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Left, Right & Center

Left, Right & Center is KCRW’s weekly civilized yet provocative confrontation over politics, policy and pop culture.

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What makes voters Tik(Tok)?

The Senate has stymied a vote intended to secure nationwide abortion rights. Democrats knew this would happen – so why did they introduce the bill at all? Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said it was a way to get every member on record about their abortion stance. It also shored up support for Democrats ahead of a hotly contested midterm election. How can Democrats motivate their base when they face so many structural obstacles to their policy goals? Guest host Jessica Yellin of “News Not Noise” discusses with Tim Carney, columnist at the Washington Examiner, on the right; and Chuck Rocha, president of Solidarity Strategies, on the left. Then: What is the Latino vote? The concept itself may be flawed, since the 16.5 million of them who voted in 2020 are hardly a monolith, but it’s a question that’s quickly becoming relevant. They’re turning out to vote in historic numbers, and polling shows Republicans are making huge inroads among Latino voters. How can Democrats reverse that trend? And what can they learn from the Republican approach? Gen Z and millennials are now the largest voting bloc in the U.S. They’re the most diverse and technology-savvy generation this country has ever seen, but they’re inheriting some very real problems. So what do they care about, and what’s animating them ahead of the midterms? We bring on Gen Z guests Javon Price, a policy analyst at the America First Policy Institute, on the right; and Elise Joshi, the operations director at Gen Z For Change, on the left, for a special segment exploring the zeitgeist of this generation. Finally, our Gen Z panelists rant about why the fight against climate change is not over, and how the Dallas Cowboys can bring home a Lombardi.


13 May 2022

Rank #1

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What’s after Roe v. Wade?

It’s a historic week in Washington: A leaked draft opinion by Justice Samuel Alito suggests the Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade. Americans have reacted with shock and elation, and a post-Roe reality might come this summer. How will an increasingly polarized abortion debate fare against states’ rights? And could Roe’s reversal have radical implications for other rulings on privacy, like gay marriage? Guest host Jessica Yellin of “News Not Noise” discusses with Tim Carney, columnist at the Washington Examiner, on the right; and Jill Filipovic, columnist at CNN and author on Substack, on the left.  Finally, panelists rant about the G-20 summit, taking in more refugees, and why shutting down schools for COVID was a terrible idea.


6 May 2022

Rank #2

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A $44 billion edit button

Is it doom or salvation for the Twitterverse now that Elon Musk is poised to take over? He seems to want “maximum fun.” What does that mean for politics, free speech, and Twitter trolls? Guest host Jessica Yellin of “News Not Noise” discusses with Tim Carney, columnist at the Washington Examiner, on the right; and Liz Bruenig, staff writer at the Atlantic, on the left.   Also, the past 10 years of American life have been uniquely stupid. That’s the title of an essay in The Atlantic by Jonathan Haidt of the NYU Stern School of Business. He explains why social media is promoting “structural stupidity” and if there’s any way to bring us back from the brink. Also: Kevin McCarthy was caught in a January 6 lie on tape. He seems to be on a clear path to be the next speaker of the House of Representatives if Republicans take it back in the midterms – but will these new developments weaken his bid? And after what’s probably the thousandth push alert about the Jan. 6 commission, are people tired of hearing about the Capitol riots? Finally, panelists rant about Gen Z’s labor aspirations and flawed definitions of disinformation.


29 Apr 2022

Rank #3

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Mask on, mask off

The CDC sent the DOJ an SOS over masks this week. If that sounds like incomprehensible alphabet soup, just know that wearing a mask is up to you. Is the federal government doing enough to protect Americans from COVID? Is a laissez-faire approach to masking best? And how can we bring ever-changing science into policy without alienating voters? Guest host Jessica Yellin of “News Not Noise” discusses with Tim Carney, columnist at the Washington Examiner, on the right; and Christine Emba, columnist and editor at the Washington Post, on the left. Meanwhile in Ukraine, how has the conflict evolved? Former LRC guest host David Greene is in Kyiv and shares what he’s been experiencing on the ground. He is co-founder and host of Fearless Media's "Ukraine Stories." How are Ukrainians coping with the crisis? Do they think America is doing enough to help? And why are people taking out their political frustrations on Russian civilians? If you thought there was only one “Don’t Say Gay” bill, think again. There are more than a dozen making their way through state legislatures across the country, and it’s shaping up to be a big wedge issue come the midterm elections. Why are we seeing more of these efforts to block instruction on gender and sexuality? What’s the line between letting parents take the lead on these discussions, and stigmatizing the identities of already vulnerable kids in school? Finally, panelists rant about sports betting, consent, and cynicism in politics.


