Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
NOW Home Page
Home
Politics & Economy
Science & Health
Arts & Culture
Society & Community
Discussion
TV Schedule
Newsletter
For Educators
Archive
Topic Index
Search:
1950s American couple in car
12.13.02
Archive:
NOW Transcript
More on These Stories:




Transcript

ANNOUNCER: You're watching NOW WITH BILL MOYERS.

With contributions from NPR news.

This week on NOW...

Is the American middle class becoming an endangered species?

KRUGMAN: The idea of job security for anybody, blue-collar workers, but also white-collar workers, is pretty much gone.

ANNOUNCER: The new dilemmas of the American dream, as the income gap keeps growing.

And campaign finance reform. Now that it's the law of the land, the real fight begins.

MCCAIN: It's huge amounts of money contributed by a handful of Americans that are dictating the legislative agenda here in Congress.

ANNOUNCER: Senator John McCain on his battles with Washington and the White House over money in politics.

A Bill Moyers interview.

And Mark Hertsgaard on the long shadow cast by America around the globe, and what it means for the environment.

All that, tonight on NOW.


ANNOUNCER: From our studios in New York, Bill Moyers.

MOYERS: Welcome to NOW. I didn't grow up in the middle class, but I thought I did.

In a small town in east Texas, your parents could be poor and you could still do the things most other kids did.

For most of my adult life, the middle class provided stability and vitality to the American economy and inspiration to the American dream.

But the pressures on middle class wages have been relentless in recent years, and now people who thought they were secure in their station are feeling vulnerable.

Just look at the shock and fear among the workers and managers of United Airlines whose bankruptcy will deprive them of the gains they've been making.

Economists and social critics are now talking as if the shrinkage of the middle class is permanent.

No one has been writing about this more provocatively than the economist and columnist for THE NEW YORK TIMES, Paul Krugman.

His ideas on the dilemma of the middle class are the subject of our first report, produced by my colleague Bryan Myers.

DAVID WELLS: Hello, my name is David Wells, and I'm an IT executive and an entrepreneur and I have over twelve years of experience.

BRYAN MYERS, PRODUCER: David Wells didn't expect to be at a job search meeting for out-of-work executives.

At age 44, he's got a degree in computer science and an MBA from Texas A&M University. Until last year, he was a senior manager at a big energy company in Houston, but then lost his job in a round of layoffs.

MYERS: When you were let go, how long did you think it would take before you found another job?

WELLS:I was estimating about three or four months.

MYERS: Instead, Wells has been out of work so long he's about to run out of unemployment benefits.

MYERS: Wells is one of over 800,000 Americans whose temporary benefits will end right after Christmas because Congress recently refused to approve an extension.

MYERS: How long has it been?

WELLS: It's been eleven months.

MYERS:And have you run thru your severance payments?

WELLS: I have.

MYERS:And have you run thru your unemployment payments?

WELLS:I have until the end of December for those.

WELLS: Must have PhD. That counts me out.

MYERS: David Wells' dilemma may sound like just another story about a guy out of work.

WELLS: Must have PhD. That counts me out.

MYERS: But there may be a lot more to it than meets the eye. Some say the broadly middle class society we used to take for granted has unraveled—unraveled to a point where America is no longer the land of widespread economic & social opportunity we believe it to be. Even for a guy like David Wells.

KRUGMAN: We had a society 20 years ago, 30 years ago, in which the center of gravity was with the middle class.

MYERS: Paul Krugman is a professor of economics at Princeton University and a columnist for the New York Times.

Krugman recently caused a stir with this article "the end of middle class America." In it, he writes of the "tectonic shifts that have taken place in the distribution of wealth and income" in the U.S. He cites statistics which show most of the economic gain of recent years has gone not just to the wealthy, but to the very richest of the rich.

From 1979 to 1997, the after-tax income of the top 1% of families rose 157%. That's compared to only a 10% gain for families in the middle fifth. And that's not all. Within that top one percent, most of the gains went to top 1/100th of a percent…a mere 13,000 families now have almost as much income as the bottom 20 million American families combined.

KRUGMAN: The pie is a certain size. You take a bigger slice for the people at the top, then there's less left over so yeah, I think the basic arithmetic is right. That if you ask ultimately why aren't middle class families doing better? The answer is, well, the growing economy is mainly going to the benefit of people who are not middle class.

MYERS: How that economic pie is divided has real consequences, says Krugman. Not only do we have more poverty than many other industrialized nations, we're also seeing increased uncertainty in the lives of ordinary Americans. In fact, Krugman believes the broad middle class society we assume is the norm may have been just a temporary aberration of the '50's and the 60's.

KRUGMAN: I guess the question you have to ask is, 'What kind of society do you want to live in?' Do you want to live in a society where most people are reasonably assured of a decent life? Or do you want to live in a society where bad luck can easily tumble someone who's worked hard and played by the rules into the economic abyss?

MYERS: Are we really seeing the end of middle class America? You can't trace the particular problems of any one family to the growing income gap. However, Krugman believes that, in general, families are showing the strains of that inequality. Tonight, you'll meet three families. The Wells, The Oradeis, and the Caputos.

MYERS: Spend a day with Ron Caputo, and you'll know the meaning of the word exhaustion. This day, he's up at three in the morning, in the car by 4:00, to make the daily commute from his home in Mt. Pocono, Pennsylvania to his job on New York's Long Island—some 125 miles away.

