Monday, December 31, 2012

McConnell's Curse

Like everyone else in the world right now I'm a bit preoccupied the new year, but like many I've also been preoccupied with the fiscal cliffhanger.

As we're reportedly on the verge of some kind of agreement to keep the economy from freefall, the one figure who keeps resonating with me, and disagreeably, too, is
Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, who back in 2009 gleefully announced his party's resolve to make Barack Obama a one term president.

Well, guess what, McConnell failed. The president won reelection, and handily, but remember that he won reelection on his pledge to address the issue of income inequality in this country. Going from adamant insistence that those who earn more than $250,000 a year will have to pay more taxes, or about 2% of the population, to an agreement that looks to 1% of the population, those who earn $400,000 to $450,000, as a source of revenue is hardly a credible way to address income inequality. More importantly, it suggests that McConnell's curse, and that of the obstructionist party, may be working after all.

Who was the last Democratic president who presided over a robust economy? Bill Clinton, of course. Remember what happened to him? The same obstructionists who went after Clinton, if for no other reason than that he was good at what he was doing, are at play with Obama this time. They may not find any White House interns to pin on this president, but the wing nuts of the Republican Party haven't gone anywhere in the past twenty years. They've only organized better. Now, it's the Democrats turn to do the same.

Sunday, December 30, 2012


R.I.P. Artie Shaw who passed eight years ago today at age 94, and whose music is with us still.

Artie was my second cousin. He attributes his musical gift to his uncle, and my maternal grandfather, Moishe, who was a cantor.

I dreamt of meeting Artie as a little girl when I heard family stories about what a proverbial black sheep he was. While living on Beverly Glen in Los Angeles in the late 1990's, I met and had drinks with a music critic who told me he interviewed Artie. I managed to get him drunk enough, and got Artie's phone number from him after swearing never to tell Artie how I got his number.

A few weeks later, I called Artie for the first time after hearing that Allen Ginsberg died as I knew Artie was a big fan of literature. We started talking and we never stopped. We spoke for about an hour, and then arranged to meet at the Allen Ginsberg memorial service in Westwood. The first time we saw each other face to face (I was in my forties, he in his late 80's), Artie's eyes filled with tears. There was no denying we were related to each other. We were friends from that point on.

In early 2002, I gave Artie my screenplay about the Sylvia Beach story---the woman who was the first to publish James Joyce's "Ulysses" which was then 144 pages long. He took a pencil and wrote in the margins, helped me cut it down to 122 pages long. I kept the copy with his marginalia. I begged him to show it to Robert Altman who was a friend of his, "I wouldn't waste Altman's time with this," he said. Altman didn't respect the script as a written work. He would have rejected "Lincoln," too. Artie spent many hours screaming at me, "why do you want to have anything to do with those morons in Hollywood? why don't you write a book? a mind like yours is wasted on those people. write a book."

Little did I know at the time that Artie was going blind, and my screenplay would be among the last things he was able to read. Artie knew that. I didn't.

When last I saw him at his home in Newbury Park, back in 2002, he was the same handsome, feisty fellow who broke so many hearts.

Here's looking at you, kid.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Tale of the Pink Tutu

Remembering back to when at five, maybe six, I took my first ballet lessons, and the pink tutu I so adored. It fit like a glove, and looked like the tutu the girl in this photo is wearing. I took to dance as a fish to water, but the structure and discipline of ballet was somehow inimical to me.

Truth be told, friends, I crapped all over my one and only pink tutu. That's right, I didn't like ballet lessons though I adored wearing the tutu. I didn't like being told how to dance, which way to face, which way to move, and it was then that I discovered I was mildly dyslexic. The ballet teacher would say "turn to your left," and I'd turn to my right. It was humiliating. She said "You obstinate child. You're deliberately doing the opposite of whatever I tell you." That wasn't true. I got mixed up between left and right.

Anyway, one day I came home from a ballet lesson with sharp stomach pangs, and I rang the doorbell. My mother was on the phone, as usual, and it took forever for her to answer the door. I wondered how I would make it all the way up the long staircase to the front door when I had to go to the bathroom so bad, so bad that I crapped in my little pink tutu.

I was so afraid that my mother would scream and yell that I tried to hide the evidence, hung the pink tutu up from the shower rod (had to climb up on the toilet to reach the shower rod), and there it was--the tutu with feces dripping onto the bathtub. My mother came in and said, "You really don't want to take ballet lessons," so that was the end of my career as a ballerina. She never asked why.

A few years later, in elementary school, the teacher would stand over me insisting that I hold the pencil a certain way. I think her name was Mrs. Finfer. My nickname for her, at the time, was Mrs. Finger which, of course, she didn't like. She'd chide me about not holding the pencil a certain way when finally I blurted out, "Nobody tells me how to hold a pencil. I'm a writer." It was an epiphany. It was as if, at that very moment, everything that I'd try to say up to that point had suddenly crystallized.

I think about that tutu today. Something there is about dance that defies all rules, all regimen. Something there is about imagination that is eternally wild. The little girl in the pink tutu still lives inside me.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The moon

The moon barked at me
on the way
home from
If not for the sun
I wouldn't be
standing here.


"Hmmmmm, and all this time I thought I was invited to a briss. It was really a tax cut."

Friday, December 21, 2012

Dial "S" for Stupid

Okay, so nobody wants to come out and say it, but what National Rifle Association chief executive officer, and spokesperson Wayne LaPierre said today about having an armed police officer in every school along with an armed volunteer force to protect children from future nightmares like the one we all lived through one week ago today at Sandy Hook Elementary School was flat out stupid.

Yes, stupid, that's right.

As the LA Times reports, Mr. LaPierre said, "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.",0,6328031.story

The big wig of the national gun cabal even has a congressman lined up, ready to shoot the ball through the loop, and lobby for federal funds to implement his idea. Rep. Hutchison will reportedly head a program to help develop a paradigm for LaPierre's brainy notion.

What next? Approaching Speaker of the House John Boehner with a Plan C in which deficit reduction includes cutting Social Security, food stamps, Medicaid, and unemployment while simultaneously leaving in place defense contracts, and adding a gun friendly program whereby law enforcement, as if they don't have enough on their hands manning our city streets, buses, and subways, will now be deployed to our nation's schools.

Apart from the obvious problem, namely that the states don't have enough federal funding to be able to keep regular law enforcement on the streets, witness cutbacks in the Oakland police force, there is another issue that gets precious little media scrutiny which is the problem of the use of deadly force.

Obviously, Mr. LaPierre has yet to hear about how law enforcement departments nationwide are trying to deal with deadly force. Either that, or he doesn't want to deal with it.

True, incidents of poor judgment, or the use of deadly force when other measures could have been more effective don't happen all that often, but we saw what happened in a city, Oakland, when a youngster named Oscar Grant was gunned down by transit police. The officer's attorneys argued that the Bart policeman momentarily confused his taser gun with his firearm. Do we really want to take that kind of chance in our nation's schools?

The answer, of course, is no, but let's not write off the undeniable need for heightened security in places where people are especially vulnerable like classrooms. This is a complex issue, and I'm not going to profess to have an answer for it. The massacre at Columbine took place despite the presence of school security.

Importantly, too, Mr. LaPierre no longer speaks for three-quarters of the NRA who, as a result of the mass murder of children on December 14, are open to measures that call for more firearm regulations. Again, nearly 75% of National Rifle Association members now approve of some new legislation to address the problem of out of control firearms in this country in the wake of Sandy Hook massacre.

Quite simply, the organization now has in its leadership a fellow, Wayne LaPierre, who is out of step with the wishes of his own organization, so maybe people ought to stop demonizing an organization of four million members, and call for them to elect leadership that's more representative. Any leadership that contradicts the expressed wishes of its membership must step aside.

At this point, all of us, those who own guns and those who oppose firearm ownership, realize it could have been any of our children that Friday in Newton, Connecticut.

Most importantly, the line of thinking that the way to put out the fire is by introducing more fire is not only delusional, it is dangerously delusional. No sane society depends upon firearms for its protection. It depends upon laws. More often than not, legislation must bend and change to accommodate changes in technology, and social climate.

Clearly, our laws must be flexible enough to acknowledge not merely the tragedy, but the outrage we all feel when we think about how one troubled youngster in suburban Connecticut was able to get his hands, and legally, on enough ammunition to take out 26 people in a matter of minutes. We must all work together to figure out a realistic, and effective way to stop that from happening again.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Sandy Hook

It's hard to accept that there is bloodless cruelty in the world, and that there are people whose sole pleasure is in making the lives of others miserable. It's equally hard to accept that there are many who think pleasure is the be-all, end-all of existence. We grope for a way to understand acts of madness, acts of evil. The simple truth is, there is more that we can't understand in this life than that we can.

