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October 17, 2008


We'll be hearing in this hour some voices that have been missing in the larger conversation of the campaign. As you listen, keep in mind, as if anyone could forget, America's economic nosedive. Here's how Jon Stewart describes our predicament.

JON STEWART: This is a rudderless ship. The pilot just ejected and we're all still on the plane. It's "Lord of the Flies" down here. You know what, somebody give me the conch. Where's the… alright, listen up everybody. I've got the conch. Listen up.

BILL MOYERS: The one opportunity all of us have to put our collective hand on the rudder of the ship of state comes two weeks from Tuesday, Election Day.

Latino Americans are considered by many experts to be a decisive swing vote. Once solidly Democratic, they switched to Ronald Reagan in the early 80s, his proclamation of "Morning in America" appealed to hard working, family oriented, Latino voters. The dawn of that alliance is captured in a documentary produced by Phillip Rodriguez which just aired the other day on PBS. It's called "Latinos 08."

LIONEL SOSA: Ronald Reagan was the first presidential candidate to hire the staff that was needed, and to put the money forward that was needed in order to court the Latino vote. When I met him, I said Governor, we have been hired to help you get the Hispanic vote - and he'd just smiled and say, well that's going to be, easy. And I said, why? Because… Hispanics are Republicans, they just don't know it.

BILL MOYERS: This year, according to a Pew study, which we posted on our Web site at, Latinos are moving back to the Democrats. But it's not a sure thing in the swing states, so Obama and McCain are still trying to close the deal.

Joining me to talk about this year's campaign are two people who have followed, or participated, in politics for a while now. Both are also influential voices in the Latino community.

Roberto Lovato once directed the largest immigration rights organization in the country, known as Carecen. He's now an editor at "New America Media." That's an association of more than 700 ethnic media groups. He's also a frequent contributor to THE NATION magazine.

Also with me is Linda Chavez who chairs the Center for Equal Opportunity, a non-profit public policy research organization. She served on Ronald Reagan's White House team and as staff director of the U.S. commission on civil rights. She writes a column and contributes to Fox News. Her books include OUT OF THE BARRIO: TOWARD A NEW POLITICS OF HISPANIC ASSIMILATION and most recently, AN UNLIKELY CONSERVATIVE: THE TRANSFORMATION OF AN EX-LIBERAL.

Welcome to the JOURNAL.

Let's look at the last two weeks of this campaign. What do you think is the central dynamic that will be driving it?

LINDA CHAVEZ: Well, I think it's going to be outside events, and it's obviously going to be the economy. The kind of wild swings that we've experienced over the last few weeks on Wall Street have had a dramatic impact. Obviously, the meltdown in the financial sector has been a great detriment to the McCain campaign.

Three weeks ago, John McCain, if the election had been held then, probably would have won the election. I don't think we're really going to know what's going to happen in the next two, two weeks or so. But I think it's all going to be driven by things outside the actual campaigns themselves.

BILL MOYERS: Do you see a possible game changer, something that could come in and really alter the landscape as we get close to the vote?

ROBERTO LOVATO: I think in this day and age, where the unexpected become normal anything's possible. But, that aside it comes down to strategy, resources, financial, technological, human resources. And at that level, I think the Obama campaign has pretty much defined the strategic game, especially since they defeated the Clintons. And the way they defeated the Clintons is now defeating the Bush, I mean, I'm sorry the McCain campaign.

And for all that he knows about war and everything, and strategy comes from war, John McCain hasn't shown himself to be much of a strategist. And I think that's ultimately what's going to defeat him.

BILL MOYERS: I was intrigued by the column you wrote earlier this week or last week, in which, you know, with the economy tanking and the government coming in with lots of taxpayer funds to bail out the banking system, and more and more commentators joking that they never dreamed a Republican administration would usher in socialism. You wrote a column saying, "let us celebrate the true and definite death of the Reagan revolution." What is it you're celebrating?

ROBERTO LOVATO: I think I'm celebrating and doing a call to really, really be clear that we need to move away from market fundamentalism. I mean, Joseph Stiglitz said that.

BILL MOYERS: The economist?

ROBERTO LOVATO: The economist, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, said that the fall of Wall Street is to market fundamentalism what the fall of the Berlin Wall was to Communism. And if there was a statue to be dropped, it would be the statue of Ronald Reagan.

BILL MOYERS: You're sitting by someone who was a charter member of the Reagan administration. Is it over?

LINDA CHAVEZ: I think actually, politically, I mean, I think the great failure of the Republican Party right now is that there is no successor to Ronald Reagan, and we have not seen Republicans acting like Reaganites. Boy, they certainly didn't act like it when they were in control of Congress. They became big spenders and big pork barrel advocates. And I think that's one of the reasons they lost control of Congress.

And I think the Bush administration has not acted in the Reaganite trend. John McCain has some aspects that remind me of Ronald Reagan, but he certainly is not ideological in the same way that Ronald Reagan was. And I see differently from Roberto. I think this is a problem. I am concerned about this intervention into the market. And only time will tell. Well, probably I, at least, will be probably too old to be able to come back and talk about this when we get away from it far enough to be able to really analyze it.

