Before we engage in any war, Erik Edstrom asks us to imagine three visions: First, imagine your own death. Second, imagine war from ‘the other side’. Third, imagine what might have been if the war had never been fought. Through that lens and his own combat experience, Edstrom graphically depicts why in all his time in Afghanistan he never felt that he would possibly die for ‘something worth fighting for’. Provoking us to think whether America has gotten too comfortable venerating the military, without seriously examining its shortcomings and excesses, he suggests the Department of Defense may more aptly described as the Department of Offense. America’s indiscretions on the battlefield, and killing of non-combatants at a rate of 300 to 1 in response our losses on 9-11, begs in his view for a wholesale examination of our deployment of the military. In his book, ‘Un-American’, he describes his evolution from a young West Point graduate who didn’t think ‘our wars were self-perpetuating, self-defeating and immoral’ to a solider on the battlefield who came clearly to see the opposite. His descriptions of loss on all sides is graphic and disturbing, but highly revealing. We often only see war as something ‘over there’. He feels that the military’s greatest fear is that someone might do to us what we do to others. He strips away the Disneyification of the military and forces us to consider our recent choices to employ force around the world.
In 2017, research showed that 4.5 million Americans between the ages of 16 and 24 were neither in school nor working. Falling into that gap is a far different experience than the one enjoyed by more affluent and socially connected people that age who can take a ‘gap year’ between high school and college and explore numerous opportunities afforded to them by their families, Like so many yawning social issues in our society, it begs for attention just as the science suggests that this period from the late teens to the early 20’s is still a time of brain maturation. And given our low birth rates in this society, we don’t have a young person to waste if we are going to have a strong society in the future. According to Anne Kim, the author of ‘Abandoned’, policymakers haven’t caught up with this group who are aging out of programs, if their education ends in high school, and may be emancipated in the eyes of the law, to a very uncertain existence. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic these young people may fall further behind in terms of their life chances. These may be the same young people who live in opportunity deserts, urban and rural, where few jobs exist in their communities. While much focus has been placed in the recent period on the importance of early childhood education, little attention has been paid to this age cohort and their difficulties as they face the challenges of emerging adulthood. It’s an important conversation. Please listen in.
Sometimes riots come to define communities as you attach the name forever in your mind with the riots–like Watts, Attica, Detroit and others. And sometimes riots get lost in the long arc of American history. Few, however, are as little remembered and yet profoundly impactful as what occurred on May 8, 1970, in lower Manhattan. It was the day that David Paul Kuhn marks as the beginning of the end of the long relationship between America’s white working class and the Democratic Party. In his book, ‘The Hardhat Riot’, he describes the schism that tore liberalism apart and has had a mark on our politics to this day. In gripping detail, he takes us back to that harrowing day, when workers, in the shadow of the half-built Twin Towers, put down their tools and raised their voices signifying an emerging class conflict between two newly polarized Americas. In the wreckage was the Democratic Party’s electoral majorities, once so secure in the 20th century in America. What happened that day and in the electoral landslide for Richard Nixon in 1972 was a harbinger of the Reagan Revolution and Donald Trump’s surprising victory in 2016. Let’s delve into the history so we can understand the journey we are now part of, in another year of turmoil and conflict on our streets, in a presidential election year.
While the number of religious nationalists may not be overwhelming their influence on American politics, and access to those in the White House, is a stunning political achievement. Some may envision evangelicals as fighting a culture war against modernity, but the movement described in Katherine Stewart’s book, ‘The Power Worshippers’, is so much more than that. Ignoring their aims, strategies and growing influence on the politics of our nation will inur to the detriment of those who understand the Constitution to be built on democratic values and not religious ones. They had, and still exercise, great influence on the Trump Administration and are focused on reconstituting the federal courts in such a way that will magnify their impact for decades to come. The Christian right employs a network of think tanks, advocacy groups, pastoral organizations and the fortunes of some very wealthy individuals in our society to re-imagine the principles upon which the Republic was first built. They are sophisticated and mobilized and barely towing the line separating church from state. It’s an important story that we describe on this podcast.
It’s tough to accept hard truths, but it’s also deadly and bewildering to continue to accept that the most well financed military in the history of the world has not had a true victory, while being involved in many conflicts, in the last 75 years. Why is this? Where do we begin? The quality of the students and the teaching, for example, at West Point is not what is packaged to the American public and sold as world class. Thus, the leadership corps we have trained hasn’t yielded great generals since WWII. Just as we have seen how America’s political system had a difficult time demonstrating the supposed strengths available through our medical system during a pandemic, spending more on sophisticated weapons systems and generally unaudited trillions in defense expenditures has yielded poor results in conflicts from Korea to Afghanistan. You have to wonder if there were a major conflict whether our military would be exposed as a paper tiger. When we choose to fight, civilian and military leaders pick civil wars and counterinsurgency for which we are little prepared. In the process, we have hardened the resolve of our enemy combatants, made other adversaries stronger in the wake of our warmaking or created unintended consequences with profoundly negative effects. Tim Bakken who teaches civilian law at West Point lays out a case that not only is the military separate from the rest of society, but it has been granted extra Constitutional rights which were never intended by the framers. He explains in this podcast how he won a case against his treatment, as a civilian teacher, and why he’s still on the job today. And then he provides an unflinching critique of our military from his book, ‘The Cost of Loyalty’.
