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Is anybody out there listening to us? We are dying and you are killing us with the inefficiency.
ANNA AMRIA TREMONTI: The mayor of San Juans unapologetically blunt assessment of U.S. aid efforts in Puerto Rico reverberated all the way to Washington this week and back again as U.S. president Donald Trump arrived to visit the devastated island. But her volley and his counter volley aren't the only things being tossed around. And no I'm not talking about the paper towels I'm talking about ideas. Puerto Rico's status as a Commonwealth, or colony of the US, has long been a sore point for its residents. Some long for full independence others covet status as a fifty first state. Hear the arguments in just a moment. Also today Bill Nye the Science Guy.
Climate change deniers are almost exclusively of a certain age. Young people are very concerned about who ready to make changes. So we'll see what happens in the coming decades. If like to worry about things you are living in a great time.
AMT: Our project adaptation offers a double header on climate change today with some thoughts from Bill Nye and some specifics from Canada's environment commissioner on her audit that exposes the inaction of 14 government departments. That's in half an hour, and then it was a daring daylight bank heist carried out with the precision of an elite military hit squad. In fact the thieves turned out to be part of an athlete U.S. military squad and the guy in the getaway car insisted he was merely following orders which only confused his family.
We were horrified. We had seen Alex grow up we seen how dedicated he was to becoming an Army Ranger and it made absolutely no sense whatsoever that he was involved in this crime.
AMT: The curious story of the Ranger games in an hour. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. This is The Currents.Back To Top »
Trump's visit to Puerto Rico reignites debate over island's statehood
Guest: Ana Portnoy Brimmer Charles Venator-Santiago, Ken Oliver-Mendez
I hate to tell you Puerto Rico but you've thrown our budget a little out of whack. Because we spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico and that's fine. We've saved a lot of lives.
AMT: It's been two weeks since Hurricane Maria devastated the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico. And that clip you just heard is part of what the president Donald Trump had to say in his much anticipated visit there yesterday.
Every death is a horror. But if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina and you look at the tremendous hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that died, now what is your what is your death count as of this moment? 17? 16 people certified. 16 people versus in the thousands.
AMT: Well the president's words may have been intended to console or to give a boost to rescue workers. In fact the death toll is now above 30. But for Luis Gutierrez, a U.S. congressman of Puerto Rican descent, those words stung.
I wish he would stop talking about money. I wish he would stop talking about what's a human life worth. How do you put that on the scorecard. There is no cost that you can put on a human life and I wish the president would stop.
AMT: The storm has laid bare long simmering tensions between the territory of Puerto Rico and the U.S. federal government. Puerto Ricans may be American citizens but they cannot vote for president. They have a congresswoman in Washington but she cannot vote on legislation. For years there has been a struggle for better representation whether by becoming the 51st state or an independent country. And now some believe Hurricane Maria may have ushered in a Boston Tea Party moment in the Caribbean. Ana Portnoy Brimmer is a Master's student at the University of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras. She is in in Mayaguez, a few hours outside of San Juan. Hello.
ANA PORTNOY BRIMMER: Hi, good morning.
AMT: How do you respond to what President Trump said yesterday?
ANA PORTNOY BRIMMER: Well first of all I think Trump's arrival to Puerto Rico was a storm of his own. And first of all I'd like to make it known that I don't support Trump presidency or persona. And I believe his visit to Puerto Rico was not only a show of colonial force but a vein and self-gratifying act and a media show. Trump had the audacity to draw comparisons between the damages Hurricane Katrina caused versus the damage that Maria caused in Puerto Rico. In the middle of the crisis Frederica's going through and the devastation was experienced.
AMT: So how badly damaged is it where you are?
ANA PORTNOY BRIMMER: [Unintelligible] West side, pretty badly damaged. And on top of that it's been abandoned, we feel, by central government relief efforts by FEMA aid relief efforts. There are still electric grids on the ground. It's predicted that a lot of the areas won't have power till about six months. There's no running water either. People are having to reoccur to water oasis, or quick [unintelligible] rivers and streams as well to get you know drinking water, to bathe and to take care of other basic necessities, like to wash clothing. A lot of people have lost [unintelligible] as well.
AMT: I understand you are in Mayaguez with your family. You're usually somewhere else though. How is that area where you actually live?
ANA PORTNOY BRIMMER: So I live in the town of Luquillo which is on the north eastern region. And Mayaguez is on the west side. But when the hurricane was coming I had to evacuate Luquillo becauseI live very close to the beaches on the coast. And so since I have family members on the west side I was able to take refuge with them with my parents.
AMT: Do you know how that area where your apartment is? You know how it fared?
ANA PORTNOY BRIMMER: I've only heard that it's fairly devastated. I'm at the apartment building. I've been [unintelligible] but I haven't been able to go due to the fuel shortage.
AMT: So does your family have power? Do you have water?
ANA PORTNOY BRIMMER: No we don't have power yet. We have a water reserve but we checked it yesterday and we're running out. I think we might have two days left of water.
AMT: What about food? How are the grocery stores?
ANA PORTNOY BRIMMER: Grocery stores running out of merchandise. We're hoping more merchandise will come. The central government has been saying- and private industries have been distributing to the stores. But I haven't seen merchandise and people are complaining not just in Mayaguez, that supermarkets and the big corporate lawyers aren't being stocked up. So people are having a hard time getting food, especially if they didn't stock up their pantries beforehand because they were in a bad economic state. They weren't able to prepare in time. So things are becoming dire.
AMT: And what about the aid that has come to the island? What's your experience? Is it getting anywhere near where you are?
ANA PORTNOY BRIMMER: Aid has been arriving to the west side of Puerto Rico at least. It's been due to the mayor's efforts. But central government efforts and federal efforts has been very slow and sluggish. It was not until the 12th day after Maria's passing that the central government announced that they were sending truckloads of provisions to different parts of the island. And a lot of people are still waiting for the aid that FEMA and other federal aid groups promised. So if there's been a distribution it's been thanks to the mayors and in the municipalities in Puerto Rico and then just a show of solidarity between neighbors and people living in the same borough. People have been taking care of each others here because no one else has been taken care of them.
AMT: And so talk to me a little bit more about the you used the word colonial forces earlier. What has happened now underline that conversation about Puerto Rico's own sort of political status with the United States?
ANA PORTNOY BRIMMER: Well I believe Maria’s passing exasperated and shed light on Puerto Rico’s colonial realities. Everything from the slow and sluggish federal response make us feel neglected and rejected appendage of the U.S., on which we are, even though we’re U.S. citizens. So, the lack of U.S. media attention to our made underdeveloped infrastructure an economic state to the worsening of our debt crises which is a product of colonial practices. So I think Puerto Rico is a colony of the United States and Maria made that absolutely clear.
AMT: So you feel like a second class citizen?
ANA PORTNOY BRIMMER: Absolutely. Both here and also Puerto Ricans who live state side as well.
AMT: Puerto Rico has been known as a tourist destination but that's part of the problem too, is’nt it? That it's seen in one way.
