The author talks about writing, his ties to the region and literacy advocacy.
It’s listeners’ turn to set the agenda. Weigh in on the possibility of U.S. military intervention in Syria. Share your thoughts on Virginia’s upcoming statewide elections. Tell us about a story unfolding in your neighborhood.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It's Your Turn. Your turn means you are the guests on today's show. You'll become a guest by making the call to 800-433-8850 to offer your comments and opinions on anything on your mind, events in the news, recent editions of this show or anything else, 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org, send us a Tweet at kojoshow or simply go to our website kojoshow.org and make your comment there. The number again, 800-433-8850.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAs we await your calls, let me discuss a few things that you might want to talk about. In the district, the so-called living wage bill, which would require Wal-Mart and other large retailers to pay workers $12.50 an hour, it's now made its way to Mayor Vincent Gray's desk for his signature or his veto. He's indicated he's not going to rush a decision, which he has ten days to make, though he's known since July that the bill was coming his way. WAMU's Patrick Madden reports that Gray says we will take whatever time seems to be appropriate to come to what we think is the best decision.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIWhat do you think the mayor should do, sign or veto the bill? What decision do you think is best for the city, 800-433-8850? And then there is this proposal from former city administrator Robert Bobb. By way of a Tweet Robert Bobb says, well, Bobby Bobb says, "The mayor should immediately veto the LRAA and propose a living wage for all businesses based on analytics and research. So the moment he vetoes this bill he introduces another one that would apply to all businesses. What do you say? 800-433-8850 is the number to call.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnd then from the local to the global, yesterday the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 10 to 7 with one abstention in favor of military intervention in Syria. The influential congress members on both sides of the isle, including Speaker Boehner, Minority Leader Pelosi, Eric Cantor, Senator John McCain, all backing the proposal. As Secretary of State Kerry is making the case to congress at home, President Obama's taking his appeal to the International Community in remarks yesterday in Switzerland.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnd ahead of the G20 summit in St. Petersburg he said, he did not set the redline on chemical weapons use. The world did. What do you think the U.S. should do about Syria? Are you convinced by the administration's case so far, 800-433-8850? What do you think of the intelligence that the administration and members of congress may have access to but the public, at this point, doesn't? Do you compare it to the intelligence before the Iraq War or do you think this situation is completely different, 800-433-8850?
MR. KOJO NNAMDIRemember it's Your Turn. You don't have to be limited to those issues. You can discuss any you want but Ingrid in Washington, D.C. would like to start with Syria. Ingrid, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
INGRID (CALLER0Oh, thanks, Kojo, for taking my call. Yes. I'd like to speak about Syria. And I'm not at all convinced by the evidence presented by Kerry because so far there hasn't been any. It's been, trust me, we have evidence. Yesterday in front of congress he was asked if he was telling the truth. It looked like Colin Powell at the UN. Everything that's been put before me I believe is true.
NNAMDIWhat would you like to see? What would convince you that the intelligence that the administration says it has is in fact reliable?
(CALLER0Well, first of all, they should make it public. But second, they should let the UN complete a full investigation. They even tried to get the UN to not even begin an investigation this time. The State Department told them, it's useless. You shouldn't even bother. It's too dangerous. But they went ahead and they did collect evidence. And they should wait and get the results of that. You know, the only evidence that's been offered so far was back in May. Do you remember when Carla Del Ponte of the UN said the evidence that had come in at that time pointed towards the rebels?
(CALLER0And this is another thing. Everyone's starting with this baseline assuming the rebels couldn't possibly have done this. Why not? You know, the little terrorist group in Tokyo that released sarin in the subway, they had access to sarin. These people don't have to make it. They just have to get it provided from somewhere.
NNAMDIWell, the president said that as far as he understands, the rebels -- no rebel group has either the capacity or the systems to deliver these chemical weapons, that only the government does. You remain unconvinced of that, Ingrid.
(CALLER0Completely unconvinced, especially since earlier this year in Turkey there was an arrest of some rebels. And the first report of that is that they were apprehended with sarin. And then somebody said, oh no, no, no. That wasn't really sarin. That was just some other chemicals, but there was never a follow up on that.
NNAMDIOkay. Well, thank you very much for your call, Ingrid. We move on now to Samir (sp?) in Annandale, Va. who may have a slightly different view. Samir, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SAMIRYeah, hello. I disagree with the previous caller very strongly. The evidence is overwhelming that dictator Bashar al-Assad has been using chemical weapons against the Syrian people. The proof of that is the brutality of the regime itself. I mean, a regime which has tortured thousands of people to death will not hesitate to use chemical weapons. And the regime has been using all types of conventional weapons indiscriminately to kill civilians. So far the death toll's more -- the stated death toll is more than 100,000. And that's the confirmed dead. The number of unconfirmed dead is many times greater than that.