Clearly, if there is some master plan, it is of our own devising, and it is that plan that keeps us afloat, ultimately, and not gravity.

If we devote our lives to a higher purpose than our own puny self-gratification, we will find destiny at our doorstep, accompanied by sunshine. And, if we recognize that those unable to find any purpose in life often commit the most heinous acts, maybe we can begin the process of forgiveness. There can be no collective social health without a capacity to forgive. That is not merely the spirit of the season, but the sense of purpose we, as a nation and a planet, need.

"Washington's Revolving Door: As Old as Lincoln"

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

Last week, we talked about the infernal revolving door between government and big business and how one person in particular, Liz Fowler, has spun through it so many times she may need to take something for motion sickness. Which makes it a good thing that she’s going back to work as a lobbyist for the health care industry, where presumably she can get a prescription filled.

Fowler used to be a lobbyist with the health insurer WellPoint. Then she went to Capitol Hill as Senator Max Baucus’ health care reform architect followed by some time at the Department of Health and Human Services and the Obama White House. Now she’s headed back to the private sector, going to bat for the medical giant Johnson & Johnson where no doubt her deep insider knowledge of Washington will be worth every dollar.

We were reminded of the revolving door again when Bill spoke with Tony Kushner, the screenwriter of “Lincoln,” on this week’s edition of Moyers & Company. Early in the film, Lincoln tells his Secretary of State William Seward that he wants to ram through a lame duck House of Representatives the Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery. He needs support from his opposition, the Democratic Party. Seward says there’s none to be had but the politically savvy Lincoln reminds him that 64 Democratic members have just lost reelection and will be looking for jobs. “If procuring votes with offers of jobs is what you intend,” Seward replies, “I’ll fetch a friend from Albany who can supply the skulking men gifted at this kind of shady work.” And so he does.

The more things change, the more they remain the same. The actual revolving door may not have been invented until 1888, more than twenty years after Lincoln’s death, but the principle already was firmly in place back then and still turning ‘round today, especially among departing members of the House. They’re looking for jobs and the siren call of K Street is irresistible.

Some didn’t wait, and lined up their cushy lobbying positions even before their terms have officially ended. Outgoing House Representative Jason Altmire, a Pennsylvania Democrat, was a health care lobbyist before being elected in 2006. He opposed Obamacare. Now he’s hooking up with Florida Blue – they run that state’s Blue Cross and Blue Shield -- as senior vice president for public policy; a fancy title for lobbyist.

Congressman Mike Ross, Democrat of Arkansas, fought hard against a rule cutting back on dangerous emissions from coal burning power plants. Now he’s leaving the House and becoming senior vice president for government affairs at Southwestern Power Pool – that’s a group representing electric utilities that burn coal for energy – and profit. Some coincidence.

Heath Shuler, Democratic representative of North Carolina and former NFL quarterback, is helping lead the congressional effort to prevent a plunge over the so-called fiscal cliff. Come January, he moves on to be senior vice president of federal affairs for the biggest electrical power company in the country, Duke Energy. Duke has enjoyed extensive tax subsidies and in the years 2008-2010 received tax refunds of $216 million while reporting five and a half billion dollars profit. Tim Carney, of the conservative Washington Examiner newspaper, writes that Duke Energy would have profited nicely if Congress had passed cap-and-trade legislation that Duke Power helped draft and Shuler supported. So he’ll still be working for Duke, just making more money.

Another case of coincidence, apparently, which is funny because only a few months ago, Shuler was in total denial when investigative reporters Lee Fang and Ziad Jilani asked him about his future:

Fang: Are you going to become a lobbyist?

Shuler: No…

Jilani: What do you plan to do after you retire?

Shuler: Have a better job than you guys have, that’s for sure.

In pursuit of a so-called better job – a lobbying job -- even a House member who was easily reelected is abandoning the ship of state. Republican Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson of Missouri just won her ninth term with a whopping 72 percent of the vote.

Hardly had the voters re-elected Emerson then she jilted them. She’s leaving to become head of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, a lobbying group which over the years -- coincidentally, of course -- has been her largest campaign contributor.

An editorial in the Kansas City Star noted that “As a congresswoman, Emerson was paid in campaign donations to help rural electric cooperatives avoid tough environmental regulations and reap tax credits. As a soon-to-be overseer of a large staff of lobbyists, she’ll be paid even more handsomely.” We don’t know what her new salary will be but the former congressman who had the job two years ago was paid $1.5 million, a number which would boost Emerson’s current paycheck by 862 percent.

Lobbying’s the biggest business in Washington, after government and tourism. According to James Thurber of American University, the industry spends as much as $8 billion a year and employs some 100,000 people, including former government staffers who make far more than they did on the public payroll. Professional headhunters told the Washington newspaper The Hill that “former Obama cabinet members could start at $1 million, depending on their prominence at law and lobby firms.” Former assistants to the president could start at half a million a year and special assistants could pull in an annual paycheck of more than $300,000.

It’s a lucrative world through that revolving door – no wonder that of the 119 members of Congress who left after the 2010 elections, roughly a third wound up in the lobby business, hitting up those they left behind for valuable information and favors. Oh, I know, there are rules now in place that say outgoing members and their staffs can’t hit up their colleagues in government for a period of time. But you know how it works: ex-Congressman A follows the letter of the law but says to his new lobbying colleagues, call my good friend Congressman B. or Cabinet Secretary C. Tell him or her I said hello. And the deed is done. The bidding of big business is obeyed and the voter left flat-footed once again.

Abraham Lincoln – Honest Abe -- was a realist; in another life he’d been a lawyer serving the interests of the railroads. Much of this probably wouldn’t surprise him and as we see in the movie he wasn’t above back-dealing to achieve a loftier goal. The 13th Amendment is “the greatest measure of the 19th century,” a character says in the film. “Passed by corruption, aided and abetted by the purest man in America.”

But the extent of that back-dealing now is staggering, and what’s especially enraging is how it has become accepted, normal behavior in Washington – the richest and most powerful corporate lobbyists are held in higher esteem than those elected to serve. If you’re a public official – or working for one -- you can’t keep your mind on the people’s business when your eyes are on the exit – through the revolving door -- and the biggest paycheck available.


Bill Moyers is managing editor and Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program, Moyers & Company, airing on public television. Check local airtimes or comment at

Sunday, December 16, 2012

"Just a Few Miles from Newton"

By Michael Winship

We’re spending a holiday season weekend at the home of friends in a small Connecticut town just a few miles up the road from Newtown. Returning from the local store, our friend Emily tells us that the talk there this morning is of nothing but the killings; every customer seems to know at least one of the families devastated by the volleys of gunshots. The headline on the front page of The Danbury News-Times is the single word, “Shattered,” in enormous type.

At The Atlantic website, I read a piece by Edward Small (, a reporter who attended the school in Newtown when he was a kid and I remember my own elementary school in a small town in upstate New York. In those days, the only emergency drills we ever had were the duck-and-cover alerts that sent us into the hallways or under our desks during the depths of Cold War hysteria; the only violence was getting shoved from behind by a bully, books and binder flying.

An attack like this new deadly assault would have been unimaginable at my school, not unimaginable like it was in Newtown until yesterday but unimaginable, period -- simply because I truly believe that back then it never would have happened. There were plenty of guns around; deer hunters abounded and as baby boomers many of our fathers had served during World War II and returned home with firearms they kept hidden away. (Mine didn’t have a gun but a small, ceremonial German dagger in a faux-ivory scabbard. He must have bought or traded for it. Dad was a pharmacist and had been a medical supply officer in the Army – that dagger certainly wasn’t acquired in hand-to-hand combat).

Yes, there were problems and issues galore but no 24-hour news cycle battering viewers with the latest fresh bloodlettings, no video games inuring the young to bullets, bombs and psychosis, no Internet. I always wonder how those two killers of In Cold Blood fame found each other; now they would have met via Facebook.

Make no mistake, I’m as big an Internet and all-news-all-the-time aficionado as the next guy and I know I sound like the cranky old curmudgeon I’m rapidly becoming but it was different then. Today, there’s almost one privately owned firearm for every person in America, more than any other nation. We have the highest rate of gun-related homicide in the developed world, almost twenty times that of 22 other “rich” countries (

There have been an estimated 31 school shootings in the United States since Columbine in 1999 ( As many as 100 bullets were fired in Newtown; last year, a total of 85 were fired at people by the police in all of Germany and 49 of them were warning shots ( We will hear all these and other statistics in the days ahead and in a week or so they will fade until the next time. Unless this time we stand up and say no.

