In The Moment: Episode 54


In this week’s interview, correspondent Venice Buhain talks with Thom Hartmann about the war on voting. Hartman compares voting systems in other countries to those in the United States, and discusses exit polling as a method of determining the winner of an election, both in the US and abroad. Buhain and Hartman reveal the mechanisms and justifications behind voter suppression, and the possibilities for changing our voting process or implementing policies to counteract voter suppression strategies. Get an insider’s look and stay in the know about what’s going on in this moment at Town Hall Seattle.


Episode Transcript

This transcription was performed automatically by a computer. Please excuse typos and inaccurate information. If you’re interested in helping us transcribe events and podcasts, email communications@townhallseattle.org.

welcome to in the moment a town hall Seattle podcast where we talk with folks coming to our stages and give you a glimpse into their topic, personality and interests. I’m your host, Ginny Palmer. There has been a surge of interest regarding the voter rights, fraud and suppression. Perhaps because it’s an election year, perhaps because of the foreign interference in our last presidential election or maybe it’s a greater understanding of the tactics and strategies the conservative elites use to prevent the quote wrong people from voting, American radio personality and New York times bestselling author Tom Hartman is coming to town hall on February 19th to talk about his new book, the hidden history of the war on voting, who stole your vote and how to get it back. Our correspondent that is behind is a Seattle area journalist, formerly the editorial director at the Seattle globalist. Her work has also appeared on TVW news, AOL KPCs FM, the Olympian, and more. Venice was a longtime board member, including past president of the Seattle chapter of the Asian American journalists association. She came to our media room at town hall to talk with Hartman. Over the phone. So, um, first question I want to ask you is, how did you come up with that title, the war on voting? Like how’d you come to decide to call it a war?

Well, it actually has been, I mean there’s, there’s strategy and tactics and, and, uh, you know, individual communities being targeted, States being targeted. The, uh, I’d originally suggested to, my publisher would be titled the Republican war on voting and they said, well, that sounds off of partisan and, but you know, at that point we had been doing a fair amount of research on and since 1965, uh, when the democratic party embraced, uh, you know, everybody voting with the voting rights act and the civil rights act over the loud objections of the Republicans. It was, uh, basically it’s been a one sided war. That’s really what’s going on is there’s, there’s one party that is very, very committed to preventing people from voting or suppressing the vote and reducing the phones and, uh, another party that has been working very hard to get as many people to the polls as possible.

Hmm. Okay. So, you know, is there anything in particular that spurred you to choose this topic in this series at this time? Or, um, you know, this is part of your, your series on hidden, his called hidden history.

Yeah, well it’s, you know, it’s an election year, but the thing that really got me started thinking about this, I lived in Germany back in the eighties. Um, uh, in Germany, they, the, the elections are, are uh, they take three to four days to count the vote. In fact, it’s like jury duty. You actually get a notice from the government saying that you have been selected, uh, to come in and be one of the vote counters and, uh, your employer has to give you time off work and all that kind of thing. And, but they call the elections the night of the election. Uh, 99% of the time. And the reason why is because they conduct exit polls all over the country. So by the time the vote is has, by the time the last vote has been cast, they pretty much know who won because the exit polls are always typically within a 10th or two tenths of a percent.

And so unless the election is really, really tight, they a unhesitatingly call them. We saw this with the U K, uh, with Boris Johnson’s election just a few weeks ago or a few months ago, um, where they pretty much called the election that night. And then, you know, it took three days for the, uh, for the entire boat to be tabulated. Um, exit polls are used by the United nations and by the Carter center that the gold standard, our federal government, when, um, I’m forgetting which Ukrainian president it was, but, uh, when the pro Russia Ukrainian president was elected and, and it was determined that, uh, the exit poll showed that the pro democracy guy won, but the pro Russia guy took office that sparked re we released that our government released the fact that there was a five or six point discrepancy between the exit polls and the actual election results where the election results are reported by the governor.

And that provoked the orange revolution that took down the government. So exit polls have always been the gold standard and we started using them in the nights night of six in the 1950s that became very scientific in the 1970s and throughout the 70s, 80s, and nineties, exit polls across the United States were always typically within, you know, at the very most, a half a point off. And then the 2000 election things went nuts. The, in particularly in Florida, but in several other States as well. But the main one was in Florida. The, the Florida exit polls show George W. Bush losing the election by tens of thousands of votes. And yet the actual count from the state came out that Al Gore lost and George W. Bush won. And this provoked to Florida Supreme court order, a statewide recount. And then of course, George were sued, uh, in Bush V Gore saying that if the recount continued, then complainant George W. Bush would be quite irreparably harmed.

And the Supreme court stopped. The us Supreme court stopped the Florida Supreme court. So that kind of perked me up. You know, what’s, what’s the deal here with these exit polls? And in 2002, uh, there were a number of other States where we saw this, it’s called red shift generally, but people in the election business, because it almost never happens in blue States, but in States that are controlled by Republican secretaries of state, you see these shifts where the exit poll says that, um, you know, person a one but the actual election results say that no, it was person B who won. And so, uh, the other thing that happened in the 2000, um, two, uh, this is the help America vote act that was passed, that, that made this possible. The other thing that happened in the help America vote act was that, um, they, we added a new kind of vowel to the national scene in addition to putting $5 billion in the voting machines nationwide.

This thing called the provisional ballot came out. So if you show up to vote, but for whatever reason, you’re not on the voting roles as a registered voter, they will still give you a ballot and you vote and you think you voted. And the problem is that in virtually all the States, uh, if you cast a provisional ballot, it never gets counted. And the election is contested. And even when the elections can test it, if you haven’t gone down to the local secretary of state’s already, your state secretary of state’s office, and, um, proven to them that you actually are who you are and that you’re a citizen and you’re legal and all that kind of stuff, then, um, you know, your, your vote literally will never get counted. And so, um, in 2004, we saw the same thing in Ohio and I big way, uh, again, 2004 showed John Kerry the exit poll, sir John Kerry winning the state easily by, by hundreds of thousands of votes, but the actual vote itself by a slim margin through the vote to through the state to George W. Bush.

Um, and we’ve been seeing this ever since. It’s, it’s become a regular feature of the American landscape. For example, in the 2016 election, the exit polls now around these even numbers, the exit polls showed Hillary Kent carried Florida by 48%, and the Trump got 46%. But the, uh, actual account, according to the estate, the official count was the Trump had 49%. And Hillary had 48% somehow Trump gained two and a half points. That’s the red shift in North Carolina. The exit poll showed Clinton winning 48 to 46% but the official result was Trump 49 Clinton 46 and 5.9% red shift. And Pennsylvania, the exit polls showed that Hillary Clinton won 50 to 46% for Trump. But when the official numbers from the state where the Trump beat Clinton by 48% so 47.6% red shift of 5.6% and in Wisconsin and Clinton beat Trump and the exit polls 48 to 44% but the actual count, according to the state of Wisconsin, there’s Trump beat her by 48.8% the 47.6% or Redshift or 5.1% now that’s the kind of red shift that we brought down the election and cranium.

And if the exit polls are accurate in those four States, or even in any two of those four States, Hillary Clinton easily won the election. So what accounts for that turns out, uh, the Republican has been since since 2000 when we did it right. A brute force in 2000. And that worked really, really well. And so got a little more sophisticated in 2004 has been systematically removing voters from the voting roles. And those people show up and they vote and they think that their vote was counted, but it wasn’t. But when they walk out, they tell the exit pollster, Oh yeah, I just voted for Hillary Clinton. I supposed to write it down and it gets tabulated. And this accounts, I believe accounts for the red shift. For a long time we thought it was, you know, problems with voting machines and whatnot. But it, it seems to only be happening in the States where these aggressive voter purges are happening, are being done by Republican secretaries of state.

And in some of them, they’re pretty, pretty, uh, strange. So we saying in the 2000 election, and this is, you know, well known now, um, uh, George W. Bush who was the governor of Texas, provided Jeb Bush who was the governor of Florida with a list of all the felons in Texas. About 60% of the phones in Texas are black or Hispanic, black and Hispanic. Name pools are relatively small. Most African-American names are derived from Anglo Saxon loans cause mostly holders were scotch, Irish or English. And uh, Hispanic names are almost entirely derived from Spanish, only two languages, whereas Caucasians have names from Slavic languages, Cyrillic languages, Scandinavian languages, Greek. I mean, you know, it’s just good. It’s all, one of the places is huge diversity of white names. So when George w Bush’s, excuse me, when Jeb Bush’s secretary of state, Katherine Harris compared to Texas felon list with the Florida voter list on the theory that some of those Texas felons might’ve moved to Florida to vote, uh, and in Florida fallen, can’t vote.

Um, they found, depending on whose lawsuit you’re looking at, between 30 and 80,000, largely African Americans and they didn’t compare the middle initials. So if it was James Q. Johnson and the Texas and Jimmy Johnson and Florida, it was the same person according to Jeb Bush. And they knocked all those people off the voting rolls and see, all you will recall was out marching in the streets about this one when it was figured out and all kinds of lawsuits and things. So that appears to be how and that accounts for the Redshift in Florida perfectly. And that appears to be how how George W. Bush won Florida. And then then in 2004 with the provisional ballots in Ohio, what they did was they started doing the same thing only instead of comparing as felony as they’re comparing one state against another. So the Georgia voting list would be comparative with the Ohio voting lists. And any overlap was deleted from both. And the overlap of course, was massively skewed towards black and Hispanic names.

Yeah. So you go over this in your book and it’s actually, you’ve got a good chapter where you’re going into this into detail. And so a lot of the mainstream analysis and the mainstream mainstream writers look at this and they came to the conclusion that the exit polling was flawed and you came to the opposite conclusion that it’s the official tally that’s flood. Is that, is that correct?

Uh, mr mr Matuski, I’m forgetting his first name. I think it might be Alan, but in any case, he’s the guy who really in the 1970s fine tuned exit polling into a science, he’s not passed away. And, um, he was confounded by the 2000 results in Florida and then the 2002 results in four or five States and then the 2004 results, particularly in Ohio, he didn’t know what to do about it because his company was finding these anomalous results. And the only answer, but he could come up with and, and he’s rather famous for this kind of sadly, was that, uh, for some reason in only some States and depending on the election, somewhere between 10 and 15 States, um, Republicans were embarrassed to admit that they had voted for Republican. It was called the shy Republican voter theory. And therefore these Republicans, when they walked out of the exit poll wide to the exit pollsters, it was the only answer that he could come up with.

I don’t think that, uh, they knew frankly about the provisional ballot and voter purges. I mean, this has only become widespread knowledge in the last five years or so. And it became really highlighted in the election of 2018 and in Georgia where the Brian camp, the secretary of state, threw a million people off the voting rolls in Georgia in the four years before the election, 200,000 year of the election and then ran himself for governor against Stacey Abrams and won by 50,000 votes. And, uh, and apparently there were hundreds of thousands provisional votes that were never counted in Georgia. So, uh, nobody ever demonstrated that there was anything wrong with the exit polling results. Exit polls are still used in Canada. They’re still used in every European country. The United nation still uses exit polls to certify elections in South America and Africa, Southeast Asia. Um, the Carter center still uses them. Nothing has changed except rappers, this handful of States that are controlled by Republican secretaries of state where thoroughly, reliably the vote will, will show that a Democrat won. But the actual official count for the exit polls will show the Democrat one. But the official results show that a Republican one

[inaudible]. So, um, for those of us who don’t know, can you describe how exit polling is done?

Sure. Yeah. Somebody stands outside the polling place for the voting station. And as people come out, they say, you know, would you please be willing on an exit pollster with Matuski Edison over the associated press or with NBC or whatever, and would you please be willing to tell me how you bought it? And we have this to be anonymous and I’m not going to ask her name or anything. And then they just basically go through the ballot and tick off what that person, and then they say, thank you very much from off the person goes. It’s a very straightforward process.

Okay. So just like it sounds, so, yeah. Okay. Yeah. All right. And, um, yeah. And I guess, uh, so what was the, so I guess is your argument that like, it seems to be accurate and other places, but you know, there seems to be a nominal, I, I’m just trying to make sure I understand.

Yeah. The exit polls, uh, on occasion there’ll be variations in blue States and States controlled by democratic, uh, secretaries of state. Um, but they tend to be random. You know, you’ll see a seven tenths of a point shift toward the Republicans or an eight tenths of a point shift toward Democrats in a variation between the exit poll and the actual results that might be accounted for by sample bias or by, you know, having a two smallest sample or something like that. But this consistent red shift running from two to as many as seven points, which is just unheard of actually pulling it literally any other developed democracy in the world. Um, this is a unique characteristic of Republican controlled States in the United States.

So do you think the issue of a voting integrity is being sort of ignored or slept on a side? You know, being shunted aside for other issues or,

yes, I do. And that’s why I wrote the book. I think it’s outrageous. I mean, the, the vote is like, you know, this is how we determine who is going to run our country is, you know, in our country, uh, our national government is what determines how we, how we regulate and protect our commons. So the vote is arguably the most important of all the commons. And it shouldn’t be screwed with like this or messed with this.

So why don’t people recognize this as an issue that’s relevant to everybody? Is there are the other things [inaudible]

most people don’t know about it. There’s been, you know, there’s been some reporting on this, but it tends to be in, you know, places like Politico or in the political pages of the New York times. Um, none of the stuff that I just shared with you is a secret. It’s all easily find-able. But if this is not something that is in the media on a regular basis, um, I, you know, I have theories about why, but I don’t have any evidence of exactly why the media doesn’t like distressing. So I suppose just leave those theories. They’re not in the book.

Oh, okay. So you don’t want to discuss what your, what your theories might be, why people learn it.

You know, I, I’ll just tell you that up front just kind of wanders into the realm of conspiracy theory as a word. But, but I’m in the media. I’ve, I’ve been doing this radio show for 15 years. I started in radio back in the late 1960s and, um, if your show is one that depends on guests showing up and a whole category of guests, like all Republicans start refusing to show up on your show, you lose your job. We no longer have a show. And so if the Sunday shows, for example, if the news shows were to start reporting aggressively on this Republican votes, voting suppression and you know, how it works and why it works and how it was organized and everything, um, I suspect that the Republicans to start a blackout in the shows and we don’t want that to happen. That’s just my theory. I, you know, I haven’t asked, you know, Chuck Todd, why he doesn’t talk about this or you know, George Stephanopoulos, I don’t actually know.

Hmm. I mean that’s interesting cause I mean you’d think that um, integrity of the vote would be nonpartisan or you know, interesting to everybody. Okay. Yeah. Hmm. Okay. So I guess what, what do you think are, can you name like three really important changes that would have to happen to increase trust and integrity in the vote and um, you can rank them in terms of most achievable or maybe most important? I’ll let you decide.

We need to have an absolute right to vote. So there was never a right to vote written into the constitution because the framers of the constitution were purposely excluding enslaved people. And women, um, after the civil war, you know, and, and Jim Crow kicked back in after the failure of reconstruction. Again, it was, you know, women were excluded from voting and people, men of color were excluded from voting right up until 1965. Um, and, and, and women didn’t get the vote in United States until 1920, as we all know. So because of this kind of male, white male, um, oligarchy essentially, or aristocracy or patriarchy or whatever you want to call it, you know, power structure in the United States. I mean, there’s a lot of legacies to that. You know, they’re mostly white male judiciary, the mostly white and not legislature. Um, and a largely white male electric. And, uh, so we’ve never really had a national discussion about building an absolute right to vote into the constitution or even into our law.

There is a 1993 laws, sometimes referred to as the motor voter law that allowed a federal law that allowed individual secretaries of state to, uh, to set it up so that when people read, uh, getting a driver’s license that they can check a box and be automatically registered to vote. Um, this was bill. This law says both in its preamble and in the body of the law, voting is a right in the United States, that exact phrase, but it’s never been subject to judicial review. It’s never been reviewed by the Supreme court. And so, uh, by and large it is ignored. Um, we don’t have an actual right to vote. In fact, in the Bush legal case, when you know, when judge re-encode and when William Rehnquist ruled in favor of George Bush, uh, part of the ruling said, and I quote, there is no constitutional right to vote for president of the ounce States and quote, and we need to have a right to vote.

If we had a right to vote, then before Brian Kemp can take your name off the voting rolls, you would have to meet some burden approved. Right now if you want to vote and he’s taken your name off the list, you have to make the burden of proof. I think that’s backwards. So number one, right to vote. Number two, I think we need to publicize what’s going on and then the stuff that we’ve already talked about here. And number three, we need to make voting a lot easier. Um, right now if you work on an hourly basis, you have to actually lose part of your salary, part of your income to go about. Um, you might even, you know, cause your job to go vote taking a day off to go vote. Um, you know, so it’s skewed. Voting is skewed in most States toward people who are on salaries rather than hourly.

