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October 30, 2009

WEB EXCLUSIVE: Glenn Greenwald

Acclaimed blogger Glenn Greenwald, recipient of the Park Center for Independent Media Izzy Award, spoke with Bill Moyers this week for the special web-exclusive conversation below.
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How Much Can the Government Do?

(Photos by Robin Holland)

This week, the JOURNAL featured wide-ranging conversations about America’s economy and William F. Buckley, Jr.’s contribution to the conservative movement.

Both guests on the broadcast, liberal economist James K. Galbraith and conservative writer Richard Brookhiser, engaged a fundamental question that people have been debating for centuries and that cuts to the core of recent disputes about economic stimulus and health reform: how much is the government capable of doing?

Galbraith argued that past federal programs have been successful and that the U.S. government should focus on creating more programs to pursue broad social goals:

“There’s been a massive collapse, a collapse which is comparable in scale to 1930. The overall economy hasn’t come down nearly as much, and the reason for that is that we have the institutions that were created in the New Deal and the Great Society, institutions of the welfare state [and] social security... We need to set a strategic direction, as we did in the 1930s and 40s, when the strategic direction over 50 years was basically to create a middle class... When you’re focused on achieving a certain goal, you can eliminate poverty. You can deal with the environmental questions. You can, in fact, do this if you can sustain a course of policy for a 30 or 40 year period... The problem here is organizational. It’s a matter of will. It’s a matter of creating appropriate institutions that are in the public sector and incentives in the private sector to get certain jobs done.”

Brookhiser said, however, that the conservative movement became increasingly influential in the 1960s as more and more Americans became skeptical of the federal government’s ability to tackle complex problems:

“[During the 1960s] a post-Depression, post-war liberal consensus was finally beginning to come apart. World War II had been won, obviously, by an exertion of the government, and the Depression seemed to have been ended by the exertions of the government. There was a consensus that this was the way that we should address all our future problems, and that we could do it successfully by bringing the best thoughts and then the powers of the state to bear upon them. But, in the late 60s, for a lot of reasons – the war in Vietnam, racial troubles that the civil rights bills didn’t seem to be able to address – people all across the spectrum began having doubts, and many of them were on the right. That was really the moment the conservative criticisms of this consensus began to get traction.”

Recent polling indicates that an increasing majority of Americans believe that the government is doing too much. According to Gallup, 57% of respondents agreed with the statement “the government is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses,” the most in over a decade, while 51% said that “the federal government today has too much power.”

What do you think?

  • How much is the federal government capable of doing competently? Explain.

  • Do you agree with poll respondents that the federal government is trying to do too much, and that it has too much power? Why or why not?

  • What is the appropriate role for government to serve, and what should be reserved for individuals and businesses?

  • October 23, 2009

    Were War Crimes Committed in Gaza?

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with Justice Richard Goldstone, a respected figure in international law who headed the controversial UN Human Rights Council investigation into Israel and Hamas’ actions during military operations in Gaza that began last December.

    While the resulting ‘Goldstone Report’ concluded that both sides had committed war crimes and, potentially, crimes against humanity, it was especially harsh in its condemnation of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) for their actions in Gaza, saying that they were “a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate, and terrorize a civilian population, radically diminish its local economic capacity both to work and to provide for itself, and to force upon it an ever increasing sense of dependency and vulnerability.”

    Last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a speech to the UN in which he argued that the report was unfair and morally misguided. The released text of the speech says:

    “For eight long years, Hamas fired from Gaza thousands of missiles, mortars, and rockets on nearby Israeli cities. Year after year, as these missiles were deliberately hurled at our civilians, not a single UN resolution was passed condemning those criminal attacks. We heard nothing, absolutely nothing, from the UN Human Rights Council, a misnamed institution if ever there was one... Faced with an enemy committing a double war crime of firing on civilians while hiding behind civilians, Israel sought to conduct surgical strikes against the rocket launchers. That was no easy task because the terrorists were firing missiles from homes and schools, using mosques as weapons depots and ferrying explosives in ambulances. Israel, by contrast, tried to minimize casualties by urging Palestinian civilians to vacate the targeted areas... Never has a country gone to such extraordinary lengths to remove the enemy’s civilian population from harm’s way. Yet faced with such a clear case of aggressor and victim, who did the UN Human Rights Council decide to condemn? Israel. A democracy legitimately defending itself from terror is morally hanged, drawn and quartered, and given an unfair trial to boot. By these twisted standards, the UN Human Rights Council would have dragged Roosevelt and Churchill to the dock as war criminals. What a perversion of truth, what a perversion of justice.”

