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Mississippi River
9.06.02
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ANNOUNCER: You're watching NOW with Bill Moyers. With contributions from NPR news. This week on NOW...

MOYERS: Louisiana is shrinking, and it's an ecological calamity.

TED FALGOUT: This business could wash away overnight, and that's a threat

MOYERS: We visit the Louisiana coastline, and find old adversaries teaming up to save it.

And it's an election year — politics takes to the air. Somebody's trying to tell us something.

CAMPAIGN COMMERCIAL: Would you vote for a millionaire who has lied to you?

MOYERS: One of America's top political analysts helps us interpret the message.

And this man spoke up for democracy in the Middle East, and paid for it with his freedom. Tonight, his wife tells their story.

BARBARA IBRAHIM: There is a climate of fear and intimidation right now around the imprisonment of people like my husband.




MOYERS: Welcome to NOW.

It's campaign season again, and the political ads will soon be clogging your TV screen. Later in the broadcast, we'll look at some of the messages coming your way.

But first, let's take a trip to the coastline south of New Orleans before it disappears. That's right — the old adage "now you see it, now you don't," could apply to the Louisiana marshes around New Orleans.

They supply us with more seafood than any other region in the country. And they also provide much of our oil and gas. So the stakes are big down on the bayou, and some unlikely bedfellows — corporate executives and environmentalists — find themselves in the same boat together for once.

NPR correspondent Daniel Zwerdling and NOW producer William Brangham have our report.

MIKE FOSTER: We find that live shrimp work much, much better. Once you put your thumb on it, don't release it. Picture yourself holdin' the line and then as you swing, you release it.

DANIEL ZWERDLING: Mike Foster has been fishing here in Southern Louisiana for as long as he can remember.

MIKE FOSTER: Hold it down, don't release it... Very good.

DANIEL ZWERDLING (ADDRESSING FOSTER): And then what do I do?

ZWERDLING: A few years ago, Foster realized that something strange was going on… take a look at his GPS unit. This gadget shows a recent map of the area, and it uses satellites to show exactly where we are on that map.

MIKE FOSTER: According to the GPS right here, we're in a channel with land on both sides and a big, huge land mass over here, and it's not there. You can see that.

ZWERDLING: It's just completely open water. And according to the GPS unit, we've just driven up on land.

The GPS actually shows us crashing right through the middle of an island.

ZWERDLING (ADDRESSING FOSTER): So there should basically be a huge island right here.

FOSTER: That's correct, Beauregard Island.

DANIEL ZWERDLING: So what does that tell you?

FOSTER: That tells you Louisiana's losin' its coast.

ZWERDLING: Everybody who fishes here will tell you the same story: their world is washing away. We've all heard stories before about some beach eroding... But Louisiana's problem is dramatically different — Foster says it could be a national disaster. And when Mike Foster gets worried, powerful people get worried. Because foster's not just another fisherman... he's the governor of Louisiana. And Foster's calling on the whole country to help solve this crisis.

It's hard to grasp the problem... Until you see it from the air. So I join a team of officials from the Pentagon and the state capital who want to see the crisis first-hand.

The pilot leaves New Orleans behind and heads south along the Mississippi... And suddenly... We're over the wetlands.

The wetlands of Louisiana are some of the greatest on Earth. Scientists say if we'd taken this trip fifty years ago, it would have looked like the great plains. We'd be gazing at a solid vista of green, stretching all the way to the horizon.

BILL GOOD: LOUISIANA DEPT OF NATURAL RESOURCES: Sometimes its hard to convince people there's a problem, this looks like a nice gulf, but what they don't realize is that 10, 11 years ago it used to be a marsh.

ZWERDLING: When people talk about the marshes of Louisiana, when they talk about these wetlands, they tend to talk in hyperbole...because everything about them is huge. They stretch for 300 miles along the coast. They go up to 50 miles inland.

And scientists say they're an environmental wonder — these wetlands produce more fish than any state except Alaska. Millions of migrating birds stop here, along their way.

But now this world is vanishing. Studies show that over the past 50 years, more than one thousand square miles of this state have crumbled and turned to open water .. That's like losing a football field ...every half an hour. It's like losing a region the size of Manhattan, every single year. Gone...

BILL GOOD: Just on an annual basis, 25-35 square miles of wetlands a year? That's a national catastrophe of the highest order… It's disappearing, in geologic time, overnight.

ZWERDLING: So why is a delta that was thriving for thousands of years suddenly unravelling? Since Denise Reed moved here from England, she's been trying to solve this mystery.

DENISE REED, GEOMORPHOLOGIST: This is a world class coastal ecosystem. And it's in serious trouble. It's our only big system like this

Reed is a "geomorphologist." She's a leading scientist who studies wetlands. She says we're wading into the heart of a dying marsh.

ZWERDLING (ADDRESSING REED): Hold up, you're going too fast. I keep losing my sandal.

DENISE REED: You all right?

ZWERDLING (ADDRESSING REED): I think so.

ZWERDLING: To an outsider, this wetland hardly looks like it's dying. I always assumed that a wetland is sloppy with water. But Reed says no, the term wetland, or marsh, just means land that gets flooded periodically. She says if this marsh were healthy, we could stroll across it like a field.

DENISE REED: When you just look at it now, it looks nice and green. It's a pretty day, It looks nice and healthy. We're standing here with grass up to our waists. But as we walk through it, we can tell that this is, by no means, a continuous cover of vegetation. We had to be very careful where we walked. I don't know how many times you fell in over your knees. But I fell in several times. It's full of holes.

