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.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

"Bill Moyers, Prince Sihanouk (and Me)"

By Michael Winship

On a Monday morning in January 1979, my boss Jerry Toobin, the news and public affairs director at WNET, New York City’s public TV station (and father of journalist Jeff Toobin), walked into our work area and said to me and my fellow cubicle mates, “Bill Moyers would like to talk with Prince Sihanouk. Anybody got an idea how to find him?”

Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia, who just died on October 15, age 89, was in the United States to speak at the United Nations. After years of house arrest, he had fled Cambodia ahead of invading Vietnamese troops and was on his way to the UN to protest the invasion on behalf of the infamous Khmer Rouge, Cambodia’s ruling regime. Interest was high -- it was less than four years since America had left neighboring Vietnam and Cambodian dictator Pol Pot had begun the genocide that murdered 1.7 million of that country’s people (the brutality vividly depicted in the movie, “The Killing Fields”).

Pondering Bill and Jerry’s request, I had one idea. On a remote chance, I called a friend of mine whose husband was a Washington journalist who had been a reporter in Southeast Asia. In 1970, he was held captive by guerillas in Cambodia for more than a month, just days after President Nixon announced he was sending troops into Cambodia (triggering the protests back home that led to the killing of college kids at Kent State in Ohio and Jackson State in Mississippi) and a few weeks after Sihanouk had been overthrown as Cambodia’s head of state.

My friend answered the phone. “This is going to sound crazy,” I said, “but do you know how to reach Prince Sihanouk?”

She replied, “He’s coming over for dinner tomorrow night.”

After a stunned pause, I said, “Would you please tell him that Bill Moyers would like to talk with him?”

She agreed to convey the message and a couple of days later, I received a phone call from a member of Sihanouk’s entourage as they stopped at a roadside fried chicken joint, driving from DC to New York. We made the arrangements and the interview was on.

It was my first bizarre contact with the strange, pragmatic, colorful and convoluted life of Sihanouk, who had been crowned King of Cambodia at the age of 18 in 1941, then abdicated to become a prince in 1955, only to be named king once again in 1993 (he would abdicate one more time, in 2004, although he then took the title “king-father,” a sort of crowned head emeritus).

During all those years, Sihanouk alternately sided with the French, the Japanese (toward the end of World War II), then the French again, the Chinese, the United States, North Korea, and Pol Pot’s “hyper-communist (” Khmer Rouge. He even wound up repudiating the Khmer Rouge and backing the Vietnamese whose invasion –which ended Pol Pot’s genocide -- he had come to the UN to denounce.

He was, as Mark McDonald described him in the International Herald Tribune (, “a libertine and a francophile, a filmmaker and a painter, a serial husband and father and philanderer, a cherubic but ruthless god-king who liked to putter about in the garden. He played the sax in his own jazz band. He loved to eat. He once served Champagne to a visiting U.S. secretary of state. At 10 a.m.

“Most of all, of course, King Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia was the consummate political flip-flopper, a shape-shifting monarch and realpolitik chameleon who helped to lead the global nonaligned movement but also, at one time or another, tethered his nation to the world’s major powers to preserve its independence.”

Preserve its independence – and not coincidentally – his own neck The Washington Post noted in its obituary that “his impulse to settle personal scores nearly ruined his country and made him complicit in the Khmer Rouge holocaust,” and quoted Cambodia observer Bruce Sharp (

“…Sihanouk had one critical flaw: as much as he loved the Cambodian people, he loved himself just slightly more. At a pivotal moment in Cambodian history, he chose his own interests above those of Cambodia, and millions of people paid with their lives.”

As a journalist, Bill Moyers naturally was fascinated by Sihanouk’s life story and the tragedy of Cambodia. Once a date was set, the production team went to the hotel where Sihanouk was staying, selected a room for the interview and met with State Department security. While they were conducting an initial sweep of the interview site, I found myself alone in his suite with Sihanouk and his wife, Princess Monique. She didn’t say a word and Sihanouk and I sat stiffly and made awkward conversation in his less-than-perfect English and my less-than-perfect, schoolboy French. I remember we talked about movies, and then somehow segued into a discussion of poetry. It was all very odd.

The next day, Bill taped his interview. He did a great job and the conversation went well but it was difficult – Sihanouk was eager to air his grievances against one and all, and the Byzantine nature of Cambodian, Vietnamese and Chinese politics, the names of various factions and their leaders tumbling from his lips, were hard for an American audience to fully comprehend.

I’m not sure if video or transcripts still exist from that day more than 33 years ago, but I have the photo accompanying this piece, which was taken while I spoke with Sihanouk during a tape change. Look closely and you can read the notes on my legal pad – if you can decipher my scrawl. And I’m not sure what I was saying to the prince, but he looks startled.

And I still have the scrap of paper on which that day in the hotel suite Sihanouk carefully had written for me the name of his favorite French poet: “Alfred de Musset.” Underneath, he added in a precise, elegant hand, “XIX ieme si├Ęcle” – “19th century.” He asked if I had ever heard of de Musset; I hadn’t. I must read him, Sihanouk insisted, and I did.

Among his many poems, plays and novels, De Musset wrote “The Confession of a Child of the Century.” Given Sihanouk’s own chaotic and controversial life, over a span of almost nine decades, it could have been the title of his own autobiography.


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

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Mitt Romney Discovers Greece

Mitt Romney discovered Greece last night. The GOP presidential candidate mentioned the cash strapped nation twice during the 90 minute debate saying that's where the U.S. is heading with Obama at the wheel.

