Monday, January 30, 2012

"The Party People of Wall Street"

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

A week or so ago, we read in The New York Times about what in the Gilded Age of the Roman Empire was known as a bacchanal – a big blowout at which the imperial swells got together and whooped it up.

This one occurred here in Manhattan at the annual black-tie dinner and induction ceremony for Kappa Beta Phi. That’s the very exclusive Wall Street fraternity of billionaire bankers, and private equity and hedge fund predators. People like Wilbur Ross, the vulture capitalist; Robert Benmosche, the CEO of AIG, the insurance giant that received tens of billions in bailout money; and Alan “Ace” Greenberg, former chairman of Bear Stearns, the failed investment bank bought by JPMorgan Chase.

They got together at the St. Regis Hotel off Fifth Avenue to eat rack of lamb, drink and haze their newest members, who are made to dress in drag, sing and perform skits while braving the insults, wine-soaked napkins and petit fours – those fancy little frosted cakes -- hurled at them by the old guard. In other words, a gilt-edged Animal House, food fight and all.

This year, the butt of many a joke were the protesters of Occupy Wall Street. In one of the sketches, the bond specialist James Lebenthal scolded a demonstrator with a face tattoo, “Go home, wash that off your face and get back to work.” And in another, a member -- dressed like a protester – was told, “You’re pathetic, you liberal. You need a bath!”

Pretty hilarious stuff. The whole affair’s reminiscent of the wingdings the robber barons used to throw during America’s own Gilded Age a century and a half ago, when great wealth amassed at the top, far from the squalor and misery of working stiffs. Guests would arrive in the glittering mansions for costume balls that rivaled Versailles, reinforcing the sense of superiority and the virtue of a ruling class that depended on the toil and sweat of working people.

That’s consistent with the attitude expressed by several of these types after Occupy Wall Street sprung up; bankers told the Times on the record that they could understand the anger of the protesters camped on their doorstep; but privately, a hedge manager said, “Most… view [it] as ragtag group looking for sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll.”

So sayeth the winners in our winner-take all economy. The very guys who were celebrating at the St. Regis because they were too big to fail. Even when they fell flat on their faces, the government was there to dust them off, bail them out and send them back to fight the class war with nary a harsh word or punishment. Talk about a nanny welfare state.

None of this was by accident. The last three decades have witnessed a carefully calculated heist worthy of Robert Redford and Paul Newman in “The Sting” -- but on a massive scale. It was an inside job, politically engineered by Wall Street and Washington working hand-in-hand, sticky fingers with sticky fingers, to turn the legend of Robin Hood on its head – giving to the rich and taking from everybody else. Don’t take our word for it – it’s all on the record.

The biggest of the big boys was Citigroup, at one time the world’s largest financial institution. When the meltdown hit in 2008, the bank cut more than 50,000 jobs and you and other taxpayers shelled out more than $45 billion to save it. And how are Citigroup executives doing? Nicely, thank you. Last year, its CEO, Vikram Pandit, took home $1.75 million in base salary, and was awarded $3.7 million in deferred stock.

According to the Times, “Citigroup is expected to disclose the rest of his pay, cash, be it upfront or deferred, in March. In addition, while not necessarily for work performed in 2011, Mr. Pandit last year was awarded a $16.7 million retention bonus, plus stock options that could add $6.5 million to the package’s overall value.” Makes you want to cry out, “Retain me! Retain me!”

To be fair, Vikram Pandit was at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland last week, where he told Bloomberg News, “It’s important for the financial system to acknowledge that there’s a great deal of anger directed at it… Trust has been broken. Banks have to serve clients, not serve themselves.” What’s more, he has said that the “sentiments” expressed by Occupy Wall Street demonstrators were “completely understandable.”

This, in contrast to the financial industry official who told a reporter that the protesters’ issues were “a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Or, as they used to say while partying down at the court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, let them eat petits fours.


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

Knee-jerk Reaction, or Cold Blooded Murder?

Last week, prosecutors in a Camp Pendleton courtroom called for the maximum sentence for Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich, the Marine who gave the command back in 2005 to slaughter 24 unarmed civilians in Haditha, Iraq. That maximum sentence was 90 days.

Yes, that's right, thanks to a plea bargain, the maximum sentence for giving a command that resulted in the execution-style murder of two dozen innocent Iraqis was three months. The judge commuted that sentence, so Staff Sergeant Wuterich will serve no time in a military brig for his actions.

In the months immediately following the 2005 massacre in a small farming village in Iraq, I'd heard about the story, and wrote a piece, "The Road to Haditha," that appeared in The Huffington Post. The follow-up piece, "Haditha Revisited," notes that four of the Marines who participated in the killing spree were charged with murder, and was published a few months later.

Regrettably, not one Marine involved with this incident has served any time for the murder of unarmed men, women, and children in Haditha.

As my 2006 piece says, "One woman was described, in a New York Times article, as bending down, and begging for mercy as she was shot "in cold blood," and at close range, by a marine."

Wuterich reportedly ordered his men to "shoot first and ask questions later," sending them into nearby homes was, as U.S. News, MSNBC reports, a knee-jerk reaction when confronted with the unknown. As was later disclosed, this massacre was the way these Marines chose to avenge the loss of one of their own to a roadside bomb earlier that week.

Whatever the cause, what kind of message does it send about our men and women in uniform that their default position is to rifle through a village, and essentially fire at anyone that moves? What does it say about the military justice system that not one of these men, including their commanding officer, was held accountable for what he did?

