Friday, April 30, 2010

From Michael Winship

And a sad day, the end of one of my favorite TV programs of all times: Bill Moyers Journal. The last episode airs tonight at 9 p.m. EST, and 10 p.m. PST.

Below is an essay from the Journal's senior writer Michael Winship:

"The Lowdown from Hightower"

By Michael Winship

I first became aware of Jim Hightower more than 20 years ago, during the 1988 Democratic National Convention in Atlanta. The Democrats were nominating Massachusetts Governor Mike Dukakis to run for president against Reagan's vice president, George H.W. Bush, and at the time Dukakis looked like he had a pretty good chance at the White House.

This was before a series of events did him in, including the notorious Willie Horton ad that attacked Dukakis for a Massachusetts weekend furlough prison program that allowed a convicted murderer back on the street, where he robbed and raped.

And it was before Dukakis bobbled a harsh debate question about what he would do if his own wife Kitty was raped and murdered. And it was before he was photographed atop an Abrams tank wearing a helmet that made him look like he was starring in Snoopy III: This Time It's Personal.

All of that misery lay ahead. The Democrats were still in giddy spirits during the convention and had a high old time poking fun at Bush, Sr. That was when the late Ann Richards, then the Texas state treasurer, famously lamented, "Poor George! He can't help it - he was born with a silver foot in his mouth!"

But it was the convention speech by Hightower that I especially remember. He was the Texas agriculture commissioner in those days - an important job in the Lone Star State - and described Bush as a "toothache of a man," a cruel but remarkable metaphor. And he said that Bush behaved like someone who was "born on third base and thought he hit a triple... He is threatening to lead this country from tweedle-dum to

Maybe Hightower didn't originate those lines (as Milton Berle used to say, "When you steal from me, you steal twice"), but he delivered them with a gusto akin to genuine authorship and over the years has come up with enough original material of his own to absolve him - mostly - from the sin of occasional joke-filching.

Now others steal from him. It was Jim, I believe, who came up with the notion that all elected officials be required to wear brightly colored, NASCAR-like jumpsuits with the corporate logos of their biggest campaign contributors, an idea I've heard appropriated by several others without proper attribution. And I think it was Jim who first said of George W. Bush, "If ignorance ever reaches $40 a barrel, I want the drilling rights to his head." (On hearing that another politician was learning
Spanish, Hightower is supposed to have remarked, "Oh good. Now he'll be bi-ignorant.")

These days, Jim Hightower broadcasts daily radio commentaries and edits "The Hightower Lowdown," an invaluable monthly newsletter. With the passing of both Ann Richards and Molly Ivins, he has became the funniest person in Texas politics - intentionally, that is. But it is his steadfast advocacy of progressive politics, his unyielding embrace of the old time gospel of populism, that made him an especially appropriate guest on the final edition of the PBS series, Bill Moyers Journal.

"Here's what populism is not," he told my colleague Bill Moyers. "It is not just an incoherent outburst of anger. And certainly it is not anger that is funded and organized by corporate front groups, as the initial tea party effort [was], and as most of it is still today - though there is legitimate anger within it, in terms of the people who are there. But what populism is at its essence is just a determined focus on helping people be able to get out of the iron grip of the corporate
power that is overwhelming our economy, our environment, energy, the media, government. "...One big difference between real populism and... the tea party thing
is that real populists understand that government has become a subsidiary of corporations. So you can't say, 'Let's get rid of government.' You need to be saying, 'Let's take over government.'"

As Hightower's fond of saying, the water won't clear up until we get the hogs out of the creek. "I see the central issue in politics to be the rise of corporate power," he reiterated. "Overwhelming, overweening corporate power that is running roughshod over the workaday people of the country. They think they're the top dogs, and we're a bunch of fire hydrants, you know?"