Gov. Romney is right in suggesting that the U.S., like Greece, is suffering now because of what The New York Times calls a "debt binge," but what he doesn't say is that this binge started a decade ago when the Bush administration decided to run up the credit cards on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan to the tune of $2 trillion by some estimates.

What Romney doesn't say is that he wants to run up the national deficit by another $2 trillion not to buy more ships for the Navy, but instead to exercise his military inexperience abroad.

And, Gov. Romney demonstrates as much knowledge of Greece as he does of Russia. Greece, for the governor, is code for economic collapse just as Russia is code for what he calls "terrorists of some kind." What's really behind code word "Greece" is the need for egregious austerity measures, the same kind of austerity measures that have spurred protests in Athens, Rome, and London. These fear tactics are intended to set the stage for a host of "entitlement program" cutbacks that Romney and Ryan will make if they occupy the executive branch.

Yes, Martha, "Greece" is code for closing loopholes, and "loophole" is code for education, school lunch programs, food stamps, turning Medicaid over to the states, so the states can use the money to save themselves from bankruptcy rather than deliver health care to the needy.

Yes, during the debate last night Mitt Romney kept saying the U.S. is heading towards Greece. The U.S. is heading towards Greece the same way Christopher Columbus was heading for India. In fairness to Columbus, he never pretended to be anything other than a mercenary. Ask Queen Isabella of Spain who financed his journey. Nowadays, in Romneyspeak, Columbus might call himself not a mercenary, but an "entrepreneur."

Does Romney now claim he can see Athens from his backyard, too?

How can a candidate expect to have credibility when he makes such an outrageous claim? Over the past three and a half years, all the economic indicators are up. Unemployment is trending down, slowly, but it's not merely about the numbers, it's about the trend. New housing construction has now reached its highest point in four years. Retail sales are up. Consumer confidence is up. The only one talking doom and gloom about the economy is Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, and this is just an excuse to reach into your pocket, and put your savings into theirs.

The U.S. is heading for Greece like Christopher Columbus was heading for India. Gov. Romney needs to invest in a new compass. He thinks we're going south when we're really heading north.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Monday's Debate: Ask Yourself, On What Planet?

As you watch Monday's presidential debate, ask yourself on what planet will people elect a commander-in-chief who has no experience serving in the military, or whose vice president has no experience serving in the military, and both of whom combined have no foreign policy experience either?

True, Pres. Obama didn't serve in the military, but he served as commander-in-chief for the past four years, and his second in command, Joe Biden, has served as the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as well as the Senate Committee on the Judiciary for eight years before that.

Ask yourself, too, if foreign policy, and/or military experience was allowed to be an issue in the 2008 campaign, when Barack Obama ran against John McCain, why is it not a campaign issue now? Wasn't his lack of foreign policy experience a large part of the reason why then Sen. Obama chose Sen. Biden as his running mate? Will someone explain to me why Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan as his? Surely, it's not for his foreign policy prowess, or military service. The only plausible reason is so Mr. Romney can make points with that far right evangelical vote. the folks who can be counted on, once again, to take us to war against Islam.

It may seem like just a number in an ocean of numbers, but the fact that, if elected, the Romney/Ryan ticket wants to increase the defense budget by $2 trillion should tell you that he smells a war coming on. And, lord knows, there are plenty of prospective battlefields from which to choose: Iran, Libya, Pakistan, Syria, Yemen, North Korea, as well as the longest war in our nation's history in Afghanistan. Not to mention, a a Republican in the White House will surely find some unfinished business in Iraq like his immediate Republican predecessor, George W. Bush.

Romney has already made it clear that he will not adhere to the 2014 Afghanistan exit strategy the Obama administration has put in place. But, what does Romney know about exit strategies? The only time he's had to initiate an exit strategy was when, as head of Bain Capital, he decided to pull out of a company after one of his leveraged buyouts. While the United States may be seen as fifty states incorporated into a country, we are not a corporation. Despite the Romney adage, "corporations are people, too," they are not countries. Not yet, anyway, and this is no time for a commander-in-chief whose strong suit is leveraged buyouts.

If you are someone who has served in the reserves, or if you know someone who has served in the reserves, or if you have a sister, brother, son, or daughter who has served in the reserves, tell them they'd better keep a suitcase packed and handy if Mitt Romney comes to town as they will surely be called to active duty before Mr. Romney completes his first year as president. If you have yet to serve, you'd better start packing that suitcase, too. After all, the gun lobby isn't the only lobby Mr. Romney wants to keep happy. He wants to keep the war lobby happy, too.

Bottom line: if you're in the service, and you vote for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, you're voting for another tour of duty. Guaranteed. And, not just another tour of duty, but one without a clear exit strategy.

Also, if you happen to be in law enforcement and you vote for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, you're voting to be laid off as these fellows will bail out the banks, and Wall Street, leave the state coffers empty and with no other choice than to force states to make further cuts in education, law enforcement, and fire fighting.

When Romney says he wants to cut federal spending, he doesn't just mean Social Security, and Medicaid, he means Education, too, so unless you go to his country club as only about 1% of Americans do, rest assured, one way or another, you will feel the pinch of the Romney/Ryan budget. If elected, Romney has said he will lower federal income taxes by 20% on all Americans, including those in the upper 2%. The president has already cut taxes for 98% of Americans. The president wants to cut taxes for 98%, and raise taxes for the upper 2%. You don't have to be a math major to figure out which is the better plan. You also don't have to be a math major to ask where he plans to get another $2 trillion for war while cutting the deficit.

So, when you're done watching Monday night's debate, ask yourself on what planet is it acceptable for a man without a proven track record either as commander-in-chief or as an active service member to make decisions about cutbacks in public service jobs? A candidate who fervently professes to cut the federal deficit wants to add $2 trillion for war? On what planet does that math make sense?

