Friday, August 31, 2012

"Ralph Reed in the Marianas Trenches"

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

As the sun slowly sets over the Republican National Convention in Tampa, we settle back in the chairs that nice Mr. Eastwood just gave us and ponder some of the other oddities of the week. Like this item in the official GOP platform pointed out by Brad Plumer of The Washington Post:

“No minimum wage for the Mariana Islands.‘The Pacific territories should have flexibility to determine the minimum wage, which has seriously restricted progress in the private sector.’”

This caught our attention (and thanks to colleague Theresa Riley for sending) because it once again reminds us of the sordid past of evangelical and political entrepreneur Ralph Reed who, as this week’s edition of Moyers & Company reports in detail, has emerged from the ashes of epic career fail to reestablish himself as a powerful figure in Republican politics.

As head of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, Reed boasts he’s building a political dynamo of five million members with a massive database, an annual budget of $100 million and full-time lobbyists in all fifty state capitals, a colossal effort aimed at putting in place a right-wing social agenda and identifying and establishing contact with what it estimates as 27 million conservative voters in America. As you can imagine, with clout like that, Reed and his coalition were in high cotton at the Tampa convention.

Which brings us to that curious Mariana Islands minimum wage plank in the Republican platform. Some years ago, our government made an effort to clean up sweatshops on the islands – including Saipan -- that have been under the control of the United States since the end of World War II.

Chinese women were brought over to the islands to work under awful conditions – subject to forced abortions and prostitution and paid pennies for producing garments labeled “Made in the USA.”

Corrupt local officials hired the firm of infamous lobbyist Jack Abramoff -- for more than four million dollars -- to try to stop the reforms proposed back in Washington. Abramoff, in turn, hired Ralph Reed and his political direct mail company, Millennium Marketing, to conduct a phony grass roots campaign urging Alabama Christians to write their local congressman to oppose the reforms.

Of course, Reed didn’t tell those Christians he was being paid to help keep running sweatshops that exploited women. Instead, he told them the reforms were a trick orchestrated by the left and organized labor. Limits on Chinese workers would keep them from being “exposed to the teachings of Jesus Christ.” His company explained it was just trying to encourage “grass roots citizens to promote the propagation of the Gospel” and that many of the workers were “converted to the Christian faith and return to China with Bibles in hand.”

With the explosion of the Jack Abramoff scandals and exposes by Ms. Magazine and other publications, the spotlight on the Marianas sweatshops finally did lead to congressional action, including a raise of the minimum wage and a law to federalize labor and immigration rules in the Marianas. The minimum wage now is $5.05 an hour, increasing to $5.55 on September 30, but many in the Marianas business sector continue to oppose the amount – hence the platform plank.

Meanwhile, increasingly vocal calls have come for the impeachment of the islands’ longtime governor, Benigno Fitial, an old Abramoff pal. Nonetheless, there Fitial was in Tampa, unrepentant and front and center, head of the islands’ official Republican delegation. “Having too much fun in Tampa… to worry about this supposed impeachment waiting for me back home,” he tweeted his followers, and “I guarantee you no one is going to impeach me. I own this Legislature! No one will dare defy me!” Wow.

As for Reed, once exposed, his shameful ruse came back to haunt him when he tried to run for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor of Georgia in 2006 – his opponent told the Marianas story in a devastating attack ad.

Reed’s was a monstrous lie by one of the monumental hypocrites of our time. Yet he marches on, Christian soldier to the end, turning the temple of faith into one big ATM. There’s a word for this in the Bible: Abomination.


Bill Moyers is managing editor and Michael Winship, senior writing fellow at Demos, is senior writer of the weekly public television program “Moyers & Company.” Comment at

Monday, August 27, 2012

Bring Back Price Controls on Gasoline

At a time when the big five oil companies, including Chevron, BP, Shell, Exxon-Mobil, Conoco, made more than $130 billion in profit last year, as CBS reports, and the price at the pump has risen exponentially in recent months, it's time to consider price controls on gasoline.

And, yes, while big oil reportedly got anywhere from $10 billion to $50 billion in federal subsidies last year alone, t. the Obama administration's idea of ending subsidies is a good idea, but it's not enough. Dismantling the governmental subsidy infrastructure will take time, maybe even a generation, but putting in place price ceilings can happen overnight

In 1941, another war weary Democratic president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, created the Office of Price Administration for precisely the same reason, to stop usury, and regulate the cost of gasoline, food, fuel oil, and other commodities. Six years after its establishment, the OPA yielded to the will of big business, and price controls on commodities were eliminated.

