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Crash Course

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Hosted by Bloomberg Opinion senior executive editor Tim O'Brien, Crash Course will bring listeners directly into the arenas where epic business and social upheavals occur. Every week, Crash Course will explore the lessons to be learned when creativity and ambition collide with competition and power -- on Wall Street and Main Street, and in Hollywood and Washington.
42 Episodes
Have voters, politicos, analysts, and the media focused before with such intensity on a presidential race in the US more than a year before the actual vote? Perhaps. But I’m willing to say: Probably not. The reasons why this race is so magnetic are overt. Trump and Trumpism are in the air. Democracy is on the table. Pivotal policy issues are in play: reproductive rights, immigration, jobs and the economy, health care, public health and public safety, education, national security, the rule of law, and the funding and future shape of the federal government. Social media chews on all of this 24-7. Information – and disinformation – is ubiquitous. Partisanship is at a boiling point and Democrats and Republicans are maneuvering for position. Peggy Collins is the Washington bureau chief of Bloomberg News and a veteran national and local news reporter. See for privacy information.
Ever since Vladimir Putin sent Russian tanks rolling into Ukraine in early 2022, assumptions about the possibility of war in the 21st Century have been turned on their heads. A long absence of conflict in Europe gave way to a bloody and sustained ground war. Russia has even warned it might unleash nuclear missiles. China, rattling its own saber in Asia, looms large in the background – just as it did in the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. Nukes are the new normal. Hal Brands is a foreign policy professor at Johns Hopkins University, co-author of "Danger Zone: The Coming Conflict with China," a member of the State Department's Foreign Affairs Policy Board, and a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. See for privacy information.
Silicon Valley is the centerpiece of a very specific kind of bro culture – a culture that has had a certain winner-take-all mojo over the years, but which may be running its course. To test this thesis, I present you with Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg, founders of such landmark companies as Tesla, SpaceX, and Meta (aka Facebook). They are both innovators, admirable risk-takers, and bazillionaires. They’ve also struggled to evolve; to have early, vaunted reputations as wise men correspond with equally wise management and wise decisions as the world around them changed. Kara Swisher is the host of the “On With Kara Swisher” and “Pivot” podcasts, and an editor-at-large at New York magazine. See for privacy information.
Weather is fickle and climate-related catastrophes have become all too common – in the US and around the globe. Deadly, rain-induced flooding, interspersed with deadly, heat-induced fires have also visited the Koreas, Ethiopia, Australia, Pakistan, India, Brazil, the UK, Canada, Greece, and other countries during this still new 21st century. We now live in a climate-changed world in which every season or region is host to the hottest, the driest, the coldest or the wettest moment of the modern human era. We are the authors of the disasters and victims of the consequences. Mother Nature has had enough. Mark Gongloff is a columnist with Bloomberg Opinion who specializes in covering the environment and climate change. See for privacy information.
Any time Tim O’Brien sees a Republican presidential candidate (other than Donald Trump) on television, he’s reminded that they and their party look like they’re in a hostage video. They are all trapped by Trump, and none of them have convinced Tim that they can escape. Trump's Republican challengers held their first national debate recently, offering an array of pols trying to make a case for themselves and the GOP’s future. Meanwhile, Trump counter-programmed, sitting down with former Fox News propagandist and conspiracy theorist Tucker Carlson. Susan Del Percio is a Republican political strategist and an adviser to a variety of political and corporate campaigns. See for privacy information.
“Barbie,” the summer blockbuster about the world’s most famous doll, has a lot to say about the intersection of art, commerce, gender, identity, and a life well lived. But one reason it has raked in more than $1 billion in global box office sales is because it offers a provocative and funny send-up of mind-numbing, soul-crushing corporate conformity. Barbie is totemic and has had the power to brainwash, inspire, derail, and draw in the girls who have played with her for decades. The movie explores all of that, largely unflinchingly, even if it does pull a few of its punches. Mattel may be having the last laugh: It’s raking in handsome piles of cash from all of this – at movie theaters, in sales of related merch, and in its newfound role as the purveyor of franchise toys that can be made into boffo, franchise films. Emma Gray is a columnist with MSNBC, co-hosts the podcast, “Love to See It,” and is the author of “A Girl’s Guide to Joining the Resistance.” See for privacy information.
The U.S. is now in the unprecedented position of having a man who has thus far been charged with 78 crimes being the clear front-runner for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination in 2024. There is a swamp of issues to unravel around all of this – including Trump’s legal perils, the character and policies of a Republican Party he owns, and the future of American democracy. Joining us today to make sense of all of this is Charlie Sykes. Charlie, a committed and confounded Republican, is the editor of the commentary site, The Bulwark, and host of the Bulwark Podcast. He’s also a political analyst for MSNBC and the author of several books, including “How the Right Lost Its Mind.”See for privacy information.
Kenya is home to some of the planet’s most glorious – and most threatened – wildlife. Like everything else on Earth, the animals that once thrived in this Eden are suffering through the cataclysm of climate change. Long droughts interspersed with violent and irregular flooding have altered migration patterns and essential sustenance. Local farmers and semi-nomadic herders are struggling to preserve their livelihoods. East Africa’s droughts, the worst in at least 40 years, have already brought waves of famine. And the clock is ticking as increasingly formidable environmental challenges bear down. Spiking temperatures mean that much of what has made Kenya, Kenya, may eventually disappear. To explore all of this, Tim spoke with guides at two of Kenya’s conservancies: Tom Njogu, the head guide at the Lewa Safari Camp; and Dickson Kereto, a veteran guide at the Mara Naboisho Conservancy. See for privacy information.
Americans bet about $165 billion a year, but here’s something Tim O’Brien worries about: When there’s billions of dollars on the line, how likely is it that your favorite sport is going to get corrupted? Gamblers and criminals have been trying to rig games since the Olympics first began – it still goes on all the time if you look for it. Enter SportRadar, where former intelligence operatives, police detectives, journalists, and computer geeks track 500,000 sporting matches around the world every year, on the hunt for potential fixes. We first published this episode around the Super Bowl as part of a three-part series about the past, present, and future of the multi-billion-dollar sports betting boom, and its impact on games, fans, and society. You can also listen to the other two episodes in the series: about the rise of mobile betting and the future of tribal casinos. See for privacy information.
Women vs. Wall Street

