Shaping Opinion
Shaping Opinion
Tim O'Brien
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People, events and things that have shaped the way we think.
At the Intersection of Religion & Politics
Political science professor Dr. Michael Coulter joins Tim to talk about the challenges we face at the intersection of religion and politics. Michael is the chair of the Political Science and Humanities Department at Grove City College in Pennsylvania. In this episode we explore the current environment for civility and respect when it comes discussing religion and politics. It’s an election year, and people are on edge. Log on to social media and you’ll find everyone from celebrities to friends attacking each other over political, religious or social issues. Some people say they are trying to avoid certain family gatherings just to avoid those uncomfortable conversations. At the same time, as the nation gets closer to deciding an election, and the naming of a new Supreme Court justice, the intensity levels in the atmosphere are getting stronger. Against this backdrop many not only wonder how it got this way, but they wonder if we’ll ever get back to a time when society could discuss sensitive issues with civility and respect. Dr. Michael Coulter of Grove City College has spent the better part of his career and research with a focus on the interaction of religion and politics, along with Catholic social thought, and early modern political philosophy. He teaches students on political and moral philosophy.  In the course of that, he shows how to factor your own personal religious or moral values while also exploring larger political and strategic issues. Links * Grove City College * Dr. Michael Coulter (bio)
Oct 18
35 min
The Story Behind the Electoral College
Author and Electoral College expert Tara Ross joins Tim to tell the story behind the Electoral College, how it governs elections and why it is still needed. Tara’s latest book is entitled, “Why We Need the Electoral College.” It’s happened five times. Five times a candidate won the presidency even though he did not win the popular vote. He won the presidency because he won the Electoral College. If you’re wondering why the United States doesn’t just choose a president based only on the popular vote, the answer as we know it was given in 1804. Some in congress wanted Congress to choose the president. Others wanted a democratic popular vote. And even to this day, many Americans believe that we do elect a president based on that popular vote. The country’s leaders arrived at a compromise which created the Electoral College. Tara Ross is a retired attorney and the author of four books on the Electoral College. While she is one of the nation’s leading experts on the Electoral College, she continues to find that most Americans remain generally confused about why it exists and what it does. Links * Tara Ross Website * Why We Need the Electoral College, by Tara Ross (Amazon) * Presidential Election Process, * What is the Electoral College? National Archives About this Episode’s Guest Tara Ross Tara Ross is nationally recognized for her expertise on the Electoral College. She is the author of Why We Need the Electoral College (2019), The Indispensable Electoral College: How the Founders’ Plan Saves Our Country from Mob Rule (2017), We Elect A President: The Story of our Electoral College (2016), and Enlightened Democracy: The Case for the Electoral College (2d ed. 2012). She is also the author of She Fought Too: Stories of Revolutionary War Heroines (2019), and a co-author of Under God: George Washington and the Question of Church and State (2008) (with Joseph C. Smith, Jr.). Her Prager University video, Do You Understand the Electoral College?, is Prager’s most-viewed video ever, with more than 60 million views.   Tara often appears as a guest on a variety of talk shows nationwide, and she regularly addresses civic, university, and legal audiences. She’s contributed to many law reviews and newspapers, including the National Law Journal, USA Today, the Washington Examiner, The Hill, The Washington Times, and  She’s addressed audiences at institutions such as the Cooper Union, Brown University, the Dole Institute of Politics, and Mount Vernon. She’s appeared on Fox News, CSPAN, NPR, and a variety of other national and local shows. Tara is a retired lawyer and a former Editor-in-Chief of the Texas Review of Law & Politics. She obtained her B.A. from Rice University and her J.D. from the University of Texas School of Law.  She resides in Dallas with her husband and children.
