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Transcript:

July 20, 2007

BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the Journal. Here with me now are two partners of Triglyceride Investments, a private equity fund that recently announced its intention of combining the assets of all the hedge funds on Wall Street in order to bring under a single canopy of ownership every media outlet in America. Their prospectus contends that the handful of big media companies that control most of what you see, hear, and read cannot possibly produce maximum return on investment as long as each has to field its own army of lobbyists in Washington.

If only one holding company instead of four or five controlled all the country's radio and television stations and all of its cable, newspaper, and Internet outlets, eliminating the need for the competitive purchase of politicians, the savings on campaign contributions alone would increase the bottom line tenfold.

Not the least of their argument is that since our present media system and Washington so closely mirror each others' interests, it could even be possible to close down the government altogether and have the country run by Wall Street, saving huge sums of money now spent on perpetuating an impression to the contrary. Joining me are Andy Bichlbaum, the chairman of Triglyceride Investments, and his partner, Mike Bonanno, chief executive of their offshore subsidiary, Tsetse Media Inc., with headquarters in the Marianas Islands. Welcome to the Journal.

ANDY BICHLBAUM: Thank you, Bill.

BILL MOYERS: Let me ask you. Is it true that when you go public you intend to include NPR and PBS in your IPO?

ANDY BICHLBAUM: Yes. Absolutely.

MIKE BONANNO: We're looking at creating entertainment that would, in a sense, read well. We're interested in making enough money because it's through the making of money that we can improve society.

BILL MOYERS: But you really see a silver lining in media conglomeration?

MIKE BONANNO: This is not just a silver lining. The coat is reversible. It's literally going to be a silver jacket.

BILL MOYERS: You know a lot of us are concerned that already just a handful of big media companies have driven everything to the bottom. I mean, what makes you think one big holding company could do any better or worse?

ANDY BICHLBAUM: Well, if you think about the bottom of the barrel metaphor, you know, everybody knows that the sweetest apples are at the bottom. And under optimal conditions, in fact, you get the weight of the top apples even creating minor lesions in the skin of the apples at the bottom and, thereby, allowing the infiltration of-- of productive bacteria which can even lead to the production of brandy. And who doesn't like brandy? If you take the apples and spread them over a field-- essentially what you end up with is a bunch of rabbits with the runs. And what's the interest of that?

MIKE BONANNO: The consolidation is going to benefit you, Bill. I mean, that's something that you're going to have to realize, that you, as a consumer, are going to have more channels available. We'll have more money to create more programming that you'll like. And it'll serve your needs better.

ANDY BICHLBAUM: Even with your reduced income.

ANDY BICHLBAUM: Absolutely.

BILL MOYERS:Look, enough's enough. I'm often telling my audience on this program that I'm not kidding when I report some absurdity but I have been kidding these past few moments. And I have to level with my audience. You're not representatives of Triglyceride Investment. You don't own Tsetse Media. Who are you really?

MIKE BONANNO: My name is Mike Bonanno. And we are with a group called the Yes Men.

ANDY BICHLBAUM: And I'm Andy Bichlbaum, and I really am also with the Yes Men.

BILL MOYERS: Yes, they're the Yes Men and they serve up satirical humor laced with lunacy to call the media's attention to serious issues. This was their subversive first film, released three years ago, followed by this book, and another film is now in the works. It all started some years ago when they set up a parody of the World Trade Organization's website. Somebody mistook it for the real thing and they got a serious invitation to speak as experts at an international conference in Austria. ANDY BICHLBAUM: We prepared this absurd speech talking about how we must eliminate the siesta, privatize voting and this sort of thing. And we fully expected to get kicked out or perhaps arrested. We had no idea.

BILL MOYERS: What happened?

ANDY BICHLBAUM: Nothing. Nothing happened.

BILL MOYERS: They listened to you?

ANDY BICHLBAUM: They listened.

BILL MOYERS: They believed you?

ANDY BICHLBAUM: They believed us. They asked questions. And then we left. We had lunch with them afterwards-

MIKE BONANNO: That was the biggest surprise from that first experience. You know, we thought that seeing that we wanted to open a free market and democracy by allowing people that sell their votes to the highest bidder would make people angry. But it didn't. They just accepted it. Because it kept within the logic of the thinking in that room.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean in the logic?

MIKE BONANNO: Well, I mean, they were talking about-- at a conference, about international trade law and the importance of breaking down trade barriers, and the importance of free markets. And so, when we said we have a giant free market, it's called democracy, and the only problem is that corporations can't buy and sell votes, they said, "You're right. Great idea. Let's implement it. Let's figure out how to do it." And they just accepted it. And that's what I mean. It stayed within that logic.

BILL MOYERS: Does this make you cynical?

MIKE BONANNO: Well.

ANDY BICHLBAUM: It makes us very worried.

MIKE BONANNO: Yeah.

ANDY BICHLBAUM: And we hope for the people who see us doing these crazy things get worried, too. That's why we do it.

BILL MOYERS: Here's a case study of how they do it. Last spring the Yes Men set up another fake website called halliburtoncontracts.com. They were fishing...and they got a bite. Organizers for an insurance conference on catastrophic loss took them as representatives of the giant energy services firm and asked them to make a presentation about how to address global climate change. Mike Bonanno posed as Dr. Northrop Goody, the head of Halliburton's emergency products development unit. Andy Bichlbaum spoke as Fred Wolf, also from Halliburton. After a short presentation of world catastrophes, they asked for volunteers from the audience to demonstrate a new product that could help prevent ill effects from climate change. They called it...survivaball. The audience bought it.