ANA PORTNOY BRIMMER: Well. Absolutely. I believe it is because people come here thinking and wanting to experience in reality what they see on tourist brochures that has been marketed to people in the United States, the colonial reality, right. And then they come here and then this hurricane happens and it's a completely different landscape. I think people don't know how to reconcile both in their heads. And when Puerto Rico goes through this, well then the reaction to it can be either not being able to reconcile both realityies, and not getting the aid that we deserve. Because this is only a place to visit, to spend your week in Puerto Rico and then leave and leave all of that social reality behind.
AMT: Okay, Ana Portnoy Brimmer, thank you for speaking with me today.
ANA PORTNOY BRIMMER: Thank you so much for having me here.
AMT: Ana Portnoy Brimmer a master student of literature at the University of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras. She spoke to us from Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. Well which way forward for Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria. The two boldest ideas are for Puerto Rico to either become the 50 first American state or an independent country. We have proponents of each side standing by. Arguing for status as an American state is Ken Oliver-Mendez he is the Director of Media Research Center Latino. He joins us from our Washington studio. Arguing that Puerto Rico should become an independent country is Charles Venator-Santiago. He is an associate professor at the University of Connecticut in the Department of Political Science and Al Instituto, The Institute for Latino/Latina Caribbean and Latin American Studies and he joins us from Storrs, Connecticut. Hello gentlemen.
GUESTS: [Cross talking] Thank you. Good Morning
AMT: Charles Venator-Santiago what effect do you think Donald Trump's response to Hurricane Maria is having on Puerto Ricans and their attitudes toward the United States?
CHARLES VENATOR-SANTIAGO: Well Puerto Ricans are fairly polarized. So in Puerto Rico there are reactions all over the map as our previous commenter mentioned. There's a lot of distaste and disdain for his comments. In the United States I don't think he's made much of that. I think most Americans don't have a clue that Puerto Rico is a part of the United States.
AMT: And what do you think, Ken Oliver-Mendez?
KEN OLIVER-MENDEZ: Well actually perhaps the most important thing President Trump said last night, or during his visit to Puerto Rico was last night, when he spoke to Geraldo Rivera we on Fox News with Hannity and he said that the U.S. is going to have to wipe out Puerto Rico's debt. That is a huge commitment. He made it to actually look at what he said. Look the whole debt structure which is over $70 billion of debt. So this horrible horrific tragedy in Puerto Rico of the hurricane could be that moment when the attention of the American people and the president and the Congress finally focuses on solving this and getting the island, as the president said, get back on its feet.
AMT: Can I just ask, he signaled that in that clip about changing our budget or something like that. How did you how did you read that Ken, when he made that statement?
KEN OLIVER-MENDEZ: Right. President Trump is never politically correct. He will talk about the cost of things. And yet the most important thing you said during the trip was definitely talking about solving and restructuring the island's massive debt.
AMT: Charles Venator-Santiago, what is the argument for Puerto Rico to go it alone as its own country?
CHARLES VENATOR-SANTIAGO: So again I want to clarify there's very little support at this point for independence but the two main arguments are that it would be a democratic option. The U.S. Constitution is an undemocratic constitution by definition. Until that it could get access to international markets and get access to a sense of sovereignty that would allow it to better plan its economy, its social structure, it's just politics. Again these are potential possibilities. But the most innovative argument these days is that it could follow the sort of the Irish model and service a hub between the United States and the rest of the world.
AMT: There have been several referenda have there not?
CHARLES VENATOR-SANTIAGO: Five local Congresses debated upwards of 130 but has never approved the referendum for Puerto Rico or rather plebiscites status.
AMT: So you don't sound like you want that to happen tomorrow, Charles.
CHARLES VENATOR-SANTIAGO: I'm sorry what you …
CHARLES VENATOR-SANTIAGO: I would love to see independence. But the reality is that there's very little support in the island from voters. And in addition to that there's a crisis right now. People are more focused on trying to get some resources. I mean that's the reality.
AMT: Okay, so Ken Oliver-Mendez what's the argument for becoming a 51st state?
KEN OLIVER-MENDEZ: Sure. Like Charles says the reality is that imposing independence when the people don't want that have rejected that repeatedly at the polls at the ballot box. That would be by definition you know tantamount to doing an unwonted transgender operation. You know you're ending U.S. citizenship for Puerto Rico. You know I support statehood because I respect the will of the people of Puerto Rico who have had a mandate for statehood at the ballot box and have been moving in that direction, little by little. I think it's just the most natural development and the most logical progress for the American citizens of a U.S. territory.
AMT: That mandate was when 2012?
KEN OLIVER-MENDEZ: 2012.
AMT: There was a vote is that what it was?
KEN OLIVER-MENDEZ: It was a vote. Statehood got several thousand more votes and support for continuing as a territory and many people didn't vote. But at the end of the day, according to international election law, the people who vote are the ones who choose. You know people who abstain from voting which has been the argument that not enough people participated in these plebiscites the end of the day there, you know the choices are independence, staying as a territory or becoming a U. S. state.
AMT: Now Charles, the last referendum in June wasn't it 90% of the people who turned out voted in favor of independence?
CHARLES VENATOR-SANTIAGO: Let me clarify this because there's three misrepresentations that are here. Independence doesn't mean removing people's citizenship. That has already been dismissed.
KEN OLIVER-MENDEZ: That is right. It is ending citizenship for future generation.
CHARLES VENATOR-SANTIAGO: For future generations.
KEN OLIVER-MENDEZ: National citizens. And Puerto Rico is an integral community of U.S. citizens.
CHARLES VENATOR-SANTIAGO: The second point is that the 2012 plebiscite was held under Puerto Rican electoral law not under international law. And under Puerto Rican electoral up voting against the plebiscite as a form of protest is allowed. And that was based on a 1989 plebiscite or a Supreme Court ruling by [unintelligible]. In the second part is that 2017 a plebiscite was ram roaded it in Puerto Ricans and only 23% of the electorate showed up to vote and only 22 voted for statehood. So that 90% of the electorate…
AMT: No, 90% of those who voted. Exactly
CHARLES VENATOR-SANTIAGO: Yes. The rest did not want to vote. They didn't want to participate in this sort of scam. So part of the problem is also understanding that these are local plebiscites that are run by political parties, without any voter education, without any larger congressional approval. And in some ways I understand the rebellious nature of the state but we're also have to be honest these aren't popular votes at a local level.
AMT: So Ken Oliver-Mendez, how would Puerto Ricans benefit economically from being a 51st state?
KEN OLIVER-MENCDEZ: Well the economic benefit would be that Puerto Rico currently as a territory can be discriminated, and is discriminated against, in some of the most important federal socialist assistance programs for the most vulnerable people on the island, including in federal U.S. health care programs like Medicaid. And in social supplemental security income for the most disabled people and people who need help. So there would be billions and billions of dollars. Statehood for every territory of the United States that has become a state, that's a recipe for economic growth and economic development that's available.
