Friday, October 13, 2006
300 million could drive us crazy
The problem is not that America is too small to handle 300 million people. This is a vast nation with huge areas of affordable, largely unpopulated land. The problem is no one wants to live in the wide open spaces. The problem is we all want to live in the same place.
Having traveled to all 50 states many times, I'm convinced of it. Our ancestors spread from east to west across the continent, clearing forests, planting crops, raising houses and small towns, but we are now abandoning the countryside. Big cities have consolidated much of the political and economic power to draw business, so we have clustered ever more around giant metroplexes seeking employment and the hope of a secure financial future.
As competition for those jobs has grown, the competition for affordable housing nearby has grown too, pushing middle-class families further and further out beyond the suburbs.
The result: Commutes that were once considered unthinkable, except in a handful of the very largest cities, are now common. One hour. Ninety minutes. More. Each way. Studies show that the average American worker now spends more time in his or her car than on vacation. We eat in our cars, try to visit with our spouses, review the kids' school days, catch up on the news, all on the move.
Nearly everyone I talk to says they can't afford to live closer to the cities, but they also feel they can't afford to retreat from their well-paying big city jobs either. They are terrified by the uncertainty of employment as they get older and worry about failing company pension plans, a debt-riddled populace, and soaring costs for health care and education for their children. Maybe we're greedy too: We want big screen TVs, yet another cell phone, and an iPod for every person ... not the old ones, for crying out loud, the newest, smoking hot video ones.
I thought about all this during my 40-minute drive to work this morning in Washington, DC. (Don't hassle me too much. I've taken the Metro plenty of times and I biked to work 20 miles roundtrip for a year.)
Are our cities just too big? Do we just want too much? Or is our drive toward the future with 300 million people along for the ride just going to mean more, more and more driving?
Thursday, October 12, 2006
U.S. population nears 300 million ... so what?
The numbers are now in! The statisticians at the Census Bureau officially calculate the U.S. population will hit 300 million at 7:46 a.m., Tuesday. So what, right?
Well, we don't think it's just one of those meaningless milestones. In 1967, when the country hit 200 million, it was celebrated by the public and politicians alike, including then President Lyndon Baines Johnson. It meant prosperity, opportunity, growth.
So 39 years later, we think it's a good idea to take stock of where we are now: Who are we? How old are we? What is our faith? What do 300 million people mean for how we live? Natural resources? Roads and highways? Health care?
Clearly, there are a lot of big issues raised by the approach of 300 million, issues we plan to cover on "360" in coming days, culminating in an hour-long special Monday night. All of our reports will be framed with great stats, the kind people talk about at parties and everyone says, "Wow, I didn't know that."
Here are a few. The first one deals with some factors that result in a growing population:
- One birth every 7 seconds
- One death every 13 seconds
- One international migrant (net) every 31 seconds
- Net gain of one person every 11 seconds
(U.S. Census Bureau)
That's right, the United States is gaining one person every 11 seconds. Whether this rapid growth will continue long into the future is debated by demographers, but it doesn't change the fact that for today, at least, we are a swiftly growing nation. And here are a few numbers that show just how swiftly we have grown:
- 100 million people in 1915
- 200 million people in 1967
- 300 million people in 2006
- And 400 million in about another 40 years
(Census and National Center for Health Statistics)
Despite this rapid growth, the following numbers shows we have a long, long way to go before we catch the most world's most populous nations:
- World: 6.5 billion
- China: 1.3 billion
- India: 1.1 billion
- U.S.: 300 million
(CIA -- The World Factbook)
When Paul Ehrlich published "The Population Bomb" in 1968, the term "overpopulation" became a buzzword and a warning. Since then, many experts have discredited some of his most dire conclusions. But now, we have become a nation of 300 million people. What do you think of this milestone?
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
When tragedy strikes near home
It's always an odd sensation to be reporting on a tragedy like this in your own city. We've all seen accident scenes before, either up close or on TV. There's a pattern to them, a routine, but it's always a shock to see one up close.
I think that's why so many people stand around and stare, watching police and firefighters do the jobs they've trained for.
We saw the smoke from our offices, and I jumped in a cab as soon as I could. CNN already had reporters and producers on the scene, and they had found eyewitnesses willing to talk to us on camera.
It's raining hard right now and that's driven away most of the curious onlookers.
CNN reports two people dead, including Cory Lidle, who owned the crashed plane. Lidle had a wife and a 6-year-old son. Tonight, let's all say a prayer for them and anyone else affected by this accident.
Plane crash alters plans
As you can probably guess, our plans for tonight's program changed radically after a plane crashed into a tall residential building here in Manhattan. We could see the smoke from our office windows. Anderson is on the scene.
What surprised us is that after 9/11 a small aircraft could make it into airspace over Manhattan. We are gathering as much information on the crash as we can and expect to know many more details by 10 p.m.
Blacks, Latinos spar in small Georgia town
Willacoochee, Georgia, population 2,000, is the kind of small American town you hear about every now and then, but don't visit very often. It's located in Atkinson County, which is about 45 miles north of Georgia's border with Florida.
Willacoochee and the county it resides in may be small, but think of them as sort of test kitchen for race relations for the future. Back in the 1960s, when the U.S. population was closer to 200 million, 30 percent of Atkinson County's population was black and the rest was white. There were almost no Hispanics.