MIKE BONANNO: We want something that's going to be able to save a human being no matter what mother nature throws at em. And so, this is the answer. And we have an artist rendition of what it might be like in Houston when we launch our SurvivaBall. They're going to be able to go under water, rated at fifty feet. They can be used in any condition. It doesn't matter whether you're in a landslide in California or even in the Arctic and of course any other conditions - tsunamis, or tornadoes, the SurvivaBall is designed to withstand.

BILL MOYERS: The audience believed you?

MIKE BONANNO: Yeah. Unfortunately-- maybe. The audience of, you know, intelligent people accepted it and understood it to be just business as usual.

BILL MOYERS: When did they catch on?

BOTH: They didn't

ANDY BICHLBAUM: One guy actually asked if this ball could be applied to the terrorist threat. He immediately saw that as a possibility. And afterwards, we had a conversation with the two organizers and the two guys who had been in the ball. And they suggested that perhaps we might want to make it more comfortable. And also they had a problem with the price but came to the conclusion that the people who needed it could afford it.

BILL MOYERS: What were you trying to prove to yourselves, if not to them?

ANDY BICHLBAUM: The main point of this was to drive home just how grave the situation is and who really stands to benefit from it. It's disproportionately the poor who suffer. And the rich can always protect themselves. So this was sort of a symbol of that.

BILL MOYERS: You went to a conference in Europe and suggested that the siesta in Spain be made illegal because it interferes with work?

MIKE BONANNO: Well, that was actually about the idea of, you know, harmonization, global harmonization of business practices. There was, at the time, strangely enough-- something on the Italian books to outlaw the long lunch in Italy. This was a Berlusconi idea. He thought it was great--

BILL MOYERS: The prime minister, yeah.

MIKE BONANNO: Yeah. He thought he could synchronize, you know, with the rest of Europe. And so if they just didn't take as long a lunch in Italy things would be fine. So he outlawed it. The same thing actually happened with Fox's government in Mexico. They outlawed the siesta in government offices during the same time. We thought we were making a really strange satire about this idea of harmonization and about people's worry that cultural traditions were going to be ended by the policies of the WTO. And yet it turned out that these things were actually being legislated by governments around the world.

BILL MOYERS: You can't get too absurd, can you?

MIKE BONANNO: No.

BILL MOYERS: --in this world?

MIKE BONANNO: And I think that this is really the point is that as long as we are deferring all of our responsibilities to a marketplace to make the decisions, we're going to be in trouble. And we're gong to keep heading down these paths that are leading us on the course toward destruction.

BILL MOYERS: Is what you do legal?

MIKE BONANNO: Yeah.

ANDY BICHLBAUM: We think it is.

MIKE BONANNO: Absolutely. We've never had anybody who could tell us that it wasn't.

BILL MOYERS: Has anybody tried to?

ANDY BICHLBAUM: Yes. Well about a month ago we spoke at a giant oil conference in Calgary, Alberta, as Exxon. And--

BILL MOYERS: Representing Exxon?

ANDY BICHLBAUM: Representing Exxon, yeah. And we told the-- it was a conference with 20,000 attendees. Our event was the keynote luncheon, which was hyped by the organizers as a very important event.

BILL MOYERS: And who invited you?

ANDY BICHLBAUM: The organizers of the conference. Oil-- Go Expo it was called.

BILL MOYERS: Go Expo.

ANDY BICHLBAUM: Go Expo.

BILL MOYERS: But how did you know about you?

ANDY BICHLBAUM: They-- the same as anybody. They stumbled on our website and thought-

BILL MOYERS: You're kidding. And they wrote you a letter, called you, an e-mail?

ANDY BICHLBAUM: An e-mail. Yeah,

BILL MOYERS: Don't do they do vetting, don't they do due diligence?

ANDY BICHLBAUM: Apparently not. They send out many, many e-mails to many people, and they just sent one out to us-- inviting us to come present at the conference or come have a presence there. And we said, "Great. Yeah, we'll definitely come and we'll do a lot for you."

BILL MOYERS: And here's what they did. Bichlebaum was Shepherd Wolf of the National Petroleum Council. That's a real organization.

ANDY BICHLBAUM: Without oil we would not have food. Without oil we would not be able to bring that food to our tables. Without oil at least 4 billion people would starve and even those left would have a very hard time of it. But I'm not here today to pat us all on the back. I'm here to speak of plan b's . What we really need is something as plentiful as petroleum but much less dependent on infrastructure. Or something as useful as whales but infinitely more abundant.

BILL MOYERS: Bonanno posed as Florian Ossenberg, representing Exxon Mobil. The audience listened intently as the Yes Men outlined a new product to replace fossil fuels. They called it...Vivoleum.

BILL MOYERS: And you were describing technology rendering human flesh into this new product called Vivoleum?

ANDY BICHLBAUM: Right. In a worst-case scenario, of course, climate change could lead to enormous catastrophes, which might interrupt the flow of oil, and that would be a tragedy. So we have to be ready with a new source of oil and that's, of course, the many millions or even more people that will die. We can render them into Vivolium.

MIKE BONANNO: We handed out candles to the audience, lit candles that were in the shape of a man-- and they had human hair in them, incidentally. So it smelled really bad in the room. And we showed a video of the guy who gave his life for the Vivoleum product.