AMT: And how would the U.S. benefit?
KEN OLIVER-MENDEZ: The U.S. would benefit because you would have fairness and equality for all U.S. citizens. You would end second class citizenship for our fellow American citizens in the island. So you would have full equality including full contributions and no more tax gimmicks and tax shelters for wealthy individuals or corporations that are trying to avoid taxes in Puerto Rico, as they do currently.
AMT: Charles Venator-Santiago do you see those wins and gains the same way?
CHARLES VENATOR-SANTIAGO: I agree completely with Ken. Under U.S. law since 1981 it is legal to discriminate against Puerto Rico. And we can see that parity funding for all social and economic benefits. Yes. I mean that's statehood, if that was a serious possibility in Congress, would bring additional funding. The problem is that the local economy is not functioning and fiscal control word that was imposed as it's been trying to impose an austerity project, similar to the one in Kansas that failed in Kansas. So in that sense yes statehood would bring additional resources. I just don't see the Democratic possibilities of a U.S. Constitution where you can't even vote for president. It is illegal to vote for the president of the United States.
AMT: but you would get that with statehood, wouldn’t you?
CHARLES VENATOR-SANTIAGO: Absolutely. But I mean I do agree that statehood would bring additional resources to Puerto Rico and could potentially fix some of the gaps in funding for the island. There's no doubt about that. I don't think it's a reality.
AMT: What economic gains you see under independence, if there was independence, Charles?
CHARLES VENATOR-SANTIAGO: If we followed let's say an Irish model the possibility of creating a hub between Puerto Rico and the United States, could bring lots of international resources, funding, investments. As a hub between the United States and the rest of the world. But again these are potentials possibilities.
AMT: There are trade differences right now too, are there not? Aren’t there trade - not sanctions but taxes on goods that come into Puerto Rico, versus other areas of the Caribbean?
CHARLES VENATOR-SANTIAGO: So that the Jones Act currently it's in place. There's a waiver that's been granted for 10 days but the Jones Act imposes additional tariffs on goods that are shipped in to Puerto Rico on U.S. flagged ships. Some of that money goes back to Puerto Rico so it's useful to fund the governments. Again there is a catch 22, if you eliminate the Jones Act then you open that door for outside commerce and it could potentially redefine the local industry. A fishing industry and the government is just not ready to handle less those redefinitions right now.
AMT: So as you guys have pointed out the president seems to be indicating that somehow the United States has to help with that 74 billion dollar debt. Does that kind of end a discussion, just wait to see what happens with him? Or is there still a debate underneath there on where Puerto Rico goes? Ken.
KEN OLIVER-MENDEZ: Right. There's a lot to do. If that commitment by the president is serious yesterday then that means that there has to be negotiations in restructuring of that debt, which is what he said. So basically you know no territory of American citizens that has ever delivered a clear and convincing mandate for statehood. And that's what Charles pointed out that there is yet to be a very clear and convincing no doubt mandate for statehood. If that happens then no territory that has ever done that has ever failed to obtain statehood. And statehood is in fact in the political party platforms of both the Democratic and Republican Party of the United States and has been for decades so it is on the table.
AMT: OK. But that really means it's really up to Washington as opposed to San Juan.
KEN OLIVER-MENDEZ: That's right. But once you have a convincing mandate from American citizens demanding statehood and with the power of the Puerto Rican community in the mainland U.S. then I think that you would you know we haven't seen anything yet in terms of Puerto Rico statehood movement once that happens.
AMT: Okay and just before I let you go what's with the paper towels?
KEN OLIVER-MENDEZ: President Trump being his usual self.
AMT: Okay. We're going to leave it there. Thank you. Charles Van Venator-Santiago an associate professor at the University of Connecticut. He's in Storss, Connecticut. Ken Oliver-Mendez director of media research center Latino. He's in our Washington studio. Stay with us. The news is next and then adapt or die says Bill Nye.
We are inducing a sixth mass extinction event kind of by accident and we don't want to be extinctee the guy may coin this down.
AMT: Celebrity scientists is part of our project adaptation Bill Nye, when we return. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. This is The Current.
[Music: Theme]Back To Top »
THE CURRENT | Bill Nye says climate change deniers need to 'respect facts'
Guest: Bill Nye
AMT: Hello I'm Anna Maria Tremonti and you're listening to The Current.
AMT: Still to come to become a U.S. Army Ranger. Alex Blum endured a punishing initiation.
They don't teach skills. They just subjects recruits to escalating levels of sleep deprivation and physical exhaustion and pain in the hopes that those of them who are not good enough will drop out.
AMT: So why did he throw it all away in a jaw dropping manner? The story of one man and he is a Canadian connection in half an hour. Later this hour I'll speak to Julie Gelfand, Canada's commissioner of environment and sustainable development, about just how prepared the Canadian government is to adapt to climate change. But first:
[Song: Bill Nye the Science Guy Theme]
AMT: Well it isn't every scientist who gets a theme song like that, isn't anybody who gets a theme song like that. Bill Nye is a scientist or the science guy like no other. That sound is from the opening credits to one of the several successful U.S. TV shows he's had through the years. Before his trademark lab coat and bow tie became staples on U.S. television, Bill Nye was a mechanical engineer. His journey from working scientists to TV science booster and on to climate change crusader has been a story of many adaptations and his message to us on a warming planet today is: Adapt. Here is Bill Nye now as part of our project Adaptation.
BILL NYE: Adaptation is the way of living things living things that don't adapt disappear. And the world is changing rapidly because there are seven point three billion people in the world. I remember when there were three billion people in the world. Pretty soon there'll be nine or ten billion people in all we're going to have to change the way we do a lot of things we're going to have to adapt. This is nothing new. You got to be ready to change. Change is the only thing you can count on.
BILL NYE: Like so many mechanical engineers. I started doing stand-up comedy, after I won the Seattle Steve Martin lookalike contest. I mean it's very common route.[Performing] I had my wallet stolen the other day. Things just are getting hostile for me. Like, I used to carry a handgun. I don't know how many people watching are carrying handguns.
BILL NYE: I would try to do stand-up comedy in the evenings and on weekends. [Performing comedy] You can't carry a handgun concealed you can't conceal it. So, for a while I was wearing around my neck on a chain with like a white turtleneck sweater or something. I said hey it's a medallion man. Peace.
BILL NYE: And I had some success with that and then I met some guys who were doing a show which is very popular in Vancouver.
BILL NYE: Almost Live Seattle comedy show. John Keester a guy who worked on it asked me to be in [unintelligible].
ANNOUNCER: Bill Nye is William Shatner.
BILL NYE: [Performing] God I need more power. It is a material and a device called formula.
ANNOUNCER: [Background music] Thrill again.
BILL NYE: And I was funny as well as what, huh? It is right, funny looking. Ha ha. So then I was able to quit my day job, October 3rd 1986 roughly, and try to do, write comedy full time. But I realized that wasn't really the end. I wanted to get people excited about science.
ANNOUNCER: Tonight on Almost Live with Ross Shafer.
