May 15, 2009
BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the Journal.
President Obama was burned in effigy in Pakistan the other day. This photo from the Associated Press depicts a crowd of men with signs saying "Go America Go," meaning go home as an image of the President goes up in flames.
Writing in "The Wall Street Journal," columnist James Taranto said the burning symbolizes, to all Americans who may doubt it, that Obama is a war president.
For sure, Pakistan and Afghanistan are now both battlegrounds in the conflict formerly known as the global war on terror. So entwined are they that the Pentagon has conflated them into one big combat theater known in military speak as "Afpak."
But reducing this current fighting to military shorthand dehumanizes horrific realities on the ground, where innocent men, women and children are dying every day.
Our own children and grandchildren are already fighting there, and more are on the way. Look at this recent headline in London's "Sunday Times," relaying an American threat to the Pakistani government "Stop the Taliban now, or we will."
Things have gotten worse in the past week. Hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled Pakistan's northwest region to escape fighting between the country's army and the Taliban.
The news is confusing, misleading, fragmented and sometimes, frightening, so we've asked two informed observers of that region, both of whom have lived in Pakistan to try to help us sort it out.
Juan Cole teaches history at the University of Michigan. His "Informed Comment" blog at juancole.com has become a go to destination for anyone interested in the politics of Islam. The author of several books, this is his latest, "Engaging the Muslim World."
Shahan Mufti recently returned from a six month tour covering Pakistan's ongoing political crisis. He reports for globalpost.com, the new international news website. A Pakistani American, Shahan also has written about Pakistan for "The Christian Science Monitor" and "The Boston Globe" as well as many other print and broadcast news outlets.
Welcome, both of you, to the Journal.
JUAN COLE: Thank you.
SHAHAN MUFTI: Thank you.
BILL MOYERS: Shahan, what did you think about this photograph?
SHAHAN MUFTI: Well, it tells a story. But, as any photo, it doesn't tell the complete story. There are protests like this all over the country. There have been ever since the war in Afghanistan began and America started getting involved in the region. This is the story that we get through the mass media for the most part. But there are many other currents in the country that aren't being covered as well.
JUAN COLE: The Jamaat-e-Islami represents very few people. It's a cadre organization. It gets, typically, three percent when there's elections. So, yes, they mount these demonstrations. And you can see that's probably a very small one. And so to make so much of this little picture, it shows a lack of appreciation for proportionality for what really is important in the country.
BILL MOYERS: What is important right now? What's missing from the reporting and the analysis we're getting from Pakistan?
SHAHAN MUFTI: One thing that's missing, obviously, that's hard to get into reporting is context. But also hard information. Hard fact. So we're hearing about this military operation going on in the north of Pakistan right now. Yet there are no reporters, no reporters on the ground. They had-
BILL MOYERS: I have heard a couple from NPR. They seem to be right among the refugees who are fleeing there.
SHAHAN MUFTI: The refugees are outside of the war zone now. These are the people who have been internally displaced within the country. And they have been, actually, have been evacuated by the army. So before the army moved into these northern areas they disseminated information through radio, television, to tell the people to get out 'cause they were going to move in.
And we've heard of hundreds of thousands, maybe a million people, moving out of these areas. So, really, all the information that we are relaying as reporters, as the media, as information, really is coming from army press releases, for the most part.
There's very little room to independently confirm a lot of the information. Especially in this most recent offensive. That is a huge thing that, as that reporters in Pakistan I know are dealing with. They're referring to "alleged" military operations.
So they're in a position where they can't even independently confirm that an entire military operation took place. Let alone the figures of the Taliban militants dead, or how many civilian casualties there are, or how many armed forces-- people in the armed forces have died. So that is one thing that's very troubling, as a reporter.
BILL MOYERS: Who are the Taliban and what do they want? What are their goals?
JUAN COLE: What we're calling the Taliban, it's actually a misnomer. There are, like, five different groups that we're swooping up and calling the Taliban. The Taliban, properly speaking, are seminary students. They were those refugee boys, many of them orphans, who went through the seminaries or Madrassas in northern Pakistan back in the nineties. And then who emerged as a fighting force. Then you have the old war lords who had fought with the Soviet Union, and were allied with the United States. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Jalaluddin Haqqani, they have formed insurgent groups to fight the Americans now. Because they had fought the Soviet occupation, they now see an American occupation, so they've turned on the United States. They were former allies.
So we're calling them Taliban. And then you have a lot of probably disorganized villagers whose poppy crops, for instance, were burned. And they're angry. So they'll hit a NATO or American checkpoint. So we're scooping all of this up. And then the groups in northern Pakistan who are yet another group. And we're calling it all Taliban.
BILL MOYERS: How many of them?
JUAN COLE:Well, how many of them is impossible to know. But in Pakistan the estimates for fighters are small. 15 thousand. And the current military operation in the Swat Valley is pitting 15 thousand Pakistani troops against 4 thousand Taliban fighters.
That's what's being said. This is small. And the idea that these 4 thousand Taliban in Swat Valley, you know, can take over the capital of the country, or that they're going to spread into the other provinces, which are ethnic provinces, like the Punjab and Sindh, where they're very, very unpopular.
We have a Gallup Poll now, 60 percent of the Punjabis, who are the majority group in Pakistan, say that it's very negative that there should be Taliban operating in Pakistan. And only ten percent say that it's a positive. So in Pakistan, as a whole, this is a small group. It's not a mainstream, big, mass movement.
BILL MOYERS: But how do you explain this mass exodus of, as you say, maybe a million people on the move out of that northwest region where the fighting is going on?