CUT TO YES MEN VIDEO: Reggie was willing to make that sacrifice for the betterment of humanity; for that, we all solute him.

REGGIE: I think I'd like to be a candle ..

ANDY BICHLBAUM: And by the end of the video that they saw, they understood that they were holding a little part of that janitor. So--

BILL MOYERS: They didn't catch on?

ANDY BICHLBAUM: Well--some of them did.

MIKE BONANNO: Because they started, you know, about halfway through the video when they began realizing that they were actually holding this burning man in their hands, they started trying to put it in glasses and, you know, they really didn't want to touch it anymore. This time there were actually a few people in the audience who recognized andy because our film was on Showtime not so long ago. And they started to react. The conference organizers were kind of freaking out and trying to figure out how they could shut it down. But once something like that is rolling, too, it's hard to stop it without some degree of embarrassment.

CUT TO YES MEN VIDEO: This was not the presentation we'd anticipated. Please enjoy the rest of your meal.

BILL MOYERS: But what I heard about that, read about it, and then watched it, I thought of that marvelous passage from the great satirist, Jonathan Swift, the English satirist-- couple of centuries ago. He said, "I've been assured by very knowing American of my acquaintance in London that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled. He was, of course, trying to mock the various efforts to-- deal with malnutrition at that time. And he was suggesting, you know, why don't we eat ourselves? But England took him seriously. It was amazing.

MIKE BONANNO: Yeah. I mean, and I think that that's the strength in it because what-- what was going on at that time, of course, was the Irish potato famine*. And, you know, what the English essentially were saying to the Irish was, "Go ahead and eat your babies," because there was enough food in Ireland, but the cash crops were still being exported to England and elsewhere. And-- and that's the crux of the issue. That's what he was satirizing, the fact that money was dictating whether or not people got food in Ireland at that time.

*Jonathan Swift wrote, "A Modest Proposal" in 1729, and although he was commenting upon poverty and famine in Ireland, he was not referring to the Great Irish Potato Famine, which did not begin until 1845.

ANDY BICHLBAUM: You know, and in this case we just felt that absolutely compelled to-- to make the audience realize what we were doing. And that's why we had them hold this burning flesh. We thought, well, they're not going to get away with not hearing us this way. They're going to see it. They're going to feel it. They're going to smell it.

BILL MOYERS: What did you want them to think?

ANDY BICHLBAUM: We wanted them to understand what we were saying, which was that there's something wrong with our current energy policies, which they represent. These are the foot soldiers of North American energy policy. And we wanted them to understand viscerally what we were saying, that, you know, we're headed-- we're-- this is taking us to destruction.



BILL MOYERS: Is it true that Exxon closed down your website after this?

MIKE BONANNO: They did. In fact, they nearly made a call, we don't really know. They just called the provider from our ISP and they immediately shut it down. They shut down the site. They refused to turn it on unless we took any mention of Exxon off of our website.

ANDY BICHLBAUM: The site that they took down was called Vivoleum.com. And at the top of it, it had the Exxon logo. And underneath it said, "150,000 people are already dying from climate change every year. What a resource." And it had a link to the World Health Organization report about that. Exxon made a threat to the Internet service provider saying this is trademark infringement, or copyright infringement. And I think in court to support that, they'd have to argue that this was credible. So--

BILL MOYERS: Credible?

ANDY BICHLBAUM: --well, that Exxon would actually have a site like this.

MIKE BONANNO: Under copyright law, the idea is that, you know, as long as you are-- or, you know, you can be determined to be making parody, if a reasonable person does not believe that it's true. Like for instance-- you would-- with the Jonathan Swift thing, you'd say well, would a reasonable person really think that he's saying that people should eat babies? And, you know, if it was determined in court that a reasonable person could be fooled, then maybe it's not, you know, parody or satire.

BILL MOYERS: But, you know, you look at it, and you can understand why a company, a corporation like Exxon, wouldn't want an impersonator to defile their trademark.

ANDY BICHLBAUM: Well, fortunately in this country, freedoms are still allowed to private citizens to make political statements. And it's not a right that is only given to large corporations.

BILL MOYERS: Are you concerned about the ethical implications of what you are doing, of fooling people or making fools of people?

MIKE BONANNO: We're much more concerned with the ethical implications of not doing it.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?

MIKE BONANNO: What I mean is that it seems like it's incumbent upon us to try to do something about the really grave ethics issues in the world, the real problems, companies that will go and exploit resources that we know are going to, in the long run, kill us or many people around the world. These kinds of wrongdoings are at such a scale, they're so vast compared to our white lies, let's say, that we think it's ethical. Our path is actually ethical one.

BILL MOYERS: I mean, you would not get away with this in Putin's Russia or in Mugabe's Zimbabwe or in China today.

MIKE BONANNO: Or maybe even in France. I'm not entirely kidding. I mean, we do have really good free speech laws here. Unfortunately, there-- you know, they're kind of circumvented by other kind of loopholes. You know, we can speak at the volume of however much money you have. But, you know, we are lucky to actually be able to do these sorts of things here, although we've also done it in Europe. Because we do engage in this as a form of protected speech. It is satire. It is parody. It's a way for us to speak sort of beyond the volume that we normally would be able to.