Thirty years later, in response to another war, as well as an inflation rate approaching 6%, as PBS reports, a Republican president, Richard M. Nixon, imposed a three month wage and price freeze. That same year, 1971, and right before the stock market opened, Nixon announced plans for price controls, a move that was very popular with the public, but one that was also opposed by big business.

Given how vocal the Republican Party is now in their opposition to big government, not a word is said about big business. That is because the Republican Party is synonymous with big business, and their soon-to-be-official presidential nominee's claim to fame is his expertise at big business.

The GOP is the party of deficit reduction, but the inflation in the price of gasoline, over the past several months, poses a far graver risk to recovery than the budget deficit,; still, not a word from the GOP about the profiteering of the oil cartel. Don't look for a Romney administration to make a move to regulate gas prices, or end subsidies to Shell, BP, and Exxon-Mobil either. To do that, he'd need a personality.

Mitt Romney doesn't have a personality for a reason. Big business doesn't want a president with a personality, especially now. Like him or not, Nixon had a personality, and Ronald Reagan had one, too. Ronald Reagan showed he had one, as Politifact notes, by raising the gasoline tax by $3.3 billion in 1982, so think RR for Ronald Reagan when Romney/Ryan talk about how Democrats want to raise taxes.

And, where does this leave the little guy? After the Chevron oil refinery explosion in Richmond, California two weeks ago, the price of gasoline rose 15 cents a gallon overnight. If there's an oil refinery in Richmond, why was the price of gasoline twenty miles away so high in the first place? Price gouging, and the kind of price gouging two presidents, from opposite sides of the aisle, tried to contain.

Since oil is being traded as a commodity, it's time that oil be treated as a commodity. It's time to put in place legislation that will penalize speculation in the oil markets. It's time to follow FDR's example, and bring back price controls on gasoline.

Sunday, August 26, 2012


Tea Party Republicans use creationism to explain why they flunked evolution.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

"Invisible Americans Get the Silent Treatment"

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

It’s just astonishing to us how long this campaign has gone on with no discussion of what’s happening to poor people. Official Washington continues to see poverty with tunnel vision– “out of sight, out of mind.”

And we’re not speaking just of Paul Ryan and his Draconian budget plan or Mitt Romney and their fellow Republicans. Tipping their hats to America’s impoverished while themselves seeking handouts from billionaires and corporations is a bad habit that includes President Obama, who of all people should know better.

Remember: for three years in the 1980’s he was a community organizer in Roseland, one of the worst, most poverty-stricken and despair-driven neighborhoods in Chicago. He called it“the best education I ever had” and when Obama left to go to Harvard Law School, author Paul Tough writes in The New York Times, he did so, “to gain the knowledge and resources that would allow him to eventually return and tackle the neighborhood’s problems anew.” There’s a moving line in Dreams from My Father where he writes: “I would learn power’s currency in all its intricacy and detail” and “bring it back like Promethean fire.”

Oddly, though, for all his rhetorical skills Obama hasn’t made a single speech devoted to poverty since he moved into the White House.

Five years ago, he was one of the few politicians who would talk about it. Here he is in July 2007, speaking in Anacostia, one of the poorest parts of Washington, DC:

“The moral question about poverty in America -- How can a country like this allow it? -- has an easy answer: we can’t. The political question that follows --What do we do about it? -- has always been more difficult. But now that we’re finally seeing the beginnings of an answer, this country has an obligation to keep trying.”

Barack Obama the candidate said he wanted to spend billions on a nationwide program similar to Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children Zone in New York City, widely praised for its focus on comprehensive child development. In the last three years, only $40 million have been spent with another $60 million scheduled for local community grants.

Obama’s White House team insisted their intentions were good, but the depth of the economic meltdown passed along by their predecessors has kept them from doing more. And yes, billions have been spent on direct aid to families in the form of welfare, food stamps, housing vouchers and other payments. What’s needed, as Paul Tough at the Times and others say, is a less scattershot, more comprehensive program that gets to the root of the problem, focusing on education and mentoring. Not easy to do when a disaffected middle class that votes says hey, what about us – and the wealthy one percent who lay out the fat campaign contributions simply say, so what?

Just a few days ago, The Chronicle of Philanthropy issued a report on charitable giving. Among its findings: “Rich people who live in neighborhoods with many other wealthy people give a smaller share of their incomes to charity than rich people who live in more economically diverse communities.” Responding to that study, the social psychologist Paul Piff told National Public Radio, "The more wealth you have, the more focused on your own self and your own needs you become, and the less attuned to the needs of other people you also become."