SHAHAN MUFTI: Well, it's very clear that why that happened is because the Pakistan army asked, or wanted the people, the civilian population, to move out of there because it was- is being fought as a guerilla war. So the militants are embedding themselves into the civilian population, which is their strength.
And so this movement out of these northern regions, where the Taliban had control, is a tactical operation. And moving the people out of there, unfortunately, also, it seems, to be military tactic right now
JUAN COLE: The Pakistani military is a tank, you know, traditional, almost central European kind of military. It was formed to fight India and most of the tanks and the troops are down on the border between India and Pakistan. And they're not trained to do counterinsurgency or counterterrorism.
So their idea of putting down the Taliban is to invade the Swat Valley. And if you've got 15,000 troops with artillery, helicopter gunships, fighter jets, operating a military operation in a valley with a million people in it, is going to produce massive displacement.
They're not sending in SWAT teams against these 4 thousand fighters, which I think is what they should have been doing. So when the US caused this. They pressured Pakistan's army to launch a conventional military attack on this small group of guerillas. And is going to inconvenience, you know, probably half a million people in a very dire way. And is that really going to settle the Pashtuns down?
SHAHAN MUFTI: I would say the Pakistani army feels strong pressure to show that they are performing. So whether they're using whether they're being heavy-handed, whether they're using a lot of fireworks, to prove a point to the United States. And the government, as well as the army, do feel who are recipients of large American aid, and all, but also clients of the American military they feel, they do feel, I think, an obligation to perform well, at least to put up a show that they are performing, and that they're performing well.
BILL MOYERS: Are you two saying that the Taliban are not as great a threat to Pakistan and the United States as the United States has been claiming?
JUAN COLE: Well I have to be careful here. Because, on the one hand, I don't want to be interpreted as saying this is not a problem. I mean, you've got several thousand militants operating in the North-West Frontier Province. This is a problem. And it wasn't like that, you know, even ten years ago.The idea of Pakistani Taliban is a new idea. The Taliban were always an Afghan phenomenon. So it is a problem. And it needs to be dealt with. But what I'm saying is that let's just have a sense of proportion here.
The North-West Frontier Province is 10 percent of the Pakistan population. That's where this stuff is happening. And most of it is actually happening not in the Province itself, but in the Federally Administrated Tribal Regions. Which are kind of like our Indian reservations. Only 3.5 million people live there. It's the size of, like, New Hampshire. Pakistan is a country as big as California, Oregon and Washington rolled up in one, with a population of 165 million. So to take this threat, which is a threat locally, to the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas, to parts of the North-West Frontier Province, and to magnify it and to say, "Whoa, the Pakistani government is six months from falling, the Taliban is going to get their hands on nuclear weapons." The kinds of things that are being said in Washington, are just fantastical and some kind of science fiction film. How would these guys, with the Kalashnikov machine guns, take over a country that has an army of 550 thousand? Which has tanks and artillery and fighter jets? How would they even know here the nuclear weapons are? In Pakistan, I just quoted you the Gallup Poll. People don't like Taliban, for the most part.
BILL MOYERS: Yeah, we just talked two days ago, to a Pakistan journalist in Lahore, who told us that public tolerance for the Taliban, as you have said, has diminished as the militants have broken their commitments, moved into other regions, and become ever more oppressive, looting and kidnapping. And they don't want them there. They don't want that, right?
SHAHAN MUFTI: And this is a trend. And especially in the last few months this has happened. As the Taliban, after there was the Shariah deal that we heard a lot about, that was the deal to implement Islamic law in some of the northern areas-
BILL MOYERS: This was a deal the government made with the Taliban up there to let them operate that region-
SHAHAN MUFTI: Their version of Islamic law in that region. Exactly. And people- there was hope, until that point at least, that this will somehow settle everything. This will quell, at least quell the violence for a little bit. That didn't happen. And the Taliban started bleeding into the other areas near to Islam. And then that's when we started hearing these alarming things about this Taliban being within-
BILL MOYERS: 90 miles or 60 miles of Islamabad.
SHAHAN MUFTI: Yeah. Islamabad. And at that point I think there was also another huge trend where we,actually, now we hear the Islamist political parties. We hear the nationalists. We hear all, again, all shades of political parties really speaking out against the Taliban.
JUAN COLE: And women. I mean, you should remember that Pakistan has a large middle class. And it's grown enormously in the last ten years. These are urban white-collar people, well educated, hooked in with international media, and half of them are women.
They're lawyers. They're in the judicial system. They're politicians. And they are very threatened by what they call the Talibanization. And they're coming out and speaking against it, and they are extremely influential. You should remember, Pakistan actually has had a woman prime minister. And that social class of middle class and upper class women are very powerful.
BILL MOYERS: Threatened by the Shariah law about the hard-line Islamic attitude toward women? Is that what you mean?
JUAN COLE: That's right. That's right. They don't like the Taliban repression of women at all.
BILL MOYERS: But, listening to you, I have to then wonder what… I mean, the message coming loud and clear, from both Obama in Washington, and Zardari in Pakistan, is that the Taliban are on the rise. And that they represent, as others have said, an existential threat to Pakistan. You're not denying that this is a problem. But you're not seeing it as this life-and-death matter for the state of Pakistan?
SHAHAN MUFTI: That feeling of doom really doesn't…you don't feel it on the ground there. Because, if you're in a city, like Lahore, or if you're in a city of like 16 million, like Karachi, or if you're in a city that looks like southern California, in Islamabad, even if you're in the tribal areas, or in Peshawar, a huge city of its own, which is right in the North-West Frontier, which is Pashtun there is not this sense that the Taliban are coming tomorrow morning, or next week, or the week after.
