2008's Most (Overlooked) Influential People Every year, Time publishes a list of its most influential people of the year. Muqtada al-Sadr and Lloyd Blankfein received nominations, and President-elect Barack Obama is person of the year. Who else would you add to the list?
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2008's Most (Overlooked) Influential People

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2008's Most (Overlooked) Influential People

2008's Most (Overlooked) Influential People

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This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. No surprise that Time magazine chose Barack Obama as the Man of the Year, and we suspect that he would get the lion's share of your nominations as most influential person of 2008. So, we declare him out of the running. Back in May, Time ran a feature on the 100 most influential people of 2008. We will adopt their definition - influential can mean for better or for worse. We'll speak with two of Time's contributors and with NPR's Robert Krulwich. He'll join us to talk about his nominee for most influential person of the year.

So, who do you nominate? The rules are simple - it should be someone from your field, whether that's education or marketing or politics, and it cannot be Barack Obama. Our phone number is 800-989-8255. Email is talk@npr.org. And you can join the conversation on our Web site. That's at npr.org. Just click on Talk of the Nation. Later in the program, if you've been in an air crash as a pilot, flight attendant, or passenger, we want to hear about your experience. You can email us now, talk@npr.org. Yes, we'll be talking about that incident in Denver over the weekend.

But first, the most influential people of 2008, and we begin with former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich. He joins us from the University of California Berkeley, where he's now a professor at the Goldman School of Public Policy. Nice to have you back in the program today.

Professor ROBERT REICH (Public Policy, Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California Berkeley): Hi, Neal. How are you doing?

CONAN: And who did you write about for the Time 100 list?

Prof. REICH: My nominee was Lloyd Blankfein. Now, Lloyd Blankfein might not be one of the names that immediately comes to everybody's mind or lips, but he is the CEO of a big investment bank called Goldman Sachs.

CONAN: And we've been reading a lot about Goldman Sachs over the past few months.

Prof. REICH: Yeah, well, you know, he kind of typifies - I think Lloyd Blankfein - I was kind of looking for somebody who typified Wall Street. I think Wall Street is, in effect, the person of the year. Lloyd Blankfein, as CEO of Goldman, was one of the most successful traders and executives on Wall Street, or at least presiding over the traders. Last year, he earned - if this is a measure of success - of course, I don't think it is, but it is certainly a measure of success on Wall Street - earned $54 million. Actually, if you took total compensation, it's more like $70 million.

CONAN: Which is, as you suggest, one measure of success. Nevertheless, Wall Street in general and Goldman Sachs in particular, not having as banner a year this year.

Prof. REICH: No. In fact, the word is that he's not going to get a bonus this year at all. He may have to settle for only $600,000.

CONAN: I don't see how you or I could suffer through the season with just $600,000 in bonuses.

Prof. REICH: Well, it's going to be tough for Wall Street executives, Neal. But I think they're going to make it somehow. They got a taxpayer bailout - that is, a bailout from all of us - of hundreds of billions. Goldman Sachs specifically got a bailout of $10 billion on October 28th. So, we're giving Goldman 10 billion and Lloyd Blankfein is taking out 600,000 this year.

CONAN: Now, this last May, when you nominated Lloyd Blankfein, and if the name Bernie Madoff had been more prominent at that time, if you'd been writing now, might he have been your nominee?

Prof. REICH: He might have been. Again, these nominees are not people you necessarily admire, Neal. They're people who certainly are influential and change the way others think.

Now, Lloyd Blankfein, unlike Bernie Madoff, was not directly in the Ponzi scheme business, but I think one could say that a lot of what Lloyd Blankfein did, at least last year, to earn that almost $70 million sort of resembled - and I don't mean to denigrate him personally, but a lot of what Wall Street did resembled a kind of giant Ponzi scheme because, remember, they made their money, and still are trying to make money, by borrowing money, having just a little bit of their own capital, and then investing all of that and making money on the profits - taking a little piece of those profits.

So, for example, last year, when Lloyd Blankfein earned almost $70 million, Goldman Sachs was borrowing $30 - or just about $30 - for every dollar of equity they had to make investments with the firm's own money. Now, those days, I think, are now over.

CONAN: Remind us. When Lloyd Blankfein became CEO of Goldman Sachs, who did he replace in that job?

Prof. REICH: Well, he's immediate predecessor was Hank Paulson and before that, Bob Rubin. Now, Hank Paulson, of course, is treasury secretary and before Hank Paulson, at least two secretaries before that, was Bob Rubin.

