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The Covid-19 pandemic caused huge economic disruption for millions of Americans. Unemployment rose sharply. Many businesses – especially small ones – struggled to stay open. Yet consumer credit scores actually increased during the course of the pandemic. What explains this surprising result? What role did reduced household consumption play? How did…
 
On May 3, a subway collapse in Mexico City killed 26 people and injured scores of others. The collapse is a heart-breaking human tragedy. But it also raises important questions about Mexico’s approach to infrastructure. What does this disaster tell us about what could be called the culture of maintenance in Mexico? How is it related to budgetary au…
 
In mid-April, President Joe Biden announced that there would be a full withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan by the symbolic date of September 11, 2021—twenty years after the 9/11 terror attacks. Though troop numbers in Afghanistan have declined in recent years, a complete withdrawal of the type described by Biden would be a notable new develo…
 
Growing numbers of undocumented migrants crossing the Mexico-U.S. border have raised a political firestorm in the United States, with some – particularly Republicans – calling the situation a “crisis.” Polling suggests that handling migration may be a weak spot in President Biden’s otherwise popular agenda. What are the numbers when it comes to und…
 
For the past six years, Yemen has been the center of a heated armed conflict between its Saudi and UAE-backed government and the rebel group “Ansar Allah,” more commonly known as the Houthis, leading to countless deaths and internally displaced persons. On top of the global challenge of the Covid-19 pandemic, Yemenis are continuing to face dire hea…
 
“The times they are a’changing,” however slowly, when it comes to drug policy in the United States. Across the nation, states and municipalities are reassessing often punitive laws governing the use of illicit substances. What has been the human cost of the “war on drugs?” How has it impacted disadvantaged communities? What has been the effect of t…
 
In mid-February, a cold weather storm swept much of the United States. In Texas, the result was catastrophic, as skyrocketing electrical demand and plummeting supply led to massive, protracted blackouts across the state. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which operates most of the state’s electrical grid, has received an avalanche …
 
In May 2020, Dr. Caleb McDaniel, the Mary Gibbs Jones Professor of Humanities and current chair of Rice University's History Department, became the first Rice professor to be honored with the Pulitzer Prize. His award-winning book, Sweet Taste of Liberty: A True Story of Slavery and Restitution in America, chronicles the life of Henrietta Wood, a f…
 
President Joe Biden is committed to reversing his predecessor’s restrictive, often punitive approach to immigration. In general terms, how will his policies differ from those of President Donald Trump? What has Biden already done on the immigration front? What are likely new initiatives, particularly as they affect migration from Mexico and Central…
 
The Covid-19 pandemic in the United States has led to a sharp increase in cashless transactions. This is part of a broader trend toward electronic payments. What are the advantages of cashless transactions? How will their rise affect poorer households, particularly those which do not use banks and/or rely on alternative financial services? What sec…
 
We are at a dramatic moment in the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States. Even as infections and deaths reach horrifying highs, vaccines are becoming available. What is Operation Warp Speed? How successful has it been in developing vaccines? What vaccines are currently available in the United States? What others are in the pipeline? How is the rol…
 
U.S. Federal debt, already at the highest level since World War II, has grown dramatically as Washington has expended huge sums to address plummeting output caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. How sustainable is this debt? What explains the long-term trend toward lower interest rates? What was the picture of wealth and income inequality in the United …
 
Covid-19 has reached global pandemic proportions and has altered our way of life significantly. Starting in China and spreading all across the world, it has exacted an enormous human and financial price. The United States is now facing a health and economic crisis without close parallel in our history. What is the current status of the pandemic in …
 
Managing its relationship with China is surely the most acute geopolitical challenge facing the United States today. How should we assess the Chinese threat to US interests? Is it likely to increase or decrease with time? What can the United States, by itself and in concert with allies, do to counter China’s play for hegemony in Asia and the Pacifi…
 
Global oil markets are still reeling from the disruptions of the spring – especially the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. How are oil markets handling this turbulence? What is the situation with other energy sources, such as natural gas, coal, and renewables? What impact will a Biden Administration have on the US energy sector? And what can much-maligned…
 
On November 3, Americans elected Joe Biden president by substantial margins in the Electoral College and popular vote. But the political picture elsewhere is less clear. The Senate still hangs in the balance with all eyes on two January runoffs in Georgia. Elsewhere down-ballot, Republicans held their own. Texas Democrats, in particular, had a disa…
 
Education may be a great equalizer when it comes to economic mobility. But reality falls far short of this ideal. One reason: factors outside the school system can have a decisive impact on academic performance, particularly for students from poor households. The Baker Institute recently undertook an in-depth analysis of 80 Harris County schools to…
 
