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Things That Go Boom
29 minutes | 10 days ago
S4 E2 - The Blob
Things That Go Boom is launching its very first fundraiser! Please consider giving just $5 a month. It’s convenient for you, provides ongoing support for Things That Go Boom and Inkstick Media, and you’ll feel good knowing you’re helping make Things That Go Boom freely available to everyone. Always. If Things That Go Boom is something that you’ve come to rely on over the course of the past two years, please go to inkstickmedia.com/donate and make a donation today. ————————— In 1958, a movie about a man-eating, bloodcurdling mass from outer space introduced the world to "The Blob." But in recent years, that term has taken on a whole new meaning among foreign policy professionals in Washington. What exactly defines this Blob can be as amorphous as the movie monster, so we reached out to three people to explain who exactly belongs in this group. The term, we learned, describes a perspective that transcends party lines and has remained relatively unchallenged for decades. In this episode, we'll explore the moment that all changed, and the Blob came face-to-face with... the anti-Blob. GUESTS: Ben Armbruster, Managing Editor of ResponsibleStatecraft.org at The Quincy Institute; Emma Ashford, Senior Fellow at the New American Engagement Initiative in the Scowcroft Center of the Atlantic Council; Van Jackson, professor of International Relations at Victoria University of Wellington. ADDITIONAL READING: Build a Better Blob, Emma Ashford The Blob Strikes Back, and Misses, Patrick Porter. More, Less, or Different?, Jake Sullivan. Policy Roundtable: The Future of Progressive Foreign Policy, Van Jackson.
24 minutes | 24 days ago
S4 E1 - Fee-fi-fo-fear
2020 has been a scary year. In an effort to get to the root of why we’re all feeling the way we are, the first thing we did was something we probably should have done a long time ago... we reached out to a psychiatrist. We also asked all of you — our listeners, our friends, our family — to tell us the answer to what might seem like a pretty simple question: How safe do you feel? But the answers didn’t feel simple at all. GUESTS: Arash Javanbakht, MD; Bunmi Akinnusotu, Host of What in the World?; You guys! ADDITIONAL READING: Sex and Death in the Rational World of Defense Intellectuals, Carol Cohn. The Politics of Fear: How Fear Goes Tribal, Allowing Us To Be Manipulated, Arash Javanbakht. When Mask-Wearing Rules in the 1918 Pandemic Faced Resistance, Becky Little. As the 1918 Flu Emerged, Cover-Up and Denial Helped It Spread, Becky Little.
2 minutes | a month ago
Things That Go Boom will be back November 9th, and we’ll be there to hold your hand while you weep, or party, all the way to the inauguration, a coronavirus vaccine, an accidental nuclear war (?!) … and beyond. In the meantime, go vote!
32 minutes | 3 months ago
S3 E8 (The Wrong Apocalypse) - After the Apocalypse
Can the country rebound from the social, cultural, and economic toll of COVID-19? Now we know what happens while we’re sleeping; have we woken up? And what will it take to right the ship? GUESTS: Gigi Kwik Gronvall, Senior Scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and Associate Professor in the Department of Environmental Health and Engineering at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; Sherri Goodman, former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Environmental Security and a Senior Fellow at the Wilson Center and the Center for Climate Security; Travis L. Adkins, lecturer of African and Security Studies at the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University; Marissa Conway, Co-founder of the Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy. ADDITIONAL READING: Foreign Policy Begins at Home, Council on Foreign Relations. At the Intersection of Domestic and Foreign Policy, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Is American Foreign Policy the Key to Economic Growth?, The Washington Post. The Legacy of American Racism at Home and Abroad, Foreign Policy. The Scientific Response to COVID-19 and Lessons for Security, Survival.
