Austin options

Hi from under a starry sky in Austin, Texas. WHYS is here for a week of shows as part of local station KUT’s 50th birthday celebrations. We’ve been here a day now (snaps here) getting our bearings and trying to get a feel for what we might talk about over the next five days. Here are the runners and riders. Let us know if you’d like to hear them on air.

1) The 48 per cent who didn’t vote for Obama.
Texas is a red state and by a comfortable margin people here chose John McCain to be their next President. I was curious getting here to hear how those who didn’t support Barack Obama are feeling about his up-coming Presidency.

Articles like this suggest there’s a great deal of apprehension. Our brief encounters in Austin (a blue island in a sea of red) and a small town called Lockhart (self-styled Barbeque capital of Texas) suggest it’s a cool and resigned concern, rather than the red-hot antipathy I heard from the Republicans I spoke to while on the BBC bus.

Joe’s a locksmith in Lockhart and we bothered him while he tried to help a guy who’d locked his keys in his car. ‘I’d rather it was McCain and I’m worried about Obama’s tax and healthcare plans, but we all had our say and he’s the next President so we’ll see how he does. I had my way for 8 years, now it’s the other guy’s turn.’ We heard this sentiment again and again.

On the TV, the lack of heat in US politics is palpable as the networks desperately fill their air-time playing a guessing game over the make-up of the Obama administration. I’ve been here a lot over the past two years and the TV news has doggedly refused to shift beyond the narrowest of agendas. Never has that looked harder to do. Of course, we’ll get some names from Barack Obama soon and they’ll be back on form.

2) Do you want the death penalty in your country?
Texas is world famous for its belief in the death penalty and the extent to which it imposes the ultimate punishment. No state in America executes more people, and three more men on death row will die this week. Japan’s execution rate is rising, South Africans want to death penalty but their constitution prevents it, and China and Iran execute criminals regularly. Should capital punishment be available to your justice system?

3) How should societies help the homeless?
It’s Homeless Week in Austin. There are 4,500 people downtown without a place to stay. Some live on the streets, others in hostels, and their number is rising as the credit crunch bites. Every city in the world faces the decision of whether to help and if so how. Does offering assistance fail to address the root causes, or provide the respite for just that to happen?

It seems to be that on a number of fronts Americans are battling with whether they want to help each other and find communal solutions to problems, or protect the individual responsibility many hold dear. This issue raises it up again.

3b) The soldiers who sleep on the street
An estimated 300,000 military veterans sleep on America’s streets each night. It’s an astonishing figure, and hundreds of homeless vets live here in Austin. I really want to speak to them, and try understand how this is happening to so many of them.

There may not be a global talking point, but this is the world’s richest country with eh world’s biggest military force. I just want to try and understand how these shocking statistics fit into that.

4) Time to crank up the war on drugs
We’re three hours from Mexico where 4000 (4000!) have died in drug related violence this year. And I don’t need to detail the problems that illegal drug use causes across America. The presidents of Colombia and Mexico have agreed to intensify joint efforts to combat powerful cartels that control the flow of drugs in both countries.

Is this is exactly the right action to take? While some argue the war on drugs has failed, is now the time for more troops, more money, more political determination? Not a free market that ending prohibition would bring?

Laredo and its sister town Nuevo Laredo across the border know the cost of the drugs trade all too well. It’s how people there want to react to it that I’d like to discuss with them.

5) What right do immigrants and illegal immigrants deserve?
A massive and constant talking point in America and particularly the south. Make what you will of the decision this week to not make small business use a new verification system which checks if potential employees are in the States legally. Plenty are calling it a tacit acknowledgement that the US can’t function without illegal immigrants, and they now need to be properly integrated into society. Sound like a good plan for the States, and for your country as well if you’re elsewhere?

16 Responses to “Austin options”

  1. 1 roebert
    November 17, 2008 at 07:25

    Last night I watched Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” again. This was the only my second viewing, years after I first watched it. I guess I wanted to re-visit the whole episode. Watching it this time round, I found that my responses were different; much sadder, more appalled, I felt ashamed. I felt, too, that the US has much expiation to do, and that the election of Obama actually cancels out nothing yet.

    When are the Bush croneys going to brought to face some kind of justice in the world and in the US? When are they going to be tried as deceivers of their own people and cynical butchers of so many people in the world?

