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