There are so many unknowns when it comes to Russia and its relations with the United States. Quick quiz: friend or foe? Democracy or dictatorship? Who can tell from the glowing words that President Trump has spoken about Vladimir Putin. He appreciates his strong leadership, while others equate his rule to a strongman approach to governing. Two things are clearer every year–he controls all mechanisms of government in Russia and has a group of cronies with whom he is pillaging the wealth of the nation by setting up straw organizations and middlemen to move those resources around the world in very complex ways. It’s also coming more into focus that he has a big chip on his shoulder about the West’s treatment of Russia and the eastward movement of NATO to his doorstep. To counter that he has used Russian monies to poke a sharp stick at the West through election interference, as seen in the United States in 2016, and other means of influence peddling. While there’s much self aggrandizement in his rule, he also does want to restore Russia to a more prominent, and meddlesome, place on the world stage. Catherine Belton, author of ‘Putin’s People’, breaks down his machinations in great detail and explores his regime’s goals. And we also peel back President Trump’s relationship with Russia in this podcast.
In many ways, gun adherents and those who seek to control their use in America have something in common. They misinterpret the true initial intent of the Second Amendment. Most commonly we hear that it was adopted as way to insure that Americans could protect their homes or to allow them to hunt or join some organized militia to keep the federal government from gaining too much control. Historian Roxanne Dunar-Ortiz sets the record straight in her book, ‘Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment’. The Second Amendment does confer the right to own arms to individuals but the purpose at the time was to settle new territories and drive Native Americans from their lands. Further, with the development of slave patrols, firearms were necessary to maintain title to those in bondage as part of America’s ‘original sin’. Once we understand the true origins then we can go on to debate their necessity and proper regulation in this modern era. The issues of gun violence, such as mass shootings, may be a starting point for our present day conversations on the subject, but we owe it to ourselves to set the record straight about the role of firearms in issues of social inequality and ongoing treatment of minority populations in our culture. The gun is as American as apple pie, but we owe it to ourselves and our future to understand why.
Fifty-two large fires are now burning 748,987 acres in the western United States, with many proving to be very difficult to contain. The number that have burned by this time of year is the largest in a decade, with 33,000 fires searing over 1.9 million acres by July 12.
In California, fire is as natural and necessary as the rain and wind. Yet how humans manage to co-exist with flora and fauna determines whether natural cycles and events are manageable or rage out of control. Of late, we see, like the fires, the types of hurricanes and floods, more intense and more regular that remind us something is out of balance. Are we listening? One such event that drew our attention was the total destruction of Paradise, California in November, 2018. It burned the town of Paradise, home to 27,000, to the ground. And it was a harbinger of fires to come. Calling it the ‘new normal’ is oddly hopeful. Coming events could well surpass this unspeakable level of danger, which claimed 85 lives and came to be the deadliest ever wildfire in the state. There was once seasonal blazes, as are necessary to maintain various plant species. Today the growing legion of firefighters in California wonder if there is a ‘fire season’. There are many factors contributing to the raging flames in the area and they have parallels with other natural disasters we are experiencing. As man tries to dominate the planet for our growing population, painfully we’re beginning to recognize the limits to the control we can exert. The natural world, in this case, and many others seems to be biting back. To understand the complex factors involved in the form of a fire disaster, we turn to Alastair Gee and Dani Anguiano, co-authors of ‘Fire in Paradise: An American Tragedy
In 2018, marriage rates in America began falling to their lowest rates since the government kept those statistics dating back to 1867. And, yet, divorce rates, too, have been dropping for the better part of a decade. So what are we to make of these trends? Perhaps, the unions that are forming are fewer in number, but stronger. And in the wake of the pandemic, after being together 24/7, what do you expect to see? Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia and a senior fellow of the Institute for Family Studies, weighs in a range of topics relating to marriage in America and feels that the ‘soul mate model’ of marriage may not fare as well as a more ‘family-first model’ when all is said and done at this unusual moment in time. We tackle the issues relating to later marrieds, second marriage success, the lengths of marriages as we age up together and many other interesting questions about ’til death do us part’. You may want to listen to this one alone. Not really.