Truthdig Radio: Dennis Kucinich Battles Libya Bombing
On this week’s episode, Rep. Dennis Kucinich explains why he’s trying to defund military action in Libya, Ryan Quinn talks about his new novel, Howie Stier reports from the anti-war movement and Robert Scheer remembers Elizabeth Taylor.
Click to listen to the show, or continue reading the full transcript below.
This is Truthdig Radio, a new weekly show featuring the best in news, interviews and commentary from Truthdig and KPFK. I’m Peter Scheer. On the show today, Ryan Quinn, an all-American athlete who came out in the not-so-gay-friendly state of Utah and was inspired by his experience to write a novel. Howie Stier reports from the front lines of the anti-war movement, and Robert Scheer remembers Elizabeth Taylor. But first, we spoke just moments ago with Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who is working to defund America’s military action in Libya, which he says is unconstitutional.
Robert Scheer: Dennis, you got three Scheers here. … [Laughter] You got Josh, Peter and me, so…
Dennis Kucinich: Oh, my God.
Robert Scheer:… so full court, full court press, you know. So Josh, you’re the one that set this up. What’s your big question?
Josh Scheer: My big question is, what’s going on with your bill to defund Libya?
Dennis Kucinich: I’m actively seeking support. There are so many members out of town and out of their districts, and around the country and around the world, that we can’t … it’s tough to get ahold of people right now. But after we first announced it I had Ron Paul, Walter Jones and Pete Stark all sign on quickly. And I suspect that we’ll have many co-sponsors before we begin work of the House when we come back in a week.
Robert Scheer: Do you have the wording right there, Dennis? Could you read it for us?
Dennis Kucinich: It’s simply this. It says that the … that none of the funds expended under this act shall be used for the … for intervening … for military intervention in Libya.
Robert Scheer: That’s great! And how come you got Ron Paul, you were able to get Ron Paul to sign off on that?
Dennis Kucinich: Ron and I work together.
Robert Scheer: Really.
Dennis Kucinich: As do Walter Jones and I, and Pete Stark supported our effort to limit …
Robert Scheer: Pete Stark’s a California congressman.
Dennis Kucinich: … to end the war in Afghanistan as well. So, you know, I would think that we should be able to get many of the people who voted to get out of Afghanistan a week ago on this bill to stop funding.
Josh Scheer: Is the fear that there’s no exit strategy and no …
Dennis Kucinich: There isn’t any exit strategy. There was only an entrance strategy. That’s a concern in Congress, and apparently it’s a concern of some people in the Department of Defense as well.
Josh Scheer: And I was going to ask about … because I mean, this is also that there’s a kind of unfair balance, because we already are obviously stuck in Afghanistan and Iraq, and then we haven’t gone after other regional countries that have far worse leaders, like Saudi Arabia or Yemen.
Dennis Kucinich: Well, when we … if we start to create a new engine for intervention, we’ll destroy our country. Because we don’t have the ability to finance endless wars. Our military is already stretched thin. Our domestic agenda is being shredded. The penchant for military intervention is very dangerous. And the moment that we’re in right now in Libya is a chaotic strategy, intervening in a chaotic place, and the only thing that’s going to come out of it is more chaos.
Robert Scheer: You know, Dennis, it occurs to me … this is Bob … it occurs to me that there’s something really cynical at work here. You know, you’re not going to commit troops; you’re not going to occupy a place. You’re going to use your high technology … and this is something the military-industrial complex has always wanted, because if you have to put in troops, you have casualties, you have the consequence. If you can just bomb from up high, if you can just send in drone missiles, if you can have a no-fly zone in which, then, you are the only ones who can rain death down on people, you have kind of this comic book or video war that the American public might go … buy off on, might accept. And at the same time it uses up ordinance and it provides a justification for building new high-tech weapons.
Dennis Kucinich: Well, you’re right about the fact that the more ordinance we use, the more high-tech weapons we’ll end up buying. The cost of this war, according to an analysis that just came in that I saw this morning, said that by the time we’re out of it, if it is, quote, limited, unquote, it could still cost about a billion dollars. Specifically, to replace the more than 100 Tomahawk missiles, replace the 2,000-pound bombs that have been used, the cost of fuel, the cost of keeping planes in the air. So … there’s another aspect to this, though. It’s really the height of irresponsibility to wage these remote wars, where you actually don’t have to even look at people anymore. It actually … actually, war, the character of wars have changed so dramatically with changes in technology, that you could bomb someone thousands of miles away without ever having to look them in the eye, without ever having to know anything about them. You can bomb their neighbor and call it collateral damage. We have to understand that as the world’s gone faster and technology’s speeded up and given us these capabilities, it’s actually enabled a derationalization and a dehumanization of those who are doing the attacking.
Peter Scheer: Congressman, this is Peter. Would you have opposed this funding if the president had come to Congress and kept a price cap on the spending?
Dennis Kucinich: I would oppose any intervention in Libya whatsoever.
Peter Scheer: So what do you … how do you react to the humanitarian claims of the people supporting this intervention?
Dennis Kucinich: I think Noam Chomsky, in his book about humanitarian war, really captured the essence of it. We actually go into these situations with … there are Western colonial interests that have been longstanding. There’s the opposition who we really don’t know how to characterize in Libya; there’s this, looming in the background, this concern about the primacy of Libya’s oil. You know, when you look at all these things, it paints a picture which is quite murky for interventionism. And if you want to dress it up in humanitarian purposes, once you open up the intervention and you get into it deeply, it may not look very humanitarian at all. You may actually end up killing more people than Gadhafi himself is capable of.
