April 22nd, 2010, by

Earth Day turns 40 today. So we thought we’d honor the day by giving you a roundup of past conversations from the show about our wonderful planet.

Environmentalist Annie Leonard
“All of the stuff in our lives has this whole life before it comes to us
in the metals where it’s mined, in the forests where the trees are
felled, in the oceans where the fish are drawn, in the factories where
children and women are working hard to make this stuff…
Then it comes to us. We have it for minutes sometimes, throw it away,
and then it goes to some dump or incinerator, often back overseas.”  Watch interview

Green Jobs Advocate Van Jones
“We need jobs in America, and right now if you want the jobs of tomorrow
you have to make the products of tomorrow… I do not want to see this country go from importing dirty energy from
the Middle East to importing clean energy technology from China and skip
all the jobs in the middle. So to me, that’s the common ground, and the
reason that this green jobs movement I think is so important.”  Watch interview

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson
“Still today… some people think that the environment is
not an issue for people of color, and I hope that if nothing else I’m a
very vibrant symbol of the fact that people of color should see
themselves in the environmental movement. It’s extraordinarily important
to them and their families.
Watch interview

Also, be sure to watch tonight’s show with economics journalist Steven Solomon, who warns that access to fresh water will replace oil as the primary cause of global conflicts.

Previous Posts in ‘Environment’
BLOG  | Freshwater Scarcity: The Greatest Crisis Most Americans Have Never Heard Of
FEATURE | Going Green

April 21st, 2010, by STEVEN SOLOMON

“When the well is dry, we learn the worth of water,” Benjamin Franklin
quipped wisely over two centuries ago, long before it seemed conceivable
that freshwater could become scarce across the planet or anyone
imagined the need for an Earth Day.

Today, for the first time in human history, the global well is starting
to go dry — and we are all about to learn the painful lessons of what
happens when societies run short of history’s most indispensable

Freshwater is overtaking oil as human society’s scarcest
critical resource. And just as oil transformed the history of the 20th
century, freshwater scarcity is starting to re-define the geopolitics,
economics, environment, national security, and daily living conditions of the 21st century.

What is happening,
essentially, is that under the duress of the voracious demand of our
global industrial society that uses water at twice the rate of our rapid
population growth, there is simply not enough available, sustainable supplies of freshwater in more and more parts of
the world on current trajectories and practices, to meet the needs for
food, energy, goods and accessible safe drinking water for our 6.7
billion, much less the 9 billion we’re becoming by 2050. Due to the uneven distribution of population pressures
and water availability, global society is polarizing into water “Haves”
and “Have-Nots.”

The impending water crisis presents two great challenges — one
environmental and one political. Because we’re drawing more water from
the environment than is replenished through the natural water cycle,
vital freshwater ecosystems are becoming seriously degraded across the globe, according to the first comprehensive audit of
the planet’s environmental health, the 2005 Millennium Ecosystem

For the first time since the dawn of civilization, we must
consciously allocate water  to sustain the health of the ecosystems that provide the source of water for all
society’s fundamental uses.

So much water is withdrawn from over 70 major rivers, including the
Nile, Indus, Yellow, Euphrates, and Colorado, that their flow no
longer reaches their deltas and the sea. Nearly all the world’s major
rivers have been dammed. Half the world’s wetlands — nature’s protective sponges — have vanished. Agrochemical and
industrial pollution is devastating fish life, and contaminating human
drinking supplies. Mountain glaciers from the Himalayas to the Andes are
melting at rates never before seen in history, drying up the sources of great rivers and threatening the
stability of the nations that depend upon its waters: the Indus River,
vital lifeline of nuclear-armed, Taliban-besieged Pakistan, is expected
to lose 30% of its flow as its Himalayan source glacier vanishes even as its population relentlessly increases by
a third over the next generations.

To make up shortfall of freshwater,
India, Pakistan, northern China, and California, among others, are
mining groundwater — creating “food bubbles” that are starting to burst as the pumps hit the bottom of the

As the environmental crisis worsens, the political perils
become more explosive. Freshwater scarcity is a key reason why 3.5
billion people — including those in current grain exporter India, as well
as throughout the bone-dry Middle East — are projected to live in countries that cannot feed themselves by 2025 and will depend
increasingly on volatile imported food prices for their well-being and
survival. Humanitarian and health crises are likely to emanate from the
2.6 billion without adequate sanitation and the 1 billion who lack safe, accessible drinking water.

