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October 31, 2007

Preview: Minority Media

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Big Media is pushing the FCC to relax ownership rules again to give conglomerates more control over what Americans read, see, and hear. What most Americans don't know is that the FCC plans to fast track the rule changes and cut off public comment in December. Who wins and who loses?

On Friday, November 2 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings), Bill Moyers Journal reports on the real-world consequences of media policy through the lens of how it affects minority media ownership in America.

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

October 30, 2007

NOW: God and Global Warming

For those of you following the story of how members of the evangelical movement have been working to preserve the environment, our colleagues at NOW have recently featured a story entitled, "God and Global Warming," viewable in full on the NOW Web site. Here is the episode listing:

"In August, NOW traveled with an unlikely alliance of Evangelical Christians and leading scientists to witness the breathtaking effects of global warming on Alaska's rapidly changing environment. Though many in the evangelical community feel recognition of global warming is in opposition to their mission, the week-long trip inspired new thinking on the relationship between science and religion, and on our moral responsibility to protect the planet. Travel with NOW and the expeditionary group on a breathtaking and surprising journey to find common ground between earth and sky."

The story features Reverend Richard Cizik, Vice President for Governmental Affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals, who was also profiled in "Is God Green?" a MOYERS ON AMERICA special which aired last year.

October 26, 2007

Another Church Committee?

Bill Moyers' guests this week debated the need for greater oversight of executive wiretapping programs. Fritz Schwarz was lead counsel on the Church Committee, which lead to the passing of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978, representing one of the first major checks, aside from the Constitution itself, on an Administration's ability to eavesdrop on Americans suspected of consorting with foreign enemies.

As Schwarz explains to Bill Moyers:

You can have something that starts in a benign way. And then it spreads to the unbenign and that always happened. It was true with NSA, the National Security Agency, as proven by our investigation. They got every single cable that left the United States for 30 years, but they started only wanting those because they wanted to get information from encrypted cables that were sent by foreign embassies to their home governments… They then went to getting the cables of civil rights leaders, all of them, and any Vietnam War protestors, all of them… Secrecy plus lack of oversight leads to mission creep. And that leads to the move to the indefensible.

But Charles Fried, former U.S. Solicitor General in the Reagan administration, says:

The warrantless eavesdropping that I think was going on under the NSA and perhaps still is going on is absolutely necessary… The cop on the beat, he notices that this person looks a little uncomfortable as he’s walking. That door shouldn’t be ajar. All kinds of things like that. Well, this is the electronic version of that. And to shut that down makes no sense. And you can’t, of course, get a warrant for it. Warrants in that context are completely inept.

With whom do you agree?

  • Is FISA, and it's recent amendments, an unnecessary limitation on the executive branch's ability to conduct comprehensive intelligence programs?

  • Or do you think we need a modern-day Church Committee?

    Photos: Robin Holland

  • October 25, 2007

    Jeremy Scahill Answers Your Questions

    In just the week since Jeremy Scahill’s appearance on THE JOURNAL, there have been many developments in the Blackwater story:

    • In front of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Secretary of State Rice expressed regret for not investigating Blackwater earlier. She said, "I certainly regret that there was not the oversight that there should have been." Watch a clip of her testimony here.

    • Richard Griffin, the assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security announced his departure amidst questioning of his oversight and policies regarding Blackwater, particularly int he wake of the September 16 killing of Iraqi civilians by Blackwater guards.

    • Questions arose as to whether or not Blackwater evaded tens of millions of dollars in taxes.

    • Iraq revoked all contractor immunity, put into the Iraqi constitution by L. Paul Bremer as one of his last acts in his post back in 2004.

    We'd like to thank Jeremy Scahill for taking the time to respond so thoroughly to many of your important comments and inquiries.

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

    (Photo: Robin Holland)


    Do we have any operational numbers on what Blackwater has actually succeeded at doing? Or is this classified?