In a statement to the court after his sentencing, Staff Sergeant Wuterich said, "The truth is: I never fired any weapon at any women or children that day." Did Charles Manson himself murder any of his victims, and where is Manson today? This argument alone is an outrage.

As an officer, Wuterich is responsible for the actions of his subordinates, and he knows that. But, is it enough to allow him to plead to the charge dereliction of duty, and not murder?

Just ask relatives and residents of Haditha about the Wuterich's sentencing. They are reportedly shocked, as well as outraged, and plan to continue pursuing this case.

Oh, and there it is again that insidious word "derelict." Wuterich's military prosecutors insist that the killing spree was the "horrific result from that derelict order of shooting first, ask questions later." The word derelict suggests that if Wuterich had first asked questions, and then shot the actions would be any less criminal, which is a ridiculous assertion. That's kind of like saying, if the car was in neutral, it wouldn't have gone off the cliff.

Was Staff Sergeant Wuterich "derelict" when he allegedly falsified an offical document, and attempted to get another Marine to participate in a cover-up? Is that what we call it now, derelict?

And how did the presiding judge respond to being faced with a soldier who would order his squad to rifle through a village killing men, women, and children randomly? The judge affirmed Wuterich's sentence from the plea deal, hence Frank Wuterich won't spend one minute behind bars. His only punishment--he will lose rank. That pales in comparison with what the families of those 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians lost.

But, even if Wuterich were to be sent to the brig, it was not he and he alone who is liable for what happened in Haditha six years ago. It was not just the Marine's cowboy mantra to "shoot first, ask questions later;" the same cowboy ethos resonated in George W. Bush, and was reinforced by Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld, a mindset that makes it possible to label anyone, especially those not wearing a uniform, an "unlawful enemy combatant," thereby justifying a wanton act of cold blooded murder.

Yes, cold blooded murder it is, plain and simple. Allowing Staff Sergeant to walk out of that Camp Pendleton courtroom and not be remanded to a military prison just goes to show that the George W. Bush, Dick Cheney mindset lives on.

Many, including myself, waited for the day that Frank Wuterich heard his sentence. Many, including those who prosecuted him, wanted to see him "in the brig," but he escaped the fate that he and all those who participated in the horror of Haditha that day richly deserved.

The buck doesn't stop there. The world is watching, and waiting for the American courts to hold those responsible for giving the command to invade, plunder, and occupy Baghdad on the false claims of weapons of mass destruction. Courts in Spain, Italy, and the U.K. are trying to compensate for the Obama administration's failure to investigate, and pursue war crimes charges.

But, of course, this will never happen because the Obama administration has the Bush administration's back. Is it any wonder then that, according to The New York Times, Iraqis "remain deeply skeptical of the United States, feelings that were reinforced last week when the Marine who was the so-called ringleader of the 2005 massacre of 24 Iraqis in the village of Haditha avoided prison time and was sentenced to a reduction in rank."

And who can blame them? Frank Wuterich isn't the only one who walked scot-free.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Happy Birthday, Paul Newman!

Legendary actor, and philanthropist, fighter for the First Amendment, and progressive causes, Paul Newman, would have turned 87 today.

He will be always remembered for having Robert Redford as a sidekick,
for being Cool Hand Luke, but more importantly he will be remembered for his generosity of spirit, basic human decency and for leaving this world a better place than when he found it.

Bless both of these gorgeous men, Mr. Newman and Mr. Redford, for their gifts to mankind both as actors, and humanitarians.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

From Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

The Washington-Wall Street Revolving Door Just Keeps Spinning Along

We’ve already made our choice for the best headline of the year, so far:

"Citigroup Replaces JPMorgan as White House Chief of Staff."

When we saw it on the website we had to smile -- but the smile didn’t last long. There’s simply too much truth in that headline; it says a lot about how Wall Street and Washington have colluded to create the winner-take-all economy that rewards the very few at the expense of everyone else. .

The story behind it is that Jack Lew is President Obama’s new chief of staff -- arguably the most powerful office in the White House that isn’t shaped like an oval. He used to work for the giant banking conglomerate Citigroup. His predecessor as chief of staff is Bill Daley, who used to work at the giant banking conglomerate JPMorgan Chase, where he was maestro of the bank’s global lobbying and chief liaison to the White House.

Daley replaced Obama’s first chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who once worked as a rainmaker for the investment bank now known as Wasserstein & Company, where in less than three years he was paid a reported eighteen and a half million dollars.

The new guy, Jack Lew – said by those who know to be a skilled and principled public servant – ran hedge funds and private equity at Citigroup, which means he’s a member of the Wall Street gang, too. His last job was as head of President Obama’s Office of Management and Budget, where he replaced Peter Orzag, who now works as vice chairman for global banking at – hold onto your deposit slip -- Citigroup.

Still with us? It’s startling the number of high-ranking Obama officials who have spun through the revolving door between the White House and the sacred halls of investment banking. Sure, you can argue that it makes sense that the chief executive of the nation would look to other executives for the expertise you need to build back from the disastrous collapse of the banks in the final year of the Bush Administration.

Remember -- it was Bush and Cheney with their cronies in big business who helped walk us right into the blast furnace of financial meltdown, then rushed to save the banks with taxpayer money. That little fact seems to have been overlooked in the current primaries.

All this brings back memories of Hank Paulson, doesn’t it? Hank Paulson, the $700-million man who became secretary of the treasury for President Bush. Paulson had been head of Goldman Sachs, the rich investment bank. As his successor at Goldman Sachs, Paulson chose Lloyd Blankfein. Several times, according to Bloomberg News, Rolling Stone, and Paulson’s own memoir, the treasury secretary made sure Blankfein and Goldman got privileged inside information.

