" /> Bill Moyers Journal: August 2008 Archives
Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Photo of Bill Moyers Bill Moyers Journal
Bill Moyers Journal
Bill Moyers Journal
Watch & Listen The Blog Archive Transcripts Buy DVDs

« July 2008 | Main | September 2008 »

August 29, 2008

Are Demographics Destiny?

(Photo by Robin Holland)

This week on the JOURNAL, political analysts Merle and Earl Black discussed the importance of demographics in predicting and understanding voting patterns in different states and regions.

Earl Black said:

“Well, you can't understand the nation just by looking at national outcomes. Because America's too diverse.'”

Campaigns have long devoted resources to targeted advertising, but in recent years they have begun using sophisticated marketing techniques to engage niche demographic groups with messages tailored specifically for them.

In an interview with FRONTLINE, WASHINGTON POST reporter Thomas Edsall described the Republicans’ “metrics” system of targeted outreach in 2000 and 2004:

“[They] took Nielsen lists and then consumer data lists. You can buy all kinds of lists of how you use your American Express card and VISA card. Every time you swipe it, it goes into a data bank. And what you buy, what your habits [are] -- they then would get those lists for people. You have 200 million people on these lists that you can buy. You then survey these lists politically and find out who is a Republican. Then you do correlations on -- for example, people who have caller ID on their phones tend to be Republicans. People who drink Coors beer tend to be Republicans. People who watch Fox News tend very much to be Republican. You get all these flags … and then you would find ways to then start targeting people, no matter where they lived.”

Senator Barack Obama’s campaign has deployed an even more sophisticated system for 2008, according to SALON writer Mike Madden:

“The 5 million people on Obama's e-mail list are just the start of what political strategists say is one of the most sophisticated voter databases ever built. Using a combination of the information that supporters are volunteering, data the campaign is digging up on its own and powerful market research tools first developed for corporations, Obama's staff has combined new online organizing with old-school methods of voter outreach to assemble a central database for hitting people with messages tailored as closely as possible to what they're likely to want to hear. It's an ambitious melding of corporate marketing and grassroots organizing that the Obama campaign sees as a key to winning this fall... It means the campaign may not wind up wasting time contacting people who are probably voting for McCain, and that when Obama aides or volunteers go out looking for supporters, they have a pretty good idea of what issues those potential supporters care about most.”

What do you think?

  • Are your political views predictable based on your age, background, and consumer choices?

  • Does targeted outreach to tell niche voters what they want to hear undermine citizens’ ability to understand different viewpoints and reach compromise on issues?


  • POLL: Did The Democratic National Convention Address Your Concerns?

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with NATION editor Katrina Van Heuvel and political science scholar Adolph Reed, Jr. about what issues the Democratic National Convention addressed - and which ones it didn't.

    What issues are on top of your agenda? How would you rate the convention speakers' handling of them?


    Bill Moyers Essay: Labor Day

    In observation of Labor Day, BIll Moyers shared these thoughts on the JOURNAL this week:
    Update Required

    Sorry in order to watch this video clip you need the latest version of the free flash plug in. CLICK HERE to download it and then refresh this page.

    We invite you to respond in the space below.

    August 22, 2008

    Will Capitalism Bring Democracy To China?

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    Conversing with Bill Moyers on this week’s JOURNAL, journalist Philip Pan discussed the situation on the ground in China and the prospects for democratization of its infamously authoritarian government.

    “I think we have this assumption in the West that capitalism, that free markets lead to free societies, that capitalism will lead to democracy in China, that it’s almost an automatic process. Once income levels reach a certain level there, that this political [change] is going to happen in China, just as it did in other parts of the world. My argument would be that it’s not automatic, certainly. We’ve seen 30 years now of strong economic growth, and the [Communist] Party is arguably stronger now than it has been ever in these past 30 years. The Party has been able to use capitalism to strengthen its hold on power.

    At the same time, though, the party has retreated in many ways. People have much more personal freedom than ever before. Because so many people have been lifted out of poverty, they have many more options in life. So it’s a mixed picture, but I think it would be naïve for policy makers to assume that this is going to be an automatic process, that we just have to continue to trade with China and the political change is just going to happen.”

    What do you think?

    Will trade with capitalist democracies transform China into a democratic state?

    What is the relationship between democracy and capitalism?


    UPDATE: Alive in Baghdad: Iraqi Children Speak Out

    UPDATE: Brian Conley, of Alive in Baghdad, has recently been detained by the Chinese authorities while reporting on pro-Tibet demonstrations in Beijing. Family members, who have not heard directly from Brian, believe that he has recently been sentenced to 10 days of detention for "upsetting public order".