SAMIRAnd today there was an article in the Washington Post about Russia's connections to Syria's chemical weapons. It mentioned the name of the general, General Consovich (sp?) . He knowingly and materially assisted Syria's chemical weapon program. That was in 1995. And he was never prosecuted in Russia, but the United States posted sanctions on him. And he was very well known to have stockpiles of chemical weapon. And the rebel groups, they do not have such large stockpiles of chemical weapons and they don't have the motivation either to use them against their own fellow Sunnis in the area they themselves control.
SAMIRAn area which was...
NNAMDII do -- Samir, you've made a lot of points. I do have a couple of questions for you. One of them is that some people have said, as you have pointed out, if over 100,000 people have been killed so far during the course of this war, what is the qualitative difference that the introduction of chemical weapons makes? Because they say maybe some 1,000 people have been -- maybe 1400 have been killed by chemical weapons so why intervene now? Why not while those 100,000 other people were being killed?
SAMIRI agree with you 100 percent. The United States should've intervened two years before. This whole mess would never have happened. The death toll would've been a lot less and the Syrian people would've been spared so much suffering. But the Obama Administration, by his indecisiveness and lack of leadership allowed this problem to fester.
SAMIRAnd so reached the point where he's using chemical -- he's escalating the brutality more and more until the point where he's using his massive stockpile of chemical weapons against his own people.
NNAMDIOkay. The second question I raise is, what if in fact the U.S. does conduct a military strike and the Syrian government or one of its allies retaliates? What do you think should happen next? Should the U.S. enter into a war with Syria that would involve troops on the ground?
SAMIRIt's not really necessary for the United States to commit ground troops because there's already rebels on the ground fighting Bashar as a native Syrian. (sp?) They only need more military supports and better weapons to complete the job. There's no need for American troops to get involved at all.
NNAMDIEven if he retaliates.
SAMIRNo. They only need to provide the Free Syrian army with better weapons and they could take care of themselves.
NNAMDIWhat if he retaliates against the United States?
SAMIRThat's very unlikely. His army is very much weakened by the fight against the rebels. There's really not much he can do at this point.
NNAMDIOkay, Samir. Thank you very much for your call. It's Your Turn. You can call 800-433-8850 on any issue you'd like to discuss, whether it was the hearing this week involving the alleged sexual assault at the U.S. Naval Academy. If it has to do with the recess time in D.C. public school, which I'll get to in one second, 800-433-8850. Here now is Ron in Washington, D.C. Ron, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RONKojo, I love you, man.
NNAMDIThank you, Ron.
RONHey, Kojo, I haven't spoke to you since the last time you interviewed Marion Barry on WHMN. That was...
NNAMDIWell, that's now Howard University Television. Go ahead, Ron.
RONExactly. My point is, hey, what is going on with H Street and Vineyard (sp?) Road construction again? We've already spent four to five years building that thing up for the streetcars and now they're tearing it up again. Who's paying for all this?
NNAMDIWhat do you mean they're tearing it up again?
RONOh, I guess you haven't been there lately.
NNAMDII have, but I didn't realize they were tearing it up again.
RONYeah, they're tearing it up again.
NNAMDII have somebody who lives close by who's nodding affirmatively saying, yes they are in fact tearing it up again. Maybe that same person could tell me why they're tearing it up again. It's my understanding that the streetcars themselves should be coming soon. I thought the tracks had already been laid down.
RONThey've been laid down but now they're doing more construction after they paved it, laid them down. Now it looks like they're tearing part of it up again and they're doing something else to it. So I'm trying to figure out, you know, someone paid for the original construction and now they're tearing it up again. And then they're going to have to do the streets over again. Now we're paying for that again.
NNAMDII don't know, Ron. I'm having a response being channeled to me even as we speak and I'll tell you later, so don't go anyplace. Continue listening to the broadcast and I'll tell you exactly what's going on. But I do have to move on because it's everybody's turn, 800-433-8850. Here now is Bruce in Washington, D.C. Bruce, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BRUCEHey, Kojo. Thanks so much for taking my call. The issue that I wanted to raise, I'm not sure if it's been on your radar or not, but Representative Steve King is a House member from Iowa.
NNAMDIFamiliar with him, yes.
BRUCEYeah, very -- Dana Milbank takes me to task pretty regularly. He purports to be in favor of states' rights but he has an amendment to the farm bill, which is in the House version of the bill that would vacate dozens of state laws. Any state law that has to do with agricultural production, which is one iota better than any other state law is going to be vacated. It's going to -- if the farm -- if the House version of the farm bill as it exists now passes. And it's overwhelming opposed to this amendment, in that that...
