Left, Right & Center

Left, Right & Center


Left, Right & Center is KCRW’s weekly civilized yet provocative confrontation over politics, policy and pop culture.


How AI and deepfakes could affect this election

The renewed bill — to address the ongoing border crisis — fails to advance from the Senate following a 43-50 procedural vote. The bipartisan legislation would have provided more money for border security and tightened asylum restrictions, among other provisions. Republican detractors viewed this latest push as a political stunt, while some progressives argued that it was too punitive. With immigration consistently rising as a top issue for voters, how might this latest congressional failure to act influence the election?  In a presidential election with two extremely unpopular candidates, down-ballot politicians in tight races are distancing themselves from the top of the ticket. They’re hoping to capitalize on popular policies without taking on too much of their party’s baggage. Meanwhile, Donald Trump’s loyalists are flocking to his New York courtroom in a show of solidarity. Are average voters willing to separate candidates from their parties, and is Trump’s trial reaching anyone beyond political junkies?   AI and deepfakes pose an unprecedented threat to election integrity. With Congress and the law slow to keep pace with rapid advances in this technology, can we rely on tech companies to step up? And is government regulation of political speech a slippery slope, even in the case of misinformation and disinformation? 
24/05/2450m 29s

Will debates give Biden or Trump an edge?

President Biden is trailing Donald Trump in several battleground states, according to new polling from the New York Times and Siena College. While polling this far out from an election often doesn’t represent final results, it can reveal trends that candidates should seriously consider, says Mo Elleithee, executive director at Georgetown University's Institute of Politics and Public Service. In Biden’s case, the polls indicate less support among young voters, nonwhite voters, and blue collar workers. With Biden and Trump agreeing to a series of debates in June and September, can the president use the head-to-head settings to regain ground with those crucial groups?The Democratic National Convention will take place in Chicago this summer. There are some concerns that the contentious atmosphere surrounding the convention, including nationwide campus protests and anger with the president’s support for the war in Gaza, could lead to a scene similar to the unrest at 1968’s DNC, also in Chicago. Are those concerns overblown? And would more protests allow Donald Trump to emerge as a figure who can end the growing sense of chaos among voters?Kansas is the focus of our 50 states series this week. Mandatory diversity, equity, and inclusion statements have become a growing legal concern for legislators and administrators in Kansas and at universities across the country. Does requiring a commitment to DEI fall mean forcing an ideology on faculty and students?
17/05/2451m 47s

Why Netanyahu’s latest move is a threat to a free press

The government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shuttered the Israel offices of news network Al Jazeera this week. The country blocked the network’s website, and Israeli police raided their studios, confiscating broadcast equipment. Americans would expect this move from an authoritarian leader, not a democratic ally. Will the United States’ relationship with Netanyahu’s country change how it views the threat to press freedom? South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem is under fire for several controversies from her new memoir, including a reference to shooting a 14-month-old puppy she described as “untrainable.” Noem is pushing back at the criticism amid a bid to be Donald Trump’s running mate this fall, but her pursuit of the vice presidency may be over. KCRW speculates on Trump’s other options for VP, and wonders aloud why other Republican politicians seem unable to overcome controversy as easily as the former president. There are plenty of reasons to argue that the news ecosystem is biased — does that also apply to satire? Hear an excerpt from the Cascade PBS Ideas Festival, where the Left, Right and Center panel discussed political comedy and applauded the uniting power of karaoke.
10/05/2450m 29s

Is the media focus on student protests missing the mark?

Pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses have taken over national headlines recently. Clashes between protestors and counterprotestors, as well as law enforcement, are top of mind for political leaders. Have the student-led demonstrations shifted the focus away from the actual conflict on the ground in Gaza? When it comes to states enforcing Title IX, the Biden administration recently announced new guidelines, which include extending discrimination protections to groups who previously weren’t covered by the legislation, including LGBTQ students. Several Republican-led states have filed lawsuits claiming that the administration overstepped its authority and attempted to change how they define sex and gender. And this installment of the 50 states series looks at a rare phenomenon in Idaho politics that could empower the political middle.
03/05/2450m 30s

Foreign aid bill passes US House. What’s next for Speaker Johnson?