And that tends to be the more upper income and largely more white population. And so, you know, there’s these structural things that make it harder for people who, who, uh, people who are economically challenged to vote. Uh, I live in Oregon where the entire state now votes by mail. And we’ve seen, you know, our voter, uh, compliance go up into the mid 60 range, uh, you know, much higher than pretty much any other state. And it works really, really well. My wife and I get the ballot three weeks before the election. We sit down, you know, go through it. If we’ve got questions, we can Google it people. Um, so without dropping the mail and that’s it. And it’s all on paper. There’s no questions about it. There’s no doubt about it. It’s solid, it’s secure, it’s safe. And uh, Washington state just to dr [inaudible] a couple of years ago also, and it’s spreading around the country, uh, in democratic States, but it is being fiercely resisted in Republican controlled States.

Hmm. Yeah. So, um, yeah, actually that does bring me to another question. You know, it’s interesting, I had a conversation with some folks from North Carolina about, uh, the system that we have in Washington state where people vote all by mail. And they were really surprised that people that we weren’t concerned about picture ID or that didn’t seem to be a concern in this state. And I was wondering, you know, like, have you heard about this concern elsewhere?

Well, this is, this is one of the, you know, when, when the Republican party decided to, to make a voter suppression the principle way that they were going to guarantee a continuation of their power or their electoral power, um, they had to come up with an excuse, you know, rationalization for the reasons for it. And so in the early two thousands, after George Bush won Florida, the way he did as I described, um, he concluded that any place, a Democrat one or some of the places where Democrats won, it must’ve been because quote illegal aliens and the Hispanic slightly, uh, who aren’t us citizens were voting in the elections. And so he ordered his all 100 of his federal prosecutors to, uh, allocate a certain amount of the resources of their office in certain amount numbers of staff members to look for people who had voted illegally in their, and seven of his prosecutors.

So this is crazy. There’s this, it literally is not happening. I mean, what illegal alien is going to risk two to five years in prison to vote. Nobody is that crazy. Um, I’m not going to do it. Then he fired seven people. It was a huge scandal. And then over the next two years, he spent, uh, I believe it was 70, $70 million in this huge campaign to find these people. And they found 13 people who had voted illegally, nationwide. And uh, more than half of them were Europeans who were here on green cards who thought that they could vote cause they had a green card. And the majority of them, I voted for Republicans. So this idea that we have to check everybody’s ID is crazy. Then there’s no, you’re more likely to be struck by lightning than the voting illegal number one. Number two, we did have an actually more effective, more, more secure system than photo ID before the photo ID was.

And that was a biometric system. When you registered to vote, you signed a card and the, and the voting people would keep that card with your signature on it. It’s a lot easier to buy a phony ID than it is to, while you’re in front of somebody signing the paper, fake a signature. That’s very difficult to do actually. And so we had a system that worked really effectively, and you know, it’s been replaced by this, by this photo ID thing. And still we’re not finding these so-called illegal voters. They just literally don’t exist. But what does exist is the fact that in our big cities where you don’t need a car, my, my best friend lives in New York city has his whole entire life. He hasn’t, he’s never, literally never owned a car. I was not a driver’s license in 20 years. Um, you don’t need a driver’s license and poor people in big cities can’t afford a driver’s license, but can’t afford a car.

So he had a driver’s license. Um, uh, so, uh, what the ID laws do is they disadvantage poor people. They disadvantaged people over 65 who have stopped driving on their driver’s licenses, have expired, is in almost every case. They don’t just require an ID that required a current and valid ID. So, uh, and, and then also you find that, uh, they, the severely disadvantaged students, we were seeing this for the first time in New Hampshire this year cause New Hampshire just passed an ID law that doesn’t allow most types of college ID even for people who are living in state. I’m going to college and they will have had to go through the additional step or getting a New Hampshire driver’s license when they, you know, maybe their home state is, you know, California and Georgia, whatever. And so you’re going to see, I suspect a real fall off in student voting in New Hampshire in this primary today. We’ll see tonight. I mean, we’ll know in a few hours, but um, so what the idea was do is nothing more than make it harder for people of color. People who are poor, young people and old people, which is the democratic constituency by and large to vote.

Hmm. Yeah. And so I guess along that same vein, do you think that there are security measures or ideas that are kind of gaining traction that are in fact ways or things that people should be wary of in terms of, um, you know, things that would actually suppress the vote?

Yeah. Voter ID laws are explicitly a form of voter suppression. You know, we’ve had half a dozen Republican politicians say this out loud, um, over the last couple of years. Um, the, uh, you know, of course the voter purges in the name of we’re cleaning up the rolls to get rid of people who’ve moved out of state or people who are felons and shouldn’t be voting here, or people who’ve died. Uh, this massive voter purchase, you know, over 200,000 people in Wisconsin just before the 2016 election, over 190,000 people in Michigan, which just before that election, uh, almost 300,000 in Ohio, just before that election. These are permissions. And this went before the Supreme court last year. Um, Ohio, they’re gonna win. John Casick wanted oppression of a couple of hundred thousand people are the voting roles in Ohio, almost exclusively. And in cities that had large black populations. Um, UCLU in a group of, uh, another group of people took it to the Supreme court and the Supreme court in a five to four decision that was just ripped by Ruth Bader Ginsburg. And, um, Elena Kagan, the five conservative justice of the Supreme court. So this is really a state’s matter. It’s not a federal matter. Uh, there’s no federal right to vote. We’re not grandchild, you know, so we’re going to let Ohio do this. And, and within a month of that, other Republican controlled state started aggressively compiling, you know, lists of different States, voters that they could compare with their state’s orders to purge, you know, common names.

Hmm. Okay. I noticed you didn’t, you didn’t even mention like electronic, you know, electronic voting or anything like that, I guess. Is that something also

know we thought for in the early two thousands, when the anomalous results were coming out, particularly in the 2004 election in Ohio. Um, and, and particularly after, uh, uh, Wally Odell, the president of Debold had written a letter, uh, saying that he was also the chairman of the George W. Bush campaign in Ohio, uh, saying that, you know, we’re going to bring in Ohio for George W. Bush. There were a lot of people who thought, Oh, it’s the D D Bolton machines or the S and S machines. They were the most widely used in United States. We, uh, two brothers who started the SNS are both Christian fundamentalists, uh, the time guys who believed that, you know, within the next 10 years, the world’s going to end. And, um, so there was a lot of suspicion about he’s like, try to buddy machines and you know, some of them obviously were insecure. I mean, you know, at the desk con hackers conventions.

So they regularly feature 11 year olds, you know, hacking the machines at 15 year olds doing it. 11 minutes, I guess. But, um, and, and I think that it’s frankly wrong. The, we have privatized our vote and we have for profit corporations telling us how we voted, but not telling us any of the details of it. They will not give us the [inaudible] even the code for how the machines work. And this should be fairly simple stuff. I mean it’s addition and subtraction. Um, and that’s offensive. I think it’s offensive to democracy. You know, Thomas Paine referred to the vote as the beating heart of democracy. It’s, it’s the, it’s the core of democracy. It should never have been privatized as it was in 2002 without the America vote act, which legalize this and providing the States of five point $6 billion to buy body missions from, for profit companies.

And, and I, I’d love to see them all go away, you know, and, and have us do the same thing that Canada does and the eye kingdom does, and France and Germany and every other developed country in the world. And that is vote on paper and have that average people ballots counted by hand or even countered by a scanning machine like we do in Washington and Oregon. Um, that’s, that’s important. But I don’t think that’s as urgent as stopping the purchase of the registered voting roles and, um, and informing people that if they’re handling provisional ballot, it almost certainly won’t be carded and they should protest loudly.

Yeah. And do you think that, uh, like the voter suppression is kind of baked into the process of voting, I mean, is it, is it like impossible to make any changes? Is it too late to change things?

It is right now in 20 some odd States, you know, the States that have passed these model laws that have to do with voter ID and cleaning the rolls and stuff that we’re promoting by the American legislative exchange council. You know, the Koch brothers kind of a group that proposes legislation for the States. Those laws are in place. Your sector, state’s offices are regularly doing this. Uh, it has, um, standard operating practice. Um, this is not happening in the democratic controlled States pretty much at all. And, uh, so I think that mostly we need to blow the whistle on it.

Mm Hmm. Okay. And I’m wondering, um, do you think that the idea of what it means to, um, influence the vote or undermine the integrity of the vote or, you know, what is, what that means, uh, has changed like in the past 20 years from kind of one idea to another or tactics changed or kind of what’s your, what’s your view on that?

Yeah. You know, we know, we know, for example, in the 2016 elections, uh, Russia and apparently several other nations, Seth Abramson wrote a book about this called proof of conspiracy, you know, in which he talks about how, uh, apparently Saudi Arabia was insider election systems and a couple of other countries, uh, China may have penetrated than North Korea and there, but we know that Russia did. In fact, we know, you know, we’ve got the fingerprints all over the state of Florida for example, where they were actually inside body systems. And so, you know, most voting machines are not online, but there are some that are, but most of the tabulating machines, the computers that actually count the vote are online or at least many of them are. Uh, none of that should be happening. It should not be possible to access our voting infrastructure that needs to be fixed right away.

And, um, I guess I was also wondering why do you think that this is not like an issue that has gained a lot of traction or like I just don’t hear a whole lot of noise on it. I, I will say like, I remember back in like, um, like 1994 when, you know, and I was getting ready to register to vote as a teenager. I mean, when I was a teenager and I was hearing all these things about like how important it was to vote, how important it was to register, I know know, like, are you hearing, I mean, I’m not seeing that kind of push. I mean, you know, I’m like, of course that, that was a long time ago, so I’m not seeing, you know, necessarily what teenagers see. But I, I was wondering, Yana do you think, yeah, I feel like it was a bigger issue. Listen, was

the big change point. I mean, yeah, 2000 was the point at which it really, really changed. And this, and by 2004 this, because of the help America vote act and the invention of provisional ballots, this would become institutionalized. Um, but frankly, everything that we’ve discussed here is relatively common knowledge in the black community in the United States. And we tune into some of the urban stations, the black stations, and you’ll hear these conversations literally every day right now. Um, it just hasn’t broken through into the, so called mainstream media into the largely white controlled white dominated media. You know, for whatever reason you’ve heard my theory. Um, and uh, the other thing is I remember back, this was like in 2005 when I was on air America and myself and Randy Rhodes and again in a couple of other of the, uh, like a host went to Washington D C and we met with a half a dozen or so of democratic Saturdays.

And at that time, you know, we were all jazzed up about the red shift and you know, Ohio in the 2004 election. And we were like, and it wasn’t just Ohio, there was like a half a dozen States where there was substantial shift, but Ohio was prolonged, the election turned on. And, and so we said to them, you know, we think this is these electronic voting machines being rigged or hacked or something. And why don’t you guys raise, how about this? And one of the senators, uh, said to, uh, I don’t recall if it was me or Randy was there anything said to us, um, we are concerned, we have concerns about this and we’re going to look into it. But our biggest concern is that if the American people think that their vote is not, doesn’t have integrity that, but it won’t be counted. They may lose faith in the system.

And if they lose faith in the system, they’ll stop showing up to vote. And if they stopped showing up to vote, then we’re in even deeper trouble than we are right now. And that was the kind of official policy of the democratic party up until 2016, you know, evils, you know, we will say no evil. That’s, and you’ve got democratic politicians. Now see, Stacey Abrams down in Georgia has started an organization called fair fight. Um, who is just taking on this voter suppression is this giant purchase, um, front, you know, front and center. You’ll hear a conversation about this pretty much every Saturday or Sunday. Andre reads program on MSNBC. She talks about it every single week. Um, you know, again, it’s, she’s a black horse and then there’s no, as I said, the, the black community, he knows what’s going on. Um, and I, I think that the democratic party is, is waking up and waking up the rapid and then you’re going to see more and more, uh, outrage around its issue.

Hmm. Okay, great. And, um, as we’re doing this interview, it’s been a week since the Iowa caucuses and, and the delays at the democratic party was having with tabulating the delegates and all that. I mean, it’s, you know, I know caucusing is not 100% the same as voting, but is this, do you think that there’s anything related here in terms of, um, trust or integrity or, you know, kind of what’s the, you know, I, I’m curious to know what your thoughts are on that.

I think the Iowa democratic party was a lot of credibility and trust. Um, you know, trying to roll out an app, um, doesn’t seem to have been a particularly good idea. Uh, but I’m quite willing to chalk this up to incompetence rather than criminality.

Hmm. Okay. You know, is there anything that I didn’t ask you that you hope people in Seattle know?

Yeah, you’ve been quite comprehensive. You know, you become an evangelist for voting by mail. It works really well and it is biometric by the way you sign the back of that envelope. So you’ve got something that’s actually harder to fake than voter ID, you know, and a good safe, secure system that produces high quality results the rest of the country she lived up.

Tom Hartman will be on our great hall stage on February 19th at 7:30 PM to talk about his book, the hidden history of the war on voting, who stole your vote and how to get it back. The tickets are selling quickly, so if you’d like to be part of the conversation or get a signed copy of Tom’s book, get yourself a ticket. Thank you for listening to episode 54 of in the moment. Our theme music comes from the Seattle baseband EBU and Seattle’s own bar Souk records to hear the events that happened on her stages. Subscribe to our arts and culture, civics and science series, podcasts, and to watch many of our hottest events, check out our town hall, Seattle, YouTube channel. Just search Townhall Seattle and subscribe to support town hall. Become a member or see your calendar of events. Go to our website, a town hall, seattle.org next week, our chief correspondent, Steve Cher. We’ll talk with Connor Dougherty about the fight for housing in America. Until then, thanks for joining us right here in the moment.

Oud Intentions

What happens when you merge fluid improvisation and subtle noise with traditional Arabic music—then add the talent of a guitar master? The Vancouver-based band Haram aims to find out. Led by award-winning oud virtuoso Gordon Grdina, Haram will be joining us at Town Hall on 3/1 in a Global Rhythms performance alongside legendary guitarist Marc Ribot.

Town Hall’s Alexander Eby sat down with Gordon Grdina for a conversation about ouds, band history, and the spirit of collaboration.

AE: Initially, what got Haram together? What factors steered the band towards including elements of traditional Arabic music?

GG: The band came together in 2008 from two main ideas. First, I wanted a band that could play the traditional Arabic music I was studying but in an unorthodox way. This was the Iraqi folk music I was learning from my teacher Serwan Yamolky and the traditional radio music from Egypt in the 50-60’s by musicians like Oum Khalsoum Farid Al Atrache, Abdel Wahab etc. We’ve since expanded to include Sudanese and Persian music from the same period. 

Secondly, aside from my trio I wasn’t playing regularly with a lot of the incredible musicians in Vancouver and wanted to have a larger ensemble where we could all play together and get a chance to hang out. Some of the musicians were already versed in this music but most weren’t. I knew their incredible sensitivities would bring out new aspects of this ancient music and the repertoire would bring out aspects of their own playing we hadn’t heard before. It ended up being a great idea and we’ve enjoyed many great nights of music since then.

AE: Why are you drawn to the oud as an instrument? What’s it like to try to merge that sound with the rock/jazz/indie/improv sensibilities of the band at large?

GG: I had a very good guitar teacher when I was young who always brought new interesting music to each lesson, and left it with me so that I would get inspired. At 13 I was into a lot of blues and slide guitar, and my teacher Marko Ferenc brought me a Vishwa Mohan Bhatt record with Simon Shaheen. He wanted me to check out Vishaw’s slide playing, but as soon as I heard the Oud for the first time I was blown away. I couldn’t understand how the sound was being made but it grabbed me and I fell in love with it instantly. Simon Shaheen is also one of the greatest Oud players in the world so that didn’t really hurt either. I then got interested in other Oud players like Hamza El Din and Rabih Abou Khalili and later Munir Bachir and others. 

I didn’t get an Oud and start playing the music until I graduated from Jazz School. I got one off of Ebay and instantly started a band called Sangha with my friends Hidayat Honari Neelamjit Dhillon and Hamin Honari. We play original music based in Arabic Persian and Indian concepts. So my understanding of the instrument and practice of it has always been within a blending of tradition. I’ve since studied traditional Arabic music more in-depth, but using the traditional alongside all of the other aspects of my musical understanding is intrinsic to how I make music. I knew that this band would bring out different aspects of the musicians and I could see how their unique voices could add a different dimension to these timeless melodies. 