And of course we're standing here right next to a pond. This is not a very big one. When you fly over coastal Louisiana, you can see that there are myriads of ponds that are very, very much bigger. And that's land loss. This is what coastal land loss is in Louisiana. Something that's a marsh with grass on turning to open water.

ZWERDLING: Reed says if you want to understand why it's falling apart, you have to look back in history, say, five thousand years.

DENISE REED: All of coastal Louisiana was built by the Mississippi River. This large area that we call the Delta millions of acres, was all built by the Mississippi River.

ZWERDLING: The Mississippi River is a giant funnel. It gathers soil from fields and mountains across a huge swath of North America. And then it delivers that dirt to Louisiana's door.

OLIVER HOUCK, PROFESSOR, TULANE LAW SCHOOL: Every day the Mississippi River brings about a half million tons of silt. You can imagine what it would take in dump trucks to bring half a million tons of silt every day to south Louisiana.

ZWERDLING: Oliver Houck runs the environment program at Tulane University Law School.

OLIVER HOUCK: It would take 200,000 dump trucks, every day, on the roads, bringing that soil in. The Mississippi River built five million acres of south Louisiana. It built 20,000 square miles of south Louisiana. It built everything you see between Texas and Mississippi and inland about 50 miles. All of that's care of and thanks to the Mississippi River.

ZWERDLING: After the river built these wetlands, it sustained them for thousands of years — it stopped them from dropping into the sea. This whole region is actually sinking a tiny bit, constantly. All that rich, heavy soil keeps compacting under its own weight. But every few years, the river would flood and gush over its banks and all that goo would spread across the landscape and build the wetlands back up.

Until the Europeans showed up.

OLIVER HOUCK: The French came in about 1700. They find Louisiana in the fall, and they find it dry. And they find the site of New Orleans to be a good site to build and so they decide to build there. Of course the next spring it floods. So their answer to that is to build a little levee.

DANIEL ZWERDLING: A wall.

OLIVER HOUCK: A little wall. And they built a little wall between their houses and the river. And that works for about a year, but then the river jumps the wall upstream and comes around behind the wall and hits the houses. So, they have to extend the wall upstream. And we've been extending that wall upstream for the next 300 years.

ZWERDLING: The US Army took over the job in the late 1800s and every time they thought they'd conquered nature, the Mississippi River proved them wrong. So the Army's Corps of Engineers built more walls, and they built them higher. It's been one of the biggest engineering projects in history. Today, the Army manages more than two thousand miles of levees, and they've finally won the war — they've stopped the flooding in Louisiana.

OLIVER HOUCK: And so the project was, from an engineering point of view, brilliant, brilliant. From an environmental standpoint, it was a disaster. And it was a disaster because all of that bed load, all of that material that had built south Louisiana for thousands of years, now was thrown away like a waste product into the deep Gulf. And Louisiana was poised like a patient in a hospital. It was put on a starvation diet. It wasn't killed it was just made weak and susceptible to attack. And in about the 1930's the attack came.

ZWERDLING: That 'attack' was the oil and gas boom. All the big companies flocked here. They ripped up the wetlands to get to the energy underneath.

DENISE REED: This is an oil and gas canal. This is the kind of canal that the companies had to dredge through the marsh, to actually drill holes, to extract oil and gas. And so what happened is, they would come into an area. With a barge. With a dredge. A kind of bucket dredge, that would scoop up the dirt, scoop up the marsh, and pile up that dirt on one side. And gradually make a canal.

ZWERDLING (ADDRESSING REED): And-- how many of these are there in the wetlands?

DENISE REED: There are thousands and thousands and thousands of these across coastal Louisiana. And these spoil banks. And they really alter the way the water flows in and out of the marsh. It's like having a wall through a wetland.

ZWERDLING (ADDRESSING REED): It reminds me of how people used to say that when you built a freeway right through the heart of a neighborhood in a city, the neighborhood would die.

DENISE REED: Yeah.

ZWERDLING: Because people couldn't get from one side to the other.

DENISE REED: It's that kind of analogy. Yeah. No, I think that's quite a good one.

ZWERDLING: Back then, hardly anybody realized the consequences and the whole country got the benefits. The companies sold us energy, the Army kept homes in Louisiana dry. But Reed says now we know the price: the wetlands are sinking into the Gulf.

DENISE REED: This marsh cannot survive in this state much longer. It hasn't had any sustenance. It hasn't had any sediments from the Mississippi River . It has canals cut through it. It has all kinds of other things that people have done in it. And it's still there, as we see it on the other side, over here. But we don't think it's gonna be there for much longer.

ZWERDLING: Actually, a few scientists began warning about all this back in the 1960s, but nobody else seemed to care. Now that's changing because there's a new type of activist on the scene.

ROSWELL KING MILLING, PRESIDENT, WHITNEY NATIONAL BANK: The bank is 119 years old and it was founded in New Orleans by the Whitney Family.

ZWERDLING: Roswell King Milling is one of the last people you'd expect to fight for the environment. He's president of the Whitney National Bank. Before he took over, he was a powerful lawyer for the oil and gas industry.

ZWERDLING (ADDRESSING MILLING): It's sort of wild to see on your desk a wildlife magazine! You're not embarrassed for your banker friends to see you with a wildlife magazine on your desk?

KING MILLING: Well they'll just have to take me warts and all I guess.

ZWERDLING: Environmentalists have tried for years to drum up interest in the wetlands by talking about biomass and waterfowl. But Milling says one day it suddenly hit him — this isn't about the birds and the bees…the wetlands are about money!

KING MILLING: If you look in the Houma area, there are numerous industries that are located up and down Highway One.

ZWERDLING: He says the Whitney and other banks have invested billions of dollars in a landscape that's crumbling.

