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  • America’s war on communism in southeast Asia dragged the entire region into the fray, and the impacts are still an ever-present danger. (You might remember our episode this season on landmines and clusters.) But here’s what we didn’t get into before: The legacy of that violence here — in our own communities. Today, much of[...]
  • There are tens, or even hundreds, of thousands of edible plants in the world. But humans only cultivate a couple hundred of those at any significant scale. And when we eat, we tend to stick to just a few: More than half of the calories that humans consume around the world today come from just[...]
  • Just two years ago, Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was in prison. It’s a fairytale-like comeback story. But his life is also a food story. From a hungry childhood raised by sharecropper parents, Lula made ending hunger a major part of his first two highly popular terms as president. Now, as he settles[...]
  • Despite being banned, anti-personnel landmines and unexploded submunitions still litter fields from Bosnia to Bangladesh. And they’re even being used in Ukraine. Does that mean the treaties that ban their use aren’t working? Experts say the story isn’t so simple, and that, actually, the treaties to ban these weapons have shown a new way forward:[...]
  • One morning in the 2010s, a rural midwestern farmer called the cops. There was a guy in a suit sniffing around a field near town. A big SUV dropped him off. And the story of how the man got there? That can tell us a lot about Xi Jinping’s past, present, and future. China’s seen[...]
  • We turn our attention to the narrow strait that divides China and Taiwan, which some analysts believe is the most likely flashpoint for another far-away conflict involving the US military. If President Biden reconfigures foreign policy to focus more on threats at home, will that leave us unprepared to defend US interests abroad? Or should[...]
  • Conversations about downsizing America’s defense budget almost immediately stall out in a Catch-22: Reallocating those tax dollars to invest in domestic priorities would be devastating to the many small cities where a manufacturing plant, ICBM silo, or military base is the lifeblood of the local economy. If Biden begins to shift some money away from[...]
  • Many Americans once viewed the US military as a reliable road to a middle-class life. But, despite record-breaking military spending in recent years, new research shows that one-in-six military families don’t have consistent access to healthy food. So, how is it that service members and their families are finding basic necessities out of reach? In[...]
  • Samin Nosrat joins us to talk about cooking, conflict, and the global forces shaping the food on our plates. Have you ever tried Saigon cinnamon? How about Iranian saffron? Learn about the flavors and traditions we lose when war and international politics get in the way. We get real about "kimchi diplomacy.” And we talk[...]
  • On the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, endangered plants bloom on the shrubsteppe. The Yakama Nation signed a treaty in 1855 to cede some of its lands to the US government. The treaty promised that the Yakama people could continue to use their traditional territory to hunt and fish. But in 1943, those promises were broken, as[...]
  • When we’re not in a crisis, food doesn’t tend to make it into stump speeches or budget pressers. It’s easy to end up in front of the computer, scrolling social media, snacking on something produced a thousand miles away and not think twice about it. But what we eat touches every aspect our society —[...]
  • Think back to when you were a kid, and school was out. What did you eat when you got home? Maybe it was a beef patty from your favorite bodega or chocolate chip cookies baked by your mom. For better or worse, food is one of the first things in our lives that makes us[...]
  • Putin’s war in Ukraine has European nations scrambling to cut off their supplies of Russian gas — both to further penalize Russia and to ensure the country can’t withhold its energy supplies as a blackmail tool. That transition has many European leaders turning to the Arctic for solutions like wind energy. But some Sámi activists[...]
  • China’s business activity in the Arctic has been attracting a lot of eyeballs. Its state-sponsored construction companies have been securing contracts for important infrastructure, and the country sees the resources in the polar regions as key to its future stability. That interest has the United States, sometimes called the “reluctant Arctic state,” perking up its[...]
  • Noel Cockney and Randy Baillargeon have seen what a warming North can do to their home. Manning an educational Indigenous fish camp an ice road away from Yellowknife, Canada, they slice and dice fish out of Great Slave Lake and chop wood to keep people warm in the subzero spring temperatures. It’s cold — and[...]
