The John Batchelor Show

Sunday 3 March 2013

Air Date: 
March 03, 2013

Photo, above:The US government is seeking fines of almost $18bn (£11.8bn) from BP over the Gulf of Mexico disaster Photo: Rex Features


Hour One

Sunday  6 Jan 2013 / Hour 1, Block A: Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right by Thomas Frank   

In October 2010, American liberals held their largest demonstration in Washington DC since the great crash of 2008. They did not raise their angry voices to denounce fantastic corporate greed and fraud. They were not furious that speculators had destroyed the hopes of millions of Americans. Instead, they staged the world's first protest against anger – a rage against rage.

Frank's specialty is how conservatives have appropriated the language and passions of the left. In The Conquest of Cool (1997)he looked at how the counterculture became capitalist culture. One Market Under God (2000) was a more muscular demolition of the corporate populism that enabled billionaire CEOs to pose as the common people's firmest and truest friends. What's the Matter With America? (2004) took Frank back to his native Kansas, as he tried to explain why a state that was once a hotbed of leftish populism was now so Republican George W Bush did not need to waste time campaigning there. And yet, despite everything he knew, the Tea Party's success in returning the Republicans to power in the 2010 congressional elections and making them viable contenders for the presidency in 2012 floored even him.

Its organisers, comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, exhorted their followers at the "Rally to Restore Sanity" to wear "I'm With Reasonable" T-shirts – ironically, of course – and set aside political differences in the interests of getting on with their neighbours. Despite the subsequent Occupy Wall Street movement, the pattern Stewart and Colbert set has held. Genteel liberals have allowed American conservatives to all but monopolise political fury since the banks went down. Considering what conservatives allowed financial markets to do, the fact that the right could be furious with anyone but itself is an astonishing story and one that Thomas Frank was born to cover.

Sunday 3 March 2013 / Hour 1, Block B:   Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right by Thomas Frank   

"If you had brought the world's teenaged anarchists together in some great international congress and asked them to design an ideal crisis," he says, "they could not have discredited market-based civilisation more completely than did the crash of 2008." As evidence, he offers the reader pre-crash editions of Trader Monthly – the US Eequivalent of the FT's grotesque celebration of conspicuous consumption, the How to Spend Itcorrect magazine. It instructed Wall Street bankers and dealers to impress their friends with $20,000 bottles of Johnnie Walker, private jets and, my favourite, a $300,000 turntable that acted as a "huge middle finger to everyone who enters your home". After asking why speculators would want to greet their guests in such a manner, Frank draws the obvious conclusion. "If ever a financial order deserved a 30s-style repudiation, this one did. Its gods were false. Its taste was bad. Its heroes were oafs and brutes and thieves and bullies. And all of them failed, even on their own stunted terms."  But when they failed, and wiped around $16tn dollars off American household wealth, when they rubbed the taxpayers' noses in the dirt by appropriating their money to refresh their bonuses, the last thing ordinary Americans did was imitate their ancestors from the 30s. Afghan and Iraq war veterans did not march on Washington DC. Farmers did not block highways. The majority of the electorate did not demand that their politicians bring the arrogant boss class . . . [more]

. . . apart from his dazzling style, why Frank is one of the best leftwing writers America has produced. He comes from the midwest and there is a solidity behind his work that one associates with the sturdiness of the American heartlands. He regarded the culture wars as distractions from old-style, populist economic arguments against the power and pelf of the plutocracy. [more]

Sunday 3 March 2013 / Hour 1, Block C: Here's the Deal (Kindle Single) by David Leonhardt

NYT writes: David Leonhardt is the Washington bureau chief of The New York Times. He's the author of the e-book, Here’s the Deal: How Washington Can Solve the Deficit and Spur Growth.  Previously, Mr. Leonhardt wrote the paper’s Economic Scene column, focusing on the housing bubble, the economic downturn, the budget deficit, health reform and education. In April 2011, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for commentary. Mr. Leonhardt studied applied mathematics at Yale.  He's a third-generation native of New York.

WaPo writes: David Leonhardt’s “Here’s the Deal” is one of the calmest, clearest looks you’ll find at the deficit — both what it is and how to fix it. It’s also only 15,000 words, and costs less than two dollars!  Not good enough for you? Here are 10 of my highlights from the book. And I had a lot more than just these. But you’ll need to buy Here’s the Deal to get them.

