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?