This week’s guest is Michael Shellenberger, the founder and president of Environmental Progress, and author of an important new book, Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All. Most books about the environment typically feature breathless panic about how the world is coming to an end. Michael’s book is a rare outlier that debunks the extremism of most such apocalyptic claims, which too often are the predicate for not just bad policy, but counter-productive policy when it comes to environmental improvement in poor nations.

Michael began his intellectual and political odyssey on the left, and has by degrees migrated to the center, along the way coming to support nuclear power as the most important current alternative energy source for limiting greenhouse gas emissions. But the book goes well beyond the issue of climate change to lay out a vision of what Michael calls “environmental humanism”—a conception of environmental protection that puts humans beings at the center of the story, a welcome contrast to the often explicit misanthropy of many modern environmentalists.

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Joel Kotkin is one of America’s premier analysts of urbanism, urban economics, demographic change, and social trends. His brand new book, The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class, turns upside down the conventional liberal narrative about why the middle and working classes are under pressure. It’s not capitalism and markets, but their perversions, especially in the hands of the tech oligarchs of Silicon Valley and through the overregulation of basic occupations and industries that prevent aspiring people from attaining a middle class standard of living, especially on the left-leaning coastal regions of the country.

It does not take much imagination to make out the connections between the maladies Kotkin explains here and the riots and protests from the left of the last two weeks, but he thinks the real rebellion that we need is from the middle and working classes against this stifling neo-feudalism—a rebellion from the middle, so to speak, that will need to be both cultural and political.

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When our cities start to come apart and people say it seems like 1968 all over again, that can only mean one thing: time to get in touch with Fred Siegel. Among Fred’s many fine books is The Future Once Happened Here: New York, LA, DC, and the Fate of America’s Big Cities, which explained the high cost of incompetent liberal rule of our major cities in the 1960s and 1970s, which included soaring crime rates, physical decay, and economic decline. Reversing urban decline was one of the great achievements of the last 25 years, but it appears we may be about to throw it all away, and start a new cycle of leftist urban rule and decay.

Why has this happened? It can’t be just because of one shocking instance of police malfeasance. There must have been something latent in our political culture that has been triggered. Fred’s explanation: “The sixties never ended.” Are we fated to repeat that cycle, and now have to look forward to 10 or 20 years of unleashed leftism? We treat these and other questions, including the question of whether our universities have passed the point of no return, and what must be done to counter their increasingly malign influence on America as a whole.

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Funny how the COVID-19 crisis has nearly disappeared from the news, after having been the subject of wall-to-wall media attention for three months. Riots have a way of doing that, though the mass rioting doesn’t seem to have concentrated the mind of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio very much, fueling further rumors that he really has shot his brains with his heavy reported dope-smoking.

In this special, two-segment edition I catch up with Kelly Jane Torrance, who is nowadays an editorial board member of the great New York Post, and frequent panel guest on “Mornings with Maria” on Fox Business (tomorrow morning, June 4, in fact). Being a brand new resident of Manhattan is shock enough, but to move right before a pandemic quarantine and then rioting is asking a lot!

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“Decadence” is one of those familiar terms that is trivialized or rendered comic by overuse—perhaps you’d say from decadence itself. And while most people think decadent is mostly a synonym for “sumptuous,” it has a wider and deeper meaning, which is the subject of Ross Douthat’s new book, The Decadent Society: How We Became the Victims of Our Own Success.

Douthat, a columnist for the New York Times and author of several fine books analyzing the current American scene, looks at several markers of a decadent civilization and culture, from falling birthrates, slowing economic growth, declining innovation, sclerotic institutions, and cultural stagnation. Is there a way out of this dead-end road, or is America fated to become the modern-day Rome? Steve Hayward covers these and other aspects of the question in this entirely non-decadent conversation.

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John Ellis

John M. Ellis, distinguished professor emeritus of German literature at UC Santa Cruz, is out with a terrific new book, The Breakdown of Higher Education: How It Happened, The Damage It Does, & What Can Be Done About It. This slim book makes for depressing reading indeed, covering the landscape of our ideologically corrupt colleges and universities. What needs to happen to change things? Is the financial crisis of higher education brought on suddenly by the coronavirus a reason for hope that college leaders might cut some of the nonsense out of necessity? Are more robust campus policies to protect free expression sufficient to the scale and nature of the problem? (Likely not.)

