KCRW's Scheer Intelligence Scheer Intelligence features thoughtful and provocative conversations with "American Originals" — people who, through a lifetime of engagement with political issues, offer unique and often surprising perspectives on the day's most important issues.
KCRW's Scheer Intelligence

KCRW's Scheer Intelligence


Scheer Intelligence features thoughtful and provocative conversations with "American Originals" — people who, through a lifetime of engagement with political issues, offer unique and often surprising perspectives on the day's most important issues.

Most Recent Episodes

How Today's Uprisings Compare to the 1960s Rebellions

The movements of the sixties, which are captured in detail in Mike Davis and Jon Wiener's new book Set the Night on Fire, are seen as wildly successful. Is it possible Black Lives Matter will be even more significant?

Trump Is the Sweaty Armpit of Monopoly Capitalism

Journalist David Dayen examines how the greatest danger to our American society doesn't come from the White House, but from a few obscenely powerful corporations.

The Devastating 1918 "Spanish Flu" Was Exported from the United States, But Don't Call it ...

"The Great Influenza" author John Barry gave us a warning 16 years ago that is extremely relevant to today's Covid-19 pandemic: It is always fatal to allow politics to trump science.

The Devastating 1918 "Spanish Flu" Was Exported from the United States, But Don't Call it ...

Attacks on the Post Office Aim to Destroy American Democracy

Communications scholar Mark Lloyd explains how the USPS, which is enshrined in the Constitution, became a political battleground.

Something's Rotten in the Corporate States of America

Beginning with the slave trade and leading all the way up to the climate crisis, author Barbara Freese's "Industrial Strength Denial" examines eight of private industries' most egregious crimes against humanity. On this week's installment of "Scheer Intelligence," the author joins Robert Scheer to discuss what the host calls "heinous behavior" on the part of the corporations involved in each case, and, most importantly, how the corporatization of the United States has allowed unfettered greed to cause irreversible harm and an astounding loss of life. As Scheer explains, Freese's detailed book refuses to fall into the trap of villainizing individual actors such as former Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, or oil barons and tobacco company leaders, however depraved they may seem. Instead her book points to systemic corruption that has infected all aspects of American life and politics. Rather than "evil" CEOs, the Scheer Intelligence host says, "Industrial Strength Denial" is about the banality of evil, as Hannah Arendt defined it, that leads companies, for example, in the tobacco industry, to suppress information regarding deadly health outcomes in the name of obscene profit. "Even though I know my book is in many respects kind of infuriating in terms of what it describes," Freese tells Scheer, "I'm hoping actually to get folks to kind of step back a little bit, not look so much at the individuals, but to look at the context [to] recognize that these folks are responding to a society that rewards this kind of denial, and punishes honesty and social responsibility." Listen to the full conversation between Scheer and Freese as they discuss how time and again companies from Wall Street to Chevron have flouted human rights in order to squeeze inordinate amounts of money out of people and the planet.

Questioning Corporate Media's Thirst for Scandal in the Age of #MeToo

The Times Literary Supplement in a rave review of JoAnn Wypijewski's provocative new book states: "It is thrilling and cathartic to watch Wypijewski slice through our culture's flabbiest orthodoxies." On this week's installment of "Scheer Intelligence," Wypijewski talks to host Robert Scheer about the "haste to castigate" that has led to shoddy reporting of the true meaning of trials she has covered, ranging from the media frenzy trial of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein to the framing of five teenagers known as the Central Park Five on rape charges, which she offers as a shocking example of a "scandal media" lynching mob. And it's not just the media that control narratives, but also prosecutors who wield wildly disproportionate power against even the rich and famous. To the journalist, the two very different cases of the Central Park Five and Weinstein reveal that not only is the presumption of innocence always under threat in a court case, but that there is "no one who [can match] the resources of the state," making a fair trial nearly impossible. Throughout her long career as a journalist for Harper's Magazine, The Nation, and Mother Jones, Wypijewski has not only examined sex scandals, but everything from the Matthew Shepard murder to the Abu Ghraib torture scandal, always incisively formulating the questions that few in media seem to want to ask. Listen to the full conversation between Wypijewski and Scheer as the two journalists tackle some of the most controversial and therefore crucial questions of our time. *Correction: in the following podcast Harvey Weinstein is misidentified as the producer of the Hunting Ground, he was the film's distributor.

How Brooklyn Turned Bernie Sanders Into a Democratic Socialist

The astounding political success of Bernie Sanders, a self-declared democratic socialist from a working class family in Brooklyn, was as unexpected as it is groundbreaking. Part of the left-wing leader's appeal has undeniably been his profound understanding of the need to advance and protect the rights of working class Americans from the excesses of capitalism. On this week's installment of "Scheer Intelligence," Dr. Theodore Hamm, the author of "Bernie's Brooklyn: How Growing Up in the New Deal City Shaped Bernie Sanders' Politics," examines how the Vermont senator's New York roots can be traced throughout the policies he's championed in his decades-long political career as well as his presidential campaign promises. Sanders' experiences with New Deal programs such as rent control and tuition-free college, for example, are clearly reflected in the politician's career-long struggles to secure housing rights and affordable education according to Hamm. The "Bernie's Brooklyn" author, who teaches at St. Joseph's college in Sanders' hometown, adds that it wasn't just the programs, but New York's political giants who left their mark on the two-time presidential candidate. "It was the world of FDR, it was the world of Eleanor Roosevelt, it was the world of Fiorello La Guardia," Hamm tells Scheer, "all of whom were committed to programs that were enhancing equality and opportunity in meaningful ways, allowing working-class people to find stability in the city and beyond." Listen to the full conversation between Hamm and Scheer, who having grown up in the Bronx not far from Sanders during the same period, confirms and expands upon the picture Hamm draws of a diverse New York where political debate and activism thrived.

