Cocktail Banter, Episode 10: Stay Woke (On Celebrating Advent)

Cocktail Banter connects you with the best of politics and pop culture. It’s the podcast that gives you everything you need to know to be in the know.

For many people, the holiday season feels different this year. Here in the United States and around the world, brokenness seems to be overtaking joy. (0:33, 8:15) 

In this episode, writer Kristin Tennant shares her thoughts about celebrating Advent and fighting injustice. 

Kristin has been thinking about Advent in new and different ways that can help all of us step back from the lights and tinsel. She offers her perspective about how we can use the holiday season to slow down, notice the world around us (16:50) and take action to make things better. (33:44)

She talks about how the practices of Advent relate to fighting injustice, and draws from the idea behind stay woke. We discuss how the often over-scheduled holiday season can become something different: a time when we wake up to the world around us and find ways to contribute to solutions to the problems in our communities and around the world. (15:30, 21:30)

If you've never celebrated Advent before, she offers some suggestions about how to incorporate the traditions of Advent into your holiday celebrations (41:00). And if you'd like to learn more, check out these Advent readings, this podcast and this book that Kristin recommends. (45:17)

Read more of Kristin's work here and here, and continue the conversation by connecting with her on Twitter and Instagram

Cocktail Banter, Episode 9: Racism in America (And What You Can Do To Stop It)

Cocktail Banter connects you with the best of politics and pop culture. It’s the podcast that gives you everything you need to know to be in the know.

This week, we’re talking with Abiola Oke, the CEO of okayafrica, about racism in America and what we can do to stop it.

Abiola discusses how our society has been constructed in ways that often create disadvantages for African Americans – disadvantages that most white people never experience and thus never see the need to change. He talks about what structural racism looks like in practice, from the war on drugs to mass incarceration (13:22).

As the country’s first African-American president prepares to leave office, Abiola considers how we can create a better future. President-elect Trump’s campaign was marked by accusations of racism, xenophobia and sexism, but Trump also insists that he’ll look out for African American communities in ways other elected officials have not.

But so far, things aren’t looking good. (27:00)

Abiola highlights the policies that Trump should prioritize if he wants to make a difference in the first 100 days and beyond. (20:55)

He argues that people have more power to influence their elected officials and push for change than they realize. Now it’s time to put that power into action. But what does that look like? We talk about the Safety Pin Movement (26:30). Some have said that it’s an embarrassing display of “white people making themselves feel better.” Abiola shares his perspective about how to translate good intentions into action (9:45, 36:30).

Want to learn more? Read more of Abiola's thoughts, follow okayafrica and continue the conversation by connecting with Abiola on Twitter.

Cocktail Banter, Episode 8: So What Happens After November 8?

Cocktail Banter connects you with the best of politics and pop culture. It’s the podcast that gives you everything you need to know to be in the know.

This week, we’re talking with Michelle Cottle, a contributing editor at The Atlantic, about America’s deeply divided electorate.

A recent survey showed the widening gap between Trump and Clinton voters: 72% of Trump voters think American society has changed for the worse since the 1950s, but 70% of Clinton supporters think it’s changed for the better.

What happens to a deeply divided electorate after Election Day? Stories like this one, about the burning of an African American church in Mississippi (where "Vote Trump" was spray painted on the side) and this one, about Muslims parents addressing their children's concerns that they might be kicked out of the U.S, show the fears stoked by this election season aren't going away anytime soon.  

How can we address and mend the divisions in our society that have been brought to the forefront during this campaign? 

Cottle discusses her recent piece "Trump's Fans Have More To Lose Than Trump Himself,” and highlights problems that lie ahead if the resentments stirred up by Trump remain unaddressed. (3:11)  

We discuss the causes of these divisions (4:55), and what political leaders and citizens can do to mend them in the days ahead. (6:00, 9:12)

Cottle shares her thoughts about how the GOP should have a plan to calm unrest after the election (16:10, 19:38) and how Clinton could address the divisions in our society if she is elected president (6:39).

She also shares her thoughts about what every American can do to help put a stop to sexism, regardless of who is elected president next week. (10:52. Also check out her piece on the rise in overt sexism, “The Era of ‘The Bitch’ is Coming.")

We debate whether Trump will make a concession speech if he loses (23:30), and how Clinton should plan for the day after the election (17:12).

Check out Cottle’s pieces in The Atlantic and continue the conversation by connecting with her on Twitter.

Cocktail Banter, Episode 7: War Crimes Shouldn't Pay

Cocktail Banter connects you with the best of politics and pop culture. It’s the podcast that gives you everything you need to know to be in the know.