But along the way we take a detour into some of Prof. Ellis’s earlier work, especially his important 1989 book Against Deconstruction, which delivered a significant body blow to that malignant intellectual fad. In fact I think it is no exaggeration to say that Prof. Ellis’s book, along with a handful parallel efforts, went far in derailing that noxious fad. Alas, it has been succeeded by even more perverse postmodernist hermeneutics (Just saying that almost gives you an intellectual hernia), forming much of the basis of the insidious identity politics of the present moment. Prof. Ellis offers some great war stories about fighting against the deconstructionists back in the day. And I offer a few of my own thoughts in my show summary at the end.

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Zachary Wood

This episode flips the format, with my guest interviewing me for a change. Zachary Wood is a graduate of Williams College, where he was the president of a student group called “Uncomfortable Learning,” whose mission was to invite to campus outside speakers with a heterodox perspective (which is code for “conservative” for the most part). Invitees included Charles Murray, Christina Hoff Sommers, David French, John Christy, and others. For this transgression against campus orthodoxy, Zach was dressed down by the president of William College, and further instructed that he should “be careful” about what he wrote in the student newspaper—a story he tells in this article published recently by the National Association of Scholars.

From this experience Zach has understandably become concerned about free speech generally, and freedom of the press in particular, and when Zach told me that he was interested in recording some interviews and conversations with people (starting with me) on free speech and free press issues, but didn’t yet have an online platform ready to launch, I decided to offer him an episode of the Power Line Show to start things rolling. As journalism was my first career right out of college back around the time of the Boer War, we thought it would be fun and informative to go through some long-term perspectives on modern media.

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Barack who? Is it just me, or is Obama the incredibly shrinking president, destined already to be remembered in the same league as John Tyler or Warren Harding? Charles Lipson, emeritus professor of politics at the University of Chicago, is out today with a terrific article at RealClearPolitics, “Trump’s Methodical Destruction of Obama’s Legacy,” that walks through how President Trump is step-by-step dismantling Obama’s presidency, culminating with last week’s revelations about the FBI and Justice Department going after Michael Flynn in ways that may yet become one of the greatest scandals of presidential abuse of power in our history.

We also talk about the election scene and why neither of us can conceive of Joe Biden winning the election—all things being equal, which they may not be, and we even indulge a little sports talk at the end.

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Michael McConnell

John Hinderaker joined me today to co-host this special edition of the show. Yesterday Facebook announced the creation of a 20-member oversight board that some media accounts describe as a “supreme court” to advise and in some cases rule on what kind of material can be taken down from the popular global site. Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been talking about this idea for a while, saying saying in 2018 that he wanted to create “some sort of structure, almost like a Supreme Court” for users to get a final judgment call on what is acceptable speech.

Two members of the oversight board caught our immediate attention as both are long time friend and readers of Power Line: Michael McConnell of Stanford Law School, who will co-chair the oversight board along with Helle Thorning-Schmidt, a former prime minister of Denmark; and John Samples of the Cato Institute. And we were fortunate to get both Mike and John to join us today to walk through how the oversight board will operate, and what kind of free speech law and principles should apply to a global platform.

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Phil Magness

When the news broke yesterday that the New York Times‘s egregious “1619 Project” had won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary, I knew the only thing to do was get Phillip W. Magness on the line. Magness, a senior research fellow at the American Institute for Economic Research, is the author of a brand new and indispensable book answering the factual errors and gross interpretive distortions of the 1619 Project, entitled The 1619 Project: A Critique.

But there’s more to the Magness portfolio on my mind just now. I regard Phil as the LeBron James of the conservative-libertarian community, because he is playing monster defense against bad ideas from all corners, and dunking hard on a lot of lefties who richly deserve it, from the authors of the 1619 Project to the Thomas Piketty/Emanuel Saez/Robert Reich/Gabriel Zucman distortions about income inequality that informed Elizabeth Warren’s proposal for a wealth tax. Phil has dug deep into the data the equality crusaders have assembled and exposing their methodological weakness.

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Joe Malchow

The Wall Street Journal this morning includes an article from T.J. Rodgers, the retired founder and CEO of Cypress Semiconductors, with the provocative title, “Do Lockdowns Save Lives? In Most Places, the Data Say No.” Rodgers mentions in the first paragraph that much of the statistical work behind his article was done by our own Joe Malchow, who is Power Line’s Wizard of Oz behind the curtain who keeps up the tech side of the site.