Of President Obama he said, "It's odd to me that we've got a president who ran from the outside and won, and now is trying to govern from the inside. You can't do progressive government from the inside. You have to rally those outsiders and make them a force... Our heavyweight is the people themselves. They've got the fat cats, but we've got the alley cats..."

This weekend, Jim is being honored at Texas State University-San Marcos with an exhibition celebrating his life's work as a populist journalist, historian and advocate. They're calling the event "Swim Against the Current" because, as Moyers says, "That's what he does." In fact, "Swim Against the Current" also is the title of Hightower's most recent book, subtitled, "Even a Dead Fish Can Go with the Flow."

He comes from a long history of flow resisters, a critical, American political tradition. "I go all the way back to Thomas Paine," he said. "I mean, that was kind of the ultimate rebellion, when the media tool was a pamphlet." The men who wrote the Bill of Rights, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence "didn't create democracy. [They] made democracy possible.

"What created democracy was Thomas Paine and Shays Rebellion, the suffragists and the abolitionists and on down through the populists and the labor movement, including the Wobblies. Tough, in your face people... Mother Jones, Woody Guthrie... Martin Luther King and Caesar Chavez. And now it's down to us.

"These are agitators. They extended democracy decade after decade. You know, sometimes we get in the midst of these fights. We think we're making no progress. But... you look back, we've made a lot of progress... The agitator after all is the center post in the washing machine that gets the dirt out. So, we need a lot more agitation.... "We can battle back against the powers. But it's not just going to a
rally and shouting. It's organizing and it's thinking. And reaching out to others. And building a real people's movement."
With this week's edition, Bill Moyers Journal goes off the air. But we'll be continuing the conversation via our Web site at

These weekly columns will be continuing for the foreseeable as well. It has been a delight and honor collaborating with Bill - and the entire production team - so intensely over the last two years. I am always improved in their presence and thank them all, especially Bill and executive editor Judith Davidson Moyers, executive producers Judy Doctoroff and Sally Roy and Diane Domondon and Jesse Adams, the two of whom every week have made sure these scratchings make it out alive, with
alacrity and accuracy.

Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs
Bill Moyers Journal, which concludes Friday night on PBS.
Watch online or comment at The Moyers Blog at

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


May that which guides you never lead you astray.

Monday, April 26, 2010


"Great is the guilt of an unnecessary war," John Adams

Sunday, April 25, 2010


Life and death are relative. Love is absolute.

Friday, April 23, 2010

From Michael Winship

Goldman Sachs: What Hath Fraud Wrought?

By Michael Winship

Goldman Sachs is the Blackwater of finance, the latest in a long line of companies you love to hate, like AIG and the Dallas Cowboys.

Or, as Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi infamously characterized it last year, the financial behemoth is “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”

Honestly, Matt has to cut down on his couch time watching The Discovery Channel.
Nevertheless, hit “refresh” on any financial news Web site and you’re likely to get yet another revelation of the firm’s colossal and impressively varied shenanigans.

On Friday, Susan Pulliam reported on the front page of The Wall Street Journal that, “A Goldman Sachs Group Inc. director tipped off a hedge-fund billionaire about a $5 billion investment in Goldman by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. before a public announcement of the deal at the height of the 2008 financial crisis, a person close to the situation says.”

As the Journal notes, the Buffet deal came at a key point in the Wall Street collapse, restoring confidence in the markets and lifting Goldman’s stock from a 40 percent slide to a 45 percent surge. The hedge-fund billionaire in question is Raj Rajaratnam, whose Galleon Group currently is embroiled in one of the biggest insider trading scandals in history: 21, including Rajaratnam, have been charged; 11 already have pled guilty.

The same day’s Financial Times reports a potential conflict of interest surrounding Goldman’s role in the refinancing of Lloyds Banking Group, 41 percent of which is owned by the British government – an arrangement made to rescue Lloyd’s from the financial meltdown.

Goldman Sachs was both an investor and underwriter in the Lloyds refinancing.