President Biden signed off on a $95 billion foreign aid package approved by Congress this week. It includes military funds to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan. While Democrats were happy to work with the Republican leadership to get the bill done, a more conservative wing of the GOP was less than thrilled. Will the package cost another speaker of the House their job? And how are U.S. allies feeling about the drawn-out fight to get a deal done? New polling from NBC shows a shift in support for Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s presidential campaign. The independent candidate is trending upward with voters who would otherwise be supporting former President Donald Trump. How will the Trump and Biden camps prepare to deal with a growing third-party challenge? Early electoral maps reveal a short list of battleground states. What will it take to capture the electoral votes that will define the 2024 election?
26/04/2450m 29s

Trump’s criminal trial takes center stage

The embattled leadership of the Republican Party came together in a show of solidarity this week. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was joined by House Speaker Mike Johnson for a press conference at Trump’s Mar-A-Lago compound. Trump backed the speaker in the face of mounting pressure from conservative members of the House to remove Johnson from the role. This show of support came amid another legal challenge for the former president. Jury selection in Trump’s trial over alleged hush money payments began this week. It’s the first time a former president has faced criminal charges, and drew substantial media coverage. That coverage added increased difficulty to the selection process, with one seated juror dropping out over fears that media reporting on the case would reveal her identity. Can the media circus surrounding the case be wrangled to avoid further interruptions? Will Johnson be able to survive his own circus in the House to accomplish something — anything — as speaker before November’s election? U.S. colleges continue to struggle with the protecting free speech and fighting hate on campus. Another congressional hearing on campus antisemitism — this time with officials from Columbia University — arrived at the same time a valedictorian at the University of Southern California faced backlash for her support of pro-Palestinian causes. How can colleges navigate increasing tensions as the lines between anti-semitism and calls for an end to the conflict in Gaza continue to be blurred? An Oklahoma city councilman was elected last year, before reports he had ties to a white nationalist group became more widely known. For our 50 states series, we examine what lessons we all could stand to learn from the voters of Enid, Oklahoma.
19/04/2450m 30s

Trump’s abortion position? Leave it up to the states

This week, former President Donald Trump took credit for leaving decisions about abortion bans up to individual states, while pledging to maintain that choice for states if he’s re-elected. Can we expect the lack of federal guidance on individual rights to continue? And will Republican supporters hold any ill will for his lack of commitment to a classic conservative value? President Biden openly criticized Benjamin Netanyahu’s deadly campaign in Gaza following last week’s attack on World Central Kitchen aid workers. In an interview with Univision, Biden called for a temporary ceasefire and for Israel to allow more aid into Gaza. It’s a significant change of attitude publicly for the president. It could appease some more moderate observers who take issue with Israel’s military strategy. But many on the left believe nothing has actually changed regarding U.S. policy with Israel. President Biden vowed to federally fund the rebuild of Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge following a tragic accident late last month. That promise could be slowed by opposition to commit taxpayer dollars towards the project without certain guarantees. We hear and use the phrase “taxpayer dollars” so often, but what does it really mean?
12/04/2450m 29s

Will congressional candidates suffer from voters’ fatigue with Biden, Trump?

Donald Trump and Joe Biden aren’t the only ones preparing for a tight race this year. With every House seat and a third of Senate seats up for grabs in November, both Democrats and Republicans are hoping to take control of Congress. But will congressional candidates be able to overcome the unique situation that Trump and Biden’s policies and personalities present? More Americans than ever believe religion’s influence in politics is dwindling. Evangelical voters have pointed to President Biden’s support for abortion access and LGTBTQ issues as signs that he lacks a commitment to religious values, despite his Catholic faith. Those sentiments were on display last weekend in the conservative uproar over Biden’s choice to simultaneously acknowledge Transgender Day of Visibility and Easter Sunday. Why did a statement from the president cause so much outrage? Will the lack of religious faith in Biden play a role in 2024? As part of our 50 States series, we explore a proposal from Kansas Republicans that aims to change the mail-in ballot process.
05/04/2450m 29s

What’s behind the recent wave of Congressional exits?