BRUCE..the House and the Senate, but the conferees tend to be more pro big agriculture.
NNAMDIWhat do the...
BRUCEAnd they're the ones who are going to decide.
NNAMDIWhat'll be the impact of this bill, Bruce?
BRUCEWell, it's going to vacate laws that have to do -- state laws that have to do with fire safety, state laws that have to do with tobacco labeling, state laws that have to do with anything having to do with agriculture, whether they're environmental laws or consumer safety laws or animal welfare laws. He proposed it because he's upset about the state of California passing a law that says no eggs can be sold in the state...
BRUCE...if they are produced by cramming hens into tiny little cages called battery cages. About 95 percent of egg production in the United States comes from these battery cages where hens can't spread their wings for their entire lives. Iowa is the number one egg-producing state. And effective January 1, 2015 California has decided that these eggs cannot be produced in battery cages or sold if they come from battery cages.
NNAMDIAh, so he's seeking to put an end to the California law.
BRUCEThat's exactly right.
BRUCEIt would vacate that law, but it would also vacate dozens of other laws. Anything that has to do with agriculture or that regulates agriculture in any way, and is any better than any other state, it's complete equalization. So...
NNAMDIOkay. That's something...I'm glad you alerted us to that, Bruce. That's something that I know we'll want to follow up on to take a look at what happens with that.
BRUCEExcellent. Thanks very much.
NNAMDIOkay, Bruce. Thank you very much for your call. It is Your Turn. We return now to John in Arlington, Va. John, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOHNHey, Kojo. I have some problems with the Syrian operation. Give you a couple examples. We keep hearing this figure of 1400 people killed, including 426 children. That is at the high end of what I would call responsible casualty list. The (unintelligible) had three hospitals -- associated hospitals which were in rebel territory which would be seen friendly to the rebels maybe, said they have 350 killed and a couple thousand needed examination.
JOHNThe French interestingly came out with a report yesterday. And they only had around 220 killed. And they, of course, are supportive of the United States' stand. Now the reason that's important is because if you have a large figure of people killed, it's a little more compatible with an organized maybe attack by the Syrians. If you have a smaller number of people killed, it gets down to the point where maybe some (word?) provocateur's involved where you could set off these devices in the middle of the night and they could do a lot of damage. The fact that they occurred in the middle of a fight rather than the beginning is also a little bit instructive.
JOHNI don't think we know what happened. And I think we should get with the Russians and say, okay, here's our proof and you say it wasn't done. Why don't you show us what you have? Because they claim it's unacceptable to them. If it is, then we can maybe work something out. For right now we're not doing that and it's all a push to war.
NNAMDIIndeed, John, you get to the issue which may be at the heart of this, and that is the credibility of the reports that we are getting either from the administration or from other sources. I suspect that over the course of the last decade since the faulty intelligence on Iraq that the American public is skeptical of claims that are made that they themselves cannot verify.
JOHNYes. Well, one -- two other things, Kojo, and roughly to an attack. We claim that our effort would be to degrade their operational capability. If that includes the degradation of their ability to control those weapons, that's not a good idea, and other people could grab -- if they haven't already -- don't forget, the rebels have taken over a bunch of bases that the Syrian government had.
JOHNWho knows what they had in there, you know?
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call, John. We're going to take a short break but before we do that, a response to the caller who called earlier about them tearing up H Street again. Just today, Dr. Gridlock reported in the Washington Post that the D.C. streetcar line construction has shut 26th Street Northeast from Benning Road north to the construction entrance just south of the now closed Spingarn High School for about two months.
NNAMDIThe contractor will install two streetcar tracks, which is on the westbound lanes of Benning Road on either side of 26th Street. DDOT officials hope to open the H Street Benning Road streetcar line later this year. There's also construction ongoing at the other end of H Street closer to Union Station from Third to the Hopscotch Bridge. I guess we may be able to get you more information about that later. That construction at Union Station -- or at the Union Station N has been underway since July.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break but it is Your Turn. If you've called, stay on the line. We will get to your calls. If you'd like to call, the number's 800-433-8850. If the lines are busy, send us an email to email@example.com or a Tweet at kojoshow. It is Your Turn. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. It is Your Turn. We got a Tweet from Rhone about the living wage bill. Rhone says, "I'd sign the bill. Workers need a decent wage. $7.50 is not enough. People need to be independent, not dependent. $12.50 is a start." Well, as you know, this bill, at this point, would apply probably only to Wal-Mart. And we mentioned earlier former City Administrator Robert Bobb's Tweet that the mayor should propose a living wage bill for all businesses based on analytics and research. But Rhone feels that starting this way, well, that's a good thing.