But Bush and Cheney aren’t the only ones to have a soft spot for financiers. President Obama may call bankers “fat cats” and stir the rabble against them with populist rhetoric when it serves his interest, but after the fiscal fiasco, he allowed the culprits to escape virtually scot-free. When he’s in New York he dines with them frequently and eagerly accepts their big contributions. Like his predecessors, his administration also has provided them with billions of taxpayer dollars – low-cost money that they used for high-yielding investments to make big profits. The largest banks are bigger than they were when he took office and earned more in the first two-and-a-half years of his term than they did during the entire eight years of the Bush administration. That’s confirmed by industry data.

And get this. It turns out, according to The New York Times, that as President Obama’s inner circle has been shrinking, his “rare new best friend” is Robert Wolf. They play basketball, golf, and talk economics when Wolf is not raising money for the president’s campaign.

Robert Wolf runs the US branch of the giant Swiss bank UBS, which participated in schemes to help rich Americans evade their taxes. During hearings in 2009, Michigan’s Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the permanent subcommittee on investigations, described some of the tricks used by UBS: “Swiss bankers aided and abetted violations of U.S. tax law by traveling to this country with client code names, encrypted computers, counter- surveillance training, and all the rest of it, to enable U.S. residents to hide assets and money in Swiss accounts.

“The bankers then returned to Switzerland and treated their conduct as blameless since Swiss law says tax evasion is no crime. The Swiss bank before us deliberately entered United States, actively sought U.S. clients and secretly helped those U.S. clients defraud the United States of America.”

And so it goes, the revolving door between government service and big money in the private sector spinning so fast it becomes an irresistible force hurling politics and high finance together so completely it’s impossible to tell one from the other.


By: Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

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

Monday, January 23, 2012

Will the Real "Food Stamp President" Please Stand Up?

During a late afternoon walk this weekend, I saw a young mother walking brusquely with her two children, one of whom was wearing a winter jacket and hood.

Well, I thought, I'm glad I'm not the only one cold enough to wear a hood. They were not a particularly distinctive trio, this mother and her two children. They were dressed well-enough, but I noticed the children hungrily working away at hero sandwiches.

As I passed her, the young woman, who was in her early 20's, politely asked if I knew of any churches nearby. She said she'd been walking with her children for seven miles looking for a church, or shelter, and that she'd even stopped and asked a police officer who wasn't helpful at all.

I told her the closest church was in downtown Walnut Creek. She asked how far that was, and I said about two miles. "Well," she said, "I've already walked seven miles, so why not." I told her she could take BART, and asked if she had train fare, but she wasn't interested in train fare. She was interested in finding a roof for herself, and her two small children.

Trust me, there was no way you would have known that this woman was homeless. She looked like she could be a bank teller, or a teacher, a librarian, a technican, or a nurse.

I mentioned that there was a church not far away that serves food, and gives showers to the needy, but their hours were vastly reduced. But, she wanted more than some hot food and a bath. She wanted to come in out of the rain, and that there are so few shelters that people must turn to churches sounds like something from a Charles Dickens novel not something one would expect to encounter in the age of the I-Pod and the Blackberry.

In another city that faces unprecedented homelessness, Orlando, Florida, Republicans are preparing to vote for the man who will best represent them in the 2012 presidential race. How many of these folks know that the fellow who calls President Obama the "food stamp president" also distracted another president, Bill Clinton, from realizing his plan for universal health coverage by peddling his "welfare reform," and a measure which drastically cut Aid to Dependent Families, thereby putting many young mothers out on the street, walking miles to locate the nearest church?

Yes, Mr. Gingrich balanced the federal budget by lowering the capital gains tax, and cutting welfare benefits, as well as school lunches. He balanced the federal budget on the backs of working families, and the poor. He did it in 1994, and he will do it again.

So, the candidate who now promotes jobs and not food stamps extolls the virtues of "smaller government," but what do he and his homeboys really mean by "smaller government?" Eradicating whatever is left of a safety net for working poor, and the homeless while at the same time increasing the comfort level for large corporations by reducing their tax obligation.

Ron Paul would also like to see this young mother turn to the church, or find themselves at the mercy of the kindness of strangers. Ron Paul and friends think the government shouldn't be there to provide relief, or shelter from the storm. They want to go back to the days before Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the New Deal.

And, anyone who questions where Mitt Romney stands on the issue of poverty, and workers in this country has only to examine his record as governor of Massachusetts from 2003-2007.

Back in the summer of 2006, the Massachusetts legislature passed a measure that raised the minimum wage from nearly $7 an hour to $8 an hour which then-Governor Romney vetoed. The governor simply said he had "spent hours reading a wide array of reviews on the minimum wage and its impact on the economy, and there's no question raising the minimum wage excessively causes a loss of jobs."

Sound familiar? That's right, Romney isn't the only one who thinks the minimum wage hurts business. Ron Paul wants to do away with the minimum wage altogether.

Moreover, it wasn't just the immigrant community, legal and otherwise, that Romney antagonized when he proposed that state troopers arrest and detain anyone who didn't have documentation proving citizenship, way ahead of Arizona by the way, Romney's approval rating went south for a host of reasons including, of course, that he left the state near the bottom of the list in terms of job creation. In fact, Romney's approval rating during his tenure as Massachusetts' governor was cut in half from 66% to about 34%. As his brethren on the campaign stump are quick to point out, Romney has lost every other bid for public office he's made since.