But frankly, I think this intervention into the market, instead of allowing the market to work as it is intended to work I mean, the great advantage of capitalism is the creative destruction of capitalism. There are winners, but there are also losers. And that kind of market discipline is what makes the market work. We have intervened now. And only time will tell whether or not that intervention was a good or a very bad idea.

BILL MOYERS: I was very skeptical about the bailout. Everyone kept saying, of course, that you have to intervene to save the system. Because if the system goes down, there's no hope for anything. But who's not benefiting from the bailout?

ROBERTO LOVATO: If you look at the way that the politicians and the treasury, people in the treasury, and some of the, even the media are talking about it, they're talking about Main Street. And that seems to me to be code for middle class and up.

We're not talking about the poor, the people that live on Cesar Chavez Boulevard or Martin Luther King Way, as Nancy Pelosi quoted me in her recent speech on the bailout that was so controversial. And we're not talking about issues that affect poor people that are renters, people that are holding two jobs, people that are having kids and wondering what's going to happen to their kids' schools, to their kids' future.

BILL MOYERS: Linda, does the market, as you were talking about a moment ago, serve those people that Roberto's talking about?

LINDA CHAVEZ: I think it serves them far better than the kind of government programs that in the past have been aimed at helping them. I do think that a rising tide lifts all boats. And in fact, certainly, that's one of the things that the Clintons talked about, in fact. The expansion of jobs, the expansion of the economy in the 1990s. It also happened in the 1980s. We saw that kind of expansion. And I think that did help move poor people.

My concern, particularly with what a President Obama would do, is to try to get government involved in trying to lift these boats, in trying to, you know, reach the people, Roberto, that you're talking about. He has lots of programs in his tax policy that would be refundable tax credits, that would really be Uncle Sam writing a check to people who don't pay any taxes. These are not tax cuts, because it's being given money being given to people who don't pay taxes.

BILL MOYERS: The earned income tax credit?

LINDA CHAVEZ: The earned income tax, the expansion of that. All of that, I think if it dampens the free market, if it dampens the ability of those with money to invest in creating jobs will, I think, in the ultimately not work to the benefit of the poor and will, in fact, make the economy what we had in the 1970s, which was high inflation, high interest rates, and high unemployment.

ROBERTO LOVATO: I can't really say that my interpretation of history is the same. This started in the 1970s, with Carter, in fact. And that Carter, Reagan, Clinton there's been a consistent line to, that brought us to the present. You can't just lay this on George Bush or Ronald Reagan. Because if you look at say, Robert Rubin, who's one of Obama's advisors right now, he's putting up the same free marketeering fundamentalism that the Reagan people put out.

BILL MOYERS: You wrote a couple of weeks ago that you have some real, you're really skeptical about Obama on key progressive issues. What worries you about him?

ROBERTO LOVATO: What worries me about him, first and foremost, is the move to Afghanistan as a replacement for Iraq. I think that was a way to communicate to big military-industrial interests that make trillions of dollars. That, hey, your interests are going be okay. I think he's not talking about the true depths of the economic problems of the country, and what the effects are. Like that telling silence when they're both asked, "What are you going to cut?"

They don't really want to tell us, because they know how devastating it's going to be. They know what was on those balance sheets before we did. We still don't know. And if they're not talking about the prison gulag that we have developing in the United States, and they're surely not talking about the immigration part of that gulag, which is of great concern to a lot of Latinos.

LINDA CHAVEZ: I think no one has really looked at the impact of the crackdown on the illegal immigration and what role it has played, both in the housing bust, and in the turn in the economy.

You know, immigrants are, in many respects, including illegal aliens, they're like the canaries in the mine shaft. They tell us, they give us early warning signals that there are problems. You know, most people in this country, I think, would believe that illegal immigration right now is at an all time high.

In fact, it's not. It's about half what it was at the peak period, which was in 1995 to 2000. So, you know, I actually believe that what you're seeing in terms of the illegal immigration issue, a lot of the people who were here, working hard, very productive folks, were trying to get a foothold, trying to get a slice of the American dream. And many of them actually did try to buy houses, and some of them did succeed in buying houses. When you had this crackdown, that's sort of they were many of the people in these sub-prime loans. That was the beginning.

BILL MOYERS: But you're thinking about why immigration never came up in any of the debates. There was one small reference to it this week. But before that, neither McCain nor Obama were discussing immigration in the debates. Why do you think that's so?

ROBERTO LOVATO: Well, I think this is an area where Linda and I have some agreement. I wouldn't call people illegal aliens, because I think that term's loaded and very ideological. And problematic and dehumanizing to boot. But I think there's a, there's an unstated consensus between the two candidates not to talk about an issue that they don't see any political benefit in.

And, in fact, they have very similar positions that, prior to the latter part of the campaign, they both had similar positions. They both supported some form of the McCain-Kennedy bill, which, for a lot of people, is a good bill. But for some of us, it's not. Because I've read that law. And the McCain-Kennedy bill had, it was 800 pages, 700 pages of which were primarily about putting more children in jail, more families in jail, more stuff that's going to facilitate more raids, stuff that's going to kill more people in the desert.

LINDA CHAVEZ: We could end illegal immigration, basically, tomorrow, if we enacted policies, immigration policies that were market-based, Roberto, that did take a look at our need for labor in this country, that allowed enough people to come in to fill jobs that Americans will not take, or even if they take them, will not stay in.