Josh Scheer: I was going to say, Bush also got approval from Congress for Iraq with lies and half-truths; I mean, you can get approval, I think, right … your point would be that we don’t want to get into another quagmire.
Dennis Kucinich: Right.
Peter Scheer: But you specifically objected to the president not coming to Congress on this action. Isn’t that true?
Dennis Kucinich: Well, that’s absolutely right. And I have for my … I have additional support for that view, including a quote that is, quote, the president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation, unquote. And that was then-Sen. Barack Obama in an interview with the Boston Globe on December 20th, 2007. I opposed the president taking action without consulting with Congress. Had he consulted with Congress, I would have voted against it. That’s not to say the resolution could not have passed. But the fact that he didn’t consult with Congress is, I think, a breach of his constitutional obligations.
Josh Scheer: I was going to say that we’re going to put that on Truthdig, the interview with the Boston Globe—we found it today. And then another question is, though, I know that was one of his promises, and he’s broken a lot of his promises. But he does promise to hand over control; he says that Libyans have to decide their own fate; you know, he’s said all the right things. That this will be … you know, this is not just the U.S., this is an international coalition. But do you think those are just political promises, or do you think …
Dennis Kucinich: Well, I … look. Let’s go to … just a few days ago. The Arab League was in partnership. Well, there appears to be some changes there, because they’re backing away, saying that they didn’t know, that they didn’t want civilians to be hurt. And there seems to have been some settling on NATO taking control, but who’s NATO? I mean, who drives NATO? The U.S.
Peter Scheer: Also, France and Germany have indicated that they don’t, they might vote against a leadership position.
Dennis Kucinich: Well taken. And so there’s still disagreement, and the element of chaos, which war embodies, is touching all those who are promoting it.
Robert Scheer: Let me ask you, Dennis. It seems to me that this idea that you and Ron Paul and the others you mentioned could agree on a resolution is very promising for American politics. That it cuts through the left-right division; it shows a certain consistency on the part of at least the libertarian conservatives about challenging imperial adventures. Aren’t you impressed that this could happen?
Dennis Kucinich: Well, you have to remember that Ron Paul and I have been standing side by side, really unnoticed, for years in opposing the interventions and wars in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and in Libya, and opposing any strike at Iran. So for Ron Paul and I, this is not new. Walter Jones has been a passionate defender of the Constitution, but also has been very courageous in his pointing out what the wars have done to our military. And he took it upon himself to write letters of condolence to every family who lost a son or a daughter in the war in Iraq, because he was so struck with grief over that, over the war, and over his vote. There are people who love this country and who are ready to take a stand without regard to the politics of the moment, whether there’s a Democrat or Republican occupying the White House.
Robert Scheer: You know, Dennis, the thing that bothers me about this whole thing is the sort of faux-humanitarian thing on the part of some neoliberals. And they used this argument for justifying getting into Iraq; they’re using it once again. And it’s hypocritical. First of all, they don’t apply it to Saudi Arabia; they don’t apply it to, you know, the Saudis sending troops into Bahrain; they don’t apply it to what’s happening in Yemen. So it’s a totally inconsistent view of picking targets. I mean, Gadhafi is reprehensible; he is hardly the worst in the region … and also we’ve learned that some of these people, like Joseph Nye from Harvard, and the guy who’s head of the London School of Economics, are actually taking money from Libya and cooperating with Gadhafi, as was George W. Bush, as was Tony Blair. So are you going to call attention to that kind of hypocrisy?
Dennis Kucinich: Absolutely. I mean, anytime you see a war, you’re bound to find inconsistencies, hypocrisies, and people making money off of their positions. The thing that hasn’t really been pointed out, I don’t think, effectively, is that The Washington Post on the day of—or within about 24 hours after we intervened—The Washington Post wrote a story about how the war was pretty much already over. And that the regime had won. And so there’s a question about, did we intervene after the tide had turned towards Tripoli, which means that this is really about regime change. And when you’re looking at regime change, it’s never about quote, democratic ideals, unquote.
Robert Scheer: Yes. In fact, there’s an irony here in that The Wall Street Journal had a very interesting article pointing out that the opposition is the kind that we usually deride; it’s more Islamic, it’s more conservative in a traditional sense than Gadhafi has been. And Gadhafi has actually been presented in recent years, again by the Bush administration and by Blair when he was in charge in England, as somebody we could do business with. And then suddenly that changed.
Dennis Kucinich: Well, there is that … you know, just as we did business with Saddam Hussein at one point. We have this ability to summon up a demon of the week and to be able to create caricatures of people in order to justify military action. And the point that you make about just who it is that we’re working with—no one really seems to know. Except that there is a possibility that if Gadhafi is usurped, that these elements would create a divided Libya, which would be a fertile ground for al-Qaida. And so the national security interests of the United States, if you wanted to strictly define them in terms of the euphemistic global war on terror, would seem be … run contrary to an intervention. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t be concerned about the conditions in Libya and the plight of the Libyan people. But there is something about recognizing that the … that people are basically going to have to be in charge of their own fate. And that intervention may actually make, military intervention may actually make things worse. It may, in effect, give Gadhafi the ability to say that all of his opponents are part of a Western interventionist plot to grab oil and sink the hopes of the people of Libya.
Peter Scheer: Congressman, would you have favored any kind of military action earlier in the conflict, when Gadhafi was just, appeared to be sending fighter jets to bomb civilians in populated areas?