  • The House and Senate were always supposed to check the president’s power in foreign affairs. But when partisan loyalties and an onslaught of domestic issues make legislation nearly impossible… what’s a congress to do? This week, we talk to Representative Ro Khanna (D-CA) about how Congress can take back its power in foreign affairs –[...]
  • Covert action has supported our nation’s security goals for decades — from fighting the Cold War to killing Osama Bin Laden. But it’s also part of a long American history of justifying the means to an end, one that’s led to unethical and illegal actions across the world. You could spend hours reading about past[...]
  • When Congress created Space Force back in 2019, it looked to some like a wild idea from President Trump had just gone and become the sixth branch of the armed forces. But the US military has been using space for decades, and the importance of space to civilians and the military alike means that Space[...]
  • It’s hard to overstate how much arms trade and aid factor into US foreign policy. Missiles, aircraft, guns, and more — we sell and give them to others as a way to exert global power without ever putting boots on the ground. It’s a trend Congress has passively greenlit for years. But every deal comes[...]
  • At their core, sanctions are a way for countries to say, “We don’t like what you’re doing, and we’re going to make your life harder for it.” When they’re at their best, sanctions can isolate corrupt financiers, stigmatize human rights violators and even get entire countries to change their behavior. But they don’t always work[...]
  • Long lines at ATMs and gas stations. The constant blare of air raid sirens. Military jets scrambling across the sky. Eurasia expert (and for the first time, war reporter) Terrell Jermaine Starr is in Ukraine witnessing all this and more. On this special bonus episode of Things That Go Boom, he argues that we can’t[...]
  • Congress hasn’t passed a significant immigration bill in decades, but the demands on the immigration system today are very different than they were in the ’90s. So, what’s a president to do? With asylum seekers facing a militarized border and millions of undocumented immigrants already inside the country, recent presidents have used their executive authority[...]
  • Since the beginning of the American experiment, presidents have tussled with Congress over how to handle foreign threats. That creative conflict is supposed to be the democratic ideal. But there were also moments when lawmakers realized it was easier to just… not do the job. In the best of times, Congress oversaw the president and[...]
  • The Framers of the Constitution made sure Congress had a voice guiding our role in the world. Congress decides how much money we spend on everything from immigration to foreign aid. It has the power to declare war, approve treaties, and oversee how the Department of Defense handles troops in conflict zones. But over the past[...]
  • The Republic of the Marshall Islands is a speck of a country in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Population 60,000. But it has an outsized legacy as the place where the US military exploded dozens of nuclear weapons in the 40s and 50s, and brushed over the danger to local populations. For decades the[...]
  • Things That Go Boom is asking for your help this holiday season. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation today. Together, we can tell the stories that need to be told: —————— Long before there was a catchphrase called “foreign policy for the middle class,” a Vermont mayor was on C-SPAN fighting for exactly that[...]
  • Obaidullah Baheer has built his career promoting progress in Afghanistan: He’s a university lecturer on intractable conflicts and who advocates for women’s and minority rights online. But his life could have wound up very different. As the grandson of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar — the leader of Islamist rebel group Hezb-i-Islami — he was once taught to[...]
  • We turn our attention to the narrow strait that divides China and Taiwan, which some analysts believe is the most likely flashpoint for another far-away conflict involving the US military. If President Biden reconfigures foreign policy to focus more on threats at home, will that leave us unprepared to defend US interests abroad? Or should[...]
  • Conversations about downsizing America’s defense budget almost immediately stall out in a Catch-22: Reallocating those tax dollars to invest in domestic priorities would be devastating to the many small cities where a manufacturing plant, ICBM silo, or military base is the lifeblood of the local economy. If Biden begins to shift some money away from[...]
  • On this episode of Things That Go Boom, we look at some of the ways civilian and military cultures are merging — and diverging — after two decades of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. If Americans are distanced from the messy work of national security, how can the Biden administration have an honest conversation with[...]
  • Washington and Beijing have been increasingly at odds -- over human rights, trade, maritime boundaries, you name it. Does this tension help Biden at home? And what does it mean for Asian Americans? GUESTS: Samuel Chu, Hong Kong Democracy Council; Nina Luo, Writer and Organizer; Adrian De Leon, University of Southern California; Rui Zhong, Wilson[...]
  • Here in the US, we’re just catching on to the idea of creating a foreign policy that lifts up our middle class, but China’s been at it for decades. On this episode, we dig into China’s rise. What’s worked, what hasn’t, and where it might go next. GUESTS: Ethan Lee, Stanford University (Student); Ali Wyne,[...]
  • One of Biden's biggest foreign policy moves so far has been sticking with Trump's Afghanistan withdrawal plan. The move comes after 20 years of war, which killed more than 241,000 people on all sides according to Brown University estimates. But how does it fit into Biden's foreign policy for the middle class? And what does our[...]
  • Quick, give me the first answer to this question that comes to your head: What TV character is the archetype of the American middle class? Archie Bunker? Homer Simpson? Roseanne Conner? What about Cliff Huxtable? Dre Johnson? Or Jane Villanueva? On this episode, we dig into the huge, diverse swath of people that make up[...]
  • The Biden administration says it’s focused on creating a “foreign policy for the middle class,” But what does that really mean? Keeping on keeping on with the way things have always been done? Slapping a little lipstick and climate change on Trump’s, “America First” agenda? Or creating something truly revolutionary? Ask around in Washington, and[...]
  • April 29 marked President Biden’s 100th day in office. So we thought it was about time to pop back in with a special bonus episode — before we’re back officially with season 5 — to take a look at what Biden’s done so far in terms of foreign policy, and what that might signal about[...]
  • Over the course of our nuclear history, smaller (potentially more usable) nuclear weapons have come in all shapes and sizes — from so-called backpack bombs to the Davy Crockett nuclear rifle... And last year, the US deployed a new one. But, what exactly are these things? Do we need them? And what does the deployment[...]
  • Conspiracy theories are as old as time. And, they’re not all bad. Sometimes they bring us together for a subpar party in the desert. Take, for example, that one time in 2019 when more than 2 million people RSVP’d to ambush Area 51. But when they take a turn to the dark side, conspiracy theories[...]
  • When a violent pro-Trump mob stormed the legislature on Jan. 6, it caught the Capitol Police completely off-guard. But there was one woman in the House Chamber who was not surprised. In fact, she wore tennis shoes that day — Rep. Barbara Lee. We speak with Lee about the greatest terror threat inside the United[...]
  • In December 2020, the company FireEye noticed that it had been the victim of a cyber intrusion. And it wasn’t the only one. About 18,000 companies and government agencies were breached, everything from the agency that controls America's nuclear weapons to the agency that regulates the electric grid, to a company whose products you probably[...]
  • Darlene Turner is an Inupiaq Eskimo living on a battle line. Not the military kind, the climate change kind. With less sea ice to buffer storms, the ocean is washing away chunks of her village and its residents have made a difficult decision to relocate. “Would you relocate?” she asks. Experts believe stories like Darlene’s[...]
  • Over the past few weeks, the president-elect, Joe Biden, has been rolling out announcements about his new cabinet. And in one of those announcements, he revealed that the subject of one of our favorite interviews over the years, Jake Sullivan, would be named national security advisor. The announcement made sense to us, since tensions between[...]
  • Just after President Dwight D. Eisenhower assumed office on January 20, 1953, deep in the middle of the Cold War, his greatest adversary died. The speech that followed is considered one of his best, though not his most well known. Today, the US is sitting on the precipice of another great moment of potential change.[...]
  • Things That Go Boom is launching its very first fundraiser! Please consider giving just $5 a month. It’s convenient for you, provides ongoing support for Things That Go Boom and Inkstick Media, and you’ll feel good knowing you’re helping make Things That Go Boom freely available to everyone. Always. If Things That Go Boom is[...]
  • 2020 has been a scary year. In an effort to get to the root of why we’re all feeling the way we are, the first thing we did was something we probably should have done a long time ago... we reached out to a psychiatrist. We also asked all of you — our listeners, our[...]
  • Things That Go Boom will be back November 9th, and we’ll be there to hold your hand while you weep, or party, all the way to the inauguration, a coronavirus vaccine, an accidental nuclear war (?!) … and beyond. In the meantime, go vote!
  • Can the country rebound from the social, cultural, and economic toll of COVID-19? Now we know what happens while we’re sleeping; have we woken up? And what will it take to right the ship? GUESTS: Gigi Kwik Gronvall, Senior Scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and Associate Professor in the Department of[...]
  • Why did the US Naval Academy reinstate celestial navigation as part of its curriculum a few years ago? Well, you can’t hack a sextant. In this episode, we look at some of the vulnerabilities that come with an over-reliance on high-tech defense systems. Our guests are Peter Singer and August Cole — national security experts[...]
  • Disinformation and misinformation have been blurring the line between fantasy and reality since the start of communication itself. But over the last decade, they’ve posed an increasing threat to democracy in the United States, with the 2016 presidential election becoming a major flashpoint in Americans’ understanding of the consequences of fake news. The false information[...]
  • As the US reckons with systemic racism and a less-than-democratic past, China is doubling down on its authoritarian ways. Meanwhile, research on the health of democracy from across the globe indicates the patient is not well. We trace China’s rise from the 1990s, when American pop music held a place alongside patriotic education, to its[...]
  • Are we in the middle of a new Cold War? Or have we rewritten the game? With old nuclear arms treaties expiring, and no new ones being signed, are we adapting to the times or playing with fire? In this episode, we look at the past and present of civil defense and nuclear arms control[...]
  • After almost a decade in prison, Yevgeny Prigozhin was released into a new world. Gorbachev gave his last speech as leader of the Soviet Union; the Communist Party was outlawed. Soon, gangs were violently extorting new business owners and the murder rate doubled. But Prigozhin was comfortable with chaos. He started a hot dog stand[...]
  • If the US can’t build better airports or trains than China, or even take care of itself in times of major crisis like the coronavirus, how exactly is it supposed to “beat” China in this global competition we’re in? We look back to see how China’s ascent snuck up on the US, and we ask[...]
  • The US spends more than $700 billion on defense every year, more than healthcare, education, and all the rest of our discretionary spending combined. And yet the coronavirus slipped silently and invisibly across our borders, and even onto our aircraft carriers. You could say we were preparing for World War III, when we got hammered[...]
  • Could the rise of China spell the end of the US as the dominant world power? Are we on an irreversible path toward military confrontation? Are we prepared for life in a multilateral world? Military spending is growing, and the Pentagon says it’s in service of something called “great power competition” — but are the[...]
  • Last night it looked like we were headed for war. Iran fired more than a dozen missiles at two military bases in Iraq in response to US escalation in the region. How worried should we be? And, now that we know that President Trump is willing to take the most extreme option offered (ie: killing[...]
  • When we left off with our second season, there were... a few things happening with Iran… And Amb. William Burns has a unique perspective -- he's been down this road with Iran before, as one of the architects of the 2015 nuclear deal. We ask Burns for a gut check on the current situation, from[...]
  • The first clue something was wrong came in the form of an alert on Yegi Rezaian’s phone. Where I grew up,” she says, “these things don’t happen by accident.” Within hours, Yegi and her husband, Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, found themselves in Iran’s notorious Evin prison. And interrogations quickly turned surreal. Jason’s captors seemed[...]
  • If you want to know how sanctions are playing out in Iran — look no further than the classified ads. You’ll find folks selling unused cosmetics, pets, and… something even more unusual. But you might also come across people like Alireza Jahromi, an entrepreneur with a chain of trendy burger joints. He says sanctions are like[...]