CAPUTO: I usually leave in between 4:00 and 4:30 in the morning.

From my house to the Islip office is roughly three hours.

MYERS: It was the search for affordable housing that led Ron Caputo to Pennsylvania.

CAPUTO: I like to get home usually around by 10:00. So I'm getting a good solid five hours of sleep. You know, I get a little time to unwind with the wife. And then you just do it again.

MYERS: Do you get to spend as much time with your family as you'd like?

CAPUTO: No, spend a lot of that time on the road.

MYERS: That road is Interstate 80—across northern New Jersey, I-95 over the George Washington Bridge…

CAPUTO: Welcome to New York, brother.

MYERS: And onto the dangerous Cross Bronx Expressway.

CAPUTO: Man, this guy really!

Riding the Cross Bronx where these trucks are so close together... my wife freaks out, she really doesn't like it.

JEANNINE CAPUTO: I think it's horrible. He says it's not that bad. He's so used to it now. It's been over a year.

MYERS: He never says, honey this is not, this ain't working, this commute, boy I'm...?

JEANNINE CAPUTO: He's never said it doesn't work. But he has come home very tired, but you gotta do what you gotta do. And right now, this is the best way for us.

MYERS: Ron and Jeannine Caputo were born and raised on New York's Long Island. And until a year ago, they, and their four children, still lived there. But when the house they were renting got sold, they had to move.

CAPUTO: When we looked around, I mean, the best we could do that I could ask her to live in with the children in a decent neighborhood was in the ballpark of $2500.

MYERS: A new rent of $2500 would have been two-thirds of their take-home pay. At the time, they were taking home what they thought was a respectable $3700 a month. Ron was a painter; Jeannine, a nurse's aide.

CAPUTO: Well, we were willing to go up to 15, 17...

JEANNINE CAPUTO: Yeah, you're paycheck to paycheck and you don't have any saving to lean on.

CAPUTO: You're not saving a penny. You're what you call...

JEANNINE CAPUTO: I want to have a little bit of savings. I don't need a huge savings. I'd like to have a little...

CAPUTO: You're what you call 'house poor.' That's what you are.

MYERS: The cost of many family basics, like housing, has skyrocketed in recent years. From the late 70's to the late 90's, the median home price in the U.S. has increased about 120%. Yet during that same period, wages for families in the middle increased only 10%. For the Caputos, it took moving to Pennsylvania, two states away, to find the right home they could afford.

CAPUTO: I was constantly struggling. The same wages I'm making now, if I lived on Long Island, we couldn't live the quality of life that we have here. There's no way.

MYERS: In Pennsylvania, they're paying $1150 a month to rent a new four bedroom home. So like millions of others, Ron now commutes to where wages are good, but lives where costs are low.

CAPUTO: A house painter by trade, Ron Caputo now works for his union as an organizer. Just as he's making the first stop of his work day, checking in on a job site, David Wells is making the first stop of his day—a 6:30 am breakfast meeting of "The Reveille Club," an alumni group of Texas A&M Aggies.

WELLS: So how's it going, man? I didn't see you here last week.

MYERS: The Reveille Club isn't just a chance to catch up on last week's game, it's a chance for David to make contacts. David's job search has become, almost in itself, a job.

MYERS: From here, it's straight to the offices of the Thomson DBM job search firm. This is where Wells now hangs his hat while he looks for work.

WELLS: Basically, this is an office away from home and I get to come here and do my e-mails and use fax services, and copy machines, and basically do my research for the job search.

WELLS: For me, it's all about momentum.

WELLS: Bill? David Wells. Fine. How are you doing sir?

MYERS: David says his former employer treated him right—gave him a good severance which paid a lot of the bills until it ran out. He credits both his family—his wife stays at home with their boys—and his religious faith for keeping him upbeat. But it can be hard.

WELLS: There are days when I get down. I mean, I'm human, you know? I think we all get down in some fashion like this. I think it will probably start affecting me the most when I have burned through all my savings and I don't have anything left to pull from.

MYERS: It will soon be a year since David was laid off. Since January of 2001, companies have cut over 3 million jobs, more than in the previous five years combined. And more and more, it's managers and professionals like Wells who are getting laid off—they're now the fastest growing segment of the unemployed, their numbers up 76% over the last two years. That's not the way it used to be.

KRUGMAN: You know, I don't want to romanticize too much, but there was a sense that workers, particularly long-time workers, were part of what you cared about. They were stakeholders. You had some incentive to protect them. Now, there's none of that. Workers are like raw materials. You hire them, you fire them, whatever. And the idea of job security for anybody, blue-collar workers, but also white-collar workers, is pretty much gone.

MYERS: David Wells has a different take.

WELLS: This is just life. Because of our expectations of the past, that's what we have to reference things. We bounce things up against the past. And we have to be willing to change that. We have to be. That's just life. It's just life. Things change.

KRUGMAN: I think people are accepting as inevitable a harshening, a coarsening of our society that we just don't have to have. It doesn't have to be like this given the underlying wealth of the country.

MYERS: Krugman says that coarsening of society is partially the result of corporate decisions that are shifting wealth away from the middle. Consider the plight of many retirees. Bruce Oradei spent a life working in education, his wife Marleen, as a nurse. They retired six years ago.

MYERS: Now, at age 67, Bruce has gone back to work, as a substitute teacher in the suburbs of Madison, Wisconsin.

WOMAN: Good Morning, Bruce, how are you today?