I’ve been wanting an excuse to do a podcast with Joe for the longest time, and so here it is. In addition to going through the statistical evidence we have already that the total lockdown in most states don’t bear a lot of relation to the infection outcomes, we also talk about Sweden’s choice of an intermediate path, with only light shutdowns and quarantines, and with results that are better than many hard hit U.S. states and European countries, and worse than some others. If trends continue and Sweden remains in the middle of the statistical distribution, it will be a massive reproach to the total and prolonged shutdowns that are crippling our economy, and may come to be seen as the single most costly economic mistake in American history.

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Terry Anderson

It’s Earth Day today—and not just any old Earth Day, but the 50th anniversary. It’s passing rather more quietly than in many previous years because the coronavirus crisis is eclipsing everything at the moment. But a lot has changed since the first Earth Day. Not only is the environment in the United States, and in most places around the world, in much better condition than it was in 1970, but our perspectives on environmental policy has changed somewhat for the better since then, too. Environmentalists used to say openly that “Economics is a form of brain damage,” but today the centrality of economics to sound environmental policy is grudgingly conceded by even the most Malthusian holdout greenies.

One of the key thinkers behind this change in perspective is Terry L. Anderson, the co-author (with Don Leal) of one of the most significant books of modern conservative-libertarian intellectual thought: Free Market Environmentalism. The book has gone through several editions since it first appeared in 1992, has been translated into multiple foreign languages, and is widely used in college classrooms. Terry is currently a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford, and was one of the co-founders and long-time executive director of PERC, the Property and Environment Research Center in Bozeman, Montana, which is one of the premier intellectual nodes of contrarian environmental thinking. Terry also does a lot of research and writing on native American culture and economies, with similarly unique insights and observations.

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Last week Dr. Jonathan Geach, an anesthesiologist treating some COVID-19 patients in Tennessee, wrote an article on Medium that created a sensation: “Eight Reasons to End the Lockdowns as Soon as Possible.” Dr. Geach joined us today to review the article, and, since the COVID-19 story is moving so fast, preview a sequel on “Moving Goalposts” that he is readying for publication.

In addition to walking through the adverse health tradeoffs of an extended economic shutdown, Dr. Geach explains a few new theories about the dynamic of how COVID-19 works, and offers his perspective on some of the new treatments being considered, and why. He goes into much more technical detail than most news reports, but not so technical that a non-specialist can’t follow it.

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This week’s show features two guests who just happen to be married, which certainly makes recording convenient! Our first guest is Debra J. Saunders, the White House correspondent for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and former opinion columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. President Trump called on Debra last Friday in his daily virus briefing, and beyond the immediate story I was most interested in talking with Debra about what it’s like covering this White House, what it’s like in the press briefing room when the cameras aren’t running, and how broadcast journalists operate differently than print journalist. We also speculate some on the general political scene, which is likely going to be unpredictable right up to election day.

Wesley J. Smith

Then I turn the discussion to medical ethics with Wesley J. Smith, who is the chair of the Center for Human Exceptionalism at the Discovery Institute. The author of 14 books including Culture of Death and The War on Humans, Wesley writes frequently for National Review, the American Spectator, and other publications about ethical issues involved with animal rights, euthanasia, and biotechnology. Our conversation focuses on how the current pandemic may affect broader trends in medical ethics. And also the bad behavior of the Chinese, which goes far beyond concealing the origins and scope of COVID-19 in Wuhan.

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This special mid-week edition offers an alternative to the all-virus/all-the-time coverage currently smothering all other topics right now, this time featuring Robert Bryce talking about his brand new book A Question of Power: Electricity and the Wealth of Nations. The book is a companion to his documentary film Juice: How Electricity Explains the World that will be available on streaming services in June. (For the moment, check out the YouTube trailer below.)

The American public at large tends to take electricity for granted since our supply and grid is so reliable, but in fact its sources and distribution are complex. In our conversation Robert and I break down a lot of energy basics, debunk some favorite “green” energy myths, review the main problem of electricity (that it is hard to store electrons in sufficient quantity), and look over where nuclear power stands today.