BILL NYE: You may remember Ross Shafer who is the original host of the comedy show Almost Live. Somebody had canceled. We had to fill six minutes. And Ross Shafer just said “you know Bill, why don’t you do that stuff you're always talking about? You could be like I don't know, Bill Nye the Science Guy.”
ANNOUNCER: [Background music] And a visit with Bill Nye the Science Guy. All tonight.
BILL NYE: And I went: “Well, that is a great idea.” So I did the household uses of liquid nitrogen. You know because we all have liquid nitrogen around. Surely.
ANNOUNCER: No denying it, Bill. They love The Science Guy. It's hard to deny. So Bill I'm excited.
BILL NYE: And that was funny. And I realized that's really what I wanted to do.
ANNOUNCER: So what do we got here?
BILL NYE: [Performing] Well John I'm going to start out with just a fundamental demonstration I think everyone should be, can we say hip to?
ANNOUNCER: Yes. The general theme tonight is…
BILL NYE: Oh I will say balloons and bubbles. I grew up watching a different television show called Mr. Wizard which was hosted by a guy named Don Herbert. [Music] It was science for kids.
DON HERBERT: Stacey, here is a kind of interesting yellow powder. Put your finger in it.
DON HERBERT: Now rub it together. Real slippery, isn’t it?
STACEY: Yes. And it is real greens.
DON HERBERT: Very very fine green. Yes. It's called like a podium.
STACEY: Like a podium.
BILL NYE: I decided I wanted to be the next Mr. Wizard, sort of that moment in January of 1987 and it took me as I've said several years. I started being the science guy on the radio and then the science going on television in Seattle and eventually, we were able to get our own show.
[Song: Bill Nye the Science Guy theme]
BILL NYE: It has been said that an educated man will survive longer in the wilderness than an educated man and this would be a person, because I think when you address problems rationally, when you respect facts, when you acknowledge what's really happening around you, you're quicker to adapt quicker to make changes quicker to do things in your own best interest. By ignoring facts, by not accepting the scientific method, by not acknowledging how we know so much about nature, you're going to be a real disadvantage as the world changes around you.
ANNOUNCER: Well Bill Nye the Science Guy is now aspiring to a new title Bill Not a Psychoanalyst Guy. Bill Nye joins us now. Bill it's great to see you.
BILL NYE: I go on Fox News just about any time to talk about climate change, just about any time, to talk about climate change. But the last time I was on air, with a notorious guy who just interrupts you continually, talks over you, they're going to have to wait. They have to go to the back of the line. Sorry you can't be that rude and expect me - expect anyone - to participate.
VOICE 1: I think that is probably all true but you…
BILL NYE: Would not be overwhelmed by pine bark beetles as it is because of climate change.
VOICE 1: So much in this you do not know. You pretend that you know, but you don't know. I have got to believe people who ask you questions.
BILL NYE: I really have to disagree with you, It has been a lot of time with this topic.
VOICE 1: I am open minded. You are not. And we're out of time.
BILL NYE: Unfortunately.
BILL NYE: If you continue to deny climate change and you're in an influential media you're leaving the world worse than you found it. And the stuff we've put in the atmosphere over the last 250 years is not going to go away very fast. After you take the roast out of the oven it still cooks for a while because the heat on the outside still works its way to the inside. The same is true of the Earth's atmosphere. The stuff we've already put in the atmosphere will have effects for centuries to come. Climate change deniers are almost exclusively, as the saying used to go, of a certain age. It's almost always people 50 and older who are in denial about climate change. Young people are very concerned about it and ready to make changes. So we'll see what happens in the coming decades, coming years. It's going to be, as we say in sailboat racing, a near run thing. It's not clear that enough young voters are going to enter the electorate fast enough to get legislation and regulations in place and infrastructure in place to address climate change, in a timely fashion, that is to say before enormous numbers of people, hundreds of millions of people are displaced by rising sea level and shifting rainfall patterns. We will see. If you like to worry about things you're living at a great time.
[Music: What a Wonderful World by Sam Cooke]
Don't know much about history
Don’t know much biology
Don’t know much about science book
Don’t know much about the French I took
But I do know that I love you
BILL NYE: I love that song it's a Cha-Cha for you dancers out there. He's in love and he says: “I don't know much about history, Don't know much biology, don't know much about algebra, don't know what a slide rule is for”. Slide rules are elegant and beautiful. All the early accomplishments in space were done with slide rules. You can get very accurate answers to division multiplication problems to three figures very quickly, with a slide rule. And I do know what a slide rule is for and it's a nerd badge of honor man, to be able to use a slide rule. That song is optimistic. It's What A Wonderful World This Would Be. Carry on let’s change it. Let's save the world for humans. Thanks for having me on.
[Music: What a Wonderful World by Sam Cooke]
Don’t know much about science book
Don’t know much about the French I took
But I do know that I love you
And I know that if you love me too
What a wonderful world this would be
Cha cha cha cha
French I took
But I do know that I love you
And I know that if you love me too
What a wonderful world this would be
AMT: Bill Nye his new book is called Everything all at Once. You are listening to The Current on CBC Radio One, Sirius XM and online on cbc.ca/thecurrent. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti.
[Music: Adaptation theme]Back To Top »
Canadian government gets 'failing grade' in climate change planning, says environment commissioner
Guest: Julie Gelfand
VOICE 1: It's like being in hell to tell you the truth. It's like being in hell. It's it's surreal. It seems like the province of British Columbia is burning up right now and it's just- it's a scary scary thing.
VOICE 2: I've been working hard since Monday. [Sobbing] It's now Saturday morning and it's not that I failed but I tried so hard. I do not know what to do anymore.
VOICE 3: Just across the river, there used to be tens of caribous like hundreds. There is no more. No more caribous. We can hardly see them anymore.
AMT: From the wildfires of British Columbia to the floods of Quebec and sub-Arctic Nunavik. It has been a trying year right across the country, as Canada grapples with a changing climate and struggles to adapt. It is a topic we are tracking this season, as part of our project adaptation, and it is a topic on which Canada's commissioner of environment and sustainable development weighed in yesterday. Julie Gelfand has tabled five new audit reports with the House of Commons and she is warning parliamentarians that the Canadian government is not doing enough to adapt. Julie Gelfand joins me from our Ottawa studio. Hello.
JULIE GELFAND: Hi.
AMT: Before we get to the specifics of your report on adaptation, first tell us what's at stake here.
JULIE GELFAND: Well that's a tough question and I'm just following Bill Nye and then your emotional reactions of people across the country. What's at stake is a changing environment that we're living in. New diseases are coming up from the south. We have sea levels that are going to be rising. We have wildfires that are going to be stronger and longer. We've got permafrost that's going to be melting. So what's at stake is in a way the world that we used to know and that we've grown up with and are kind of used to is in change. The atmosphere is changing because of the greenhouse gases that we're putting up into the atmosphere. And so we looked and we have been looking at the issue of meeting our greenhouse gas reduction targets and also, are we ready to adapt to this changing climate?