Those few who dedicate themselves to keeping the poor ever in sight realize how grave the situation really is. The Associated Press reports that, “The number of Americans with incomes at or below 125 percent of the poverty level is expected to reach an all-time high of 66 million this year.” A family of four earning 125 percent of the federal poverty level makes about $28,800 a year, according to government figures.

That number’s important because 125 percent is the income limit to qualify for legal aid, but although that family may qualify for help, budgets for legal services have been slashed, too, and pro bono work at the big law firms has fallen victim to downsizing. So it’s not surprising, the AP goes on to say, that there’s a crisis in America’s civil courts because people slammed by the financial meltdown -- overwhelmed by foreclosure, debt collection and bankruptcy cases-- can’t afford legal representation and have to represent themselves, creating gridlock in our justice system – and one more hammer blow for the poor.

We know, we know: It is written that, “The poor will always be with us.” But when it comes to our“out of sight, out of mind” population of the poor, you have to think we can help reduce their number, ease the suffering, and speak out, with whatever means at hand, on their behalf and against those who would prefer they remain invisible. Speak out: that means you and me, and yes, Mr. President, you, too. You once told the big bankers on Wall Street that you were all that stood between them and the pitchforks of an angry public. How about telling the poor you will make sure our government stands between them and the cliff?


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

The video version, and more, at this link:

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Akin Doesn't Fall Far from the Tree

Don't you just love how deftly this latest crop of Republican candidates has managed
to re-frame the Roe v. Wade debate such that we're now talking about exceptions to a ban on legal abortion? Apart from his role as distraction of the week, this was really senatorial candidate, and congressman, Todd Akin's greatest accomplishment, creating a hyperlink to the underlying premise that, sooner or later, abortion will legally prohibited, so we might as well start talking now about when to make exceptions to that ban.

Of course, Akin and other Republicans may say that the argument is really over whether taxpayers should pay for abortions for women who were victims of that divine Akin oxymoron, "consensual rape;" that's simply not true. The argument is every inch about whether women should continue to have a constitutional,federally protected choice about whether to terminate a pregnancy. And, should there be any question as to whether Akin's worldview is in lockstep with that of his colleague, Paul Ryan, the soon-to-be official vice presidential Republican Party nominee, Ryan now confirms that he thinks rape is a legitimate path to parenthood

As Raw Story reports, Paul Ryan says rape is "another form of conception," and that he holds "the position that the method of conception doesn’t change the definition of life.”

But, Ryan won't be the president, Mitt Romney will be, or so Ryan says, and Gov. Romney has already said he supports a personhood amendment to the Constitution, as well as giving unborn fetuses constitutional protection under the 14th Amendment.

What is really fascinating, though, about all the recent hooplah over Akin's remarks about "legitimate" rape is that no one seems to notice the underlying premise of this debate is the acceptance of what would, or would not constitute an acceptable exclusion to a ban on legal abortion. That there will be an imminent ban on abortion is presupposed. So it is then that radical right wing fringe Republicans have not only managed to hijack their party, but the discourse on women's reproductive rights, as well.

By not challenging this underlying premise, Democrats are not vocally opposing the overturning of Roe v. Wade, but instead enabling the illusion of its inevitability.

This egregious assault on a woman's right to control her reproductive destiny has taken another sharp right turn from Congress, and even made it to a sheriff race in New Hampshire where the candidate, a fellow named Szabo, wanted voters to know that if they elect him, he would use what he sees as his constitutional right to do whatever it takes, including the use of deadly force, to stop doctors from performing legal abortions, that is until he saw that Todd Akin was practically excommunicated from the Republican Party for his statements.

Yes, this happened in New Hampshire, and could soon be coming to a town near you. Don't think for a minute that there aren't many in the Republican Party, and in the House, who share Todd Akin's views. Indeed, the Akin doesn't fall far from the tree.

Rescinding Roe v. Wade isn't about protecting the rights of the unborn, but protecting the rights of white men who labor under the delusion that letting women loose in the workforce imperils their own otherwise bright financial future. The battle to reverse Roe v. Wade is essentially the same war being waged against undocumented worker, only on the reproductive front. It is a thinly veiled effort at subjugating what is viewed as a threat to job security. That the Republican Party has managed to succeed so effectively at changing the presumption of choice to the presumption of the inevitable overturning of Roe v. Wade is no small victory. It is has been years in the making, and one that must be quickly stopped.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Let's get back to talking about Romney's taxes

Todd Akin has had his 15 minutes of fame. Let's get back to talking about Romney's taxes.