Two dozen Democrats and over 20 Republicans plan to retire from Congress this year. Several members of the House have chosen to end their terms early, making the situation especially difficult for an already tight GOP majority. The most recent examples include Wisconsin Representative Mike Gallagher and Texas Congressman Ken Buck. In interviews prior to his exit this month, Buck called out a lack of professionalism in the current Congress. How serious is this wave of exits? And what are some of the underlying factors making it harder for well-intentioned members to do their jobs? Vice President Kamala Harris is campaigning for Joe Biden’s re-election with strong messaging on protecting abortion rights. It seems like an opportune time for Democrats to push the issue, with oral arguments in a Supreme Court case over access to the abortion drug mifepristone beginning earlier this week. There is hope that keeping abortion in the news could drive fringe voters to the polls this fall. But does a strong push on abortion miss the issues that matter to the class of voters at the foundation of the Democratic party? How would Biden’s re-election bid fare if the current realignment of non-college-educated voters continues? A new law in Indiana seeks to create more space for intellectual diversity in college classrooms. Supporters say the law could change a culture of silencing conservative voices on campus. It’s a serious problem, but will legislation provide a real solution?
29/03/2450m 29s

What’s driving the divide between Netanyahu and the White House?

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer upset critics on the right when he called for an election in Israel to remove Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister. Schumer’s counterpart, Mitch McConnell, called the move “disrespectful” of Israeli democracy and sovereignty. Many think Netanyahu’s administration is on the path to peace in Gaza, but a planned offensive in the southern city of Rafah could worsen the situation. Despite Schumer’s perceived overstep, was he right about the need for leadership to resolve the conflict and secure the return of Israeli hostages? Should American officials re-examine their relationship with Netanyahu? The House of Representatives’ consideration of a TikTok ban seems to fit with the federal government’s larger push to regulate social media. Members of the House say the effort is aimed at improving the content available to Americans online. Does it represent a larger trend of policies accused of stifling free speech? As part of our 50 states series, we examine a question that’s taken on increased importance in recent years: Who can we trust to run our elections?
22/03/2450m 17s

This election season, will media learn from past mistakes?

An election rematch between Joe Biden and Donald Trump became official after the two clinched the nominations for their respective parties this week. Media outlets have experience reporting on the two of them, but the stakes seem higher this time around. Will covering 2024 like a traditional election create the same pitfalls journalists have fallen for in the past? Some of the flaws the media will have to confront were on full display following Special Counsel Robert Hur’s congressional testimony. The amount of focus on Hur’s assessment of Biden’s memory overshadowed coverage of the report and its accompanying transcripts. Our panel shares the issues they saw with the hearing. New York Governor Kathy Hocul proposed several new plans for addressing public safety in New York City’s massive transit system. One proposal included sending 1,000 National Guard members and state troopers into the subway to check passengers’ bags. Hocul said the decision wasn’t based on rising crime numbers, but on the perception that the subway had become unsafe for everyday riders. Is it a smart political move to rely on perception to create a policy? And how does it highlight the hypocrisy in responses to similar proposals in 2020?
15/03/2450m 12s

Voters, not courts, to decide 2024 election

In a 9-0 decision, the Supreme Court found that Colorado did not have the power to remove Donald Trump from the state’s primary ballot. Though the justices had a difference of opinion on how the ruling was decided, their overall agreement was that individual states should not have the power to decide who would be eligible to run for president. That may be the best-case scenario for the 2024 election, according to panelist Mo Elleithee.  “For anyone on the left, anyone who’s worried about Trump, [this election] has to be up to the voters. Trumpism has to be beat at the ballot box,” says Elleithee. As Trump’s candidacy moves forward, will the left shift its focus away from trying to beat Trump in the courtroom? Meanwhile, commitment to democracy across the globe remains strong, says a poll from the Pew Research Center. But a closer look reveals that satisfaction with the democratic process may be taking a hit. What’s at the root of a growing desire for stronger, singular leaders? Controversy over Google’s AI tool Gemini raises familiar questions about the trustworthiness of our institutions. Is it much ado about nothing, or a chance to deeply inspect our ideas about bias?
08/03/2450m 30s

