5 important stories that have (almost) nothing to do with politics
What’s in 100 days?
If you ask the media, who took the informal marker of the presidency as an opportunity to dive into Donald Trump’s early record in office, it was a lot of talk and international outreach, but not much movement on the domestic issues — like healthcare and tax reform — that made him popular as a candidate.
If you ask budget chief Mick Mulvaney, as NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff did on air last week, the first hundred days was spent undoing damage from the previous administration.
As for the chief: The presidency is harder than he thought, he told Reuters.
No matter how you feel about the administration’s first three-and-a-half months in the Oval, here are five important stories overlooked in the 100-day fanfare that are still worth your attention.
1. The miner isn’t the only American worker seeing huge job losses.
The story of unemployment, when it’s the focus of a campaign ad, is typically told using shots of run-down factories or warehouses and faces of coal miners or Americans who have lost manufacturing jobs.
The 2016 presidential election was no different. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton offered many campaign promises to the people of coal country. Trump called himself the “last shot” for miners looking to reverse their misfortunes. Coal miners, who for years have seen job prospects dry up in the Appalachia region, gave the Republican candidate a chance to keep his promise.
But some economists say a new face belongs alongside the miner: the retail worker.
There have been at least nine retail bankruptcies declared in 2017, The Atlantic reported, matching the number seen in 2016. RadioShack and J.C. Penney, among others, have announced store closures.
While politicians, some say, have paid little attention to the massive losses in retail jobs, The Atlantic said the decline shares a similarity with lost mining jobs: “They are both victims of the familiar forces of globalization and technology,” Derek Thompson of The Atlantic wrote.
He takes it a step further: “[I]n an economy that will become increasingly digitized, automated, and otherwise inflected with new technologies like self-driving cars and artificial intelligence, Americans can’t get too precious about any particular job or industry,” he wrote.
Why it’s important
The lost retail and miner jobs are emblematic of a changing economy, an economy driven by a confluence of factors, including technological advances.
In fact, there have been reports predicting millions of jobs lost in the coming years to smart robots or automation. The World Economic Forum last year said in a report that 5 million jobs will be lost by 2020. In 2014, tech research firm Gartner said one in three jobs “will be converted to software, robots and smart machines by 2025.”
When PBS NewsHour’s Paul Solman in 2014 spoke with Erik Bynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, authors of “The Second Machine Age,” they said human history had reached a new “inflection point.”
Brynjolfsson said the first big inflection point in human history was about 200 years ago, at the advent of the steam engine and the industrial revolution.
“That was a period that saw a whole set of new machines come along that could automate muscle power, physical work,” he said.
In recent years, advances in technology started to outpace humans in many tasks, Brynjolfsson said, adding that he and McAfee’s prediction is that “ultimately, those will have as big, or an even bigger effect on humanity as the first industrial revolution.”
2. Half of all species are on the move
On Saturday, more than 100,000 people marched in hundreds of cities around the world for the People’s Climate March, marked this year by protesters worried about how President Donald Trump will respond to climate change.
But human-caused climate change has already drastically changed how plants and animals thrive (or not) on Earth, according to a new study in Science.
For instance: Half of the 4,000 species tracked by the study are on the move. Land animals are shifting their home range more than 10 miles each decade, the study says; those in the sea are shifting the location of their habitats four times as fast.
“We’re talking about a redistribution of the entire planet’s species,” lead study author Gretta Pecl told National Geographic.
Here are just a few of the other things the study reveals:
- The breeding season for birds and butterflies now begins four days earlier than it did a decade ago; for frogs and other amphibians around the world, it’s moved up eight days.
- In Concord, Massachusetts, plants are flowering 18 days earlier than they did about 160 years ago.
- Mountain plants in places like California are moving downhill, toward warmer temperatures. Other plant species are blooming longer, or not at all.
- New hybrid species not yet fully understood by science are emerging; others — like the tropic red knot shorebird — are threatened by their changing environment.
Because Arctic snows are now melting and insects are hatching weeks before the birds arrive, there’s too little food for the red knot chicks — and at least in the case of the population that migrates back to West Africa, the young birds’ beaks are too small to pluck mollusks from sandy beaches.
Why it’s important
— Adam Parkhomenko (@AdamParkhomenko) April 29, 2017
The study, detailed in a feature in National Geographic, offers one of the more comprehensive looks at how plants and wildlife are responding to climate change — from migration and breeding patterns to how and where we grow crops — and in turn, how those shifts are affecting us.
“We’re undergoing the greatest change to our environmental systems that the world has seen in millions of years,” Pecl says.