NNAMDIWhat do you think? It is Your Turn. Call us at 800-433-8850 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Most area schools are back in session, which means less time for play. But in D.C. parents were surprised to learn how much less time. Discovering after classes started that some district elementary schools reduced recess to just 15 minutes. After a wave of complaints from parents, officials issued new guidelines, raising the minimum recess time to 20 minutes and stressing that principals can add more time if they wish.
NNAMDIBut many parents and recess advocates argue that's still not enough time for little ones with lots of energy who in the early grades are not accustomed to being still for so many hours a day. What do you think? How much recess is enough? Give us a call, 800-433-8850 or shoot us an email if you can't get through on the lines to email@example.com, or send us a Tweet at kojoshow. Back now to the phones. Here is Abdulla in Fairfax, Va. Abdulla, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ABDULLAHello, Kojo. I'd like to express my opinion. It goes to the individual, your previous caller, Samir.
ABDULLAHe had expressed that the Syrian regime is actually at fault, that the United States has to intervene in their situation. Regretfully, I would like to inform your listener that the 100,000 people that were killed in Syria were not all done by the Syrian regime.
ABDULLAI understand that the Syrian regime is guilty, but the angelic al-Qaida and the Free Syrian army are not so innocent as well. They have been involved in killing people, the Syrians specifically, as well. So that's one point. The other point is, as the previous caller mentioned, there are several military bases that changed hands between the Syrian army and also the al-Qaida and of course the Free Syrian army as well. So who knows what else -- what kind of equipment, materials, chemical weapons or any other weapons were stored in those areas.
ABDULLAI'd like to make another point, and it goes to the president making the decision to go for a strike, and basing this as a national security issue. In my opinion, I think basing this decision on national security issue would not be a fruitful one. And the reason for that is that if you wanted to look at the national security issues, al-Qaida, I would think that presents imminent danger to the United States a lot closer to the fact than, you know, the Syrian regime with its biological chemical weapons.
NNAMDIWell, Abdulla, allow me to pose this question to you. The United States is the world's leading power. It has allegedly received information that the Syrian regime has been using chemical weapons, which of course is illegal. The Syrians are a party to a treaty not to use chemical weapons. What do you think, having received that information, that the United States should actually do? Nothing?
ABDULLAWell, not nothing. If the United States wants to go into Syria or strike Syrian installations, so be it. That's fine. But the United States cannot take sides with al-Qaida, you know, through the Free Syrian army. If the United States wants to strike the military installations of the Syrian regime, then at the same time can strike al-Qaida installations in Syria as well. And the reason for that is that we are currently at war with al-Qaida. The al-Qaida people who came to the United States, killed thousands of our people and for that reason. they're still threatening American lives overseas, everywhere globally. In addition to that, we just had about...
NNAMDIWell, how do you...
ABDULLA...excuse me, we just had about over 20 of our embassies closed because of al-Qaida actions. I agree with you, yes, if you want this strike, so be it. We can strike the Syrian regime. But also at the same time, we should strike al-Qaida.
NNAMDIAbdulla, how do you identify the al-Qaida groups that are mixed in or al-Qaida affiliated groups that are mixed in with the Syrian opposition in Syria? How do you isolate and strike those groups when they seem to be a part of a much broader opposition?
ABDULLAThat is the fundamental problem that the United States is facing right now. Either with the past year or so that the Western world has been aiding the so-called Free Syrian army actually with weapons and money and communication (word?) and all the equipment issues that we are currently facing, all those equipment have already shown (unintelligible) everywhere else that, you know, (unintelligible) al-Qaida. So how was it that, you know, we will think that we are doing something good and to go to supporting the Free Syrian army while we don't know who they are.
ABDULLAAlthough Senator, you know, McCain visited that place. Yet when the inspectors come out, he was taking pictures with al-Qaida people. So how is that, you know, like justifiable for United States action while Senator McCain is one of the foreign relations senators who just approved strikes against Syria?
NNAMDIOkay. Abdulla, thank you very much for your call. It's Your Turn. We move on to Shawn on another issue in Montrose, Va. Shawn, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SHAWNHi. Well, I was thinking today about the Wal-Mart thing. I think it should be Wal-Mart's choice to choose what the minimum wage should be for people working there.
NNAMDIWell, suppose Wal-Mart simply decides that the minimum wage for people working there should be, oh, a dollar an hour?
SHAWNWell, that probably wouldn't be right. but still it shouldn't be the government deciding what people's paychecks should be. It should be the people that are hiring them to decide.