    Read more at The New York Times and Boing Boing.

    And read more about China and human rights here.


    This week on THE JOURNAL, NPR's Deborah Amos, just back from Damascus, explains:

    I keep saying I cover Iraq - I just don't ever go there. But to do Lebanon, Jordan and Syria is essentially to cover Iraq, because the issues that are roiling Iraq are the same issues that now are playing out. Everything is hooked to everything else.

    And according to a recent mid-year review by the International Organization for Migration:

    Iraq is experiencing the worst human displacement of its history, with almost 2.2 million persons displaced within its borders and an additional two million who have fled the country to the surrounding region. This mass displacement is fast becoming a regional and ultimately international crisis.

    To help put a face to the refugee crisis, check out this video courtesy of the viewer-supported video blog “Alive In Baghdad,” which features journalism from Iraq and its neighbors.

    watch video with:

    QUICKTIME Small | Large
    WINDOWS MEDIASmall | Large



    Special thanks to Brian Conley of Small World News.


    Poll: Are Extravagant Conventions Appropriate In Hard Times?

    This week, the JOURNAL visited Denver’s suburbs ahead of next week’s lavish Democratic National Convention to look at how ordinary families are faring behind the election-year hoopla.

    Resident Marsha Brown said:

    “At first I thought the food bank program was for homeless people, but [I've] come to find out it's for regular people that fall on hard times.”


    We invite you to discuss in the space below.


    Michael Winship: Cash Register Conventions

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    Below is an article by JOURNAL senior writer Michael Winship. We welcome your comments below.

    Cash Register Conventions
    By Michael Winship


    Another humid August, a long time ago, and I was working in my father’s small town drugstore, the last summer before my first year of high school.

    Today, cash registers are as computerized as ATM’s and tell you everything instantly, from the change owed and the status of inventory to the date, time and wind chill factor in Upper Volta.
    Back then, they were electrically powered at least, but you still had to do a lot of the calculating in your head, which is why my dad tended to keep his not-so-mathematically-inclined son in the back of the store, away from the receipts. With my nimble fingers on the register keys, I was capable of trying to charge you $1,398.06 for a pack of Camels.

    (I wasn’t allowed to sell condoms or razor blades either, but that wasn’t so much because of my inept and callow youth. They carried a sales commission and it was thought unseemly for the boss’ son to traffic in something from which the other employees could receive a cash bonus.)

    That summer, New York State and my hometown each instituted a sales tax, a development for which our cash registers were unsuited – they couldn’t calculate percentages. So we had a chart, which we’d consult after ringing up a sale, at which point we’d add on the pennies and nickels of tax and throw them, separately, into shoeboxes.

    Further jumbling this awkward system was the list of what was or was not taxable, some of which seemed to have been determined by rounds of darts in Albany, the state capital. Medicine was not taxable. That made sense. Chewing gum was taxable, unless it was Beeman’s Gum, which was invented by a doctor and contained pepsin – medicinally good for the digestion, so not taxed. Insulin wasn’t taxed either, but the syringes to administer it, were.

    So, in that spirit of trivial complexity and governmental randomness, as the Democratic and Republican conventions begin in Denver and St. Paul, I give you the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007.

    The law, passed in the wake of the Jack Abramoff scandal and the imprisonment of House members Bob Ney and Duke Cunningham (Ney was released just this past Monday), has much to recommend it, outlawing gifts from lobbyists for members of Congress and their staffs. That includes the extravagant parties that trade associations, law firms, advocacy organizations, unions and other lobby groups used to throw at the conventions for the most influential, individual senators and representatives.

    At the 2004 Republican National Convention here in New York City, for example, among hundreds of parties, the American Gas Association sponsored nine gala events, which included a “Wildcatter’s Ball” for Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, then chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Pepsico gave Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist a reception at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Temple of Dendur, which then cost $60,000 just to rent for the night. House Speaker Dennis Hastert got a wingding at Tavern on the Green, bought and paid for by General Motors.

    So change is good. The problem is that many of the new law’s rules are so arcane and convoluted it would take a team of forensic accountants and Talmudic scholars to properly interpret them. The “toothpick rule,” for example, bans Congress members and their aides from accepting a free meal, but they can snarf up as many free hors d’oeuvres as they like – as long as they’re standing up and not sitting down. No forks, no chairs and you may be within the law.

