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October 31, 2008

Bill Moyers Asks: Has Either Candidate Addressed The World As It Is?

(Photos by Robin Holland)

This week on THE JOURNAL, Bill Moyers asked media expert Kathleen Hall Jamieson and scholar Glenn Loury if either candidate has “addressed the world as it is.”

Loury said:

“Well, I don’t know that the world as it is can be addressed in a political campaign. Isn’t there something about the very nature of this marketing and persuasion enterprise which is the selling of a candidate that obviates dealing with the world as it really is? ... We draw lines and boundaries about what is legitimate and illegitimate to be said, and then we conduct our political conversations mindful of those boundaries. And oftentimes profoundly important, substantive matters get left by the wayside.”

Jamieson said:

“The problem with the way we’re campaigning is it doesn’t forecast governance, and it means that people have been promised many things that can’t probably realistically be delivered on in current circumstances... And then when [the President] governing doesn’t keep those promises, people feel betrayed. If he keeps those promises, he’s irresponsible. That’s a pretty bad double bind created by poor campaigning.”

What do you think?

  • Has either candidate addressed the world as it is?
  • Can candidates tell hard truths and still win?

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

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

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

    Edgar said:

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

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

    Bill Moyers & Michael Winship: The Sounds of Voting -- And Writing Checks

    Our Manhattan offices are in a building that also houses the New York City Board of Elections. So this is the season when we hear above our heads the sounds of heavy objects rolling across the floor into freight elevators. The moving men have arrived – and what they're transporting are voting machines being carted off to polling places.

    It's reassuring, the sound of those big metal boxes being rolled out so we can cast our votes, but all too often in our fair city (as no doubt where you live, too) we are confronted by an end run on the part of a political elite, many of whom don’t really trust what comes out of the ballot box on Election Day unless they’ve fixed what goes in.

    For some weeks now we’ve watched our mayor, Mike Bloomberg, maneuver to undermine the will of the people. Once upon a time the mayor supported the rule that city officials can only serve two terms. But then someone pointed out term limits applied to him, too, and that he couldn’t run for a third term. So he set out to change the rules. But instead of asking the people to vote on it in a public referendum, the mayor decided he couldn’t risk his ambition on a fickle public.

    So he turned first to his fellow moguls who own the city’s major newspapers – Murdoch, of the New York Post and The Wall Street Journal; Zuckerman of the Daily News, and Sulzberger of The New York Times. Then, according to the Times, with his considerable philanthropic clout – before the financial meltdown, his worth was some $20 billion dollars – the mayor leaned for support on the community and arts groups that depend on his charitable largesse.

    Then he dodged the public referendum process by jawboning and cajoling the city council whose members, lo and behold, would also enjoy a chance at a third term just by giving the mayor what he wants.

    By just about all accounts Mayor Bloomberg has been a fine mayor, and there are good people arguing that Gotham City needs his unique experience during a financial crisis that not even Batman or Spiderman can untangle. But New York said no to Rudy Giuliani when he tried to pull the third term hat trick in the aftermath of 9/11, and under other circumstances it’s likely Bloomberg, too, would have been told, “No, thank you. We prefer due process.”

    The mayor’s ploy has the odor about it of Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s perennial plutocrat. But even Silvio’s forebears, those Roman emperors who similarly ruled by decree, had a minion standing behind them whose sole job was to whisper, “Remember, Caesar, thou art mortal.”

    We tell ourselves that no one is above the law, but that seems hard for some politicians to grasp. So now we also have the spectacle of Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, 84 years old, who likes to wear a tie emblazoned with the visage of that popular anti-hero, the Incredible Hulk. Convicted this week on seven counts of lying on financial disclosure forms, Stevens declared, “It’s not over yet.” Then off he headed back to Alaska where the state’s Republican Party said voters shouldn’t be denied the services of one of the country’s most successful pork merchants just because he’s a convicted felon.

    That’s the kind of argument we’ve always heard in Washington, and you have to wonder if Barack Obama or John McCain really think they can deliver on their promises to change that culture. Special interests are entrenched and incorrigible, and they’re spending the money to keep it that way.

    This year’s will be the most expensive federal elections in history – the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics estimates that the presidential and congressional candidates will spend more than $5.3 billion. Among incumbents in the House of Representatives, 79 percent of their campaign funds come from beyond their home districts – of the top 20 zip codes making those contributions, 15 are in Washington, DC, and the surrounding Maryland and Virginia suburbs – home base for lobbyists and lawyers, corporate PAC’s, unions and other special interests whose money buys access you don’t have as a citizen.