I mean, we've seen all these raids in some of the meat processing plants. When those companies have gone out and actually hired the American-born, what they find is, yes, they show up for work the first day. Many don't the second day, and by the end of the week, they're gone.

And so, these are jobs that we need doing in this society. Not all jobs can, in fact, be shipped overseas. And other people who want to do them. And we ought to have a policy that is attuned to what's going on in the economy. When you have high unemployment, you're not going to bring in a lot of new people. But when you have low unemployment, you should.

BILL MOYERS: This puts you at odds with the conservative base of the Republican Party. And, of course, this has been a dilemma for John McCain, who was for the kind of reform policy you're talking about until he got the nomination. And then, rather than alienate that base, he's been quiet about it. How's this going to cut in the election?

LINDA CHAVEZ: I think the whole debate on illegal immigration was largely manufactured. I mean, I wrote columns about this. I think talk radio had a lot to do with it, cable news had a lot to do with it. Lou Dobbs inveighing every night against illegal aliens had a lot to do with it.

So I think that if you look at public opinion polls in 2002, not that long ago. We're not talking about ancient history. Immigration didn't even rate as one of the top issues among Americans. So I think it was largely manufactured. Illegal immigration is down. I think it will largely disappear.

The biggest challenge is going to be, I don't think you're going to see a push for increasing the number of people brought in legally if you've got high unemployment. So I think we're going to probably see that forestalled.

ROBERTO LOVATO: I would agree. I think that it is manufactured. But I think it's manufactured in a way to disguise the real problems in our life right now, which is the death of sovereignty. Right? Who is the real sovereign? It used to be the king. Then it was the citizen. Now it's the corporate citizen. And so, who better to blame for the end of our sovereignty than a border crossing, illegal alien?

LINDA CHAVEZ: You know, the right wing gets rightfully blamed for a lot of the nasty rhetoric. But the whole population control movement is at the heart of the immigration control movement in this country. Groups like the Federation for American Immigration Reform, The Center for Immigration Studies, all of these groups grew out of anti-population groups, zero population groups, negative population growth, all of these groups. So there is a segment on the left that is also deeply anti-immigrant.

ROBERTO LOVATO: The irrationality that Linda's talking about, I think is rooted in the irrationality of the market, the irrationality of the political moment right now. Irrationality has taken hold of our lives.

If you look at the market, the people that are running our economy don't know what they're doing. It's obvious. They let one company die, like Lehman Brothers. And they let another survive, like AIG. What is the logic behind it? There is none. There's no logic. And it's naked to all of us. And so, why not embrace the fact that this stuff that's failed. And let's start with a new rationale, a new kind of citizenship that's more global.

LINDA CHAVEZ: Well, I do think part of the problem is, you know, you kept hearing during the AIG issue that it was too big to fail. Well, you know, while I am generally not against regulation, I do think that, you know, our anti-trust laws have been part of the success of capitalism. You don't want to have too much concentration. One of the things I worry about when I look at the financial sector now is that we're having more and more concentration. These banks are going to be too big to fail.

BILL MOYERS: Two big banks, two big auto…


BILL MOYERS: Maybe one auto company, right?


BILL MOYERS: But speaking of irrationality, how do you think race is playing out in this campaign? You wrote a column a couple of weeks ago in which you said that Obama has tried to have it both ways on the race issue, and that race has actually been more of a plus factor for him than a negative one.

LINDA CHAVEZ: I think it is a plus factor for, I think there are a whole lot of Americans, myself included, by the way, apart from my political differences with him, that would love to see a black president. I think it will, you know, I think help move us away from the stain of slavery and the stain of Jim Crow. I think many Americans really want to get to that point. And so, I think that it isn't just that he's getting over 95, 96, 97 percent of blacks supporting him. I think there is a large segment of white America who also finds it very appealing that a black man is running, and that he has a good chance of becoming president.

ROBERTO LOVATO: I think that race is, we're going through a structural adjustment of our economy, but we're also going through a structural adjustment of our ideas about race. We're not in a post-racial society by any means. I think the idea of a post-racial society is dangerous. I think we're in flux, like a chrysalis, in the sense that the black-white paradigm, the black-white dichotomy that defined freedom, that defined democracy in the United States, is over. Clearly, I think Latinos, 45 million of us, are the embodiment of that, if you will. And I think whites in some parts of the United States, especially in the southwest, are having to adjust to the fact that they're minorities.

LINDA CHAVEZ: I disagree with you, Roberto, on what's happened in terms of race. I do think we are in a post-racial era. I think that Barack Obama, who is a biracial man, is more indicative of the future. One of the things about Hispanics is we come in all shades and varieties and colors and races. And in fact, the intermarriage rate is so high, both among Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites, and among Asians and non-Hispanic whites. And so, you've got a kind of truly melting, I mean, I look at my family. I've got everything from, you know, a little redheaded, green eyed grandson, to some very traditionally looking Latino grandchildren. I mean, this is the way America's going. We are intermarrying, working together, living together. And I think that is our future. And I see that as positive.

ROBERTO LOVATO: I look to a positive future, and I have a mixed family, as well. But, and I look at the marriage rates. But I also have to look at imprisonment rates in the United States, something Barack Obama will not talk about. In black America, in Latino America, and in poor white America, there are increasing levels of imprisonment. We're the greatest prison nation on earth now. This happened from the late '70s to the present.