27 minutes | 4 months ago
S3 E7 (The Wrong Apocalypse) - Future Wars
Why did the US Naval Academy reinstate celestial navigation as part of its curriculum a few years ago? Well, you can’t hack a sextant. In this episode, we look at some of the vulnerabilities that come with an over-reliance on high-tech defense systems. Our guests are Peter Singer and August Cole — national security experts who have taken to writing futuristic techno-thrillers to sound a few alarms. Among their warnings: The opening battles of WWIII won’t happen on a battlefield, and they will probably be silent. GUESTS: Peter Singer, strategist and senior fellow at New America; August Cole, non-resident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. ADDITIONAL READING: Burn-In, Forbes. Ghost Fleet, The Diplomat. China Uses AI To Enhance Totalitarian Control, The Atlantic.
29 minutes | 4 months ago
S3 E6 (The Wrong Apocalypse) - Inner Decay
Disinformation and misinformation have been blurring the line between fantasy and reality since the start of communication itself. But over the last decade, they’ve posed an increasing threat to democracy in the United States, with the 2016 presidential election becoming a major flashpoint in Americans’ understanding of the consequences of fake news. The false information flooding the internet and spreading like wildfire on social media pose risks not just to national and election security, but even to our health and safety. With its bots, troll farms, and vested interest in certain election outcomes, Russia has become America’s public disinformation enemy. But experts say that the power of foreign actors to sow discord rests, first and foremost, right here at home, and the solution may be different than you think. GUESTS: Mike Mazarr, Senior Political Scientist at RAND Corporation; Cindy Otis, Author, Former CIA Analyst, and disinformation investigations manager; Camille Stewart, Head of Security Policy for Google Play and Android; Russell Jeung, Professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University ADDITIONAL READING: True or False: A CIA Analyst's Guide to Spotting Fake News, Cindy Otis. Vote and Die: Covering Voter Suppression during the Coronavirus Pandemic, Nieman Foundation. Combating Disinformation and Foreign Interference in Democracies: Lessons From Europe, Margaret L. Taylor.
27 minutes | 5 months ago
S3 E5 (The Wrong Apocalypse) - Democracy! (Yawn)
As the US reckons with systemic racism and a less-than-democratic past, China is doubling down on its authoritarian ways. Meanwhile, research on the health of democracy from across the globe indicates the patient is not well. We trace China’s rise from the 1990s, when American pop music held a place alongside patriotic education, to its more recent political assertiveness-- not to mention its chokehold on civil rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang. As China moves to assert itself on the world stage, is democracy losing? GUESTS: Connie Mei Pickart, writer and educator; Yascha Mounk, associate professor at Johns Hopkins University and senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund ADDITIONAL READING: How the World Views American-Style Democracy, Eurasia Group Foundation. Nationalism Ruined My Chinese Friendships, Connie Mei Pickart. In Hong Kong, Defiance Gone Quiet, The New York Times.
32 minutes | 5 months ago
S3 E4 (The Wrong Apocalypse) - This Is Not a Drill
Are we in the middle of a new Cold War? Or have we rewritten the game? With old nuclear arms treaties expiring, and no new ones being signed, are we adapting to the times or playing with fire? In this episode, we look at the past and present of civil defense and nuclear arms control and ask what we can do — as individuals and as a nation — to prevent the existential threat of nuclear war. GUESTS: Alex Wellerstein, professor at the Stevens Institute of Technology and historian of nuclear weapons; Alexandra Bell, Senior Policy Director at the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation. ADDITIONAL READING: NUKEMAP. Trump Will Withdraw From Open Skies Treaty, New York Times. Time Running Out on the Last US-Russia Nuclear Arms Treaty, Defense News. Will Donald Trump Resume Nuclear Testing?, The Economist.
26 minutes | 6 months ago
S3 E3 (The Wrong Apocalypse) - So You Want Your Own Army?