BILL MOYERS: In the real world, the Yes Men are ardent cyclists, doing their best to reduce carbon emissions. Here they're arriving at our studios in New York before changing into their disguises as serious media moguls. In their day jobs they are engaged in corrupting the young...Mike teaches art and technology at Rensallaer Polytechnic Institutes in upstate New York, and this fall Andy begins teaching design and technology at the Parsons school of design here in the city. Their shared passion is media literacy...helping students figure out who's telling the truth.

BILL MOYERS: BILL MOYERS: Jon Stewart said right there, and said it's amazing to him-- in effect, he said it's amazing to him that fake news gets more attention than real news. What does that say to you?

ANDY BICHLBAUM: Sad.

MIKE BONANNO: Yeah.

ANDY BICHLBAUM: It's a sad state of affairs.

MIKE BONANNO: But we're not making fake news. We're making real news by-- through fakery that's real fake news. It's like the known unknowns we're doing that kind of a thing.

ANDY BICHLBAUM: We actually see this as a form of journalism. Or perhaps more precisely, the form of collaboration with journalists. A lot of the issues that we address journalists want to cover. And sometimes it's the reason they've gone into journalism. But in many jobs, in many situations, editorial control won't let them unless there's a good little hook behind it. And so, we've found a way to create funny spectacles that give journalists the excuse to cover issues. And sometimes, they work really well.

BILL MOYERS: Sometimes when I read what you've done and I look at your Web site, think, "These guys are revolutionaries. Are you trying to overthrow the system?"

ANDY BICHLBAUM: We're trying to make the system more humane.

MIKE BONANNO: I mean, the system that we've got has got a lot of problems. So, there may be a better system out there. Our goal is to show what's wrong with the system in ways that we enjoy that are fun and strange and entertaining. We're working on creating ideas for what a different system could look like, or tweaks to the current system to make it better for people.

BILL MOYERS: Mike Bonanno, Andy Bichlbaum, thanks for putting us on-- I mean, thanks for being here. It was a pleasure.

MIKE BONANNO: Thank you--

ANDY BICHLBAUM: Thank you.

MIKE BONANNO: --very much, Bill.

ANDY BICHLBAUM: Thank you for putting us on, as well.

BILL MOYERS: In a convergence of events revealing just how conflicted Americans are about immigrants, the debate in Congress over a new immigration bill ended the other day in stalemate. About the same time, these pictures from Iraq showed U.S. soldiers being sworn in as legal U.S. citizens. These young immigrant men and women are fighting and dying in our name, before we've recognized them as legal citizens. There on a foreign battlefield, they became Americans. My next guest knows all about this paradox of loving a country that isn't sure what it thinks about you. Martín Espada is a poet of Latino descent. And nothing gives him greater pleasure than helping the children of new immigrants find the poetry in their own experience.

MIYOSOTI CASTILLO: I want to write a poem!

JASON ACOSTA: I wanna write about how girls are complicated.

EMILE KELLER: I'll be grateful if you can just kiss my salted tears away

BILL MOYERS: It's the last day of class for these ninth graders at Dream Yard Prep, a small public school in the south bronx, and they're doing what they've been doing all year: writing, reading and performing poetry.

MIYOSOTI CASTILLO: But can you believe that not even the tears showed up that night

JASON ACOSTA: How girls' tongues are ripe guns shooting bullets through your chest. They're there for a second and then they left.

YAHYA: I'm not ready to die yet because my seeds were not sprouted and lost into this cruel, cruel world.

BILL MOYERS: These kids know they'll probably never make a living as poets, but they've learned that poetry gives them a voice. and the poet Martín Espada is here to help them find that voice.

MARTÍN ESPADA: It's times like this that I realize that what I do is worth doing. I wouldn't know that without people like you. I couldn't keep going without people like you.

BILL MOYERS: He's a kindred spirit: Martín Espada has more in common with these kids than a love of language. he's from a Latino family, and grew up in a rough neighborhood in inner city New York. In his acclaimed collections of poetry, Espada has fashioned a vibrant picture of that life.

MARTÍN ESPADA: There were roaches between the bristles of my toothbrush.

BILL MOYERS: The kids in the class have been reading his work this year, and now get to hear them straight from the source.

MARTÍN ESPADA: An Indianapolis 500 of of roaches.

BILL MOYERS: How do you explain all that energy that fed you and those kids? There was something very powerful connecting you.

MARTÍN ESPADA: There is I think behind it all the hope that most young people have regardless of circumstance. That if they make themselves heard, somehow things will change. Somehow they will be empowered by this experience. It seems to be an extraordinary statement given the way poetry in this culture is so often mocked and marginalized. And-- and designated as trivial or meaningless. But, the fact is I meet people all the time who tell me, "Poetry saved my life. Were it not for poetry, were it not for this poem, were it not for this poet, I would be somewhere else. I would have made other choices. I was in prison when I read your work. I was a dropout when I read your work. And I decided to become a poet myself. I decided to go back to school. I decided to get a job." There are very tangible outcomes as a result of feeling inspired. And we have no way of knowing this as poets when we put our words into the air. And paradoxically, even the most political poem is an act of faith. Because you have no way of quantifying its impact on the world. But the fact is we write these poems and put them into the environment, into the atmosphere and we have no idea where they're going to land. We have no idea who's going to breathe them in. We have no idea what affect it's gonna have on an individual life unless that person materializes and says, "Poetry saved my life."

Back to classroom:

ARACELIS GIRMAY: When I came here there were writers. And you worked so hard after class and in Clash...

