In this week's JOURNAL, author Thomas Cahill says:
"The crime is secondary. Crime is secondary. There are no millionaires on death row nor will there ever be. Almost everyone on death row is poor. And do you really think that no millionaire ever committed a capital crime? I'm saying that there are certain people that we are willing to offer up, and not others, and they're the people who have no power. We're not killing Dominique Green because he committed murder. We're killing Dominique Green because we want to kill somebody."
But others -- in line with 69% of Americans, according to a Gallup Poll last month -- argue that the death penalty is necessary for the health of society. In an op/ed in the LOS ANGELES TIMES, Ventura County's former District Attorney, Michael D. Bradbury, wrote:
"In our understandable desire to be fair and to protect the rights of offenders in our criminal justice system, let us never ignore or minimize the rights of their victims. The death penalty is a necessary tool that reaffirms the sanctity of human life while assuring that convicted killers will never again prey upon others."
There's been talk all this week about that stunning report from former Senator George Mitchell revealing that Major League Baseball players, including some of the sport's biggest stars, have been using steroids for years. The findings prompted my fellow journalist and friend Dick Starkey to recall an important insight into America by the eminent social critic, Jacques Barzun. A Frenchman by birth, now 100 years old and living in Texas, Barzun, like his illustrious ancestor Alexis de Toqueville, has been a canny interpreter of the American character. "Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America," he once wrote, "had better learn baseball."
So what do we learn about ourselves from the Mitchell Report? That something is flowing through our veins other than red corpuscles. It turns out owners, players and the players' union were complicit in ignoring the growing use of steroids and other illegal drugs in our national pastime. But suppose our national pasttime has become our national pathology? Ours is a society on steroids, and we're as blind as baseball's owners were a decade ago.
In our drugged state, we cheer the winners in the game of wealth, the billionaires who benefit from a skewed financial system -- the losers, we kick down the stairs. We open fire hoses of cash into our political system in the name of "free speech." Television stations that refuse to cover government make fortunes selling political bromides over public airwaves. Pornography passing as advertising assaults our senses, seduces our children, and pollutes our culture. Partisan propaganda gets pumped up as news. We feed on the flamboyance of celebrities. And we actually take seriously the Elmer Gantrys who use the Christian Gospel as a guidebook to an Iowa caucus or a battle plan for the Middle East. In the face of a scandalous health care system, failing schools, and a fraudulent endless war, we are as docile as tattered scarecrows in a field of rotten tomatoes.
As for that war, you may have heard that a quarter of the heavily-armed ‘shooters' working in the streets of Baghdad for the Administration's mercenary Blackwater foreign legion are alleged to be chemically influenced by steroids or other mind-altering substances.
The other day, before Mitchell issued his report, the former pitcher Jim Bouton was holding forth on the importance of a level playing field in the sport at which he had long excelled. Were he playing today, Bouton said, he wouldn't want to lose his livelihood because his competitors had an unfair advantage.
You don't get a level playing field with performance enhancing drugs, any more than you get an honest government with political action committees and bundled contributions, or a fair economy with some derivatives, hedge funds, and private equity managers taxed at rates lower than their janitors. You get a level playing field only when the fans demand it. Suppose people stopped attending games in large numbers, stopped watching on TV, stopped buying the products hyped by the icons. The leveling would happen, or baseball as a money-making business would die. It's not likely to happen. If we can't organize to stop a brutal, bloody war in Iraq, or rectify an economic system that divides us further every day, we can hardly expect collective action from baseball fans.
There was a lesson in George Mitchell's report that I'm not sure even he recognized. The day Americans don't feel strongly enough about the need for level playing fields to fight for them -- the day when cutting corners and seeking an edge become the national pastime -- is the day democracy will be lucky even to find a seat in the bleachers.
Conversing with Bill Moyers on this week’s JOURNAL, Benjamin Barber commented:
"Democracy means pluralism. If everything’s religion, we rightly distrust it. If everything’s politics, even in good politics, we rightly distrust it. But when everything’s marketing and everything’s retail and everything’s shopping, we somehow think that enhances our freedom. Well, it doesn’t. It has the same corrupting effect on the fundamental diversity and variety that are our lives, that make us human, that make us happy. And, in that sense, focusing on shopping and the fulfillment of private consumer desires actually undermines our happiness."
What do you think?