KING MILLING: And the when you get up here, you can begin to look at fabrication yards, shipbuilding yards, gas processing plants, chemical installations and the rest of it.

ZWERDLING: Milling says if the wetlands keep vanishing, the state's economy could wash away. So now, this banker is barnstorming around the state. He's preaching to power-brokers who'd never let an environmentalist through their door. And he's shouting "We've got to save the wetlands before it's too late."

A lot of debates in this country have pit the environment against the economy. But Milling says he's learned a lesson — in Louisiana, at least, the environment is the economy.

ZWERDLING (ADDRESSING MILLING): You use words like "catastrophe coming, disaster coming." "Doom" is a word you use. Are these exaggerations? Hyperbole?

KING MILLING: I'm always concerned that I am guilty of hyperbole. And I have waited patiently for someone to come in and look me in the eye and say, "Milling, you don't know what the hell you're talking about." That would be my happiest moment. The reality is no one's done that.

ZWERDLING: Milling says if you still don't get it, just drive down State Highway One.

This world is turning inside out...land is turning to water .. Some towns can't even protect their cemeteries from the encroaching Gulf: people in the town of Leevile say that only 15 years ago, their loved ones were buried on dry ground.

At the end of this highway, you come to a spot that symbolizes why state leaders say the whole country should care what's happening to this coast.

TED FALGOUT: This little dot on the map, this small place in Cajun southeastern Louisiana on the Gulf of Mexico, plays a strategic role in furnishing this country with somewhere between 16 and 18 percent of its entire hydrocarbon supply. That's oil and gas.

ZWERDLING: This is Port Fouchon. This is the base, this is the command center that supports the huge oil and gas industry out in the Gulf of Mexico. Ted Falgout runs this complex for the state.

TED FALGOUT: There's no other place in this country that plays such a great role to this nation's oil and gas supply.

ZWERDLING: You think the Alaska pipeline is big? This place, Port Fouchon handles even more oil than that. A million and a half barrels of oil pass through this port every day. And only some of that's from the Gulf of Mexico. A lot the oil that the U.S. imports from the Middle East arrives in America, here at Port Fouchon.

Here's the problem: the industry pumps all that oil and gas through pipelines that are buried along this coast. The companies buried thousands of miles of pipelines, to keep them safe. But now that the land around them is disintegrating, the pipes are getting exposed in open water.

TED FALGOUT: You know, we have 20,000 miles of pipeline in coastal Louisiana that was not designed to be in the Gulf of Mexico.

ZWERDLING: In fact, erosion led to a nasty oil spill earlier this year. State officials say a ship sliced right through a British Petroleum pipeline that got uncovered. Almost 90,000 gallons leaked into the marsh.

TED FALGOUT: We're talking billions of dollars to come in and repair and hopefully fix these things before we have a major disaster

This business could wash away overnight. And-- and that's a threat. Not only to us, but to everybody in this country.

JACK CALDWELL, HEAD OF LA DEPT OF NATURAL RESOURCES: Welcome aboard, the train is leaving, its time for action.

ZWERDLING: So some of the most powerful people in Louisiana say that the nation., the federal government, needs to do something dramatic to try to save the coast.

KING MILLING: It's a question of what engineering and what science should be applied so we can begin to rebuild this coast. That's why we're here.

ZWERDLING: It's a remarkable coalition ...bankers, scientists, Democrats, Republicans. And they're pushing an audacious plan: They say the government triggered the wetlands crisis when it tamed the Mississippi River, now they want to unleash the river to undo the damage.

MARK DAVIS, HEAD, CAMPAIGN TO RESTORE COASTAL LOUISIANA: This is a historic day…as we set about the business to ensure the survival of coastal Louisiana.

ZWERDLING: You'll get a sense of what they want to do if you visit the project called Caernarvon.

The official name is the Caernarvon Water Diversion Project. On the surface, it doesn't look like something that could help transform the region. But scientists say this steel and concrete structure is recreating the old Mississippi floods.

You push a few buttons and giant gates open under water. And huge amounts of river-water and sediment through holes into the marsh on the other side.

Denise Reed takes me into this wetland a few miles from the Caernarvon project, to show how it's changing the landscape. She says before they opened Caernarvon, this wetland was sick — today it's coming back.

DENISE REED: You see how the vegetation out here, that green, that kind of creeping vegetation is gradually filling in this area. You look at those ponds over there in the distance. You see how the grass is gradually moving in from the edge and filling in. You can see that just here. You see that-- that grass growing out into the middle of this area? This would have all been bare.

ZWERDLING: To prove her point, she suggests a little experiment which is partly inspired, partly sadistic.

DENISE REED: Go on, Daniel, go out there.

DANIEL ZWERDLING: Am I going to come back?

DENISE REED: Well, go on, let's see. I mean, John and I know what's going to happen...

DANIEL ZWERDLING: Uh… hello!

Before Caernarvon, I would have been sinking in water. Now the marsh is rebuilding, with good, honest mud.

I love this marsh!

DENISE REED: See, if you look back at the hole, it didn't fill in. It's not like yogurt, its more like clay, the hole is still there.

ZWERDLING (ADDRESSING REED): So this is good, healthy marsh

DENISE REED: You got it! What is land loss? Land loss is marsh turning to open water. Then here, we've got open water and ponds filling in and becoming marsh, reversing the process. This shows that we can do something here. A lot of people think it's hopeless down here in coastal Louisiana. But just coming down here and looking at this, this gives us more than hope. This makes us believe that we can do this.

ZWERDLING: Of course, history shows that when humans try to control nature, something spins out of control. And the minute you put your finger on a map and say, let's unleash the river here, let's mimic the floods there. You might flood somebody's backyard, or their fishing grounds:

George Barisich has been harvesting shrimp and oysters here since he was a little boy. He practically grew up working on this boat with his father. He says strange things started happening in the bay right after they opened Caernarvon.