According to the FT’s sources, Goldman got last minute changes made that increased interest on bonds being exchanged in the deal and was involved in discussions determining which bonds would receive highest priority in the exchange. Top ranked was a bond in which Goldman had invested, perhaps, one source said, buying as much as half of the issue. Goldman insisted its position was “not substantial.”

All of this, of course, a week after the Securities and Exchange Commission charged Goldman Sachs with committing a highly sophisticated fraud, making big profits on the backs of struggling home owners, packaging their soaring mortgage debt as exotic investments some at Goldman knew would fail.

Already, foes of Wall Street reform are picking away at the SEC charges, and whether or not the accusations will ultimately stick remains to be seen – it’s a very complex and nuanced case. The Washington Post reports that the two Republican members of the commission questioned the strength of the case and voted against bringing the complaint, expressing skepticism “that the evidence showed that Goldman had misled its clients because the investors were big, sophisticated firms who should have known what they were doing.”

But the Democratic commissioners and SEC chair Mary Schapiro “argued that Goldman should not escape accountability simply because its clients were big firms. They said the evidence showed that Goldman did not give clients crucial information about the investment that likely would have made them think again about placing a bet.”

Others claim that investments like the one in the Goldman case, a swirl of so-called “synthetic CDO’s” (collateralized debt obligations) is so newfangled and complicated, very few of even the most knowledgeable financiers actually understand it. And those who do are not in a position to offer an objective opinion to investors because they’re already working for companies like Goldman.

The GOP opposition to the SEC’s complaint came just days before federal campaign finance filings were released on Tuesday. In March alone, Goldman Sach’s political action committee donated $167,500 to Republican candidates and fundraising groups and $123,000 to the Democrats.

As per the Web site, “That March total alone – coming ahead of a major Wall Street reform bill – is more than the firm donated to political campaigns in the previous year.”

A pox on all their houses. So thinks Bill Black, the one time federal regulator who cracked down on banking during the savings and loan crisis of the 1980’s, pursuing the guilty with the tenacity of Inspector Javert in Les Miserables. He now teaches law and economics at the University of Missouri/Kansas City and wrote the book The Best Way to Rob a Bank Is to Own One.

Black spoke with my colleague Bill Moyers on the current edition of Bill Moyers Journal on PBS. He questions whether the SEC and the Obama White House – don’t forget, Goldman Sachs was Obama’s largest corporate campaign contributor -- will fully push for answers in the Goldman fraud case or any others. “Is this administration, which still has some Bush holdovers in it, and now has a lot of Goldman people in it, is this administration going to be able to pass judgment on Goldman Sachs?” he asked.

“… They haven't kicked into gear fully, or they'd be naming [Goldman CEO and Chairman Lloyd] Blankfein and other senior leaders of Goldman. And they've only gone after a junior person… If they were really in gear, there would be criminal charges here. And if they were really in gear, there'd be a broad investigation, not just of Goldman, but of all of these major entities.”

But, he added, if you’re sitting in Congress or the White House, “Do you want to look at these seemingly respectable, huge financial institutions, which are your leading political contributors, as crooks?”

If Black had his way, he’d enforce a three-strike policy. “Three strike laws, you go to prison for life, if you have three felonies,” he said. “How many of these major corporations would still be allowed to exist, if we were to use the three strike laws, given what they've been convicted of in the past?”

That will never happen until the corporate clout of cash is removed from the American way of governance. Bill Black recalled a slogan he and his colleagues invoked during the savings and loan crisis: “The highest return on assets is always a political contribution.”

Maybe that new $100 bill should read, “In Fraud We Trust."

Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program
Bill Moyers Journal, which airs Friday night on PBS.
Check local airtimes or comment at The Moyers Blog at

The Good, the Bad, and the "Misguided"

In what may be easily called the understatement of the decade so far, President Obama has characterized an Arizona measure that criminalizes undocumented immigration, just signed into law by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, as "misguided." Frankly, higher octane words come to mind. How about unconstitutional?