    Unless. The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported one party planner for the Republican convention was told that under the law quesadillas with cheese qualified as legal finger food but including beef or chicken would make them an illicit meal. According to Tuesday’s The New York Times, “Depending on the circumstances, breakfasts are limited to bagels, rolls and croissants, while proteins like eggs are prohibited. What is more, rules differ for events that are deemed to be ‘widely attended’ -- something that has more than 25 diverse attendees but is not a ballgame or a concert…

    “Adding to the complexity, state ethics rules also come into play. If a corporation or trade association has an event where state office holders are invited, the ethics rules of each of their states must be followed.”

    Whew. All hellishly good-intentioned, perhaps, but while those so inclined are distracted by the minutia of cheese vs. pepperoni, there are loopholes in the way the law is interpreted by the House Ethics Committee through which you can drive a Brink’s truck. A corporation or other lobby group can no longer celebrate the achievements of one individual congressperson with a big gala, but an entire delegation can be honored – as long as no specific members are named on the invitations or in the programs or during the speeches.

    So, US Bank and Visa are hosting a party at the Democratic convention for the freshman House Democrats. AT&T, which has given $3.2 million to Federal candidates in this election cycle, and spent millions more on lobbying, is co-sponsoring a party in Denver for the conservative Blue Dog Democrats, just one of more than a dozen parties the telecom is throwing at the two conventions.

    In addition, as per the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, because of exceptions allowed by the Federal Election Commission, “Millions of unregulated dollars are being funneled to the national party conventions through so-called, nonpartisan ‘host committees.’ These committees claim to be helping Denver and the Twin Cities, but they are really just using the sizable donations for political purposes.” This tax-deductible, “soft money” includes the million dollar contributions the Obama campaign has solicited for the skyboxes at Invesco Field during his acceptance speech.

    There will be more than 400 parties and other events at the Democratic and Republican conventions. Corporations and other special interests will contribute more than $100 million. That can buy a lot of influence. Just a few of the others involved: the Nuclear Energy Institute, Allstate, Wachovia, Union Pacific, ConocoPhillips, Molson-Coors, AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly, Qwest, Target, Staples, SEIU, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Interviewed by the San Francisco Chronicle, Nancy Watzman, director of the Sunlight Foundation’s interactive Party Time Project, which is monitoring convention activity, noted, “These are all the same people who have a big lobbying presence in D.C., and they all have major issues before Congress and the executive branch.”

    Amanda Burk, a Denver party planner told The New York Times, “We’re trying to comply with the law and still make sure people get enough to eat.” Ms. Burk, you’ve got nothing to worry about. Unlike the more than 37 million Americans who live below the poverty level, lobbyists and the fat cats they represent will never go hungry. Like water inexorably seeking its level, eroding as it travels, they will find a way.

    My dad wouldn’t have let these guys anywhere near his cash registers.

    Please note that the views and opinions expressed by Michael Winship are not necessarily the views and opinions held by Bill Moyers or BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.


    August 8, 2008

    Bill Moyers Asks: What Should The Next Administration Do About America's Troubles?

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers talked with economist Dean Baker and columnist Bob Herbert about the economy and the political conditions that have contributed to its troubles.

    Bob Herbert said:

    “The class war is over, and we lost... Over the past 30 years or so, Americans’ wages have remained relatively flat. But women went into the workplace, wives and mothers started working. People started putting things on their credit cards. There was a stock market bubble there for a while. We had a housing bubble. People refinanced and stuff. Now, they’re coming up against a wall. They’re not finding a way now to get some extra money to power the consumer economy.”

    Dean Baker suggested that public officials deliberately failed to protect ordinary Americans:

    “All the people who should have been looking out the last six, seven, eight years are all going ‘oh, well, who could have known? Who could have known?’ And they’ll put Alan Greenspan here on a pedestal, because he’s [saying that] he had no idea this was going on. You had to try not to know this was going on. Certainly, someone like Alan Greenspan, our reserve board chair, had all the data I have times a thousand. He absolutely knew what was going on. And he was doing his best to look the other way because you had a lot of big interests who were making a lot of money.”

    Faced with these dire diagnoses, Bill Moyers asked:

    “No matter who wins this election, the next administration will inherit the mess: $10 trillion in debt, two of these wars, stagnating paychecks, growing inequality. What’s the first thing each of you would like to see the next administration do, whether it’s McCain or Obama?”

    What do you think? And, do you expect the next administration to take up any of your suggestions?


    Bill Moyers & Michael Winship: A Novel Approach to Politics

    ABC News’ political blog, “The Note,” points out this week that Paris Hilton is issuing policy statements while John McCain nominates his wife for a topless beauty contest. The world’s turned upside down. Who could blame a person for thinking that chronicling such oddness is beyond the skills of simple journalists? This is a job for the novelists.