But, of course, this is not about Mitt Romney any more than it's about Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, or Ron Paul, but instead which party will direct a young African-American mother to a local church for shelter, and which party will be more concerned with giving subsidies to provide affordable housing than giving government subsidies, and tax right-offs to behemoth corporations like Wal-Mart, or Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

This is about who fought to cut school lunches, and who will continue to take from education to feed the war coffers, as well as who will turn back the clock back to those infamous days when owners of restaurants could legally seat whomever they pleased at lunch counters.

This is not about whose vision is more in keeping with that of the founding fathers, no one running for office, Republican or Democrat would pass that test. This is about priorities. Both Gingrich and Romney need a beginner's course in Priorities 101.

For every predator drone purchased, one federally subsidized low income housing complex can be built, or state universities and colleges facing massive layoffs and cut-backs can be subsidized instead of chief executive officers of big banks.

Republican candidates all support the right to life before birth, after birth you're on your own. Don't ask for the government to help you in any way except when it comes to overturning a constitutional amendment that protects the right to choose.

Alas, and those who depend on the kindness of strangers often find themselves out in the cold.

The Democrats aren't doing much better at addressing the needs of workers and the poor than the Republicans have done. But, the fact that food stamp use has increased by nearly 50% the month before Obama took office, as reported by Bloomberg, suggests that it was under a Republican administration, when this country first started hemorrhaging jobs, that the need for food stamps rose. So, if anyone deserves to be called the "food stamp president," George W. Bush does. He set the stage for hunger, homelessness, and poverty in this country not seen the 1930's.

True, total spending on food subsidies is more than double what it was since 2000, and has now reached arecord high of $75.3 billion, but the number of American families living below the poverty level is also at a record high.

And, if you're looking to blame somebody for the major rise in government spending on subsidizing the dietary needs of poor Americans by calling him the "Food Stamp President," why not blame the one whose economic policies increased the number of those who qualify as indigent exponentially.

And, contrary to what the former House speaker would have you think, a fact Gingrich insists on hiding under a huge pile of verbiage he calls a campaign, in a south still intent on maintaining its confederacy, according to Bloomberg,, too, more food stamp recipients, fully 34% are white; 22% are African-American, and another 16% are Hispanic. What we have here, Mr. Gingrich, is multicultural hunger.

Keep in mind, too, that every Republican running for the White House this year is also running from how to deal with the growing problem of poverty, hunger, and homelessness in America.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Supreme Court

Looks like the Supreme Court might have to decide who the Republican presidential candidate is, too.


Rumor has it Mitt Romney said if not for offshore drilling he wouldn't be here.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Spiro T. Gingrich

Newt Gingrich's attack on what he calls "the elite media" during tonight's South Carolina debate reminds me of another high profile Republican's invective against the major media, Spiro T. Agnew.

Spiro T. Agnew, you'll recall, was Richard Nixon's vice president, and it was one of Agnew's favorite pastimes to turn television networks into hunting expeditions for his imagined enemies. But, it wasn't just television news Agnew was taking aim at when he said, "Some newspapers are fit only to line the bottom of bird cages."

Gingrich tore into CNN moderator John King because King, the former House speaker contends, chose to open the South Carolina debate with a news story broadcast widely that day, allegations by Gingrich's ex-wife that he wanted an "open marriage."

The debate's moderator deemed the subject newsworthy because it was allowed to dominate news coverage all day, but it wasn't tabloid journalism Gingrich was inveighing against. It was about being targeted for the irrelevancy that is his personal life. In this, he is absolutely right.

Mr. Gingrich has been given a free pass during all these debates, and on every network, by the conspicuous absence of questions dealing with his tenure as speaker, and his removal from the House. Yes, what Newt did or did not propose to his former spouse is not pertinent to his role as a serious contender for president, but his ethics violations are.

Whether Mr. King chose to open or close the debate with aspersions cast by Speaker Gingrich's former spouse is irrelevant. Gingrich went so far as to sound off not just about this one incident, but instead to take the opportunity to inveigh against the entire "left" media that, in his opinion, is biased against Republicans, and will eventually get around to attacking not just him, but Romney, Paul, and Santorum, too.

Aside from their contempt for broadcast journalism, and the press in general, Gingrich and Agnew have something else in common. Agnew was the first vice president in U.S. history who was forced to step down for accepting bribes, and Gingrich was to step down as speaker of the House for ethics violations. It was the first time in history that a speaker was disciplined by Congress for breach of ethics.

Gingrich, who passed a capital gains tax cut in 1997, was charged with having violated federal tax law. Altogether, as the Washington Post reported back in 1998, then Speaker Gingrich faced 84 ethics violations charges which included misusing tax-exempt donations, $300,000 in fines before he resigned.

Oh, but, let's not forget George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. They raised Cain when revelations about their clandestine programs that sidestep the rule of law were reported in major newspapers.

As you recall, too, Agnew lived during an immensely troubled time in our history, the Watergate era, and served under a president who effectively said, it's not illegal when the president does it. It would be reasonable to hazard the guess that the same line of thinking drove Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney to pursue their "enhanced alternative" interrogation methods in Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan, as well as their not-very-covert program of extraordinary rendition.

Interestingly, it wasn't until the Bush administration that the media came under attack again. As The Baltimore Sun reports, Bush and Cheney "fired broadsides at The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and to a lesser degree The Wall Street Journal."

The Sun continues, "On November 13, 1969, Vice President Spiro T. Agnew became a household word when he vehemently denounced television news broadcasters as a biased `unelected' elite who subjected President Richard M. Nixon's speeches to instant analysis." `

So, thanks to Newt Gingrich, we've gone from a "biased 'unelected' elite" to "the elite media" in one fell swoop. Is it really the intention of the Republican Party to remind us of the Watergate days by evoking the memory of Agnew who had such disdain for the media as being inimical to executive power that he even contemplated regulating it?