Dennis Kucinich: No. No, I would not have, I would not have favored any military action there at all. And I don’t, I don’t think that with the tides for change that are sweeping across the Middle East, that the United States can decide to intervene. We can’t do it. It’s not just about Libya; it’s about Yemen, it’s about Bahrain, it’s about Saudi Arabia and Syria, and so many other places. We cannot determine the outcome. And as brutal as these governments may be to their own people, it’s not up to us to determine who’s going to lead a country, the character of a government. And we’re not at the point where we can do that, anymore. We just can’t afford it. Period. And we can’t, we can’t … you know, if the international community wants to do that and participate, then we have to have that debate in the United States Congress. But I am not in favor of intervention.
Peter Scheer: Can I just ask you about your district? There’s some reports that you may be districted out through some nefarious state politics? Do you want to, do you have any updates on that?
Dennis Kucinich: Well, you know, the reports are true. The district I hold in Cleveland, Ohio, is due to be either substantially altered or abolished. A former chair of the state Republican Party two weeks ago said that it was going to be abolished in the redistricting. And so I intend to stay in Congress; I’m going to have to … I don’t know where I’m going to be running, though. That’s where the situation is right now.
Robert Scheer: Well, Dennis, I know you’ve given us a lot of your time, but let me just say, I hope you’re not going to be one of those politicians that then goes to work for the enemy, right? I mean, you’ll be a … [laughter] … you’ll be a truth-seeker and not go work for some big lobbying … as a lot of Democrats do, they go work for Wall Street, they go work for the worst in the country. …
Dennis Kucinich: I think anybody who looks at the trajectory of my career would know that …
Robert Scheer: Yeah … so you might have a good life after Congress. …
Dennis Kucinich: … that it’s unlikely to head towards K Street. [Laughter]
Robert Scheer: You know, but you might actually emerge as like the next Ralph Nader. I mean, because really we need people who know how Congress works and how … what the lobbyists are up to. Do you think there’s some … assuming you lose your district, is there some future role that you could play?
Dennis Kucinich: Well, here’s the thing. I want to … I’m focusing now on the job that I have to do in Congress. That’s number one. Number two, I have every intention of staying in Congress, which means that I am going to run again; I just don’t know where. And number three, based on that outcome, I’ll be able to answer definitively the question that you raised. But what I’ve tried to do, in the time that I do serve, is to bring the same measure of critical inquiry to all matters that Ralph Nader has brought into the consumer movement. And, you know, I think that it’s very important to hold government officials’ feet to the fire on issues of policy and how tax dollars are being spent. And so I’m going to continue to do that as long as I’m in public service.
Robert Scheer: Dennis, as long as we have you, let me just switch the subject a little bit, because it was announced today that new housing sales are at a historic low; they dropped 16 percent; it’s predicted that homeownership is going to drop 10 percent over the next years. We have 50 million people who’ve either lost their homes or are going to lose their homes. The economy does not seem to be getting any better. And yet we’re sailing along with the same kind of leadership, coming from the Democrats, that we have from the Republicans. And there was some hope that the libertarians, like Ron Paul, would challenge the power of the Fed, would challenge the power of big banking, and that some liberals in Congress would do that. Do you see any movement to that …
Dennis Kucinich: Yes …
Robert Scheer: … Or all they all lining up behind this president, and …
Dennis Kucinich: … Well, they’re not all lining behind him. I mean, Ron Paul, in his position as chair of a banking subcommittee, continues to challenge the Fed, and he and I have worked together on that. And furthermore, I’ll just give you a preview of legislation that I’m working on reintroducing in this Congress that would dramatically change the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 by putting the Federal Reserve under the Treasury Department, and would cause fractional reserve banking—which inevitably has enabled banks to pyramid their assets to the point of where they could make investments that have exposed taxpayers to great losses—to change the fractional reserve system. And finally to enable the government, which famously has claimed it’s broke, to be able to restart our economy by investing in our nation; by sending money into circulation to rebuild our roads, our bridges, our water system, our sewer system, or to build new rail for carrying passengers; to be able to invest in education and health care. We have within our power the ability to redirect the fate and the future of our nation, but we have to get control of our monetary policy. And right now, our government is run with a close eye toward [what] Wall Street wants, and policy just all the way down the line, and that is why whether it’s a Democrat or Republican in the White House, the wealth of America keeps accelerating upwards.
Peter Scheer: Can I just ask, in your working with tea party people, with Republicans, are you committing to making any kind of cuts to the budget that you might find unsavory, to form a compromise?
Dennis Kucinich: No, I … listen, my approach to the budget has been this: That we ought to sharply cut Pentagon spending. We ought to … we could save hundreds of billions of dollars by getting out of Afghanistan, Iraq, stopping these military interventions, paring back significantly the Pentagon budget, and reversing the Bush tax cuts. These are all things that are within the capability of government to do. And also just encouraging competition in our economy. You know, we can … we have forgotten that we can still prime the pump of the economy. That kind of economics went out the door; now we’ve accepted a jobless recovery in saying that a certain amount of unemployment, apparently it’s close to 10 percent, is necessary for the proper functioning of the economy. We’ve established a new threshold of unemployment. This is wrong; this is fundamentally wrong. And so I’m not for cutting any social programs, any programs that are needed to help the poor; we need more investment, not less. And government can only do that if we get control of our monetary policy, and if we break the grasp that Wall Street has on our economic and finance policy. So this is a long haul we’re talking about. But I think it’s possible, because the American people, as we have 15 million unemployed, 50 million still without health insurance, another 10 million people who are in various phases of losing their homes. The numbers are there, and they suggest a lack of proper concern about the economic plight of millions of Americans, and inattention to the practical aspirations that most Americans have for jobs and health care, and education, and retirement security, and peace.