    Nearly two and a half billion dollars are being spent for the presidency, twice what was spent four years ago and triple the amount in 2000. The Obama campaign has boasted how it’s the average citizens who have been funding him – small contributions made over the Internet and such. But Senator Obama has no shortage of high rollers – he’s received more than 37 million from lawyers and lobbyists, 21.6 million from the communications and electronics industries, 16 million from health care interests. While fewer than 2,600 contributors to John McCain list their occupation as “chief executive,” nearly 6,000 of Obama’s contributors are CEO’s. If you don’t think any of these donors will be hoping for at least a little something in return I’ve got a Bridge to Nowhere I’d like to sell you.

    How can there be change when so much money is coming from the usual big business suspects? Hedging their bets, many of them are giving more money to Democrats this year than Republicans – Democratic congressional candidates are receiving more from corporate political action committees than Republicans, the first time that’s happened since 1994. The drug company lobbyist PhRMA – the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America – is prescribing more than $13 million worth of advertising for 28 members of Congress, 25 of whom are Democrats.

    Democrats also hold a slight edge in money coming from the finance sector. Finance, insurance and the real estate industries – combined, they’re the biggest players of all in this election cycle, contributing more than $373 million to Democrats and Republicans. That’s on top of the $288 million they’ve spent so far this year on lobbying. Is it any wonder that Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson is so freely donating banks and financial institutions the $700 billion financial bailout with so few conditions? As Time magazine reported, “Uncle Sam has a new name on Wall Street – Sugar Daddy.”

    So can change happen in Washington when the usual suspects are piling up money like sandbags to protect against the public’s clamor for a better deal? We’re about to find out.

    Joan Claybrook: Special Interest Stranglehold Must be Broken

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

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

    These are exceedingly difficult days for many of us, and the public will be looking to the next administration for some serious relief. No matter who becomes the next American president, the 2008 election will have to herald a season of vigorous accountability for government. We know what happens when elected officials allow special interests groups to undermine the economy; now we need the stranglehold these interests have over government to be broken.

    We deserve a system that works, not one so flawed that it spawns such things as the housing crisis and the collapse of Wall Street – an implosion still reverberating around the world. This time, campaign promises must be kept, and that can’t happen if wealthy corporate interests still get the first and only seat at the table. Fortunately, a record number of newly enfranchised citizens have become actively engaged in politics this year, and they will be watching – and waiting – for that elusive better day that includes jobs, health care and financial security. We are a galvanized nation of Main Streets right now, demanding a government by and for the people. Learn more about what you can do to get involved.

    October 24, 2008

    'But Who Shall Guard The Guardians?'

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with economist James K. Galbraith about the causes of the economic crisis and how the U.S. might best move forward.

    Galbraith advocated expanding government regulation of the economy:

    "Here in the United States the capacity to handle the crisis exists. What we need is a government that's willing to use that capacity, that believes in it... Regulation is not a burden on business. When it's done properly, it's a framework which favors the more efficient, the more progressive, the more satisfactory elements of business that are prepared to work within the guidelines set by a larger public purpose."

    Nearly two thousand years ago, the Roman satirical poet Juvenal asked “Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes,” which translates to “But who shall guard the guardians?” Juvenal’s immediate topic was Roman licentiousness, but his famous question has come to stand for a more enduring problem: that those entrusted to enforce moral standards are subject to the same human failings as those they regulate.

    Juvenal’s point is echoed by libertarians and others skeptical about the ability of government to enact sensible and fair policies. In a CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR column, economist Steven Horwitz wrote:

    “In a free market, firms profit by satisfying their customers, investing wisely, and making prudent loans... To call the housing and credit crisis a failure of the free market or the product of unregulated greed is to overlook the myriad government regulations, policies, and political pronouncements that have both reduced the freedom of this market and led self-interested actors to produce disastrous consequences, often unintentionally... Regulations designed with the best of intentions are likely to lead to more crises if they distort incentives and thereby cause individual "greed" to undermine economic growth and harm millions. History is full of examples of politicians adopting short-run solutions without seeing the harmful long-run consequences.”

    What do you think?

  • Should lawmakers pursue a course of heightened regulation in response to the economic crisis? Why or why not?
  • Galbraith claimed that both Democrats and Republicans paved the way to today's troubled economy. Do you trust politicians from these two parties to enact good-faith regulation in the public interest?