How Mitch McConnell changed the courts and US politics

Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell announced that he would step down from his role as Senate minority leader this November, though he’ll still be a senator through the end of his term. McConnell had been the head of the Senate’s Republican members since 2006. What motivated the leadership exit? The 82-year-old pointed to personal concerns and the changing politics of his party. What should we remember about the longtime Republican figurehead, and what could the end of his time as a Senate leader look like? Immigration is among the most important issues for American voters. News stories and political messaging about a rise in border crossings play into that concern. But finger-pointing over the failure of the border security bill won’t lead to solutions, according to panelist Mo Elleithee. How can a shift in perspective resolve voters’ desires for a solution on immigration? Louisiana is the focus of our 50 States segment. The state’s governor, Jeff Landry, chose not to opt into a new federal initiative that would extend electronic benefit transfer (EBT) funds for families into summer. Several other states with Republican governors also opted out of the program for 2024. Why might states deny more federal dollars, even if they’re aimed at more nutrition for kids?
01/03/2450m 28s

Will Navalny’s death motivate the US to act in Ukraine?

Mourning continues after the death of Alexei Navalny, a Russian opposition leader and one of Vladimir Putin’s most vocal critics. Navalny, who returned to Russia in 2021 following an attempted poisoning, died in a remote prison last Friday. His widow Yulia vowed to take up his cause and urged the international community to join her as she seeks justice for her husband’s death. Will Putin tightening his hold on power in Russia motivate more direct support for Ukraine from the United States? Crime is trending back to pre-pandemic levels in most major U.S. cities, except for Washington, D.C. The district has seen troubling increases in youth offenders committing carjackings, thefts, and gun violence. For our 50 States series, we look at proposed solutions in the nation’s capital, including a controversial crime bill that could extend police powers throughout the city. The Senate is considering new legislation to regulate social media. Will the Kids Online Safety Act help protect children from the harmful impacts of being constantly online?
23/02/2450m 29s

Are we failing to put Trump and Biden concerns into proper context?

Donald Trump made waves with a speech at a campaign rally in South Carolina last week. The former president recalled an encounter with a leader of a NATO country, where he threatened to withhold U.S. protection from Russia if the country didn’t make adequate financial contributions to the alliance. Is it an example of the leading Republican candidate’s flair for the dramatic? Are there more serious concerns about the United States’ credibility with its allies? Special Counsel Robert Hur completed a report on President Biden’s handling of classified documents outside of the White House. The report found that Biden committed no wrongdoing, but included concerning statements on the president’s memory and mental sharpness. Democrats have pushed back on Hur’s analysis of the president’s cognition. Skepticism surrounding the age and ability of the president is nothing new. If his age isn’t the weakness critics claim it is, why is the party spending so much time defending it? For our 50 states series, we turn to Georgia, where a conservative civil rights group is suing a venture capital fund aimed at increasing women of color’s access to capital. This shifts the affirmative action debate from the classroom to the boardroom. Can we address the difficult realities of disadvantage without focusing on race?
16/02/2450m 28s

Republicans’ horrible, no good, very bad week in Congress

A tumultuous week in Congress centered around the failure of a comprehensive immigration and national security bill. Democrats in the Senate compromised on demands by Republicans for tighter border measures. The hope was that it would help secure more military assistance for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. However, the legislation failed to make it past a procedural vote after pressure from Donald Trump and House Speaker Mike Johnson. Johnson faced issues in his own chamber as well, with the failure of a separate funding bill for Israel and an unsuccessful impeachment of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Can Republicans save face after a series of embarrassing losses? Michigan is home to the largest population of Arab Americans and Muslims in the United States. It’s also a state that is vital to the hopes of any presidential candidate. President Biden relied on the support of these communities in 2020, but his handling of the conflict in Gaza has upset voters and community leaders who are advocating for a permanent cease-fire. His campaign’s efforts to reach out have been met with accusations of playing politics. How can Biden maneuver the political reality of such a deeply personal issue? There were mixed feelings when country star Luke Combs covered Tracy Chapman’s hit record “Fast Car” last summer. The pair came together for a moving duet of the smash song at last week’s Grammys. Our panel reflects on the moving lessons they took away from the performance amid a polarizing debate.
09/02/2450m 33s

Who’s in charge at the border?