In his Atlantic article Edward Small wrote (, “I spent all day reading the headlines and the body counts, but part of me is still waiting for the grand reveal that none of this really happened because how could any of it have really happened? How could the elementary school where I wrote my first story and got in trouble for calling Ross Perot a butthead also be the site of the nation's second-deadliest school shooting? I can't reconcile the memories I have of Sandy Hook School with the events of today. They simply aren't the same place.”

I read the stories, too, and watch the never-ending TV “updates” that rarely add anything to what little we know. Then another story catches my eye from a newspaper in Michigan about two little boys in a small town, smaller than Newtown, smaller than my hometown, who went looking for crayfish in a nearby stream, the way little boys do, and found what they thought was an unusual rock. It turned out to be an ancient bone from a mastodon, some 13,000-14,000 years old.

"This has been a wonderful experience,” one of their mothers told the paper ( “He's been struggling in school and this has helped him with self-confidence and inspired him to learn more about science."

I remember how we played and explored when we were young; how we found fossils, too, and sometimes an arrowhead, and I think of all those little kids now dead in Connecticut who will no longer have the chance to make discoveries like those, never imagine, never explore, never be inspired, never get older. I put down the newspapers, turn off the TV and computer. Shattered.


Michael Winship, a native of Canandaigua, NY, is senior writer of the public television series Moyers & Company, and senior writing fellow at the non-partisan think tank Demos. For more, go to

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Mental Health Apologists are Enablers

Like many Americans, I'm devastated by the murder of twenty children, and six adults at an elementary school in Newton, Connecticut yesterday.

Like others, for years now, I have been calling for stricter gun control legislation. Understood that Connecticut already has tight restrictions on firearms, but what happened yesterday was just another in a long series of examples of why states alone can't be allowed to make decisions on this issue. There needs to be federal gun control legislation.

Yesterday, I posted a comment to a social media site expressing my profound sorrow, and outrage that an event like the mass murder at a public school should happen yet again. . A commenter wrote: "This is not a gun control issue. It is a mental health issue." Right, guns don't kill people; mentally ill people do. This is simply a more sophisticated gun apologist argument.

Try telling a youngster in East Oakland, Chicago, or Compton who has just watched his brother get blown away by a handgun by a rival gang member that guns don't kill, mentally ill people do..

Try telling that to parents, and youngsters alike in the suburbs, in Florida, in Detroit, in a coffee shop, in a bar. According to the Violence Policy Center, more than 30,000 people a year die as a result of gun violence.

And, according to The Washington Post , the U.S. has far more gun-related killings than any other country in the industrialized world.

I'm tired of hearing excuses about why mass murderers commit these heinous crimes, that they suffer from this mental illness, or that. Over the past thirty years, we've seen several horrific mass murders in Aurora, Virginia Tech, and elsewhere, but every day in every city of every state in this country, someone is faced with the prospect of being the victim of a loaded gun

While the focus is on these beautiful young kindergarten children from a white middle class suburb in New England, it is just as devastating when we lose African-American, and Latino youngsters in working class neighborhoods all over America. And, sadly, this happens every day.

Shootings are routinely reported on local evening news. Citizens of this country have become so accustomed to hearing about people getting shot, and killed every day in some squabble or other that they mentally reach for the mute button.

And, no, Martha. This is not a mental health issue. This is a gun control issue, and a social health issue. First, we need to make guns less readily available, less convenient, and less opportune, and then, as a nation, we need to have a conversation not just about violence, but about our collective anger management issue, an anger management issue that has led to eleven years of non-stop warfare, and a sociopathic addiction to military assault rifles, drones, and other weapons of mass destruction.

This isn't about personal mental health issues, but societal mental health. . Even if it were possible to wave a wand and make each and every individual in this country magically sane, we would still have a problem with gun violence. Violence is deeply embedded in our collective consciousness, whether it be instant results achieved from a firearm, or immediate impact of bombs, and remote-controlled killing machines.

So, please, stop trying to personalize this. Stop looking for this or that psychiatric disorder to explain a problem that belongs in the public domain. Stop trying to find new and ingenious ways to not blame firearms. Stop thinking because a state has sane gun control laws, that's all we need.

No, we need federal legislation to regulate firearm sales and use. At a minimum, we need to reinstate the ban on assault weapons. We need to stop sales of firearms on the Internet and at gun shows, and most of all, we need to recognize that this is about our national mental health, and not that of a lone gunman.

Friday, December 14, 2012

"Washington's Revolving Door Is Hazardous to Our Health"

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

We’ve seen how Washington insiders write the rules of politics and the economy to protect powerful special interests, but now as we enter the holiday season, and a month or so after the election, we’re getting a refresher course in just how that inside game is played, gifts and all. In this round, Santa doesn’t come down the chimney -- he simply squeezes his jolly old self through the revolving door.

It’s an old story, the latest chapter of which came to light a few days ago with a small item in Politico: "Elizabeth Fowler is leaving the White House for a senior-level position leading ‘global health policy’ at Johnson & Johnson’s government affairs and policy group."

A familiar name. We had talked about Liz Fowler on Bill Moyers Journal in 2009, during the early stages of Obama’s health care reform. She was at the center of the action, sitting behind Montana Senator Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee at committee hearings. Bill noted, "She used to work for WellPoint, the largest health insurer in the country. She was Vice President of Public Policy. And now she's working for the very committee with the most power to give her old company and the entire industry exactly what they want: higher profits, and no competition from alternative non-profit coverage that could lower costs and premiums."

After Obamacare passed, Senator Baucus himself, one of the biggest recipients in Congress of campaign cash from the health care industry, boasted that the architect of the legislation was none other than Liz Fowler. "I want to single out one person,” he said. "... Liz Fowler is my chief health counsel. Liz Fowler has put my health care team together... She put together the White Paper last November 2008, [the] 87-page document which became the basis, the foundation, the blueprint from which almost all health care measures in all bills on both sides of the aisle came.

She is an amazing person. She is a lawyer; she is a Ph.D. She is just so decent. She is always smiling, she is always working, always available to help any Senator, any staff. I just thank Liz from the bottom of my heart."

The health care industry was very pleased, too. Early on in the evolution of Obamacare, the Senate and the White House cut deals that protected the interests of the health care industry, especially insurers and the pharmaceutical companies. Lobbyists beat back such popular proposals as a public option, an expansion of Medicare, and a requirement that drug companies negotiate the prices they charge.

As the eagle-eyed journalist Glenn Greenwald noted in The Guardian last week, "The bill’s mandate that everyone purchase the products of the private health insurance industry, unaccompanied by any public alternative, was a huge gift to that industry." That sound you hear isn’t jingle bells; it’s cash registers ringing.

And Liz Fowler? The White House brought her over from Congress to oversee the new law’s implementation, first at the Department of Health and Human Services and then as Special Assistant to the President for Healthcare and Economic Policy.

And now, it’s through the revolving door once more. Yes, Christmas has come a little early for the peripatetic Ms. Fowler, as she leaves the White House for the pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson. As Glenn Greenwald writes, Ms. Fowler "will receive ample rewards from that same industry as she peddles her influence in government and exploits her experience with its inner workings to work on that industry’s behalf, all of which has been made perfectly legal by the same insular, Versailles-like Washington culture that so lavishly benefits from all of this."

Friends of Liz Fowler will say this is harsh, that she was the talented, intelligent protégée of two liberal Democrats -- outgoing California Congressman Pete Stark and the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York -- who believed in public service as a calling. That she was seriously devoted to crafting a health care reform proposal that would pass. No doubt, but it’s not the point. She’s emblematic of the revolving door culture that inevitably means, when push comes to shove, corporate interests will have the upper hand in the close calls that determine public policy. It’s how insiders fix the rules of the market, no matter which party is in power.

The last time we looked, 34 former staff members of Senator Baucus, whose finance committee has life and death power over the industry’s wish list, were registered lobbyists, more than a third of them working on health care issues in the private sector. And the revolving door spins ever faster after a big election like the one we had last month, as score of officials, elected representatives and their staffs vacate their offices after the ballots are counted. Many of them head for K Street and the highest bidder.

When his administration began, President Obama swore he would get tough. "If you are a lobbyist entering my administration," he said, "you will not be able to work on matters you lobbied on, or in the agencies you lobbied during the previous two years... When you leave government, you will not be able to lobby my administration for as long as I am president. And there will be a ban on gifts by lobbyists to anyone serving in the administration as well."

Reforms were passed that are supposed to slow down the revolving door, increase transparency and limit the contact ex-officials and officeholders can have with their former colleagues. But those rules and regulations have loopholes big enough for Santa and his sleigh to drive through, reindeer included. The market keeps growing for insiders poised to make a killing when they leave government to help their new bosses get what they want from government. That’s the great thing about the revolving door: one good turn deserves another.