In these days of gosh, darn, and heck how better euphemize than with a word like "misguided?" Too bad we don't fire off more "misguided" missiles. And, if language is any indication of purpose, the benign appellation can only spell defeat at the polls for Democrats in November, and beyond

After more than eight years of listening to the likes of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld using terms like "bad guys," it's reassuring to know that the commander-in-chief can master polysyllables, but words with higher testasterone levels are needed to describe a law that just passed in a state that nearly produced our 44th president.

Lest there be some surprise about this latest move by Arizona's Republican governor, keep in mind that Brewer also signed legislation that allows people to carry guns into bars, and a measure that lets Arizona citizens possess concealed weapons without a permit.

Okay, but forget Brewer. What do we know about Russell Pearce, the Arizona state senator who sponsored the bill? Apart from being a conservative Republican who served in the National Guard during the Vietnam War, Pearce's Web site boasts of being a fifth generation Arizonan. But, where did the previous generations of Pearces come from, and could they provide legal documentation that meets citizenship requirements now if called upon to do so?

More importantly, could John Adams provide proof of citizenship that might satisfy the new Arizona state law? If Mahatma Gandhi were to find himself in Tucson on a dark street, would he find himself the target of the kind of reasonable suspicion clause of this new law?

A quick visit to Mr. Pearce's Web site will also show how much he values the Declaration of Independence, and entitlement of all to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." What his Web site neglects to mention is that evidently Pearce also believes the pursuit of happiness must come only with a green card.

What about "maverick" John McCain? Even the incumbent Arizona senator has been outspoken in his support for this law that now enables law enforcement to target anyone suspected of being in the country illegally; whatever "reasonable suspicion" may be.

But, is there a difference between being undocumented, and being illegal? Let's be clear here. You are now a criminal in the state of Arizona if you are stopped by police, and you are unable to produce documents establishing an acceptable citizenship status. It would seem only logical that if the U.S. wants to find its way out of its financial maestrom that it go after crimes like fraud, and prosecute the heads of Goldman Sachs, and Lehman Brothers, but without campaign contributions from the likes of Goldman Sachs, there would be no Obama presidency. One doesn't bite the hand that feeds one indeed, and given that most of the fruit and vegetables on America's plates come from the hands of migrant workers, many of whom are undocumented, the same logic should apply.

The irony is inescapable considering all the fuss about illegality when it comes to immigrants given that there isn't a peep when it comes to thousands of illegal wiretaps, or substantial evidence that a practice, waterboarding, which has long been considered torture was variously used by interrogators at Guantanamo Bay, in Iraq, and elsewhere.

For a country that was founded with what can only now be called the misguided belief in egalitarianism, it is abundantly clear that it isn't breaking the law that is at stake here, but who's breaking it.

True, this isn't the first draconian immigration legislation passed by a state that is also moving to demand future presidential candidates provide documentation that they were born in the U.S., but it is certainly the most hateful in that, if passed, it will put police officers in the position of immigration officials, a concept that has legal precedent thanks to the USA Patriot Act.

For the better part of two and half centuries, immigration policies have been regulated by the federal government, and not by the states. Surely, the president can find more potent language with which to denounce legalizing profiling by skin color, and under the guise of "questioning," one that enables authorities to harass with the objective of deporting those who lack requisite documentation.

Consider that from 1769 through 1882 according to a Smithsonian Institution exhibit, the U.S. excluded only convicts, prostitutes, idiots, and lunatics. From 1882-1943, Chinese were not allowed to immigrate. It wasn't until 1885 that U.S. immigration mandated that there be "no gangs of cheap laborers," according to a Smithsonian Institution exhibit, and this latest Arizona law seems to reflect a mindset we haven't seen since 1885.