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My guest this week is Jeremy Carl, currently a senior fellow at the Claremont Institute, and formerly a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford, where he directed the Shultz-Stephenson Task Force on Energy Policy. His political writing and commentary has been featured in the New York TimesWall Street JournalTime MagazineNational Review, Politico, the Economist, and many other leading newspapers and magazines.

Of special interest to me, however, is Jeremy’s personal story in recent months. Last year Jeremy and his wife, who is an emergency room physician, decided to quit their jobs and travel around the world for an indefinite period with their five (yes, I said 5!) children, with no fixed itinerary. After eight months on the road in North America, Europe and Africa, Jeremy and his family entourage interrupted their epic and returned to the U.S. recently because of the COVID-19 lockdown. Although he hopes to resume his epic journey when the all-clear is eventually sounded (I’m hoping he’ll call the book Around the World in 80 Months), I wanted to catch up with him to get a mid-term report, and elicit his insights and observations from the road on everything from populism, nationalism, foreign attitudes toward President Trump, and the topsy-turvy world of energy just now.

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Conrad Black argued this week that Franklin Roosevelt deserves to be regarded as a conservative champion, or at least that conservatives should steal him away from Democrats. FDR himself argued that Democrats should steal Lincoln from Republicans, so why not return the favor? Steve takes up this exotic perspective with Power Line’s International Woman of Mystery, “Lucretia,” along with reader questions in this largely corornavirus-free episode, because aren’t we getting tired of COVID-19 24/7?

Steve and Lucretia also take a stab at answering several reader questions about presidential power, the virtues and virtues of Trump, Joe Biden’s odds of making it to election day in November (in two words—not good), how the “right to privacy” should be understood constitutionally, why Steve took up his peculiar new hobby of trainspotting, and what are some of our favorite things to cook on the grill. All in all, a nice respite from martial law.

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Cliff Bates

Our parochial news media seem only interested in reporting on the state of things here in the U.S. and in their favorite European vacation spots like France and Italy, but of course the COVID-19 pandemic extends into Eastern Europe as well, where most countries are also on some degree of quarantine or lockdown. I decided to check in with Clifford Angell Bates, a friend based in Warsaw who teaches political philosophy at the University of Warsaw. He is the author of Aristotle’s Best Regime: Kingship, Democracy, and the Rule of Law (LSU Press, 2003), as well as numerous articles and book reviews. Prof. Bates is currently working on a book on the crisis of modern sovereignty and how the crisis emerges from the Hobbesian foundation of modern theory of sovereignty.

Beyond describing the street scene and atmosphere in Warsaw, we also range widely across several other topics, including intellectual life in Polish universities, the character of Polish “populism,” Polish attitudes toward the European Union, and how Trump is regarded. Plus some good anti-Russian jokes, which Poles have in adundance. And as you can see from the nearby photo, Cliff is a man who enjoys a good cigar.

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Sarah Hunt

There’s gonzo, and then there’s Sarah Hunt. Hunt is the humorist/policy activist who came up with the moniker “Green Nude Eel” in response to the preposterous extravagances of the utopian environmental left and in particular a certain freshperson congresscritter whose name shall not be uttered here. But Hunt, the founder of the Joseph Rainey Center, a boutique Washington think tank, is an environmentalist herself, but one so idiosyncratic that it might be better to think of her as idiosocratic instead. Certainly we have fun with our frequent re-enactments of The Symposium.

Certainly we have a great time kicking around everything from energy and environment to—what else?—the coronavirus crisis (don’t miss her article in The Federalist about how her neurosurgeon sister is making masks at home between hospital rounds), to the endless comedy of Washington DC, including the answer to the great question, what do lobbyists and sex offenders have in common? You’ll have to listen to the find out the answer, which also comes along with some food and drink recommendations for your extended quarantine.

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Brian Sullivan

This bonus episode features the insights and observations of Brian Sullivan, a serial entrepreneur in the domain of health care and medical device innovation. He is the founder and CEO of Celcuity, a biomedical research firm currently working on highly specialized cancer research. Brian, a long time friend of Power Line in Minnesota, has been sending along his unique thoughts on the coronavirus epidemic, especially some caveats about the reported data and what we should be looking for in terms of data quality, completeness, and what really matters most—the number of fatalities and the overall morbidity rate. We thought it would be worth hearing directly from Brian about all of this, and in this conversation he offers some facts and figures about Japan and South Korea that have been been widely reported or appreciated.

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