1. “In the simplest terms, Republicans have won the debate on taxes, and Democrats have won the debate on benefits. We, the voters, have chosen the winner of each. In exchange, we have a federal government facing enormous deficits in coming decades.”  

2. “Eventually, the country will have to confront the deficit we have, rather than the deficit we imagine. The one we imagine is a deficit caused by waste, fraud, abuse, foreign aid, oil-industry subsidies and vague out-of-control spending. The one we have is caused by the world’s highest health costs (by far), the world’s largest military (by far), a Social Security program built when most people died by age 70—and, to pay for it all, the lowest tax rates in decades.”

3. “When the top marginal rate was 70 percent or higher, as it was from 1940 to 1980, tax cuts really could make a big difference to economic growth. The tax cuts signed by Pres John F. Kennedy and by Pres Reagan both appear to have lifted growth somewhat. But when the top marginal rate is hovering around 35 percent or 40 percent, as it has recently, logic and history both make clear that a tax cut packs much less economic punch.”

Sunday 3 March 2013 / Hour 1, Block D:  Here's the Deal (Kindle Single) by David Leonhardt

(WaPo continued)    4. “Perhaps the single most counterproductive deficit-reduction approach the country could adopt would be reducing money for high-return investments. It would save millions now at the expense of billions later. One of the most promising deficit-reduction strategies, strange as it may sound, involves spending more money on such investments. Fortunately, the sums involved are not huge relative to the federal budget. The annual budget of the National Institutes of Health, the primary funder of medical research, was $31 billion last year, equal to about 1 per cent of federal spending.”

5. “All together, combining military and civilian sectors, the federal government has spent about half as much on investment in recent years, as a share of the economy, as it did in the 1960s.”

6. “ ‘Looking across the whole 40-year period, the basic story of U.S. fiscal policy is fairly simple,' Elmendorf, the director of the Congressional Budget Office, has written. ‘The country financed an increase in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid spending by reducing defense spending relative to the size of the economy.” The numbers are almost a mirror image of each other. In 1970, the federal government spent 3.8 percent of gross domestic product on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security and 8.1 percent on the military. By 2007, the percentage spent on the three benefit programs had risen to 8.2 percent, and the military’s percentage had fallen to 3.9 per cent.’”

7. “Two married recent retirees who had typical earnings over their lives will have paid about $88,000 in dedicated Medicare taxes through the payroll tax, according to a calculation by Eugene Steuerle, Stephanie Rennane and Caleb Quakenbush, all of the Urban Institute. That sum includes the portion of the tax that employers pay and is expressed in today’s dollars (adjusted for both inflation and the interest the money would have earned over the years). In return for the $88,000 in lifetime taxes, that married couple can expect to receive benefits worth more than three times as much: $387,000.”

8. “Patients and doctors alike gravitate toward the latest, most expensive treatment, regardless of whether it is the most effective. Common treatments for prostate cancer, for example, range from about $25,000 to more than $100,000. “No therapy has been shown superior to another,” an analysis by the RAND Corporation concluded. But which therapies are growing the most rapidly? The most expensive ones, like proton radiation therapy. ”

9. “The choice isn’t between rationing and not rationing. It’s between rationing well and rationing badly. Given that the United States devotes far more of its economy to health care than do other rich countries and doesn’t get better results, it’s hard to argue that we are now rationing very rationally.”

10. “Perhaps the best news in the entire messy deficit debate is that the kind of tax increases needed to make a real difference are not very scary. Making changes so that the tax code would raise, say, an additional 2 percentage points of GDP over the next 25 years would be entirely in keeping with the direction of American history. The evidence strongly suggests that it would not derail economic growth. And a disproportionate share of the increase could come from a segment of society that has done very, very well.”

Hour Two

Sunday 3 March 2013 / Hour 2, Block A:  Titanic Tragedy: A New Look at the Lost Liner by John Maxtone-Graham   With the century mark nearing for the Titanic’s sinking into the frigid Atlantic waters, Maxton-Graham (The Only Way to Cross), a leading authority on maritime matters, dissects the underlying elements of the mythic ocean disaster in this richly detailed new book. Rather than rehashing the already well-known events of the Titanic’s doomed maiden voyage on April 14, 1912, he chooses to sort through the essential pieces of the grim puzzle, pointing out . . .

