THOMAS B. EDSALL

Over the past 75 years, what once was a Republican Party dominated by such figures as Robert Taft, Nelson Rockefeller and Dwight Eisenhower has become the party of Donald Trump. This lecture will explore the historical events and demographic trends leading to where the party is today.

The Democratic Party has undergone a parallel upheaval to its rival, the Republican Party. This lecture will trace the role of the Democratic Party in the sequence of rights revolutions that continue to dominate political conflict, the radical change in the demographic composition of the party and conclude with an exploration of the competitive viability of the new Democratic Party.

The 2020 election will test the viability of the emerging Democratic and Republican coalitions. Details of the lecture will be determined by the state of the presidential, House and Senate elections at the time of the cruise. At the moment, all three are up for grabs and the talk will explore the factors that are most significantly affecting the outcome.

This decade has seen some striking developments in elections. These include:

  1. New levels of partisan animosity, or what’s known as “negative partisanship.”
  2. The political reaction to the growing share of the U.S. population that is minority.
  3. The Gender Gap keeps getting larger.
  4. A new phenomenon: partisan segregation.

Voters are increasingly separating themselves into Democratic and Republican neighborhoods, communities and regions. This lecture will examine all of these trends.
 

VANDA FELBAB-BROWN, PH.D.

President Trump has alleged that Central American gangs are behind criminal violence in Mexico. Clearly, they have generated intense violence in parts of Central America and are a source of out-migration from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, producing flows of refugees seeking asylum in the United States and a humanitarian crisis on the US-Mexican border. Central American governments, often with support from the United States, have experimented with a wide range of policies, from very harsh repression to negotiating a truce. Yet violence and rule by the gangs persist. Why is that? How can the anti-gang policies be improved? What are the actual effects of Central American gangs in the United States?

The Panama Canal is a key chokepoint for global trade, with nearly 12,000 ships passing through it annually. For centuries, the area has been of major interest to global powers — from Spain to France to the United States. The United States helped Panamanian rebels secede from the Colombia and completed the construction of the Canal. It also subsequently invaded Panama to depose a regime heavily involved in drug trafficking. China is the latest global power intensely interested in the Panama Canal: should this concern the United States? What are the implications for global geopolitics and trade?

For decades, Colombia has been caught up in a devastating civil war featuring leftist guerrillas and rightist paramilitaries, drug cartels and notorious drug lords, and criminal bands. It has also been the dominant supplier of cocaine to the United States. U.S. foreign policy has intensely focused on stabilizing Colombia, ending the civil war, and reducing cocaine flows into the United States. Yet the policies adopted to pursue those objectives have often contradicted one another. In a landmark development, the Colombian government signed a peace agreement with the largest leftist guerrilla movement, the FARC, in 2016 — ushering in a moment of great optimism that violence and deprivation could finally end. Yet the peace deal and the reforms that were to ensue from it remain troubled and challenging. What is the condition of Colombia, what is its likely future, and what are the implications for the United States?

The planet is experiencing alarming levels of species loss, a thousand times the historic average — caused, in large part, by intensified poaching and wildlife trafficking. Both issues also affect national and international security in a myriad of ways. Yet the focus has been predominantly on Africa and Asia where iconic animals such as elephants, rhinos, and tigers are poached and supply burgeoning demand. Yet Central and North America are not immune from poaching and wildlife trafficking: in places such as Mexico and Central America, poaching and trafficking not only threaten unique biodiversity, but also intersect with drug trafficking and other criminality. The United States is not only the second largest demand market for trafficked wildlife in the world, but is also increasingly a source of poached animals.
 

STEPHEN RESSLER, PH.D.

Throughout the ages, many of the world’s greatest works of architecture and civil infrastructure have been profoundly influenced by the principles of engineering that underlie their design. If we understand these principles, then we can appreciate our built environment in a deeper, more satisfying way. This lecture will provide you with the tools you’ll need to see and understand the many fascinating structures we will encounter during this Times Journeys cruise. We’ll begin with some basic questions: what is an engineered structure, and what does it mean for a structure to carry load? Then we’ll examine five fundamental types of structural elements — beam, column, truss, arch, and cable — and learn how each functions within an engineered structural system. Finally, we will see how these elements are incorporated into the wide variety of structures we’ll be encountering during our cruise — from great León Cathedral in Nicaragua to the unique cable-stayed boardwalk at Puerto Vallarta to the spectacular Centennial Bridge spanning the Panama Canal.