Oct 11
52 min
Cal Thomas: The Fall of Empires, the Future of US
Best-selling Author and syndicated columnist Cal Thomas joins Tim to talk about the rise and fall of empires and super powers and what history can tell us about America’s future. Cal recently released a book called, “America’s Expiration Date: The fall of empires and superpowers, and the future of the United States.” Could you ever imagine a world where the United States is not one of its super powers? That’s the question that drove Cal Thomas to explore in his latest book, and the answers he found can be unsettling. Cal took a deep dive into the study of the eight greatest empires in world history. He studied the path they took to become great, and then he studied their fall, looking for patterns from one empire to the next, from one century to the next. One of the more common patterns he detected was that most of the greatest empires tended to fall into decline after about 250 years. If you’re wondering, you don’t have to do the math. I’ll do it for you. In 2026, the United States will mark its 250th birthday. He takes his readers through the Persian Empire, the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Arab Empire, the Spanish Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the British Empire, the Russian Empire, and he spends no small amount of time on the United States and its rise to Super Power status. Cal Thomas was able to take on the breathtaking challenge of working to cover so much of human history and to condense it into less than 200 pages. Links * Cal Thomas, Website * America's Expiration Date, Harper Collins * America's Expiration Date, Amazon About this Episode's Guest Cal Thomas Cal Thomas is one of the most widely syndicated columnists in America. His fifty-year journalism career includes anchoring and reporting for KPRC-TV in Houston, NBC News in Washington, Fox News Channel and other outlets. For ten years he co-wrote the Common Ground column for USA Today with his colleague, Bob Beckel. A native of Washington, D.C. and graduate of American University, Thomas is married to Christie Jean ("CJ"). The couple live in Key Largo, Florida. Visit
Oct 4
35 min
Kurt Elling: A Jazz Singer for Our Time
Influential jazz vocalist Kurt Elling joins Tim to talk about his life in jazz music and the unique role the vocalist plays, along with his multifaceted career in theatre and as one of jazz music’s poets. Kurt Elling is a Grammy award winning jazz vocalist. He’s been described by numerous jazz critics as one of the most influential male jazz vocalists over the past 25 years. The New York Times even described Kurt as “the standout male vocalist of our time.” His music oftentimes provides a blend of jazz swing with a poetic touch. The Jazz Journalists Association has named Kurt its “Male Singer of the Year” eight times. He sings everything from classic jazz standards to fresh originals. When you watch or listen to Kurt, you’re not witnessing a performance…you’re having a musical experience. The Wall Street Journal put it this way, “Elling combines authenticity with stunning originality.” Kurt’s most recent release is called Secrets Are the Best Stories. The project explores some of life’s most challenging philosophical questions. He’s joined in the project by an influential musician in his own right …pianist Danilo Pérez. Together the two draw inspiration from the musical and lyrical insights of jazz masters (Wayne Shorter, Jaco Pastorius), brilliant poets (Franz Wright, Robert Bly) and respected authors (Toni Morrison) to craft a set of stunning new compositions. Kurt Elling has performed in jazz clubs, symphony halls and festival stages around the world.  And he got is start in his native Chicago. Special Thanks to: Kurt Elling for allowing us to use his music tracks as part of the production of this episode. Links * * Kurt Elling: Living the Questions, Jazz Times * Kurt Elling, Grammy-winning Vocal Great. Eager to Swing and Lift Spirits, San Diego Tribune About this Episode’s Guest Kurt Elling Renowned for his singular combination of robust swing and poetic insight, GRAMMY winner Kurt Elling has secured his place among the world’s foremost jazz vocalists. Declared “the standout male vocalist of our time” by The New York Times, Elling has garnered unprecedented accolades, including a fourteen-year run atop the DownBeat Critics Poll, a dozen GRAMMY nominations, and eight Jazz Journalists Association awards for “Male Singer of the Year.” Elling’s voice is instantly recognizable, embracing listeners with his warm, rich baritone and navigating the full span of his four-octave range as a virtuoso instrumentalist and a compelling storyteller. Whether transforming timeless standards or crafting his own enthralling originals, Elling balances elegant lyricism and technical mastery with wry humor, emotional depth, and keen observations into the human condition. “Elling combines authenticity with stunning originality,” is how The Wall Street Journal describes his talents, while The Guardian has called him “a kind of Sinatra with superpowers.” The Toronto Star has gone so far as to say that “Kurt Elling is the closest jazz will ever get to having its own saint,” while The Guardian makes up one voice in a chorus calling him “one of jazz’s all-time great vocalists.” Elling’s most recent release, The Questions, vividly exemplifies his ability to respond to the world around him with both urgent immediacy and a unique perspective. Co-produced by NEA Jazz Master and acclaimed saxophonist Branford M...