    Here, for example, is something straight out of Tom Wolfe’s BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES. Are you ready for this? THE WALL STREET JOURNAL reports that, “At a time when scores of companies are freezing pensions for their workers, some are quietly converting those pension plans into resources to finance their executives' retirement benefit and pay. In recent years, companies from Intel Corp to CenturyTel Inc. collectively have moved hundreds of millions of dollars of obligations for executive benefits into rank-and-file pension plans. This lets companies capture tax breaks intended for pensions of regular workers and use them to pay for executives' supplemental benefits and compensation.”

    Everyone knows we've been living through one of the great redistributions of wealth in American history – from the bottom up. But this takes the cake, because our tax dollars are subsidizing this spectacular round of robbing the poor to pay off the rich. Sad to say, it’s not fiction.

    And how about this: On the campaign trail John McCain has been sounding like Sinclair Lewis’ Elmer Gantry, preaching the gospel of oil drilling. Sure enough, like all other evangelists, who promise heaven and pass the collection plate, the offerings roll in. The website Campaign Money Watch reports that companies lusting to drill off shore have been raining dollars on McCain ever since he saw the light. Earlier this summer, John B. Hess, of Hess Oil, no less, convened his cronies at the ritzy 21 Club here in New York City and collected $285,000 for McCain and the Republican National Committee. And you thought those rallies recently staged in Washington for more oil drilling were just spontaneous gushers of affection from politicians who give billions in subsidies to… big oil companies. Edna Ferber, those strike-it-rich Texas tycoons in your novel Giant would feel right at home.

    Barack Obama’s more the Horatio Alger dime novel type, with his rags-to-riches backstory and his emphasis on the little people who’ve funded his campaign. But not so fast. This is one little David who’s got a lot of corporate Goliaths on his side, too. Big oil has greased the wheels of his campaign machine – albeit far less than John McCain’s – and a third of his contributions have come from donations of $1,000 or more. That translates into 112 million bucks – more, in fact, than John McCain has raised from his rich pals. And although he boasts that he won’t take cash from lobbyists or political action committees registered with the Feds, two thirds of Obama’s high rollers come from sectors with a keen interest in what government can giveth and taketh away – entertainment, real estate, law and securities and investments. Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Lehman Brothers; Obama’s been ringing some platinum-plated doorbells.

    Finally, here's one to send Ayn Rand spinning: The White House projects next year’s federal budget deficit at a record $482 billion, and that’s not counting a possible $25 billion bailout of the mortgage banks Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Or the total costs of fighting in the Middle East, largely kept in the bottom drawer where they’re hard to find. Yet this week, our Government Accountability Office issued a report concluding that by year’s end, the Iraqi government – the regime in power because we put them there – may have a budget surplus as high as $79 billion.
    Iraq, as in “war torn” Iraq. A surplus! Seventy-nine billion after we’ve poured $100 billion a year into that country and more than 4100 American lives – so far. Seventy-nine billion based on the record prices we’re paying at the gas pumps, and they’re not spending it on rebuilding, on getting their electrical systems back on the grid, constructing schools and hospitals and housing, making sure everyone has food and clean water. Between 2005 and 2007, the GAO report says, only ten percent of the Iraqi budget went toward reconstruction of their own country, which means that once again, American taxpayers have been picking up the slack – $48 billion US allocated for reconstruction costs since we rolled into Baghdad more than five years ago.

    By the way, that includes $33 million for a new hotel, office complex and shopping mall at the Baghdad airport. Admittedly, a lot of those billions doubtless line the pockets of American contractors who’ve done little if any of what they were hired to do – and endangered Iraqis and our own troops with shoddy, dangerous workmanship. But remember what former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told Congress back in 2003, before the war? “We’re dealing with a county that can really finance its own reconstruction,” he said, “and relatively soon.”
    Remember, too, what Colin Powell told President Bush before we invaded Iraq – you break it, you buy it. Julius Caesar came, saw and conquered. George W. Bush broke and bought, and we just keep paying, in money and blood, while billions of oil profits pile up in Iraq as “surplus.”


    Ask the Reporters: EXPOSÉ on BILL MOYERS JOURNAL

    This week, BILL MOYERS JOURNAL collaborated with EXPOSÉ AMERICA'S INVESTIGATIVE REPORTS to tell the story of a team of BUSINESSWEEK reporters as they track new corporate practices that some say exploit the working poor.

    We thank reporters Brian Grow, Paul Barrett, Keith Epstein and Robert Berner for taking time to answer your questions about the story. We will post their responses next week.


