Carl Sagan's answer when Ted Turner asked if he's a socialist is a roadmap for rebuilding America
via David Grinspoon / YouTube

In 1989, CNN founder Ted Turner asked iconic astrophysicist and science communicator Carl Sagan about his political leanings.

Surely, someone with such a deep understanding of the universe and a passion for humanism would have important insights into how we organize ourselves politically.

"Are you a socialist?" Turner asked Sagan. "I'm not sure what a socialist is," he replied.


While it seems unlikely Sagan was unfamiliar the concepts of socialist political theory, he was smart to sidestep the loaded term.

Socialism is such a broad concept that, in the modern era, it could be applied to numerous countries of varied economic development from Cuba to Canada. Conservatives tend to see it as a malignant political idea and point to Venezuela as a failed socialist state.

While many liberals point to Democratic Socialist countries in Europe such as Denmark and Germany where people have a standard of living that is comparable and, in some ways superior, to the United States.

Back in the '80s "socialist" was used by the U.S.S.R. to describe its totalitarian communist regime, so Sagan was smart to distance himself with any association with the bloc.

Ted Turner asks Carl Sagan if he is a socialist. www.youtube.com

So Sagan provided his own definition.

"But I believe the government has a responsibility to care for the people," he said.

"I'm talking about making people self-reliant, people able to take care of themselves," he continued. "There are countries which are perfectly able to do that. The United States is an extremely rich country, it's perfectly able to do that. It chooses not to. It chooses to have homeless people."

He also noted that in 1989 we were 19th in infant mortality. "We are 19th in the world in infant mortality. Eighteen other countries save the lives of babies better than we. How come?" Sagan asked, rhetorically.

Sadly, things have only gotten worse over the past 31 years. The U.S. is currently ranked 47 infant mortality.

"They just spend more money on them," said Sagan. "They care about their babies more than we care about ours. I think it's a disgrace."

Sagan also believed that the U.S.'s priorities are completely mixed up. We have a hard time helping our most vulnerable citizens, but we still have enough money to pay for high-priced weapons systems.

"Just look at what something like 'Star Wars,'" Sagan said, pointing to a costly '80s defense program. "We've already spent $20 million on it. And if these guys are permitted to go ahead, they will spend a trillion."

31 years later, things haven't improved, we're near an all-time high in military spending at a time when the world has never been more peaceful.


"Think of what that money could be used for: to educate, to help, to bring people up to a sense of self-confidence," Sagan added.

"To improve not just the happiness of people in America, but their economic standing, to improve the competitiveness of the US compared to other countries. We are using our money for the wrong stuff."

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels
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Increasingly customers are looking for more conscious shopping options. According to a Nielsen survey in 2018, nearly half (48%) of U.S. consumers say they would definitely or probably change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment.

But while many consumers are interested in spending their money on products that are more sustainable, few actually follow through. An article in the 2019 issue of Harvard Business Review revealed that 65% of consumers said they want to buy purpose-driven brands that advocate sustainability, but only about 26% actually do so. It's unclear where this intention gap comes from, but thankfully it's getting more convenient to shop sustainably from many of the retailers you already support.

Amazon recently introduced Climate Pledge Friendly, "a new program to help make it easy for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products." When you're browsing Amazon, a Climate Pledge Friendly label will appear on more than 45,000 products to signify they have one or more different sustainability certifications which "help preserve the natural world, reducing the carbon footprint of shipments to customers," according to the online retailer.

Amazon

In order to distinguish more sustainable products, the program partnered with a wide range of external certifications, including governmental agencies, non-profits, and independent laboratories, all of which have a focus on preserving the natural world.

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via CBS This Morning / YouTube

"Exercises In Empathy" is a popular program among the inmates at Soledad State Prison in California. It's a book club where inmates get together to discuss literature with students from Palma School, a boys prep school located in nearby Salinas.

"[The students] go in thinking monster … and they come out thinking a man. A human being," Jim Micheletti, co-founder of the book club, told CBS News. "They've done bad things, but there are no throwaway people here."

A few years ago, members of the club read 1962's "Miracle On The River Kwai." The book tells an extraordinary story of survival in prisoner of war camps. In the book, the prisoners created a culture of sacrifice and called it "mucking" for each other.

So one of the inmates in the book club, Jason Bryant, decided that the inmates should "muck' for one of the students at Palma.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Welcometoterranova and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Welcometoterranova-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.