Background Briefing: May 23, 2019

Our Reality TV President’s Feral Understanding of How to Use Media

We begin with the reality TV ambush of Schumer and Pelosi that Trump staged at the White House yesterday in a stunt designed to distract the public from the fact that Trump does not have an infrastructure plan, or any other plan for that matter, except to feed the voracious appetite of television and Twitter every day with increasingly desperate doses of manufactured drama, serial stunts and cheap cliffhangers. Richard Parker, who teaches economics and public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and was a co-founder of Mother Jones magazine and serves on the editorial board of The Nation, joins us to discuss Trump’s feral grasp of our fractured and fragmented media environment of cable news and social media while the Democratic opposition appear to be back in the analogue age of neo-liberal failure stuck with the 18th Century belief that he who has the best argument wins. Now instead of living up to his pledge to defend and protect the Constitution, we have the unprecedented condition of a president actively breaking the law to goad the Democrats into impeaching him. With Marshall McLuhan’s adage that the medium is the message now truer than ever, we will speculate when the public will grow tired of Trump’s act and whether Nancy Pelosi’s prayers will be answered since she just said “I pray for the president of the United States. I wish that his family or his administration or his staff would have an intervention for the good of the country”.


Intelligence Is No Guarantee Against Stupidity

Then we examine the proposition that intelligence is no guarantee against stupidity and look into some of the weird and wacky, terrifying and hilarious top secret projects that the U.S. Intelligence agencies and the military came up with during World War II and the Cold War. Vince Houghton, the historian and curator of the International Spy Museum in Washington and author of the new book, just out, “Nuking the Moon: And Other Intelligence Schemes and Military Plots Left on the Drawing Board”, joins us to discuss some of our greatest misfires in the name of national defense. Starting with “Acoustic Kitty” we will explore how bats with tiny firebombs attached were meant to burn down Tokyo but instead ended up burning down a U.S. base, along with the many madcap schemes to kill Castro and the tunnel the CIA and NSA built under the Russian embassy in Washington. But perhaps the crowing jewel of bizarre boondoggles in the Air Force’s 1958 plan to let off a hydrogen bomb on the moon to somehow let the Soviets know we could counter their surprise success with Sputnik.