On what planet is it okay for a man who was in Paris, of all places, doing "missionary" work during the war in Vietnam, work which consisted largely of
writing love letters to his present wife, to make decisions about whether you put your life on the line in service to this country? Ask yourself on what planet is it possible for a man whose five sons have also managed to evade military service to decide when to go to war, where, and whose son will be called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice.

On what planet is there still a Cold War in progress, and where was Mitt Romney when it ended? What can we expect Romney to say next? That he can see Russia from his backyard? Oh, and yes, Gov. Romney has as much foreign policy experience as that other governor from Alaska, Sarah Palin.

Speaking of Palin, had John McCain prevailed over Barack Obama, we would surely have troops on the ground in Tehran by now, and be well on the way to Pakistan, and Syria. Think about this. Sen. McCain now looks like a moderate Republican compared to Mitt Romney.

Who knows, maybe in fifty years or so someone will discover a planet suitable for the policies, both foreign and domestic, the Romney/Ryan ticket, and the GOP, now espouse, but not this one, and not now.

Friday, October 19, 2012

"Plutocrats Want to Own Your Vote"

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

The new Gilded Age is roaring down on us – an uncaged tiger on a rampage. Walk out to the street in front of our office here in Manhattan, look to the right and you can see the symbol of it: a fancy new skyscraper going up two blocks away. When finished, this high rise among high rises will tower a thousand feet, the tallest residential building in the city.

The New York Times has dubbed it "the global billionaires’ club" -- and for good reason. At least of two of the apartments are under contract for more than 90 million dollars each. Others, more modest, range in price from 45 million dollars to more than 50 million dollars. The mega-rich have been buying these places "looking for a place to stash their cash," a realtor from Sotheby’s explained to the Times. "A lot of what is happening," she said, " about wealth preservation."

Simultaneously, the powers-that-be have just awarded Donald Trump the right to run a golf course in the Bronx which taxpayers are spending at least $97 million to build -- what "amounts to a public subsidy," says the indignant city comptroller, "for a luxury golf course." Good grief – a handout to the plutocrat's plutocrat.

This, in a city where economic inequality rivals that of a third-world country. Of America's 25 largest cities, New York is now the most unequal. The median income for the bottom 20% last year was less than $9,000, while the top one percent of New Yorkers has an average annual income of $2.2 million.

Across America, this divide between the superrich and everyone else has become a yawning chasm that studies indicate may stifle jobs and growth for years to come. At no time in modern history has the top one hundredth of one percent owned more of our wealth or paid so low a tax rate. But in neither of the two presidential debates so far has the vastness of this astounding inequality gap been discussed. Not by Mitt Romney, who is the embodiment of the predatory world of financial capitalism. And not even by Barack Obama, whose party once fought for working men and women against the economic royalists.

But as appalling as all this may be, here’s a new revelation of which you may not be aware. The plutocrats know it and love it – and the rest of us should be forewarned: When the Supreme Court made its infamous Citizens United decision, liberating plutocrats to buy our elections fair and square, the justices may have effectively overturned rules that kept bosses from ordering employees to do political work on company time. Election law expert Trevor Potter told us that now, "corporations argue that it is a constitutionally protected use of corporate ‘resources’ to order employees to do political work or attend campaign events -- even if the employee opposes the candidate, or is threatened with being fired for failure to do what the corporation asks!"

Reporter Mike Elk at In These Times magazine came across a recording of Governor Mitt Romney on a conference call in June with some businessmen. Romney told them there is "nothing illegal about you talking to your employees about what you believe is best for the business -- because I think that will figure into their election decision, their voting decision -- and of course doing that with your family and your kids as well."

Two months later, Governor Romney was campaigning at an Ohio coal mine. In photographs and on video you can see miners arrayed around him, steadfastly standing in support, right? They work for a company called Murray Energy and attendance at the rally – without pay – was mandatory. Murray Energy is notorious for violating safety regulations, sometimes resulting in injuries and deaths. The company has paid millions in fines – and in the last two years also donated more than $900,000 to politicians, all of them Republicans. The CEO, Bob Murray, a well-known climate change denier and cutthroat businessman, insists that his employees contribute to his favorite anti-regulatory candidates – or else. In one letter uncovered by The New Republic magazine, Murray wrote, "We have been insulted by every salaried employee who does not support our efforts." So much for voting rights and the secret ballot at Murray Energy!

Mike Elk also discovered that the Koch Brothers, David and Charles – who have pledged to spend multimillions defeating President Obama – have sent a voter information packet to the employees of Georgia Pacific, one of their subsidiaries. It includes a list of recommended candidates, pro-Romney and anti-Obama editorials written by the Kochs and a cover letter from the company president. If we elect the wrong people, Dave Robertson writes, "Many of our more than 50,000 US employees and contractors may suffer the consequences, including higher gasoline prices, runaway inflation, and other ills." Other ills? Like losing your job?

It’s snowballing. Timeshare king David Siegel of Westgate Resorts reportedly has threatened to fire employees if Barack Obama is re-elected and Arthur Allen, who runs ASG Software Solutions, e-mailed his employees, "If we fail as a nation to make the right choice on
November 6th, and we lose our independence as a company, I don’t want to hear any complaints regarding the fallout that will most likely come."

Back in the first the Gilded Age, in the 19th century, bosses in company towns lined up their workers and marched them to vote as a bloc. Now, the Gilded Age is back , with a vengeance. Welcome to the plutocracy – the remains of the ol’ USA.