  • Michael Winship: For Whom The Bailout Tolls

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

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

    For Whom The Bailout Tolls
    By Michael Winship

    During the Stock Market Crash in 1929, that curtain raising overture to the Great Depression, stories abounded of Wall Street brokers rushing to their office windows and leaping to their deaths. But according to the late John Kenneth Galbraith and other economic historians, those accounts of suicide were, by and large, fairy tales. Perhaps they were more dark-hearted, wishful thinking than reality -- revenge fantasies on the part of those whose real life savings had been wiped out by ravenous speculators.

    Nonetheless, the myth of those fatal plunges, like so many urban legends, is hard to shake. With more than a drop of cold blood, some have asked why, during this current fiscal crisis, we haven’t seen similar tragedies in the ranks of high finance.

    A close look at the recent government bailouts may explain why. The fat cats at the top had nothing to worry their pretty little whiskers about. Not only have most of their businesses been saved, for now at least, but they’ve already been pretty successful at protecting their high rolling lifestyles, and finding bailout loopholes that allow them to keep hauling in the big bucks.
    To that ancient business axiom, “Buy low, sell high,” add this amendment: When you get into trouble, beg for a bailout. Then, new money in hand, continue to act with the rapacious greed of Caligula or the Sun King.

    You may already have heard how AIG, the insurance giant, after being saved to the tune of $85 billion, threw a $440,000 shindig at a California spa and then blew another $86,000 on a hunting trip to the English countryside, picking off partridge just as they were asking the Feds for an additional $38 billion. Bit of a sticky wicket, that.

    Caught red-handed, AIG canceled plans for another 160 sales and promotion events that would have cost a cool $80 million AND – get this – agreed to stop spending millions of their newly gained tax dollars on lobbying efforts against increased government regulations -- this after being rescued from extinction by that very same government. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you!

    New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is demanding that AIG get back from its execs millions of dollars the insurer paid out as the company neared collapse, and on Wednesday, the insurance giant agreed to freeze $600 million worth of deferred compensation and bonuses for its top brass.

    There are “claw back” provisions in the big $700 billion bailout passed by Congress three weeks ago, requiring that financial institutions get money back from their senior executives, if the payments were “based on statements of earnings, gains, or other criteria that are later proven to be materially inaccurate.”

    But the executive pay limits in the legislation apparently have so many loopholes you could fly a fleet of Gulfstream corporate jets through them. Oregon Congressman Peter de Fazio caught at least seven, “that will protect their outrageous paychecks and golden parachutes,” he wrote fellow Democratic House members, adding, “Imagine how many more loopholes the Wall Street lawyers will find.”

    No doubt the nine banks into which the US is planning to inject billions in capital – again, all taxpayer dollars – have their lawyers searching for those escape hatches. Writing in the Seattle Post Intelligencer, Sarah Anderson and Sam Pizzigati of the Institute for Policy Studies calculated that last year the CEO’s of those nine banks took home “on average, $32.2 million each, nearly triple the average CEO pay at the 500 biggest US companies. This is more than $600,000 a week.” Apiece.

    Bloomberg News columnist Jonathan Weil figures that since the start of fiscal 2004, the once mighty five of Wall Street – Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns – lost around $83 billion in stock marker value. But they reported employee compensation of around $239 billion. In other words, the engineers who dug this disastrous hole paid themselves almost three dollars for every dollar they lost.

    The cost of all the bailouts to the taxpayer, as calculated by the internet investigative newsroom ProPublica.org, is a whopping $8,750 per household, more than two and half times what lucky us got to fork over 20 years ago during the savings and loan crisis.

    But the masters of the universe are just fine, thank you, in no small part due to the tolerance and largesse of their guru Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, late of Goldman Sachs, where Forbes magazine reports that during a 32-year-career he accumulated more than $700 million. He said limiting compensation too punitively might prevent some institutions from participating in his plan to save the economy.

    No, the people suffering are the nearly 800,000 out of work so far this year. More families with children are homeless. Delinquencies and foreclosures are at their highest in nearly three decades, and the Los Angeles Times reported earlier this month that, “Worries about home foreclosures, job losses and plunging stock prices have sparked a surge in mental health problems.”

    Including suicide. In California, recently, where professionals say mental health referrals have tripled in the last year, unemployed financial advisor Karthik Rajaram killed himself and four members of his family, including his wife, children and mother-in-law. In two suicide notes, he said he was broke and had run out of options. Variations of his story are appearing all over the country, from Colorado to Tennessee.