Robert Scheer: You know, Dennis, do you think … Congressman, sorry … do you think that in a way these foreign adventures are a distraction from these profound economic issues we have. …
Dennis Kucinich: They’re more than a distraction; they’re putting us on a path that parallels the forces that drove, that led to the breakup of the Soviet Union. You know, we have to stop building an empire. We have to come home. I mean, this has been being said for 40 years in America; this is George McGovern’s theme. We have to come home and start taking care of things here, and it’s a grand distraction, but it’s worse than that. It is undermining our ability to function as a nation. And the other thing that war does, the other casualty of war … the other casualties in war are civil liberties. And so we start to see the quality of our political democracy eroded. And, you know, you can’t have a political democracy unless you have an economic democracy, so war is an economic issue as well. Three trillion dollars, minimum for the Iraq wars; half a trillion dollars already for Afghanistan; a hundred million a day in Libya. We cannot sustain our nation on this course; it is impossible. It is against the laws of physics, because we’re trying to create a new mass out of a black hole.
Peter Scheer: Is Washington’s government as [broke] as it’s popular to say?
Dennis Kucinich: Depends whose accounting books you’re using. You know, on one level, we have unlimited money for war. On another level, we’re broke when it comes to home-heating oil for people in our Northeast regions; we don’t have sufficient money for Social Security, we’re told; we’re told that funds have to be cut to our states, who then in turn cut funds to education and health care. So, you know, it all depends who has the books. And does that … does it follow that we can’t be more fiscally prudent? No, we can be. But it’s very easy … a trillion dollars and more lost in tax cuts to the rich; Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes’ book about the Iraq war projected a $3 trillion cost, minimum. The cost for Afghanistan, once they get through with that, is going to go into the trillions. And it’s not just that, it is the U.S.’s far-flung military presence, globally, which is another, maybe $10 billion minimum every year, just to keep that going. And so we have to … we are at a moment in our experience as a nation where we have to decide who we are, what is the purpose of our nationhood. And we can still have a country which provides opportunities for all. And that means jobs for all, education for all, health care for all, retirement and security for all. But we cannot do it unless we stand for peace. And if we don’t, if we don’t get that, then we’ll go the way of other empires, which eventually collapse of their own wake. And that’s … and so we have to make decisions about who we are, what we stand for.
Robert Scheer: You know, I’ll ask one last question, Congressman. But when I was growing up, and I’m considerably older than you are, Detroit was a symbol of American progress. That’s where the good jobs were; that’s where we got the new middle class, you know; unionized workers with good benefits doing, making great cars. Cleveland was the center of the American optimism. Now I just saw a report that the population of Detroit declined, what, 25 percent in the last 10 years. I mean, it’s becoming a ghost city. You’ve lost … you may lose your seat because the population in Ohio has gone down. And what is happening to this heartland of America? You’re not some guy who comes out of Greenwich Village, you know, or Santa Monica, Calif., or something. You come out of the heartland, and you’ve tried to represent these people. Why are there these attacks on unions now, and what is—what’s going on out there?
Dennis Kucinich: Well, the deindustrialization of America began with—well, was accelerated with the passage of NAFTA, and then the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, and then China trade. And let me explain how. The fact that those trade agreements were passed without workers’ rights, without human rights, without environmental quality principles, enabled corporations to move jobs out of America to where workers could be paid a pittance working in conditions that were otherwise intolerable, in conditions where the air and the water was being ruined, and sometimes using slave, prison, or child labor. The … you can look right now at where we are with a trade deficit in excess of, or in the neighborhood of $450 billion, a good part of that to China. And you look at the communities that have been hurt—and I’ve seen this; I mean, I’ve seen communities in my campaigns for president. I’ve seen communities which were once prosperous falling apart because the jobs left. And the deindustrialization of America, the loss of our strategic industrial base—steel, automotive, aerospace, shipping—has caused a hollowing out in those communities which were the flagships of the, of 20th century American industrial might. And that includes Detroit, and Cleveland, and Youngstown, and Pittsburgh, to an extent. And it has had … you know, it has a devastating demographic impact; a financial impact on those communities, cities and states; and it really helps, on the other side of it it’s created … you know, we’ve exported our jobs and we’ve imported poverty.
Peter Scheer: Congressman, thank you so much for your time.
Dennis Kucinich: Thank you.
Peter Scheer: That was Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, who is working to defund the military action in Libya, which he calls unconstitutional.
* * *Kasia Anderson:
This is Truthdig Radio. I’m Kasia Anderson, associate editor at Truthdig. And I’m happy to be here with athlete and author Ryan Quinn. Welcome, Ryan.
Ryan Quinn: Thank you.
Kasia Anderson: We’re going to be talking about Ryan’s first book. But I also wanted to get a little bit into your background first, starting with the place of your birth, which is very interesting to our audience.
Ryan Quinn: Oh, yeah.
Kasia Anderson: Yeah.
Ryan Quinn: I’m from a little town called Wasilla, Alaska; perhaps you’ve heard of it.
Kasia Anderson: The second most famous person from Wasilla.
Ryan Quinn: I know. [Laughter] So disappointed about that.
Kasia Anderson: Always in her shadow, right?
Ryan Quinn: Yeah.
Kasia Anderson: And you grew up in Wasilla, or how long were you in Alaska?
Ryan Quinn: Until I graduated high school. So, born and raised. And then I got a ski scholarship at the University of Utah, so I found myself in Salt Lake City.