AMT: So all of the things you mentioned that involves Canadian government policy, that involves changes in the way we think and how our government has to move forward, in other words?
JULIE GELFAND: That's correct. In 2010 we did an audit and found that the government wasn't at all ready. It didn't even have a basic plan to get ready for adapting to climate change. As a result of that audit, they developed a framework in 2011 that said that each ministry each department was supposed to look at its risks related to climate change, how would it affect the delivery of their mandate and the delivery of programs and services to Canadians. This was supposed to have been done. Unfortunately in the audit that we've just tabled, we found out that only five out of 19 departments that we looked at had actually identified the risks. I mean the Canadian government has $66 billion just in assets. It's the largest asset holder infrastructure, buildings, ports, canals, military equipment I mean goes on and on. They're the largest holder of assets and they're not aware, at a high level or even at a departmental level, what their risks of this changing climate is going to be on those assets and on the delivery of their mandate and services to Canadians.
AMT: I hear surprise in your voice. You weren't expecting that.
JULIE GELFAND: I was expecting- You know my job is to be an auditor. The office of the commissioner of environment and sustainable development is in the office of the Auditor General of Canada. And that means that we do the same kind of work as the Auditor-General. I'm essentially the auditor general for the environment and sustainable development. So the way audit works is you look at what the government says it's going to do and then you find out if they've done it. So the government said that each department was going to look at climate change risks. They said this in 2011. We come in in 2016 17 and we find out guess what? Only five departments took the leadership to do the work, 14 did not.
AMT: And let's just go to those five. So you listed Health Canada, Fisheries and Ocean, Transport, Natural Resources Canada, Indigenous and Northern Affairs, they are looking at this. They are planning.
JULIE GELFAND: They absolutely are. They've identified the impacts of what could happen to them. Let me just give you an example. Changes in water temperature, abundance quality, composition could affect Fisheries and Oceans, more severe and frequent weather events could have impacts on the Coast Guard assets for example changes in ice cover and sea ice. So once they've identified those risks they then started to take measures to adapt to get ready, to do the research that they need to do, to figure out where they're going to put the Coast Guard ships. You know all the stuff that you have to do when you realize that things are shifting around you. You have to start adapting. And so those five departments Transport Canada did a stellar job. They went down to the level of plans with who's going to do what when and with how much money. So that kind of work is the kind of work we expected all of the departments to do.
AMT: How concerning is it to you that even Environment and Climate Change Canada has failed to take steps toward these areas.
JULIE GELFAND: Yes it's a bit disconcerting. They were the leader in this and they developed that very first framework to get us all ready to adopt. And then they didn't do their own climate risk assessment. A little disconcerting. If you think about one of the main services that environment Canada provides us weather services and those depend on weather stations all across country. Well if the weather is actually going to affect the weather stations potentially, you would think that that would be a risk and they would be getting ready to adopt. So yes it was a bit surprising to see that environment Canada had not taken the leadership, had not provided the other departments with the tools that they needed. And in fact five departments, the ones that we named, actually took leadership on their own. So good for them.
AMT: And yesterday the CBC's Margaret McDermott asked the Environment Minister Catherine McKenna about your audit. Listen to what she said.
We know we need to do more we're committed to doing more on adapting to the impacts of climate change. We are seeing extreme weather events across the country. Waterton Lakes National Park had to be evacuated. We have forest fires and Kelwona. We've seen droughts. I spent time in the Arctic this summer where we see the impacts of the permafrost melting. And so we know we need to be doing more and that's exactly what we're doing and we're going to continue working with the provinces and territories and working with indigenous peoples and working cities to do so.
AMT: What kind of leadership should we be seeing from Catherine McKenna's department?
JULIE GELFAND: So again they are the leader in the area of adaptation and they should have provided more tools to the department so that more departments would have done their work. Luckily we have five departments that took the leadership on their own. Of those 14 departments and including environment Canada they all accepted our recommendation that they take greater leadership and do the work that they set out to do.
AMT: Let's talk about some of the specifics. Is Agriculture Canada thinking about food production in a changing climate?
JULIE GELFAND: So the departments that didn't do the work like Agriculture Canada, Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Global Affairs, Infrastructure Canada, National Defense, some of those departments did some work in the area. So they would look at one particular part of their mandate and say: “Okay there's going to be some climate change risks here. So we need to do a bit of adaptation” but the adaptation framework actually called for a review of all the climate change risks that could affect your entire mandate. So this is why we gave all those other departments kind of a failing grade because they may have done yes one thing or another, let's help farmers, let's make sure our national defense up north is going to be not affected. That those are all examples of a one off almost actions that we can do. And what was expected of them was a full review of their entire mandate. All their assets, the delivery of all their services to Canadians. And look at that from a holistic perspective not just a “well we know we're going to have a problem here let's do something about it.”
AMT: So let's go back to National Defense watch what else should they have been looking at then?
JULIE GELFAND: Well they should be looking, I am going to keep repeating myself but they need to look at their entire mandate. All of their assets, all of the delivery of their services, so what have we got the Navy, the Air Force, the Army, all their equipment, where they're stationed, their bases all of that needs to be looked at. And we need to say well is climate change going to affect all of these assets? Is it going to affect how we perform our work? And if so what are the top priorities? What's the action plan? What are we going to change? And what action are we going to actually implement?
AMT: Whose responsibility is this? Is it the individual ministers?
JULIE GELFAND: So the adaptation framework indicates that environment Canada is actually the lead. They are not a central agency though. Right. So it's difficult. Sometimes it's difficult for them to sort of force other departments to do the work. We did look at three central agencies that's the Treasury Board, the Privy Council Office and the Department of Finance. Those three departments actually review almost everything that every department does. And if they took and put on a climate lends to the work that they did you know how is this going to help us with adaptation to climate change? How is this going to help us reduce our greenhouse gas emissions? If they put that lens on everything that they do. They might help cap catch some of the work that we need done.
AMT: Hmm. Now is everybody on the same page, everybody actually believes that climate change is occurring?
JULIE GELFAND: That you would have to ask the different departments.
AMT: That's certainly the view of the of the Trudeau government officially, right. The Harper government was not there, but the Trudeau government has been. Am I correct?
JULIE GELFAND: Again, my role is an apolitical role. My role is to say the government issued a report and said this is what they were going to do and we go in and say whether or not they've done it. The first adaptation framework was provided in 2011. So they've had how many, six years now to do this work. And what we found was five did a very good job 14 did not.
AMT: And the science the statistics scientifically in those years have only become more acute, more pronounced.
JULIE GELFAND: We're absolutely concerned about rising greenhouse gas emissions. So those two were supposed to have gone down. We continue to not hit our targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We've already missed two complete targets of the 2020 target we're not going to hit as well. That was set in Copenhagen. So now we have a target that's out to 2030. So we have another 13 years. We have a new pan Canadian plan that's supposed to turn the curve because during that same time that we've had all these targets, we've developed eight to 10 11 12 different plans and our emissions just keep rising.
