Left, Right & Center is KCRW’s weekly civilized yet provocative confrontation over politics, policy and pop culture.
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Biden publicly calls out Netanyahu. What to expect next?
President Biden made an unusual move this week: publicly called out Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu for attempting to alter Israel’s judiciary. Netanyahu tweeted back: Israel doesn’t respond to pressure from abroad. What consequences might this tension have? Also, the most expensive race for a state Supreme Court seat in U.S. history is taking place in Wisconsin. Electing judges is not unique – many states do it. But is it dangerous when politics get infused into the process? And Baratunde Thurston — author, comedian and host of the podcast “How to Citizen” — talks about power, democracy, and silly bathroom signs.
Are the charges against Trump enough to indict him?
Donald Trump is facing a possible indictment over the alleged hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels. What will happen if Trump is arrested? Plus, climate deniers aside, are liberals and conservatives really that far apart in terms of climate solutions? We talk to a conservative environmentalist who has spent decades in the field. And, a physician talks about whether voters should take age into account when deciding on a president.
Can private companies no longer avoid political fights?
The debate over abortion rights has entered a new phase. Last year’s Supreme Court decision to strike down the federal right to the health procedure and leave it up to states is now playing out with private companies. The country’s second-largest pharmacy chain, Walgreens, is facing criticism from both sides of the aisle after announcing it would not ship or sell mifepristone in 21 states. The medication is used to terminate a pregnancy or treat a miscarriage. This came after Republican attorneys general threatened legal action if the pharmacy didn’t stop selling the medication. However, abortion is still legal in a few of the states on that list such as Alaska, Kansas and Montana. Then, California Governor Gavin Newsom said the state was cutting ties with Walgreens and its $54 million contract. He claimed the pharmacy caved to pressure from the right. Can big companies no longer stay out of these polarizing debates? Host David Greene discusses with Mo Elleithee, executive director of Georgetown University’s Institute of Politics and Public Service, and Sarah Isgur, senior editor at The Dispatch. Plus, while the Supreme Court was once considered a major polarizing force, its perception with Americans is improving. A Marquette Law School poll from January found that 47% of respondents approve of the Supreme Court, up from 38% last July when the court struck down Roe v Wade. And surprisingly, the rise is mostly among Democrats. Can the court continue boosting its standing? Special guest Charles Franklin, pollster and director of the Marquette Law School, weighs in on restoring faith in the High Court. And Stanford Law School’s invitation to a controversial federal judge ended up a complete mess. Before he could start his speech, hecklers interrupted the event and even a school administrator questioned if allowing his talk was worth it. How can universities ensure a public speaker and dissenters can have their voices heard? And where do we draw the line between free speech and hate speech?
Will the lawsuit against Fox News burden other media outlets?
Dozens of incriminating texts and email chains between leadership and top anchors at Fox News were revealed this week as part of the defamation lawsuit Dominion Voting Systems brought against the news station. The filings show that Fox hosts and executives knew former President Donald Trump had lost the 2020 election and that claims of voter fraud were false. But they promoted this narrative on-air because it was what their audience wanted and it was good for ratings. This is a rare case because of the implications it could have on the journalism world. Prior to this, the Supreme Court’s 1964 New York Times v. Sullivan ruling established a high baseline to win libel and defamation cases. They said the prosecution has to show that the news station or journalist deliberately made false statements with a reckless disregard for the truth. Or actual malice. The scope of Dominion’s lawsuit shows that Fox News kept repeating conspiracies they knew were false over an extended period of time. But was it actual malice? Host David Greene discusses with Mo Elleithee, executive director of Georgetown University’s Institute of Politics and Public Service, and Sarah Isgur, senior editor at The Dispatch. And special guest RonNell Andersen Jones, professor of law at the University of Utah and an affiliated fellow at the Yale Law School Information Society Project, weighs in on the arguments from both sides. Plus, a middle school girl in Lewisville, Texas, was punished for how she processed her fear of a potential school shooting. She heard a classmate say, “Don’t come to school tomorrow,” and texted her friends out of concern. Twenty minutes later, she told her mother. When school officials looked into the situation, they determined there were no threats to the school. But they also decided that the student who texted her friends made false accusations about school safety. They punished her with a three-day suspension, and said she would finish eighth grade at an alternative disciplinary school. Though that punishment was later scaled back. Was this a rumor or just a frightened teenager? And, in an era where school shootings have become more common, how should students and school officials handle moments like this? Special guests Talia Richman, staff writer at the Dallas Morning News, discusses her recent article about the incident, “How a Texas girl scared of school shootings was punished,” alongside Lisa Youngblood, the student’s mother.