And so, when we talk about a post-racial society, I'll believe it when we have very, a lot fewer people in prison, when the definition of poverty does not have a racial component that's anchoring it.

BILL MOYERS: I was taken with what you said about the great complexity of the Hispanic population of this country. But if you can generalize, what's at stake in this election for what is now called America's majority minority? What's at stake for Hispanics?

LINDA CHAVEZ: Well, I think there are a lot of things at stake. I think immigration is one of the issues, although I think that Roberto and I would agree that there isn't a huge difference between the McCain and Obama's support. I think the economy is far more important. And yes, you're absolutely right, that most Hispanics are registered Democrats and will vote for the Democratic nominee.

But in fact, there is a very patriotic, pro-national defense, conservative on social values segment within the Hispanic community that I think does find voice in the Republican Party. I think that the Republicans have really done themselves great damage by alienating the Hispanic vote. Without that vote, they will not be a majority party in the future.

ROBERTO LOVATO: The Latino party for the GOP is over for perhaps a decade or more. And I think, going back to your question about what's at stake for Latinos, I think you're going to see Latinos increasingly rise up to the call of history in the United States. Latinos will have a fundamental and definitive role in shaping what becomes the United States. And I think we're going to give birth to a more global citizenship.

BILL MOYERS: Linda Chavez and Roberto Lovato, thank you for joining me on the Journal. And we'll see what happens two weeks from now.


LINDA CHAVEZ: Thank you.

BILL MOYERS: Included in the large Latino community we just talked about are millions of people who work very hard for a living at very low wages. And they, in turn, are part of an even larger population that economists call "economically distressed." Translation: barely making a living, barely able to pay for the basic necessities of life, housing, food, medical care, transportation. There are almost 23 million households like that in America, 60 million individuals including 18 million children. They've gone virtually unmentioned in this campaign. Obama and McCain both talk about the middle class. These people are the forgotten class. And my next guest says it's time to bring them into the national conversation.

Michael Zweig teaches economics at the State University of New York at Stony Brook where he also runs the Center for Study of Working Class Life. This report he's just published should be must-reading for Obama and McCain and their circle of advisors from inside Washington and Wall Street.

Welcome to the JOURNAL.

MICHAEL ZWEIG: Thank you very much.

BILL MOYERS: Tell us about the people in your study. What do they do for a living?

MICHAEL ZWEIG: Well, these are people we see every day, we rely on every day. They're cashiers and truck drivers and home healthcare workers. These are people who are janitors. They're just ordinary people who, maybe they're poor but they're not necessarily poor.

What we did is we said let's take a look at the lives of people who really need help and how can we define who they are? How can we understand who these people are? So we started with housing. And we said according to the U.S. government you're not supposed to spend more than 30 percent of your income on housing. Now, I know people said, "Well, that's just nuts. Who can do that?" But that is, in fact, the government standard.

So what we did is we said, we'll take that government standard, which has been around for years, and say let's look at people whose incomes do not allow them to get above the bottom of the housing market without spending more than 30 percent of their income. And that's the numbers that you were just talking about.

BILL MOYERS: Give us a snapshot of their lives.

MICHAEL ZWEIG: Well, you know, some of these people are really having, as you say, a hard time making ends meet. We were talking in our work not only to looking at data, but we were actually talking to workers, and they talk about here's a guy who works in a grocery store, all right? He's a stocker in a grocery store. And he sees people come in who he knows don't have pets and they're buying cat food. Well, they're buying it for themselves 'cause they can't afford anything else. We have people who live and work on Long Island, but they can't afford to live there. They move to Pennsylvania in order to find a place to live. But they're still commuting back to New York to work. We, you know, have people who, when we talk about, well, what about savings, you know? Can you put any money away? And a home healthcare worker who, it came out of her mouth, "Who can afford that?" You know? So these are people who are really at the edge. And we need to talk about them. We need to have economic policies that address their condition and their needs.

BILL MOYERS: You say in here that another million of them are about to lose their homes to foreclosure.

MICHAEL ZWEIG: Well, this foreclosure problem is, of course, at the heart of the Wall Street financial crisis. But people sometimes forget is that that foreclosure problem hasn't gone away, that those junk mortgages were being issued and were being pushed out at an increasing pace until the spring of 2007 when they have a two-year reset, right? When those low terms come into these more onerous terms. So what we're going to see between now and the spring of 2009 is an acceleration of foreclosures in ordinary people's working neighborhoods. And I think that that is something we really need to pay attention to. And that's been totally off the charts, off the board.

BILL MOYERS: Why aren't we hearing about these people in this campaign?

MICHAEL ZWEIG: Well, you know, I think it's hard for the country to get past the language of the middle class. Every politician wants to talk about the middle class. But when you actually hear who they're talking about, they're talking about the bus driver. They're talking about the waitress in the cafeteria where they were eating. They're talking about people who are the janitors, who are picking up the trash out of the wastebaskets in the evening.

Those aren't middle-class people. That's the working class in this country. Most people in this country are working-class people. The work that I've done, it's about 62 percent of the labor force in the United States are just ordinary working people.