    When is Colin Powell, decent man turned yes-man, going to write the book: “Why I lied to myself, my fellow Americans, the United Nations and the Whole World”?

    When is Texas gonna wake erp ta what the Republicans have been doin’. What’s it going to take to make them see?

  2. 2 Roberto
    November 17, 2008 at 07:35

    RE “” trying to get a feel for what we might talk about over the next five days””

    ———— Don’t know the purpose of your visit.

    If it’s to talk to locals, Austin is big diverse place. I see you’ve been to downtown/ Lady Bird Lake where you can talk to downtown business community, student revelers, and centrally located recreational/fitness crowd.

    For more diversity you can go to Festival Beach/Fiesta Garden parks on the lake in east Austin and catch longtime black and Mexican citizens having a birthday celebration/BBQ and get their views on property taxes, gentrification, and opportunity.. Or the Arboretum in north Austin to talk to the big spenders. Or Westlake Village, a toney white flight enclave built up starting with the 70s school desegregation rulings. You can walk outside KUT facilities and interview some 50,000 UT students or facaulty, or mosey a couple miles south and talk to students at the historic black Huston-Tillotson university, the oldest higher education facility in Texas, or a couple of miles further to St Edwards University which may be the 2nd oldest.

    You’ve been to Lockhart for surrounding color, but there’s New Braunsfels 50 miles away, a German enclave where town council meetings were still conducted in German going into the 80s. Or Georgetown and Swedish Roundrock butting into Austin city limits on the northside, tiny towns overwhelmed by new development and populations the last 20 yrs. Goodluck finding anyone who speaks Swedish in RoundRock anymore!

    Take the “used to be scenic” loop I used to troll my motorcycle looking for competition just 25 yrs ago, RR2222/620/2244 and Lamar. It’d be instant suicide today, but it was wide open back when I moved here.

  3. November 17, 2008 at 10:43

    Hi Ros!

    Well, a few comments on your discussion ideas:

    1. During the campaign, opponents called Obama everything from Nazi to Marxist to terrorist. Through WHYS I chatted with a number of people who actually believed these things and were genuinely worried about the future of the USA under Obama. I’d like to ask your guests how many, if any, believed this extreme view of Obama and are they still worried. McCain has made the transition to “he was a worthy opponent and I’ll support him”….in light of the death threats against the President-elect, have the voters also made this change?

    2. The death penalty might make for a spirited debate. My personal view is that it does NOT provide a deterrent and, until you can guarantee there will NEVER be a miscarriage of justice you can’t justify taking a life. I bet many Texans feel differently and would like to hear their justification for the rate of executions in that state.

    3B. My perception was always that US veterans received generous benefits and educational opportunities. Is this in error, or is something else, possiblby psychological causing so many to live rough.

    Finally, not on your list, my “TV impression” of Austin is of a city completely atypical of most of Texas….a delightful, green, environmentally aware place. I’d love to hear about that side of things…is Austin really that good a place to live?

  4. 4 Vijay
    November 17, 2008 at 13:40

    American university towns the oases(or cienegas)in the US social and cultural desert.?

    Aren’t they the “shining citadels on the hill”that draw free thinkers ,alternatively minded people , liberals and radicals to exchange ideas.Ideas that have pushed the USA forward .

    ie.Austin ,Texas;Madison, Wisconsin; Iowa City ,Iowa; Missoula,Montana etc.

    Is Linklaters film “Slacker”still relevant?

  5. 5 gary
    November 17, 2008 at 14:44

    Regarding the first point: NBC, CBS, ABC and FOX have only one agenda; making money. Journalism is the last thing on their minds. News program reporitng line-ups are identical, whether the subject is Sunday football, NASCAR racing, or the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts: a “straight man,” a sober “thoughty” guy, and a “color and critique” person. Unless you pay very close attention, you’ll believe you were actually informed, even though what they’ve said was, “We don’t know, and mostly we don’t care.”
    Regarding the second point: If you didn’t give the gift of life, you don’t have the right to take it away.
    Regarding the third and fourth points: General homelessness will trend upwards as the economy cools a bit. Treatment of discharged veterans has been and remains a National disgrace, not just because homeless vets can’t find meaningful employment after their service; but because military service was the only meaningful employment they could find when they enlisted.
    Regarding the fifth point: Those who hire illegals and those who wish them sent back home usually vote for the same party. Curious that.

