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tv   Matthew Algeo All This Marvelous Potential  CSPAN  April 17, 2020 7:24am-8:01am EDT

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mitch mcconnell has announced the same two weeks after the chamber was originally scheduled to return. members advised about sufficient notice as legislation related to the coronavirus is considered before may 4th. watch live coverage of the house on c-span, the senate on c-span2. >> television has changed since c-span began but our mission continues, and unfiltered view of government. the presidential impeachment process and now the federal reserve to the coronavirus, you can watch all of c-span's public programming on television, online, or listen on our free radio apps, be part of the national conversation through c-span's daily washington journal program or through our social media scene. c-span created by private
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industry, as a public service has brought to you by your television provider. >> good afternoon, everybody. thanks for coming. my name is travis cohen. i'm going to take a second to silence your cell phones, all recording video and audio. it comes to the q and a portion, at the end of the aisle, speak clearly into it and following everything all the books on sale behind the
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cash register, we will be happy to sign them and keep your chairs in place and would greatly appreciate that. also we have as many of you know we host a lot of events this year, every year really. if you need help keeping track of those we have the calendars on our info desk and check our website, we update that all the time. we can't push that enough. we have the pleasure of hosting matthew algeo, an award-winning journalist who has appeared on all things considered, marketplace, morning addition, many books, harry truman's excellent adventure, the president is a sick man among them.
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easier to discuss "all this marvelous potential: robert kennedy's 1968 tour of appalachia," the story tells of kennedy's tour four months before his assassination. they have recast the story of appalachian life and what decisions were in place, myself having lived near cumberland for years has seen how it resonates with the population. readers familiar with economic withdrawal will find much to discover. everyone please join me in welcoming matthew algeo. >> thank you, just going to adjust this. how is everybody feeling? feeling okay? it is great to be at politics and prose again. for authors, this is like
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madison square garden, just smells better. travis was mentioning, some of my earlier books, i kind of like how this fits into previous books i have done. a little background, it is always good to let people know the person who wrote the book, a person you will be giving your money to hopefully. i grew up in a town 30 miles north of philadelphia where nuts were cracked and went to college at university of philadelphia and majored in folklore so i got that going for me. after i graduated, couldn't find any work info. my parents were surprised so i
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started working in public radio, a place where people went at the time and worked at a few stations in seattle and minnesota. i met my wife in st. louis in 97, married in 98 and in over 5, hired by the state department, to write these books because my wife has a real job and the string of non-best-selling books has given me something to do when we are overseas. quick plugs for my earlier books if i could, last team standing, thank you, big fan,
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the 1943 merger of the steelers and the eagles, the nfl was so short of players during world war ii they had to merge two teams of the cornerback is blind in one eye and the running back has ulcers and somehow they are in the last team standing but the publisher insisted on calling the book last team standing but don't worry about that. it is a good book. harry truman's excellent adventure traced the road trip harry and best truman took in summer of 53 after they left the white house, this was before ex presidents had pensions or secret service protection. they got in their chrysler and drove from independence, missouri to the east coast, daughter margaret drove back again. kind of a sweet book, harry and best just staying in motels and speaks to a bygone era. ex-presidents now are midsized corporations unto themselves but when truman left office he was the last president return
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to something resembling a normal life. it was fun to do that story. the president is a sick man about the secret operation on grover cleveland to remove a cancerous tumor from his mouth. how are these not bestsellers? pedestrian is, the history of competitor walking in the 1880s, america's most specular sport was a 6-day walking race, okay. a but and fido was acknowledged as the greatest biography ever written of lincoln's dog and lincoln's dog, come on, what do i have to do? we will see about this marvelous potential and how that fits into the scheme of things.