After almost a decade in prison, Yevgeny Prigozhin was released into a new world. Gorbachev gave his last speech as leader of the Soviet Union; the Communist Party was outlawed. Soon, gangs were violently extorting new business owners and the murder rate doubled. But Prigozhin was comfortable with chaos. He started a hot dog stand and climbed his way up into the highest echelons of power… then decided to diversify. In this episode, we look at a Russian businessman who takes on a new game, war in the shadows, and how we prepare for what we can't see. GUESTS: Anastasia Gorshkova, Russian Journalist; Sean McFate, Georgetown, Author, Former Mercenary ADDITIONAL READING: Putin’s Kleptocracy, Karen Dawisha. The Future is History, Masha Gessen. The New Rules of War, Sean McFate.
26 minutes | 6 months ago
S3 E2 (The Wrong Apocalypse) - While We Were Sleeping
If the US can’t build better airports or trains than China, or even take care of itself in times of major crisis like the coronavirus, how exactly is it supposed to “beat” China in this global competition we’re in? We look back to see how China’s ascent snuck up on the US, and we ask if a zero-sum mentality is sleep-walking us to war. GUESTS: Kishore Mahbubani, author and distinguished fellow, Asia Research Institute; Rachel Esplin Odell, International Security Fellow, Belfer Center. ADDITIONAL READING: Has China Won? Kishore Mahbubani. The Folly of Trump’s Blame-Beijing Coronavirus Strategy, The New Yorker.
23 minutes | 6 months ago
S3 E1 (The Wrong Apocalypse) - World War C
The US spends more than $700 billion on defense every year, more than healthcare, education, and all the rest of our discretionary spending combined. And yet the coronavirus slipped silently and invisibly across our borders, and even onto our aircraft carriers. You could say we were preparing for World War III, when we got hammered by World War C. This season we ask, “What else are we missing?” GUESTS: Alden Wicker, Sustainable Fashion Journalist; Kathleen Hicks, CSIS; John Blocher, Dave Ahern, Mia Herrington, and Larry Rubin, who shared their personal views with us at Defense One 2020. ADDITIONAL READING: Getting to Less, Foreign Affairs. The Lessons of Y2K, 20 Years Later, Washington Post. Nuclear Spending vs. Healthcare, ICAN.
2 minutes | 7 months ago
S3 Trailer (The Wrong Apocalypse)
Could the rise of China spell the end of the US as the dominant world power? Are we on an irreversible path toward military confrontation? Are we prepared for life in a multilateral world? Military spending is growing, and the Pentagon says it’s in service of something called “great power competition” — but are the biggest threats to US power military? Or, something else. This next season of Things That Go Boom will explore how our national security has refocused on threats that require traditional military might — things like carriers and fighter jets — at a time when some of the biggest threats to our security are silent, agile, economic, and even viral. We’ll ask if our main adversaries — Russia and China — are really a threat, and we’ll examine just how strong, or weak, a position the US holds in this new geopolitical reality.
20 minutes | a year ago
S2 Bonus - Our Closet Bunker Broadcast on Iran
Last night it looked like we were headed for war. Iran fired more than a dozen missiles at two military bases in Iraq in response to US escalation in the region. How worried should we be? And, now that we know that President Trump is willing to take the most extreme option offered (ie: killing Iranian Gen. Soleimani with a drone) should we be even more concerned about his authority to launch nukes? — Things That Go Boom is a production of PRX and Inkstick Media. This episode was produced by Ruth Morris and written by Laicie Heeley. Darien Schulman composed our music. A special thanks to the Carnegie Corporation of New York for their support. For more information, visit us at https://inkstickmedia.com/.
22 minutes | a year ago
S2 Bonus - Amb. William Burns
When we left off with our second season, there were... a few things happening with Iran… And Amb. William Burns has a unique perspective -- he's been down this road with Iran before, as one of the architects of the 2015 nuclear deal. We ask Burns for a gut check on the current situation, from Iran's threats to ramp up uranium enrichment, to the fallout from President Trump's 'exchange of love letters' with North Korea. He also shares some of the lessons from "the most depressing brainstorming session" of his career. William Burns served five presidents and retired as the State Department's No. 2 official. Today he’s the head of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in Washington, DC. His book is “The Back Channel: A Memoir of American Diplomacy and the Case for Its Renewal.”