  6. 6 Jennifer
    November 17, 2008 at 15:38

    #1-Now that Obama is President elect those who didn’t vote for him are waiting patiently to see what he will do for/to our country. It will be interesting to see how Obama deals with being President once he is actually in that situation. Many Obama supporters expect people to simply set aside their beliefs in favor of “this is my belief but I shouldn’t force it on anyone” mentality. Joe Biden and the Catholic church is a good example. Shouldn’t he stand for his own beliefs and that be reflected in his political decisions? How can people say they are something such as catholic yet not believe or uphold certain core beliefs especially when they are in the political arena and that’s part of why people elect certain politicians? We are not standing for anything…

    I was reading an article about Obama having received more death threats than any president elect. I have to say that concerns me because he’s not even president yet. It says that he is not widely popular even though he won. I have seen more evidence of people doing racially motivated things which is causing chaos. Instead of making any changes for the better I believe we are regressing. All of that combined worries me about Obama.

    #2- I am thankful for prisons and thankful that we have the death penalty. If someone breaks the law they should be punished! With all the progress we have now; there are ways to ensure that someone is not put to death by mistake.

  7. 7 VictorK
    November 17, 2008 at 18:44

    1. the McCain 48%: seems a bit of a non-issue – Dems win, GOP loses. And?
    2 death penalty – most people in most countries want it. The issue is can it be right for a political elite (from the UK to South Africa) to thwart the wishes of the majority on this?
    3 helping the homeless – this would be interesting if there are examples from around the globe of successful policies that have tackled homelessness.
    4 soldiers on the street – a good America-bashing topic, otherwise what’s the global interest?
    5 rights of legal and illegal immigrants – good subject (how does a non-citizen whose presence is the result of an illegal act have ‘rights’?); an issue in America (but, again, more about liberal-left elites overriding the wishes of majorities) with plenty of global parallels. I hope the anti-immigration position gets a fair hearing since this is the kind of topic that lends itself to left-liberal orthodoxy (e.g. the assertion that America can’t function without illegal immigrants, so legalise the lot of them, as opposed to the view that corporate interests are exploiting illegals and undercutting the wages of Americans and that should stop by expelling illegals and regulating the corporations). It’d be nice to have someone from the ‘Vdare’ collective on to put the anti- view with all the facts.

  8. 8 Nicole
    November 17, 2008 at 19:22


    I’m listening to your program from about 20 miles from Georgetown in Austin, TX. Let me just say this to your last caller:

    1st of all, the federal income tax was never even ratified. Seriously. Check the facts.

    2nd, what’s so scary about socialism? If you have 45% of your income tax going to pay for socialized programs such as healthcare, education and public transportation, what else are you going to spend that leftover 55% on? Think about it. Your kids don’t have to worry how they’ll pay for college, your elders are taken care of, you won’t be in lifetime debt just because your insurance arbitrarily decides not to pay for that surgery you need, and hey, you don’t even need a car.

    If you have a problem sharing with the poor, you have some fundamental deficiencies in your ethics.


  9. November 17, 2008 at 19:23

    What I found interesting during the course of American politics is the penetration of the Christian Right into the Republican Party. Over the last 28 years the White House has been occupied by a Republican president for 20 of those years. That was ample time for the Religious Right to get a strong foothold into the Party and greatly impact their Party platform. It was ample time to swing the Party further and further to the right, especially in the last 8 years where the mentality “you are either with us, or you are against us.” Now that Obama has won the White House who is nothing like them in thought and appearance, he is subject to more threats than any president elect than any previous president elect. What is most interesting about this is the inability of the Republican Party to take an introspective look at themselves for their part in contributing to an enviroment like this, instead they chose to blame Obama. With views like that the problem with extremism will never be solved.

  10. 10 Jared
    November 17, 2008 at 19:30

    The military is the most expensive part of our government, if the conservatives want to ‘stay safe’ the rich must pay higher taxes or we’ll go further into debt. Financially, our country was in a much better place before Regan, before Bush, before Clinton – when the rich paid more and our country was able to afford basic services – were we socialist then?