Moreover, from the vantage point of Native Americans, those who came here on the Mayflower were illegals who did more than shoot one Arizona rancher. But, this isn't about crime. This is about jobs, and the Democrats better stand up and stand up fast to show that the furthest thing from the minds of people like John McCain, and Arizona's Republican governor, Jan Brewer, is helping working people. All they care about is saving their own jobs.

For the president, and Democratic leadership, not to speak out now in the strongest possible terms, but instead to pussyfoot around, will be not only a missed opportunity, but professional misconduct.

like chocolate

Men are like chocolate. They taste good, but who needs the extra weight.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

new photos

taken on SONY Vaio laptop on 4/10/10

and this one, too

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Time to Stand Up, Not Step Down

On a day when both a Supreme Court judge, and a controversial Democratic senator announced their retirement, another major announcement largely slipped through the cracks. The President's pick to head the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, Dawn Johnsen, withdrew her bid for confirmation under pressure from Senate Republicans.

But, who is Dawn Johnsen, and why was she forced to step down?

Ms. Johnsen is not only a lawyer, but a distinguished professor of constitutional law who worked at the Office of Legal Council from 1993 through 1998, and in the capacity of Assistant Attorney General from 1997 to 1998. She was twice nominated by Obama to head the OLC.

Now comes the why part. Apart from her vocal opposition to the Bush administration's policy of defying international treaties by enabling torture and in violation of the Eighth Amendment injunction against cruel and unusual punishment, she also denounced the Bush gang for what she called the "outlandish" overreach of their executive branch.

Moreover, Ms. Johnson is a strong, and committed proponent of a woman's right to choose.

Her strident opposition of so-called "enhanced alternative interrogation methods," as well as the sociopathic attempts by past White House counsel Jay Bybee and John Yoo to legally sanction what amount to war crimes were more than Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee could bear. Indeed, that was the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back, and resulted in the Obama administration rescinding its nomination.

Sadly, both the White House and the Justice Department have caved in to what they call "politically motivated pressure" by allowing an eminently qualified, and highly principled, candidate for the Office of Legal Counsel nominee to quietly remove herself from the running. Johnsen's decision to withdraw her bid is especially ironic in light of the ruling of a D.C. federal judge, also on Friday,ordering the release of another Gitmo detainee, Mohamedon Salahi.

While some of the federal court's decision remain classified, much of what is known speaks to the concerns of egregious extra-constitutionality Ms. Johnsen's tenure would doubtless have addressed. Mr. Salahi was reportedly held by the U.S. for eight years on "suspicion" of having ties to al Qaeda.

He was illegally rendered from his birth country of Mauritania to Afghanistan, and then on to Gitmo where he has spent the last six years of his life subjected to a host of various and sundry tortures that include being shackled to the floor, awakened every few hours, and kept in complete isolation in the equivalent of a freezer for several months at a time. Now why in God's name would anyone, Democrat or Republican, on the Senate Judiciary Committee, or anywhere else, object to the confirmation of someone to head the Office of Legal Counsel who abjures this egregious misconduct on the part of the U.S.? Arguably, because the offenses ushered in during the Cheney years, until explicitly disavowed, have now become legal precedent. This concession to the "war on terror" hawks of the Republican party cannot, and must not, go unacknowledged.

Importantly, the judge in the Salahi case, Judge James Robertson said he was convinced "there is ample evidence" Mr. Salahi was severely mistreated according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Notably, the Department of Justice is appealing Judge Robertson's decision. Is Justice now as firmly entrenched, and invested in denying justice in this administration as it was in that of its predecessor?

The facts speak for themselves. Consider this: Salahi is the 34th Gitmo detainee who was deemed to have been detained illegally and released, so why would Dawn Johnsen, the President's preferred nominee to head OLC, be forced to capitulate? Surely, her voice is not that of a lone wolf in the desert, but one that is being heard more and more both in federal, and district courts nationwide.

In the past few months alone, courts have ruled that the Bush administration's broke the law when it defied FISA by having the NSA engage in electronic eavesdropping. Nobody, not even the former vice president, Dick Cheney, has argued that waterboarding is legal, and Cheney himself admits to green lighting the practice.