Sunday 3 March 2013 / Hour 2, Block B:  . Titanic Tragedy: A New Look at the Lost Liner by John Maxtone-Graham   . . . the building of the liner at the renowned Harland and Wolff shipyard and the important role of wireless communication after the ship’s fatal collision with a huge iceberg. The carefully choreographed narrative includes the national coal strike that began that spring and almost delayed the Titanic’s voyage, and Capt. Stanley Lord, piloting the Californian, which stopped near the sinking ship but ignored its distress rockets. Bolstered by survivor tales, Maxton-Graham’s take on the Titanic will be catnip to the ship’s dedicated buffs.


Sunday 3 March 2013 / Hour 2, Block C:  . A Hole at the Bottom of the Sea: The Race to Kill the BP Oil Gusher by Joel Achenbach   

It began quietly—just a few stray mentions in the media that an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico off the Louisiana coast had caught fire. No big deal. It would be out soon. Everything would be fine.  Instead, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill (aka the BP oil spill, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the BP disaster, or the Macondo blowout) would kill 11, flow unabated for three months, dump an estimated five million barrels of oil along the Gulf Coast, and, incidentally, become the largest accidental marine oil spill in history.

Predictably, the BP disaster generated millions of pages of reports, innumerable articles and media accounts, and untold amounts of frustration as the nation waited for BP, the government, somebody, anybody, to—as President Obama put it—“Just plug the damn hole!”  Now, a year since the Macondo well was finally plugged on July 15, 2010, books on the disaster are hitting shelves. One of the better accounts is Joel Achenbach’s, A Hole at the Bottom of the Sea: The Race to Kill the BP Oil Gusher.  Achenbach, a reporter for The Washington Post and science writer for National Geographic, does an admirable job of conveying the story as it unfolded: 

Sunday 3 March 2013 / Hour 2, Block D:  A Hole at the Bottom of the Sea: The Race to Kill the BP Oil Gusher by Joel Achenbach   

. . .  the urgency, the dedication, the frustrations, the infighting, incompetence and brilliance, and the political and economic factors, in lively and, mercifully, non-technical language. (Quick quiz: How many of these can you still define: spud, hot stab, choke line, kill line, bore hole, flow rate, top kill, top hat, ROV, mud, blowout preventer, bpd, capping stack, reamer, float collar, and shearer?)

Also here are finely drawn portraits of the major players. There are government and regulatory officials including President Obama, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, and the National Incident Commander for the Deepwater Horizon spill, Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, who emerges as one of the real heroes.  Here, too, are BP CEO Tony Hayward, various Transocean executives, and the engineers, drillers, toolpushers, rigworkers, and grunts who actually managed to stem and cap the gusher. Also in these pages are the shrimpers and other locals--the “small people” in Tony Hayward’s now infamous quote: [Obama] “cares about the small people. And we care about the small people”—who saw their life and livelihoods slipping away as Gulf beaches and bayous were drenched in oil.

In the end, Achenbach pens a cautionary tale. There are no real villains, and few heroes. The causes of the explosion become glaringly obvious: ultra-deep water drilling that tested the technological limits of the industry; multiple contractors with multiple, and muddled chains of command; conflicting priorities that pitted safety and precaution against a profit motive that equates time with money; and lax government oversight. We are left with a story that may be repeated as the demand for oil drives us into ever deeper waters and more dangerous situations.

Hour Three

Sunday 3 March 2013 / Hour 3, Block A:  Poisoning the Press: Richard Nixon, Jack Anderson, and the Rise of Washington's Scandal Culture by Mark Feldstein   

In 1947, two young men born in small western towns arrived in Washington, D.C. One was an investigative reporter, the other a freshman Republican congressman. In the decades that followed, they would clash in battles that ultimately would reshape relations between the press and the presidency.  This is the provocative thesis laid out in Mark Feldstein's Poisoning the Press: Richard Nixon, Jack Anderson and the Rise of Washington's Scandal Culture, which offers a fresh and sometimes startling look at the powerful muckraking journalist and the politician he so often pursued.

    Again and again, Anderson displayed an uncanny ability to reach inside the Nixon White House to grab hold of embarrassing secrets — such as covert cash collected from billionaire Howard Hughes and a CIA plot to sabotage the elected government of the Chilean president, Salvador Allende. All these disclosures enraged Nixon, and inspired plots to discredit or silence the columnist. In January of 1972, the CIA, violating the law against domestic spying, assigned agents to follow Anderson to and from his home in a failed effort to discover sources. In March of that year, covert Nixon operatives, including G. Gordon Liddy (who now hosts a radio talk show) met at a hotel across from the White House. There, they discussed various scenarios to murder Anderson, including spiking his aspirin bottle with poison, or putting LSD on the steering wheel of the columnist's car in hopes of spurring a fatal crash.