CONAN: So this is a job that - you used to be able to get a ticket to Washington out of this some of the time.

Prof. REICH: Yes. And Blankfein, I don't think after what's happened on Wall Street this year, is going to necessarily be the next Treasury Secretary after Larry Summers. So, let's put it this way - Goldman's image has been tarnished along with the images of every major Wall Street bank. But it is sort of interesting, the bonuses are still flowing in many Wall Street banks. The big, big money is still flowing.

Now, to Wall Street, $600,000 is not very much, but to most people, it still is. And yet, American taxpayers have bailed out Wall Street for some of the big bets that were taken the year before and the year before that that generated huge amounts of profits and huge amounts of bonuses for people like Lloyd Blankfein. And now, we are left holding the bag, I suppose you could say.

CONAN: Well, we do own several pieces of those banks, in several respects.

Prof. REICH: We do. But we don't have any power over the compensation of these people. It's kind of an odd ownership.

CONAN: Unlike the auto industry.

Prof. REICH: Yeah. Well, that's right. With the auto industry, we said blue-collar workers have got to take a major hit and they've got to bring their salary and compensation back down to the level of other workers and the non-unionized sector of the automobile industry. At least, that's what we said through the Treasury Department and through the administration. But Wall Street is something different. We gave them a huge bailout, continue to give them a huge bailout, and although we've said something about executive compensation, apparently it is riddled with loopholes.

CONAN: Here's an email, by the way, we got from Kurt in Arizona nominating Bernard Madoff, who destroyed $50 billion for fraud and who's legacy created an eternal distrust of hedge funds. Note: 50 billion is slightly more than five times the GDP of Afghanistan. So, he may be on your same page.

Prof. REICH: Well, I think he is. And again, the real interesting question here is, so what? What is going to come out of all of this, Neal? Are we going to find that, when the economy recovers - I expect and hope it will, at least in a year or two - that the investment banks and even the auto companies that have got bailed out have returned taxpayer money and are doing something fundamentally different than they're doing - they were doing last year and the year before. Or are we going to see that they may recover but they're going to go back to their old ways? A big question mark there.

CONAN: I'll vote for new loopholes in terms of Wall Street. But anyway, maybe I'm a cynic. Robert Reich, thank you very much for being with us today.

Prof. REICH: Well, thanks Neal. Bye-bye.

CONAN: And have a happy holiday.

Prof. REICH: You, too.

CONAN: Robert Reich's most recent book is titled "Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy, and Everyday Life." He joins us today from a studio at UC Berkeley. Let's see if we can get a caller on the line. And let's go to Greg and Greg is with us from Greenville in Mississippi.

GREG (Caller): Hello.


GREG: Hi. I'm calling. I'm a recent college graduate who - I'm recently moved from Cleveland, Ohio to Greenville, Mississippi. And I am now a teacher, as a part of the Teach for America program. And I'm calling to nominate someone in my field and another Teach for America member, who's now an alumni, and she is the Mississippi - excuse me - she's the D.C. chancellor of public schools. Her name is Michelle Rhee and I think she's doing an amazing job and someone who really typifies change and who is going to really, not just be the 2008 most influential person of the year, but for years to come.

CONAN: Some people suspected that she might be the next secretary of education.

GREG: I think in the future, in a reelection, but it's too early now. She's doing too much right now in the D.C. schools to take another position. But I think, you know, four years from now, once a lot of her dramatic changes have come to pass and that she starts to work with the union and real change is effected, I think that could be a possibility.

CONAN: And briefly, Greg, you mentioned the union. Some people say, well, she's a little confrontational.

GREG: Yes, I think her ideas are just amazingly ideal - she's like - and are perfect for what this nation needs. Her manner of working with people is a little bit different than normal, and one reason she says is, you know, I am all about the children. But when I make adults feel too comfortable, when I make them feel at ease, then they do not grasp the gravity of our situation. And it really is just that. This is one huge problem our nation needs to deal with - it is education and our public schools. We see it every single day. Our kids need us now.

CONAN: And how's the situation going for you in Greenville?

GREG: Well, I just finished my first semester and ups and downs all over the place, but I think it was, overall, a very interesting time. And I'm looking forward to all the changes and improvements I can make in the next semester. I teach arts there.

CONAN: Interesting - is that a euphemism for boy, what a learning curve?