    On the JOURNAL, Justice Goldstone addressed critics of the report and described his experience conducting the investigation in Gaza:

    “I would like to see [critics’] response to the substance [of the report], particularly the attack on the infrastructure of Gaza, which seems to me to be absolutely unjustifiable... I saw the destruction of the only flour-producing factory in Gaza. I saw fields plowed up by Israeli tank bulldozers... I had to have the very emotional and difficult interviews with fathers whose little daughters were killed, whose families were killed... It was a very difficult investigation which will give me nightmares for the rest of my life.”

    Bill Moyers then asked Goldstone why he considers Israel’s actions to have been war crimes. Goldstone said:

    "[In] humanitarian law, really fundamental is what’s known as the principle of distinction. It requires commanders, troops, all people involved in war to distinguish between civilians and combatants, and then there’s a question of proportionality. One can, in war, target a military target, and there can be what’s euphemistically referred to as ‘collateral damage,’ but the collateral damage must be proportionate to the military aim. If you can take out a munitions factory in an urban area with a loss of 100 lives, or you can use a bomb twice at large and take out the same factory and kill 2000 people, the latter would be a war crime. The former wouldn’t... We found that [Hamas’] firing of many thousands of rockets and mortars at a civilian population to constitute a serious war crime, and we said possibly crimes against humanity... It’s difficult to deal equally with a state party with the sort of sophisticated army Israel has, with an air force and a navy and the most sophisticated weapons [and] with Hamas using really improvised, imprecise armaments. It’s difficult to equate their power.”

    Click here to review the Goldstone report and some of the voices responding to it.

    What do you think?

  • Do you believe that war crimes were committed in Gaza? If so, by whom?

  • Considering Israel’s tactical and technological advantage, would you weigh the IDF and Hamas differently when considering possible war crimes? Explain.

  • Are the conclusions of the Goldstone report fair? Why or why not?

  • Local Heroes

    In this week’s JOURNAL, Bill Moyers reflected on the life and recent death of a fellow Texan and one of his personal heroes, Justice William Wayne Justice. Justice was a veteran federal district judge whose rulings compelled Texas to integrate schools, reform its prison system, and provide public education to illegal immigrants.

    Who are your local heroes? Tell us why you think their contributions have made the world a better place.

    Bill Moyers & Michael Winship: Texas, the Eyes of Justice Are Upon You

    On October 13, we lost a resolute champion of the law, a man who left his impact on the lives of untold numbers of Americans.

    His very name made his life’s work almost inevitable, a matter of destiny. William Wayne Justice was a Federal judge for the Eastern District of Texas. That’s right, he was “Justice Justice.” And he spent a distinguished legal career making sure that everyone – no matter their color or income or class – got a fair shake. As a former Texas lieutenant governor put it last week, “Judge Justice dragged Texas into the 20th century, God bless him.”

    Dragged it kicking and screaming, for it was Justice who ordered Texas to integrate its public schools in 1971 – 17 years after the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision made separate schools for blacks and whites unconstitutional. Texas resisted doing the right thing for as long as it could. Many of its segregated schools for African-American children were so poor they still had outhouses instead of indoor plumbing.

    This small town lawyer appointed to the federal bench by President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered Texas to open its public housing to everyone, regardless of their skin color. He looked at the state’s “truly shocking conditions” in its juvenile detention system and said, repair it. He struck down state law that permitted public schools to charge as much as a thousand dollars tuition for the children of illegal immigrants.

    And Justice demanded a top-to-bottom overhaul of Texas prisons, some of the most brutal and corrupt in the nation. He even held the state in contempt of court when he thought it was dragging its feet cleaning up a system where thousands of inmates slept on the dirty bare floors of their cellblocks and often went without medical care. The late, great Molly Ivins said, “He brought the United States Constitution to Texas.”