They are still, I think, Pakistanis, a lot of them, still see the Taliban as a fringe movement, which they are. The numbers say that. And a fringe movement with is able to wreak a lot of havoc. Especially through its suicide bombings. This tool of suicide bombings is very hard to control. And so people are obviously concerned with how their lives are changing. But this threat of the state falling, I think, nobody in that country takes that too seriously.
BILL MOYERS: In whose interest is it that we're getting the story from Washington and the Pakistani government that it's at the brink of chaos that is coming the Taliban are on the rise?
JUAN COLE: I think it's cynical. And I think that it's a way for Washington to put pressure on the Pakistani civilian and military elites to do what Washington wants them to do. And--
BILL MOYERS: Which is?
JUAN COLE: Well, they wanted this big military campaign against the Taliban in the Swat Valley. Washington is alarmed at the spread of the Taliban in the North-West Frontier Province because it has implications for the security of southern Afghanistan, and therefore for US troops and NATO troops in Afghanistan. And so, from their point of view, this is a big crisis.
They don't want more safe havens for the Taliban in Afghanistan who are killing US troops. And they were upset with the Pakistani elite for not taking this problem more seriously. And I think, sort of saying that Pakistan is unstable, or it's about to fall, or the nukes are in danger, all of this sort of thing, is a signal to Islamabad that you had better get serious about this, because it matters to us. So this is Washington strong-arming Pakistan.
SHAHAN MUFTI: I think you're right on. And I think it's problematic because this really harks back to the period right before the Iraq War, as well, where there was this hype that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
We were- we could have been convinced in a second that Iraq was about to use them. And it's unfortunate that the press did play its part in that problem. And the press is, once again I think, playing its unfortunate part where it is relaying all of these opinions that are coming from intelligence sources or whatever, and ruling this as information. And all of a sudden we're seeing the same sort of almost hysteria.
BILL MOYERS: Do you agree with Shahan, that you're seeing a repeat of the-
JUAN COLE: Yes. Yes.
BILL MOYERS: -official propaganda being disseminated as news?
JUAN COLE: Yes. I think that's exactly what's going on. I mean, especially with regard to the nuclear issue. There is no way on God's green earth that these scruffy tribal fundamentalists, in the North-West Frontier Province, are having anything to do with Pakistan's nuclear weapons. Which, by the way, are stored in secret places, and they're not assembled. And assembling them is a complicated process which requires various high-level military and civilian authorizations. And to put that nuclear issue front and forward is just a way of scaring the American public and putting pressure on Pakistan to do something they didn't want to do.
BILL MOYERS: Why isn't Pakistan doing more to control the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan and up in that northwest region? Why isn't it more effective?
JUAN COLE: You know, I get very nervous when I hear people talking about controlling that region. It's not controllable. And nobody has ever controlled it. Winston Churchill was down there when he was a young man trying to control it.
30 percent of these areas are considered administratively inaccessible by the Pakistani government. And they're the people who would know this area and say, "Well, what does it mean?" This is administratively inaccessible. It means no bureaucrat has been out there. So I don't- I don't think the you- I've also heard President Obama talking about, you know, Pakistan needs to control this area, and so forth. I don't think they understand the scale of what you're talking about here. This is just a very vast, rugged, arid region which--thinly populated. Local people know the ground much better. The best you can do is, I think, make deals with the tribal chieftains to calm things down.
SHAHAN MUFTI: This is real-estate, Afghanistan in this tribal area, this frontier region of Pakistan that nobody, from Alexander to the British, to the Russians, have- the Russians shared a border with this, and they couldn't keep their hands on it. It was a tinderbox. And now the United States is in there. We're in there. And we're having- we're learning, and it's difficult.
BILL MOYERS: Is our presence there giving the Taliban a unity they wouldn't have had without presence?
SHAHAN MUFTI: On the Pakistani side, for sure. I mean, that is their rallying call now. That as well as their religious call. But definitely American presence in the region is what is really giving them a rallying call among youth of the tribal areas who are caught in poverty and cycles of poverty. And it is their rallying call of the foreign invader.
PRESIDENT OBAMA:I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future. That's the goal that must be achieved. That is a cause that could not be more just. And to the terrorists who oppose us, my message is the same: We will defeat you.
BILL MOYERS: Is that an achievable goal?
JUAN COLE: Oh, I think it's an achievable goal. But not this way. First of all, the Taliban are not the same as Al Qaeda, and not necessarily connected to them. They're a regional movement. They're about a local kind of religious nationalism. I think Al Qaeda, in the North-West Frontier Province, and in the tribal areas of Pakistan, is a problem. It's a policing problem
SHAHAN MUFTI: This is all about, I think you're right, this is all about the war in Afghanistan. It has to be. We do know that the Taliban in Pakistan grew out of the campaign in Afghanistan. They bled across the border and then they started carrying out their own personal campaign in Pakistan. What it seems like, what the trajectory has been, it seems like the more Pakistan is pushed to do that project, of eliminating the Taliban as a way of winning the war in Afghanistan, the Pakistani government, the state, is putting itself under all sorts of pressures. And when you have a country that is at the frontline of a glob- well, an American war right now is under extreme pressures from many sides. It shares the border with China, India, Iran, Afghanistan, and then has a 700 mile Arabian Sea coastline.