Sep 27
44 min
FATIMA: The Miracle of the Sun
Veteran Hollywood producer Rose Ganguzza joins Tim to talk about her latest project. The picture is called, Fatima.  In this episode, Rose tells the story at the center of her most recent film, Fatima, and the creative process for bringing that story to today’s audiences and making it relevant and relatable, all while working to overcome a pandemic in the process. Lucia Santos and her cousins Jacinta and Francisco Marto lived in the small farming community of Fatima, Portugal in the Spring of 1917. As a world war raged in large parts of Europe, the young men of Fatima were largely on the battlefront, as anxious parents minded the farm, the home front, taking care of younger siblings and children, waiting for any bit of news that indicated their loved ones were alive and healthy. The air was tense with apprehension. But Lucia and her cousins were just kids. They worked in their families’ fields, tending to the sheep. In May of 1917, the three children were in the Cova da Iria fields near Fatima when all three said the lady appeared to them. Here’s how Lucia described her.  She said the lady was “brighter than the sun, shedding rays of light clearer and stronger than a crystal glass filled with the most sparkling water and pierced by the burning rays of the sun.” According to Lucia, the lady confided in the children. She shared three secrets that are now known as the Three Secrets of Fatima. She told the children to do penance and make sacrifices to save sinful people. She asked the kids to say the Rosary every day, repeating that the Rosary was the key to personal and world peace. She said that war is a punishment for sin and she warned that God would not tolerate disobedience to His will, as it’s the case through war, hunger, and the persecution of the Church and its faithful. The children said that the lady appeared to them on the 13th day of each month around Noon for six consecutive months. In such a small town, word traveled fast, and while there were a large number of skeptics, there were also people in need of faith. People who were sick, disabled, who had lost sons or brothers in the war. The stories of the visions of Mary gave them hope. So, they flocked to a hillside near Fatima to watch the kids talk to an unseen lady, but one that appeared to be quite visible to those children. The kids conversed in an unchoreographed way to the invisible woman.  But then on one of these appearances, with over 70,000 spectators watching, something unexplainable happened. On October 13, 1917, it was known as the day the sun danced. The day is remembered by the faithful as the Miracle of the Sun.  There are many accounts from that day of people watching the sun “dance” in the sky, fluctuate in color, swirl and descend toward earth. They describe howling winds, but still leaves in the trees. It was raining tremendously before the vision, but all clothes and mud had dried in an instant. One eyewitness by the name of Dominic Reis said of everyone’s clothes, “They looked as though they had just come back from the cleaners. Others claimed physical cures of those who were blind and disabled.  Given the time period, and the sheer numbers, there was much documentation of these stories to disprove or authenticize the event. Now, it’s 103 years later, and a new motion picture has found its way to whatever size screen you may have. The film is called Fatima, and one of the producers is Rose Ganguzza. Links * Fatima The Movie, site * Fatima, IMDb * <a href="https://www.franciscanmedia.