Climate change is the water crisis in hyper-drive: It wreaks its damage
through unpredictable, extreme water-related events like droughts,
floods, mudslides, rising sea levels, and glacier melts that overwhelm
critical water infrastructures built for traditional weather patterns; within a decade there are likely to be 150
million climate (really water-crisis) refugees wandering within and
across borders seeking new livelihoods and homes.

(Watch Solomon’s conversation with Tavis.)

Failing states become
breeding grounds for regional instabilities, wars and international terrorism, such as came out of water-famished
Yemen in last Christmas’ failed airplane suicide bomber attempt in
Detroit, or sea piracy such as the rampant piracy off the coast of Somalia in the
Horn of Africa. 

China’s breakneck growth bid to become an economic superpower hinges partly on whether it can
overcome critical water scarcity challenges that are its economic
Achilles Heel — with only one-fifth the amount of water per person as the
U.S, it has had to idle factories and abandon major energy projects, and faces water pollution so severe that its waters
can’t even be used for agriculture.

From the irrigated agricultural revolution at the dawn of civilization
in Egypt, Mesopotamia and the Indus, to the steam-powered Industrial
Revolution, to the 20th century’s giant dams pioneered at the Hoover
Dam, control of water has been a key axis of power and wealth. 

Major breakthroughs have been associated with the
rise and decline of great states and turning points of human
civilization. And so it is again today, with the impending freshwater
scarcity crisis.

History teaches that a difficult adjustment lies ahead, just as it has
whenever population levels and key resource bases have gotten
unsustainably out of balance. The chief question is how much suffering
the adjustment will entail, and which societies make the nimblest adaptations and emerge as world leaders and which will
not and decline.

There are two basic choices: 1) To boost the
productivity of existing water resources through difficult political
changes and improved efficiencies or 2) to buy time by mining groundwater or building long pipelines that transfer
water from regions with temporary surplus to those with current scarcity
in the hope that a new silver bullet technology akin to the 20th
century’s giant dams will emerge in the meantime to save the day.

In the main, societies have been following the path of least political
resistance and choosing the latter. Yet the savior
technologies — desalination, genetically-modified crops, recycling
wastewater  are most often mentioned — do not seem likely to arrive in time or sufficient scale to cover the growing global shortfalls.

Former U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali famously
predicted a quarter century ago that the “wars of the 21st century will
be fought over water.”

While nations so far have found more reasons to
cooperate than go to war over water, pressures are mounting rapidly with rising population and absolute scarcity levels.
The greater, imminent risk today is failed states, and all the fall-out
they will spread. To its credit, the Obama Administration recently
recognized that the global water crisis is a vital threat to U.S. national security and diplomatic interests, and is
elevating water security as a central objective of State Department
foreign policymaking. Yet it is not enough.
The Earth, like ourselves, is 70% water. So nothing is more
important on Earth Day than taking care of our water — which is also to
say, ourselves.

Steven Solomon is an economics journalist who has written for The New York Times, BusinessWeek, The Economist, Forbes and Esquire. He is the author of Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization.

April 21st, 2010, by SEAN BROOKS

This is an excerpt from a post first published at the Progressive Policy Institute.

Millions of Sudanese have just finished voting in their country’s first multiparty elections in 24 years. Election officials estimate that, in a relatively peaceful process, turnout of registered voters exceeded 70 percent nationwide, including up to 55 percent in one state in war-ravaged Darfur.

The voting period was extended from three to five days due to a host of technical problems and irregularities. Sometime this week, the National Election Commission will announce the

Yet despite the higher than expected estimated turnout, the election should hardly be a cause for celebration among advocates for democracy. At the top of the ballot, Sudanese leader and indicted war criminal Omar al-Bashir’s name appeared as his party’s candidate for president.

Bashir took power via military coup in 1989. In the years since, his regime prosecuted a war in the south from 1989 through 2005 and, more notoriously, has conducted a deadly policy of mass murder and displacement in Darfur since 2003.

On the surface, the Bashir government has made all the right moves, urging all Sudanese parties to participate and asking the international community to observe the process. But the facts on the ground show a government that has engaged in political repression and intimidation, and an election that fell short of international standards.

