Rank #1: Controlling the message; American politics and new media
American politics are changing fast to keep up with evolving technology. Presidential campaigns aren’t just on TV anymore, they’re on countless digital platforms. While Democratic candidates debated on CNN, their strategists were on social media, nudging reporters and delivering instant analysis. The ultimate nominee will face the maestro of Twitter in President Trump. What’s the future of substantive dialogue when programs and policies are reduced even beyond 30-second soundbites to tweets and 3-second GIFs?
Oct 17 2019
Rank #2: Why Republicans stand by their man
Despite mounting evidence, Republicans in the House and the Senate are defending President Trump or keeping their heads down. Veteran GOP conservatives accuse them of sacrificing morality for short-term political gain. Meantime the Trump administration calls the impeachment inquiry “unconstitutional,” while legal scholars point out that it’s part of Article II. And how did Ukraine, an obscure former Soviet republic, become so important? Money.
Oct 10 2019
Rank #3: Donald Trump and Boris Johnson as Tweedledum and Tweedledee
A cartoon on the cover of the Economist says it all: leaders of the world’s two foremost democracies are scrambling to hold on. President Trump is faced with the possibility of impeachment. In the interests of Brexit, Boris Johnson is accused of lying to the Queen and defying Parliament. In both countries, voters are losing trust not just in their elected leaders but in their governments. The UK and the US aren’t alone, as the ideals of western democracy are being challenged by demagogues in other parts of the world.
Oct 03 2019
Rank #4: Human activity: as damaging as an asteroid
66 million years ago, an asteroid caused Earth’s Fifth Extinction, destroying the dinosaurs and most other life forms. Now Earth is facing another extinction, as fish, plants and animals vanish forever. But this time, it’s not the asteroid, it’s us.
This week, hundreds of people, both young and old, took to the streets in cities all over the world to begin weeks of protest called the Extinction Rebellion.
In the natural course of evolution, the decline and disappearance of a life form takes thousands of years. In the course of a human lifetime, not even one species might disappear. But now, some 28,000 species are vanishing all of a sudden.
Elizabeth Kolbert of the New Yorker magazine has written a book called “The Sixth Extinction.” She says, “Extinction rates are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of times higher than what is known as the background extinction rate that has pertained over most of geological history.”
In her words, “You should not be able to see all sorts of mammals -- to name just one group -- either going extinct or on the verge of extinction. And that is a tipoff that something very, very unusual, and I would add, very dangerous, is going on.”
“We’re running geological history backwards. Fossil fuels that were created over the course of hundreds of millions of years buried a lot of carbon underground. We’re now combusting it, putting that carbon back into the atmosphere over a matter of centuries. So we’re taking a process that hundreds of millions of years to run in one direction and then, in a matter of centuries, running it in another direction.”
We’ll hear what that means now and for the future of life as we know it.
For more information: http://NatGeo.com/vanishingA piece of political performance art: a funeral procession for Mother Nature in front of Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany, October 2019. Photo by Brittany Tyson O'Keefe.
Oct 08 2019
Rank #5: Malcolm Gladwell on the page and in the podcast
Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book, “Talking to Strangers,” is out, while he’s hosting the podcast, “Revisionist History.” In both media, Big Ideas reveal surprising connections between disparate events and actions. Did NBC Anchorman Brian Williams really lie, or did he lose his job because human memory is not a permanent record? We “Default to Truth” in order to get along with each other. Is that enough to explain historic mistakes with disastrous consequences?
Sep 30 2019
Rank #6: What will it take to prevent mass shootings?
Will mass shootings become part of America’s background noise?
That’s an ugly prospect raised by the deaths of 34 people this week in Texas, Ohio and California. So, why are such atrocities on the rise?
President Trump and others blame video games and mental illness, but evidence shows otherwise. In fact, it appears there’s reason behind the madness. UCLA constitutional law professor Adam Winkler says, “I think that they are designed to create terror and to spread terror.”
There is, “A clear white, nationalist, terrorist ideology,” according to James Palmer of Foreign Policy. “Recruitment and radicalization of these young men is carried out through the Internet.” Beyond that,”When we see language like invasion being used by the President, being used by Fox News, this is the language that fuels the false and racist conspracy theories on which terrorism draws.”
Whatever the motive of mass shooters might be, it’s America’s gun culture that gives them the means to carry out their intentions. In the aftermath of the latest incidents, background checks, gun buybacks and red flags are proposed by Democratic candidates to run against Trump in next year’s elections.
All could be effective in different ways, but Winkler says that’s where political reality sets in: “Four hundred million. That’s the number of firearms in civilian circulation in America today, and any gun law that you adopt runs headlong into that number.”
Vanderbilt Professor Jonathan Metzl has a cautionary note about gun control. “A lot of fear for people on the right is that all of a sudden what happens at moments like this is that every gun owner is all of a sudden quoted as being a ‘mass shooter.’ It’s important to create some context about just what guns mean in their communities.”
Aug 08 2019
Rank #7: The high cost of cheap plastics
“We can’t recycle our way out of this crisis.” That’s according to California’s Democratic State Senator Ben Allen-- just one of many politicians around the country proposing to ban all straws, bags and other single-use plastics.
At the overwhelmed Recycling Center in Burbank, California, Kreigh Hample says, “Our packaging has gone up exponentially in just the last few decades… it’s a sad story in the way we eat, the way we dispose of things and the way that we’re living.”
A throwaway culture may be convenient, but the costs include cleaning it up with taxpayer money--not to mention worldwide pollution.
China now requires recycled products so pure that the bottom’s gone out of the market, but the plastics industry is bigger than ever. Former EPA official Judith Judith Enck says half the world’s plastics have been produced in the past 13 years. One new process has developed from coal fracking, and development is being encouraged by President Trump with support from the fossil fuel industry.
But just 9% of the plastic produced is getting recycled. Some goes to landfills, but the rest turns into worldwide pollution. Images of plastic waste floating by the acre in the Pacific Ocean are all too familiar; microplastics are turning up from the depths of the seas to the remotest parts of the Arctic.
In Texas and other states, it’s illegal to ban plastic products. But, in Sacramento, Allen says it’s time to hold the plastics industry accountable. California is big enough to influence the nation’s economy, so his efforts are being scrutinized by politicians and advocates around the country.
Aug 31 2019
Rank #8: National Security and Climate Change
Jet aircraft, carrier task forces and tanks consume vast amounts of fossil fuel--while emitting vast amounts of greenhouse gases. The Pentagon’s carbon footprint is bigger than those of many entire nations. Now, it’s caught in the middle. It’s a massive contributor to climate change, which is threatening its mission worldwide. Seaports and airstrips are being flooded or burned out, and restoring operations costs many millions of dollars.
Meantime, environmental damage is leading to instability and the prospect of international violence. Water shortages have increased tensions in the Middle East and caused new hostilities between India and Pakistan, two nuclear powers. Russia and China are taking advantage of changing conditions. Will politicians who scorn environmentalists and mistrust climate scientists listen to the warnings of military leaders?
Sep 05 2019
Rank #9: Can the Democrats get it together in time?
Will Rogers famously said, "I'm not a member of any organized political party.... I'm a Democrat”--and the race for next year’s presidential nomination is running true to form. Multiple candidates are sniping against each other, and highly paid political consultants may not mind prolonging the action. Issues, including debate on climate change and criticizing Obamacare, have mobilized activists against the party establishment.
Aug 29 2019