22 Apr 2022

Rank #4

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Evil? Confirmed. Genius? Not so much

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is now a “genocide,” at least according to President Biden. That’s one of the strongest accusations against Putin we’ve heard from Biden, who’s been (mostly) carefully wording his statements to avoid triggering an already bristly Russian leader. That change in rhetoric also comes with new bids to join NATO from Sweden and Finland. With the West seemingly firmly united against Russia, could Biden’s words further escalate the conflict? And could Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 help decode Putin’s next move? Guest host Kimberly Atkins Stohr of the Boston Globe discusses with panelists Kristen Soltis Anderson, Republican pollster and founding partner at Echelon Insights, on the right; and Liz Bruenig, staff writer at the Atlantic, on the left. Then: American workers are joining forces. Amazon and Starbucks workers are unionizing in droves, even as corporate leaders try to quash their efforts. So, why is the push to unionize stronger than ever? Will the movement sustain its momentum? And can they get legislation through Congress to make their gains permanent? Plus: Is the center more Mike Bloomberg or Jeb Bush? Politics and politicians are now more polarized than ever, and finding the throughline in the two-party system might be the key to getting past that. In the wake of COVID and the Capitol riots, is the window of centrism shifting? And if so, in which direction? Finally, panelists rant about washing your hands, following traffic rules, and killing all mosquitoes.


15 Apr 2022

Rank #5

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A historic confirmation

Ketanji Brown Jackson can officially put “Supreme Court Justice” on her resume this week, as three Republicans joined Senate Democrats to confirm the first Black woman on the Supreme Court. Jackson will replace soon-to-be former Justice Stephen Breyer, who will retire in the summer. The vote, historic though it may be, was also largely expected despite the furore of the confirmation hearings – especially since it wouldn’t affect the ideological balance of the court. So, why only three Republican votes for Jackson? And why did the same coalition that voted for her also torpedo a much needed COVID relief bill over immigration concerns? Guest host Kimberly Atkins Stohr of the Boston Globe discusses with panelists Megan McArdle, columnist at the Washington Post, on the right; and Liz Bruenig, staff writer at the Atlantic, on the left. Then: All eyes have been on the Ukrainian city of Bucha this week, as evidence emerged of indiscriminate civilian killings by Russian forces. In response, Biden announced more sanctions on Russian banks and Vladimir Putin’s adult children, while the U.N. General Assembly voted to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council. But how far can sanctions and censures go to deter Russia’s territorial aspirations? And how can the United States stand for Ukraine without escalating global tensions beyond the point of no return? Special guest Daniel Drezner, professor of international politics at Tufts University, breaks it down. Plus: Twitter’s introducing an edit button so you can correkt yur typoes. And that’s got the support of Elon Musk, who’s now their largest stockholder after buying nearly 10% of the company’s shares. He’s been vocal about what he sees as heavy-handed moderation by Twitter even as misinformation continues to circulate among users. How could Musk’s influence change things for the bird app our panelists love to hate, but can’t seem to stay away from? Finally, our panelists rant from across the political spectrum about the reptilian-avian-mammal Easter Bunny, relocating Walt Disney World, and why Russian nationals should still be allowed to run the Boston Marathon.


8 Apr 2022

Rank #6

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The Supreme Question

How long is seven hours? It’s not long if you’re binging our show, but that’s a long time to not have records of telephone calls made by former President Trump on January 6, 2021. There’s a lot of news here, so here’s the TL;DR: A federal judge has ruled that Trump “more likely than not” committed felonies in his attempts to overturn the election, and the DOJ has expanded its investigation into the Capitol riots, hiring 131 more attorneys to work the case. And then, there’s those texts between Ginni Thomas (the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas) and Mark Meadows, the former White House Chief of Staff, urging Meadows to take steps to overturn the election … as well as her participation in the riots. So, should Justice Thomas recuse himself from cases about the insurrection? Does that set a dangerous precedent for future justices, or is staying on the bench a blatant conflict of interest? Guest host Kimberly Atkins Stohr of the Boston Globe discusses with panelists Sarah Isgur, staff writer and podcast host for the Dispatch, on the right; David Dayen, executive editor at the American Prospect, on the left; and our special guest Anthony L. Fisher, senior opinion editor at the Daily Beast. Then: New budget just dropped. President Biden released his roadmap for 2023 government spending, and it’s got a hefty price tag of $5.8 trillion. This, of course, will be reshaped before it gets past Congress in September. But does it do enough to tackle COVID and rampant inflation? And is Biden squirreling away his executive power in favor of gridlocks in the legislature? Plus: The Russian invasion of Ukraine is still unfolding, with no end in sight as peace talks drag on. That means more pain at the pump for Americans, which Biden’s trying to address by releasing roughly 180 million barrels of oil from U.S. reserves in the next few months. Is this a sign that America needs to go electric? And if so, can Congress agree on how to do it? Finally, our panelists rant from across the political spectrum about Republican office gossip, racist college admissions tests, and the slap heard around the world.


