Previously on Forum

W. Kamau Bell and Hari Kondabolu are two stand-up comedians who aren’t shy talking about race, stereotypes and bias. In their new podcast, the longtime friends mix it up with another hot-button topic: politics. They join us to talk about their podcast, “Politically Re-Active,” and how they make controversy laughable in their new stand-up albums and daily lives.

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Stanford University announced a new alcohol policy earlier this week that will ban hard liquor at undergraduate parties because of the “dangers that arise from that misuse.” Some see this policy change as a response to the highly publicized sexual assault case against Stanford swimmer Brock Turner, who blamed his actions on the the school’s “party culture” and binge drinking. Advocates for sexual assault victims are concerned that blaming intoxication trivializes the crime and lets perpetrators off the hook. Stanford maintains that the new policy is formulated to address binge drinking and is not a response to the Brock Turner case. We’ll discuss the problem of alcohol on college campuses and its role in sexual assault.

Since July’s terror attack in Nice, coastal towns across France have banned the full-body swimsuit known as a “burkini.” France already bans public use of the burka and Germany is debating similar legislation. Tensions over when and where the burka is allowed raise larger questions over cultural exclusion and the struggle to assimilate. We’ll discuss how Muslim women have adapted and what the burka symbolizes to Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

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Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. had secretly airlifted $400 million dollars to Iran, coincidentally around the time that Iran released four Americans from prison. The U.S. State Department says it wasn’t a ransom payment, but part of an older settlement from a failed arms deal. The reporter on that story, Jay Solomon, looks deeper at the contentious history between the U.S. and Iran in his new book, “The Iran Wars: Spy Games, Bank Battles, and the Secret Deals That Reshaped the Middle East.” We’ll talk to Solomon about the long-standing power struggle between America and Iran that often plays out behind the scenes.

Residents of Lake County are starting to return home as firefighters put out the last remnants of the Clayton Fire, which burned nearly 4,000 acres and destroyed approximately 300 homes and buildings. The Clearlake man arrested for starting the fire is suspected to be a serial arsonist – he’s charged with starting 12 fires in the area and has been under investigation over the past year. In this hour, we talk with forensic investigators about what motivates arsonists and why so few are convicted in court.


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In “Jungle of Stone,” journalist William Carlsen recounts the story of John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood whose perilous trek through the jungles of Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico led to the discovery of ancient Mayan civilization. We’ll talk with Carlsen about their 2500-mile journey, which he retraced in a beat-up Toyota Corolla. We’ll also discuss the Mayan’s great achievements, why their sophisticated culture vanished and what can be learned from its collapse.

On Sunday, a federal court in Texas blocked an Obama Administration policy directing that transgender students at public schools be allowed to use the bathroom consistent with their gender identity. The ruling, which applies nationwide, bars the federal government from enforcing the policy or investigating related discrimination claims. We discuss the decision and how it may affect ongoing transgender rights cases.

In a victory for teacher unions, the California Supreme Court Monday denied review of Vergara v. California, keeping in place a ruling that nullified a 2014 decision that California’s teacher protection laws were unconstitutional. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit claimed that the education code made incompetent teachers too hard to fire and that, in effect, minority and poor students were disproportionately taught by ineffective teachers. Monday’s ruling stated that “Administrators — not the statutes — ultimately determine where teachers within a district are assigned to teach.” We’ll discuss the court’s decision and possible next steps for groups challenging current teacher protection laws.

After gunmen opened fire on the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo last year, Oxford University scholar Timothy Garton Ash urged media organizations to publish the cartoons that provoked the attack. A longtime defender of free speech, Garton Ash lays out his arguments to safeguard and promote the ideal in “Free Speech: Ten Principles for a Connected World.” We’ll talk with the author about why he questions hate speech laws, derides college campus censorship and why he says it’s up to citizens, not governments, to champion free speech.

“There is no group of Americans more pessimistic than working-class whites,” writes author J.D. Vance in his new memoir “Hillbilly Elegy.” Born into a Scots-Irish family in rural Kentucky, Vance describes the economic anxiety, familial dysfunction and disaffection that characterizes today’s poor white Americans. We’ll talk to Vance about his memoir, hear his thoughts on why Trump appeals to low-income whites, and learn about his journey from Appalachia to the Rust Belt to Silicon Valley.

The Obama Administration announced last week that the federal Bureau of Prisons will end its reliance on privately-run, for-profit
prisons. The facilities, which the Justice Department calls unsafe and expensive, currently house about 22,000 inmates, almost all of whom are not U.S. citizens. While the move will do little to reduce the nation’s overall prison population — now numbering more than 2.2 million — supporters say it’s a crucial step in bringing about broader criminal justice reforms. We discuss the details of the policy change and the prevalence of private prisons across the United States.

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On Friday, the Red Cross declared the recent flooding in Louisiana the worst natural disaster in the U.S. since Hurricane Sandy. With echoes of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, emergency crews in boats rescued stranded residents and people waded through waist-high water in their homes. The rain has damaged an estimated 60,000 homes and over 100,000 people have applied for federal aid as FEMA officials struggle to supply temporary housing. Both President Obama, who will visit the area on Tuesday, and the media have been criticized for not paying enough attention to the crisis. In this segment, we’ll check in on the disaster and get an update on recovery efforts.

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