Women vs. Wall Street


Wall Street can be a minefield for any competitive or ambitious person seeking a rewarding career, a name for themselves, and handsome paydays. They quickly find themselves surrounded by other competitive and ambitious people looking for exactly the same things. For women, the challenges can run even deeper and for them, the world of Wall Street is particularly fraught. What’s it like to fight through those challenges, especially when your own dreams collide with hurdles – that is, when they collide with men? Elizabeth Rossiello is the CEO of AZA Finance, a fintech and forex company based in Nairobi and London, and her path has taken her through Wall Street, crypto, fintech and Africa. See for privacy information.
Semiconductors allow for massive, accessible, and ubiquitous computing and they are such stuff as dreams are made on. They’re pivotal components of the burgeoning artificial intelligence industry, and they now power everything from cars and appliances to missile defense systems and nuclear weaponry. Chips are so central to the consumer world, the shape of economies, and national security that they also inform geopolitical maneuvering – and the head-butting between China and the US for global dominance. Chris Miller is the author of “Chip Wars: The Fight for the World’s Most Crucial Technology,” and a historian at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. See for privacy information.
Every generation produces a financier or businessperson who personifies how easy it can be to part fools from their money, part smart people from their senses, and part the media from skepticism. There’s a long list of exhibits of that genre, from Charles Ponzi to Bernie Madoff. Does Sam Bankman-Fried belong in that pantheon? There’s lots of evidence suggesting he does. He – and the crypto-currency empire he built – are the subjects of sprawling fraud and money laundering probes. His company, FTX, is bankrupt and federal prosecutors in New York have indicted the 31 year-old former multi-billionaire for a range of financial crimes. SBF, as he’s known, maintains that he is innocent of any wrongdoing and he still gets to have his day in court. Hannah Miller covers crypto for Bloomberg News and is the host of a new podcast, “Spellcaster,” about the life and times of SBF. See for privacy information.
Winemaking may seem entirely glamorous but it’s really just another version of farming: It’s hard, unpredictable work, and farmers everywhere are wrestling with the onslaught of climate change. Climate change may make some of the world’s most fertile wine regions inhospitable to grape production. Winemaking was a competitive and unpredictable business long before climate change’s escalating challenges arrived. Bottling great wine requires as much art as science. During a recent trip to South Africa, Tim visited one of the world’s most spectacular wine regions – the Stellenbosch, outside of Cape Town, South Africa – and one of the area’s oldest vineyards, Rust en Vrede, where he spoke with the owner, Jean Engelbrecht.See for privacy information.
Britain vs. Brexit