ZWERDLING (ADDRESSING BARISICH): What did you start seeing happening to your oysters?

GEORGE BARISICH: I started seein' a population explosion of mussels.

ZWERDLING (ADDRESSING BARISICH): Mussels?

GEORGE BARISICH: Mussels, little hook mussels. They grow on the outside of the oyster. The whole oyster became covered with mussels to where you sometimes you couldn't even see the oyster. It was in there, okay, but you couldn't see it. Which made it nonmarketable and it wasn't fat any more.

ZWERDLING: It turns out that when all that river-water from Caernarvon came flooding into this area, it lowered the salt content of this bay. Scientists say they wanted to do that, to help fix the wetlands. But the fresh water also attracted those killer mussels.

GEORGE BARISICH: We're doing this Caernarvon to benefit everyone in the state of Louisiana, but yet we're the one that suffer. And no one wants to admit it, much less compensate you for that.

ZWERDLING: Barisich and other fishermen sued the state for ruining their oysters. And the courts have awarded them a staggering amount of damages — the cases are tied up in appeals, but the fishermen could theoretically get roughly $700 million dollars. Barisich says he could get more than four million dollars himself. That's a lot more than he'd make selling seafood.

ZWERDLING (ADDRESSING BARISICH): Some people might say, "You know what? Sometimes when you have a crisis--" and everybody, all the scientists say there is a crisis here in Louisiana. The coast is disintegrating. "Sometimes a few people have to suffer for the public good."

GEORGE BARISICH: Correct. I've heard it. I heard that statement several times.

ZWERDLING: And maybe you're one of those few. You and the other fishermen.

GEORGE BARISICH: But I don't want to be the few who suffer… there's got to be another way. Maybe it's a selfish way to look at it. I need to look at it, what's gonna happen next year and a year from now. I gotta plan for my family.

ZWERDLING: The Caernarvon lawsuit has caused an uproar in Louisiana — the verdicts could bankrupt the state budget. Officials say that Caernarvon has taught them painful lessons. For one thing, the next time they tinker with the Mississippi, they'll compensate fishermen who might be affected. Second, they can't just assume that everybody will embrace their campaign to save the wetlands - they need to sell it.

VALSIN MARMILLION: We like it when it's here, its called America's Wetlands…

ZWERDLING: So they're designing a national ad campaign. Scientists figure they'll need billions of dollars to save just some of the wetlands. Louisiana doesn't have the money, so state leaders want to convince you, the American taxpayer, they want to convince Congress that the nation should pay the bill.

VALSIN MARMILLION: We want to talk about branding a campaign…

SYDNEY COFFEE: What we're dealing with is a huge, huge problem. Nobody in the United States has had to deal with a problem like this on this scale. And we need $14 billion from Congress. We have an issue that's very difficult to explain. Nobody knows about it. I think we needed a campaign.

ZWERDLING: But they know it's going to be tough to get Congress to spend money on wetlands... Especially when the economy's stumbling and the nation's fighting terrorists.

And there could be other hurdles. A lot of legislators in Washington might be a little leery of sending billions of dollars to Louisiana.

ZWERDLING (ADDRESSING CALDWELL): Why should they trust that you're going to spend the billions and billions of dollars that you want them to pay, wisely? I mean, here we are looking at the Louisiana State Capitol, this is the scene of some of the most juicy and heinous scandals in US political history.

JACK CALDWELL, HEAD OF LOUISIANA DEPT NATURAL RESOURCES: That is correct. We have a very checkered history. For example on insurance commissioner, you're not gonna believe this. The last three in a row have been convicted of felony — three in a row of elected insurance commissioner. Why should you have an elected insurance commissioner?

DANIEL ZWERDLING: You're not giving me much confidence about Louisiana.

JACK CALDWELL: No, what I'm telling you though, its changing.

ZWERDLING: Caldwell says the state's leaders are making a big push to stamp out corruption, but there's another issue.

OLIVER HOUCK, TULANE UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL: Everybody knows that he oil and gas industry is a huge cause of this problem, a major cause. That's a given. But no one goes to the next step. No one says, "Well, since they're a big part of the problem, hey, why don't they help clean it up?"

ZWERDLING (ADDRESSING HOUCK): Why not blame the oil and gas industry to some extent? They have contributed to, by all scientific accounts, to a huge amount of the destruction in the wetlands. Why not blame 'em and make them pay?

JACK CALDWELL: The real reason is because it was done legally at the time. Those canals were dug in the 50s, 60s, 70s, -- we stopped that now.

DANIEL ZWERDLING: The government officials gave permission -

JACK CALDWELL: Yes, it was legal back then, no one appreciated their value — back then, wetlands were considered wastelands.

ZWERDLING: But he says the oil and gas industry could sure help the campaign to save the wetlands...if it offers to pay its fair share.

JACK CALDWELL: I think it would be to their benefit to do so, and I've told them that. And so to my mind that they should be willing to make a contribution, yes, I've told them that. And that idea has not been flatly rejected.

ZWERDLING: Even if Louisiana gets all the money it wants tomorrow, scientists say it could take decades to really see the results. They say no amount of money will ever restore the coast to the way it used to be...and they say that's exactly why the nation needs to act now, to save what's left.

DENISE REED: I think saving the coast is going to be complicated. I-- I know it's not gonna be easy. But I know we have to try. And I know that we understand a lot about it. I believe we understand enough about it to start moving forward and making some progress on it. But, no, it's not gonna be easy. Moving water around where we want it is not gonna be easy. We're gonna alter the way things are gonna look down here. They're not gonna be the same anymore. I mean, they're not gonna be the same if we don't do anything because it's all gonna go to hell in a hand basket. But-- you know-- people's lives are gonna change.