NNAMDIWell, allow me to explain a little bit of something to you, Shawn. There is a national minimum wage that is passed by the congress of the United States. The reason that national minimum wage exists is so that people, once they are working, would have a reasonable standard of living. Were the federal government not to pass such a law where in previous decades and centuries in fact, labor unions not fight very hard to get that, then employers would simply pay people whatever they wanted. So there is a bottom line below which an employer legally cannot go.
SHAWNWell, I agree -- I agree with you that there should be a set minimum wage but I'm just thinking that pretty much the one they have now would be fine for them. They shouldn't have to change it after this.
NNAMDIWell, what some people are saying is that if they pay that minimum wage that the people who work for Wal-Mart, A, would not be able to afford to live reasonably and that therefore we, the taxpayer, will be subsidizing those people with food stamps and other forms of welfare programs.
SHAWNOkay. Well, anyway, yeah, I agree with you, I guess, then.
NNAMDIBut the problem here is that the opponents of this legislation feels that it's isolating Wal-Mart and it doesn't touch other large grocery chains or other large businesses. And that's why there's that much conflict over it. But I guess, Shawn, we'll just have to see how it turns out. Thank you very much for your call. We move on to Bill in Harpers Ferry, W.V. Bill, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BILLYeah, my comment is about the reduction of recess in the public school system...
BILL...this seems to be something that's not just local, but that being nationwide. And, you know, there was a book recently by a gentleman named Don Ratey who's a clinical professor of psychology at Harvard University. And his book is called "Spark" and it talks about exercising the brain and how not only does exercise in the school improve academic outcome, but it improves behavioral outcome as well. And so that piece out of the academic day is a terrible thing. And you're seeing this happen over and over again.
NNAMDISo you're saying that too much emphasis on academics and not enough emphasis on recreation exercise and social interaction is bad for kids?
BILLAbsolutely. I think academics can only benefit from increased movement, exercise and other activities...
BILL...and all those other activities the academic performance in the case studies that they've done actually decreases.
NNAMDIAnd I think that's one of the concerns that parents here have had. But, you know, what happens is that when administrators are looking at ways to improve test scores and ways to try to engage children in the academic aspects of the curriculum longer, especially when they have specific tests for which they are preparing those children, they want them in the classroom longer. But what they're finding out is that parents are not agreeing. Bill, thank you very much for your call. We move on now to Nico (sp?) in National Harbor, Md. Nico, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NICOThank you for having me, Kojo.
NICOJust wanted to comment on Syria. It's interesting that as we listen to the reports that come in, we're talking about rebels and this regime. What we learned in Iraq that Saddam Hussein was such a terrible guy in Iraq, and that is true, but what we did understand now is that there was some kind of order that was there because of the different tribes that continue to fight each other. We have to, as America, understand that democracy can't happen everywhere.
NICOAnd what we have not identified is exactly who these rebels are. And the first thing that we want to do -- and I support the president, but not in this. This is something that we don't have a dog in this fight. It is unfortunate that the reports come in about people being gassed. We don't know who supplied that gas to his regime but we've supplied weapons in the past to other, you know, so-called rebels. And what has happened in Afghanistan and in previous wars, they have come back to fight us years later with those same weapons that we have supplied them.
NICOSo I think it's up to America at this point to take a step back to allow the United Nations to do what they do. We haven't received a report, from my understanding, what their findings are from the United Nations. We need to wait, allow them to do their due diligence and then allow, as a group, for United Nations to find out whatever it is to come to an agreement on what needs to be done. And as America is the number one super power, I think we need to take a backseat in this and be a little acquiesce and understand exactly what information we're getting.
NICOBecause if the rebel groups can't even agree on how they want to fight together, what does that say about how one, unstable they are. And if this regime was to fall, what kind of chaos would that cause in the Middle East and in that country currently?
NNAMDIWell, two comments for you, Nico. One, there was a fascinating exchange yesterday between Secretary of State Kerry and a member of the House of Representatives who was making the argument that with all of the information that he had been receiving in briefings, he was getting the impression that radical Islamists were becoming more powerful in that opposition movement even as the Secretary of State was informing him that the democratic forces were gaining more power in the opposition movement.
NNAMDISo there were two directly conflicting reports or views of exactly what's happening in the opposition underscoring that there are great differences of opinion and apparently differences in information about what people are getting. Having said that, Nico, what should the United States do however, even if we don't understand exactly how the opposition groups are put together, if there is overwhelming evidence that the government or the regime that is running the country is in fact using chemical weapons?