    There are some happier stories. Tom Dart, the sheriff of Cook County, Illinois, suspended all foreclosure evictions because they were throwing into the street tenants of buildings who had nothing to do with their landlords’ inability to make payments. Or Jocelyn Voltaire, an immigrant from Haiti, about to lose her home after the death of her eldest son, a Marine in Iraq who had been sending her money to help meet the mortgage. After seeing a report produced by the American News Project, members of the antiwar group CodePink raised $30,000 to save Voltaire’s house.

    Testifying before the House Budget Committee this week, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke agreed that homeowners in jeopardy of foreclosure need help. “I agree that stopping preventable foreclosures is extremely important,” he said. “I hope we continue to look for ways to do that.”

    But so far the government and the businesses bailed out haven’t looked very hard. They’ve done little or nothing and it’s every man for himself, devil take the hindmost.

    In his history of the 1929 market crash, John Kenneth Galbraith wrote, “The sense of responsibility in the financial community for the community as a whole is not small. It is nearly nil.”

    In other words, virtually non-existent, somewhere around zero. In other words, my fellow Americans, look out below. Do not ask for whom the bailout tolls. It tolls for thee.

    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.

    October 17, 2008

    Standards for Voter Verification?

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

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

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

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

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

    What do you think?

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

  • Rethinking Immigration in a Tough Economy

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    This week on THE JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with political analyst Linda Chavez and writer Roberto Lovato to explore hispanic perspectives on the challenges America faces.

    On the topic of immigration, Chavez called for a policy based on economics:

    "We could end illegal immigration basically tomorrow if we enacted immigration policies that were market-based... We ought to have a policy that is attuned to what's going on in the economy. When you have unemployment, you're not gonna bring in a lot of new people."

    Noting the precarious state of the economy, Lovato argued for a fundamental redefinition of citizenship:

    "If you look at the market, the people that are running our economy don't know what they're doing. It's obvious... There's no logic, and it's naked to all of us. And so why not embrace the fact that this is stuff that's failed? And let's start with a new rationale, a new kind of citizenship that's more global."

    Faced with the global economic crisis, European Union leaders agreed this week to a "European pact on immigration and asylum" pledging to expel illegal immigrants and enhance border controls. While many nations - including the United Kingdom and Australia - are moving to substantially reduce immigration, Spain has already announced plans to stop issuing visas to most migrant workers:

    "No more visas will be granted to low-skilled workers, such as those employed in restaurants and shops, a spokeswoman for [Spain's] labour and immigration ministry said... 'It doesn't seem reasonable that with 2.5 million unemployed, we continue to recruit workers from abroad,' said [employment minister] Mr. Corbacho, who wants to pay unemployed foreigners to return to their countries... Unemployment has leapt by 500,000 in a year as the construction boom has evaporated."

    What do you think?

  • What immigration policy should the U.S. pursue?
  • Do you think, as Chavez suggests and other nations have decided, that the new economy should factor into U.S. immigration policy?
  • Do you think that “global citizenship” is a practical approach to migration issues?

  • Guest Blogger: Michael Zweig's Proposal for Economic Stimulus

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    We'd like to thank Michael Zweig, director of the Center for Study of Working Class Life, for sharing some additional thoughts with THE MOYERS BLOG. We invite you to respond to his questions below.

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

    Congress and the media have been almost totally focused on Wall Street and the melt down in the world’s financial markets. It’s another example of how the needs of the corporate elite consume our national conversation.

    We at the Center for Study of Working Class Life are trying to draw attention back to the needs of Main Street working people who are in great distress but left out of the loop when it comes to public policy. Our recent report, Economic Stimulus and Economically Distressed Workers, presents proposals to bring the economy toward full employment in ways that direct immediate relief to those who need it most.

    We have found that the rate of economic distress in the U.S. is almost double the official poverty rate, and in some places triple. These are secretaries, truck drivers, home health care workers, construction workers, part-time and contingent faculty at many colleges, and other people we see and rely on every day – constituting over 23 million households. Many are not eligible for income support programs aimed at the officially “poor.”

    In our conversations with these workers, we heard that the terms “working poor” or “low-wage workers” put people off, so we settled on “economically distressed workers” as a way to describe the actual situation that needs attention. We found that poverty and economic distress are not just conditions of a marginal and permanent underclass. They affect large sections of the working class.