Do you agree with Barber’s take on consumerism?
Do Barber's remarks have a special resonance during the holiday marketing blitz?
If so, how can we as individuals and as a society transcend the commercialism to bring more humanity and "fundamental diversity and variety" to our holiday experience?
In his appearance on this week's BILL MOYERS JOURNAL, legal scholar Sanford V. Levinson suggested that various challenges that face our nation, including political gridlock, can be traced to issues with our 220 year-old Constitution and might best be addressed with a new Constitutional convention. Levinson discussed his vision of such a scenario:
"I would have 700 or so of our fellow citizens chosen at random. Meet for two years, pay them the salary for those two years of a Justice of the Supreme Court [or] United States Senator because they would be fulfilling the highest possible function of citizenship. Give them time to reflect and learn about these issues... The only way you would ever get significant change is if you convince people across the political spectrum... If, on the other hand, you had a convention taken over by single issue zealots, whatever the single issue is, then the most likely thing is that the convention would just break down. People would simply start shouting at one another, and then it would never be ratified."
What do you think?
Do you agree with Levinson that many of America's challenges are rooted structurally in our aging Constitution? As Levinson asks, "Is the Constitution sufficiently democratic?"
Do you think holding another national Constitutional convention would be a good idea? Is it feasible?
If there were to be another Constitutional convention, which issues would you like to see addressed?
Tag(s): America, democracy, governmentTag(s): America, democracy, governmentTag(s): America, democracy, government Posted by Bill Moyers Journal at 11:56 AM|Permalink
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December 14, 2007
Can Only "Screechers" Compete In Today's Political Discourse?
(Photo by Robin Holland)
In his conversation with Bill Moyers on this week’s JOURNAL, MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann addressed critics who liken his brand of editorializing to that of the conservative commentators he decries:
"It's the most vulnerable point because it bothers me, too. The one criticism that I think is absolutely fair [is that] we're doing the same thing. It becomes a nation of screechers. It's never a good thing. But emergency rules do apply... I think the stuff that I'm talking about is so obvious and will be viewed in such terms of certainty by history... I think only under these circumstances would I go this far out on a limb and be this vociferous about it."
What do you think?
Do you agree with those who describe Olbermann as a "Limbaugh for Lefties?" Can "vociferous" remarks --- either from Olbermann or conservative commentators --- contribute constructively to the national discourse?
Is it possible for reasoned, even-handed journalism to compete in today's marketplace of ideas?
Does the political polarization of news outlets as seen in cable news, blogs, talk radio, etc. undermine the potential for Americans of differing views to find common ground?
I tell my students at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism that reporters shouldn't make predictions because if they turn out to be wrong, the reporter loses credibility. But I'm throwing caution to the wind to make some predictions about Tuesday's FCC vote, anyway:
Despite opposition from members of his own party, Martin will press ahead and have the full FCC vote on his plan.
The first prediction is a no-brainer: At a committee hearing on Thursday, December 13, Senators from both parties pressed Martin to delay the vote, but the FCC chairman didn't budge.
The second, third, and fourth are gimmes, as well: At hearings in both the House and Senate, the FCC's other Republicans argued in favor of lifting the ban on newspapers owning broadcast outlets, while the minority Democrats kept up their opposition.
The lawsuits are likely, as well. Newspaper publishers and broadcasters have complained that Martin's proposal sets two different standards for newspapers that want to buy radio and TV stations: Those in the nation's 20 largest cities would have an easier time of it than those in smaller markets, they say. (The FCC's two Democrats and public-interest advocates say the distinction is meaningless and all papers would be able to get into the broadcasting business under Martin's plan.) Those public-interest groups, meanwhile, are almost certainly contemplating how they might repeat the legal victory they scored (pdf) the last time a Republican-dominated FCC tried to loosen media-ownership rules in 2003.
The bottom line: This story won't end with the FCC vote on December 18. So stay tuned.
Dr. Ronald Walters, in his interview with Bill Moyers this week, explains that he believes some African Americans have not embraced the Presidential candidacy of Barack Obama because the Senator is focused on a national middle ground, and thus unable to highlight the core issues of the African-American community. Walters states:
Barack Obama has to maintain that middle. And, therefore, he has to marginalize, to a great extent, over hot button racial issues...
