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Alan Dershowitz on Preemption and the Hezbollah

Note: this interview was broadcast twice on WGBH radio in Boston.
It has also aired on WCAI/WNAN, WNED, KXOT and KYOU.

The controversial Harvard Law professor, author and celebrity lawyer Alan Dershowitz talks with ThoughtCast about his book “Preemption: A Knife That Cuts Both Ways”, as well as his views on the Israeli-Palestinian-Hezbollah conflict, torture, human rights and our ‘war on terror.’ His premise: the world has changed, and international law must change with it. We need more tools, he argues, in the fight against terror networks whose recruits hold no fear of death or retribution.

Note: Although the subjects we discuss are controversial, my goal is not to argue with Alan, but to find out what he’s thinking. My hope is that our conversation will provoke further discussion on these hot-button issues.

Click here: (30 minutes) to listen to the interview.

Click here: to listen to the hour-long version.


Posted on January 30, 2020 in a new podcast, Front Page, Harvard Luminaries, Ideas, Politics, Religion
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ThoughtCast Reflects on the Legacy of John McCain

John McCain’s final battle – this time with an aggressive form of brain cancer – is now over, and the debates over his legacy have yet to begin in earnest. Instead, we are awash in adulatory news coverage, which highlights McCain the icon, but obscures the man. Perhaps his performance in a pivotal New Hampshire Presidential Primary Debate, held in January 2000, just weeks before he defeated George W. Bush in that state’s primary – the first in the nation – is worth reviewing.

In this excerpt from the hour-long debate, moderated by NBC’s Tim Russert, McCain, the campaign finance reform candidate and rider of the Straight Talk Express, responds to breaking news regarding his lobbying the FCC on behalf of Paxson Communications, a campaign contributor. Let’s not forget that McCain’s reformist tendencies developed after he was criticized for exercising “poor judgment” by the Senate Ethics Committee for his role as one of the Keating Five Senators accused of corruption in 1989.
Although my follow-up question was admittedly intended to bridle him, McCain (in my view) comes across as brittle. Where is his famous sense of humor? Where the politician’s gift of deflection? McCain’s “brittle temper” was hardly a secret, but compared to other candidates on that stage, his smile is steely, his manner tense.
A self-described maverick and patriot, might McCain have been a touch too proud? Did his confidence in his own integrity, as the New York Times phrased it, “blind him to potentially embarrassing conflicts of interest”?  McCain of course went on to lose the primary to George W. Bush, and perhaps self-love, rather than love of country, got in the way.
The intention here is not to dump on McCain – what would be the point? But — if he had been just a bit less attentive to his own honor, might we have avoided 8 years of George W. Bush? Think about that for a minute. That would indeed have been a legacy.

Click here: to listen (6:14 mins).

Posted on September 3, 2018 in a new podcast, Biography, Front Page, History, Politics, Psychology
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John McCain’s Last Stand – on ThoughtCast!

John McCain, the maverick Republican Senator from Arizona, was diagnosed with brain cancer a year ago now, so there’s not much time left for this remarkably resilient politician to take a final stand. Will McCain live long enough to vote for — or against — Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s second Supreme Court nominee? He did vote to confirm Neil Gorsuch, but will he return to the Capitol to help overthrow Roe V. Wade?

Who is McCain really — is he the independent spirit who rode the Straight Talk Express campaign bus during the 1999/2000 Presidential Primary?

Or is he the far more conventional conservative who surrendered to the right wing and selected Sarah Palin the second time he ran for the presidency? Clearly, he’s all of the above, which makes it difficult to anticipate his actions.

Jenny Attiyeh interviewed McCain during the New Hampshire Presidential Primary in 1999, when he was still the front runner. Back then he was the darling of the media, and was portrayed as a forthright, reformist candidate. He went on to defeat George W. Bush in the New Hampshire primary, only to fall victim to a smear campaign in South Carolina  — he’d fathered a black child, was a traitor to his country — from which he never recovered.

Recently, of course, McCain’s been subjected to the taunts of President Trump. He’s endured far worse — try five years as a prisoner of war, tortured by the North Vietnamese. But now that the end is very nearly here, will he figure out what it is he really stands for?