MOYERS: That idea, that lives will change because of what we do to the planet, was heard often last week in our broadcast from the big United Nations Earth Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Many delegates left the summit dismayed that more progress hadn't been made on such challenges as global warming.

French President Jacques Chirac said, "Our house is burning down and we're blind to it."

Not quite. It was impossible in Southern Africa. You couldn't miss the parched land and signs of growing famine.

And even here at home in New Jersey we're facing severe water shortages. A new report also finds smog and pollution this summer reached new levels in what used to be known as the Garden State. And that California, Pennsylvania, and Texas were even worse. We may be blind, but we're feeling the heat.

We move now from the natural world to the political world. What happens in politics affects what happens to the environment, so don't be surprised if you flip on the tube this fall and see a television spot like this one:

COMMERCIAL (FROM TAPE): This type of thinking sure hasn't worked to protect our retirement.

What makes the Bush administration think that it's going to work to protect the air we breathe? Urge Representative Latham to tell the Bush administration not let big business rewrite the laws that protect our air.

MOYERS: That spot by the National Resources Defense Council is known in politics as an issue ad. We'll see some more in just a moment.

But first let's welcome back to now one of the country's leading political and media analysts, Kathleen Hall Jamieson.

My favorites among her many books are one on political advertising and this one, EVERYTHING YOU THINK YOU KNOW ABOUT POLITICS, AND WHY YOU'RE WRONG.

Her day job is Dean of the Annenberg School of Communication. It's good to have you back.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Thank you.

MOYERS: What strikes you about that N.R.D.C. ad?

JAMIESON: That's an ad that takes your assumptions about the Republican philosophy, puts them in quotes, and then allies them to George Bush to imply that the problem in your pension accounts — that is, you've seen dropping numbers dramatically — are a function of the Bush regulatory philosophy which also would pervade the environmental regulatory philosophy, and as a result we ought to reject that.

MOYERS: It seems like a long leap to me from...

JAMIESON: It's a big... (\laughter\)

MOYERS: ...Enron and Worldcom...and all of those to the environment.

JAMIESON: Ads are trying to take advantage of the current moment that you find yourself in, you open your pension statement, find out a lot of your pension has eroded. Now, how do you tie that back to the concern of this group, the environment?

They're trying to drill under to get your perception that Republicans favor deregulation, generally true; Democrats don't, generally true. Tie it to the environment, and then make the inference that we ought to make the move that they recommend: they want stricter controls on environmental pollutants.

But notice what's happening in the ad. When you watch it on the screen, you see quotes. Who's making the quotes? Who's saying those things? Quote, quote, there's George Bush.

MOYERS: The implication is George Bush is saying the things we've just seen.

JAMIESON: And that's not fair to George Bush.

MOYERS: Why?

JAMIESON: Because George Bush didn't say those things. George Bush doesn't take the position that is that categorical and direct. His philosophy is a philosophy that supports less regulation overall. And in the case that they're talking about in particular, he did favor less regulation. But it's not fair to put words in his mouth, and that's what they're doing by not letting him talk, putting those quotes up as if the inference, he said them.

MOYERS: There's another ad by ... That links immigration to 9/11.

COMMERCIAL (FROM TAPE): On 9/11 we learned the I.N.S. is too overwhelmed by mass immigration to tell a terrorist from a tourist. 15 of the 9/11 tourists had...

The I.N.S. tried to notify two terrorists of visa extensions months after they died in the attacks. It's time for congress to halt mass immigration until the I.N.S. can tell a terrorist from a tourist.

If we don't, who knows where a terrorist will strike next.

MOYERS: Stop immigration; stop terrorism? I mean, that's a leap, isn't it?

JAMIESON: Yes, it is. But it also is asking a fundamental question we always ought to ask of ads, and that is, how do you define your terms, advertiser? They want to stop mass immigration. Well, mass immigration of whom? This is a group that wants to limit population in California.

MOYERS: It's called the Californians for population stabilization.

JAMIESON: So they're not concerned about population in New York City, or New York or Philadelphia or Florida. And those tourist terrorists they're concerned about didn't go to California; they came to Florida. They came to New York. They came to Boston.

MOYERS: So what's up here?

JAMIESON: This is actually another attempt to take the national concern about terrorism and to link it over to another issue agenda.

This is a group that would like to limit the number of immigrants. They would like to stabilize the population in California. It's trying to find a way to say to you, "think about our issue."

You couldn't get us to think about it if it said, "there are too many people in California. California is getting crowded. We have too much congestion on the highways." People would say, I don't care. But terrorists, I care. Now, while I'm caring about terrorists, by the way, shouldn't we be able to distinguish tourists from terrorists? In the meantime, shouldn't we stop mass immigration? That's the ad.

MOYERS: So this is trying to make us... This is stroking our emotion; it's not trying to make us think, per se.

JAMIESON: It's hijacking a concern we have to speak to an issue that a group was concerned about long before terror was an issue. And in the process, it's using evocative visuals, it's using our awareness of a piece of news — those terrorists who got visas after they were dead — and it's trying in the process to take that and align it without having us think, what's the link?

MOYERS: Let's look at an ad that is not so well crafted, that is not so...

JAMIESON: (\laughs\)

MOYERS: In fact, this ad, I'm told, was done at home on a computer by someone working for a group called CORAD. And it's an ad that's been running in the race in Minnesota, your home state, between the Democrat Paul Wellstone and the Republican Norman Coleman.