    August 1, 2008

    Bill Moyers talks with Thomas Frank: Web Exclusive

    Thomas Frank's THE WRECKING CREW, examines corruption in Washington, puts the Abramoff scandal into context. Bill Moyers and Thomas Frank discuss the scandal and Frank’s new book in a Web-exclusive interview.

    Your book describes conservatism as "an expression of American business." Why exclude Democrats? Jimmy Carter triggered the deregulation frenzy. Bill Clinton pushed for NAFTA, signed the Telecommunications Act of l996 which gave the megamedia companies everything they wanted, auctioned off the Lincoln Bedroom, and swooned over Robert Rubin while showing Robert Reich the door. Democratic Congresses were shaking down corporations when George W. Bush was still tipsy in Texas. And who was running Congress during the S&L swindles of the late 80s? Why single out conservatives as the greedy party?

    Democrats can be conservatives too, of course. In fact, certain Democrats' embrace of the free-market faith has been just as consequential as the Republicans' own move to the right. When the Democrats gave up on FDR and came around to the ideology of Reagan, the opposition ceased to oppose.

    But this was the subject of my 2000 book, ONE MARKET UNDER GOD, which discussed NAFTA and the Telecommunications Act at some length. THE WRECKING CREW is an effort to explain the particular species of corruption we see in Washington today.

    Clinton's contributions here were not insignificant, but they were more passive than active. His celebration of outsourcing set up the government-for-profit of the Bush era. His war on federal wages ensured that government would remain an unattractive career option, especially when compared to what's offered by the contractors who are our de facto government today. His failure even to try to reverse certain initiatives of the Reagan years allowed them to harden into permanent fixtures of the Washington scene.

    There are other forms of corruption that are particular to liberalism, and that occur more naturally among Democrats. But by and large, the particular mode of corruption I describe in this book is a Republican invention. True believers in the free-market way invented it and feel most comfortable in it. Most Democrats can be embarrassed by their relationship to lobbyists because publicly they pretend to be the "party of the people"; most Republicans are happy to say they believe in market-based government.

    You go on to write that the political triumph of conservatism has coincided with the rise of the Washington area to the richest rank of American metropolises. But can't it be said that the ascendancy of liberalism turned government into the cornucopia of spending which became a vast feeding ground for predators of all stripes?

    During its heyday, liberalism was often depicted in these terms-as a giveaway to special interests, handouts to organized whiners, pork-barrel projects like the TVA. There may have been some merit to those charges-they aren't my subject in this book so I don't know-but whatever they were, they are as nothing compared to the kind of money presently being sent down the chute to defense contractors and homeland-security operators and so on.

    As for Washington's wealth, it is uniquely a phenomenon of the era of privatization and outsourcing, not of liberalism.

    You seem to dismiss, if not denigrate, the term "culture of corruption." If that doesn't fit the nexus between K Street, the White House, Congress and contract-dispensing federal agencies, what does?

    My problem with the term "culture of corruption" is that the word "culture" is being used generically-to mystify and accuse, not to define. I wanted to get down to specifics: What, exactly, is corrupt about this culture? How did it get that way? What's responsible for it? The Democrats' talk about a "culture of corruption" implies that simply voting for Democrats will fix it; when we know more about this culture we discover that it goes far too deep for such a simple solution.

    You argue that the sprawling spectacle surrounding Jack Abramoff was not just a matter of a "few bad apples." So was the whole orchard rotten?

    It's not the apples, it's the trees themselves. It's systemic. It's structural. It's the logical consequence of the philosophy of government currently in place. It has nothing to do with individuals except for the handful of geniuses who invented it all.

    I read the muckraker David Graham Phillips, whom you quote in your book. A hundred years ago he was writing about The Treason of the Senate when the biggest names in the world's "greatest deliberative body" were serving "interests as hostile to the American people as any invading army could be, and vastly more dangerous; interests that manipulate the prosperity produced by all, so that it heaps up riches for the few; interests whose growth and power can only mean the degradation of the people." Ralph Nader couldn't say it better. So what's new?

    Morally, those sentiments are right on-target. What's new is (a) the unthinkable is back; (b) it's infinitely more complex; and (c) it's ideological. The Vanderbilts had their own U.S. Senator because that way they could grab more, but the people doing it today are motivated at least partially by ideology. They have a theoretical justification for what they've done: the market is always and in every case better than the bureaucracy.

    What's more, many of the people I describe in the book understand themselves as crusaders against corruption. They think *they* are the muckrakers, demanding more and more deregulation or privatization. Government should get out of the marketplace altogether. By what right does it regulate insider trading or price fixing? Get off our backs!

    You require several pages - riveting pages, I will admit - to describe a "fantastic misgovernment." Distill the essence of it for a bumper sticker or t-shirt.