Bill Moyers is managing editor and Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program, Moyers & Company, airing on public television. Check local airtimes or comment at’s-revolving-door-is-hazardous-to-our-health/

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What Does U.S. Recognition of Syrian Opposition Forces Really Mean?

President Obama told Barbara Walters on Tuesday's "20/20" that the U.S. is prepared to formally recognize the Syrian rebels, the New York Times reports, thereby turning up the heat on Syrian leader Assad to step down.

But, what the Times calls a "once-disparate band of opposition groups" also includes a faction which the president has designated an al Qaeda franchise, so the question is, by granting legitimacy to the entire band of Assad rebels, is the White House indirectly recognizing al Qaeda and, if so, what does that say about ongoing U.S. combat in Afghanistan, and elsewhere?

"Not everybody who is participating on the ground in fighting Assad are people that we are comfortable with," the president said. "There are some who I think have adopted an extremist agenda, an anti-U.S. agenda."

Even though he said this, as the Times reports, Obama continued to praise the inclusiveness, and diversity of opposition forces. Are the Syrian rebels satisfied with the American president's praise? Of course not. They want arms not praise, but Obama is smart. He's not arming the Syrian opposition, thereby steering clear of an Iran-Contra debacle. But, the mere recognition of opposition forces that include factions allied with al Qaeda, in and of itself, poses some major questions. What next, dubbing Syrian rebels "freedom fighters?"

Does this sound familiar? Remember when Mr. Obama said he would sign the National Defense Authorization Act even though, as a constitutional lawyer, he wasn't comfortable with the part authorizing unlimited detention of United States citizens?

In both cases, he's posturing with the Syrian opposition is not unlike his posturing with the NDAA's unlimited detention article. In both cases, he's essentially saying "I recognize that this stinks, but I'm prepared to look the other way." Oh, no, Mr. President.. There are questions that need to be asked and answered.

More importantly, the president has opened the door wide to legitimate accusations of hypocrisy when it comes to which combatants get to be designated "enemy combatants." . Is the president really saying that there is such a thing as enemy combatant light? We're now approaching an Alice in Wonderland of terror.

Let me be clear. The U.S. is not the first, nor the only, country to recognize the opposition to Assad in Syria. France, and Britain have also done so. The Obama administration's decision to join an international coalition in supporting the ouster of Assad is a wise one. It is even wiser for the president to avoid military engagement.

Having said that, the American people are still entitled to ask why we've been war for more than a decade now with al Qaeda in Afghanistan, Iraq, and unofficially in Yemen, yet on the battlefields of Syria, our government is prepared to look the other way and recognize factions which, by the president's own reckoning, are linked to al Qaeda.

That the U.S. has been working for some time behind the scenes to nurture opposition to Assad, according to the Times, while at the same time refusing to commit to air strikes, or a ground war, is an excellent strategy. We have no more business involving ourselves in the internal strife of an otherwise sovereign state. How is it, then, that we have any right to intervene in the internal affairs in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other parts of the world that al Qaeda affiliates are said to call home?

Moreover, given the looming, ubiquitous deadline of expiring Bush tax cuts in a couple of weeks, and while both Republicans and Democrats alike are talking about entitlement reform, it may be a better idea to chip away at the national security infrastructure, which has grown exponentially over the past dozen years, and which is, without question, among the most expensive entitlement programs of all.

After all, if the president is now prepared to recognize Syrian opposition forces, even those that he thinks are connected with al Qaeda, it's time to end this farce called the "war on terror," ensure that not one more drop of blood be spilled, and bring the troops home now.

Happy Holidays, All!

Cherubs are remarkably agile. They frolic among the clouds, never grow
weary, and never age. Their secret is simple. They know how to celebrate.

May you fly like an angel, and land like a 747.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

If you're reading this...

and it's important to you, please sign this petition to pass a bill in honor of John Lennon called "The Imagine Act" which will ban the sale of firearms on the Internet, require background checks on gun retailers, as well as prohibit the sale of guns at private parties. The time is here. The time is now. Stop the madness.

32 Years and Counting

Yesterday marked the 32nd anniversary of John Lennon's murder in front of the Dakota apartment building in Manhattan, and not much has changed. Congress has failed to enact any gun control legislation since 1994.

The revolver that was used to shoot John Lennon was a .38 caliber five shot Charter Arms Undercover .38 special. He was shot with five hollow point rounds at point blank range. Four rounds hit him in the back, killing him in a matter of seconds.

Yesterday, too, in a suburb of Pennsylvania, a man accidentally shot and killed his 7 year old son outside a gun store. As the UPI reports, the 44 year old father was simply trying to put the handgun in the backseat of his truck. He didn't realize there was one round left in the chamber which discharged hitting his young son in the chest. The child died at the scene. The man was apparently try to sell his handgun to the store, and was refused when taking it back to the truck. He may face charges of negligence.

Unfortunately, this isn't the first high profile case of an accident involving a firearm. The nightmares are too numerous to count.

But, the question is who should be facing charges of negligence? In the aftermath of Columbine, and the horrific random shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, who is responsible, and accountable for legislative inertia?

There are those who say that accidents happen, and that if handguns were banned, John Lennon's assassin could have used a knife instead. True, but a knife doesn't discharge accidentally, and it is easier to stop a knife attack than it is to stop a discharging gun.

In the face of a rash of recent work site, and public shootings, one can't help but ask how it is that not a single measure regulating the sale of firearms has passed Congress nor been signed by a President whose hometown, Chicago, became the first to pass a law banning the sale of handguns.

It's ironic, given the consistent apathy of the current chief executive, that his hometown, Chicago, led the nation in enacting firearms control legislation dating back 40 years. A citizens group that formed in the mid-1970's became the template for Illinois Citizens for Handgun Control in 1982. Remember, too, that Chicago voted to ban assault weapons in 1992, a ban, as you know, that was overturned by the Supreme Court a decade later courtesy of appointments to the bench made by then President George W. Bush.

In 1994, under Bill Clinton, the federal ban on assault weapons was passed, only to be overturned, in 2004, by the Bush administration. The Bush administration's gift of federal paralysis on the issue of gun regulation has continued into the Obama years.

Remember, too, on a federal level, and in response to the attempted assassination of another former president, Ronald Reagan, the 1981 Brady Act was enacted requiring background checks before a firearm can be purchased from a federally licensed dealer, or manufacturer. Apart from the many loopholes, and ways to circumvent the background check, is the obvious fact that anyone can purchase a gun on the Internet, or from a private party without being subject to a background check of any kind.

Notably, efforts to require background checks on private dealers have stalled in Congress, so it is then that, for the past few decades, Congress has been an enabler of the gun lobby.

How is it logical that a country that proscribes the transfer of a prescription from one private party to another can't prohibit the transfer of a firearm from one private party to another?

No one is trying to take away your guns, people. It's only common sense that if one has to pass muster to purchase a firearm from a retailer that the same should apply online, but indeed the World Wide Web has now become the wild west of gun sales. Federal law has not made one move to intervene, and regulate the sale of firearms at gun shows, on the Internet, or at people's homes without the essential safeguards put in place by the Brady Act. If anything, Congress has moved in the direction of deregulating interstate gun sales.

Take a look at the fellow who shot and killed a dozen people at that movie theater in Colorado, or the one who shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and others in Arizona. Do you think they'd pass a background check? As Oscar Wilde once said, "Only the superficial don't judge by appearances."

Now that Mr. Obama has been reelected, and seeing how no president can serve three terms, he must be prevailed upon to revisit some of the legislation that passed in his hometown, Chicago, as well as to remember that heartbreaking cold winter day in December that the world lost not just a rock musician, but a visionary, as well as all the others whose lives have been cut short quickly, and efficiently because of the ready availability of firearms.

It has been nearly 20 years since any action has been taken by Congress, or a president, to regulate the sale of firearms. Apart from the obvious, and obligatory reinstatement of the ban on assault weapons, there needs to be serious steps taken to regulate gun sales on the Internet. Maybe it's time for Congress to create, and pass, a measure in memory of John Lennon, "The Imagine Act," that would ban gun sales on the Internet, and at private parties, as well as require background checks on firearms retailers.

After the nightmare at the midnight screening in Aurora, President Obama appeared before the public and said it's time for a national conversation on gun violence. We're waiting, Mr. President.

Come on, Mr. President, you've got nothing to lose now. Stand up to the gun lobby. Stand up to the war cartel. Stand up to Wall Street. These are one and the same fellows and, at the end of the day, they need to learn how to sleep alone.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

"FCC May Give Murdoch a Very Merry Christmas"

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

Until now, this hasn’t been the best year for media mogul Rupert Murdoch. For one, none of the Republicans who had been on the payroll of his Fox News Channel – not Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum or Mike Huckabee or Sarah Palin – became this year’s GOP nominee for president.