    Some say that justice stings. William Wayne Justice certainly did – and his detractors stung back with death threats and hate mail. Carpenters refused to repair his house, beauty parlors denied service to his wife. There were cross burnings and constant calls for his impeachment.

    After he desegregated the schools he was offered armed guards for protection. He turned them down and instead took lessons in self-defense.

    You need to understand that while so many Texans have fought and are fighting the good fight in the Judge Justice tradition, others believe in the law only when it sides with them. They long for the good old days of Judge Roy Bean, the saloonkeeper whose barroom court was known in the frontier days as “the law west of the Pecos.” His judicial philosophy was simple: “Hang ‘em first, try ‘em later.”

    The present governor of Texas seems to be channeling Judge Bean. During his nine years in office, Rick Perry – “Governor Goodhair” as Ivins called him – has presided over more than 200 executions, dwarfing the previous record of 152 set by his predecessor in the Governor’s Mansion, George W. Bush. (The most, it is said, of any United States governor in modern history.)

    Lethal injection is practically a religious ritual in Texas. In fact, before their sentencing verdict that will send Khristian Oliver to die in just a couple of weeks – on November 5th, to be exact – jurors in the East Texas town of Nacogdoches consulted the Bible and found what they were looking for in the Book of Numbers, where it reads, “The murderer shall surely be put to death,” and, “The revenger of blood himself shall slay the murderer.” Although it was noted that referencing holy writ was an inappropriate “external influence,” two appeals courts upheld the jury’s sentence and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

    Governor Perry will do almost anything to please the vengeful crowd in the Coliseum with their thumbs turned down. Did we mention that next year he’s up for re-election? When it turned out recently that five years ago the state may have wrongfully executed a man for a crime he didn’t commit, Perry pulled some particularly shady moves.

    In February 2004, Cameron Todd Willingham was put to death for allegedly setting a fire that killed his three young daughters. Governor Perry has willfully ignored evidence from top arson investigators that the blaze was not homicide but an accident.

    Now Perry has fired the chairman and three members of the state’s Forensic Science Commission just as they were about to hear further scientific testimony that might prove Willingham’s innocence. This week, Perry told reporters that the controversy is “nothing more than propaganda from the anti-death penalty people across the country.”

    They can be short on mercy in Texas. All the more reason to mourn the loss of Justice – William Wayne Justice. Rest in peace, your honor.

    October 20, 2009

    Web Exclusive: More from Mark Danner

    The taping of last week's interview with journalist Mark Danner included more valuable insights and analysis than we could fit into the JOURNAL broadcast. In the web-exclusive video below, Danner shares his thoughts on the nature of evil:
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    October 16, 2009

    Stripping Bare the Body of America

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    In this week’s JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with journalist Mark Danner, who shared his perspective on how decades of American intervention abroad has shaped our nation and its international reputation.

    Danner explained the significance of the title of his latest book, STRIPPING BARE THE BODY:

    “It comes from a former Haitian President, who survived in office for about four months before being overthrown in a coup d’etat, and he told me and said in speeches subsequently that political violence is like ‘stripping bare the body,’ the better to place the stethoscope and hear what’s going on beneath the skin. He meant that times of revolution, coup d’etat, war, or any kind of social violence going on tend to form a ‘moment of nudity,’ as he put it, in which you can actually see the forces at work within the society stripped bare. It’s like one of those models in biology class, where you see the body, you see all the organs beneath it, and suddenly you see who’s oppressing whom, who has the money, who has the power, how that power is exerted. And that is the time to seize a society and look at it, to x-ray it, and try to understand what exactly is going on in its intimate recesses.”

    What do you think?

    If 9/11, the ‘war on terror,’ and the economic meltdown can be considered political violence that have stripped bare the body of America, what do they tell us about our nation?

    Organizing the Grassroots

    This week, the JOURNAL profiled community health advocate America Bracho and her organization, Latino Health Access. Working in Santa Ana, California, they have organized community-based programs relating to diabetes and domestic violence, among other concerns. Recently, they led a successful campaign to procure permission and land so that they will be able to build a neighborhood community center.