AE: What interests you most about working with Marc Ribot? What do you think the result will be of blending his musical style with Haram’s?

GG: Everyone in the band and myself are huge fans of Marc. He is one of the icons of the instrument because he transcends the guitar and creates music that immediately touches you. He is soulful, always interesting and intriguing no matter what he does. His sound isn’t based in flawless technique—even though he has that too. It’s based on creating the most direct and honest music in the moment. The most exciting part of this band is that everyone thrives on freely creating in the moment with a sense of abandon.

I think that Marc will meet this abandon and take us all to the next level. I’m expecting excitement, surprise, a fair amount of ripping and the unknown!

Haram and Ribot join forces onstage on 3/1 for an energetic and intuitive concert in a unique exploration of Arabic musical traditions. Get your tickets here!

What Are People Doing?

Every week the Town Crier blog will look back at Seattle’s near-forgotten Town Crier magazine to see what was happening then and talk about what’s happening now. One of the largest sections of the original Town Crier was “What People Are Doing,” highlighting things like, “The Junior Prom takes place tonight at the Masonic Temple” and, “The Smith College Club of Seattle is giving a series of dances at the Women’s University Club to aid in raising the $4,000,000 endowment fund for their alma mater.” In this series we’re revisiting the old column and tying it to our community’s current happenings, asking: “what are people doing?”

Today’s entry…

Gracing the cover of the February 7, 1920 Town Crier was none other than Mrs. Margaret P. McLean. McLean taught at Cornish College and was to give a dramatic reading of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables to rapt and adoring fans.

Town Hall fans, there are a variety of events involving drama this very month on our stages:

February 12: Diane Rehm: When My Time Comes. Arguably the most dramatic event in one’s life is at the end of it. Rehm talks with KUOW’s Ross Reynolds about the Right-to-Die movement.

February 15: Julie Blacklow: Diary of a Badass Reporter. Blacklow was among the first generation of women in television news in the United States.

February 19: Pacific Flyway: Waterbird Migration from the Arctic to Tierra del Fuego. The incredible stories of migratory birds and their challenges for survival. 

February 25: Susan Fowler: Fighting Sexual Harassment in Silicon Valley. A chronicle of her stand against the pervasive culture of sexism, harassment, racism, and abuse at Uber.

For our full calendar of Town Hall events visit us here. Most tickets are only $5 (and FREE to anyone under the age of 22). We look forward to having you join us. 

In The Moment: Episode 53


In this week’s interview, Chief Correspondent Steve Scher talks with Dan Esty about solutions to big problems like climate change. Esty outlines ways to bridge political perspectives in order to approach climate change as a serious issue while maintaining flexibility when it comes to policy. He advocates for a structure of environmental protection policymaking that is more careful about balancing costs against benefits and adjusting the nature of the burdens placed upon businesses. Citing America as a nation that promotes innovation, Esty contends that we should overcome partisan hangups and present big ideas to combat climate change long-term.


Episode Transcript

This transcription was performed automatically by a computer. Please excuse typos and inaccurate information. If you’re interested in helping us transcribe events and podcasts, email communications@townhallseattle.org.

Welcome to in the moment a town hall Seattle podcast where we talk with folks coming to our stages and give you a glimpse into their topic, personality and interests. I’m your host, Ginny Palmer. Will people be able to build a future that is fair to all living creatures on the planet, just to all people and environmentally sustainable in the face of water scarcity, deforestation, mass extinction, pollution, and climate change? Do we have the political will? These are big and complex issues. Do we tackle them with big ideas? Daniel SD is a professor of environmental law and policy in a better planet, 40 big ideas for a sustainable future. He has collected essays from top environmental, economic and political thinkers in order to reimagine the response to these pressing environmental issues. SD brings his call for challenging conventional approaches to environmental policy to town hall at 7:30 PM on Thursday, February 13th, 2020 he spoke within the moment. Chief correspondent Steve, share over the phone.

Thank you for talking to me. First of all, my pleasure. I want to ask about big ideas, but I want to start with a small one that sort of is touched on in your introduction. I had an electrician here yesterday working on my a sump pump, and he was using tools and doing his math to make sure that he wasn’t going to electrocute himself and set everything up the right way. So we understood the value of science and facts. But at one point he said in our talk, well, I don’t believe in any of those theories. It’s all theories. And I knew what he was talking about. So I said, you’re talking about climate change, right? And he said, yeah, that’s right. It’s all theories. They don’t know what they’re talking about. And, and it just raises the problem of whenever you have a big idea or a small idea, you’re still confronted with people’s unwillingness to grapple with those ideas. And you talk right in the beginning about, part of the problem comes from the nature of environmental policy debate itself. Green groups, political allies have been many too many cases not taken seriously. The concerns voiced about the economic burdens, et cetera of environmental policy. But that sort of implies good faith on both sides. So how do you, what do you respond to when you have people of, you know, of the people you’re trying to convince who just aren’t going to be convinced? Yeah.

I think the reality is that environmental policy and environmental debates have become highly polarized and very partisan in recent years. And that is a big problem because when you’ve got that kind of, people aren’t interested in hearing about what the other side might say and, and aren’t really even interested in what the facts are. And I think one of the challenges of climate change, and I think it goes to the core of your question, is that the problem that is out there with those that are doubtful about the need to address the issue of climate change is not so much the science. I think actually, you know, as you point out in your story about the plumber visiting your house, it’s not that he’s ignorant of science to the contrary, makes use of it every day. And I think that most climate change skeptics are not really focused on the science.

What they’re concerned about is the policy response that might be required to the science. And I think in this regard, the, the issues fall on both sides. A good bit of what the environmental community has historically asked for what I might call their 20th century approach to problem solving seemed very heavy handed. It seemed very top down with a lot of government mandates, a lot of requirements that people do things in certain ways that for a significant part of the American political spectrum seems like a loss of choice, a loss of freedom. And frankly if there were to be a choice of having to do things in very specified ways that a big government agency was going to tell them or suffers from climate change, a fair number of people have, I think, come to the conclusion they’d rather suffer some climate change. And that reflects a need on the right to be more open to the issue as a serious one. And on the left to be more flexible as to what the policy responses might need to be.

You know, through this book and through a lot of the discussions about climate change, there is the phrase, this is an existential crisis which I take to mean that this is a crisis for our human existence, or at least the existence of our human culture as we live it. Now, why isn’t that enough for some money? Who has some thinking but says, Oh, it’s just a theory.

So I think the eye, so I think the idea that climate change represents an existential crisis is not a sufficient argument for someone who thinks that threat to existence maybe in the distant future, a 50 or a hundred or 200 years from now. And for many of those folks, they’re focused on the here and now. They face a real challenges in their lives, challenges about putting food on the table and meeting basic needs for their families. And I think a lot of those folks would say I’m, you know, worried about an existential threat in the future, but I have to worry more about what my family needs this week, next month and so on. And I do again think that one of the challenges of environmental policy and one of the reasons it needs to be fundamentally rethought in the next few years is that there’s been an inattention to the basic tradeoffs that are very real when it comes to how we advance environmental protections. It does require good policy does require care in what burdens are imposed on everyday people and frankly on business beyond that. And there is a cost to doing things environmentally sound ways and we want to make sure that it’s fully justified. And I think the existing structure of environmental law and the policy that flows from it has been sometimes inattentive to those burdens on everyday people and inattentive to the cumulative cost on society.

Give me an example from your own experience where it has been.

Sure. You know, I think we as a society have made enormous progress in addressing air pollution. And we have done a lot to clean the air in many places, but our clean air act says that there shall be actions taken to protect public health without regard to cost. And that then leads to a policy process that means that some things get done that makes sense and other things that are imposing costs way in excess of what might otherwise be thought to be reasonable or sensible in the circumstances. And I think we need us a structure of environmental protection that is much more careful about balancing costs against benefits. And we can’t assume that the maximum environmental answer to every question is the right answer for a society that also needs to provide jobs and economic growth and ensure that people can live good lives on their own terms not simply from an environmental point of view.

So, so again, is there a specific policy you can think of? Is there something in the automotive you’d go ahead.

We should rewrite our clean air act that says people should pay for the harm they cause. And it shouldn’t try to dictate the, each industry across the society specific pieces of pollution control equipment that they need to put on their smokestacks.

So in other words, except the externalities, but how you get there is to the contrary,

Reject the externalities, say that we are going to going forward have an end to externalities, at least unpaid for pollution harms that spill over onto society more broadly. And I think what we should say to every factory and to every source of pollution is that you can no longer simply get a permit and be allowed to pull it. We’re going to make you pay for every nontrivial increment of harm that you send up a smoke stack or out an affluent pipeline. And for the same, by the same token, we should say any business that has its business model, depending on extracting public resources, whether that’s water or the use of public land or the polluting of the atmosphere, all of that should be paid for too. So that anything that is an externality should be paid for

By the, by the polluter,

By the polluter or the user of the resource

By the user of the resource. So that’s what I meant by, except, I mean they have to accept the externalities. They need to accept the costs.

Absolutely. No society should not accept that. There will be extra analogies to the contrary. We should say that going forward there will be no extra analyses, at least not any ex finalities that aren’t fully paid for.

If that were possible, those costs would then end up somewhere down the line in affecting the consumer. Of course, right?

Well, it would affect the consumer, but it would mostly require businesses to be much more careful about how they produce. And it would ensure that when certain things that we now take for granted as low cost have their prices rise, it would be because there was a hidden cost to that seeming low cost. So when we buy a pound of hamburger and there is a, a, a hidden cost of the greenhouse gases associated with raising the cattle that produced that pound of hamburger it would not be right from a societal point of view to have us eat that hamburger without paying for the burden we’re causing to ourselves and to the planet.

Let me take you back to my electrician one more time. You know, we voted, we voted on a carbon tax, whether to put, impose a carbon tax in Washington state and it failed. It failed again. And when I asked him about that, I also said, well, what if the carbon tax [inaudible] you paid it, you as the consumer and so did everyone else up the line of production. But to make it cost neutral, which is the argument that we have, you get some rebate, you get some money back into your pocket. And that made some sense to him, but I wasn’t sure if it actually makes sense as a policy. So two questions. What do you think? And secondly is that the kind of discussions that need to head take place with the, with the skeptics, with the people who are feeling the brunt of anything that goes to reduce climate change impacts.

Yeah. So I think we absolutely need to have the conversation about what is the right policy path to take climate change seriously. And I think it’s a fair question for the skeptics to say can you construct a policy that allows me some freedom of choice that doesn’t dictate to me all the details of my life because you have a climate change agenda that needs to be advanced. And I think that’s a fair pushback from those on the side who are skeptical about action on climate change. Having said that, I think one can’t be both skeptical and then deny the underlying and real science of this. And my argument would be if we put a, a proper price on the causing of harm, which by the way is an age old concept. You know, we have an Anglo American tradition of law that says if you cause harm to your neighbor, you’re subject to legal action to compensate for that harm.

This is a 500 year old tradition of protecting in effect property rights. And I think what we would do by making people pay for the harm from their greenhouse gas emissions is simply a say. This is part of a longstanding structure of society that underpins what we know of and what we understand as modern America. And I would argue that in that regard we should make people pay for the harm. But I would as you were suggesting, rebate that money back to people in the form of other taxes being lowered. And I think that gives us the best possible chance to convince people that this is not a a, again, in the partisan world, we live in a hole set up, people are convinced this is really just an opportunity of government either accrue more power or take more money away from the public and to raise charges, raise taxes. And I think we want to make sure that the answer to climate change doesn’t seem to be falling into those kind of myths about what might be going on here.

Oh, my electrician friend was thoroughly convinced that all the science of climate change is being done by scientists who just want to increase their funding. And so make up statistics and studies and facts in order to prove that climate change is really happening.

That’s a mighty conspiracy that he has to spin up to have that be true. The diversity of scientists across not only the country, but the world is so great and the way want to achieve success in the academic world broadly in science in particular is by saying that what everyone else thought was wrong or by refining what everyone else thought. And so there would be enormous incentives for people to say, no, no, that prevailing wisdom is not correct. If it were true that were not correct. But the reality is that the overwhelming base of scientists come to understand this as a scientific reality. There are, of course, significant uncertainties that continue to be worked on and refined. And we know some things for certainty with a high degree of certainty about climate change. You know, the fact that we have a greenhouse effect is in dispute, indisputably true in fact, otherwise our planet would be uninhabitable cold.

The idea that the level of greenhouse gas emissions has risen substantially from preindustrial times has been measured a hundred different ways and again, is indisputably true. The projections about how fast climate change might occur, what the magnitude might be, what the regional distribution harms might be, all subject to some uncertainty. And therefore we have to be somewhat cautious. And of course, there significant uncertainties about the role of clouds, the role of oceans, and some other fundamental dimensions of the problem. So it would be wrong to say, and frankly, as some people in the climate change advocacy world do say that the science of climate change is is done. We know it all. That’s just not right. Science is of course, an ongoing process of discovery and refinement. But here’s what I would say. We know enough to know that we have a problem that needs to be responded to.

These are 40 big ideas for a sustainable future. You said that, you know, we have in the past tackle big problems with big ideas. What’s your, I guess, evidence that you see that we are able to tackle big ideas in this polarized climate?

So, you know, I think you’ve asked two questions that I want to pull apart a little bit if I can. One is do we have the capacity to bring big ideas forward to respond to big challenges? And I think that’s what America has done better than any country in the history of the world ever. We’re a society that promotes fresh thinking, contrarian views, innovation. And so my belief is that we as a society have stepped up to challenges, whether it’s civil rights or landing a man on the moon or creating the information technologies on which modern life now builds. We’ve done remarkable things when we endorse and and support and foster a spirit of innovation and fresh thinking. And that is at the heart of a number of these essays and the better planet book. And I do think we see evidence of that across many, many domains and it’s now time to turn some of those same forces of, of fresh thinking and creativity to our environmental challenges to the need for a sustainable future and most directly to the problem of climate change.

Now you added to your question, this idea that we’re in a politically divided moment and that is undeniably true and I think it does make the challenge of getting action on climate change and of unleashing these forces of innovation and creating the policy frameworks that structure incentives to engage the business community in helping find solutions. Quite a bit harder, but I think we’re moving towards a moment, probably not in 2020 but I hope in 2021 where there is a recognition that these are not democratic problems or Republican problems, but they’re American problems and they’re frankly planetary problems. And we really do need to bring people together. And one of the things that I would find and tell you that I am finding most heartening is the number of Republicans who I now see working on climate change programs and policies. And here at Yale got a number of students from the right side of the political spectrum who are deeply committed to conservative views on things like economic policy, but are working hard on a new structure of Republican environmentalism broadly and on climate change policy in particular. So I think there is a, a moment coming for people to get back together, to come across the partisan divide and to work together on a serious and thoughtful climate change strategy that can, a rally a strong majority of Democrats and some number of Republicans and move forward not at the left flank that some might want from the democratic side but up the middle with a broad base of support across party lines.

What are some of the thoughtful Republican concepts that those students are exploring?

Well very much I’m wanting to think about using market mechanisms and price signals to change behavior as opposed to government mandates and required investments in certain kinds of pollution control devices. So there would be a much greater enthusiasm, for example, for a an emissions charge on vehicles rather than a mandate as to what kind of cars or trucks people can drive. And I think that is the kind of thing that the Democrats could rally to that if we’re really making people pay for the harms, that becomes an enormous incentive to the auto industry to produce cars that pollute less and have fewer greenhouse gas emissions. And I think likewise, a similar structure of charges to industry would really provide an incentive not only for each company to think about its own practices, its own production process, and try to find ways to reduce the harm. It’s creating lower its greenhouse gas emissions profile, but frankly a big incentive to figure out how to do that, not only within your own business, but how to solve your customer’s environmental challenges, your customer’s greenhouse gas emissions problem, and therefore a big incentive for innovation in terms of the products and services that companies all across the country are providing.

What’s the government’s role in PR in an approach like that we’ve had in the past caps that shrink? That’s been the argument is that, is that the idea that government is there to continually ratchet down the amount that can be admitted?