Kasia Anderson: Incidentally, I am from Salt Lake City, the place of my birth. So, how did you find the …were you, you know, was there some kind of culture shock when you moved to Utah? Were you prepared for what you found there?
Ryan Quinn: I was. At the time, it was a step up in terms of moving to a bigger city. So I guess, looking back, it looks different from this angle than it did then. Although I have to say, you know, the day-to-day life for someone who’s not a Mormon there is really … it’s, it’s not remarkable in any sort of way, I guess. You know, all of my friends were on the ski team, in the athletics department, and most of them had been recruited from other states; a lot of my teammates on the ski team actually were from Scandinavia and [elsewhere in] Europe. So it was very much a normal sort of place for me to go to college.
Kasia Anderson: Right. There was a subculture in Salt Lake, too, as I recall, that was the, sort of the non-Mormon crowd.
Ryan Quinn: That’s right. Yeah, it’s a very, very … and it’s a sort of self-segregating … if you find yourself in a bar, you’re probably not surrounded by very many Mormons, so.
Kasia Anderson: Exactly. [Laughter] So, and you came out in your sophomore year, is that correct?
Ryan Quinn: That’s right, yep.
Kasia Anderson: And what was that experience like?
Ryan Quinn: It was great, actually. Before I came out, obviously, it was isolating and nervous, I guess. And then I had a great group of gay friends who were not in the athletics department, and …
Kasia Anderson: At the university.
Ryan Quinn: At the University of Utah, yeah. And sort of got tired of having two separate lives, and I would hang out with my gay friends, you know, and then I would …
Kasia Anderson: Were you out to your gay friends?
Ryan Quinn: Yes, yeah.
Kasia Anderson: OK.
Ryan Quinn: But not to my teammates. And then … so finally I just, you know, decided, I need to come out and be who I am, and these guys are my friends, and hopefully it’ll go well. And it did. They were … not only were they accepting, but incredibly supportive.
Kasia Anderson: Did you gather them together and make a group announcement, or was it …
Ryan Quinn: No, nothing …
Kasia Anderson:… one by one …
Ryan Quinn: … Yeah, nothing that dramatic. I actually told a couple one-on-one ahead of time, and then … you know, the guy who I’d been rooming with for a while, and one of the girls. And then after that went well, I decided to tell everyone else, and … I mean most people found out, we were at a party, and I sort of went around and told everyone. But one-on-one; it wasn’t like I stood up on the coffee table and shouted things.
Kasia Anderson: “Oh captain, my captain,” yeah. So what do you think is specific, maybe, to the sport you were in that might be different than some other sports, college or otherwise, in terms of coming out?
Ryan Quinn: There’s always been a sort of hypothesis, I guess, or just anecdotal feeling, that people in individual sports like skiing or swimming or diving … it’s easier for them to come out than if you’re on the football team or the basketball team. I’ve always thought that that was untrue. Or not untrue, but that it just discounted … you know, there’s nothing inherent about a contact sport or an individual sport that makes it more or less accepting towards gay athletes; it really has nothing to do with it. And I think perhaps, you know, when you’re a skier, for example, an endurance athlete—I do cross-country skiing—you spend a lot of time alone, skiing through the woods, and it’s a very reflective sport. And perhaps the nature of that brings you to a different conclusion than if you’re always surrounded by teammates who are in a sort of hyper-masculine environment.
Kasia Anderson: And in one of your interviews I read that you linked coming out to, you know, it had sort of an intrinsic value in terms of your performance in your sport. Is that right, you felt like you couldn’t really be yourself and perform the way you wanted to with that as a secret. Is that true?
Ryan Quinn: Yeah, I mean I think … I know at the University of Utah they have one of the best ski programs in the country, and so when you’re pursuing the highest level of your sport, one of the things you do is try to get rid of all distractions that you don’t need to have. And, you know, having a secret like that was a pretty big one, so. … [Laughter] That was also part of my decision was, you know, this is … having this secret is kind of exhausting, and I need to be done with that. It helped me be a little more free to pursue the sport, and I think it made the team a little bit closer as well.
Kasia Anderson: That’s a great outcome. I wanted to ask you, before [segueing] into the book discussion, you said you wrote an article for OutSports in 2003 and you got a lot of responses. What were the responses like, first of all, and second of all—if I may piggyback on that question—what do you think has changed, if anything, in sports since then?
Ryan Quinn: Well, at the time, there wasn’t stories like that that I could find online; this was about 2001, 2003, something like that. I would look online and there were stories of, you know, gay people coming out, but none of them were athletes, and certainly none of them competitive college athletes. So when I came out, Sid and Jim, who run OutSports, asked me to write about my experience, and I did. And it was a little overwhelming, actually, the number of emails I got from people who read it. You know, hundreds of emails within a week or two. So since then, it’s just been … that sort of reset, sort of, the bar in my mind of “Oh, there are thousands of gay athletes out there, at every level of seriousness.” And I think since then, like now you can go to OutSports and other websites and find dozens and dozens of these stories. So if anything, that’s what’s changed, is it’s no longer uncommon to hear about stories like mine.
Kasia Anderson: Do you have any predictions for when we might actually hear of a still-active football player or basketball player coming out? Seems like they’re always retired when you hear about these things. …
Ryan Quinn: Right. I mean, it could be any day. It could be five years from now. You know, one of the … a famous soccer player in Europe just came out last week. [Editor’s note: Click here to see an article about this month’s disclosure by Anton Hysen.] I guess Europe is a little ahead of the curve in terms of these …
Kasia Anderson: Spain allows gay marriage, so …
Ryan Quinn: … Right, anything to do with sexuality. …
Kasia Anderson:… Catholic Spain.
