Here and Now

Spouses’ Role in GOP Primary, Reagan’s Record on Taxes, Cleanup at Fukushima, Sketches from WWII Battlefields: Today on Here and Now

1:06pm: The Iowa Caucus is tonight, and some candidates say they wouldn’t be on the stump if not for spousal encouragement. We’ll speak with journalists who’ve been covering the campaign thus far about the role of candidates’ spouses and other family members in running for office.

1:12pm: On the campaign trail, GOP candidates like to compare themselves to Ronald Reagan—especially his record as a tax-cutter. But this weekend, 60 Minutes became the latest news organization to put that record under the microscope. In an interview with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, reporter Leslie Stahl pointed out that Reagan did compromise when he raised taxes. We’ll speak to Julian Zelizer, professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, about Reagan’s real record.

1:35pm: Nearly a year after the earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan, the damaged nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Power Plant are said to be under control, but the huge task of cleaning up the contamination is just beginning. We’ll find out why progress is so slow.

“Dash to Ft. Freudenberg, Maginot Line, Dec. 1944” by Joseph Farris1:50pm: Joe Farris is famous for his urbane cartoons in The New Yorker, but you may see those cartoons in a new light after you take a look at his new book. It’s called A Soldier’s Sketchbook: From The Front Lines of World War II. It features watercolor sketches of battlefields and fellow soldiers who didn’t make it home, plus many of the hundreds of letters he wrote home while he was in the service. We’ll talk to him about his work and his experiences overseas.

Local News

Kentuckians Prepare for Japanese Teaching Assignments

The March earthquake and tsunami in Japan devastated parts of that country and shook the economy around the world. It did not, however, shake the resolve of several Kentuckians who are headed to Japan this weekend to start new jobs.

The Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program hires English-speaking college graduates to teach in Japanese public schools. Adrienne Ledbetter is from Bowling Green and is headed to a city near Mt. Fuji that recently faced a food crisis after authorities found radiation-tainted beef.

Ledbetter says she’ll make whatever accommodations are necessary to stay safe, but she’s excited about the move, particularly because of the strong ties between Japan and Kentucky.

“Without Japan and they’re moving manufacturing over here there would be far fewer jobs and far fewer investments,” she says. “It makes me feel really grateful, because sometimes I feel like Kentucky is not thought of so kindly by other parts of the United States.”

Ledbetter took several Japanese language classes at Western Kentucky University that she says should help prepare her for what she sees as an important role.

“It’s a JET’s job to improve Japanese and American relations between citizens and between individuals, not just politicians,” she says. “You know, a child that I have in my classroom may never have seen a foreigner before. And if I can be just one good example of a gai-jin, a foreigner, I feel like I’ve done my job.”

She’s one of eight Kentuckians leaving for Japan this weekend and about eight hundred Americans joining the JET Program this summer.

Local News

Production Increases at Georgetown Toyota Plant

This year’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan caused a parts shortage that led to diminished production at Toyota Motor Company’s 13 American plants. It also damaged the automaker’s sales. And now, Toyota is now preparing to increase production and competition.

The Toyota plant in Georgetown, Kentucky was more active during the parts shortage than most other domestic factories. And now, production will go back to 100 percent.

But that doesn’t mean it’ll be as busy as it was before the parts shortage. Overtime won’t be necessary and the line workers will turn out cars as fast as customers order them, which is slower than it was at the start of the year.

“It’s going to take a little more time, ” says company spokesperson Rick Hesterberg. “With a lot of the factors we’re looking at, not just with supplies but consumer confidence and a lot of other economic factors that go into adjusting your volume levels.”

Typically, the plant turns out about half a million vehicles every year.

“What number we end up doing at the end of the year, it’s hard for me to predict right now,” says Hesterberg. “We’re not going to build 500,000, I can tell you that. It’s fluctuated over the years from 370,000 up to 525,000.”

Many other automakers, particularly those with large operations in Japan, also saw sales slip after the earthquake.

Local News

Toyota Production Delays Continue

As a parts shortage caused by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan continues, Toyota Motor Company will further reduce production at North American plants, including a facility in Georgetown, Kentucky.

Earlier this month, the company announced that plants would be closed on Mondays and Fridays through late April. That pattern is now being extended through early June, and production will be halved Tuesdays through Thursdays. Production will be suspended for an entire week after Memorial Day.

Company officials say a decision on further delays will be made later.

As with previous production halts, workers will be allowed to show up at the plants and be paid to perform other jobs not related to production or go through additional training. No layoffs are planned. Governor Steve Beshear is applauding that decision.

Local News

Toyota Officials Say North American Plants Will Likely Stop Production

A Toyota Motor Company spokesperson says reports from Monday afternoon about impending plant shutdowns were not entirely accurate.

Jim Wiseman says North American Toyota manufacturers will likely face a shortage of parts from Japan, and that will likely lead to some or all of the 13 factories halting production until new parts arrive, but no further decisions have been made.

“We’ve said it’s likely and we continue to think that,” he says. “But beyond that, we don’t really have anything to add at this point until we’re sure how to deal with shortages that may occur.”

Wiseman says it’s not known how long any potential shutdowns will last. That depends on how severe the parts shortage is.