    Posted by: JohnHouston | October 21, 2007 07:08 PM

    Jeremy Scahill: There is no question that Blackwater has been highly successful at completing the literal mission that it has been tasked with in Iraq – primarily keeping alive senior US occupation officials, State Department personnel and visiting Congressional delegations. But, as the events of September 16 show us in an all too horrifying way, the manner in which Blackwater sometimes goes about completing its mission has a violent and deadly outcome. There are numerous incidents in which Blackwater operatives and forces from other private companies working for the US government have opened fire on Iraqi vehicles, killed Iraqi civilians and enraged communities across Iraq. These actions give the impression of a wild west atmosphere and send a clear message to Iraqis that the lives of American occupation officials are worth infinitely more than those of the ordinary people of Iraq. Interestingly, we are hearing increasingly from military officials that they believe Blackwater and its colleagues/competitors are "hurting the counterinsurgency effort," i.e. the "hearts and minds" campaign.

    Col. Thomas Hammes, the US military official once overseeing the creation of a new Iraqi military has described driving around Iraq with Iraqis and encountering Blackwater operatives. "[They] were running me off the road. We were threatened and intimidated," Hammes said. But, he added, "they were doing their job, exactly what they were paid to do in the way they were paid to do it, and they were making enemies on every single pass out of town." Hammes concluded the contractors were "hurting our counterinsurgency effort." While this may encourage an analysis or line that the private forces are bad and the military is angelic (which is far from true), it is worth noting because even if you support the war, it makes a compelling case for severely limiting or discontinuing the use of Blackwater and other private forces.


    Could you resolve this contradiction in your interview? (a) Early in the program you indicate that Blackwater has superb equipment and training, the envy of regular US military forces; (b) later you indicate that the Fallujah debacle resulted from bad equipment, undermanning, insufficient weaponry, bad planning, etc.

    I share your viewing-with-alarm of Blackwater, but apart from its moral and political and strategic and criminal negatives, is Blackwater competent? (I.e., did they "learn" something from Fallujah, however much we deplore their mercenary modus operandi? And of course I don't mean "competence" here as a compliment, but as part of the danger.)

    Posted by: Gene Keyes | October 20, 2007 12:34 PM

    Jeremy Scahill: This is one of the realities of the industry, especially given the profit motives at play. Combat is a major, for-profit entity on a scale never seen in US history. Indeed, Blackwater does have some of the best-trained veterans of the US Special Forces world working for it in Iraq and elsewhere. In the case of Fallujah, the families of those four men killed and dragged through the streets have sued Blackwater for wrongful death, alleging that the company cut corners in the interest of profit and rushed a mission into a dangerous area, resulting in the deaths of their loved ones.


    Dear Mr. Scahill--

    As a resident of North Carolina, I am particularly interested in my state's oversight and regulation of Blackwater. Clearly investigations on the Federal are ongoing. I would also like to write NC state officials to urge them to conduct their own investigations, but I'm not sure which offices would be concerned (AG, Governer's, Treasury) or which particular aspects of Blackwater's operation would fall under state oversight. Any ideas or tips for issues to raise with state officials? Do you know of any email or letter-writing campaigns aimed at increasing oversight of Blackwater? Thank you for the fascinating interview.

    Posted by: jcdavis | October 20, 2007 11:31 AM

    Jeremy Scahill: I think this would be an important development. One of the interesting – some might say disturbing – aspects of Blackwater's presence in the US national security apparatus is its facilities. The main Blackwater headquarters in Moyock, North Carolina is a sprawling 7,000 acre private military base--the largest of its kind in the world. The company has also been building a parallel network to the structure of the official government apparatus. The Prince empire now includes an aviation division, a maritime division, an intelligence company and Blackwater manufactures both surveillance blimps and armored vehicles. It recently opened a new Blackwater facility in Illinois called "Blackwater North" and is fighting back fierce local opposition to a planned 800+ acre facility in Poterero, California, just miles from the US-Mexico border. The Congressman who represents that district, Democrat Bob Filner, recently introduced legislation seeking to block the creation of what he terms "mercenary training centers" anywhere in the U.S. outside of military bases. While that is obviously at the federal level, it would be interesting to get basic questions answered about the legal framework for such facilities in the states in which they operate.


    Why hasn't the media, other than our local San Diego newspapers, mentioned Blackwater's attempt to put a base near Potrero, a small San Diego County community which is somewhat close to the Mexican border? Is Blackwater slated to be part of our "border security"? The community council members who voted "yea" on the base have been recalled, but this needs media coverage!!

