Episode #520: Train Wrecks & Forest Fires
First Broadcast: 9/28/09
Mike Bloomberg, Bill Thompson, Mark Green, Bill DeBlasio, David Yassky, and John Liu all get on my nerves this week with their assertions that somehow politicians at the local level can make the greatest difference in improving education in New York City's public schools. In my opinion, they're all wrong, because I think no one will be able to make any meaningful improvements in public schools anywhere in the nation until No Child Left Behind is repealed in some fashion. After that rant, we point out how a census worker was hanged to death in Kentucky with the word "FED" written on his chest. Do you suppose the right-wing paranoia out there has gotten to the point where these lunatics are now murdering people related to the federal government as a result? I wish someone could find out.
Episode #521: Compromiser-In-Chief
First Broadcast: 10/5/09
So, the Senate Finance Committee voted to kill the public option in the latest proposal to reform health care in this country. And who, you might ask, are the types of people who oppose a public option? Republican Representative Trent Franks, for one, who called President Obama "an enemy of humanity" in a speech in September. John L. Perry, for another, who wrote in a column for Newsmax.com that a military coup to remove Obama from power "to restore and defend the Constitution through and interim adminstration" is being invited by "Obama's accelerating agenda for 'fundamental change' toward a Marxist state". The person who posted a poll on Facebook asking the question "should Obama be killed?" might also be included; although the Secret Service has since announced that the culprit in that case was a child who, according to CBS News, "was not a threat to the president." Nonetheless, this whole atmosphere has people like Thomas Friedman so spooked that it reminds them of Israel in 1995 just before Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. Is there any way that these extremist attitudes fostered by talk radio and pseudo-news networks can be replaced with some doses of tolerance and sanity? I certainly hope so.
Episode #522: Jeering Heckler
First Broadcast: 10/19/09
So, Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Comptroller Bill Thompson had their first debate for this year's Mayoral election, to which no other candidate on the ballot for Mayor was invited (and to which some people with tickets couldn't even enter). And, even though local cable news station New York 1 hosted the debate and showed the entire spectacle from start to finish with wall-to-wall coverage, the most interesting part of the debate was completely ignored by New York 1's own reporting. The New York Times and The Daily News both gave brief mentions to Reverend Billy's unexpected outburst at the very beginning of the debate, but--as usual--in order to get the full story I had to read it from the source himself. Am I the only one who thinks it's newsworthy when a candidate on the ballot for Mayor is not only not invited to a Mayoral debate, but ejected from the audience when he tried to speak, and then not even arrested as a result? Maybe not the only one, but definitely one of the few.
Episode #523: Brief History Lesson
First Broadcast: 10/26/09
In this episode, we note on how the South has attitudes in direct opposition to the rest of the country, disapproving of President Obama and the Democratic Party and approving Republicans in an almost inverse proportion to people in the Northeast, Midwest, and Western United States. Recent history can trace these trends dating back to the 1968 Presidential election, when segregationist candidate George Wallace won five Southern states--the last time any "third party" candidate won any states in the electoral college. We also discussed how the Democratic National Conventions of 1960, 1964, and 1968 related to these developments, how the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act marked a turning point in Democratic and Republican party alignments, how the 1972 primaries were a major change in how the Democratic Party chose its Presidential candidate, how the 1976 Republican National Convention was the last time their candidate hinged on a serious delegate vote, how Franklin Roosevelt's 1932 election marked the beginning of the modern Democratic Party, how all this divisiveness can also be traced back to Abraham Lincoln's election in 1860, and a whole host of other issues on the side. Maybe next week we'll get back to current events.
Episode #524: Cookie Cutters In Suits
First Broadcast: 11/2/09
How boring was the second and final debate between Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Comptroller Bill Thompson? So boring that I spent almost the entire episode talking about it. Such boredom only makes me wonder: Why haven't we heard anything about Frances Villar, Daniel Fein, Joseph Dobrian, or Reverend Billy, all of whom are also on the ballot for Mayor this year? I guess you should vote anyway... if for no other reason than to make the election coverage a smidge more interesting this year... if it's possible...
Episode #525: I'll Go Spit In My Eyes
First Broadcast: 11/16/09
A health care plan passes the House--with no help from the Republicans--with a much narrower majority than the vote that established Social Security (which had substantial support from Democrats and Republicans in 1935). But is it a plan that can be considered progressive? Representative Dennis Kucinich says No, illustrating why the House plan would be a huge giveaway to insurance companies. And people who support women's rights are incensed that the House plan would deny coverage for abortions in almost every conceivable circumstance. Will any of these problems be eliminated in a Senate version of the plan? Or, is it--as Senator Lindsey Graham said--"dead on arrival"? Hopefully something better will emerge as a result, but I have my doubts.