But, what's a few laws between friends? The executive branch, in the Bush administration, also deleted millions of White House e-mails in violation of the Presidential Records Act, and the Obama White House appears to be just as eager to hide behind the shield of "state secrets" to protect their contents.

Understood that Obama speaks often of striving for bipartisanship, but is it in the interest of "bipartisanship" that a decade of wanton lawlessness, and extra-constitutional precedent be sanctioned by those in the Republican party who think that breaking the law is in the interest of national security? To paraphrase Richard Nixon--it's not illegal if the president does it. Is it also not illegal if the president orders it?

The Obama administration has taken its blueprint for health reform from another Republican, Mitt Romney. Will it accept the Nixon mantra now, too?

Not only is the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay still open, but DOJ is appearing in court to oppose those who would like to see Gitmo closed, and the heinous practices of extraordinary rendition, and torture stopped. This is unacceptable.

Keith Olbermann once rightly said there's a difference between compromising, and being compromised. By giving way on the confirmation of Dawn Johnsen, the White House is signalling that it is not compromising, but is in fact compromised. Yielding to those forces that would sabotage constitutional protections this country has enjoyed for over two hundred years is unacceptable.

If this confirmation battle is a harbinger of what is to come when Congress confirms Justice Steven's replacement on the Supreme Court, then it's high time for those who condemn torture, illegal surveillance, as well as those who are in favor of choice and affirmative action to stand up not step down.

It is only by distinguishing their policies from those of the opposing party, instead of simulating them, that Democrats can expect to survive what is perilously close to a religious revival from the right .

Friday, April 09, 2010

From Michael Winship

In West Virginia, Coal Miners' Slaughter

By Michael Winship

The high cost of energy in America was paid in human lives this
week, with the deaths of more than two dozen miners in a massive explosion at the Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia. It's the worst mine disaster in a quarter of a century.

Upper Big Branch is owned by Massey Energy Company, whichoperates 47 mines in central Appalachia. According to the Los Angeles Times, it employs nearly 6,000 and in 2009 reported revenues of $2.3 billion, with a net income of $104.4 million.

At the center of this week's catastrophe is Massey's president and CEO Don Blankenship, a man so reviled nowadays he had to be escorted away by police when he and other company officials tried to address a group of distraught family and friends outside the Upper Big Branch mine in the early morning hours after the explosion. The crowd hurled invective - and a chair.

Blankenship hates unions (Upper Big Branch is a non-union mine), thinks global warming is a figment of our imaginations and that those who do believe in climate change are crazy; supports destructive, mountain-top-removal mining; serves on the board of the conservative, free market U.S. Chamber of Commerce and now, lucky us, shares his pearls of right-wing wisdom via Twitter. "America doesn't need Green
jobs," he tweeted pithily last month, "but Red, White, & Blue ones."

David Roberts of the environmental magazine Grist described him as "the scariest polluter in the U.S. ...The guy is evil and I don't use that word lightly."

Just one example of Massey Energy's earlier history of environmental malfeasance was described in a May 2003 issue of Forbes Magazine: "In October 2000 the floor of a 72-acre wastewater reservoir built above an abandoned mine in Kentucky collapsed, sending black sludge through the mine and out into a tributary of the Big Sandy River. The sludge killed fish and plants for 36 miles downstream. Water supplies were shut down in several towns for a month. In total, 230 million gallons spilled out, 20 times the volume of the crude oil from the Exxon Valdez. Lawns nearby
were covered in as much as 7 feet of muck..."... The reservoir had shown signs of leaking right before the accident and Massey failed to report that fact to regulators as required, according to the U.S. Mine Safety & Health Administration. The cleanup has cost $58 million so far."