Oh sure, when Mitt Romney got the nod instead, Murdoch’s TV and newspaper empire backed him big time, but on Election Night, Fox pundits like Dick Morris and Karl Rove – the top GOP strategist and fundraiser -- had to eat crow as Barack Obama won a second term in the White House, despite their predictions of a Republican landslide. (When the network called Ohio and the election for Obama, a desperate Rove tried to keep Fox statisticians from doing their job until the facts couldn’t be ignored or denied. New York magazine reports that Fox News programming chief Bill Shine now “has sent out orders mandating that producers must get permission before booking Rove or Morris.”)

On top of all that, just this week, Murdoch’s News Corp announced the shutdown of The Daily, its multimillion dollar attempt at a national iPad newspaper. And last week in London, the thousand-page report of an independent inquiry into the gross misconduct of the British press came out – that big scandal over reporters illegally hacking into people’s cell phones and committing other assorted forms of corruption, including bribery. Murdoch’s gossip sheet, The News of the World, was right at the center of it, the worst offender. The fallout cost Murdoch the biggest business deal of his career – the multi-billion buyout of satellite TV giant BSkyB -- and the report attacked his now-defunct News of the World for its “failure of management” and “general lack of respect for individual privacy and dignity.”

But Murdoch’s luck may be changing. Despite Fox News’ moonlighting as the propaganda ministry of the Republican Party, President Obama’s team may be making it possible for Sir Rupert to increase his power, perversely rewarding the man who did his best to make sure Barack Obama didn’t have a second term. The Federal Communications Commission could be preparing him one big Christmas present, the kind of gift that keeps on giving -- unless we all get together and do something about it.

All indications are that Murdoch has his eye on two of the last remaining big newspapers in America – the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, each owned by the now bankrupt Tribune Company. He could add one or both to his impressive portfolio, but even though the media mogul is splitting News Corp into two, separately traded companies -- one for its print entities, the other for TV and film – he would still come under current rules restricting media companies from owning newspapers and TV and radio stations in the same town. However, the FCC may be planning to suspend those rules, paving the way for Murdoch’s takeover of either of the two papers.
In prior years, the FCC has granted waivers to the rules, but this latest move on their part would be more permanent, allowing a monolithic corporation like News Corp or Disney, Comcast, Viacom, CBS or Time Warner – in any of the top twenty markets – to own newspapers, two TV stations, eight radio stations and even the local Internet provider.

Once again, massive media conglomerates would be given free rein to gobble up more and more of our communications outlets, increasing their already considerable power, destroying independent voices, diluting or eradicating local news and community affairs coverage, eliminating competition and stomping even further on diversity. A recent study – from the FCC itself – shows that last year female ownership of commercial TV and radio stations is at 6.8 percent, Latino ownership is 2.8 percent, Asian ownership is half a percent, and African American ownership of commercial stations actually has decreased to less than one percent.

Suspending the current rules would only make this awful situation worse, which is one of the reasons why Vermont’s independent Senator Bernie Sanders and several of his Senate colleagues sent a letter last week to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. “Congress tasked you with a mandate to promote localism and diversity in America’s broadcast system,” they wrote. “While the current ownership rules have not completely achieved these goals, they nonetheless remain a bulwark against mass consolidation and stand to preserve local voices.”

This is not the first time the Federal Communications Commission has tried to change the rules. In 2003 and again five years ago, while George W. Bush was still in the White House, a Republican-dominated FCC made a similar attempt to sneak them past but the suspension was rejected by both the Senate and a Federal appeals court. Public comments – three million of them -- ran ninety-nine percent against the attempt to make the media behemoths even bigger and more avaricious than ever. Among the opponents: freshman Senator Barack Obama and Senators Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton.

Under Genachowski, the FCC has from time to time upheld its mandate to protect the public interest -- the recent decision to increase the number of low power community FM stations, for example, or the ruling that gave the public on-line access to who’s buying political ads on TV and radio, and how much they’re spending. But this time, it seems as if Chairman Genachowski may be trying to rush the rules change through on a technicality without sufficient time for public comments or even an open hearing.

Make your voices heard – write or call Genachowski and the other commissioners – you can find their names, e-mail addresses and phone numbers at the website, or on the “Take Action” page at our website, Write your senators and representatives, too, tell them the FCC must delay this decision and give the public a chance to have its opposition known. We’ve done it before.

Just ask the FCC this basic question: What part of “no” don’t you understand?

Bill Moyers is managing editor and Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program, Moyers & Company, airing on public television. Check local airtimes or comment at

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Cliff Notes for the Fiscal Cliff?

I have a confession. I haven't been paying as much attention as maybe I should to this latest soap opera from the no drama Obama administation, so I'm wondering if
anyone knows if there are cliff notes that might explain what exactly is at stake.

There are fellows like Grover Norquist, whose name alone qualifies him for a wax museum, and whose ideology, a pledge not to raise taxes, has clearly reached its expiration date.

There are terms bandied about like "entitlements," and "small businesses" that are code for a social safety net, and taking one's business overseas.

A deadline looms large which is only weeks away, and has deja vu written all over it. In fact, this entire episode in our history can best be summed up as "been there, done that." The only ones who seems to take these negotiations seriously are the president, and his enemy twin, House speaker John Boehner, but as the song goes, "it's his Party, and he'll cry if he wants to." Everyone else in Congress acts as if they know how the story ends, or has taken Christmas vacation early.

Or, blame it on the punch.

But, you know the drill. If Congress does nothing, the Bush tax cuts will automatically expire at the end of the year, and taxes will go up on everyone. Those who will be most directly impacted will be 98% of taxpayers who will experience, on average, a $2,000 increase in their income taxes.

To prevent taxes from being raised on 98% of us, or so he contends, President Obama agreed to sign off on allowing for tax cuts on 2% of us who need to have their taxes cut about as much as a dog needs another tail.

This much is transparent. What is less clear is how much the president is willing to "negotiate" in order to preserve tax cuts on the vast majority of the electorate. Will he countenance cuts to Social Security, Medicaid, Education? Will he deal with senators like Rand Paul who are willing to accept cuts to Defense as long as cuts to welfare, and food stamps are on the table, or will he just say no.

Will the president blink, or will he come to the table the same way he did four years ago giving the dog that extra tail, and when some historian a hundred years from now decides to write Cliff Notes for these fecund times will he, as Keith Olbermann once famous asked, distinguish between "compromise," and "being compromised?"

The only ones now waiting for the other shoe to drop are those sporting Manolo Blahniks.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Coming soon...

My new play, "Waiting to Download"...

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Rumor has it that Mitt Romney will soon be moonlighting as Elvis at a strip club in Vegas.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Public Nudity Ban

San Francisco has just passed a measure that will ban public nudity.

This means that many single women in the city will no longer be able to see naked men.

Monday, November 19, 2012


Jimi Hendrix would have been 70 years old next week. He was born on November 27, 1942. But, his was a face that would never be battered by

As a youngster, I'd run away from high school and hang out in a club called The Elephant in Woodstock, New York, which is where I saw Jimi late one night. It had to be somewhere around 1967. He was magical like lightning, sparks flying from him this way and that. He had an aura all his own. It was beyond color.

I was at a table with a group of idiots who instantly recognized him, pointed, and called out his name. I turned my chair so that my back was facing them and, in that exact instant, Jimi moved away from the two suits who escorted him into the club. I folded my arms on my chest. He folded his arms on his chest, looked at me and we both started laughing. He could no more relate to the clowns with him than I could to the clowns at my table.

And, so it was that the spirit of Jimi Hendrix came through to me as it does today as one filled with laughter, and infinite light.

Rock on, Jimi. Death is just a spineless chickenshit next to you.

Sunday, November 18, 2012


The Bay Area is what happens when Walmart merges with Liberace.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The War on Men

If some people could get their hands on it, the Book of Genesis would be written in such a way that Adam came across as a sexual predator. That's right. Eve would not have had anything to do with man's fall from grace which would instead be blamed on a man and a snake. But, of course, Sigmund Freud didn't write the Bible.

You remember the story about a garden and the first man God created, Adam. Well, seeing as there was no Internet or Facebook back then, the Almighty opted to invent Eve to be Adam's companion. The garden was called Eden, and it had a tree in the middle of it.

Remember, too, how God told Eve not to eat from the tree, and Adam and Eve not to touch the tree or harm would befall them. The snake came along and pushed Eve into the tree. Playing devil's advocate, he persuaded her that nothing happened when she touched the tree, and she wasn't punished,. Eve went along and disobeyed the Almighty. Had she obeyed, we might not be here.

