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September 22, 2010

The JOURNAL's Emmy Nominees

Update: THE GOOD SOLDIER WON the Emmy Award! Three JOURNAL programs have been nominated for Emmy Awards: "LBJ's Path to War: A Tale of Two Quagmires," Bill Moyers' interview with writer and producer David Simon and the JOURNAL's presentation of the documentary THE GOOD SOLDIER. You can watch ""LBJ's Path to War" and the David Simon interview in their entirety online below. You can watch an excerpt from THE GOOD SOLDIER too.

And, if you're in New York City you can view THE GOOD SOLIDER at the Quad Cinema, from September 24 through September 30, (34 W. 13th St. (5th & 6th Aves.), 212-255-8800, Showtimes: 1:00, 2:40, 4:20, 6:00, 7:40*, 9:40*)

Continue reading "The JOURNAL's Emmy Nominees" »

April 23, 2010

Will Lawmakers Avert The Next Financial Collapse?

(Photo by Robin Holland)

In this week's JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with veteran regulator William K. Black about the proposed new financial reform legislation and the systemic problems that led to the economic collapse in 2008.

Black expressed disappointment with President Obama's speech on financial regulation this week, and said that the pervasive influence of Wall Street money and ideology has created what he calls a "criminogenic" environment:

"I was disappointed that [President Obama] wasn't willing to be blunt. He used a number of euphemisms, but he was unwilling to use the 'F word,' which is fraud in this. It's the word that explains why we have these recurrent, intensifying crises... A criminogenic environment is a steal from pathology - a pathogenic environment [is] one that spreads disease. In this case, it's an environment that spreads fraud... [The SEC] could have acted at any time to regulate all of these securities bankers to the extent that their problems had to do with mortgages, and they overwhelmingly caused by mortgages. They refused. They [and] the Fed refused to use that authority... There wasn't going to be significant reform or significant crackdowns in the financial sphere because the leading source of contributions to the Obama candidacy and the McCain candidacy was the financial industry... It's deeply criminogenic. And this ideology that both parties are dominated by says 'No, big corporations wouldn't cheat. Fraud can't happen. The market's automatically excluded.' It's insane. It's been falsified for 25 years by event after event here and abroad."

What do you think?

  • Black says that both Republicans and Democrats subscribe to an ideology that encourages financial fraud. Do you agree? Why or why not?

  • If government officials did not enforce regulation that was already on the books, do you think the new regulations being proposed in Washington will help prevent further economic disasters?

  • Do you expect lawmakers to act responsibly to prevent the next collapse? How are you working to encourage them?

  • Should the Federal Government Fund Journalism?

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with FCC Commissioner Michael Copps about his perspective on net neutrality and the future of journalism in the digital age.

    Copps, who believes that the government should play a role in regulating and promoting Internet access, suggested that government also has a role to play in funding and encouraging investigative journalism. He said:

    "I think newspapers are going to survive, and I think broadcast is going to come back. What I'm not convinced of is that newspapers in their new survival mode are going to be able, unaided, to support the kind of in-depth journalism that we need to have, and get those reporters back. I think they can get by with that slimmed down newsroom, or the closed-down newsroom. That doesn't help the country very much though... We're talking about educating a country and keeping a country informed. I think at some point we have to get off the defensive and start talking about public support for public media. In the United States, we spend $1.35 per capita per annum supporting public media - public broadcasting, public radio. Lots of other countries are spending $50, $75, $100 or more, and you kind of get what you pay for. It's not interfering with the democracy of Denmark or Finland or Great Britain or places like that... The news has gone down the drain, investigative journalism is on the endangered list, [so] maybe there's an argument to be made for doing a little bit more."

    Recent polling from the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism suggests that many in the industry have reservations about accepting government funding:

    "As they look forward, news executives have concerns about some of the funding ideas being discussed for journalism... [There was] overarching concern about accepting government money. Fully 75% of all news executives surveyed--and 88% of newspaper executives--said they had "serious reservations," or the highest level of concern, about direct subsidies from the government. And about half (46%) have that level of concern over tax credits for news organizations... Even in these dire economic times, only 19% would welcome such funding... 'If the government becomes the 'money bags' for journalism, journalism will become the ''bag man'' for the government,' wrote a member of [Radio Television Digital News Association]. 'This would be an assault to the first amendment of the constitution.' 'We must keep our independence or perception of independence and accepting government subsidies ties you to the government we are meant to watch,' explained an [American Society of News Editors] member, 'The lines become too blurred if we begin taking donations and subsidies. Even if we remain aggressive in coverage why would readers believe we are independent?'"

    What do you think?

  • Should the government fund journalism? Why or why not?

  • Do you trust government-funded journalism to remain independent? Explain.

  • Do you believe that government funding has affected the independence of state-funded news outlets like the BBC?

  • April 16, 2010

    Financial Regulation & Regulatory Capture

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with financial experts Simon Johnson and James Kwak about Wall Street's influence in Washington and their support for new financial regulation that might reduce the banks' power.

    James Kwak explained why he and Johnson advocate for more financial regulation, including breaking up America's largest banks:

    "It used to be maybe eight or nine banks. But what's happened over the last two years is that these banks have gotten bigger, because they've bought each other. They've become more powerful. And they have an even stronger market position in some key markets like credit cards, mortgages, equity underwriting, and derivatives. And when we talk about the problem, when we talk about the need to break up these banks, we're really just talking about six banks, which are pretty undebatably too big to fail and therefore have an enormous amount of leverage over the government... What we learned in 2008 were certain institutions are so big and so interconnected that if they were to fail, they would cause systemic shocks throughout the economy. That's essentially what happened in September 2008 when Lehman Brothers collapsed... Almost two years later, nothing has changed. Or the only change is that these banks have gotten larger, more powerful, both economically and politically. And they've been flexing their muscles in Washington for the last year and a half."

    Bill Moyers asked why new financial regulations would work when past efforts at reform have ultimately failed:

    "Over the course of my lifetime, and my working career as a journalist, I've seen one regulatory agency after another taken over by the very industries they were supposed to regulate. Regulation requires a President who is committed to tough regulation. If you get a free market President like George W. Bush, you get regulation serving the industry... If you get a Democratic Party that's been compromised by its concessions and capitulations and contributions from Wall Street, you get a regulatory system that is a joke, and that's what we have. What's to ensure that the next regulatory system won't be a joke?"

    Simon Johnson replied:

    "The person who nailed this intellectually a long time ago was from the University of Chicago. George Stigler, not a man of the left, got a Nobel Prize [for concluding that] all industries end up with the industry capturing the regulators. What's happened to us is exactly what Stigler warned against, on a massive scale. The Administration still argues that we should delegate responsibility, going forward, for lots of things around finance - like how much capital you should have - delegate that to the regulators... Now that's crazy. That's not acceptable. That's not what they should do, particularly because any Democrat should say 'well, wait a minute, the next free market president who doesn't believe in regulation [that] comes in will gut the system.' And any person from the right who's read Stigler should say 'well, those regulators are just gonna get captured.' You've got to put it in legislation. You've got to design the legislation. You've got to go after the things that can be legislated. Congress must not abdicate this responsibility."

    What do you think?

  • Can the government set up a regulatory system that won't end up controlled by Wall Street? Why or why not?

  • How can ordinary citizens take action to retake our democracy from the clutches of Big Finance?

  • April 2, 2010

    Towards a More Just Society?

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with social justice advocates Bryan Stevenson and Michelle Alexander about the persistence of systemic racial inequalities in American society and Dr. Martin Luther King's vision of a more just society.

    Michelle Alexander described her view of a criminal justice system that she sees as discriminatory against minority groups:

    "Individual black achievement today masks a disturbing underlying racial reality. To a significant extent, affirmative action - seeing African Americans go to Harvard and Yale and become CEOs and corporate lawyers - causes us all to marvel what a long way we have come. But much of the data indicates that African Americans today as a group are not much better off than they were back in 1968... Just a couple of decades after the collapse of the old Jim Crow system, a new system of racial control emerged in the United States. Today, people of color are targeted by law enforcement for relatively minor, nonviolent, often drug-related offenses - the types of crimes that occur all the time on college campuses, where drug use is open and notorious, that occur in middle class suburban communities without much notice... [They are] arrested, branded felons, and then ushered into a parallel social universe in which they can be denied the right to vote, automatically excluded from juries, and legally discriminated against in many of the ways in which African Americans were discriminated against during the Jim Crow era."

    Bryan Stevenson argued that mass incarceration disproportionately impacts vulnerable populations and is fundamentally incompatible with the core American value of equal justice:

    "There are structures and systems that have created poverty and have made that poverty so permanent that, until we think in a more just way about how to deal with poverty in this country, we're never going to make the progress that Dr. King envisioned... We have a criminal justice system that's very wealth-sensitive. Our system treats you better if you're rich and guilty than if you're poor and innocent... If we keep ignoring the poor, I think we not only undermine Dr. King's vision, but we corrupt our values. The observant said you judge the character of a society not by how you treat the rich and the privileged and the celebrated. You judge the character of a society by how you treat the poor, the condemned, the incarcerated... We've got to find ways to inspire people, to challenge people, to confront people to recognize that a commitment to justice cannot be reconciled with a commitment to mass incarceration. A commitment to fairness cannot be reconciled with the conditions and demographics that we now see in poor and urban communities."

    African American economist Thomas Sowell has suggested that some groups are more likely to have values that are conducive to success in American society than others and, thus, that a level playing field conflicts with the desire for all groups to achieve roughly equal outcomes. In a recent column, he argued that society lacks the ability to compel different groups to achieve the same results:

    "Most of us want to be fair, in the sense of treating everyone equally. We want laws to be applied the same to everyone... Whether any human being has ever had the omniscience to determine and undo the many differences among people born into different families and cultures -- with different priorities, attitudes and behavior -- is a very big question. And to concentrate the vast amount of power needed to carry out that sweeping agenda is a dangerous gamble... There is no question that the accident of birth is a huge factor in the fate of people. What is a very serious question is how much anyone can do about that without creating other, and often worse, problems. Providing free public education, scholarships to colleges and other opportunities for achievement are fine as far as they go, but there should be no illusion that they can undo all the differences in priorities, attitudes and efforts among different individuals and groups."

    What do you think?

  • Michelle Alexander compares today's struggle to the Jim Crow era. Do you agree? How do you think the quest for a more economically and racially just society has changed over time?

  • In your view, what would constitute a just society? What measures could move the country in that direction?

  • How are you mobilizing to work towards a more just America?

  • March 26, 2010

    Reforming Health Reform?

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    This week, Bill Moyers spoke with journalist John Nichols and women's advocate Terry O'Neill about the health reform President Obama signed into law on Tuesday.

    Nichols said that the reform in and of itself is not sufficient, but that it's an important foundation and that activists must now demand further improvements to the nation's health system:

    "For a hundred years we tried to create a project. We tried to take this vacant site and dig a hole, put in a foundation, and start some construction. That's what's happened. The fact of the matter is it's best to understand the health care legislation that was passed on Sunday as the beginning of a construction project, and that's why some people fought so hard against it, because they understood [that] once you begin that project, it is very unlikely that we're going to fill the hole in, tear down all the construction... Compromises are always made, and the most important thing is that we're here today screamin' and yellin' about it... The objections that we raise to this health care bill, the demands that we make that it be improved, that we in fact reform the reform - that's what's going to give us a health care system that is humane, that is decent, that is worthy of the United States... Barack Obama is a cautious president. It is time to go out and make him do the things that need to be done. That's an organizing task, and people are ready."

    O'Neill said that the health reforms discriminate against women by, for instance, allowing insurers to charge them more for policies and not providing tax dollars to cover abortions, but that the new laws change the conversation and set the stage for an eventual shift to a single-payer system.

    "My organization looked at the entire bill at the end of the day when it was passed, and we concluded that on balance, despite the good things that are in the bill, the bill is actually bad for women... What's best about this law, really, is the concept of it. The actual provisions of it are not good, but the concept that in fact the federal government has the largest role to play, the idea that we as an entire society must have health care for all of our people has not been implemented, but the concept is in the bill... We've been told over and over again that gender rating is gone, but it's not. [For] employers with more than 100 employees who buy into a plan on an exchange, the insurance companies will be permitted to charge higher premiums, up to 50% higher for women than for men just because they're women... [And] age rating - the triple premiums being paid by older people has a disproportionate impact on women... It's so crucial that we undo this pernicious idea that somehow federal tax dollars should not be used to pay for abortion. They must be used to pay for all health care needs, including abortion, because eventually where we need to get to is a single-payer system."