ORADEI: I'm fine.

WOMAN: Are you ready to go?

MYERS: All their lives, they assumed if they worked hard and played by the rules, it would afford them a comfortable retirement.

ORADEI: When we started retirement in '96, we were spending about $70,000, including property tax and income tax, okay? And right now, we're down to roughly $40,000.

MYERS: Like a lot of people, they had what's known as a "defined contribution" pension plan—along the lines of a 401K. Like a lot of people, they had a lot of stock. And like a lot of people, they lost a lot of money—about 30% of their nest egg.

ORADEI: Everybody was advising you that if you planned, did it right, that you could live for, as long as you lived another 20 years, or whatever it was gonna be on the kind of income you were spending…and then all of a sudden, the same folks that said, 'You can do all of this,' are now looking us in the eye and saying 'You did it all wrong.'

MYERS: Now Bruce is back to work because of all the money they lost.

Defined contribution accounts, like 401K's, have become the rage in retirement savings. 27% of Americans aged 50 to 61 now rely solely on plans like 401K's for pension coverage. That's twice the number of a decade ago.

KRUGMAN: It was a major shift of risk away from companies to the employees. It was also, quite cynically, used to prop up company stock. Too many 401K plans invested heavily in their own company's stock. And of course, as we've seen, that it's lead to widespread personal tragedy.

MYERS: If you're looking for a parable about inequality in America, look no further than scandals like Enron, says Krugman, where executives made millions while workers saw their life savings decimated.

MYERS: Despite the tough times, Bruce still keeps up with family rituals, like the yearly hunting trip with his sons. Don't worry about him and Marleen, he says. Worry about whether there'll be an American dream for his kids.

ORADEI: My son, one son's job, they're back to 1985 layoffs and he's worried about him getting laid off, and my other son works for the state and hasn't had a pay raise for three years. So you kind of look around and begin to wonder, you know, 'What happens to the next generation?'

MYERS: Families like the Oradeis, the Wells, and the Caputos, may be feeling the strains of an unequal society. But what's causing that inequality? The reasons are numerous according to Krugman. But he says, there's one big one—a government in Washington, DC that increasingly serves the interests of a privileged few at the expense of ordinary Americans.

KRUGMAN: The income disparity gives rise to disproportionate political influence for the upper tail of the income distribution. And the policies pursued because of that political influence do reinforce the inequality.

MYERS: So money buys not just boats and big homes and nice vacations, it buys political influence?

KRUGMAN: Yeah, it's not, you know, it's not really arguable.

MYERS: Remember that recent refusal by Congress to extend temporary unemployment benefits? A perfect example of the new mood in Washington, says Krugman.

KRUGMAN: And all of the money now is on the side of policies that are, you know, that minimize middle class benefits, and maximize tax cuts and other benefits for people at the top of the distribution.

MYERS: And that, he says, has left the middle class scrambling for solutions.

For Ron Caputo and his union, that means joining a campaign to lobby the government to invest in more affordable housing on Long Island.

CAPUTO: Right now, we are in Port Jeff Station, on Dayton Avenue. This is where we lived, my family and I live her for a little over three years.

CAPUTO: Uh, for me to come back to Long Island, I'd have to earn close to $200,000 combined income.

MYERS: How many painters do you know that are making $200,000 a year?

CAPUTO: None. None. We should be able to live where we work.

MYERS: Ron and Jeannine say not only can they afford a better home in Pennsylvania, everything seems cheaper. It reminds Jeannine of something she heard from her father as a teenager.

JEANNINE CAPUTO: He told me years ago, 'Go, leave Long Island. You're crazy if you want to stay.' It's going to be upper class and working poor, eventually. In 20 years, it's going to be upper class and working poor. That's what he told me. And it seems like where it's going.

CAPUTO: You know, their argument will be, well, nobody told you to be a painter and have so many kids. You know, you could have went to college, you could get grants, you could do this, you could do that. They're right, to an extent, okay? They are. But you know, look at the other aspect of it. Well, then who's going to do the painting?

MYERS: This day, it was around 8:30 before Ron left work to head home to Pennsylvania. Another three hours on the road, another three hours away from his family.

CAPUTO: Give everybody love and kisses. I'm loving you.

MYERS: At 11:20 p.m., Ron pulled up to the front door. Just another 19 ½ hour day in the life of Ron Caputo.


MOYERS: We turn now from money and the American economy to money and American politics. Faithful viewers of NOW know this is one of our favorite subjects. It's also a passion for my guest, Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona. He's just written a new book in which he honestly discusses how he got tripped up by too much money in politics, and about other subjects as well. It's called WORTH THE FIGHTING FOR.

Well, he has a fight on his hands with the campaign finance law that was recently passed which he sponsored along with Democratic Senator Russell Feingold of Wisconsin. That law is being attacked from many sides: by the two political parties, by the Federal Election Commission, and in the courts. Welcome to NOW.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: Thank you, Bill.

MOYERS: Were you able to follow the hearings before those three judges in Washington last week?

MCCAIN: I was briefed on it. I was back in Arizona, but my people were there, and they gave me a pretty good report.

MOYERS: I have with me some of the documents revealed in those hearings. They confirm everything you've been saying for years now, how the system really works: give us the money and we'll give you the legislation. Do you think your colleagues will begin to listen to you now?