    We set out to design an economic stimulus package that would provide direct relief to distressed workers while bringing the economy towards full employment. But we found that, as important as job creation is, most distressed workers have jobs – just not good ones. So in addition to short-term stimulus we propose longer-term structural reforms that provide universal health care and make it much easier for workers to organize unions.

    For the past 35 years we have lived through one of the greatest redistributions of wealth away from working people to the corporate elite that this country has ever seen. Worker productivity has gone up while wages adjusted for inflation have gone down. That’s what class warfare looks like, and the working class has been on the losing side for almost two generations.

    When we criticize the increasing inequality around us and call for economic justice, others denounce such talk as “class warfare.” But the complaint is itself part of the war, designed to change the subject. A market economy can produce great wealth, but what’s the point if the working people who create it don’t live better for it?

    In our study we analyzed U.S. Census data but we also talked with working people in participatory research to learn directly from them about their lives, their aspirations, their concerns.

    Please share with us your reaction to our findings and recommendations.

  • What has been your experience?
  • What economic worries keep you up at night?
  • How do you think we can develop the organizational strength to hold our elected officials accountable to serve the need of working people?

  • Michael Winship: A Mighty Hoax from ACORN Grows

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

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

    A Mighty Hoax from ACORN Grows
    By Michael Winship

    ACORN and election fraud. Hang on. As soon as I can get the alligator that crawled out of my toilet back into the New York City sewers where it belongs, I can turn my attention to this very important topic.

    You see, the ACORN “election fraud” story is one of those urban legends, like fake moon landings and alligators in the sewers, and it appears three or four weeks before every recent national election with the regularity of the swallows returning to Capistrano. First, the basics: ACORN, which stands for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, is an activist group working with low and moderate income families that, among many other things, registers voters. To do this they hire people to go around signing up the unregistered, killing two birds with one stone – giving employment to people who need it (some with criminal records) and providing the opportunity to vote to members of minority communities whose voices all too often go unheard.

    What happens is that some of those hired to do the registering, who are paid by the name, make people up. As a result, you’ll discover that among the registrants are such obvious fakes as Mickey Mouse and the starting line-up of the Dallas Cowboys, among others.

    This is where the Republican meme kicks in. As they have in past elections (although now louder and more angrily than ever), the GOP has made ACORN the red flag du jour as the party tries to mobilize its conservative base and, allegedly, attempts to suppress the vote and distract attention from accusations of election tampering made against them, too.

    The charge is that these fake registrations will create havoc at the polls. On Tuesday morning, former Republican Senators John Danforth and Warren Rudman, chairs of Senator McCain’s Honest and Open Elections Committee, held a press conference and described the results of the bad seeds in ACORN’s registration program as “a potential nightmare.” Danforth said he was concerned “that this election night and the days that follow will be a rerun of 2000, and even worse than 2000.”

    John McCain raised it at Wednesday night’s final debate and went further, adding, “We need to know the full extent of Senator Obama's relationship with ACORN, who [sic] is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy…”

    Obama replied, “ACORN is a community organization. Apparently, what they have done is they were paying people to go out and register folks. And apparently, some of the people who were out there didn't really register people; they just filled out a bunch of names. Had nothing to do with us. We were not involved.”

    Which is not to say Obama has not been associated with ACORN in the recent past. He has. As he said in the debate, as a lawyer, he joined with the group in partnership with the US Justice Department to implement a motor voter registration law in Illinois – allowing folks to register to vote at their local DMV. His work as a community organizer bought him into contact with ACORN, the organization received money from the Woods Fund while he was a board member there and his presidential campaign gave ACORN more than $800,000 to help with get out the vote campaigns during the primary season – but not, apparently, for registration drives.

    All of this distracts from several important points. ACORN has registered 1.3 million voters, and maintains that in virtually every instance they are the ones who have reported the incidents of fraud.

    As the organization asserted in a response to Senator McCain, “ACORN hired 13,000 field workers to register people to vote. In any endeavor of this size, some people will engage in inappropriate conduct. ACORN has a zero tolerance policy and terminated any field workers caught engaging in questionable activity. At the end of the day, as ACORN is paying these people to register voters, it is ACORN that is defrauded.”
    Arrests have been made, as well they should be.

    Add to this the simple fact that registration fraud is not election fraud. Seventy-five made-up people who are registered as, say, “Brad Pitt,” are not likely going to show up at some polling place on November 4 to vote in the election. Because they don’t exist. (Besides, Angelina would never give them time off from babysitting duties.)