    Bad government is the natural product of rule by those who believe government is bad.

    Or: Cynicism spawns corruption, which spawns cynicism.

    Or: Bring back the regulators before the system self-destructs.

    Conservatives are fond of writing op-eds and going on television to say, "Don't look at us. It was the Republicans!" Are we really talking about a colossal case of mistaken identity here? Were the souls of conservatives actually hijacked and implanted in Republican bodies bought at a local taxidermist shop?

    It is true that not all Republicans are conservatives-we used to have some pretty liberal ones out in the midwest. Also some pretty clean ones, especially in Kansas City, where the Dems were the party of Pendergast.

    But the distinction is constantly abused by conservatives in order to get their movement off the hook when their one-time leaders' numbers plummet. One day Jack Abramoff is their maximum leader; when it's discovered that he's been ripping off his clients, suddenly he's not a conservative anymore. One day George W. Bush is thought to be in daily contact with the Almighty; when his numbers tank, he's an "impostor" who's tricked the movement. They once said the same things about Reagan, incidentally.

    Incidentally, all of this is a basic logical fallacy called "No True Scotsman." Scotsman A says, "No Scotsman puts soy milk on his porridge." Scotsman B says, oh yeah? I know a Scotsman who puts soy milk on his porridge. Scotsman A then replies, "well, no *true* Scotsman puts soy milk on his porridge."

    Many years ago I reported for a documentary on the Iran-Contra scandal - when President Reagan was waging a "secret" war against the Sandinistas and his hirelings in the basement of the White House traded arms for hostages to finance it. In your description of that scandal you write that two great conservative themes converged: "freedom fighters" and political entrepreneurship. Right?

    Yes. The right of those years was infatuated with the idea of "freedom fighters"-the contras in Nicaragua, the mujaheddin in Afghanistan, Jonas Savimbi in Angola, and whatever that brutal gang was called in Mozambique. To conservatives these guys seemed to represent a kind of sixties in reverse, in which the glamorous guerrillas were now on our side. And, yes, they thought Jonas Savimbi was glamorous.

    They supported these figures with entreneurial methods: asking millionaires to contribute to nonprofits which would then buy supplies for the contras (and supplies for the fundraiser); transforming their control of the state into cash (selling weapons to Iran). Their ultimate ambition was supposed to be called "The Enterprise": a foreign policy instrument completely free from the scrutiny of Congress.

    And you think some of what we've seen under this regime evolved - pardon the secular language - from that convergence?

    The entrepreneurship is officially woven into the fabric of the state now: "Government should be market-based," Bush says. Entrepreneurship is what gave you both the catastrophic depopulating of FEMA and the lucrative but ineffectual recovery effort after Katrina. Or look at Iraq, where much of our foreign-policy apparatus is indeed private and is almost completely beyond scrutiny. Try phoning Blackwater and asking them why they do the things they do.

    Two years ago my documentary "Capitol Crimes," which we're repeating and updating this Friday night, reported on how conservatives in Washington ganged up to promote sweat shops on American territory. You devote a chapter to this story and call it Bantustan That Roared." Give our readers a peek into what you mean.

    "Bantustans," or "homelands," were a tool of the apartheid government in South Africa. They were supposedly separate countries in which the black population could be theoretically housed, leaving South Africa proper for the whites. Generally speaking, the bantustans had two industries: casino gambling and low-wage manufacturing. One of them was ferociously libertarian, and much beloved of American conservatives. And they were all propped up ideologically by appeals to racial or ethnic pride.

    Each of these elements was present in Saipan, to one degree or another. The raging libertarianism, the casino gambling, the sweatshop manufacturing-exploiting, in this case, imported Filipinos and Chinese-and the constant use of ethnic pride to excuse the whole rotten thing. I say Saipan "roared" because, while the bantustans pretty much sucked for everyone who lived there, it has been a great success for some.

    Tom DeLay went there with a gaggle of conservatives in two and called the sweat shops "a petri dish of capitalism." How about that for a vision of America's future?

    DeLay was right. That's what we're becoming. Democracy is over. It's rule by money, now: plutocracy, the pre-thirties system.

    What do you make of the fact that Norquist is still riding high, despite the seamy business he carried on of using his organization to funnel money from Abramoff's clients to Ralph Reed? Does his constituency just not care about such things?

    Apparently not. Maybe they think Norquist is just a good entrepreneur. I met him, by the way, and found him a charming and very intelligent man.

    Who are the real casualties of THE WRECKING CREW?