Does the Republican Party want to remind us, as the Baltimore Sun suggests, of the not-too-distant past when the Bush administration leveled "the mightiest political salvo at the press since Maryland's Spiro T. Agnew threatened the big three television networks and newspaper-dominated mixed media corporations?"

Spiro T. Agnew would have been proud of the attack Newt Gingrich leveled at a broadcast journalist tonight in South Carolina. Gingrich's tirade had one intended target, television news, but if Gingrich's mindset is allowed to prevail in its bid for the Oval Office, the real target will be the First Amendment.

Instead of his tongue-lashing of broadcast journalists at the South Carolina debate, Mr. Gingrich should have invited moderators out for drinks for letting him off the hook about the ethics violations that forced him out as House speaker.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Condoms for Corporations?

Here's a thought, now that the Citizens United ruling affirms corporate personhood, and leading Republican of the litter declares that "corporations are people, too," why hasn't some enterprising free marketeer come up with condoms for corporations.

Sounds like a joke, right? Look at this headline from the Associated Press, "Porn industry mulls leaving L.A. if condoms required."

Yes, you read right. An entire industry would rather pull themselves up by their roots, so to speak, than have to endure birth control.

Try to wrap you head around the idea of a Trojan big enough for AIG, or Enron, or Citibank, or the Dow Jones Industrial.

Of course, the evangelical fringe which now dominates the Republican Party would never hear of birth control for major industries. Instead, they would like to lament the proliferation of public service jobs while applying the Old Testament maxim, "Be fruitful and multiply" to Madison Avenue. It doesn't work that way, fellas. What's good for the goose is good for the gander.

At the next Republican debate which, if memory serves, will be tomorrow in South Carolina, one of the hosts ought to ask candidate Romney how he feels about contraception for corporations. After all, if "corporations are people, too" they should be entitled to family planning options. And, more importantly, they should be criminally liable for fraud.

Think about this, requiring companies to use contraception will give a whole new meaning to the phrase "Occupy Wall Street."

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Phil Ochs

On Monday, January 23rd, PBS will be airing the documentary, "There But For Fortune," about legendary folk singer Phil Ochs.

The program will begin at 10 p.m. (EST), 7 p.m. (PST). Please check local listings, and please spread the word!

America Wakes Up to the Reality: Inequality Matters

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

If you’re part of the one percent, even getting fired comes with a cushion made of eiderdown. GMI, a research company that gets paid to keep an eye on such things, just issued a study headlined, “Twenty-One U.S. CEOs with Golden Parachutes of More than $100 Million.” That’s each.

The report’s authors, Paul Hodgson and Greg Ruel, write, “These 21 CEOs walked away with almost $4 billion in combined compensation. In total, $1.7 billion in equity profits was realized by these CEOs, primarily on the exercise of time-vesting stock options and restricted stock.”

This news came the same day as another report, this one from Indiana University, titled, “At Risk: America’s Poor during and after the Great Recession.” Its researchers conclude, “The number of people living in poverty is increasing and is expected to increase further, despite the recovery. The proportion of people living in poverty has increased by 27% between the year before the onset of the Great Recession (2006) and 2010… Poverty is expected to increase again in 2011 due to the slow pace of the economic recovery, the persistently high rate of unemployment, and the long duration of spells of unemployment.”

In fact, the white paper finds that we now have the largest number of long-term unemployed people in the United States since records were first kept in 1948 – four million report they’ve been unemployed for more than a year. Not necessarily counting the former CEO’s gently floating to earth from those golden parachutes.

So no, Mitt Romney, when we say that Americans are waking up to the reality that inequality matters, we’re not guilty of “envy” or “class warfare,” as you claimed to Matt Lauer on NBC’s Today. Nor are we talking about everybody earning the same amount of money – that’s the straw man apologists for inequality raise whenever anyone tries to get serious.

We’re talking what it takes to live a decent life. If you get sick without health coverage, inequality matters. If you’re the only breadwinner and out of work, inequality matters. If your local public library closes down and you can’t afford books on your own, inequality matters. If budget cuts mean your child has to pay to play on the school basketball team, sing in the chorus or march in the band, inequality matters. If you lose your job as you’re about to retire, inequality matters. If the financial system collapses and knocks the props from beneath your pension, inequality matters.

Neither one of us grew up wealthy, but we went to good public schools, played sandlot ball at a good public park, lived near a good public library, and drove down good public highways – all made possible by people we never met and would never know. There was an unwritten bargain among generations: we didn’t all get the same deal, but we did get civilization.

Now the bargain’s being shredded. The people we met from Occupy Wall Street get it—you could tell from their slogans. One of the younger protesters wore a t-shirt emblazoned with the words: “The system’s not broken. It’s fixed.” That’s right – rigged. And that’s why so many are so angry. Not at wealth itself. But at the powerful players who win by fixing the game instead of by honest competition; at the crony capitalists who resort to tricks, loopholes, and cold cash to make sure insiders prosper – and then pull up the ladder behind them.

Americans are waking up to how they’re being made to pay with for Wall Street’s malfeasance and Washington’s complicity – paying with stagnant wages and lost jobs, with slashing cuts to their benefits and social services. To how our financial system profits by moving money around in exotic ways instead of supporting real economic growth.

Waking up to the ludicrous Supreme Court decision defining corporation as a person, although it doesn’t eat, breath, make love or sing – or take care of children and aging parents. Waking up to how unlimited and often anonymous campaign contributions corrupt our elections; to the fact that if money is speech, no money means no speech. As one demonstrator’s sign read: “I couldn’t afford a politician, so I bought this sign.”