1 Apr 2022

Rank #7

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Ketanji Brown Jackson and confirmation bingo

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s historic confirmation hearings are now underway. She seems to be on pace to become the next associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, but not without some friction. Republicans grilled Jackson this week about some of her past cases, but also about a children’s book, her religious beliefs, and the definition of a “woman,” all with the goal of opening a window into what her future rulings might look like. So, were they successful? And did we learn anything about her legal philosophy? Guest host Kimberly Atkins Stohr of the Boston Globe discusses with panelists Sarah Isgur, staff writer and podcast host for the Dispatch, on the right; and David Dayen, executive editor at the American Prospect, on the left.  Next: Confirmation hearings are always political – and these were politically supercharged. Woven throughout Republican senators’ questioning were issues that seemed to pander to their voter base, between child pornography and critical race theory. Could that be a dangerous move that damages their credibility? Or is it just one more way they can get people out to vote going into the midterms? Plus: The dark cloud of a potential nuclear war is brewing. Vladimir Putin has refused to rule out using weapons of mass destruction in his invasion of Ukraine, and the United States has started preparing a contingency plan if Russia does go nuclear. To help us understand what’s at stake, we bring on our special guest Uri Friedman, who is a managing editor at the Atlantic Council and a contributing writer at The Atlantic. How does this moment compare to past tensions? How does Russia’s struggle to win a decisive victory in Ukraine complicate efforts? And how can we use diplomacy to prevent Putin from doing the unthinkable?  Finally, our panelists rant from across the political spectrum about why women and minority history months get problematic, and anything “anti-Joe Manchin” is good.   P.S. Please send your love to panelist Sarah Isgur, who joined us despite a bout of COVID and is gratefully ranting about vaccines in between naps.


25 Mar 2022

Rank #8

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War criminal

It’s the third week of Russia’s war on Ukraine. But this week was the first time President Biden called President Vladimir Putin a “war criminal.” There are courts that could theoretically convict Putin on that charge, but what happens once they do? Is the international government more about virtue signaling than actual action? And what happens to ceasefire negotiations when the U.S. and Russia are once more at loggerheads? Guest host Kimberly Atkins Stohr of the Boston Globe discusses with panelists Sarah Isgur, staff writer and podcast host for the Dispatch, on the right; and David Dayen, executive editor at the American Prospect, on the left. Next: The U.S. Federal Reserve is hiking interest rates in a bid to tame sky-high inflation. But is it too little, too late? And is that really the best way to fix the economy, when supply chain concerns abroad are also driving up consumer prices? Either way, the economy is about to get political. Fed Chair Jerome Powell and his crew are also facing a reckoning over green energy, which brings in questions from Congress over whether rewiring the financial system is too risky right now. Special guest Nick Timiraos of the Wall Street Journal help us break it down. Plus: A historic confirmation hearing for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson begins next week. If the Senate gives her the green light, she’ll become the first former public defender and the first Black woman to sit on the Supreme Court. Or could the hearing become a partisan fight? What questions will Republicans be asking to get a sense of what she stands for? And finally, our panelists rant from across the political spectrum about outdated textbooks, vaccine intellectual property, and why the Crown Act needs to become law.


18 Mar 2022

Rank #9

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Our big oil problem

President Biden announced this week that the United States will ban imports of Russian oil and gas. The move was met with bipartisan approval despite promises of inflation and more pain at the pump. Was this the right move? How long will public support last?  Guest host Kimberly Atkins Stohr discusses with Sarah Isgur, staff writer for The Dispatch and host of The Dispatch Podcast, on the right; and David Dayen, executive editor at The American Prospect, on the left. Special guest Sammy Roth, energy reporter at the Los Angeles Times, talks about our big oil problem. When there’s no more Russian oil and gas coming into the United States, what will replace it? Will the Biden administration use this as an opportunity to shift away from fossil fuels permanently? Is the future all-electric?  Then: The Florida Senate has passed a controversial bill banning instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity from kindergarten to third grade. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has already indicated he’d sign the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill. State lawmakers have already filed more anti-LGBTQ bills this year than during all of last year, so what’s going on? Why have schools become a political battleground on the topic? Is thinking of the children just a stand-in for a wider cultural debate?  And finally: Our panelists rant from across the political spectrum about toddlers wearing masks, daylight saving time, and why we won’t be prepared for the next COVID wave unless we spend money on it.


11 Mar 2022

Rank #10