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May 29, 2008

Michael Winship: George Bush, At Sea in the Desert

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

George Bush, At Sea in the Desert
by Michael Winship

President Bush’s recent speech before the Knesset, ostensibly to celebrate Israel’s 60th birthday, was not only a display of political cynicism at its worst – using a diplomatic occasion to perpetrate an unseemly attack on Barack Obama – but a microcosm for the disregard with which the President holds the rest of the world. And vice versa.

Events in the Middle East over the last two weeks are all the proof you need. Here’s what the President said: "Jews and Americans have seen the consequences of disregarding the words of leaders who espouse hatred. And that is a mistake the world must not repeat in the 21st century.

“Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: 'Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided.' We have an obligation to call this what it is – the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.”

Although officially President Bush denied that he was talking about Obama – and the Democrat’s stated willingness to talk with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – John Yang at NBC News reported, “Privately, White House officials said the shoe fits the Democratic frontrunner.”

American historian Brian P. Murphy told the BOSTON GLOBE, “I can't imagine there's a precedent for a sitting president to go before the legislative body of a foreign government and launch a political attack on a major-party nominee running to succeed him.”

It was a shabby performance in an improper, overseas forum. He didn’t care. Of course the reference to appeasement was an attempt to smear by making a comparison between Senator Obama and British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s capitulation to Hitler at Munich in 1938. Last summer Bush read the book Troublesome Young Men, an account of how Winston Churchill and fellow Conservatives fought back against Chamberlain’s submission to the Nazis.

But ironically, as the book’s author, Lynne Olson, pointed out in a WASHINGTON POST op-ed last summer, it’s the appeaser and Bush who have more in common than the president may care to know. “Chamberlain came to office with almost no understanding of foreign affairs or experience in dealing with international leaders,” she wrote. “… He surrounded himself with like-minded advisers and refused to heed anyone who told him otherwise.”

President Bush’s own continuing heedlessness was again highlighted just a couple of days after the Knesset speech when he delivered a chastising lecture on democracy to Arab nations at the World Economic Forum in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. “Obtuse” is how a Boston Globe editorial described it. “Bush seemed oblivious to the loss of respect for the United States that his Mideast misadventures have caused in the region.”

NEWSWEEK’s Christopher Dickey echoed the GLOBE's dismay: "Looking at Iraq, the peace process, Lebanon, the growing strength of Iran, the continued deterioration of Somalia, the potential disintegration of Sudan, not to mention the vast decline in the value of the dollar and the faltering global economy, the participants at the forum knew only too well they were halfway to hell on roads paved with George W. Bush's good intentions."

So, as Bush thoughtlessly careens into the last months of his presidency, a good portion of the rest of the world has decided it can spin on quite well without him. Even Israel.

Almost as if everyone waited until President Bush had left the region and the coast was clear, there was immediately a surprise announcement of Turkey brokering indirect talks between Israel and Syria over the Golan Heights. And now Qatar has brokered a political power-sharing deal between the Lebanese government and the Hezbollah Shiite militia that may keep the country from exploding in another war. The United States has opposed both efforts.

Such defiance isn’t just because George Bush is a lame duck. So bereft is his administration’s Middle East policy of initiative or consistent purpose that the United States has lost what little credibility it had left.

It’s becoming clearer as Egyptian newspaper editor and human rights activist Hisham Qassem says, “…America is neither loved nor feared.” Instead, we’re the lumbering, addled giant, aimlessly kicking desert sand, irritating the world instead of leading it.

Michael Winship is senior writer of BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.

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

May 23, 2008

Ask the Reporters: Exposé on Bill Moyers Journal

This week, BILL MOYERS JOURNAL collaborated with EXPOSÉ: AMERICA'S INVESTIGATIVE REPORTS to tell the story of several journalists' work in exploring the potential threat of the chemical Bisphenol A in Americans' food.

We thank reporters Cary Spivak, Susanne Rust and Meg Kissinger for taking time to answer your questions about the story. We will post their responses next week.

How Strictly Should The Constitution Be Followed?

(Photo by Robin Holland)

This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with author Jeffrey Toobin about appointees to the Supreme Court should Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) win the Presidency in November.

Toobin also addressed the topic in this week's NEW YORKER:

"McCain plans to continue, and perhaps even accelerate, George W. Bush's conservative counter-revolution at the Supreme Court... [McCain said] 'For decades now, some federal judges have taken it upon themselves to pronounce and rule on matters that were never intended to be heard in courts or decided by judges... in the tradition of "penumbras," "emanations," and other airy constructs the Court has employed over the years as poor substitutes for clear and rigorous constitutional reasoning.'... When it comes to the Constitution, McCain is on the wrong side of the voters, and of history."