It wasn't a bona fide fall from grace until Eve handed the fruit over to Adam who promptly ate it whereupon their eyes were opened to good and evil. It was all downhill from there.

The fall from grace story resonates now, more than ever, in light of the Petraeus affair, and others like it; men who have chosen to eat fruit handed to them, however innocuously, by women.

There is, of course, a big difference between the public reaction to the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, and that of Petraeus-Broadwell. As you recall, the spotlight was on then-President Clinton, and the radical right led a campaign which led to Clinton's appearance before a Grand Jury to testify about his relations with the White House intern. Bill Clinton was impeached for perjury, at least that was the pretext, and his extra-marital dalliance was roundly condemned whereas Gen. Petraeus is viewed as a fellow who simply exercised bad judgment, and succumbed to temptation.

That innuendo of seduction is nothing new, of course, and can be found in the opening pages of the Old Testament. It's fascinating to see how one can take that same edenic scene of man, woman, and serpent, and interpret it in so many ways. But, nowadays, all too often, in that garden, the man becomes indistinguishable from the serpent.

A year ago, in a college writing class, I gave my students a photograph called "Elizabeth and I" taken by renowned Hungarian photographer Andre Kertesz of himself and his wife which Kertesz took in the early 1930's, and which appeared in a family album. I asked students to come up with a narrative about what they thought happened in that photograph which shows a woman in an easy chair, casually dressed with a hand placed on her left shoulder which, as the title indicates, was the photographer's hand. Judging by the position of the hand, and how relaxed it is, it's difficult to conceive of its purpose as being anything other than to comfort.

In the photo, Elizabeth had dark circles under her eyes as if she hadn't slept which would not be surprising as it was taken in France during the Depression, but even a casual glance will reveal her to be not only smiling, but smiling seductively.

When I collected student essays, to my astonishment, more than 80% of the class, both males and females, wrote that Elizabeth had just been beaten, and physically abused by her husband which is why she looked so upset. Many didn't connect the hand with that of the photographer despite the fact that the picture is called "Elizabeth and I," and were adamant in their insistence, husband or not, that the "I" figure had, in fact, been violent with the woman in the chair.

Why, I asked, would the photographer take a picture of his wife after he beat her, and place it in a family album? It defies logic. Logic appeared to have nothing to do with anything. There was no persuading students that this was the photo of a photographer and his wife that was meant to preserve a special moment in their lives, and not a volatile one.

There was something deeper going on than not picking up visual and verbal clues. These youngsters had been exposed to a barrage of news stories about domestic abuse, rape, sexual predators so often that their default position was to see the hand of a husband, the photographer's, which was clearly meant to comfort the woman, his wife, as instead the hand of a wife beater.

This was, as you might imagine, hugely disconcerting. Is this our legacy? Are we raising children to see a couple in a photograph as a woman posing for a family album after being beaten by her husband?

How, I wondered, had we gotten to a place as a society where a class of young people from all walks of life, political, and religious persuasions could convince themselves that the hand of a man on a woman's shoulder was a hand that had just struck her? Was this some kind of anomaly, or indicative of a societal shift in perception of men?

If it's an anomaly, then why is it that when a young man of 24 who has sex with a 16 year old girl is no longer accused of statutory rape, but is now also designated a sexual predator?

On the evening news, one routinely sees stories about young men, middle aged men, older men routinely being labelled predators, and branded for life. There are communities throughout this country who deny housing to men who have served time for statutory rape, and/or other sex crimes for life. The whole notion of rehabilitation is denied them.

Look, this isn't true of men only. But, women teachers who have been charged with having sex with a minor rarely find themselves labelled "sexual predators." More often than not, women are viewed as victims of unwanted sexual encounters not initiators.

In this last presidential campaign season, women, mainly Democrats, were right to talk about the Republican war on women, and the GOP's ultimate objective of overturning Roe v. Wade, and de-funding Planned Parenthood, and steamrolling all the advances women have made over the past 50 years, but there is another war going on that has gone largely unnoticed, and which also needs to be addressed: the war on men.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not defending men who use their physical or mental power to intimidate, and harm women. All I'm saying is we've gone to the other extreme in recent years. We've gone from denying credibility to women who are victims of sex crimes to unilaterally vilifying men, and labeling them predators. If we're talking about human rights here, and this is the larger issue not women's rights or men's rights, we don't want to victimize either gender.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

"On Election Day, Money and Magical Thinking"

By Michael Winship

Forty years ago, as a young, aspiring political operative, I was a staff member on Senator George McGovern’s presidential campaign. We thought we could beat Richard Nixon but famously lost every state in the union except Massachusetts (with the District of Columbia thrown in as a forlorn consolation prize).

To commit to the presidential campaign lifestyle – endless hours and damn little charm -- you really have to believe, no matter what, that your candidate will win. So last week I wasn’t surprised by the many stories about how the Romney team was convinced they would emerge victorious, polling evidence to the contrary, to the point where reportedly they had a fireworks display poised for ignition above Boston Harbor when the requisite electoral votes were achieved.

But what I don’t understand is building a castle in the air and even in defeat trying to keep paying rent on it, almost all evidence to the contrary. For years, the right wing has been living in its own version of Tolkien’s Middle Earth in Lord of the Rings, an alternative and fanciful, fierce universe rarely bearing resemblance to real life but for odd, embittered moments like the one at President Obama’s victory celebration in Chicago on Election Night, when Fox News’ Ed Henry dourly announced, "The crowd is near pandemonium now, despite the fact that unemployment is hovering near eight percent."

Talk about a party pooper. This all has been going on since at least 2004, when an unnamed aide to George W. Bush – widely thought to be Karl Rove – told journalist Ron Suskind, “We create our own reality... We're history's actors... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

Last week, that so-called reality collided with one huge fact – that a younger, more ethnically diverse and liberal population is increasing in size. Resistance is futile, as they say in those science fiction movies, but as long as the conservative right live in a media cocoon and act like sightless bats, trying to find their way with high frequency shrieking that bounces off the walls and only they can hear, you’ve got trouble, my friends. Even Dick Morris, that unctuous pollster and paragon of propriety, had to admit that his prediction of a Romney landslide was wrong because, “This isn’t your father’s America."

But then there’s the money. On the McGovern campaign, I was paid the munificent sum of forty dollars a week. In those days, it was considered a decent salary for political work, especially as most of us slept on other people’s couches, ate free meals usually prepared by liberal faculty wives (I haven’t been able to look at gazpacho since) and frankly, there never was time to spend it anyway.

So to me, the contrast with today’s paychecks for top campaign staffers and consultants is especially stunning. Over the weekend, The Washington Post reported, “In the presidential race alone, the two main media firms working for President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney earned profits for handling more than half a billion dollars of campaign advertising, according to disclosures and ad tracking data. Neither company is required to report how much it received in compensation for that work, but their combined cut could easily be $25 million or more at standard industry rates."

As for salaries, “Romney paid his top advisers more than Obama paid his, including handing out about $500,000 in bonuses for senior staff in August and September, records show. As of Oct. 17, campaign manager Matt Rhoades had received $292,000 in salary and bonuses, compared with $197,000 for Obama campaign manager Jim Messina."

Not the megamillions paid to Wall Street CEO’s, but nonetheless that’s a lot of gazpacho.

As others have noted, Karl Rove is in deep explaining mode, rationalizing what happened to those hundreds of millions the fat cats spent bankrolling his saturation bombing of attack ads against the president and other Democrats who emerged victorious in spite of the wrath of Rove. And he’s not alone.

"Never before has so much political money been spent to achieve so little,” the Post noted. “Record spending by independent groups, which in many ways defined how campaigns were waged this year, had no discernible effect on the outcome of most races… Indeed, if election investments are like the stock market, a lot of billionaires just lost their shirts."

But as Nicholas Confessore writes in The New York Times, “Though the outcome of the 2012 elections dealt a blow to the wealthy donors who poured several hundred million dollars into groups seeking to defeat Mr. Obama, the president’s re-election does not presage a repudiation of the deregulated campaign financing unleashed by the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision. Instead, his victory most likely reinforced the practice.

"In virtually every respect, the growth of unlimited fund-raising and the move of outside groups to the mainstream of politics have magnified the already outsize role of money in political campaigns. They have changed how incumbents and challengers alike campaign and raise money, altered how voters experience politics, and expanded the influence of a small group of large donors on the policies and messages espoused by candidates."

What’s more, the non-partisan, investigative journalism group, The Center for Public Integrity notes that outside spending indeed made a “big difference in state-level races.” They report, “Contests for the top executive and judicial spots, in states whose bans on corporate outside spending were invalidated by the [Citizens United] ruling, were newly shaped by unlimited cash from out-of-state corporate and union treasuries."