That's quite a cast of characters to be caught in the middle of. So Pakistan is under extreme pressures to fit in that geographical location. For the Pakistani security establishment, and my conversation with a lot of people in this security establishment, the Taliban, and the situation in Afghanistan, is about India. They're one and the same conversation. Because influence in Afghanistan, ever since the American-- ever since President Karzai's government in Afghanistan, India has had a greater influence in Afghanistan, which it was missing during the Taliban.
BILL MOYERS: Karzai has made India his most important trading partner, right?
SHAHAN MUFTI: It is the most important trading partner. Is one of the—
BILL MOYERS: And this has to bother Pakistanis, right?
SHAHAN MUFTI: Immensely. It does bother the Pakistani security establishment. Especially because they view the region as a chess board. As most, as China and…
BILL MOYERS: That's an old story, right?
SHAHAN MUFTI: Yeah. So, for them, this is a huge loss. That Afghanistan, that for ten years was our little satellite state. That Paki-- that Afghanistan was under, for the first time, in Pakistan's history at least, Afghanistan, under the Taliban, was friendly towards Pakistan.
There had never been a government that was so friendly with Pakistan. And then, all of a sudden, one day, who moves in to help Afghanistan rebuild? It's India.
So what I'm talking about is that, to deal with the issue in Afghanistan, and President Obama was talking about this, in, as late as November last year, a few months before his inauguration, he had started talking about, I don't know if you recall, but I think it was an interview with "Time Magazine," in which he started talking about the Kashmir issue being the key to solving the war in Afghanistan. And that was a very interesting thought.
BILL MOYERS: The disputed land between India and Pakistan. Both of them are fighting over Kashmir.
SHAHAN MUFTI: Have been for 60 years. It's the main issue between India and Pakistan-
BILL MOYERS: You're saying that's the key to the Pakistani war? That--
SHAHAN MUFTI: I'm not saying that. President Obama said that, in November. And, for, all of a sudden, for the new President-Elect to come out and point out this piece of land between India and Pakistan as the key to solving the Afghanistan issue, was something that made one think about the issue. But whatever thought he had, which is a very interesting and complicated thought, there was some recognition in that period right before the inauguration, that this was somehow a regional issue. That Afghanistan is going to be solved eventually by bringing all the players involved in the region on the table.
BILL MOYERS: But India has told the United States that if Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who is the intermediary over there, dares to raise the issue of Kashmir, he will not be welcome in New Delhi.
SHAHAN MUFTI: Hard diplomacy. That, and this is not going to be easy. To bring Kashmir issue back onto the table. To bring China, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, in some grand diplomatic gesture, to try to solve this issue. This is not going to be easy. But it's the kind of diplomacy that America is capable of. And has been capable of in the past.
JUAN COLE: You look at the way that the Northern Ireland issue was ultimately resolved was, in some ways, it was a British government acknowledgment of an Irish interest in Northern Ireland. Well, if you could get an Indian government acknowledgement of a Pakistani interest in Kashmir, without that meaning that Kashmir is detached from India, just as Northern Ireland is still part of the UK-- it seems to me, actually, a fairly good model for resolving this.
BILL MOYERS: So what does the United States do?
JUAN COLE: Well, the important thing to underline is the Pakistani public doesn't like some US policies, like the war in Afghanistan. But opinion polling shows, and I quote this in my book, that they like the United States. And if you ask them, "Well, what would you, what would make better relations with the United States?" They say, "Well, give us civilian development aid. We don't need any more weapons from you." If we can do things for the Pakistan public that they need done for them, they say in opinion polls that that's going to really raise their view of the United States. And we've seen this happen elsewhere, in Indonesia and so forth. So that's got-- has to be an important part of it. I think the Obama administration is right about that.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I am calling upon Congress to pass a bipartisan bill that authorizes $1.5 billion in direct support to the Pakistani people every year over the next five years resources that will build schools and roads and hospitals, and strengthen Pakistan's democracy.
BILL MOYERS: You have to ask the question, how does the money get to the people? Because we all know, everybody knows, how corrupt the Pakistani government is. The President, the present President, is known as Mr. Ten Percent. How does that--
JUAN COLE: It is an underestimate.
BILL MOYERS: It's a serious question though.
SHAHAN MUFTI: I think, Bill, that winning the hearts and minds part of the Pakistanis is not going to be a tough-- it's not a tough job at the end of the day. Like you were saying, a lot of these people, especially the urban population that we talked about, these large cities are already sold.
They will-- they wouldn't mind a few of the freedoms that are enjoyed here. And if, and especially if, development aid that's going in-- I think that is really not going to be that hard once the strategic planning, once the strategic planners in Pakistan have been convinced to really come on our side.
JUAN COLE: With regard to the civilian aid, you know, if USAID and the US government does its job, and has accountability, you know, because we don't just give the money to the Pakistan government and say, "Spend it." The problem in the last eight years was that we really just did hand the money over to the Pakistani military. The US government wasn't doing its job with regard to accountability.
BILL MOYERS: Both of you seem much more optimistic about Pakistan than I've heard many people talk about it in a long time.
JUAN COLE: That's because we lived there. It doesn't look like what it looks like on the outside. Americans think that Pakistanis are fundamentalists. And almost none of them are. You know, there are religious people, they're like Mexican Catholics. They go to shrines and pray for things. And the Taliban hate that. In fact, they attacked a shrine recently. And then there's this big urban middle class which is just growing like crazy. And they're all watching Indian movies, and dreaming about being in Bollywood. And so and then the economy has been doing good the last few years. You know, five, six, seven percent growth. I think it was the second largest growth in Asia. Of course, it's a low starting point. But I can't understand why there isn't more appreciation for the good news that's come out.
