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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.
25 Episodes
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.
Coming soon: When nerdy gamer Sam Bankman-Fried rocketed to fame as the world’s richest 29-year-old, he pledged to donate his billions to good causes. But then his crypto exchange FTX collapsed Billions of dollars were missing, and Sam was in handcuffs. Those who knew him were left wondering — who was Sam really? A well-meaning billionaire who made a mistake? Or a calculating con man? From Wondery and Bloomberg, the makers of The Shrink Next Door, comes a new story of incredible wealth, betrayal and what happens when “doing good” goes really really bad. Learn more here: for privacy information.
Name a flashpoint in the US culture wars – and then think about how it intersects with education – and you’re sure to find Florida. The state’s governor, Ron DeSantis, is a devoted and ubiquitous culture warrior who has put the public education of Florida’s children, teenagers, and college students on the front lines of a battle over what is and isn’t appropriate for the classroom. The stakes, as DeSantis has defined them, involve preserving parents’ prerogatives, curtailing harmful discussions of race, gender and historical injustices (or “wokism,” in his description), and reasserting the state’s right to be an educational arbiter. DeSantis’s critics, including Tim, say Desantis’ policies are retrogressive and benighted – and undermine students’ understanding of their own bodies, minds, histories and place in the world. Today we’re going to focus on contentious debates around how two subjects are taught: African-American history and sex education. Marlon Williams-Clark is a high school social studies teacher in Florida, and Lisa Jarvis is a science columnist for Bloomberg Opinion.See for privacy information.
Andi Owen, the CEO of MillerKnoll, recently went viral for telling employees not to ask about bonuses during a company-wide meeting, adding, “You can visit pity city, but you can't live there.” The company said Owen’s comments were taken out of context and that she is committed to her team. But in a still newly post-Covid world and workplace, Owen’s advice about traveling to Pity City struck a nerve. There are so many tensions still at play in blue-collar and white-collar workplaces: work-from-home, wages, and balancing work and gratification – all in the shadow of a pandemic that took about seven million lives globally. Sarah Green Carmichael has written about work culture, including the “Pity City” boss, childcare, and the merits of hybrid work as a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion. See for privacy information.
The Supreme Court justices get lucrative book deals, luxe travel junkets, and the freedom to invest in almost anything they want – all with limited and forgiving disclosures. And one justice, Clarence Thomas, has routinely offered evidence of some of the Court’s most glaring conflicts of interest. ProPublica recently revealed a goldmine of gifts and financial favors Thomas has received from a prominent Texas businessman, Harlan Crow. Thomas also has a spouse who makes a living advocating for conservative causes that have also found their way to the court. How disinterested can the justices be ruling on weighty matters like corporate power, business competition, and the future of democracy when their own wallets are involved? Gabe Roth is the founder and executive director of Fix the Court, a nonpartisan advocacy group pushing for various court reforms, including new ethics guidelines.See for privacy information.
Fox News – at least the part represented by the network’s powerhouse evening talk shows – is often an unfettered disinformation machine. It has propagated myths, far-right talking points, and conspiracy theories with unencumbered gusto. Until that is, it helped circulate the Big Lie about electoral fraud in the 2020 presidential election. It placed two voting machine companies, Dominion Voting Systems and Smartmatic, at the center of a scam…that wasn’t a scam. That invited both companies’ wrath and they have sued Fox for libel. A Delaware judge, Eric Davis, recently allowed Dominion’s claim to proceed to trial – opening arguments were supposed to start this week but have been delayed. In moving the case along, Judge Davis indicated that he believed Dominion’s claims had substantial merit and Fox’s defenses might be built on sand. Joining Crash Course is David Folkenflik, the media correspondent for National Public Radio and the author of “Murdoch's World: The Last of the Old Media Empires.” See for privacy information.