Well, I think the you know, one of the fundamental policy questions is whether we go back to a cap and trade approach or whether we use straight out price signals, which would be a charge on emissions. I’m with those who favor the direct charge on emissions. I think it’s more transparent. It’s simpler. And frankly what it then requires of the government is narrower. The government needs to identify where there are harms and put some kind of a price on them. And frankly, with something like climate change where we’ve lived so long without a price on fossil fuel emissions and fossil fuel burning, my sense is that the key to success here is not just getting a price on the emissions, but probably to have it escalate slowly over time so that it’s not jarring to those that have made choices, including big investments in and buildings and infrastructure in factories and transportation strategies that depended on a certain set of assumptions about fossil fuels being at the center of our energy economy and of there not being a price on greenhouse gas emissions.

So I would favor, for example, a slowly escalating carbon charge that might begin at $5 per ton and then rise by $5 per ton per year for 20 years. Meaning that we’d end up with $100 per ton price on fossil fuel burning and the greenhouse gas emissions that come from that. But the initial years would be low cost, low burden, but it was standard sent a very strong signal all across the economy to anyone that’s building a new factory. Or thinking about a power plant or even buying a new vehicle that the time has come to think about how to get a low emitting a choice so as not to have to pay these rising carbon charges over time.

The costs the people who have sight, who, who look at this as well, the, they look at the prices being as high or even higher than that. Is there enough time? I mean, you’re talking about 20 years, is there enough time to do that and not a problem?

One of the interesting things about the escalating a charge is that it’s not jarring to people in the short run such that they fight to the death against the policy, but it does provide a very sharp signal. So if you’re building a new a factory, you’re thinking not about the initial charge of five or 10 or $15 per ton of carbon, you’re focused on the a hundred dollars per char ton charge that will be in place 20 years out, which is just the midpoint of your new facilities life. So it changes behavior dramatically from the very first year in terms of all choices going forward. And it’s really the choices going forward that we’re in a strong position to shape with this kind of incentive. And that is what I think is really critical is to get people off the dime into action and a breakthrough. What has been this political logjam where we’re not doing anything. And I think that’s what’s critical. Getting something done that in a reasonably quick timeframe sets up incentives for change behavior that begin to move people immediately towards the decarbonized future. We know as essential.

Let me ask you about some of the essays just in just touching on them and let me start with the ones that look at nature and wildlife and a resource extraction. Cause you have some folks towards the beginning of the book we talk about how we need rather than a siloed approach like protect a species, protect a tree, allow for drilling here but not there. And instead of an ecosystem approach that the authors argue could perhaps bring in extraction resources, road building control and the preservation of wild lands for the creatures that live on it. That’s a very, it’s a very proactive and a very organized approach. Is there, have we seen anything like that on the ground anywhere in, in Canada or America or the rest of the world that it tells you that this could work?

Sure. I think what we know is that the 20th century approach to environmental protection broadly and to land conservation and reach species management in particular was very fragmented. Environmental laws were siloed and that you’d have air laws in one area, water laws and another chemical management and yet a third and all of that wasn’t woven together into a coherent whole. So I think we do know that there are opportunities to be much more systems minded in how we construct our policy frameworks and how we construct our programs on the ground out across the country. And I think just to pick one example our regulation of pesticides has been done crop by crop and a product by product. And the end result is we’ve paid far too little attention to the cumulative impacts of all of the products that might be used out in in the food chain.

So I think we now know that it’s critical for us to having a healthy and safe food supply that we look cumulatively in a systems way across all of the exposures that someone eating food would face. And that leads to a different strategy about how we manage our land and how we encourage our farmers and ranchers to produce the food we eat. And I do think you’ve see a, a number of places moving in that direction. I think you’ve seen more of this cumulative approach in Europe. And I think we’re in America starting to realize there would be great benefits by being more a comprehensive in our approach to environmental problems. I think. And by the way, in the same regard we have to understand that our food supply is a, and the work of our farmers and ranchers is not simply a source of a problem, but it could be the source of solutions.

One of the critical things for success on climate change will be to think about the problem not only as a matter of emissions, but also as a matter of possibilities around enhancing carbon sinks. And green plants of course trees in particular are what is the greatest capacity for carbon capture carbon sequestration. And I think we’re now coming to realize that nature based solutions are essential to our success on climate change. So again, thinking comprehensively in a systems way about both emissions and the ability to absorb emissions through carbon sinks, it gives us a whole new perspective on how we’re going to address climate change and a, a very much a new perspective on the role of farmers and ranchers in being critical to success and not just a source of the problem.

There’s so many vested interests. It’s so difficult. I mean, yes, Europe is ahead in terms of systems, I’m looking at it through systems, but they are also facing the same but the New York times that called the insect apocalypse as the as the States are the insect apocalypse, the disappearance of so many insects, which we know we need for you know, the very farmers work to succeed in the end. So how do you, how do you get the good faith of the petrochemical industry or the, or the or the you know, the herbicide industry when they’re middle and short term goals go against these changes

You asked earlier about the role of government. I think the critical role of government will be going forward and this can be a redirection of substantial resources within organizations like the environmental protection agency, a focus on identifying harms of bringing the best science to bear epidemiological science, ecological science, to really map out with clarity in a way that we haven’t in, in our historical approach has been able to do, but increasingly can given the application of big data to our environmental challenges where harms are coming from. What the fate and transport of pollutants are, how they have impacts on both people and plants and animals. And then really use that to map out who needs to be held accountable and where there are severe impacts. We are gonna have the government still needing to set limits and prohibit certain kinds of emissions or certain chemicals being used and then really make people pay beyond that for the harms they’re causing.

And I think once those price signals are in place where people are really having to pay for the harm, they’re causing behavior will change. And there will be great incentives for technological innovation. And we have good examples of this already. The 1992 clean air act began to put a price on the chemicals that were damaging the ozone layer, the chlorofluorocarbons and that price was escalating year on year. As a result of that 1992 law. And within just a few years, all the industries that were using chlorofluorocarbons got out of them. They found substitutes, they created new alternatives. So I think that’s one example. The way we got a real attention to the acid rain problem that plagued our country in the 1980s was again, a price signal making people making power plants pay for their sulfur dioxide emissions. And setting a price on that cause those power plants to think hard about how to reduce emissions. In this case it was not so much technological innovation what fuels switching. They all realized there was an opportunity to burn low sulfur coal and that allowed us to cut in half acid rain precursors, the sulfur dioxide and, and NOx emissions that were causing harm to the lakes and forests across Eastern half of America and the Eastern part of Canada. So we do have good examples of where this kind of approach can make big change happen. At least out over time.

You have a couple of SAS who talk about, yes, big ideas are important and big change needs to take place, but we have to take care that we’re looking at the little changes and the incremental impacts. These have, they were talking about social justice in particular, they were talking about making sure that all groups are sitting at the table. How important are the little changes that they are talking about to the big ideas in your estimation?

Well, I think one of the things that really comes through clearly in this book is that you can’t focus on just the environment and not understand that there will be social impacts from changes in environmental policy, economic impacts. And we really have to think about this as a matter of environmental justice. We have several essays that are raising that question. How do we make sure that as we’re driving change, as we are addressing the pollution impacts that we know we have to take care of? How do we make sure that it’s not poor people or disadvantaged communities that end up bearing the brunt of that transition. And I do think one of the areas of climate change policy that has been least well developed over the last couple of decades is what’s required for a transition that doesn’t leave significant communities or industries or individuals behind. And we as a society have the capacity to invest in helping those communities reposition themselves, helping industries reimagine themselves, and helping individual workers move in new directions in new careers that will thrive in the decades ahead as rather than being under challenged because they’re linked to the burning of fossil fuels.

So I think that’s a critical set of essays in this book, a critical set of issues for our political community to grapple with. And you may also be making reference to the final essay of our, of our 40 in this regard. It’s in the spirit of an academic exercise, but one that I think represents a spirit that our society would benefit from, that we while advancing big ideas to try to create a pathway to a sustainable future, raise the prospect that big ideas may often fail. And so we’re being quite self critical at the very moment that we’re advancing these ideas and we’re saying to the world, big ideas and big solutions need to be understood in context. And if you launch a big idea but haven’t thought about the secondary effects of the unintended consequences, it may not get where you want to go. And so I think by being self critical, accepting that we have to be you know, with our approach to these problems with a degree of humility if they weren’t hard challenges, they probably would have been solved sometime ago. And I think that is one of the spirits of this book is to say, yes, there are pathways forward, but let’s think hard about what it’s going to take to succeed on those pathways and make sure we’re not leaving people behind.

Well, I guess what I got thinking about was the, the argument that there are many people in those communities that they’re being impacted who say, look, you want to make a change really fast. Let’s cite these polluting industries in wealthy neighborhoods. Let’s cite these these ideas, these impacts where they’re going to hurt the wealthy, not where they hurt the poor. And I mean that of course is a politically untenable idea, but only because who has the power? I mean it really isn’t in the end these big ideas don’t they depend on a kind of sharing of power that people are just not going to do.

Well. I think there are a number of essays that highlight that our current structure of the economy and of the kind of energy underpinnings of the economy are a reflection of past political choices, which are themselves are a reflection of the distribution of power, particularly political power. But I think we’ve also come to a point in society and this is one of the interesting kind of new lines of activity in the 21st century where there is a, a, a lot of focus on that distribution of power on disadvantaged communities, on concepts like environmental justice. And I think one of the things this book does is to say we need to take that whole line of inquiry very seriously and we are not going to be able to proceed with solutions that burden poor communities or individuals because it’s not right. And because we know that over time it would be inappropriate for our society to advance at the expense of those communities. So I think the, you know, I’m not saying that this book offers solutions to all of these hard challenges, but I think we grapple with them in a serious way and I hope it will provide a model for our society taking up these issues, debating them and taking seriously some of the new lines of thinking that I think have become part of our political dialogue in recent decades.

Well, your essay, red lights to green lights is all about innovation and incentivization. What’s your most when you look around, what do you see most hopeful about that aspect of grappling with these issues?

So I look around and I see a society that has just moved so quickly in a number of areas with the benefit of, for example, information technology. You know, there’s not a baseball team today that doesn’t pick players with a, a a, of statistics and data to underpin their choices. That’s very different than the, you know, world of 25 or 30 years ago where it was a tobacco chewing Scouts that told the general manager which players to pick. I don’t see a business across America today, particularly of any scale that doesn’t try to micro target its marketing efforts using data analytics to help drive that process. And I think what’s interesting is how untouched in general the environmental arena is by all of the information technologies that have transformed so many other parts of society. So I’m very excited about the marriage of information technology broadly and about a whole range of specific technologies from monitoring and metering to using metrics and using communications technologies and allowing for much more precision in how we take activities forward to give us a whole new world of approaches for environmental protection.

And I think that marriage of technology and innovation to environmental challenges offers a lot to be optimistic about it.

Daniel SD, professor of environmental law and policy and editor of a better planet, 40 big ideas for a sustainable future. We’ll be speaking at town hall on Thursday, February 13th at 7:30 PM. If you’d like to join in the conversation, get yourself a ticket. Thank you for listening to episode 53 of in the moment. Our theme music comes from the Seattle baseband EBU and Seattle’s own bar Souk records. You can listen to our full town hall produced programs and speakers on our arts and culture, civics and science series, podcasts. Or if you prefer to watch instead of listen, there’s a whole library of content on our YouTube channel. Just search Townhall Seattle and subscribe to support town hall. Read our blog or see our calendar of events. Check out our website at town hall, seattle.org next week, our correspondent Venice behind. We’ll be talking with Tom Hartman about the hidden war on voting till then. Thanks for joining us right here in the moment.

A Five-Decade Debate as Important as Ever: James Baldwin and William F. Buckley Jr.

On February 20 at Town Hall, Nick Buccola brings to the the stage a debate about race reverberating 50 years on. 

“I knew I was black, of course, but I also knew I was smart. I didn’t know how I was going to use my mind, or even if I could, but that was the only thing I had to use.” James Baldwin grew up poor in Harlem in New York City. His stepfather treated him harshly, so from a young age Baldwin retreated to libraries where he read and started to write. By his 35th birthday, he’d become one of America’s great writers, penning such books as Go Tell It On the Mountain and Notes of a Native Son. He also came to be considered one of America’s great thinkers and human rights advocates, stepping forward to guide critical discussions in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

“Liberals claim they want to give a hearing to other views, but then are shocked and offended to discover that there are other views.” William F. Buckley Jr. was born in 1925, not long after Baldwin, in the same city. Privileged, his mother filled their home with servants and tutors. Buckley attended Yale, became an informant for the FBI, and worked for a time with the CIA. He also founded National Review, a publication that has become a prominent voice on the American right and has played a significant role in the development of conservatism in the United States.

These two men—diametrically opposed intellectuals—met at the University of Cambridge on February 18, 1965. There they debated the question “Has the American Dream been achieved at the expense of the American Negro?” Yes, said Baldwin. “I picked the cotton, and I carried it to market, and I built the railroads under someone else’s whip for nothing.” No, said Buckley. “The fact that your skin is black is utterly irrelevant to the arguments you raise.” Buckley positioned himself in the debate as a reasonable moderate, one that resisted social transformations Baldwin sought—in particular, desegregation. “The fundamental friend of the Negro people of the United States is the good nature and is the generosity and the good wishes…the fundamental decency,” Buckley said, “of the American people.”  

Fifty-some years later, debates on race relations are still at the fore of our country. Viewpoints on race are still in sharp contrast; in a 2018 Gallup Poll 54% of non-Hispanic whites said black and white relations are good, as opposed to 40% of blacks who said the same. This is marked drop even from 2001 where 70% of blacks said relations were good—more so, at that time, than whites (62%).

On February 20, Linfield College professor of political science Nicholas Buccola joins us to tell the full story of the Baldwin Buckley debates. His book The Fire Is Upon Us: James Baldwin, William Buckley Jr, and the Debate Over Race in America explores the radically different paths of Baldwin and Buckley and the controversies that followed their fraught conversations. Buccola shows how the decades-long clash between these two men illuminates America’s racial divide today and echoes the necessary work still to be done by liberals and conservatives alike. 

Buccola delves into Baldwin and Buckley’s conversation as a remarkable story of race and the American dream that still resonates today—an unforgettable confrontation that pitted Baldwin’s call for a moral revolution in race relations against Buckley’s unabashed elitism and implicit commitment to white supremacy.


Join us on February 20 for this important talk. Tickets are on sale now ($5, and FREE for anyone under the age of 22).

The debate:

In The Moment: Episode 47


In this week’s interview, Chief Correspondent Steve Scher talks with H.W. Brands about the American West. Brands outlines what we think of today as the West, and highlights the dreams of wealth that inspired American settlers. He discusses the struggles between the white settlers and indigenous peoples and widens our perspective to 30,000 years ago when settlers from Asia came across the Bering Strait. Brands and Scher delve into the iconography of the West and the way these images have shaped our society—the cowboy as the American knight, the association of gold digging with luck as a metaphor for wealth and success in America, and the irony of a “lawless” West depending on the government and being widely comprised of federal land. Get an insider’s look and stay in the know…


Episode Transcript

This transcription was performed automatically by a computer. Please excuse typos and inaccurate information. If you’re interested in helping us transcribe events and podcasts, email communications@townhallseattle.org.

Transcript coming soon!

What Are People Doing?

Every week the Town Crier blog will look back at Seattle’s near-forgotten Town Crier magazine to see what was happening then and talk about what’s happening now. One of the largest sections of the original Town Crier was “What People Are Doing,” highlighting things like, “Mrs. Myra Pless will be hostess this evening at a supper dance in honor of lieutenant commander Robert Bachmann of the USS Tennessee” and, “Captain Roald Amundsen, the noted Arctic explorer, will be the honor guest at a dinner given by the Rainier Club.” In this series we’re revisiting the old column and tying it to our community’s current happenings, asking: “what are people doing?” 

Today’s entry…

The Big Game is this weekend. The San Francisco 49ers will be playing the Kansas City Chiefs for the NFL trophy. It’ll be East vs. West. East, to us, anyway. In the December 10, 1921 edition of the Town Crier, they were discussing the football teams of both sides of the country in a brief story about the UW Huskies. “The football game last Saturday lent additional support to the belief that some of us have been cherishing in our breasts for, lo, these many years, though only of late have we been sufficiently iconoclast to whisper it,” the story begins. “It is to the broad and general effect that out here in this wild and woolly west we raise a crop of athletes that is superior to any to be found elsewhere in the world.” The Town Crier writers would undoubtedly be cheering for the 49ers this weekend. “It has been satisfactorily demonstrated that apples, oranges, and other fruits, wheat, oats, and other grains, trees, stock of various kinds, and pretty nearly everything else that grows in this part of the country sets a standard of superiority for all other sections to aspire to, so why should not the rule hold true with young men?” 49ers fans, indeed! The Chiefs, Town Crier prognosticators believe, are going down thanks to our ample supply of fruits and grains.