You know, in the past two years, the Pakistani public has demanded an end to a military dictatorship. On the grounds that it was violating the rule of law. They demanded free and fair parliamentary elections. They accomplished them. They voted the largest party they put in is the left of center or centrist secular party. They then went to the streets to demand the reinstatement of the secular civil Supreme Court. And you've had, really, hundreds of thousands of people involved in this movement for the restoration of democracy and the restoration of the rule of law. If this had happened any other place in the world, it would be reported in Washington as a good news story. Here, we've been told that it's a crisis. That it's a sign of instability and nuclear armed nation. I don't understand that.
SHAHAN MUFTI: That was one of the biggest moments in Pakistan in the last-- from my latest tour in the last six months. You were talking about the-- how anywhere else in the world this would have been celebrated. And, most definitely, this moment of the Chief Justice getting reinstated was the democratic moment for Pakistan, at least in the last 60 years, ever since its creation.
Because for the longest time, for decades the problem with Pakistan is that the army keeps disrupting the power balance and here the Pakistani people deliver a moment, the night that the Chief Justice got reinstated it was around 3:00 AM. And there were people gathered out, thousands of people gathered outside his house. And, in one corner, there were young students playing the guitar and singing nationalist songs.
And then the Islamists came with their flags and they were chanting, "Allah is great." And then the Justice Party people came and they were singing-- they were doing a cappella versions of nationalist songs.
And to see that all of these people had somehow come around, the absolutely secular to the very staunch Islamists, had come around this movement because they somehow, to them, it meant a step towards a stronger democracy. But only if, I think, that if the United States could find ways to engage that aspect of Pakistan.
BILL MOYERS: That aspect being the aspiration of the people?
JUAN COLE: Pakistani civil society and its aspirations, yes. And not just to dismiss them as fundamentalists, or to assume that you have to work the elites, which has been the way the US has typically done things.
BILL MOYERS: Juan Cole and Shahan Mufti, this has been an interesting discussion of a very complicated situation. And I appreciate your being here with me on the Journal.
SHAHAN MUFTI: Thank you.
JUAN COLE: Thank you.
BILL MOYERS: One of the hottest videos amongst the younger set isn't the latest tune from Hannah Montana or the Jonas Brothers. It's this:
ANNIE LEONARD: Have you ever wondered where all the stuff we buy comes from and where it goes when we throw it out?
BILL MOYERS: "The Story of Stuff," is a lively, short, illustrated lecture about how we're trashing the planet, kind of a mini-version of "An Inconvenient Truth," without Al Gore.
ANNIE LEONARD: ...we're on this crazy work-watch-spend treadmill and we could just stop.
BILL MOYERS: The guide is former Greenpeace activist Annie Leonard and she explains the impact of all the material things we buy, consume and throw away our stuff.
ANNIE LEONARD: The waste coming out of our houses is just the tip of the iceberg. For everyone garbage can of waste you put out on the curb, 70 garbage cans of waste were made upstream just to make the junk in that one garbage can you put out on the curb.
BILL MOYERS: This straight talk about stuff has become a phenomenon in schools across the country, embraced by kids and teachers alike, who think that when it comes to the environment, curricula and textbooks are hopelessly out of date. One school board in Missoula, Montana however, recently banned the video after a parent complained that it was anti-capitalist.
It's complicated, this stuff, so complex and interconnected that my next guest says the idea of green jobs, green buildings, green energy, a green economy is quote, "a mirage." Exactly what does he mean? Well, he's here to explain.
Daniel Goleman is a former science reporter for "The New York Times," twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and recipient of the American Psychological Association's Lifetime Achievement Award. His first book, "Emotional Intelligence," sold more than five million copies worldwide. The second of the trilogy was "Social Intelligence," and now comes his latest, "Ecological Intelligence," subtitled, "How Knowing the Hidden Impacts of What We Buy Can Change Everything." That particular concept of Daniel Goleman's recently was celebrated by "Time Magazine" as one of "10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now."
Daniel Goleman, welcome to the Journal.
DANIEL GOLEMAN: It's such a pleasure to be with you, Bill.
BILL MOYERS: When I finished your book, I wrote down what I took to be your message. Here it is. The things we buy and use come usually with a hidden price tag. And if we don't read that hidden price tag our children and grandchildren face a disaster. Fair enough?
DANIEL GOLEMAN: I think that's well put. The sad fact is that what we see in the store, what we put in our homes, what we use every day, all those objects, all those friendly products that we're so used to, has a hidden legacy which has to do with their impacts on the environment, on our health, on ecosystems, on the people that made them, that starts from the moment that they start to extract the ingredients. Manufacture through transport, through use, disposal. At every stage in that progression, over the life cycle of a product, there's a new methodology. It's called life cycle assessment.
BILL MOYERS: But what's new about this? Because we've all been taught, or learned by osmosis, that each of us leaves a carbon footprint on the sands of time. And we know there are consequences to our presence here. So what's new about what-
DANIEL GOLEMAN: Well, Bill, I think there are two things that are new. One is that life cycle assessment goes way beyond carbon footprint at any given point. For example, a glass bottle, a glass jar, they analyze that, its manufacturing, to 1,959 discreet steps.
At every step of the way there are myriad impacts on the environment, on health, on the people involved, and so on. So, first, we have a vaster sense, and a much more accurate sense, of really what the impact is. And the second thing is, and this is the big breakthrough, that information is now available to you and me while we're shopping. So that we can use it to make better decisions.