Ryan Quinn: Anything to do with sexuality, the United States is sort of stubbornly shooting itself in the foot at every step of the way. But I think … you know, that doesn’t, I don’t really worry too much about that. I think it’s more likely that a college athlete will be out and will be drafted into the NFL or the NBA or something like that.
Kasia Anderson: Hopefully, then, it will be just a matter of time before more people start doing that.
Ryan Quinn: Yeah.
Kasia Anderson: So let’s talk about [your novel] “The Fall.” When did you, what was the germinating idea to write a young adult-slash-adult book, for you?
Ryan Quinn: Well, interestingly, that article I wrote for OutSports was sort of the trigger for me, in terms of realizing that I liked the power of words and, you know, shaping them to tell a narrative. And so it was about a year after that, I guess, when this idea for the story and these characters sort of kept creeping back into my consciousness, I guess. You know, there’s plenty of times when I’ll, like, run off and scribble some idea down that I have—I always have a notebook nearby—but what’s interesting is, it’s usually the best ideas are the ones that just recur on their own and that you don’t need to write down. Those are usually the ones you ought to be writing about, and that was what happened with the beginning of this book, is these ideas just kept coming back. And I felt like I had to write it. It was kind of the book that I wanted to read, especially going through college—this is the book that I would have wanted to read then, and it didn’t exist.
Kasia Anderson: In terms of the themes it brought up, or the resolution at the end, or …
Ryan Quinn: Yeah …
Kasia Anderson: … what was it about it that you felt you would have wanted to read?
Ryan Quinn: … and the characters, too. I think there’s a lot of books about high school characters that are young-adult books, and there’s a lot of books that go older or tend to, you know, adult books that discuss college tend to look backwards. And so there’s not a very, like, in-the-moment sort of college or life experience. And more than about college, it’s about this time in life where you have your first stab at controlling your development as a person, and the identity and sexuality and independence that comes with that. And so I just felt like these characters didn’t exist in fiction, and so I wanted to explore their story.
Kasia Anderson: What is the market like, or the status, of young gay adult books at this point?
Ryan Quinn: For young adult books, it’s actually kind of booming right now; it’s interesting. There have been several best-sellers over the last few years that have gay main characters, and interestingly the same is not true on the adult side. I’ve worked in publishing, and I wouldn’t say that publishers intentionally shy away from that, but there’s definitely a feeling of risk to taking on a book that has a gay main character. And part of that is, you know, every bookstore has sections. And there’s a gay section, and it’s sort of like this vortex where if there’s one character in a book that’s gay, the book sort of falls into that category. So I don’t know if my book is a gay book or not; it has a gay character in it, but it’s … it has three main characters, and one of them’s gay.
Kasia Anderson: What was the inspiration for the characters? Were these based on real events, real people?
Ryan Quinn: Not particularly. This is, I think, the question that I get the most, is how autobiographical is it. And in one sense, I only have my own experiences in life to draw from—any writer does—and so it’s all me, there in the book. But on the other hand, nothing in particular, no particular person is in my life, or moment or scene happened to me. And that’s the cool thing about fiction, is taking the experiences you’ve witnessed and fantasized about, or seen, or feared, and picking out the interesting ones and assigning them roles and stories, and creating something that hopefully is universal, instead of something that’s just particular to me.
Kasia Anderson: And you didn’t have to call any of your friends from college and say, heads up, this is … you might recognize yourself in this. … [Laughter]
Ryan Quinn: No, though I do have friends, you know, who say “It’s so weird reading a book where you know the author,” because you can’t help but look for things. I mean, like, “Oh, is that me, or is that so-and-so, or where did he get that?” But that’s inevitable, and some of it’s conscious and some of it’s subconscious.
Kasia Anderson: I noticed at the beginning that you had an “It Gets Better” mention. Is that something that you picked up on when you were about to release the book, Savage’s campaign?
Ryan Quinn: Yeah. I hadn’t thought about a dedication until the book was about to come out, and I think that this book has a very wide audience, I think. You know, I just spoke with, via Skype, a book club who is all sort of 30-to-60-year-old women, and they all loved it. And so I didn’t sit down and write the book for anyone in particular, but I think there’s something about the passion and the vulnerability that resonates with young people who are figuring out who they are in life. And so my hope is that giving … the way that I did not have a book like this to read when I was going through that stage in life, hopefully other people will. And sort of, they can add that to the calculus of figuring out who they are.
Kasia Anderson: And you said that you had a sort of unique experience getting the book to its finished form and getting it out. What was your process like there?
Ryan Quinn: The whole process has been a long one. It took about four and a half, five years. The first draft was too long, and so there was a big revision process. And I was fortunate enough, having been working in publishing at the time, to work with a literary agent and to have some generous editor friends, who worked in publishing in New York, read it and give me very honest feedback. So it became very polished. And my concern is, as I just mentioned, I was afraid that publishers would not find it commercial enough to take seriously. The marketing and publicity budgets for books are nonexistent unless you’re a huge bestseller, and a young debut novelist just doesn’t have access to that. So I was, frankly, nervous about having it get lost on somebody’s list. So we kind of pulled back and waited. And then some great advancements in print-on-demand publishing and e-book publishing have happened in the last few years, and my publisher brain started working. And sort of experimentally I wondered, you know, what this would entail. And perhaps I should have known better; it’s a lot of work [laughs], publishing a book. But it’s my passion, I guess, so I was happy to do it.
Kasia Anderson: Does it give you more freedom, do you think, in terms of how it’s categorized or not categorized, or how you’re able to appeal to different demographics and not get sort of pigeonholed in one section of the bookstore, figuratively speaking, or the other?