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this came about in 2016 after the presidential election. you are probably aware donald trump is president and a lot of people were surprised when he was elected. they looked at the numbers and especially surprise the overwhelming majority picked up and a lot of counties in appalachia, people started writing about this, wonder how this happened. i knew about the kennedy trip as a piece of political trivia robert kennedy in 68 went on one of his famous poverty tourist eastern kentucky and at the time kennedy was not officially a candidate but was considering running against lyndon johnson in the democratic primary. it was in effect a campaign stop. it had all the droppings -- trappings of a campaign trip with hearings and speeches and i thought it was interesting that robert kennedy in 1968 could go to eastern kentucky and credibly campaign and 50 years later you see donald trump winning these counties with 60 percent-70% of the vote. i thought i should write a book
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about that but everyone else wants the same thing. this book ended up being different, focusing on the trip itself. i don't get much into the analysis of why things have changed. i look at how things have changed and leave it up to the reader to decide whether the changes are for better or worse. i went to kentucky, began researching the book in 2017. i have a lot of biases attached to the story of appalachia in the 1960s. my idea of the 1960s was woodstock, the chicago convention, san francisco. you don't think of kentucky when you think of the 60s, at least i didn't. the 60s happened in kentucky a lot. a lot of crazy things going on in appalachia and eastern kentucky, things to do with
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environmentalism and poverty and it really surprised me. i thought that was the way to approach the story, look at what the 60s were like in eastern kentucky. by way of background before the rfk trip in 1960, brother jack ran for president. west virginia was an important primary for john kennedy and bobby was his campaign manager and this was the first time they were opposed to american poverty up close and it stuck with both of them. there is a funny story from the 1960 campaign in west virginia where an old coalminer came up to jack kennedy and that is true that you never work today in your life? jack kennedy said there is some truth to that. the coalminer said don't worry, you haven't missed a damn thing. so kennedy was enamored of the people in west virginia and appalachia and they always stay with them.
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63, july '63, harry connell, a writer from eastern kentucky wrote a book called mike comes to the cumberland. it was an expose on the exploitation of the people in eastern kentucky by the coal companies and major corporations in the us that depended on coal and in october of 63, homer biggert, a reporter from the new york times wrote an expose about poverty in eastern kentucky and jack kennedy had seen both of these and they made quite an impression on him and he planned to go to eastern kentucky to see what conditions were like for himself and that was scheduled for december of 1963 so of course that never took place but after his assassination lbj stepped up and took the mantle for anti-poverty campaigns. in his january '64 state of the union declared war on poverty and in august of 64 just we 7
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months later the economic opportunity act was passed creating the office of economic opportunity or oe oh which oversaw the war on poverty programs. there were so many it takes a page in the book to list all the programs but somewhere head start, medicare came out of the school lunch program, things like this. so rfk when he went to eastern kentucky had a few reasons to go. he was in the back of his mind that his brother wanted to visit eastern kentucky and never made it, wanted to gauge the success of the war on poverty too, the bill to reappropriate the office of economic opportunity coming up, robert kennedy wanted to show poverty wasn't an african american problem or native american problem or mexican american problem but american
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problem, affected every community and regroup including white people, the white people in eastern kentucky particularly, it was important to show that to the country. the trip was two days, held hearings in a 1-room schoolhouse and a gymnasium in a town, a high school gymnasium. i really thought it was more interesting, robert kennedy, a lot of books written about robert kennedy, larry tie thought it was an excellent biography and gave me a good blurb which is the most important thing and i didn't want to write a book about robert kennedy as much as explaining what he did on this trip, people he met and issues he faced and try to put them in context of what was happening in the 60s and what is happening today and to show what changes happened since the
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60s and what happened. a few issues that he discussed or confronted in eastern kentucky, one was stripmining. at the time there was a system called the broad form deed, these were deeds people signed over the mineral rights to their property, 50-100 years earlier. these deeds gave companies the right to strip the land the call was on and companies were not required to repair the land to fix the damage. it is environmentally disastrous, it is exploitative
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and got the benefit from the coal that was taken out. it was extracted from eastern kentucky. another issue that was pressing at the time is the concept of maximum feasible participation. the economic opportunity act provided the people most affected by these programs would be given maximum feasible participation in deciding how the money would be spent and as an example there was a grassroots citizens committee that was organized, 40,000 growler grants from the federal government to build new roads and this was a committee that had been formed by unemployed minors in a two counties and
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seems like a fantastic thing they were able to get this money but who do you think didn't like the fact the federal government sent money to citizens committee is, the state and county politicians they would decide who to spend it. when the money started going by passing state and local politicians going to poor people this was the final straw for a lot of people who were opposed to the war on poverty and economic opportunity act. i think the economic opportunity tax was one of those things that was such a fantastic idea but plant the seed of its own demise in the act that triggered such a backlash among entrenched political interests not only in kentucky but anywhere where this money went. 1968 the presidential campaign was heating up, lyndon johnson had not withdrawn from the campaign, bobby did not
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announce his candidacy until march so 6 weeks before robert kennedy officially announces his candidacy but it had the trappings of a campaign trip. i have pictures in the book. kennedy's aids did not expect the crowd to accompany the senator on this trip so these long caravans of cars following him, to talk to somebody, he would be on to the next house before the caravan finished pulling up to the house. it is funny how much attention it got but i was surprised to learn the networks did not archive nightly newscasts until
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august of 1968 when the democratic convention came. you would find occasional newscasts, the network newscasts from kennedy's trip i was not able to find. they didn't archive the newscasts. there were hosts of issues, food stamps is one of the fascinating issues to me that i learned about in this book. people had to pay for food stamps which i hadn't appreciated, when the program began, you paid for certain denomination of stamps and then were given free stamps, and the fee was determined by a number of factors, the size of your family, your income, it could be a fairly big price.
