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May 14, 2010

Bill Moyers & Michael Winship: Chevron's "Crude" Attempt to Suppress Free Speech

Even as headlines and broadcast news are dominated by BP's fire-ravaged, sunken offshore rig and the ruptured well gushing a reported 210,000 gallons of oil per day into the Gulf of Mexico, there's another important story involving Big Oil and pollution - one that shatters not only the environment but the essential First Amendment right of journalists to tell truth and shame the devil.

(Have you read, by the way, that after the surviving, dazed and frightened workers were evacuated from that burning platform, they were met by lawyers from the drilling giant Transocean with forms to sign stating they had not been injured and had no first-hand knowledge of what had happened?! So much for the corporate soul.)

But our story is about another petrochemical giant - Chevron - and a major threat to independent journalism. In New York last Thursday, Federal Judge Lewis A. Kaplan ordered documentary producer and director Joe Berlinger to turn over to Chevron more than 600 hours of raw footage used to create a film titled CRUDE: THE REAL PRICE OF OIL.

Released last year, it's the story of how 30,000 Ecuadorians rose up to challenge the pollution of their bodies, livestock, rivers and wells from Texaco's drilling for oil there, a rainforest disaster that has been described as the Amazon's Chernobyl. When Chevron acquired Texaco in 2001 and attempted to dismiss claims that it was now responsible, the indigenous people and their lawyers fought back in court.

Some of the issues and nuances of Berlinger's case are admittedly complex, but they all boil down to this: Chevron is trying to avoid responsibility and hopes to find in the unused footage - material the filmmaker did not utilize in the final version of his documentary - evidence helpful to the company in fending off potential damages of $27.3 billion.

This is a serious matter for reporters, filmmakers and frankly, everyone else. Tough, investigative reporting without fear or favor - already under siege by severe cutbacks and the shutdown of newspapers and other media outlets - is vital to the public awareness and understanding essential to a democracy. As Michael Moore put it, "The chilling effect of this is, [to] someone like me, if something like this is upheld, the next whistleblower at the next corporation is going to think twice about showing me some documents if that information has to be turned over to the corporation that they're working for."

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April 21, 2010

Bill Moyers on Retiring from the JOURNAL

Thanks to all of you who wrote to express your disappointment and dismay at hearing me say last week that the JOURNAL will be coming to an end with the April 30th broadcast. My team and I were touched by your messages, but I want to disabuse those of you who fear that we are being pushed off the air by higher-ups at PBS pointing to the door and demanding that we go. Not so. PBS doesn't fund the JOURNAL; our support comes from foundations and our sole corporate funder, Mutual of America. Together they've given me an independence rare for broadcast journalists. Our reporting and analysis trigger controversy from many quarters, as any strong journalism will, but not one - not one! - of my funders has ever mentioned to me the complaints directed their way. They would continue their support if I were to stick around.

I'm leaving for one reason alone: It's time to go. I'll be 76 in a few weeks, and while I don't consider myself old (my father lived into his 80s, my mother into her 90s) there are some things left to do that the deadlines and demands of a weekly broadcast don't permit. At 76, it's now or never. I actually informed my friends at PBS of my decision over a year ago, and planned to leave at the end of last December. But they asked me to continue another four more months while they prepare a new series for Friday night broadcast. I agreed, but said at the time - April 30 and not a week longer.

It wasn't easy deciding to close the JOURNAL. I like what I do, I cherish my colleagues, and my viewers remain loyal and engaged. I will miss the virtual community that has grown up around the broadcast - kindred spirits across the country whose unseen but felt presence reminds me of why I have kept at this work so long. But it has indeed been a long time (almost 40 years since I launched the original JOURNAL in 1971), and that's why I can assure you that my departure is entirely voluntary. "Time brings everything," an ancient wise man said. Including new beginnings.

But I still have two weeks before signing off. This Friday night my guests include Michael Copps, the FCC commissioner who later this year will hold public hearings around the country to get your views on net neutrality. In his nine years on the FCC Mike Copps has opposed the concentration of media ownership and advocated for an open Internet. He says the recent federal court decision restricting the Commission's authority over the net shouldn't be a deterrent to the FCC's pressing forward on assuring access for all to the Web. [Check out Bill Moyers' 2006 documentary on net neutrality, NET AT RISK.]