BILL MOYERS: But Obama and McCain keep talking about the middle class, the middle class. Are you saying that middle class is already disappearing?

MICHAEL ZWEIG: Well, I'm saying that the middle class is there as professional people, as small business owners, as managers. When we talk often about the disappearing middle class, we're talking about good jobs that are disappearing. But those are working class jobs. It isn't that the working class people are disappearing. The conditions of life of working class people are being pushed down. And that's been going on for 35 years.

BILL MOYERS: You call for more government spending on these people, some $220 billion, in fact.


BILL MOYERS: What would that do?

MICHAEL ZWEIG: Well, the study comes out of a desire to understand the stimulus package. As people may remember in the old days before all this Wall Street stuff was happening, people were talking about a stimulus package that could boost the economy. It could take us more towards full employment.

And the task here was that we took on in the Center for Study of Working Class Life was to design a stimulus package that would take the country towards economic prosperity but would do it in a why that would immediately serve the needs of the low-wage workers in this country or economically distressed workers. So we have a number of $220 billion that is divided into three pieces.

We have one piece of about $60 billion that increases the existing income support programs in the country like the earned income tax credit. This is a program very important. Almost no one ever talks about it. Extending employment compensation, extending food stamps and housing subsidies. That would help that community. And that would put money in their pockets. And they would spend that money. And that would help to stimulate the economy.

The second piece is to send $50 billion to the states. The states are in desperate trouble here in New York, in California, around the country. And what do they do? They cut Medicaid. They cut the programs that are important for working people. So if we could restore those budgets with the requirement that that money be spent on Medicaid and other programs that are beneficial for working people, that would be another part of this stimulus that would also go directly to the people who need it. So that's $110 billion.

The other $110 billion of this stimulus package is checks. Another round of checks. But instead of just sending the checks that was done earlier this year to basically everybody in the country, why don't we just focus that money on the people who really need it? And let's send it to the bottom half of the income distribution. Fifty-five million families in the United States and households-

BILL MOYERS: How many?

MICHAEL ZWEIG: Fifty-five million households.


MICHAEL ZWEIG: That's half. And they make $50,000 a year or less. That's who we're talking about. Send that money out. And we would stimulate the economy. You would have time to get infrastructure projects going, which take a year or two to get going. And when those infrastructure projects are in place, some of these other transfers can be backed off.

BILL MOYERS: But with all due respect, Michael, who's going to buy this? I mean, we're spending $700, $800 billion to bail out the financial system. You've got deficits rising beyond this side of heaven. You've also got the "us versus them" mentality-

MICHAEL ZWEIG: Right, right.

BILL MOYERS: -the person making $51,000 a year doesn't want to help the person making $49,000-

MICHAEL ZWEIG: Forty-nine, yeah.

BILL MOYERS: -right? So, I mean, is this really down to earth? Is this really practical?

MICHAEL ZWEIG: Well, it's first of all, it's what needs to happen. So let's start with that. So-

BILL MOYERS: Oh, that.

MICHAEL ZWEIG: Then let's say, okay, a month ago when we were talking about this is when we were first drafting it and writing it up and coming up with these numbers. People said, $220 billion, that's an impossible sum of money. Well, now we just have $700 billion that's been put on the table. And I'd like to point out that only $250 or $350 billion of that has actually been committed, right? So there's still, of that $700 billion, $350 billion that's left on the table.

Well, fine. Let's take the $350 billion that's already on the table, that's already been committed, and say, you know, instead of waiting around with this $350 billion to see if Wall Street really can use it right, why don't we take $220 billion of it, not the whole $350 billion, just $220 billion and use it in a way that we know right now is going to help the people who need it and is going to boost this economy in a way that is absolutely necessary and vital for the economic health and future of the country.

BILL MOYERS: Here's something that perplexes me and has for some time. You can have a journalist tell the story of these people, as we've done often. You can have a professional economist and professor advocate for them. But why is there no social movement, no effort by either party, by churches, by unions, by others to organize these people to help give them the muscle that they need to have the government pay attention?

MICHAEL ZWEIG: Well, there is. There is a very substantial labor movement still in this country. And as weak as it is and as limited as it is compared to what it has been in the past, there's still 13 million people or 14, 15 million people in the United States who are in unions, whether they're in AFL-CIO or in Change to Win or independent unions. There are immigrant rights organizations. There are church groups all around the country who are taking up these questions. And I think that we will see in this next round after the election, I think quite a bit more activism as people have aspirations for what the future will be like. And they will, let's hope, get active.

BILL MOYERS: But both parties see these people as voters but not constituents for the permanent coalition of governing. The next president, Obama or McCain, most likely will turn his attention to the middle class, as you say, to the financial system. And what happens to these people if they don't have muscle?

MICHAEL ZWEIG: Well, they suffer. That's what happens. And until there is organization that comes from below, that comes from the bottom, it's going to be very difficult in people's lives. And we know that is true. And I think when we did this study, one thing that we did in addition to looking at data, census data, is we made a point to go to the organizations that represent and mobilize the economically distressed on Long Island - the Long Island Federation of Labor, the Workplace Project, and Jobs with Justice. And we asked for meetings with their members. And we went and we discussed this with those people in order to not only learn what the reality of life is but also to develop a constituency and to develop some organizational capacity and let's see where it goes.