...His campaign has said that, "We have to continue to develop our base in the white community. We have, therefore, to continue to make them comfortable with the idea of your candidacy. We can't do that if we're going to bring up these hot button racial issues."
What do you think?
Can a Presidential candidate, searching for a multi-racial national base in order to be elected, avoid alienating his/her own minority base?
New Media, Political Discourse, and the 2008 Elections
(Photo by Robin Holland)
In her conversation with Bill Moyers this week, Kathleen Hall Jamieson has this to say about some of the impact of the Internet on the political process:
"There’s more information available than there ever has been, and it’s more easily retrievable. So we can, within minutes, locate candidates’ issue positions, contrast them to other positions, search news interviews with the candidates where they’re held accountable for discrepancies between past and current positions… And you can hear in the candidates’ own voices their arguments for those issue positions, sometimes at great length – greater than you’re going to find in ads or greater than you’re going to find in news."
"Given our grand tradition of religious tolerance and liberty, some wonder whether there are any questions regarding an aspiring candidate’s religion that are appropriate. I believe there are."
This is a debate with deep historical roots that has long defied easy categorization into "left" vs. "right" terms. While some liberal figures - like Jimmy Carter - have embraced linking religious principles to their political values, a number of conservative statesmen have taken stands arguing for the stringent separation of church and state. In 1981, Republican U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater said:
"On religious issues there can be little or no compromise. There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God's name on one's behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both.
I'm frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in 'A,' 'B,' 'C' and 'D.' Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of 'conservatism.'"
(For more on Barry Goldwater and Bill Moyers' interview with Goldwater staffer Victor Gold, click here)
What do you think?
Is it acceptable to ask candidates questions about their religious faith? If so, which questions?
Is it appropriate for a candidate to promote, as Mike Huckabee has, their religious viewpoints as part of their appeal?
What is the proper relationship between candidates’ religion and their decisions when they reach office?
In 1988, Bill Moyers sat down with noted historian Barbara Tuchman to discuss politicians, advertising and whether our country has learned from the Vietnam War. An advocate of the notion that it's worth knowing where we've been, Ms. Tuchman, throughout her distinguished career, examined the changes in America since the days of Washington, Adams and Jefferson.
Now almost 20 years after their conversation, on the brink of a new Presidential election, Ms. Tuchman's words still ring true and inform the discussion of how technology has affected American politics and the candidates we elect.
In his conversation with Bill Moyers on the JOURNAL this week, Israel Policy Forum analyst M.J. Rosenberg had the following to say about U.S. policy toward Israel and the Palestinians:
“There are lots of right-wingers, hard-liners in the Jewish community, within the Jewish lobby, that are not comfortable with a Palestinian state or with the United States promoting a Palestinian state... they're involved in politics in both parties... hard-liners in the Jewish community give campaign contributions based on that issue… If you’re virulently anti-Palestinian, you’re anti-Israel, because there’s no peace for Israel, no security for Israel unless there’s security and statehood for the Palestinians. So when people get up there and say ‘no Palestinian state, the Palestinians are terrorists, the Muslims are a terrible threat to us all,’ that jeopardizes Israel’s future.”
What do you think? Do you agree with Rosenberg’s analysis?
What policy should the U.S. adopt towards Israel and the Palestinians?
For those of you on the free trade beat, Senate Democrats and Republicans yesterday overwhelmingly approved a trade deal with Peru, handing President Bush "an unusual victory," says THE NEW YORK TIMES, yet it remains to be seen whether the deal will serve as a catalyst for similar agreements in Latin America and Asia.
The Peru deal passed the House in November, though by a slimmer margin, after both parties reached a late compromise. As Speaker Pelosi explains after the vote:
Today, the House built upon President John F. Kennedy’s legacy of free trade by passing an agreement that promotes both free and fair trade. The Peru Free Trade Agreement represents a remarkable breakthrough because Democrats were able to secure enforceable, basic labor rights and environmental standards in the core text of a free trade agreement.
Today's action by the Senate also marks the approval of the first free trade agreement that fulfills the May 10 bipartisan trade agreement with Congress by incorporating enforceable labor and environmental standards. I look forward to signing this legislation into law and urge Congress to promptly consider and approve our other pending free trade agreements, starting with Colombia, which would be important to the stability of the region, and including Panama and South Korea.
What do you think?
Will passage of the Peru agreement affect pending trade deals with Panama, South Korea and Colombia?