COMMERCIAL (FROM TAPE): Senator Paul Wellstone's government expansion is going to make things worse.

Paul Wellstone has become a career politician who has spent his career getting rich with million dollar pension plans and stock deals.

Under his watch, school funds have been miss appropriated to high paid administrators while teacher salaries have been cut along with your children's dreams for success.

Wellstone wants to socialize health care for all Americans. Socialist health care prevents access to physicians and other needed medical procedures. Imagine being forced into a communist style health care plan.

Wellstone claims he is pro-choice but we all know when it comes to school choice he's not leaving core families to fend for themselves. Vote for Norman Coleman, an honest man with integrity who will help working families.

This has been paid for by Citizens Opposing Racism and Discrimination.

MOYERS: Citizens Opposing Racism and Discrimination, CORAD. But we don't really know who CORAD is. It's hard to find out.

JAMIESON: We know that it's a couple of individuals. We don't know whether it's anything else. And they're not obliged to tell us.

One of the things that's interesting about this, by the way, is when you see the shot of Wellstone throughout the ad, it makes it look as if they're alleging that he's an alcoholic. It looks as if, when they close the shot in, he's holding two champagne glasses simultaneously. And the very unflattering picture looks as if he's inebriated.

And so one of the questions is, is this visual vilification? But there's a more important set of questions here. Norm Coleman didn't want that ad on the air.

MOYERS: The Republican.

JAMIESON: The Republican candidate. And he asked that it be taken off. He has no right to have it taken off.

MOYERS: The group can go ahead irrespective of his wishes.

JAMIESON: The group kept the ad up. Now there's a possibility that the ad creates a backlash against Coleman even though he told them to take the ad off the air. Something's broken here.

At the end of the ad you see his picture and then you hear the announcer indicating who sponsored. I bet a lot of people until they read the news accounts think he sponsored the ad. That increases the likelihood of a backlash.

MOYERS: But that is the heart of issue ads, so called, that any group can come in and run an ad as long as they don't connect it per se to the candidate, they can say anything about either candidate, right?

JAMIESON: Well, it led me to hypothesize that if I really was up to no good, I might set up a committee called Democrats for Demagoguery, or Republicans for Ruin and Rape and, you know, evil things. Or just make up any bad name that you'd like and attach it to a political party.

Now, there's a protection in the system. And some of the stations in Minnesota exercised their right to keep this ad off the air and as a result put that protection in place, because issue advocacy has no right to air. An ad for a candidate for a bona fide office, et cetera, et cetera, there are other stipulations, has a right to have access if the other candidate has gotten on the air.

But issue advocates don't. And so when the cable station took the ad, it made the decision that it wanted to air it; it didn't have to. But when some of the broadcast stations said, "We're not going to carry that ad. That's over the line," they also exercised their right.

And in my judgment, they prevented air pollution in Minnesota. I think the important protection here is stations don't have to air this, and stations ought to make a judgment call about whether or not it's fair, accurate, and contributes to the local dialogue or not.

When they think it doesn't, they ought to do as those broadcast stations did in Minnesota, and they ought to say, "That's not going to be on our airwaves."

And if they need commercial revenue — which is the only reason I could think that anyone would make the decision to air this ad — they should say, maybe we should go and try to get some more car dealers to put car ads on or maybe some fast food chains could use some extra time.

MOYERS: Fat chance. Last question.

THE NEW YORK TIMES yesterday said, the once overwhelming influence of television advertising on political campaigns is declining, democrats and republicans say, leading them to embrace aggressively old-fashioned campaign tools like telephone calls and door knocking in this year's congressional election.

Do you agree with that?

JAMIESON: You know, there are test questions that you write when you're a high school teacher or college professor. And the answer can be "a" or "b". Sometimes the answer is "a" plus "b". And the problem with this perspective is it doesn't realize that yes, the influence of these channels is declining, but that doesn't mean that people are putting less money in.

They are nonetheless putting more money into grassroots advocacy. The lesson from 2000 was that the Gore people out-mobilized the Bush people. Bush outspent going the general election; Gore out-mobilized Bush. And the Republicans were very surprised to see that the election was as close as it turned out to be as a result.

They just hadn't anticipated that grassroots organizing — phone calls, direct mail, person-to-person contact — could have made that much difference in turning out the Democratic vote. But money isn't declining in any of the races this year on television.

MOYERS: And $1.2 billion candidates will spend on ads in the November elections.

JAMIESON: So where is the evidence that they're turning away from television? There isn't any.

There is evidence, however, that in addition to continuing to ramp up in television, they're also increasingly using the internet, and they're increasingly using grassroots advocacy, telephones, direct contact. And that's good.

The notion that there might be some incentive out there to go back to person-to-person politics, local level communication and more effort to turn out the vote is something we should applaud.

MOYERS: But as this article says, McDonald's is not going door to door selling hamburgers. They're still advertising.

JAMIESON: And the hamburgers would probably get cold if they didn't.

MOYERS: Thank you very much. We'll continue this later in the political season. Kathleen Hall Jamieson.



MOYERS: A debate is growing over the nature of America's Arab allies in the Middle East. All are governed by self-proclaimed royal families or self-imposed dictators who have little or no tolerance for democratic traditions like free speech.

The debate has been inflamed by the arrest and jail sentence given to one of Egypt's best-known champions of Democracy and human rights, Saad Eddin Ibrahim. The respected sociologist at the prestigious American University in Cairo offended the dictatorial regime of Hosni Mubarak and is in prison for it.

The U.S. Government is one of many to protest Ibrahim's treatment, but refuses to use the $2 billion that Washington gives Egypt each year as leverage to win Ibrahim's release.