Are Russia and the US Actually Different When It Comes to Meddling in Foreign Elections?

On this week's installment of "Scheer Intelligence," Robert Scheer challenges guest David Shimer on the fundamental conclusions of his new book, "Rigged: America, Russia and 100 Years of Covert Electoral Interference," regarding the "intentions" for US covert operations versus those of the Soviet Union/Russia. Excerpted and lauded in the New York Times and elsewhere in the mainstream media, "Rigged" outlines covert operations in various countries by both nation-states, including American interference in 1970s Chile and post-World War II Italy, among others, but has been best reviewed for its deep dive into Russian interference in the 2016 election, the Obama Administration's subsequent response and whether, as has been frequently alleged, it was all key to Donald Trump's shocking upset of Hillary Clinton. However, in a period where vilification of Russia, China and Iran have ratcheted up in what some see as a purposeful attempt by both Republican and Democratic hawks to reignite Cold War tensions, scholarly history can be weaponized to advance an agenda – or just sell books. Engaging from different historical worldviews, Scheer and Shimer engage in a spirited conversation on an old yet timely debate. "The basic argument throughout your book," posits Scheer, "is that when the United States ... has interfered or intervened in elections, you say it was in the interest of furthering democracy in those nations," but when Moscow has done it is in the interest of "furthering an ideology." The question hangs: Is this not a false distinction? Shimer argues that while there are certainly similarities in that both sides were trying to help "the candidates they liked" to win, the United States believed it was acting explicitly to save democracy, "because the Soviet objective, of course, was to get Communists into power, and those Communists would, as in Eastern Europe, stop holding elections." He added: "The second difference is that in the post-Cold War period, Russia's doubled down on this weapon, whereas America has moved away from it — and in my opinion, moving forward, should ban it." However, he draws a distinction between American "operations to stage coups, which were to tear down democracies; that's a separate bucket, things like Guatemala and Iran, but actual operations to manipulate electoral campaigns" — which perhaps raises more questions than it answers. Scheer also notes that Shimer largely relied on former and current members of the American foreign policy establishment and CIA as sources, bar one Russian interviewee (a former KBG general). This included "unparalleled access" to President Clinton and his former adviser Lawrence Summers, as well as Sen. Harry Reid and former CIA directors David Petraeus, John Brennan and James Clapper. Shimer argues this focus was balanced by his research in Soviet secret intelligence archives, and denies the book, which received healthy media attention upon its recent publication, "is sort of a megaphone for American officials." Listen to the full conversation between Scheer and Shimer as the two discuss the past century of covert electoral manipulations by the rival powers, as well as differing views on Russian interference in the 2016 election, in particular, and the nuances of American exceptionalism, in general.

Are Russia and the US Actually Different When It Comes to Meddling in Foreign Elections?

A new book by the cartoonist the cops didn't let get away

Ted Rall, the Pulitzer Prize finalist, columnist and cartoonist joins Robert Scheer on in this week's episode of "Scheer Intelligence" to talk about his firing by the Los Angeles Times and and his latest book, "Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party." The host commends the journalist for his "courageous" and "gutsy" reporting on the Afghanistan War and a long, noteworthy career. Yet, it is precisely his candid storytelling through words and visual arts that earned him a place in the Los Angeles Police Department's crosshairs. The story of Ted Rall's firing as a cartoonist by Los Angeles Times in 2015 reveals the historically cozy relationship that existed between the media and the police. Writing a blog for the LA Times, in which he detailed an encounter with an LAPD officer who'd detained and handcuffed him for allegedly jaywalking years earlier, ultimately led to Rall's very public firing and a legal case that now threatens to bankrupt him. "I did cartoons about a whole variety of subjects over the years, until 2015," Rall tells Scheer. "And unbeknownst to me, in sort of late 2014, the LAPD pension fund [had invested multimillions] to become the No. 1 shareholder of Tribune Publishing, which owned the Chicago Tribune, the L.A. Times, and 13 other newspapers that are well regarded." Rall said it was his cartoons and his blog criticizing abuse by police officers that antagonized the LAPD and led to his firing. Scheer, who was a L.A. Times journalist for 29 years, recounts an interview he did with then-LAPD chief Daryl Gates in the 1990s around the time of the Rodney King uprising, in which Gates saw nothing wrong with the use of the very same chokehold method that has killed countless victims, notably Eric Garner and, more recently, George Floyd. "You are an example in this whole story of somebody who's punished because the police department was annoyed," Scheer continues. "If it had been an ordinary citizen annoyed, they might not have cared very much." On the topic of Rall's most recent book, which focuses on the split between the neoliberal and progressive factions of the Democratic Party, the two journalists discuss the rise of the progressive politics and what that means for the upcoming 2020 general election. "The book is about the way that that struggle [in the Democratic Party] has unfolded over the last 40 or 50 years," the cartoonist explains. "And it's about the dilemma really faced by progressives [and] neoliberals as well. The Democratic Party isn't viable unless you have both sides of the party together and equally enthused. "But after progressives saw what was possible with Bernie [Sanders] in 2016," Rall goes on, "it kind of whet their appetite for something more than just identity politics change. They wanted real, class-based change; they wanted Medicare for All, student loan forgiveness, Green New Deal, $15 minimum wage. And they're making those demands." Rall predicts that due to the constant betrayal and suppression of the leftwing of the party, progressives might withhold their votes from Biden and that the Democratic Party could break up as could the Republican Party due to the split between the Tea Party and more traditional conservatives. Listen to the full conversation between Rall and Scheer as the two discuss electoral politics, a controversial Rall cartoon with which the "Scheer Intelligence" host himself took issue, and the future of journalism.