Trump vs. The Law

Trump vs. The Law


Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg recently charged former president Donald Trump with crimes related to multiple acts of fraudulent bookkeeping. The case sparked vigorous debates about when presidents are and aren’t fair game for law enforcement officials. Tim happens to believe that no one – including the president – is above the law, but there are good and diverse perspectives on all sides of this issue. To examine Trump’s collision with the rule of law, and the tarpit of legal cases and investigations engulfing the former president – in New York, Georgia, Washington and elsewhere – Tim invited Noah Feldman to our podcast. Noah is a Harvard Law professor, a Bloomberg Opinion columnist, and a wildly graceful writer and thinker.See for privacy information.
Berlin is the epicenter of one of the most grotesque authoritarian moments in world history: the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime, and all of the horrors that flowed out of that. To consider that history, and the possible threats from authoritarianism in the present, Tim asked his colleague Andreas Kluth, who writes about politics and national security for Bloomberg Opinion, to be his tour guide around the city. Together, they examined three landmark sites – the Reichstag building, Hitler’s bunker, and the Holocaust Memorial – to see what can be learned from the past.See for privacy information.
Imagine you couldn’t take another breath because oxygen disappeared. You gasp for air until your body shuts down. Money provides oxygen to our economy. When the money flow slows, so does the economy. If money stops circulating, the economy seizes. Like your body deprived of oxygen, it shuts down. That’s why banking crises freak out people. Banks are the lungs of a thriving economy, oxygenating everything with money. Silicon Valley Bank collapsed recently, a debacle that exposed fault lines running beneath a legendary financial ecosystem. But it was just one bank. Since then, though, other banks have run into trouble. Sitting atop that uncertainty is the Federal Reserve, the powerhouse that sets interest rates – and thus governs how easy it is for money to course through the economy. To help solve that mystery, Tim spoke with Paul Davies, a financial columnist for Bloomberg Opinion and somebody steeped in the chaos that can happen when banks and money collide with human frailty – and the power of the Fed. Corrects audio to remove reference to Peter Thiel in discussion about the run on Silicon Valley Bank. See for privacy information.
When Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, he intended to quickly subjugate the entire country. That, of course, didn’t happen. Ukraine – backed by a global alliance – fought back. Tens of thousands of Ukrainians and Russians have died and tens of millions of people have been displaced, energy markets have been disrupted, diplomatic relationships have been reordered, Western Europe has rearmed, and NATO has been revitalized. Punishing sanctions have been imposed on Russia, but strangling its economy has been difficult. Still, Putin’s war machine has been exposed as disastrously inept, and he’s threatened to use nuclear weapons if necessary. To take stock of all of this, Tim is joined by Stephen Kotkin, a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution who is widely regarded as one of the foremost experts on Russia – its history, culture, and economy. See for privacy information.
Remember the early days of COVID-19 lockdowns when, practically overnight, it seemed that every shop closed its doors? Do you remember how all of those small businesses you might have taken for granted – the ones that gave life and an identity to your community – suddenly felt essential to you? Tim watched lots of small businesses in his small town in New Jersey struggle, including his favorite local bakery, Montclair Bread Company. Three years later, he tracks the trials and tribulations this unimaginable public health and economic crisis threw at the bakery and its owner, Rachel Wyman. See for privacy information.
Artificial intelligence, or “AI” – the foundation of decades of science fiction and movies – has gone mainstream. It’s here. ChatGPT, a chatbot launched in late 2022, is a free, ask-me-anything tool that can write seemingly perfect essays and accurately answer most questions users throw at it. Its AI is built atop a vast reservoir of digital information and languages. Sydney, a glitchy and trippy Microsoft chatbot, recently told a New York Times reporter that it loved him, wanted to be alive and harbored destructive impulses. It's cool. It’s disturbing. It’s empowering. It’s vaguely threatening. It challenges us to wonder whether we’ll stay in control of the bots or whether they’ll control us.  For this episode, Tim spoke with both Parmy Olson, a Bloomberg Opinion technology columnist who is an AI guru, and Tyler Cowen, a genius economist and Bloomberg columnist, to help sort through all of this.See for privacy information.