Professor Ibrahim is Egyptian. His wife Barbara is American. Both have dual citizenship. And she is here to talk about the story.

But first, some background, from my colleague Rick Davis. He's known Ibrahim for 20 years, during the time Davis covered the Middle East for NBC News. We asked him to tell us about Ibrahim. They last saw each other in May.

RICK DAVIS: To see this man I have known for nearly 20 years in a cage — a large steel cage in a Cairo courtroom — makes telling his story with a reporter's restraint difficult. He is Saad Eddin Ibrahim.

I know him as the rare, courageous man who speaks out for fair elections in a country that has none.

In his many television appearances he demanded rights for the poor and religious minorities in Egypt.

SAAD EDDIN IBRAHIM: In a democracy everyone is a citizen.

DAVIS: He denounced the violence of radical Islam when the few others who dared to were attacked and even murdered.

He called for democracy and the end of corruption in a country under the firm rule of President Hosni Mubarak for 21 years.

IBRAHIM: If you believe in something---if you are a true believer then you have to be prepared to take some risks. And I was prepared to take those risks. Still am.

DAVIS: And he is paying a heavy price since one night in June of 2000 when Egyptian state security police smashed through the office of his human rights organization.

Ibrahim and 27 co-workers were arrested.

This university professor was now a prisoner in a police van moving to the state security court — where Egypt's most dangerous prisoners have been tried over the years, including the Islamist militants who assassinated President Anwar Sadat in 1981.

But why was Saad Eddin Ibrahim there? It was a warning.

FOUD AJAMI: Let's make an example of him. And let's drive home to all other academics and journalists and thinkers in Egypt that there is a price that will be paid if you run afoul of the will of the Mubarak government.

DAVIS: Dr. Fouad Ajami is the Director of Middle East Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

AJAMI: It's really Mubarak who dominates the life of Egypt. Had Mubarak chosen at any time to bring this political trial to an end we wouldn't be talking about it today.

NEIL HICKS: We were able to confirm that, indeed, the charges were baseless.

DAVIS: Neil Hicks is with the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights. He was at the Ibrahim trial.

HICKS: He was a very well-known figure — probably Egypt's best-known public intellectual and one day he was thrown into prison for no apparent reason.

DAVIS: Ibrahim and his co-defendants were found guilty of tarnishing Egypt's reputation abroad and misusing funds donated to his institute by the European Union.

Even though in this affidavit introduced at the trial the European Union denied funds were misused. Ibrahim was sentenced to 7 years in prison.

In the nine months that followed, Ibrahim's American wife Barbara and their daughter Randa saw his health decline — from a series of small strokes while he was in a cell. Then the verdict was overturned on a technicality. But a retrial was ordered.

In May, during the brief time between trials, we spoke in his Cairo home.

IBRAHIM: For years I thought the threat to my life would be from Islamic Militants. Now it is equally from my own Government.

DAVIS: At the retrial Ibrahim was again found guilty and again sentenced to seven years in prison.

The conviction was a challenge to the Bush administration — especially after this speech at West Point in June.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: The United States will promote moderation and tolerance and human rights.

DAVIS: The fact that Ibrahim held dual U.S. and Egyptian citizenship made this test case big.

PHIL REEKER: We have expressed also our deep disappointment over the verdict in the case of Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim and the serious questions that the case raises about the progress towards greater political freedom in Egypt.

DAVIS: There was no cut in the two billion dollars of yearly U.S. aid to Egypt, but a request for 130-million more was rejected.

AJAMI: We have to send a message that we stand for something above and beyond the hunt for terrorists-that we stand for democracy, we stand for the rule of law and we think that these are universal values.

DAVIS: The family photos show many images of Saad Eddin Ibrahim. His early years with Barbara. The family man. The speaker and college professor. The prisoner. But my image remains — the slowed but not silent man and these words.

IBRAHIM: As you grow older maybe you get wiser. But you also get more determined. That there is very little time left for you to carry out your agenda. And the agenda is still very long in this region. The agenda for peace. For democracy. For development. For human rights. And as I look back on my life-despite the long years of activism...

DAVIS: And then he went silent. Over the many years and many conversations I had never seen him trapped by his emotions.

IBRAHIM: ...feel that there was very little that was accomplished of that agenda. And still more to accomplish.

DAVIS: I won't call this a report on the trials of Saad Eddin Ibrahim. It is a personal tribute to an honorable man.



MOYERS: Since Rick Davis was in Cairo, Professor Ibrahim has been returned to prison and remains there today.

I'm joined now by his wife, Barbara, who herself is a distinguished sociologist in her own right. Thank you for joining us.

IBRAHIM: It's good to be here.

MOYERS: Where is your husband right now?

IBRAHIM: He was remanded to Tora Masra prison, which is just south of Cairo, where he had spent a number of months a year ago under similar circumstances.

MOYERS: How is his health?

IBRAHIM: When I saw him the first time after his imprisonment, I felt a sense of relief. He seemed to be more rested and to be looking and walking better than during the strains he'd suffered during the trial itself.

But on my last visit just before coming here, I was concerned. He seemed pale, he seemed tired, and I didn't feel he was walking very well.

MOYERS: Are you able to see him often?

IBRAHIM: We're given a family visit every two weeks that lasts about an hour.

MOYERS: By family visit, you...

IBRAHIM: My daughter, her husband, often a brother of my husband's. But it needs to be first degree relatives.

MOYERS: Exactly why is he in prison? What did he do that so offended the government of Egypt?

IBRAHIM: I could give you ten theories. My own is that Saad was mixing his academic writing and intellectual production with activism.