    Granted, there are ways to mail in an absentee ballot under a fake name and, too, from time to time some joker is going to come to the polls and try to bluff his or her way in. But despite the charge that thousands and thousands of fakes will flood the machines and throw the count, it does not happen very often. And according to ACORN, “Even RNC [Republican National Committee] General Counsel Sean Cairncross has recently acknowledged he is not aware of a single improper vote cast as a result of bad cards submitted in the course of an organized voter registration effort.”

    Not that this has stopped the GOP from banging the same drum every national election. And amnesiac members of the media and some government agencies from buying into it every time. Last year, THE NEW YORK TIMES reported that the federal Election Assistance Commission, created by the Help America Vote Act, legislation enacted after the Florida debacle, was told by a pair of experts – one Republican, the other described as having “liberal leanings” -- that there was not that much fraud to be found. But their conclusions were downplayed.

    As per the TIMES, “Though the original report said that among experts ‘there is widespread but not unanimous agreement that there is little polling place fraud,’ the final version of the report released to the public concluded in its executive summary that ‘there is a great deal of debate on the pervasiveness of fraud.’”

    Which raises the ongoing investigation of the Justice Department’s firing of those eight US attorneys shortly after President Bush’s re-election. It shouldn’t be forgotten that despite official explanations, half of them were let go after refusing to prosecute vote fraud charges demanded by Republicans. The attorneys had determined there was little or no evidence of skullduggery; certainly not enough to prosecute.

    (In an interview with Talking Points Memo on Thursday, one of those fired, David Iglesias, reacted to reports that the FBI has launched an investigation of ACORN: "I'm astounded that this issue is being trotted out again. Based on what I saw in 2004 and 2006, it's a scare tactic.")

    What’s equally if not more scary are continued allegations of Republican attempts at “caging” minority voters – making challenge lists of African- And Hispanic-Americans registered in heavily Democratic districts. Just this week, a Federal judge in Michigan ruled that voters could not be purged from the rolls in that state simply because their mailing address was invalid – this followed a failed attempt by a Michigan Republican county chairman to use a list of foreclosed homes as the basis of voter challenges.

    This comes on the heels of a recent report from the Brennan Center at New York University documenting how state officials -- often with the best of intentions -- purge huge numbers of perfectly legal voters from the rolls.

    As my colleague Bill Moyers reported, “Hundreds of thousands of legal voters may have been dumped in recent years, many without ever being notified.” The report describes a "process that is shrouded in secrecy, prone to error, and vulnerable to manipulation."

    Hardly reassuring words if you want democracy to work, and sadly, not an urban legend, but the simple truth.

    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.

    October 10, 2008

    Market Fundamentalism and the Madness of Crowds

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with prominent investor and political activist George Soros about the economic crisis and its underlying causes.

    Soros attributed much of the current downturn to an erroneous faith in the market to govern itself:

    "There has been some kind of an ideological excess: namely, market fundamentalism for the last 25 or so years… It's that markets will correct themselves, that you should leave it to the markets, and there is no need for government intervention in financial affairs. Letting markets run rampant, and that doesn't work…

    Sometimes we get carried away. You know, in the Middle Ages people were religious. And so they had tremendous discussions about how many angels can dance on the eye of a needle. Now, if you believe that angels can dance then that's a legitimate question. And this is exactly what has happened here. You thought that you could slice and dice and engage in this kind of financial engineering. And it became very, very sophisticated and got carried away."

    In his famed MEMOIRS OF EXTRAORDINARY POPULAR DELUSIONS AND THE MADNESS OF CROWDS, 19th century historian Charles Mackay chronicled numerous economic disasters caused by irrational human behavior, including the tulip mania in 17th century Holland. Mackay wrote:

    "In reading the history of nations, we find that, like individuals, they have their whims and their peculiarities; their seasons of excitement and recklessness, when they care not what they do. We find that whole communities suddenly fix their minds upon one object, and go mad in its pursuit; that millions of people become simultaneously impressed with one delusion, and run after it, till their attention is caught by some new folly more captivating than the first. … Money, again, has often been a cause of the delusion of multitudes. Sober nations have all at once become desperate gamblers, and risked almost their existence upon the turn of a piece of paper… Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one."

    What do you think?

  • Is George Soros right that the present crisis was caused by an irrational faith in markets? Why or why not?
  • Have you seen evidence of a parallel irrational faith in government regulation, both in the economy and elsewhere? Explain.
  • Is there something inherent in the human condition that causes economic boom and bust cycles? Why or why not?