This week's Upper Big Branch mine disaster is the latest in a string of environmental and safety-related calamities linked to Massey and Blankenship. In 2009,the company paid a $20 million fine to the Environmental Protection Agency, and that same year, a Massey subsidiary, the Aracoma Coal Company, pled guilty to safety violations and agreed to $4.2 million in civil penalties and criminal fines
connected to the 2006 deaths of two miners in a fire.

According to The New York Times, "After the fire broke out, the two miners found themselves unable to escape, partly because the company had removed some ventilation controls inside the mine. The workers died of suffocation. Federal prosecutors at the time called it the largest such settlement in the history of the coal industry."

The Upper Big Branch mine has a long history of violations. Last month alone it was cited by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration for 53 safety violations, many of them for inadequate venting of dust and methane and improperly maintained escape passages. Last year, the Times reports, "the number of citations against the mine more than doubled, to over 500, from 2008, and the penalties proposed against the mine more than tripled, to $897,325." So far, only $168,393 of those fines have
been paid.

Blankenship's response? "Violations are unfortunately a normal part of the mining process," he told a radio interviewer. West Virginia and federal laws were toughened after the Sago mine disaster in 2006 that killed 12 men. But as the number of safety citations has increased, so, too, has the number of appeals by the mining companies, and while that long bureaucratic process unfolds, it's business as usual.

Blankenship and Massey Energy play our political system like a country fiddle, a system corrupted by money and influence. A certified public accountant (he's actually in the national CPA hall of fame - I'm not kidding), Blankenship apparently sees the world as one big balance sheet, with human life an expendable commodity and - especially if they're judges or other officials - something to be bought and sold.

The non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics says that since 1990, those associated with Massey and its political action committee have given more than $300,000 in campaign contributions to federal candidates. And in 2006, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, Blankenship spent more than $100,000 trying to elect pro-business candidates to the West Virginia state legislature.

But it's in the courthouse that Blankenship has really tried to spread the wealth. In 2008, photos were published of him wining and dining West Virginia Supreme Court Justice "Spike" Maynard along the Riviera. They were popping corks in Monaco as Massey Energy was before the court appealing a $50 million judgment that had been won by smaller mining companies charging Massey with fraud. Subsequently, Maynard recused himself from the case and was defeated for re-election. Now he's running
for Congress.

Blankenship had better luck when he went on the offensive against West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Justice Warren McGraw, creating a PAC called "And for the Sake of the Kids." He contributed $3 million and created campaign ads described by USA Today as "venomous." They made particular hay with a case in which Justice McGraw was part of a majority that voted to free a mentally disturbed child molester, who got a job as a school janitor.

McGraw was defeated by Blankenship's candidate, Brent Benjamin. When the appeal of the $50 million came before the court, ABC News reports, "Justice Benjamin refused to recuse himself from the case and twice provided the deciding vote in Massey's favor. The jury verdict against Massey was overturned."

So egregious were Benjamin's actions that even the current United States Supreme Court, so heavily pro-business in its recent decision-making, was appalled. It ruled that the judge and Blankenship were out of line. Even so - and even with Benjamin finally recusing himself - on a third vote, Massey again won its appeal.

When you can't beat 'em, buy 'em. Meanwhile, miners working for Massey Energy and Blankenship continue to risk their lives deep below the earth, digging out the fuel that helps keep our lights burning at the price of never knowing if the tiniest of sparks will ignite the next fatal explosion.

Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program
Bill Moyers Journal, which airs Friday night on PBS.
Check local airtimes or comment at The Moyers Blog at

Friday, April 02, 2010


The best cure for sex addiction is marriage.

Bill Moyers and Michael Winship on Dr. King

Courtesy of Bill Moyers Journal, and Public Affairs Television:

Dr. King's Economic Dream Deferred

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

Forty-two years ago, on April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated, gunned down in Memphis, Tennessee. To those of us who were alive then, the images are etched in painful memory: One day, Dr. King is standing with colleagues, including Ralph Abernathy and Jesse Jackson, on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel; the next, he's lying there mortally wounded, his aides pointing in the direction of the rifle shot.