BILL MOYERS: Aracelis Girmay is the kids' teacher. she's a poet herself, and counts Martín Espada as a mentor. she's created an award bearing Espada's name, to honor him and her students. He's here today to help present it to this years' winner, Haydil Henriquez.

HAYDIL HENRIQUEZ: (reading poetry in class) My name is Haydil Henriquez and today I'm going to step into papi's shoes.

...I remember when I was small under the peach sky with rivers flowing like oceans in a lonesome book to nowhere. I only had two jeans which were dragged through the smooth, desiccated café con leche warm dirt....

BILL MOYERS: Henriquez is fifteen. she says poetry has become a new language for her.

HAYDIL HENRIQUEZ: Poetry is great because it's a way of expressing yourself and putting your feelings out there. And like telling the world what you're feeling and trying to make a change because poets help spread the word and that's what poets are supposed to do.

BILL MOYERS: There's not much time for poetry in the Henriquez household. Haydil's parents both work long hours: mom's on the day shift at a restaurant; dad drives a taxi at night.

And there's a lot of pressure on Haydil herself to stay focused and make it to college. Her dad says poetry's fine for now, but he wants her pursuing something more practical

HAYDIL HENRIQUEZ: He'll be like "No, no, no, poetry's not gonna take you - you're not gonna have a degree of poetry. It's not gonna give you a house. It's not gonna give you money. You'll probably sell one book and that's it. One book is not going to maintain you for the rest of your life."

BILL MOYERS: Haydil's favorite poem is one she wrote about her father. Seeing the world through his eyes. Its called 'In Papi's Shoes.'

HAYDIL HENRIQUEZ: (reading poetry in room) I just wish my God-gifts can grow tall so I can escape this tragedy I call life, clotted eyes have already seen two angels throw their lives away.

Hopefully Haydil doesn't screw up, she's the only one that can take us away from this misery that clogs the lungs helplessly into a fist of smoke. Push. That's what I'll do.

MARTÍN ESPADA: We're talking about a young Latina. A young Dominican from the inner city. There are millions of people in this country who have all kinds of prejudices and mistaken assumptions about such an individual. Among other things, they believe she doesn't belong here. Among other things, they believe she represents a threat both economic and cultural to the fabric of this society. There are all kinds of invisible pressures upon this person to prove them wrong. And I believe it's absolutely essential for somebody like that to write poetry. Because poetry humanizes.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?

MARTÍN ESPADA: It makes the abstract concrete. It makes the general specific and particular. When I hear this young woman performing a poem in the voice of her father, someone who does not speak English, she humanizes him. She humanizes herself. We can never look at "the immigrant," quote, unquote the same way if we're reading or hearing the poetry that humanizes the immigrant.

BILL MOYERS: These kids, though, a lot of them, as you say, are from somewhere else: the Dominican Republican, Guatemala, El Salvador, Puerto Rico. They've got a tough life ahead of them. They've got to get a job. They've got to make money. Some of them will, no doubt, send money back to their families wherever they came from. And here they are spending hours reading and writing poetry. Shouldn't they be doing something more practical?

MARTÍN ESPADA: Well, for me, poetry is practical. Poetry will help them survive to the extent that poetry helps them maintain their dignity, helps them maintain their sense of self respect. They will be better suited to defend themselves in the world. And so I think it-- poetry makes that practical contribution.

MARTÍN ESPADA: (in classroom) Poems, you know we sometimes think that poetry is something that happens to somebody else. That it happens on Mount Olympus, it happens to the gods. No. Poetry happens to you. Poetry is inside you, and it's all around you. Don't look for your heroes in the sky. Your heroes are right down here with you, alright? They're all around you.

MARTÍN ESPADA: They have to realize that their lives are the stuff of poetry. They have to be given license to write poetry about themselves and what they know before they'll do it. So, to that extent, poetry can be taught. Obviously, there's certain things that can't be taught. One of which is that sense of urgency. That sense of urgency. You have to have something to say.

BILL MOYERS: Espada's own sense of urgency can be traced right to his own family. His father, Frank Espada, came to this country from Puerto Rico. As a teenager, he joined the Air Force and was stationed in Texas.

MARTÍN ESPADA: He was going to spend Christmas furlough with his parents in New York City. And when he got on the bus - my father who is a dark skinned Puerto Rican - sat at the front. And by the time they got to Biloxi, Mississippi on the coast, he was the only person on the bus. It was the middle of the night and they changed drivers. New driver came on the bus and saw my father sitting there in the front and immediately instructed him to go to the back of the bus. My father, being 19 years old having grown up in East Harlem, wasn't about to take that from anybody. And so he used a colorful exploitive in response. The driver returned with two cops and my father was arrested. He appeared before the judge and he still, to this day, when he tells the story goes into the voice of the judge. And the judge said, and I quote, "Boy, how many days you got on that furlough?" And my father said, "I have seven days." And the judge said, "I hereby sentence you to seven days in the county jail." My father says that that was the best thing that ever happened to him because he decided then and there what to do with the rest of his life. At the age of 19, he figured out that he wanted to fight this sort of thing. And so when he got out of the military, that's exactly what he began to do. He got involved with the civil rights movement and later on became a political activist in many areas as a leader of the Puerto Rican community in New York.

BILL MOYERS: His father also became a photographer, documenting the growing Puerto Rican population in New York City, and around the country. all these photographs are his.

Young Martín started writing poetry at an early age. He and his family lived in the tough, racially mixed neighborhood of east New York in Brooklyn. Espada went back recently to his old apartment building, and wrote this poem.