Sep 20
58 min
The ‘Lost Colony’ of Roanoke Island is Found
Historian and author Scott Dawson joins Tim to talk about his team’s discovery of what actually happened to the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island on the Outer Banks. He has spent the past 11 years working with a team of archaeologists, historians, botanists and geologists to try to uncover the truth behind the story of the Lost Colony. It was August of 1590, and Englishman John White was about to return to the Roanoke Colony in the Americas, where he had been named governor three years earlier. John was among 115 English settlers who landed at Roanoke Island off the coast of what we now know as North Carolina in the Outer Banks region. After the group settled in Roanoke, John had sailed back to England to collect a load of supplies the settlers would need. He would have returned to Roanoke Island sooner, but England’s war with Spain complicated things. So, now, three years later, John is about to return to Roanoke, where he last saw his wife and daughter, along with his granddaughter, and the other settlers. Then something unexpected happens. When John White arrives at the colony, he finds no one. Not a single person is there to greet him. Not a trace. One clue, however, would prove to be the key to unlocking this mystery over 400 years later. On a wooden post, one word was carved.  It said “Croatoan,” which is the name of a local native American tribe, and the name of an island south of Roanoke where the Croatoans lived. Those are the facts we’ve known until now. Scott Dawson has studied this mystery more than most and decided to get some answers for himself. Links * The Lost Colony and Hatteras Island, by Scott Dawson, Amazon * The mystery is over. Researchers say they know what happened to ‘Lost Colony.’, The Virginian Pilot * The 'Lost Colony' Wasn't Really Lost,  Outer Banks Voice * The Lost Colony of Roanoke: Did they survive?, DNA Explained * Roanoke's 'Lost Colony' was Never Lost, New Book Says, New York Times About this Episode’s Guest Scott Dawson Scott Dawson is a native of Hatteras Island whose family roots on the island trace back to the 1600s. He is a graduate of the University of Tennessee with a BA in psychology and minor in history and is a well-known local historian, local author and amateur archaeologist. He is president and founder of the Croatoan Archaeological Society Inc. and has participated in a decade of archaeological excavations and research on Hatteras Island under the direction of Dr. Mark Horton. He also serves on the board of directors of the Outer Banks History Center.
Sep 13
47 min
September 11: An NYPD Story
Retired NYPD detective Chris O’Connor joins Tim to tell his story of September 11, 2001 at the World Trade Center in New York.  Chris was within walking distance from the World Trade Center when the first plane hit. We talk with Chris about his story and the story of many first responders who continue to live with the after-effects of 9/11. It’s September 11th, 2001 in one of the busiest cities in the world on a beautiful early fall day. As New Yorkers go about the business of starting another work day, little did they know that 19 terrorists from the extremist group al-Qaida were in the midst of executing a plan to hijack four commercial aircraft and crash those planes into predetermined targets. Among those targets were the Pentagon, another site in Washington that no one would ever confirm, and the World Trade Center Twin Towers in New York City. At 8:45 a.m. on that day, American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York. Just less than 20 minutes later, a second aircraft – United Airlines Flight 175 – flew into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. St. Paul's Chapel, September 11, 2001 - Photo Credit Chris O'Connor Later, American Airlines Flight 77 would crash into the Pentagon. And finally, just after 10 a.m. that day, United Airlines Flight 93 would crash into an empty field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.  The passengers on that jet were able to mount an attack of their own on the terrorists to foil their attack on Washington, D.C. That day marked the worst terrorist attack on the United States in the country’s history. Almost 3,000 people were killed then.  But as you’ll learn today, the real death toll was higher and it continues to grow to this day. The toll that September 11th took on the health of first responders is one that continues to this day. The Chronology of Events at the World Trade Center American Airlines Flight 11, from Boston, Massachusetts, to Los Angeles, California, had 92 people on board.  It took off from Boston’s Logan Airport at 8 a.m. At 8:19 a.m., flight attendant Betty Ong makes a phone call to report a hijacking. At 8:24 a.m., the lead hijacker, Mohammed Atta, is in the cockpit of the plane and thinks he’s talking to the passengers, but instead, he’s being picked up by air traffic control. About 21 minutes later, that jet would be the first to crash into the World Trade Center. Meanwhile, Air Traffic Controllers are monitoring another plane, United Airlines Flight 175 catches their attention, and as two air traffic controllers talk to each other about the plane and its erratic behavior, they get a visual on it as it approaches Manhattan. September 11, 2001, NYC, Photo Credit Chris O'Connor This was just the beginning of a day of horror for New York City and the world. The total number of firefighters and paramedics who were killed was 343. The number of NYPD officers who died that day was 23. The number of Port Authority police officers killed was 37. The number of Americans who knew someone hurt or killed in the attacks was 20 percent. That’s one in five of all Americans knew someone who was killed or injured in the attacks. The estimated number of New Yorkers who were reported as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the 9/11 attacks were 422,000. Chris O’Connor was a plain clothes detective member of the NYPD. What started as a day to appear in court for one of his cases, would change his life. Links * Feal Good Foundation, No Responders Left Behind * <a href="https://www.