In his latest book, The Restless Wave: Good Times, Just Causes, Great Fights, and Other Appreciations, McCain expresses regret over his VP pick in 2008. Perhaps as the clock ticks out his final hours, he’ll reach beyond words, to something more like action. Or, as this book review states, will he continue to try to have it both ways?

Posted on July 15, 2018 in a new podcast, Ideas, Politics
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Samuel Huntington — on Immigration and the American Identity

The remarkable rise of Donald Trump, fueled in large part by his determination to keep immigrants out of his Greatening America, has caused many to re-examine the key concerns of the controversial political scientist Samuel Huntington. His writings on immigration and American national identity seem today to be sad prophecies of what has come to pass. In light of last year’s headlines — extreme vetting for Syrian refugees, Presidential dithering on DACA, white nationalist riots — I decided to re-post my 2005 ThoughtCast interview with Huntington, who died in late December, 2008.

Note: This interview was broadcast twice on WGBH in Boston.

Sam Huntington
The eminent and provocative political scientist and prolific author, talks with ThoughtCast about what he sees as the threat to America’s national identity (and its founding ‘Anglo-Protestant’ culture) posed by large numbers of unassimilated Hispanics, legal or otherwise, living in the United States. His most recent book: “Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity” has caused quite a stir. Huntington is also famous for an earlier work called “The Clash of Civilizations.” In this book, he argues that civilizations, not nations or ideologies, form the basic building blocks of future cooperation — and conflict.
Huntington, a longtime professor of political science at Harvard, is also a member of the editorial board of a new magazine chaired by Huntington’s former student, Francis Fukuyama, called “The American Interest.”
We discuss these topics in a half-hour interview while seated in the back yard of his home on Martha’s Vineyard — hence all those birds chirping away cheerily…

Click here: to listen (30 mins).


Posted on January 15, 2018 in a new podcast, Harvard Luminaries, Ideas, Immigration, Politics
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Lessons from a Former Failed Bid for the Presidency?

The press barely noticed former New Hampshire Senator Bob Smith’s bid for the presidency in 2000, so entranced were they over the newly candid Arizona Senator John McCain as he crisscrossed Bob Smith’s state in the “Straight Talk Express.” But McCain fever was quickly quenched by the more conventional conservatism of Texas Governor George W. Bush once the race headed south. And what became of the dogged Republican Senator Bob Clinton Smith? Well, he hung onto his seat till 2003, in his own unique, aw shucks fashion.

When you watch this ThoughtCast interview, you’ll form your own impression of a candidate who didn’t make it — and you might also come away with some interesting hypotheses on how US Presidential politics has evolved (some would say devolved) since the turn of the century.

Click here: to listen (4:43 minutes).

Posted on November 23, 2017 in a new podcast, Politics
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Al Gore, Reconsidered

Now that we’re faced with Al Gore’s Inconvenient Sequel, it is tempting to ask, again: What if he’d actually won the Presidential election back in 2000? Remember when the century turned, the chads clung and hung, Florida was in Republican hands, and the Supreme Court ended up deciding the race in favor of the fortunate son of a former president? How many wayward chads would it have taken to give us 4 years of Al Gore, the “beta male” who wore sweaters in heather hues, and spoke calmly about the calamitous state of our global environment? For one thing, I don’t think we’d have pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord. But what else might have — or not have happened?

I had the chance to interview the Vice President for NHPTV in the autumn of 1999, prior to the New Hampshire Presidential Primary. Little did I know of what was to come, or I might have asked somewhat different questions.
I remember it was colder out than it looked, and Gore nursed a cup of coffee throughout the interview, while attempting to come off as well … approachable, like his two chief Republican opponents: the easygoing George W. Bush and the jubilant John McCain, who at the time was touring the state in his Straight Talk Express. More on that in the next post.
But in the meantime, let me know what you think of Gore, back in the Twentieth Century, before our continuum got torqued!

Posted on August 6, 2017 in a new podcast, Environment, Front Page, Politics
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