On November 3, Americans are going to the polls for one of the most potentially consequential elections of our lifetimes. While much of media focus has been on the contest between President Trump and former Vice President Biden, voters will be casting their ballots in thousands of other races. How will Texans be voting next week? Can Joe Biden actu…
 
The May 25 death of George Floyd in police custody triggered one of the most massive series of protests in U.S. history. Around the country, hundreds of thousands have marched for police accountability, law enforcement reform, and a dismantling of systemic racism in the nation writ large. What is the role of the war on drugs in deadly interactions …
 
At a September 15 White House ceremony, Israel signed agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to normalize bilateral relations. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the foreign ministers of the UAE and Bahrain represented their respective countries. President Donald Trump – whose administration helped broker the deal – presided at the…
 
The United States confronts a “perfect storm.” The Covid-19 pandemic has killed 110,000 Americans, a ghastly tally rising every day. The unemployment rate is reaching heights not seen since the Great Depression. And the appalling killing of George Floyd has triggered massive national protests against policing policies in specific and racism in gene…
 
The Covid-19 pandemic has reignited the debate about our national dependence on Chinese raw materials and manufactured goods. Why should we be concerned about such dependence? What are our key areas of vulnerability? What policies should we introduce to address these vulnerabilities? And how is China likely to respond to these policies? This episod…
 
Over the past decade, U.S. federal debt as a share of the economy has grown to levels not reached since the aftermath of World War II. Recent tax cuts and ongoing fiscal stimulus related to the Covid-19 pandemic have placed U.S. debt on an unstable and unprecedented path moving forward. Gauging the long-term sustainability of federal debt hinges on…
 
As uncertainty about the extent and severity of the coronavirus pandemic continues, questions are circling about the November elections. How will the pandemic affect the electoral process, and what are the options for campaigning and voting if the virus remains a threat to the health and well-being of Americans? What is the current state of play in…
 
While refugees are not inherently more susceptible to the Covid-19 virus, the conditions in which many refugees and internally displaced persons live and their difficulty in accessing basic health services leave them highly vulnerable. What is the current global refugee situation? What has been the impact of the pandemic on refugees and other displ…
 
As states enact sweeping measures to mitigate the spread of the Covid-19 virus, the burden of such efforts may deepen existing social and economic inequities, particularly among vulnerable women and children. What will be the impact of recent coronavirus legislation, including the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, on low-income working women…
 
Global energy markets are in a melt-down. The Coronavirus pandemic has sent oil demand into a downward spiral. And a nasty price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia is only intensifying the crisis. What has led to this unprecedented situation? What are its potential short- and long-term impacts? And what can major players – including the United Sta…
 
Coronavirus – specifically COVID-19 – has reached global pandemic proportions. Starting in China, it has spread throughout many parts of the world, exacting a huge human and financial price. The United States is now facing a health and economic crisis without close parallel in our history. What is Covid19? How dangerous is it? How is it spreading i…
 
There is more to good health than medical care, important as it is. What are some of the social determinants that affect the health and wellbeing of ourselves and those around us? What can we as a society do to help low-income and vulnerable populations? And, what special challenges do those populations face because of the unfolding novel coronavir…
 
Latin America is one of the world’s largest hydrocarbon producers. Yet the countries of the region present a mixed picture in terms of performance in the oil sector. Moreover, they confront a rapidly changing political, technological and market environment. Which countries are seizing the opportunities offered by increasing oil production? Which ar…
 
On March 3 – so-called “Super Tuesday” – millions of Americans in 14 states went to the polls to vote in primaries. Overwhelming media focus was on the run for the Democratic nomination for President, with roughly one third of all delegates up for grabs. What are the key takeaways from Super Tuesday, nationally and here in Texas? On the national le…
 
Vaping has hit the headlines Dozens of deaths have been attributed to its use. What is vaping? How dangerous is it? Does it pose a special health hazard to teenagers? Is vaping useful for people seeking to quit smoking? And what public policy approach should we take towards it? This episode has two guests. Dr. Bill Martin is the Harry and Hazel Cha…
 
Since its outbreak late last year in Wuhan, China, the Coronavirus has exploded in scale and scope. Almost every day brings news of further infections and deaths. While the impact has been greatest in China, the appearance of cases elsewhere – including the United States -- has raised the specter of a deadly global pandemic. How is China responding…
 
The increasing presence of plastic waste in oceans and other parts of our natural environment is a major concern for nations across the world. To combat plastic waste, China has announced a plan to ban single-use plastics across the country over the next five years. This ban would seek to counteract China’s standing as the largest producer—and mism…
 