This week, we’re talking with J.R. Mailey, a Senior Policy Analyst at the Enough Project and the lead author of a new report about corruption in South Sudan.

The report - War Crimes Shouldn’t Pay - was launched by George Clooney and John Prendergast as part of their new Sentry partnership, an initiative to stop the funding of crimes against humanity.

J.R. shares how South Sudanese leaders are lining their pockets to fund their militias and for their own personal gain, while the people of South Sudan suffer. (15:50) He highlights the underlying problem: corrupt leaders aren't facing consequences for looting state assets and committing mass atrocities. (19:00)   

The Sentry proposes a new approach to fight corruption by targeting the wallets of corrupt leaders with the tools of financial pressure usually used to counter terrorism and nuclear proliferation. (You might recall we talked about following the money trail to track terrorists back in Episode One.) 

War Crimes Shouldn't Pay outlines a path forward to fix a broken system by tackling the problems head-on and using the financial intelligence toolkit to make an impact. (29:00) 

I also talk about my own experiences in South Sudan (14:15), and why I think corruption there should matter to all of us. (1:14) We highlight the problems that can arise when violence is covered as an “ethnic conflict,” sometimes missing systemic problems of governance, and how leaders in a corrupt government might be exploiting ethnic divisions for political gain. (7:00, 16:40, 29:19)

We discuss what it means for an investigation to have the backing of celebrities like George Clooney and Don Cheadle of Not On Our Watch, and how star power can help to move policies forward. (48:26)

You can find the full report and highlights here, as well as more information about how you can get involved in the Sentry’s efforts. 

Cocktail Banter, Episode 6: Lessons On Leadership

Cocktail Banter connects you with the best of politics and pop culture. It’s the podcast that gives you everything you need to know to be in the know.

This week, we’re talking with Robert Acton, the principal and founder of Cause Strategy Partners, a firm that provides strategic counsel and high-impact programming to foundations, companies and nonprofit organizations. 

Rob has led social good organizations for more than two decades, and along the way he’s become an expert on nonprofit leadership and social impact. Today, he consults with Fortune 500 companies like Google, HBO, Verizon and Time Warner on topics related to board service and leadership. 

Last year, Rob's firm conducted a study to determine the leadership qualities people would most like to see in their boss. He shares his thoughts about the most sought-after leadership quality and how we can cultivate it in our own lives (16:07).

Rob gives his perspective about why anyone can become a great leader (15:50), and we discuss what Pope Francis, Bill Clinton and Steve Jobs have in common (12:59). 

And if you dream about turning your side hustle into a full-time gig, tune in at the end of the show to hear the lessons he learned when he launched his firm (30:35).  

To read more of Rob’s thoughts about leadership, check out what he thinks makes a great leader and the leadership lessons he learned over a latte. And continue the conversation by connecting with Rob and Cause Strategy Partners on Twitter.

Cocktail Banter, Episode 5: Political Rhetoric vs Political Reality

Cocktail Banter connects you with the best of politics and pop culture. It’s the podcast that gives you everything you need to know to be in the know.

This week, we’re talking with Barton Swaim, the author of The Speechwriter. A review in The Washington Post described the book as a cross between Veep and All the King’s Men, "an entertaining and engrossing book not just about the absurdities of working in the press shop of a Southern governor but also about the meaning of words in public life.” 

Barton served as the speechwriter for South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, whom you probably remember for that infamous “hiking the Appalachian trail” press conference.

In a recent Washington Post column, Barton wrote this, which struck a chord with me: "An effective politician, let’s remember, is someone who has found success at convincing large numbers of people that he or she, rather than someone else, possesses sufficient sagacity and strength of character to solve some complicated set of problems. Give me power, the politician says to us, because I am honest and compassionate and capable. Without ever making it so crassly explicit, that is what it takes to win elections. Which ought to make us ask ourselves: What sort of person would do that? And why on Earth would I trust him with more power or put her name on my bumper?"

In our conversation, Barton and I discuss the dilemma we face as we search for a politician who will take a stand based on principles, regardless of the outcome or the personal cost. Even when a politician might seem to fit that description, he or she is still reliant upon the approval of the electorate to stay in office. So how should we gauge political speech? (12:40, 21:00)

He also shares his thoughts about Trump, the candidate who is lauded – like Sanford – for saying it like it is. (25:30)

And he gives us advice about how to decode political speech in the midst of this election season. (27:00)

Check out The Speechwriter and then continue the conversation by connecting with Barton on Twitter.

Cocktail Banter, Episode 4: Building Peace Starts With Crossing Borders

Cocktail Banter connects you with the best of politics and pop culture. It’s the podcast that gives you everything you need to know to be in the know.