Britain vs. Brexit


When British voters decided back in June 2016 to end their 43-year membership in the European Union, it seemed the most surreal political and economic event imaginable. The European Union was a statement of purpose as much as a trade relationship: It symbolized European countries putting centuries of hostility and two world wars behind in the interest of economic cooperation, and it represented European countries recognizing they had a more muscular global trade profile competing together rather than separately against powerhouses like the US. Brexit turned that on its head. It revealed the Tory Party as captive to its far right constituency, and put issues like immigration, regulation, globalization, and the identities of both Europe and the UK up for grabs. Joining Crash Course is Adrian Wooldridge, a Bloomberg Opinion columnist and an erudite, contrarian, and delightful observer of political economy and England. See for privacy information.
We all take for granted that nifty little miracle that happens when we flip a switch on our walls or lamps – the lights go on. Electricity is a modern marvel. It’s the juice that fuels much of what people mean when they talk about “civilization.” When we lose access to electricity, we feel the pain immediately. What we’re used to doing collides with what we suddenly can’t do. Now consider South Africa: the second-largest economy on the African continent and home to 61 million people. The entire country has faced rolling blackouts for about 15 years. How can that be? And what does the present and future hold for a country that doesn’t have a reliable source of electricity? During a trip to South Africa, Tim spoke with Paul Burkhardt, an energy reporter with Bloomberg News in Cape Town, and Olga Constantatos, a South African investor who has spent years watching the power crisis escalate in her country. See for privacy information.
Former President Donald Trump will walk into a federal courtroom in Miami today and face criminal charges for the second time in as many months. The indictment handed up last week charges Trump with misappropriating classified federal documents containing nuclear and military secrets, and obstructing government efforts to both collect them and investigate their disappearance. It’s an utterly devastating account, filled with evidence that Trump knew what he was doing was wrong and he did it anyway. Trump orchestrated the alleged crimes according to the indictment — he wasn’t a bystander. US v Trump is a case that invites a robust discussion, so Tim invited George Conway to Crash Course. George, a graduate of Yale Law School, is an accomplished lawyer and conservative activist who Trump once considered for senior legal roles in his administration. His wife Kellyanne was an adviser to Trump, and George is an acute observer of our shambolic political era. See for privacy information.
Conservatives vs. ESG

Conservatives vs. ESG


Robert Netzly is an Evangelical Christian trying to realize his values and stay true to his own beliefs while working in investing – and he personifies a bigger war going on in the investment world and American politics over a little acronym called ESG. In the last year, there’s been a Republican backlash to the trillions of dollars committed to investing practices that take environmental, social, and governance concerns (such as climate change and gender inequalities) into account. Saijel Kishan is an ESG reporter for Bloomberg News, and she wrote a fascinating piece last fall called “What Would Jesus Buy: Investor Charts Course for $2 Billion Fund.” In today’s special episode of Crash Course, she shares more of that story, which is a tale of two conflicts, in a way. Should there be biases in the investing world, be it faith-based or social activism? And should ESG exist at all?See for privacy information.
The media business has been home to experiments ever since the invention of paper. It’s hard to make money from those experiments, fuel the experiments with the right blend of content that attracts audiences, and turn those experiments into enterprises that can survive for years. Six prime experiments from digital media’s modern era all debuted in close proximity to one another in the early 2000s – Gawker, Facebook, Twitter, HuffPost, Politico and Business Insider. All were trailblazers in an innovative and unforgiving technological ecosystem that ultimately flattened local newspapers and spawned other closely-watched and lavishly-funded media start-ups, Vice Media and BuzzFeed among them. Some of the new entrants have faced the same fates as local news. What makes this so hard? What’s at stake? And what have digital media disruptions taught us? Joining Crash Course to make sense of all of this is Ben Smith, the editor-in-chief of Semafor and the author of “Traffic: Genius, Rivalry, and Delusion in the Billion-Dollar Race to Go Viral.”See for privacy information.
Last year – ten years after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut – one of the country’s biggest gunmakers, Remington Arms Co.,the manufacturer of the Bushmaster assault weapon used in the murders, agreed to pay $73 million to settle a lawsuit some victims’ families filed against it. It was a landmark settlement that opened a gap in the formidable legal and financial armor that had long allowed gunmakers to avoid both culpability and accountability for all of the other massacres that preceded Sandy Hook. It was rough justice, but the Remington case offered a roadmap for challenging the 2nd Amendment. Josh Koskoff was the attorney who represented the Sandy Hook families in the Remington case, and he’s now part of a team of lawyers representing families of some of the victims of a school shooting in Uvalde, Texas in 2022. See for privacy information.
AI vs. Money Managers

AI vs. Money Managers


Artificial intelligence has arrived courtesy of ChatGPT, the large language model software that already has more than 100 million users. ChatGPT’s debut signals that any number of jobs could be disrupted (and replaced) by bots, including money management – the science and art of successful investing for institutions and individuals. Investing has already been transformed over the last several decades by computers; an avalanche of ubiquitous global market, corporate, and financial data; oceans of liquidity; stronger risk management tools; and evermore probing and state-of-the-art quantitative analysis. AI promises to up the ante further. Aaron Brown and Nir Kaissar are both contributing columnists for Bloomberg Opinion and successful investors – Aaron is the former chief risk officer for one of the world’s largest hedge funds, AQR Capital Management, while Nir is the founder of Unison Advisors, an investment firm specializing in multi-asset portfolios. See for privacy information.
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