In November 2018, the world was rocked by news that Chinese scientist He Jiankui had genetically manipulated human embryos and implanted them in women for gestation. He used CRISPR, a gene-modifying tool, to mutate a gene that could provide protection form HIV/AIDS. Last December, he was sentenced to three years in prison for his actions. But the s…
 
The Mexican-U.S. relationship is in transition. The elections of Donald Trump in 2016 and Andres Manuel López Obrador, or AMLO, in 2018 have altered the bilateral dynamic in dramatic ways. What is the current state of the U.S.-Mexican relationship in areas such as trade, immigration, and drug related violence? Will we see significant changes should…
 
Vaccines against such afflictions as measles, flu and cervical cancer have a proven track record of success. Yet we as a nation appear to be doing less than we can to ensure that our population is properly vaccinated. Indeed, there has been pushback against a number of vaccines by activists known as “anti-vaxxers.” Do their claims have any merit? A…
 
We are undergoing a historic energy transition. This includes a surge in shale production in the United States, growing reliance on natural gas, and a dramatic increase in the use of renewables. What does security mean in this brave new world of energy? And what framework should we use to assess national and global vulnerabilities? This episode’s g…
 
In October 2017, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, or MBS, announced that he would “return Saudi Arabia to moderate Islam.” His policies since then have eased restrictions on gender segregation in public spaces, including allowing women to drive, yet these have also been accompanied by a crackdown on any type of dissent, including the imprisonment …
 
The world’s energy sector is undergoing dramatic change. Driven by concerns about climate change, we are seeing a shift from traditional fuels, such as coal, natural gas and petroleum, to energy sources like wind and solar. In the transportation sector, this is reflected in a rise in the use of electric vehicles. But this shift itself creates incre…
 
Houston’s Third Ward is a historically African American neighborhood with a long tradition of community pride and civic engagement. A major report issued in October provided a detailed, data-driven analysis of the neighborhood. The study, entitled “Third Ward Comprehensive Needs Assessment Data Report,” was produced by the Baker Institute’s Center …
 
Unrest is sweeping Latin America. Recent months have seen demonstrations in Chile and Ecuador. In Bolivia, demonstrations triggered a constitutional crisis and the departure of long-time President Evo Morales. What explains this explosion of popular discontent? Are the demonstrations unique to their country’s circumstances or do they reflect broade…
 
Mass demonstrations have roiled Hong Kong for six months. Beginning as protests against a piece of legislation proposed by the Hong Kong government, the demonstrations have grown both in scale and in demands. What are the goals of the protesters? How is Beijing reacting to rising unrest? How has the United States responded to the protests? Are ther…
 
The United States is experiencing an obesity epidemic – with up to 38 percent of Americans falling into this category. Obesity, in turn, is linked to such health impacts as heart disease and diabetes. Experts believe that sugary drinks are a significant driver in unhealthy weight gains among Americans. This has led to calls for “soda taxes” to disc…
 
Healthcare is a hot topic in the ongoing race for the Democratic Presidential nomination. It is likely to be so in the 2020 general election. Several major candidates – notably Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders – have proposed a universal government-financed program called “Medicare for All.” What is Medicare for All? What is it designed…
 
Recent months have seen a number of dramatic developments in the Arabian Peninsula. The strikes on Saudi Aramco facilities in mid-September sparked concern about regional security and global oil prices alike. In Yemen, the civil war that is seen by many as a proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran continues to fuel a humanitarian disaster. And…
 
In its efforts to reduce the number of asylum applications in the United States, the Trump Administration is seeking so-called “safe third country agreements” with Mexico and Guatemala. What are “safe third country agreements?” Does the 2016 agreement on refugees between the EU and Turkey offer any useful lessons? And what are we to make of Turkish…
 
US Federal debt is at its highest level as a percentage of GDP since the World War II era. What explains its recent acceleration? Why should we be worried about the debt, especially given historically low interest rates? What impact have the Trump tax cuts had on it? And what, if anything, should we do to put our fiscal house in order? Our guest in…
 
In the last five years, we’ve seen a proliferation of body cameras for police officers. They are seen by many as an important tool in ensuring accountability by discouraging misconduct – up to and including unjustified shooting of suspects – by police personnel. But could there be a negative side effect? Specifically, could we see an increase in mi…
 
On November 5, Houstonians go to the polls to elect a mayor and a city council. What are the likely results – especially for Mayor Sylvester Turner, who is seeking reelection? In other political news, Houston was the venue for a September 12 debate among top Democratic candidates for their party’s nomination. Did the debate alter the dynamics of th…
 
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