Citing the restrictive environment, in the last week of the campaign period leading opposition parties announced a general boycott of the elections. As the results from the election are counted up, one thing is clear: A “democratically elected” Bashir government will be no less ruthless and oppressive than the Bashir military dictatorship.

Yet since last fall, the Obama administration has avoided directly challenging the credibility of Sudan’s elections, despite being heavily engaged in mediation efforts across Sudan. Many analysts feel that the U.S. merely wants to get past the elections in order to focus on the critical referendum for south Sudan scheduled for January 2011 — a vote that many expect will lead to the south’s secession from Sudan. It’s an outcome that the U.S. favors, predicting that the south will be a reliable, oil-producing ally in restive East Africa.

(Click here to learn how you can take action.)

In a bid to set the table for next year, the administration has seemed ready to accept the legitimization of the Bashir regime in this month’s vote in exchange for his cooperation on the referendum.

But with the election’s legitimacy in tatters, President Obama must be clear that the election of Bashir will have no effect on how the U.S. views those in power in Khartoum — as an unrepresentative clique that refuses to loosen their firm grip on the country.

And regardless of the results, the administration must continue to pressure all parties to bring comprehensive and durable peace to Darfur, implement the final stages of the north-south peace agreement that mandates the 2011 referendum, and carry on the long process of democratization that serves as the most solid foundation for durable peace.

Sean Brooks is a policy analyst at the Save Darfur Coalition. He recently returned from a month-long  trip to Sudan.

Previous Posts in ‘Africa’
VIDEO | Team Darfur co-founder, Joey Cheek
BLOG  | War Child
BLOG  | Leaders Look Away, but Students STAND

April 13th, 2010, by

The facts say it all. About 17% of American children ages 2-19 are obese. Obese children are more likely than other children to have high blood pressure, high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes. They are also more likely to be obese as adults.

Add in the fact that obesity rates have tripled in the past 30 years and we have ourselves a serious problem.

So what to do about it?

First Lady Michelle Obama says Let’s Move. Her new inter-agency task force to eradicate childhood obesity had a summit at the White House last week.

Some of the solutions bandied about at the meeting focused on advertising, marketing, food labels, the food supply in schools, nutrition assistance programs, the high cost of healthy food, breast feeding, physical activity and educating both adults and children about healthy lifestyle choices. The task force will report their recommendations to President Obama in May.

But is that enough? What do you think? What’s the solution?

And if 34% of adults are obese, how do we ensure that our children make healthy choices? 

April 7th, 2010, by

In March, the Obama administration threw its weight behind the University of Texas at Austin in a high-profile affirmative action case in which the university’s “race-conscious” admissions policies were challenged by two white students who were denied admission to the school.

The Obama administration argued in a brief filed with the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals:

In the view of the United States, the University’s limited use of race in its admissions program falls within the constitutional bounds delineated by the Supreme Court in Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 (2003).

The University’s effort to promote diversity is a paramount government objective. See Grutter, 539 U.S. at 330-331. In view of the importance of diversity in educational institutions, the United States, through the Departments of Education and Justice, supports the efforts of school systems and post-secondary educational institutions that wish to develop admissions policies that endeavor to achieve the educational benefits of diversity in accordance with Grutter.

The losing side in the pending case will likely take the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court.

What do you think? Are admissions policies that include considerations of race and ethnicity a form of discrimination or simply a method for achieving much-needed diversity in education?

Share your thoughts with us and they may be used in an upcoming video blog.

April 1st, 2010, by
A clown performs during the traditional march through central Kiev to mark April Fools' Day on April 1, 2010.

If you intended to Google your pesky neighbor this morning only to find that you were forced to “Topeka” his name, then you fell for an April Fools’ prank.


Here’s a quick round-up of all things foolish so that you won’t get caught off guard again.

1) See here, here and here for explanations of the origins of the day.

2) TechCrunch is providing a “Definitive List” of April Fools’ 2010 pranks with grades. They give YouTube an “A” for offering a “text only mode” for videos, and Starbucks gets a “B+” for its “micra” and “plenty” sizes.

3) The Christian Science Monitor provides a list of past pranks from around the world.

4) If you want to play a prank but are out of ideas, here’s a list of low-tech gags. It includes time-honored practical jokes like glueing coins to the ground and saran-wrapping a toilet seat.