Ryan Quinn: Yeah. Yeah, I mean you give up some access to obvious channels of distribution. Like, Barnes & Noble isn’t knocking on my door to …
Kasia Anderson: Yet. [Laughter]
Ryan Quinn: Yet. Yeah, you’re right. But at the same time, you do have more control over … basically, it gets the writer closer to the reader, which I think benefits both the reader and the writer. And so there are less sort of boxes that you have to fall into, in terms of ‘Is this book … what section does it belong in, what age group is it for?’ And it’s more of a discovery process than a sort of top-down approach.
Kasia Anderson: Do you have an associated website with the novel?
Ryan Quinn: Yeah, my website is RyanQuinnBooks.com. And there are links to excerpts of the first few chapters there, links to the e-book and the print book; everything’s there. Also, RyanQuinnBooks the Facebook page has similar content.
Kasia Anderson: Can we look forward to you being a one-man publishing house, then? Is this what you’re telling us?
Ryan Quinn: No. [Laughter] Well, I don’t know, I mean … writing’s my main passion, I guess. So that’s what I want to do. And, you know, I guess as a word of caution, I think the main issue with self-publishing … I think it’s fantastic that floodgates have been opened by what Amazon and Barnes &Noble and other print-on-demand publishing outfits are doing now. The main value of a publisher is editing the book. And it’s hard to overstate the importance of editing. And I think a lot of authors who are eager to self-publish their book overlook that, or take shortcuts on that, or don’t …
Kasia Anderson: Or think less is more with editing.
Ryan Quinn: Right.
Kasia Anderson: Yeah.
Ryan Quinn: And when you think the book is ready, put it away for six months.
Kasia Anderson: Guess again! [Laughter]
Ryan Quinn: Yeah. Come back—and do that about three or four times. So that’s sort of my—not advice, I mean who am I to give other writers advice—I don’t think …
Kasia Anderson: Hard-won knowledge, maybe, yeah?
Ryan Quinn: Yeah, is don’t forget that there are a lot of steps in the process and that is perhaps the most important one.
Kasia Anderson: And last question for you here, do you have plans for a follow-up novel, or an entirely different one?
Ryan Quinn: Yeah, I’m working on a new novel, and it’s totally unrelated to “The Fall.” Although I’ve heard … a lot of the feedback I’ve gotten so far is that people already miss the characters when they get to the end of the book. And several people have asked if I’m writing a sequel, but that didn’t occur to me.
Kasia Anderson: Well, that’s the kind of feedback you want to get, though, from a first novel. That’s great.
Ryan Quinn: Yeah, I guess.
Kasia Anderson: Well, thank you so much. This is Kasia Anderson from Truthdig, and I’ve been talking with Ryan Quinn, athlete and author. Thanks for coming.
Ryan Quinn: Hey, thanks for having me.
Peter Scheer: Coming up, Howie Stier reports from the front lines of the anti-war movement. Howie Stier: This past weekend, protesters marched through the streets of Hollywood, demanding an end to the ongoing United States military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The largest such street action since the 2007 Writers Guild strike, the event drew a crowd of hundreds representing a broad array of student groups, union members, peace activists, as well as combat veterans and their families. The storied cross-street of Hollywood and Vine presented a loud and colorful display, with a dance group in peacock-plumed headdresses and Aztec regalia, vets in camouflage, bandanna-masked anarchists and, this being Los Angeles, a taco truck promoting a violent war video game rolled up, too. Medically discharged Army Sgt. Kevin Baker wears the camouflage jacket he wore through two tours of combat in Iraq, adorned with a blue combat infantryman’s badge and rows of so many decorations that he doesn’t even know what they were awarded for. His second deployment to Iraq was disillusioning, he says; he wasn’t engaging enemy forces; his soldiering was making conditions worse for the Iraqi citizenry; and when his unit responded in the aftermath of a helicopter attack against a civilian home, he became disaffected with the prosecution of the war.
Kevin Baker: All the people that I know, that I served with in the infantry, a good percentage of them suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder due to feeling guilty about what we did to the people of Iraq.
Howie Stier: What did you do to the people of Iraq?
Kevin Baker: Well, we would raid their houses, detain them. And it’s kind of hard to understand, I think. Like, how … you would kick in the door, throw a flash bang in their house. It would disorientate the family, children would be crying; you would pull their fathers and their brothers away from them, zip-cuff them, put a bag over their head, throw them inside of a vehicle at 2 in the morning and then drive away.
Howie Stier: Tell us about that Apache helicopter strike.
Kevin Baker: So it collapsed a house, and uh, we were responsible for medevac … medically evacuating a small child, maybe 5 or 6 years old. And we brought the child into the Stryker, and he had several sucking chest wounds. And watching the child, like, the chest rise and fall, it put it into … because I have a child, also. It put it into context, like this child … the only thing the child was guilty of is being born in Iraq. And that’s not an isolated incident as far as the entire occupation’s concerned.
Howie Stier: Did you follow up, do you know if the child survived?
Kevin Baker: Oh, he died inside the Stryker with us. And his mother actually was there, I medically evacuated his mom; she died also. They actually dropped her off the structure in the middle of MSR [Main Supply Route] Tampa. And, like, these are people that didn’t have a say whether Saddam Hussein was in power or not. They didn’t have a say about the United States intervening. Like, these are just human beings that are suffering because of the occupation.
Howie Stier: These weren’t combatants.
