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Interviews (151)

A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW

Our goal is to give benevolent nudgers an instruction manual.  The evil nudgers have already mastered most of these tools, alas.

-- Richard H. Thaler, Coauthor with Cass R. Sunstein of Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness

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Nudge

In a most intriguing yet wonkish book -- Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness -- Professors Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein (who has been nominated by President Obama to serve as "regulatory czar" overseeing the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs*) bring the world of behavioral economics down to a very entertaining and user-friendly plane. Talking about choice architecture, they give concrete examples in chapter after chapter of how real people pick and decide their way through life, sometimes effectively, other times to their own detriment. They look at all kinds of institutional "nudges" that influence choices, from street stripes painted to fool drivers into slowing down, to targets in urinals that, well, you get the picture -- nudges are everywhere. And the authors show ways we can all nudge and get nudged more wisely. Sometimes, it's as simple as designing a better form or engineering-in a better default option.

Unhappy about your retirement plan choice? This book will help you think about how you picked it. Eager to save the planet? This book identifies painless ways to help do that. There's plenty, too, about political choices and existing or potential governmental nudging. How about privatizing marriage, fixing Social Security, or simplifying tax returns? It's all in the book.

BuzzFlash found much to like in Nudge. It's one of those books that sticks with you, making you more self-aware and alert to possibilities. Our thanks to Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein for simply illustrating choice architecture concepts and showing the value of implementing simple but significant changes.

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BuzzFlash: In Nudge, you talk about everyday decisions people have to make – what will a hungry kid choose from the school cafeteria line, or which Medicare Plan D drug coverage will a retiree choose?  Choice architects are the people or committees that help shape those decisions by making it easier or more appealing to pick one thing and not the other. Is that a fair summary of the role of bureaucrats and managers who have the power to offer choices?

Richard H. Thaler: Yes, Good start!Richard H. Thaler

BuzzFlash: Nudges by your definition are well intentioned. Benevolent nudgers “are self-consciously attempting to move people in directions that will make their lives better.”  Can you contrast that to a more nefarious choice architecture?

Richard H. Thaler: Nudgers CAN be well-intentioned but can also be self-interested.  We are being nudged all the time by marketers, religions, spouses, etc.  Sunstein and I did not invent nudging!  Our goal is to give benevolent nudgers an instruction manual.  The evil nudgers have already mastered most of these tools, alas.

A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW

I would say there is an increase in interest in the white nationalist movement now, but not necessarily an upsurge in violence that is out of the ordinary. It's something that is always there ...

-- Leonard Zeskind, author, Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement from the Margins to the Mainstream

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BuzzFlash is deeply concerned, yet eager to understand what's behind the recent killings at a Kansas reproductive health clinic and a Washington, D.C. Holocaust museum. Both prime suspects, Scott Roeder and James von Brunn, have had long and active relationships with radical right-wing groups such as the Freemen, Liberty Lobby and the National Alliance. Today we called up a person who has studied extremist groups and the shooters they spawn for decades -- author and anti-racism activist Leonard Zeskind.

Leonard Zeskind

In his heavily researched and much lauded book, Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement from the Margins to the Mainstream, Zeskind describes two extremist factions among the white supremacist, neo-Nazi, Holocaust-denier and anti-Semitic groups. The mainstreamists, he says, are like David Duke -- they seek a political base and larger numbers. The vanguardists are more interested in going out on their own -- acting on their beliefs in direct, targeted ways.

But as Zeskind told Bill Berkowitz recently: "… these are not a string of disconnected organizations sharing only a common set of hatreds. Rather, this is a single movement, with a common set of leaders and interlocking memberships that hold a complete and sometimes sophisticated ideology. Further, the white nationalist movement today is organized around the notion that the power of whites to control government and social policy has already been overthrown by people of color and Jews, rather unlike the Klan of the 1960s which sought to defend a system of racial apartheid in the South.”

Zeskind talked with BuzzFlash about the relationship between the leaders and the shooters who make up a clearly dangerous radical movement. He suggests how America should see them, and how to respond.

A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW

So when you have The New York Times, on the front page, posing a self-evidently ridiculous notion like a politically savvy challenge to evolution -- actually it's not. It's a politically savvy challenge to the poor bastards who are trying to teach high school biology.

-- Charles P. Pierce, humorist and author, Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free

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BuzzFlash readers have been flocking to support reader-accountable progressive journalism and community by buying Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free from the BuzzFlash Progressive Marketplace -- and with good reason.  Pierce has written an irreverent, droll, insightful account of how the land of the enlightenment -- which threw off the monarchical shackles of Europe -- has come to value "truthiness" and belief not grounded in reason or science.  In short, a good deal of this great nation has become grounded in a parallel universe that has little to do with fact or enlightened innovation.

Pierce told us that BuzzFlash was one of the first Internet sites he reads regularly.  We have to admit here at BuzzFlash; we have found a soulmate.

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Charles P. Pierce

BuzzFlash: I understand that you decided to write Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free during a visit to the creation museum. Can you discuss that?