NICOThat's a great question, Kojo, and I think that's something that we need to delve into deeper to find out exactly what our role should be. But boots on the ground is definitely not one of them. Second of all, you know, allowing for airstrikes, as we know that Syria has a tremendous -- from my understanding, a force that could repel these airstrikes. And we could lose planes, is what we're being told. And so we've already lost quite a bit of American life and I'm not sure that there is a specific right answer to that. But we need to look at some other options.
NICOIf sanctions aren't working, there's a problem. And I do agree that the exchange between Kerry -- it's very ominous to me and it reminds me of Secretary of State -- former Secretary of State at the time Colin Powell and the former, you know, other young lady, Condoleezza Rice making the same claim to congress saying, hey, there are weapons of mass destruction that are there. And we've got evidence to prove that. So I kind of feel like that we're doing this all over again with, you know, Secretary Kerry saying, hey, we've got evidence doing that, but as you said, it's true that the Senator's saying we're conflicted reports.
NICOAnd so if we have someone like McCain who's gone to Syria and he's taking pictures with these people, but yet we see a picture of him playing poker when the American people have elected him to be paying attention and having his best interests at hand, and you're talking about going to war, I kind of have a problem with that. And I think what is a little more scary, is that if you have House Speaker Boehner and other leaders from the Republican party agreeing with the president on this, I think this is probably the first time that they actually are in agreeance of this, I almost feel like that they're setting the president up to fall.
NICOSo I don't know what that is.
NNAMDIOkay. Nico, thank you very much for your call. I for one tended to give Senator McCain a pass on that, because if you've been listening to hearings for a long time and you're hearing people saying the same thing you've heard them say before, one tends not to pay as much attention to it, but who knows? Because there are cameras on you all the time and, therefore, people are in a position to judge your behavior at every waking moment. That can become a little bit of a problem. But it is your turn, not mine.
NNAMDIWe do have to take a short break. Nico, thank you for your call. If you have called, stay on the line. We will get to your call. If you're looking to call, the number is 800-433-8850, or you can shoot us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Send us a tweet @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back, it's your turn. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Yesterday we spoke with Washington Post reporter, Melinda Henneberger and Eugene Fidell from the Yale Law School about the Article 32 hearing to determine whether three male midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy will face a court martial for allegedly sexually assaulting a female classmate. The accuser spent 20-plus hours on the stand over the course of five days answering questions about everything from how often she lied to what her dance moves were like.
NNAMDIThe allegations center around an off-campus party where members of the Navy football team allegedly sexually assaulted the accuser after she blacked out from drinking. The hearing was brought further attention -- or it has brought further attention to questions about how the military deals with cases of sexual assault within its ranks, with critics saying it's a case study for understanding why only a fraction of service members who experience sexual assault ever come forward.
NNAMDIWe got more calls than we had time to take yesterday, so if you'd like to weigh in, now is the time. You may want to start by sending us an email because the phone lines are busy for the time being, to email@example.com, or offering your opinion by way of a tweet @kojoshow. Do you think the military as a whole is doing enough to address its problems with sexual assaults? What do you think about this case generally? Back to the telephones now. Here is Laverne in Washington D.C. Laverne, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LAVERNEYes. Hi. Thanks for taking my call. I'm sorry, but I have to go back to Syria.
LAVERNEAnd I'm hoping -- I have a few questions and points, but I'm hoping that someone can educate me as to the purpose, political or otherwise, of the Arab Union. What do they do other than give lip service, and is there some mandate that says that they cannot take action for anything in their own backyard? Even the African Union has stepped up to the plate and taken responsibility for what goes on in Africa. And I understand concern of the Geneva Convention with the use of chemical weapons, but where does it state in the Geneva Convention that the U.S. has to spearhead any type of action, and that we are to do it solely?
LAVERNEAnd what is our historical relationship with Syria, why we have to have our maternal instincts kick in think that we have to spearhead solely any kind of action that needs to be taken? And while we're doing all this, whoever was responsible, aren't they hiding their weapons by now?
NNAMDIWell, you ask several questions. President Obama has said that as a leader in the world, the U.S. has a responsibility and that that responsibility involves -- when it sees the use of chemical weapons being employed by a regime someplace, it has, as a leader, to take the lead in what has to be done. But that said, what do you think the U.S. should do?
LAVERNEWell, I think if they should do anything, they should be doing it with other countries involved, and again, I go back to the Arab Union. What's their purpose? What's their purpose? All I've heard them do is give lip service, and, in fact, I believe they are against strikes the last time I heard. I can't say for certain, but I don't see what their purpose is. I have never seen their purpose, and we -- they have weapons. We sell them weapons. So what's their purpose?
NNAMDIWell, the Arab Union would be much better place to describe their purpose than I would, but what would you like to see -- you obviously would like to see the Arab Union taking a more active role in all of this. Whatever role it has been playing has not been highly publicized.