MARTÍN ESPADA: (reading poem) This is called "Return."

245 Whitman Avenue, east New York, Brooklyn. Forty years ago, I bled in this hallway. Half-light dimmed the brick like the angel of public housing. That night, I called and listened at every door: In 1966, there was a war on television.

Blood leaked on the floor like oil from the engine of me. Blood rushed through a crack in my scalp; blood foamed in both hands; blood ruined my shoes. The boy who fired the can off my head in the street pumped what blood he could into his fleeing legs. I banged on every door for help, spreading a plague of bloody fingerprints all the way home to Apartment 14F.

Forty years later, I stand in the hallway. The dim angel of public housing is too exhausted to welcome me. My hand presses against the door at Apartment 14F like an octopus stuck to aquarium glass; blood drums behind my ears. Listen to every door. There is a war on television.

BILL MOYERS: Espada wrote poetry as a young man, and then decided to go to law school.

MARTÍN ESPADA: When I graduated, I simply went to work in Boston's Latino community. And I worked in the field of bilingual education law, which was very unusual. And later on, housing law - I was a tenant lawyer.

BILL MOYERS: Tenant lawyer. Law as a political tool.

MARTÍN ESPADA: Absolutely.

BILL MOYERS: Poetry as a political tool?

MARTÍN ESPADA: Absolutely.

BILL MOYERS: How so?

MARTÍN ESPADA: Both involve advocacy. Speaking on behalf of those without an opportunity to be heard. Not that they couldn't speak for themselves given the chance. They just don't get the chance. And to me, there's no contradiction between being an advocate as a lawyer and being an advocate as a poet. I mean, to me, it was all in the same spectrum.

BILL MOYERS: What's that old term? Poetic justice?

MARTÍN ESPADA: Yes. that's obviously an expression that's been beaten into the ground. For me, all justice is poetic.

BILL MOYERS: How so?

MARTÍN ESPADA: Well, first of all, because it is so beautiful. To see justice done, there-- there's-- there's something about that I can-- I can't even put into words. And when you see it happen in a courtroom and, you know, there's someone there, again ordinarily silenced and-- and suppressed by that system who has an opportunity to speak or to speak through you. And someone that person is vindicated and justice is done. To me, there's no feeling like that.

BILL MOYERS: Espada now teaches English at the University of Massachusetts. His latest book is this: "The Republic of Poetry," shortlisted for the 2007 Pulitzer prize.

BILL MOYERS: The Republic of Poetry. But do you think that Americans politically have the imagination to see ourselves as a republic of poetry where, as you say, we work these distinctions out but they don't reach the level of, you know, of bigotry and prejudice and exclusion? Or is that utopian?

MARTÍN ESPADA: I would never wanna underestimate the racism in this society. We talk about borders all the time. In fact, for Latinos, the true borders of our experience have always been the borders of racism. Having said that, I also believe that we don't necessarily see the situations in which solidarity happens. We don't see the situation where somebody reaches out to somebody to someone else. Does that make the news? Do we hear about that? What-- how would our perspective on this crisis change if we saw and heard more of that kind of news? I mean, we have to deal with this paradox that there are 40 million Latinos in this country and yet we're invisible. If you remember when legislation was introduced into Congress that essentially would criminalize so called illegal immigrants, there were enormous demonstrations in the streets in New York, in LA, in Washington DC. And the common dominator of the response was shock. And shock was registered not just at the fact of the demonstrations, but at the dimensions of them. Where did they all come from? There are millions of people in the streets demonstrating. There was in New York and Washington and LA - people expressed shock. And in the halls of Congress they went of talking about felony to talking about amnesty. "Did we say felony? Er, we meant amnesty." Now, the question is why is it that these 40 million people were invisible the day before those demonstrations? To me, all that shock that was registered, "look at all the Latinos!," sounded a little bit like Custer at Little Big Horn. You know--

BILL MOYERS: Where did those Indians go--

MARTÍN ESPADA: Look at all the Indians, you know? You know, that sense of shock and surprise was a perfect expression of this invisibility that we endure.

BILL MOYERS: You have in THE REPUBLIC OF POETRY some very powerful poems about war, prompting me to bring some recent news clippings that I have kept on this subject. Deaths among Latino soldiers in Iraq ranked the highest compared to other minority groups. One of the first US soldiers to die in Iraq, was an orphan Guatemalan who at the time of his death was not even an American citizen. And two out of every three Latinos now believe that US troops should be brought home from Iraq as soon as possible. What does those stories say to you?

MARTÍN ESPADA: What those stories say to me is that the war in Iraq is a Latino issue. In fact, that the war in Iraq is probably the single most important issue facing Latinos.

BILL MOYERS: How come?

MARTÍN ESPADA: Because of our position in society, Latinos are more likely to be exploited in a time of war, more likely to go to the front lines, more likely to become cannon fodder, more likely to be killed or wounded. Because of more limited economic alternatives, we're more likely to take that step and to join an army in a time of war. With the vague promise that somehow this will improve our conditions. We have to have a clearer sense of who the enemy really is, who's really causing the suffering. And those statistics demonstrate that this process, in fact, is happening. The Latinos understand that this war is doing damage to our community and they're responding.

BILL MOYERS: There's a poem in here, let's close on this one - "Between the Rockets and the Songs, New Year's Eve 2003," which would have been about seven months after the invasion of Iraq. So read this and tell me about this.