Charles P. Pierce: Actually it's a little bit more complicated than that. I realized, as I was going through my past work, that there were a couple of things that kept running through it. I think I was most struck by what eventually coalesced into the thesis of the book, when I was watching the extended media spectacle around the Terri Schiavo case, where people stubbornly, and I think stupidly, self-destructed on so many different levels that it just looked like people willing themselves over a cliff. At about the same point, I was reading a newspaper and saw a thing about the building of the "creation museum." In an update, they talked about what would be the fundamental belief of the creation museum - that humans and dinosaurs had coexisted somehow, and they mentioned there was an exhibit where they had dinosaurs with saddles on them, showing you how men would have ridden dinosaurs when they both coexisted.

A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW

Hate-talk radio is all about Manichean dualism: Dividing the world into good and evil, black and white, conservative and liberal. And I’m convinced that it actually services a significant bloc of the American public that craves this kind of explanation of their world, because it has a comforting value to them. These are the people Robert Altemeyer calls “the authoritarians” –- the people who actively seek authoritarian rule.

-- David Neiwert, author, The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right

If BuzzFlash has emphasized three things in its nine years of being online as a progressive news and commentary site over nine years, it's that the right wing engages in demagoguery, hypocrisy and lies.

Right-wing radio and television roll all three of these nefarious techniqures together and deliver up a combo plate heaped high with a dangerous appeal to primal fears and emotions that threaten the basis of a reasoned democracy based on mutual respect.

They also threaten the "other" -- as in "liberals," for instance -- by branding them ("us") as the enemy.  We might laugh condescendingly at right-wing media shills, but they are very dangerous indeed.

As David Neiwert writes in his introduction, "Eliminationism [is] a politics and a culture that shuns dialogue and the democratic exchange of ideas in favor of the pursuit of outright elimination of the opposing side, either through suppression, exile, and ejection, or extermination."

Their rhetoric is "focused on an enemy within, people who constitute entire blocs of the citizen populace. It advocates the excision and extermination of those entire blocs by violent or civil means."

A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW

Americans tend to pride themselves on getting a “bargain”, getting a good deal.  But often a cheap price means that people in other countries aren’t getting a fair wage.

-- Nancy Jones, Chicago Fair Trade Director

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For years BuzzFlash has supported the Fair Trade movement by promoting and offering Fair Trade items as premiums. It represents BuzzFlash's commitment to economic justice.  Fair Trade also represents our unique model of underwriting progressive news and commentary through the purchase of progressive consumer items.  BuzzFlash is the only liberal news and commentary website that practices what it writes about: changing our overly consumer and advertising-driven society by asking readers to purchase progressive products that support progressive media.

It's a win-win choice for all those who seek hope and change, and a new media rising from the ashes of the corporate status quo press.

A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW

Tax responsibilities have shifted off of large wealth holders and onto wage earners, off corporations and onto individuals, off the progressive federal tax system and onto state and local tax systems, which tend to be more regressive.  Tax cuts for the rich have shrunk federal services -- and shifted responsibilities to states for health, anti-poverty, transportation and more.  That’s the shaft part. ...
We're in America's "Second Gilded Age."

-- Chuck Collins, senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies and director of the Program on Inequality and the Common Good.

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It's April 15 and the Mad Hatters of the Teabagging Party are off to protest that the extreme income redistribution over the last 30 years continue unabated so that the super-rich become even richer as America's middle class sinks into oblivion.  There's been a class war going on since Reagan was elected, and it's been a war on the working class as the average wage earner got mugged by the largest shift of wealth to the rich in American history.

What better day than April 15 to devote our BuzzFlash interview to a conversation with Chuck Collins, who is a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies and is director of their "Program on Inequality and the Common Good." We strongly recommend you read it in full.  It's chock full of information that reveals the income redistribution scam that has been pulled off in full view of the American public, fattening the wallets of the already financially engorged fat cats.

Also, please make a visit to Chuck's tremendous site, Extreme Inequality. The truth about economic injustice will set you free from propaganda on taxes, bought and paid for by the wealthy.

* * *Chuck Collins

BuzzFlash: Can you explain what the Working Group on Extreme Inequality is and its relationship to the Institute for Policy Studies?

Chuck Collins: The Working Group was formed by a group of labor, religious and civic leaders with the goal of advancing the discussion about the dangers of extreme inequality to our economy, health, democracy and civic life.  The Institute helps staff the Working Group through the Program on Inequality and the Common Good. Our original work was to dramatize that “inequality matters” -- that these inequalities have undermined the quality of life for everyone. 

A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW

Barry Goldwater was only quoted that Social Security should be "made voluntary"--or "privatized," as we would say now--once, during the New Hampshire primary in 1964. The backlash was so ferocious he never mentioned it again.

-- Rick Perlstein, historian and author of Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus

A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW

What President Obama has done so masterfully of late is to say, in so many words, "I'm signing this executive order permitting federal funding for stem cell research, but I realize that many good, moral people are opposed to this, and I don't take that lightly."  I think we can be more civil and empathetic in our discussions of public policy, and I hope my book can be a contribution to that tone.

-- Kevin Roose, author, The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University

A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW

A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW

People want to pass a sustainable future -- a living planet -- on to their kids. That crosses red and blue. And the indigenous people call it the "Well, duh." People are saying, "Well, how are we going to do that?" Because it's not coming from the top down, and people really are rolling up their sleeves. I certainly came back a lot more hopeful than when I first launched in 2005. I just kept thinking, "Man, if we just get somebody from the top who will help, I think we can still turn things around."

-- Riki Ott, author of Not One Drop: Betrayal and Courage in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill

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