BILL MOYERS: How so?
DANIEL GOLEMAN: Well, there's a fabulous website. It's called GoodGuide. GoodGuide.com. And it summarizes, it draws on about 200 of these databases, and summarizes for us in, you know, ten points ten is the best, one is the worst how this product stacks up on its environmental health and social impacts compared to other products of its kind. What this does, Bill, is give us what's called radical transparency. Suddenly, you know, we've all vaguely known, things have carbon fingerprints. Now we can know exactly which is better.
BILL MOYERS: But do you expect me to go to Pioneer Grocery Store at 74th and Columbus carrying my little GoodGuide and stand there and thumb through it? Or...
DANIEL GOLEMAN: Well, here's the lovely thing. You only need to do it once. You know, you- take your shopping. Just think about it. The things you buy every week, the things you buy every month, they're probably the same I know it's true for me. I buy the same brands week after week after week. Now you can check them out and you can compare them. Just take the ten things you buy most often, spend ten minutes on GoodGuide, and you can upgrade your impacts.
BILL MOYERS: We will link our audience to GoodGuide. But when people go to Wal-Mart, they go for one reason. They go looking for the lowest price. The best bargain. They're not thinking about what happened in China to produce this piece.
They're not thinking about the trees the Walton family cut down to build this store. They're not even thinking about what the clerk who sells it to them is making. They're thinking about the lowest price. How do you expect to snare them in this net of Indra?
DANIEL GOLEMAN: Well, let me question the assumption behind your question. That is that better means more expensive. If you look at another website, Skin Deep, it rates personal care products in terms of chemicals of concern. You know, there are 50 ingredients in a bottle of shampoo. It looks at every one of those in a medical database. Does this chemical cause cancer in mice, for example? Then it ranks shampoos, hair products, lip gloss, whatever it is, in terms of how dangerous it might be, and what's clearly the safest. Or baby shampoo. And this allows us to make a decision based on what's better. But I looked at the ten best shampoos, and the ten worst, and guess what? The most expensive shampoo by far is in the ten worst. So you can't necessarily equate price with safety.
The biggest consumer goods companies are already using life cycle assessment to look at their entire range of products to see what's the worst impact?
One big company found that the worst thing they did for the environment was that their detergents required warm water when you wash. So what'd they do? They had their R&D folks to produce a detergent that's just as good in cold water. So this thinking is catching on in companies. In fact, companies tend to be ahead of consumers on this.
BILL MOYERS: So you are telling me that there's a market growing up for life cycle assessed products?
DANIEL GOLEMAN: Well, I think it's a little different, Bill. What's happened with our products and things we buy, is that we have what's called in economics an asymmetry.
That means that sellers know things buyers don't. We just experienced a meltdown in the economy because there were toxic assets. And banks were buying things that they didn't realize what they were, and they were poisonous. Well, we're buying-
BILL MOYERS: And they were selling them too. The mortgages-
DANIEL GOLEMAN: And they were selling them, exactly. And that's been our condition, now, with the things we buy for our homes. We're buying, in a sense, toxic goods, as it were. Goods that have these environmental health impacts. We have no idea. All of a sudden and this is the big revolution there's radical transparency. Because now consumers can know what's in a product. And, you know, if you use GoodGuide you can do two things that are spectacular. One is you can, in a single click, tell the company why you're not buying their brand anymore, or why you are now buying their brand.
This is very powerful information. You can also inform all of your friends as to why you've just done that. As this information spreads virally what's going to happen, and companies see this coming, is that this kind of ecological goodness is going to matter for market share.
BILL MOYERS: This table is a no Twitter zone. But you've just given me perhaps the first practical use of the Twitter that I can think of. Standing there-
DANIEL GOLEMAN: Twitter's a natural for this. Yes. In fact-
BILL MOYERS: Don't buy. Or hurry up and buy.
DANIEL GOLEMAN: Exactly. Exactly. And to the extent that each of us, any of us, takes the trouble to get the information, and to make a better decision, it's imperative, in fact, imperative that we do three things. One is know the impacts of the things we buy.
The second thing is favor the improvements. And the third, and this is crucial, is share that information. Tell everybody you know. Because that is what's going to make this matter. That's what's going to give it the magnitude that can actually shift market share.
And why that's so important is that, within companies right now, there is a huge ferocious debate about sustainability. There're some folks that say we should do it because it's morally the right thing. And there are other folks who say, "Well, show me the business case. We're not going to make money on it." And so it's stalled. But, as market share shifts, all of a sudden, within companies the grounds of that debate shifts because, now, doing the right thing is synonymous with capturing market. Doing good is the same as doing well. That is a radical transformation of the logic of business as regards all these impacts.
BILL MOYERS: When you talk about sharing this intelligence, I'm reminded that one of the surprising moments in your book, when I- was when I read that your advice that we should learn to think like insects. And I'm sort of trivializing it. But you do talk about the swarm intelligence of insects, right?
DANIEL GOLEMAN: That's true. Well-
BILL MOYERS: And how is that a factor in our human communication?
DANIEL GOLEMAN: Well, no one person can know all of the impacts of every product. No one person can know what you should buy. No one person can share. We all have to do this together. The more we do it, the better off we are.
Now every ant has like two decision roles it makes. The scouts go follow the strongest pheromone trail. That's where the food is likely to be. And, for us, I think it's about the same. So we don't have to become experts in this.
BILL MOYERS: Your book broke my heart, quite frankly.