This week, we're talking with Erin Spens, a Los Angeles-based writer and the editor of Boat magazine, a travel and culture publication that focuses on a different city in each issue. 

Erin makes the case that the more we cross borders and engage with others, the safer the world becomes. She shares some of her adventures from traveling around the world and talks about the people who have influenced her perspective, including a woman who survived the bombing of Hiroshima and her advice about what each of us can do to prevent war (31:30). It’s advice that feels pretty timely in the midst of this election season. 

We talk about how Erin lived outside of her comfort zone in Istanbul, from listening to the daily call to prayer to joining in Ramadan celebrations (11:56). 

We also discuss how we can explore cultural exchanges at home, even when travel isn't an option. Erin suggests reading books that show life from different perspectives, like Narcopolis, a book about the drug trade in India. And if hearing her stories about life in Turkey makes you interested to learn more about the country, she recommends reading a book by Orhan Pamuk, like My Name Is Red or Istanbul.

You can continue the conversation online by connecting with Erin on Twitter. And make sure to find Boat online as well - its Instagram feed is one of my favorites. Check it out and you'll see why Design Week called the magazine, "A brilliant concept and equally brilliant execution." Past issues of Boat - featuring cities like Havana, Sarajevo and Detroit - are available for purchase here

Cocktail Banter, Episode 3: Do presidential elections really change U.S. foreign policy?

Cocktail Banter connects you with the best of politics and pop culture. It’s the podcast that gives you everything you need to know to be in the know.

This week, we're talking with Ben Chang, a foreign service officer who served for nearly two decades as a communications and policy advisor for White House and Cabinet officials. He’s consulted on key foreign policy issues in both Republican and Democratic administrations, and now he’s using that expertise as the Managing Director of U.S. Public Affairs & Crisis practice at Burson-Marsteller.

Ben talks with us about whether the presidential election really matters when it comes to foreign policy. Republican party leaders are making the case that surrounding their candidate with experienced advisors will temper his ideology. (In spite of the evidence to the contrary and Kasich's warning that Trump is influencing GOP foreign policy.) So how influential is the foreign policy establishment? Once a President-elect takes office, does his or her view of the world impact policy-making? Or is U.S. policy consistent, regardless of who holds office?

Tune into our conversation below, or find us on iTunes and subscribe to Cocktail Banter. 

In this episode, Ben talks about his experience overseas as a high school student (5:30), traveling to the Soviet Union and Central America. Click here to watch Reagan talk about the program Ben participated in – an exchange program designed to promote international exchanges between the USSR and the U.S. Reagan touted citizen diplomacy as a path to an enduring peace, since "people-to-people contacts can build genuine constituencies for peace in both countries.” If you're interested in the idea of citizen diplomacy, here’s more from a city in Florida that partnered with a Russian city in the 1980s, and has continued its efforts in the decades since then. They've created a citizen diplomacy program that builds sister city relationships between cities in Israel, Palestine and Jordan and the United States.  

Ben discusses the Bush-Obama transition (22:00) and how the tone set by incoming and outgoing leaders makes an impact (23:50). I mention the missing Ws on the keyboards during the 2001 transition between Clinton and Bush. Was that "fraternity-party disarray" or the scandal that wasn't

In our conversation, I noted that Ben worked at the United Nations for both the Clinton and Bush administrations (11:30), but neglected to mention that he worked with Madeleine Albright when she served as Secretary of State in the 1990s. (At the UN, he served with U.S. Ambassador Bill Richardson.) Albright recently said Trump would flunk her class on foreign policy, and while that's a good quip, I thought this was an even better point: "I have been in the situation room. I know what...temperament is necessary. What you need to have is somebody who doesn't think he knows everything...who is respectful of people's opinions, who listens, who makes considered judgments..." 

We talk about the impact of presidential priorities (19:30), and I mention how I saw the impact of presidential agenda-setting as genocide erupted in Darfur (34:47). Bush made Sudan a priority, even in a post-9/11 context, and he took the lead on working to bring peace to the region. He called the situation in Darfur genocide before others were willing to do so, and worked to make a difference through strategic diplomacy. Of course, the situation in Sudan is now as complex as ever, and citizens there are no closer to finding peace (for reasons we can discuss on a future episode). 

Ben raises a good point in our discussion - what's the longer-term impact of seeing foreign policy as a zero-sum game? (28:30) 

Check out Ben's TEDx talk, "Let your passions impact your day job." (Spoiler: Ben mentions a conversation with Obama about Jay-Z in the Oval Office.) Continue the conversation by connecting with him on Twitter