So while police have cleared many Occupy encampments, a collective cry, loud and clear, has gone up from countless voices across the country: Enough’s enough.

We won’t know for a while if what we’re hearing is a momentary cry of pain, or whether it’s a movement – like the abolitionists and suffragettes, the populists and workers of another era, or the civil rights movement – that gathers forces until the powers-that-be can no longer sustain the inequality, injustice, and yes, immorality of winner-take-all politics and a winner-take-all economy.


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

Thursday, January 12, 2012

"Is This Land Made for You and Me?"

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

The traveling medicine show known as the race for the Republican presidential nomination has moved on from Iowa and New Hampshire, and all eyes are now on South Carolina.

Well, not exactly all. At the moment, our eyes are fixed on some big news from the great state of Oklahoma, home of the legendary American folk singer Woody Guthrie, whose 100th birthday will be celebrated later this year.

Woody saw the ravages of the Dust Bowl and the Depression firsthand; his own family came unraveled in the worst hard times. And he wrote tough yet lyrical stories about the men and women who struggled to survive, enduring the indignity of living life at the bone, with nothing to eat and no place to sleep. He traveled from town to town, hitchhiking and stealing rides in railroad boxcars, singing his songs for spare change or a ham sandwich. What professional success he had during his own lifetime, singing in concerts and on the radio, was often undone by politics and the restless urge to keep moving on. "So long, it’s been good to know you," he sang, and off he would go.

What he wrote and sang about caused the oil potentates and preachers who ran Oklahoma to consider him radical and disreputable. For many years he was the state’s prodigal son, but times change, and that’s the big news. Woody Guthrie has been rediscovered, even though Oklahoma’s more conservative than ever -- one of the reddest of our red states with a governor who’s a favorite of the Tea Party.

The George Kaiser Family Foundation has bought Guthrie’s archives -- his manuscripts, letters and journals. A center is being built in Tulsa that will make them available to scholars and visitors from all over the world.

Among its treasures is the original, handwritten copy of this song, Woody Guthrie’s most famous -- "This Land Is Your Land." The song extols the beauty of the country Guthrie traveled across again and again; its endless skyways and golden valleys, the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts. Yet his eye was clear, unclouded, and unobstructed by sentimentality, for he also wrote in its lyrics:

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

"Is this land made for you and me?" A mighty good question. The biggest domestic story of our time is the collapse of the middle class, a sharp increase in the poor, and the huge transfer of wealth to the already rich.

In an era of gross inequality there’s both irony and relevance in Woody Guthrie’s song. That “ribbon of highway” he made famous? It’s faded and fraying in disrepair, the nation’s infrastructure of roads and bridges, once one of our glories, now a shambles because fixing them would require spending money, raising taxes, and pulling together.

This land is mostly owned not by you and me but by the winner-take-all super rich who have bought up open spaces, built mega-mansions, turned vast acres into private vistas, and distanced themselves as far as they can from the common lot of working people – the people Woody wrote and sang about

True, Barack Obama asked Bruce Springsteen and Woody Guthrie’s longtime friend Pete Seeger to sing This Land is Your Land at that big, pre-inaugural concert the Sunday before he was sworn in. And sing they did, in the spirit of hope and change that President Obama had spun as the heart of his campaign rhetoric.

Today, whatever was real about that spirit has been bludgeoned by severe economic hardship for everyday Americans and by the cynical expedience of politicians who wear the red-white-and-blue in their lapels and sing "America the Beautiful" while serving the interests of crony capitalists stuffing SuperPACs with millions of dollars harvested from the gross inequality destroying us from within.

But maybe -- just maybe -- the news that Woody Guthrie, once a pariah in his home state, has become a local hero is the harbinger of things to come, and that all the people who still believe this land is our land will begin to take it back.


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

Monday, January 09, 2012

Newt Hampshire

You've got to give him credit. Newt Gingrich doesn't just read Gideon's bible when he stays at the Marriott, he also reads poetry.

Like the line in a poem by legendary Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, the former House speaker heeds the admonition not to "go gently into that night, but rage against the dying of the light," and raging he is. Newt Gingrich is raging so much that by the time this whole affair is over, the state will instead be named: Newt Hampshire.

While the latest polls out of New Hampshire show frontrunner Romney down by four percentage points, Newt is nowhere near second place. He's in a tie with Rick Perry for fourth place. Ron Paul is polling second to Mitt Romney with Romney is holding on to a double digit lead.

Predictably, Huntsman is doing much better, and has managed to move from 1% to as high as 17%, which is about half where Romney is at.

Rick Perry will be the first casualty of New Hampshire followed, after Florida, by Huntsman unless the former Utah governor decides to take some of his dad's money, after all.

Apart from garnering him more campaign contributions, Newt Gingrich is helping Democrats more than hurting Romney. Romney is like a London Fog raincoat. He can endure the heaviest storm without any visible stains.

By invoking Bain Capital repeatedly as if it were a shibboleth, Gingrich has morphed into a character out of King Lear, the Fool, the one who can most be counted on to tell the truth, and the one who is taken the least seriously.

Ah, but think of how much money the Democrats are saving on advertising revenue by letting Gingrich do their hatchet job, and he isn't even charging any consultant fees.

The mouth isn't the only thing that's running, the meter is, too. Newt Hampshire may very well be Gingrich's last stand.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

"An Incredibly Close Screening'

A preview of “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” turns into group therapy for post-9/11 New Yorkers.