After watching the game, or the commercials between the game, come back to Town Hall in February for a variety of great events that you’ll cheer for.

Diane Ravitch joins us February 4 to discuss the fight to save public schools.

On the same night Bob Redmond will moderate a panel discussion about bees, guts, soil, and cancer.

On February 5th, with Gage Academy of Art, the artist Gary Hill takes the Town Hall stage.

Rick Steves returns to Town Hall on February 6 with a message of hope.

The Westerlies will play their signature music with the spoken word stylings of Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye on February 8.

Whether you’re coming from the West or East (say…Bellevue), tickets are on sale now! We assure you they’re cheaper than football tickets! Most are $5 and free for anyone under the age of 22.

For our full calendar visit us here.

In The Moment: Episode 52

In this week’s interview, correspondent Elizabeth Ralston talks with Bob Redmond and Anne Biklé about the complexities of the microbiome. They highlight how microscopic organisms are essential to the health of its host—whether that’s our soil or our own bodies. Biklé likens the gut to a garden, encouraging us to recontextualize ourselves as part of an ecosystem and exploring ways to keep that system healthy. They dive into discussions of cancer, mental health, inflammation, and the steps we can take to cultivate a healthy microbiome. Get an insider’s look and stay in the know about what’s going on in this moment at Town Hall Seattle.

The event was co-produced by Survivor Bee and co-sponsored by Big Dipper WaxworksKing County LOOP® Biosolids,  the Center for Microbiome Sciences and Therapeutics at the University of WashingtonThe Common Acre and Rainbow Natural Remedies.


Episode Transcript

Transcription by Megan Castillo.

Jini Palmer: Welcome to Town Hall Seattle’s podcast In the Moment where we talk with folks coming to our stages and give you a glimpse into their topic, personality and interests. I’m your host, Jini Palmer. 

Researchers are continuing to find out more about the link between our gut and brain, what’s in the soil and how this is directly related to bees and cancer. On Tuesday, February 4th a panel of experts are coming to our Forum stage to talk about our microbiome and the ways in which bacteria is essential to the health of our bodies, minds, and the environment. 

Our correspondent for this episode, Elizabeth Ralston, got her master of public health from the University of Michigan with an emphasis on health education. Elizabeth is the founder of the Seattle King County Cultural Accessibility Consortium, a grassroots effort to make the arts accessible for people with disabilities. The consortium is the first of its kind in the Seattle area to address inequities and accessing arts events, programs and spaces. Elizabeth sat down in our broadcast room at Town Hall to talk with moderator for this event Bob Redmond and panelist Anne Biklé. 

Bob Redmond found his ways to bees while living as writer in residence in a garden cottage surrounded by skyscrapers with 12 years experience tending honeybees, which at one time included 150 colonies. He has also been a leader in pollinator conservation, founder of the nonprofit, The Common Acre. Bob was also co-primary investigator on a four year USDA study led by WSU and instigated the Flight Path and Green Line projects with SeaTac Airport and Seattle City Light. Bob lives in South Seattle with his wife and son. 

Anne Biklé is a science writer and public speaker with over two decades of experience in field biology, natural history and environmental planning. Her work focuses on the connections between people, plants, food, health and the environment. Biklé is co-author of The Hidden Half of Nature: The Microbial Roots of Life and Health. And now a conversation about bees, guts, soil and cancer.

Elizabeth Ralston: Thank you for joining us for this fascinating topic. When I was asked to lead this podcast, titled Bees, Guts, Soil and Cancer the public health geek in me went, Whoa. So exciting. So thank you for your time here. So the main question you will be exploring in your event is how are the health of soil, plants, bees and people connected? Well, where are we going to start? Where would you like to start?

Bob Redmound: Well this is Bob speaking I guess. Um, yes, you’re right. That is the focus of the event. How all these things connected and it’s a health focus. This is, it’s not a “Oh my God, the sky is falling” conversation. It’s about good things. And, one of my backgrounds is as a professional beekeeper and after 12 years, the conclusions I was drawing about bee health drove me into the soil. So many people are talking about colony collapse disorder and um, you know, pathogens. Those are part of it, but it really all comes down to not even flowers but soil. And, there’s a small group of us beekeepers who are trying to teach ourselves soil science. So that was one thing. The second thing was that about three years ago I was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer and it’s still active. And that’s a whole other story of what’s been going on, but completely related and similar path of, Oh, this thing is happening. Surgeries, radiation, all that stuff. But the more I dug in, and sometimes despite the care of my awesome doctors who aren’t trained in nutrition, I came to the same conclusions. It’s what is in the soil.

ER: Why don’t we start with this quote by Dr. Depolo. He says, “think of your gut as a garden.” You’re smiling Anne tell me more about that.

Anne Biklé: Wow. I don’t even know him. And he’s my kind of guy is what I can say about that. Part of what we’re learning about microbiomes wherever they may be, because one thing that’s very true about this whole new field of science is that this universe of microscopic organisms, it’s not just bacteria and fungi, it goes beyond that. But these communities of trillions of organisms are actually very fundamental to the health and wellbeing of humanity. And Bob had talked about the, alluded to the soil previously. And this idea of the gut being a garden is very apt because even if you’re not a gardener, even if you’ve never grown a plant in your life, when you hear the word garden, it implies several things. I think it implies stewardship, it implies cultivation. It implies something positive and good about this place when we talk about a garden. And so to think about the gut as this alive thing, you know, it has an ecosystem. The gut has an ecosystem just like the soil. And so when you start to sort of look at these parallel universes, if you will, the, the gut and soil, then you start asking things like, what is the diet of the soil and what is the diet of this inner ecosystem and what do those diets have to do with the functioning of these microbiomes? And what does the functioning of these microbiomes have to do with the health of their garden or their person? And you’ll often hear in microbiome science, people will say the host and the host is, you know, all of us here have our own microbiomes and hopefully they’re doing something positive in us right now. But we are their host. And, the host of the soil microbiome is the soil itself. And I would add to that what farmers and gardeners are doing to that soil. Right. Cause we can get up and we can walk around and so forth, but the soil is stuck in place like the plant. So there’s, I’m very excited to hear that someone’s already talking about the two G words, gardens and guts.

ER: Yes. And when you talk about global warming and the rising incidents of autoimmune diseases and cancer, I mean, this is all so relevant, but let’s back up a bit. And you have the hidden half of nature. You talk about, how you transformed the lousy soil in your garden into, healthy soil by feeding lots of organic matter, including coffee grounds and that supported the plant growing into a thriving garden. And then that garden took half a decade to create right? And I really loved your description about the transformation of this garden to accommodate plants. But first, of course, the microbiome, the micro-organisms, then the plant will grow. Then the tiny animals that come from that and then over time grow to attract bugs and worms. Then birds, then larger birds and predators and raccoons and eagles. I really loved your description of how when you transform that garden into something that attracted a living ecosystem. Can you say more about your journey with that because it’s so applicable?

AB: Yeah, I think people are awfully self-centered and it’s very hard for us to see ourselves as part of a system or as part of something larger. But indeed, when you start to look at microbiomes or a garden or you could even be out in the Amazon, you know, jungle in some other kind of ecosystem, what you see is that life is sort of nested within life. And that was pretty easy to see in the garden. Well, I mean, it helps that I have a background in biology and I have a very bad case of plant lust. And so I’m prone to thinking about these things, let’s say. Okay. But what really makes you sort of wake up and notice is when you start with something, that we started with, which was a completely barren lot. And by that I mean when we started the garden, I wanted a blank slate. I didn’t want to —well, first of all, we really, there really wasn’t anything there. There was some dead trees. There was this like, you know, old growth, lawn, I’m doing air quotes here, “lawn”. And I thought, let’s just, we’re gonna scrape all of this off, all of this existing vegetation and we’re going to get it down to a blank slate. It was sort of like taking you how when people talk about remodeling house and they say, we’re gonna take it down to the studs. We took everything outside of our house back to the studs. Okay. And that wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t really hopeful. Like when you take the house back to this studs and you can start to see the potential. And in our case it led to dead. It was dead dirt. It was — it sent me into an utter panic attack because, and embarrassment to here’s this biologist and her geologist husband and I’m like, Oh my God, we didn’t look at our soil before we like scraped all this vegetation off. How stupid is that? I said, well we need to stop blaming ourselves. We need to start doing things right now. And I had done enough gardening to know organic matter. You better go find a lot of organic matter as quickly as possible, as close to home as possible and cheap cause we have no money. Cause I spent it on all the plants and the scraping of everything off of the lot. There was no money to be buying organic matter. So I started collecting things and bringing them home. Everything from the neighbor’s fallen leaves to, you know, I’d hear an arborist truck in the neighborhood and go track them down and say I need your wood chips right now. Come over here, dump them in my driveway. And so I began mixing up these mulches and layering them on top of the soil. It had been my intent to dig all of this mulch in. And what I know now is that that was a really happy accident that I did not in fact get some rototiller or some piece of equipment or use my own hands to start digging this stuff in because all that would have done would be to further scramble what little bit of life was clinging on to whatever tiny, tiny pieces of organic matter were still not, you know, decomposed. So I layered it on top and I let the organisms in the life come to the food, so to speak. And that is what kicked off, Elizabeth, this whole thing that you just sort of read out of the book is that Dave and I realized later, it’s like, wow, we just sort of saw the whole way in which life on earth unfolded over millions and millions, billions of years, four and a half billion in fact. How that all unfolded in, just, you know, maybe a half, a decade to a decade. And I’m not saying it was precise and accurate. What I’m saying is that in general, we started with soil and the microbes in the soil and that drew in one thing after another. And that’s what I mean about life nested in life is that life sort of represents, you know, somebody is somebody else’s lunch. And so that’s what all life is doing. They are looking around for lunch, for places to rest and sleep, and for places to raise their young. And so that was what we had sorta started once we got the soil back up on its feet.

ER: Yes. And when you restore soil fertility you are going to combat chronic diseases and promote a healthy immune system. Right? So what are some examples of how microbes can really promote healthy immune systems?

AB: Yeah. Wow. See, that’s the question right there. Because we used to think that human health was predicated on the absence of microbes. That has consumed us since the days of Anthony van Laywin. Who was a Dutch guy who invented the microscope several hundred years ago. He didn’t know anything about microorganisms or pathogens, but in the centuries after him, we began to learn, wow, some of humanity’s most dread diseases. Let’s talk about the Corona virus that is emerging now in China and maybe coming around the world, that is pretty much how we have thought about the entire microbial world for all of human history. Everything is out there, a lurking Corona virus. I don’t want to downplay that because there is a duality to the microbial world and pathogens and especially disease causing pathogens are a reality. But they are a very, very small part of the microbial world. And so now what we know through not only plant microbiome research, but now emerging out of human microbiome research is that Oh, it’s the presence of microbes as well that is very influential on human health. And so this has caused a lot of people ranging from, you know, moms to researchers in labs to granting agencies to scientists all over the place, scrambling to do several things. You know, sort of in a, this is like a very big picture thing. What are they scrambling to do? Okay, how does the human microbiome work? How do we stop wrecking it? Where we’ve impaired it, how do we bring it back to life and how do we move forward with practices in medicine? And I would contend, I don’t think medical folks are so much thinking about this, although I wish they would think more about it, is how do we also make sure that we’re growing our food and treating our farmland and our animals in agriculture in ways that is producing healthy food. Because the quality of the food that we bring into our bodies, it’s not just our taste buds who like that, you know, heirloom tomato, um, fruits and vegetables are chock full of phytochemicals. So these are naturally occurring chemicals in plants and we know that growing practices affect their density. That is how much of what are the levels of lycopene, for example, in a tomato because the lycopene in a tomato that comes into the human gut represents food. It’s a portion of the food that the human microbiome is consuming. And so you want your microbiome to have in general a diverse diet. Plenty of different kinds of whole plant foods to ferment down, down in the gut. And this is where, this is no disrespect to any vegans or vegetarians out there, and I’ll probably get hate mail on this later, who knows? But all of this faux meat, the whole problem with that is that whether it’s a whole soybean or a whole pea plant that’s been pulled into some factory somewhere, it’s phytochemicals, its whole nutritional profile gets scrambled. And what we know about the human microbiome was that when we start scrambling our diet, simplifying it and taking away the fermentable carbohydrates, the human microbiome does not do so well. Part of what our health hinges on with the human microbiome are all of these molecules and compounds that they produce from the foods we eat and these compounds, they’re called metabolites. Also these compounds in metabolites. They are like our onboard medicine chest in many, many ways, but they can also be harmful to us. And so we want to always be feeding our microbiome. These things are going to fill up that medicine chest and we don’t want to eat a lot of the foods that are gonna allow them to turn our diet into things that harm us. So this whole thing about you are what you eat. We need to modify that to this. You are what your microbiome eats, right?

ER: Yes. And that brings me back to the question about the bees, right? Because we have to start with the bees. The bees are a critical factor in all of this. So I want to go back to Bob, what you were saying about being a beekeeper and your experience with bees, but, so I’ve read in an article that honeybees rely on the gut microbial community for a variety of functions, food processing, regulation of immune system, defense against pathogens, and the use of pesticides as you’re talking about food, growing food, apparently the swabs, the gut of the bee, which makes bees more susceptible to environmental stressers. And you brought up the colony collapse disorder. So can you say more about the importance of bees and bee health to all of what Ann has been saying.

BR: Sure. Um, there’s a lot of big questions that you’re asking. And I also recognize that it’s hard for people, our culture, the dominant culture who is so steeped in, and especially these days, in data and evidence. We’re approaching things in a certain way. And, well what’s the science behind that? Prove to me that this is, you know, carcinogenic or prove to me that this is hurting the bees. And I also want to step back, and one thing you said Anne reminded me that, yeah this is our history since van Laywin, and there’s a tradition of Western culture that has certain approaches and diagnostic procedures and stuff. But there’s other approaches, like the Native American cultures or even the witch cultures and plant medicine a completely different approaches. Right now we are taking a really long way around to correct some of, kind of the willful illiteracy that we have embraced around relationships between ourselves and the natural world. But we are educating ourselves and trying to reestablish or establish proper relationships between us and the ecology. It just, it’s been really difficult. So I don’t want to lose sight, I don’t want to make things too complicated when we say, Oh, bees, like what are the 15 reasons why bees are doing bad and what, how am I supposed to understand the complicated nature of the bee microbiome and what does that mean? It really does get simple though when you say that the bees eat nectar and pollen from flowers and also gather propolis, which is also very important to be health. But, and then water is the fourth thing that they gather. So they’re not only collecting four things and each of those is super important in maintaining the hive as an organism of itself when we’re talking honeybees here for a moment. But those things pollinate, especially in our industrial agriculture system. The bulk of what we eat that requires pollination. So, if we feed them sugar water and if we put them on trucks and cart them around the country and say, Oh, well you’re going to eat almonds for three weeks, now you’re going to eat blueberry nectar, now you’re going to eat apple nectar. It’s a terrible diet. It’s terrible. And pollen substitute that’s made from soybeans, they’re getting, gosh, imagine if we fed our kids peanut butter and jelly every day for weeks and weeks. And then we gave them, you know, delly turkey and then, you know, Snickers bars as candy and Capri Sun. Oh gosh, we actually do that. Really bad for their diet. So, yeah, long story short, what the bees eat helps them fight disease and also stimulates their immune system.They have the same thing and fights all these factors. Anyway, there’s some demystifying that I want to do and kind of bring things back to, care for not just honeybees, but all the pollinators and flowers. And, it’s not as simple as it’ll take care of itself, but it is simple that if we plant and tend soil in our yards and kind of bring everything as local as possible, we’re going to grow these invisible gardens and have really awesome relationships with these creatures. Cause there’s nothing like watching all this amazing bounty in your own yard.

ER: Yeah, you brought up such an excellent point, the care piece, like taking care of our environment and our ecosystem and ourselves and the complexity of that because we’re all so interrelated and interconnected with each other, right? This is becoming more and more fragmented. And so the work that you’re trying to do is to put the pieces back together so that we can continue to nurture ourselves. Which brings me back to something that you Anne said, we talk a lot about diet and about how you are, what you eat and you said that a third of all cancers are thought to be linked to diet, including breast cancer, in post-menopausal women, colon cancer and prostate cancer. And you brought this up, so that diet-cancer connection really resonated strongly with you. And if you can tell me a little bit more about your personal journey in this regard and how and what we can all learn from this.