Kevin Baker: No, not at all. And that’s not an isolated incident. Like, that happens every day, and something like 1.2 million Iraqis are dead. Those are lives that have been destroyed because of the …
Howie Stier: And that was the part where you realized that the war wasn’t going the way you thought it would.
Kevin Baker: Right. It was the point where I realized that, like, we’re not there to help the people of Iraq. That we didn’t do anything productive for them. Occasionally we would hand out bottles of water, but a bottle of water doesn’t replace a human life.
Howie Stier: Tim Kahlor flourishes a poster-sized photo of his son, Army Staff Sgt. Ryan, blown up multiple times in Iraq, ultimately and most seriously by an improvised explosive in the town of Hit, in Anbar province, in 2006. Kahlor rattles off a litany of injuries the Army NCO suffered returning again and again with his unit to be deployed into combat.
Tim Kahlor: Eight years later, we have a war in Afghanistan, we have a war in Iraq. And now we’re looking at Libya, probably. We’ve got to stop this current. Because we need to—not only do we need to take, bring the troops home right away. …
Howie Stier: Your son was injured in Iraq?
Tim Kahlor: Yeah, in 2006, he was, had multiple times he was blown up in a Bradley. He has a traumatic brain injury, severe post-traumatic stress disorder, nerve damage to both his arms, had three surgeries on his arms, he’s got a detached retina. …
Howie Stier: While in the field, Sgt. Kahlor faced repercussions from superiors as his father became involved in anti-war activities. Those included engaging students with the story of Ryan’s injuries when military recruiters appeared at UC San Diego, where Kahlor is on the school’s human resources staff.
Tim Kahlor: He would be pulled in by his superiors and disciplined for me speaking out against the war and his rights to get the care he needed. He told them, “As long as I … I went to war, supposedly, to fight for my rights, for our right to speak. … I went to war to make sure that people have the freedom to speak their mind and the right to speak out. And my dad has that right, and you will not take it away from my father.”
Howie Stier: Do you want to see the war come to an end?
Tim Kahlor: Yes, right away. I want them brought home right now, I want all this crap stopped, I want people home, I want them taken care of, and I want people to realize this is eight years in. And Afghanistan’s even been longer. And we can’t forget there’s people over there still serving, and there’s people coming home that need help.
Howie Stier: Do you regret your son going into combat?
Tim Kahlor: Oh, yeah. Totally. Totally. I mean, it’s been … because we … I have what they call secondary PTSD. Because I’ve lived through all the stuff with him. And I get anxious, I get angry, I chase people down; I was getting into fights with my neighbors and everything. And now I’m on two antidepressants. Because, to calm me down, for my … I’m so aggravated. I’m so upset with a system that says that these kids … you know, they make the big deal about we’re going to support our troops and everything, but when they come home, we don’t support them. It’s all in writing, it’s not in action.
Howie Stier: You have met Michelle Obama and discussed your son’s care.
Tim Kahlor: Right. I was in Denver during the Democratic convention, she came to our neighborhood park, and we found about it. We went and I met with her and I talked to her, and she said “Is he being taken care of?” Told her my whole story, and I said yeah, because I’m fighting for him to be taken care of. But there’s a ton of men and women out there that are not getting the care, because there’s people not fighting for them.
Howie Stier: Like many protesters who turned out, jazz pianist Doug Carter is struggling through the economic crisis and is angered at defense spending.
Doug Carter: I’m here to protest U.S. imperial involvement throughout the planet, basically.
Howie Stier: You’re holding a sign reading “Jobs, Not War.” How’s the economy affecting you right now?
Doug Carter: Well, I’m a musician, so there are less gigs; less people can afford taking piano lessons right now. I mean, that’s pretty specific to me. But, you know, there’s less work to go around. And the government is spending copious amounts of money to kill people overseas and further their hegemonic interests, and are unwilling to support the working people, the poor people and the middle class of this country. It’s just harder to make ends meet, harder to pay rent, harder to afford health care; I’ve been having some problems with my hands. For musicians, there’s nothing like workman’s comp; I’ve got to pay for all that myself, you know, dipping into the savings.
Howie Stier: As news broke of Tomahawk missiles slamming into targets across Libya, disabled Vietnam war veteran Ron Kovic, author of “Born on the Fourth of July,” told protesters their actions would bring an end to the current and future U.S. war missions.
Ron Kovic: Let Washington know that this movement is just beginning to grow in strength. [Cheering] That the sit-in here you see, the symbolic sit-in, the symbolic sit-in is just the beginning, and if this war continues, and if you continue to drag our sons and daughters into these senseless wars, we will fill the streets of this country, not with 2,000, not with 20,000, but 200,000, 500,000. [Cheering] A million people will be sitting in the streets of this country, and we will stop this war.
Peter Scheer: That’s it for this week’s episode of Truthdig Radio. Check us out in a week on air or anytime online at Truthdig.com Thanks to our guests, Representative Dennis Kucinich and Ryan Quinn. Special thanks to our board-op, our engineer Stan Mizrahi, Alan Minsky, and Jonathan Nesvadba.
Robert Scheer: And on a closing note, let’s remember Elizabeth Taylor, not only a great actress, beautiful woman, but had the courage to step up on the AIDS crisis, supported AmFAR when no one else would, when President Reagan wouldn’t even mention the word. In the early ‘80s, it was Elizabeth Taylor who said no, we need money to do research on this illness, we have to bring comfort to people, and we have to educate. And so she was a great lady with a social conscience as well as a terrific, sexy actress.
Peter Scheer: For Robert Scheer, Kasia Anderson, Howie Stier, Josh Scheer and myself, thanks for listening.