In Siberia, the study found, lakes that were used for fishing and watering reindeer are “vanishing into the ground.” Giardia, parasites that cause intestinal distress, are contaminating the streams and lakes that provide drinking water in Sweden. Because ticks expanded their range west of Russia’s Ural Mountains, scientists have seen a 23-fold increase in tick-borne encephalitis, an inflammation of tissue in the brain. And more bad news for foodies: funguses are popping up on more coffee plants in Latin America, as well as on olives and wine grapes in France.
The study came a few days before the EPA removed several agency websites that dealt with climate change, including some 20-year-old pages that detailed the effect of manmade climate change in the U.S., and the steps citizens could take to reduce their climate impact.
Officials said they would archive the pages.
Meanwhile, Washington, D.C., the center of Saturday’s global protests, broke a heat record on the day of the march, as well as for the last month — it was the warmest April on record.
3. California will investigate Airbnb hosts for racial discrimination
California will now be able to better screen for racial discrimination by certain Airbnb hosts as part of an agreement between the company and the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
As reported by The Guardian, the agreement — the first of its kind — gives the regulatory board permission to audit the rental practices of people who list their homes on Airbnb, much in the way the state holds traditional landlords to fair housing standards now.
The agreement was the result of a 10-month investigation by the state of California, after the state received several complaints about possible racial discrimination by the company.
Last month, an Airbnb host in California was banned after allegedly canceling a reservation once they discovered the client’s race. Dyne Suh, a 25-year-old student at the University of California, posted screenshots of her conversation with the host to social media, adding she believed she was denied a rental agreement because she was Asian.
The DFEH office will create fake Airbnb profiles to “pose as prospective renters in order to gather information about whether a hostse is complying with fair housing laws,” Fortune reported. There are limits, however. The agreement applies only to hosts who have complaints and have three or more listings — which means only 6,000 hosts out of 76,000 in Airbnb’s will be screened.
Why it’s important
California had previously filed a complaint against Airbnb in June 2016, after reports that suggested hosts routinely refused to rent to people who weren’t white and the rise of social media campaigns like #AirbnbWhileBlack.
A study conducted by Harvard Business School in 2015 found that guests with African American-sounding names encountered more difficulty renting rooms via Airbnb. Researchers found that Airbnb hosts were 16 percent less likely to accept fictional guests with African American-sounding names than guests with white-sounding names.
Like Uber and other sharing economy companies, AirBNB has been able to fly under the radar on certain legal requirements that more traditional stakeholders — in this case, landlords — face. This recent agreement could be a model other localities could follow, DFEH director Kevin Kish told the Guardian.
4. Confederate monuments come down in New Orleans
New Orleans began removing Confederate monuments across the city last week, another chapter in the debate over what should be done about historic symbols that memorialize things considered racist or insensitive today.
The Battle of Liberty Place obelisk, once a popular rallying location for the Ku Klux Klan, was the first of four monuments to be removed on April 24. The statue was originally erected to honor members of the “‘Crescent City White League,’ who fought against a “racially integrated” New Orleans,” Mayor of New Orleans Mitch Landrieu said in a statement.
The monuments were erected decades after the Civil War ended in order to demonstrate “no sense of guilt for the cause in which the South fought the Civil War,” Mayor Landrieu said. The monuments honor the “Lost Cause of the Confederacy,” an ideology intent on keeping African-Americans subjugated despite the Civil War’s outcome, he said.
Other monuments that will be removed include tributes to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, Confederate President Jefferson Davis and P.G.T. Beauregard, another Confederate general.
The Monumental Task Committee, an organization that preserves the city’s monuments, denounced the removals.
“People across Louisiana should be concerned over what will disappear next,” Pierre McGraw, the group’s president, said in a statement.
The statues are being placed in a facility until they find a place where “they can be placed in proper context,” city spokesman Tyronne B. Walker told The New York Times.
Landrieu said the removal of the statues, approved by the city council in 2015, are not about taking something away, but instead about building a better future.
“The removal of these statues sends a clear and unequivocal message to the people of New Orleans and the nation: New Orleans celebrates our diversity, inclusion and tolerance,” Landrieu said in a statement.
Why it’s important
Two years ago, a battle over the confederate flag embodied the debate over how we treat the racial history of America today, particularly in Southern states, where some argue the Confederacy has a cultural meaning that shouldn’t be erased.
That summer, the South Carolina House of Representatives voted 94 to 20 to remove the Confederate battle flags that had flown at the state house for more than 50 years. The decision was prompted by the fatal shooting of nine people at a black Charleston church in June. In October 2015, University of Missouri students protested the school’s longstanding statue of Thomas Jefferson, decorating the former president with post-it notes reading “racist” and “misogynist.”