My second guest this Friday is another staunch public interest advocate, whose anger at the predatory tactics of Wall Street approaches the intensity of the Iceland volcano. As a federal regulator many years ago Bill Black helped put in jail a lot of culprits involved in the costly savings and loan scandal of the 1980s. His book about that experience - THE BEST WAY TO ROB A BANK IS TO OWN ONE - is one of my favorites. You first saw him on the JOURNAL a year ago when he voiced his suspicion that it was more than incompetence that brought down the financial sector in 2008 and plunged the economy into recession - it was greed. When it comes to financial shenanigans, Black is the modern equivalent of Sherlock Holmes. He's been on the trail of "liars' loans" - loans issued without verifying income. He'll have more to say about "liars' loans" on the JOURNAL Friday. But in the meantime, you can check out his testimony before Congress yesterday on the fall of Lehman. He has a lot more to say on the JOURNAL Friday night - for you Tweeters, his 140-character message is simple: "Lock-em up!"

See you Friday.

Bill Moyers

April 16, 2010

Bill Moyers & Michael Winship: Crocodile Tears on Wall Street

With all due respect, we can only wish those Tea Party activists who gathered in Washington and other cities this week weren't so single-minded about just who's responsible for all their troubles, real and imagined. They're up in arms, so to speak, against Big Government, especially the Obama administration.

If they thought this through, they'd be joining forces with other grassroots Americans who in the coming weeks will be demonstrating in Washington and other cities against High Finance, taking on Wall Street and the country's biggest banks.

The original Tea Party, remember, wasn't directed just against the British redcoats. Colonial patriots also took aim at the East India Company. That was the joint-stock enterprise originally chartered by the first Queen Elizabeth. Over the years, the government granted them special rights and privileges, which the owners turned into a monopoly over trade, including tea.

It may seem a bit of a stretch from tea to credit default swaps, but the principle is the same: when enormous private wealth goes unchecked, regular folks get hurt - badly. That's what happened in 2008 when the monied interests led us up the garden path to the great collapse.

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April 2, 2010

Bill Moyers & Michael Winship: Dr. King's Economic Dream Deferred

Forty-two years ago, on April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated, gunned down in Memphis, Tennessee. To those of us who were alive then, the images are etched in painful memory: One day, Dr. King is standing with colleagues, including Ralph Abernathy and Jesse Jackson, on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel; the next, he's lying there mortally wounded, his aides pointing in the direction of the rifle shot.
Then we remember the crowds of mourners slowly moving through the streets of Atlanta on a hot sunny day, surrounding King's casket as it was carried on a mule-drawn farm wagon; and the riots that burned across the nation in the wake of his death; a stinging, misbegotten rebuke to his gospel of non-violence.

We sanctify his memory now, name streets and schools after him, made his birthday a national holiday. But in April 1968, as Dr. King walked out on that motel balcony, his reputation was under assault. The glory days of the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott and the 1963 March on Washington were behind him, his Nobel Peace Prize already in the past.

A year before, at Riverside Church in New York, he had spoken out - eloquently - against the war in Vietnam. King said, "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death," a position that angered President Lyndon Johnson, many of King's fellow civil rights leaders and influential newspapers. The WASHINGTON POST charged that King had, "diminished his usefulness to his cause, to his country, and to his people."

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March 26, 2010

Bill Moyers & Michael Winship: The Unbearable Lightness of Reform

That wickedly satirical Ambrose Bierce described politics as "the conduct of public affairs for private advantage."

Bierce vanished to Mexico nearly a hundred years ago - to the relief of the American political class of his day, one assumes - but in an eerie way he was forecasting America's political culture today. It seems like most efforts to reform a system that's gone awry - to clean house and make a fresh start - end up benefiting the very people who wrecked it in the first place.

Which is why Bierce, in his classic little book, The DEVIL'S DICTIONARY, defined reform as "a thing that mostly satisfies reformers opposed to reformation."

So we got health care reform this week - but it's a far cry from reformation. You can't blame President Obama for celebrating what he did get - he and the Democrats needed some political points on the scoreboard. And imagine the mood in the White House if the vote had gone the other way; they would have been cutting wrists instead of cake.

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March 11, 2010

Bill Moyers & Michael Winship - Ask the Chamber of Commerce: Why Is Too Much Not Enough?

Living in these United States, there comes a point at which you throw your hands up in exasperation and despair and ask a fundamental question or two: how much excess profit does corporate America really need? How much bigger do executive salaries and bonuses have to be, how many houses or jets or artworks can be crammed into a life?

After all, as billionaire movie director Steven Spielberg is reported to have said, when all is said and done, "How much better can lunch get?"

But since greed is not self-governing, hardly anyone raking in the dough ever stops to say, "That's it. Enough's enough! How do we prevent it from sweeping up everything in its path, including us?"