Sep 6
50 min
Susan B. Anthony’s Legacy
Cassandra Peltier joins Tim to tell the story of the legacy left by Susan B. Anthony in the form of the 19th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guaranteed the right to vote for women.  America is celebrating 100 years since the 1920 passage of that amendment. Cassandra is the Executive Director of the Susan B. Anthony Birthplace Museum in Adams, Massachusetts. Millions of Americans will cast a ballot to vote this November, continuing a tradition that began with the nation’s founding when the new democratic republic decided that its leaders would serve in defined terms, and in order to take office, would need to be elected. But if you were around for that first election, you might have noticed that women did not have the opportunity to vote. While women did have the chance to vote and some did in subsequent elections, it wasn’t until 1920, 100 years ago this year, that women were guaranteed the constitutional right to vote. That right is protected in the 19th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The 19th Amendment guarantees American women citizens the right to vote. In today’s episode, we talk with Cassandra Peltier, the Executive Director of the Susan B. Anthony Birthplace Museum, to learn the story of the long and arduous road that led to the passage of that amendment, and the woman who led the charge – Susan B. Anthony. Even though she didn’t live to see the amendment come into law, it is the legacy she’s best known for. Who was Susan B. Anthony? Susan B. Anthony She lived from 1820 to 1906 and died at the age of 86, 13 years before the 19th Amendment was passed into law. She had a Quaker upbringing, was educated as a teacher in Philadelphia and taught in various schools from 1835 to 1860. She was a pioneer in the women’s suffrage movement and served as President of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, which she co-founded with Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Her biggest accomplishment was the 19th Amendment, known as the “Susan B. Anthony Amendment.” What was Women’s Suffrage? A key event in the emergence of the suffrage movement was the Seneca Falls Convention 1848 where Elizabeth Cady Stanton lived. She hosted the event, attended by more than 300 people, mostly women. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth founded the National Woman Suffrage Association in 1869 after the Civil War. They created and produced The Revolution, a weekly newspaper that advocated for women’s rights under the American Equal Rights Association.  Its masthead read: “Men, their rights, and nothing more; women, their rights, and nothing less.” In 1872, she voted in the presidential election illegally. She was arrested and tried unsuccessfully to fight the charges. She was fined $100.  She never paid the fine. How did the 19th Amendment come about? Susan B. Anthony on a visit to Adams in 1897 with fellow suffragists. Source: Susan B. Anthony Birthplace Museum The passage of the 19th Amendment was the result of decades of activism, which began in the mid-1800s. Women and their supporters protested and marched to seek change. In 1878, the amendment was first introduced in the U.S. Congress. But it wouldn’t be passed by both the Congress and Senate, and then ratified by enough states to make it law for another 42 years. On May 21, 1919, the House of Representatives passed the amendment.  About two weeks later, the Senate passed it. On August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment. That’s when the amendment was adopted. Links * Susan B.