How can anyone keep a straight face, and talk about steering the economy in the right direction, when he used legal, or quasi-legal, tax loopholes to avoid paying taxes for years?

For a bunch of fellows who want to cut "entitlement" programs, the GOP sure has a sense of entitlement. What makes Mr. Romney, or any other holder of public office, or seeker of public office, think they're above the law, and how is figuring out ways to avoid paying federal taxes ultimately any different than authorizing a break-in at Democratic headquarters at the Watergate hotel? Except, of course, for one thing. Richard Nixon was president; Mitt Romney isn't president, yet.

If, as McClatchy and other newspapers suggest, this election will be decided by the economy, and not by gun control, abortion, rape, or any other issue, then any candidate who has shown nothing shy of contempt for the tax code, as well as for the intelligence of the voting public, has no right to determine the course this economy takes for the next four years. President Obama has consistently revealed the taxes he paid. By not divulging ten years of tax records, when called upon to do so, Mitt Romney is violating the public trust. And, nobody, not Richard Nixon or Mitt Romney, deserves to get away with contempt for the public trust.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Driving Mitt Romney

An editorial in Thursday's Wall Street Journal exhorts Mitt Romney to pick Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate suggesting that picking Ryan would help Romney make this a "bigger election" instead of a "smaller election" about Romney's wealth, likely tax evasion, and Bain Capital. This race to the White House isn't about trifles like dressage, Cayman Island tax shelters, and having $25 million for one advertising campaign, all chump change to the upper 1%.

Those who don't want to see Ryan on the Romney ticket do so, the Wall Street Journal contends, because "that dude really believes in something, and we certainly can't have that."

But, what does "that dude" really believe in? Much has been said about the influence of uber-capitalist Ayn Rand on Paul Ryan, some of it even by the Wisconsin congressman himself, but not many think of Ryan as what he really is: a consummate marketer. Ironically, one who claims his value system has been shaped most by a dedicated female atheist writer graduated from Jerry Falwell's Liberty University in Virginia. But, Ryan's 2012 budget has the words "laissez-faire capitalism," and free market feudalism, scribbled all over it. Ryan not only promotes individualism, he wants to institutionalize it.

The job he got after graduating from Liberty tells you something about Paul Ryan. He was a marketing consultant which is exactly what he is in Congress, too. He is not so much an architect as a sculptor. He aims to please, and he knows just who his constituency is.

His first attempt at a budget bill, HR 6110 also known as the "Roadmap for America's Future Act of 2008," looks like what Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin might call socialism when compared to its successors. The bill proposed universal access to health care, as well as strengthening Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, and even tried to create jobs. The only problem is that Ryan was unable to get more than a handful of sponsors. The bill didn't make it out of committee.

Ever the consummate marketer, two years later, Rep. Ryan revamped and repackaged his Roadmap to have greater appeal to the conservative wing of his party by expanding tax cuts, getting rid of income tax on capital gains, dividends, and interest, abolishing corporate income tax, and estate tax, and affirming George W. Bush's goal of privatizing Social Security and Medicare. After all, isn't this what privatization is really about? Individualism.

Ryan fared better with his 2011 bill which passed the House, but got stalled in the Senate. That Ryan's Roadmap would pass the House by a wide margin should come as no surprise given that members of his party walked away with the House majority as a result of 2010. As chair of the House Budget Committee, whatever budget gets passed will have Paul Ryan's fingerprints all over it.

Because of his dedicated interest in cutting entitlement programs to the most needy in order to enhance profits of the most wealthy, Ryan's 2012 budget was roundly criticized by a group of Catholic bishops who condemn what Ryan likes to call his "Path to Prosperity," and "Blueprint for American Renewal" as dealing the sharpest blow to the poor.

Ryan's 2012 budget would reduce all discretionary spending by two-thirds according to The Washington Post, Ryan is "saying that in 2050, spending on defense, on food stamps, on infrastructure, on education, on research and development, on the federal workforce, and everything other non-entitlement program combined will be less than four percentage points of GDP.

Consider that defense spending has never fallen below three percentage points of GDP, and Mitt Romney has promised to keep it above four percentage points of GDP. Ryan has not outlined a realistic goal." Precisely, either Ryan is using new math, or he's showing off his marketing skills. Yes, that's right. It's not a budget Mr. Ryan is selling. He's selling himself. In the end, what "that dude" really believes in is himself.