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kennedy, one of the people he talked to on the trip at one of the hearings was an unemployed minor named swinger a few gate who spent several dollars a month, $94 in food stamps, he had to pay $72 to get through $22 in food stamps. another minor, a father of 15 whose monthly income was $60, to pay $26 a month for $112 in food stamps, kristin johnson at the hearing said how many times have you seen 15 kids? robert kennedy said i am headed in that direction. he had ten kids at the time. the purchase requirements was lifted but didn't take effect until 1977 and that didn't take
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effect until january of 1979 when the purchase requirement was finally ended in participation in the food stamp program went up 1.5 million in one month so it made a big difference in a lot of people's lives by lifting the purchase requirement. also interesting to find that food stamps are a welfare program for the hungry, also a welfare program for walmart because 4% of walmart's sales come from food stamps so interesting to see walmart how they come down on legislation that makes it harder to get food stamps because it cuts into their revenue. after june of 68, richard nixon was elected president and had to appoint someone to oversee
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the office of economic opportunity, oversee the war on poverty. republicans for the most part hated the war on poverty and he did the program so that put nixon and how tough spot. who will he find to do this thankless job nobody wants? he found a congressman from illinois named donald rumsfeld. he took over the office of economic opportunity and one of his first tires was a young ambitious intern from wyoming named dick cheney. in 1981, the office of economic opportunity was abolished altogether so we can give rumsfeld and cheney credit for ending one war and the war on poverty -- too soon. a couple statistics. one is the poverty was reduced in 1959, 22%, that is pretty crazy, one in four, one in
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five. in 1973 it was 11%, in the space of 14 years. when you look at the graph of where poverty is headed from 1959-1973 it is straight down, the effect of putting the brakes on the war on poverty took effect it held steady. the war on poverty, it wasn't. i would be happy to take any questions, stepped to the microphone and let it rip. somebody has to have a question. >> thank you for a talk, i look forward to reading your book. i wonder if you could speak about the decline in poverty. i work in montgomery county
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with patient population of uninsured adults. the criteria is below 250% of the federal poverty level. the federal poverty level is the same across the united states even of the cost of living is not necessarily the same. can you give us context where those numbers came from? >> one thing i talk about in the book in excruciating but fascinating detail is how you determine poverty. it was a huge thing when kennedy came in and 61 and said what do we do about poverty, the first and you want to know is what is the number? we don't know the number. at the department of agriculture, a woman who came up with a formula for determining what the poverty line was, she took the usda, a long-winded answer, she took the usda figures for nutrition for a family of four, figure out average housing prices and came up with this number, that
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formula has been unchanged for 60 years. housing was cheap and food was expensive. now you have the opposite, if you made any changes to the poverty line, you would put millions of people into poverty, no politician wants to do that so they don't want to change that, the criteria, 50% of the poverty line. and metropolitan regions, it is politically difficult for people to come up with a comprehensive and up-to-date formula for determining who is in poverty and where. there is not a political will to do that.