Toobin's argument reflects one side of a long-running philosophical dispute about judicial activism, a term meant to describe when judges derive their legal interpretations and rulings from something other than the precise written language of the law.

Thomas Sowell of the Hoover Institution takes the other side, arguing for judicial restraint:

"At the heart of the concern over judicial activism is the fear that the judge will impose his own personal preferences in his decisions, to such an extent as to ultimately negate the very meaning of law as a body of known rules to guide individual and social conduct... Judicial activists who depict the Constitution as a morally groping document, crying out plaintively for the aid of judges, have nothing on which to base this vision, other than their own self-serving assumptions... A dependable framework of legal expectations, achieved after centuries of painful and bloody struggles, would be sacrificed, while a whole society retrogressed toward a world where edicts are simply issued by whoever has the power at the moment... The question for today is whether one chooses to continue to live under the existing constitutional government, which includes the right to urge changes, or to usurp the power to make changes unilaterally."

What do you think?

  • Is it appropriate for judges to base their legal interpretations and rulings on something other than the exact wording of the law? Why or why not?
  • Do you agree with Sowell's concerns that judicial activism undermines constitutional government and subjects the country to the ideologies of unelected judges? Why or why not?

  • Honoring Our Veterans

    In honor of Memorial Day, JOURNAL writers Bill Moyers and Michael Winship wrote the following essay on how to best honor our veterans.

    Memorial Day

    We honor our war dead this Memorial Day weekend. The greatest respect we could pay them would be to pledge no more wars for erroneous and misleading reasons; no more killing and wounding except for the defense of our country and our freedoms.

    We also could honor our dead by caring for the living, and do better at it than we are right now.

    There has been a flurry of allegations concerning neglect, malpractice and corner cutting at the Veterans Administration especially for those suffering from post traumatic stress disorder – PTSD – or major depression, brought on by combat.

    A report released by the Rand Corporation last month indicates that approximately 300,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans suffer PTSD or major depression. That’s one of every five military men and women who have served over there.

    Last Friday’s Washington Post reported the contents of an e-mail sent to staff at a VA hospital in Temple, Texas. A psychologist wrote, “Given that we are having more and more compensation seeking veterans, I’d like to suggest that you refrain from giving a diagnosis of PTSD straight out.” She further suggested that a diagnosis of a less serious Adjustment Disorder be made instead, especially as she and her colleagues “really don’t… have time to do the extensive testing that should be done to determine PTSD.”

    Now PTSD is not a diagnosis arrived at without careful, thorough examination. But to possibly misdiagnose such a volatile and harmful disorder for the sake of saving time or money is reprehensible.

    Veterans Affairs Secretary James Peake immediately said the psychologist’s statement had been “repudiated at the highest level of our health care organization.” Nonetheless, there’s plenty of other evidence to raise concern.

    The rate of attempted and successful suicides is so scary, the head of the VA’s mental health division, Dr. Ira Katz, wondered in a February e-mail how it should be spun. “Shh!” he wrote. “Our suicide prevention coordinators are identifying about 1,000 suicide attempts per month among the veterans we see in our medical facilities. Is this something we should (carefully) address ourselves in some sort of release before someone stumbles on it?”

    This apparent cover-up prompted the House Veterans Committee to hold hearings earlier this month. Congressman Bob Filner, committee chairman, questioned Dr. Katz and Veterans Affairs Secretary Peake. “What we see is a pattern that reveals a culture of bureaucracy,” Filner angrily said. “The pattern is deny, deny, deny and when that fails, it’s cover up, cover up, cover up — there is clear evidence of a bureaucratic cover-up here…

    Rep. Filner raised the question of criminal negligence. “We should all be angry about what has gone on here,” he declared. “This is a matter of life and death for the veterans that we are responsible for and I think there was criminal negligence in the way this was handled. If we do not admit, assume or know, then the problem will continue and people will die. If that’s not criminal negligence, I don’t know what is.”

    Secretary Peake said, “I can appreciate that the number of 1000 suicide attempts a month might be shocking but in a system as large as ours… and consistent with the literature, we might well expect a larger number of attempts than that.”

    The front page of Sunday’s Houston Chronicle featured an in-depth study of just one of the suicides -- Bronze Star recipient Nils Aron Andersson of the 82nd Airborne Division. “A victim of the war within,” reads the Chronicle headline.

    Andersson returned home from two tours in Iraq and was reassigned to duty as an Army recruiter. “Did he come back different?” his father asked. “I don’t think there’s anybody who goes over there and fights on the front lines who ever comes back the same.”

    In March 2007, Andersson sat behind the wheel of his new Ford pick up – less than 24 hours after his wedding – and fired a single round from a .22 caliber semi-automatic into his right temple. He was 25 years old.

