Note: This blog draws in part on my experiences and observations interviewing political figures, writers, and analysts for "The Campbell Conversations" on WRVO. To hear past interviews I refer to in these posts, please go to the show's website. The views expressed here are solely my own, and do not represent Syracuse University, the Campbell Institute, or the WRVO Stations.

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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Getting Real on Global Warming

This week on The Campbell Conversations I’m talking with Dan Grossman, a freelance environmental journalist who has frequently appeared on NPR and the BBC, and has written for the New York Times, Rolling Stone, and Scientific American.  He’s won a host of prestigious awards and been funded by many highly respected organizations—among them the Peabody award, the National Science Foundation, and the Fund for Investigative Journalism.  In our conversation he puzzles over the enduring controversy surrounding global warming, despite the clear scientific consensus on it, and he describes some of the problems that scientists have in communicating their findings to the public.  Along the way he relates some of the more interesting people he’s encountered in his adventures—I found the story about using sawdust to try to save glacier ice particularly interesting.

What I was most struck by, however, was Dan’s forcefulness in putting on the table the extent of change—and even sacrifice—that, according to him, is required to really address global warming.  He notes that even among his friends and colleagues, who are tuned in to global warming as a problem, there is a false sense of consciousness about what it will take to change it.  This is a politically tough position to adopt, and you do not hear it frequently expressed by candidates.  So his puzzling left me puzzling—over how to introduce those difficult conversations into meaningful political discussions.  I don’t have a ready answer for that.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Can't Anybody Here Play This Game?

(Note:  I am on distribution lists for a variety of political organizations and no one's hands are clean.)

I just received a mass email from Senator Bernie Sanders, one of the two independents in Congress.  It starts like this:

"Republicans hate Social Security because it has been an extraordinary success and has done exactly what it was designed to do. It is the most successful government program in our nation's history and is enormously popular."

Personally, I am not a big fan of the attacks on Social Security, and I have found some of them to be completely off-base, but this just doesn't help things.  Until we stop talking this nonsense about those with whom we disagree, we are going nowhere politically. 

This has got to change, all around.  In this game of chicken, will someone grab the steering wheel please?

Hollow Judicial Elections?

This November we'll reprise the curious American tradition of electing judges.  Most other western nations, such as Britain, use nonpartisan or bipartisan panels of legal experts to recommend or fill these posts.  On balance, I think this is probably the better way to go, despite its apparent non-democratic character.

The reason?  The information that a citizen can gather about the candidates is horribly thin, and thus these races usually turn into name-recognition contests or party-affiliation affairs--funded by private donations--in which voters have no real clue what they're doing.

The judicial candidates don't help matters.  They are loath to associate any kind of pattern of decision-making with their party affiliation, and they all tend to run on the following platform:  I'm honest, I'm tough on criminals, and I'm caring toward families.  As if their opponents are running on a platform of lying, promoting crime, and beating up children. 

The candidates will also share photos of themselves with their spouse, two children, and a dog.  (Why never a cat?  I guess because, at the end of the day, you can't trust a cat.  Actually, I have a cat you can trust, but to be honest he's pretty dumb.  I digress.)

Even with the advent of the Internet, it's tough to find out anything substantive about the candidates.  Tom Buckel, a local candidate for State Supreme Court Judge, comes close, however.  He's got some information on his website about how he intends to limit the influence of campaign contributions, by pledging to recuse himself from cases where contributors are involved.  He's also posted his "judicial philosophy," but this is in essence a commitment to be fair, reasonable and competent.  It's not a set of issue positions.

To gather the information that one would need in order to made a good decision among the candidates, a voter would have to know the candidates personally, or spend time with them as they reason through legal conflicts and react to legal challenges, or read the things that they've written before they announced their candidacies.  That's just not realistic on a mass scale. 

But none of this is meant to suggest that it doesn't matter who occupies these positions.  They are crucial for a healthy society and a functioning democracy.  And the races are not tweedle-dee versus tweedle-dum.  It's just that our method of making the choice does not promote democratic aims.

I think I'll try to get at least one set of judicial candidates on The Campbell Conversations this fall, to see if it's possible to have a substantive discussion in which the candidates will meaningfully disagree with each other.  It will be an interesting experiment, if nothing else. 

Until then, look for the Labrador Retriever.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Changes to The Campbell Conversations Airing Schedule

The Campbell Conversations on WRVO will now be a stand-alone program airing at 6:30 p.m. on Fridays and 4 p.m. on Saturdays.  As before, it will also be available as a podcast through WRVO's website.  WRVO is going through some staff reallocations and for now it has discontinued its "Weekly Edition" program, in which The Campbell Conversations had been embedded.  I'm excited that the program will now occupy an evening "prime-time" slot.

Please also note that for the upcoming program this week--my interview with Congresswoman Ann Marie Buerkle--the full interview will air at 4 p.m. on Saturday, and a somewhat shorter version of the interview will be broadcast on Friday morning during NPR's "Morning Edition," at 6:35 and 8:35.  The interview will not air Friday evening--that change becomes effective the following week.

If you are a listener to the program, I thank you for your support!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Remembering the Personal Loss of 9-11

On this week's Campbell Conversation interview--moved from its normal spot to the Morning Edition broadcast for Friday, September 9--I'm speaking with Mark Morabito.  Mark lost his wife, Laura Lee Defazio Morabito, in the September 11th attacks--she was a passenger on American Airlines Flight 11, one of the two planes flown into the World Trade Center.  In this interview he remembers the day and looks back at the 10 years that have passed--and how that event, and that loss, have affected his own life.  What is a vivid historical event for most Americans is a wrenching personal loss for him.  He talks about how some of his political views, as well as his views about life and death, have changed, and he also describes how he plans to mark 9-11 this year.

I left the interview thinking about this combination of an immediate personal loss and a historical event that remains vivid for those old enough to remember it, but which is also receding in time.  And I was reminded of a moment several years ago when Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. visited our Syracuse campus to give a speech about the environment.  Along the way he referenced John F. Kennedy’s presidency and his memories of that era.  He then began a sentence with “When my uncle was murdered…,” which stopped me cold, and in that second reframed my sense of the Kennedy assassination—what had been a historical event captured on amateur film became a crime victim’s personal story. 

I imagine that dealing with that paradox will follow the families of the victims of 9-11 throughout their entire lives.