This year, the debate has focused on other Confederate symbols, like statues and memorials. A number of other cities — like Austin and Louisville, Kentucky — are planning to remove them. In places like Charlottesville, Virginia, the fight continues: laws prohibit local officials from taking down war memorials, CBS notes.
“There are hundreds of these across the landscape of South,” University of South Carolina professor Thomas Brown told CBS. “The controversies over removal of monuments are partly over … who’s going to decide exactly what that public space is going to endorse?”
5. A recent baseball milestone and a reminder of Jackie Robinson’s enduring legacy
Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Gift Ngoepe made history when he debuted in a Major League Baseball game last week.
Hailing from a Johannesburg suburb in South Africa, the 27-year-old became the first African-born player to play in the big leagues, after spending nine years in the minor leagues. At one point, third baseman Josh Harrison held his hand to his Ngoepe’s chest, as if to check his heartbeat.
During the same game, Ngoepe also recorded his first at-bat of his career against Chicago Cubs pitcher Jon Lester. At the crack of the Ngoepe’s bat, the announcer said, “And he has his first Major League hit! At 2:49 South Africa time, Gift Ngoepe has made history.” From the Pirates dugout, Ngoepe’s teammates reportedly yelled, “For the motherland!”
Save that ball! pic.twitter.com/eLW0Osfegy
— MLB (@MLB) April 27, 2017
After the game, Ngoepe told reporters that this moment has “been my dream since I was a 10-year-old boy … but it also means so much to the people of South Africa and baseball in Africa.”
Ngoepe’s debut was front-page news in South Africa. Not only was he the first South African player in major-league baseball, he represented the first player for the entire continent, Johannesburg-based sports journalist Thabiso Mosia told PRI.
“It’s unusual that a sports story is front-page news in South Africa if it’s not controversial or if it doesn’t involve any corruption. But it’s even more bizarre because it’s the sport of baseball which is a minority sport in South Africa,” Mosia said. “A lot of people didn’t know who Gift Ngoepe was until a day or two ago when he made history. So it’s a huge story. There’s just a buzz here in South Africa that we haven’t witnessed in a very long time.”
Why it’s important
While Ngoepe’s debut became a milestone for MLB, the professional baseball organization also sought to help further preserve another moment in the sport’s history.
Last week, there was a groundbreaking ceremony in New York for a new, long-in-the-making Jackie Robinson Museum. Set to open in 2019, the museum will be stocked with Robinson memorabilia, but it also aims to celebrate the African-American man who became a leading civil rights figure when he broke the color barrier in baseball in 1947.
Since 2004, MLB has honored Robinson with his own day — April 15 — to mark his first season in the major leagues, becoming the first African-American to play in the modern era. A statue was erected this April to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Robinson taking the field for the Los Angeles Dodgers. His No. 42 jersey has also been retired.
MLB donated $1 million to the Jackie Robinson Foundation for the project, which has needed $25 million to start construction, the Times reported. MLB Commissioner Robert Manfred said Robinson “took our game beyond sport.”
However, the reality since Robinson took to the field is that the number of African-American players in the game have been steadily declining the past decade.
By USA Today’s count, African-Americans made up around 7 percent of players on opening-day rosters this year, the lowest in 60 years. Compare this with 1975, which had an all-time high of 19 percent of African-Americans in the major leagues, according to numbers from the Society for American Baseball Research.
An even smaller number of managers are African-American — two, to be exact — including the Washington Nationals’ Dusty Baker, who told the NewsHour last year that there’s been an inadequate job of passing along history, such as Robinson’s legacy.
Baker also said “the scrutiny of being one of the few black, African-American managers is tremendous,” adding that it sometimes felt like he was carrying the weight of the whole race.
A new PBS documentary produced by Ken Burns examines the struggles Jackie Robinson faced in breaking baseball’s color barrier — and his achievements as a player on the diamond and as a civil rights activist in later life. John Yang talks to Dusty Baker, manager of the Washington Nationals, for a personal take on Robinson’s enduring legacy both on and off the field.
Jay Caspian Kang, writing for The New York Times Magazine, also noted last year that despite a larger share — around 30 percent — of Latino players in the game, there’s been a lackluster effort on baseball’s media in embracing and promoting its Spanish-speaking players.
“The fundamental questions that faced Jack in 1947 are abounding today,” Rachel Robinson once wrote in an essay in honor of her husband. “We’ve got to go beyond celebrating the past and use our emotions, sentiments, ideas and analysis to move forward. This would be the greatest tribute to Jackie Robinson,” she wrote.