LAVERNEAnd the thing is, as I said, I would like someone to educate me on their purpose. I'm not saying that I know it. I don't know what their purpose is.
NNAMDIWell, maybe we'll here from someone before the end of this broadcast who can offer that education. But thank you very much for your call. We got an email from Bea who says, "Please stop misinforming the public with the statement that the bill will only apply to Wal-Mart. That is untrue. The bill is called the Large Retailer Accountability Act for a reason." Well, specifically what the bill says, according to reports by Mike DeBonis in the Washington Post, the bill mandates companies with corporate sales of $1 billion or more operating D.C. stores of at least 75,000 square feet to pay their workers wages and benefits of no less than $12.50 hourly with an exception for union shops.
NNAMDIThe city's current minimum wage is $8.25. The reason why a lot of people have referred to it as a Wal-Mart bill, is that the bill only came up when Wal-Mart decided to come into the city even though there were already stores likes Costcos and Targets -- and Targets in the city that had not been requested to do that, and it will apply to their future stores in the city if they do decide to open up, but many of them have also gone on record, Home Depot, Lowe's, AutoZone, Target, Macy's, and Walgreens, sending a letter to the Mayor back in July to veto the bill themselves because ultimately it would apply to them if they plan on opening new stores here in the District. On now to Romy in Washington, D.C. Romy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ROMYYeah. The question isn't -- I don't think the issue is whether Assad is -- Bashar al Assad is bad, I think that's all agreed upon. The question here is whether U.S. intervention -- military intervention is going to do anything about it, and we have -- people have short-term memory loss here. We have Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya. All those are examples of U.S. interventions, and nothing good has come of those. And so -- and in fact, they're worse off than they were before U.S. intervention. Things are worse in those countries.
ROMYIn terms of what can be done, and again, this is -- it's not just bomb or don't bomb. This is how the administration has framed it, but there's plenty of other options. First and foremost, all parties have to stop. There needs to be an arms embargo. Secondly, a peace conference hasn't even been attempted. Russia and the U.S. could easily convene that and begin the discussion. So those are two very concrete steps that can be taken, and the third thing is, the money -- all this money being spent on the military could be spend on the refugees.
ROMYWe're talking about seven million, six to seven million people now -- Syrians, who are displaced. That's a travesty, and the bombs are not going to help that. They're going to make it worse. So those are -- those are what...
NNAMDIWell, earlier this week we had on one representative based in Washington of an opposition group in Syria who made the point that quote unquote, "Well, we've tried everything. We've tried negotiating with the regime and that has not worked, so what's point of trying to do that all over again?"
ROMYThat's not true. They can't agree, so what they have agreed upon is that they're not going to negotiate until Assad steps down, and that's not going to happen. They're living in a dream, and...
NNAMDISo you feel that any negotiation that takes place, Bashar al Assad has to be a part of that negotiation?
ROMYWell, at this point, that's the only realistic option. He's not going anywhere. And to just say that we're going to negotiate until he steps down means that you're not -- you don't want to negotiate.
NNAMDIWhat if during the negotiation he makes it obvious that stepping down is not an option?
ROMYWell, I mean, we'll have to -- once the negotiations start, we'll have to see where that leads, but I mean, there has...
NNAMDIDo you think that U.S. can work with countries like Russia and China to put pressure on Bashar al Assad?
ROMYYeah. I mean, there's -- and they need to sit down and talk to Iran as well. They're, you know, allotted this new Prime Minister -- the new president being elected there, and then they turn around and they still haven't talked to him or done anything. So...
ROMY...it's a travesty. But I just want to make a quick plug, there's a teach-in tonight at St. Stephens at 16th and Newton on this topic at 7:00 p.m., St. Stephens church, and we have a couple of good speakers to talk about it.
NNAMDIWell, you characterize it as a teach in, Romy. Should people expect one position or another to be taken even before the teach in even starts?
ROMYSure. Let me -- let me clarify that it's a teach in on why we should oppose U.S. intervention in Syria.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you for being straightforward about that. On now to Morris in Gainesville, Va. Morris, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MORRISThank you, Kojo. Let me just mention, I'm calling about Syria, but I was in charge of the sexual assault investigation at the Air Force Academy back in 2003, and this afternoon at five o'clock on al Jazeera America, I'm discussing it for 30 minutes on there. But I wanted to talk about Syria. The part that's been left out in the discussion, and clearly Assad is a bad guy, chemical weapons are terrible, and we out to be outraged about it. But before the U.S. rushes in, we have to have some legal basis that allows us to do that.