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, October 17, 2012

Six Questions for Mitt Romney

Six questions come to mind for Gov. Romney in the aftermath of Tuesday's second presidential debate at Hofstra University:

1) Did you avail yourself of the "tax amnesty" program, and is this why you refuse to release your tax returns from 2009, and before?

2) You say that you balanced the budget while governor of Massachusetts in 2007. Did you not take federal funds to offset the state's deficit? When you were a candidate for your party's nomination in 2008, did you not oppose the stimulus package, and federal assistance to the states?

3) If, as you contend, you did such a superlative job as governor, then why were your approval ratings so low when you left office five years ago?

4) In last night's debate, your attitude towards solving the problem of high prices at the pump is "drill baby drill." This is, of course, strongly reminiscent of the views of another GOP candidate, Sarah Palin. Since you're such a devout proponent of bringing back the Alaska pipeline project, how do you intend to protect wildlife, and the environment when doing so? Do you plan to follow in the footsteps of your immediate Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, and deregulate whatever environmental protections we have currently in place. How do you intend to ensure safety in the air we breathe, and the water we drink? What are your views on global warming?

5) Do you remember this statement from another GOP candidate, Barry Goldwater: "I would remind you that extremism in defense of liberty is no vice?" Your father, who was also a governor, George Romney, joined a group of moderate Republicans, in 1964, to oppose the presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater back. Ironically, nearly 50 years later, you espouse the same kind of fiscal conservatism and anti-Russian fear tactics as Goldwater did. What do you think your father would say about your campaign and your choice of running mate, Paul Ryan, who is Barry Goldwater on steroids?

And, finally,

As a candidate, you have been adamant about not making your Mormonism an issue in the campaign. As president, will you ensure the separation of church and state, or may we expect a renaissance of the same kind of federally funded faith-based initiatives instituted by your immediate Republican predecessor, George W. Bush?

As Vice President Joe Biden said during the one and only televised vice presidential debate, "Facts matter, Martha." They matter no less today than they did a week ago.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Importance of Being Oscar

"Only the superficial don't judge by appearances," Oscar Wilde

(born Oct. 16, 1854)

Monday, October 15, 2012

"Justice to the Highest Bidder"

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

When the National Football League ended its lockout of the professional referees and the refs returned to call the games, all across the country players, fans, sponsors and owners breathed a sigh of relief. Fans were grateful for the return of qualified judges to keep things on the up and up.

After the now infamous Seattle Seahawks-Green Bay Packers game, when questionable calls by the replacement refs led to a disputed 14-12 win by the Seahawks, even union-busting Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, the pride of Janesville, Wisconsin, became – briefly – fans of organized labor, calling for a negotiated peace and bringing the real refs back on the field.

In Baltimore, when the professional referees returned for their first game of the season, fans gave them a standing ovation. One held a sign: "Finally! We get to yell at real refs! Welcome back!" As the captains of the Ravens and Cleveland Browns met at the center of the field for the coin toss, veteran official Gene Steratore turned on his microphone greeted them with, "Good evening, men. It’s good to be back." The stadium erupted in a roar.

It was a revealing glimpse into a basic truth of American sports: Without the guys who enforce the rules, everything else is pointless. As New York Giants linebacker Michael Boley reminded us, too many missed and blown calls put "the integrity of the game" at stake.

In sports we choose sides – our team against your team – but we want the referees to be skilled and impartial. We expect the same from the judges in our courtrooms, too. How much faith could any of us have in a judge who’s taken cash from either litigant in a trial – or who owes his position on the bench to a partisan clique manipulating votes? Yet 38 states elect their high court judges and large sums of money -- much of it from secret donors

-- are pouring into many of those judicial races.

An August study from the liberal Center for American Progress reports, "In state courts across our country, corporate special interests are donating money to the campaigns of judges who interpret the law in a manner that benefits their contributors rather than citizens seeking justice...

"Fueled by money from corporate interests and lobbyists, spending on judicial campaigns has exploded in the last two decades. In 1990 candidates for state supreme courts only raised around $3 million, but by the mid-1990s, campaigns were raking in more than five times that amount, fueled by extremely costly races in Alabama and Texas. The 2000 race saw high-court candidates raise more than $45 million."

Ninety-five percent America’s legal disputes are settled in state courts. The Center for American Progress Report, authored by Billy Corriher, studied 403 cases in six states, between 1992 and 2010 in which individuals sued corporations. The states – Alabama, Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Michigan – received the most judicial campaign cash during that same period. In those cases, "courts ruled in favor of corporations 71 percent of the time."

Just as ominous, there’s a movement afoot to punish judges for decisions that offend political partisans. In Florida, the current system selects judges based on ability rather than partisan politics, but the state Republican Party there is trying to oust three state Supreme Court justices over a ruling on President Obama's health care law that conservatives didn’t like.

One of the judges, R. Fred Lewis, told The New York Times, "This is a full-frontal attack -- that had been in the weeds before -- on a fair and impartial judicial system, which is the cornerstone and bedrock of our democracy." Others believe Republican Governor Rick Scott and the state legislature’s real motive is to take over and control the courts for political gain and on behalf of corporate interests.

In Pennsylvania, a local Tea Party faction has set out to defeat two state Supreme Court justices over its unanimous decision refusing to uphold the state’s voter ID law passed by Republicans to downsize the vote in November. And in Iowa, where justices chosen on merit have produced a state supreme court praised far and wide for its fairness and credibility, right-wing Republicans who knocked three judges off the court in 20l0 -- the notorious "Gathering Storm" campaign -- are now going after a fourth, David Wiggins. The judges’ crime? Participating in a unanimous ruling that legalized same-sex marriage.