AMT: Well you also looked at the commitment to phase out fossil fuel subsidies.
JULIE GELFAND: Yes.
AMT: How's that going?
JULIE GELFAND: So there's a commitment that Canada will reduce its fossil fuel subsidies by the year 2025. And the commitment is to reduce what's called inefficient fossil fuel subsidies. So we went into the Department of Finance and Environment Canada and asked them “Well what exactly is an inefficient fossil fuel subsidy?” We found out that they haven't actually defined that yet. So because they haven't defined it, they can't actually tell us whether or not they have removed inefficient subsidies for the fossil fuel sector, because they don't actually know what an inefficient fossil fuel subsidy is. Anna Maria we're trying to track all the commitments around climate change to make sure the government does what it says it's going to do.
AMT: Lots of questions to ask government ministers as they walk out of question period today. Thank you Julie Gelfand.
JULIE GELFAND: Thank you very much.
AMT: Julie Gelfand, Canada's commissioner of environment and sustainable development she joined us from Ottawa. What do you think of what she's saying let us know how you are reacting to her report, her audits, the report card and what Canadian government departments were expected to do and did not do. Tweet us we are @TheCurrentCBC find us on Facebook go to our website cbc.ca/thecurrent. And stay with us in our next half hour the incredible story of how a U.S. commando betrayed his family, robbed a bank and a Canadian connection that surfaced at the end of it all. This is The Current.
[Music: Theme]Back To Top »
THE CURRENT | The incredible story of how a U.S. commando betrayed his family and robbed a bank
Guest: Ben Blum
AMT: Hello. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti and you're listening to The Current.
VOICE 1: 11 O’clock . 11 o’clock my man!
VOICE 2: Rangers’ school.
[Sound: Gun shooting and shouting]
VOICE 2: Not for the weak or faint heart, where students will learn to embrace the suck in order to get through 61 days of little to no sleep, minimal food and an exhaustion that redefines their ability to endure. But for those who want it badly enough, they'll persevere because Rangers do not quit.
AMT: Well that sounds from Fort Benning, Georgia. That's the place where young recruits go to be trained to become part of America's elite military units and that training can be much more brutal than what you hear in that report. In 2005 a 19 year old from Colorado named Alex Blum went through that training becoming a ranger had long been his dream. But just a year later he appeared to have thrown it all away. Alex Blum was arrested for his part in a daring armed robbery of a bank in Tacoma, Washington. The crime was masterminded by a Canadian who was Alex Blum’s superior in the Rangers that intriguing story is told by Alex's cousin. In the book Ranger Games a Story of Soldier's Family and an Inexplicable Crime. Ben Blum is with me in Toronto, hello.
BEN BLUM: Hello.
AMT: So give me an idea of the kind of young Americans the Rangers are looking for?
BEN BLUM: They are looking for the best of the best. They're looking for kids who want to be heroes, who have a kind of romantic image of patriotic service for their country and who will not quit no matter how much pain they go through.
AMT: And how would you describe Ranger culture then at the time that Alex was there?
BEN BLUM: Ranger culture is built around a self-concept as elite, as somehow separate from the rest of the army, beholden to a higher standard both of discipline and of achievement and also an extremely violent culture.
AMT: You actually say it's a cross between like a medieval order of the samurai and a radical death cult.
BEN BLUM: Yes. I mean that that's a maybe somewhat inflammatory way of putting it but I think there's some truth there in order to survive in the incredibly extreme environments that Rangers have to go into. They undergo a very radical training process. The first step is the Ranger indoctrination program as it was known at the time and Alex went through it. Now the Ranger assessment selection program and then later ranger school that the clip that we just heard and it induces both a deep bond of brotherhood between these guys and a hardness an unwillingness to admit any kind of pain or weakness in the face of danger.
AMT: So 2005 we're talking a couple of years after 9/11 a very motivated young men joining this. And can you give me an example of something the Rangers would be sent on assignment to do just to give us that. Because they are different from maybe infantry.
BEN BLUM: Yeah. So special operations was used primarily to seek out so-called high value targets. These were major lieutenants within the al Qaeda organization. So they would descend largely by night, most of the raids were by night on a house in Baghdad or Fallujah or Afghanistan and storm in. They would fast rope down from helicopters, bang the doors, scare the crap out of everybody in the house, rifle through everything. Grab someone and go.
AMT: And that was that the kind of culture your cousin was looking to join when he enlisted?
BEN BLUM: My cousin was enraptured with World War II stories that were passed down to us by our grandfather who served and who landed in Normandy shortly after D-Day. He had an image of military service built up from movies from family lore with very little realistic connection to the kinds of missions that Rangers were running at that time.
AMT: So he had that that World War to connection with stories. But what was it that got him so interested in joining the military?
BEN BLUM: It's a good question. I think so many boys become enchanted with Army inspired games. You know we all have our toy guns and I think he saw the army as a team sport of a kind. And the military the idea of a tight knit brotherhood of the military was very compelling. He read a lot of books when he was a kid a big bookworm especially band of brothers by Stephen Ambrose which is all about that intense relationship that develops when you know that your life is in the hands of another man.
AMT: So tell us about the training he had to go through to become a Ranger.
BEN BLUM: So he went through basic combat training which in itself is quite a difficult and rigorous course at Fort Benning and then to jump school, where he learned how to jump out of airplanes. And then the Ranger indoctrination program which was the most painful, the most extreme segment of his training process.
AMT: What did they do?
BEN BLUM: Most of the activities in it's now been kind of rebranded the Ranger Assessment selection program most of the activities, but I'll continue to call it the Ranger indoctrination program as it was when Alex was in it, most of them kind of have a veneer of instructional value. They resemble training but they don't teach skills they just subjects recruits to escalating levels of sleep deprivation and physical exhaustion and pain in the hopes that those of them who aren't committed enough will drop out, and most do. One or the exercise they had to do was holding a telephone pole in the air for 48 hours and a team of six guys taking naps underneath it in brief shifts. So by the end of it he was delirious. We could barely make out- His father spoke with him on the phone and he could barely make out the words that he was saying he was confused and disoriented and sleep deprived and an entirely a ranger.
AMT: So you so they're doing this too to see who's got the endurance and the determination. They are weeding them out.
BEN BLUM: That's part of it. Yes I think that there's kind of a twofold purpose to an initiation rite like this. You know Warriors throughout history have gone through initiation rites and part of the purpose of it is to draw a sharp cultural line between the civilian values that you grew up with and the new military values in the community that you now adopt as your own. Another part is to through subjecting you to such incredible pain on your way to attaining this lofty goal of becoming an elite soldier to elevate the value of what you've attained and to make it much harder to back out. It's natural when we pay a high price for something to justify it to ourselves as being even more valuable for it.
AMT: It's interesting because they need them to go in and kill.
BEN BLUM: They do.
AMT: And that's not what human beings will do instinctively.