    While Nichols and O'Neill both believe that President Obama's health reform laws provide an important first step towards a more equitable health system, others argue that they represent a troubling expansion of unchecked government power. Columnist A. Barton Hinkle wrote in the RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH that the reforms centralize too much power in the federal government with no mechanism to prevent intrusion into citizens' private lives:

    "The increased federal involvement in health care will become a pretext for increased federal involvement in, well, everything. The reasoning will be that individual health affects health care, which is now a federal enterprise. And everything can be said, with more or less sophistry, to affect individual health. So 'managing' the 'system' will become the all-purpose excuse for dictating the manner in which you live your life... Throughout the Bush years, progressives howled as the administration exploited a national-security crisis to expand executive power, while conservatives egged the administration on. Yet neither paused long to note that Bush did not even try to roll back expansions of federal power undertaken in the name of social policy... Obama has also pushed relentlessly for expansions of social welfare and the regulatory state. Every administration expands power where it wishes, but no authority is ever repealed. And so the ratchet tightens."

    What do you think?

  • Are you pleased that the health reform bill has been signed into law? Why or why not?

  • John Nichols said that health reform lacked compassion for immigrants, while O'Neill said that it should have paid for abortions. Do you agree? What else would you have included or excluded from the legislation?

  • How are you working to 'reform the reform?'

  • Can Washington Rein In Wall Street?

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    In this week's JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with financial journalist Gretchen Morgenson about the financial reform legislation that lawmakers are crafting in Washington.

    Morgenson said that the proposals she's seen have been insufficient to rein in many of the Wall Street abuses that helped bring on the economic meltdown.

    "I think that the bills we have seen have been so half-baked and really do not address some of the crucial elements of reform that are needed if we want to prevent this kind of crisis from happening again... We are nowhere closer to any kind of technique [or] strategy to prevent that kind of behemoth from growing again... I myself have been stunned watching the brazenness with which [the bankers] are willing to operate now - just swaggering about town, throwing money at their problem, throwing money at legislators to make sure they don't have to face a formidable regulatory framework... They take the gains when their stock is rising, when their companies are profitable, but when they get into trouble, you socialize the losses. The taxpayer has to pay them. We have rewarded this kind of dysfunctional behavior... It wasn't that we needed more regulation. We needed regulators with an appetite to regulate. We had plenty of regulations on the books about mortgages, products, practices, [but] no one was enforcing it."

    What do you think?

  • Do you believe that Washington lawmakers will create legislation that seriously tackles financial abuses from Wall Street?

  • What specifically would you like the legislation to address?

  • How can citizens take action to encourage regulators to actually regulate?

  • March 5, 2010

    Is the President's Health Bill Worth Supporting?

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    In January, when Republican Scott Brown won the special election for the Massachusetts Senate seat formerly held by Ted Kennedy, Democrats lost their filibuster-proof majority and the fate of their health reform legislation plunged into uncertainty.

    After weeks of strategizing and negotiation, President Obama made headlines Wednesday by encouraging Democratic members of Congress to pass the Senate's version of the health bill through the controversial tactic known as reconciliation. Originally intended for budget bills rather than more complicated legislation, reconciliation would bypass potential filibusters in the Senate and require only a simple majority of votes in both chambers for passage. Democratic leaders are now working to amass enough support among Democratic Senators and Congressmen, many of whom disagree with aspects of the legislation, to pass the bill despite polls suggesting that a plurality of the public opposes it.

    In this week's JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with two prominent advocates of health reform with very different perspectives on the President's health bill.

    Wendell Potter, a former health insurance executive who has become an outspoken critic of the industry, said that the legislation is flawed but good enough that it should become law:

    "We need to look at this as a win for consumers as well. Yes, it'll be a win for the insurance companies, but I don't think we're gonna wind up with the insurance companies walking away [and] winning the whole ball game. If we don't do anything right now, that's what will happen. They'll win everything... I was distraught when I saw what happened, what I saw the Senate voting on. But then I realized - you know, I studied a lot of these efforts over the past many years to get reform - [that] often we've come short because we've tried to get the perfect, and we've never been able to get anything as a consequence... We need to have a foundation, and this may seem to be not an adequate foundation for a lot of people, but there are more than 50 million people in this country who don't have insurance... Wouldn't you rather, and I think wouldn't most Americans rather, that we have something to start from rather than starting from scratch the next time? It's very hard to build up to doing this in the first place... I'm frankly pretty amazed that we're getting this close to passing something."

    Dr. Marcia Angell, a Harvard medical lecturer and former editor-in-chief of the NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE, has advocated for single-payer reform, in which the federal government would provide a national health insurance program for everyone. Angell argued that the current bill would make a bad situation worse and sour the public on further reforms, so Democrats should regroup and push for better legislation in the future:

    "What this bill does is not only permit the commercial insurance industry to remain in place, but it actually expands and cements their position as the linchpin of health care reform... Not only does it keep them in place, but it pours about $500 billion of public money into these companies over 10 years... and it mandates that people buy these companies' products for whatever they charge. Now that's a recipe for the growth in health care costs not only to continue but to skyrocket, to grow even faster... The President's absolutely right that the status quo is awful. If we do nothing, costs will continue to go up. People will continue to lose their coverage... Things will get very bad. The issue is, will this bill make them better or worse? I believe it will make them worse... Let's say [the bill] is passed. It will begin to unravel almost immediately, and then what will people do? Well, they'll say 'We tried health reform, and it didn't work. Better not try that anymore'... Whereas if the bill dies now, people can say 'This bill died because it was a bad bill,' and the problem is still on the front burner."

    What do you think?

  • Do you think the President's health bill is worth supporting? Why or why not?

  • What do you think should be the goals of health reform, and how are you working to get there?

  • February 19, 2010

    Justice For Sale?

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    Citizens and experts alike have been hotly debating last month's Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case, which struck down laws limiting political spending by corporations and unions. In one recent poll, 80% of respondents suggested that they opposed the Court's ruling.

    While many have discussed the decision's potential impact on presidential and congressional elections, few have addressed how increased political spending could change the dynamic of judicial elections in the 39 states where at least some judges must face voters.

    Bill Moyers began the JOURNAL this week revisiting his 1999 FRONTLINE report "Justice for Sale" about how judges running for state court positions must often rely on special interests to fund and support their election campaigns. Critics, including Stephen Breyer of the U.S. Supreme Court, have suggested that such donations and other spending on judicial campaigns undermine the stature and independence of the judiciary. Sitting down with Bill Moyers in 1999, Justice Breyer explained his concerns about judicial independence:

    "Independence doesn't mean you decide the way you want. Independence means you decide according to the law and the facts. Law and the facts do not include deciding according to campaign contributions, and if that's what people think, that threatens the institution of the judiciary. To threaten the institution is to threaten fair administration of justice and protection of liberty."

    Bob Gammage, a former Justice on Texas' Supreme Court, said that spending on judicial elections comes down to special interests trying to sway the courts to their point of view:

    "People don't go pouring money into campaigns because they want fair and impartial treatment. They pump money into campaigns because they want things to go their way. Why else would the contributors be there? They have interests to pursue. They have agendas to pursue. In some cases, they have ideologies to pursue. They're not just bland, benign philosophies. They want results."

    In this week's show, CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin told Bill Moyers that he is concerned that last month's controversial U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case could increase the influence of special interests in judicial elections. Toobin said:

    "I think judicial elections are really the untold story of Citizens United, the untold implication. When the decision happened, a lot of people said 'OK, this means that Exxon will spend millions of dollars to defeat Barack Obama when he runs for reelection.' See, I don't think there's any chance of that at all. That's too high-profile - there's too much money available from other sources in a presidential race. But judicial elections are really a national scandal that few people really know about, because corporations in particular, and labor unions to a lesser extent, have such tremendous interest in who's on state Supreme Courts and even lower state courts that that's where they're going to put their money and their energy because they'll get better bang for their buck there."

    What do you think?

  • Do you believe your state courts are beholden to special interests? Why or why not?

  • In your view, will the Citizens United decision increase the influence of deep-pocketed special interests over state courts nationwide?

  • How are you and your community working to make government serve the public good and not just those with vast sums to spend?

  • February 5, 2010

    Can Democracy Withstand The Power of Big Money?

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with libertarian journalist Nick Gillespie and progressive legal scholar Lawrence Lessig about the impact of last month's controversial Supreme Court ruling allowing corporations and unions to spend unlimited funds from their general treasuries on political communications in periods shortly before elections and primaries.

    While many have argued that the Court's decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission affirms free speech and the First Amendment, others have expressed grave concern that the ruling may open the floodgates of corporate money into America's elections and undermine the voices and trust of ordinary citizens.

    Criticizing the Court's ruling as a blow to citizens' faith in government, Lessig said:

    "I think it's an ominous sign about the future of this Court and any kind of reform. Because though I support free speech, and even free speech for corporations, what this means is increasingly people are going to believe their government is controlled by the funders and not by the people... Congress has lost the respect of the people, and it's only going to get much, much worse... Increasingly, members are thinking not about what makes sense... They think about what's going to make it easier for the lobbyists to help channel money into their campaigns. They've produced the fundraising Congress, where their obsession is, 'how do I make the people who will fund my campaigns happier?'... The problem that I see is that when speech gets read by the ordinary American people as just another way in which Congress is focusing on the funders rather than focusing on the people, it erodes the trust in this government."

    Gillespie defended the Court's decision and suggested that shrinking the scope of government is the best way to drain money from politics:

    "I think it was a victory for free speech, in the end. If anything, it didn't go far enough. Campaign finance regulation is always a suppression of speech... What I would argue is that we have too many campaign finance reforms. They do stifle free speech - that's what they're designed to do - particularly political speech... Who are the corrupt politicians? Name names, because that's what this is about. Who are the people who are dancing to the tune of their corporate masters?... We have seen an explosion of corporate lobbying after Obama went into office. This past year has been the biggest bumper year for lobbyists ever. What I would argue is it has nothing to do with patrolling speech or even elections - what it has to do with is the fact that the budget that's on the table now is $3.8 trillion. As long as the government is shoveling that kind of cash around, people are going to be sniffing out ways to get their share."

    What do you think?

  • What's your perspective on the Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United case?

  • Do you believe that a system of campaign finance laws is capable of limiting the influence of money, or do you agree with Gillespie that lobbying and corruption are inevitable with a large federal budget?

  • Do you agree with Lessig that Congress has lost the people's respect? What reforms would increase your faith in Washington?

  • A Single-Payer Solution?

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    In this week's JOURNAL, Bill Moyers sat down with physician and activist Dr. Margaret Flowers, who was recently arrested for an act of civil disobedience - trespassing - as she attempted to deliver to President Obama a letter urging him to resuscitate the stalled effort at health reform and consider a Medicare-for-all plan, known colloquially as "single-payer."

    Flowers said:

    "I went into medicine because I really do care about taking care of my patients... I really thought that medicine was going to be about taking care of patients, and I learned otherwise - that it was more about fighting with insurance companies and being pushed to see more and more patients. When I looked at what was going on and looked at what works in other places and what models have worked here, I saw that if we have a Medicare-for-all system, then really doctors can practice medicine again... [The White House was] concerned that if we let the single-payer voice in, or if it was associated in any way with [their] legislation, that it would hurt their ability to pass that legislation, so they kind of put the kibosh on it... Why is [Obama] excluding us? Why isn't he letting us be at the table when this makes complete sense from a public policy, public health policy, and economic health policy standpoint?"

    Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, who appeared on the JOURNAL last June, argued that single-payer is the best possible health reform but that it is not politically achievable in Congress:

    "The single-payer system would be the best of all... Because a single-payer actually would have huge bargaining leverage, be able to tell the providers what they can do and what they can't do without it being 'socialized medicine.' A single-payer would actually have the reins... But a President, to some extent, has got to be politically realistic. There is no real political option in Congress now for a single-payer... I'm a big single-payer fan. Unfortunately, we cannot get there from here because the political forces are just too strong against single-payer."

    On the other hand, columnist John Steele Gordon of the WALL STREET JOURNAL has argued that, historically, self-interested politicians have proven unable to run large enterprises sensibly. Gordon wrote:

    "It might be a good idea to look at the government's track record in running economic enterprises. It is terrible... Because of the need to be re-elected, politicians are always likely to have a short-term bias. What looks good now is more important to politicians than long-term consequences even when those consequences can be easily foreseen... And politicians tend to favor parochial interests over sound economic sense.... The inescapable fact is that only the profit motive and competition keep enterprises lean, efficient, innovative and customer-oriented."

    What do you think?

  • Do you believe single-payer is the best potential reform for the U.S. health system? Why or why not?

  • In the wake of the Republican Senate victory in Massachusetts that disrupted Democrats' legislation, what health reforms do you believe are politically achievable?

  • How are you and your community working to reform America's health system?

  • January 29, 2010

    Assessing Obama's State of the Union Speech

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    In this week's JOURNAL, Bill Moyers had a wide-ranging conversation with AFL-CIO leader Richard Trumka about the relevance and agenda of the labor movement, as well as how unions are evaluating President Obama's performance in office thus far.