A drone attack on a United States military base in Jordan killed three servicemembers. President Biden announced that a decision had been made on responding to the attack, though details weren’t shared. The White House did say Iranian-backed militias responsible for several other attacks on U.S. troops in the Middle East can expect to be targeted. Will that be enough to deter the growing threat of a wider conflict with Iran? The United States sued for the right to take down a nearly three-mile stretch of fencing and razor wire that the Texas National Guard erected last month. The Supreme Court ruled the government had the right to tear down the barriers to access the border, but as of now, the state still has the right to put more up. Will the state’s obstruction of the government at the border push Congress to agree to increased measures on immigration? Conservative media had plenty of headlines about a possible Taylor Swift endorsement for President Biden. While it’s confusing on its surface, is there an underlying strategy to stir paranoia on the right?
02/02/2450m 29s

How can Biden, Trump can get voters to believe in their visions?

A rematch of the 2020 presidential election seems unavoidable. Most voters may be disappointed by the choice between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, whose victory in the New Hampshire Republican primary made his nomination a near certainty. President Biden and Donald Trump will have to craft clear messages about their visions for 2024. “It’s not really … a solution to an American problem that they’re trying to pitch to voters,” says Sarah Isgur, senior editor at The Dispatch. She argues that winning voters will depend on Biden and Trump’s stances on issues that strike a “cultural nerve.” As part of our 50 States series, we discuss the Supreme Court’s decision to hear a case in Grants Pass, Oregon, that could determine how western states can address a growing homelessness problem.
26/01/2450m 29s

What did Trump’s Iowa victory reveal about the political landscape?

Donald Trump’s path to the GOP nomination kicked off with a win in the Iowa caucus this week, which some media outlets announced early. One key to his victory was outperforming among demographics he struggled with in the 2016 primary. Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley are looking to regroup before New Hampshire, but will they be able to overcome the trends that emerged from the decisive results we saw in Iowa? Israel’s war against Hamas passed the 100-day milestone. New dangers have emerged along the country’s border with Lebanon and in the Red Sea. The Israel Defense Forces say they are committed to fighting on all fronts, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he is against the possibility of a Palestinian state post-war. How receptive are Israeli citizens to Netanyahu’s leadership as regional conflict becomes a greater threat? Haviv Rettig Gur, senior analyst at the Times of Israel, provides an Israeli perspective. The Supreme Court will hear a case out of Oregon that could change how local governments address homeless populations in the western United States. Is there a search for compassion in the arguments?
19/01/2450m 30s

Democracy is on the ballot (and the docket) in 2024

Donald Trump is appealing the Colorado Supreme Court’s ruling that his role in the January 6 Capitol riots classifies as engaging in insurrection and thus disqualifies him from appearing on the state’s Republican primary ballot. The Colorado judges’ ruling relies on language in the 14th Amendment, which bars any public official engaging in insurrection from seeking public office. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments next month. Will the nine justices rule against Trump, and what impact could that have on the legal legacy of January 6, 2021? The Capitol riot also played a significant role in President Joe Biden’s speech as he launched his 2024 campaign last week. The president centered his appeal to voters with a message of American democracy hanging in the balance with the upcoming election. One new report claims that the political tension in the United States could be the year’s biggest geopolitical risk. Can Biden convince the nation that he’s the best option to keep its democracy intact, or will he sound like a broken record? Social and emotional developmental gaps between boys and girls have become commonly accepted in society. However, recent data shows that boys are falling behind in educational performance as well. One option some parents in affluent communities have turned to is “redshirting” their boys, which means delaying their start of kindergarten by a year so they could have time to catch up developmentally. How effective is this strategy, and is it feasible on a large scale? Weighing in is Ioakim Boutakidis, a professor of Child and Adolescent Studies at California State University, Fullerton, and a member of the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Boys in School.
12/01/2450m 34s

Can Haley, Desantis keep the spotlight after Iowa?