  • Partisanship, Dirty Politics, and the Truth

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    Conversing with Bill Moyers on the JOURNAL this week, media expert Kathleen Hall Jamieson suggested that misleading political attacks can undermine the quality of our discourse by emphasizing talking points and exaggerated rhetoric over facts and truth.

    “You hope that the partisan audience has enough exposure to places that give you both sides so they're able to hear the other side and are able to hear credible sources and accept... when their side is wrong and when the other side is wrong. It's easy to hear those times in which the other side is wrong. It's much harder to be in places to hear that your side is wrong. First, because increasingly we're not going to those kinds of places, but it's also difficult because of the way we hunker down in our own ideology for us to hear when our own side is actually not telling us the truth.”

    What do you think?

  • Is the campaign you're supporting mostly telling the truth? What about those campaigns you oppose?
  • How do you feel about instances when campaigns you've supported have stretched the truth? Do the ends justify the means?

  • The Iraq War Resolution Revisited

    Last week, faced with the economic crisis, Congress submitted to the Bush Administration's request for an $850 billion bailout bill. Six years ago this week, Congress passed another resolution at the insistence of the White House: the resolution authorizing war in Iraq.
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    We invite you to comment in the space below.

    Michael Winship: Say Anything

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

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

    Say Anything
    By Michael Winship

    And so it has begun. The final month of the presidential race, the campaign that feels as if it commenced some time during the Coolidge administration. And as we slide into these last weeks, what we all feared is coming true. Just when you thought the bottom of the swamp had been scraped, sludge gurgles up from the primordial ooze.

    This is the endgame, the ugly stuff, meant to assassinate character and distract the electorate with foolishness as our financial house of cards flutters away into the uncertain winds of whatever’s left of the global economy. “It’s a dangerous road, but we have no choice,” a “top McCain strategist” told the NEW YORK DAILY NEWS. “If we keep talking about the economic crisis, we’re going to lose.” Another GOP operative was quoted by the WASHINGTON POST: “There’s no question we have to change the subject here.”

    Change the subject, turn the page, sling the mud. For several days now, Governor Palin has impugned Senator Obama’s patriotism and accused him of “palling around with terrorists” – specifically, William Ayers, a founding member nearly 40 years ago of the radical and violent Weathermen, now a prominent educator and professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Obama was chair of a school reform project, the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, and Ayers briefed board members on education issues. They both served on the board of a Chicago charity and Ayers and his wife hosted a coffee when Obama first ran for office.

    Governor Palin cited THE NEW YORK TIMES as backing up her accusations, despite that publication’s previous characterization by the McCain campaign as a biased, inaccurate rag somewhere to the left of the DAILY WORKER. In fact, the TIMES reported, “A review of records of the schools project and interviews with a dozen people who know both men, suggest that Mr. Obama, 47, has played down his contacts with Mr. Ayers, 63.” But, the paper continued, “…the two men do not appear to have been close. Nor has Mr. Obama ever expressed sympathy for the radical views and actions of Mr. Ayers, whom he has called ‘somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago, when I was 8.’”

    The whole thing is reminiscent of the desperation move of the other President Bush, running against Bill Clinton in 1992, when he implied darker ulterior motives to Clinton’s 1970 student visit to the Soviet Union.

    For Obama’s part, his campaign released an ad characterizing John McCain as “erratic,” and a thirteen-minute video revisiting the “Keating Five.” Sen. McCain, the Obama folks would like you to recall, was one of five United States senators accused in 1989 of using their clout to help bail out Charles Keating, chairman of the failed Lincoln Savings and Loan. All had received campaign contributions and other perks from Keating.

    The collapse of Lincoln Savings cost the American taxpayers $2.6 billion. Charles Keating went to prison. Mr. McCain got off with a mild rebuke for "questionable conduct" from the Senate Ethics Committee, and vowed that from then on he would be above reproach.

    So both sides are at each other, hammer and tong. But to suggest there is an equivalency in the attacks, as many in the media have done, is debatable. That McCain has a past history of stumbling into financial poo (although $2.6 billion seems a pittance in comparison to the mega-sums being gambled away now) seems on point, relevant at a time when the economy is the most important issue in the land. Not to mention that he had a far deeper and more personal relationship with Keating than Obama ever had with Ayers – including nine trips on the Keating dime (a few on Keating’s private jet), some of which weren’t reimbursed until the scandal erupted, and $112,000 in campaign contributions from Keating and his associates, more than any of the other four senators.