He had formed 12 years ago a Center for the Study of Democracy and Human Rights. He was training young Egyptians to document their society, to participate more openly. And I think that that combination of activism and academic production was hard for someone to accept.

MOYERS: Didn't the center produce a documentary that encouraged Egyptians to get involved in electoral politics, in democratic politics?

IBRAHIM: That was part of a European Union-sponsored project which was never completed. This documentary is still in its tin cans and was never released. But it was intended, written in Arabic by one of our famous playwrights. It had a lot of humor in it.

The intention was to encourage Egyptians who have stayed away from electoral participation that the only way they can hold their leaders accountable is if they've gone to the ballot box.

MOYERS: Didn't he also speak up for minority Christians in Egypt?

IBRAHIM: Saad had a project that looked at minority relationships across the Arab world. He did not single out any particular country or group.

And he was concerned by rising levels of violence, by the way that that violence was met by the security forces. He felt it was important to document and to speak publicly rather than privately about these problems.

MOYERS: Rising oppression of religion on the part of the government?

IBRAHIM: No. He was always very careful not to use those kinds of words.

What you have across the Arab world with a rising tide of Muslim militant extremism is a targeting of the Christian minorities as a group to be pushed out of the region, whose assets some of these religious and my husband found this extremely dangerous.

He wanted there to be a public debate about that. He felt that tolerance education needed to start in the schools and he was working with the ministry of education on a curriculum that would address this problem when people were young enough to take on new values and ideas.

MOYERS: I read some stories in the Egyptian press, however, that said he was guilty... They found him guilty of tarnishing Egypt's image in the world. What do they mean by that?

IBRAHIM: Well, they're taking their clues from the court case against my husband, because one of the things that happened is that state security prosecutors dug out a law that was put on the books in the 1920s in Egypt, has never been used to prosecute a single Egyptian citizen in the past, and brought that charge against my husband.

MOYERS: And the law says...?

IBRAHIM: The law says that it is a criminal activity to spread abroad false information or rumors of a nature that would undermine the dignity of the state.

MOYERS: Criticize the powers that be?

IBRAHIM: Saad's view, and that of course of all of our lawyers and supporters, is that the constitution of Egypt protects free speech and allows for legitimate dissent. Furthermore, what the legal team documented in front of the court was that what Saad and his colleagues were saying in their published reports was not rumor or imaginary inflammatory rhetoric, but was based on solid research and documented fact.

MOYERS: Your husband's case is very celebrated. Is it just an isolated case or does it say something about what is happening throughout the Middle East?

IBRAHIM: It does absolutely. What you're seeing, I believe, across the Arab region, is a struggle for the future direction of each of these societies.

And it's simply not the case that Egypt is a monolith, that Egypt is a dictatorship, that all things are controlled from the top.

Egypt has a long tradition of parliamentary government, has had courts in the rule of law before some other countries in Europe even established such institutions.

And so what you're seeing is the kind of death throes of a Cold War legacy, of authoritarianism. Our state security police were trained in Eastern Europe and in Russia, and some of those individuals still control certain centers of power in Egypt and elsewhere.

And it is a debate that needs to happen openly, but there is a climate of fear and intimidation right now around the imprisonment of people like my husband.

MOYERS: Why is dissent so dangerous in the Middle East today, in Egypt in particular?

IBRAHIM: I believe over 20 years of the current administration in Egypt, the moderation and the tolerance that that regime began with, has gotten off track.

And I think it's because not the majority in that government want it to be the case, but because a small minority who feel that the world is moving in a new direction.

MOYERS: Against them.

IBRAHIM: Against them. Global information technologies make borders irrelevant, make it impossible to control what Egyptians hear and learn and know. And they are grasping at a last ditch effort to keep in control.

MOYERS: To hold power.

IBRAHIM: That's right. And if you take one man who had a prestigious professorship and you put him in prison, you don't have to imprison anyone else because everyone else has gotten the message.

But I think we're at a critical moment in which we can no longer keep our heads down, say that this is business as usual in developing regimes, that hopefully if enough time goes by things will change.

Egypt and the countries of the Arab world need to create more political space, and they have to do it quickly.

The reason being that young Egyptians who are looking around for a way to participate, a way to build their society, who don't find civil alternatives and don't find legal grounds to do that, are going to be pushed into extremism.

MOYERS: What are the next steps for your husband? Is there an appeal? Is there any chance that this seven year sentence could be revoked?

IBRAHIM: Yes, there is. We will go back to that same appeals court, and I, in fact, have great faith that they will review the legal merits of the case, that he will once again be released. But that process will take months. His retrial could take years. And I don't think that his health and his stamina can wait that long.

So what I hope will happen and what I think people of goodwill all over the world could urge is an expedited process of hearing this case rapidly; not simply queuing it in with the hundreds of other cases in Egypt... Because it's been a travesty of justice, because of the positive signal that his release would send all over the world and also to Egyptians.

MOYERS: Thank you very much for joining us.

IBRAHIM: It was my pleasure. Thank you.



NARRATOR: Now a look at stories coming up on npr radio.

LINDA WERTHEIMER: Hi, I'm Linda. Join me on the radio this weekend for All Things Considered from NPR News.

Writers Paul Auster and Salman Rushdie will talk about the role of art in making sense of tragedy.

In New Jersey, where one county lost more than a hundred people last September, we'll see how kids teach kids to cope.

Also Girl Scouts collecting used books for soldiers in Afghanistan.

Find your local public radio station on our web site, npr.org and tune in.

MOYERS: That's it for tonight.

Next week, we'll join the debate over civil liberties a year after 9/11. The balance between security, privacy, and the rights of the accused have shifted. We'll hear the arguments about what all that means.

For NOW, I'm Bill Moyers.



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