In this lecture, we will prepare for our transit through the Panama Canal by examining the canal generically, as an engineered system. We will consider the various types and purposes of canals, and we’ll briefly review the long history of their development as technological systems and as enablers for the development of industrialized societies. From an engineering perspective, we will review the principal factors governing the design of canals, to include the all-important challenge of water supply and the vital functions performed by engineered structures — locks, dams, and navigable aqueducts. We will conclude with a comprehensive description of the Panama Canal and its key technological features, in preparation for our firsthand experience with this magnificent engineered system.

The design and construction of the Panama Canal is an epic story — a fascinating human drama and an important chapter in the history of technology. This story is characterized by tragedy and triumph, human frailty and uncommon courage, ingenuity and ineptitude, adroit diplomacy and military confrontation, Machiavellian political intrigue and good government.

This first lecture of a two-part series will examine early efforts to build an interoceanic canal, beginning with Vasco Núñez de Balboa’s discovery of the Pacific Ocean in 1513 and culminating in the catastrophic collapse of the French canal enterprise — Compagnie Universelle du Canal Interoceanique — in 1889. This failure was influenced by the challenging geography and climate of Central America, by the prevalence of malaria and yellow fever, by competition between France and the U.S., and by the arrogance of the French entrepreneur, Ferdinand de Lesseps. At the heart of the catastrophe was a fundamentally flawed engineering design concept — a sea-level canal — and de Lesseps’ adamant refusal to consider alternative approaches. The ultimate costs of de Lesseps’ intransigence were $287 million and 22,000 lives lost.

This second lecture on the design and construction of the Panama Canal will examine the U.S. effort, which initially seemed destined to replicate the French failure but, by 1914, had achieved a spectacular success. This effort was characterized by:

  • A highly politicized “battle of the routes,” to determine whether the U.S. interoceanic canal should be built in Panama or Nicaragua.
  • U.S. military intervention in a revolution that fostered Panama’s independence from Columbia and the subsequent Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty, which established the Panama Canal Zone and granted the United States authorization to build the canal.
  • A superb engineering design, which involved damming the Chagres River, creating Gatun Lake, and constructing three monumental flights of locks.
  • The U.S. construction effort, conducted in three distinctly different phases from 1904 to 1914, under the leadership of chief engineers John Wallace, John Stevens, and George Goethals.
  • William Gorgas’ extraordinary efforts to preserve a viable workforce by eliminating the threats of malaria and yellow fever.

This lecture will conclude with a summary of the many technological improvements that have been made to the canal from 1914 to the present day — including the recently completed Panama Canal Expansion Project.

In addition to its fascinating historic, political, social, and technological dimensions, the story of the Panama Canal is also a superb case study in leadership. In this lecture, we will focus on the six key leaders — Ferdinand de Lesseps, Philippe Bunau-Varilla, Theodore Roosevelt, John Wallace, John Stevens, and George Goethals — who profoundly influenced the conduct of this grand endeavor from 1879 to 1914. We will examine each man’s background, experience, and personality; his approaches to recruiting talent, building an organization, making decisions, and influencing people; and his ultimate influence on the success or failure of the project. Through this analysis, we can draw some general conclusions about leadership qualities and approaches that are well suited for large-scale, high-stakes, high-risk endeavors like the Panama Canal project.
 

GINGER THOMPSON

In April 2018, The Trump Administration announced that it would begin prosecuting all immigrants who were caught crossing the border illegally, and separating them from any children they’d brought with them. Thousands of children were affected before waves of public outrage, and an audio tape of sobbing children that was secretly recorded inside a border patrol detention facility, forced the administration to stop the separations. Where did the family separation policy come from and what’s happened to the children?

The United States plays a leading, often secret role in Mexico’s drug war. It develops the strategies for dismantling cartels, and provides most of the intelligence driving the fight. Both governments are quick to boast about the times when their collaborations lead to the captures of kingpins. But what happens when a they trigger a massacre?

The President has put building a wall along the southern border at the top of his administration’s agenda, asserting that it’s being overrun by murderers, gang members and rapists. That’s been widely discredited as untrue. But what is the truth about the security situation along the border, and about the waves of people illegally crossing it today?

The months-long trial against Chapo Guzman, once Mexico’s most wanted man, opened a window on the inner workings of a drug cartel. We’ll explore the history of Mexico’s cartels through the lives of the men and women who’ve run them, and through the havoc they’ve wrought.