The Winklevoss twins are known for walking away from Facebook with tens of millions in stock and other payments. More recently, they’re known for a new project: An asset management firm and a digital currency exchange that made them marquee players in the recent cryptocurrency boom and meltdown. There are other, more significant crypto players (think Sam Bankman-Fried) but the twins fascinate Tim O’Brien because they embody the sort of collision Crash Course lives for: between innovation and possible hucksterism, and between authenticity and possible manipulation. Crypto is one of the most revolutionary and over-hyped inventions of the 21st century and how the Winklevii intersected with that market is a tale that sheds light on finance and on financial bubbles – and on what happens when everybody thinks they can get rich quickly.  Joining Tim to discuss all of this is Lionel Laurent, a financial columnist for Bloomberg Opinion and someone who has spent a lot of time watching crypto evolve. See for privacy information.
Oatly vs. Big Milk

Oatly vs. Big Milk


It’s hard for little companies to take on huge competitors – especially an industry like Big Milk, which has a longstanding grip on consumers’ diets and lifestyles. It takes attitude to consider yourself a revolutionary force rather than just a carton of milk. It takes courage and vision to create a whole new food category. Oatly is one of those companies: It’s a pioneer, but it has struggled with growth and competition recently. Oatly’s story will make you think about what food you put in your body, how the milk industry markets its wares, and whether Oatly can live up to its promises.See for privacy information.
U.S. police officers shoot and kill more than 1,000 people annually. According to a Washington Post study, half of those people are White, but Blacks are shot at more frequently, even though they represent just 14% of the population, and are killed at more than twice the rate of Whites. The same is true of Hispanic Americans and Latinos. This is a collision of the rawest and most brutal sort and it raises myriad questions about safe streets and public safety; crime, racism and institutional violence; police training and the increased militarization of US police forces. This week on Crash Course, Tim O’Brien interviews two guests: Radley Balko, a journalist and the author of “The Rise of the Warrior Cop,” and Laurence Ralph, an anthropology professor at Princeton University and the director of the Center on Transnational Policing.See for privacy information.
Native Americans now run about half of the national gambling market – or about $40 billion in casino revenue – but the threat the digital boom poses to Native American tribes is often overlooked. The Mashantucket Pequot tribe has overcome a daunting history: genocide, expropriation, financial crises, and public health threats to find themselves now contending with digital upheaval. Can they survive this latest threat? This is the third of three episodes about the past, present, and future of the multi-billion-dollar sports betting boom, and its impact on games, fans, and society. The series will take you from Chicago to London to the tribal lands of Connecticut to learn more about the rise of mobile betting and match fixing, and the future of tribal casinos.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. This is the second of three episodes about the past, present, and future of the multi-billion-dollar sports betting boom, and its impact on games, fans, and society. The series will take you from Chicago to London to the tribal lands of Connecticut to learn more about the rise of mobile betting and match fixing, and the future of tribal casinos.See for privacy information.
If it hasn’t already, sports gambling is coming to your town, your living room, and your cell phone. Americans bet about $450 million on sports every day! That’s one of those numbers Tim O’Brien doesn’t even know how to comprehend – it’s so huge! – but, of course, gamblers lose a lot of that money. That’s how the industry pulled in $44 billion last year, and it looks like betting is going to keep on exploding. To better understand that boom, Tim spent time with somebody who’s really good at navigating all of the ups and downs of gambling: Blair Montgomery, one of the industry’s super users. He gambles every day, and he’s making more money betting than he does from his day job.  This is the first of three episodes about the past, present, and future of the multi-billion-dollar sports betting boom, and its impact on games, fans, and society. The series will take you from Chicago to London to the tribal lands of Connecticut to learn more about the rise of mobile betting and match fixing, and the future of tribal casinos.See for privacy information.
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