Look at the health care industry saying to hell with consumers and then hiking premiums - by as much as 39% in the case of Anthem Blue Cross in California. According to congressional investigators, over a two-year period Anthem's parent company WellPoint spent more than $27 million dollars for executive retreats at luxury resorts. And in 2008, WellPoint paid 39 of its executives more than a million dollars each. Profit before patients.

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February 19, 2010

Bill Moyers & Michael Winship: What Are We Bid For American Justice?

That famous definition of a cynic as someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing has come to define this present moment of American politics.

No wonder people have lost faith in politicians, parties and in our leadership. The power of money drives cynicism deep into the heart of every level of government. Everything – and everyone – comes with a price tag attached: from a seat at the table in the White House to a seat in Congress to the fate of health care reform, our environment and efforts to restrain Wall Street’s greed and prevent another financial catastrophe.

Our government is not broken; it’s been bought out from under us, and on the right and the left and smack across the vast middle more and more Americans doubt representative democracy can survive the corruption of money.

Last month, the Supreme Court carried cynicism to new heights with its decision in the Citizens United case. Spun from a legal dispute over the airing on a pay-per-view channel of a right-wing documentary attacking Hillary Clinton during the 2008 presidential primaries, the decision could have been made very narrowly. Instead, the conservative majority of five judges issued a sweeping opinion that greatly expands corporate power over our politics.

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December 18, 2009

Bill Moyers' Best Books of 2009

Bill Moyers concluded the JOURNAL this week with the following remarks about what he’s been reading lately:
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Other books on Bill Moyers’ recommended reading list, and the reasons why he picked them, are:

STRENGTH IN WHAT REMAINS, by Tracy Kidder. I read it last summer and hardly a day passes that I don't think of Deo, the young medical student who escaped genocide in Burundi — and lives his life as if he can heal the world.

LESSONS IN DISASTER: MCGEORGE BUNDY AND THE PATH TO WAR IN VIETNAM, by Gordon Goldstein. One of my own colleagues from my White House years grapples with our failure and his own responsibility. I've not read a more important book about the uses and misuses of American power since my 2008 favorite by Andrew Bacevich, THE LIMITS OF POWER.

WHY SCHOOL? RECLAMING EDUCATION FOR ALL OF US, by Mike Rose. I interviewed Mike Rose 20 years ago for my series WORLD OF IDEAS. He was already on the path to becoming one of our most exciting thinkers about education in the lives of marginalized people. He lives in the real world, and this new book — slim and vividly written — is an inspiration for how to cope with it in our classrooms.

YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE BUDDHIST TO KNOW NOTHING. This little book, conceived and edited by my longtime friend and collaborator Joan Konner will surprise you with absolutely Nothing. Read it — and Nothing happens. Nothing is the joy of it.

REBEL GIANT: THE REVOLUTIONARY LIVES OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN AND CHARLES DARWIN, by David R. Contosta. You'll never think of February 12, 1809 the same way again.

THE HEALING OF AMERICA: A GLOBAL QUEST FOR BETTER, CHEAPER, AND FAIRER HEALTH CARE, by T. R. Reid. Stop the health care debate in its tracks. Allow no Member of Congress to go home for the holidays until everyone has read this book by the long-time WASHINGTON POST reporter who shows us how it could be done. Then throw out the current script written by the insurance companies and Big Pharma and start over, with Reid's book as the blueprint.

FORD COUNTY, by John Grisham. If you like Grisham (and I do), you'll love him short. Go home again — to Ford County, Mississippi — with one of the best good ol' boys ever to spin yarns below the Mason Dixon line.

Happy New Year, under the circumstances.

Bill Moyers

What do you think? What recent books do you think should be on everybody’s reading lists?

December 11, 2009

Bill Moyers & Michael Winship: The Land Mines Obama Won’t Touch

Many people are troubled that Barack Obama flew to Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize so soon after escalating the war in Afghanistan. He is now more than doubling the number of troops there when George W. Bush left office.

The irony was not lost on the President, and he tried to address it in his Nobel acceptance speech. “I am responsible for the deployment of thousands of young Americans to battle in a distant land,” he said. “Some will kill. Some will be killed. And so I come here with an acute sense of the cost of armed conflict – filled with difficult questions about the relationship between war and peace, and our effort to replace one with the other.”

Granted, there’s a gap here between the rhetoric and the reality. But there’s always been something askew about Nobel Peace Prize, in no small part because it’s given in the name of the man who invented dynamite, one of the most powerful and destructive weapons in the human arsenal.

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November 5, 2009

Bill Moyers Essay: Restoring Accountability for Washington's Wars

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October 23, 2009

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.

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September 18, 2009

Bill Moyers on the Man Behind the March

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September 11, 2009

Bill Moyers: After 9/11

Before the terrorists struck on 9/11 I had been scheduled to speak to the Environmental Grantmakers Association on the impact of money in politics, one of my regular beats in journalism. When I went on the air with a daily broadcast after 9/11 I thought of canceling the speech, then five weeks away; it just didn’t seem timely to talk about money and politics while the country was still in mourning. But I began to notice some items in the news that struck me as especially repugnant amid all the grief.

In Washington, where environmentalists and other public-interest advocates had suspended normal political activities, corporate lobbyists were suddenly mounting a full-court press for special favors at taxpayer expense. There was no black crepe draped on the windows of K Street – the predatory epicenter of Washington; inside, visions of newfound gold danced in the heads of lobbyists. And in corporate suites across the country CEOs were waking up to the prospect of a bonanza born of tragedy. Within two weeks of 9/11 the business press was telling of corporate directors rushing to give bargain-priced stock options to their top executives. The WALL STREET JOURNAL would later piece the whole story together: stocks had fallen sharply after the attacks, reaching a low on September 21; families of 9/11 victims were still waiting for some piece of flesh or bone to confirm the loss of a loved one; soldiers were loading their gear for deployment to Afghanistan; and corporate executives were too busy counting their shekels to notice. As stock options grant executives the right to buy shares at that low price for years to come, the lower the price when options are awarded, the more lucrative they are. “Since the house is on fire, let us warm ourselves,” goes an Italian proverb. Translated to English, it reads: “Grab the loot and run.” Some CEOs didn’t need reminding.

During the last days of September, 511 top executives at 186 companies gobbled up stock-option grants—more than twice as many as in comparable periods in recent years. Almost 100 companies that did not regularly grant stock options in September now did so. One company—Teradyne—had begun laying off employees just hours before the terrorists struck; the chairman, nonetheless, helped himself to 602,589 options just two weeks later, and when JOURNAL reporters wanted to ask about it, his spokesman said the CEO wouldn’t be available for an interview because “I don’t want to put him in the position of answering how does he feel about potentially benefiting from the 9/11 tragedy.”

President Bush had already urged us to prove our patriotism by going shopping. New York mayor Rudy Giuliani went on television to say we should “step up to the plate right now and show the strength of the American economy.” Giuliani himself would soon be hauling in a fortune exploiting his newfound celebrity to advise corporations on how to protect against terrorism. And in Washington the marionettes of the military-industrial-security complex salivated at the prospect of windfall profits rising from the smoldering ruins. Grief would prove no match for greed. I decided not to cancel the speech.

AFTER 9/11

Keynote address to the Environmental Grantmakers Association
Brainerd, Minnesota
October 16, 2001

This isn’t the speech I expected to give today. I intended something else.

For several years I’ve been taking every possible opportunity to talk about the soul of democracy. “Something is deeply wrong with politics today,” I told anyone who would listen. And I wasn’t referring to the partisan mudslinging, or the negative TV ads, the excessive polling or the empty campaigns. I was talking about something deeper, something troubling at the core of politics. The soul of democracy – government of, by, and for the people – has been drowning in a rising tide of money contributed by a narrow, unrepresentative elite that has betrayed Abraham Lincoln’s vision of self-government.

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September 4, 2009

Bill Moyers on Obama's Moment

Click the video below for Bill Moyers' thoughts on President Obama and his plan for health reform.
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July 24, 2009

Bill Moyers & Michael Winship: Obama's Health Care Struggle – Waterloo or Water Down?

Push finally came to shove in Washington this week as the battle for health care escalated from scattered sniper fire into all-out combat. If it all seems to be getting more and more confusing, join the club. It’s hard to see what’s happening through all the gun smoke.

The Republicans have more than health care reform in their bombsights – they want a loss for Obama so crushing it will bring the administration to its knees and restore GOP control of Congress after next year’s elections. In the words of Republican Senator Jim DeMint, “If we’re able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.”

The “Waterloo” of DeMint’s metaphor, of course, is not the 1974 ABBA hit but the battle in 1815 that ended Napoleon Bonaparte’s rule as Emperor of France – a humiliating defeat and a turning point in European history. Right wingers like Glenn Beck see Obama as Napoleon incarnate, a popular emperor who must be stopped.

Here’s what Beck said on his television show Monday, July 20: “I’m telling you, this guy is dangerous. He’s never lost before. He won’t understand… like, ‘Who are you to question me?’ I mean, this guy is practically an imperial President now. When he starts to lose and people start to question him and push him back against the wall, he’s not gonna know how to react.”

The Republican strategy is almost identical to the way they turned health care into Waterloo for Bill and Hillary Clinton in 1993. Back then, one of their chief propagandists, William Kristol, urged his party to block any health care plan for fear that Democrats would be seen as “the generous protector of middle class interests.” Now he’s telling the GOP to “go for the kill… throw the kitchen sink… drive a stake through its heart… We need to start over.”

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July 17, 2009

Bill Moyers & Michael Winship: Oysters for Health Care

This is a story of health care and two Americans; a tale of two citizens, if you will.

This week, Regina Benjamin was nominated by President Obama as our next surgeon general, charged with educating Americans on medical issues and overseeing the United States Public Health Service. She was the first African American woman to head a state medical society, a member of the board of trustees of the American Medical Association and last year was named the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation genius award.

But more important, she’s a country doctor, a family physician along the Gulf Coast of Alabama, serving the poor and uninsured – white, black and Asian. After Hurricane Katrina destroyed her clinic – the second time a hurricane had done so – she mortgaged her own home to rebuild it. The day it was to reopen, a fire burned the clinic to the ground. Moving to a trailer, Dr. Benjamin and her staff never missed a day of work.

Stan Wright, the tobacco-chewing mayor of Bayou La Batre, the small shrimp-fishing community in which Dr. Benjamin practices, told National Public Radio, “She’ll do whatever she’s gotta do to make sure everyone’s taken care of.”

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July 10, 2009

Bill Moyers & Michael Winship: Some Choice Words For "The Select Few"

If you want to know what really matters in Washington, don't go to Capitol Hill for one of those hearings, or pay attention to those staged White House "town meetings.” They’re just for show. What really happens – the serious business of Washington – happens in the shadows, out of sight, off the record. Only occasionally – and usually only because someone high up stumbles -- do we get a glimpse of just how pervasive the corruption has become.

Case in point: Katharine Weymouth, the publisher of THE WASHINGTON POST – one of the most powerful people in DC – invited top officials from the White House, the Cabinet and Congress to her home for an intimate, off-the-record dinner to discuss health care reform with some of her reporters and editors covering the story.

But CEO’s and lobbyists from the health care industry were invited, too, provided they forked over $25,000 a head – or up to a quarter of a million if they want to sponsor a whole series of these cozy get-togethers. And what is the inducement offered? Nothing less, the invitation read, than “an exclusive opportunity to participate in the health-care reform debate among the select few who will get it done.”

The invitation reminds the CEO’s and lobbyists that they will be buying access to “those powerful few in business and policy making who are forwarding, legislating and reporting on the issues…

"Spirited? Yes. Confrontational? No." The invitation promises this private, intimate and off-the-record dinner is an extension “of THE WASHINGTON POST brand of journalistic inquiry into the issues, a unique opportunity for stakeholders to hear and be heard.”

Let that sink in. In this case, the “stakeholders” in health care reform do not include the rabble – the folks across the country who actually need quality health care but can’t afford it. If any of them showed up at the kitchen door on the night of this little soiree, the bouncer would drop kick them beyond the Beltway.

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June 12, 2009

Bill Moyers & Michael Winship: Why Have We Stopped Talking About Guns?

You know by now that in Washington, DC, on Wednesday, an elderly white supremacist and anti-Semite named James W. von Brunn allegedly walked into the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum with a .22-caliber rifle and killed security guard Stephen T. Johns before being brought down himself. He’s 88 years old, with a long record of hatred and paranoid fantasies about the Illuminati and a Global Zionist state. How bitter the bile that has curdled for so many decades.

You will know, too, of the recent killing, while ushering at his local church, of Dr. George Tiller, one of the few doctors in the country still performing late term abortions. Sadly, this case was proof that fatal violence works. His family has announced that his Wichita, Kansas, clinic will not be reopened.

You may be less familiar with the June 1st shootings in an army recruiting office in Little Rock that killed one soldier and wounded another. The suspect in question is an African-American Muslim convert who says he acted in retaliation for US military activity in the Middle East.

Soon, however, these terrible deeds will be forgotten, as are already the three policemen killed by an assault weapon in Pittsburgh; the four policemen killed in Oakland, California; the 13 people gunned down in Binghamton, New York; the 10 in an Alabama shooting spree; five in Santa Clara, California; the eight dead in a North Carolina, nursing home. All during this year alone.

There is much talk about hate talk; hate crimes against blacks, whites, immigrants, Muslims, Jews; about violence committed in the name of bigotry or religion. But why don’t we talk about guns?

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May 29, 2009

Bill Moyers & Michael Winship: Everyone Should See TORTURING DEMOCRACY

In all the recent debate over torture, many of our Beltway pundits and politicians have twisted themselves into verbal contortions to avoid using the word at all.

During his speech to the conservative American Enterprise Institute last week – immediately on the heels of President Obama’s address at the National Archives – former Vice President Dick Cheney used the euphemism "enhanced interrogation" a full dozen times.

Smothering the reality of torture in euphemism of course has a political value, enabling its defenders to diminish the horror and possible illegality. It also gives partisans the opening they need to divert our attention by turning the future of the prison at Guantanamo Bay into a “wedge issue,” as noted on the front page of Sunday’s NEW YORK TIMES.

According to the TIMES, “Armed with polling data that show a narrow majority of support for keeping the prison open and deep fear about the detainees, Republicans in Congress started laying plans even before the inauguration to make the debate over Guantanamo Bay a question of local community safety instead of one about national character and principles.“

No political party would dare make torture a cornerstone of its rejuvenation if people really understood what it is. And lest we forget, we’re not just talking about waterboarding, itself a trivializing euphemism for drowning.

If we want to know what torture is, and what it does to human beings, we have to look at it squarely, without flinching. That’s just what a powerful and important film, seen by far too few Americans, does. TORTURING DEMOCRACY was written and produced by one of America’s outstanding documentary reporters, Sherry Jones.

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May 21, 2009

Bill Moyers & Michael Winship: Rx and the Single Payer

In 2003, a young Illinois state senator named Barack Obama told an AFL-CIO meeting, “I am a proponent of a single-payer universal health care program.”

Single payer. Universal. That’s health coverage, like Medicare, but for everyone who wants it. Single payer eliminates insurance companies as pricey middlemen. The government pays care providers directly. It’s a system that polls consistently have shown the American people favoring by as much as two-to-one.

There was only one thing standing in the way, Obama said six years ago: “All of you know we might not get there immediately because first we have to take back the White House, we have to take back the Senate and we have to take back the House.”

Fast forward six years. President Obama has everything he said was needed – Democrats in control of the executive branch and both chambers of Congress. So what’s happened to single payer?

A woman at his town hall meeting in New Mexico last week asked him exactly that. “If I were starting a system from scratch, then I think that the idea of moving towards a single-payer system could very well make sense,” the President replied. “That's the kind of system that you have in most industrialized countries around the world.

“The only problem is that we're not starting from scratch. We have historically a tradition of employer-based health care. And although there are a lot of people who are not satisfied with their health care, the truth is, is that the vast majority of people currently get health care from their employers and you've got this system that's already in place. We don't want a huge disruption as we go into health care reform where suddenly we're trying to completely reinvent one-sixth of the economy.”

So the banks were too big to fail and now, apparently, health care is too big to fix, at least the way a majority of people indicate they would like it to be fixed, with a single payer option. President Obama favors a public health plan competing with the medical cartel that he hopes will create a real market that would bring down costs. But single payer has vanished from his radar.

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May 1, 2009

Bill Moyers & Michael Winship: Mortgaging the White House

Finally, here we are at the end of this week of a hundred days. As everyone in the western world probably knows by now, this benchmark for assessing presidencies goes back to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who arrived at the White House in the depths of the Great Depression.

In his first hundred days, FDR came out swinging. He shut down the banks, threw the money lenders from the temple, cranked out so much legislation so fast he would shout to his secretary, Grace Tully, “Grace, take a law!” Will Rogers said Congress didn’t pass bills anymore; it just waved as they went by.

President Obama’s been busy, but contrary to many of the pundits, he’s no FDR. Our new president got his political education in the world of Chicago ward politics, and seems to have adopted a strategy from the machine of that city’s longtime boss, the late Richard J. Daley, father of the current mayor there. “Don’t make no waves,” one of Daley’s henchmen advised, “don’t back no losers.”

Your opinion of Obama’s first 100 days depends of course on your own vantage point. But we'd argue that as part of his bending over backwards to support the banks and avoid the losers, he has blundered mightily in his choice of economic advisers.

Continue reading "Bill Moyers & Michael Winship: Mortgaging the White House" »

March 27, 2009

What Questions Would You Ask President Obama?

Concluding the JOURNAL this week, Bill Moyers reflected on Barack Obama's press conference Tuesday and the questions from the public that he answered on Thursday, suggesting a few questions that he and journalist Morton Mintz would like to see answered:
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What questions would you ask President Obama?

February 20, 2009

Bill Moyers on Sending More Troops to Afghanistan

Concluding this week's JOURNAL, Bill Moyers delivered the following commentary on President Barack Obama's decision to send nearly 50% more troops to Afghanistan.
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For more JOURNAL coverage of the situation in Afghanistan, you may wish to explore Bill Moyers' recent conversations with former NPR reporter Sarah Chayes and experts Pierre Sprey and Marilyn B. Young.

We invite you to respond in the space below.

February 17, 2009

Bill Moyers Answers Viewer Questions

Last week, Bill Moyers answered questions in a live chat on PBS.ORG. Click here to read a transcript of the discussion. Below, he answers more questions from the chat and the MOYERS BLOG.

Q. Dear Mr. Moyers, other than voting and writing to their congress people, what can citizens do to have influence over Washington policy?
Eva Marie Willis

Q. What can we as concerned citizens do to ensure that the necessary reforms in media, the economy, etc. that you've long advocated are actually enacted?
Suzanne Reymer

A. Find one group close by that needs your help. One organization, one cause. Affordable housing. Advocating the cleanup of a toxic site. Agitating for transparency in local government. Seek a chapter with national links — Common Cause, Public Citizen, Institute for America's Future. Study the example of Beverly Eckert, whose husband was killed in the World Trade Center on 9/ll and who herself died in the Continental crash near Buffalo last week. After 9/ll she and other relatives of the victims organized the 9/11 Family Steering Committee and kept the pressure on until they got some answers — including standing down Henry Kissinger after it was announced he would head the 9/ll Commission. See her obituary in the NYT of Saturday February 14. There are many, many such groups, causes, and needs. Find one, join it, serve it, and stay with it.

As for media reform, check out the site

Q. What is the selection process for deciding which guests to feature on your program?

A. My staff and I follow the news trying to assess which voices can add a dimension to it that you won't find elsewhere. We read books looking for people who know something unique on a subject. Magazines, too — on science, nature, history, the arts — and scores of online sites. We're looking for people who usually wouldn't have a mainstream venue, who add a fresh take on a subject, and who don't have a cause or ideology to push but instead are trying to tell the truth as they see it. It's a constant process that calls on our collective journalistic instincts. At some point, after much to-ing and fro-ing, I'll make the call. There are always far more possibilities than we have time to feature.

Q. Did you ever consider entering politics, and, what would you be if you were not a journalist?
Mary M.

A. When I left the White House in January 1967 to publish NEWSDAY, I made my choice about journalism and never looked back, even when people urged me to run. The two don't mix, and if I had pursued journalism with an eye toward political office, I couldn't have trusted myself, much less earn the trust of the people who followed my journalism. Three times I turned down opportunities for appointed positions in Washington that came my way through no effort of my own; it was easy to say no, on the grounds that I belong on this, the journalistic, side of the fence.

Q. Do you think through a rigid recitation of facts journalists can convey the absolute truth of a story? Can journalists fulfill their duty to their community by only reporting verifiable facts or must they go further? If they go further how do they know they are pursuing something truthful and not just their own personal viewpoint?
Kelly Stephens

A. I'm not sure what you mean by a "rigid recitation of facts" or even the "absolute truth of a story." We're not meant to be stenographers -- simply transcribing what officials tell us — but there is always more information about just about any story than we can gather in a limited time and with limited resources. Our job as journalists is to gather as much as we can, weigh it (what appears to be more significant than others), organize what we can verify, and present it as our best-effort account. The "truth of the matter" usually lies beyond the mere presentation of facts, but without the facts, the truth can't be grounded. I see our work as trying to ground our conclusions in solid fact-gathering.

Q. As I admire you and your extraordinary (and desperately needed) work greatly, I was wondering if you could share with us the people that you admire and learn from. I would be very interested to hear what historical and contemporary journalists, political figures, and especially, knowing of your interest in the arts, artists (literary, visual, or musical) you admire.
Chris Ulrich

A. I wish I had more time for this one. I've learned from almost all the people whom I have interviewed over the years. We journalists are licensed, so to speak, to explain things we don't understand. That means talking to as many people as we can, because we don't on our own know very much. I honestly don't have favorites — any more than I favor one of my three children or five grandchildren — but some had more impact than others. Obviously the series with Joseph Campbell on THE POWER OF MYTH. My WORLD OF IDEAS interviews in l988 (see the book.) THE WISDOM OF FAITH with Huston Smith. And the interviews in FAITH AND REASON in 2006. On the other hand, I found last week's interviews on BILL MOYERS JOURNAL with Simon Johnson and Nikki Giovanni remarkably revealing. And on it goes.

Q. Have you read Howard Zinn's book, A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES? If you have, I would appreciate your comments. I would also enjoy seeing him on your program, if he accepts public invitations.
Thank you for your program. I look forward to it every Friday on my local PBS station.
Stephanie Rogstad

I have read it — at least twice. And I interviewed him on my series NOW WITH BILL MOYERS a few years back. You can check it out online here.

Thanks for watching and writing.

-Bill Moyers

January 16, 2009

Bill Moyers Responds to Viewer Feedback

Bill Moyers responds to viewer feedback to last week's essay on the violence in Gaza.

PLEASE NOTE: This essay contains images of casualties from the conflict in Gaza. Some viewers may find the images disturbing, but they are in context and germane to the subject matter.
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January 9, 2009

Bill Moyers reflects on Middle East violence

Bill Moyers reflects on the recent violence in the Middle East.

PLEASE NOTE: This essay containins video and images of the Israeli and Palestinian casualties – including children - in Gaza as well as the Pulitzer prize-winning photo of the nude Vietnamese girl running from napalm bombing. Some viewers may find the images disturbing, but they are in context and germane to the subject matter.
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August 29, 2008

Bill Moyers Essay: Labor Day

In observation of Labor Day, BIll Moyers shared these thoughts on the JOURNAL this week:
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August 8, 2008

Bill Moyers & Michael Winship: A Novel Approach to Politics

ABC News’ political blog, “The Note,” points out this week that Paris Hilton is issuing policy statements while John McCain nominates his wife for a topless beauty contest. The world’s turned upside down. Who could blame a person for thinking that chronicling such oddness is beyond the skills of simple journalists? This is a job for the novelists.

Here, for example, is something straight out of Tom Wolfe’s BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES. Are you ready for this? THE WALL STREET JOURNAL reports that, “At a time when scores of companies are freezing pensions for their workers, some are quietly converting those pension plans into resources to finance their executives' retirement benefit and pay. In recent years, companies from Intel Corp to CenturyTel Inc. collectively have moved hundreds of millions of dollars of obligations for executive benefits into rank-and-file pension plans. This lets companies capture tax breaks intended for pensions of regular workers and use them to pay for executives' supplemental benefits and compensation.”

Everyone knows we've been living through one of the great redistributions of wealth in American history – from the bottom up. But this takes the cake, because our tax dollars are subsidizing this spectacular round of robbing the poor to pay off the rich. Sad to say, it’s not fiction.

Continue reading "Bill Moyers & Michael Winship: A Novel Approach to Politics" »

August 1, 2008

Bill Moyers & Michael Winship: The Wave of "Capitol Crimes" Continues

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

The Wave of "Capitol Crimes" Continues
by Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

Like the largesse he spread so bountifully to members of Congress and the White House staff -- countless fancy meals, skybox tickets to basketball games and U2 concerts, golfing sprees in Scotland -- Jack Abramoff is the gift that keeps on giving.

The notorious lobbyist and his cohorts (including conservatives Tom Delay, Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed) shook down Native American tribal councils and other clients for tens of millions of dollars, buying influence via a coalition of equally corrupt government officials and cronies dedicated to dismantling government by selling it off, making massive profits as they tore the principles of a representative democracy to shreds.

Continue reading "Bill Moyers & Michael Winship: The Wave of "Capitol Crimes" Continues" »

July 18, 2008

Bill Moyers & Michael Winship: Mother’s Milk of Politics Turns Sour

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

Once again we're closing the barn door after the horse is out and gone. In Washington the Federal Reserve has finally acted to stop some of the predatory lending that exploited people’s need for money. And like Rip Van Winkle, Congress is finally waking up from a long doze under the warm sun of laissez faire economics. That's French for turning off the alarm until the burglars have made their getaway.

Philosophy is one reason we do this to ourselves; when you worship market forces as if they were the gods of Olympus, then the gods can do no wrong -- until, of course, they prove to be human. Then we realize we should have listened to our inner agnostic and not been so reverent in the first place.

Continue reading "Bill Moyers & Michael Winship: Mother’s Milk of Politics Turns Sour" »

June 27, 2008

Bill Moyers & Michael Winship: It Was Oil, All Along

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

It Was Oil, All Along
By Bill Moyers & Michael Winship

Oh, no, they told us, Iraq isn't a war about oil. That's cynical and simplistic, they said. It's about terror and al Qaeda and toppling a dictator and spreading democracy and protecting ourselves from weapons of mass destruction. But one by one, these concocted rationales went up in smoke, fire, and ashes. And now the bottom turns out to be....the bottom line. It is about oil.

Continue reading "Bill Moyers & Michael Winship: It Was Oil, All Along" »

May 23, 2008

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.

Continue reading "Honoring Our Veterans" »

Bill Moyers Essay: Washington Resignations

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A Companion Blog to Bill Moyers Journal

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