BILL MOYERS: Why do you call them economically distressed instead of that old term we used to us, you and I when we were younger, the working poor?

MICHAEL ZWEIG: The working poor. Well, that's a good question. And that's something that we learned in doing this study.

What we found out in talking to low-wage workers, is nobody wants to be low wage. Nobody wants to be poor or thought to be poor or called poor. So where we came up in the course of these conversations was that the heart of the matter was distress, that people are living a life of distress, you know? There's SOS signals going out. And so we said, well, let's talk about economically distressed workers

BILL MOYERS: But the reality is that far more people than these are hurting today. I mean, except for relatively few people at the top, there's a lot of pain in this country-


BILL MOYERS: -right now and fear as we are sinking into this recession.


BILL MOYERS: So why do you think you can organize the larger population to look at the problems of the smaller, more distressed population?

MICHAEL ZWEIG: Well, that's a task of first mobilizing that distressed population so that there is power there that people will pay attention to. But I also think that it's important for people who are in relatively better circumstances, professional people, let's say, to understand that we need to push back with allies of our own and with a social force that's powerful enough to put limits around what the corporate elite has been doing for 35 years and wants to do more of.

BILL MOYERS: One reason I want people to read this is because you go on to make a strong case for something more than these direct payments of an immediate stimulus. You talk about fundamental structural reform, universal healthcare, collective bargaining rights, better schools.


BILL MOYERS: That's the long-term-

MICHAEL ZWEIG: Right, right. The immediate needs are of the sort that we've been talking about here with this stimulus package. But just because people have a job doesn't mean that they're out of the woods.

Almost all of these economically distressed workers actually do have jobs and they work full time all year round. And they just don't make enough money. And they don't have healthcare. And they don't have good enough education for their kids. One of the things that we found in these conversations that was so interesting and so moving was the hope for the future that these workers had for their children.

So what we talked about was the need to go beyond just the immediate fix, as difficult as that is, to look at some of the more structural issues like universal healthcare programs, like having workers be able to be in unions. So in the United States today polls show that something on the order of 55 or 60 percent of workers want to be in a union if you ask them, "Do you wanna be in a union?" But only 12 percent are, right? Well, that's management resistance. And that's why something like the Employee Free Choice Act, for example, which is there to help workers more easily organize unions in the face of management opposition and more easily get to an actual contract, that's a very important structural reform.

BILL MOYERS: You go on to talk about a number of those. Do these people vote?

MICHAEL ZWEIG: Yes, they do.

BILL MOYERS: Will they vote two weeks from Tuesday?

MICHAEL ZWEIG: I have no idea. But people do vote. And working people vote. And, as a matter of fact, union households vote more than non-union households.

BILL MOYERS: Michael Zweig, I want to thank you for joining me on the Journal.

MICHAEL ZWEIG: It's been a pleasure. Thank you very much.

BILL MOYERS: Many years ago one of my mentors, Arkansas Congressman Brooks Hays, used to tell of a constituent who was asked how she intended to vote on Election Day. "Oh," she replied, "I never vote. It only encourages them."

That skepticism may be justified but it's certainly not fashionable this year. Voter turn out all across the country is expected to be at record highs.

But another kind of skepticism is in order... when you vote, will your vote be counted? Since the fiasco in Florida in 2000 and the questions about Ohio in 2004, fears abound about the security of our election system.

Just this week, Common Cause and two other public interest groups issued a 50-state report card titled, "Is America Ready to Vote?" It says that vast improvements have been made in voting technologies and procedures but warns that many states still are not ready.

To help us navigate this electoral minefield, I'm joined by Mark Crispin Miller, He's a leading media studies scholar at New York University, where he's teaching a course this semester on "How to steal an election."

His new book, LOSER TAKE ALL: ELECTION FRAUD AND THE SUBVERSION OF DEMOCRACY 2000-2008, offers a twelve-step program to save democracy.

Mark Crispin Miller, welcome.

BILL MOYERS: You grew up in Chicago where, it is famously said, four out of every two votes are cast Democratic, right? And whereas we learned in 1960 you never count the votes of the deceased until you know how many need, right? So you have some experience with what can go wrong in elections. What can go wrong this election?

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: Well, it's certainly true that election fraud has a long history in this country. And it's happened on both sides. But I'm afraid that what we've seen in this decade, in this century is unprecedented. What I worry about for this upcoming election specifically is two sets of activities. One is vote suppression. Vote suppression is a fairly traditional kind of activity.


MARK CRISPIN MILLER: Well, it means various dirty tricks and tactics and legal devices used to shrink the size of the electorate before Election Day. So here we're talking about, for example, interfering with registration drives or making them vulnerable to partisan challenges or passing laws requiring certain kinds of documentation at polling places. You know, stuff that harks back to Reconstruction and the Jim Crow laws. Caging voters, which is sending them registered letters with forms that if they don't fill them out, their names will be stricken from the voter rolls. Voter purges. There's a whole huge menu of extremely ingenious devices now being used I think with unprecedented brazenness to try to make the electorate as small as possible in advance of Election Day.

BILL MOYERS: Why would anybody want to make the turnout small?

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: Well, if the large turnout might go against your own particular interests, it makes a certain sense to try to see to it that those voters can't vote. That's one set of activities that I worry about.