The Price of Ignoring the Ferguson Uprising

August 9 will mark six years since 18-year-old Michael Brown was murdered by policeman Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Miss. Since then, Wilson has walked free and the systemic issues that have plagued this nation throughout its history have gone unaddressed. That changed with the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May, which so thoroughly shocked Americans and established that the lessons from Ferguson and the Black Lives Matter movement that rose from it never had been absorbed. Now, at a moment of heightened awareness about racism, Black Lives Matter leaders and Black activists and artists such as the award-winning filmmaker Mobolaji Olambiwonnu are working to bring the lessons of Ferguson to all Americans. Olambiwonnu, a UCLA alumni and first generation African American, joins host Robert Scheer on this week's episode of "Scheer Intelligence" to talk about his as-of-yet unreleased film, "Ferguson Rises," and why he chose to tell the tragic story from a perspective he finds lacking in mass media. "I felt it necessary to reframe this horrible incident," the filmmaker says of Brown's murder, "and give people a sense that there is a way that we can find hope by looking within ourselves, by taking action, by becoming activists and organizing. That there is a way to find hope in each other by supporting one another." Olambiwonnu tells Scheer that when he decided to go to Ferguson to begin filming what would become the documentary, his wife was seven months pregnant with their son. Brown's murder reminded him of his experience of being targeted, arrested and framed by police as a young man, and inspired him to want to make a film that could change the country into which he was bringing his child. The mission Olambiwonnu discovered during filming led him to found the Hope, Love and Beauty Project which aims to "produce inspiring films and events that bring hope, healing, dignity and investment to communities in need across the globe," according to the project's website. "Ferguson Rises" is intended to be the first in a series, and the group is currently raising funds to finish the final edits on the documentary since they have found it difficult to find funding in Hollywood due to the deep-seated racism that exists within the industry. According to Scheer, who has watched a rough cut of the film, one of the most remarkable elements in "Ferguson Rises" is the portrayal of white liberals who remained ignorant of the plight of the Black members of their own communities. "The lessons [in your film are] so obvious," says the "Scheer Intelligence" host. "Basically, people in the white community didn't understand what was happening [in Ferguson, or] didn't want to understand what the relationship of the Black community was to the police in [the St. Louis suburb]. I don't think that kind of naivete in your movie would be demonstrated now after the death of George Floyd [who was killed] in a very similar kind of misuse of police power as happened in Minneapolis. "We've had at least some sense of awakening," Scheer posits. On the GoFundMe page for "Ferguson Rises," the links between Brown and Floyd's murders and the two moments of mass awakening are outlined poignantly. "The lessons of Ferguson are more than just lessons around organizing and civil rights; they are lessons in building community and finding hope in the face of tragedy. These lessons can be instructive to this nation as it attempts to remedy and heal the deep divisions that stand in the way of our recognizing each other's humanity. What happened to Mike Brown Jr. happened to George Floyd, to Breonna Taylor and happens every 28 hours to another African American at the hands of police, security guards and vigilantes. More 'Fergusons' will continue to happen unless we all stand up and do something to end the underlying conditions of racism and injustice that cause this." Olambiwonnu hopes the fact that Black Lives Matter's messages are spreading globally will not only help him finish his film, but also change the way stories by and about people of color are told in Hollywood. "I think the challenge with Hollywood is that as liberal as it may be, it still uses racist sort of categorizations and ways in which it approaches media and products created by Black people," says the filmmaker. "I hope that now, with the new awareness coming about, that that's going to change, that it isn't so difficult to tell our stories, and isn't so difficult for people to understand that our story is a human story." Listen to the full discussion between Olambiwonnu and Scheer as the two explore the systemic racism that pervades every part of American life, the failings of white leaders to address racism in meaningful ways and the filmmaker's personal reckoning with American racism as the son of Nigerian and Jaimacan immigrants.

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