Was it harmful to label the COVID lab leak theory as conspiracy?
It’s been three years since the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread and completely shut down most of the world. But there are still many unanswered questions surrounding the virus, including where did COVID actually come from? The argument over the virus’ origins almost instantly became political. Democrats and many scientists suggested it likely emerged from nature. But Republicans insisted it emerged from a lab in Wuhan, China, which was labeled misinformation by the left. But this week, that debate came back into view. The U.S. Energy Department said they had “low confidence” that a lab accident was the most likely origin. Can Republicans say, “Told you so?” This ignited a storm of finger-pointing from both sides. And it adds a new facet to the conversation regarding how social media and internet platforms should define or handle misinformation. Was it fair to take down content suggesting a lab leak? And if Democrats hadn’t dismissed that claim, would we be closer to understanding COVID’s origins? Host David Greene discusses with Mo Elleithee, executive director of Georgetown University’s Institute of Politics and Public Service, and Sarah Isgur, senior editor at The Dispatch. Plus, Chicago’s Lori Lightfoot became the city’s first incumbent mayor in 40 years to lose reelection. This week, she failed to make the runoff. Lightfoot served during a tough time in Chicago – she led the city through the pandemic and civil unrest, and tried to fight rampant crime. But 63% of Chicagoans say they don’t feel safe, according to a recent poll. So, what did Lightfoot get wrong? And what does this election say about the politics of the nation’s other big cities? And why do our politics feel so reactionary? Political comedy writer Jeff Maurer discusses his article, “‘Omg Stop Freaking Out!!!’ Is a Bad Response to Right Wing Freakouts” from his Substack blog “I Might Be Wrong.” He weighs in on neverending freakouts from all sides and the evolving political news landscape.
Can Biden get Americans to support Ukraine long-term?
Host David Greene discusses with Mo Elleithee, executive director of Georgetown University’s Institute of Politics and Public Service, and Sarah Isgur, senior editor at The Dispatch. And special guest Evelyn Farkas, executive director of the McCain Institute and former deputy assistant secretary at the Department of Defense, shares her thoughts on the future implications of Biden’s Europe trip. Plus, the Supreme Court is weighing a case that could have major implications for online platforms. The law in question is the Communications Decency Act from 1996, which shields technology companies from being held accountable for the content on its platforms. Changing this law could transform the very basis for how the internet works, but technology can be very complex. And both political parties have different ideas on where to draw the line. Who should decide what counts as political speech or misinformation? Special guest Katie Harbath, fellow at Bipartisan Policy Center and expert on technology and democracy, explains what effective social media reform would require. And a four-day work week once seemed like a pipe dream, but is now gaining traction. Who would benefit from working fewer hours for the same pay? And would it even be practical for many industries?
Are criminal charges coming for Trump allies over 2020 election probe?