Leading the fight to remove Wiggins is the National Organization for Marriage and a grassroots group called Iowans for Freedom that presents itself as an effort that’s as home-grown as Iowa corn. But much of its money comes from out of state. Just look at the interlopers who joined an anti-marriage equality bus trip that barnstormed the state last month -- Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and Rick Santorum, the former United States senator from Pennsylvania who won the Iowa caucuses in January before losing the Republican nomination to Mitt Romney.

Pushing back is a movement known as Justice Not Politics. Here’s how they describe themselves: "a broad based, nonpartisan coalition of organizations and Iowans across the political spectrum – progressive to conservative; Republicans, Independents and Democrats – all who are committed to protecting Iowa’s courts and our system of merit selection and retention." The co-chairs are Joy Corning and Sally Pederson, each a former lieutenant governor of the state, one a Republican, the other a Democrat.

Once again, serious campaign finance reform with full transparency and public funding would go a long way toward solving the problem. Otherwise, as that study from the Center for American Progress reports, "In courtrooms across the country, big corporations and other special interests are tilting the playing field in their favor." And as the Iowans of Justice Not Politics declare, "If politics and campaign money are allowed into the courts, justice will be for sale."


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

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Rip Van Romney

Which fairy tale character slept hundreds of years? Rip Van Winkle, right?
Mr. Winkle has a political counterpart: Rip Van Romney.

Rip Van Romney slept through the revolutionary war. He slept through the signing of the Declaration of Independence. After all, had he been awake, he would have heard what Mr. Jefferson had to say about those insidious bankers.

Rip Van Romney slept through the Civil War, through the New Deal, through the Civil Rights Act, through LBJ's Great Society, and war on poverty. Oh, and a fascinating tidbit. Mitt Romney's dad, George Romney, aligned himself with moderate Republicans, and opposed the election of Barry Goldwater. Apparently, Rip Van Romney slept through that, too.

He slept through Roe v. Wade, through the Voting Rights Act, through affirmative action.

Van Romney slept through Vietnam, and Iraq, both times. He slept through Afghanistan. Not one of the Romney clan has ever met the battlefield eye to eye.

And, left to their own devices, the GOP will sleep through the emerging economic recovery. They have done everything they could, but even the GOP couldn't prevent the present upswing in the housing market, the small but steady decrease in unemployment, the movement from negative to positive columns on job growth, the rise in retail sales, and the renaissance in consumer confidence.

America doesn't need a reset. America needs to continue on the road to recovery. Let Rip Van Romney bask in his slumber, and re-elect President Obama.

The Romney Campaign Needs Truth Infusions

Paul Ryan ended the one and only vice presidential debate last week just as he began it, conveniently stepping on the facts.

Ryan stepped on the facts when, referring to Gov. Romney, he asked "Wouldn't it be nice to have a job creator in the White House?" It's widely known that, when he left the governorship of his state back in 2007, Massachusetts scored in 47th place in job creation.

And, again, on Iran, Rep. Ryan stepped on the facts when he characterized Iran as "racing towards a nuclear weapon." Vice President Biden called him out on it. Biden laughed and said, rightly, "Iranians are a good way away from getting a nuclear weapon. There is no weapon that the Iranians have now. What is all this bluster?"

What is all this bluster indeed?

The man who would be a heartbeat away from the Oval Office laments the Obama administration's effort to address the imploding deficit by making much-needed cuts to defense. Instead, Mr. Ryan and his sidekick, Cool Hand Mitt, want to increase defense spending by $2 trillion. Yes, $2 trillion, which is what some economists estimate the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, over the past decade, have added to the deficit. Deficit hawk Ryan gave a big thumbs-up to both wars.

Adding insult to injury, during the debate, he also adds that he and Romney "are for peace, too." Well, show me the math, pal. How can any candidate for any elected office have the chutzpah to insult the intelligence of American voters with a bold faced lie like that one.

When Ryan says, "That's what we have to do. We have to change their (Iran's) mind," how does he plan to do so? If grueling economic sanctions that the current administration has appplied, sanctions so severe that protestors took to the streets of Tehran in desperation, weren't enough, what's left? Boots on the ground? Fighter jets in the air? Occupying and pummeling Tehran in much the same way their immediate predecessor, George W. Bush, occupied and pummeled Iraq only to discover later that there were no "weapons of mass destruction."

Listen up, folks. When Joe Biden says that Iran "doesn't have a weapon to put the uranium into," and is years away from getting one, he is telling the truth. Remember this if Cool Hand Mitt prevails in November, and air strikes start in Iran; a virtual certainty. Remember that a sitting vice president called out his opponent out when Ryan said "We will not allow the Iranians to get a nuclear weapon." The "nuclear weapon" in Iran talk is equal to the talk of "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq.

Joe Biden is right when he says, "Facts matter, Martha." Indeed, they do and, at the end of the day, facts will defeat the GOP ticket, but the president and his team must continue to hammer away at the facts.

The fact is, as the vice president said, "Big nations can't bluff. This president doesn't bluff." Mr. Obama didn't bluff when he said he was going to end the war in Iraq. Mr. Obama didn't bluff when he said he was going to deal a death blow to al
Qaeda by taking down Osama bin Laden. Mr. Obama didn't bluff when he said that he wasn't going to war with Iran. Mr. Obama didn't bluff when he said he was winding down the war in Afghanistan.