    Posted by: Tina Davis | October 20, 2007 01:13 AM

    Jeremy Scahill: I visited this proposed Blackwater site earlier this year and met with local residents and a dissident member of the local planning group. I was impressed with the level of resistance in Potrero to Blackwater's attempt to set up shop there. It is a very important discussion that cuts to the heart of the future of privatized warfare, homeland security and border issues. Certainly the location is curious given the closeness to Mexico. There is no doubt that Blackwater and other companies have long pressed for a greater inclusion in border training and some have suggested actually using private forces to patrol the border. It is hard to imagine that is not in the minds of Blackwater executives when they look at the Potrero site and its potential uses.


    Mr. Scahill could you just clarify something. Repeatedly you referred to "private contractors" outnumbering U.S. soldiers in Iraq in your interview. Are all of these "private contractors mercenary soldiers?

    Posted by: Daniel Loomis | October 20, 2007 12:16 AM

    Jeremy Scahill: No. There are now approximately 180,000 private contractors operating alongside approximately 170,000 US troops. Those are just the ones on contracts with the US government. Most of them do jobs traditionally performed by active duty soldier – whether that is peeling potatoes or protecting commanding generals. Most of them are not armed, however. Of these 180,000, we do not know how many are armed contractors like those that work for Blackwater. In fact, the military has been unable to provide an effective tally. Estimates range from 20,000-70,000 armed contractors. But it must be said that the system of contracting in Iraq is a labyrinth of subcontractors. The prime contractors are very secretive about the work of their subcontractors making it very difficult to investigate. With incredibly ineffective oversight and monitoring, it may well be impossible to know the truth about the extent of the use of these forces. The GAO last year estimated that there were 48,000 employees of private military/security companies in Iraq working for more than 170 companies. I tend to think the number is higher – perhaps much higher, especially when one takes into account the fact that there are many other entities besides the US government hire private security – i.e. Britain, Australia, corporations, wealthy individuals, the Iraqi government, etc.


    On May 10th, 2005, my Brother, Thomas Jaichner, was shot and killed by a sniper in Ramadi while working for Blackwater. Like many of the Blackwater men he also served in the U.S. Military in Afghanistan where he met Blackwater. After being home for just three months from Afghanastan he was off to Iraq with Blackwater. It was during his 3rd time in Iraq with Blackwater when he was killed. I have been told three versions of what happened that day, one from the men with whom he served, one from the newspapers, and one from the autopsy report given to me by the FBI. The stories vary significantly. I would just like to know the truth, without a lawsuit. Being you wrote a book about Blackwater, I wonder if you have researched the circumstances of the men who have been killed while working for Blackwater?

    Posted by: Jennifer Lynch | October 19, 2007 11:13 PM

    Jeremy Scahill: I'm sorry for your loss. With the exception of the deaths of the four Blackwater operatives in Fallujah in March 2004 and the crash of a Blackwater aircraft in Afghanistan in November 2004, killing, among others, three active-duty soldiers, I have not investigated other cases of deaths of Blackwater forces in any depth. I write briefly about some in my book but not to the extent that you are asking. These two cases – Fallujah and Afghanistan – are in litigation, as the families of the deceased are suing Blackwater. I would suggest that if you have not already done this to involve your Congressmember (though this may go nowhere, it is worth a try), as well as filing an official inquiry with the US State Department asking for any information on your brother's death. It would be important to know if he was working a State Department contract when he was killed or not. Also, have you ever asked Blackwater for any company documentation about the circumstances of his death? I wish I could be of more help but those are the thoughts that immediately come to mind.


    You made the point numerous times that due to continual contracts given to Blackwater, the company will be around for a long time. If a Democrat wins in 2008, with a Democrat controlled congress, there will obviously be a lot of de-privatization and a probably end to the war in Iraq. How will Blackwater continue?