    And not to mention McCain’s relationship with Phil Gramm, his economic guru, the former senior senator from Texas via Wall Street who called us “a nation of whiners” and who manipulated Congress to open the door to many of the excesses that have led to our fiscal downfall -- a man who, as AMERICAN PROSPECT editor Harold Meyerson wrote, “has diminished American solvency and power beyond the wildest dreams of anti-American terrorists.”

    By comparison, the charges made by the McCain-Palin camp are scattershot and approach demagoguery, hurled primarily by Palin, who has been cast as designated, campaign pit bull, the customary role given to a party’s vice presidential candidate.

    But Governor Palin has skated onto the ice with a rare vengeance, not so much fiercely protective hockey mom as a political version of figure skater Tonya Harding, kneecapping the opposition and crying foul when caught in a media mess of her own making.

    This leads from bad to worse. In Tuesday’s WASHINGTON POST, Dana Milbank described a Palin rally in Florida, “In Clearwater, arriving reporters were greeted with shouts and taunts by the crowd of about 3,000. Palin then went on to blame Katie Couric’s questions for her ‘less-than-successful interview with kinda mainstream media.’ At that, Palin supporters turned on reporters in the press area, waving thunder sticks and shouting abuse. Others hurled obscenities at a camera crew. One Palin supporter shouted a racial epithet at an African American sound man for a network and told him, ‘Sit down, boy.’”

    Thus, behind the candied incandescence of the Palin phenomena, behind the shoutouts to Joe Six Pack, and third graders at the Gladys Wood Elementary School, behind the darn right’s and the coy winks is perhaps something scarier – a rank appeal to our baser instincts at a time when nationwide fear can be manipulated to overrule basic common sense.

    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.

    October 3, 2008

    Bailout Blues?

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, scholar Emma Coleman Jordan talked about the economic crisis and the controversial government bailout legislation. When Bill Moyers asked who stands to lose in the economic rescue package, she replied:

    “The middle class is getting the short end of the stick, and those who are in that bottom quintile, the bottom 20 percent, who are not getting basic needs met and are struggling to get by everyday.”

    As the McClatchy Washington Bureau reports, many citizens and elected officials have been ambivalent about the bailout, troubled by some of the legislation's provisions but reluctant to stand in its way.

    "Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., summed up the feelings of many of his colleagues when he described the legislation as 'far from perfect' but acknowledged: 'The way I see it we don't have much choice.' ... Lobbyists from banks and giant corporations joined ordinary citizens throughout the week in urging House members to support the bill. Public opinion earlier ran strongly against the measure — widely perceived as a bailout for Wall Street — but sentiment shifted after the first House vote, when a stock-market plunge hammered millions of stock-backed 401(k) retirement plans."

    What do you think?

  • Do you support the bailout package that President Bush signed into law this afternoon? Why or why not?
  • Do you trust lawmakers to practice effective stewardship over the economy?
  • What actions do you suggest Americans take to try to prevent similar crises in the future?

  • What Issues Aren't Getting Addressed?

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    Conversing with Bill Moyers on the JOURNAL this week, media experts Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Brooke Gladstone discussed the language and narratives that have shaped and dominated the 2008 campaign, including the economic bailout legislation and this week’s vice presidential debate.

    Kathleen Hall Jamieson suggested that the candidates’ discourse has been ignoring key issues that will face the next administration:

    “We’ve now had two debates in which candidates have been asked a significant question... that in changed financial circumstances, with an unprecedented deficit and debt, with the public deficit foreign-held, now about to increase over the huge level that it’s already at, these four candidates – two presidential, two vice presidential – don’t have the courage to tell us that if elected, they will change their spending and taxing plans.”

    What do you think?

  • What issues aren’t being addressed by the candidates?
  • What questions are the press not asking?
  • In your opinion, why is this the case?

  • October 1, 2008

    Register to Vote

    This is the last weekend to register to vote in many states.

    Are you registered? Do you know where to vote? A few non-partisan institutions are working hard to make sure every potential voter can navigate the voting laws of their state.

    866ourvote.com is a project of the non-partisan Election Protection coalition. Their Web site has a state by state guide to voting laws, as well as guides for specific communities such as college students or people who have recently lost their homes in the mortgage crisis. They also operate a hot-line for voters who show up at the polls to find their names removed from the voter list: 1-866-OUR-VOTE.

    Take a few minutes to go there now, familiarize yourself with your state's
    voting laws, and register. And, remind your friends and family of the upcoming deadlines.

    A Companion Blog to Bill Moyers Journal

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