Then we remember the crowds of mourners slowly moving through the streets of Atlanta on a hot sunny day, surrounding King's casket as it was carried on a mule-drawn farm wagon, and the riots that burned across the nation in the wake of his death; a stinging, misbegotten rebuke to his gospel of non-violence.

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

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

With his popularity in decline, an exhausted, stressed and depressed Martin Luther King, Jr., turned his attention to economic injustice. He reminded the country that his March on Washington five years earlier had not been for civil rights alone but "a campaign for jobs and income, because we felt that the economic question was the most crucial that black people and poor people, generally, were confronting." Now, King was building what he called the Poor People's Campaign to confront nationwide inequalities in jobs, pay and housing.

But he had to prove that he could still be an effective leader, and so he came to Memphis, in support of a strike by that city's African-American garbage men. Eleven hundred sanitation workers had walked off the job after two had died in a tragic accident, crushed by a garbage truck's compactor. The garbage men were fed up - treated with contempt as they performed a filthy and unrewarding job, paid so badly that 40 percent of them were on welfare, called "boy" by white supervisors. Their picket signs were simple and eloquent: "I AM A MAN."

A few weeks into their strike, which had been met with opposition and violence, Dr. King arrived for meetings and addressed a rally. Ten days later, he returned to lead a march through the streets of Memphis that ended in smashed windows, gunshots and tear gas.

Upset by the violence, he came back to the city one more time to try to put things right. The night before his death, King made his famous "Mountaintop" speech, prophetically telling an audience, "Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land!"

The next night he was dead. Twelve days later, the strike was settled, the garbage men's union was recognized and the city of Memphis begrudgingly agreed to increase their pay, at first by a dime an hour, and later, an extra nickel.

That paltry sum would also be prophetic. All these decades later, little has changed when it comes to economic equality. If anything, the recent economic meltdown and recession have made the injustice of poverty even more profound, especially in a society where the top percentile enjoys undreamed of prosperity.

Unemployment among African-Americans is nearly double that of whites, according to the National Urban League's latest State of Black America report. Black men and women in this country make 62 cents on the dollar earned by whites. Less than half of black and Hispanic families own homes and they are three times more likely to live below the poverty line.

The non-partisan group United for a Fair Economy has issued a report that features Martin Luther King, Jr., on the cover with the title, "State of the Dream 2010: Drained." Dr. King's dream is in jeopardy, the report's authors write, "The Great Recession has pulled the plug on communities of color, draining jobs and homes at alarming rates while exacerbating persistent inequalities of wealth and income."

Nor will a recovery ameliorate the crisis. "A rising tide does not lift all boats," United for a Fair Economy's report goes on to say, "because the public policies, economic structures, and unwritten rules of racism form mountains and ridgelines, and hills and valleys that shape our economic landscape. As a result, a rising economic tide fills the rivers and reservoirs of some, while leaving others dry and parched."

This is a perilous moment. The individualist, greed-driven free-market ideology that both our major parties have pursued is at odds with what most Americans really care about. Popular support for either party has struck bottom, as more and more agree that growing inequality is bad for the country, that corporations have too much power, that money in politics has corrupted our system, and that working families and poor communities need and deserve help because the free market has failed to generate shared prosperity - its famous unseen hand has become a closed fist.

It is hard to overstate the consequences of choosing more of the same - the very policies that have sundered our social contract. But hear the judgment of Nobel Laureate Kenneth Arrow, echoing Martin Luther King, Jr.'s life and martyrdom. "The vast inequalities of income weaken a society's sense of mutual concern," Arrow said. "...The sense that we are all members of the social order is vital to the meaning of civilization."

Bill Moyers is managing editor and Michael Winship is senior writer of
the weekly public affairs program Bill Moyers Journal, which airs Friday night on PBS.

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