AB: Yeah, I think whenever somebody is facing a health challenge, you’re either the kind of person who shuts down and doesn’t ask any questions or you’re a person like me. And in my case when I was diagnosed with cancer, it was, it was actually not a diet related cancer, but ironically enough it was a cancer associated with a virus. And so here is a sort of a thread, you know, a thread that I tugged on hard about the microbiome because I wanted to find out more about the human microbiome. What does that have to do with my health? And then hearing what you just said, Elizabeth, there’s a number of cancers that are linked to diet. And so this is a modifiable factor: what we eat. And so when it comes to diet in the soil or for a human being, you really, this is just sort of really common sense. Let’s think about this. So long ago when we were hunter gatherers, and even in the years after that we never had any pharmaceutical companies. We never had any agrichemical companies. All we had was our microbiome and what we ate. So that was the doctor. And now obviously like diet isn’t going to do something if you fall down out there in the Savannah and you sprained your ankle, right? That’s an acute thing and that, I’m not talking about that. But what we know about the diet cancer connection is that at least half of the battle with these diet related cancers is that you want to prevent the onset of any weirdnesses, any, you know, cell abnormalities. Anything that is the beginning of a cancer because this whole thing “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. That is why people say that. Because if we can prevent the onset of things, then you’re never going to deal with the being down here at the very downstream, you know, end of the cancer and doing, whether it’s surgeries or radiation or chemotherapy or whatever it is. Let’s not, let’s not get to that point. Let’s, let’s, let’s cut this off at the pass. And so the reason diet is so important, and this is Bob also said something. You had mentioned plant medicines, and do you know this, that you know, some of the very earliest doctors we know this from England, the Chelsea Physic Garden. It is the oldest, medicinal garden that we know about, although I would probably contend that they’re in the Western world—I should caveat that. And doctors at this time, this would be back in probably 1500-1600’s. They didn’t go inside a classroom and open up books solely. They were sent out to the garden to learn about the plants because plants are their own, this has to do with, just the plant lifestyle, right? They’re stuck in place. They can’t get up and run around and get away from predators. Aha. But what can they do? They can create chemicals. The genome of a plant is something I’m not sure that you know the human brain will ever totally understand because that genome is what is interacting with the microbiome and it’s spinning out all of these different chemicals, some of which if you were a doctor way back when you would need to know, you know this plant has this property. They didn’t know what the chemicals or the phytochemicals were at that time, but they knew this plant for this thing, this plant for this thing.. That was the medicine. And so because we also eat plants, we are voluntarily bringing some of this stuff into our bodies, you know, every day and so far I’m not aware of anybody who has died from over consumption of fruits and vegetables and I would say fruits and vegetables, you know, known to be, let’s say you know, free of pesticide residues and things like that. So far no one has died from over consumption of fruits and vegetables. What they are bringing into their body though is this whole pharmacopoeia of phytochemicals and, and what we know about plant foods is that all of these phytochemicals, they tend to work in combination with one another. That’s why, if you’re eating, just again back to Bob’s point about simplifying the diet. Oh, I’m so healthy. I eat carrots every single day, every single meal. No, that’s not what we want because the beta carotene in that carrot, it can interact with say the lycopene in a tomato or an anthocyanin in your blackberries that you had for breakfast. So it’s all about bringing in sort of an abundance and I don’t mean exclusively, but an abundance of plant foods in diverse combinations and that is doing things at the cellular level. It is triggering genes with anticancer activity.

ER: Yes. But the other stuff is causing inflammation. Which is the key word here “inflammation” and what foods cause inflammation?

AB: It’s the simplified carbohydrates. 

ER: Yeah. Bingo. 

AB: Okay, good. Whew. Those, are causing inflammation. And there’s all of these things that are not in food that we add to food. And I will just put that under the umbrella of additives. That could be preservatives, that could be stabilizers, that could be artificial this or that. We don’t really know. We don’t really know what those are doing. You know, there’s that category. It’s called grass, generally regarded as safe. I believe that’s the, the FDA lingo on that. So there’s all these grass products out there, you know, or ingredients to products.

BR: We should not be spraying everything with glyphosate with Roundup a carcinogen. They say, Oh, well if you apply it properly, it won’t harm humans. But then meanwhile you’ve got all these pollinators out there sprayed by a glyphosate and ingesting it really messes with them and their health. So anyway, random note. But I also wanted to say something about, things that cause inflammation and sort of disrupt, um, sugar! And, as a beekeeper, I have a complicated relationship and as a sugar lover, such a sweet tooth, but so do all of us humans. We’re wired that way and evolution isn’t quick enough to catch up with industrialization. And so we’ve figured out all these ways to create sugars. And a lot of it when — not 500 years ago, the way we got the sweet was to get it from bees and that practices as beekeeping rather than just hunting honey is only 4 – 4,500 years old. So it’s taken a while for and, industrial beekeeping is really only, like 150 years old. So it’s taken all this time to figure out how do we maximize getting sweet products. And then, it must be said, coincidental with slavery, we created mass plantations of sugarcane and figured out how to make a lot of sugar for really cheap. But all that is baked into our diets and our cultures. And now we eat ungodly amounts of sugar and we’re not, we can’t handle it. Our bodies can’t handle it. And how we use to use sugar kind of strategically, Oh God, to run from the tiger, you know we’re going to get sugar to now, Oh I’m just going to sit on on the couch and watch TV and eat a lot of sugar is not a good match for that, for that particular food.

AB: There’s the dietary aspect, but there’s also what we know is that because you want, because of the communication between gut microbiota and the immune system that the gut microbiota in a way and especially as they change and develop from birth through about age five, they’re constantly — that early, early microbiome is constantly interacting with the human immune system. And we know most of the immune system is engaged with the gut and so if you have insufficient scrambled, perturbed human microbiome, then what you have is an immune system that is firing way too much. And an immune system that fires way too much is an immune system that is constantly on inflammation mode. So that was the other thing. Sugar causes it, but also not having the properly functioning microbiome from birth onward because these immune cells, their whole job is “got to keep the person healthy, healthy gotta keep the person healthy”. And so the only thing the immune system can really do, it’s only a big, big hammer and it’s big, big tool is inflammation. And the other thing I meant about our immune system is if in doubt fire away, cause you never know. In the olden days, you know it was pathogens that were getting us. So there was a good chance there was a pathogen involved, there wasn’t a good chance that sugar was involved or that an insufficient microbiome was involved. So that’s probably why the immune system, you know, I ask no questions, I just embark on inflammation.

ER: I think this has been a great conversation and I think that it seems like your approach is to explain things in a way that the lay person can understand. Because so much of this is technical information about complex sugars and how the soil composition affects plant and all that. Anne, you do such a great job in your book of explaining some of these issues. You also mentioned something called the built environment and I really loved that concept and what this meant is the way the cities are laid out, influences the choices and opportunities that underlie a person’s health and well-being. And this is kind of, I feel like this is kind of a good summary of what we’ve been talking about. In that, how we live our lives, in a city or in a town or whatever influences the way that we live. And, I also have my accessibility hat on as well. Because I’m working on accessibility for people with disabilities in the arts and the built environment is such an important way of how people with disabilities and how everyone else can really access their environment in a way that makes them thrive and is healthy and genuine for them. So I really appreciate you bringing that up. Did you have anything else you would like to say about the built environment and how this applies to your work?

AB: You know we have this big brain sitting on top of our shoulders and that, that makes us unique among animals, and it’s also why the built environment I think is so important to think about for people. We know that more and more people are moving to urban and urbanized areas. And so the fabric of the built environment and I’m not sure I’ve seen this yet, but what, you know, but I think architects, landscape architects, planners and so on, all those in, you know, quote “in charge of the built environment”, should steep themselves in is, about how human beings perceive the environment around them. And when you think about how, you know, 99% of our evolution was about moving through natural environments. It was about, looking for food, you know, staying away from the predators and not falling into the water. But it was also about pausing maybe, and looking up to take note of a particularly beautiful color of light or a flower that had opened or the million shades of green that might surround a person or the million shades of tans and browns in that kind of an ecosystem. And so when we build built environments that don’t tap into or support how our brains and our bodies really work and what makes them healthy, we’re just doing ourselves a disservice. And I would also contend that probably if you dug deep enough, I mean there’s actually some research on this in the human microbiome and that is that, when a person is happy, when they are in a good mood that that is also good for their microbiome because we’re making, our bodies make compounds and molecules too. And our microbiome is affected by those. So that might be dopamine or it might be serotonin or these, any number of other neurotransmitters that get triggered when we’re out in a high quality, stimulating, safe, healthy environment. So I think, it sort of comes full circle that way.

ER: Yes. You just summed it up so beautifully and I want to invite you Anne over to my house to help me with my garden and you, Bob, to my house to help me start a beekeeping business. Thank you so much.

BR: Thank you, Elizabeth.

AB: Yeah. Thank you very much. It’s been great.

JP: Bob and Anne will be in conversation with Alyssa Arnheim, health and ecology caretaker, William DePaulo, PhD, associate professor of medicine at the university of Washington and Jenifer Walke, PhD, assistant professor of biology at Eastern Washington University. They will be at Town Hall on February 4th at 7:30 PM. There’s still tickets available for this event, so if you’re interested in hearing what is sure to be an enlightening conversation, click on the event link in the episode description and get yourself a seat. Thank you for listening to episode 52 of In the Moment. Our theme music comes from the Seattle based band, Hibou, and Seattle’s own Barsuk Records. To support Town Hall, become a member or see our calendar of events. Check out our website at townhallseattle.org next week, our chief correspondent Steve Scher will be talking with Dan Esty about big ideas for a sustainable future. Until then, thanks for joining us right here In The Moment.

In The Moment: Episode 51


In this week’s interview, Chief Correspondent Steve Scher talks with biologist Samuel Wasser about the illegal ivory trade and the threat it poses to the endangered elephant population. Wasser outlines scientific tools being developed to track poachers and determine the locations and regions where they’re getting their ivory. They discuss the tactics used for combating poachers, such as reducing demand for ivory and tracking the locations of ivory supplies before they’ve been confiscated or shipped. Wasser expresses his faith in the diversity of people’s interests, and the need for everyone to pursue those interests in order to combat the innumerable issues of the world—everything from ivory poaching to cancer to climate change.


Episode Transcript

This transcription was performed automatically by a computer. Please excuse typos and inaccurate information. If you’re interested in helping us transcribe events and podcasts, email communications@townhallseattle.org.

Welcome to town hall Seattle’s podcast in the moment where we talk with folks coming to our stages and give you a glimpse into their topic, personality and interests. I’m your host, Ginny Palmer. The last week of January, 2020 is quickly approaching and we’ve got some very interesting programs on our calendar about homelessness, American oligarchs and contemporary poetry followed by a youth speaks poetry slam on the 31st for more information about these events to get tickets or to see what else is on our calendar. Go to our website at town hall, seattle.org elephants are smart, family oriented and relentlessly hunted by poachers, seemingly intent on wiping them out. The numbers are grim, but international and us law enforcement agencies, NGOs, governments, and committed scientists like the university of Washington Samuel Wasser are fighting to save wild elephants. Wasser is renowned for bringing remarkable tools to the field. He has pioneered noninvasive techniques, even training dogs to track elephants by their scat, allowing scientists to identify family groups and even individuals through their DNA. He has helped develop techniques that allow law enforcement to track poached ivory across continents and oceans. With these tools. He’s helping bring poachers to justice. The wildlife photographer, art Wolf and Samuel Wasser have produced a new coffee table sized book, wild elephants conservation in the age of extinction. They come to town hall on Wednesday, January 29th to talk about the work being done to save the remaining wild elephants. Our chief correspondent, Steve Cher, sat down with dr Wasser at his office on the UDaB campus.

What are those in the corner there? So those are

not real cus they’re casts of real tests. And um, I don’t know if my, uh, they were real Tufts at one point and one of my best friends who’s now actually port commissioner in Seattle was at a garage sale. You probably know. I’m Fred Feldman and he found them one day and he bought them for me. So they’re, they’re casts. Yeah, they’re amazing. I really lifelike. So I, um, I keep them there as, as a memory of how big cus have been historically.

Yeah. Well that’s something that, I mean, you’ll forget. I mean, I saw a picture from, was it 2018, I’m looking to very ours articles. I saw a picture of you standing in front of a pile of Tufts from was the 2018 or 2015 it was the, the uh, most recent large seizure.

Um, well there I suspect that was the burning of the ivory and Kenya. The a hundred tons of ivory. So in, in Nairobi, that might’ve been the picture you saw. I don’t know there, there’s lots of those pictures of me. Yeah. Cause there’s lots of seizures that we do.

Yeah. There was an article in Sierra club magazine and it said the will to save the elephants was the headline and it was about you and art Wolf. I thought it was an interesting way to be hopeful in the face of, you know, reasons not to be hopeful. So why? Because that seems so hard.

Well, you know, it, it’s kind of, it’s a funny thing. It’s a mixture of horror and eh, in, in what’s going on and believing that we’ve got a tool that can make a big difference and ultimately stop it. Um, you know, the hope, the hope is that elephants will recover, uh, if we can stop this illegal trade in and it, it just put it in perspective. I’m there. There’s 400,000 elephants left in Africa right now. Um, that’s down from 1.3 million in 1979. So there’s 400,000 elephants left and there’s 40,000 elephants still being killed each year. So it’s bad. And when you

productively, they’re not, they’re gonna fall behind ever further.

You betcha. And, and the, and you know, there’s two, there’s really two species of African elephants. So African elephants are the ones that are most heavily poach. Asian elephants, not, not so much, you know, being able to F to figure out, you know, why is this, why does this continue to happen? And, and, you know, where are the concentrations of poaching? Who’s the big guys moving this ivory? And can we really do something about it? Is, is really important? And, and, um, I feel like, you know, I was very lucky in that, um, in the late nineties, I, I was driven to develop these new methods. And, um, uh, not, not for elephants per se, but just in general to, um, I’m always been trying to, uh, get as much information from wildlife about their physiology and their genetics with, without touching them at all. Um, and so I focus on their scat, their feces.

And, um, in the mid eighties, I developed ways to get stress and reproductive nutrition hormones from feces. And then I realized, Oh, that’s the most accessible animal product there is. I’ve got this gold mine here. And then I thought if we could only get DNA out of the samples that would make all the difference in the world. And by 1997, we had cracked that nut. And, and essentially at that point, uh, you know, I had been working in doing my PhD work in Southern Tanzania starting in 1979 in the most poached area in Africa. And I worked there until 2000 through the, you know, two massive waves of poaching. And, um, it, you know, I kept thinking, you know, baboons are a really interesting animal to study, but they’re, they’re kind of ermine and I was very conservation oriented and working on foot and running across poachers and, and you know, carcasses all the time and seeing how amazing these elephants were.

And I just kept thinking that we’ve got to figure out a plan here. And, and when, you know, almost immediately when we got DNA from the dung, I thought, okay, I can map where ivory is being poached because you know, elephant dung sample weighs like 25 pounds. So it’s easy to spot. And we were able, and by that time I had been working for a long time in Africa, I had lots of connections and I just sent the word out and say, bring me your shit essentially. And, and essentially we were able to create a DNA map of elephants for across the whole continent of Africa. And we were able to then, since we knew where every sample came from, we could actually see, well how good are we at using this information to identify the origin of a, of an ivory tusk. And so, you know, you know, basically the way that this works is that, uh, you know, populations, even us, we’re always experiencing mutations and they accumulate over time and populations that are separated.

The farther part they’re separated, the, the less mixing between the, the populations and the more genetically unique those mutations, uh, make them, uh, once we had gotten this map, we could see, well how good are we at at using the DNA to tell where they came from. So we would take all the samples from a location, we’d take half of them out of our genetic map and then we would, you know, recreate the, the maps used to make gene frequencies for each population. And then we would take the other half and we would use those genotypes and put it into our statistical program. We developed and say, how close to the actual origin did we get? And we showed that we could get a sample from an elephant from anywhere in Africa to within 180 miles of where it came from. So when you consider you can put five United States and Africa, that’s pretty damn precise.