    Bracho said:

    “What I want our community to know is that nobody is going to do this for us... You can complain and sometimes I feel very frustrated, but if you are at home watching soap operas and feeling sorry, I can understand that, but that is not going to help... From day one, when we began this project, we said to each other: the most important but also the most dangerous part in doing community work is when people actually believe they can transform their community. That's pretty dangerous, because when people believe that, they want to do that again, and again, and again.”

    Although community organizing has traditionally been identified with the left wing of politics, activists on the right have increasingly begun to adopt organizing tactics for their causes. THE WASHINGTON INDEPENDENT recently reported on some conservatives’ newfound interest in renowned left-wing organizer Saul Alinsky and his 1971 book RULES FOR RADICALS: A PRAGMATIC PRIMER FOR REALISTIC RADICALS:

    “Thirty-eight years since the publication of his handbook and 37 years since he died, Alinsky has found a thriving and surprising fan club in the modern conservative movement... ‘Alinsky-cons” have taken the union organizers ‘13 rules for power tactics’ and ’11 rules to test whether power tactics are ethical’ and found a strategy that, they believe, is chipping away at the momentum for national health care reform. When they flummox representatives with chants, or laugh out loud at their attempts to explain their votes, many ‘Tea Party’ activists say they’re cribbing from Alinsky.”

    What do you think?

  • How much change can community organizers effect on a local, state, and national level?

  • Are some issues too complicated for grassroots activists to tackle? Why or why not?

  • What role do you think community organizing will play in political battles to come, including passage of legislation regarding health insurance reform and climate change?

  • Michael Winship: The Nobel Prize with an Asterisk

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

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

    "The Nobel Prize with an Asterisk"
    By Michael Winship

    Despite the graciousness of his speech at the White House last Friday, President Obama’s acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize did have an air slightly reminiscent of Lincoln’s story about the man who was tarred, feathered and ridden out of town on a rail – if it wasn’t for the honor of the thing he’d just as soon walk.

    Inger-Marie Ytterhorn, a member of the Nobel committee that chose him, told the Associated Press this week, “I looked at his face when he was on TV and confirmed that he would receive the prize and would come to Norway and he didn’t look particularly happy.”

    After all, Obama has been President for barely nine months and yes, he has made some fine speeches in support of peace and bettering international relations. But was that enough to merit the award? Was he winning it more for who he’s not – George W. Bush – than for who he is?

    Sadly, much of the initial reaction in the United States was churlish and scornful, ill-informed, and frankly, as un-American as those of the knee-jerk right who cheered when Obama’s quick trip to Copenhagen failed to win the Olympics for his Chicago hometown. We are less serious as a nation than we should be. The empty-headedness and inanity of much of the media and political response to the announcement bears testament to that unhappy truth. We would do better to see ourselves as others see us than to scream in protest and sarcasm when another part of the world wishes to honor our President and us.

    But some of us sincerely felt that it may have been better for the President and the country NOT to have accepted the Nobel– to have made a gracious speech of thanks but no thanks – regretfully declining the award until he had proven himself worthy through actual deeds and positive signs of progress. If nothing else, it would have silenced at least some of the critics and given President Obama some breathing room to do what he says he wants to do without the restraints of even greater global expectations.

    After all, take a look at the world around us, and America’s place in it.
    President Obama talks the talk when it comes to climate change and nuclear arms control, curbing the atomic ambitions of Iran and North Korea, encouraging both harmony and diversity among the religions of the world. All well and good; even exemplary.

    But little concrete action has been taken. For all the talk of closing our prison in Guantanamo, chances are that he will not meet his deadline of shutting it down within a year. Many of the transgressions on human rights that took place there and elsewhere in the name of a global war on terror continue, unresolved and unpunished.

    He has spoken out for a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians but has made no progress, the window of opportunity slammed down on his fingers by Israel, with no help from Hamas. Our troops are still in Iraq, despite promises of significant withdrawals, and the Nobel announcement came in the midst of deciding whether or not to send even more American men and women into Afghanistan, where many of them may die. When told about Obama’s new honor, an Afghan bank worker said to a reporter from the LOS ANGELES Times. “I’m not sure I understand. This isn’t for peace here, is it? Because we haven’t got any.”