GREG: What a learning curve? Yes. But, oh, how rewarding it could be. The Teach for America program - they take recent college graduates - some of the best in the country - and they place them in schools where the highest need is. So, my college education wasn't training me to become a teacher and I went into it knowing that I was going to try to teach the kids the best as I can so that they can receive the education that I had. But, wow, I really am starting to love it. It's not that it's easy, it's definitely difficult. But the kids can be very fun and rewarding.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Greg, good luck to you.

GREG: Well, thank you very much.

CONAN: And merry Christmas to you and your kids.

GREG: Merry Christmas. Happy holidays.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Here's an email from Gregory in Des Moines. I recommend Cameron Sinclair of Architecture for Humanity for one of the most influential people of 2008. AFH is combining extraordinary design with strong social consciousness - conscious -from Biloxi, Mississippi to Uganda. Mr. Sinclair is the driving force, the inspirational center, the moral core of this effort.

And we got this via email from Laurel. The last remaining father of geotechnical engineering, Ralph B. Peck, passed away this year. Dr. Peck, along with Karl Terzaghi, literally wrote the book on soil mechanics. A few years ago, I was lucky enough to meet Dr. Peck at an engineering conference and had the opportunity to go to dinner with him. When I called my non-engineer husband, completely geeked out about it, he was unimpressed. So I called my co-workers, who were more suitably excited and were also extremely jealous. So, well, there's a nomination for Ralph B. Peck.

Who from your field of expertise would you nominate to be the most influential person of 2008? Give us a phone call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

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CONAN: This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. End of the year lists come in all varieties. Today, we're focusing on the most influential person of 2008. Time magazine put together its list earlier this year, which included the Dalai Lama, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, and Jeff Bezos. We'll talk with one of their contributors in just a moment. We want to know who you would like to nominate. There's only two rules - it should be someone from your field, whether that's baking or sports or military strategy, and, again, it cannot be Barack Obama. He's already won.

Our phone number - 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our Web site. That's at npr.org. Just click on Talk of the Nation. Retired Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez also wrote for Times' 100 list of Most Influential People. He served as commander of coalition forces in Iraq from June 2003 to June 2004. He joins us today from KSTX in San Antonio, Texas. Nice to speak with you again.

Lieutenant Geneneral RICARDO SANCHEZ: (Retired, U.S. Army): Neal, thank you very much for having me.

CONAN: And who did you write about for the Most Influential list?

Lt. Gen. SANCHEZ: Well, Neal, my nominee was Muqtada al-Sadr, who has - those that have followed this conflict over the course of the last five, going on six, years know that he was a renegade Shiite leader whose legitimacy was based mostly on the anti-Saddam Hussein legacies of his father and his uncle.

Muqtada al-Sadr is a fierce opponent of what he calls "the American occupation" and he has been able to control the rheostat to the level of violence in the country, essentially from Baghdad to south of Basra. And he's been able to impact, not just Iraqi politics, but also national politics in several countries of the coalition.

CONAN: And to the degree the surge has been successful, one of the factors everybody points to - yes, more American forces, but two, the ceasefire ordered by Muqtada al-Sadr.

Lt. Gen. SANCHEZ: Yeah, absolutely. It's just a clear example of his ability to be able to control the thousands that he can quickly mobilize to control the situation in the country. And I think, as we look forward to provincial elections that are coming in the next 60 days or so, I think we also have the possibility of him creating some instability, should things not be going his way. I think it was worth it.

CONAN: Since you wrote in the spring, his forces suffered a setback at the hands of the forces of the government, run by Prime Minister al-Malikhi, when they took over, militarily, Sadr City, his stronghold there in Baghdad. And some people suggest that he may be losing power, at least at the margins. He's often in Iran, it's believed, getting his religious credentials in order. And in the meantime, his people in Iraq are being out-maneuvered.

Lt. Gen. SANCHEZ: Well, I believe that that is what we have heard. My sensing would be that this was an agreement between Muqtada al-Sadr and the political leadership of Iraq and not so much an actual assault, if you will, on the part of the Iraqi security forces on Sadr City. It was clear that part of the rationale for turning over Muqtada al-Sadr's destiny to the Iraqi government was to make him part of the political process back in 2004, and I believe that's what we're seeing today.

CONAN: And if he comes out of Iran having completed his studies with religious credentials on his - on the path, maybe, to be an ayatollah - well, that could increase his influence.

Lt. Gen. SANCHEZ: Well, absolutely. He was clearly an influence without any of the religious credentials. He was just a young renegade Shia leader at the time, for the last five years. And if you give him some religious legitimacy, then he will become an even more powerful force in the country.