BILL MOYERS: The other?

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: Well, the other is what we call election fraud. This means using the computerized voting systems which we now have in place in at least 80% of the country. Precisely because it is so technical and it's so opaque and it's all run by private companies, private companies that have close ties to the Republican Party, the use of this kind of voting apparatus is extremely worrisome and something that we should be watching very carefully.

BILL MOYERS: I talked the other day to the former lieutenant governor of Iowa who said that she thinks they have an ideal system out there because they have a two-step system where you fill out a paper ballot. And then you have it scanned so that you have an electronic check on a paper record and vice versa. It - does that help?

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: Well, I'm afraid it doesn't. I wish I could say yes. There is a big liberal consensus around the idea that optical scanners are the way to go. Basically, there's two kinds of computerized voting systems. One is the paperless type, the DRE so-called, which trades only in electronic signals. There's literally no paper ballot there. Those are the worst. You know, touch screen machines and that kind of thing. We're going to be using those on Election Day in a third of the country. That's a worry. The other kind of machine is the optical scanner, you know, which people are familiar with from having their SATs graded and so on. The problem with optical scanners is that, although they do use paper - I mean, there is paper there, but the fact is that they are just as insecure, just as easily hack-able as the paperless machines.

BILL MOYERS: This is the sort of thing that would lead to fraud, which carries very serious penalties.

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: Well, you would think so. But the fact is that the oversight on this whole system is lax to non-existent. I mean, there are essays about this in "Loser Take All". What we have in this country, for voting purposes, is a system that is nothing short of scandalous. I mean, we don't want a voting system that is so profoundly insecure, you know, when our whole democracy depends on it.

But let me make another point that I think is more important. Any kind of a system that entails secret vote counting has absolutely no place in any country that calls itself a democracy. Whether you're using a paperless machine or whether you're using computerized optical scanners to count paper ballots, in neither case is it possible for citizens from different sides to sit around a table and watch the votes be counted. You know, that may sound old fashioned for some people-

BILL MOYERS: It is old fashioned and time consuming, right?

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: Well, certainly time consuming. I think we could take a couple of days for the sake of democracy to count the votes.

BILL MOYERS: Do you think the capacity for fraud today is greater than it was, for example, in 1948 when one of my mentors, Lyndon B. Johnson, became "Landslide Lyndon" because he was elected to the Senate on the basis of 87 disputed votes in a single county in Texas? Went on to become President of the United States? I mean, is the capacity for stealing an election greater today than it was then?

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: Oh, the capacity for stealing an election is infinitely greater today than it was then. But it does not involve individual voters stuffing ballot boxes. That's what you might call retail fraud, you know? That's old-fashioned voter fraud of the kind that we are now being told - thunderously - is reached epidemic proportions and that ACORN is the main culprit.

BILL MOYERS: What do you make of the ACORN case? I mean, even as we are talking there's an investigation, the Department of Justice, the FBI, they started investigating ACORN. Fox News has been beating the ACORN issue over and again for the last week or so. John McCain brought it up Wednesday night in his debate with Obama, tried to tie Obama to ACORN. What do you make of the ACORN controversy?

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: Well, I make of it what it is a first-class propaganda drive. The entities you've mentioned are all participating in it - Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, John McCain, the McCain campaign, despite the inconvenient fact that John McCain gave the keynote speech at ACORN's annual conference in 2006. We won't talk about that. The fact is that what we're hearing about ACORN is, without exception, false. It is false. ACORN itself flagged the suspicious voter registration forms that caused this whole thing to begin in Las Vegas about ten days ago. It brought those forms to the attention of the secretary of state who then turned around and said, "Ah-ha, evidence that you're conspiring to commit voter fraud."

Well, filling out voter registration forms dishonestly to pick up a couple of bucks, which is what the ACORN volunteers had done, is not voter fraud. What ACORN does is it pays people to register others. So naturally there are people who will turn in funny forms because that's the incentive system, that's a way to make a couple of bucks. And that's why ACORN has been quite scrupulous over the years in going through these forms and then turning in the ones that strike them as suspicious.

BILL MOYERS: And it's done that. I mean, ACORN admits that some of these registration cards are problematic, such as the name "Mickey Mouse." "Mickey Mouse" is registered, and ACORN has pointed that out. The entire Dallas Cowboy football team was registered in Las Vegas, Nevada. So, so that part of the argument is true, right? Some people do fill out bogus registration cards.

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: Yeah. And ACORN turned them in. That's the point I'm making. These are infractions by grass-roots volunteers who do the wrong thing. That's not voter fraud, however. Voter fraud would be if somebody showed up to vote and said, "Hi, I'm Mickey Mouse. May I vote now?" That's not going on.

BILL MOYERS: And does that happen very often?

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: It never happens. Let's just talk statistically about this, okay? As of 2007 the Department of Justice had prosecuted - are you ready for this? This number? 120 cases of voter fraud.

BILL MOYERS: Over what period?

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: Over, well, this is, like four years. Okay? 120 cases. And there were 82 convictions. Now, I think the republic will probably withstand that attack, right? We're talking about voter fraud that's being perpetrated in the tens. And I can tell you, moreover, that not one of those cases of fraud actually involved a person showing up to vote improperly. They were other kinds of fraud. You know, election judges breaking the law and so on.