BEN BLUM: That's right. Yes. There's some very controversial research that I touch on in the book indicating that humans are quite unwilling to kill and have to be very vigorously encouraged in that direction. Army commanders throughout history have struggled with the challenge of getting their soldiers to actually use their weapons and engage with the enemy.
AMT: Okay so that's the backdrop of his training and he's going through that and then he's part of a bank heist. What happened that day?
BEN BLUM: Well on the day of the robbery it was Alex's final day of training before a short leave home and then his first deployment to Iraq. A superior named Luke Elliott Summer who was a specialist. The time came to ask him for his key. He occasionally borrowed Alex's car and then Summer and three associates loaded the car with AK 47 smuggled back from abroad, with body armor, with pistols, with sweat shirts and jeans. And then they came and got Alex and he drove them to the bank. They ran in and robbed it 90 seconds.
AMT: They came out with money?
BEN BLUM: Yes. So Alex pulled up to this alley behind the bank. The guys all jumped out of the car. Alex was really shocked too that this was truly happening. The story of how he got to that point in the alley is enormously complex. I imagine we'll be getting into that. It's unclear how much he thought this was a real crime and how much he thought it was a kind of a training exercise that someone was organizing. And so Alex tried to drive away. He didn't get very far. The robbers were out within 90 seconds as I said they ran into the streets behind the bank. They were thinking of taking over a house as a fortress to hole up and as the police came but ran into Alex in his car first and let them back in and drove them back to base with $50000 or so.
AMT: And when was Alex arrested?
BEN BLUM: He was arrested three days later in Denver, Colorado.
AMT: And what did your family think when he was arrested?
BEN BLUM: Well we were horrified and baffled. We had seen Alex grow up. We'd seen how dedicated he was to his goal of becoming an Army Ranger. How much it meant to him. It made absolutely no sense whatsoever to us that he was involved in this crime. Really the only explanation that seemed remotely plausible to us was that the superior of his had somehow presented it to him as a legitimate military operation.
AMT: Okay, well hold that thought, arrested three days later. So how did the FBI figure out who to go after, who the bank robbers were?
BEN BLUM: Oh very it was very easy. They just they got a license plate. There was a witness in the alley who saw the guys pull up and noted that the FBI agent who is in charge of the investigation he told a grand jury a week later this was the most impressive bank robbery. Tactically speaking that he'd ever seen. There was this incredibly athletic move. Summer jumped over the Banded barrier to the space behind the counter with the tellers. But they made the most amateurish of mistakes which was very puzzling. They didn't cover up the license plate on the car. So they traced that back to Alex's father, my uncle Norm, whose car it was, and staked out outside his house in Colorado.
AMT: And so his initial defense for being part of that robbery is that he was following orders, essentially. Tell me more.
BEN BLUM: Essentially. Orders doesn't quite capture it because it was clear that this was not a formal training exercise. Rangers learn because their job has become to take down small facilities, to move in quickly, control interior space and get out with a package, a high value target because that's their job. They apparently quite commonly go out into the neighborhoods around base to try out their skills. They are at Dairy Queen, a movie theater, a bar a restaurant and scoping out treat as a tactical exercise. So Summer took a number of young soldiers out into Tacoma to do these kinds of acts sizes, Alex among them. And at first this seemed like another one of those exercises. It was unclear in the beginning at what point if ever it became clear to Alex that this might be real. He in prison even apparently managed to convince himself that this really had just been some kind of exercise that it had to happen he couldn't face the fact that his career in the Rangers was over. So yes the defense centered around the influence that Summer had over him and rank played a part in that. No question.
AMT: And what did your family think of that reasoning for taking part in the robbery?
BEN BLUM: It sounded crazy but it made more sense to us than the alternative. It was kind of the least crazy of the many crazy options. It was just so hard to imagine being in a car, behind a bank, watching guys run down an alley carrying AK 47, thinking this is a military exercise this military exercise. I mean how is that possible? How is that possible and yet how is it possible that Alex the guy we knew always follows the rules, who is patriotic and good and didn't need money or want money, how is it possible that he is involved in a bank robbery? So there are these two impossibilities and we didn't know much about the military either so it was a very steep learning curve to familiarize ourselves with what Ranger culture and training really looks like. And Alex was one of our primary sources for that so that made it more plausible to us as well. The military maybe just operates according to a completely different kind of social physics than the rest of the world.
AMT: Some would argue that on many levels it does so…
BEN BLUM: Yes.
AMT: Okay so let's go back to this guy, Luke Elliot Summer Canadian connection, Specialist Luke summer. What was his role?
BEN BLUM: He was the architect and mastermind of the entire thing. Summer is a very strange and complicated character. He's very intelligent, very charismatic and subject to these kind of grandiose fantasies that seem over and over again to capture those around him and to grow into larger and larger catastrophes.
AMT: How much sway did he hold over Alex?
BEN BLUM: A huge amount. You know within the Rangers respect for your superiors is at the absolute core of the ethos. Summer had deployed twice to Afghanistan and Iraq. So he was a combat veteran. He'd been to Ranger school the second half of the training, which Alex had not yet done. He was Alex's team leader when he first arrived at battalion and he positioned himself as a mentor to Alex.
AMT: And what happened to Summer immediately after the robbery?
BEN BLUM: Summer traveled up to British Columbia where he was born and raised and hit out at his mother's house. He laid low for a while. He was he was captured by the RCMP about a week after the crime and then released on bail. And then he abruptly started seeking out whatever coverage he could get. Claiming that he had staged the bank robbery to protest war crimes.
AMT: Well in fact we have a clip of this. This is a CBC News report from the 11th of December 2006. Let's listen.
REPORTER: Summer the elite unit performed secret missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. He says he has evidence of torture revenge killings and rape. In 2004 he alleges one of his superiors raped an Iraqi woman outside a battlefield interrogation facility.
SUMMER: The guy pulled her into the back of the tractor trailer and raped her.
REPORTER: Robbing a federal bank he says would give him a high profile platform to expose war crimes by the U.S. Army.
SUMMER: You know if I robbed a bank I'm a bank robber. But if they kill those people they're murderers.
AMT: Okay. So this is his explanation for robbing a bank to bring this to light. Why do you think of that?
BEN BLUM: Well it's just absurd on its face. And yet Summer has this incredibly savvy sense of when absurdity might be acceptable to certain audiences.
AMT: And again that's on the CBC that story.
BEN BLUM: Yes. Yes. It's unbelievable how much attention he managed to bring to himself, how well he manipulated the many well-meaning reporters who were trying to get to the bottom of the very real problem of abuse of detainees and other kinds of misbehaviour among soldiers.
AMT: I guess because this is happening in the wake of the news about Abu Ghraib. So if an American soldier comes forward and says I saw this stuff I'm trying to get attention. It has a greater resonance than it might have had if we didn't know about Abu Ghraib.
BEN BLUM: Yes. No question. I think it was you know broadly understood that Abu Ghraib was a terrible incident but likely not an isolated one. The military wanted to portray the problems as a few bad apples and that the sharp one phrase but there were clearly systemic issues at work here. And the view had a window into abuses within special operations which was even shadower than the others. You know that's just an immensely valuable thing.