    There are many such fly-on-the-wall scenes in the book, which reflects a gargantuan amount of research by author Feldstein, including the use of Nixon's White House recordings that had not previously been transcribed.

I got my own start as a journalist with Jack Anderson, working at his office from 1976 to 1979 as an intern, and then young staff reporter. In those years, Jack was butting heads with President Carter, a Democrat whom the Watergate scandal helped propel to the White House. I initially questioned why Feldstein had focused so narrowly on the relationship between Anderson and Nixon. But as I waded into the book, that skepticism faded as Feldstein chronicled the often-intersecting arcs of their careers. 

Sunday 3 March 2013 / Hour 3, Block B:  . Poisoning the Press: Richard Nixon, Jack Anderson, and the Rise of Washington's Scandal Culture by Mark Feldstein   The Washington influence of both men peaked in the early 1970s and then declined. Nixon, less than two years after winning re-election to the presidency in a landslide victory, would resign after revelations that he obstructed justice by paying hush money to cover up the Watergate burglary.  Anderson, in a drive for headlines, would win a Pulitzer Prize in 1972 but that same year would recklessly accuse presidential candidate Thomas Eagleton of a half-dozen arrests for drunken and reckless driving. Anderson would later retract the charge, admitting an error that did serious damage to his reputation.     In the book's epilogue, Feinstein concludes that the ghosts of Nixon and Anderson continue to haunt modern Washington in the often-corrosive relations between the press and presidents.  Two of Nixon's young aides, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, felt that the presidency had been gravely weakened by Watergate — and the media dangerously empowered — by the scandals that enveloped the Nixon White House. These two players would resurface again in the administration of a 21st-century presidency, when press scrutiny was muted by the trauma of 9/11. Secret intelligence about alleged weapons of mass destruction in Iraq helped steer the nation to war — only after the war began would that intelligence be thoroughly discredited. Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or

   ["Saddam really did have WMD after all, but not in the way the Bush administration believed. A 9,000-word research paper with citations to each captured document has been posted online at, along with translations of the captured Iraqi documents, courtesy of Mr. Ryan Mauro and his friends.  This Iraqi document research has been supplemented with satellite photographs and dozens of interviews, among them David Gaubatz who risked radiation exposure to locate Saddam’s underwater WMD warehouses, and John Shaw, whose brilliant detective work solved the puzzle of where the WMD went. Both have contributed substantially to solving one of the most difficult mysteries of our decade." Gaubatz's translations are electrifying. Unfortunately, Saddam Hussein did have a substantial nuclear research operation. "Iraqi informants showed US investigators where Saddam had constructed huge underwater storage facilities beneath the Euphrates River. The tunnel entrances were still sealed with tons of concrete. The US investigators who approached the sealed entrances were later determined to have been exposed to radiation. Incredibly, their reports were lost in the postwar confusion, and Saddam’s underground nuclear storage sites were left unguarded for the next three years. Still, the eyewitness testimony about the sealed underwater warehouses matched with radiation exposure is strong circumstantial evidence that some amount of radioactive material was still present in Iraq on the day the war began." "Saddam constructed four incredibly expensive underwater nuclear storage and production facilities under the Euphrates river during the last six months of 2002.", frm womanscholar.blogspot. com. –ed.]

Sunday 3 March 2013 / Hour 3, Block C:  . The Rogue Republic: How Would-Be Patriots Waged the Shortest Revolution in American History by William C. Davis   When Britain ceded the territory of West Florida— what is now Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida—to Spain in 1783, America was still too young to confidently fight in one of Europe’s endless territorial contests. So it was left to the settlers, bristling at Spanish misrule, to establish a foothold in the area. Enter the Kemper brothers, whose vigilante justice culminated in a small band of American residents' drafting a constitution and establishing a new government. By the time President Madison sent troops to occupy the territory, assert U.S. authority under the Louisiana Purchase, and restore order, West Florida’s settlers had already announced their independence, becoming our country’s shortest-lived rogue “republic.”