CONAN: General Sanchez, thanks very much for being with us today.

Lt. Gen. SANCHEZ: Absolutely. Thank you.

CONAN: Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the author of "Wiser in Battle: A Soldier's Story." He joins us today from KSTX, our member station in San Antonio, Texas. Let's get another caller on the line. This is Joe, Joe with us from Rochester, New York.

JOE (Caller): Yes, hi. I would like to nominate Michael Pollan, the professor at UC Berkeley.

CONAN: And he writes about food.

JOE: He does write about food.

CONAN: And in what respect do you think he should be nominated?

JOE: I think that his tendency towards talking about local foods and sustainable foods has really affected - I'm in the restaurant business and we're starting to see a real effect in what customers want and what we want to serve to people.

CONAN: Among the things he advocates is buy local, so are people coming in saying, hey, wait a minute, it's late December - where are you getting these asparagus from?

JOE: Well, we're not serving asparagus. We're serving things like root vegetables and other things we should be serving in winter.

CONAN: By the way, Michael Pollan - we have a series that we call Books We've Missed and, well, we missed his book earlier this year, which you suggest has been very influential. So we're going to have him on the show on Wednesday. So you may want to tune in for that.

JOE: Oh, wonderful.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call.

JOE: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's see if we can go now to Joan, and Joan 's with us from Nashville.

JOAN (Caller): That's right. Hello.

CONAN: Who do you nominate as the most influential person of 2008?

JOAN: The producer of "Project Runway," Heidi Klum.

CONAN: Heidi Klum, a supermodel herself and the producer of "Project Runway," the series on - which cable channel is it on?

JOAN: You know, I think that's in dispute right now.

CONAN: I see. OK.

JOAN: It started out on Bravo. I'm not sure where it's going to end up. But all I know is - I sew professionally and design clothing and I also work in a fabric store. And I cannot tell you how many times people come in talking about the show and inspired to make their own clothes. And a whole lot of people are learning how, just because of that show.

CONAN: And in this recession, this is not a bad thing to know how to do - to make your own clothes.

JOAN: Exactly. And also to renovate clothes. But the DIY movement has really taken off, as I'm sure you know. It started with knitting and now, thanks to that show, moving into sewing.

CONAN: And are you selling a lot of high-end fabrics that people are adapting into fashionable clothes?

JOAN: Absolutely, absolutely.

CONAN: And are you seeing the products and wishing sometimes they had not gone into this line of work but nevertheless glad they bought the fabrics?

JOAN: True confession, yes.

CONAN: OK. Joan, we'll let you get away with that. Thanks very much for the phone call.

JOAN: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. We did also ask NPR's Robert Krulwich to tell us who he would nominate as the most influential person of 2008 in his field. He's a correspondent on NPR's science desk and joins us now from our bureau in New York. Robert, happy holidays.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Happy holidays to you. I've got the Heidi Klum of the life sciences. That's who I've got.

CONAN: And who's the Heidi Klum of the life sciences?

KRULWICH: Well, if Heidi Klum can create dresses, my guy, Craig Venter - he's on the verge of creating new lifeforms, which means that human beings, instead of waiting for nature to take its course, will simply seize the day and begin to create creatures of our design.

He's also - for a scientist and a businessman, he's a man of many parts. So he has a big yacht, he sails all over the ocean and dips various test tubes into the ocean and has so far discovered six million new genes in the flotsam and jetsam of the sea. And he's also discovered every gene that has made him - he's genomed himself at a considerably high price.

But I think his big achievement - the really big one - is that he has wondered what mechanics are available to engineers to create life forms. And he took a bacteria and a yeast - or, actually, to make this a little easier to understand, let's just - I'll broaden it in principle.


KRULWICH: If you had a cell that had spent all of its life as an elephant - so, it lived in an elephant, it was part of an elephant, and it was an elephant cell. And you vacuumed out all the elephantness of that cell - the DNA inside - and you squirted in the DNA of something utterly un-elephanty, like a dandelion - or, let's keep it at least an animal. Let's make it a snail - you might get who knows what? But now, Craig Venter has tested that principle and he has gotten yeast cells to produce forms of life that aren't yeast. So, we have now got a vehicle to create life of one part from life of a different part. And from there he moves on.

CONAN: And will hopefully move on to have some control over what that next life part is going to be.

KRULWICH: Yes. He has great designs and if we had time - he has, for example, set his eye on some of the bigger questions facing America - energy independence, global warming. And he is thinking about concocting creatures that he thinks could do multitasking - could suck up things that we don't want, like extra CO2, or create things that we do want, like oil or hydrogen. And he's thinking that he could create bio-factories to do this.

Now, all of this, of course, raises very large questions. Who's controlling these people? With what spirit do they do this? How modest are they? But it is hard to argue that the mere fact that Craig Venter is alive and well and doing business is a very big challenge to our sense of the future. He is very much an author and he's authoring…

CONAN: Brave new world, perhaps?

KRULWICH: Yes. Yeah, yeah.

CONAN: Yes. Yeah. Can he make me a tail, Robert? I've always wanted a tail.

KRULWICH: Well, there might be some question about retrofitting the tail to your nether parts parts. So, in order for you to have a tail, you'd have to have a tail attachment and that tail attachment would have to be attached to something else. And you'd have to burrow fairly deep inside, Mr. Conan, to get the tail to fix itself to you.

CONAN: I'll take that as a no.

KRULWICH: For the time being, take it as a no.

CONAN: Craig Venter also - I have spoken with him in the past on other programs. And for somebody who does what he does, he actually kind of sort of speaks English.

KRULWICH: He speaks English and he has a - he speaks rough English to some people. He became originally famous for challenging the government's Human Genome Project…

CONAN: And winning.

KRULWICH: …and saying I could do this faster.

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KRULWICH: Yes, winning. And he loves machines and he has a kind of - I mean, he's a kind of double-edged - as you said at the beginning, you know, this is for good and for ill. And I think Craig sits exactly on that dividing line, because it is a question, in my mind, whether engineers with an engineering sense of enthusiasm will have the patience and the humbleness to retrofit their creatures with all the safeties that time and the environment and time and time and time require, for - most living things that have made it to life - to robust life - have learned to get along with their neighbors. Otherwise, someone would gobble you up or you'd die of a cold. Creatures that have lasted a while know how to coexist. And what you wonder about these creatures that will be created for a specific human purpose, if indeed that happens.

CONAN: Mm hmm.

KRULWICH: You wonder whether those creatures will not cause some damage or get out of control. It's that - what's that name of that actor who's in "Jurassic Park" and who always warns people, you know, be careful when you deal with life…

CONAN: Jeff Goldblum.

KRULWICH: That's right. Yes.

CONAN: Because he played in "The Fly." That's how he knows.

KRULWICH: That's right. There you go. So, if you could stick a little Jeff Goldblum, the characters anyway, into Craig Venter, then you'd get a philosopher king who's a wonderful scientist and a humble scientist, too. But right now, I think Craig lacks a little Jeff.

CONAN: Robert Krulwich, who lacks for nothing. Thank you very much for being with us today.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KRULWICH: Thank you.

CONAN: Robert Krulwich is a science correspondent for NPR, works on something called Radio Lab, too, and he joined us from our bureau in New York. Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. This is Heath, Heath with us from South Bend, Indiana.

HEATH (Caller): Hey, love the show man. I listen everyday.

CONAN: Thank you.

HEATH: Most influential person - Shepherd Ferry, the artist behind that Barack Obama logo.

CONAN: Ah, that - the rising sun kind of a deal?

HEATH: Right. And he's actually been a big - pretty big art star for a couple of years now, kind of moving up the ranks - L.A. He's an international guy and it's nice to see him get a lot of notoriety for that, because I really think that helped package Barack and helped seal the deal there.

CONAN: And are you an artist yourself?

HEATH: I am, yeah.

CONAN: And does he - I'm sure you sell just as well as Shepherd Ferry.

HEATH: Oh, way more. Yeah, you know, I'm flying around Zurich all the time. No, you now, pretty much Midwestern right now - trying to break out. But Sheppard's one of those guys everybody talks about in the circles I run around in. So…

CONAN: Well, Heath. Thanks very much for the nomination. Appreciate it.

HEATH: Hey, take care, man.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Here's an e-mail from Dave. I would plug Shai Agassi, the first person to successfully get a nation to adopt a petroleum-free transportation policy. As someone working in the solar industry, I see the elimination of petroleum-based transportation as the tipping point in actualizing green technology in modern life. And Mr. Agassi has made practical and tangible steps towards bringing this goal into practice.

We're taking nominations today for most influential person of 2008. Barack Obama, not eligible. You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. And let's get - this is Anthony, Anthony with us from Greenville in North Carolina.

ANTHONY (Caller): Hey, how are you?

CONAN: I'm well. Thank you.

ANTHONY: Love the show, first of all. Fantastic.

CONAN: Thank you.

ANTHONY: I have a nominee for you - Professor Randy Pausch from Carnegie Mellon University.

CONAN: A name I'm not familiar with.

ANTHONY: He is a - he - unfortunately, someone that I did not personally know. I actually heard his story earlier this year when he died. But he - fortunately, his life has been captured. A book that he authored is actually out this year. And his story has actually gone viral. He gave something called "The Last Lecture."

CONAN: Ah! Then this is somebody I have heard of. I apologize.

ANTHONY: And just his simple lessons on never letting go of your childhood dreams and just how to truly live before, well - as we all must face someday, it's going to end. And it's nothing, perhaps, earth-shaking or ground-shattering, but it's certainly a great wakeup call for us and a man that I think certainly deserves at least a moment's - take a look at what his wisdom was and apply it to our lives.

CONAN: Anthony, thanks for the nomination.

ANTHONY: Thanks.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Here's some other emails. Jesse from Detroit emails to nominate Kwame Kilpatrick, the former mayor of Detroit, in both the negative and positive way. This man cost the city money and embarrassment but also city unity and hope for change. Though technically not from my field, I am a Ph.D. candidate, I am a resident of Detroit and I teach at a university there. Everything I do in and for Detroit, something Kilpatrick lied and made the residents believe he was going to do, too. Anyway, that from Jesse in Detroit. Now, let's see if we can get another caller on the line. Krista, Krista with us from Salt Lake City.

KRISTA (Caller): Hi, how are you?

CONAN: I'm good. Thanks.

KRISTA: I would like to nominate someone who, just as of Friday, is a huge environmental advocate. My nominee is Tim DeChristopher.


KRISTA: He's the one - I don't - I'm sure many people have heard of him. He's known internationally now. He's the young student and environmental advocate who went to the BLM - the Bureau of Land Management auction and disrupted the oil and gas leasing by bidding on the parcels himself. And he is just getting emails from all over the world. He's was on Democracy Now this morning. He is my new hero. He has given everyone in the environmental field hope that one person can make a difference.

CONAN: And did he win any of the leases, or did he just disrupt the process?

KRISTA: He won $1.8 million worth of leases. And we are now trying to raise money for his - he's possibly facing federal fraud charges. And we are raising money for his defense and for purchasing the leases. They're around some of the more sensitive areas around canyon lands and arches, down around Moab, Utah. It's one of the most beautiful areas.

CONAN: Well, if he - he may end up lacking for money, but not for ambition.

KRISTA: Well, he said it was just the spur of the moment thing for him. He's actually a friend of mine. I was at the auction and watched it happen. It was very inspiring. He just finally had enough and sat up and did something that he thought could make a difference. And I think Thoreau and Edward Abbey are very proud right now.

CONAN: OK. Krista, thanks very much. And we wish Tim the best of luck.

KRISTA: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. And here's an email from Jackie in Wisconsin - Harold zur Hausen, recent Nobel Laureate who identified an association between cervical cancer and human papilloma virus and went on to determine the mechanism by which these viruses cause human cancer. His determined work over decades led to prevention, first by avoidance and now by vaccination, of this cancer that afflicts women throughout the world. The number of lives saved by his work will not be easily matched. Let see if we can squeeze one last caller in. Des, Des with us from Baton Rouge.

DES (Caller): Hi, my name is Des Crawford. And I…

CONAN: We just have a few seconds, Des.

DES: Pardon?

CONAN: Just have a few seconds. We just have a few seconds, so make your nomination.

Des: OK, I'm sorry. I'm an animal handler and trainer. And I want to nominate Cesar Millan, the dog whisperer, for giving people the tools they need to help keep their pets out of public shelters, where - you know, so the animals stays in the person's home, stays where it's loved and doesn't end up being cast aside because the owner doesn't have the tools they need to correct a problem.

CONAN: Des, thanks very much for the nomination. Hate to hustle you along, but we're out of time. I apologize.

Des: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. This - by the way, Andrew, a pilot in Wilmington, North Carolina, nominated Phil Boyer, former president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilot Association. He was president of AOPA for 15 years and fought for the general aviation community supporting pilots and fighting against the greed of the airlines. Well, as it happens, we're going to be talking about flying in just a moment when we come back. That after the terrifying crash in Denver this past weekend. We'll tell you what we know and why. If you've ever made it through an airline accident, give us a call. I'm Neal Conan. This is Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

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