    Better then to call this prize, as many have, including the Nobel committee, an aspirational award – the committee expressing its own audacity of hope. As the President himself said, “I know that throughout history, the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement; it’s also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes.”

    According to an article by political scientist Ronald Krebs in an upcoming issue of POLITICAL SCIENCE QUARTERLY, since 1971, the peace prize has been presented as just such an aspirational incentive 27 times. So the President is not alone. The head of the Nobel committee told reporters, “We do hope this can contribute a little bit to what he is trying to do.”

    Consider the prize encouragement, a vote of support for vision and inspiration, a recognition that after eight years of a unilateral, destabilizing imposition of American exceptionalism on the world there’s an attitude adjustment working its way through our foreign policy. Dignity is part of it. So is humility – listening to other nations instead of ordering them around with the bluster of a swaggering county sheriff.

    The potential is there. Whether Barack Obama can overcome or solve the dilemmas he inherited – or the crises created on his own watch by his own hand – will be proof of whether good intentions can become reality or simply pave that infamous road to hell.

    In 1961, another young president, John F. Kennedy, met with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev at a summit conference in Vienna, Austria. It was a time when Cold War tensions between the two countries were high, just weeks after the failed, US-backed invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. Kennedy pointed to one of the medals on Khrushchev’s lapel and asked what it was. The Lenin Peace Prize, said Khrushchev. Kennedy replied, “I hope you keep it.”

    Now Obama has received the Nobel Prize for Peace. The months and years ahead will determine whether he deserves to keep it.

    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 9, 2009

    Wall Street vs. Reform?

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers’ guests were one of Congress’ leading progressives, Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), and former IMF chief economist Simon Johnson, who shared their perspectives on Washington’s failure to reform the financial sector since last year’s economic catastrophe.

    While Kaptur and Johnson broadly agreed that Wall Street’s influence has stymied government efforts to rein in large banks and trace how several hundred billion dollars of bailout money has been spent, they differed over their interpretations of President Obama’s actions since taking office.

    Rep. Kaptur suggested that Obama is making an honest effort but is being misdirected by the wrong economic team:

    “Mr. Geithner came from the New York Fed, he came from Wall Street, and he becomes Secretary of the Treasury... You can go back decades and you will see that there’s this revolving door between Wall Street and Washington... I still have hope for President Obama and his wife Michelle. When Lincoln ran into trouble during the Civil War, he got new Generals. He brought in Grant. I hope that President Obama will bring in some new generals on the financial front. I don’t think any individuals who had their hands in creating this mess should be in charge of cleaning it up... I don’t think President Obama has the right people around him. The poor man inherited a total mess, globally and domestically. I think some of the people that he trusted haven’t delivered. He and his wife are extraordinarily intelligent people. I urge him to get new generals, it’s time.”

    Johnson, who noted his support for Obama’s presidential campaign, was skeptical of the argument that the President isn’t fully behind his Administration’s financial policy decisions.

    “President Obama campaigned on a message of change... I thought that the time for change, for the financial sector, was absolutely upon us... Rahm Emanuel, the President’s chief of staff, is widely known for saying ‘never let a good crisis go to waste.’ Well, the crisis is over. The crisis in the financial sector, not for people who own homes, but the crisis for the big banks is substantially over, and it was completely wasted. The Administration refused to break the power of the big banks when they had the opportunity earlier this year, and the regulatory reforms they are now pursuing will – in my opinion and I do follow this day to day – turn out to be essentially meaningless... Louis XIV of France was a very powerful monarch [who] was famous for having bad things happen under his rule, and people would say ‘If only Louis XIV knew, I’m sure he doesn’t know. If we could just tell him, he’d sort it out.’ I’m skeptical.”

    What do you think?

  • In your view, is President Obama making a serious effort to enact substantive financial reform? Do you agree more with Kaptur or Johnson’s interpretation of his actions thus far?