MCCAIN: Well, I don't know if they will or not. You know, this is a very addictive system. It's so much easier to raise money in hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars than in one thousand-dollar or two thousand-dollar contributions. But I think they're tired of it. There was recent comments by Senator Zell Miller of Georgia where he said after a period of fund raising he felt like a prostitute after a busy day.

MOYERS: Can a government run by prostitutes and addicts be considered legitimate?

MCCAIN: I don't think so, and I think what happens is that the public interest is not served; the special interests are. We passed a homeland security bill, which was important. The House of Representatives passed it and put some special interests provisions on it and left town. One was, guess who for, a major drug company, who had been huge contribution...contributors in the last campaign.

And let me remind you, recent data shows that the pharmaceutical companies who are the largest single contributors, they spent about $30 million dollars in the last campaign insulating incumbents from a tax for not having passed prescription drug bills for seniors.

So we were able to put in those special interest provisions, but we didn't have time to take care of the unemployed whose benefits will soon run out.

MOYERS: Every version of the National Energy Legislation that's being considered in Congress gives billions of dollars in subsidies to the fossil fuel industry that has contributed millions of dollars to elect a compliant Congress and White House. Do you smell a rat there?

MCCAIN: I don't see it as a whole lot different from a lot of other legislation that goes through the Congress which special interests have enormous influence on. In 1996 we passed a bill called the Telecommunications Reform Act of 1996. Telecommunications issues, as you know, are incredibly complex. Lobbyists wrote that bill. Since then we have had no real reform of the telecommunications to say the least, and a consumer has paid more in the cost of long distance calls, cable rates, the list goes on and on. But those special interests have done very, very well.

MOYERS: Do you think Vice President Cheney should release the names of those industry...energy industry officials with whom he met secretly when he was drafting the National Energy Policy?

MCCAIN: Sure. I've always believed in open government, and that should be part of it, absolutely.

MOYERS: The non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics says less than one-tenth of one percent of the country gave almost 83 percent, of all itemized contributions in our recent elections. What does that tell you, Senator?

MCCAIN: Well, it tells me that it's huge amounts of money contributed by a handful of Americans that are dictating the legislative agenda here in Congress.

MOYERS: If you were an ordinary citizen do you think you'd have a chance up against that system?

MCCAIN: No. I do not.

MOYERS: The Federal Election Commission has left some very large loopholes as you indicate in the...in your bill. Those loopholes will allow millions of dollars in soft money to still go to the political parties —the very thing you were trying to prevent.

Now, the American people pay to support that commission, but it functions as a lap dog frankly for the two parties. Why don't we just abolish it?

MCCAIN: We're going to introduce legislation in January to fundamentally restructure or abolish it. And that will be hard, because both parties are very satisfied with a commission that will gridlock.

Now, the reason why the Federal Election Commission passed regulations that created loopholes in these laws is because they had a lame duck democrat whose term had expired who was voting with the three republican commissioners.

MCCAIN: I demanded that the lame duck democrat be replaced by Senator Daschle's nominee, which was the way that we usually operate, a Republican and a Democrat. And guess what? The administration gave me their word that they would appoint Ms. Weintraub as a recess appointment because they had done that with the other Republican.

And they waited until after the regulations were issued before giving her a recess appointment despite the fact that in writing I had gotten their word that she would be recess appointed in October.

MOYERS: If you can't trust them, why can we?

MCCAIN: I don't...I can't answer that, except to say that in 20 years around this town I've never had my word...I've never had people break their word to me in this fashion.

MOYERS: You said earlier this week also that while President Bush signed the McCain-Feingold bill, his people are doing everything behind the scenes they can to weaken it as much as possible. Why don't you call the President and ask him to lay off?

MCCAIN: Perhaps I should, Bill. Perhaps I should.

MOYERS: Who is it who was suing to declare unconstitutional the McCain-Feingold Bill, and why do they consider it unconstitutional?

MCCAIN: Well, I think you just look at those who are involved in the suit. It's public knowledge. The ACLU, the NRA, National Right to Life, The Republican Party, the Democratic Party of California. You know, it's public knowledge.

MOYERS: With your own White House double crossing you, and with your own party and the Democratic party trying to undermine your bill, what hope do you have of changing the system from within?

MCCAIN: We'll keep going to the American people, Bill, and they will respond just as they responded in the past. We've got a little army out there of people who are supporting us on reform issues, and they'll continue to do so. And again, I think…I cannot overstate the importance of Russ Feingold in this fight. He's an honest and decent man, and a person who…we have stuck together through thick and thin.

MOYERS: Senator McCain, both parties have become so corrupted by money that you can't change the system from inside the bordello. Would you consider running for President in the year 2004 as an independent?

MCCAIN: No, I would not, Bill. I don't envision that scenario. I'll keep up the crusade for reform, but I had my run at it and I'm proud of it, but you know, I don't want to.... As much as I admired Harold Stassen I don't want to be one of those [LAUGHTER].

MOYERS: But Harold Stassen aside, most of the momentum for reforming politics has come from third parties whose candidate ran on principle and on ideas. I mean, wouldn't you like to go down in history that way?

MCCAIN: Yes, but I also have to consider viability. I also think that I can make reforms within the Republican party as I just did with campaign finance reform, although any reform has to be bipartisan, we all know that.

I'll continue the struggle and fight, but I think it's not.... If I thought it was do-able, maybe I would consider it. But I still believe in the party of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, and I want to see us return to those.... Theodore Roosevelt was the great reformer. He took on the robber barons. He was a great conservationist. He...you know, we've got to return to his kinds of principles in my view.

