At Length with Rob Reich on the Failures of Philanthropy

Some rich people give away some of their money. They are philanthropists. They probably see themselves as doing good. Are they? 

Through their wealth, philanthropists influence society. Is that fair?

As it is currently set-up, Rob Reich says it isn’t. Reich (pronounced “reesh”) is a professor of political science and faculty co-director for the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society at Stanford. He has written “Just Giving: Why Philanthropy Is Failing Democracy And How it Can Do Better.”

Rob Reich will be talking about the cons and pros of philanthropy with Jeff Raikes,co-founder of the Raikes Foundation and one-time CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. 

This Town Hall event takes place at the Impact Hub on 2nd Avenue in downtown Seattle, Wednesday November 28that 7:30,

(I didn’t have a great Skype connection with Reich, so there are a few electronic glitches in the audio. My apologies.)

Here is an annotation of our interview.

02:12 The organizing institutions of philanthropies in the U.S.

03:05 School fundraising prompted his interest.

05:24 Why are philanthropies tax exempt?

06:20 Rockefeller and the dawn of modern foundations.

10:02 Is having lots of money inherently undemocratic?

11:45 Philanthropies contribute to the calcification of society.

16:24 The tax advantages of philanthropy

19:30 Big philanthropic institutions should pioneer new ideas.

26:56 Why not take away their tax exemptions and deductions.

29:10 Why Phil Knight should have burned his 400 million dollar gift to Stanford.

31:48 The appropriate attitude is to engage in our government. Philanthropy should support government efforts, not circumvent them.

34:59 The philanthropists who work that way.

36:18 The confusion over political giving and philanthropies

39:12 On-stage with Jeff Raikes

"The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life" by David Quammen

Humans have about 8% virus DNA in our bodies. Who knew.

It might be time to rethink our notion of the evolutionary tree of life. Turns out that life on earth isn't simply the development of simple to more complex organisms. It is that, but it is something else too.

Humans are related to viruses and bacteria as well as chimps and other sapiens.  All along the path of evolution, DNA from one species is able to move over to another.

Horizontal gene transfer might sound like something done in a laboratory, like putting a squid gene in a rabbit so it might glow.  Weird as that sounds, it has been done.  But It turns out it is more normal than was once understood.  Sharing DNA between species has been a part of evolution since life began.

Science writer David Quammen says perhaps a better metaphor than a tree might be an elaborate topiary.  The Tangled tree: A Radical New History of Life,”  explores the new scientific understanding that tangles up the "tree of life" metaphor.    

I spoke with Quammen a few weeks before his September 10, 2018 talk about his new book for Town Hall at Pigott Auditorium on the Seattle University campus.



Our Towns: A 10,000-Mile Journey Into The Heart of America

James and Deborah Fallows spent the last five years piloting their small plane across America. They visited small cities where citizens are working together to build communities where opportunity and connection matter. Their book, “Our Towns: A 10,000 Mile Journey Into the Heart of America,” can be read as a tonic to our toxic national politics.

Read More

"I Like it Live": Feliks Banel and the Allure of Live Broadcasting

From the 1920’s until television permanently settled into our living rooms in the late 1950’s, radio blasted out comedies, variety shows, adventures and dramas to waiting listeners. Radio launched performers like Jack Benny and Fred Allen into stardom. It offered established stars like Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Jimmy Stewart and Frank Sinatra an audience during lulls in their film careers.  Radio became a second platform for Hollywood screenplays like “The Bishops’ Wife,” a 1947 holiday movie starring David Niven, Cary Grant and Loretta Young that resurfaced with a different cast on the Lux Radio Theater in 1949.


Feliks Banel is a local historian, writer and radio producer.  He has been producing a live holiday radio broadcast for the past few years.  This year he is again bringing “The Bishop’s Wife,” starring familiar voices from KIRO radio to a Town Hall stage. KIRO’s Dave Ross leads the cast at University Temple Church Friday December 8th, 2017 at 8 pm,


Feliks joined me for a long talk about the future of radio and the qualities of recorded and live performances in the age of the independent podcaster.


Dan Ariely Has A Few Rules To Help You Think About Money

At Length features interviews by Steve Scher with artists, authors and scholars visting Town Hall Seattle

Our irrational behavior interferes with our best efforts to curb spending and increase saving. Dan Ariely has come up with some rules of thumb that can help us make better decisions.

Dollars and Sense: How We Misthink Money and How to Spend Smarter is co-written with lawyer and comedian Jeff Kreisler. Dan Ariely is a professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University. He is the author of research articles and books, including Predictably Irrational, and The Honest Truth About Dishonesty.

Ariely’s insights go beyond budgets and spending. Ariely studied philosophy before turning to psychology. His research extends into exploring the reasons people behave in ways that are counter to their own interests and to the maintenance a strong civil society. 


What Russia's Return To Totalitarianism Might Teach America

At Length is a podcast featuring interview with visiting scholar and authors to Town Hall Seattle.

How far removed is Vladimir Putin, the leader of Russia, from the Czars of old and the Soviet Premiers of the past century?

What is the source of his grip power in Russia? What happened along the path to democracy envisioned after the end of the Soviet Union?  What does the resurgence of this totalitarian state, adept in the use of modern digital tools of political warfare, tell us about status of democracy in the US?

"The Future is History" by journalist Masha Gessen is a journey thru Russia’s recent political changes. The book follows 4 young Russians who were born in 80’s. Their lives mirror the ups and downs most Russians experienced as the country opened ever so briefly and then closed around itself again.

Masha Gessen is a Russian-American writer. She is the author of 9 books including a highly regarded biography of Vladimir Putin. Her work appears regularly in the New York Review of Books, as well as Slate, The New Yorker and Vanity Fair. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship and a Carnegie Fellowship.