The Fulton County, Georgia special grand jury investigating efforts by former President Donald Trump and his supporters to overturn the 2020 election released a portion of its final report this week. The grand jury interviewed 75 witnesses as part of its investigation and said it found no evidence of election fraud. The report also recommended prosecutors pursue indictments against witnesses they believe committed perjury during their testimonies. Though, the report did not list any names of the people they believe lied under oath. Much of the report was redacted, and the rest of the grand jury’s findings are still sealed. But could accusations of perjury lead to criminal charges? And how does this probe fit into the larger content of other investigations around Trump or his 2024 presidential bid? Special guest Holly Bailey, national correspondent at the Washington Post, weighs in on how serious the charges might be. Plus, it’s been a year since Russia began its full invasion of Ukraine. The U.S. has provided billions of dollars in aid, weapons, and support to Ukraine, but all that assistance could be waning. A new Associated Press Norc Center poll showed the number of American adults who support sending weapons to Ukraine has dropped 12% since last summer. How should President Biden prioritize numerous global crises? And how should he measure the strategic interest in Ukraine going forward? Host David Greene discusses with Mo Elleithee, executive director of Georgetown University’s Institute of Politics and Public Service, and Sarah Isgur, senior editor at The Dispatch. And, HBO’s new hit show about a brain-eating fungus, “The Last of Us,” offers a picture of a totally incompetent and cruel government. Is that narrative dangerous in pop culture?
Will war-torn Syria restrict aid after a devastating earthquake?
A 7.8 earthquake struck Turkey and Syria this week, leaving at least 20,000 people dead and tens of thousands injured or stuck under rubble. It was particularly devastating because many buildings were not built to withstand this level of disaster, and it hit a region already torn apart by war. It left millions of Syrians, who are already displaced by the war and neglected by the Assad regime, suffering with little way to access help. The Syrian regime’s relationship with countries like the U.S. is frozen. So, even gaining access into rebel-held regions for non-governmental organizations may be difficult. How can the world help? And are geopolitical tensions forcing millions of people to suffer? Special guest Kemal Kirişci, non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution, weighs in on the conditions in Turkey and Syria on the ground, and how the ongoing war is affecting recovery efforts. Plus, this week President Biden delivered his State of the Union, the annual speech given to a joint session of Congress at the beginning of the year. Biden touted many of his accomplishments and avoided pointing fingers at “MAGA Republicans,” as he’s done in previous speeches. But the president did call out some Republicans for threatening Social Security and Medicare, which was met with boos and shouts from conservatives. Was Biden setting the stage for a 2024 presidential run? And did he break through to the American public Host David Greene discusses with Mo Elleithee, executive director of Georgetown University’s Institute of Politics and Public Service, and Sarah Isgur, senior editor at The Dispatch. And the Super Bowl this weekend is resurfacing calls for the Kansas City Chiefs to abandon some of their traditions that Native communities consider racist and offensive. Why are the Chiefs resistant to change? Special guest Lawrence Brooks IV, race and culture reporter for KCUR, discusses his article, “As Kansas City Chiefs Head to the Super Bowl, Their Violent Traditions Alienate Even Some Local Fans” and why Kansas City fans haven’t abandoned their celebrations.
Are personality politics distracting from the GOP’s agenda?
During his first month in Congress, Republican Representative George Santos from New York has been a giant distraction for the new House leadership. He was caught lying about parts of his job experience, education and even his heritage. He’s now facing multiple state and federal investigations into his personal and campaign finances. Members from both parties and the majority of his constituents want him to resign. And he announced this week he’s temporarily declining his committee assignments. Santos said it was voluntary, and he was stepping down to clear his name and focus on serving his constituents. But what does all the attention on one member tell us about the direction of the new Congress? The House also voted to remove Representative Ilhan Omar from the foreign relations committee. However, a small group of Republicans want to end the partisan war over committee assignments. Do they want to focus on real business? Host David Greene discusses with Mo Elleithee, executive director of Georgetown University’s Institute of Politics and Public Service, and Sarah Isgur, senior editor at The Dispatch. Plus, the Republican field for the presidential nomination in 2024 has been relatively quiet. Former President Donald Trump is trying to regain momentum. And there has long been speculation that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former Vice President Mike Pence will run as well. But now, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley says she’ll announce her candidacy this month. Will this turn out to be a contest of personalities? And how do these people represent different visions for GOP leadership? And the pandemic permanently altered the American workplace. How can downtowns and office managers adjust to a new reality? And what would incentivize people to come back?
Can we change the gun reform conversation?