MOYERS: In your home state of Arizona, a number of candidates recently were elected to office running with public funding, public financing, which you supported, which you endorsed. What do you think about that experiment there?

MCCAIN: I think it's good overall. I think it needs to, like any other new experiment, it needs to have some wrinkles taken out of it. But we had more people run for public office than any time in the history of our state, and that's what it was all about.

As I say, there's some fixes that need to be made, but it was a new experiment, and overall I think was very successful and interestingly the ones who are running, you know what they're telling me? They said, surprise, surprise, I spend my time talking to voters not to contributors.

MOYERS: Do you think that could become a model for the nation as a whole?

MCCAIN: Absolutely.

MOYERS: Well, Senator, I appreciate very much your being with me.

MCCAIN: Thank you, Bill.


MOYERS: In this final season of soft-money giving to political parties in America, big oil and other energy companies gave politicians little incentive to pursue forms of energy that would free America from dependence on foreign oil.

It's different in Europe, where the power of the wind is turning a profit for companies that envision an alternative future.

With politics in America so beholden to the fossil fuel industry, wind power hasn't had the chance to show what it can do here.

But on the plains of Minnesota, some people have decided that nature's own breath can contribute to an energy efficient economy.

Producer Rick Field when out to the land of Lake Woebegon, to see what's blowing in the wind.

MICHAEL NOBLE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ME3: What if Jack Kennedy had said in 1960, "You know, what about maybe going to the moon someday? That might be interesting." Instead he said, "We're gonna put a man on the moon, we're gonna do it by the end of this decade. We're gonna corral the resources of this country to do it." And, sure enough, by July 1969 a man walked on the moon."

I'm Michael Noble and I'm the Executive Director of a public interest group in St. Paul, Minnesota. We're called Minnesotans for an Energy Efficient Economy, ME3. And our job is to work with all the different groups, to help change the rules of the game, to move public policy, to clean up our energy system.

People always ask, "Well, how do you make electricity? Where does electricity come from?" They think it comes from the electric outlet. And it's really actually not very complicated. You just need to spin a turbine. Make a turbine turn. That's how electricity's made. So, you can turn a turbine with hydropower. And you can make that steam by burning coal, or burning natural gas, or-splitting atoms. But you can also turn a turbine by putting it up on a tower in a windy place. It's a pretty simply way to make electricity.

DAN JUHL, PRESIDENT, WOODSTOCK WIND FARMS: We can compete with the conventional fuels-today, especially if you put-the real price of energy on the table-renewable energy is-is by far cheaper. The cost of renewable energy is the cost of capital to put the machine in the ground. There's no fuel, there's no pollution, there's no storage of waste. There's none of the other bones that rattle in the fossil fuel closet. Farming wind energy can be just like farming any other cash crop. And the-like-the technology is ready to do that.

We our own wind farm, and we manage that on a daily basis - 10.2 megawatts. Then we also manage for other players-other companies—33 machines on the north end of the Buffalo Ridge. And lately we've been helping farmers and small businesses get into wind power, farming wind as a cash crop and helping them diversify their farms and creating new forms of income.

ROGER KAS, KAS BROTHERS WIND FARM, WOODSTOCK, MN: I'm Roger Kas and we farm about 12-15 hundred acres in this area of Woodstock MN. Ten years ago when Dan came to us, and we start working with him, help build his towers and help build a few more towers, and I always kept saying to myself-"Hey, it'd be nice if I could have a couple towers for myself. Why can't us farmers own 'em, be farmer-owned?"

MICHAEL NOBLE: Let's say a farmer has a good-sized farm. It's not an enormous farm. But it's a good-sized farm. And let's say they just put two wind turbines on their land. That would take up less than a quarter a percent of the land. It wouldn't take any land out of production at all. But it might be in the range of 30, 40 percent of their income.

JIM NICHOLS, FARMER, LINCOLN COUNT, MN: I farmed here on the Buffalo Ridge in Southwest Minnesota my entire life. And if you're a farmer, there's one thing you know for sure. The wind blows.

And one of our problems here in Lincoln County, we're the poorest county in the state. We were the poorest county in the state.

DAN JUHL: The financing is available for these machines as long as you have a buyer for the commodity, somebody that will buy the electricity. The machines are financeable. And they can literally turn tables for the farmer to go from close to bankruptcy to becoming a viable economic entity because of the revenue streams that these things will generate.

JIM NICHOLS: Now with the wind turbines, our economy has improved dramatically. This is a chance to produce a product that we can sell to the big cities and it's a crop that we get to the marketplace at the speed of light. New York City is an instant away from the electricity from these turbines. And I believe that 50 years from now, one-third of all the power in America, including New York and all of the East Coast, will come from wind energy, because it's cheap and it's renewable.

DAN JUHL: You have to remember that our competitors are the largest monopolies in the world. And they really didn't think it was in anybody's best interest for people to produce their own energy. And wind power represents, and renewable energy basically represents, a dispersed generation source. You really can't put a fence around it and claim it.

MICHAEL NOBLE: Over half of America's electricity comes from the burning of coal. Most Americans aren't even aware that coal burning is a major part of their electricity. The American coal industry, and the American oil industry, dominate government today. And the American people need to hear that, and the American people need to do something about that.