    Trumka had this to say about Obama's State of the Union speech on Wednesday night:

    "I think the speech was interesting in a lot of ways. [Obama] knows that there's a lot of anger and frustration out there, and he was willing to look at people and say 'you're an obstructionist.' He looked right at the Republicans and said 'you can't say no to everything and call that leadership.' He looked at the Supreme Court and said 'you made a bad decision that's gonna hurt this country. Corporations already have too much power. You just handed 'em more.' So, I think he's starting to understand and feel the anger, and I think he's willing to work his way through. Now, the question becomes will he do it on a scale that's necessary or essential to solve the problem... it has to be large scale... Our job is to make sure that his understanding of the anger translates out into a jobs program of sufficient size to solve the problem."

    Others expressed a less positive perspective on Obama's speech. The WALL STREET JOURNAL editorial board wrote:

    "If President Obama took any lesson from his party's recent drubbing in Massachusetts, and its decline in the polls, it seems to be that he should keep doing what he's been doing, only with a little more humility, and a touch more bipartisanship... On health care, Mr. Obama offered a Willy Loman-esque soliloquy on his year-long effort, as if his bill's underlying virtues and his own hard work haven't been truly appreciated by the American public. He showed no particular willingness to compromise, save for a claim that he was open to other ideas... Many of the President's opponents will welcome this failure to change because they sense partisan opportunity. But our guess is most Americans will be disappointed because they sense a Presidency that began with such promise but now finds itself at a crossroads and doesn't really know what to do--except to stay on the same road that got it into trouble."

    What do you think?

  • What was your take on President Obama's State of the Union speech? Did it change your opinion of his administration?

  • Were there issues that you wanted the President to cover that he did not address? Explain.

  • January 22, 2010

    Why Did Democrats Lose in Massachusetts?

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with liberal academics Melissa Harris-Lacewell and Eric Alterman about why Democrats lost Ted Kennedy's former seat in Massachusetts' special election for Senate and how progressives should proceed from here.

    Melissa Harris-Lacewell, who worked on Obama's 2008 campaign, said that the significance of the Massachusetts election has been overstated, but that the loss reflects the failure of both the administration and its supporters in the general public to maintain the excitement of the campaign:

    "I think a lot of our emotions about this particular seat has to do with Senator Kennedy, the sense that Senator Kennedy was one of the first and strongest voices on health care, and that somehow replacing Kennedy with a Republican who is voting against health care or is likely to vote against health care is a very painful sort of shift.. The changes that may have been happening in the electorate may be these secular shifts that have occurred for some time. They're not just about the moment of this one question about this President... [There's been] a failure on the part of the Democratic Party writ large to tell a better story and just a more accurate story about what's going on... The brilliance of the Obama campaign had to do with creating a sort of outline figure of who Obama was - a figure of change, of hope, a representation of what America most wanted itself to be. But what was amazing was how at the level of very ordinary people, there was an opportunity to project onto Barack Obama all of your greatest hopes... The missing piece is that those same people who had such enthusiasm to tell a story during the campaign have failed to tell those stories during governing."

    Eric Alterman said that the Massachusetts defeat was due to a mediocre Democratic candidate and that President Obama has not fought hard enough to enact the progressive agenda:

    "[Massachusetts is] a liberal state. They went for McGovern. They have gay marriage. They elected a conservative to replace Ted Kennedy, who by the way replaced John Kennedy. It is shocking. The question is what's at the source of the shock. If you ask me, it's the fact that this President and particularly this candidate has not given people an inspiration to turn out the way these same people had an inspiration to turn out a year ago. Barack Obama carried Massachusetts by 28 points. That is a liberal state, and so it should be a shock to the system, but it's not a repudiation of everything that Barack Obama believes, and it's clearly not a repudiation of him for being too liberal, much less socialist. It's equally plausible, and to my mind more plausible, that it's a repudiation of his being unwilling to fight for the agenda that people thought they were electing him for."

    In his syndicated column, conservative historian Victor Davis Hanson argued that Democrats have alienated many voters by arrogantly pursuing policies opposed by a majority of Americans. He wrote:

    "In Plato's ideal society, philosopher kings and elite Guardians shepherded the rabble to force them to do the "right" thing... We are now seeing such thinking in the Obama administration and among its supporters. A technocracy -- many Ivy-League-educated and without much experience outside academia and government -- pushes legislation most people do not want but is nevertheless judged to be good for them. Take the Obama proposal for health care. A large percentage of Americans do not trust those who run the Postal Service to oversee the conditions of one-sixth of the U.S. economy... In fact, on a number of other major issues, polls show more than half of all Americans are at odds with the Obama agenda: more federal takeover of private enterprise, gargantuan deficit spending, and 'comprehensive' immigration reform, for starters... Why, then, does the Obama administration persist with such an apparently unpopular agenda? Like Plato's all-knowing elite, Obama seems to feel that those he deems less informed will 'suddenly' learn to appreciate his benevolent guidance once these laws are pushed through."

    What do you think?

  • Why did Democrats lose Massachusetts' special election for the Senate?

  • Do you expect Republicans to score more victories in November's midterm elections? Why or why not?

  • In the wake of the defeat in Massachusetts, what strategies should progressives pursue?

  • Powering America's Future

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    In this week's JOURNAL, Bill Moyers talked with policy analysts Jean Johnson and Scott Bittle about how America's energy policy should change to reflect 21st century realities.

    Jean Johnson suggested that America's current dependence on oil is untenable even if one thinks the threat of global warming is exaggerated:

    "In China, until recently, not that many people had a private car. If the Chinese will begin to own cars the way we do, it would put a billion cars on the planet. So if you're worried about global warming, you have to think about that. And even if you're not, you have to think about a billion Chinese drivers competing with Americans, competing with the Europeans, competing with the Indians for the oil that we can manage to get out of the ground and transmit it around the world. It is not going to be good for the price or the reliability of energy here. We are heavily dependent - about 80% of our energy comes from fossil fuels... There's only so much of it, it's expensive to get, and it's not going to be here forever. We need to get started on the alternatives."

    Scott Bittle argued that the energy debate has been too arcane for ordinary citizens to follow and laid out a few basic decisions that must be made:

    "One of the ways in which the debate that we're currently having is so unhelpful to most people in that everyone is talking about percentages and numbers. Should we cut greenhouse gases 20 percent or 17 percent? And it makes a huge difference between the two. Should it be based on 1990 or 2005? Should it be 350 parts per million of carbon? No, maybe it's 450 parts per million... And what it comes down to, though, are a few concrete choices. What kind of power plants do we wanna build? And everything branches out from that. What do we put in our cars? Do we wanna stay with a liquid fuel in our cars like gasoline or biofuels or liquefied natural gas?... Or do we move to electricity? In which case we need to build an infrastructure for that. We can do these things as soon as we make the choice for what we want to do."

    What do you think?

  • Does America need to wean itself off fossil fuels? If so, what energy source(s) should replace them?

  • How are you working to promote alternative sources of energy in your home, community, and the nation?

  • January 15, 2010

    A New Decade

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    In this week's JOURNAL, Bill Moyers talked with historian and columnist Thomas Frank about the state of the Union when President Obama took office last January and the lessons of the years he calls "a low, dishonest decade."

    Frank suggested that the scandals of the 2000s, culminating with the economic collapse in 2008, rooted from conservatives' excessive devotion to free markets and contempt for government. He said that Americans are now quickly forgetting the destructive effects of that governing philosophy:

    "Since 1980, in this country we have been in the grip of this pursuit of ever-purer free markets. That's what American politics has been about. That's what has delivered the awful circumstances that we find ourselves in today... The disease of our time is a sort of instant forgetting... If we go back to the decade that just ended... Think of all the crises and the disasters... what happened in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, the Madoff scandal on Wall Street, and on and on... Those things have all been dwarfed by the economic disaster and the wreckage on Wall Street, but I would say that all of those things are of a piece and flow from the same ideas, and those ideas are the conservative attitude towards government... What conservatism is about in this country is government failure. Conservatives talk about government failure all the time, constantly, and when they're in power deliver government failure... The stuff we've been talking about today... [has] all been forgotten. The financial crisis had the effect of [putting] that stuff down the memory hole."

    Economist and columnist Thomas Sowell has argued that those blaming the economic crisis on government's failure to regulate may have forgotten that short-sighted government policies from both Republicans and Democrats contributed to the meltdown. He wrote:

    "After virtually every disaster created by Beltway politicians you can hear the sound of feet scurrying for cover in Washington, see fingers pointing in every direction away from Washington, and watch all sorts of scapegoats hauled up before Congressional committees to be denounced on television for the disasters created by members of the committee who are lecturing them... The idea is that it was a lack of government supervision which allowed 'greed' in the private sector to lead the nation into crises that only our Beltway saviors can solve. What utter rubbish this all is can be found by checking the record of how government regulators were precisely the ones who imposed lower mortgage lending standards-- and it was members of Congress (of both parties) who pushed the regulators, the banks and the mortgage-buying giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into accepting risky mortgages, in the name of 'affordable housing' and more home ownership. Presidents of both parties also jumped on the bandwagon."

    What do you think?

  • Do you agree with Thomas Frank that the 2000s were "a low, dishonest decade?" Why or why not?

  • What should the role of government be in twenty-first century America? What are its capabilities and limitations?

  • What are the key lessons from the last decade that Americans should remember for the next?

  • January 8, 2010

    Complex Issues & Public Outrage

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with two journalists from the progressive magazine MOTHER JONES about Wall Street’s power over Washington and why the public isn’t demanding more regulation of institutions that contributed to the economic meltdown.

    Political blogger Kevin Drum argued that laws concerning financial regulation need to be simplified and that the press doesn’t do enough to ensure that Americans are informed about Wall Street’s power.

    “It’s not that American bankers are greedier than anybody else’s bankers. It’s that our laws allow them to do things they can’t do everywhere else. We let them take advantage of the system... This stuff is very, very complex, and that is exactly the reason why you need simple rules to rein it in. Because the more complexity you have, the more loopholes there are, the more you can take advantage... One place where I think we should lay some of the blame is the media and the financial media... [The issue] is sort of down in the weeds, and it gets no attention... People don’t see it enough to get angry about it. You can’t get angry about something unless you’re told about it.”

    David Corn, MOTHER JONES’ Washington bureau chief, suggested that reforms are necessary but that the details of financial regulation may be simply too complex for the mass public to comprehend or make into an urgent political issue.

    “Ultimately, this is about knowledge. This is about information. This stuff is really complicated and convoluted. Try reading any one of these bills and figuring out what’s actually being said... It’s mystifying. These guys who know the rules – they know the language, they have the access, and they’re giving contributions to the people writing the rules – have all the advantages... A Democratic pollster told me, ‘Listen, if 99 percent of Americans can’t understand derivatives, you can’t regulate derivatives in our Democratic process.’ I think there’s a lot of truth to that; people have to understand it. If only the people who benefit from them understand what’s going on, they have the leg up, and there’s no way for average citizens to even enter the process.”

    What do you think?

  • Is financial regulation too complex an issue for the general public to mobilize around? Why or why not?

  • Would you like to see President Obama rally grassroots support for more financial regulation? If so, what measures would you like to see him pursue?

  • From National People’s Action to tea parties, many Americans are getting organized around issues of Big Business and Big Government. How are you and your community working for reform?

  • December 18, 2009

    Would You Vote for the Senate's Health Legislation?

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with journalist Matt Taibbi and economist Robert Kuttner about many progressives’ disappointment with President Obama and, more broadly, the power of special interest groups over both the Democratic and Republican parties.

    Moyers noted that progressives are split on whether to support the Senate’s health legislation, which no longer includes a public option, an expansion of Medicare to people under 65, negotiated rates for cheaper drug costs, or many other progressive priorities for health reform. He asked the guests whether they would nonetheless vote for the bill if they were Senators.

    Kuttner said:

    “It's so far from what I think is necessary that I don't think it's a good bill. But I think if it goes down, just because of the optics of the situation and the way the Republicans have framed this as a make or break moment for President Obama, it will make it easier for the Republicans to take control of Congress in 2010. It will make Obama even more gun-shy about promoting reform. It will create even more political paralysis. It will embolden the Republicans to block what this president is trying to do, some of which is good, at every turn. So I would hold my nose and vote for it... [If] it was up to me to determine whether this bill [will] live or die, I would hold my nose and vote for it even though I have been a fierce critic of the path this administration has taken.”

    Taibbi said:

    “I definitely understand that point of view. My feeling on it is, just looking more concretely at the health care problem, this is a bill that to me doesn't address the two biggest problems with the health care crisis. One is the inefficiency and the bureaucracy and the paperwork which it doesn't address at all. It doesn't standardize anything. The other is price, which has now fallen by the wayside because there's going to be no public option that's going to drive down prices... My feeling is that if you vote for this bill and it passes, that's your one shot at fixing a catastrophic and completely dysfunctional health care system for the next generation, maybe. And I think it's much better for the Democrats to lose on this issue and then have to regroup maybe eight years later or six years later, and try again and do a better job the next time.”

    What do you think?

    If you were a Senator, would you vote for the Democrats’ health legislation? Why or why not?

    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?

  • September 25, 2009

    Obama's Strategy for Afghanistan... and the Next Election

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, guest host Lynn Sherr talked with Rory Stewart, an expert on Afghanistan and director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University, for his perspective on America’s lengthy war in that fractured country.