And so now we knew we had a great tool and uh, the other hitch was to be able to get DNA out of ivory. And it was just a couple of years later that we also crack that nut. And, and um, it was kind of fun because I love collaborating with people and that’s part of why I love being at the universities. There’s some buddy, you know, anything you need, there’s somebody here doing it. And I went to the dental school and I went to the social Dean and I said, Hey, do you know anybody getting DNA out of teeth? He goes, yeah, there’s this guy up in British Columbia. I was doing it and I wrote him and we were able to modify the method for ivory. Then we, we essentially could, uh, get the genotype from a test and compare it to our DNA map. And we could tell where the Tufts came from.

Why does that help in the end to try to save elephants? Poaching is going on all over Africa. And so if you’re just kind of spreading your resources thin, trying to figure it out, that’s a problem. If we could figure out how you know is, are there places that are more poached than others? That’s very important. And especially we want to know where do these major transnational criminals moving large volumes of ivory, where are they getting all their stuff from? So 70% of all ivory, that seized by government authorities is in shipments of a minimum of a half a ton of ivory between two to 500 toss. It depends on the size. Of course, as the tusk gets smaller, it’s more dust. But, but the point is is that is that they were moved in these big shipments and so we have always restricted our work to ivory seizures that are a minimum of a half a ton.

So these are seizures that are worth at least $1 million. They are massive. So it means they’re pulling out lots of Tufts doing lots of damage. And these are from traffickers who could afford to lose $1 million at a single pop. Who are the international cartel criminals at this point? Well, many of them are the same. Criminal cartels move in all kinds of other contraband people, narcotics, you know, people specialize, but they also dip into other forms of contraband. But they’re also investors. So if there is, um, um, conservative, the estimate that there’s, um, uh, 10% of the ivory that’s seized, uh, uh, 10% of the Ivy that’s smuggled gets seized and there’s 40 tons of ivory seized each year. So that means there’s 400 tons of ivory moving each year. So if you look at what’s ending up in the shops and the people buying these little necklaces and braces bracelets, that’s, that’s not 400 tons a year worth of ivory.

These investors are buying big Tufts and they’re stockpiling them, we believe, and they’re hoping for elephant extinction so that they can then sell this ivory as an investment like gold. It’s pathetic. There’s another element to this that that shows how difficult this is. So most of this ivory that I’m talking about in art is containerized. It’s moved on shipping containers and big ships. And there are 1 billion containers moving around the world each year right now. And so if you are a transnational criminal, all you gotta do is get your contraband into container, get it past customs. So you just got to pay off one, one or two people, and then you’re virtually assured that it’s going to make it to its final destination. Because even in the U S we can inspect about 2% of the containers that pass through at the most. I mean, you imagine a place like Singapore where 35 million containers pass through each year, how many of them, and they get lots of ivory seizures.

How many of you think they’re getting relative to what’s actually moving through there? So we wanted to develop a way to, to fix that problem. And then what we wanted to do was to figure, can we get the ivory before it gets into transit? Can we prevent it from getting into trans? So when we started looking at these big seizures and figuring out where were they coming from, we quickly had major breakthroughs. The first thing that we found was that, um, virtually all the ivory in these large seizures were coming from just two places. 78% of the ivory is coming from uh, Tanzania going from Northern Mozambique at its Southern border through Tanzania up into, uh, Southern Kenya. But really Tanzania was the focus. They had the biggest protected areas and the most elephants. So 78% of the elephants from that area. And then forest elephants, the other species of African elephants, a 22% of the remain of the seizures was forced elephants as opposed to 78 Savannah.

And that was all coming from an area we call the Triton, which is Northeast Gabon, Northwest Republican Congo, and Southeast Cameroon. That’s the last stronghold of forest elephants. The forest elephants had been virtually annihilated. They, 95% of the elephants have been killed in the last 50 years. There, their tests are more valuable because there are a lot denser. And the problem with the forest elephant also for their recovery is they don’t have their first birth until they’re 23 years old, whereas a Savanna often has it a 12. So it takes a long time to recover from that loss. So the first big finding was that people thought that when they were, when, when these traffickers were moving these big quantities of ivory, that they were cherry picking across Africa, pulling Irish from all these different places to get enough for a big Shipman and moving it out.

We showed that’s not what’s happening. They keep going back to the same place over and over again, poaching repeatedly. And, and we eventually show that there are these criteria that we, we call hotspots, poaching hotspots. So I mentioned there’s really two major ones in Africa and what makes a hotspot, it’s gotta be a very big protected area. Um, and, and, um, the, it’s got to have lots of elephants so you can go back and poach there repeatedly and it’s big enough so that the Rangers can’t find you. So having those kinds of features is really important. So Southern Tanzania, which was the largest protected area in Africa, SA the solu game reserve where, where hunt went population went from 100,000 elephants to 12,000 elephants in like a 10 year period. Um, is an example of that. And then, you know, these poachers are only have as much ivory as they can carry.

And so how does it get from the poacher to these guys that are moving multiple tons of ivory out? And one of the other things that we found very quickly, so not only did we find that they were, um, poaching the same areas over and over again, and that those areas are very, very slow to change because as I said, for the past decade, those hotspots didn’t change. Um, we also showed that in almost every case where the ivory was exported in multiple tons was always in a different country from where the ivory was poached. It was a neighboring country. They’d move it up to there as kind of a risk reduction strategy, consolidated it and move it out. So we were able to show that there’s kind of this loose pyramid that goes on where you’ve got the trafficker at the port that’s moving this stuff out, the big guy.

And then he’s got these people that he pays that essentially are going down and they’re collecting the ivory from these middlemen who are then going and buying the Ivy from the poacher, you know, and essentially moving it from this broad pyramid of all these different poachers and consolidating it to the neighboring country before they move it out of the country. What’s the most effective or hopeful strategy to break that chain? So here’s what happened, even though they’re storing this for their hope for extinction of the creatures. So that’s the great question. And that was our next finding. You know, when you’re analyzing these ivory seizures, um, it costs about $110 to genotype, fully genotype a tusk. So to do, um, a big seizure of 200, two of 2000 tests at 110 each, obviously you would go broke very quickly. So we had to develop a way to representatively sample those, the tests.

In a seizure. And one of the first things that we do was we is, I developed a way to visually identify the two tests from the same elephant. It’s a pretty straightforward method that we developed so that anyone could do it. And when we were analyzing, you know, pull sampling these tests, um, um, for these large ivory seizures, I noticed that over half of the tusks in these seizures did not have a pair. You know, the other tusk from the same elephant was gone. And I thought, well, where is that? I realized by this time we had about 45 large ivory seizures in our lab that were fully genotyped. And I thought, well, I wonder if they’re in any of the other seizures that we have. And bam, like within a couple of hours we had the result and we found lots of matches, you know, of the, you know, the two Tufts from the same elephant in separate seizures.

And every single case, those two shipments went out of the same port close in time. And when we looked at where the origin of those ivory came from, from our genotyping, we found that they always were coming from the same place. So that loose pyramid I was describing, you know, essentially this big guy is pulling this ivory out continuously and between the time the poachers get the ivory and it gets up to the export, the two tusks get separated very often. And because there’s this one big kingpin, they still end up in his coffer. It’s just they arrive at different times and he ships them out in separate shipments often. And so by linking those shipments together and then linking other shipments together, similarly like links in a chain, we were able to pull out the three biggest ivory cartels working in Africa. And the biggest one we got convicted to 20 years in prison.

This big guy who I’m talking about, his name was Faisal Mohammed Ali, and we connected them to over 11 ivory seizures. So he goes to prison. Yeah. And then two years later he gets acquitted by a, uh, um, presumably corrupt magistrate. But there were all these irregularities in the trial. So he’s one guy, there’s two, three others, big guys, and you got him in prison and then he gets out. Have you slowed the, the slaughter at all by, through these efforts? There’s somebody else just come in and take over. This slider has been slowed, but, but it’s kind of like a whack-a-mole. One of the big things that eventually has happened was, um, we definitely slowed the slaughter in East Africa where the lion’s share of poaching had been occurring. Um, and that’s only as of the last year or two. Um, you know, we’ve been doing this for over well over a decade now.

This slaughter in, uh, central Africa has not changed. Um, if anything, it’s increased. One of the things that our most recent work has shown is that the poaching is moving South into Botswana. The area of, uh, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Zambia that, you know, connecting countries, um, has 230,000 elephants. There’s 400,000 left in Africa. Um, most of those places that had been fenced and they have artificial waterhole. So you had an artificial growth of those populations. And now we’ve shown for the first time that that hotspot is starting to shift South. What’s that telling you about the ability not to be playing? Why whack them all over time? The way this work goes, like any type of sciences that you know, you think you’re making a big difference and then you go, why didn’t it make a bigger difference than I expected? You know, when we first identified the poaching hotspots, I thought, Oh all the country now needs to do is just go to those areas and get them.

Well, you know, these are big areas. These poachers are hard to find. Um, you get one poacher out and when you catch a poacher, he’s only got at most 10 tests with them. Cause you know, that’s all the group with them can carry. I mean you can carry to Tufts if you’re a person, you know, maybe three or four but, but not many. Then there’s all these other poachers waiting to take their place and they often get their bail covered and then they split. So it’s just an endless game. Um, so that was one of the big problems. And then finding these guys and, and, and dealing with the corruption. Cause these are big powerful people. They’re, they’re multi-millionaires in places where there’s not a lot of money and it’s easy to pay people off. It doesn’t take much money to pay someone off. When we started to connect these networks, not only did we see that individual cartels were moving multiple shipments, we also showed that they were different cartels were connected.

And so who’s driving that? Is there some bigger guy yet that’s kind of getting them to work together? Well, yeah, and that’s where we are moving. Now I should mention that our primary collaborator in this work is the, uh, department of Homeland security. Oh really? So we work with, um, the, um, the environmental crime division of Homeland security, um, in their Homeland security investigations is the name of that network. We collaborate very, very closely. They’ve got over 250 agents, uh, around the world, 600 agents total. And those agents working around the world are very focused on transnational criminal organizations. And one of the things that, that when we develop these matching techniques to connecting these, these shipments to multiple, um, criminal networks that really got Homeland security excited because one of the most powerful tools that they have is, is financial crime investigations. And this is a really, really powerful tool in any of these countries.

It becomes a major crime and Homeland security has unique authority to, to um, go into bank records and to, to explore as long as their criminal can be suspect to a broken us law. Well, what does it take to break the U S law? You just have to operate in us currency one time and then you broke us loft to move an illegal shipment. It doesn’t matter where it happened and most criminals operate in us currency. So means that, that what, what are kind of marriage has done is that we taking advantage of these, this population differentiation and our ability to track it and, and, and we can look at how all this ivory is actually moving and where did it start? Where did it go through, where did it end up? And so that, and how many connections are there? All of those are roots to be explored by financial crime investigations.

And so we are going back and we’re building this this more, more carefully. There’s one more piece. Well, this individual sample matching was a very powerful tool and still is a very powerful tool because you, you, you know that those two tests were poached at the same time, the same animal, it came from the same protected area. One of the problems as I mentioned, because the stuff that work is very expensive. We are only sampling about 20 to 30% of the Tufts on average out of any shipment. So that means that the probability of my getting both tests from the same animal in two separate seizures is about 20% of 20% or 30% of 30% so where’s between four and 9% chance? So a lot of these matches I miss well, it then occurred to me, I started working, I, I work very closely with people in a department of bio statistics here and one of them, Bruce, where’s an expert in familial matching. So familial matching, you know, has recently been, um, they cut, well I think one of the mass murder or recently doing familial matching. Um, and we started developing these familial matching techniques for our ivory, realizing that very close relatives, females in particular, you know, stay in their family group for life. So now we’re matching tusks between parents and offspring, full siblings and half siblings that are found in separate shipments and it allows us many more opportunities to get a match. And the connectivity that we have shown in these networks is mind boggling.

There is one guy or a few guys at the top with lots of money who are controlling this. The idea being what? That at some point you can get those people break those cartels and maybe then the whole system crumbles. Yeah.

By financial crime investigations is going to be the most likely tool. And that’s really what we are. We’re putting all our eggs in that basket right now. But the science is driving, you know, because we’re getting all the networks sure. That there’s lots of forensic evidence. So you can see this poster on my wall and each one of those little post-its is some other forensic evidence. Oh, same shipper move this tusk, a same cell phone was used. What, what have you. Um, so there’s lots of those little post-its, but those are, um, kind of death by a thousand cuts kind of thing. When you get them genetic match, that’s a solid connection. And then all of those other forensic bits of evidence become much more

assured. Do you know who the top people are? Do you guys already have suspects or even individuals?

Yeah, absolutely. I, well this is getting beyond my area, but my colleagues absolutely do know who they are. I know them too, but I, I, um,

so the idea is that we break these, these cartels, we get these people in prison. Yeah. And, and so this is where we started. Is that what makes you have the will to hope that you’re on a path?

Exactly. That is exactly what does that, you know, and, and th there’s, um, a really interesting thing that, that, um, we’ve, we’ve just now found, um, is that so when Faisal was put in jail, um, not to, you know, around the same time there was another major ivory traffic or put away to her name was the queen of ivory. It was, she was all over the press. And um, she was kinda working in Tanzania getting the stuff up to Faisal and others. Um, and when both of them were put in jail around the same time, all of a sudden we started to see a new modus operandi happening. One of the things that started happening was we started to see ivory seizures that were in Howard out teak logs. The tusks were cut into sections, put in the logs and embedded in wax and then cover it up.

And you could not tell this at all and then shipped out. So we’re getting the entire ecology devastated at one time. Two fours and the elephants. Yeah. And a lot of people don’t realize, I mean, just to put this in perspective, transnational crimes right now are worth about a little over two and a half trillion dollars a year. The wildlife trade is worth about $20 billion a year. I’ve reached probably 4 billion of that, but then there is illegal, unregulated, unreported fisheries that’s $30 billion a year. And then there’s the illegal timber trade, which is 50 to $150 billion a year. All the habitat these animals are coming from. We’re talking $200 billion right there for, for living organisms that are part of this trade. This is, this is not small potatoes here. And not only that, you get convergence. So this guy Feisal, when we started making these connections, it turned out the DEA had been working to catch these major heroin and meth, um, traffickers operating in Mombasa.

They’re monitoring their cell phones and all of a sudden they start bragging about moving ivory too. And it turns out that Pfizer was part of their network and they actually went and they used all these connections that we made because you can’t track the heroin and meth, but you can track the ivory because it’s a natural population. And we essentially laid out a whole map for them and they use that as part of their evidence to IX. X did I the Akasha brothers that were driving this to the United States, they’re now in the same prison as El Chapo, right down the hall. And in fact, the way we knew figured out that that judge that got Feisal, um, acquitted was likely corrupt because the Akasha brothers, when they did a plea deal when they were in the United States to try to reduce their sentence and they listed all the magistrates they paid off to prevent them from getting extradited.

And one of them I noticed was that magistrate that acquitted Feisal. So what do you think about this work? This is energizing. Keeps you going, but that’s a huge tidal wave that you’re trying to push back at. It’s, yeah, it’s very exciting, very stressful. And, um, you know, and you know, to be honest, the, the hardest thing is keeping it funded. And the reason that I say this is that, you know, imagine, I mean, if you look on this map, so I’ve got, um, ivory seizures from Uganda, from United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Malawi, Malaysia, Hong Kong. I may have said that. Togo, um, and then others from South Sudan, we’ve done over 65 large seizures. I’ve never asked a country to pay a dime for those analyses because if you ask them, they won’t give it to you. So we have to raise the money to pay for these seizures before they happen, so that when a seizure is made, I can just go send it to me.

We’ll do it for free. Who, who are you raising money from? The other other international agencies that funded. So we’ve gotten money from a variety of sources over the years. Um, the us department of state has funded us. Um, we get, uh, we have gotten a lot of money from Paul Allen foundation in the past. Um, we have private donors here. Um, um, the Moritz family foundation has been a huge supporter of our work. Um, UN office on drugs and crime has supported us world bank, the global environment fund UMDP but you know, they’re all kind of, you know, a little bit here, a little bit there, sometimes a big bit here, but it’s, it’s always one year at a time. And so we are constantly trying to, to make sure that, that we have the money to do this work and the more successful we get, the more seizures we have.

So right now, just, just like, you know, as of today, I have 12 seizures in the next year that I’m going to go get, you know, next month I’m going to Vietnam and Singapore and Thailand and, and then we’ve got them in Mozambique and Kenya and, and so that’s, you know, these are materials that have already been seized. Now you’re going to do the forensics on it, we’re going to go get the samples and then do the analysis. And it’s each one of those is $25,000. So times 12, all of a sudden it’s a lot of money. Or you mentioned that these are financial crimes, department of Homeland security, the federal government puts some money into it. I mean, is the federal government helping to fund these? Absolutely. They help. But you know, things are complicated right now to say the least. And so, so for example, you know, nobody’s getting their budgets right now because they’re a little distracted.