    Posted by: Benjamin Alff | October 19, 2007 10:33 PM

    Jeremy Scahill: Blackwater was originally given its federal operating license under the Clinton Administration. Clinton was a dedicated supporter of outsourcing in general and the military specifically. He authorized the use of mercenary forces in the Balkans, as well as in Haiti and elsewhere. Who do we think gave Halliburton all those contracts in the 1990s when Cheney was running the company? Blackwater is deeply embedded in the US national security apparatus and will, I believe, continue to thrive under a Democratic administration. This has long been a bipartisan system and while Blackwater may be under some scrutiny right now, it would take a much more dedicated investigation to unpack the extent of its involvement in the US war machine and the Homeland Security apparatus. I don't see it shutting down (or being shut down) anytime soon. I also do not share your optimism about an end to the war in the near future with or without a Democrat in the White House.


    What would happen to Blackwater if the U.S. left Iraq tomorrow? How would it affect their size and income as a corporation? If these behemoth security companies depend on large conflicts to maintain their stature, won't they become an unacceptable lobby for a permanent state of war?

    Posted by: John Petesch | October 19, 2007 10:22 PM

    Jeremy Scahill: Blackwater may well leave Iraq in its overt capacity by May. Perhaps not, but it is possible. Erik Prince has indicated in recent days that he sees the private security business in Iraq diminishing. While Blackwater has indeed made significant money off of its Iraq operations – over $1 billion by some estimates – the company is by no means hurting for other business. It recently won a share of a $15 billion "war on drugs" contract, a $92 million contract for its aviation division with the Pentagon and continues to be one of the premiere providers of specialized training to federal and local law enforcement and the US military. The company has been expanding rapidly even amidst the scandals. Iraq is only a part of the story. These companies have their sights set on being international peacekeepers and increasing their presence within the homeland security structure of the US. I'm sure they'd prefer to keep their Iraq arrangement but it won't break them – not by any stretch of the imagination.

    October 18, 2007

    Ask Jeremy Scahill...

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    Since the shooting deaths of Iraqi civilians on September 16 by Blackwater contractors, which is currently under investigation by the FBI and the State Department, newspapers, talk shows and blogs have been buzzing with debate over the implications of a growing private sector "army" fighting alongside US Military officials in Iraq. Many believe these hired soldiers have not been properly held accountable for their mistakes.

    Founder and CEO of Blackwater, Erik Prince, recently made the rounds defending his company as a patriotic extension of the US Armed Forces, simply fulfilling the security demands of a military stretched thin.

    After watching Bill Moyers' interview with investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill , who has been covering Blackwater for more than three years, do questions still linger about this complicated issue?

    Who's funding these private security contractors? Who's giving them their day-to-day orders? Who supplies their equipment and transport vehicles? Under which rule of law are they held accountable? Here's your chance to ask the expert.

    Submit your questions to Scahill by commenting below. We will post his responses to select questions early next week.

    Photo: Robin Holland

    October 12, 2007

    Difference, Dissent and Tyranny

    This week on THE JOURNAL, Anouar Majid, professor of English at the University of New England, explains that dissent in communities is vital to maintaining social, cultural and intellectual curiosity. Stifling disagreement and smothering debate, he believes, can have dangerous effects on a civilization:

    People who cannot live comfortably with differences always have a tendency to slide into tyranny. That's why we have to maintain vast differences within every society...to prevent those practices from ever taking root.

    Yet even though constructive conversation is often desirable, is it always possible? As Bill Moyers asks Professor Majid:

    You can't have a conversation with somebody who doesn't think you're human, a conversation with somebody who wants to kill you, somebody who thinks you're subhuman, somebody whose purpose is to manipulate you, right?

    How would you answer Bill Moyers' question? We invite you to respond by commenting below.

    Photo: Robin Holland

    Moral Hazards and the Fed

    In their conversation this week with Bill Moyers, economic journalist Robert Kuttner and former SEC chairman William H. Donaldson questioned the wisdom of Federal Reserve heads Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke’s interest rate cuts in times of economic crisis - most recently the half-point cut on September 18 in response to the sub-prime mortgage collapse.

    Robert Kuttner suggests that the resulting flow of cheap money is a quick-fix that obscures the root causes of economic woes and, perhaps, makes them worse:

    The Fed cheapens money and bails the economy out and then invites the next round of speculative excess…The risk is that every time we repeat this cycle, we get bigger and riskier bubbles. And with the dollar being in the tank, it’s not a costless kind of bailout… We’re going to see inflationary pressures as a result of the cheap dollar.

