author of police reforms designed by the majority party. She told KCRW's Warren Olney that "what the president and my Republican colleagues have done is to take our bill, incorporate some major categories in it but they've taken the teeth out. And I think that the hundreds of thousands of people on the street are looking for teeth. They're looking for substance, they're looking for significant, transformative change." Also on the podcast Olney talks to two professors about Black history, racial misconceptions, and Black female leadership. Duchess Harris teaches American Studies at Macalester College, and is the author of "Racially Writing the Republic: Racists, Race Rebels and Transformations of American Identity." Kimberle Crenshaw teaches law at UCLA and Columbia and is co-founder and executive director of the African American Policy Forum. Warren Olney: What are some of the other things that white people very specifically need to learn about the black experience? Duchess Harris: White people need to learn that as much as you want to say that you do not see color, you must see color in terms of what your behavior is around all public policy issues. The late, great novelist James Baldwin said: I'm not sure if you're a racist, but I'm confident that I'm not in your unions, and not on your school boards. And he goes on down a list of all the spaces where people would have influence in society and those spaces lack Black leadership. We have fundamentally different histories and we have different backgrounds. People are afraid to see that there's actually a culture and for Black Americans, there is a culture to celebrate, we need to celebrate being Black. People think that Blackness only has a deficit, without history but there's actually culture to celebrate. Just an acknowledgment of achievement. Warren: Are we seeing a "transformation of American identity?" Kimberle Crenshaw: This is the story that's yet to be written. We've had other times in history where it appeared as though some found fundamental change and we've been disappointed. I think the civil rights movement is an example in which there was a lot of hope, a possibility that America will respond to the speech that Martin Luther King gave. Part of his speech that really circulates in our consciousness, is the idea that we should be judged by the content of our character, not the color of our skin. But his deeper challenge to the American consciousness was whether they would look at American race relations, look at hierarchies in America and understand that those deficits were products of promises that were never fulfilled. So the most important part of the speech, in my view, was when King said we're coming to the capital to cash a promissory note; a commitment that has been stamped insufficient funds. So literally, he was articulating this idea about structural disrepair, all of the ways that the history of white supremacy of slavery and then segregation actually were material dimensions of life. We needed an intervention that went beyond the idea that the problem was prejudice or the problem was we don't know each other well. He was demanding something far more transformative. So I think we're in this moment where we're using the language of structural reform. But do people really have a sense of what that entails? Are we going to sort of just fall back on old ideas about what race discrimination actually looks like? That is the fundamental question of the moment? Beyond American Health Care Later Olney talks with Ezekiel Emanuel, former health care advisor to President Obama and now a member of Joe Biden's Public Health Advisory Committee about his new book "Which Country has the World's Best Health Care." Olney and Emanuel talk about what the US can learn from other countries when it comes to insurance companies, universal health care, and the high cost of drugs. Warren Olney: What ideas from other countries could we adopt and should insurance companies be involved in the healthcare process or do you favor a single payer system? Zeke Emanuel: Inevitably, insurance companies are going to be involved because they pay so much money to doctors, hospitals, home health care agencies, laboratories. One of the important results of my book is that with single payer, we understand this to mean the government pays hospitals, the government pays doctors. But there's also single payer where people pay into the government and then the government pays the private insurance companies. People get to choose their private insurance company and then that private insurance company is responsible for coordinating and organizing the care. That latter model where you have a choice of private insurance company exists in the Netherlands and in Germany and I think that kind of model could be well adapted to the United States.

KCRW Presents: Samaritans

A four-part documentary series from KCRW. In the first episode of Samaritans, we meet Christine Curtiss, learn where she came from and what her everyday life is like on the street. She has a community of friends in Mid-City, LA who look out for her. One of them enlists the local government. Follow her story and unpack the homeless experience in LA. Listen to all four parts of Samaritans here.

The link between racial and environmental injustice

The killing of George Floyd is the focus of protests around the globe. His last words, "I can't breathe," have become a powerful phrase. Communities of color and those living in poverty have also been hit hard by environmental pollution and the COVID-19 pandemic, which targets the lungs. Warren Olney looks at connections between Black Lives Matter, the coronavirus pandemic, and climate change. He hears from Tamara Toles O'Laughlin, North America Director at 350.org, a movement aimed at ending fossil fuels. Warren Olney: Mattias Lehman, digital director for the Sunrise Movement, said that in this country, environmentalism was separate from racial justice. He said, "It was something for white people who liked big animals." Tamara Toles O'Laughlin: "Charismatic megafauna. I always joked that my favorite of them are human beings. But if you look at the work of environmental protection, of resource protection, of protection of public and private lands, it often looks like a lone white man standing in the forest trying to determine what the world will look like. And that is not what any environmental work should be striving for. It's not what the imagery should hold. It makes no room for what we've built since then, given that we have lots of folks moving into cities. If we have environmental work that speaks to people where they are, [then] water, air and access to health become really distinct concepts, and it feels like a luxury item when it shouldn't." Talk about the urban planning process. For example, New York City was put together with an eye to segregation and keeping African Americans particularly on the other side of the freeway. Tamara Toles O'Laughlin: "Frederick Law Olmsted and Robert Moses, two of the city's most famous master planners, look at what they did with their power to carve out from the earth spaces where people will spend time together, build their lives, live and die. Frederick Law Olmsted made some choices about communal space and giving people access. He designed Central Park [in Manhattan] and Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Robert Moses ripped up the shorelines, moved highways, and made bridges too low for people to be able to pass. He redesigned cities to separate communities, created the concept of suburbia, and created and deepened the lack of transportation. So there was a really malevolent design to keep people separate, to design their lives with or without access to a healthy environment or green space. So it's been really, really incredible to find that in moments like this, when this country is in an unrest over the murder of George Floyd, that it's not just about the incident that led to his death, but the way that his community was designed. Poor design segregates people and subjects them to poor health because they're exposed to transportation-related pollution and air quality issues. And that's made them more susceptible to COVID. So there's nothing about this moment that we're in that isn't about design." Is this a moment when we can come together and start making changes? Tamara Toles O'Laughlin: "I think it's a time for us to start undoing some things. It is a strange moment. We're in the middle of an uprising because people have had enough. We're in a moment where the threads of democracy are bare. ... It's also a good moment to recognize who is making the most of multiple tragedies as well. As oil, coal and gas companies get $50 million in taxpayer money during the pandemic, there are communities full of people by waiting with baited breath to find out [whether] will they get a $1200 check to make them really unlikely to meet any of their needs. So I think the American experiment is under review, and the only way forward is for us to figure out what we have to undo. I think [that involves] ripping up some highways, giving people access to good jobs, [building] infrastructure that actually serves our chosen purpose at this moment. And human health is a good way to go. So as we are in this moment, I'm looking at my undo list. Separately in the podcast, Warren Olney speaks with Tania Chairez, graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and an undocumented immigrant who was brought to the U.S. at the age of 5. Warren Olney: Are you anxious while waiting for the Supreme Court decision on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and how do you cope? Tania Chairez: "It's not a new feeling for me to have to have to think about — every single morning — what's going to happen tomorrow. Every single week, every Monday, I wake up and just immediately Google 'Supreme Court DACA decision.' Did it happen today? Did [it] not happen? That's my ritual every week because it's supposed to come out in June. It's definitely keeping me on the edge of my seat. But whatever they decide, I hope that the community and that people who can vote and can call their senators will realize that what we actually need is Congressional change. It's not okay to continue to have undocumented people serving as essential laborers, but not receiving any kind of support from the government, nor having any kind of status."

Back To Top