DANIEL GOLEMAN: Is that right?
BILL MOYERS: Yeah, yeah.
DANIEL GOLEMAN: Why?
BILL MOYERS: Because you write in there that green is a mirage. That much of what's touted as green, in reality, represents fantasy or simple hype. And here I had been working so hard to develop what "The New York Times" calls the green mind.
DANIEL GOLEMAN: Well...
BILL MOYERS: And support a green economy. And you tell me I'm entering the land of fantasy.
DANIEL GOLEMAN: Well, let me reassure you. Everything that we've done that's green is to the good, you know. I recycle my papers and plastics. And I try to get the green product. But once you realize, through the lens of the life cycle assessment, that every product has 1,000 environmental health, social impacts, and you see that what we call green has taken one of those, one slice and improved it, there's still the 999 other things that we need to get better. The stuff we have now is a legacy of innovations and inventions from a very innocent time when nobody thought about ecological impacts.
BILL MOYERS: The industrial age. An age that gave, that made life comfortable and convenient for my-
DANIEL GOLEMAN: It made it-
BILL MOYERS: Great grandmother in ways she couldn't imagine.
DANIEL GOLEMAN: Exactly. And at a hidden cost for us today. Because the way we make concrete, which involves taking limestone and some chemicals, and heating it for 48 hours at very high temperatures, was invented in the 1820s. The way we make glass, which is a similar process, you take sand and you take a caustic soda and some things, you mix them together, you heat them for 24- I mean, it's energy intensive.
That brilliant idea, which made life so much better for our grandparents, is now, unfortunately, one of the great causes of global warming. And, you know, that invention for glass was from 1850. It's still done the same way. There's a vast innovative opportunity here, Bill.
BILL MOYERS: Let's take some examples from your book.
DANIEL GOLEMAN: Sure.
BILL MOYERS: I went to the grocery store the other day. And I came home with the plastic bag that they gave me. And feeling, knowing that I was going to see you I felt guilty because I know what we all know about plastic bags, right? It takes 500 to 1,000 years to dispose of it.
DANIEL GOLEMAN: There you go. Yeah.
BILL MOYERS: So I thought, well, I should have asked for a paper bag. And then I read in here, paper is not a lot better?
DANIEL GOLEMAN: Well, here's the problem. There is no manmade product that nature loves. Everything has these impacts. So what we need to do is either change our habits. You could, of course, get a cloth bag. And cloth has its own problems.
But, still, if you use a cloth bag every time you go to a store, and replace 1,000 paper bags, or 1,000 plastic bags, the net benefit is in your favor. And in nature's favor.
BILL MOYERS: All right, here's another example from your book. Sunscreen. I mean, I put this sunscreen on my grandkids to save them from cancer. But you're telling me that I may be saving them from cancer while killing the coral reefs, right?
DANIEL GOLEMAN: Well, the news is even a little worse than that, Bill. I'm really sorry to tell you this. But it turns out that there is an ingredient in some children's sun block that becomes- it's suspected to becoming a carcinogen when it's exposed to the sun.
But the paradoxes abound. You know, there's an ingredient in every sunscreen that washes off, and I was very chagrinned to learn that this ingredient makes an algae flourish that kills the coral. And this is our dilemma. We are creating dangers we have no idea about.
BILL MOYERS: And you say in the book that it's estimated that between 4,000 and 6,000 metric tons of sunscreen wash off swimmers each year around the world.
DANIEL GOLEMAN: Yeah. Yeah. That's true.
BILL MOYERS: With danger to the coral reef.
DANIEL GOLEMAN: To the coral which is why you were out there in the first place. But, of course, the lesson is not "don't use sunscreen," because the primary danger is from sunburn and melanoma. The lesson is complain to the manufacturers and favor any that have ingredients that don't do this. That's what each of us can do.
BILL MOYERS: Well, here's my 100 percent organic cotton t-shirt. And I thought what a prize, you know.
DANIEL GOLEMAN: Yeah. Yeah. Bless your heart.
BILL MOYERS: Until I read your book.
DANIEL GOLEMAN: Well, I bought one of those too. And it, you know, what's good about it is that it's organic cotton. And that means they didn't use pesticides, they didn't release poisons into the environment. They didn't have to use chemical fertilizers that wash into water and cause what's called utrification that ends up killing the life in the water.
So that's all to the good. The downside includes things like the fact that it is a dyed t-shirt. And most textile dyes are toxins. In fact, it's long been known that workers in dye houses have higher rates of leukemia because of that.
So what I'm saying, I guess, is that there is almost no product today that's pure. But I believe we can get there if we care.
BILL MOYERS: One more example. One of the shampoos I bought. This happens to be the good shampoo, according to the ingredients. And it only cost about $3. The bad shampoo, believe it or not, which has a lot of unfortunate ingredients, cost $16.
DANIEL GOLEMAN: I know. I know. It's unbelievable.
BILL MOYERS: So that's your point about the expensive, high end products are not always the best products.
DANIEL GOLEMAN: No. We have this assumption that, oh, we can't do this. It's going to cost more. Actually, if you look around, you know, while this really expensive, very appealing, rather toxic shampoo, is very pricey. And, in fact, the more we show companies we care about this, the more they will use their economies of scale to make the better stuff even cheaper.
BILL MOYERS: But it's been my experience that people don't always, and don't often, act on information. They need some emotional investment in it.