  11. 11 Chris Howard
    November 17, 2008 at 20:50

    Yeah, Jared, you’re right. The 1950’s was the “heyday” of the U.S. because the federal government taxed large business and the wealthiest 5% and instituted the largest affirmative action program in its history and the subsequent outcome was a growing middle-class, booming economy, living wage and the ability to give your children the foundation for a life that was “better” than your own.

    Tax cuts work but only if you give them to the poor and middle class. Trickle down (a.k. voodoo economics) does not work, never has, never will.

    I hope we can repeat the 1950’s boom with out the 1950’s racism and sexism. in short, something we can all benefit from as oppose to policies that serve only the wealthiest 1% to 5%

  12. 12 jamily5
    November 17, 2008 at 23:43

    Do some research, many people have received the death penalty unjustly.
    Right on G. Could not have said it better myself.

  13. 13 Peter, Portland, OR, USA
    November 18, 2008 at 00:40

    Hi Ross,

    I am a former resident of Austin and have many fond memories of the place. Say hello to John Aielli. He offers an outstanding music-appreciation program weekday mornings on KUT, for more than 30 years now, called Eklektikos, from 0900 to 1200. I still listen, but now via the web. KUT is an outstanding public radio station and has a world class recordings library. Don’t miss it.

    Austin certainly is an island in a big red state. Although it may be interesting to look back in Texas history…not too long ago it was actually a blue state. Most of that changed just about when “W” rode into town as Governor.

    Speaking of “W”, he was Governor when many death penalties were carried out. His spin, “As Governor it is my duty to uphold the law, and the law says this guy’s supposed to die”…or some such thing.

    As for immigration, it is my understanding that by the year 2025, the Caucasian will no longer represent the majority of the population of Texas. That might be an interesting angle to approach.

    One major event you should not miss in Austin is Esther’s Follies; a vaudeville-style show that has been running down on Sixth St. for probably 40 years. Very worth while. It is part of Austin history.

    A part of Austin culture that should not be missed is Leslie Cochran. Leslie is usually found at the intersection of 6th St. and Congress Avenue., downtown, in his thong and bra and spiked heels. Just about everyone knows who he is. He ran for Mayor about eight years back and took a surprisingly high percentage of the vote. He has opinions on just about everything.

    The Bob Bullock museum, about two blocks North of the Capitol, is about how “Everything is bigger in Texas”. The State Capitol building itself is larger than our Nation’s Capitol, and turned to face South, away from Washington DC, on purpose! Go figure.

    Up on 45th St., between Duval and Red River, across the street from a Christian church, is a Buddhist temple and park, built by a local resident. It’s an interesting and quiet respite in the middle of town.

    And by all means, you can’t miss a Mexican Martini at Trudy’s! (Customers are limited on quantities.) Just about anyone in Austin can point you in the right direction.

    Have a great visit!

  14. 14 Jennifer
    November 18, 2008 at 02:12

    @ Jamily5

    We live in times where, with all things considered, we have lots of high tech forensics that when used should ensure noone was put to death illegally. Don’t people have to be found guilty without a doubt? (Sorry, I don’t know the legal spill they say!)

    I wonder what will happen if one day we have no more room to house criminals? Scary thought! If you watch tv maybe you could check the lock up series out…..http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3080749/

  15. 15 Michael
    November 18, 2008 at 05:52

    I understand this post may not be entirely on-topic about the riders but I wanted to place some advice as a local KUT listener and Austinite. Many of the comments being left by some people have been rather derisive about Austin, but I think people are forgetting that the world as a whole can sometimes have a very stereotypical view of Texas as a whole.

    This is the state from where Lyndon B. Johnson, George W. Bush Sr. and George W. Bush Jr. worked their way into the presidency. The state where as we all say “Everything’s bigger in Texas” and cowboy hats and boots aren’t considered all that uncommon. In some places this may be true, but in others not so much.

    In all, I would hope that before we go saying that Georgetown isn’t a representation of Austin, we should look more towards how we represent our city not for our sake but for the state as a whole.

    PS – Do try some of the local barbecue places. You may gain some weight, but it’s definitely worth a try at least to compare Texas BBQ to other places like Kentucky BBQ

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