Monterey Park, Half Moon Bay, and Oakland, California are all reeling from mass shootings in their communities this past week that left at least 19 people dead. In Monterey Park, a city east of downtown Los Angeles, the shooter opened fire in a dance hall during Lunar New Year celebrations. The next day’s festival, which was set to draw thousands of people, was canceled. Special guest Elise Hu, journalist and host for NPR, was supposed to take her three young daughters to perform at the next day’s Lunar New Year festival. She shares her experience trying to make sense of the violence and looking for hope amid tragedy. And with more mass shootings comes the wave of politicians and policymakers demanding gun reform. President Biden is renewing his call for an assault weapons ban, though House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfieldsays he won’t commit to considering any new legislation. Would stricter gun laws make a difference? And is there a compromise both sides could be content with? Host David Greene discusses with Mo Elleithee, executive director of Georgetown University’s Institute of Politics and Public Service, and Sarah Isgur, senior editor at The Dispatch. Plus, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is standing by his state’s decision to reject an Advanced Placement course in African American studies last week. He said the course lacks educational value and is too political due to its discussion of queer studies, reparations, and abolishing prisons. This is the first time a state has rejected an AP course, which is a class that allows high school students to potentially gain college credit. What’s behind this decision and how can policymakers move forward? And special guest Sergio Peçanha, columnist at the Washington Post, discusses his recent article, “Hug an election denier,” and how we can embrace those we love despite disagreeing with them.
What will it cost Dems to raise the debt ceiling?
The Biden administration and House Republicans are already in a potentially months-long standoff over raising the national debt ceiling. The Treasury Department started to enact “extraordinary measures” this week in order to keep paying the federal government’s bills after hitting the debt ceiling, or the borrowing cap set by law, at $31.4 trillion. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen must now suspend some investments and exchange other types of debt to keep the cash flowing, but she predicts that can only last until June. Congress must now raise or suspend the debt ceiling so the government can keep the cash flowing. Failing to act could push the country into default could destabilize financial markets and push the world into economic chaos. Historically, raising the debt ceiling has been an easy vote for legislators. But it’s become a political game of chicken in recent years. Republicans want to slash spending for entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare, but the Biden administration has made clear it wants the limit to be raised without conditions. What’s really behind the hard stances from both parties? And given the clear divisions in the Republican party, are negotiations a good strategy? Host David Greene discusses with Mo Elleithee, executive director of Georgetown University’s Institute of Politics and Public Service, and Sarah Isgur, senior editor at The Dispatch. Plus, Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar were once again granted seats on House committees after being kicked off in 2021 by a Democratic-led Congress. They will both join the House Oversight and Accountability Committee and have already announced their intention to investigate President Biden over a number of issues. What does this tell us about how the GOP plans to use its slim House majority? And what will this mean for Democrats? And Israel is moving toward a dangerous path away from democracy with Benjamin Netanyahu’s reinstatement as prime minister. While Democratic lawmakers are criticizing Israel, President Biden is now weighing how to respond. What could the Biden administration do, as it navigates debates in their own party? And is now the time for Biden to take a stance?
Did Jan. 6 inspire Brazil’s rioters?
Brazil experienced what looked eerily similar to the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Rioters protested outside Brazil’s congress and stormed government buildings, bolstered by the false claim their recent election was stolen. The rally was organized online by far-right groups who supported former President Jair Bolsonaro. Similar to January 6, the disinformation campaign was brewing for months, but security still wasn’t able to prevent the surge. However, there were key differences to what happened in the U.S. Unlike former President Trump, Bolsonaro allowed for a peaceful transfer of power. Are far-right attacks on the government becoming more frequent? What does this tell us about the global state of politics? Host David Greene discusses with Mo Elleithee, executive director of Georgetown University’s Institute of Politics and Public Service, on the left; and Sarah Isgur, staff writer at The Dispatch, on the right. Plus, President Biden made his first visit to the southern border in El Paso. This came as his administration announced plans to crack down on asylum seekers from Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Haiti, which politicians on both sides of the aisle have criticized. Special guest Lauren Villagran, reporter from The El Paso Times, weighs in on the mood near the border as the number of migrants and asylum seekers continues to rise. Is there hope that compromise around immigration policy is coming? And Biden’s aides found multiple sets of classified documents stored in his former offices from when he was vice president under former President Obama. But Republicans have been quick to accuse Democrats of hypocrisy for their criticism of Trump holding onto private government documents at Mar-A-Lago. Could Biden be in legal trouble? And how will the Justice Department handle each of these investigations?