The president wasn't bluffing either when he took over stewardship of General Motors, thereby saving the company, and the auto industry, from bankruptcy. Paul Ryan had to be kidding when he said "Mitt Romney's a car guy." Fact is, as you know, Gov. Romney argued for letting Detroit go bankrupt. Romney's a car guy, alright. His father was the president of American Motors. The closest Mitt Romney ever came to being a "car guy" was sitting on his daddy's lap in their Bentley.

Biden is right, too, to call Ryan on another platitude, "We're witnessing the unraveling of the Obama foreign policy." What unraveling? To the contrary, we're witnessing the deliberate, and carefully orchestrated unraveling of the George W. Bush foreign policy. It was George W. Bush who ran up the deficit by making American taxpayers finance two wars.

Imagine the unmitigated arrogance of anyone who runs for office in 2012, and says "the Russia re-set isn't working." Re-set? What re-set? Who gives the U.S. the power to re-set the internal affairs of sovereign countries? I know Mr. Ryan was too young to realize this, but the Cold War is over. Romney should know better.

There will be no international cooperation in foreign affairs with a Romney/Ryan ticket when Ryan can come out with the statement that the U.S is "outsourcing our foreign policy to the United Nations." Joe Biden was right to call that "bizarre."

Yes, Mr. Ryan likes to think of himself as a practicing Catholic, especially when he argues that "life begins at conception." What he neglects to mention is it ends there, too. Don't believe me? Ask a hundred or so Catholic theologians and nuns who, according to The Huffington Post, have called on Ryan to "heed the church's social teachings," and not run roughshod over this nation's safety net. One group of Catholic nuns has even gone so far as to start a bus tour through the pivotal state of Ohio to highlight social service agencies the Church has helped which could be devastated by Paul Ryan's proposed budget cuts.

Mr. Ryan has yet to explain how he intends to cut taxes by 20% across the board and, at the same time, also cut the deficit. Neither he nor Gov. Romney has said which "loopholes," (read "entitlements"), will subject to a demolition squad in their quixotic attempt to balance the books, something at which the Clinton administration excelled, and something that Mr. Romney was unable to do as governor of Massachusetts without, of course, a bit of help from the federal government.

Yes, yes, Paul Ryan was generally right when he said "If you don't have a record to run on, you take down the record of your opponent," but it's kind of sad to witness that kind of self-deprecation on prime-time television. Truth is, Mr. Ryan, the president has a record to run on, and a damn good one. He saved the auto industry. Unemployment in many states has gone down. Okay, so not in Pennsylvania, but Pennsylvania is not the only state. The U.S. has not invaded Iran, Syria, N. Korea, and participated in a coalition effort to take down Khaddafi.

Ultimately, the Romney/Ryan campaign will hang upside down on the truth. Two four letter words that will prove damning to their campaign are "fact," and "math."

So, back to this "job creator" thingy. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of July, the Obama administration is averaging +0.84% annual job growth as compared with -0.85% in George W. Bush's final term.

Fact is, the Obama administration has turned a job growth from a minus into a plus, and a return to the GOP policies of yore is guaranteed to put us back in the minus column again.

In these final few weeks before the election, the Romney campaign had better get their truth infusions, or the campaign and its platform will be launched if not to Mars then into obscurity for generations to come.

Friday, October 12, 2012

At Death's Door

I was at death’s door last night, and
knocked a few times.
Someone came to the door and
said death is not
ready to
see me.
I asked why not.
He’s gardening
then he has to mop the floor,
take out the trash and
prepare for a large party
next week.
a party to celebrate what?
Why, to celebrate life, of course.

(c) Jayne Lyn Stahl

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

"Killing the Kids that Don't Need to Die"

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

Matt Sitton knew the war in Afghanistan was going badly. He knew it because he was fighting it. He could see for himself. Twenty-six years old, with a wife and child back home, Staff Sergeant Sitton was on his third combat tour there.

Time and again, he and his men were sent through what he called “a minefield on a daily basis.” His comrades were being blown apart – at least one amputee a day, he said, “Because we are walking around aimlessly through grape rows and compounds that are littered with explosives.”

Morale was low; the men struggled to remain alert. Sitton said he asked his officers to give them a break but was told to stop complaining.
“I am all for getting on the ground and fighting for my country when there is a desired endstate and we have clear guidance of what needs to be done,” he wrote. “But when we are told basically to just walk around for a certain amount of time is not sitting well with me.”

At home in Florida, Matt Sitton had attended a Christian school run by the Baptist church attended by Congressman Bill Young. He wrote Congressman Young and told him what was happening. “I’m concerned about the well-being of my soldiers,” he said. “… I just want to return my guys home to their families healthy.” He ended: “If anything, please pray for us over here. God bless.”

On August 2, while on patrol, Matt Sitton and a buddy were killed, blown apart by an IED, a hidden bomb. They flew Sitton’s body home and held his funeral at that same Baptist church.

For a long time before Matt Sitton died, Congressman Young, the longest serving Republican in the House, called for sticking it out in Afghanistan. The powerful chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, he had helped continue the war by voting against an amendment requiring the President to set a timetable for withdrawal.

He’s changed his mind. Touched by what Matt Sitton wrote him, Young asked that the letter be read into the Congressional Record, and has been talking to other veterans, hearing from them what “a real mess” the war is. Now he tells the Tampa Bay Times: “I think we should remove ourselves from Afghanistan as quickly as we can. I just think we’re killing the kids that don’t need to die.”

Killing the kids that don’t need to die. Let those words sink in. And this, too: Congressman Young says many of his colleagues in Congress feel the same way he does, but “they tend not to want to go public.”

A few days ago, just shy of the 11th anniversary of our invasion of Afghanistan, we marked a sad and tragic milestone: the 2000th member of the American armed forces to die in combat there. There are now 68,000 American men and women in Afghanistan, down from 100,000 as President Obama has ended the surge he first ordered in late 2009. Seventeen thousand Americans have been wounded, and in the last five years alone, according to the UN, more than 13,000 Afghan civilians have died. That’s a very conservative estimate.

How can we continue to justify this war begun to avenge the 9/11 attacks and punish those responsible, but now too long, too deadly, too mired in waste and corruption in a land that has resisted the ambitions of empire since the ancient Persians and Macedonians?

“Look at it this way,” journalist Dexter Filkins recently wrote in The New Yorker. “After eleven years, more than four hundred billion dollars spent and two thousand Americans dead, this is what we’ve built: a deeply dysfunctional, predatory Afghan state that seems incapable of standing on its own -- even when we’re there.”
There are two more presidential debates. They will be yet another hoax unless someone puts to Barack Obama and Mitt Romney the same question asked by Congressman Young: “Why are we killing the kids that don’t need to die?” And then asks it again and again to each of them until we get an honest answer.


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


Monday, October 08, 2012

"If I could...

Who would John Lennon endorse for president? Romney and Ryan, NRA dupes?

Tomorrow, John would have turned 72, and if he could talk, he might well say:

"If I could, I'd vote for Barack Obama."

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Dial 2 for Travel: The Lost Art of Customer Service

The other day, while contemplating a trip to Big Sur, I contacted an organization that is commonly associated with roadside service, and asked for their travel agency department. After surfing a menu of possible extensions, I was told to "dial 2 for travel."

Being one to scrupulously follow automated instructions, I dialed 2 and, predictably, I got a voicemail recording: "You have reached Anna. I'm either on the other phone, or away from my desk. Please leave a message, and I will get back to you."

As an eternal optimist, I thought, "What a relief. At least I'm not getting music on hold," but then it occurred to me that I had a simple question, and no, maybe I didn't want to sit around waiting for a call back, maybe I didn't want music on hold, maybe I wanted a live voice, so I called back, and dialed "O" for operator.

You already know that about 30% of the time that one dials "O" for operator, one may find oneself properly seated in the operator's mailbox. I don't know about you, but
when this happens, I usually hang up. This time, a woman answered the phone. I told her that I got voicemail at 10 a.m. on a Monday morning in their travel agency department, that I have been a member of their roadside assistance organization for
many years, and never call. When I call, I expect someone to answer the phone, so the operator asks me to hold (a skill with which I have great acumen. After all, where would we be without speaker phone). Suddenly, I'm transferred and another female voice answers the phone and asks me what I want. "I'd like a travel guide, please." "Oh," she says, snarky, "you could have asked the operator for that. Well, I'll put one in the mail for you, but it'll take a week or so to reach you, so you can pick it up." A week or so? It's going two miles. A week or so?

After that charming telephone exchange, I went to the local supermarket. In my town, one has a choice of only one supermarket chain---several locations, but one chain which greatly simplifies 30 second television commercials: "Come see this week's savings at Roger's. This week, cereal is on sale for $5 a box."

I needed apple sauce and, needless to say, none of the signs designated where one could find canned goods only "vegetables." Apple sauce is not a vegetable. As a Martian might, I walked around the market looking for someone who works there who might help. To my chagrin, I found that the only place in the entire market where one could find anyone to help was at the cash register. Yes, when it comes to taking your money, they're not short handed, so I dutifully waited on the express line to ask the cashier where the apple sauce was. "On Aisle 5," he said perfunctorily, and to Aisle 5
I went.

I must have walked back and forth on the aisle about four times, each time thinking I'd missed something, and to no avail, so I went back to the same cashier and said "There is no apple sauce on Aisle 5" to which he replied "What's the matter? Can't you reach the top shelf?" angrily. My response: "There is no apple sauce on the top shelf."

At this point, whatever token patience I had exhibited previously was completely lost. I yelled out "What does it take to get someone to help you in this place? You charge top dollar, yet you don't deliver service," and a frail, elderly woman walked over to me and said "I'll help you." The sweetest thing I'd heard in a long time, but what a sad commentary on the state of customer service.

Before I knew what hit me, a worker at the market came over to me panting, and out of breath. "What are you looking for?" he said. I would have said "the Holy Grail," but
it would have gone over his head. "Apple sauce," I said. "Oh, that's on Aisle 9."
Aisle 9, I shouted, the cashier said it was on Aisle 5.

Not only doesn't anyone know what they're doing, but they don't care. That's the bottom line. Doing business in America, or California more likely, means having to work around everyone's break, lunch hour, gone for the day, out sick. Customer service is a lost art.

One more little story. Last week, I went to buy a dress for a party, and went into this fashionable boutique in downtown Walnut Creek. I didn't want to spend a small fortune, but I did want something that would look good on me. In the corner of the store, I saw a cluster of young women, all under 30, apparently cracking jokes and giggling. I approached one of them and asked politely, "Excuse me, do you work here?"
She turned, sprang on me like a tiger, clearly irritated and said, "Yeah, what's up?"

What's up? What's up? What's up is that I wanted someone to help me find a dress that might look good on me and be perfect for the occasion for which I was buying it. What's up is I want someone to do a little work. I later found out that this young lady was the store manager.

You want to know what's up? I'll tell you. A large part of the problem is that the minimum wage, or slightly above it, is what these stores, and roadside assistance chains are paying their workers. Of course, they don't care about their jobs. You get what you pay for. If management is going to pay their workers in nickels and dimes, they will deliver nickel and dime service.

