14 talks to understand the next 4 years of American (and global) politics

This Monday, Barack Obama will be sworn in to serve his second term as President of the United States. The challenges he will face over the next four years are unlikely to be any easier than those he faced in his first term. These 14 talks dare to explore the domestic and international issues, problems, and crises that confront not just America’s leaders, but the leaders of every nation.

We know — it’s a lot of content. But at least skim through them, find topics you don’t know too much about and dive into those talks. And there’s a prize for anyone who watches all of them (hint: it’s your own sense of self-satisfaction).

TEDxMidAtlantic 2012 - Jose Antonio Vargas

I am an illegal immigrant: Jose Vargas at TEDxMidAtlantic

Immigration is a wildly complex subject with deep social, economic, and cultural implications and reforming America’s labyrinthine immigration policy is high on Obama’s second term agenda. In this frank and moving talk, Jose Vargas shares his experience as an illegal immigrant in today’s America — or as he calls it, a “walking uncomfortable conversation.”

A history of violence: Steven Pinker at TEDxNewEngland

Incidents of mass violence seem to be occurring more than ever before. But on the broad scale, are our intuitions about an uptick in violence valid? Harvard University psychologist Steven Pinker thinks not. In this talk, he breaks down the numbers showing an overall decline in violence worldwide and lays out his expectations for the future of conflict.

Hate speech beyond borders: Nazila Ghanea at TEDxEastEnd

In September, a virulently anti-Muslim video posted to YouTube sparked violent protests across the Arab world. Oxford professor of International Human Rights Law, Nazila Ghanea, gives us a look into the wider international picture of contemporary hate speech and the nature of the violence it sometimes provokes.

Between gay and straight: iO Tillett Wright at TEDxWomen

This summer, the Supreme Court will hear two cases that will have major repercussions for gay rights and the recognition of gay marriage in the United States. In this talk from TEDxWomen, photographer iO Tillett Wright shares her provocative work that aims to demolish common assumptions about gender identity.

Comedy, economics, and carbon taxes: Yoram Bauman at TEDxTheEvergreenStateCollege

Between superstorm Sandy, disastrous droughts in the American Midwest and Australia, fluctuating water levels in essential river passages and countless other examples big and small — the menacing wheel of global warming (or, at least, global weirding) is in motion and can no longer be ignored. At TEDxEvergreenStateCollege, economist and stand-up comedian Yoram Bauman explains how rational individual decisions have added up to collective losses in pollution costs and points to the tools within capitalism that we could use to lower carbon emissions.

TEDxDirigo: Villages

Why we can’t shop our way to a better economy: Stacy Mitchell at TEDxDirigo

In case you’ve forgotten, the global economy is still recovering from the Great Recession. Some have suggested that the we can simply buy our way out of the financial rut. Stacy Mitchell maintains that increased consumer activity is not sufficient on its own. In this talk from TEDxDirigo, she argues that we need to enact legal reforms that empower local businesses and financial institutions.

Supporting & scaling social programs (that work): Jeffrey Bradach at TEDxNewEngland

Many argue that current government spending on entitlement programs is unsustainable in the face of an aging population — a critical issue as US lawmakers grapple with the national debt crisis. Whether you’re for or against specific programs, it’s not always clear which of them actually work. Jeffrey Bradach suggests that in order to maintain the social safety-net, we need to adopt an evidence-driven approach to assessing which social services deserve preservation.

Who controls the world: James B. Glattfelder at TEDxZurich

How much control does .024% of businesses have over the entire global economy? The answer is staggering. Complexity theorist James Glattfelder shares the results of his headline-making study that partially untangles the Gordian knot of global economic interaction and shows just how interdependent we really are.

America in 2013: Nicholas Burns at TEDxNewEngland

According to Harvard Professor Nicholas Burns, the international situation is more complex than it’s been since World War II. Not just because of the financial crises effecting Europe, the major questions facing the Chinese government, and the repercussions from the political movements that have swept across the Middle East and North Africa, but because of inescapable transnational challenges like climate change and global terror. At TEDxNewEngland, Burns contextualizes the spectrum of geopolitical issues facing President Obama’s second term in office.

To fight for an education: Shabana Basij-Rasikh at TEDxWomen

The United States has committed to withdraw all of its troops from Afghanistan in 2014. While no longer suffering under the repressive rule of the Taliban, the country still faces profound challenges — especially for its women. In this harrowing talk from TEDxWomen, Shabana Basij-Rasikh shares the story of her childhood in Kabul and tells of the enormous risks that her education incurred for herself and her family.


Women’s role in terrorism: Mia Bloom at TEDxPSU

Organized terrorism, despite the deaths of Osama Bin Laden and other terrorist leaders, is far from defeated, as recent events in Mali and Algeria have all too clearly shown. At TEDxPSU, Mia Bloom shakes our expectations about who can be a terrorist by relating the history of female terrorists and explaining their particular usefulness to terrorist organizations.

The three sides of corruption: Afra Raymond at TEDxPortofSpain

From pork-laden congressional bills to revolving-door lobbying jobs — corruption is an all-too familiar aspect of political behavior. Afra Raymond insists on eliminating it. In this passionate talk from TEDxPortofSpain, he lays bare the rampant corruption in his nation of Trinidad and Tobago and imparts important lessons for every concerned global citizen.

Dan Ariely

Money, motivation, and statistics: Dan Ariely at TEDxRiodelaPlata

Prolific TED speaker Dan Ariely has new research to share: this time with results that question the very future of work itself. In this talk from TEDxRiodelaPlata, he explains what drives our sense of fulfillment from work and, invoking Adam Smith and Karl Marx, ponders the large scale changes we will need to make in order to provide everyone with the opportunity of discovering that feeling for themselves.

Beyond democracy & the nation state: Folke Tersman at TEDxStockholm

If you’ve watched all of the above talks (in which case, come claim your prize!), you know that the world is a very, very different place than it was even a decade ago let alone anything like it was when our democratic institutions where conceived of and established. At TEDxStockholm, political philosopher Folke Tersman explains some of the underlying logic behind democracy’s past successes, and why that logic does not neatly apply to today’s global realities. His conclusions raise more questions than they answer — essential questions to keep in mind as you watch events unfold over the next four years.

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    slowly workin my way through these…
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    powerful statements worth listening
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