You may think that such mixed results might dampen enthusiasm for restoring campaign finance reform or even overturning Citizens United with a constitutional amendment. Think again. On Election Day, voters in both Montana and Colorado passed by three-to-one margins orders directing legislators to support an amendment. That makes eleven states in all, according to the group Free Speech for, which is about a quarter of the way toward getting the deed done – if all the proper i’s and t’s were to be dotted and crossed.

The question is whether this groundswell for transparency and reform continues and builds – or whether the candidates and incumbents so dependent on transfusions of campaign cash smother the effort in its crib. But like that old joke about what you call 500 politicians at the bottom of the ocean, it’s a good start.


Michael Winship, senior writing fellow at the think tank Demos, is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program, Moyers & Company, airing on public television. Check local airtimes or comment at

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Reluctant Veterans

Today, I think of my father, the reluctant soldier, and all the soldiers who were to become reluctant veterans of World War II, the wars before it, and the ones to follow.

As a teenager, I remember my father telling me about why, unlike most of his peers, he didn't want to join the military during WWII. He said that, in his view, both sides were corrupt, the Germans and the Allies, and that the war was not about ideals, but simply profits. Years after the war ended, we learned that the U.S. was, in fact, doing business with the Nazi's the whole time.

Another soldier, Brigadier General Smedley D. Butler was to say something quite similar, in "War Is A Racket," when talking about WWI.

It's as important now to remember the words of Stahl, and Butler as this country persists in the longest war in our history, the "war on terror," and especially in light of all the reluctant soldiers of today.

The soldier doesn't make the war. The soldier doesn't choose the battlefield. Yet, the soldier pays the ultimate price.

Those who are not reluctant about combat are those who pose the gravest threat.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Whatever It Takes---If You Can, Vote

By Michael Winship

A week has passed since Hurricane Sandy struck, and the short subway ride uptown this morning almost seemed normal, except for the bigger crowds getting on at Penn Station and Times Square -- commuters from outside Manhattan where wind and storm surge water damage were so much worse and all too often deadly. Overheard conversations were filled with stories of how people had coped.

I live in Greenwich Village and thought I was ready for the worst -- hatches battened down with emergency food, water, batteries, flashlights, transistor radio, etc. I've stayed put through 9/11, blackouts, blizzards, even other hurricanes. Nonetheless, I wasn't prepared for the electricity and heat leaving us for five nights. I thought for sure they would be back the next day. Or the next... or the next...

But we were stuck in that trendy new Manhattan neighborhood -- SoPo, as in "South of Power" -- and when a friend and colleague offered shelter, warmth and electricity on the upper West Side, the invitation was gratefully accepted. From that outpost (for the most part, life went on as usual once you got above 34th Street and Herald Square), we watched unfold the disaster and accompanying tragedies and acts of heroism and community.

We also watched people vote. Or try to vote, in Ohio and Florida, where lines were long and attempts to suppress the right to cast a ballot are ongoing. Or in flood-stricken New Jersey, where Governor Chris Christie announced that people can vote via e-mail as if they're casting an absentee ballot from overseas -- but still need to download the ballot, print, fill it out and fax or scan it back to the board of elections; a task not easy to accomplish even under the best of conditions.

Yet whatever it takes, your individual vote is more important than ever, making your voice heard despite the money spent on this election - obscene billions - and no matter the cynicism, falsehood and other heinous behavior displayed in this pursuit of power and influence. The illustrated cover of this week's issue of The New Yorker magazine says it all. Titled "Undeterred," it shows a determined flood survivor in water up to his backpack, shining his flashlight through the darkness onto a sign: "Vote Here Vote Aqui."

Its illustrator, Adrian Tomine, told the magazine's Mina Kaneko:

"For all its really horrible effects, I feel like the storm has made real a lot of issues in the election that were hypothetical... global warming; and Is Obama enough of a leader to handle a natural disaster?; and Do we need FEMA? It's really interesting, and in a way useful, to see a lot of these things become actual issues that are right at hand."

"Right at hand" -- potent reminders of the role of government and politics in a civil society, especially when that society is in distress.

This will be the 11th presidential election in which I've voted. Every four years around Election Day, I look at a certain short piece of writing and read it again, the way some people trot out Dickens' A Christmas Carol on December 25th. In fact, we used part of it in an essay Bill and I wrote just before the 2008 election:

"It will be quiet on Tuesday. No speeches. No motorcades. No paid political announcements. It's a very special day, just for grown-ups. America votes Tuesday... and... on Tuesday, the shouting and the begging and the threatening and the heckling will be silenced. It's very quiet in a voting booth. And nobody's going to help you make up your mind. So -- just for that instant -- you'll know what the man you're voting for will do a thousand times a day for the next four years. Now it's your turn."

Eloquent and to the point. Written in 1968 by an advertising man working for Richard Nixon, five years before the Watergate scandal revealed that any trace of the belief in democracy so beautifully expressed in the words above had been erased by corruption, avarice and hubris. And yet, as Bill noted, "When I say our votes matter, I speak not out of some mystical belief in 'the will of the people' but because elections -- imperfect as they are, twisted and smattered by smears and lies and counter-lies galore, subject to distortion and manipulation -- elections offer an alternative to violence, they keep us from coming apart altogether...

"Democracy -- this is still the most radical idea ever let loose in the world -- that masses of people, so feared and loathed by monarchs of old, so distrusted by moneyed and political elites, should be charged with self-government, and get on with it, imperfectly, crudely, but with the idea of creating a prosperous society that leaves no one out. That's not mystical, either. It's been at the heart of the American experience, the hope that sustains one generation to the next. Every election is an effort to retrieve that radical idea and breathe new life into it."

So please vote! Find out where to vote here. If you're having a problem voting or need assistance, call 1-866-OUR-VOTE (Spanish: 1-888-839-8682). And visit "The Fight to Vote" section of this website to read and respond to the latest on voter suppression tactics nationwide.


Michael Winship is senior writer of Moyers & Company on public television, senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos, and president of the Writers Guild of America, East.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

This Year, Election Day is Veterans Day, too.

When voters go to the polls on Tuesday, they will be voting not just for a chief executive, but for the commander-in-chief, and given that the U.S. has been involved in the longest war in our history, the stakes have never been higher for service members, veterans, and their families.

A quick peek at Mitt Romney's Web site reveals a man who has latched on to one or two talking points almost effortlessly, and held steady.

On Romney's official site, one will also see a photograph of Romney in a business suit addressing service men and women in uniform. He looks like he could be addressing a board of directors, perhaps, or the Chamber of Commerce, maybe even the authors of his private trust, but not men and women who will find themselves doing active combat should he realize his objective of becoming the next president of the United States.

And, as Election Day is only a week away from Veterans Day, it might be a useful exercise to take a look at some of the legislation the Obama administration has enacted, over that pass three plus years, that directly benefits service members and veterans:

Last year, according to the Veterans of Foreign Wars Web site, President Obama appeared before the Washington Navy Yard, and instructed the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs to initiate "a task force to develop the first major redesign of the military's Transition Assistance Program, (TAP), in over 20 years."

As VFW asserts, the president has been working steadfastly with Congress to pass the Veterans Job Corps to help returning veterans get jobs in law enforcement, and as fire fighters.

The Obama administration has also insured that the Veterans Administration receive record funding, according to VFW, "with the FY13 budget calling for $64 billion in discretionary spending, and $76 billion in mandatory funding. In addition, the Administration has made it clear that veterans benefits are exempt from sequestration."

As a senator from Illinois, Barack Obama proposed a Post-9/11 GI bill, legislation he passed as president in which the Veterans Administration was awarded close to $20 billion in post 9/11 GI benefits affecting nearly a million veterans and their families, benefits which expand access to education.

Last year, according to the White House Web site, the president signed the Returning Heroes Tax Credit which gives businesses that hire veterans a tax credit of up to $5600 per veteran.

Another $4 billion has been added to the 2013 federal budget to hire more first responders, with an additional $1 billion slated to spur firefighter hiring.

As the president's first term draws to a close, and thanks to his efforts, nearly ten percent of all small businesses in the U.S. are owned by veterans, and more than 2 million of these businesses employ nearly 6 million people. "Between 2009 and 2011, over $3 billion through over 12,000 Small Business Administration loans went to small businesses owned by veterans and service disabled veterans."

This administration has worked tirelessly to provide housing relief to service members, and veterans facing foreclosure. The VA and Housing and Urban Development have successfully housed nearly 40,000 homeless veterans. The Obama administration has created a National Registry for Homeless Veterans, and a National Homeless Hotline.

Most importantly, President Obama signed into law a measure that funds the VA health care budget a year in advance, thereby improving care for veterans and service members suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, traumatic brain injuries, and mental health disorders. The VA has added close to 4,000 mental health professionals since 2009. Health care programs for women veterans have also been expanded to include full-time mental health professionals.