Now, as we approach 300 million people in the United States, Atkinson County is still mostly white, though by a smaller percentage, and the minority population has shifted greatly. The county is now 19 percent black and 21 percent Hispanic, due to a steady stream of immigrants settling in the area.
Here's the issue: Racial tension between what locals call the "blacks" and the "browns" is booming. Blacks say Latinos are taking their jobs, buying up their land, and moving in on their public assistance. Latinos say blacks don't want to work very hard and are turning down jobs. The mayor of the town, who is white, says, "We don't have any problems." But racial tensions between blacks and Latinos do appear to have increased.
To get a better handle on these dynamics, I visited with two local pastors, Harvey Williams and Atanacio Gaona. Williams is black. Gaona is Hispanic. They are good friends and say that everyone stares at them in town when they go out to eat or do anything in public. They're trying to unite the community. Pastor Gaona won't tolerate jokes about blacks, and Pastor Williams waves to unfriendly Hispanic drivers even when they don't wave back. They say they may even bring their congregations together for a service one day.
This is where the rest of the country is headed, isn't it? As more immigrants start to call the United States home, the nature of relations between different racial groups is changing, and not always for the better.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Is Foley fallout fair?
The Mark Foley situation has created political ripple effects across the United States. But in certain places, sensitivity is especially heightened.
One of those places is Florida's 22nd Congressional District, which is adjacent to the district that was represented by Foley. The 22nd district is where 13-term incumbent Representative Clay Shaw, a Republican, is running against State Senator Ron Klein, a Democrat.
This race was already one of the highest profile contests in the country. But now, with Foley's constituency one district over, reaction to the scandal is garnering extraordinary attention. Shaw is defending the Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert; Klein is very critical of the GOP leadership.
Tonight, in the Broward County city of Coral Springs, the candidates are holding a debate, and everyone is bracing for an onslaught of Foley related questions. We'll be there to cover it for tonight's "360."
In the meantime, do you think it's fair that the Foley situation has become an issue in this and other districts that he didn't even represent?
Foley's failings don't faze some religious conservatives
There's a saying, I'm told, that there are more churches in Virginia Beach than flies at a summer picnic. With that abundance of churches, comes a large number of Christian conservative voters. This is, after all, the place Pat Robertson calls home. His Christian Broadcasting Network is based here, along with Regent University, the school he founded.
It's at Regent that we met Charles Dunn, the dean of Regent's School of Government. He believes what is happening in his own backyard is a telling sign of what could happen in November.
Dunn says Christian conservatives are demoralized, a feeling made worse by the Mark Foley situation. Polls tell us that a majority of people from many walks of life aren't happy with the way things are going in Washington. So why do evangelical Christians stand out? For one thing, they helped Republicans win in recent elections and what Foley did seems like kind of moral failing that would make a big impact on this community.
Dunn says evangelicals don't have that same energy to get out the vote this year as they did in prior years. This notion is seconded by some GOP strategists who are convinced that Christian conservatives may sit out this election rather than vote for a Democrat.
To test this notion, we attended some Sunday services in the Norfolk/Virginia Beach area and talked to churchgoers, many of whom told us they're not throwing in the towel just yet. They said that while they are disappointed that lawmakers in Washington, including the White House, have not advanced some conservative causes, they will still vote because they think voting is not just a civic duty, but a religious one. Many also noted that they and their fellow evangelicals view Mark Foley's scandal as a personal sin, one for which they don't hold the GOP accountable.
It'll be another month before we know how many religious conservatives turn out on Election Day. Until then, all we can do is read polls, talk to analysts and meet with likely voters. So here's my question for you (especially all the religious conservatives out there): Based on your reading of events, do you think Christian conservatives will stay home on Election Day in protest or will civic duty prevail?
Monday, October 09, 2006
Census: U.S. gains new person every 11 seconds
Tonight on "360," we are looking mainly at two subjects: North Korea and the continuing Foley/GOP meltdown.
No doubt North Korea's claim it conducted a nuclear test in the far north will occupy a lot of our time in the days and weeks ahead. Tonight we'll start with New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who as Clinton administration energy secretary shuttled to North Korea a number of times to deal with that country's nuclear ambitions.
We'll also hear from Robert Kaplan, a visiting professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, who wrote the cover story for the October Atlantic Monthly: "When North Korea Falls."
In part, Kaplan argues, if you think putting Iraq back together after the U.S. invasion has been difficult, then beware a complete leadership collapse in North Korea. He says it could result in a Titanic-sized humanitarian disaster, because the peninsula has been isolated and impoverished for decades.
And at 11 p.m., we are airing a fascinating documentary from CNN Presents about life inside North Korea, one of the world's most secretive nations. The documentary was shot by a number of folks with hidden cameras, and some scenes come from tapes that were originally smuggled out of the country.
Also tonight, we are beginning a population countdown clock. The U.S. population stands at 299 million and counting. After births, deaths, military deployments and immigration, the U.S. Census Bureau calculates the population increases by one person every 11 seconds. It is fast approaching the 300 million mark. This milestone is being greeted far differently than when the United States hit 200 million in 1967. At that time, President Lyndon Johnson trumpeted the news as proof of prosperity and growth and opportunity.
But think about 300 million. It is political quicksand: It means contentious debates about transportation, resources, the environment and greenhouse gases and health care and immigration. On immigration, in fact, 53 million of the 100 million gain in population since 1967 has come from recent immigrants, both legal and illegal, and their descendents. With the 300 million mark nearing, you can see why we're watching the population clock on our program.