Um, and, and even so the way these kinds of things work, they, you know, if you’re working with law enforcement agencies, they, they’re not, they don’t give you a bunch of money to do it. They’ve got a case, so they pay for that seizure. So the timing has to work right. So it’s not so good for us to have the money ahead of time when we get money from the us department of state. So, so the, um, it’s called INL, the Bureau of international narcotics and law enforcement affairs. They were a really important funder for us, you know, gave us assurances that we could have, you know, that, that we could do these shipments, um, as they came in. And, um, the Allen foundation similar, but there’s no guarantee funding will continue. And, and so, uh, you know, we’re always looking for who are your allies in Congress?

Who are, are your allies in the Trump administration that they’re trying to get some of this work done? You know, actually, we, we, we have allies that both sides of the Isles. Last year I got the Albert Schweitzer award presented by Maria Cantwell and, um, uh, Pramila J appall also gave me an award at that ceremony. Uh, Senator Chris Coons was there. Um, he’s been supportive, believe it or not. Uh, Don young from a representative from Alaska has been a major supporter of our work. Um, and norm Dixon when he was in office, um, uh, Susan Dell, Ben a, lots of them

still flabbergasted by the notion that, that the poaching is being done by people who want to see these animals disappear because then their ivory will be like gold. That’s sort of mind boggling and horrific. Does that also mean that they’re more than happy to see seized elephant tusks burned because it just gives the, what they have stockpiled higher value?

Um, I don’t know about the last part, but you know, I, I don’t think that they like seeing this ivory burn. They would much rather own it. And, and, and one of the things that also we are able to do is to see how often is ivory actual smuggled out of government stock PBIS. Cause that’s a whole other can of worms here. You know, when, when, um, you know, there’s all this debate, should we have legalized ivory sales too? Is that a way to save the elephants or should we ban all ivory sales in there? You know, that debate in itself has done more damage to our ability to police the IB trade than any other thing I can think of because it’s so polarized nations and, and you know, nongovernment organizations, you know, and, and, and, um, you know, there, there are two logical arguments, although I would say they’re, one is more logical than the other, but, but, but basically the argument being that the best way to save elephants is to flood the market with ivory and the price will go down and it’ll create less incentive for these guys to poach.

Well, that doesn’t make a lot of sense simply because when you start to get wind that that’s going to happen, that these guys are going to go out and they’re going to grab every last test they can and try to move it as fast as they can. So it’s gonna create a massacre. Um, and also we know that, you know, there’ve been all these statistical models showing you can’t, it can’t provide the demand. It can’t meet the demand that is there. So the better way is to have a complete ban across the board. But then you, it gets complicated. I mean, imagine a place like Botswana, so they’ve got 130,000 elephants and their previous president was very, very conservation oriented. They had a no kill policy. So, so you, you couldn’t, uh, for, for wildlife, you couldn’t, you know, no hunting in Botswana despite the biggest population.

Then in Africa, um, shoot to kill policy for poachers. And then they got a new president who completely shifted that all of a sudden wanted to open up the, the, the country to hunting. He was talking about using the carcass meat to make dog food and, and you would think, Oh, well this is a bad guy. Well, he’s not a bad guy. W what happened is he’s under so much pressure for human wildlife conflict that, you know, he thought, Oh, well this is another way. And, and you know, and then the, the former president, the current president, we’re really in strife about this. And that just kinda made everybody dig in more and get more polarized. And you know, now starting to kind of come together a little bit more and, and, and realizing the magnitude of the problem. But you know, these kinds of things, I mean, this happens all of the world. It’s the Democrats and the Republicans, you know, I mean, look at how stupid things are right now and, and how unbelievable Dugin people are and, and, and the things that they’re saying, you think they can’t possibly believe that, but it’s happening. And these are our senators and we’re talking about here,

these arguments just take our eye off the goal, which is to save these last wild creatures. I see, I see. Again, it seems like you have to be willful to be hopeful because there’s just so much, so many pressures, real human pressures.

You bet. And, and so you could ask the same thing about the drug trade. I mean, how long have you been policing that and here to look, we see these pharmaceutical companies that are now the major criminals. I mean, it’s crazy. It’s crazy. But we have to keep going because of the damage that this is causing. The what, what gives me the most hope about, about, you know, looking at the, um, the animal component of this illegal transnational crimes is that it’s for the first time we have something that is highly traceable and that it had, because of convergence with other crimes, it’s something that is a tool that can support other types of criminal investigations make raise the priority for this, give us more, um, support to, to address this problem. You know, these tools that I’ve been describing, these are all brand spanking new and we’re making big progress.

So yeah, we don’t solve this problem overnight, but I’m confident we’re going to nail it. Yeah, I am confident we’re going to nail it. And you know, we may not wipe the whole thing out, but we are going to get some really big guys. I mean these [inaudible], you know, these poachers could not be operating for so long if they did not have a buyer, especially the buyer. They’re not that well protected. I mean, these, they, they’re, they’re, they’re like, they could, these big traffickers could care less. They care about as much for the poachers, they care about an elephant. The fact that you can go and to the same area and poach it over and over again for over a decade is only gonna happen if you’ve got a reliable, consistent buyer. And that’s what we have here. Right?

So not a reliable and consistent market. Not somebody in China who wants to buy a small carved ivory pendant or in Alaska or in America. People say, well, we have to stop the, we have to stop the desire for the product and that’ll stop the market. No,

yes and no. You have to have the manned or, or it doesn’t work. Um, you know, but so, so first of all, there is no question you have to do both. You have to stop the man or you will be doing this forever. You can’t solve the problem immediate, the urgent problem by dealing with demand because it’s too slow. It’s just too slow. And so you really got to have law enforcement. And the problem is, is that some people get focused on all the, the demand side and they lose sight of the other side. And, and, you know, we’re trying to bring that back and say, no, no, we need to turn this around. You need to do both. It was a huge deal when the ivory ban happened in 1989 the international ivory band by Saudis. Um, it was a huge deal when president Obama banned ivory sales in the United States along with the president of China.

But, but it’s not so simple because, you know, why then did Washington state have to do their own ivory band? Well, the reason this is that you’ve got an international band says you can’t move across, um, international borders. It’s illegal, but once it’s in the country, you can sell it. So, so then Obama did the ban against the United States to prevent it from coming into the United States. It made it illegal. But then once it’s in a state, if a state has illegal ivory, you can still sell it. So each state has to do their own law. Just to put it in perspective, it’s kind of ridiculous. And then it’s fueled by this polarization. Oh, what’s the best strategy? And so, so there’s not movement because you, you know, the city’s meeting, which is supposed to make these big decisions on what happens to this, to the wildlife trade and you know, is should we sell ivory or not and, and how are we going to attack this problem? And they spend, you know, it’s every three years is the major cities meeting and it’s two weeks long. And usually a week of it is just talking about ivory and what are we gonna do? And it’s all back and forth debating and nothing happens and nothing gets done. This is crazy.

Well, or it, it fits perfectly into the plans of those people who want to keep the trade operating. I mean, that’s the argument for why Russia does what it does in terms of politics. Chaos is helpful to those people who exploit chaos.

So you just kind of figured out ways around and, and you know, hopefully we’re, we’re onto something that’s gonna work. Um,

there must be people who say to you, this is all important in the short term, we got to do this, but climate change is going to change everything so much that, uh, we should be concentrating there, but let’s not do that debate. Cause that’s back to what you’re just talking about. But when you’re sitting, you

know, see the thing, you know, what about AIDS? What about all the things that we care about? People not climate, I don’t care. You know, I mean, the, the, the bittersweet part is there’s so many people in the world and that’s part of the problem. But there’s also so much diversity that there’s someone who, who will pick a mission of importance and follow it. And we got to let all of them chase their dreams so that, that, you know, we can address all of these problems concurrently, you know, to climate change is, is, you know, talk about something that’s slow to fix. You know, I mean, even, you know, a, you know, it’s just, it’s enough to get people to believe that there’s really a problem. But then the fixes and all the things that people have to give up to make that fix in their willingness, you know, it’s crazy.

Yeah. Coming back from Costa Rica was funny. I, you know, made me think of, think of the similar thing. So you know, we landed and they said, you know, there’s four people on the flight that to get go to Alaska, they’re going to miss their flight. Can you all please sit still so they can walk off? And they went back to playing. They stood up and then within like 30 seconds, the whole front of the plane stood up and started. They couldn’t get off. And I was like, Oh my God, you know, you can’t even make that sacrifice. And you know, no wonder we can’t solve climate change is anyways,

I know you’re going to tell me there’s room for everything and we need all these solutions. But I mean, you go to some of these foundations and some of these groups and they say, yeah, we’re going to contribute, but glad that you could trace their money back to some pretty interesting sources. I mean we are, it’s so convoluted. It’s so complex.

Yeah. I mean it is, but, but, but what are you going to do? Are we gonna stop fighting cancer because of climate change and we can stop fighting AIDS because of cancer? Or are we going to stop you? You know, I, uh, stop animal cruelty or racism or, you know, I mean, you know, there, there’s just, there’s just so many different things, but you know, the people thank God or, or whoever are, are working to, you know, th th th th they’re taking on each of those missions and they’re doing their their best. And that’s all we can do. I mean, the real thing we need to do is stop having so many damn babies and just, you know, re, you know, deal with our population size and how many resources we are each taking ourselves and shut off your lights and turn the water off when you brush your teeth and you know, and quit buying so much plastic.

And you know, these are all individual things that people can do. And, but yet, you know, you’re dealing with the problem of, Oh well let’s just me, I’m just one of the billions of people how I can stand up. It’ll be okay if I stand up in the airplane. Yeah, yeah. It’s just, and you know, that’s the problem. That’s like, you know, when I see that, that’s just what I think about it. It’s like, Oh my God, you can’t even let these people off the plane. How are we going to fix these big problems? And it’s because you need people with passion that, that really, you know, are willing to do what it takes.

You’ve been doing this a long time, I guess you’re going to keep doing it for a long time, but are there people that you’ve trained or people in other labs that are younger people that are picking up the mantle of these tools and this work

I’m working on that I’m training graduate students to do this work is quite stressful for them.

Talking about emotional stress, right? You’re talking about that this is painful work.

Yeah, hugely, hugely. Just, Hey, I’ll give you an example. I go in, I do a seizure. Um, I just did one in Singapore, that 1800 tests, 60% of the tusks were about as thick as my thumb. So young creatures, and I’m looking at that going, Oh my God, you know, they’re, they’re just, you know, these guys, there’s barely enough IB here for anything of value. Um, so that’s, there’s, that’s one element. Then you see, you know, you get this guy convicted and he gets off because of, you know, all these different, you know, irregularities that were, you know, things, evidence stolen and just, and then you get, you know, lots of good people working carpet, but it just takes, you know, a couple of people in the right place to pay off and you’ve lost everything. You know, the, the one thing I will say is that, um, I love working at this university because this university is so supportive of this work at all the way up to the president of the university. And I feel like I’m in a place where, where I can do what I need to do and I can escape from all the bullshit. And not only that, when I need a collaborator to help me with something, they’re are here cause this is a big, incredible university and it works. And so, so I think, you know, would I, you know, should I be in an NGO? Should I be income? This is, this is the place to do this work.

All right. Okay. So then in the end, still you get the pleasure and the passion from seeing these living creatures.

Yeah, I mean, I, I, I’ve been, I started working in Africa when I was 19 so I, you know, been going back there ever since. And I, I love it. I love animals, I love wildlife and I love figuring out how they came to be the way they are. So yeah. And it’s just really fun to be able to turn that on their head on its head and use that to solve these crimes that are killing them.

Well, that’s, that’s a cool thing. All right, sir. Thank you for taking the time. Dr Samuel Wasser is the director of the center for conservation biology and holds the endowed chair in conservation biology at the university of Washington. He and wildlife photographer art Wolf will discuss the fate of wild elephants and what we can all do to help preserve them in the wild on Wednesday, January 29th at 7:30 PM there are still some tickets available if you’d like to join in the conversation and we’ll also be filming the event so you can watch it on our town hall Seattle YouTube channel. Thank you for listening to episode 51 of in the moment. Our theme music comes from the Seattle based band, EBU and Seattle’s own bar Souk records. You can listen to the majority of the programs that happen on our town hall stages on our arts and culture, civics and science series, podcasts. Just search town hall, Seattle, wherever you listen to your podcasts and subscribe to support town hall, become a member or see our calendar of events. Check out our website at town hall, seattle.org next week on in the moment, our correspondent Elizabeth Ralston is talking with Bob Redmond and and the clay about the importance of our microbiome. Till then, thanks for joining us right here in the moment. [inaudible].

 

 

Checking in with Cheikh Lo: A Global Rhythms Concert Review

Emily Slider, a local world music aficionado, was in attendance at our most recent Global Rhythms Concert. She was kind enough to send along this review.  She’s reviewed Town Hall concerts in the past for KEXP

Friday, January 17th, at Town Hall Seattle, the Great Hall was transported around the world by the warm African sounds of Cheikh Lo and Thione Diop. The evening began with a solo performance on the kora, a West-African lute. One member of Thione Diop’s ensemble came out after the lights went down and danced his hands on the strings of the instrument, plucking them upward and outward to fill the hall with a harp-like sound. The entire ensemble came onstage after the kora player had disappeared backstage. The instruments played by the group were percussion, but a few of them, like the xylophone and the cowbells, played tones that became the melodies. Each song felt like a jaunty saunter through lush faraway lands. Thione Diop demonstrated his djembe prowess with a captivating solo. He leaned into his drums with the audience leaning forward in anticipation of his next strike, both the drums and the audience under his command. The ensemble carried equal weight as they waded further into a colorful landscape of sound together. After a couple of songs, of the bell player passed off his instrument and got up to dance. He delivered a beautifully choreographed dance, moving each section of his body independently then interweaving his motions to the roll of the song. He sat down without even breaking a sweat and began playing with the ensemble again. Two more dancers came out wearing ropes and grasses as ornaments to their dancing and each taking a turn demonstrating how to move to the music. The only female dancer was particularly graceful and athletic. When she sat down and began to jam with the rest of the ensemble, the hall was left to wonder how much talent can fit inside one body, and whether they had just witnessed the depth of her talent or only the tip of it. 

Photo by Roy Kuraisa

Cheikh Lo took the stage after a generous last jam session with Thione Diop wrapped up. He began his set at the front of the stage flanked by members of his ensemble on either side. He strummed a mellow song and released his raspy, burdened voice out into the hall. Without speaking his language, the audience could get a sense of his message just by the way he expressed himself. His necklace, a custom made leather and wood holds an image of his spiritual leader close to his heart to guide him while he plays. This, along with the crown of dreadlocks wrapped atop his head, signify his allegiance to Baye Fall, a Senegalese Muslim sect. The band had a more western representation of instruments, using a full drum set and a saxophone, but the sound was quintessentially African. The bass and percussion reigned supreme supported by an intermittent vocal melody. Cheikh Lo shifted from leading up front to behind the drumset, the spot where he began his career more than forty years ago with Volta Jazz. He started this portion of the set happily riding the hi-hat and snare, coaxing his ensemble into his sound. His lead guitar player played a tremolo on the neck of his instrument before surfing his fingers down the instrument and exploding into sound. Pockets of people began dancing. Some groups wandered onto the stage, danced for Cheikh Lo, and then exited to shimmy just offstage. The energy in the room relaxed enough for the audience to empty the pews and begin to dance with each other. The crowd cut loose as Chiekh continued to jam.

Chiekh Lo had not played in Seattle for over twenty years; and considering how much the Seattle crowd picked up whatever Chiekh laid down, another twenty years will not slip by before he returns.

After the concert, Slider was able to talk to Lo through an interpreter. A brief interview is below.

ES: I want to hear about what you’re wearing. Whose image is on your necklace?

CL: This is my spiritual guide.

ES: and you keep him on you all the time?

CL: Yes, all the time.

ES: For those of us who don’t speak your language, what is the message of you music?

CL: Lots of things. I talk about the spiritual, I talk about love, the social issues, and environment.

ES: Seattle loved you, will you come back again soon?

CL: Of course! The people were dancing! It was good.

Global Rhythms returns to Town Hall on March 1. Haram with special guest Marc Ribot will take the Great Hall stage. Tickets are on sale now.

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