With the number of suicides in the military, and among returning veterans reaching epidemic proportions, as VFW also reports, the VA has increased the number of mental health professionals by nearly 50 percent in the past six years, and announced last spring that it will hire nearly 2,000 more mental health professionals. Since Mr. Obama assumed the office of the presidency in 2009, the Veterans Administration has increased the mental health care budget by nearly 40%, but to look at Mitt Romney's Web site would make you think that the Obama administration has all but de-funded the VA. Mendacity in the first degree.

On the campaign trail, Mitt Romney never even mentioned veterans in any of his stump speeches. And, on the portion of his Web site that deals with veterans affairs, Romney keeps repeating the same empty phrase about adding 12 million new jobs, speaking in generalities, and intentionally misrepresenting the Obama administration's record on veterans by insisting his administration won't tolerate any cuts to defense.

Gov. Romney counts on voters not knowing, as VFW suggests, that "the President has made it clear that veterans benefits are exempt from sequestration." The truth is, when the Obama administration talks about cutting defense spending, they don't mean cutting veterans benefits. To the contrary, this administration has done everything in its power, from the get-go, to cut through the red tape, and see to it that help goes to soldiers on the front lines whether they be on the battlefield, or in their own backyards. By winding down the war in Afghanistan, and pulling troops from Iraq, this president has shown his commitment to the troops, and his respect for the sanctity of human life.

The GOP talks a good game about being pro-life, but the truth is they have put more men and women in harm's way than any generation in the past. And, if given the chance, they will continue to do so.

So, when you hear the president say, "We have a sacred trust with those who wear the uniform of the United States," these are not empty words. It is now up to you, veterans, service members, first responders, and your families to decide which candidate will best represent your interests, the fellow in the Brooks Brothers suit who has already conceded that he will lose 47% of the vote, who Mr. Romney regards as freeloaders, or the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, who has fought to reduce taxes on 95% of Americans, and who will continue to do so as long as he has our vote.

Friday, November 02, 2012

The Choice: Recovery or Reversal?

Never before have the differences been starker between President Obama and his GOP challenger, Mitt Romney.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, while the nation held its breath and watched entire sections of the New Jersey coast disappear, a popular lifelong Republican governor, Chris Christie, and his neighbor, former Republican and current independent, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, have only high praise for the president's response to a super storm whose impact is still being felt.

New York's mayor even went so far as to endorse a Democrat, Barack Obama, for re-election.

But, it's not just in the area of crisis management that Mr. Obama is to be commended. It is for giving the lie to the Romney/Ryan argument that his is failed economic leadership.

In a hundred years, should Mr. Romney prevail, this election will likely be seen as a turning point, and the point at which the United States became the Citizens United states, and the time when corporations officially ruled this country

So, on the eve of what will someday be seen as a landmark election, it might be a useful exercise to take a quick look at some of the signature economic accomplishments of the Obama presidency:

First, Mr. Obama has presided over more than 30 consecutive months of private sector job growth.

While the jobs report just released showed one-tenth of one percent increase in the unemployment rate, from 7.8% to 7.9%, the number of new jobs created actually surpassed expectations.

Chrysler reported its strongest sales since 2005. General Motors' profits inched up, and Ford remains stable.

Consumer confidence is at its highest level in five years. Retail sales are up. Construction of new housing is up. We are seeing a slow, but serious reemergence of the housing market.

As McClatchy also reports, the number of Americans who say they expect unemployment to rise over the next 12 months is at its lowest level in 30 years.

Job growth is up to 2% this quarter from 1.4%.

And, more than the numbers, is the trend. Robust or otherwise, there is no denying it. We are in the midst of a recovery spurred, in part, by a president who lowered taxes on 95% of Americans.

What part of the word "recovery" are Republicans missing?

What more does the American voter want? Do we expect to have a president who can walk on water?

Is Romney the only one who suffers from Romnesia, or do the rest of us suffer from it, too?

On whose watch was $2 trillion added to the deficit in the name of fighting a war on terror? Who passed the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008? Under which president was job creation in the minus column when he left office? On whose watch were taxes lowered on the upper 2% of this country, and what effect did that have on job creation? If you answered George W. Bush, you were right on all counts.

The GOP still says they're the party of smaller government. Well, if that's true, then why did GOP bailout the banks, and Wall Street? The same folks who went to bat for Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac left thousands stranded in New Orleans, perishing in the face of Hurricane Katrina.

And, after Hurricane Sandy, what is Romney's position on FEMA? The candidate now says we should keep the federal agency while at the same time turning it over to the states to privatize it. This is not just doublespeak. It is insolent doublespeak. You can only go so far insulting the intelligence of the average American. Romney has maxed out.

Now, four years after he left office, Gov. Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, are calling for a Bush revival. After four years of Mitt at the wheel, the financial mess Obama inherited will make Hurricane Sandy look like a walk in the park.

Judging by how close this presidential race is, Romney isn't the only one who has Romnesia. Everyone who votes for him does, too.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Romney to the Rescue, Again

When Mitt Romney was elected governor of Massachusetts back in 2003, he inherited a fiscal calamity not unlike the one that faced Barack Obama in 2009.

Prominent members of the GOP, and even a sitting president, urged Romney to clean up the mess left behind by his predecessor, a fellow Republican, and acting governor from 2001 to 2003, Jane Swift.

As reports, Romney quickly stepped up to the plate, calling himself a "CEO governor," and pledging to use the business acumen he acquired from years in the private sector to do for the Commonwealth what he did for the Olympics.

Interestingly, Mr. Romney called upon the same forces as governor as he did when he ran the Olympics, taxpayers.

There are some things about Mr. Romney that haven't changed from 2003 until now. I suspect, asking taxpayers to pick up the tab is one of them.

Not only did candidate for governor Romney tout his private sector experience, but he emphasized his ability to get federal funds to help Massachusetts the same way he procured federal funds to help the Olympics. The Washington Post reports on what it terms Romney's "complicated relationship with federal funding."

"As governor of Massachusetts, Romney requested millions in federal earmarks for state transportation projects. He once boasted about his prowess at winning taxpayer money."

But, surely this can't be the same Romney who decried states accepting stimulus money, or allowing the auto industry to be bailed out by the federal government?

Is this the same fellow, as The Washington Post also reports, who joked back in 2006, “I’d be embarrassed if I didn’t always ask for federal money whenever I got the chance." Yes, it is.

Mr. Romney is running on exactly the same platform as he ran on 2003, and he's probably even wearing the same shoes. That's right, Mitt Romney is running on the Mr. Fiscal Fix It platform, and he will doubtless call upon the same private industry advisers he called upon back then. Yes, I know, the Obama administration has Geithner, but you can bet the team Romney assembles will be Geithner on steroids.

Savor the irony: the candidate for president who wants all the media focus in the remaining days of a hotly contested race to be on the economy and not on little side dishes like Richard Mourdock is the one who not only found himself in the same situation as the current president, but who left the state of Massachusetts with the same anti-climactic recovery in which we find ourselves today. Go figure, so Mr. Fix It won't fix it after all. What's more, Mr. Fix It will have no federal government from whom to borrow the funds needed to close his $3 billion budget deficit.

Is this the same Romney who wants to come to the rescue of the U.S. economy now?

A cursory peek at the state of the Massachusetts economy when Gov. Romney left office back in 2007 will reveal that, not only didn't Mr. Romney fix the fiscal mess he inherited, but he actually made things worse.

When Romney took the helm back in 2003, Massachusetts was in 36th place out of 50 states in job creation. When he left office, in 2007, Massachusetts was in 47th place.

Apart from taking federal funds, according to, Romney balanced the budget by "cutting state aid to cities and towns."

While campaigning for governor, Romney promised to be second to none in job creation, but during his tenure, Massachusetts job growth was 20% the national average. State unemployment fell, but that might be because somewhere around 4% of the population left town. Whatever job growth Mitt Romney can take credit for has been described as being at best "anemic."

Things are far from perfect over in Obama country, but the economy is trending in the right direction. According to The New York Times, economic growth rose to 2% this quarter from 1.3% last quarter, a decisive upturn; housing starts are up, retail sales are up, consumer confidence is up, and the unemployment rate is at the lowest level it has been since Mr. Obama took office.

No one is going to guarantee that we're talking about a situation of economic 'problem solved' in 2016 with Obama at the wheel, but this isn't just about the numbers, it's about the trend, and things are trending up. From listening to Mr. Romney's sales pitch, one would think the country is heading over a cliff, towards the apocalypse, or Greece. And, at the end of the day, it's not Mr. Romney's ignorance that's troubling. It's his comfort level with ignorance.