  • Has the Obama Administration’s handling of financial reform affected how you view its efforts on other issues, such as health care and environmental policy? Why or why not?

  • What financial reforms do you want to see Washington pursue? Explain.

    (For more from Simon Johnson, visit his blog at baselinescenario.com)

  • Bill Moyers & Michael Winship: In Washington, Revolving Doors are Bad for Your Health

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

    "In Washington, Revolving Doors are Bad for Your Health"
    By Bill Moyers & Michael Winship

    On Tuesday, October 13, the Senate Finance Committee finally is scheduled to vote on its version of health care insurance reform. And therein lies yet another story in the endless saga of money and politics.

    In most polls, the majority of Americans favor a non-profit alternative -- like Medicare -- that would give the private health industry some competition. So if so many of us, including President Obama himself, want that public option, how come we're not getting one?

    Because the medicine that could cure our healthcare nightmare has been poisoned from Day One – fatally adulterated, thanks to the infamous, Washington revolving door. Movers and shakers rotate between government and the private sector at a speed so dizzying they forget for whom they’re supposed to be working.

    If you’ve been watching the Senate Finance Committee’s markup sessions, maybe you’ve noticed a woman sitting behind Committee Chairman Max Baucus. Her name is Liz Fowler.

    Fowler used to work for WellPoint, the largest health insurer in the country. She was its vice president of public policy. Baucus’ office failed to mention this in the press release announcing her appointment as senior counsel in February 2008, even though it went on at length about her expertise in “health care policy.”

    Now she’s working for the very committee with the most power to give her old company and the entire industry exactly what they want – higher profits – and no competition from alternative non-profit coverage that could lower costs and premiums.

    A veteran of the revolving door, Fowler had a previous stint working for Senator Baucus – before her time at WellPoint. But wait, there’s more. The person who was Baucus top health advisor before he brought back Liz Fowler? Her name is Michelle Easton. And why did she leave the staff of the committee? To go to work – surprise – at a firm representing the same company for which Liz Fowler worked – WellPoint. As a lobbyist.

    You can’t tell the players without a scorecard in the old Washington shell game. Lobbyist out, lobbyist in. It’s why they always win. They’ve been plowing this ground for years, but with the broad legislative agenda of the Obama White House – health care, energy, financial reform, the Employee Free Choice Act and more – the soil has never been so fertile.

    The health care industry alone has six lobbyists for every member of Congress and more than 500 of them are former Congressional staff members, according to the Public Accountability Initiative’s LittleSis database.

    Just to be certain Congress sticks with the program, the industry has been showering megabucks all over Capitol Hill. From the beginning, they wanted to make sure that whatever bill comes out of the Finance Committee puts for-profit insurance companies first -- by forcing the uninsured to buy medical policies from them. Money not only talks, it writes the prescriptions.

    In just the last few months, the health care industry has spent $380 million on lobbying, advertising and campaign contributions. And -- don’t bother holding onto your socks -- a million and a half of it went to Finance Committee Chairman Baucus, the man who said he saw “a lot to like” in the two public option amendments proposed by Senators Rockefeller and Schumer, but voted no anyway.

    The people in favor of a public alternative can’t scrape up the millions of dollars Baucus has received from the health sector during his political career. In fact, over the last two decades, the current members of the entire finance committee have collected nearly $50 million from the health sector, a long-term investment that’s now paying off like a busted slot machine.

    Not that we should be surprised. A century ago, muckraking journalists reported that large corporations and other wealthy interests virtually owned the United States Senate – using bribery, fraud and sometimes blackmail to get their way. Jokes were made about “the Senator from Union Pacific” or “the Senator from Standard Oil.”

    One reporter in particular was out to break their grip. His name was David Graham Phillips. One day in 1906, readers of Cosmopolitan Magazine opened its March issue to discover the first of nine articles by Phillips titled, “The Treason of the Senate.”

    He wrote, “Treason is a strong word, but not too strong, rather too weak, to characterize the situation which the Senate is the eager, resourceful, indefatigable agent of interests as hostile to the American people as any invading army could be, and vastly more dangerous: interests that manipulate the prosperity produced by all, so that it heaps up riches for the few; interests whose growth and power can only mean the degradation of the people, of the educated into sycophants, of the masses toward serfdom.”