DAN JUHL: Renewable energy is not ready at this point in time to take out coal. But it can be a very viable part of the mix. And a long term goal to eventually wean ourselves of fossil fuels. We have all of the resources here to do that. We have wind, we have solar, we have bio-fuels. We have all of the tools to do it.

JIM NICHOLS: There were three arguments against wind energy, actually four. The first one was that they, aesthetically, they were ugly. They're beautiful. I mean, they're absolutely beautiful. And we think that not just because they help us earn income as farmers, but they are beautiful. The second one was that it was expensive energy. That's not true at all. We're now producing it for 3.3 cents. It's the cheapest new energy in America. The third one was that they're noisy. And the fourth one was that it would kill birds. We actually conducted a year-long study, by South Dakota State University, and in that one year period, not a single bird was killed. We did find two bats that were killed. And we feel bad. But we're gonna get along without those two bats.

DAVID BENSON, COUNTY COMMISSIONER, NOBLES, MN: The real challenge after you kind of get over the excitement of the technology is how do we integrate it into our society? But what we really could do is by pooling our resources from local people, I think we'd have the opportunity to each benefit. We've got a lot of potential-for real community based-and community owned wind energy. People would accept wind towers, if they had a stake in it, if they felt connected to it, and were making some money from it...

ROGER KAS: Well I kind of felt you know all these big companies come in like Enron, and there's got to be a profit or else they wouldn't be doing it, so I more or less said as a farmer, once I saw Dan get his done, he's a small businessman, he's got a small field—why can't we get 'em smaller and have farmers get involved in it, instead of having the big companies, own 'em, and then all the money goes from here to Florida or Texas and out of the district? Keep more of it local and keep it here.

MICHAEL NOBLE: Wind power's not a liberal issue. Wind power is an economic issue. It's an issue of development. It's a issue of opportunity. Those are pretty traditional American values.

JIM NICHOLS: As farmers, the story that we need to get out is that wind energy is cheap energy, and that it'll be here forever. We don't know for sure, but we think the wind was blowing here a million years ago. And we think it'll be blowing a million years into the future.

MICHAEL NOBLE: I want to see a national, renewable energy standard, where the United States Congress-passes it, and the President signs it into a law that 20 percent of America's electricity comes from renewable power in the next two decades.

And what we need is we need a leader who's going to say to us, "This country needs to lead the world to a new energy economy that's not based on fossil fuels."

It's not gonna do the whole job, it's not a silver bullet. But there's no reason why wind power can't be a major, major part of the solution.


MOYERS: For many of people, the environmental crisis is an abstraction, something "out there," a long way off, like the future.

We often ask, "Is there really a crisis?"

Well, the journalist Mark Hertsgaard asked that question ten years ago and then decided to answer it for himself.

He spent much of the last decade of the 20th century circling the globe, and then poured what he had learned into his book, EARTH ODYSSEY: AROUND THE WORLD IN SEARCH OF OUR ENVIRONMENTAL FUTURE.

THE NEW YORK TIMES praised his storytelling and TIME magazine called it one of the best environmental books in years.

Then, in the spring of 2001, Hertsgaard decided to do it again, setting out from his home in San Francisco to circle the earth once more, talking to people in 15 countries about what they think of our country.

He was in central Europe, in the middle of his trip, when the terrorists struck on September 11.

He's home now, and his account of his journey is called THE EAGLE'S SHADOW: WHY AMERICA FASCINATES AND INFURIATES THE WORLD.

Welcome to NOW.

MARK HERTSGAARD: Bill, thanks for having me.

MOYERS: Why do you call your book THE EAGLE'S SHADOW?

HERTSGAARD: Because everyone in the world lives under that shadow—for better or ill. America's power is so immense. We decide everything from is there going to be war in Iraq to are there gonna be jobs in Brazil to what's on television tonight in Bangkok. So whether you like it or not, if you are living outside of the United States you are still living in the eagle's shadow.

MOYERS: You've taken two trips around the world in a sense since I met you. The first was for EARTH ODYSSEY, around the world in search of our environmental future. And then THE EAGLE'S SHADOW most recently. What's changed in those five years separating the two trips?

HERTSGAARD: The biggest change is how much more Americanized the world has become. You know, the media talks about globalization. It's really Americanization.

HERTSGAARD: You see McDonald's everywhere. I remember when I first went to Prague in 1991 there was no McDonald's anywhere. There was no Starbucks anywhere. No ATM machines. When I was back there in 2001, they are all over the old town. And kids everywhere are on the internet. This is spreading the English language. All these young kids are learning English for better or worse. And it is, in a sense, kind of making them into junior quasi-Americans.

MOYERS: But doesn't it have a positive response, too, in the sense that the globalization of ideas and images creates an awareness on that part of the world that it is one place and one huge global community? I mean-

HERTSGAARD: Oh, sure. Absolutely. I'm, by no means totally negative on globalization. I'm very much in favor of the globalization of human rights, for example.

MOYERS: All over the world, the United States is exporting market driven solutions, commodities, services. What's the reaction among people to the fact that everything we're exporting is a market driven solution?

HERTSGAARD: That's, in a way, the Trojan Horse aspect of this. If you talk to bureaucrats and government officials and journalists and intellectuals and political activists there's a lot of unease about that. Because what it means is cutting of social spending. Removal of the social safety net. Putting everything out onto the market and, in particular, the environmental implications of that are very worrisome to a lot of people.

MOYERS: And what are they?