MORRISYou know, after World War II, we led the effort to create the U.N. Charter and the Geneva Convention, and under that body of law we created, you're allowed to use military force if you're attacked, if you're under imminent threat of attack, or if there's an international consensus in the form of a U.N. resolution that authorizes military action. But none of those conditions exist. So there's no legal basis for the U.S. to launch an attack on Assad for using chemical weapons.
MORRISThe Chemical Weapons Convention doesn't say if you're a party that you're subject to attack for a violation. So we're about to commit a breach of international law, a body of law that we created.
NNAMDISo you're saying that even if the Congress authorizes President Obama to do this, if the U.S. or any country does this, it would be a violation of international law. What does that international law say should be the consequence of a signatory to a treaty using chemical weapons?
MORRISWell, it's the same, you know, we're a signatory to the convention against torture. We tortured people, you know, in -- we've held in detention, and there's been no invasion of America to enforce that convention. So we pick and choose -- you know, I've heard the president talk about impunity and accountability and international norms, but we're very selective in the ones that we want to ignore when we commit the violations and ones that we want to invade when another country does.
MORRISBut what we need to be doing is, you know, the Russians wanted to send members of their legislature to meet with our Congress and talk. President Rowhani in Iran, it seems he's got a whole new attitude in Iran. I think there's a real opportunity diplomatically to work with the Iranians and the Russians, and I think it would be a step for President Obama's legacy if we could find a diplomatic solution to pressure Assad to put an end to the…
NNAMDISo you think a diplomatic solution is still possible. I would like to give -- you to give us a preview of your sexual assault conversation later this afternoon because what we talked about yesterday is this Article 32 hearing. A hearing which will merely determine whether the three male midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy will face a trial, a court martial for the allegations against them. Yet, during this hearing, which I guess some people would compare to a grand jury investigation, the alleged victim was asked -- questioned for 20 hours or more, 24 I think in all, and asked very explicit questions about how she danced, about whether or not she wore underwear.
NNAMDITo what extent do you think it is necessary for the 32 hearings to be changed? To what extent to you think that the whole process needs to be changed?
MORRISWell, I think it's worth taking a look at revising the whole process. The Uniform Code of Military Justice is a byproduct of World War II that was enacted in 1951, and times have changed considerably over the last 60 years. There were a lot of abuses during World War II, and so the system that was built after World War II really is heavily stacked towards protecting the rights of the accused. So you mentioned this is kind of like the grand jury, but a grand jury, the accused isn't there to question witnesses and call witnesses where an Article 32 you have that right.
MORRISSo I think, you know, there's certainly room to revisit whether the system we were using is still valid, but I think confronting this whole issue, you know, is déjà vu all over again. You know, Tailhook was 1992, (word?) is 1996, the Air Force Academy was 2003, and here we are in 2013 talking about these same issues. So I think, number one is, we've got to fix the criminal justice process of it, but also, we need to be preventing sexual assaults to begin with, and we can do that by changing the culture.
MORRISThe military is no longer just good old boys' club, where this kind of thing got a wink and a nod. You know, we've got to make it one team, one fight, you don't prey on your teammates.
NNAMDIOkay. Morris, thank you very much for your call. We got an email from Betsy in Northern Virginia who says, "If the U.S. truly wants to make a positive impact on the Syrian people, couldn't we consider sending tents, cots, blankets, medical supplies, and various housekeeping items to Turkey, Jordan, and other countries now trying to cope with Syrian refugees? I realize the logistics of such donations would be difficult, but the benefits of sending C5 aircraft loaded with humanitarian supplies would be well worth the effort.
NNAMDI"It's my understanding our military has thousands of housekeeping sets prepositioned around the world. Such action would send a positive message to the Syrians, and to our friends around the world." And then we got this tweet from Rami who says, "No question Assad is a bad influence, but the -- no question Assad" -- let me repeat that. "No question Assad is bad. Question is whether U.S. intervention will help. Did it help in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya? No," says Rami. And I'm afraid that's all the time we have.
NNAMDIThanks to all of those of you who participated in Your Turn. We'll be coming around your way again in a couple of weeks, so get ready. Stand by. "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." It's produced by Michael Martinez, Ingalisa Schrobsdorff, Tayla Burney, Kathy Goldgeier, Elizabeth Weinstein and Stephanie Stokes. Brendan Sweeney is the managing producer. Our engineer is Tobey Schriener. Natalie Yuravlivker is on the phones. Podcasts of all shows, audio archives, CDs, and free transcripts are available at our website, kojoshow.org.
NNAMDITo share questions or comments with us, email us firstname.lastname@example.org, join us Facebook, or send a tweet @kojoshow. And thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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