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>> or in vietnam and those in the appalachians and other areas of the country, how did he deal with, the military was their own way out and yet how did he convey the fact that this was an unjust war, best not to participate in it and yet the military was often the only way out for these young men and often these young men coming from these regions would be on the frontlines more likely to be killed or injured. >> if kennedy had come out the month before with his deepening swamp speech in chicago where he had unequivocally come out against expanding the war in vietnam and you are right support for the war in
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appalachia was strong. however i think there was a lot even among people who supported the war there was a lot of people opposed to the way it was being managed and say saw their sons in eastern kentucky were dying at higher rate than any other region in the country, west virginia had the highest casualty rate of any state in the vietnam war, they were considered their own state. appalachians, appalachian boys, they were considered good at working point, they were familiar with mountain terrain, they were in rough environments, rough for long periods of time, 8% of combat
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soldiers in vietnam were from appalachia but 13% of medal of honor recipients were from appalachia. it is a pretty big disparity so to answer your question there was ambivalence at the time. young people unequivocally opposed the war. their parents were more ambivalent who supported the war but certainly didn't like seeing their children go off and die in such proportions. >> what is known about the health effects of the war on poverty? it is something that must be studied but i don't know anything about it. >> in terms of -- >> improvement in health in any stage. >> one of the fascinating
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things i haven't even mentioned while researching the book, just amazing people. one of the war on poverty programs was the creation of community health clinics, that were founded 50 years ago in eastern kentucky that are the primary healthcare providers for communities there and i would say statistically i don't know off the top of my head but incidents of certain childhood diseases which were prevalent into the early 60s, in october of 63 talked about the number of cases of child malnutrition that were documented. that decreased. the school lunch program helped immensely, the guaranteed meal the kids had every day but even they have political problems of trying to get those implemented. a lot of school districts were little fiefdoms people ran and
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they didn't like people telling them what to do even if that meant offering free lunches. many of the schools where one room school house they didn't have the facilities and didn't have indoor plumbing. there were a lot of hurdles to tackle but overall as far as public health and the effect was positive. >> the people you met, i wonder, about kennedy's trip. >> this book was the one i have done, the most recent happening. it was only 50 years earlier. the problem i had, i mentioned
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swayingoh few gate, everybody has the same name, it took a little work to track people down but a lot of people had first-hand memories of the trip itself. people to this day got emotional talking about robert kennedy. she had gone with her sister to see kennedy in the on and and get excused from school. this was a good thing because a lot of schools didn't want them to attend, they didn't think bobby kennedy was a positive influence on the children at the time and it was a lot of fun finding people who remembered the trip and had a firsthand memory. one guy talking about the book was a university of kentucky
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law student, a congressman easton kentucky, he originally was going to go to south carolina. fritz holland was running for reelection at the time and was like maybe not china led on poverty. kennedy said okay, there wasn't a senator up for reelection and he held a job like the pope. the law student would occasionally come to washington, he finagled a ride in the car with kennedy. a state trooper drove kennedy, carl perkins, a kentucky law student and had a huge effect
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on steve's life. and environmental and poverty issues. >> part of the enduring normative of the presidential campaign is the ability of robert kennedy to gain the support, with working-class whites. and all the research, did you find traces of that? that particular theory. >> one of the quotes in the book, a reporter asked a voter in indiana, a white kid, do you
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support bobby kennedy? yes, you don't like negroes around here. i think a lot of people saw kennedy, he was attorney general and he came from a background of law and order and people saw him as someone who would balance the interests of communities with law and order. in 64, george wallace ran and 26% of the vote, a straight a racist candidate, kennedy won in indiana and the primary with 40% of the vote and so many people voted for george wallace in 64, voted for bobby kennedy, i go to george wallace, kennedy
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and wallace competing for the same voters in appalachia. george wallace was a piece of work. when he was campaigning, and in alabama, when she had their third child in 61-62, the doctor saw some specific tissue, told george you need to get this out, it might be cancerous tissue, cervical cancer. i don't want to deal with that. it wasn't until 67, formally diagnosed with cancer.
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in 68, chris wallace was running for president, burned out 3 kids to relatives, and a nice man. it was fascinating to look at george wallace and john -- bobby kennedy. it is fascinating. >> i would support that. i grew up in western pennsylvania, i was 18 years old. i have friends and acquaintances, people who thought george wallace or bobby kennedy. and wound up voting for ronald reagan. >> how did that work out? thank you. >> no more questions? very good. thank you all for coming out. the most important thing to take away from this is to remember to buy the book. thank you. [applause]
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>> at the register. thank you very much. >> thanks again. .. >> please enjoy booktv now and also watch over the weekend on c-span2.


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