HERTSGAARD: I'd say the main implication is this whole idea that more consumption is always better. And that everyone on Earth should consume in—at the American level and in the American way. The average American consumes 53 times more goods and services than the average Chinese. Where's all that resources gonna come from? And where is all that pollution gonna go?

HERTSGAARD: Two weeks ago, the Chinese government has announced that they are going to double their road network. Meanwhile, they're cutting back on mass transit. They are going to increase the road size for cars and they're going to specifically limit the number of bicycles that can be on public freeways. What's that going to mean in addition to terrible pollution in China is and the loss of arable land to grow food which is a big problem there. It's going to mean that much more global warming gases. And that's something we have to realize. We cannot insulate ourselves from these decisions.

MOYERS: In EARTH ODYSSEY, AROUND THE WORLD IN SEARCH OF OUR ENVIRONMENTAL FUTURE, you spent a lot of time in China. And it's a very pessimistic portrait you draw there.

HERTSGAARD: You know, one out of every four humans is Chinese. So right there, you realize that you can not talk about any global problem without incorporating China. And I think China and the United States are what I call the two environmental super powers. We are the two nations who are going to decide, actively or passively, whether our species survives in the 21st century. We're either going to go in the direction we're now going, which I think is catastrophic, or we're going to chart a new green course.

MOYERS: Even if we were to pull back there's no stopping their appetite. No repressing their desires. These djinni have been let out of the bottle in China—everywhere.

HERTSGAARD: I'm more hopeful than that despite my reporting experience because I know how powerful the American example is overseas. I think back to the environment minister in Prague, in the Czech Republic who said, "You Americans have to realize you're watched much more carefully than you know. And when you don't do something like that it gives everyone else the excuse not to."

Contrary-wise, if we were to lead, both at home and abroad, if we were to embrace genuinely environmental solutions, sustainable development, hydrogen cars, drip irrigation for our agriculture systems, solar energy—believe me, the rest of the world would come running.

And, indeed, in some respects, the Japanese and the Germans are already out ahead of us with these technologies. So, there's that aspect, too. We're gonna lose some of these overseas markets for, say, hydrogen cars and hybrid cars. The Japanese have already captured them.

MOYERS: Why don't you think they get it in Washington?

HERTSGAARD: I think two reasons. And I would expand it. It's not just the Bush administration that doesn't get it.

MOYERS: Oh, no.

HERTSGAARD: Also, the Democrats have been very weak of this including Mr. Clinton who talked a good game on the environment and didn't produce very much. I think with Bush it is really pretty straightforward. All those guys came out of the fossil fuel industry. Mr. Bush, himself, and his father spent all of their adult lives—until they went into government—in the oil business.

Well, in the oil business, it's a matter of faith that global warming does not exist, never will exist no matter what. So, in a sense, that's simple. But more interesting, I think, is why is it that the Democrats haven't done more? Why is it that someone like Al Gore who wrote quite a good book about the environment in 1992—and then went into office and acted like he'd forgotten it all—why is that?

And I think that gets to something that I know you've talked about a lot, is the power of money and politics. It's the power that all of those companies and corporations in the fossil fuel area are able to bring to bear on any Congressman or Senator. Even people who know better—on global warming, let's say—know that if they vote that way and, in particular, if they lead the fight for meaningful global warming regulation that they are going to get hammered when it comes to financing their campaigns. I mean, it's pretty straightforward.

MOYERS: You write on page 211 of THE EAGLE SHADOW that perhaps the greatest lie told to the American people in the aftermath of September 11th is that the terrorist attacks were evidence that, "They," in quotes, hate us. Why is that a lie?

HERTSGAARD: The world doesn't hate us. The American people. It is our government that is disliked. It is our military that is feared. Even as our culture and our ideals are embraced.

MOYERS: But the American government, the American military, American corporations - these are not run by robots. These are run by American people, by American men and women.

HERTSGAARD: Sure. Sure. But I...

MOYERS: How do you make a distinction between the two?

HERTSGAARD: Well, I think there's a real distinction between the elites who—make the decisions that direct policy and the ordinary citizens. And it's striking to me that outsiders are able to grasp that in some ways better than we can. And it's exactly why after September 11th people felt like it was somehow unpatriotic to question the government. What more American value is there than the right to dissent?

MOYERS: I think, in fact, patriotism is all the more necessary when you don't like the government. Because patriotism is love of country. It's not love of government.

HERTSGAARD: Right, exactly.

MOYERS: Governments can be despotic. They can be erratic. They can be destructive.

HERTSGAARD: Quite so. There was an enormous wave of affection for the United States and for Americans right after September 11th. Which is why it's so tragic that our government since that time has apparently done all it can to dissipate that.

MOYERS: In what sense?

HERTSGAARD: It started really just ten days after the attacks. Mr. Bush went to the U.N. And he announced that in this coming war, he said to foreign nations, you are either with us or you are with the terrorists. That's now been recycled a year later. Mr. Bush on September 12th, 2002, went to the U.N. and said either you—you have to make a choice. Either you back our plans for preemptive strike against Iraq or be what he called, quote, irrelevant. In other words, the rest of you get a vote if you agree with us. If you don't agree with us, you're irrelevant.

MOYERS: But do you think they thought he was talking just about the United States? Wasn't he talking about all of us who are threatened by terrorism?

HERTSGAARD: I don't think so. In the days that followed, many people said, you know, we like you guys. But boy, why are you being so arrogant? We have dealt with terrorism in our streets. Don't tell us that you're the only people who know how to deal with terrorism.