MARTÍN ESPADA: (reading poem) "Between the Rockets and the Songs" New Year's Eve 2003.

The fireworks began at midnight, golden sparks and rockets hissing through the confusion of trees above our house. I would prove to my son, now twelve, that there was no war in the sky. Not here. so we walked down the road to find the place where the fireworks began. We swatted branches from our eyes, peering at a house where the golden blaze dissolved in smoke. There was silence, a world of ice, then voices rose up with the last of the sparks, singing, and when the song showered down on us through the leaves we leaned closer, like trees. Rockets and singing from the same house, said my son. We turned back down the road, at the end of the year, at the beginning of the year, somewhere between the rockets and the songs.

BILL MOYERS: What inspired that?

MARTÍN ESPADA: Again, this was an actual incident. It was New Year's Eve. There was this great noise outside. There was this brilliant light. My son became very nervous.

BILL MOYERS: How old was he?

MARTÍN ESPADA: At that time, he was 12 years old. He's now 15 and a half. And I knew that he was making these connections. He expressed this to me. He believed that we were being bombed. He believed that the war was happening on our street, the war he had been seeing on television, the war we had been protesting, the war we had all been talking about. And so I decided to show him that on one level, anyway, there was nothing to be afraid of.

And we took a walk until we found the source of the light and the source of the noise. And remarkably, it stopped and then the singing began. And to me, that moment felt like the choice that we're now all confronted with as a society. Are we gonna choose rockets? Or are we gonna choose songs? Are we gonna choose war? Or are we gonna choose peace? Are we gonna choose violence or are we gonna choose poetry? And we are at that crossroads, not only my generation, but my son's generation and the generation that we saw at that school in the Bronx, where those teachers are showing those kids, taking them by the hand and saying, "Here are the rockets and here are the songs. Choose the songs." That's why I was there.

BILL MOYERS: Martín Espada I've enjoyed this conversation very much.

MARTÍN ESPADA: Thank you.

SEKOU SUNDIATA: What is? What is the math? What is the mathematics? What is the math? What is the mathematics? What is the math? What is the mathematics of today? What can I say? I was on my on my way to see my –I was on my way to see my – I was on my way to see my woman, but the law said I was on my way through a red light, red light, red light, red light, red light. But if you saw my woman, you could understand I was just bein' a man. It wasn't about no light; it was about my ride. And if you saw my ride, you could dig that, too, you dig? Sun roof, stereo, radio, radio, radio, sun roof, stereo, radio, sun roof, stereo, radio, black leather bucket seats sittin' low, you know? The body's cool, but the tires are worn.

Ride when the hard times come. Ride when they're done. In other words, the light was green. And I could wake up in the morning, without a warning, and my world could change. Blink your eyes. All depends on the skin. All depends on skin you're livin' in. Up to the window come the law with his hand on is gun. 'What's up? What's happenin'?' I said, 'I guess that's when I really broke the law.” He said, “A routine. Step out of the car. A routine. Assume the position. Put your hands up in the air.' You know the routine like you just don't care. 'License and registration.' Deep was the night and the light and de-de-de-de-de-de, deep deep was the night and the light from the North Star on the car door. I could see déjà vu. 'We've been through this before. Why did you stop me?'

'Somebody-body-body-body-body-body-body-body-body- body-body-body-body-body-body-body-body-body-body- body-body-body-body-body-body-body-body-

had to stop you. I watch the news. You always lose. You're unreliable. That's undeniable. That's undeniable. You're dangerous. You're dangerous. You're unreliable. You're on the news. You always lose.' I could wake up in the mornin' and without warnin' my world could change. Blink your eyes. All depends on the skin, all depends on the skin you're livin' in. All depends on the skin, all depends on the skin you're livin' in. New York City, they got laws. Can't no brothers drive outdoors. And certain cars in certain neighborhoods on particular streets layin' around certain types of people, yeah. They got laws. All depends on the skin, all depends on the skin you're livin' in. All depends on the skin, all depends on the skin you're livin' in. All depends on the skin, all depends on the skin, the skin, the skin, the skin...the skin you're livin' in, the skin you're livin' in.

BILL MOYERS: Let's turn now to what you have to say about the Journal. You've been writing and we've been reading:

BILL MOYERS: Remember the interview with Princeton scholar Melissa Harris-Lacewell who confronted the issues of race in America.

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: You know, we assume that Constitutional interpretation handed down by all white male presumably heterosexual courts are appropriate understandings of the Constitution. Would you feel the same way if the court were made up of all gay, black women? Do you that gay black women can be representative citizens the way heterosexual white men can?

BILL MOYERS: And here are some of your comments.

READER: I am not sure that I agree with Dr. Lacewell that race still matters in America. I am not a demographer and I know primarily my frame of reference and where I live, but I think that America has grown tremendously with respect to overcoming racism. --Gerri Michalska

READER: Professor Harris-Lacewell was a breath of fresh air. I'm tired of the usual leaders that appear on talk shows...I'm realistic. Most of America is not ready for a black face as leader of the free world...There are many that are - but most are not. --Malik Edwards

READER: We need to look at the myriad forms of prejudice in our society and address the sense of entitlement that a person feels gives them the right to discriminate or harass. Until we deal with the entitlement issue, racism and its ugly cousins like homophobia, fat phobia and misogyny, will continue. --Morgaine Swann

BILL MOYERS: And then there was my essay on Ruport Murdoch.