    “The sub-prime crisis was the result of the Fed’s failure to enforce lending standards…On the one hand, [Alan Greenspan] did not use a lot of the regulatory power that he had. On the other hand, every time there was a credit crunch he would race to the rescue…It seems to me if you’re going to bail out problems after the fact, you have an obligation to prevent some of them before they start.”

    William H. Donaldson argues that rate cuts can lead to a “moral hazard,” in which the presumption of a Federal Reserve bailout might actually encourage some to make irresponsible and/or ill-considered investment decisions:

    The Federal Reserve, the central bank, has an ability to reverse a downturn, but at great cost… Insofar as they do, we run into a moral hazard, i.e. we bail out the people who made bad or devious – whatever you want to call them – investment decisions. So you sort of are saying “Go ahead and do whatever you want, and you can count on the good old Fed to bail you out."

    Between widespread controversy over Chairman Bernanke’s recent interest rate cut, Alan Greenspan’s recent best-selling book, and criticism of the Federal Reserve on the campaign trail (including some suggestions that it be eliminated altogether), the Fed has become a hot topic.

    What do you think?

  • Should the Federal Reserve act more aggressively to regulate areas of the market suspected of improprieties?
  • Should the Fed continue to respond to economic crises with interest rate cuts to encourage liquidity?
  • Will the Fed’s actions ultimately be a boon for the U.S. economy?

    Photos: Robin Holland

  • Honoring Doris Lessing

    A Bill Moyers essay on recent Nobel Prize in Literature recipient, Doris Lessing.. For more on Ms. Lessing, click here.

    Can't Play This Video? Click here for quicktime and windows media versions.

    We invite you to respond to this essay and Ms. Lessing's work by commenting below.

    October 4, 2007

    An American Depression?

    There's no question that the Christian Zionist movement in United States is growing strong. As CUFI founder John Hagee, who already claims two million members in his young organization, and would like to align all American evangelicals to his cause, recently exclaimed at CUFIs annual A Night to Honor Israel:

    When 50 million evangelical bible-believing Christians unite with five million American Jews standing together on behalf of Israel, it is a match made in heaven.

    But why has this movement had such a profound allure for many Americans?

    In his conversation with Bill Moyers this week, Rabbi Michael Lerner offers one explanation, discussing the appeal of dispensationalism, or the religious view held by many Christian Zionists, that the second coming of Jesus is incumbent upon the Jews being in Israel. He offers this reasoning:

    Dispensationalists are onto something. They are onto the growing depression that people are feeling, a deep emotional depression in the United States. A lack of any hopeful picture of what the world could be - and that failure is not a failure of dispensationalists. It's a failure of the mainstream political framework in this country that to address the major questions facing the world in the 21st century.

    What do you think?

  • Are Americans yearning for some new philosophy to fill a void left by mainstream politics?
  • Besides Christian Zionism, do you see any signs of other movements beginning to fill this void?

  • Bill Moyers Essay: On Amish Grace

    A year after the tragic shooting, Bill Moyers looks at what the Amish can teach us about healing. For more on Amish Grace, click here.

    Can't Play This Video? Click here for quicktime and windows media versions.

    What do you think?
    Is forgiveness always possible? Is it always the "right thing to do"?

    October 3, 2007

    Preview: Christian Zionism

    This Week on Bill Moyers Journal:

    As leader of the politically powerful group Christians United for Israel (CUFI), Pastor John Hagee wants to bring millions of Christians together to support Israel. But some say his message is dangerous: “It is time for America to…consider a military preemptive strike against Iran to prevent a nuclear holocaust in Israel and a nuclear attack in America.” Bill Moyers Journal reports on CUFI and then gets theological and political context from Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun, a Jewish journal of politics, culture, and spirituality, and Dr. Timothy P. Weber, an evangelical Christian, historian, and the author of On The Road to Armageddon: How Evangelicals Became Israel's Best Friend. Also on the program, a year after the tragic shooting, Bill Moyers looks at what the Amish can teach us about healing.

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

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