Episode #526: We Have Contingencies
First Broadcast: 11/23/09
Attorney General Eric Holder announced that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed--named by the 9-11 Commission as "the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks"--will be tried for his alleged crimes in a federal court in New York City; specifically, in Manhattan. We think this is a good idea, for the obvious reason that this is what you're supposed to do with accused criminals: arrest, indict, try, convict, and sentence, in that order. President Obama feels confident that Mr. Mohammed will eventually receive the death penalty. Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, on the other hand, voiced concerns that, in a federal court, Mr. Mohammed might stand a chance of being acquited. As repugnant as that idea may be, acquital has to be a genuine option that could result from this process, or else why would the prosecution have any incentive to present its best case to convict? If the outcome is going to be the same, no matter what, then what's to stop the prosecutor from presenting an argument that doesn't go beyond a reasonable doubt? Be that as it may, "KSM" might still remain behind bars, regardless of how this turns out. That might settle most Americans' stomachs, but I don't know if fixing the result so certainly in advance is the best way to administer justice.
Episode #527: Tiny Bit Surprised
First Broadcast: 12/7/09
Repeated: 1/11/10; 8/16/10
That pretty much sums up my reaction to President Obama's speech on December 1st, where he announced his plans to send an additional 30,000 American troops to Afghanistan in the near future, as well as intentions to begin withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan in July, 2011--the same year all American troops are supposed to be gone from Iraq. On the surface, this might sound like Obama is bringing everything to a conclusion, but the more eagle-eyed among you might notice that his speech also contained this caveat, that the Afghanistan withdrawal will begin "taking into account conditions on the ground." Those of you with a grasp of history might recognize that this echoes statements which President Kennedy made about withdrawing American troops from Vietnam, way back in 1963:
As you know, when Secretary McNamara and General Taylor came back, they announced that we would expect to withdraw 1,000 men from South Vietnam before the end of the year... If we are able to do that, that will be our schedule. I think the first unit, the first contingent, would be 250 men who are not involved in what might be called frontline operations. It would be our hope to lessen the number of Americans there by 1,000 as the training intensified and is carried on in South Vietnam... As far as other units, we will have to make that judgment based on what the military correlation of forces may be.
-- John F. Kennedy, October 31, 1963, as cited by Noam Chomsky on pages 82-83 of Rethinking Camelot (Boston: South End Press, 1993)
Then, as now, withdrawal was contingent on how American troops were doing, regardless of any timetable; meaning that any dates given for withdrawal were essentially meaningless in both cases. Similarly, the conditions Obama gave for American withdrawal from Afghanistan also resemble the conditions given separately by General William Westmoreland and President Nixon for withdrawing from Vietnam:
Our overarching goal remains the same: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future. To meet that goal, we will pursue the following objectives within Afghanistan. We must deny al Qaeda a safe haven. We must reverse the Taliban's momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government. And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan's security forces and government so that they can take lead responsibility for Afghanistan's future. ... We'll continue to advise and assist Afghanistan's security forces to ensure that they can succeed over the long haul. But it will be clear to the Afghan government -- and, more importantly, to the Afghan people -- that they will ultimately be responsible for their own country.
-- President Barack H. Obama, speech to the nation, December 1, 2009
Phase 1. Commitment of U.S. (and other free world) forces necessary to halt the losing trend by the end of 1965.
Phase 2. U.S. and allied forces mount major offensive actions to seize the initiative to destroy guerrilla and organized enemy forces. This phase would be concluded when the enemy had been worn down, thrown on the defensive, and driven back from major populated areas.
Phase 3. If the enemy persisted, a period of twelve to eighteen months following Phase 2 would be required for the final destruction of enemy forces remaining in remote base areas.
-- Westmoreland's three-point plan, 1965
We have adopted a plan which we have worked out in cooperation with the South Vietnamese for the complete withdrawal of all U.S. combat ground forces, and their replacement by South Vietnamese forces on an orderly scheduled timetable. This withdrawal will be made from strength and not from weakness. As South Vietnamese forces become stronger, the rate of American withdrawal can become greater.
-- Richard M. Nixon, speech to the nation, November 3, 1969
What Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon overlooked back then, and what Obama in the wake of Bush appears to be overlooking now, is that if the very presence of U.S. troops is instigating violence and instability in the country the U.S. is occupying, then the only way that violence and instability can end for certain is for the U.S. troops to leave the country. The civil war in Vietnam did not end until all U.S. troops had left the country by 1975. Likewise, the funneling of American money to the Taliban to not attack U.S. troops so that U.S. troops can attack the Taliban who are being funded by the Department of Denfense can only be stopped by removing U.S. troops from Afghanistan. As Daniel Ellsberg famously said of Vietnam: "We aren't on the wrong side, we are the wrong side." It is now up to the American people to force Obama to not go down the same road as so many of his predecessors.