DANIEL GOLEMAN: That's true. And I think as we all become more knowledgeable about the hidden impacts, particularly the impacts of industrial chemicals on ourselves and our loved ones, if you think about it we don't want to bring toxins into our families. We don't want to bring them into our homes. I think that is actually the biggest emotional hook. It is for me. Global warming is a danger that's far removed. But, you know, the health of the people we care about and ourselves, that's very immediate
BILL MOYERS: But, you know, my friend, Joseph Campbell, said, "If you want to change the world, change the metaphor." And I see, in your book, "Ecological Intelligence," your efforts to change the metaphors by which we approach the routine prosaic world of consumption. I mean, for example, the riddle of the chariot.
DANIEL GOLEMAN: Well, the riddle of the chariot comes from the 5th century, from an obscure text in India. But what it says is this. It poses the question: where is the chariot? Is it in its wheel? In the frame? In the rods that connect it to the horse? It's not in any one of those. It is an aggregate of parts.
And the metaphor here is that any product is not a single thing here. It has a back story. It's an aggregate. It's an assembly. And that assembly includes the impacts along the way. So we've got to expand our thinking about the stuff we buy. Because it has a history that could be better going into the future if we vote with our dollars. And that's another metaphor I'd like to put out. Is that it's like an election, folks, you know. Do you want the, you know, the pricy one with the chemicals of concern?
Or do you want the one that's actually cheaper as it happens, and that you know is safe for your family. And if you do, and, as you say, if you have a broader moral vision, do you want to let other people know? Do you want to make the company know, so that by the time your grandchildren are buying it, it's a safer product.
BILL MOYERS: You are a science reporter. That's where I first met you. When you were the science reporter for "The New York Times." Is there significant evidence to persuade you, as a reporter, that we Americans are taking to heart the message of ecological intelligence? That we're beginning to think about the multitude and the hidden cost of what we buy and consume? Is there real evidence that companies are changing their ways? That consumers are changing their habits?
DANIEL GOLEMAN: Well, one of the points that I find very encouraging is a generational difference. You know, you and I grew up in an age where we loved plastics, and we loved our consumer goods. And we never knew what the hidden impacts were. And we never knew that we should care that much.
You know "Silent Spring" was the beginning of what became the environmental movement. But young people, people who have grown up with the specter of global warming, are far more motivated to do whatever they can to preserve the world. And they're also far more sophisticated, certainly than me, and perhaps than you, about social networking on the web. About Twitter and Facebook and so on. Which I see is the engine which is going to drive the sharing of the knowledge that will create this shift that will make it, not only feasible for companies, but actually essential for companies to do the right thing.
BILL MOYERS: The swarm intelligence.
DANIEL GOLEMAN: There you go.
BILL MOYERS: It's a hopeful book. "Ecological Intelligence" by Daniel Goleman, how impacting the hidden impacts of what we buy can change everything. Dan, thanks for being on the Journal.
DANIEL GOLEMAN: You bet you. Pleasure.
BILL MOYERS: Finally this week, to Twitter or not to Twitter? To this immortal question, I surrender, and finally answer, unequivocally: Maybe.
As I just told Daniel Goleman, up to now, I have declared my home and office to be Twitter-free zones. This is consistent with my technical skills as a proud Luddite. That's Luddite...Google it.
I was the last hold-out to the computer out of respect to my old IBM Selectric, that reliable, DC-6 of typewriters, and the cell phone, out of respect to the ladies, God rest their souls, who operated the telephone party line and asked, "Number, please?" when I was growing up in Texas.
I resisted e-mail and Facebook, with deep regard for many of my dearest friends, some of whom seem to be recycling their old mug shots from the "most wanted" at our local post-office.
But to keep up with my teen-age grandchildren, who stubbornly refuse to correspond with smoke signals or semaphore flags, I may yet learn to Twitter. Thus I would join legions of politicians and journalists who never miss an opportunity to prove there is no such thing as an unexpressed thought. They type in their latest, fast food menu choices or precise geographic location with the breathless excitement of that radio announcer describing the explosion of the Hindenburg. Hindenburg...Google it.
For now, I am playing it safe, first considering what some of my heroes in history might communicate if Twitter had been at their thumb tips. Here goes:
George Washington: "Crossing Delaware. Way cold. Hope Brits don't hear chattering wooden teeth."
Alexander Hamilton: "Oh my God. Aaron Burr can't shoot his way out of a paper bag. Laughing out loud."
Abe Lincoln: "Where in Gettysburg? Lost address. Thanks in advance."
Teddy Roosevelt: "Returning to San Juan hill. Left charger." F.D.R.: "At inauguration. Must inspire country. How's this, people: Only thing we have to fear is stuff that hasn't happened yet."
On second thought, perhaps it's better not to tweet and be thought a fool than to tweet and remove all doubt.
That's it for this week. On our next edition, we'll take a look at the latest ideas for healthcare reform.
PROTESTERS: Healthcare, not warfare!
BILL MOYERS: These demonstrators were protesting that Congress and the White House are ignoring public support for single-payer, universal healthcare.
PROTESTERS: Single payer!
WOMAN: We have enough to cover everybody, to support everybody, as a nation. To be mutually responsible for each other especially those of us who are sick at any moment and our system is totally failing. The profiteering is robbing people of the best healthcare at the very moment that they need it.
BILL MOYERS: More on that next week, meanwhile, you can read dispatches from Juan Cole and Shahan Mufti on the crisis in Pakistan and you can find out more about how smarter consumers can help save the environment. Just log onto PBS.org, search "Moyers" and click on Bill Moyers Journal. It will guide you right to our website.
I'm Bill Moyers. See you next time.