Aug 30
50 min
“Cancel Culture” with Eric Dezenhall
Author and veteran crisis communicator Eric Dezenhall joins Tim to talk about a new phenomenon that is emerging in the public arena that’s causing many to refrain from engaging in public dialogue for fear they can be “cancelled.” The topic is “cancel culture” and what to do about it. On July 7th, the online posting of an open letter to Harper’s Magazine created a stir over free speech and something now known as cancel culture. The letter was signed by 153 mostly progressive writers and academics. Among those who signed the letter were J.K. Rowling, Salman Rushdie and Malcolm Gladwell and Noam Chomsky. Once the letter became public, there was some irony in the reaction. Under pressure to face possible cancellation themselves, some of the signatories worked to distance themselves from the letter they had signed. The letter sought to set off alarms over the effort on the part of progressives to inhibit open debate. The letter made the case that imposing limits on speech is extremely risky and has now created an environment of paranoia that makes people live in fear to share their own opinions for fear that they could lose their jobs, their careers or worse. Here’s one excerpt of the letter: “It is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought. More troubling still, institutional leaders, in a spirit of panicked damage control, are delivering hasty and disproportionate punishments instead of considered reforms. Editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a researcher is fired for circulating a peer-reviewed academic study; and the heads of organizations are ousted for what are sometimes just clumsy mistakes.” What the authors described in their letter is what we now call cancel culture. If you go against the consensus thinking, you risk raising the ire of your vocal critics, who can marshal support on social media to silence you and possibly to exact retribution by ruining your career and your life. Eric Dezenhall is an author and the CEO of Dezenhall Resources in Washington, D.C. He’s spent a good deal of his career helping companies and individuals handle complex and sensitive crisis and issues. He says that while controversy and scandal and things like boycotts have been with us for a long time, cancel culture is something new. In this episode, we dig into some examples of cancel culture featuring such organizations as the New York Times, Domino’s Pizza, Trader Joe’s and others. Links * Dezenhall Resources * What is Cancel Culture?  -  New York Post * Trader Joe’s Disagrees that Any of Its International Food Brands are Racist Amid Calls to Change Packaging - USA Today * Domino’s Shows What to Do When Someone Tries to Cancel You - O'Brien Communications' Blog * New York Times Senior Editor Resigns Amid Backlash Over Controversial Op-ed - The Guardian About this Episode’s Guest Eric Dezenhall Eric Dezenhall is Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of...
Aug 23
57 min
Stefano Bollani’s Fresh Take on “Jesus Christ Superstar”
One of the world’s elite jazz pianists Stefano Bollani joins Tim to talk about music innovation, artistry, and his most recent project, “Piano Variations on Jesus Christ Superstar.” Get inside the mind of a creative improvisationist through a very relaxed and fun conversation. Stefano Bollani started learning to play the piano when he was just six years old. By the time he turned 15, he made his professional debut. He would later graduate from a conservatory in Florence in 1993, and would begin his journey to become one of the leading music artists in the world. He’s played before audiences from Rome and London, to New York and Paris. He’s collaborated with the likes of Richard Galliano, Bill Frisell, Phil Woods, Pat Metheny and Chick Corea. While Stefano is a leading jazz pianist, he’s not limited to jazz. He’s performed as a soloist and with symphony orchestras in Amsterdam, Toronto and other cities. In this episode, we have a relaxed conversation on what it’s like to perform and create at the highest of  levels. In the process, we talk about why he was so captivated with the rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar,” and his admiration for Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. Our Gratitude * To Stefano Bollani for allowing us to use tracks in this episode from his album, "Piano Variations on Jesus Christ Superstar." * Don Lucoff of DL Media Music for arranging this interview. Links * Stefano Bollani (Website) * Review of Stefano Bollani's Jesus Christ Superstar Album, London Jazz News * CD Review: Stefano Bollani - Piano Variations on Jesus Christ Superstar, Jazz Blues News * Stefano Bollani's Variations on Jesus Christ Superstar Review, The Guardian About this Episode’s Guest Stefano Bollani Stefano Bollani began studying piano at the age of 6 and made his professional debut at 15. After graduating from a conservatory in Florence in 1993 – and a brief experience as a session musician in the pop world with Raf and Jovanotti among others – he established himself in jazz, playing on stages such as the Town Hall in New York, the Barbican in London, the La Scala in Milan, the Salle Pleyel in Paris. The collaboration, which began in 1996 and never stopped, with Enrico Rava,is fundamental, alongside which he holds hundreds of concerts and records 13 records. The most recent: Tati (2005), The Third Man (2007) and New York Days (2008). Throughout his career he collaborated with musicians such as Richard Galliano, Bill Frisell, Gato Barbieri, Sol Gabetta, Phil Woods, Lee Konitz, Pat Metheny and Chick Corea,with whom he released the live album Orvieto (2011). In 1998 he led the group L'Orchestra del Titanic and pays homage to the Italian music of the 30s and 40s with Lower your radio,disco-show to which collaborate among others Elio, Peppe Servillo, Marco Parente, Barbara Casini, Roberto Gatto. Particularly out of the canons are works such as La gnosi dei fanfole,
Aug 16
29 min
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