    It's ordinary working people. Thirty or forty years ago, it was possible to work a blue-collar job and enjoy a middle-class standard of living. In fact, it was common. It was the American way. The reason it was so common, though, was because we decided to make it that way and used government as our instrument. That instrument is no longer under our control. Someone else is at the wheel, and they're steering us in a different direction.

    So can good little liberals go to bed at night now and sleep soundly knowing the Good Democrats have slain the monsters and reclaimed the castle?

    No. Unfortunately, the system I describe is part of the landscape in Washington now. It's structural. It's an industry. It's not going down without an enormous fight. Besides, rather than putting away this very profitable game, a lot of Democrats seem excited to try their hand at it.

    (Other Democrats, though, are trying to get to the bottom of things. Some Republicans, too. There used to be one called John McCain that I liked.)

    Years ago the WALL STREET JOURNAL banned subversive - liberal - writers from their editorial pages. Suddenly you pop up as a columnist on the op-ed page. Are you Rupert Murdoch's fig leaf?

    How did it happen? This wasn't supposed to be the Age of Miracles.

    I have never met or spoken to Rupert Murdoch. The editor of their op-ed page is the one who offered me a spot. I was as surprised by the invitation as you are, since one of my previous books was basically an extended commentary on the JOURNAL's opinion page over the course of the 1990s.

    I personally think that one of the reasons I've ended up at the JOURNAL is, ironically, the famous "liberal bias" critique. I've always suspected that one of the reasons I've never been offered a regular, permanent place in any prominent mainstream publication is that everyone in big-media-land is terrified of seeming too liberal, and hiring someone like me would obviously expose them to terrific blasts from the right. Well, one of the only publications in America that is totally immune to that critique is the WALL STREET JOURNAL. Which means they're free to hire me.

    Has living in Washington made you cynical? Or was it the ripping of the veil in "The Wizard of Oz" that destroyed your faith?

    The literature of Washington is, by and large, the literature of cynicism and disillusionment. I wanted to update it for our time. But I prefer the word "skeptical," since I believe good government is possible.

    Please note that the views and opinions expressed by Thomas Frank are not necessarily the views and opinions held by Bill Moyers or BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.

    Bill Moyers & Michael Winship: The Wave of "Capitol Crimes" Continues

    Below is an piece by Bill Moyers and JOURNAL writer Michael Winship. We welcome your comments below.

    The Wave of "Capitol Crimes" Continues
    by Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

    Like the largesse he spread so bountifully to members of Congress and the White House staff -- countless fancy meals, skybox tickets to basketball games and U2 concerts, golfing sprees in Scotland -- Jack Abramoff is the gift that keeps on giving.

    The notorious lobbyist and his cohorts (including conservatives Tom Delay, Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed) shook down Native American tribal councils and other clients for tens of millions of dollars, buying influence via a coalition of equally corrupt government officials and cronies dedicated to dismantling government by selling it off, making massive profits as they tore the principles of a representative democracy to shreds.

    A report earlier this summer from the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform builds on an earlier committee investigation that detailed some 485 contacts between Abramoff and the Bush administration. According to the new report, "Senior White House officials told the Committee that White House officials held Mr. Abramoff and members of his lobbying team in high regard and solicited recommendations from Mr. Abramoff and his colleagues on policy matters."

    Now Abramoff's doing time in Maryland, at a minimum security Federal prison, serving five years and ten months for unrelated, fraudulent business practices involving a fake wire transfer he and a partner fabricated to secure a loan to buy SunCruz Casinos, a line of Florida cruise ships that ferried high and low rollers into international waters to gamble (its original owner, Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis, was gunned down, Mafia-style, in February 2001). But come September, Abramoff will be sentenced for his larger-than-life role in one of the biggest scandals in American history, a collection of outrages that has already sent one member of Congress to jail, others into retirement and dozens of accomplices running for cover.

    Over the last couple of years he has been singing to the authorities, which is why he has been kept in a detention facility close to DC and the reason his sentencing for tax evasion, the defrauding of Indians and the bribing of Washington officials has been delayed -- the FBI is thought to be using Abramoff's testimony to build an ever-expanding case that may continue to shake those who live within the Beltway bubble for months and years to come.

    Bill Moyers Journal is airing an updated edition of "Capitol Crimes," a special that was first produced for public television two years ago, relating the entire sordid story of the Abramoff scandals. Produced by Sherry Jones, the rebroadcast comes at a moment of renewed interest, with not only Abramoff's sentencing imminent, but the most important national elections in decades little more than three months away and continuing, seemingly daily revelations of further, profligate abuses of power.

    Monday saw the publication of a 140-page report from the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility, confirming that, as the Washington Post recounted, "For nearly two years, a young political aide sought to cultivate a 'farm system' for Republicans at the Justice Department, hiring scores of prosecutors and immigration judges who espoused conservative priorities and Christian lifestyle choices.

    "That aide, Monica M. Goodling, exercised what amounted to veto power over a wide range of critical jobs, asking candidates for their views on abortion and same-sex marriage and maneuvering around senior officials who outranked her, including the department's second-in-command... [The report] concluded yesterday that Goodling and others had broken civil service laws, run afoul of department policy and engaged in 'misconduct,' a finding that could expose them to further scrutiny and sanctions."

    With the next day's sunrise came the indictment of Alaskan Republican Ted Stevens, the first sitting US Senator to face criminal charges in 15 years. Apparently, the senator was playing the home version of "The Price Is Right," for among the gifts a grand jury says were illegally rewarded him by the oil company VECO were a Viking gas grill, tool cabinet and a wraparound deck for his mountainside house in Anchorage. In fact, VECO allegedly gave the place an entire new first floor, with two bedrooms and a bath. How neighborly.

    (By the way, just to round the circle, Senator Stevens received $1000 in campaign contributions from Jack Abramoff directly, which subsequently he donated to the Alaskan chapter of the Red Cross, and $16,500 from Native American tribes and others represented by Abramoff, which Stevens gave to other charities.)

    Coincidentally, this week also marks the publication of a new book, The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule, written by Thomas Frank, the author of What's the Matter with Kansas? In an essay in the August issue of Harper's magazine, adapted from the book, Frank adroitly weaves the actions of Abramoff and his pals into a vastly larger ideological framework.

    "Fantastic misgovernment is not an accident," he writes, "nor is it the work of a few bad individuals. It is the consequence of triumph by a particular philosophy of government, by a movement that understands the liberal state as a perversion and considers the market the ideal nexus of human society. This movement is friendly to industry not just by force of campaign contributions but by conviction; it believes in entrepreneurship not merely in commerce but in politics; and the inevitable results of its ascendance are, first, the capture of the state by business and, second, what follows from that: incompetence, graft, and all the other wretched flotsam that we've come to expect from Washington.

    "... The conservatism that speaks to us through its actions in Washington is institutionally opposed to those baseline good intentions we learned about in elementary school. Its leaders laugh off the idea of the public interest as airy-fairy nonsense; they caution against bringing top-notch talent into government service; they declare war on public workers. They have made a cult of outsourcing and privatizing, they have wrecked established federal operations because they disagree with them, and they have deliberately piled up an Everest of debt in order to force the government into crisis. The ruination they have wrought has been thorough; it has been a professional job. Repairing it will require years of political action."
    Have we the stamina, commitment -- or even the attention span -- to take such action? Abramoff may be cooling his heels in minimum security but his pals Delay, Norquist and Reed appear on television and radio whose hosts treat them as political savants with nary a nod to their past nefarious association with Abramoff. Few in the audience seem to notice or care. Former House majority leader Delay's awaiting trial on money laundering charges, and the incorrigible Ralph Reed, who played Christian pastors in Texas for suckers in enlisting their unwitting help for Abramoff's gambling clients, even has a political potboiler of a novel out -- Dark Horse, the story of a failed Democratic presidential candidate who finds God, then runs as an independent, funded, presumably, by the supreme being's political action committee.

    "Do we Americans really want good government?" That's a question asked, not by Thomas Frank, but the muckraking journalist Lincoln Steffens, writing more than a century ago in his book, The Shame of the Cities. He wrote, "We are a free and sovereign people, we govern ourselves and the government is ours. But that is the point. We are responsible, not our leaders, since we follow them. We let them divert our loyalty from the United States to some ‘party;’ we let them boss the party and turn our municipal democracies into autocracies and our republican nation into a plutocracy. We cheat our government and we let our leaders loot it, and we let them wheedle and bribe our sovereignty from us."

    From more than a hundred years' distance, Steffens would recognize Abramoff & company for what they are. And we for who we are; a nation too easily distracted and looking the other way as everything rightfully ours is taken.


    Bill Moyers is managing editor and Michael Winship is senior writer Bill Moyers Journal,


    THE MOYERS BLOG
    A Companion Blog to Bill Moyers Journal

    Your Comments

    Podcasts

    THE JOURNAL offers a free podcast and vodcast of all weekly episodes. (help)

    Click to subscribe in iTunes

    Subscribe with another reader

    Get the vodcast (help)

    For Educators    About the Series    Bill Moyers on PBS   

    © Public Affairs Television 2008    Privacy Policy    DVD/VHS    Terms of Use    FAQ