    “I don’t think Aron let the Army down,” his father said. “I think the Army let him down. I think the care wasn’t there that he really needed.”

    Only about half of those service members diagnosed with PTSD or depression have sought treatment and about half of those received what the RAND study describes as “minimally adequate treatment.” Minimally adequate treatment for what could be a matter of life and death.

    Once upon a time, kids asked their fathers, “What did you do in the war, daddy?” It’s a question the next generation could ask all of us who stood by as our government invaded Iraq to start a war whose purpose and rationale keep shifting and whose end is nowhere in sight, and who look now with nonchalance upon the unseen scars of those who are fighting it.

    We welcome your comments below.

    Bill Moyers Essay: Washington Resignations

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    May 16, 2008

    Poll: You, Your Friends, and Politics

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with a couple unusually impacted by this year’s bruising battle for the Democratic nomination – law professors Christopher Edley, Jr. and Maria Echaveste, who are advising Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton, respectively.

    What do you think? Have political stances and conflicts affected your personal relationships?

    We invite you to discuss in the space below.

    Do Pharmaceutical Commercials Benefit Americans?

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    On this week’s JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with Melody Petersen, an independent journalist who formerly covered the drug industry for the NEW YORK TIMES and is author of OUR DAILY MEDS: HOW THE PHARMACEUTICAL COMPANIES TRANSFORMED THEMSELVES INTO SLICK MARKETING MACHINES AND HOOKED THE NATION ON PRESCRIPTION DRUGS.

    Addressing how advertising and marketing have affected the prescription drug business, Petersen said:

    “A very powerful technique that the drug companies spend millions and millions of dollars on is hiring physicians to give lectures to other physicians on their drugs. It looks like the physician is up there giving his independent position on this drug, but often he’s been trained by an advertising agency. His slide presentation has been created by an ad agency. It looks like independent science, but it’s not... They want to get as many articles published in our medical journals as they can that show their products in favorable lights and will get physicians to prescribe them, so they often hire a Madison Avenue ad agency to write up an article for them or a study. The name of the ad agency rarely appears in the published version; instead, they hire doctors to put their names on as author... It’s gone so far that some independent scientists are starting to view our medical literature as propaganda.”

    Others, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), argue that “direct to consumer” ads help educate and engage prospective patients about their healthcare options.

    What do you think?

    May 9, 2008

    National Sovereignty and International Law

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    What do you think?

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

  • Poll: Is 'Universal Health Care' Feasible?

    This week, the JOURNAL followed the California Nurses Association (CNA), a union calling for change in America’s health care system. CNA Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro said:

    “There shouldn’t be a double standard. There should be an excellence in care that applies to all people. We, as the public, pay for Dick Cheney’s care. Why is the government not providing the same type of care to all Americans?"

    There are fundamental disagreements about federal action to try and create a national system for universal health care, including the basic question of whether such a system is even feasible. We invite you to discuss in the space below.

    May 7, 2008

    Bill Moyers Rewind: Crossing The Euphrates (2003)

    In May 2003, shortly after the American invasion of Iraq, Bill Moyers broadcast the following commentary on NOW WITH BILL MOYERS.
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    May 2, 2008

    Kathleen Hall Jamieson Asks...

    [Photo by Robin Holland]

    This week on THE JOURNAL, political expert Kathleen Hall Jamieson returned to offer her perspective on 2008’s extraordinary campaign season. Conversing with Bill Moyers, Jamieson posed two questions.

    “Politicians from the beginning of political campaigning have tried to find all of the avenues that they could to identify with the people who largely are not going to be as well-off as they are. That's just the nature of the structure that produces political candidacies. Essentially, one has to make the assumption that candidates are capable of governing with an understanding of the circumstances of people who don't live the kind of lives they live... The question is, how do they find a way to understand the circumstances out there? And then how do they address it in a way that makes sense to the people who are actually experiencing those problems?”

    What do you think?

    Poll: The Experts Speak?

    Authors Victor Navasky and Christopher Cerf were on THE JOURNAL this week to discuss their new book, MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! OR HOW WE WON THE WAR IN IRAQ. The latest from Cerf and Navasky’s satirical “Institute of Expertology,” which previously published THE EXPERTS SPEAK: THE DEFINITIVE COMPENDIUM OF AUTHORITATIVE MISINFORMATION, the book is an in-depth examination of five years of expert commentary on Iraq. Regarding experts, Navasky said:

    “The format of journalism is that you quote someone on one side, and then you quote someone on the other, and you pick experts. And the theory [is] that if you get two people who, as we found out in THE EXPERTS SPEAK, are experts who are wrong, that somehow you’re gonna get the truth out of that.”

    What do you think? We invite you to discuss in the space below.
    A Companion Blog to Bill Moyers Journal

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