As a college student, NPR reports, Paul Ryan worked as a Wienermobile driver for Oscar Mayer. If he's picked as vice president by the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, you can bet that Ryan will be in the driver seat once again, only instead of wieners, he'll be driving Mitt Romney.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

"Gore Vidal and His Reading List for America"

By Michael Winship

I briefly interviewed Gore Vidal once. It was a little more than thirty years ago, at the end of a long day of filming in Los Angeles. I was working as writer and segment producer on an arts magazine pilot for public television.

Vidal was staying at a friend’s house near the Hollywood Bowl. At 5 pm, the prearranged time, I knocked on the door and after a minute or so heard footsteps coming down stairs. The door opened and there he was, swathed in a long, elegant, silk paisley robe (of course!) and still half-asleep.

I told him who I was and reminded him why I was there. Ronald Reagan had been in the White House for less than a year and already was threatening major cuts to funding for the arts, so as part of the pilot, I was interviewing authors about books they thought might help the rest of us through his presidency. The answers would be spotted throughout the show, like currants in a bun. Vidal nodded and returned upstairs to change while the crew set up in the living room.

A few minutes later, now in jacket and tie, he joined us and sat down as lights, camera and sound were adjusted. I told him again what I wanted but now he stared at me blankly. Books for the Reagan years? He sighed, “I haven’t a clue.”
Wait a minute, I said, we talked about this on the phone just a few days ago so you’ve had time to think about it. Now would be a great time to think harder. (I was more polite than that, but you get the idea.)

After a second or two of brow-furrowing thought, he said, “No, nothing’s coming to mind.”

Pay for the crew was ticking into overtime. I felt beads of sweat – or blood – breaking out on my forehead. Disaster. And then I realized: he was toying with me, letting me twist slowly in the wind. Slightly mean, but only slightly, because after a few more moments of paralyzing silence, he suddenly took pity and said, “Okay. I’ll give you two takes. The first will be a minute; the other, thirty seconds.”

And they were. And they were flawless.

From that moment, he was grace and bonhomie personified, telling stories, but briefly glancing warily as we broke down the equipment. “60 Minutes” recently had picked up a local Italian crew to interview him at his home in Ravello. While striking the set, he claimed, they had taken all his track lighting.

The books he chose? The Federalist Papers, because with Reagan in office, he said, all of should have a better understanding of the Constitution and the lengths of thought and debate that had gone into it. Ironic in 2012, as Tea Partiers embrace the Founding Fathers and their document in a death hug and Michele Bachmann claims it was one of Gore Vidal’s novels about the early history of the United States that repulsed her so deeply she became a Republican. To which one can only say, as Vidal once did, “The United States was founded by the brightest people in the country -- and we haven't seen them since.”

The other book he recommended was Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, the ancient Greek historian’s chronicle of the fight between Sparta and Athens in the 5th century, BC. Reagan’s America was dangerously like Sparta, Vidal said, ruled by an elite, bound by tradition, xenophobic, not a democracy but a “militarized republic” too eager for confrontation.

Thucydides wrote, “We Greeks believe that a man who takes no part in public affairs is not merely lazy, but good for nothing,” and while for decades Vidal’s epicene lifestyle may have been indulgent to the extreme, his good-for-nothingness ended there. In his writing and commentary, including his plays and movie scripts, he was fully engaged in America’s public affairs, even running for office twice. His knowledge of history, overall erudition and outspoken, often outrageous, opinions – frequently mean but only slightly mean -- were an asset to the national discourse whether you agreed with him or not. He held an interest in politics and government from childhood, the descendant of a uniquely American style of aristocracy, gone now, that for good or ill, saw commitment to the general welfare as essential to its noblesse oblige philosophy.

Wealth and privilege no longer mean obligation but are simply the motives for more wealth and privilege. Ten years ago, in The Decline and Fall of the American Empire, Vidal wrote – presciently -- “Any individual who is able to raise [enough money] to be considered presidential is not going to be much use to the people at large. He will represent...whatever moneyed entities are paying for him.... Hence, the sense of despair throughout the land as incomes fall, businesses fail and there is no redress.” A message that transcends time and party affiliation.

He was smart, acerbic, funny and astoundingly prolific. Once I was in attendance at a studio from which a short-lived attempt at a weekly, public TV quiz show was being broadcast; Gore Vidal was one of the guests. The moderator had asked the panel to identify the source of an especially pithy and eloquent quote. Each was dumbfounded until the host came to Vidal, who thought a moment, then said, “Was it me?”
It wasn’t. But it could have been.


Michael Winship is senior writing fellow at the policy think tank, Demos, and senior writer at Moyers & Company, airing weekly on public television, Sirius XM Radio and online. Check local airtimes or comment at

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Vice President

Mitt Romney isn't looking for a vice president. He's looking for a logarithm.