  • Money in politics is a little bit like an iceberg — there’s the stuff you can see, like lobbying firms, and then there’s all the stuff below the waterline. On this episode of Things That Go Boom… we wade into the swamp. We focus on one of the loudest groups that weighed in on the[...]
  • Before they were enemies, the US and Iran used to have a thing. In fact, we started their nuclear program. Like any failed relationship… it’s not just one thing that led us all here. Years of misinformation, politics, greed, reality tv, and some real security interests on both sides brought us to this point. This[...]
  • Jake Sullivan is no James Bond. He's a nice kid from Minnesota. But Sullivan's top secret diplomacy may have staved off catastrophe as the U.S. pursued the Iran nuclear deal. On this episode, we dig into how diplomacy gets done -- and, not the Hollywood-movie version. (Diplomacy, it turns out, isn’t as sexy as Bond.)[...]
  • Time magazine called Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster a “pre-eminent warrior-thinker.” President Trump called him a pain. So when McMaster left the White House to be replaced by the hawkish John Bolton, foreign policy experts saw the writing on the wall. The Iran nuclear deal was next on the chopping block. In this episode, we track[...]
  • Prepping a fallout shelter might sound like an exercise from an era of soda fountains and hula hoops. But for Ron Hubbard, president of Atlas Survival Shelters, business is, well… booming. Ron says he sold a shelter a month when he started out in 2011. Now he sells about one a day — from a[...]
  • It’s been called President Obama’s signature foreign policy achievement -- so why does the Trump administration think it was the “worst deal ever” made? On this season of Things That Go Boom, we’ll take a look at the Iran deal -- but this isn’t an Iran deal explainer. This is a story about how America[...]
  • We don’t always talk about the things that scare us most. First, Ally Harpootlian's grandmother Betty kept a secret life of poetry locked away. Then, a whole new way to look at Shakespeare - and his relationship to war. Stephan Wolfert tells Laicie how he helps veterans open up and talk.
  • How Nancy Sinatra’s #1 hit, "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'," became a military anthem. Then, a bunch of students at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) try to change the world —  and eliminate the threat of nuclear weapons — with design.
  • In this episode, Laicie explores white nationalism, the Haitian revolution, and the impacts of nuclear weapons production on the Navajo Nation – and goes all the way back to America’s founding to ask, “What is this thing we call national security? And who does it protect?”   Turns out, there’s no easy answer.
  • Two true stories about nuclear false alarms. Plus, what deterrence has to do with being an eleven-year-old boy, and a deeper dive into the Trump administration’s assault on diplomacy. 
  • One year ago, Donald J. Trump became the President of the United States. Since then, it seems like the world has exploded. North Korea, Russia, Charlottesville. The threats are all around. Enter Things That Go Boom, a new podcast from PRI and Inkstick Media. Hosted by Laicie Heeley, Things That Go Boom digs deeper into US[...]

Putin’s war in Ukraine has European nations scrambling to cut off their supplies of Russian gas — both to further penalize Russia and to ensure the country can’t withhold its energy supplies as a blackmail tool. That transition has many European leaders turning to the Arctic for solutions like wind energy. But some Sámi activists in Arctic Europe say they’ve been backed into a corner after years of industrial development, and that what’s left of their traditional territory is not up for negotiation.

GUESTS: Justin Ling, freelance journalist; Beaska Niillas, parliamentary leader in the Sámi Parliament in Norway and alternate member of the Saami Council


The Costs of Choosing Wind Power,” Sunna Svendsen, Inkstick Media
Norway Surges Oil, Gas Profit. Now It’s Urged To Help,” Mark Lewis ft. Monika Scislowska, Associated Press
Arctic Military Infrastructure: The Olavsvern case,” Wenche Irén Sterkeby and Vidar Hole, The Arctic Institute