29 minutes | a year ago
S2 E7 (Fallout) - Collateral Damage
The first clue something was wrong came in the form of an alert on Yegi Rezaian’s phone. Where I grew up,” she says, “these things don’t happen by accident.” Within hours, Yegi and her husband, Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, found themselves in Iran’s notorious Evin prison. And interrogations quickly turned surreal. Jason’s captors seemed convinced his Kickstarter campaign to bring avocados to Iran was some kind of spycraft. So… it took some time before they came to realize that, one of the reasons they were arrested… and, one of the reasons that Jason would spend the next 544 days in prison… Was the Iran deal. In our final episode of the season, we look at collateral damage. Because when the US entered the Iran deal, and when President Trump pulled out, it kicked off a whole series of international events with consequences we’re still feeling today.
25 minutes | a year ago
S2 E6 (Fallout) - No Cheese, Extra Pickles
If you want to know how sanctions are playing out in Iran — look no further than the classified ads. You’ll find folks selling unused cosmetics, pets, and… something even more unusual. But you might also come across people like Alireza Jahromi, an entrepreneur with a chain of trendy burger joints. He says sanctions are like a tsunami— destructive. But if you know how to surf, you grab your board and paddle out. And he says Iran, metaphorically speaking, is a country of surfers. On this episode, we ask if US policymakers may have underestimated Iranian resiliency and whether President Trump’s suffocating sanctions are likely to lead to new nuclear negotiations, or just reinforce a bitter feud.
27 minutes | a year ago
S2 E5 (Fallout) - I Want Money
Money in politics is a little bit like an iceberg — there’s the stuff you can see, like lobbying firms, and then there’s all the stuff below the waterline. On this episode of Things That Go Boom… we wade into the swamp. We focus on one of the loudest groups that weighed in on the Iran nuclear deal to get a better sense of how the system works. The story that emerges includes a Greek shipping magnate, a gold trader, an investigative reporter, and the world’s largest collections of Rembrandts. The question at the center of it all: Is our foreign policy for sale?
34 minutes | a year ago
S2 E4 (Fallout) - Bad Blood
Before they were enemies, the US and Iran used to have a thing. In fact, we started their nuclear program. Like any failed relationship… it’s not just one thing that led us all here. Years of misinformation, politics, greed, reality tv, and some real security interests on both sides brought us to this point. This is the story of how the US and Iran broke up -- because you can’t truly understand the Iran deal without first understanding why the US and Iran have bad blood.
30 minutes | 2 years ago
S2 E3 (Fallout) - The Slog
Jake Sullivan is no James Bond. He's a nice kid from Minnesota. But Sullivan's top secret diplomacy may have staved off catastrophe as the U.S. pursued the Iran nuclear deal. On this episode, we dig into how diplomacy gets done -- and, not the Hollywood-movie version. (Diplomacy, it turns out, isn’t as sexy as Bond.) This is the real-life version, where sleep-deprived people pore over thousands of pages of technical documents, sleep on couches and floors, and lose their cool more than once. There are even a few broken bones. It’s not glamorous, it’s grueling. But when it works, it can stop a war.
34 minutes | 2 years ago
S2 E2 (Fallout) - The Worst Deal Ever
Time magazine called Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster a “pre-eminent warrior-thinker.” President Trump called him a pain. So when McMaster left the White House to be replaced by the hawkish John Bolton, foreign policy experts saw the writing on the wall. The Iran nuclear deal was next on the chopping block. In this episode, we track how advisors clashed right up to the moment Trump yanked the United States out of the deal. Some wanted to push for a better deal. Others seemed intent on pressuring Iran until it breaks. Was Trump right to walk away? Or, was there something else -- something more political -- motivating the president’s decision?
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