MOYERS: The rest of the world speaks with so many voices. How do you single out which voices to hear?

HERTSGAARD: I don't think you should single out any voices. I think you should pay attention to the rest of the world, which if we're honest, before September 11th, many Americans barely knew the rest of the world was even out there. And our government in particular has long had...I mean, Mr. Bush is the most extreme in his unilateralism. But you know, let's—the Clinton administration. This is a long bipartisan tradition. Madeleine Albright, the Secretary of State for President Clinton, once said, look, we're America. We see farther. We stand taller. We can't listen to other people. We know best. That's why in the book, I call us the last superpower. And I mean last in two ways.

MOYERS: We're the only superpower.

HERTSGAARD: Right.

MOYERS: Is that what you mean?

HERTSGAARD: Well, that's one of the two ways. And the other way is that I think that superpowers are obsolete. They're a 20th century concept. And in the 21st century, the big problems—terrorism, environmental degradation, immigration, disease, all of these international problems—you can no longer solve them with a super power model of one nation, one big whatever it is. Rome, British empire, American empire. You can no longer dictate.

MOYERS: You write in THE EAGLE'S SHADOW, "Some of the tartest criticisms of the Bush administration's withdrawal from both the Kyoto protocol on global warming, and the anti ballistic missile treaty and of the refusal of the United States to join the international criminal court were coming from the very leaders who stood shoulder to shoulder with America against terrorism."

HERTSGAARD: Yeah. That was before September 11th. Tony Blair of Britain, Mr. Chirac of France, Mr. Schroeder of Germany, very tough criticisms of the Bush administration on those grounds. And it was interesting to me. Because it—it makes us realize that yes, September 11th was a huge cataclysmic event. But on September 10th, already, there was a lot of things that the United States was doing around the world that even our friends did not appreciate.

And Kyoto in particular and the environment in general, American opinion and especially the media I think has failed to understand just how much anger and resentment our environmental foot-dragging has generated overseas. The rest of the world says, look, America, you're the richest. You use... you're five percent of the population. You use 25 percent of the resources. Create at least 25 percent of the pollution. How dare you then say we're not going to do anything about it? All the rest of us have to live with that.

Global warming is coming. And when the United States government puts its head in the sand and says we're not going to do anything about it because we think it's going to hurt our economy, when the whole rest of the world is ready to step up to the plate on this, boy, does that make people irritated.

MOYERS: What do you think they'd like us to do?

HERTSGAARD: They'd like us to show some leadership. They know that we have the technology and we have the money. And if we wanted to, we could very easily lead a green revolution around the world.

MOYERS: A green revolution being?

HERTSGAARD: Well, moving towards solar energy. Moving towards mass transit. Moving towards hydrogen fueled cars. In China, for example, stopping the use of coal which now we're promoting through the World Bank and other U.S. proxies. And encouraging energy efficiency. It would be good for our companies. It would be good for our workers. We sell a lot of energy efficiency technology. It would be good for China. And it would be good for the entire planet. Because if China industrializes the way it plans to with coal and with oil, which is exactly what Exxon and the Bush administration are advocating, there's no way that we are going to avoid catastrophic global warming.

MOYERS: You end the book with an image and metaphor of one volcano in Hawaii. There's another volcano in your book that plays very heavily in your mind, Vesuvius.

HERTSGAARD: That was the volcano down in Southern Italy that—Pompeii—that when it erupted during the height of the Roman Empire,it buried the entire town of Pompeii. Pompeii was about as luxurious an existence as you could have back in those days. You know, they had running water. They had these wonderful shaded gardens. And they were wealthy beyond belief. And it all ended like that. And I guess I use that because I wanted us to, as Americans, to see just how fragile our privilege and luxury is. And we got a bit of a reminder of that. You know, September 11th was our own Vesuvius, I think.

MOYERS: Mark Hertsgaard, THE EAGLE'S SHADOW: WHY AMERICA FASCINATES AND INFURIATES THE WORLD. Thank you for being with us.

HERTSGAARD: Thank you, Bill.


ANNOUNCER: Next week on NOW…

For 30 years, America's waterways have been safeguarded by the Clean Water Act. Now it's at risk.

LEE: It's very frustrating to those of us that are more concerned about protecting nature.

ANNOUNCER: The environmental battle being fought in the Supreme Court.

Next week on NOW.


ANNOUNCER: And coming up on NPR radio.

LYDEN: Hi, I'm Jackie Lyden from NPR news.

Join me on the radio tomorrow for All Things Considered.

We'll have a report on the resurgence of the opium trade in Afghanistan and tales of disco days, a conversation with diva Gloria Gaynor who has most definitely survived.

Find your local public radio station at our web site, npr.org.


MOYERS: A final note, the use of renewable energy in America is a largely untapped resource in this land of plenty, and every day it seems there is more reason to pay attention to what matters most.

Last week, more evidence arrived showing that the ice mantle floating across the arctic ocean shrunk to record levels this summer, more evidence of global warming even as our government continues to say, "let's wait and see."

The news prompted us to take our own modest earth odyssey with these photographs from the two poles of our planet—nature's cathedral if you will—where majestic physical beauty meets the science of global warming and each day invites a sense of awe.

There's more on our Web site about global warming, and about renewable energy.

Go to pbs.org.

For NOW, I'm Bill Moyers.




about feedback pledge © Public Affairs Television. All rights reserved.
go to the full archive