    The public outrage provoked by Phillips and other muckrakers contributed to the ratification of the 17th amendment to the Constitution, providing for the direct popular election of senators, who until then were elected by easily bought-off state legislators.

    Of course, like water seeking its own level, big money finds its way around every obstacle, and was soon up to its old tricks, filling the pockets of sympathetic and grateful politicians.

    Today, none dare call it treason. So why not call it what it is – a friendly takeover of government, a leveraged buyout of democracy.

    Outrageous? You bet. But don’t just get mad. Get busy.

    October 2, 2009

    No JOURNAL this Week

    This week, the JOURNAL is preempted in most areas for Ken Burns' documentary THE NATIONAL PARKS: AMERICA'S BEST IDEA. Some stations will air an encore presentation of Bill Moyers' interview with David Simon, creator of the award-winning series THE WIRE.

    In the meantime, you can comment on the David Simon interview, explore previous broadcasts in our archive section, and read JOURNAL senior writer Michael Winship's latest column below.

    Michael Winship - Gelbart and Schulberg: Two Writers Depart an Ever Stranger Land

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

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

    "Gelbart and Schulberg: Two Writers Depart an Ever Stranger Land"
    By Michael Winship

    You certainly can argue that the depths to which our so-called democratic dialogue has sunk are nothing new. Politicians and advocates have been slinging mud since the earth was cool enough to hurl.

    The undeniable difference today is the speed and variety of the compost being thrown. With the 24-hour instantaneous delivery systems offered by radio, TV and the Internet, people are feeling more and more compelled to say ludicrous, shameful things in public that just a short time ago they would have hesitated to say in private.

    Rational pleas for ceasefires go unheeded. But this week, conservative Rick Moran, the freelance writer (and brother of ABC News’ Nightline co-host Terry Moran) who runs the archly named Web site Right Wing Nuthouse, went out on a limb and urged sanity.

    He wrote, “Employing reason and rationality to fight Obama and the liberals is far superior to the utter stupidity found in the baseless, exaggerated, hyperbolic and ignorant critiques of the left and Obama that is [sic] passed off as ‘conservative’ thought by those who haven’t a clue what conservatism means…

    “Exaggeration is not argument. It is emotionalism run rampant. And at its base is simple, unreasoning fear. Fear of change, fear that the powerlessness conservatives feel right now is a permanent feature of American politics, and, I am sorry to say, fear of Obama because he is a black man.”

    Stir into this perverse brew some of the illogical bloviation being bruited about in the chambers of the United States Congress and you have the perfect recipe for the death of rational political discourse in America.

    Listen to Republican Senator John Ensign of Nevada during the markup of the health care reform bill in the Senate Finance Committee this week, arguing that in comparison to other systems around the world, “If you take out accidental deaths due to car accidents, and you take out gun deaths because we like our guns in the United States and there are a lot more gun deaths in the United States – you take out those two things, you adjust those, and we are actually better in terms of survival rates.” Huh?

    Or Democratic Senator Max Baucus of Montana arguing that while he’s in favor of a public option, he can’t vote for it because it won’t get the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster – in part because he won’t vote for it. For corkscrew sophistry, that ranks right up there with the story of the American officer in Vietnam who said we had to destroy the village to save it.

    All of which brought to mind the summer’s passing of two writer friends and colleagues, each of whom had a sure grasp of mass hysteria and a prescient eye for the demagoguery and bureaucratic bunco that are running more rampant than ever.

    Budd Schulberg died in August at the age of 95. We first met – briefly – in 1975 at a public television auction where he was presenting a pair of boxing gloves autographed by Muhammad Ali. Years later we would serve together on the council of the Writers Guild of America, East.

    The fight game was one of Budd’s great passions – his novel, THE HARDER THEY FALL, perfectly captured the underside of the boxing world, its story loosely based on that of world heavyweight champion Primo Carnero, a fighter brought down by crooked managers.

