811: American Exceptionism Shows


Full Show:






Jonathan Simon: “2014 is to mass incarceration what 1964 was to segregation – the year that it became totally discredited, but also ended up becoming the norm for American society.”

With a quarter of the world’s prison population locked up in overcrowded, neglected prisons, America might be at Peak Mass Incarceration. If the prison population falls, it won’t be because politicians looked back at the havoc their brutal policies caused, it will be because America is broke and the courts made them. But still, less people in jail is a good thing.

Criminologist Jonathan Simon documents how a 2011 Supreme Court decision challenges the current state of mass incarceration in his book Mass Incarceration on Trial: A Remarkable Court Decision and the Future of Prisons in America. He talks with Chuck about how America bought in to our damaging incarceration complex two generations ago, why it might soon evolve into a detention/deportation industry targeting immigrants, and how inhuman treatment of prisoners is bound by legacies of racism and brutality.

Jonathan Simon is the Adrian A. Kragen Professor of Law at the University of California, Berkeley and author of Governing Through Crime: How the War on Crime Transformed American Democracy and Created a Culture of Fear.

Jonathan’s Blog / Jonathan on Twitter

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Felix Abt: “The changes come anyway, whether the top approves of them or not. They come from the middle class, from all the traders, for everybody who is in business – and virtually everybody some kind of business on the side – so there are dynamics there which cannot be stopped by anybody.”

The trouble with knowing almost nothing about North Korea is that it’s so easy to believe almost anything about North Korea. And the trouble with believing almost anything about North Korea is that boring, actual things like resource extraction and trade deals are way less fun to believe than interesting, fake things like Kim Jong-il feeding family members to dogs. But the boring, actual things are actually really interesting. And actual.

Entrepreneur Felix Abt has actually been in North Korea, he wrote about his time in the DPRK in the book A Capitalist in North Korea: My Seven Years in the Hermit Kingdom. Live from Hanoi, Chuck talks with Felix about the under-reported economic reforms already taking place across North Korea, how the mineral rich country deals with the threat of resource curse, how Saddam Hussein and John Kerry make the case against nuclear disarmament,  and why Western sanctions prevent North Korea from becoming the kind of country the West wouldn’t sanction.

Felix Abt  is a Swiss entrepreneur. From 2002 to 2009, Felix worked as one of the few Western businessmen in North Korea and was co-founder and first president of the European Business Association in Pyongyang, a de facto European Chamber of Commerce and the first foreign chamber of commerce.

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Rick Perlstein: “In the context of Obamaism, praising Reagan is his attempt to make the lion lay down with the lamb, to say there is ‘no red America or blue America.’ But that’s not what Reagan was about. Reagan, when he came into power, was about blaming all of America’s problems on Democrats, generally, and liberals, specifically.”

America spent its 200th birthday in a rough place. Nixon finally ended the Vietnam War, Watergate finally ended Nixon, and meat got really expensive. What the country needed was time to consider the damage of foreign adventures and a unitary executive. What the country ended up with a few years later was a leader who made people forget all about it.

Historian Rick Perlstein covers the political landscape of the post-Watergate 1970s in his new book, The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan. Rick stops by the studio to talk with Chuck about how Ronald Reagan shaped American conservatism in ways modern conservatives might not be happy to acknowledge, how a myth of consensus-building obscures Reagan’s pre-presidential extremism, and the ways the Obama and Reagan presidencies parallel and intersect.

Rick Perlstein is a historian and journalist. He is the author of two previous and huge books on American conservatism, Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus and Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America. There’s a book release party for The Invisible Bridge on Tuesday, August 12, at 6 PM at the Seminary Co-op Bookstore in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood.



Marc Flury: “This missile defense thing is really targeted beyond the boundaries of North Korea, into China. It really could end up hurting South Korean security if it’s part of the front line in the US’s potential standoff with China.”

We’re at a dormant stage in the US/North Korea/outrage/aggression cycle so now’s a pretty good time to actually cover political news from the Korean peninsula, and Marc Flury calls in from Seoul with two big items. First, the repeal of a Korean war policy that grants the US military control over South Korean troops during wartime is being debated by conservatives and liberal politicians in South Korea, and you might be surprised at who wants what, and why. Then, Marc explains how a leaked document from a 2007 Inter-Korean Summit meeting between Kim Jong-il and Roh Moo-hyun shows that two leaders talking honestly and practically might work better for peace than a giant, expensive missile defense system that antagonizes North Korea and China.

With limited Korean language ability, Marc Flury consistently out-scoops the US media by translating and re-reporting Korean headline news. He’s interested in inter-Korean relations, North Korean economic development, and the US military presence in the Pacific. Marc is also a video game creator, currently working on THUMPER, the world’s most psychedelic survival rhythm game.

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Laura Carlsen: “Most of the kids we talked to in the teen range were coming up because they had been given an option – ‘join our gang or be killed immediately.’ Given those options, neither of which they wanted to choose, they came up to the US where they already had close relatives, usually a parent.”

The “child migrant crisis” is a drug-war crisis, an economic crisis and an environmental crisis, but the US media is only freaking out now that victims of the crisis (and our policies that caused them) are crossing the border. Last week Laura Carlsen was on another border, between Mexico and Guatemala, talking with and listening to child migrants about their experiences. She shares with us what she’s learned about the children migrants, condemns the racist, provocative bill passed by the House with the sole goal of being racist and provocative, and reflects on the sadness and fear felt by our fellow Americans as they watch US politicians use anti-immigrant views for cheap political points.

Laura Carlsen is the director of the Americas program at the Center for International Policy. Her commentary page on Latin America is a great survey of trade, rights and immigration stories throughout the region.

Laura on Twitter

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Jeff Dorchen: “The only upside for the truly strong is in the way the great, lumpen, miserable mass of economically unfortunate provides a terrifying incentive for the rest of us to appease the elite with decent service, lest we slip down among the lumpen ourselves.”

So Jeff Dorchen went to go see Snowpiercer. It’s that movie about a train. And a dystopian  future, and an inescapably complex cosmos, and eating babies, and an Ursula Le Guin story, and class war, and resource control, and mammalian consciousness, and an ongoing repression/revolution cycle, and floods, and droughts, and global catastrophe. It’s a comedy basically.

According to his contacts on LinkedIn, Jeff Dorchen can do just about anything. He’s a visual artist, songwriter/musician, actor, essayist, poet, playwright and screenwriter. His many unfinished novels are still unfinished.




  • MegGuest

    Regular listener – don’t use FaceB much, don’t have twitter. But I’ve meant for a long time to thank you for programming that means a lot to me – both in staying informed and as ‘community’. I try to listen to live broadcast, often re-listen through the week. Thanks so much!!!

    Re your Jonathan Simon interview on mass incarceration. Great interview! As part of an on-going look at US justice system, I wonder what Jonathan, or others investigating justice reform, would say about rising interest in Restorative Justice. (I’m a huge fan of restorative justice concepts, especially when based in First Nations Circle Justice practices.)

    Related to the Simon interview, but stepping beyond incarceration and justice – I was very interested and pleased to hear you and Jonathan discuss impact on prison staff as participants in such an abusive/neglectful setting. I think work that is de-humanizing to employees (forcing or coercing them to behave abusively or neglectfully toward others in order to remain employed) is a *hugely* important barrier to a better society, and is absolutely overlooked. That the rest of us so easily overlook it is part of our own, society’s general, insensitivity.

    Aside from the prison industry, a 2nd place that needs to be looked at for this dehumanization is factory model livestock farming and slaughter conditions. These businesses must be among the world’s most horrific places to work. I’m retired but among other ventures raised assorted livestock for several decades. I have deepest respect, even reverence, for these creatures. When I moved off-farm I went vegan rather than support the brutality to human and animal of the commercial meat industry.

  • http://www.thisishell.com/ Alexander Jerri

    Thanks for the kind words Meg!

    With regards to the US justice system, I’ve found this blog to be really great: http://www.usprisonculture.com/blog/ and the author, Mariame Kaba, did an amazing interview on the Emoprog Army Radio Hour: http://emoprog.libsyn.com/episode-17-miriame-kaba-prisonculture

    We’re definitely going to be discussion factory farms soon. We had writer Ted Genoways on last summer to talk about his work on Big Ag, and he has a book out this fall, so look out for him in October (hopefully!)

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