Are House speaker negotiations good for the country?
It’s a new year but the incoming Congress has not been able to start work yet. With a slim House majority, California Republican Kevin McCarthy has faced failed vote after failed vote to try and become speaker of the House without success. This is the first time a bid for speaker has failed multiple times in more than a century. How high are the stakes to elect a speaker? McCarthy is facing a rebellion from around 20 Republicans, many of whom are backed by former President Trump including Florida Representative Matt Gaetz and Colorado Representative Lauren Boebert. Is McCarthy conceding too much power to try and win over those 20 members? And how long will this dysfunction roadblock the Republican-controlled House? Meanwhile, President Biden and Senator Mitch McConnell came together to celebrate the building of a bridge between Kentucky and Ohio as part of last year’s bipartisan infrastructure bill. Is this more political theater or are these longtime politicians trying to show younger colleagues how to work across the aisle? Host David Greene discusses with Mo Elleithee, executive director of Georgetown University’s Institute of Politics and Public Service, on the left; and Sarah Isgur, staff writer at The Dispatch, on the right. Plus, this week marked the two-year anniversary of the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol. What has changed (or not) since then? And sports fans and non sports fans alike were moved by Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamiln’s near death experience during an NFL football game. Why was his injury so significant?
Rants and raves of 2022
In a special show to end the year, Left, Right & Center recaps some of the most important political moments of 2022, and what it all means as we head into the new year. The midterm elections revealed the declining support for former President Donald Trump amid losses for many of the candidates he backed. Is there a growing part of the electorate that’s craving less chaos? How are both parties responding to lessons learned? And the Democratic party found some success by donating money to Republican candidates they believed they could beat in the midterms. Is that a blueprint they’ll turn to again? Or is that bad for democracy? Plus, it’s been more than 300 days since Russia officially invaded Ukraine. How consequential is this war on Ukraine? What’s at stake globally? And could the Ukrainians grab the upper hand next year? Host David Greene discusses with Mo Elleithee, executive director of Georgetown University’s Institute of Politics and Public Service, on the left; and Sarah Isgur, staff writer at The Dispatch, on the right. Plus, the panelists share their New Year’s resolutions.
Reforming immigration amid the end of Title 42
The controversial policy to turn away asylum seekers from crossing the country’s southern border, Title 42, is getting another life. At least for now. First invoked during the Trump administration in March 2020, Title 42 is a portion of the U.S. Public Health code that allows immigration officials to stop asylum seekers from entering America in the name of public health. The policy was set to end on Wednesday after a federal judge said in November the rule was unlawful. But Republican attorneys general from 19 states argued the Center for Disease Control didn’t follow the proper procedure to end the policy last April. The Biden administration continued to use the policy with some changes, though the president has tried to end the policy this year. U.S. Customs and Border Protection estimates Title 42 allowed officials to turn away more than 2.4 million migrants, many of whom would have had the right to apply for asylum under normal circumstances. Now, the Biden administration is furiously trying to finalize its plan for when the policy is likely struck down as tens of thousands of migrants have arrived near the southern border. How can Biden reform the troubled immigration system? And what kind of system reimagining could both parties get behind? Host David Greene discusses with Mo Elleithee, executive director of Georgetown University’s Institute of Politics and Public Service, on the left; and Sarah Isgur, staff writer at The Dispatch, on the right. Plus, special guest Evelyn Farkas, executive director at the McCain Institute and former deputy assistant secretary of defense, weighs in on Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky’s powerful speech to Congress this week. Is support for Ukraine in its war against Russia investing in a better world for all? And will America’s financial support be enough for Ukraine to get the upper hand? Plus, Elon Musk is back in the news for suspending more than half a dozen journalists’ Twitter accounts, bringing into question his support of free speech. How do you balance free speech with public safety?