5) And if you were thinking of playing any pranks at work, here’s a warning.

So, how was your April Fools’ Day? Did you fall for a banana in the tailpipe? Share your April Fools’ jokes, pranks and stories with us.

March 29th, 2010, by DAVID SHENK

In 1994, Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray warned us in The Bell Curve that “genetic partitioning” was increasingly responsible for economic and intellectual disparity. “Success and failure in the American economy, and all that goes with it,” they wrote, “are increasingly a matter of the genes that people inherit.”

They were neither the first nor the last to insist in the idea of a genetic underclass. In fact, we’ve all been taught to think that humans are somewhat segregated from one another by lucky and unlucky batches of good and bad genes. Some groups, or random individuals, are said to be genetically less intelligent than others, while other groups have gene-driven athletic or musical or artistic ability.
I believe science now strongly suggests that this gene-gift paradigm, which so powerfully has shaped our thinking for a century, is fundamentally incorrect. There is no genetic underclass or overclass, and most of us are not genetically doomed to mediocrity. Quite to the contrary: the human genome that we all share is itself designed to respond to challenges and demands, and that — as Cornell University developmental psychologist Stephen Ceci says — “We have no way of knowing how much unactualized genetic potential exists.”

Because we have been trained to think about “nature vs. nurture” in such stark terms, a lot of people will read the above statement and think that I’m just trying to swing us back to the nurture side of the argument and am denying the influence of genes. But I’m really not.

There’s a whole new way to think about these matters, one which embraces genetic differences and their profound influence. We now have an opportunity to help the general public understand what geneticists and most other scientists have already understood about genes for years: that all genetic influence happens in dynamic interaction with environmental inputs.

“There are no genetic factors that can be studied independently of the environment,” explains McGill University’s Michael Meaney. “And there are no environmental factors that function independently of the genome. [A trait] emerges only from the interaction of gene and environment.”
Genes are not like robot actors who always say the same lines in the exact same way. It turns out that they interact with their surroundings and can say different things depending on whom they are talking to. This obliterates the long-standing metaphor of genes as blueprints with elaborate predesigned instructions for eye color, thumb size, mathematical quickness, musical sensitivity, etc. Instead, genes are more like volume knobs and switches that get turned up/down/on/off at any time — by another gene or by any minuscule environmental input.

This flipping and turning takes place constantly. It begins the moment a child is conceived and doesn’t stop until she takes her last breath. Rather than giving us hardwired instructions on how a trait must be expressed, this process of gene-environment interaction drives a unique developmental path for every unique individual.

And here’s the best part: we can impact that process. We can’t ever control it completely, of course, but as parents, as teachers, and as a culture, we can impact it. I was thrilled to talk to Tavis about how this works. It begins with an understanding of what genes really are, and continues with revelations about the real sources of intelligence and abilities.

David Shenk is an award-winning author of six books. His most recent, The Genius in All of Us, has been hailed by The New York Times as “deeply interesting and important.” For more about Shenk and his book, visit GeniusBlog.

March 29th, 2010, by

When you read about the unemployment rate in this country, which has been hovering around 10% for a while now, it’s easy to forget that the rate is different depending on where you live in the country, whether you are a man or a woman and whether you are Black, Latino or white.

The Joint Economic Committee released a report this month which found that although “African Americans make up 11.5% of the labor force, they account for 17.8% of the unemployed, 20.3% of those unemployed for more than six months and 22.1% of the workers unemployed for a year or more.”

African Americans are the face of what is known as the chronically unemployed. And while they have been severely impacted by The Great Recession, a report from the Economic Policy Institute shows that within the African American community, high unemployment rates pre-dated the recession.

That report goes on to state that lower educational attainment of Blacks is not the only contributing factor. According to the study, “In the three years before the recession, the unemployment rate for African American’s with bachelor’s degrees was 7.5 percent. This rate was closest to the rate for whites with only a high school diploma, 6.3 percent.”

And according to the National Urban League’s annual report, “The State of Black America,” Latinos “are faring better than Blacks,” though not by much.

The Congressional Black Caucus took up the issue of the chronically unemployed last week, in a hearing called “Out of Work But Not Out of Hope: Addressing the Crisis of the Chronically Unemployed.”