The point I'm making to you here, Bill - and this is the most important thing I'm going to say to you tonight - is that this is a pretext being used by a party, okay, that is itself committing election fraud and vote suppression on an enormous scale. In other words, we have a party that is itself engaged in disenfranchising, actively disenfranchising millions of Americans. It is itself complaining about a group that is supposedly planning to do the same thing but that isn't doing that at all.

BILL MOYERS: What's the evidence that say the Republican Party is disenfranchising millions of people?

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: Well, first of all, all of these voter purges, the caging of voters, as I described before.

BILL MOYERS: Well, I mean, the Brennan Center report two weeks ago said perhaps hundreds of thousands of people have been improperly purged from the rolls without even knowing about it. But they didn't talk about millions.

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: Well, I, in the aggregate, it does and could easily add up to millions of voters because we're talking about a very, very broad range of devices, you know, both legal and illegal that will have a dramatic effect and that will add up. If hundreds of thousands of people are disenfranchised nationwide simply through voter purges alone, you see? That is significant. If the caging of voters results in the disenfranchisement of another 200,000, 300,000, we're talking here about numbers that definitely do add up, you see, and that make a difference, are meant to make a difference come Election Day.

BILL MOYERS: This term "caging," what's a simple understanding of that?

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: It's really very simple. The Republican Party, in a particular state, will get a list of the names and addresses of Democrats and send them letters that look sort of like junk mail, you know? Often they'll have windows in the envelope, the kind of thing that people are going to be inclined to throw away. And if people don't open those envelopes and take out forms that are in them and fill them out and send them in, their names will be stricken from the voter rolls on that basis. They've also been known to send these kinds of forms to people who are overseas serving in the military. Well, they're not home to check their mail, so if they don't fill out the forms, their names are stricken from the voter roll.

BILL MOYERS: Have we made improvements since the fiasco of 2000 and the shenanigans that allegedly took place in Ohio in 2004? Are things better today, our ability to scrutinize and check this desire to influence the outcome of elections fraudulently?

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: Well, certainly more people are more aroused to try to keep an eye on what's happening. And that's a very good thing. And in this upcoming election we will have an unprecedented voter protection effort being carried out by all kinds of great organizations. That's a good thing. However, I cannot say that the situation has been improved or reformed. It's really only gotten worse because since the theft of the election in 2000, no one has been willing to talk about this issue, and what we're seeing now, I'm afraid, is the upshot of those many years of most of us turning away from this problem.

BILL MOYERS: So what's a voter to do? Here you are talking about voter suppression, intimidation, voter challenges, machines we can't trust. I mean, what do you want voters who are watching to do two weeks from next Tuesday?

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: I think that voters, first of all, should ensure that there be as large a turnout as possible. The larger the turnout, the harder the theft, okay? And what I mean by this is that people themselves should not only turn out to vote, but those who have decided to vote early, should still go out on Election Day itself and go to the polls not to vote, just to be there.

BILL MOYERS: Poll watchers become poll watchers?

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: Well, they can become poll watchers if they so desire. But the point I'm making is we need to see one another out there on that day. It has to be a very large gathering of people, first of all. Second of all, I think that this should be the most vigilantly monitored election we've ever seen. Now, the 2006 election was very heavily monitored. This one promises to be off the charts in terms of vigilance of people-

BILL MOYERS: How? What can a voter do to be a monitor?

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: Well, there's an organization called "Video the Vote",, which is providing people with free cameras. The idea is to interview people who come from the polls and say, "They wouldn't let me vote although I'm registered." Or they'll say, "I pressed the button to vote for Obama, and the light for McCain lit up." You know, this kind of thing happened in over 11 states in 2004. Thousands of people saying this kind of thing happened. We need to gather the evidence that this has happened.

BILL MOYERS: I mean, it's easy to get depressed about this, right? You're suggesting, as I have read your book, that that anger and depression be channeled into something positive as a citizen. Sounds naïve, but that's what-

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: Well, I'm as naïve as you are, Bill, in this regard. Listen, for people who haven't heard the facts about what's been going on, on the election front, to suddenly encounter all the evidence of what's really been happening at every level can be staggering. Okay? So people can feel a little bit despairing about it. That's the last thing in the world I want. Indeed, you know, depression is only anger turned inward, as Freud told us. The fact is that we're talking here about a fundamental right, no, about the fundamental right. This is the right on which all our other rights depend, as Tom Paine said. Nothing is more important than this right. This is the right for which millions of our forebears have shed their blood, have died. This is what keeps us free. Only this. If we lose the right to pick our representatives and to get rid of the government when we don't like it anymore, if we don't have that right, if we don't have that power, we're as good as slaves.

BILL MOYERS: The book is LOSER TAKE ALL, 12 steps to saving U.S. democracy. Mark Crispin Miller, thanks for being with me.


BILL MOYERS: Both PBS and YouTube are part of the "Video the Vote" initiative that Mark talked about. You can learn more about it at our Web site,

On Election Day, take your camera with you when you go to vote, then submit your video, especially if you see any problems. But be careful to respect state laws about filming in or near polling places.

That's it for the JOURNAL, I'm Bill Moyers. See you next week.

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