BILL MOYERS: The problem isn't just Rupert Murdoch. His pursuit of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL is the latest in a cascading series of mergers, buy-outs, and other financial legerdemain that are making a shipwreck of journalism.

BILL MOYERS: And among the many responses, here are a few.

READER: Men like Murdoch who attempt to control the news to their own ends are the greatest danger to this nation in a very long time. --David Jacquez

READER: As a journalist for 18 years, I have followed the death spiral that the news media has been in. Journalism is too important to the future of this republic, on all levels - from inside the Beltway to the small village in Pennsylvania - to be left to the vagaries and greed of the marketplace. --Scot Douglas Celley

READER: I agree that it'll be a sad day if Rupert Murdoch takes over the Wall Street Journal, but I find it disingenuous to single out Murdoch's empire for selling "babes and breasts, gossip and celebrities." Take a look at the sorry state of affairs at CBS, NBC and ABC and other "home-grown" media. Walter Lippmann and Eric Sevareid would roll over in their graves! --Black Hills Monitor

BILL MOYERS: Fair enough. And Imam Zaid Shakir, spoke about being a Muslim in America today and the on-going conflicts in the middle east.

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR: I condemn all the lunatic that are killing innocent people be they in pizza houses in Tel Aviv, be they innocent Muslims, Christians or others being slaughtered senselessly in Iraq...I condemn all of it.

BILL MOYERS: Your responses kept our blog buzzing.

READER: The Imam tried very hard to put a kind & favorable face on Islam. However, I remain troubled by a religion that has such a recent history of advocating killing by individuals. --serge

READER: I am considered a "left-wing" Christian and feel that Islam and Christianity have so much to learn from each other and yet we refuse to listen to one another. America was established in some part for those with spiritual conviction. However, colonialism and capitalism has taught us that it is easier to marginalize than to include. --Michelle Baraka

READER: It seems fairly routine among mainstream voices here in the West to hold Islam and Muslims in contempt because of the actions of their fringe radical element. I think that as Americans we have mostly learned to accept people regardless of their race, but we have a long way to go when it comes to a man's religion. --Corey

BILL MOYERS: We reported from the front line of the class war where airline executives get richer as they cut workers pay.

AMANDA OLSON, FLIGHT ATTENDANT: They can reap so much in stock options and pay and we're not even getting a cost of living increase in the n ext 5 years of our contract.

KATE DAY, FLIGHT ATTENDANT: This is not about a flight attendant contract. It's not anymore even about the money. It's about what's right in our culture.

BILL MOYERS: Among the many responses were these.

READER: Thank you for finally doing a piece on CEO greed in the airline industry. I thought the world had gone mad ... In the words of Lee Iacocca, "Where is the Rage?" --Jan Patterson

READER: Thank you for the Executive Greed story. As a copilot at Northwest working at half pay, I'm working two other full-time jobs just to keep my house. I am presumably at the top of the food chain as far as pilot jobs are concerned, but I may be forced to leave this job because of the low pay. --Tom Sylvester

READER: You assumed that CEOs being paid more while workers are paid less is a bad thing. You never offered any proof, or rational arguments. When a CEO gets $20 million in options, if the price drops below the strike price he gets nothing. You should have explained this. --AP

BILL MOYERS: And we've been getting enormous response to last week's interview with conservative scholar Bruce Fein and liberal journalist John Nichols. Both called for Congress to begin impeachment hearings for both President Bush and Vice President Cheney.

BRUCE FEIN: We're talking about assertions of power that affect the individual liberties of every American citizen. Opening your mail, your e-mails, your inner-- your phone calls. Breaking and entering your homes. Creating a pall of fear and intimidation if you say anything against the president you may find retaliation. We're claiming he's setting precedents that will lie around like loaded weapons."

JOHN NICHOLS: And that is why we ought to be discussing impeachment. Not because of George Bush and Dick Cheney but because we are establishing a presidency that does not respect the rule of law. And people, Americans, are rightly frightened by that. Their fear is the fear of the founders. It is real. It is appropriate."


BILL MOYERS: Viewers are still writing us about that one.

READER: Can someone please explain to me what law was broken, exactly? Why are impeachment proceedings in order? --chris

READER: Why no mention of HR333, Congressman Dennis Kucinich's resolution to impeach Vice President Cheney? The program implied that there was no movement in congress to impeach - yet HR333 was introduced on April 24, 2007. --Chris Ellinger

READER: I wish every US citizen had heard Fine and Nichols arguments for impeachment. Newspapers and television news should demand that hearings take place. In my city, local media report only local crime stories or feature fluff. National TV is so busy making nice and getting ratings that they ignore the important issues. --JoAnne Young

READER: This interchange was one of the most one-sided, hateful and sometimes totally incorrect programs it has been my misfortune to watch. Sincerely, --Margaret Jenkins

READER: As much as I would not want the country to go through Impeachment Hearings, it is the right thing to do. This administration has taken too many liberties on the laws of this country. Neither the president nor vice president should think they are above these laws. I hope that the American people demand that these hearings be heard. --GMG

READER: Before watching...tonight I disagreed with impeachment because I felt it would take too much energy and time away from other important matters of law. I no longer believe that impeachment is off the table. Impeachment IS the table. --Helen Shane

BILL MOYERS: Your letters mean a lot so keep in touch on the blog at pbs.org. I'm Bill Moyers. We'll be back next week.



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