CBC Chair Barbara Lee had this to say about the JEC report:

“While there is no question that all Americans are hurting, today’s report clearly illustrates that racial disparities existed before the recession and those gaps have only grown. Although recent economic data has shown signs of improvement, this study indicates the pace of the recovery has been uneven, with African Americans lagging behind.”

What do you think? Is Congress doing enough? What’s the solution? 

March 24th, 2010, by RON ELDRIDGE

This is an excerpt from a post first published at AnythingUrban.

I recall living in a predominately white neighborhood for a short time as a youngster. On the surface, social life was fine for me and my two younger sisters; we played with a large number of children that lived in the area — most of them were white.

But behind the curtains, the parents of these children were not so comfortable. Why? Because we were Black?

My family never received a “welcome to the neighborhood” gift. But ultimately, we did receive something that really hurt — a petition.

Several families in the area decided to flex their racist muscles by mobilizing and voicing their displeasure towards us, hoping that this would pressure us to move. The petition asked us to do just that — move.

I don’t know if folks were trying to protect their property value, their property itself, or if they simply could no longer stomach the anger as they watched their kid play with…us. We ended up moving away from the neighborhood. At the time, my mom never explained to me and my sisters why we left.

Fast Forward

I recently read about an incident where Black students were under siege on a daily basis by racist schoolmates. There was constant intimidation, from threats of “lynching” to the N-word etched on the walls of bathroom stalls.

The story is a sad one, but it especially angers me because as I grew up in the 70’s, often in segregated schools, I never experienced racism on any large scale in grade school, middle or high school. So now I’m thinking, are race relations getting worse? Does this incident represent just how much more work we still need to do to combat racism and bigotry?

Stories like this remind me that while we may not be able to reach and teach all, we can never underestimate how important it is to simply speak up and talk about it.


As our family packed our bags to move, it never occurred to me to ask Mom why. But as a 9-year-old, I wonder if it would have helped me to know…that I would be treated differently because of the color of my skin. Sometimes I just don’t think so.

Ron Eldridge is the publisher of He has also written for and

March 19th, 2010, by
Sandra Bullock accepts the Best Actress award during the 82nd Annual Academy Awards in March.

The Blind Side is based on a true story about a homeless teen who finds a home with a “well-to-do” family in Memphis. The film was directed by John Lee Hancock, based on a book by Michael Lewis and brought Sandra Bullock the Best Actress Academy Award.

Does it matter that the homeless teen was Black and the family who adopted him was white?

Actress Vanessa Williams — who is not affiliated with the film — thinks the ethnicity of the characters does matter. While guest-hosting on ABC’s The View, Williams took umbrage at the idea that a white family swooped down and rescued a poor Black teen:

“It brings up a theme for Black folks that ‘OK, here’s another white family that has saved the day.’ In terms of another Black story that has to have a white person come in and lift them up. And I’m not saying it’s not true and it didn’t happen, but it’s one of those ‘do I really want to see the same theme again?'”

Barbara Walters did not agree and shot down Vanessa Williams’ argument saying that it was “a story of closeness between two races.”

But in a recent conversation on Tavis’s show, Tom Burrell — marketing communications pioneer and author of Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority — said that Americans have been brainwashed to believe that Blacks are inferior and whites are superior.

Burrell added that The Blind Side served audiences “visual and verbal cues” that feed into the idea of Black inferiority and white supremacy.

Here we have a situation where the Black family throws the kid away, the Black coach and his wife let him sleep on the couch for a couple of days, and then in comes this wonderful white family who embraces this big, oafish kind of kid who doesn’t know anything, big gentle giant, takes him in.

He is barely literate; he is barely able to function. Then we see him going into his neighborhood with this woman who is his new mother and it’s a menacing place, and she’s going to get out of the car and he grabs her — “Don’t get out.” These are some dangerous people out there. Then you see the most menacing group of Black guys that you can imagine, and you see in their eyes a thuggishness and you see these potential rapists.

There is no positive Black family image portrayed whatsoever, but you have this sharp contrast between good and bad and white and Black. I’m not saying that white families haven’t adopted Black kids, but you know something? Black families have adopted Black kids, and you have to ask yourself the question, would that be a movie?

What do you think? Was Vanessa Williams onto something? Is The Blind Side evidence of a brainwashed nation? Does the film reinforce the concept of Black inferiority? Share your thoughts below.

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