AMT: So he does come back to the states. But his story gets darker. He is sent back to the states. What happens? What does he do?
BEN BLUM: Well he first attempts to stab his co-conspirator Nathan Dunmore to death through a sort of elaborate plot.
AMT: They are in jail by this time.
BEN BLUM: Yes. They're both in detention outside Seattle. And then while in solitary confinement after that assault he met twice with a FBI plant and attempted to put a hit out on his prosecutor. So I think those were both shortly after his sentencing.
AMT: There goes the defense on the whole trying to bring things to light. This is so bizarre, so complex. So what was his motivation in robbing that bank?
BEN BLUM: That's a difficult question. I think I I've spent many many months reading all the documentation, reading a lot of the instant message conversations he had on his computer with various co-conspirators. And I think that the simplest answer is just because he really wanted to be a gangster. He had this kind of fantasy image of himself as a Ranger by day who in his leaves would kind of travel up to British Columbia and run this crime family, that would earn money with a protection racket in Kelwona. And you know he's told me that after seeing what he saw abroad he just lost his moral compass, as he puts it gave up on the idea that there was any right or wrong at all and decided that he would just put his Rangers skills to whatever personal advantage he could find.
AMT: Interesting thing you did talk to him. Tell me more about that conversation.
BEN BLUM: Yes I talked to him for several years. We talked a lot about math. Actually he's among his many talents. He's a quite talented math enthusiastic and my background is in math as well. We talked over the phone quite a bit and then I got one seven hour interview with him at a high security penitentiary in Kentucky, where we went into great detail on the crime.
AMT: What did he tell you about Alex's role in the bank robbery?
BEN BLUM: Alex had been maintaining to our family that he didn't know it was going to happen in advance, that he thought it was a training exercise, that he'd been kept in the dark about the whole thing. And Summer had a very different story. He maintained right from the start that he never deceived or manipulated Alex, that Alex was a knowing willing participant in the crime. And whenever Summer had told a law enforcement official of one kind or another that Alex had been kept in the dark it was just to protect him to try to give him a legal out.
AMT: And what do you think?
BEN BLUM: I had a very hard time reconciling those two stories for many years and the book in part charts this weaving back and forth between these two sources which are either unreliable in their own way. Summer is kind of notorious pathological liar who is immensely capable at manipulating people. So I was wary of trusting him over my cousin that I grew up with and am inclined to believe. But over time I began to encounter more and more evidence suggesting that there is something to it, what Summer was saying.
AMT: And you basically discover Alex is not as truthful as you think he is at first. What’s the interaction like after you feel that way after you see those things?
BEN BLUM: Things got very complicated and very hard for several years in the middle. I considered many times dropping this project entirely, just walking away accepting the family story, supporting Alex and as best I could even though I had my private reservations but…
AMT: Why didn't you?
BEN BLUM: In part because Alex and his father told me to continue. I think though difficult this process was becoming clear to all of us as a process of healing and they didn't want that to stop, as painful as it was.
AMT: Do you believe that Alex would have ever done anything like this if he had not been a member of that?
BEN BLUM: Oh no certainly not. Not a chance.
AMT: What's your relationship with Alex like now that you've written this book?
BEN BLUM: Sort of astonishingly good. We each consider the other one of their best friends. We're very close. I've seen a really amazing amount of growth in him since he began to take more responsibility for his involvement. Look for ways that he might have avoided what felt to him like an impossible trap.
AMT: Where is he now?
BEN BLUM: He lives in Denver. His great dream is to start his own food truck. He took up gourmet cooking as a kind of a hobby in prison and has kept it up ever since.
AMT: Totally different.
BEN BLUM: He longed for it for years. I think the military did change him. It cut him off radically from his old friends his old way of being. And he felt lost for years without that tight knit brotherhood of warriors, but he has reconciled himself now to finding meaning in the civilian world.
AMT: It's an interesting window into a culture and an institution that few people know a lot about. Thanks for sharing.
BEN BLUM: Thanks so much for having me here.
AMT: That is Ben Blum. He's the cousin of Alex Blum. He's the author of Ranger Games: A Story of Soldier's Family and an Inexplicable Crime. That's our program for today. Stay with Radio 1 for Q Tom Power welcomes the band Hanson into the studio. Remember you can always take The Current with you to go on the CBC Radio app it lets you browse through past episodes of our program, and you can start listening in just a few seconds so if you missed my interview with the artist Ai Weiwei or author Barbara Kingsolver or Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella find those on the CBC Radio app and listen right from your smartphone or tablet. All free from the App Store or Google Play, the app not the smartphone or
tablet. We started today by talking about Puerto Rico which is still reeling from Hurricane Maria. Later this week you can expect a new charity single to benefit Puerto Rico from Lin-Manuel Miranda, the Puerto Rican creator and composer of the hit Broadway musical Hamilton. Beyonce is in on the act. She sings in Spanish and English on Me Gente which is one of the new songs and she's pledged to donate all her profits from the track to hurricane and earthquake relief. So we'll leave you with some of that. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti, thank you for listening to the current.
[Music: Me Gente by Byonce]
J Balvin, Willy William, Beyoncé (Freeze)
Los DJ's no mienten, le gusta a mi gente y eso se fue mundial (Freeze)
No le bajamos, más nunca paramos es otro palo y ¡Blam!
¿Y dónde está mi gente?
Mais fais bouger la tête
Azul, are you with me
Say yeah, yeah, yeah
Un, dos, tres, leggo'
(Ay yeah, yeah, yeah)
He say my body stay wetter than the ocean
And he say that Creole in my body is like a potion
I can be a beast or I can give you emotion
But please don't question my devotion
I been giving birth on these haters 'cause I'm fertile
See these double Cs on this bag, murda
Want my double Ds in his bed, Serta
If you really love me make an album about me, word up
Soon as I walk in
Boys start they talkin
Right as that booty sway (Freeze)
Lift up your people
From Texas, Puerto Rico
Dem' islands to México (Freeze)
¿Y dónde está mi gente? (Yeah, yeah, yeah)
Mais fais bouger la tête (Yeah, yeah, yeah)
¿Y dónde está mi gente? (Yeah, yeah, yeah)
Say yeah, yeah, yeah
Un, dos, tres, leggo'
(Ay yeah, yeah, yeah)
Esquina a esquina, de ahí no' vamo' (de ahí no' vamo')
El mundo es grande pero lo tengo en mi' manos
Estoy muy duro, sí, ok, ahí vamos
Y con el tiempo nos seguimos elevando
Que seguimos rompiendo aquí
Esta fiesta no tiene fin
Botellas para arriba, sí
Mi gente no se detiene, aquí nadie se quiere ir
¿Y dónde está mi gente?
Mais fais bouger la tête
Azul, are you with me
Say yeah, yeah, yeah
Un, dos, tres, leggo'
(Oh, yes, I am)
J Balvin, man
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