The Iowa caucus is two weeks — and one Republican debate — away. The crowded GOP field has narrowed down to three. Is there a miracle in store for Ron Desantis or Nikki Haley that would allow them to overcome Donald Trump’s commanding lead? Or are the two remaining contenders setting themselves up for a run in 2028? An approaching election means maps covered in red and blue should be popping up any day now. But is the makeup of modern parties more complex than the binary framework around our political ecosystem? A Connecticut lawsuit centered around the state’s policy on transgender athletes was revived this week. The plaintiffs are four former high school runners who claim that allowing transgender athletes to compete in women’s sports violated their Title IX rights. In another installment of our 50 States segment, we hear from the founder of an organization standing behind the students’ case.
05/01/2450m 32s

What 2024 could mean for trust in the judiciary, journalism

As 2023 comes to a close, speculation about what the government will look like this time next year is running wild. The nation will be readying for a second term of either Donald Trump or Joe Biden as president. But are the foundations of the nation’s democracy ready for whatever shake ups are on the horizon? David Greene, Sarah Isgur and Mo Elleithee examine the erosion of trust in the judiciary, police and journalism. Is the shift towards political extremes hurting citizens’ belief in these institutions? What reforms could reestablish the strong confidence they once held in the minds of Americans — no matter who wins in 2024?
29/12/2350m 34s

Why Colorado court’s ruling (probably) won’t spell an end for Trump

The Colorado Supreme Court determined, by a vote of 4-3, that Donald Trump was ineligible to be on the state’s ballots. The court found the former president engaged in insurrection against the United States — a charge he hasn’t been found guilty of in any other court. Now, the case rests in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court. What could be the lasting impact of the court’s decision? For our 50 States segment, we turn to the state of Texas and the lawsuit of Kate Cox. Cox filed a lawsuit seeking emergency approval for an abortion due to medical difficulties. She was originally approved, but the state’s Supreme Court reversed the order. It seems like a win for pro-life proponents. But what could defenders of strict abortion laws be missing in the nationwide debate? A Georgia teacher was arrested for allegedly threatening a student who claimed they were offended by an Israeli flag flying in the teacher’s class. It’s a sad case of cultural misunderstanding and a lack of tolerance. As our political debates grow more tense, how can we mend the gap discussing our toughest issues?
22/12/2350m 34s

Biden calls out Bibi

President Biden’s steadfast support for Israel since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack is looking less steadfast this week. At a donor event, Biden warned, “They’re starting to lose [international] support by indiscriminate bombing that takes place.” Our panel takes on the practical and philosophical questions around Israel’s military campaign in Gaza.  The 2024 presidential primaries are just a month away. The outcome is hardly a mystery in either party, even though voters are dissatisfied with having to choose between Donald Trump and Joe Biden once again. But maybe it doesn’t have to be this way. Author and professor Hans Noel argues in a recent New York Times op-ed to have party delegates pick their nominees at conventions as they did decades ago, instead of the relatively small number of voters who participate in primaries now.   Plus, a novel legal case in Arizona: When a new law is challenged in court, do lawmakers have to explain, under oath, why they supported and passed it?
15/12/2350m 34s

Why is the House focusing on antizionism while addressing antisemitism?

A rise in antisemitism in the wake of Israel’s war with Hamas caught the attention of the House of Representatives this past week. Members of the House held a hearing with college presidents addressing antisemitic incidents on campuses. They also passed a resolution condemning antisemitism, including antizionism. The vote split Democrats, who raised questions about the choice to equate antizionism with antisemitism. Did Congress take advantage of a tense political moment to play a game of “gotcha?” And why did those presidents (and some members of Congress) choose to tap dance around legitimate questions about this worrying trend? The New Hampshire primary next month won’t feature President Biden on the ballot. We explore why, and look at the impact independent voters could have on the Republican side of the ballot. Two Florida school districts are facing lawsuits around the removal of books from public school libraries. The state’s position has raised some interesting legal questions about the right of districts to decide what content appears on the shelves and in the curriculum.
08/12/2350m 33s
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