“All automakers use tier one supplies that directly send us parts. And those suppliers, in turn, use tier two or tier three suppliers tat supply them. So this is a very complicated situation and we’re talking about thousands of suppliers if you look down to tier two or tier three and so forth,” he says.

Wiseman says no layoffs are planned, and workers at shut down factories will still be able to show up for work and receive additional training. Workers may also take vacation or unpaid leave during any breaks in production. Wiseman further says many dealerships have ample stocks of Toyotas, and a shortage of vehicles cannot be predicted at this time.

Arts and Humanities Local News

Keep Louisville Symphonic Plans Third Concert

The Keep Louisville Symphonic organization will have its third concert this weekend.

KLS was founded by the members of the Louisville Orchestra, which is currently undergoing Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The organization is meant to show that there is support for a 71-member orchestra, despite requests by orchestra management to trim the official ensemble by several members to cut costs.

The last two KLS concerts have been fundraisers for the group, but proceeds from Saturday’s event will go to tsunami and earthquake relief in Japan. The previous concerts were also full orchestra performances, but spokesperson Donna Parkes says the next concert will feature smaller chamber ensembles made up of orchestra musicians.

“This [the tsunami] was an event, obviously, that no one foresaw and something that we wanted to respond to quickly. To do that, to put on a full symphony concert, takes a great deal of organizing and time. This was our way to respond as quickly as we could to the crisis and try to raise some funds for those in need,” she says.

Parkes says there will likely be a full symphony performance later in April and two in May.

The orchestra management must submit a financial reorganization plan in court by the end of May. That’s when the musicians’ contract expires. Parkes says the musicians are still being paid with a grant from the ensemble’s endowment.

Local News

From Kentucky to Fukushima and Back

It’s been nearly twenty years since I first heard about a part of Japan called Fukushima. And when I did, I was thrilled.

I’d just graduated from the University of Kentucky and I got a letter from the office of the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program. I’d been accepted as an Assistant English Teacher. My assignment: Three Japanese middle schools in rural Fukushima.

I remember saying the name over and over to myself like it was some exotic food I was tasting for the first time. It was hard to imagine that someplace called Foo–koo–SHEE–ma was going to be my new home. I liked it, though. I’d lived in Kentucky my whole life and I felt restless.  I wanted to test myself by going to live in a place and a circumstance different than any I’d ever known.

Fukushima was different in many ways:  Food, language, money, holidays, the way obligation in general, and work in particular dominated people’s lives.  How much drinking people did–and expected me to do.

But over the three years I spent there, I realized that not everything in Fukushima was different from what I’d known. The land around my town was mostly low, pine-covered hills that looked a lot like parts of Kentucky.  The weather and climate were virtually identical.

And while Fukushima has cities, it’s identified as a mostly rural place. There’s even a distinct accent associated with that region of Japan, an accent that urbanites from Tokyo don’t exactly consider a sign of sophistication (sound familiar, y’all?). There’s even a Japanese equivalent to words like hick or bumpkin that people from Fukushima were sensitive to: The word is imo.  It means potato. When one of my Fukushima friends told me that, I laughed and said, “Ore mo imo da.” Well, then I’m a potato, too.

It’s been twelve years and three kids since I left Japan, and I’ve lost touch with most of my friends from there. Or I had until this month. After a flurry of emails, it appears that all my closest friends are okay. Now I’m wondering about the three thousand kids I taught, all of whom would be close to thirty now. Many of them would have moved away. Probably some went to Sendai or elsewhere on the coast. I haven’t found the courage to go through the lists of confirmed and suspected victims to see if I recognize any of their names.

The town where I lived was too far inland to be hit by the tsunami, though a wave of coastal refuges has come through. Still, they’re less than fifty miles from the nuclear reactor, so everyone is nervous. Some people have left. Some people refuse to.

I want to do something, but other than donate a little money, there’s not much to do but hope and worry. I have faith in the people of Fukushima. They’re being tested in ways I can’t even imagine. It was from them that I learned how to live in a place and a circumstance different than any I’d ever known. They will too, if they have to.

After all, we potatoes don’t spoil easily.

Local News News About WFPL

President Discusses Libya, Japan, Economy in News Conference

President Obama says he’s prepared to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, if necessary, to stabilize oil prices. In his news conference, which ended a few minutes ago, Mr. Obama also said the U.S. and its allies are considering a range of options in Libya, including enforcing a no-fly zone over the country. He said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be meeting with member of the Libyan opposition in the next few days.

The President also called the earthquake and tsunami in Japan a potentially “catastrophic” disaster. He said the U.S. is prepared to send whatever assistance Japan needs.

You can see more coverage on NPR’s live blog of the press conference at The Two-Way. We’ll have a full report and analysis on NPR’s All Things Considered today at 4pm on WFPL.

Local News

Earthquake and Tsunami Updates

NPR, the BBC and the New York Times all have comprehensive coverage of the earthquake and tsunami. You can also check the various search terms on Twitter (#tsunami, #japan).

You can also read these English-language news organizations that are based in Japan:

Japan Times

Daily Yomiuri

Mainichi Daily News

Kyodo News

NHK World