In many cases, customer service workers have to work two or three jobs, and they still dance around the poverty line and, as we've seen from Ron Paul to Rick Perry, the GOP would like to end the minimum wage which means these same workers will have to work four or maybe five jobs, and have even less of an investment in their jobs.

At Wednesday night's first presidential debate, I hope that, among the many questions moderator Jim Lehrer has prepared to ask, is: "What are your views on the minimum wage?" Not only does Mr. Romney need to explain what "tax holes" he intends to eliminate, but he also has to account for his party's views on eliminating the protection of a wage which doesn't even begin to compensate unskilled labor for their services. Unless, and until, a living wage is available to all workers, regardless of their education and skills, we can kiss customer service goodbye

Monday, October 01, 2012

"Campaign Cash? Local TV News Hits Mute Button"

By Michael Winship

That ringing in your ears isn’t church bells or a touch of tinnitus. It’s the sound of campaign cash registers all over the country, chiming together like the world’s biggest carillon, as money pours in as never before. The total being spent for all the races in 2012 is projected at $6 billion this year; possibly rising to as much as $8 billion – which perhaps not coincidentally is the same amount the National Retail Federation estimates Americans will spend on Halloween.

Scary stuff, and almost as frightening is the realization that even though Election Day’s still more than a month away, the post-analysis already has begun, much of it focused on whether those vast amounts of campaign money spent on TV have had an effect or merely annoyed the hell out of the viewing population of America, especially if you live in one of the swing states where the din has been unbearable.

Maybe, as some have argued, minds were made up long ago and all the spending has been a waste, reminiscent of the famous comment by British Air Chief Marshal Arthur “Bomber”Harris writing about the dropping of millions of propaganda leaflets over the Maginot Line during the first weeks of World War II: “My personal view is that the only thing achieved was largely to supply the continent’s requirement of toilet paper for the five long years of war.”

Nevertheless, the bulk of all those billions worth of campaign lucre is going to TV ads, and consultants and strategists are moving political spots around the airwaves like pieces in that tri-dimensional chess game Spock and Kirk used to play on “Star Trek.” Rick Klein at ABC News tells us that because early voting has started, “both candidates are [already] on the air with messages that are geared toward the very end,” a change from traditional campaigning. The Washington Post reports that “President Obama has a little-noticed strategic advantage that gives him more control over the money he has raised.

“While Mitt Romney relies heavily on massive amounts of cash held by the Republican Party and interest groups, Obama has more funds in his own campaign coffers. That allows him to make decisions about where and how to spend the money and to take better advantage of discounted ad rates, which candidates receive under federal law.
“In one Ohio ad buy slated to run just before the election, for example, Obama is paying $125 for a spot that is costing a conservative super PAC $900.”

So the maneuvering continues. Despite the pundits, we won’t know the full impact for a while to come and chances are that all that money will have its deepest impact on down ballot races for the House and state legislatures, where massive cash infusions can overwhelm sparsely funded competition.

All of which is interesting and relevant; none of which you will see or hear being reported on the local TV stations that are hauling in the bounty that is political ad spending. Most of them are owned by giant media companies, and given their record of forthright transparency it may come as no surprise that the stations are resistant to allowing coverage on their local news about those profits and where the money’s coming from.

Tim Karr at the media reform group Free Press has just written a report, “Left in the Dark,” revealing that in five cities in swing states, local TV stations have received millions of dollars in political advertising from outside groups like the Koch Brothers’Americans for Prosperity, Karl Rove’s American Crossroads and the pro-Obama Priorities USA. But with a single exception, there was no local reporting on the cash these groups are pouring into the election and no fact checking of the claims made in their ads.

In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, during the two weeks before the recall election against incumbent Governor Scott Walker – when outside money was swamping the state -- there was nothing on local news about political ad spending. But there were 53 segments that mentioned Justin Bieber, the Canadian singer who has countless young fans but to the best of our knowledge has not yet established a super PAC.

In the swing state of Ohio, during the month of August, “Cleveland’s four affiliate stations provided no coverage of the Koch brothers-funded group Americans for Prosperity, despite airing the group’s anti-Obama attack ads more than 500 times. Americans for Prosperity has reportedly spent more than $1.5 million to place ads on Cleveland television stations.”

And in Charlotte, North Carolina, site of the Democratic National Convention, “four affiliate stations provided no local reporting on the three top-spending political groups, the anti-Obama American Crossroads, Americans for Prosperity and Restore Our Future. From Jan. 1–Aug. 31, 2012, these three groups cumulatively spent more than $4 million to place ads on Charlotte stations.

According to the Free Press report, “This profiteering may explain broadcasters’ reluctance to investigate the relationship between political ad spending and local media. In exchange for this massive influx of cash, broadcasters must take their public interest obligations seriously. They must cover the money that’s poisoning our politics, expose the groups and individuals funding political ads in their markets, and address the falsehoods presented in most of these spots.”

Nonetheless, we have “a system gamed to a point of dysfunction by wealthy, undisclosed donors and media corporations that are all too content to just cash their checks.”
To be fair, some stations are doing some form of due diligence – local stations in Denver, Orlando, Phoenix, Dallas and Minneapolis, for example, are attempting to fact check political ads running on their air. But they’re overwhelmed, and the media giants that have taken over most of our TV have been able to ignore their public obligations with impunity. Free Press and other media watchdog groups do their best, and your involvement is essential if they’re to keep reporting what the most of the press – especially local TV stations – will not.

The recent FCC decision to insist that stations place online public records of political ad buys was an important step toward transparency. But even after Election Day has passed, pressure has to continue on Congress, the IRS, the FCC and the Federal Elections Commission – despite its current, weakened and feckless status. Dark money has to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the light.

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