Sunday 3 March 2013 / Hour 3, Block D:   The Rogue Republic: How Would-Be Patriots Waged the Shortest Revolution in American History by William C. Davis  Meticulously researched and populated with the colorful characters that make American history a joy, this is the story of a young country testing its power on the global stage and a lost chapter in how the frontier spirit came to define American character. The first treatment of this little-known historical moment, The Rogue Republic shows how hardscrabble frontiersmen and gentleman farmers planted the seeds of civil war, marked the dawn of Manifest Destiny, and laid the groundwork for the American empire.

The story of how American settlers led a rebellion in 1810 against Spanish rule and created the Republic of West Florida, which was shortly annexed by the United States just 78 days later. 

Hour Four

Sunday 3 March 2013 / Hour 4, Block A:  Spies Against Armageddon by Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman   "Buyer beware," the best-selling thriller novelist Daniel Silva warns: "Once you crack the cover of SPIES AGAINST ARMAGEDDON, you won't be able to put it down. It's much more than simply the most authoritative book ever written about Israeli intelligence. It is storytelling and drama of the highest order." This is a history of Israel's espionage and security network from 1948 until the present day. Chock full of colorful characters and written by the best-selling authors of EVERY SPY A PRINCE, this book will take you inside the Middle East crises of today, analyzing Iran's nuclear program and challenges for the United States. A former Director of the CIA, R. James Woolsey, writes: "Raviv and Melman have redefined the gold standard for nonfiction about intelligence. This remarkable history of Israeli intelligence from the War of Independence to Stuxnet calls it straight. By describing the roots of both the triumphs and the screw-ups thoroughly and fairly, the authors help us see not only how Israel's survival has been effectively protected but the huge debt the rest of us owe." researched, balanced, and a remarkably enjoyable read.

Sunday 3 March 2013 / Hour 4, Block B:  Spies Against Armageddon by Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman  Douglas Brinkley (biographer of Walter Cronkite) writes: "The revelatory research amassed in SPIES AGAINST ARMAGEDDON is nothing short of stunning. Raviv and Melman understand the inner workings of Israel's Mossad better than most Mossad agents. Highly recommended!" Bob Schieffer of CBS News says this book is "wonderful, with great sourcing -- reads like a thriller." Wolf Blitzer, the CNN anchor with vast Middle East experience writes: "Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman have written a powerful book about Israeli espionage. SPIES AGAINST ARMAGEDDON often reads like a thriller but it's non-fiction. These two world-class journalists take us to places we've never been before. They back up their points with tons of excellent research and reporting. They clearly know their stuff. I learned so much reading this book. I know you will, as well." Chapter 1 is titled "Stopping Iran," then come chapters with exclusive and carefully considered history -- showing how the behavior and lessons learned in wars and adventures in the past affect the decisions Israel must make today. Later chapters focus on the secret bombing of a nuclear reactor in Syria, the murder by a Mossad team in a Dubai hotel (Was it a mistake?), and blasting the Steven Spielberg movie "Munich" for making it look like Mossad hit men suffered frustration and regrets. SPIES AGAINST ARMAGEDDON is well researched, balanced, and a remarkably enjoyable read.

Sunday 3 March 2013 / Hour 4, Block C:  The Tinkerers: The Amateurs, DIYers, and Inventors Who Make America Great by Alec Foege

The American tinkering spirit, a unique combination of untamed creativity and practical business sense, helped build the United States into the world’s greatest economic power. Home to the inventions of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, the Wright brothers and many more, the US has been a nation of tinkerers from its very beginning. Today’s American tinkerers are innovators, but they’re so much more: Brilliant, cockeyed dilettantes such as Segway inventor Dean Kamen, brain trust entrepreneur Nathan Myhrvold, and Tinkering School founder Gever Tulley are rethinking the way . . .

Sunday 3 March 2013 / Hour 4, Block D: The Tinkerers: The Amateurs, DIYers, and Inventors Who Make America Great by Alec Foege

. . . the country accesses its tinkering birthright. Lately, the country seems to be changing from a land of doers to one of consumers, and the once-praised innovative aura seems to have fallen aside to corporate goals. But as companies begin to bring manufacturing back to domestic shores, industry can learn a lot from the history of the pure tinkering mindset, and better understand how to recapture its remarkable power.The Tinkerers: The Amateurs, DIYers, and Inventors Who Make America Great by Alec Foege

..  ..  ..


Hour 1:

Hour 2:

Hour 3:

Hour 4: