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June 11, 2010

Michael Winship: The Supreme Court Says NO to the People - Again

(Photo by Robin Holland)

Below is an article by Public Affairs Television senior writer Michael Winship.

"The Supreme Court Says NO to the People - Again"
By Michael Winship

At a dinner party, an ever-so-proper aristocrat who had been at the British evacuation of Dunkirk 60 years ago, remained tightlipped despite intense questioning from the other guests about what he had seen there.

Finally, he shuddered at the memory and exclaimed, "The noise, my dear, and the people!"

An apocryphal story, perhaps, but the high-falutin' Supreme Court of the United States has the same attitude toward America - this would be such a great country if it wasn't for all the noise and people.

Bad enough that last week the court narrowly redefined Miranda rights in such a way that seems to say that if one of those aforementioned people is arrested and remains silent about their right to remain silent, anything you do say, if you say something, can and will be held against you. An interpretation as worthy of Lewis Carroll as it is George Orwell.

Continue reading "Michael Winship: The Supreme Court Says NO to the People - Again" »


May 21, 2010

Congress Gets a Kick in the... Pants

(Photo by Robin Holland)

Below is an article senior writer for Public Affairs Television Michael Winship. We welcome your comments below.

"Congress Gets a Kick in the... Pants"
By Michael Winship

There's a story about a member of the British House of Commons who was stopped in the halls of Parliament by a constituent, an elderly pensioner. The little old man had a specific concern about his fellow senior citizens that he hoped the politician could solve.

He made his case clearly and intelligently and when he was finished, the Member of Parliament promised to see what might be done. As the MP turned to leave, the old man hauled off and kicked him in the backside as hard as he could.

The astonished politician turned; the old man waggled a finger and cheerily said, "Now don't forget!"

Few American politicians will forget that a lot of incumbent backsides were kicked by frustrated voters in Tuesday's primaries: longtime Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, a converted Democrat more from expedience than allegiance, lost renomination to Rep. Joe Sestak; Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell saw his handpicked Senate candidate go down in Kentucky, defeated by Tea Partier Rand Paul; and Arkansas Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln was forced into a runoff by progressive Democrat Bill Halter.

Yet for all the talk of an anti-incumbent fever sweeping the land, the image of angry voters manning the tumbrels and throwing the rascals out, consider the special congressional election for the late Democratic Congressman John Murtha's seat in southwestern Pennsylvania. Democrat Mark Critz handily defeated Republican Tea Partier Tim Burns and pundits declared it a big loss for the GOP, which had tried to play on anti-Obama and anti-Nancy Pelosi sentiment to defeat Critz.

Continue reading "Congress Gets a Kick in the... Pants" »


April 30, 2010

Make That Change

(Photo by Robin Holland)

In this week's special finale to the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers introduced people who are working to make the world a better place.

Moyers spoke with author Barry Lopez, who discussed his craft and his belief that no one has what he calls a "walk-on part" in the theater of life. He said:

"Who is it that says one person has a 'walk-on part?' That's a political question. Who is it that's standing there saying that person, this person, those [people] are walk-on parts, and this person here will be the star of the show? I don't like that. I don't like to hear it. What happens if a person speaks imperfect English in a culture like ours, is not articulate, but can dance in a way that makes you shiver? Why is that a walk-on part? When it comes to a political statement, you can turn on the television and see people who claim expertise that they don't possess. The kind of expertise we need is not a facile grasp of policy, but a love of humanity. That's what we need."

The JOURNAL profiled the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, who refuse to accept "walk-on parts" and are organizing to make their voices heard. One of them, John Blasingame, said:

"Sometimes you have to raise a fuss, as Rosa Parks did: raised a fuss, got things changed. Rosa Parks didn't just say 'no, you can't have my seat.' She actually said 'no, I will no longer participate with you in my own exploitation.' It was because of people who stood up, who refused to back down, who refused to be quiet, who refused to be put off, who suffered the shootings and the bombings and the water cannons and the police dogs and everything else, who got out of the back of the bus. And we, the working class, the common people in this country, need to look at that because where are we? We are in the back of the bus. And what really angers me is we own the bus. It's our bus, not theirs. Our bus."

Populist activist Jim Hightower talked about the importance of building people's movements to work on solutions for daunting problems in our nation:

"It's one thing to be mad, but it's another thing to get organized and find your way around it. My mama told me that two wrongs don't make a right, but three left turns do. That's what we have to do. We have to figure a way around these blockages of Wall Street today, of the corporate interests that are squeezing out small business, of the blockages in the marketplaces... It's not enough to whine...We can battle back against the powers, but it's not going to a rally and shouting. It's organizing and it's thinking, and reaching out to others, and building a real people's movement... One big difference between real populism and what the Tea Party thing is is that real populists understand that government has become a subsidiary of the corporations. You can't say 'let's get rid of government.' You need to be saying 'let's take over government.'"

What do you think?

  • Barry Lopez said that no one need have a "walk-on part" in life. Do you agree? Why or why not?

  • Are you involved in a people's movement to improve your community and/or our nation? What issues concern you, and how are you working to make the world a better place?


  • April 16, 2010

    Financial Regulation & Regulatory Capture

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with financial experts Simon Johnson and James Kwak about Wall Street's influence in Washington and their support for new financial regulation that might reduce the banks' power.

    James Kwak explained why he and Johnson advocate for more financial regulation, including breaking up America's largest banks:

    "It used to be maybe eight or nine banks. But what's happened over the last two years is that these banks have gotten bigger, because they've bought each other. They've become more powerful. And they have an even stronger market position in some key markets like credit cards, mortgages, equity underwriting, and derivatives. And when we talk about the problem, when we talk about the need to break up these banks, we're really just talking about six banks, which are pretty undebatably too big to fail and therefore have an enormous amount of leverage over the government... What we learned in 2008 were certain institutions are so big and so interconnected that if they were to fail, they would cause systemic shocks throughout the economy. That's essentially what happened in September 2008 when Lehman Brothers collapsed... Almost two years later, nothing has changed. Or the only change is that these banks have gotten larger, more powerful, both economically and politically. And they've been flexing their muscles in Washington for the last year and a half."

    Bill Moyers asked why new financial regulations would work when past efforts at reform have ultimately failed:

    "Over the course of my lifetime, and my working career as a journalist, I've seen one regulatory agency after another taken over by the very industries they were supposed to regulate. Regulation requires a President who is committed to tough regulation. If you get a free market President like George W. Bush, you get regulation serving the industry... If you get a Democratic Party that's been compromised by its concessions and capitulations and contributions from Wall Street, you get a regulatory system that is a joke, and that's what we have. What's to ensure that the next regulatory system won't be a joke?"

    Simon Johnson replied:

    "The person who nailed this intellectually a long time ago was from the University of Chicago. George Stigler, not a man of the left, got a Nobel Prize [for concluding that] all industries end up with the industry capturing the regulators. What's happened to us is exactly what Stigler warned against, on a massive scale. The Administration still argues that we should delegate responsibility, going forward, for lots of things around finance - like how much capital you should have - delegate that to the regulators... Now that's crazy. That's not acceptable. That's not what they should do, particularly because any Democrat should say 'well, wait a minute, the next free market president who doesn't believe in regulation [that] comes in will gut the system.' And any person from the right who's read Stigler should say 'well, those regulators are just gonna get captured.' You've got to put it in legislation. You've got to design the legislation. You've got to go after the things that can be legislated. Congress must not abdicate this responsibility."

    What do you think?

  • Can the government set up a regulatory system that won't end up controlled by Wall Street? Why or why not?

  • How can ordinary citizens take action to retake our democracy from the clutches of Big Finance?


  • April 2, 2010

    Towards a More Just Society?

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with social justice advocates Bryan Stevenson and Michelle Alexander about the persistence of systemic racial inequalities in American society and Dr. Martin Luther King's vision of a more just society.

    Michelle Alexander described her view of a criminal justice system that she sees as discriminatory against minority groups:

    "Individual black achievement today masks a disturbing underlying racial reality. To a significant extent, affirmative action - seeing African Americans go to Harvard and Yale and become CEOs and corporate lawyers - causes us all to marvel what a long way we have come. But much of the data indicates that African Americans today as a group are not much better off than they were back in 1968... Just a couple of decades after the collapse of the old Jim Crow system, a new system of racial control emerged in the United States. Today, people of color are targeted by law enforcement for relatively minor, nonviolent, often drug-related offenses - the types of crimes that occur all the time on college campuses, where drug use is open and notorious, that occur in middle class suburban communities without much notice... [They are] arrested, branded felons, and then ushered into a parallel social universe in which they can be denied the right to vote, automatically excluded from juries, and legally discriminated against in many of the ways in which African Americans were discriminated against during the Jim Crow era."

    Bryan Stevenson argued that mass incarceration disproportionately impacts vulnerable populations and is fundamentally incompatible with the core American value of equal justice:

    "There are structures and systems that have created poverty and have made that poverty so permanent that, until we think in a more just way about how to deal with poverty in this country, we're never going to make the progress that Dr. King envisioned... We have a criminal justice system that's very wealth-sensitive. Our system treats you better if you're rich and guilty than if you're poor and innocent... If we keep ignoring the poor, I think we not only undermine Dr. King's vision, but we corrupt our values. The observant said you judge the character of a society not by how you treat the rich and the privileged and the celebrated. You judge the character of a society by how you treat the poor, the condemned, the incarcerated... We've got to find ways to inspire people, to challenge people, to confront people to recognize that a commitment to justice cannot be reconciled with a commitment to mass incarceration. A commitment to fairness cannot be reconciled with the conditions and demographics that we now see in poor and urban communities."

    African American economist Thomas Sowell has suggested that some groups are more likely to have values that are conducive to success in American society than others and, thus, that a level playing field conflicts with the desire for all groups to achieve roughly equal outcomes. In a recent column, he argued that society lacks the ability to compel different groups to achieve the same results:

    "Most of us want to be fair, in the sense of treating everyone equally. We want laws to be applied the same to everyone... Whether any human being has ever had the omniscience to determine and undo the many differences among people born into different families and cultures -- with different priorities, attitudes and behavior -- is a very big question. And to concentrate the vast amount of power needed to carry out that sweeping agenda is a dangerous gamble... There is no question that the accident of birth is a huge factor in the fate of people. What is a very serious question is how much anyone can do about that without creating other, and often worse, problems. Providing free public education, scholarships to colleges and other opportunities for achievement are fine as far as they go, but there should be no illusion that they can undo all the differences in priorities, attitudes and efforts among different individuals and groups."

    What do you think?

  • Michelle Alexander compares today's struggle to the Jim Crow era. Do you agree? How do you think the quest for a more economically and racially just society has changed over time?

  • In your view, what would constitute a just society? What measures could move the country in that direction?

  • How are you mobilizing to work towards a more just America?


  • March 11, 2010

    Do Americans Suffer From an "Allergy to Thought?"

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers talked with New York University president John Sexton for a wide-ranging conversation about religion, the role of higher education in a globalizing world, and the troubling disintegration of civil discourse in today's society.

    Sexton suggested that America increasingly exhibits what he calls an "allergy to thought" and that universities are the key to restoring nuance to public discourse:

    "This is a pattern that I see: an allergy to thought, to complexity [and] nuance - a kind of collapse into an intellectual relativism where opinions become fact... It's a dangerous thing... I think there's a growing hostility to knowledge in this country... Our national progress is being retarded because we have fallen into this discourse by slogan. We have fallen into this relativism where it's a conversation to stop and say, "Well, that's your opinion. [This is] my opinion...' Go back to the Athenian idea of political speech - it was a search for good answers. We're so far from that today that it's almost ludicrous for me to bring that up, but I want to remind us... We don't listen well as a society. When we listen, we listen in feedback loops to people who are likely to say what it is we think is right... We're in the process, it seems to me, because of this allergy to complexity and nuance, of devaluing the importance of education... I think universities are the last, best hope for pushing back against this because what we do is complexity and nuance."

    Some critics contend that many of today's universities refuse to foster a truly vigorous exchange of ideas. Arguing in the WALL STREET JOURNAL that recent high-profile incidents at Yale, Harvard and Duke demonstrate universities' lack of commitment to open dialogue, columnist Peter Berkowitz wrote:

    "Professors have a professional interest in - indeed a professional duty to uphold - liberty of thought and discussion. But in recent years, precisely where they should be most engaged and outspoken they have been apathetic and inarticulate... The aim of liberal education is not to guard [students'] sensitivities but to teach them to listen to diverse opinions and fortify them to respond with better arguments to those with whom they disagree... As the controversies at Yale, Duke and Harvard captured national attention, professors from other universities haven't had much to say in defense of liberty of thought and discussion either. This silence represents a collective failure of America's professors of colossal proportions. What could be a clearer sign of our professors' loss of understanding of the requirements of liberal education than their failure to defend liberty of thought and discussion where it touches them most directly?"

    What do you think?

  • Does American society suffer from "an allergy to thought?" Why or why not?

  • Do you believe that America's universities encourage open and nuanced debate on the issues of our time? Explain.

  • Are there other institutions you see "pushing back" against sloganeering in favor of honest and intelligent dialogue?


  • February 26, 2010

    Debating Same-Sex Marriage

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with prominent lawyers Ted Olson and David Boies about their legal challenge to California's ban on same-sex marriages. Olson, a conservative, and Boies, a liberal, are best known for facing off before the Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore following the disputed 2000 election. Now, they've joined forces to argue that gay and lesbian couples should have the right to marry.

    Though a decision of the California Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in the state for several months in 2008, voters' passage of the ballot initiative Proposition 8 that November - by a margin of 52.3 % to 47.7 % - amended the state constitution to declare that "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."

    Proponents of gay marriage have been divided over how to respond to Proposition 8. Some have advocated challenging the ban in federal court as a violation of the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection under the law, as Olson and Boies are attempting, but others fear an unfavorable legal precedent if the opposition wins. Instead, they have suggested running ballot initiatives in hope of repealing Proposition 8 by the democratic process and avoiding the risk of losing in federal court.

    Ted Olson explained why he took on the case despite many other conservatives' view that it would be judicial activism for a federal court to strike down the California law:

    "It's unfortunate that people think of this as something that is a political issue or a conservative or liberal issue. It is a matter of human rights and human decency and liberty. Many conservatives are libertarians, and they think that the government should allow people to live their lives the same way that other people live their lives under the Constitution, and be treated equally without the government deciding who they can live with or who they can be married to... We're not advocating any recognition of a new right. The right to marry is in the Constitution. The Supreme Court's recognized that over and over again. We're talking about whether two individuals should be treated equally, under the equal protection clause of the Constitution... It isn't judicial activism for the Supreme Court to recognize an associational right, a liberty right, and a privacy right for two people who love each other to be married."

    David Boies explained why he wants the federal courts to strike down legislation that California citizens democratically enacted via ballot initiative:

    "If you didn't tell the majority of voters they were wrong sometimes under the Constitution, you wouldn't need a Constitution. The whole point of the Bill of Rights and the 14th Amendment is to say 'This is democracy, but it's also democracy in which we protect minority rights.' The whole point of a Constitution is to say there are certain things that a majority cannot do, whether it's 52 percent or 62 percent or 72 percent or 82 percent of the people... There are certain rights there are so fundamental that the Constitution guarantees them to every citizen regardless of what a temporary majority may or may not vote for... Nobody's asking to create a new constitutional right here. This is a constitutional right that has already been well recognized by the Supreme Court... What the Constitution says is that every citizen gets equal protection of the laws. It doesn't just say heterosexuals."

    In a statement prepared in the run-up to the 2008 vote, supporters of Proposition 8 argued against judicial determination of what constitutes marriage and said the legislation was not about attacking gays and lesbians or denying anyone rights:

    "Proposition 8 is about traditional marriage; it is not an attack on gay relationships. Under California law gay and lesbian domestic partnerships are treated equally; they already have the same rights as married couples. Proposition 8 does not change that. What Proposition 8 does is restore the meaning of marriage to what human history has understood it to be and over 61% of California voters approved just a few years ago... It overturns the flawed legal reasoning of four judges in San Francisco who wrongly disregarded the people's vote, and ensures that gay marriage can be legalized only through a vote of the people... Prop. 8 will NOT take away any other rights or benefits of gay couples. Gays and lesbians have the right to live the lifestyle they choose, but they do not have the right to redefine marriage for everyone else. Proposition 8 respects the rights of gays while still reaffirming traditional marriage."

    What do you think?

  • Do you support same-sex marriage? Why or why not?

  • In your view, would it be appropriate for a federal court to strike down a constitutional amendment enacted by a popular vote?


  • February 19, 2010

    Bill Moyers & Michael Winship: What Are We Bid For American Justice?

    That famous definition of a cynic as someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing has come to define this present moment of American politics.

    No wonder people have lost faith in politicians, parties and in our leadership. The power of money drives cynicism deep into the heart of every level of government. Everything – and everyone – comes with a price tag attached: from a seat at the table in the White House to a seat in Congress to the fate of health care reform, our environment and efforts to restrain Wall Street’s greed and prevent another financial catastrophe.

    Our government is not broken; it’s been bought out from under us, and on the right and the left and smack across the vast middle more and more Americans doubt representative democracy can survive the corruption of money.

    Last month, the Supreme Court carried cynicism to new heights with its decision in the Citizens United case. Spun from a legal dispute over the airing on a pay-per-view channel of a right-wing documentary attacking Hillary Clinton during the 2008 presidential primaries, the decision could have been made very narrowly. Instead, the conservative majority of five judges issued a sweeping opinion that greatly expands corporate power over our politics.

    Continue reading "Bill Moyers & Michael Winship: What Are We Bid For American Justice?" »


    February 5, 2010

    Can Democracy Withstand The Power of Big Money?

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with libertarian journalist Nick Gillespie and progressive legal scholar Lawrence Lessig about the impact of last month's controversial Supreme Court ruling allowing corporations and unions to spend unlimited funds from their general treasuries on political communications in periods shortly before elections and primaries.

    While many have argued that the Court's decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission affirms free speech and the First Amendment, others have expressed grave concern that the ruling may open the floodgates of corporate money into America's elections and undermine the voices and trust of ordinary citizens.

    Criticizing the Court's ruling as a blow to citizens' faith in government, Lessig said:

    "I think it's an ominous sign about the future of this Court and any kind of reform. Because though I support free speech, and even free speech for corporations, what this means is increasingly people are going to believe their government is controlled by the funders and not by the people... Congress has lost the respect of the people, and it's only going to get much, much worse... Increasingly, members are thinking not about what makes sense... They think about what's going to make it easier for the lobbyists to help channel money into their campaigns. They've produced the fundraising Congress, where their obsession is, 'how do I make the people who will fund my campaigns happier?'... The problem that I see is that when speech gets read by the ordinary American people as just another way in which Congress is focusing on the funders rather than focusing on the people, it erodes the trust in this government."

    Gillespie defended the Court's decision and suggested that shrinking the scope of government is the best way to drain money from politics:

    "I think it was a victory for free speech, in the end. If anything, it didn't go far enough. Campaign finance regulation is always a suppression of speech... What I would argue is that we have too many campaign finance reforms. They do stifle free speech - that's what they're designed to do - particularly political speech... Who are the corrupt politicians? Name names, because that's what this is about. Who are the people who are dancing to the tune of their corporate masters?... We have seen an explosion of corporate lobbying after Obama went into office. This past year has been the biggest bumper year for lobbyists ever. What I would argue is it has nothing to do with patrolling speech or even elections - what it has to do with is the fact that the budget that's on the table now is $3.8 trillion. As long as the government is shoveling that kind of cash around, people are going to be sniffing out ways to get their share."

    What do you think?

  • What's your perspective on the Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United case?

  • Do you believe that a system of campaign finance laws is capable of limiting the influence of money, or do you agree with Gillespie that lobbying and corruption are inevitable with a large federal budget?

  • Do you agree with Lessig that Congress has lost the people's respect? What reforms would increase your faith in Washington?


  • January 29, 2010

    Corporations, Political Spending, & the Supreme Court

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with legal experts Zephyr Teachout and Monica Youn about the Supreme Court's controversial ruling last week on the case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

    In a 5-4 decision, the Court cited the First Amendment to strike down laws that restricted corporations and unions from spending funds from their general treasuries on political communications in periods shortly before elections and primaries. The decision has aroused passionate reactions from observers across the political spectrum about corporate influence on elections and whether money spent on political advertising should qualify as free speech protected under the First Amendment.

    Zephyr Teachout, who teaches law and politics at Fordham University's School of Law, said:

    "This is not just a First Amendment question. This is a question of what kind of society do we want to live in... Imagine a Senate race in a few years [if] efforts to break up the banks got into a high pitch, and a candidate recognizes that people in her state are very supportive of this effort to break up the banks, but the polls are close. So, she comes out with a strong statement saying 'I want a cap on how big a bank can be, in the billions.' That night, there can be ad hominem attacks funded by Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley on her, directly paid, that cover the airways. Not only can that happen, but she knows that can happen. How likely is she to take on one of the most important economic questions that we have right now, how to structure our financial industry, when she knows the financial industry is already spending $400 million a year on lobbying?"

    Monica Youn, who directs the campaign finance reform/money in politics project at New York University's Brennan Center for Law and Justice, said:

    "The marketplace of ideas doesn't give anyone, any corporation or any individual, the right to buy an election. The First Amendment is an important part of our Constitution, but so is the idea that this is a democracy. This is a society based on the idea of one person - one vote, and our elections should not be marketplaces. They should be about voters. They should be about helping the electorate make an informed decision, and the electorate is not going to be able to make an informed decision if all they can see on the air, hear on the radio, are attacks ads funded by hidden corporate agendas... There's a reason our Constitution was set up the way it was, and there's a reason you can't buy an election, because we didn't intend for those who have the most money just to be able to get everything in the system the way they want it every time."

    Progressive author (and former lawyer) Glenn Greenwald, who has appeared on the JOURNAL several times, has expressed qualified support for the Supreme Court's decision. On his blog, he wrote:

    "I'm deeply ambivalent about the court's ruling... Even on a utilitarian level, the long-term dangers of allowing the Government to restrict political speech invariably outweigh whatever benefits accrue from such restrictions... The speech restrictions struck down by Citizens United do not only apply to Exxon and Halliburton; they also apply to non-profit advocacy corporations, such as, say, the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, as well as labor unions, which are genuinely burdened in their ability to express their views by these laws... Laws which prohibit organized groups of people - which is what corporations are - from expressing political views goes right to the heart of free speech guarantees no matter how the First Amendment is understood... The invalidated statute at issue here exempted media corporations - such as Fox and MSNBC - from these restrictions, since the government obviously can't ban media figures from going on television and opining about elections (the way they do all other corporations)... It allowed the views of News Corp., GE, and Viacom to flourish (through their ownership of media outlets) while preventing the ACLU and Planned Parenthood from speaking out."

    What do you think?

  • If you were a Justice on the Supreme Court, how would you have voted in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission? Explain.

  • Should Congress move to pass new laws regulating political spending from corporations and unions? If so, what would you suggest?

  • How are you and your community working to win political power for the people over deep-pocketed special interests?


  • January 22, 2010

    Why Did Democrats Lose in Massachusetts?

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with liberal academics Melissa Harris-Lacewell and Eric Alterman about why Democrats lost Ted Kennedy's former seat in Massachusetts' special election for Senate and how progressives should proceed from here.

    Melissa Harris-Lacewell, who worked on Obama's 2008 campaign, said that the significance of the Massachusetts election has been overstated, but that the loss reflects the failure of both the administration and its supporters in the general public to maintain the excitement of the campaign:

    "I think a lot of our emotions about this particular seat has to do with Senator Kennedy, the sense that Senator Kennedy was one of the first and strongest voices on health care, and that somehow replacing Kennedy with a Republican who is voting against health care or is likely to vote against health care is a very painful sort of shift.. The changes that may have been happening in the electorate may be these secular shifts that have occurred for some time. They're not just about the moment of this one question about this President... [There's been] a failure on the part of the Democratic Party writ large to tell a better story and just a more accurate story about what's going on... The brilliance of the Obama campaign had to do with creating a sort of outline figure of who Obama was - a figure of change, of hope, a representation of what America most wanted itself to be. But what was amazing was how at the level of very ordinary people, there was an opportunity to project onto Barack Obama all of your greatest hopes... The missing piece is that those same people who had such enthusiasm to tell a story during the campaign have failed to tell those stories during governing."

    Eric Alterman said that the Massachusetts defeat was due to a mediocre Democratic candidate and that President Obama has not fought hard enough to enact the progressive agenda:

    "[Massachusetts is] a liberal state. They went for McGovern. They have gay marriage. They elected a conservative to replace Ted Kennedy, who by the way replaced John Kennedy. It is shocking. The question is what's at the source of the shock. If you ask me, it's the fact that this President and particularly this candidate has not given people an inspiration to turn out the way these same people had an inspiration to turn out a year ago. Barack Obama carried Massachusetts by 28 points. That is a liberal state, and so it should be a shock to the system, but it's not a repudiation of everything that Barack Obama believes, and it's clearly not a repudiation of him for being too liberal, much less socialist. It's equally plausible, and to my mind more plausible, that it's a repudiation of his being unwilling to fight for the agenda that people thought they were electing him for."

    In his syndicated column, conservative historian Victor Davis Hanson argued that Democrats have alienated many voters by arrogantly pursuing policies opposed by a majority of Americans. He wrote:

    "In Plato's ideal society, philosopher kings and elite Guardians shepherded the rabble to force them to do the "right" thing... We are now seeing such thinking in the Obama administration and among its supporters. A technocracy -- many Ivy-League-educated and without much experience outside academia and government -- pushes legislation most people do not want but is nevertheless judged to be good for them. Take the Obama proposal for health care. A large percentage of Americans do not trust those who run the Postal Service to oversee the conditions of one-sixth of the U.S. economy... In fact, on a number of other major issues, polls show more than half of all Americans are at odds with the Obama agenda: more federal takeover of private enterprise, gargantuan deficit spending, and 'comprehensive' immigration reform, for starters... Why, then, does the Obama administration persist with such an apparently unpopular agenda? Like Plato's all-knowing elite, Obama seems to feel that those he deems less informed will 'suddenly' learn to appreciate his benevolent guidance once these laws are pushed through."

    What do you think?

  • Why did Democrats lose Massachusetts' special election for the Senate?

  • Do you expect Republicans to score more victories in November's midterm elections? Why or why not?

  • In the wake of the defeat in Massachusetts, what strategies should progressives pursue?


  • January 8, 2010

    Complex Issues & Public Outrage

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with two journalists from the progressive magazine MOTHER JONES about Wall Street’s power over Washington and why the public isn’t demanding more regulation of institutions that contributed to the economic meltdown.

    Political blogger Kevin Drum argued that laws concerning financial regulation need to be simplified and that the press doesn’t do enough to ensure that Americans are informed about Wall Street’s power.

    “It’s not that American bankers are greedier than anybody else’s bankers. It’s that our laws allow them to do things they can’t do everywhere else. We let them take advantage of the system... This stuff is very, very complex, and that is exactly the reason why you need simple rules to rein it in. Because the more complexity you have, the more loopholes there are, the more you can take advantage... One place where I think we should lay some of the blame is the media and the financial media... [The issue] is sort of down in the weeds, and it gets no attention... People don’t see it enough to get angry about it. You can’t get angry about something unless you’re told about it.”

    David Corn, MOTHER JONES’ Washington bureau chief, suggested that reforms are necessary but that the details of financial regulation may be simply too complex for the mass public to comprehend or make into an urgent political issue.

    “Ultimately, this is about knowledge. This is about information. This stuff is really complicated and convoluted. Try reading any one of these bills and figuring out what’s actually being said... It’s mystifying. These guys who know the rules – they know the language, they have the access, and they’re giving contributions to the people writing the rules – have all the advantages... A Democratic pollster told me, ‘Listen, if 99 percent of Americans can’t understand derivatives, you can’t regulate derivatives in our Democratic process.’ I think there’s a lot of truth to that; people have to understand it. If only the people who benefit from them understand what’s going on, they have the leg up, and there’s no way for average citizens to even enter the process.”

    What do you think?

  • Is financial regulation too complex an issue for the general public to mobilize around? Why or why not?

  • Would you like to see President Obama rally grassroots support for more financial regulation? If so, what measures would you like to see him pursue?

  • From National People’s Action to tea parties, many Americans are getting organized around issues of Big Business and Big Government. How are you and your community working for reform?


  • December 18, 2009

    How Effective Is Community Organizing?

    This week, the JOURNAL profiled Massachusetts community organizer Steve Meacham, who recruits activists and works to stop evictions of people living in foreclosed homes.

    Meacham described the process of people becoming inspired to work for systemic change:

    “People come to their first meeting because they have a specific problem they want addressed, and they initially keep coming because their problem is addressed… People keep coming over time, and a lot of people come even after their problem is solved because they found something profound here… People go from feeling like victims to being activists on their own behalf, and then they take a step beyond that and they become activists on other people’s behalf, other people that were in the same situation they were in. Then they become activists on other issues besides housing, and pretty soon they’re trying to change the system.”

    During the 2008 election campaign, John B. Judis of THE NEW REPUBLIC traced the history of President Obama’s experience as a community organizer. Judis suggests that Obama became disillusioned about the ability of community organizing to effect change:

    “[Obama said] that he feared community organizing would never allow him ‘to make major changes in poverty or discrimination.’ To do that, he said, ‘you either had to be an elected official or be influential with elected officials…’ If you examine carefully how Obama conducted himself as an organizer and how he has conducted himself as a politician, if you consider what he said about organizing to his fellow organizers, and if you look at the reasons he gave friends and colleagues for abandoning organizing… [you find] a disillusioned activist who fashioned his political identity not as an extension of community organizing but as a wholesale rejection of it.”

    What do you think?

  • How effective is community organizing at achieving major changes?

  • Are there more effective ways of pursuing systemic change?


  • November 5, 2009

    Bill Moyers Essay: Restoring Accountability for Washington's Wars

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    October 30, 2009

    WEB EXCLUSIVE: Glenn Greenwald

    Acclaimed blogger Glenn Greenwald, recipient of the Park Center for Independent Media Izzy Award, spoke with Bill Moyers this week for the special web-exclusive conversation below.
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    October 16, 2009

    Organizing the Grassroots

    This week, the JOURNAL profiled community health advocate America Bracho and her organization, Latino Health Access. Working in Santa Ana, California, they have organized community-based programs relating to diabetes and domestic violence, among other concerns. Recently, they led a successful campaign to procure permission and land so that they will be able to build a neighborhood community center.

    Bracho said:

    “What I want our community to know is that nobody is going to do this for us... You can complain and sometimes I feel very frustrated, but if you are at home watching soap operas and feeling sorry, I can understand that, but that is not going to help... From day one, when we began this project, we said to each other: the most important but also the most dangerous part in doing community work is when people actually believe they can transform their community. That's pretty dangerous, because when people believe that, they want to do that again, and again, and again.”

    Although community organizing has traditionally been identified with the left wing of politics, activists on the right have increasingly begun to adopt organizing tactics for their causes. THE WASHINGTON INDEPENDENT recently reported on some conservatives’ newfound interest in renowned left-wing organizer Saul Alinsky and his 1971 book RULES FOR RADICALS: A PRAGMATIC PRIMER FOR REALISTIC RADICALS:

    “Thirty-eight years since the publication of his handbook and 37 years since he died, Alinsky has found a thriving and surprising fan club in the modern conservative movement... ‘Alinsky-cons” have taken the union organizers ‘13 rules for power tactics’ and ’11 rules to test whether power tactics are ethical’ and found a strategy that, they believe, is chipping away at the momentum for national health care reform. When they flummox representatives with chants, or laugh out loud at their attempts to explain their votes, many ‘Tea Party’ activists say they’re cribbing from Alinsky.”

    What do you think?

  • How much change can community organizers effect on a local, state, and national level?

  • Are some issues too complicated for grassroots activists to tackle? Why or why not?

  • What role do you think community organizing will play in political battles to come, including passage of legislation regarding health insurance reform and climate change?


  • September 25, 2009

    Obama's Strategy for Afghanistan... and the Next Election

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, guest host Lynn Sherr talked with Rory Stewart, an expert on Afghanistan and director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University, for his perspective on America’s lengthy war in that fractured country.

    In a recently leaked memo, the United States’ top commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, recommended that the Obama administration send tens of thousands of troops – or, he wrote, the mission “will likely end in failure.” Facing increasing skepticism about the war from Congress and the general public, President Obama has so far delayed his decision on troop levels.

    Rory Stewart argued that our stated goals for Afghanistan – routing the Taliban, banishing al-Qaeda, and restoring a functioning government – are unrealistic. He believes that the United States should deploy a much smaller force devoted to stopping al-Qaeda from rebuilding a base in Afghanistan rather than risk provoking a public backlash against any presence there at all. Regardless of what President Obama may personally desire, however, Stewart said that political and electoral pressures will likely compel him to deploy more troops:

    “I think it's very irresponsible – if you care about Afghanistan – to increase troops much more, because I can see us going from engagement to isolation, from troop increases to total withdrawal. The path the President has started us on, I would predict, would mean that in five, six years time, everybody will simply get fed up with Afghanistan and abandon it entirely.... I think it would be a political catastrophe for the president to refuse to accede to a request from the man on the ground... He’s a civilian president... He’s under attack already from the right for being soft on national security... The General has provided his advice, and I would be extremely surprised if the President doesn’t come out in favor. In fact, my guess is that a lot of the talk about skepticism at the moment is an attempt to try to deal with opposition within his same party.”

    What do you think?

  • Should more U.S. troops be deployed in Afghanistan? Why or why not?

  • Do you agree with Stewart that sending in more troops will soon turn public opinion against any involvement in Afghanistan? Explain.

  • Do you think Obama would sustain major political damage if he chose not to send more troops into Afghanistan? If so, should he send troops if it helps him pursue the rest of his agenda?


  • September 18, 2009

    The Death of Conservatism?

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with author Sam Tanenhaus about his new book, The Death of Conservatism, and the current state of America’s conservative movement.

    Tanenhaus suggested that today’s conservatism is mostly bereft of substantive ideas and instead consists of extreme reactions against the liberal social and policy agenda. He said:

    “These radical people on the right – and they include intellectuals and the kinds of personalities we’re seeing on television and radio and also to some extent people marching in the streets – think America has gotten away from them. Theirs is a politics of reclamation and restoration... If you are a free-marketeer, or an evangelical, or a social conservative, or even an authoritarian conservative, you can all agree on one thing: you hate the liberals that are out to destroy us. That’s a very useful form of political organization. I’m not sure it contributes much to our government and society, but it’s politically useful and we’re seeing it again today... The paradox of conservatism is that it gives the overt signs of energy and vitality, but the rigor mortis I described is still there. As a philosophy, as a system of government that all of us can learn from as a means of evaluating ourselves, our social responsibilities, [and] our personal obligations and responsibilities, it has – right now – nothing to offer.”

    Reviewing Tanenhaus’ book in THE NEW CRITERION magazine, Manhattan Institute senior fellow James Piereson argued that Tanenhaus ignores much conservative thought while castigating conservatives for failings that are also common among liberals. He wrote:

    “Tanenhaus does not inquire seriously into the reasons why conservatives are uneasy with the welfare state, why some see in it a threat to liberty and others an encouragement to the breakdown of the family and self-government... He acknowledges that there is an important role for conservatism, but it must be a ‘genuine’ conservatism that preserves but does not seek to overturn liberal gains... Many of the sins Tanenhaus attributes to conservatives – overly zealous attachment to principle or ideology, unwillingness to adapt to change, impatience with popular opinion – are on display as much or more among liberals. If Tanenhaus or anyone else wishes to see liberalism in action, he might venture on to an elite college campus where only liberal and leftist views are permitted peaceful expression, or out to Sacramento or up to Albany where liberal Democrats, long in control, have spent their states into near bankruptcy... If conservatism is dead, in short, then so is liberalism, and much else besides.”

    What do you think?

  • Does today’s conservatism, as Tanenhaus suggests, currently have “nothing to offer?” Why or why not?

  • Do you agree with Piereson that today’s liberals have similar flaws to those Tanenhaus describes in conservatives? Explain.

  • Do you expect conservatives to make a comeback in the next few election cycles?


  • September 4, 2009

    Balancing Big Money and Free Speech

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with two prominent legal experts about an important case regarding campaign finance restrictions and free speech that the Supreme Court will hear in a special session on September 9th.

    The case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, concerns a political film, HILLARY: THE MOVIE, that criticized Hillary Clinton during last year’s bruising race for the Presidency. The conservative group Citizens United had planned to make the film available through on-demand cable and advertise it on television but, because the group had accepted contributions from businesses, the Federal Election Commission ruled that such distribution would violate campaign finance laws that ban the use of corporate money to advocate directly for or against political candidates.

    Citizens United challenged the Federal Election Commission with a lawsuit that reached the Supreme Court in March. After hearing arguments, the Court took the unusual step of requesting that the case be re-argued at the special session next week. Many observers fear that the Supreme Court will declare unconstitutional many of the laws that aim to prevent corporations and unions from using their vast funds to influence political campaigns.

    Continue reading "Balancing Big Money and Free Speech" »


    August 14, 2009

    Towards a Healthier Debate on Health Reform

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers asked three veteran observers for their perspectives on the health care debate playing out across the country. Each suggested that media coverage has presented unhelpful and misleading narratives that have not adequately informed the public about important issues.

    Media analyst Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, argued that raucous town hall meetings have not allowed for constructive dialogue, and that media coverage has further obscured the complexity of the issues:

    “[The town hall meetings are] not creating context in which misinformation on both sides can be corrected, and that’s the problem. We don’t have a deliberative process here taking place in public to inform public opinion. Instead, we’re potentially distorting it... You’d like people to attend, raise legitimate and important questions, give the other side a chance to respond, and then engage in a dialogue about it because then everyone learns. We ought to applaud that. That’s the way democracy should work. And that the attacks are coming from left and right is an important realization. There’s been a tendency in news to feature those that are coming from the right without indicating there’s substantial dissatisfaction from some on the left about the fact that this isn’t single payer.”

    Drew Altman, president and CEO of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, which focuses on health care issues, suggested that both would-be reformers and the media have confused the public by focusing more on Washington jargon than the human stories of our dysfunctional health system:

    “The debate drifted for a while and the message drifted for a while. It wasn’t defined in terms that average people could understand... People just couldn’t answer the question, ‘What does this mean for me and my family?’ And so they didn’t know what they had to lose if this didn’t happen. But more importantly, that left the field open for the critics and the opposition to define it the way they wanted to and even scare people a little bit that this might be a government takeover of the healthcare sytem... In a sense, what happened was the media and the debate focused on the issues which were in contention on Capitol Hill, that they were debating on Capitol Hill, because media coverage follows the controversies instead of the people issues that brought us this debate in the first place.”

    Republican author David Frum, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush, says that his fellow conservatives have focused too much on opposing Democrats’ proposals at the expense of offering proactive plans for reform:

    “I think what happens for a lot of these political fighters [is] they’re like racehorses. The bugle goes and the blood stirs and there’s a fight and you have to join the fight – and I think there are some tactical opportunities the Republicans see... But if the Republicans win, this is not going to be a great victory for individual liberty. It’s going to be a victory for the status quo... What I am concerned about is in the desire to defeat President Obama, the Republicans are going to fossilize a status quo that is unacceptable to them... If you want to hold the line on the growth of government over the next two decades, this system has to be reformed.”

    What do you think?

  • How well do you think the media has informed the public about the complex issues of health reform? Are the important issues being discussed?

  • In your view, what dimensions of health reform deserve more scrutiny than they’ve received in the media?


    Click here for resources to help fact-check the health care debate.


  • July 24, 2009

    Diagnosing Proposals for Healthcare Reform

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with two leading healthcare journalists, Trudy Lieberman and Marcia Angell, M.D., seeking their perspectives on the current health reform debate in Washington. Lieberman and Angell each addressed whether the “public option” proposed by President Obama would actually serve to insure all Americans and who in the private health industry stands to benefit from the reforms under discussion.

    Trudy Lieberman said that Obama’s proposed “public option,” in which the federal government would set up its own insurance option to compete with private insurance plans, has not been explained in detail and would likely not be effective in containing costs:

    “From my vantage point, I don't see that the solutions for controlling costs, that will really control costs the way other countries do, are really in place... We hear about preventive care as saving costs, because intuitively it sounds like it's going to work, but the academic studies show that more preventive care actually raises costs. That doesn't mean it's a bad thing to do, but it's not a good cost saver in the system... [Obama] has been vague right from the very beginning, we have not known exactly what the Obama health plan has been... I see an administration that is trying to keep this playbook going as long as possible, and to commit to as little as possible until the eleventh hour. By then, it’s going to be too late for the American people to know what’s going to await them... As a journalist, that troubles me.”

    Marcia Angell argued that the “public option” would not create the change needed in the American healthcare system and that reformers should advocate for a “single payer” system, in which a single federal agency would replace and eliminate the private health insurance industry:

    “What [Obama] has essentially advocated is throwing more money into the current system. He's treating the symptom and he's not treating the underlying cause of our problem. Our problem is that we spend two and a half times as much per person on health care as the average of other advanced countries, and we don't get our money's worth. So now he says, ‘Okay, this is a terribly inefficient, wasteful system. Let's throw some money into it...’ Obama said in his press conference [that] the worst thing we can do is nothing, the most costly thing we can do is nothing. I disagree with that – you can throw more money into this system and make it even more costly... I think we have to start all over on this, I really do. I think we have to go for a single payer system.”

    In his recent appearance on the JOURNAL, Clinton administration Secretary of Labor Robert Reich agreed that “single payer” is the best idea, but said that it is politically impossible and that the “public option” should be enacted anyway:

    “[The public option] means that average members of the public have a choice, if they want it, of either their private-for-profit insurers like they now use or a public not-for-profit insurer. That public insurer would resemble ideally Medicare, [with] low administrative costs and it would have the economies of scale. It would be so large that it could actually negotiate low drug prices and very low premiums. That’s what the private insurers are scared of, because that means that their profits will be squeezed... Unless they are going to be genuinely pressured to reform through a public option, there is nothing that’s going to change them... The single payer system would be the best of all... Unfortunately, we can’t get there from here because the political forces are just too strong against single payer.”

    What do you think?

  • If instituted, do you think President Obama’s proposed “public option” for health insurance would be sustainable? Why or why not?

  • Is flawed health reform legislation better than nothing or, as Marcia Angell argues, even worse? Should we start over? Explain.


  • Fear and Loathing in Political Discourse

    This week, the JOURNAL reprised a report from last year examining the provocative and often hostile rhetoric used by some right-wing ‘shock jock’ talk radio and cable TV hosts to criticize liberals and liberalism.

    A year ago, a gunman with an expressed hatred of liberalism stormed a Unitarian Universalist church in Knoxville, Tennessee, killing 2 and wounding 6. Several books by right-wing ‘shock jocks’ were found in the killer's apartment, which led some to speculate that he may have been influenced by their rhetoric.

    The church’s pastor, Chris Buice, said on the JOURNAL:

    “A man came in here and totally dehumanized us. Members of our church were not human to him. Where did he get that? Where did he get that sense that we were not human?... Some have suggested that his spiritual attitudes, his hatred of liberals and gays, was reinforced by the right-wing media figures... When you hear in talk radio that liberals are evil, that they are traitors, that they are godless, that they are on the side of the terrorist, that’s hate language. You don’t negotiate with evil people. You don’t live in a community with people you consider to be traitors.”

    In April, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) sparked controversy when it issued a report [PDF link] warning that "... lone wolves [individuals acting alone] and small terrorist cells embracing violent rightwing extremist ideology are the most dangerous domestic terrorism threat in the United States." Among other factors, the report pointed to the economic downturn, the election of the first African-American president, and fears of gun control as potential drivers for right-wing radicalization. It also warned that "disgruntled military veterans" -- with their military training and combat experience -- could be targeted for recruitment.

    The DHS later apologized to a number of veterans groups that complained about the report.

    Penn State history professor Philip Jenkins argued in THE AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE magazine that the true threat of right-wing violence and domestic terrorism has been exaggerated by partisans for political purposes. Jenkins wrote:

    “We will hear a great deal about threats from racist groups and right-wing paramilitaries, and such a perceived wave of terrorism will have real and pernicious effects on mainstream politics. If history is any guide, the more loudly an administration denounces enemies on the far Right, the easier it is to stigmatize its respectable and nonviolent critics... Paying proper attention to terrorist threats is laudable, whatever their source, and some right-wing extremists have through the years demonstrated their potential for violence: they need to be watched. Yet almost certainly, a renewed focus on the far Right will develop more out of an ideological slant than any reasonable perception of danger.”

    What do you think?

  • In your view, do right-wing ‘shock jocks’ and their rhetoric bear any responsibility for violent incidents like the shooting in Knoxville? Explain.

  • Do you agree with Philip Jenkins that partisans have used tragic events to stigmatize legitimate opposition? Why or why not?

  • What are your ideas for bringing more civility into political discourse?


  • July 2, 2009

    Faith, Justice, and Society

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with academics Gary Dorrien, Serene Jones, and Cornel West about what faith traditions can tell us about building a more just society. The trio recently taught a class together, “Christianity and the U.S. Crisis,” at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.

    Gary Dorrien explained his view that democracy is intrinsic to a just society:

    “I think that economic democracy is essentially an attempt to serve as a kind of brake on human greed and will to power, which are virtually universal, so I’m not talking about anything that requires some kind of idealistic idea about human nature or what we’re capable of. My main argument is the same that Reinhold Niebuhr had about democracy – that the human capacity for greed makes democracy possible, but it’s precisely the human capacity for evil that makes democracy necessary.”

    Serene Jones suggested that communities can help overcome any single individual’s shortcomings:

    “Sin, for me, describes the fact that we are born thrown into this world and we are, no matter how hard we try, because of the complexity of how we’re put together, destined to make massive mistakes. The best we can hope for is that we’re in a community of people that continually remind us that, in fact, we don’t understand everything and we are not the center of the universe. That’s sin, the inevitability of that. I think it’s central to democracy – we have checks and balances.”

    Cornel West argued that people’s commitment to their faith is best demonstrated in service to others:

    “We don’t want to get too obscure in our discourse and not really just put on the table something that’s very simple: how deep is your love? What is the quality of your service to others? Are you concerned about those on the margins, or do we define a catastrophe only when it relates to investment bankers and Wall Street Bankers as opposed to the precious children in chocolate cities or white children in Appalachia or red children in Navajo reservations?... What costs are we willing to actually undergo? You can’t be a Christian if you’re not willing to pick up your cross and, in the end, be crucified on it. That’s the bottom line.”

    What do you think?

    How does your faith or moral code inform your views about politics and society?


    June 12, 2009

    Why Have The Rich Been Getting Richer?

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich about the power of Washington lobbyists and his vision for reforms to make America more prosperous and equitable.

    Reich lamented that the middle class has not shared the benefits of our nation’s economic expansion over the past few decades:

    “The fact of the matter is that, as late as 1980, the top 1 percent by income in the United States had about nine percent of total national income. But since then, you’ve had increasing concentration of income and wealth to the point that by 2007 the top 1 percent was taking home 21 percent of total national income. Now, when they’re taking home that much, the middle class doesn’t have enough purchasing power to keep the economy growing. That was hidden by the fact that they were borrowing so much on their homes, they kept on consuming because of their borrowing. But once that housing bubble exploded, it exposed the fact that the middle class in this country has really not participated in the growth of the economy, and over the long term we’re not gonna have a recovery until the middle class has the purchasing power it needs to buy again.”

    Economist Dieter Braeuninger of Deutsche Bank Research notes that, during the period Reich describes, many developed countries experienced similar increases in income inequality. Braeuninger suggests that technological advances and a surplus of unskilled labor are responsible for this trend:

    “Income inequality has risen in the industrialized world with skilled workers’ incomes rising faster than compensation for low-skilled labor... [Economists] identify the strong pace in technological progress and, in particular, the revolution in [information technology] as the engine of change. The triumphant advance of the microchip, the PC, and the internet kick-started a wave of automation, as well as a transition to flexible and accelerated production processes. This not only boosted productivity, but also resulted in a shift from labor-intensive to capital-intensive production methods. The winners are hence both owners of capital goods as well as the highly qualified labor force... The new technologies allow the replacement of less qualified labor through physical capital, such as machines and computers... The global labor force has risen fourfold since the early 1980s. The supply of basic labor has increased enormously... As long as less-skilled workers cannot shift to more productive tasks, increasing income inequality remains a threat.”

    What do you think?

  • In your view, what are the key reasons for the increasing income inequality in the United States?

  • How does income inequality affect the country?

  • If you think that income inequality should be reduced, how do you suggest doing so? Explain.


  • June 5, 2009

    Michael Winship: The Privatization of Obama's War

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

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

    ''The Privatization of Obama's War''
    By Michael Winship

    The sudden reappearance of former Vice President Dick Cheney over the last few months – seeming to emerge from his famous undisclosed location more frequently now than he ever did when he was in office – does not mean six more weeks of winter. But it does bring to mind that classic country and western song, “How Can I Miss You When You Won't Go Away?”

    Or, maybe, “If You Won’t Leave Me, I’ll Find Someone Who Will.”

    In his self-appointed role as voice of the opposition, Mr. Cheney has been playing Nostradamus, gloomily predicting doom if the Obama White House continues to set aside Bush administration policy, setting the stage for recrimination and finger-pointing should there be another terrorist attack on America.

    Cheney’s grouchy legacy is the gift that keeps on giving. Just this week, THE WASHINGTON POST reported for the first time that while vice president, Cheney oversaw “at least” four of those briefings given to senior members of Congress about enhanced interrogation techniques; “part of a secretive and forceful defense he mounted throughout 2005 in an effort to maintain support for the harsh techniques used on detainees…

    “An official who witnessed one of Cheney’s briefing sessions with lawmakers said the vice president’s presence appeared to be calculated to give additional heft to the CIA’s case for maintaining the program.”

    And remember Halliburton, the international energy services company of which Cheney used to be the CEO? After the fall of Baghdad, Halliburton and its then-subsidiary KBR were the happy recipients of billions of dollars in outside contracts to take care of the military and rebuild Iraq’s petroleum industry. Waste, shoddy workmanship (like faulty wiring that caused fatal electric shocks) and corruption ran wild, Pentagon investigators allege, even as Vice President Cheney was still receiving deferred compensation and stock options.

    Continue reading "Michael Winship: The Privatization of Obama's War" »


    May 1, 2009

    How Should President Obama Deal with Torture?

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with journalist Mark Danner and legal scholar Bruce Fein about revelations that the United States engaged in torture during the previous administration, and what President Obama and Congress should do now.

    Danner said that Obama might not want to focus on torture due to its political divisiveness:

    “This is an issue that, as he has put it, ‘divides the country.’ But because it divides the country, in my opinion, is one reason we have to confront it. The idea that this is about the past is simply wrong. It’s not about the past – it’s about our present politics… I support prosecutions, but I believe there needs to be a full investigation that will not only tell us in minute terms what was done – we already know a lot about this – but that will educate the country. Not only about what was done, but what was lost, and why this is important.”

    Fein said that Obama avoid setting a precedent of lawlessness:

    “We ratified the convention against torture in the Senate. We passed it and made it a crime – it’s not a Republican or Democratic issue… In 2004, we confronted the same problem we had with Nixon – he wasn’t going to investigate Watergate… But now the President and Vice President who authorized this are gone, so there’s no obstacle. If President Obama didn’t want to be President and faithfully enforce the laws, he shouldn’t be there… If Obama thinks that these people, as he’s said, have committed torture, and he doesn’t believe it should go forward for political reasons, he needs to pardon them… Then, at least, we do not have a situation where we have set a precedent that lies around like a weapon, that you can violate the law with impunity.”

    What do you think?

  • Should President Obama and Congress push for an independent investigation of torture by the United States government?

  • If yes, should perpetrators be pardoned? Prosecuted?



  • How Effective is Community Organizing?

    This week, the JOURNAL profiled Massachusetts community organizer Steve Meacham, who recruits activists and works to stop evictions of people living in foreclosed homes.

    Meacham described the process of people becoming inspired to work for systemic change:

    “People come to their first meeting because they have a specific problem they want addressed, and they initially keep coming because their problem is addressed… People keep coming over time, and a lot of people come even after their problem is solved because they found something profound here… People go from feeling like victims to being activists on their own behalf, and then they take a step beyond that and they become activists on other people’s behalf, other people that were in the same situation they were in. Then they become activists on other issues besides housing, and pretty soon they’re trying to change the system.”

    During last year’s election campaign, John B. Judis of THE NEW REPUBLIC traced the history of President Obama’s experience as a community organizer. Judis suggests that Obama became disillusioned about the ability of community organizing to effect change:

    “[Obama said] that he feared community organizing would never allow him ‘to make major changes in poverty or discrimination.’ To do that, he said, ‘you either had to be an elected official or be influential with elected officials…’ If you examine carefully how Obama conducted himself as an organizer and how he has conducted himself as a politician, if you consider what he said about organizing to his fellow organizers, and if you look at the reasons he gave friends and colleagues for abandoning organizing… [you find] a disillusioned activist who fashioned his political identity not as an extension of community organizing but as a wholesale rejection of it.”

    What do you think?

  • How effective is community organizing at achieving major changes?

  • Are there more effective ways of pursuing systemic change?

    Due to technical difficulties, THE MOYERS BLOG is experiencing intermittent problems and may have trouble accepting new posts or comments at this time. Please check back, as we hope to have this problem resolved soon.

    In the meantime please send us your comments via email at moyersonpbs@thirteen.org.


  • April 3, 2009

    The Times They Are A-Changin’?

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with two prominent voices from alternative media, Amy Goodman and Glenn Greenwald, about how the cozy relationship between mainstream media and the Washington establishment has contributed to the daunting challenges America now faces. Both Goodman and Greenwald were cautiously optimistic that independent media is changing the ways people get information and raising public awareness.

    Goodman said:

    “I think there's a reason why independent media is growing all over this country. When President Bush could not find weapons of mass destruction, it exposed more than President Bush. People said, ‘how did the media get it so wrong?’ And they started looking for other sources. I think that's why DEMOCRACY NOW! is growing so much, and independent media — community radio and television and, of course, the Internet — as well. People are looking for alternative sources of information. Looking abroad, too, at all of the different forms of information access to information we can get.”

    Greenwald said:

    “I think that the advent of technology – the Internet, in particular – and also the collapse of trust that so many Americans had placed in political and media institutions... have really caused so many more citizens than ever before to question the kind of establishment instruments that have been used for so long to propagandize the citizenry, and to seek out alternative sources of truth... The more profound and transparent the failures of the institutions, the more the citizenry will be open to alternative ways of thinking... I actually feel rather optimistic that the work we do is paying off.”

    What do you think?

  • Will indendent media bring Americans of varying political views together to pursue real change in the public interest? Why or why not?

  • If so, where do you see indications of people with different views coming together?


  • December 12, 2008

    Wartime Presidents and the Rule of Law

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with political commentator Glenn Greenwald about the Bush administration’s assertion of expanded presidential powers and the prospect that Barack Obama may renounce them in favor of a traditional American vision of the rule of law.

    Glenn Greenwald said:

    “What we have in the last eight years is not merely a case of individual and isolated law breaking. It’s a declaration of war on the whole idea of law itself, on the idea that our political leaders are constrained in any way by the limitations of the American people imposed through our Congress... The last two years running for President, [Obama] renounced the core theories of the Bush administration that vested the President with the powers we’ve been describing and vowed that he would renounce them almost immediately upon taking office... I think he needs to say that he doesn’t intend to view himself as being above the rule of law, that he intends to be faithful to the vision and design of the founders that the President, like everybody else, is subject to the rule of law and to the laws that the American people enact through their representatives in Congress.”

    Political science professor Jean Edward Smith of Marshall University suggested that the Bush administration’s actions are part of a historical continuum including numerous previous presidents in times of war:

    “'The Constitution has never greatly bothered any wartime President,' wrote Francis Biddle, F.D.R.'s attorney general during World War II... National survival or, perhaps more accurately, the President's perception of national survival always takes precedence. George W. Bush has been no exception... Abraham Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus during the Civil War, and in several states he ordered the trial of civilians by military tribunals... [Woodrow] Wilson requested that Congress give the president absolute authority to censor the press in the event of war, to make it a federal crime to promote the success of America's enemies and to close the mail to any material deemed 'of a treasonable or anarchistic character'... The 1942 relocation of Japanese-Americans from their homes on the West Coast was, in [Franklin] Roosevelt's view, simply another act of wartime necessity dictated by the risk to America's defenses.”

    What do you think?

  • Do you expect Barack Obama to renounce or dial back the executive powers that the Bush administration asserted? Why or why not?

  • Is it appropriate for Presidents during wartime to disregard the Constitution in the name of national security? Why or why not?


  • An Act of Civil Disobedience amidst the Economic Crisis

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    This week's JOURNAL reported on the laid-off Chicago workers who successfully occupied their shuttered former workplace, Republic Windows & Doors, for several days to procure money and benefits.

    Bank of America had eliminated Republic's credit line because the company was unable to operate profitably in the current economic climate. In the face of political and public pressure following broad media coverage of the workers' sit-in, Bank of America restored Republic's credit to cover the severance and benefits to which the workers are legally entitled.

    Bill Moyers talked with legal and economic scholar Emma Coleman Jordan about the federal government's bailout efforts and asked her about the workers' actions in Chicago. Jordan said:

    "It is an opportunity that these workers took to stand up directly, and it's interesting because they targeted not just their employer, Republic Windows & Doors, but they targeted Bank of America. If you saw those signs, they explicitly understood the connection between finance and the closing of the plant. Bank of America -- $25 billion [recipient from the federal government] Bank of America -- cuts off the line of credit to Republic Windows & Doors... And the workers simply said, 'This is not fair. We're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore.' And they took direct action. I think that's a healthy thing for our democracy."

    Some critics have suggested that Bank of America acted irresponsibly to extend credit to a failing business that will not be able to repay the loan. Andy Busch of BMO Capital Markets wrote:

    "This is the path the United States is heading towards as the recession takes its toll and government reaches further and further into the private sector to stabilize the economy. Initially, the moves are welcomed as workers are looked after, jobs are created, and big business vilified. However, the government forcing banks to make loans to companies that can't make the payments perpetuates the weak credit problem and keeps the cycle going. This cycle deploys capital to non-productive uses and keeps it from flowing to solid companies that can create new jobs."

    What do you think?

  • Was the Republic Windows & Doors workers' civil disobedience an appropriate reaction to their situation? Why or why not?
  • Did Bank of America make the right decision to restore the credit line? Is it sustainable to continue doing so with other failing companies in the future?
  • Are there limitations of using civil disobedience to work toward a better society?


  • November 7, 2008

    Tracking America's Shifting Political Coalitions

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with economic and political critic Kevin Phillips about the results of the 2008 elections and what they tell us about the future of American politics.

    Phillips, whose 1969 book THE EMERGING REPUBLICAN MAJORITY [PDF link] correctly predicted an era of dominance for the GOP, said:

    "I think the Democrats are going to have enormous problems over the next four years [with] a coalition in which they represent new emerging demographic groups [like minorities and the under-30 vote] but also, based on contributions and political geography, represent the financial community now -- the upper-income groups. And how they straddle this, which is something they've never had to straddle before, especially in difficult times, I think will strain the demographics."

    Pointing to the success of California's Proposition 8, which found strong support from minority groups in its bid to ban gay marriage, Phillips suggested that the victorious Democratic coalition might fracture in years to come:

    "I think that only supports the division between the ordinary people and the financial elites, the fact that blacks and hispanics on some cultural issues are a lot more conservative than the suburbanites in Fairfield Country, Connecticut or Morris County, New Jersey... I can conceive that they would be more open to some of the black conservatives and Republicans who say 'you can't trust those people.'"

    What do you think?

  • Will the Democrats' electoral coalition prove durable over the next several election cycles?
  • Over the next few decades, do you expect Democratic and Republican party platforms to change significantly from those of today?


  • October 31, 2008

    POLL: Will The Next Government Break The Stranglehold of Money on Politics?

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    In this week's JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with Public Citizen president Joan Claybrook and Common Cause president Bob Edgar about the pervasive influence of money on our elected officials.

    Edgar said:

    "The defense industry, the auto industry, the banking industry, the health care industry -- they're in both parties. They're funding the elections on both sides. And it just points out that lobbyists aren't bad in and of themselves, but it's the amount of money that they put into the system that corrupts the system."

    After taking our poll, please discuss in the space below.


    October 17, 2008

    Standards for Voter Verification?

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    Speaking with Bill Moyers on THE JOURNAL this week, Mark Crispin Miller argued against laws mandating that voters present specific forms of identification before casting their ballots:

    “[The requirement] harks back to reconstruction and the Jim Crow laws... These IDs are not free. It often involves taking the time and trouble to go work your way through the bureaucracy and get that document... The use of signatures has served us perfectly well for a very long time. That’s kind of a common sense approach to this thing. So I would say that requiring documentation is putting an undue burden on a lot of people who may not have such documentation.”

    In a 6-3 decision in April, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an Indiana law requiring voters to present specific forms of government-issued identification like drivers’ licenses or passports. Opponents had argued that the law discriminated against poor, elderly, and minority voters. In a column about that Indiana Law, the WALL STREET JOURNAL’s John Fund wrote:

    “Supporters say photo ID laws simply extend rules that require everyone to show such ID to travel, enter federal office buildings or pick up a government check. An honor system, in their view, invites potential fraud... A new study by Jeffrey Milyo of the Truman Institute of Public Policy on Indiana’s voter turnout in 2006 did not find evidence that counties with more poor, elderly or minority voters had ‘any reduction in voter turnout relative to other counties’... Indiana officials make the obvious point that, without a photo ID requirement, in-person fraud is ‘nearly impossible to detect or investigate.’”

    What do you think?

  • Should voters be required to present government-issued photo ID at the polls? Why or why not?
  • Do you have confidence in the integrity of America’s electoral system?


  • September 26, 2008

    The Imperial Presidency?

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    In his conversation with Bill Moyers on this week’s JOURNAL, scholar and former army colonel Andrew Bacevich discussed his vision of what has gone wrong with American government and policy over the last several decades.

    “The Congress, especially with regard to matters related to national security policy, has thrust power and authority to the executive branch. We have created an imperial presidency. The Congress no longer is able to articulate a vision of what is the common good. The Congress exists primarily to ensure the reelection of members of Congress... As the Congress has moved to the margins, as the President has moved to the center of our politics, the presidency itself has come to be less effective...

    Because of this preoccupation, this fascination with the presidency, the President has become what we have instead of genuine politics, instead of genuine democracy... We look to the next President to fix things and, of course, that lifts all responsibility from me to fix things. So one of the real problems with the imperial presidency is that it has hollowed out our politics and, in many respects, has made our democracy a false one. We’re going through the motions of a democratic political system, but the fabric of democracy really has worn very thin.”

    What do you think?

    Do you agree with Bacevich’s assessment? If yes, how can we fix it? If no, explain.

    Bacevich talks about the legislative and executive branches. How does the judicial branch relate to his discussion?


    September 19, 2008

    What Questions Would You Ask of the Presidential Candidates?

    Numerous viewers have written to BILL MOYERS JOURNAL lamenting what some say has been the most sensational – and least educational – election coverage that the corporate news media has yet provided.

    Whether or not you agree with that dire diagnosis, you may have some questions for the Presidential candidates that have not penetrated coverage of the horse race.

    What questions would you ask of the Presidential candidates?

    Please respond below or email your questions to moyersblog [at] thirteen.org


    September 12, 2008

    Poll: Has The Press Scrutinized The Candidates Equally?

    In this week’s JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with journalists Les Payne and Brooke Gladstone about the media and the upcoming elections.

    Gladstone said that press coverage revolves around sensationalism:

    “This [election coverage] isn’t about relative importance. This is about celebrity. This is about putting your finger in the air and following the public mood. Is it news? No. Is it an audience generator? Yes.”

    We invite you to discuss in the space below.


    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?


  • 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?


    June 13, 2008

    The American Dream In Reverse?

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    Are we living in a second gilded age? Yes, according to historian Steven Fraser, one of Bill Moyers’ guests on the JOURNAL this week.

    “Basically, we left the financial marketplace largely unregulated – a tendency which had begun under Reagan and continued at an accelerated pace all through the years since Reagan, including under the Clinton administration... When push comes to shove, businessmen and their financial enablers may talk the talk about the free market. But when times get tough, they turn to the government to bail them out... That is this close, almost incestuous relationship between business and government.”

    Bill Moyers also spoke with columnist Holly Sklar about the difficulties many workers face in trying to earn a living wage. She said:

    “We’ve been living the American dream in reverse... Adjusting for inflation, average wages are lower than they were in the 1970s. Our minimum wage, adjusting for inflation, is lower than it was in the 1950s. One of the things going on is that income and wealth inequality have gone back to the 1920s. We are back at levels that we saw right before the Great Depression.”

    On the ground in Los Angeles, the JOURNAL introduced Jaron Quetel, a young union member struggling to make ends meet. He said:

    “Working the best job I’ve ever had in my whole life, I’m still a breath away from drowning. I’m $20 away from being on the street. I am one car payment away from being re-poed. I’m barely surviving. I’m leading a substandard lifestyle because I make substandard wages... If I wasn’t trying, if I was a screw-up, if I was taking advantage of things, I couldn’t complain. But what more can I do at this point?”

  • Are you feeling pinched by today’s economy? Are people in your community?
  • What economic policies would you like to see put into place? Do you expect politicians to enact any of them?

    [Please note we have provided a list of sites related to clean elections and you can find sites and research related to economic disparity and the work of Holly Sklar.]


  • June 9, 2008

    Rick Karr on Internet Surveillance

    Congress is still deadlocked over the Bush Administration's efforts to listen in to phone calls and read emails without search warrants. The sticking point is whether or not to allow private citizens to sue telecom conglomerates, the huge firms that provide most of us with phone and internet service - and helped the Administration spy on us. Now, the Administration wants to try to spy on Americans in another way. My colleague Rick Karr has this to bring you up to speed.
    -Bill Moyers
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    We invite you to respond in the space below.

    May 9, 2008

    National Sovereignty and International Law

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    In his conversation with Bill Moyers on the JOURNAL this week, international lawyer Philippe Sands discussed the Bush Administration’s view of international law:

    “They don't like international rules. It goes back to a project back in the 1990s, a Project for the New American Century, in which the very same people who came into the administration said, 'International rules impose constraints on the United States, undermine America's sovereignty, make America unable to protect itself. And we're going to get rid of them.' And they came into office, I think, with that as a policy objective. And 9/11 provided a useful way of taking that forward.”

    The argument that international laws endanger national sovereignty can be heard from diverse voices across the political spectrum with regard to a variety of issues.

    Regarding trade policy, for instance, progressive stalwart Ralph Nader warned against “sovereignty shredding” and said:

    “The decisions are now in Geneva, bypassing our courts, our regulatory agencies, our legislatures.”

    The conservative John Birch Society objects to the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America, which is purportedly a non-binding initiative to build “cooperative relations” between the United States, Canada, and Mexico. The Society argues:

    “Plans include a 'free trade zone with a common security perimeter,' thus erasing established international borders. U.S. citizens would then effectively surrender their citizenship to the North American Union (NAU)... The John Birch Society believes the American people should oppose any programs or projects that would replace our constitutional system and/or combine our government with the very different Canadian and Mexican governmental systems — effectively destroying the United States of America.”

    What do you think?

  • How should nation-states balance national sovereignty with international regulation and cooperation?
  • What are instances in which international law has proved beneficial? Detrimental? Explain.
  • Since international officials are not voted into office, can international law be democratic? Why or why not?


  • February 29, 2008

    Election Ads, Narratives, and Political Discourse

    In her conversation with Bill Moyers on the JOURNAL this week, media expert Kathleen Hall Jamieson suggested that politicians' campaign ads and other media appearances are akin to puzzle pieces that together form a larger, albeit ambiguous, narrative of the candidates' lives, characters, and campaigns:

    "We elect a person, not a set of issues... The strength of an underlying biographical narrative is extraordinarily important. You can't underestimate its importance when you're attacked, as every candidate will be, with a counter story... One of the things that advertising is able to do is to make some things more important in your decision about who should be president. And so ads are always a contest about what is important as an issue and what is important as an attribute about the candidate... There's an element of emotion in all of this... And we shouldn't lose track of the fact that advertising doesn't exist in isolation. People are drawing material from news, from what they are talking with their friends about, from the front pages into advertising to create a composite message"

    What do you think?

  • Do you agree that Americans vote for candidates as people rather than for their "set of issues?"
  • Can sound bites and 30-second ads sufficiently inform citizens about the issues, the candidates, and/or the policy differences between them? If so, has this happened so far in the race to November?
  • How would you like to see candidates and issue groups use the media to elevate political discourse?


  • February 15, 2008

    An Age of American Unreason?

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    Conversing with Bill Moyers on the JOURNAL this week, THE AGE OF AMERICAN UNREASON author Susan Jacoby offered various reasons for what she calls “an overarching crisis of memory and knowledge” in America, including our educational system:

    “You shouldn't have to be an intellectual or a college graduate to know that the sun doesn't revolve around the earth. There's been a huge failure of education. I do agree with many cultural conservatives about this: I think schools over the last 40 years [have been] just adding things, for example African-American history [and] women's history. These are all great additions, and necessary, but what they've done in addition to adding things is they really have placed less emphasis on the overall culture, cultural things that everybody should know. People getting out of high school should know how many Supreme Court justices there are. Most Americans don't.”

    What do you think?

  • Do you agree with Jacoby that America faces “an overarching crisis” of civic irrationality and ignorance?
  • If so, to what extent does the problem lie with America’s educational system? Politicians? The media?
  • Do these outlets reflect the priorities of interest groups more than essential knowledge for the public good? What reforms would you recommend to promote civic intelligence?

    (NOTE: Another interview with Susan Jacoby from the Moyers archives is available here.
    Several viewers have written in stating that the Constitution does not specifically state that the Supreme Court is the ultimate interpreter of the Constitution or all judicial review. Some legal scholars maintain that Article III does imply it and many argue that Marbury V. Madison only formalized that authority. )


  • Where Does (And Should) The Money Go?

    In the JOURNAL this week, WHERE DOES THE MONEY GO? authors and budget scrutinizers Scott Bittle and Jean Johnson contend that Washington’s fiscal irresponsibility is propelling America toward troubled times.

    Scott Bittle said:

    “Eventually, if nothing is done, by 2040 every dollar the federal government has will be taken in by Social Security, Medicare, and interest on the money we’ve already borrowed... Right now, one of the few areas of bipartisanship in Washington is the willingness not to deal with the problem... The war is certainly making our financial problems worse. But it’s not the sole cause and it’s not the sole answer."

    Jean Johnson said:

    “People don’t realize that the country has been in the red 31 out of the last 35 years, in good times and bad... There is no way to solve this problem without either raising taxes or cutting programs, or doing some of both. Right now that is a political death sentence, and we have to change that... We’re all gonna have to give a little and we’re all gonna have to live with some things that are not our first choice, but not doing anything is so much worse.”

    What do you think?

  • How, if at all, do you suggest the tax code be altered to ease the government’s fiscal crunch?
  • What, if any, programs should be reduced or cut to balance the budget?
  • What other suggestions do you have to bring the federal budget into the black?


  • February 8, 2008

    Bill Moyers' Reading Recommendation

    Last week, Bill Moyers asked viewers what book, other than the Bible, they recommend the next President bring to the White House. In the clip below, he reviews many of your submissions and reveals his own pick for the future President-elect.

    Watch Video

    We invite you to continue sharing your thoughts on Moyers' and others' recommendations and submitting your own suggestions for Presidential reading.

    (Please note that due to your overwhelming response our "complete list" keeps growing and growing. We invite you to view our books feature, complete with slideshow of popular suggestions and video of authors, as well as, peruse all the suggestions on the blog.)

    Here are the current top titles.

    • Naomi Klein, THE SHOCK DOCTRINE

    • Howard Zinn, A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

    • Kim Michaels, THE ART OF NON-WAR

    • Jared Diamond, COLLAPSE

    • Chalmers Johnson, BLOWBACK triology

    • Tom Paine, COLLECTED WORKS/COMMON SENSE

    • Al Gore, ASSAULT ON REASON/AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH

    • David Cay Johnston, FREE LUNCH

    • George Orwell, 1984/ANIMAL FARM

    • Naomi Wolff, THE END OF AMERICA: LETTERS TO A YOUNG PATRIOT

    • Greg Mortenson, THREE CUPS OF TEA

    • Barbara Ehrenreich, NICKLE AND DIMED

    • Barbara Tuchman, MARCH OF FOLLY

    • Doris Kearns Goodwin, TEAM OF RIVALS

    • David Korten, THE GREAT TURNING

    • John Steinbeck, THE GRAPES OF WRATH

    • Ayn Rand, ATLAS SHRUGGED

    • John Dean, BROKEN GOVERNMENT

    • John Perkins, CONFESSIONS OF AN ECONOMIC HITMAN

    • James Carroll, HOUSE OF WAR

    • Thomas Friedman, THE WORLD IS FLAT

    • Lao Tzu, TE TAO CHING

    • Tim Weiner, LEGACY OF ASHES

    • Dr. Seuss (THE LORAX, HORTON HEARS A WHO, THE PLACES YOU'LL GO, IF I RAN THE ZOO)


    February 7, 2008

    Kathleen Hall Jamieson Answers Your Questions

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    Last week, media expert Kathleen Hall Jamieson, accepted viewer questions regarding the road to November.

    Her response is as follows, and we invite you comment below:

    Continue reading "Kathleen Hall Jamieson Answers Your Questions" »


    February 1, 2008

    The Case of Lurita Doan and the GSA

    You may have been familiar with the scrutiny of Blackwater¹s mercenary army, or followed the troubles with oversight at the State Department, but chances are you hadn¹t heard of Lurita Doan. She isn¹t exactly a household name. So it might be surprising that, as head of the General Services Administration, Doan oversees $500 billion dollars worth of federal assets.
    capitol


    On the JOURNAL, Rep.Henry Waxman explains how an investigation that started with leaks about possible favoritism in awarding government contracts eventually uncovered documents and testimony that convinced Waxman that Doan had violated the Hatch Act, a law prohibiting federal employees from using government resources for partisan purposes. Waxman was so shocked by what the Committee found that he took the unusual step of asking Doan to resign at the end of the hearings. The Office of Special Counsel, which conducted a separate investigation of Doan, concluded that Doan should be "disciplined to the fullest extent for her serious violation of the Hatch Act and insensitivity to cooperating fully and honestly in the course of our investigation." Yet today Doan still heads the GSA.
    Watch Video

    Be sure to check out Exposé's coverage of the scandal.

    What do you think about the Doan case? Do you think there should be another avenue of recourse for the American people to hold political appointees accountable for their behavior?


    January 25, 2008

    Rethinking The Criminal Justice System

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    Conversing with Bill Moyers on the JOURNAL this week, author John Grisham said:

    “We still have two million people in prison in this country right now. Two million. Our prisons are choked, they’re so full. And most of them are non-violent. Most of them – and we’re spending between $40,000 and $80,000 somewhere to house them, every guy in prison. Now, somebody’s not doing the math here... Lock the bad ones away. But you gotta rethink everybody else. You gotta rethink the young kids who are in there because of crack cocaine. They need help. And if they serve five years they get out there and do the same thing over and over again. The system’s getting worse.”

    What do you think?

  • Do you agree with John Grisham that our criminal justice system should be rethought?
  • Why do you think the system works the way it does?
  • What reforms to our criminal justice system would you recommend?


  • January 18, 2008

    Democratization, U.S. Foreign Policy, and The Middle East

    In his conversation with Bill Moyers on this week’s JOURNAL, journalist Craig Unger said:

    “It does seem at times we don’t seem aware of the consequences of our actions. We go around talking about democracy, but the Saudis, of course, are a brutal theocracy. There’s not much in the way of human rights there. The whole vision of democratizing the Middle East, I think, really, in practical terms, has fallen by the wayside. And America’s objectives really, when it comes down to it, seem to be Israel’s security and oil... The whole vision is in tatters right now. And it’s very unclear what options the United States has... Our policies are so full of contradictions. And I think if you go back to the roots of it, it was built on so many misconceptions that a lot of this is coming home to roost.”

    What do you think?

  • Is Unger correct that Israel’s security and oil are the foundations of America’s policies in the Middle East?

  • Does U.S. involvement with and support of non-Democratic regimes undermine the goal of “democratizing the Middle East?” Is that an appropriate objective of American foreign policy?

  • How would you reformulate American foreign policy to fit the world of 2008?

    (Photo by Robin Holland)


  • Leveling The Playing Field?

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    Conversing with Bill Moyers on the JOURNAL this week, investigative reporter David Cay Johnston said:

    "Get rich by working hard, working smarter, coming up with a better mouse-trap. Don’t get rich by getting the government to pass a law that sticks the government’s hand into my pocket, takes money out of it, and gives it to you. That’s not right. That’s not a fair playing field. Adam Smith warned again and again that it is the nature and tendency of business people to want to put their thumb on the scale and, even better, to get the government to put the thumb on the scale for their benefit... You need entrepreneurs to have a good society. I don’t have any problem with entrepreneurs. But we need to have a system that also fairly distributes... When we have people who make billon-dollar-a-year incomes and pay 15 percent taxes and janitors who pay the same tax rate and school teachers who pay a 25 percent tax rate, something’s amiss."

    What do you think?

  • Is America’s present tax system unfair? If so, what do you suggest?

  • Does government have the responsibility to pursue redistribution of wealth? If so, what are reasonable expectations for such a policy?


  • Is Cynicism Un-American?

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    Reviewing Professor Harvey J. Kaye’s book THOMAS PAINE AND THE PROMISE OF AMERICA in THE NEW YORK TIMES, historian Joseph Ellis wrote:

    “'The promise of America' that Paine glimpsed so lyrically at the start cannot be easily translated into our 21st-century idiom without distorting the intellectual integrity of its 18th-century origins... In the wake of Darwin's depiction of nature, Freud's depiction of human nature, the senseless slaughter of World War I and the genocidal tragedies of the 20th century, Paine's optimistic assumptions appear naïve in the extreme. What a reincarnated Paine would say about our altered political and intellectual landscape is impossible to know. Kaye hears his voice more clearly and unambiguously than I do, a clarity of conviction that I envy. My more muddled position is that bringing Paine's words and ideas into our world is like trying to plant cut flowers.”

    Responding to this review in his JOURNAL interview, Kaye said:

    “I got to the end and I thought, 'How sad. The loss of hope, the loss of aspiration - how un-American,’ I almost said... Americans should always be trying to plant flowers. There are ways of sprouting things anew, and that’s what America’s about. We have no reason to fear. We have no reason to be cynical, no reason to be desperate...

    We need to have this kind of confidence in our fellow citizens that they somehow are able to take advantage of that confidence. It's our job to join with our fellow citizens and join them in the courage that we have.”

    What do you think?

  • Is cynicism about the direction of the United States “un-American?”
  • How much can “confidence in our fellow citizens” cure the ills of our body politic?
  • If such confidence can be effective, how can ordinary citizens “plant flowers” for a better nation and world?


  • Moyers on Clinton, Obama, King and Johnson

    LBJ and Martin Luther King, Johnson Library
    Watch Video

    We invite you to respond by commenting below.


    January 11, 2008

    Guest Blogger: Debate Watching 101 with Kathleen Hall Jamieson

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    By Kathleen Hall Jamieson

    1) I recommend not watching the coverage immediately before the debate and, when the debate is finished, turn the television off and talk with your family about what you saw and what was important to you. And think about what you saw.

    2) Candidates make different assumptions about government's role, about economic policy, about the value of government regulation, about the role of the US in the world, about appropriate use of military power, about US relationships with other countries... and the like. What are the governing philosophies of the candidates?

    3) Come to a debate with a list of the issues that matter to you and ask what you learned about each candidate's record and promises on those issues. Where are they similar and how do they differ?

    4) When a candidate promises a new program or any move that will reduce government revenue -- how will the candidate pay for it? Increase the deficit? Cut spending elesewhere and if so where? Raise taxes? On whom?

    5) How accurate are candidates' descriptions of opponents' programs? And how accurate are a candidate's descriptions of his or her own record?

    6) Is the candidate willing to tell voters things they don't want to hear about the challenges facing the country and what is required to address them?

    7) If the country were faced with a crisis, what can you know from the candidates' past performance, character, and dispositions about whether the country would be in good hands?

    Continue reading "Guest Blogger: Debate Watching 101 with Kathleen Hall Jamieson" »


    January 4, 2008

    Crashing The Parties?

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    Discussing elections with Bill Moyers on the JOURNAL this week, Kathleen Hall Jamieson highlighted the importance of citizens left out by the polarized and exclusive process of selecting Presidential nominees:

    “You could say that at issue in both Iowa and New Hampshire is going to be: Where are the independents going and what does that say about the country? We tend to think, because the primaries are so structured around party, that this is about Republicans and it's about Democrats. And Ron Paul only gets into this discussion because he comes in as a libertarian but runs as a Republican in the party... But we forget in the press that people who vote and the people who are governed are not only Democrats and Republicans. There are libertarians there. There are undecideds there. There are people who legitimately say ‘I don’t identify with any of this. I’ll call myself independent.’”

    In his interview with Moyers, Ron Paul suggested that America’s two-party system belies our democratic rhetoric.

    “We send boys over there to promote democracy in Iraq, but we don’t really have democracy here. If you’re in a third party, if you’re in the Green Party or Libertarian Party, you don’t get any credibility. You can’t get on debates. You can’t get on ballots hardly at all. It’s very, very difficult. And the two parties are the same. You don’t really have a democratic choice here.

    Foreign policy never changes. Domestic fiscal policy, the welfare entitlement system never changes. Monetary policy won’t even be discussed. And that’s both parties. The vehicle that you use I think is not as relevant as the message. And that has been what has driven me, the fact that we need to change course in this country.”

    What do you think?

  • Does the two-party system adequately provide citizens with real choices on various issues? If not, can citizens reform the parties to change this?

  • Does the two-party system essentially mandate the exclusion of serious third-party contenders?

  • As Ron Paul’s Web-based, grassroots-driven campaign has seen some success, do you think the Internet can democratize the political process and/or the two-party system?


  • Media and the Presidential Election

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    In her conversation with Bill Moyers on this week’s JOURNAL, Kathleen Hall Jamieson discussed the media's influence on ‘outsider’ candidates like Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich:

    "Those two have provided a clear alternative in the debates and expanded the range of discourse within each political party. Alternative parties don’t get to have debates. They don’t get that kind of television coverage. We don’t have any way to have those ideas percolate back into the mainstream. We don’t have any way for the public to see that those are legitimate and viable options and as a result, potentially, to rally behind them. And so, when those voices are marginalized, where people are taken out of the debate, that’s problematic for the process.”

    Dennis Kucinich agrees. Having been rejected from THE DES MOINES REGISTER debate before the Iowa caucuses and now the ABC News debate before New Hampshire, Kucinich tells Moyers:

    "How can you have a debate if you don’t have a voice that challenges all the others? Right now every other Democrat on that stage will be for keeping our troops in Iraq through at least 2013. Every other Democrat on the stage will be there to keep a for-profit healthcare system going with all of these Americans who don’t have coverage. Everyone else on the stage will be there for the continuation of NAFTA and the WTO. I mean, my position on the American political scene is to show people there’s a whole different direction that America can take here at home and in the world. And the Democratic Party in narrowing the choices and the media in trying to block the point of view that I represent is really doing a disservice to the American people.”

    What do you think?

  • Do you agree that media and its political coverage has too great an influence on the elections?

  • Does mainstream media effectively serve the public interest in elections and create informed voters? If not, what are ways in which it can improve?

  • Do you think we have too many or too few debates? Are we including enough participants in the debates?


  • December 20, 2007

    Is It Time For A New Constitutional Convention?

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    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?


  • 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?


  • Media Consolidation: What happens after the FCC vote?

    By Rick KarrRick Karr by Robin Holland

    (photo by Robin Holland)

    Next Tuesday (December 18), the five members of the Federal Communications Commission will decide whether or not the U.S. will go through another frenzy of media consolidation: They'll vote on Republican FCC Chairman Kevin Martin's proposal to let newspapers buy radio and TV stations. Martin's plan is opposed by minority groups, a majority (pdf) of the public, and, as we report on this week's edition of THE JOURNAL, Capitol Hill lawmakers from both parties.

    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:

    Continue reading "Media Consolidation: What happens after the FCC vote?" »


    December 7, 2007

    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."

    And new media is having other effects as well. Barack Obama has a formidable presence on Facebook, including one group with more than 400,000 members - while the largest opposing Hillary Clinton has more than 600,000. And in a development that stunned many analysts, Ron Paul used the Internet to raise more than $4 million in a single day despite minimal coverage from the mainstream media. In fact, this week a new-media driven grassroots movement for Dr. Paul announced that it has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to launch a blimp in hopes of garnering media attention.

    What do you think?

  • How is new media impacting the 2008 Presidential race?

  • Will Internet activism be an effective way to marshal votes in primaries and elections?

  • Is new media a net positive or negative for the nation’s political discourse?


  • Religion In Politics

    In this week’s edition of the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers asked Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Melissa Rogers about Presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s high-profile speech regarding his Mormonism, highlighting the following quote:

    "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?


  • November 2, 2007

    News Polarization & Ethnic Media

    In this week’s JOURNAL, WVON Chicago radio program director Coz Carson says:

    “There’s a great deal of mistrust for mainstream media when it comes to African-American issues. So when we approach people, when we ask them to speak to us, they feel like they’re speaking with family, they’re speaking with people who understand their plight.”

    A paper from Stanford University's Political Communications Lab about political preferences and news polarization argues that since “people prefer to encounter information that they find supportive or consistent with their existing beliefs” there is a “real possibility that news will no longer serve as the ‘social glue’ that connects all Americans… [as they turn] to biased but favored providers.”

    What do you think?

  • Can this conclusion be applied to ethnic media as well?
  • Does news coverage from specific ethnic media outlets for specific ethnic groups contribute to the polarization of the news?
  • Do ethnic media serve their communities in ways the mainstream media can’t? If so, how?


  • August 31, 2007

    Seeds of Change

    By Grace Lee Boggs

    I was privileged to participate in the great humanizing movements of the last century, but I can’t recall a time when the issues were so basic, so interconnected.

    How are we going to make our livings in a society becoming increasingly jobless because of hi-tech and outsourcing? Where will we get the imagination to recognize that for most of human history the concept of Jobs didn’t even exist? Work, as distinguished from Labor, was done to produce needed goods and services, develop skills and artistry, and nurture cooperation.

    How do we rebuild cities like Detroit that were once the arsenal of democracy into models of 21st century self-reliance and sustainability?

    How do we redefine education so that 30-50 percent of inner-city children do not drop out of school, thus ensuring that millions will end up in prison?

    What will move us to care for our biosphere instead of using our technological mastery to increase the speed at which we are making it uninhabitable?

    Can we build an America in which people of all races and ethnicities live together in harmony, and Euro-Americans, in particular, celebrate their role as one among many minorities constituting the multiethnic majority?

    And, especially since 9/11, how do we achieve reconciliation with the two-thirds of the world that increasingly resents our economic, military, and cultural domination?

    These are the times to grow our souls. Each of us is called upon to embrace the conviction that despite the powers and principalities bent on commodifying all our human relationships, we have the power within us to create the world anew.

    We can begin by doing small things at the local level, like planting community gardens or looking out for our neighbors. That is how change takes place in living systems, not from above but from within, from many local actions occurring simultaneously.

    Actions like these seem insignificant because we judge progress in terms of quantity. But, as the decline of GM suggests, the time has come to rethink the way we think. In the words of organizational consultant Margaret Wheatley (Leadership and Modern Science):

    “From a Newtonian perspective, our efforts often seem too small, and we doubt that our actions will contribute incrementally to large-scale change. But a quantum view explains the success of small efforts quite differently.

    Acting locally allows us to be inside the movement and flow of the system, Changes in small places affect the global system, not through incrementalism, but because every small system participates in an unbroken wholeness. We never know how our small activities will affect others through the invisible fabric of our connectedness. In this exquisitely connected world, it’s never a question of ‘critical mass.’ It’s always about critical connections.”


    August 8, 2007

    Impeachment: The Conversation Continues

    The tremendous response from our recent impeachment panel broadcast tells us this is a conversation that is important to you. Here are a few of the thousands responses we've been receiving:

    Ethel, July 13, 2007:

    After watching tonight's Bill Moyers program, I think for the first time in a long time, I feel hopeful. There is a solution! For the last five years, I have been watching and listening and feeling rather isolated in my frustration and disgust. Impeachment is the solution for this federal insanity.

    Carol Taylor, July 14, 2007:

    Thank you Mr. Moyers for the re-education about the Constitution. I have already written to Nancy Pelosi. This program is just what we need to hear.

    Lee Partide, July 14, 2007:

    One sided and misleading. Bill Moyers is a good presenter and very smooth, but what is frightening is the power he and the media exercise by presenting information that neglects so many facts, and does not present rebuttal by the myriad others who can refute claims made on this show, and point out their dangers. I am NO Bush fan, but your show edges on appalling by misrepresentations. One can see how far this has gone by reading how many people in media (and thus among the population) compare Bush to such people as Hitler. That kind of extremism presented under the guise of objective journalism is what is MOST scary in our culture.

    SR, July 15, 2007:

    I am not nearly as articulate as your bloggers, however, I was compelled to say something...I was raised to respect our leaders, our elders and one another. To trust in our government and have faith in our religion...What has happened to the America we once knew?...We the American people can no LONGER hide our heads in the sand-- we cannot rely on our political leaders to help us out of this peril...Thank you SO MUCH for airing this show.

    Ken, July 14, 2007:

    I just caught the end of your show waiting for the British comedies to come on. What a bunch of crap! The democrats don't have the guts to stop the war or impeach Bush or Cheney. What congress should do is remove public funding for this show and send it to the troops in the war.

    We invite you to continue to the conversation by commenting below.


    Poll: Civil Liberties and National Security

    Constitutional scholar, Bruce Fein states:

    “Most important thing for the American people to know is that the great genius of the founding fathers, their revolutionary idea, with the chief mission of the state is to make you and them free to pursue their ambitions and faculties. Not to build empires, not to aggrandize government. That's the mission of the state, to make them free, chart their own destiny. And the burden is on the government to try to understand why that freedom has to be curtailed for a security purpose or otherwise.”

    Photo: Robin Holland

    Answer our poll question, then debate the topic below.


    August 6, 2007

    Buying the War, Again?

    Four months since our original broadcast of Buying the War and more than four years after the US-led invasion of Iraq, has the media's coverage of the Iraq war changed?

    As President Bush continues to declare that Iraq has become the main battleground in the war on terror, NEW YORK TIMES public editor Clark Hoyt recently wrote a column criticizing the coverage of his paper, that it has not delved far enough into the intricacies of the enemy in Iraq:

    Why Bush and the military are emphasizing al Qaeda to the virtual exclusion of other sources of violence in Iraq is an important story. So is the question of how well their version of events squares with the facts of a murky and rapidly changing situation on the ground.

    But these are stories you haven’t been reading in THE TIMES in recent weeks as the newspaper has slipped into a routine of quoting the president and the military uncritically about al Qaeda’s role in Iraq - and sometimes citing the group itself without attribution.

    And in using the language of the administration, the newspaper has also failed at times to distinguish between al Qaeda, the group that attacked the United States on Sept. 11, and al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, an Iraqi group that didn’t even exist until after the American invasion.

    Oliver North, who has made 8 trips to Iraq with FOX News, agrees that most media outlets are not reporting the Iraq war accurately, but in a different way:

    For nearly two years, the potentates of the press have been slavishly following liberal dogma and telling us that the war in Iraq is all but lost; that the region will never embrace democracy and that young Americans serving there are dying needlessly. Even before the “troop surge” was underway, they were telling us that it wouldn’t work. And since the final contingent of 28,500 additional troops arrived in theater two months ago most members of the Fourth Estate have tried to convince us that it has failed. Some of them may even believe it, but that doesn’t make it true.

    What do you think?

    -Is the media sufficiently reporting the truth about the war on the ground?
    -Where do you turn for the latest information and analysis about the Iraq War?

    Want to read the original blog discussion that helped to merit this rebroadcast? Click here.


    August 3, 2007

    Cultural Amnesia: Who would you remember?

    Cultural critic, Clive James, has gathered 106 biographical essays in his recent collection, CULTURAL AMNESIA: NECESSARY MEMORIES FROM HISTORY AND THE ARTS, with the hope that future generations will learn from the lives and interconnections of these individuals; how they each contributed to our collective story, for good or bad.

    You can read many of his essays here at Slate.com including commentaries on Duke Ellington, Adolph Hitler, and Leon Trotsky.

    But since we all have different lives, and inhabit various circles, we are each affected by a diverse group of people.

    • So who do you believe is worth remembering?
    • Which individual, for good or ill, do you believe is most important for generations to come to understand and learn from? And why?


    A New American Dream?

    It was James Truslow Adams who first coined the term "The American Dream" in his book THE EPIC OF AMERICA written in 1931. He writes that the American dream is:

    "...that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.

    It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position."

    But Barbara Ehrenreich, who has lived, worked and fought along side low-wage workers has witnessed the growing disparity of wages between the rich and poor. The hopes and dreams of many of the workers she's been hearing from seem to differ from the definition above. Says Ehrenreich:

    "There was one woman who said something to me that was so poignant. Speaking of her hopes for the future, she said, 'My big wish would be to have a job which if I missed work one day, like for a child home sick or something, I would still be able to buy groceries for the next day.' And I thought, yeah, that's quite a hope."

    How would you define the American Dream?

  • Has it changed for you over time?
  • Do you think your children or even your grandchildren will define it the same way?

    Photo: Robin Holland


  • July 27, 2007

    Why Earmarks Matter

    by Ryan Alexander, President of Taxpayers for Common Sense

    At Taxpayers for Common Sense, we believe that the impact of earmarks is greater than the billions of dollars they cost the federal treasury. With a federal budget close to $3 trillion, we know that earmarks are not the only source of government waste. But the earmarking process is a breakdown in democratic decision-making in the Congress. We are putting the unprecedented amount of power to direct billions of dollars of projects in the hands of very small group of legislators and lobbyists. The all-consuming chase for earmarks distracts Congress and takes time away from important policy debates.

    This year alone, there were more than 30,000 requests for earmarks in the House of Representatives – all of which had to be reviewed by staff on the Appropriations Committee. That’s a tremendous amount of effort and time to bring $100,000 for a theater renovation or $150,000 for Robotics Training Equipment at a local community college to a local congressional district. Don’t get me wrong, these and other projects may deserve federal support, but most of us don’t get a chance to ask why these projects are better than others or why they should be funded first before other projects. The lack of a competitive or a meritorious process means that projects may be ignored in favor of those backed by the politically powerful.

    Continue reading "Why Earmarks Matter" »


    July 13, 2007

    Bill Moyers Essay: The War Debate

    Click the picture above to watch Bill Moyers' essay on the ongoing war debate in Congress.

    Then tell us what you think by commenting below.


    July 3, 2007

    Story Updates: Libby, Eagles, Trade and more

    Libby Sentence Commuted: Reaction to President Bush's commutation of Scooter Libby's sentence was rapid. House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, Jr. announced that he will be holding a full committee hearing next week titled, "The Use and Misuse of Presidential Clemency Power for Executive Branch Officials." After President Clinton pardoned 140 people on his last day in office, Congressional leadership held similar hearings entitled, "Proposals to amend the president’s power to grant reprieves and pardons." Read an excerpt from testimony here.

    Read more about the issues surrounding the case and continue the conversation.

    Watch Bill Moyers' recent essay entitled, "Begging his Pardon"

    "We have yet another remarkable revelation of the mindset of Washington's ruling clique of neoconservative elites—the people who took us to war from the safety of their Beltway bunkers. Even as Iraq grows bloodier by the day, their passion of the week is to keep one of their own from going to jail."


    Watch Bill Moyers interview with Ambassador Joseph Wilson from NOW with Bill Moyers, February 28, 2003. It was the release of Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame's identity as a CIA agent which led to the Libby trial.

    "Somehow it's hard for me to imagine that a democratic system will emerge out of the ashes of Iraq in the near term. And when and if it does, it's hard for me to believe that it will be more pro-American and more pro-Israeli than what you've got now," says Joseph Wilson in his interview.

    More about Plamegate and Judith Miller from BUYING THE WAR.
    ---------------------------

    Continue reading "Story Updates: Libby, Eagles, Trade and more" »


    June 29, 2007

    Moyers on Murdoch

    Watch the videoIf Rupert Murdoch were the Angel Gabriel, you still wouldn’t want him owning the sun, the moon, and the stars. That’s too much prime real estate for even the pure in heart.

    But Rupert Murdoch is no saint; he is to propriety what the Marquis de Sade was to chastity. When it comes to money and power he’s carnivorous: all appetite and no taste. He’ll eat anything in his path. Politicians become little clay pigeons to be picked off with flattering headlines, generous air time, a book contract or the old-fashioned black jack that never misses: campaign cash. He hires lobbyists the way Imelda Marcos bought shoes, and stacks them in his cavernous closet, along with his conscience; this is the man, remember, who famously kowtowed to the Communist overlords of China, oppressors of their own people, to protect his investments there.

    Continue reading "Moyers on Murdoch" »


    June 27, 2007

    Story Updates

    More Capitol Crimes...
    Yesterday, U.S. District Court Judge Ellen Huvelle sentenced J. Steven Griles to 10 months in prison for obstructing an investigation into the Jack Abramoff scandal. As you probably remember, Griles is the former energy lobbyist that became the Deputy Secretary of the Interior in 2001, until he resigned the post in 2004 to set up his own lobbing firm. From a recent WASHINGTON POST story:

    Griles asked Abramoff for favors for the women in his life, prosecutors said, and in exchange helped Abramoff's clients with their government business. One of Griles's girlfriends, Italia Federici, got $500,000 for her nonprofit from Abramoff's Indian tribes.

    "I concealed the nature and extent of my true relationship with Italia Federici," Griles confessed to the judge yesterday in a statement interrupted by stifled sobs. Choking out the words, a burly, red-faced Griles told Huvelle that "this has been the most difficult time in my life. My guilty plea has brought me great shame and embarrassment."

    Capitol Crimes, the recent Moyers report about Jack Abramoff and the dark side of American politics, can be viewed online in its entirety here. Also, for information about Griles and the revolving door, check out this story from NOW with Bill Moyers from May 30, 2003.

    Continue reading "Story Updates" »


    June 26, 2007

    It's an Old Story...

    From Sunday's THE WASHINGTON POST feature, "Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency," reported by Barton Gellman and Jo Becker:

    "Across the board, the vice president's office goes to unusual lengths to avoid transparency. Cheney declines to disclose the names or even the size of his staff, generally releases no public calendar and ordered the Secret Service to destroy his visitor logs. His general counsel has asserted that 'the vice presidency is a unique office that is neither a part of the executive branch nor a part of the legislative branch,' and is therefore exempt from rules governing either. Cheney is refusing to observe an executive order on the handling of national security secrets, and he proposed to abolish a federal office that insisted on auditing his compliance."

    While the media may be covering this story all week through television and radio reports from many angles, we at THE JOURNAL thought we'd step back and remind you that this is an old story.

    Check out this Bill Moyers essay from 2002 on The Freedom of Information Act:

    Continue reading "It's an Old Story..." »


    June 15, 2007

    When One Becomes Two...

    Both Andy Stern and Grace Lee Boggs agree that when active, informed citizens band together with common cause, they can make a world of change:


    I always listen to Margaret Mead who says never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. In fact, it's the only thing that ever has...

    ...We have seen incredible acts of courage and heroism by very small groups of people like in the civil rights movement...but we don't want small answers anymore. We don't want small changes.


    I believe that we are at the point now, in the United States, where a movement is beginning to emerge... the present moment, is demanding that instead of just complaining about these things, instead of just protesting about these things, we begin to look for, and hope for, another way of living. I see the signs in the various small groups that are emerging all over the place to try and regain our humanity in very practical ways.

    In your community, do you see signs of a grassroots revolution emerging?

    We invite you to tell your stories about groups that you've joined or witnessed in your local communities that speak to this notion of informed citizens effecting change, one small seed at a time.

    Photos: Robin Holland


    Begging His Pardon

    by Bill Moyers

    We have yet another remarkable revelation of the mindset of Washington's ruling clique of neoconservative elites—the people who took us to war from the safety of their Beltway bunkers. Even as Iraq grows bloodier by the day, their passion of the week is to keep one of their own from going to jail.

    It is well known that I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby—once Vice President Cheney’s most trusted adviser—has been sentenced to 30 months in jail for perjury. Lying. Not a white lie, mind you. A killer lie. Scooter Libby deliberately poured poison into the drinking water of democracy by lying to federal investigators, for the purpose of obstructing justice.

    Attempting to trash critics of the war, Libby and his pals in high places—including his boss Dick Cheney—outed a covert CIA agent. Libby then lied toLibby cover their tracks. To throw investigators off the trail, he kicked sand in the eyes of truth. "Libby lied about nearly everything that mattered,” wrote the chief prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. The jury agreed and found him guilty on four felony counts. Judge Reggie B. Walton—a no-nonsense, lock-em-up-and-throw-away-the-key type, appointed to the bench by none other than George W. Bush—called the evidence “overwhelming” and threw the book at Libby.

    You would have thought their man had been ordered to Guantanamo, so intense was the reaction from his cheerleaders. They flooded the judge's chambers with letters of support for their comrade and took to the airwaves in a campaign to “free Scooter.”

    Vice President Cheney issued a statement praising Libby as “a man…of personal integrity”—without even a hint of irony about their collusion to browbeat the CIA into mangling intelligence about Iraq in order to justify the invasion.

    “A patriot, a dedicated public servant, a strong family man, and a tireless, honorable, selfless human being,” said Donald Rumsfeld—the very same Rumsfeld who had claimed to know the whereabouts of weapons of mass destruction and who boasted of “bulletproof” evidence linking Saddam to 9/11. “A good person” and “decent man,” said the one-time Pentagon adviser Kenneth Adelman, who had predicted the war in Iraq would be a “cakewalk.” Paul Wolfowitz wrote a four-page letter to praise “the noblest spirit of selfless service” that he knew motivated his friend Scooter. Yes, that Paul Wolfowitz, who had claimed Iraqis would “greet us as liberators” and that Iraq would “finance its own reconstruction.” The same Paul Wolfowitz who had to resign recently as president of the World Bank for using his office to show favoritism to his girlfriend. Paul Wolfowitz turned character witness.

    The praise kept coming: from Douglas Feith, who ran the Pentagon factory of disinformation that Cheney and Libby used to brainwash the press; from Richard Perle, as cocksure about Libby’s “honesty, integrity, fairness and balance” as he had been about the success of the war; and from William Kristol, who had primed the pump of the propaganda machine at THE WEEKLY STANDARD and has led the call for a Presidential pardon. “The case was such a farce, in my view,” he said. “I’m for pardon on the merits.”

    One beltway insider reports that the entire community is grieving—“weighted down by the sheer, glaring unfairness” of Libby's sentence.

    And there’s the rub.

    None seem the least weighted down by the sheer, glaring unfairness of sentencing soldiers to repeated and longer tours of duty in a war induced by deception. It was left to the hawkish academic Fouad Ajami to state the matter baldly. In a piece published on the editorial page of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, Ajami pleaded with Bush to pardon Libby. For believing “in the nobility of this war,” wrote Ajami, Scooter Libby had himself become a “casualty”—a fallen soldier the President dare not leave behind on the Beltway battlefield.

    Not a word in the entire article about the real fallen soldiers. The honest-to-God dead, and dying, and wounded. Not a word about the chaos or the cost. Even as the calamity they created worsens, all they can muster is a cry for leniency for one of their own who lied to cover their tracks.

    There are contrarian voices: “This is an open and shut case of perjury and obstruction of justice,” said Pat Buchanan. “The Republican Party stands for the idea that high officials should not be lying to special investigators.” From the former Governor of Virginia, James Gilmore, a staunch conservative, comes this verdict: “If the public believes there’s one law for a certain group of people in high places and another law for regular people, then you will destroy the law and destroy the system.”

    So it may well be, as THE HARTFORD COURANT said editorially, that Mr Libby is “a nice guy, a loyal and devoted patriot…but none of that excuses perjury or obstruction of justice. If it did, truth wouldn’t matter much.”


    June 14, 2007

    Preview: Grace Lee Boggs


    Watch the video

    This Week on Bill Moyers Journal:

    Bill Moyers interviews writer, activist, and philosopher Grace Lee Boggs, who has taken part in some of the seminal civil rights struggles in U.S. history, about her belief that real change for democracy will come from the grassroots.

    “We're not looking sufficiently at what is happening at the grassroots in the country,” she says. “We have not emphasized sufficiently the cultural revolution that we have to make…in order to force the government to do differently.”

    Check Your Local Listings here and we'll see you on the blog after the show.


    June 1, 2007

    Bill Moyers Essay: Listening to History

    Watch the video

    The other day, I received an email from another journalist, Greg Mitchell who runs the magazine EDITOR AND PUBLISHER. He forwarded me the tape of a conversation between my old boss, Lyndon Johnson, and the White House National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy. I'd never heard it before -- although it occurred while I was in the White House 43 years ago.

    The year was 1964. The month was May. The President and Bundy were talking before the Gulf of Tonkin Resoluton, that LBJ later used as a green light to escalate, before the campaign against Barry Goldwater in which the President said, 'We seek no wider war,' and before the fatal escalation of troops a year later. When this conversation took place, there were, if memory serves me, sixteen- to twenty-thousand Americans in Vietnam, only we called them advisors. At the time, the war in Vietnam was only a small dark cloud on the very distant horizon. Here’s an excerpt from that conversation:

    LBJ: I would tell you...the more that I stayed awake last night thinking of this...and the more that I think of it...I don't know what in the hell...we...looks like to me that we're getting into another Korea. It just worries the hell out of me. I don't see what we can ever hope to get out of there with...once we're committed... I believe that the Chinese communists are coming into it...I don't think we can fight them 10,000 miles away from home and ever get anyway on that area...I don't think that it's worth fighting for...and I don't think that we can get out...and it's just the biggest damn mess that i ever saw.

    Bundy: It is an awful mess.

    LBJ: And we just got to think about...I'm looking at this sergeant of mine this morning...got six little old kids over there...and he's getting out my things...and bringing me in my night reading and all that kind of stuff...and I just thought about ordering...ordering those kids in there...and what in the hell am I ordering them out there for? It's damn easy to get into a war, but it's...going to be harder to ever extricate yourself if you get in...

    That was May 1964. Two hundred and sixty Americans had been killed in Vietnam by then. Eleven years and two presidents later, when U.S. forces pulled out, 58,209 Americans had died, and an estimated 3 million Vietnamese.


    May 30, 2007

    Preview: Cleaning House


    Watch the video

    Friday, June 1 at 9pm on Bill Moyers Journal, one of Washington's most influential public advocates, Joan Claybrook of Public Citizen, talks about what is at stake in the ethical reforms under consideration in Congress.


    May 21, 2007

    Tolerance and Democracy

    Expanding upon your diverse comments regarding Bill Moyers' interview with Bruce Bawer, consider these two arguments from the blog discussion:

    Posted by: Toscha | May 19, 2007 01:11 PM:

    ...it is beyond hypocritical to criticize an ideology or faith that is, according to you, anti-democracy, and then turn around and state that democratic freedoms (to say, vote for your elected representatives) should not be extended to people who profess this faith or ideology! Bawer holds democratic values as the end all be all, but in the same breath admits these values do not work when it comes to a certain segment of the population. Democracy means giving everyone a voice and adequate information and accepting the will of the people. Not, giving everyone who agrees with you a voice and ensuring the will of the people reflects your values.

    Posted by: M. Costello | May 19, 2007 09:16 PM:

    It should be noted that Muslims are quick to insist on their rights in Europe, but equally quick, and in large numbers to denounce others who exercise those rights. The Danish cartoons episode is but one example of this. Freedom of speech and freedom of the press is ok, except when criticism of Islam is involved. Such is the Muslim notion of democracy at work, and such is the notion of Muslim democracy.

    What do you think?

    -Can democracies ever be too tolerant of other cultures and their beliefs?
    -When, if ever, does tolerance become appeasement?

    Photo: Robin Holland


    May 18, 2007

    Bill Moyers Essay: SOS

    It's time to send an SOS for the least among us — I mean small independent magazines. They are always struggling to survive while making a unique contribution to the conversation of democracy. Magazines like NATIONAL REVIEW, THE AMERICAN PROSPECT, SOJOURNERS, THE AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE, THE NATION, WASHINGTON MONTHLY, MOTHER JONES, IN THESE TIMES, WORLD MAGAZINE, THE CHRISTIAN CENTURY, CHRISTIANITY TODAY, COLUMBIA JOURNALISM REVIEW, REASON and many others.

    The Internet may be the way of the future, but for today much of what you read on the Web is generated by newspapers and small magazines. They may be devoted to a cause, a party, a worldview, an issue, an idea, or to one eccentric person's vision of what could be, but they nourish the public debate. America wouldn't be the same without them.

    Our founding fathers knew this; knew that a low-cost postal incentive was crucial to giving voice to ideas from outside the main tent. So they made sure such publications would get a break in the cost of reaching their readers. That's now in jeopardy. An impending rate hike, worked out by postal regulators, with almost no public input but plenty of corporate lobbying, would reward big publishers like Time Warner, while forcing these smaller periodicals into higher subscription fees, big cutbacks and even bankruptcy.

    It's not too late. The postal service is a monopoly, but if its governors, and especially members of Congress, hear from enough citizens, they could have a change of heart. So, liberal or conservative, left or right, libertarian, vegetarian, communitarian or Unitarian, or simply good Samaritan, let's make ourselves heard.






    For more information, please visit:
    http://action.freepress.net/freepress/postal_explanation.html


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