By Michael Winship

I knew all those years of sitting in darkened theaters on sunny afternoons, awash in movies new and old, stale popcorn and gallons of diet soda, would pay off some day. For one, there was the woman I met in 1975 at the late, lamented Carnegie Hall Cinema during a Mel Brooks double feature. She came and sat next to me when a guy kept bothering her during Blazing Saddles and we wound up dating --until she lit out for a career in the hinterlands, acting in summer stock.

But as lovely as she was, that’s not the payoff I mean. All that time reading about and watching movies didn’t just prepare me for romance, or Jeopardy and Trivial Pursuit, if it comes to that. (Quick—the address of Charles Foster Kane’s love nest with Susan Alexander? 185 West 74th Street.)

What it did ready me for is one of my favorite things, interviewing screenwriters about their work. In my various capacities at the Writers Guild of America, East, I’ve had the opportunity over the last decade and a half to talk with many of them, in private for articles or video archives, and in public, in front of an audience, at screenings of their films. Sometimes the director and one or two of the actors come, too.

This has led to some odd experiences: like dealing with the emotionally fragile starlet who recently had gone through a very public break-up. I had to gently coax her out of her limo and into the screening because she was afraid of the paparazzi, who were covering a premiere at the theater next door. They didn’t notice.

Or the time the writer knelt next to me during his film and frantically whispered that an entire reel had been skipped, the next to last one. We let everyone see it when the movie was over but discovered that the hapless projectionist had been showing it that way -- to critics -- for weeks. The film opened and closed very quickly.

There was the incomprehensible interview with Jean-Luc Godard, which was not because my French was worse than his English, or vice versa, but simply because he’s Jean-Luc Godard; and the Q & A with British writer and director Mike Leigh -- my first question triggered a rapid-fire, twenty-minute monologue that was impossible to interrupt. Because he covered virtually every one of my prepared questions, it wasn’t so bad. By the time he had worn himself out, we were ready for questions from the audience.

But one of the most unusual interviews took place just last month, a week or so before Christmas. I was scheduled to introduce a screening of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and talk afterwards with the author of its screenplay, Eric Roth, whose other credits include Forrest Gump and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

When I arrived at the theater, a representative from Warner Brothers let me know that the film’s director, Stephen Daldry, would be joining us as well. I had to pretty much toss the interview I’d prepared -- most of my questions were about Eric’s work and screenwriting in general -- but it would be okay. Stephen and I had met several years ago when he was promoting his movie The Hours and I was interviewing its screenwriter, David Hare.

If you haven’t heard by now, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, adapted from the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, is a tough movie to watch, especially if you’re a New Yorker who was here on 9/11. But in my opinion, it’s well worth it; the engaging, entertaining and powerful story of an emotionally troubled Asperger’s kid who seeks to reconnect with the father he lost at the World Trade Center. The boy travels across the city trying to solve the riddle of a mysterious key he finds in his father’s closet a year after the attacks.

The film ended and there was applause, which doesn’t always happen at these things; we are, after all, jaded, Manhattan media sophisticates. The lights came up, I introduced Eric and Stephen and started to ask my first question.

Stephen interrupted (he’s a director). "I’d like to know what people think about the film. We’ve only just finished it and only shown it to a handful of audiences, so I’d like to know what you think."


I think we’re all experiencing a bit of shellshock, I said. Most of us were here on 9/11. Ten years later, it’s still kind of raw. Stephen repeated his question – what did you think?

Slowly, people began to respond, positively for the most part but in each of us the film triggered memories. People had friends in the buildings. A man who worked as an extra in the film -- you see a split-second shot of him in a Batman costume -- had a job in wire transfers at Bank of America. He worked the night shift at the Trade Center and left just minutes before American Airlines Flight 11 hit the North Tower. He’s still suffering from survivor guilt.

For me, it was a moment toward the end of the film when the boy, Oskar (an incredible performance by young, first-time actor Thomas Horn), visits an office downtown in the middle of the night. Security takes his photo and prints out a building ID. That would seem innocuous to most, but I remembered an evening about a week and a half after what Oskar calls "the worst day." George Bush was addressing a joint session of Congress.

My then wife and I were burning candles to cover the smell from Ground Zero, which had shifted that rainy night from an odor of burning electrical cables and melted metal to something more feral and decaying. As we listened to Bush and I made dinner, she sat and sorted through a basket of odds and ends, then handed me something: a security ID with my picture -- like Oskar’s -- but taken the last time I had gone to the World Trade Center for a meeting.

The rest of my interview with Stephen and Eric went like that. I got a couple of my original questions in, but the evening had turned into a group therapy session, and that was fine. As Daldry recently said in the Los Angeles Times, "It’s a loss that’s very public and one that everyone has very rich stories about. One has to be responsible to the original author's book... and you have to be aware of the truth of the reality of what happened to thousands of people who lost loved ones."

I heard a new ad for Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close on the radio this morning, its pitch apparently readjusted, aimed at those averse to a movie about the Trade Center calamity. It’s "not about 9/11," the spot’s announcer declared, "but every day after."

Nice try. The question is, as Stephen told the Times, "Is it time? Can we start to tell these stories yet or is it too early?" The film opens nationally on January 20. Spend a couple of hours in a darkened movie theater and find out what you think.


Michael Winship, senior writing fellow at Demos and president of the Writers Guild, East, is senior writer on the new public television series Moyers & Company, premiering this month. Go to

Miss Congeniality

President? Bah! After his performance in last night's debate, Mitt Romney should enter a beauty contest as "Miss Congeniality" instead of trying to obtain his party's nomination.