    Budd made three other great contributions to American literature. First, the classic Hollywood novel WHAT MAKES SAMMY RUN?, an account of the movie business so graphically accurate and acerbic (his father had been the head of Paramount), the studios offered to ride him out of town on a rail – the third rail, preferably. Its antihero, the appallingly ambitious and grasping Sammy Glick, became a synonym for the crassness of show business and more.

    “It was America,” Schulberg wrote. “All the glory and opportunity, the push and the speed, the grind of gears and the crap.”

    Budd relished the story that Tom Cruise wanted to make a movie version of the book – if they could just make Sammy a little nicer.

    To that literary success, add the Academy Award-winning screenplay for ON THE WATERFRONT and Schulberg’s script for the movie A FACE IN THE CROWD, a stunningly prophetic look at media, the cult of personality and their impact on American society and politics.

    Its main character, a talk show host named Lonesome Rhodes, is a ratings smash whose folksy charm hides a ruthless, country-fried fascist with political aspirations – Sammy Glick with hayseed in his hair.

    Sounding remarkably like the Limbaughs and Becks of today, he proclaims, “I'm not just an entertainer. I'm an influence, a wielder of opinion, a force... a force!”

    But Schulberg himself was not without hubris. Sadly, he also will be remembered for his role as a friendly witness before the House Un-American Activities Committee during the era of the Hollywood blacklist. For a time, he had been a member of the Communist Party, and when questioned identified several other writers as members.

    As journalist Victor Navasky wrote in an afterword to his book, NAMING NAMES, a comprehensive and perceptive chronicle of those times, “The fear conspired to divide and sometimes destroy decent people of good will who for years had been colleagues and compatriots. The wounds won’t heal. The issues are passed on from generation to generation.”

    Publicly, Budd claimed not to regret what he had done. But for what it’s worth, in the decades following that awful period, I think there was an attempt at redemption. Budd endeavored to be a staunch member of our union and to share his creative gifts with others, especially through his work with minority artists at the Frederick Douglass Creative Arts Center in Harlem and the Douglass House Watts Writers Workshop in Los Angeles. Was that enough? It’s not for me to decide.

    The other death was that of Larry Gelbart, the great comedic writer of movies, TV, and theater who died in September. He was 81, and in his will, reportedly, he asked that his tombstone read, “At last, a plot.”

    We first met in 1987, when I interviewed him for a book and a PBS series on the history of television. “The only way you can get any feeling out of a television set is to touch it when you’re wet,” he claimed, and yet in the long-running TV version of the movie M*A*S*H, co-produced with Gene Reynolds, Larry managed to combine pathos and slapstick humor, telling dark jokes against the backdrop of the Korean War – the show’s thinly disguised metaphor for Vietnam.

    Gelbart, too, was a union stalwart, combative right to the end, when he was outspoken about recent elections at the Writers Guild of America, West. During the 100-day writers strike that began in 2007, although he couldn’t walk the picket line, he took an active role, helping with strategy and manning phones.

    It was Larry who advised me that for a writer to pin his or her hopes for career satisfaction on movies or television alone was a sure way to a broken heart – that it was important to find your voice in other kinds of writing as well – books, articles, pieces like this.

    For Gelbart it was the stage, with such shows as A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, CITY OF ANGELS, and a brilliant piece of satire and wordplay called MASTERGATE.

    Written in the wake of the late ‘80s Iran-contra hearings, Larry’s take on the inanities of legislative posturing seem as likely as much of the nonsense being spouted at this week’s Senate Finance Committee sessions.

    Here’s his fictitious chairman, Senator Bowman, announcing that, “This panel, which intends to give every appearance of being bipartisan, will be ever-mindful of the President’s instructions to dig down as far as we can, no matter how high up that might take us. Let me emphaticize one thing at the outset. This is not a witch hunt. It is not a trial. We are not looking for hides to skin nor goats to scape. We’re just trying to get all the facts together in one room at the same time in the hope that they’ll somehow recognize one another. Our chief goal, of course, is to answer the question: ‘What did the President know. And does he have any idea that he knew it?’”

    In the Heavenly Kingdom or the Elysian Fields or wherever it is gifted writers go to die, Larry Gelbart and Budd Schulberg must be watching the current scene, shaking their heads in both recognition and wonder.

    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.

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