    In a recently leaked memo, the United States’ top commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, recommended that the Obama administration send tens of thousands of troops – or, he wrote, the mission “will likely end in failure.” Facing increasing skepticism about the war from Congress and the general public, President Obama has so far delayed his decision on troop levels.

    Rory Stewart argued that our stated goals for Afghanistan – routing the Taliban, banishing al-Qaeda, and restoring a functioning government – are unrealistic. He believes that the United States should deploy a much smaller force devoted to stopping al-Qaeda from rebuilding a base in Afghanistan rather than risk provoking a public backlash against any presence there at all. Regardless of what President Obama may personally desire, however, Stewart said that political and electoral pressures will likely compel him to deploy more troops:

    “I think it's very irresponsible – if you care about Afghanistan – to increase troops much more, because I can see us going from engagement to isolation, from troop increases to total withdrawal. The path the President has started us on, I would predict, would mean that in five, six years time, everybody will simply get fed up with Afghanistan and abandon it entirely.... I think it would be a political catastrophe for the president to refuse to accede to a request from the man on the ground... He’s a civilian president... He’s under attack already from the right for being soft on national security... The General has provided his advice, and I would be extremely surprised if the President doesn’t come out in favor. In fact, my guess is that a lot of the talk about skepticism at the moment is an attempt to try to deal with opposition within his same party.”

    What do you think?

  • Should more U.S. troops be deployed in Afghanistan? Why or why not?

  • Do you agree with Stewart that sending in more troops will soon turn public opinion against any involvement in Afghanistan? Explain.

  • Do you think Obama would sustain major political damage if he chose not to send more troops into Afghanistan? If so, should he send troops if it helps him pursue the rest of his agenda?

  • September 4, 2009

    Balancing Big Money and Free Speech

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with two prominent legal experts about an important case regarding campaign finance restrictions and free speech that the Supreme Court will hear in a special session on September 9th.

    The case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, concerns a political film, HILLARY: THE MOVIE, that criticized Hillary Clinton during last year’s bruising race for the Presidency. The conservative group Citizens United had planned to make the film available through on-demand cable and advertise it on television but, because the group had accepted contributions from businesses, the Federal Election Commission ruled that such distribution would violate campaign finance laws that ban the use of corporate money to advocate directly for or against political candidates.

    Citizens United challenged the Federal Election Commission with a lawsuit that reached the Supreme Court in March. After hearing arguments, the Court took the unusual step of requesting that the case be re-argued at the special session next week. Many observers fear that the Supreme Court will declare unconstitutional many of the laws that aim to prevent corporations and unions from using their vast funds to influence political campaigns.

    Continue reading "Balancing Big Money and Free Speech" »

    August 14, 2009

    Towards a Healthier Debate on Health Reform

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers asked three veteran observers for their perspectives on the health care debate playing out across the country. Each suggested that media coverage has presented unhelpful and misleading narratives that have not adequately informed the public about important issues.

    Media analyst Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, argued that raucous town hall meetings have not allowed for constructive dialogue, and that media coverage has further obscured the complexity of the issues:

    “[The town hall meetings are] not creating context in which misinformation on both sides can be corrected, and that’s the problem. We don’t have a deliberative process here taking place in public to inform public opinion. Instead, we’re potentially distorting it... You’d like people to attend, raise legitimate and important questions, give the other side a chance to respond, and then engage in a dialogue about it because then everyone learns. We ought to applaud that. That’s the way democracy should work. And that the attacks are coming from left and right is an important realization. There’s been a tendency in news to feature those that are coming from the right without indicating there’s substantial dissatisfaction from some on the left about the fact that this isn’t single payer.”

    Drew Altman, president and CEO of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, which focuses on health care issues, suggested that both would-be reformers and the media have confused the public by focusing more on Washington jargon than the human stories of our dysfunctional health system:

    “The debate drifted for a while and the message drifted for a while. It wasn’t defined in terms that average people could understand... People just couldn’t answer the question, ‘What does this mean for me and my family?’ And so they didn’t know what they had to lose if this didn’t happen. But more importantly, that left the field open for the critics and the opposition to define it the way they wanted to and even scare people a little bit that this might be a government takeover of the healthcare sytem... In a sense, what happened was the media and the debate focused on the issues which were in contention on Capitol Hill, that they were debating on Capitol Hill, because media coverage follows the controversies instead of the people issues that brought us this debate in the first place.”

    Republican author David Frum, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush, says that his fellow conservatives have focused too much on opposing Democrats’ proposals at the expense of offering proactive plans for reform:

    “I think what happens for a lot of these political fighters [is] they’re like racehorses. The bugle goes and the blood stirs and there’s a fight and you have to join the fight – and I think there are some tactical opportunities the Republicans see... But if the Republicans win, this is not going to be a great victory for individual liberty. It’s going to be a victory for the status quo... What I am concerned about is in the desire to defeat President Obama, the Republicans are going to fossilize a status quo that is unacceptable to them... If you want to hold the line on the growth of government over the next two decades, this system has to be reformed.”

    What do you think?

  • How well do you think the media has informed the public about the complex issues of health reform? Are the important issues being discussed?

  • In your view, what dimensions of health reform deserve more scrutiny than they’ve received in the media?

    Click here for resources to help fact-check the health care debate.

  • July 31, 2009

    Assessing a "Public Option" for Health Care

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with Wendell Potter, a former health insurance executive who left the industry to become an advocate for health care reform. Potter discussed the industry’s history of denying care to members and its extensive efforts to prevent the federal government from creating a “public option” for health insurance to compete with private plans. Potter said:

    “The industry has always tried to make Americans think that government-run systems are the worst thing that could possibly happen to them, that if you even consider that you're heading down the slippery slope towards socialism... I think that people who are strong advocates of our health care system remaining as it is, very much a free market health care system, fail to realize that we're really talking about human beings here, and it doesn't work as well as they would like it to... They are trying to make you worry and fear a government bureaucrat being between you and your doctor. What you have now is a corporate bureaucrat between you and your doctor... The public plan would do a lot to keep [health insurance companies] honest, because it would have to offer a standard benefit plan. It would have to operate more efficiently, as does the Medicare program. It would be structured, I’m certain, on a level playing field so that it wouldn’t [have an] unfair advantage [over] the private insurance companies. Because it could be administered more efficiently, the private insurers would have to operate more efficiently.”

    The “public option” is central to many Democrats’ vision for health care reform, but it has attracted pointed criticism from supporters of the “single payer” model and opponents of federal intervention alike.

    In an edition of the JOURNAL broadcast in May, Dr. Sidney Wolfe of the public interest group Public Citizen advocated for “single payer” health reform, in which a single government agency would replace and eliminate private health insurance. Wolfe told Moyers that previous experiments with the “public option” have failed:

    “In seven states, ranging from Washington to Minnesota to Maine, they have tried what amounts to a mixture of a private and a public plan. And in none of the states has there been any sustained reduction in the number of uninsured. It's way too expensive. As long as you have private plans in there, everybody still has to do all the bookkeeping and everything. So, it has failed. As Einstein said, ‘The definition of insanity is doing something over and over again, and expecting to have a different result.’ We've seen the same unsatisfactory, unacceptable result, in state after state after state after state after state, why mess up the whole country with it?”

    Recently, policy analyst Anthony Randazzo of the Reason Foundation, a libertarian group, argued that the “public option is an economic nightmare.” He wrote:

    “If [the public option] is working then I will want to be part of it. And so will everyone else... Suddenly the public option starts pulling people away from private companies. Those companies will need to charge more for their decreased number of clients... In the meantime the public option will be overrun, and be maxed beyond its capacity... [President Obama said] that the government is not capable of running all health care in this economy, which is why his public option isn’t trying to take people from the private system. Ultimately, from an economic perspective, either the public option works and draws in lots of people until it can’t anymore, or it doesn’t work and is an economic mess. Either way, it’s not pretty.”

    What do you think?

  • Do you agree with Wendell Potter’s view that the health insurance industry’s pursuit of profit has hurt patients? Why or why not?

  • Do you support a “public option” for health insurance to compete with private plans? If so, are you concerned about the objections raised by Wolfe and/or Randazzo?

  • May 21, 2009

    Single-Payer: Is Nationalized Health Coverage the Way to Go?

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    This week, the JOURNAL examined the political and logistical feasibility of single-payer universal health insurance, which has broad public support but has been conspicuously absent from the health care debate in Washington and the mainstream media.

    Bill Moyers asked Dr. David Himmelstein, co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program, to explain what single-payer means. He said:

    “It’s what we used to call national health insurance, so government collects the money for health care from taxes. You don’t pay premiums – instead, you pay taxes, [which] pays all the bills. Hospitals remain privately owned and operated. Doctors remain mostly in private practice. But their bills go to the government insurance program, just as they do today with Medicare, but we’d be able to streamline the payment system if we had only one payer instead of Medicare being one among many. So a hospital would get paid like a fire department does today: you have one check a month that pays for the entire operation, and that means you can eliminate the huge billing apparatus of the hospitals and the doctors’ offices where we’re employing many people to do our billing.”

    Advocate Donna Smith told Moyers why she supports single-payer universal health insurance over the present system or the public-private hybrid model proposed by the Obama administration:

    “It’s a great idea from the left, which is public financing, combined with a great idea from the right, which is private delivery. And you put it together in one system that takes out the waste and the abuse that’s really happening, which is where all the money really goes in health insurance. Up to 30 percent of the costs have nothing to do with healthcare at all and everything to do with fueling the health insurance needs... We've got to have a national health program, we just have to do it. It's the only way we fix this mess. It's spun out of control, it's gonna bury us financially, it's gonna mortgage our children, and it kills people.”

    Some are skeptical that the federal government is capable of responsibly running a national health insurance program. In the WALL STREET JOURNAL, columnist John Steele Gordon wrote:

    “It might be a good idea to look at the government’s track record in running economic enterprises. It is terrible... Other than the source of its premiums, Medicare is no different, economically, than a regular health insurance company. But unlike, say, UnitedHealthcare, it is a bureaucracy-beclotted nightmare, riven with waste and fraud... Because of the need to be re-elected, politicians are always likely to have a short-term bias. What looks good now is more important to politicians than long-term consequences even when those consequences can be easily foreseen... And politicians tend to favor parochial interests over sound economic sense... The inescapable fact is that only the profit motive and competition keep enterprises lean, efficient, innovative and customer-oriented.”

    What do you think?

  • Should the U.S. pursue single-payer universal health coverage? Why or why not?

  • Is single-payer universal health insurance politically feasible? Explain.

  • Are there any alternative models for health care that are being left out of the discussion or that you support?

  • POLL: Do You Support the Obama Administration’s Health Coverage Proposal?

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    In the JOURNAL’s exploration of health care this week, Bill Moyers’ guests were critical of the Obama administration’s health care strategy, which Reuters summarized as follows:

    “Obama urged Congress to make sure any healthcare reform bill lowered costs, let Americans choose their own doctor and health plan and ensured quality, affordable care for everyone... Obama's proposal would establish a new government health insurance plan to compete with private insurers and cover the uninsured, but many Republicans and insurers argue that would undermine the private healthcare market.”

    Single-payer advocate Dr. Sidney Wolfe of the nonpartisan public interest group PUBLIC CITIZEN told Bill Moyers that plans similar to what Obama is proposing have failed on the state level:

    “In seven states, ranging from Washington to Minnesota to Maine, they have tried what amounts to a mixture of a private and a public plan. And in none of the states has there been any sustained reduction in the number of uninsured. It's way too expensive. As long as you have private plans in there, everybody still has to do all the bookkeeping and everything. So, it has failed. As Einstein said, ‘The definition of insanity is doing something over and over again, and expecting to have a different result.’ We've seen the same unsatisfactory, unacceptable result, in state after state after state after state after state, why mess up the whole country with it?”

    We invite you to take our poll and share your thoughts in the space below.

    May 8, 2009

    Washington, Banks, and Struggling Homeowners

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) about campaign finance reform and the prospects of Congress passing legislation to help struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure.

    Against intense opposition from banks and credit unions, Durbin has been working to pass a bill that would empower bankruptcy judges to reduce homeowners’ mortgage debt and help them to stay in their homes. Last week, 12 Democrats joined Senate Republicans to defeat the legislation.

    Durbin said that banks caused the current recession and are now working against government policy that would help solve the economic crisis:

    “It was clear to me that even though the mortgage foreclosure crisis is getting progressively worse in this country and is, I think, at the heart of our economic weakness, that the banks were unwilling to step in and really participate in finding a solution... Here we are in a recession brought on by these financial institutions [with] some very bad decisions that they’d made causing great pain and suffering for a lot of workers and businesses and homeowners across America. And yet when you sit down and talk about some fundamental reform of these financial institutions, so that people have a fighting chance when it comes to their credit cards, so that folks facing mortgage foreclosure have a final chance to maybe save their homes, basically the banks are gonna have the last word. It’s counterintuitive – the people who brought this crisis to us are the ones that are dictating policy.”

    Some argue that well-intentioned but misguided government policies are partly to blame for the mortgage crisis and that further federal intervention in the housing market could make things worse. Steven Malanga of CITY JOURNAL wrote:

    “Nearly a century of Washington’s efforts to promote homeownership has produced one calamity after another... As Washington grapples with the current mortgage crisis, advocates from both parties are already warning the feds not to relax their commitment to expanding homeownership – even if that means reviving the very kinds of programs and institutions that got us into trouble... Our praiseworthy initial efforts – to eliminate housing discrimination and provide all Americans an equal opportunity to buy a home – were eventually turned on their heads by advocates and politicians, who instead tried to ensure equality of outcomes... Political meddling in this vast marketplace has wreaked havoc time and again, and will continue to do so – if we let it.”

    What do you think?

  • What do you think of Durbin’s bill that would allow bankruptcy judges to reduce struggling homeowners’ mortgage debt?

  • Can the federal government institute policies to help today’s struggling homeowners without contributing to further economic problems in the future? Why or why not?

  • April 24, 2009

    What Would You Ask New Pecora Hearings to Investigate?

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    This week, the U.S. Senate voted to support a new commission to investigate wrongdoing in the lead-up to the economic crisis. Bill Moyers asked economist Simon Johnson and legal scholar Michael Perino what they would want such a commission to investigate.

    Simon Johnson suggested:

    “I would want to understand whether the laws were broken in potentially predatory practices around the way the consumers were treated in the housing market and in the credit card markets recently… That question will reveal a lot of unethical behavior or a lot of behavior that we should be uncomfortable with and that will then lead, I think, to sensible changes in the laws. So, really digging into the micro details of who was taken advantage of, who was misled, how [they got] retired people into some of these esoteric financial products. And, of course, the selling of savings products also. We know that local governments, for example, were enticed into schemes that they really didn't understand. And, of course, it may turn out in the investigation that the banks didn't understand it either. But, going through [at] that level of detail and showing, you know, who made what kind of mistake, who was misled by whom, who misled themselves – that is going to give you the factual basis on [how] you could construct a lot of new, sensible laws.”

    Michael Perino recommended:

    “I'd add to it the role that the credit rating agencies played in this entire process. Particularly in the creation of these derivative instruments. It's an industry that I think is not well understood on Wall Street. I think there has been some reluctance to dig into exactly what's going on there, and that's something I think I'd want to take a hard look at.”

    What do you think? In examining the causes of the economic crisis, what would you ask a new Pecora Commission to investigate?

    POLL: On the Economy, Do Reformers Have Enough Momentum to Change the Status Quo?

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers asked legal scholar Michael Perino and economist Simon Johnson for their thoughts on Congress’ proposed independent commission to explore what went wrong with the economy and how to prevent it from happening again. Johnson and Perino were skeptical that such a commission would change the status quo in the public interest.

    Perino said:

    “If you look back at the history of financial regulation, you see the same pattern over and over again. There are always huge biases toward the status quo. People want to keep the structure the way it is because it’s worked well for them. And it’s only when there’s some crisis occurring that the forces for reform are strong enough to overcome the status quo... It sometimes becomes very easy to obscure the broader causes of a financial crisis by doing a little finger pointing and saying ‘Ah ha, here’s the bad person. We found them and, you know, we can move on...’ Unless the political support is there, it's going to be very easy to wind things up without doing much.”

    Johnson said:

    “I think the banks have control of the state... They got the bailout, they got the money they needed to stay in business, they got a vast line of credit from the taxpayer... they got everything they wanted... If the economy turns around, even if we get a recovery that’s not completely convincing but we sort of feel like we're not falling, and we're not having the massive unemployment of the '20s and '30s, the pressure will come off the banks. They know this. This is why they think they won. They faced down the dangers and they've gone through this difficult phase, and they came through it stronger than ever.”

    What do you think? Take our poll and share your thoughts in the space below.

    April 17, 2009

    Making Institutions Work

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with David Simon, a former journalist who created HBO’s award-winning television series “The Wire.” The series, which was informed by Simon’s 12 years as a crime reporter in Baltimore, was widely praised for its gritty, unflinching portrayal of the harsh realities of life in one American inner-city.

    Simon attributed the stubborn persistence of many social problems to institutions’ practice of “juking the stats,” or manipulating numbers to make themselves look better:

    “You show me anything that depicts institutional progress in America – school test scores, crime stats, arrest stats – anything that a politician can run on [or] anything that somebody can get a promotion on, and as soon as you invent that statistical category 50 people in that institution will be at work trying to figure out a way to make it look as if progress is actually occurring when actually no progress is... The same game is played everywhere – nobody’s actually in the business of doing what the institution is supposed to do... If there’s an institution that is supposed to serve you or that you are supposed to serve, and it’s supposed to care for you and be a societal positive, it will betray you.”

    When Bill Moyers asked how he suggests addressing inner-city social problems, Simon said:

    “I would put all the interdiction money, all the incarceration money, all the enforcement money, all of the pretrial, all of the prep, all of that cash – I would hurl it, as fast as I could, into drug treatment and job training and jobs programs.”

    What do you think?

  • Do you agree with David Simon that institutions generally serve themselves rather than those they are supposed to help? If so, do you think his plan to address inner-city social problems is practical? Why or why not?

  • Can citizens force institutions to live up to their mission statements? If so, how?

  • February 13, 2009

    Does the U.S. Government Truly Represent the American People?

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with former International Monetary Fund chief economist and MIT professor Simon Johnson about the Federal government’s response to the world’s economic maladies. Johnson suggested that the U.S. government's policies -- including recent efforts at economic stimulus -- are designed by and for a small class of wealthy elites:

    “The situation we find ourselves in at this moment, this week, is very strongly reminiscent of the situations we've seen many times in other places. But they're places we don't like to think of ourselves as being similar to. They're emerging markets. It's Russia or Indonesia or a Thailand type situation, or Korea... I have this feeling in my stomach that I felt in much poorer countries, countries that were headed into a really difficult economic situation, when there’s a small group of people who got you into a disaster, who were still powerful, and disaster made them more powerful... Don’t get me wrong – these are fine upstanding citizens who have a certain perspective and a certain kind of interest, and they see the world a certain way... That web of interest is not my interest or your interest or the interest of the taxpayer. It’s the interest, first and foremost, of the financial industry in this country.”

    For more of Simon Johnson’s thoughts, visit his blog at

    What do you think?

  • Does the U.S. Congress truly represent the American people? Does the Obama administration? Explain.

  • What is the proper political balance between totally democratic decision-making and elite management of policy?

  • January 30, 2009

    Bailing Out Higher Ed?

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with Vartan Gregorian, president of the non-profit Carnegie Corporation, about the fiscal struggles of America’s colleges and universities – especially those that are public – in the troubled economy.

    “Education is very central to our democracy. You can neglect it, you can get it on the cheap, and you get what you pay for. And if you think education is costly, try ignorance because that will be far more costly.”

    Last fall, Gregorian convened a group of educators to urge Barack Obama to invest in higher education. On December 16th, the group published an open letter [PDF LINK] asking that five percent of the economic stimulus package – estimated at 40-45 billion dollars – go to constructing and upgrading buildings at the nation’s colleges and universities:

    “It is critical that any legislation include a substantial investment in states and their educational systems, particularly public higher education. That investment initially should focus on infrastructure: building essential classroom and research buildings and equipping them with the latest technologies. Construction would meet both the economic and the environmental priorities of the incoming administration... Our nation is losing ground on a number of fronts critical to our future prosperity and national security... Today, only the federal government has the resources and vision to meet these threats to America’s future.”

    In a column for INSIDE HIGHER ED criticizing the letter’s proposal, Jane S. Shaw, president of the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, wrote:

    “Why did these educators choose capital funding – that is, constructing “essential classroom and research buildings and equipping them with the latest technologies”? Wouldn’t tuition discounts, tax credits, more scholarships, or even faculty salaries be more directly related to the problems they decry?... There’s a reason why states are shelving these “shovel-ready” projects... they are doing so because tax payments have dried up... By asking taxpayers to rev up these projects the administrators are essentially saying that if state taxpayers can’t afford a project, some mythical ‘federal taxpayer’ can... Let’s accept this is about pork barrel politics. It’s not about helping the kids.”

    The economic stimulus package passed by the House on Wednesday and in consideration by the Senate promises $6 billion for construction and renovation at colleges and universities.

    What do you think?

  • Should federal funds intended for economic stimulus go to construction and renovation at the nation’s higher education institutions? Why or why not?

  • With the United States running severe deficits, do you support spending more money as proposed in the economic stimulus package? Do you think it will help resuscitate the economy? Explain.

  • January 23, 2009

    Expectations for the Obama Administration

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, several prominent progressives discussed their expectations of the next four years with Barack Obama in the White House. Bill Moyers asked what issues they hoped to see the new administration address.

    Columnist David Sirota answered the question as follows:

    “I think first and foremost he’s got to stick to his campaign promise, which he seems to be doing, on the issue of Iraq... I think that is a baseline issue considering he campaigned on that not only in the general election but in the primary. I think, in a more broad kind of way, people want him to be more embracing, which he is, of the role of government in addressing issues of economic inequality [and] income stagnation.”

    Author Thomas Frank said:

    “We need hearings to find out what went wrong on Wall Street, just like in the 1930s where they had hearings that went on for years... It’s judgment day for Wall Street, and we need really strong oversight... Bring in tough regulators. They’re out there – they know what they’re doing. Bring them in. Turn them loose on Wall Street.”

    Princeton professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell, who was affiliated with the Obama campaign, shared her view:

    “I think the recovery of New Orleans continues to be the central democratic litmus test of our time, that what does and does not happen in the context of recovery for the Gulf Coast tells us whether or not we value community, what we’re gonna do about environmental injustice, whether or not we’re gonna provide affordable quality housing, and whether or not we truly believe that we are a racial democracy, one in which people of all races get to contribute. So for me the recovery of New Orleans is central. [Also,] the question of American racial health disparities and of poverty and income disparities in American health... And the final is we’ve still got very serious basic civil rights issues, and among them is the question of marriage equality for gay men and lesbians.”

    What do you think?

  • What agenda must President Obama pursue for you to consider his administration to be progressive?

  • What are your top priorities for the new administration?

  • September 26, 2008

    The Imperial Presidency?

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    In his conversation with Bill Moyers on this week’s JOURNAL, scholar and former army colonel Andrew Bacevich discussed his vision of what has gone wrong with American government and policy over the last several decades.

    “The Congress, especially with regard to matters related to national security policy, has thrust power and authority to the executive branch. We have created an imperial presidency. The Congress no longer is able to articulate a vision of what is the common good. The Congress exists primarily to ensure the reelection of members of Congress... As the Congress has moved to the margins, as the President has moved to the center of our politics, the presidency itself has come to be less effective...

    Because of this preoccupation, this fascination with the presidency, the President has become what we have instead of genuine politics, instead of genuine democracy... We look to the next President to fix things and, of course, that lifts all responsibility from me to fix things. So one of the real problems with the imperial presidency is that it has hollowed out our politics and, in many respects, has made our democracy a false one. We’re going through the motions of a democratic political system, but the fabric of democracy really has worn very thin.”

    What do you think?

    Do you agree with Bacevich’s assessment? If yes, how can we fix it? If no, explain.

    Bacevich talks about the legislative and executive branches. How does the judicial branch relate to his discussion?

    August 8, 2008

    Bill Moyers Asks: What Should The Next Administration Do About America's Troubles?

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers talked with economist Dean Baker and columnist Bob Herbert about the economy and the political conditions that have contributed to its troubles.

    Bob Herbert said:

    “The class war is over, and we lost... Over the past 30 years or so, Americans’ wages have remained relatively flat. But women went into the workplace, wives and mothers started working. People started putting things on their credit cards. There was a stock market bubble there for a while. We had a housing bubble. People refinanced and stuff. Now, they’re coming up against a wall. They’re not finding a way now to get some extra money to power the consumer economy.”

    Dean Baker suggested that public officials deliberately failed to protect ordinary Americans:

    “All the people who should have been looking out the last six, seven, eight years are all going ‘oh, well, who could have known? Who could have known?’ And they’ll put Alan Greenspan here on a pedestal, because he’s [saying that] he had no idea this was going on. You had to try not to know this was going on. Certainly, someone like Alan Greenspan, our reserve board chair, had all the data I have times a thousand. He absolutely knew what was going on. And he was doing his best to look the other way because you had a lot of big interests who were making a lot of money.”

    Faced with these dire diagnoses, Bill Moyers asked:

    “No matter who wins this election, the next administration will inherit the mess: $10 trillion in debt, two of these wars, stagnating paychecks, growing inequality. What’s the first thing each of you would like to see the next administration do, whether it’s McCain or Obama?”

    What do you think? And, do you expect the next administration to take up any of your suggestions?

    July 9, 2008

    Sorting Right From Left

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers talked with conservative authors Mickey Edwards and Ross Douthat about the state of American conservatism and the Republican party. Edwards said that in recent years the GOP has abandoned conservative principles:

    “Republicans used to believe in a certain set of basic principles about divided powers, limited government. What’s happened is with the Bush presidency, we have become the exact opposite of what we used to stand for.”

    Similarly, Bill Moyers suggested that the Democratic party may have become compromised:

    “I look at the [Democratic] party in Congress and realize how beholden it is to wealthy interests, corporate interests, the blue dogs, and all of that. And I think, well, maybe there’s fervor in the country but there seems to be ossification in Congress.”

    The charge that both parties have drifted from their core ideological principles, and may even have become similar to each other, has become popular among outsider candidates for the presidency. Speaking with Bill Moyers in January, libertarian Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) said that the Republican Party is no longer truly conservative:

    “I've been elected as a Republican for ten times, and Republicans have a platform – and had a better platform in the past... It's not like I'm completely a stranger to the Republican ideas – they talk about balanced budgets and they're strict Constitutionalists. I think the ones who are in charge right now have left the Republican Party and the platform, which makes it more difficult, because people in the party, the hard core base, which unfortunately for the Republicans is getting smaller, stick loyal to the leader. And they're loyal to maintaining power... I think I can be a good Republican and fight for these ideals, because they have been in the Republican Party in the past. And the question is, will these ideas be revived once again in the Republican Party?”

    Furthermore, some critics like Ralph Nader see little difference between the parties at all. When asked by THE NEW YORK TIMES, "So you really believe that the parties are the same?", Nader responded:

    “Yes, on most issues. On the most basic issues of cordoning power from people as voters, consumers and taxpayers, [the two parties are] very similar. Look at the massive mergers that went on during Clinton-Gore. GATT, Nafta, corporate crime, corporate welfare -- the same.”

    What do you think?

  • Are the differences between Republicans and Democrats as clear as the differences between Conservatives and Liberals?

  • Have America’s major political parties abandoned the political philosophies they claim to represent?

  • June 27, 2008

    Policies To Save Our Planet?

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, about her efforts to advance “cap and trade” legislation as a response to climate change.

    “We have to have a bill that gets the job done, that reduces greenhouse gas emissions so that temperatures don’t go up, you know, much above a couple of degrees over time, because if they do we’re in a lot of trouble here... There’s never going to be a good time. This is hard, we have to deal with it, and so we have to act. You cannot hide under the covers and say ‘wake me up when gas prices go under a dollar a gallon and then I’ll bring up global warming legislation’... I believe this can be structured in such a way that it actually brings around an economic renaissance.”

    An article from the WASHINGTON POST highlights some of the challenges the “cap and trade” model has faced since its implementation in Europe and could encounter in the United States.

    “What the snappy name ‘cap and trade’ means is that the market will put a price on something that’s always been free: the right of a factory to emit carbon gases. That could affect the cost of everything from windowpanes to airline tickets to electricity... In some ways, Europe’s program has been a success... in other ways, the approach has been a bureaucratic morass with a host of unexpected and costly side effects and a much smaller effect on carbon emissions than planned...

    One key issue is how to deal with imports from countries that don’t price carbon. A U.S. system that raised costs for U.S. firms would make imported goods, especially from India and China, even more competitive, adding to the trade deficit and possibly driving U.S. companies out of business”

    What do you think?

  • Should the government act on climate change? If so, should it pursue a "cap and trade" policy, or would you suggest alternative legislation?

  • June 13, 2008

    The American Dream In Reverse?

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    Are we living in a second gilded age? Yes, according to historian Steven Fraser, one of Bill Moyers’ guests on the JOURNAL this week.

    “Basically, we left the financial marketplace largely unregulated – a tendency which had begun under Reagan and continued at an accelerated pace all through the years since Reagan, including under the Clinton administration... When push comes to shove, businessmen and their financial enablers may talk the talk about the free market. But when times get tough, they turn to the government to bail them out... That is this close, almost incestuous relationship between business and government.”

    Bill Moyers also spoke with columnist Holly Sklar about the difficulties many workers face in trying to earn a living wage. She said:

    “We’ve been living the American dream in reverse... Adjusting for inflation, average wages are lower than they were in the 1970s. Our minimum wage, adjusting for inflation, is lower than it was in the 1950s. One of the things going on is that income and wealth inequality have gone back to the 1920s. We are back at levels that we saw right before the Great Depression.”

    On the ground in Los Angeles, the JOURNAL introduced Jaron Quetel, a young union member struggling to make ends meet. He said:

    “Working the best job I’ve ever had in my whole life, I’m still a breath away from drowning. I’m $20 away from being on the street. I am one car payment away from being re-poed. I’m barely surviving. I’m leading a substandard lifestyle because I make substandard wages... If I wasn’t trying, if I was a screw-up, if I was taking advantage of things, I couldn’t complain. But what more can I do at this point?”

  • Are you feeling pinched by today’s economy? Are people in your community?
  • What economic policies would you like to see put into place? Do you expect politicians to enact any of them?

    [Please note we have provided a list of sites related to clean elections and you can find sites and research related to economic disparity and the work of Holly Sklar.]

  • June 9, 2008

    Rick Karr on Internet Surveillance

    Congress is still deadlocked over the Bush Administration's efforts to listen in to phone calls and read emails without search warrants. The sticking point is whether or not to allow private citizens to sue telecom conglomerates, the huge firms that provide most of us with phone and internet service - and helped the Administration spy on us. Now, the Administration wants to try to spy on Americans in another way. My colleague Rick Karr has this to bring you up to speed.
    -Bill Moyers
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    June 3, 2008

    Exposé Reporters Answer Your Questions

    We thank reporters Cary Spivak, Susanne Rust and Meg Kissinger for taking time to answer your questions about Exposé's story on their work following the chemical Bisphenol A.

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

    I would very much like to know what is happening in the European Union regarding Bisphenol A. Is the EU addressing the safety of BPA? Thank you so much.

    The European Union's food safety watchdog, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), may review the chemical Bisphenol A, the agency website says.
    "EFSA is aware of the studies on bisphenol published in the United States and Canada. The agency will examine whether it should review its opinion on this product, which dates from January 2007," spokeswoman Anne-Laure Gassin said.

    Bravo! Wonderful reporting. Can you please tell me which plastics contain the toxic substances? Are they marked in any way, i.e. by the number in the triangle on the bottom? Many thanks to you for such a wonderful expose.

    Plastic containers with the recycling number 7 often contain polycarbonate, which contains Bisphenol A. You should know that not all plastic containers have recycling labels on them, including baby bottles and sippy cups. Those with the no. 3 on them are made of polyvinyl chloride which may contain Bisphenol A as well as phthalates, another kind of endocrine disruptor.

    In your opinion, if the government does decide to act and announces that Bisphenol A poses enough of a risk to ban it from products such as water bottles an the linings of metal cans, what will the fall-out or repercussions be? Will the millions(?) of products inflate in cost along with the regular inflating? Will we see certain products being recalled? What other chemicals are we being exposed to that could cause great health risks that the government has ignored due to corporate manipulation and interests?

    Several companies are removing bisphenol A from their products or merchandise, including Nalgene, Wal-Mart and Toys R Us. Many are working to develop alternatives to Bisphenol A. We'll be watching to see what the effects on the marketplace will be.
    There still are many chemicals in use that scientists are suspicious of and others that are known to be dangerous that remain in the marketplace.

    Do you think that there will be more reporters like yourselves -- with specialized science backgrounds? Does the consumer's ability to access more and more information hampering or helping beat journalism?

    There probably will be more reporters with specialized backgrounds in science -- also law, education, the arts, etc. It's a really interesting question to wonder if more information by consumers hampers or helps beat reporters. It probably helps. The more consumers know, the better their questions will be. They will be pushing us to ask more and tougher questions.

    The report says that from 1996 to 2007 --- a period that had both parties in the White House --- the EPA hadn't screened a single chemical. Are both parties compromised by the chemical lobby's influence?

    We will let the educated viewers of PBS figure that out.

    What was the $80 million for endocrine research actually spent on, if not chemical testing?

    The $80 million went for "payroll and program support" to develop the screening program, according to the EPA spokespeople. They had a lot of meetings to discuss how to screen these chemicals. They went through no fewer than three different permutations of the program.

    It's always heartening to see good, relevant journalism. Thank you. How does one determine what plastic items contain Bisphenol A? Can it be purged from the body once ingested?

    Look for recycling no. 7 -- and generally any hard, non-disposable clear plastic is likely to contain Bisphenol A. Children and adults break down Bisphenol A pretty quickly. But there is nearly constant exposure. So, the body gets inundated. Research shows that very young babies and fetuses may not be able to break it down because they lack an enzyme that allows them to do so.

    May 23, 2008

    How Strictly Should The Constitution Be Followed?

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

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

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

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

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

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

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

    What do you think?

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

  • Bill Moyers Essay: Washington Resignations

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    May 9, 2008

    National Sovereignty and International Law

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    What do you think?

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

  • April 11, 2008

    Guest Blogger: "A Chance to Help Those Who Need It Most" by David Beckmann

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    We'd like to thank Rev. Beckmann of Bread for the World for his additional thoughts on aiding America's hungry and his hopes for new farm bill legislation.

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

    A Chance to Help Those Who Need It Most

    Rev. David Beckmann
    President, Bread for the World

    I have been reflecting on the increasing challenges our nation’s low-income families face in their struggle to have enough to eat each day, especially in light of the negotiations going on in Congress for a new farm bill.

    Continue reading "Guest Blogger: "A Chance to Help Those Who Need It Most" by David Beckmann" »

    Is Congress Capable of Making Farm Subsidies Fair?

    This week, BILL MOYERS JOURNAL collaborated with EXPOSÉ: AMERICA'S INVESTIGATIVE REPORTS to examine wasteful and unnecessary spending in farm subsidies.

    EXPOSÉ reports:

    "[In 1996] the Republican controlled Congress -- critical of what it termed 'big government' -- wanted to wean farmers off subsidies and to encourage them to grow whatever the market demanded. But to get votes, the reformers had to make trade-offs with farm state congressional Democrats and Republicans bent on maintaining payments to their farmers. The result was a classic Washington compromise: one kind of subsidy was ended but, in exchange, a new subsidy was created, one that paid farmers not for the crops they grew but for the land they owned. That compromise now costs taxpayers billions."

    What do you think?

  • Given that Congress is made up of lawmakers who represent individual districts and states, is it capable of creating a sensible and fiscally prudent national policy for farm subsidies?

  • March 28, 2008

    Race, Poverty, and the Inner City --- 40 Years Later

    (Harris photo by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with former Senator Fred Harris (D-OK), one of the original members of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, better known as the Kerner Commission.

    Convened by President Lyndon Johnson in the wake of 1967’s riots among inner-city blacks in Detroit and dozens of other cities, the Kerner Commission sought to learn what had happened, why the riots had occurred, and what could be done to prevent similar events from happening again. The resulting (and immediately controversial) 1968 Kerner Report concluded that the riots emerged from severe poverty and limited opportunity in America’s urban ghettoes, for which the Report blamed institutional racism.

    The report recommended a series of measures to try and change the situation, including using the government to create jobs, expanding affirmative action, and beefing up welfare and other social services. Regarding the Commission’s recommendations, Harris said:

    “I think virtually everything [the Kerner Commission recommended] was right... one of the awfulest things that came out of the Reagan presidency and later was the feeling that government can’t do anything right and that everything it does is wrong. The truth is that virtually everything we tried worked. We just quit trying it. Or we didn’t try it hard enough. And that’s what we need to get back to.

    We made progress on virtually every aspect of race and poverty for about a decade after the Kerner Commission report and then, particularly with the advent of the Reagan administration and so forth, that progress stopped. And we began to go backwards... When we cut out a lot of these social programs, or the money for them... [and] we don’t emphasize jobs and training and education and so forth as we had been doing, there are bad consequences from that... I think what you need to do is to help people up, give ‘em a hand up. And recognize the kind of terrible conditions that they’re grown up in.”

    Moyers also interviewed Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who offered his own perspective:

    "The knee jerk reaction [is] to spend more money. Well, you know what? I can show you places in the city of Newark where we're doing more with less simply because we have good people stepping forward and saying, "I'm not gonna tolerate this any more in my nation, in my community, on my block." They're doing mentoring programs. You have grassroots leaders... Because it's all about the spirit. It all comes down to a spiritual transformation... At some point in America, we're going to have to get beyond blame and start accepting responsibility."

    What do you think?

  • Are the Kerner Commission’s findings relevant today? Why or why not?

  • Are the Commission’s recommendations of more government-created jobs, expanded affirmative action, increased welfare, etc. a practical strategy for helping inner cities? Why or why not?

  • Which do you think is the more effective approach to tackling the problems of the inner city --- Fred Harris' top-down government strategy or Cory Booker's emphasis on individual and grassroots responsibility?

  • March 14, 2008

    A National Taxpayers' Bill of Rights?

    This week, the JOURNAL returned to the distressingly familiar topic of government waste – in this story through the perspective of Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

    Waxman said:

    “People work hard for their money. And whether you're a liberal or a conservative or whatever you call yourself, you shouldn't want to see it wasted.”

    Various measures have been enacted on the state and local levels to limit government spending. Some hope they'll help reduce the waste that often accompanies earmarks and non-competitive government contracts.

    The most prominent of these is the Taxpayers' Bill of Rights (TABOR), a voter-enacted 1992 amendment to Colorado’s constitution that strictly ties government revenues to previous years’ spending levels adjusted for population growth and inflation.

    TABOR's advocates point to Colorado's low taxes and strong economic growth and assert that, since the policy was directly enacted by voters rather than legislators, it is more democratic than a legislature influenced by special interests and prone to pork. Opponents say that Colorado's infrastructure is being neglected, that legislators' hands are tied regarding necessary programs, and that TABOR is too complex a topic for most of the voters who supported it to fully understand.

    Controversial from the beginning, TABOR has been loosened on a number of occasions to increase educational funding and to compensate for periods of economic recession.

    What do you think?

  • Should federal spending be frozen and tied to inflation and population growth, as with TABOR? Should there be some other system of strict spending limits? Why or why not?

  • Is the sort of oversight practiced by Rep. Waxman’s committee a better strategy than a strict limitation on spending? Why or why not? If so, who oversees the overseers?

  • February 29, 2008

    Election Ads, Narratives, and Political Discourse

    In her conversation with Bill Moyers on the JOURNAL this week, media expert Kathleen Hall Jamieson suggested that politicians' campaign ads and other media appearances are akin to puzzle pieces that together form a larger, albeit ambiguous, narrative of the candidates' lives, characters, and campaigns:

    "We elect a person, not a set of issues... The strength of an underlying biographical narrative is extraordinarily important. You can't underestimate its importance when you're attacked, as every candidate will be, with a counter story... One of the things that advertising is able to do is to make some things more important in your decision about who should be president. And so ads are always a contest about what is important as an issue and what is important as an attribute about the candidate... There's an element of emotion in all of this... And we shouldn't lose track of the fact that advertising doesn't exist in isolation. People are drawing material from news, from what they are talking with their friends about, from the front pages into advertising to create a composite message"

    What do you think?

  • Do you agree that Americans vote for candidates as people rather than for their "set of issues?"
  • Can sound bites and 30-second ads sufficiently inform citizens about the issues, the candidates, and/or the policy differences between them? If so, has this happened so far in the race to November?
  • How would you like to see candidates and issue groups use the media to elevate political discourse?

  • February 15, 2008

    Where Does (And Should) The Money Go?

    In the JOURNAL this week, WHERE DOES THE MONEY GO? authors and budget scrutinizers Scott Bittle and Jean Johnson contend that Washington’s fiscal irresponsibility is propelling America toward troubled times.

    Scott Bittle said:

    “Eventually, if nothing is done, by 2040 every dollar the federal government has will be taken in by Social Security, Medicare, and interest on the money we’ve already borrowed... Right now, one of the few areas of bipartisanship in Washington is the willingness not to deal with the problem... The war is certainly making our financial problems worse. But it’s not the sole cause and it’s not the sole answer."

    Jean Johnson said:

    “People don’t realize that the country has been in the red 31 out of the last 35 years, in good times and bad... There is no way to solve this problem without either raising taxes or cutting programs, or doing some of both. Right now that is a political death sentence, and we have to change that... We’re all gonna have to give a little and we’re all gonna have to live with some things that are not our first choice, but not doing anything is so much worse.”

    What do you think?

  • How, if at all, do you suggest the tax code be altered to ease the government’s fiscal crunch?
  • What, if any, programs should be reduced or cut to balance the budget?
  • What other suggestions do you have to bring the federal budget into the black?

  • February 7, 2008

    Kathleen Hall Jamieson Answers Your Questions

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    Last week, media expert Kathleen Hall Jamieson, accepted viewer questions regarding the road to November.

    Her response is as follows, and we invite you comment below:

    Continue reading "Kathleen Hall Jamieson Answers Your Questions" »

    February 1, 2008

    The Case of Lurita Doan and the GSA

    You may have been familiar with the scrutiny of Blackwater¹s mercenary army, or followed the troubles with oversight at the State Department, but chances are you hadn¹t heard of Lurita Doan. She isn¹t exactly a household name. So it might be surprising that, as head of the General Services Administration, Doan oversees $500 billion dollars worth of federal assets.

    On the JOURNAL, Rep.Henry Waxman explains how an investigation that started with leaks about possible favoritism in awarding government contracts eventually uncovered documents and testimony that convinced Waxman that Doan had violated the Hatch Act, a law prohibiting federal employees from using government resources for partisan purposes. Waxman was so shocked by what the Committee found that he took the unusual step of asking Doan to resign at the end of the hearings. The Office of Special Counsel, which conducted a separate investigation of Doan, concluded that Doan should be "disciplined to the fullest extent for her serious violation of the Hatch Act and insensitivity to cooperating fully and honestly in the course of our investigation." Yet today Doan still heads the GSA.
    Watch Video

    Be sure to check out Exposé's coverage of the scandal.

    What do you think about the Doan case? Do you think there should be another avenue of recourse for the American people to hold political appointees accountable for their behavior?

    January 25, 2008

    Rethinking The Criminal Justice System

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    Conversing with Bill Moyers on the JOURNAL this week, author John Grisham said:

    “We still have two million people in prison in this country right now. Two million. Our prisons are choked, they’re so full. And most of them are non-violent. Most of them – and we’re spending between $40,000 and $80,000 somewhere to house them, every guy in prison. Now, somebody’s not doing the math here... Lock the bad ones away. But you gotta rethink everybody else. You gotta rethink the young kids who are in there because of crack cocaine. They need help. And if they serve five years they get out there and do the same thing over and over again. The system’s getting worse.”

    What do you think?

  • Do you agree with John Grisham that our criminal justice system should be rethought?
  • Why do you think the system works the way it does?
  • What reforms to our criminal justice system would you recommend?

  • Assessing The "Economic Growth Package"

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    Ordinary Americans and the media alike have been astir this week with discussions of the looming recession and the “economic growth package” Washington quickly assembled in response. In her conversation with Bill Moyers on the JOURNAL, sociologist Katherine Newman shared her thoughts about their plan:

    “It's a bad news situation out there for millions of Americans who are really going to worry about their futures and their children's futures... I think they'll be pleased to hear that Congress and the President have found some way to cooperate with one another. But a lot of people will be left out and left in the cold.

    I'm more encouraged than I thought I would be, because it provides rebates for people lower down the income spectrum that I thought it would. But I am very concerned about the long-term unemployed, which is rising, not only in general, but as a proportion of the unemployed. And that's one of the disappointments of the stimulus package... I think if we built more infrastructure, we would see a greater long term benefit from the money we're investing, because we will improve our roads, our schools. And you know, that's exactly what Franklin Roosevelt thought. And that’s why he put millions of Americans to work.”

    What do YOU think?

  • Do you support the “economic growth package” announced this week? Why?

  • Are you “pleased to hear” that the quick formulation of the “economic growth package” is the result of bipartisan cooperation?

  • Do you think it is a good idea for government to expand public employment in areas like infrastructure maintenance and education as a means to mend our economy?

  • January 18, 2008

    Leveling The Playing Field?

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    Conversing with Bill Moyers on the JOURNAL this week, investigative reporter David Cay Johnston said:

    "Get rich by working hard, working smarter, coming up with a better mouse-trap. Don’t get rich by getting the government to pass a law that sticks the government’s hand into my pocket, takes money out of it, and gives it to you. That’s not right. That’s not a fair playing field. Adam Smith warned again and again that it is the nature and tendency of business people to want to put their thumb on the scale and, even better, to get the government to put the thumb on the scale for their benefit... You need entrepreneurs to have a good society. I don’t have any problem with entrepreneurs. But we need to have a system that also fairly distributes... When we have people who make billon-dollar-a-year incomes and pay 15 percent taxes and janitors who pay the same tax rate and school teachers who pay a 25 percent tax rate, something’s amiss."

    What do you think?

  • Is America’s present tax system unfair? If so, what do you suggest?

  • Does government have the responsibility to pursue redistribution of wealth? If so, what are reasonable expectations for such a policy?

  • Moyers on Clinton, Obama, King and Johnson

    LBJ and Martin Luther King, Johnson Library
    Watch Video

    We invite you to respond by commenting below.

    January 11, 2008

    Guest Blogger: Debate Watching 101 with Kathleen Hall Jamieson

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    By Kathleen Hall Jamieson

    1) I recommend not watching the coverage immediately before the debate and, when the debate is finished, turn the television off and talk with your family about what you saw and what was important to you. And think about what you saw.

    2) Candidates make different assumptions about government's role, about economic policy, about the value of government regulation, about the role of the US in the world, about appropriate use of military power, about US relationships with other countries... and the like. What are the governing philosophies of the candidates?

    3) Come to a debate with a list of the issues that matter to you and ask what you learned about each candidate's record and promises on those issues. Where are they similar and how do they differ?

    4) When a candidate promises a new program or any move that will reduce government revenue -- how will the candidate pay for it? Increase the deficit? Cut spending elesewhere and if so where? Raise taxes? On whom?

    5) How accurate are candidates' descriptions of opponents' programs? And how accurate are a candidate's descriptions of his or her own record?

    6) Is the candidate willing to tell voters things they don't want to hear about the challenges facing the country and what is required to address them?

    7) If the country were faced with a crisis, what can you know from the candidates' past performance, character, and dispositions about whether the country would be in good hands?

    Continue reading "Guest Blogger: Debate Watching 101 with Kathleen Hall Jamieson" »

    January 4, 2008

    Crashing The Parties?

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    Discussing elections with Bill Moyers on the JOURNAL this week, Kathleen Hall Jamieson highlighted the importance of citizens left out by the polarized and exclusive process of selecting Presidential nominees:

    “You could say that at issue in both Iowa and New Hampshire is going to be: Where are the independents going and what does that say about the country? We tend to think, because the primaries are so structured around party, that this is about Republicans and it's about Democrats. And Ron Paul only gets into this discussion because he comes in as a libertarian but runs as a Republican in the party... But we forget in the press that people who vote and the people who are governed are not only Democrats and Republicans. There are libertarians there. There are undecideds there. There are people who legitimately say ‘I don’t identify with any of this. I’ll call myself independent.’”

    In his interview with Moyers, Ron Paul suggested that America’s two-party system belies our democratic rhetoric.

    “We send boys over there to promote democracy in Iraq, but we don’t really have democracy here. If you’re in a third party, if you’re in the Green Party or Libertarian Party, you don’t get any credibility. You can’t get on debates. You can’t get on ballots hardly at all. It’s very, very difficult. And the two parties are the same. You don’t really have a democratic choice here.

    Foreign policy never changes. Domestic fiscal policy, the welfare entitlement system never changes. Monetary policy won’t even be discussed. And that’s both parties. The vehicle that you use I think is not as relevant as the message. And that has been what has driven me, the fact that we need to change course in this country.”

    What do you think?

  • Does the two-party system adequately provide citizens with real choices on various issues? If not, can citizens reform the parties to change this?

  • Does the two-party system essentially mandate the exclusion of serious third-party contenders?

  • As Ron Paul’s Web-based, grassroots-driven campaign has seen some success, do you think the Internet can democratize the political process and/or the two-party system?

  • Media and the Presidential Election

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    In her conversation with Bill Moyers on this week’s JOURNAL, Kathleen Hall Jamieson discussed the media's influence on ‘outsider’ candidates like Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich:

    "Those two have provided a clear alternative in the debates and expanded the range of discourse within each political party. Alternative parties don’t get to have debates. They don’t get that kind of television coverage. We don’t have any way to have those ideas percolate back into the mainstream. We don’t have any way for the public to see that those are legitimate and viable options and as a result, potentially, to rally behind them. And so, when those voices are marginalized, where people are taken out of the debate, that’s problematic for the process.”

    Dennis Kucinich agrees. Having been rejected from THE DES MOINES REGISTER debate before the Iowa caucuses and now the ABC News debate before New Hampshire, Kucinich tells Moyers:

    "How can you have a debate if you don’t have a voice that challenges all the others? Right now every other Democrat on that stage will be for keeping our troops in Iraq through at least 2013. Every other Democrat on the stage will be there to keep a for-profit healthcare system going with all of these Americans who don’t have coverage. Everyone else on the stage will be there for the continuation of NAFTA and the WTO. I mean, my position on the American political scene is to show people there’s a whole different direction that America can take here at home and in the world. And the Democratic Party in narrowing the choices and the media in trying to block the point of view that I represent is really doing a disservice to the American people.”

    What do you think?

  • Do you agree that media and its political coverage has too great an influence on the elections?

  • Does mainstream media effectively serve the public interest in elections and create informed voters? If not, what are ways in which it can improve?

  • Do you think we have too many or too few debates? Are we including enough participants in the debates?

  • December 20, 2007

    Is It Time For A New Constitutional Convention?

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    In his appearance on this week's BILL MOYERS JOURNAL, legal scholar Sanford V. Levinson suggested that various challenges that face our nation, including political gridlock, can be traced to issues with our 220 year-old Constitution and might best be addressed with a new Constitutional convention. Levinson discussed his vision of such a scenario:

    "I would have 700 or so of our fellow citizens chosen at random. Meet for two years, pay them the salary for those two years of a Justice of the Supreme Court [or] United States Senator because they would be fulfilling the highest possible function of citizenship. Give them time to reflect and learn about these issues... The only way you would ever get significant change is if you convince people across the political spectrum... If, on the other hand, you had a convention taken over by single issue zealots, whatever the single issue is, then the most likely thing is that the convention would just break down. People would simply start shouting at one another, and then it would never be ratified."

    What do you think?

  • Do you agree with Levinson that many of America's challenges are rooted structurally in our aging Constitution? As Levinson asks, "Is the Constitution sufficiently democratic?"

  • Do you think holding another national Constitutional convention would be a good idea? Is it feasible?

  • If there were to be another Constitutional convention, which issues would you like to see addressed?

  • December 14, 2007

    Media Consolidation: What happens after the FCC vote?

    By Rick KarrRick Karr by Robin Holland

    (photo by Robin Holland)

    Next Tuesday (December 18), the five members of the Federal Communications Commission will decide whether or not the U.S. will go through another frenzy of media consolidation: They'll vote on Republican FCC Chairman Kevin Martin's proposal to let newspapers buy radio and TV stations. Martin's plan is opposed by minority groups, a majority (pdf) of the public, and, as we report on this week's edition of THE JOURNAL, Capitol Hill lawmakers from both parties.

    I tell my students at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism that reporters shouldn't make predictions because if they turn out to be wrong, the reporter loses credibility. But I'm throwing caution to the wind to make some predictions about Tuesday's FCC vote, anyway:

    Continue reading "Media Consolidation: What happens after the FCC vote?" »

    December 7, 2007

    New Media, Political Discourse, and the 2008 Elections

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    In her conversation with Bill Moyers this week, Kathleen Hall Jamieson has this to say about some of the impact of the Internet on the political process:

    "There’s more information available than there ever has been, and it’s more easily retrievable. So we can, within minutes, locate candidates’ issue positions, contrast them to other positions, search news interviews with the candidates where they’re held accountable for discrepancies between past and current positions… And you can hear in the candidates’ own voices their arguments for those issue positions, sometimes at great length – greater than you’re going to find in ads or greater than you’re going to find in news."

    And new media is having other effects as well. Barack Obama has a formidable presence on Facebook, including one group with more than 400,000 members - while the largest opposing Hillary Clinton has more than 600,000. And in a development that stunned many analysts, Ron Paul used the Internet to raise more than $4 million in a single day despite minimal coverage from the mainstream media. In fact, this week a new-media driven grassroots movement for Dr. Paul announced that it has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to launch a blimp in hopes of garnering media attention.

    What do you think?

  • How is new media impacting the 2008 Presidential race?

  • Will Internet activism be an effective way to marshal votes in primaries and elections?

  • Is new media a net positive or negative for the nation’s political discourse?

  • Religion In Politics

    In this week’s edition of the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers asked Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Melissa Rogers about Presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s high-profile speech regarding his Mormonism, highlighting the following quote:

    "Given our grand tradition of religious tolerance and liberty, some wonder whether there are any questions regarding an aspiring candidate’s religion that are appropriate. I believe there are."

    This is a debate with deep historical roots that has long defied easy categorization into "left" vs. "right" terms. While some liberal figures - like Jimmy Carter - have embraced linking religious principles to their political values, a number of conservative statesmen have taken stands arguing for the stringent separation of church and state. In 1981, Republican U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater said:

    "On religious issues there can be little or no compromise. There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God's name on one's behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both.

    I'm frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in 'A,' 'B,' 'C' and 'D.' Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of 'conservatism.'"

    (For more on Barry Goldwater and Bill Moyers' interview with Goldwater staffer Victor Gold, click here)

    What do you think?

  • Is it acceptable to ask candidates questions about their religious faith? If so, which questions?

  • Is it appropriate for a candidate to promote, as Mike Huckabee has, their religious viewpoints as part of their appeal?

  • What is the proper relationship between candidates’ religion and their decisions when they reach office?

  • October 12, 2007

    Moral Hazards and the Fed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    What do you think?

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

    Photos: Robin Holland

  • October 4, 2007

    An American Depression?

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

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

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

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

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

    What do you think?

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

  • September 27, 2007

    A Crisis of Capitalism?

    In his interview with John Bogle, Bill Moyers cites this article from THE NEW YORK TIMES. which examines more than 1,200 nursing homes purchased by large private investment groups.

    The piece, "At Many Homes, More Profit and Less Nursing" reports that:

    "The TIMES analysis shows that managers at many other nursing homes acquired by large private investors have cut expenses and staff, sometimes below minimum legal requirements..."

    "...In recent years, large private investment groups have agreed to buy 6 of the nation's 10 largest nursing home chains, containing over 141,000 beds, or 9 percent of the nation's total."

    The article further details residents from one home who died from what family members call negligent care, while investors profited millions.

    Bogle calls this a "national disgrace," contending that:

    "There are some things that must be entrusted to government and some things that must be entrusted to private enterprise. "

    Do you agree?

    How do we determine what falls into the responsibility of private investment and what is better handled by government?

    Photo: Robin Holland

    August 27, 2007

    Alberto Gonzales Resigns; Why Now?

    Alberto Gonzales announced today that effective September 17, he would step down as Attorney General. THE NEW YORK TIMES writes that his "tenure has been marred by controversy and accusations of perjury before Congress," and THE WALL STREET JOURNAL remarks that his resignation ended "a monthslong standoff over his honesty and competence at the helm of the Justice Department...Republicans and Democrats alike had demanded his resignation over the botched handling of FBI terror investigations and the firings of U.S. attorneys."

    For more information about Gonzales and the U.S. Attorney controversy, watch this piece from BILL MOYERS JOURNAL featuring Josh Marshall from, which aired April 27, 2007.

  • Why do you think Attorney General Gonzales resigned at this juncture?
  • What implications, if any, does the resignation have on the remainder of the Bush Presidency and the upcoming presidential election?

  • August 8, 2007

    Impeachment: The Conversation Continues

    The tremendous response from our recent impeachment panel broadcast tells us this is a conversation that is important to you. Here are a few of the thousands responses we've been receiving:

    Ethel, July 13, 2007:

    After watching tonight's Bill Moyers program, I think for the first time in a long time, I feel hopeful. There is a solution! For the last five years, I have been watching and listening and feeling rather isolated in my frustration and disgust. Impeachment is the solution for this federal insanity.

    Carol Taylor, July 14, 2007:

    Thank you Mr. Moyers for the re-education about the Constitution. I have already written to Nancy Pelosi. This program is just what we need to hear.

    Lee Partide, July 14, 2007:

    One sided and misleading. Bill Moyers is a good presenter and very smooth, but what is frightening is the power he and the media exercise by presenting information that neglects so many facts, and does not present rebuttal by the myriad others who can refute claims made on this show, and point out their dangers. I am NO Bush fan, but your show edges on appalling by misrepresentations. One can see how far this has gone by reading how many people in media (and thus among the population) compare Bush to such people as Hitler. That kind of extremism presented under the guise of objective journalism is what is MOST scary in our culture.

    SR, July 15, 2007:

    I am not nearly as articulate as your bloggers, however, I was compelled to say something...I was raised to respect our leaders, our elders and one another. To trust in our government and have faith in our religion...What has happened to the America we once knew?...We the American people can no LONGER hide our heads in the sand-- we cannot rely on our political leaders to help us out of this peril...Thank you SO MUCH for airing this show.

    Ken, July 14, 2007:

    I just caught the end of your show waiting for the British comedies to come on. What a bunch of crap! The democrats don't have the guts to stop the war or impeach Bush or Cheney. What congress should do is remove public funding for this show and send it to the troops in the war.

    We invite you to continue to the conversation by commenting below.

    Poll: Civil Liberties and National Security

    Constitutional scholar, Bruce Fein states:

    “Most important thing for the American people to know is that the great genius of the founding fathers, their revolutionary idea, with the chief mission of the state is to make you and them free to pursue their ambitions and faculties. Not to build empires, not to aggrandize government. That's the mission of the state, to make them free, chart their own destiny. And the burden is on the government to try to understand why that freedom has to be curtailed for a security purpose or otherwise.”

    Photo: Robin Holland

    Answer our poll question, then debate the topic below.

    August 3, 2007

    Cultural Amnesia: Who would you remember?

    Cultural critic, Clive James, has gathered 106 biographical essays in his recent collection, CULTURAL AMNESIA: NECESSARY MEMORIES FROM HISTORY AND THE ARTS, with the hope that future generations will learn from the lives and interconnections of these individuals; how they each contributed to our collective story, for good or bad.

    You can read many of his essays here at including commentaries on Duke Ellington, Adolph Hitler, and Leon Trotsky.

    But since we all have different lives, and inhabit various circles, we are each affected by a diverse group of people.

    • So who do you believe is worth remembering?
    • Which individual, for good or ill, do you believe is most important for generations to come to understand and learn from? And why?

    July 27, 2007

    Why Earmarks Matter

    by Ryan Alexander, President of Taxpayers for Common Sense

    At Taxpayers for Common Sense, we believe that the impact of earmarks is greater than the billions of dollars they cost the federal treasury. With a federal budget close to $3 trillion, we know that earmarks are not the only source of government waste. But the earmarking process is a breakdown in democratic decision-making in the Congress. We are putting the unprecedented amount of power to direct billions of dollars of projects in the hands of very small group of legislators and lobbyists. The all-consuming chase for earmarks distracts Congress and takes time away from important policy debates.

    This year alone, there were more than 30,000 requests for earmarks in the House of Representatives – all of which had to be reviewed by staff on the Appropriations Committee. That’s a tremendous amount of effort and time to bring $100,000 for a theater renovation or $150,000 for Robotics Training Equipment at a local community college to a local congressional district. Don’t get me wrong, these and other projects may deserve federal support, but most of us don’t get a chance to ask why these projects are better than others or why they should be funded first before other projects. The lack of a competitive or a meritorious process means that projects may be ignored in favor of those backed by the politically powerful.

    Continue reading "Why Earmarks Matter" »

    July 13, 2007

    Bill Moyers Essay: The War Debate

    Click the picture above to watch Bill Moyers' essay on the ongoing war debate in Congress.

    Then tell us what you think by commenting below.

    June 27, 2007

    Story Updates

    More Capitol Crimes...
    Yesterday, U.S. District Court Judge Ellen Huvelle sentenced J. Steven Griles to 10 months in prison for obstructing an investigation into the Jack Abramoff scandal. As you probably remember, Griles is the former energy lobbyist that became the Deputy Secretary of the Interior in 2001, until he resigned the post in 2004 to set up his own lobbing firm. From a recent WASHINGTON POST story:

    Griles asked Abramoff for favors for the women in his life, prosecutors said, and in exchange helped Abramoff's clients with their government business. One of Griles's girlfriends, Italia Federici, got $500,000 for her nonprofit from Abramoff's Indian tribes.

    "I concealed the nature and extent of my true relationship with Italia Federici," Griles confessed to the judge yesterday in a statement interrupted by stifled sobs. Choking out the words, a burly, red-faced Griles told Huvelle that "this has been the most difficult time in my life. My guilty plea has brought me great shame and embarrassment."

    Capitol Crimes, the recent Moyers report about Jack Abramoff and the dark side of American politics, can be viewed online in its entirety here. Also, for information about Griles and the revolving door, check out this story from NOW with Bill Moyers from May 30, 2003.

    Continue reading "Story Updates" »

    June 26, 2007

    It's an Old Story...

    From Sunday's THE WASHINGTON POST feature, "Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency," reported by Barton Gellman and Jo Becker:

    "Across the board, the vice president's office goes to unusual lengths to avoid transparency. Cheney declines to disclose the names or even the size of his staff, generally releases no public calendar and ordered the Secret Service to destroy his visitor logs. His general counsel has asserted that 'the vice presidency is a unique office that is neither a part of the executive branch nor a part of the legislative branch,' and is therefore exempt from rules governing either. Cheney is refusing to observe an executive order on the handling of national security secrets, and he proposed to abolish a federal office that insisted on auditing his compliance."

    While the media may be covering this story all week through television and radio reports from many angles, we at THE JOURNAL thought we'd step back and remind you that this is an old story.

    Check out this Bill Moyers essay from 2002 on The Freedom of Information Act:

    Continue reading "It's an Old Story..." »

    A Companion Blog to Bill Moyers Journal

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