Not only is his smile imperious, it is downright impervious. Romney gives a whole new meaning to the term self-possessed. The man is downright possessed by himself.

By his performance at Saturday night's Republican debate in New Hampshire, he's earned the heavyweight title held by Ronald Reagan. Romney is, without doubt, the teflon candidate.

When this circus is over, Democratic Party chair, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, should send former Speaker Gingrich a thank you note for doing the heavy lifting, and confronting the Mitt face to face with Bain Capital's practice of leveraged buyouts.

Of course, Gingrich wasn't the first to call out the former Massachusetts governor on his practice of buying companies on the edge, and making them viable by massive layouts. That honor goes to another prominent figure from back in 1994, Senator Ted Kennedy in his senatorial campaign against Romney.

For anyone who was watching, Romney didn't flip flop on the issue of a woman's rights to choose, but said he would like to see a reversal of Roe v. Wade as it was "decided badly," and the legal right to terminate a pregnancy turned over to the states. If Romney gets his party's nomination, expect him to pander to the far right wing of his party in much the same way another first term president, George H.W. Bush, did. That means, don't be surprised if you hear nominee Romney channeling Rick Santorum stands on key issues.

Any uncertainty about whether or not these debates constitute theatre of the absurd can be easily put to rest by thinking about Ron Paul's response to questions about his newsletter. How many times has Dr. Paul lamented that these newsletters were written twenty years ago as if that somehow excuses their contents. Well, has anything changed from what Newt Gingrich said twenty years ago? And, for the record, this makes how many times, over the past two decades, Mr. Romney will have tried for an elected office and lost?

But, nobody's thinking about that. Instead, the wing nuts who now control the Republican platform are focusing on a young president who, unlike his Republican nemesis, has won every race he has ever entered.

Watching this final debate before Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, I kept waiting for Diane Sawyer to step forward and ask Rick Santorum the same question that George Stephanopoulos grilled Romney about, a ban on contraception. How it is that the Mitt was able to monopolize that question, and Santorum, the only one to condemn contraception, was allowed to escape unscathed defies reason.

Stephanopoulos, by the way, came closest to calling Romney out when he tried to worm his way out of a question by pretending not to be an expert in the area. Stephanopoulos said, "Come on, you have a law degree from Harvard." Quite right. Wonder how much it cost Romney's father to buy that one for him, too.

Yes, former advisor to Bill Clinton, George Stephanopoulos, did a terrific job hammering away at frontrunner Romney on banning contraception. Trouble is, he picked the wrong candidate. He should have been badgering Santorum instead.

What is it that was so intimidating about any of these candidates that they managed to make it out of New Hampshire with their hair and lipstick perfectly in place?

If you've got something planned for Tuesday night, don't worry about missing the New Hampshire primary. Romney will win, and by a wide margin, too. Romney will win South Carolina, by a smaller margin than New Hampshire, but he'll win there, too, and of course Romney will become his party's 2012 presidential nominee. The Supreme Court, and Citizens United, wouldn't have it any other way.

The only thing left for the Democrats to do is to show that what took place during these debates wasn't really about politics after all, but was instead a beauty pageant. If Miss Congeniality wins the White House in 2012, the American people will be the ones who will lose. The teflon days are over.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Is it the Mandate or the Medical Loss Ratio?

What's really behind Republican contempt for what everyone from Michele Bachmann to Mitt Romney like to call "Obamacare?"

Is is that the Affordable Care Act, passed and signed into law in 2010, contains a mandate for individuals who have the wherewithal to carry health insurance or face a penalty as many opponents claim?

Or, is it something else, a factor that has yet to be mentioned during any of the Republican debates, and something that will be conspicuously absent from any discussion of the results of Tuesday night's Iowa caucus: the medical loss ratio.

As a December article in Forbes explains, thanks to Obama's health insurance reform legislation, insurance companies must spend roughly 80% of a patient's premiums on the patient instead of pocketing the profits. http://

So, are candidates for the Republican presidential nomination really worried about the government mandating health coverage, or is their real concern that a provision in the fine print of the Affordable Care Act will cut into for-profit health insurance by Health and Human Services oversight into how the premiums are spent.

Any Republican presidential wannabe, like Newt Gingrich, who has tried to establish his own for-profit health insurance wouldn't like so-called Obamacare because it means, as the Forbes article asserts, "that the insurance companies spend what they should taking care of their customers" instead of looking for ways to siphon off premiums to cover their overhead, and/or to put a new BMW in a sales executive's garage.

Last month, too, the Department of Health & Human Services ruled on what qualifies as legitimate medical expenses and effective immediately, for profit, private insurance companies have officially joined the endangered species list.

The Affordable Care Act has been roundly condemned by both the right and the left. Many progressives lament this administration's capitulation on the public option.

Others would like to see a single payer system. But, those who read the fine print will see that, over time, the medical loss ration will erode and eat away at private insurance companies' bottom line such that private insurance companies will eventually exist only to cater to the upper 1% of the population while the other 99% of us will have access to affordable health care and the assurance that 80% of the premiums we pay will go exclusively into our care, and not into a health care executive's sales bonus.

So, from now until November, 2012, whenever you hear any Republican candidate, esp. Mitt Romney, talk about Obamacare, instead of thinking about the individual mandate think about the medical loss ratio. This is what those Republicans wrestling each other for to be the next president are really concerned about.

As you know, the universal health care plan Gov. Romney got passed in Massachusetts, upon which the president's health reform legislation was based, which won enthusiastic approval from Newt Gingrich, contained a mandate requiring individuals who can who can afford to acquire health insurance to do so.

And, you can bet that no plan would be approved by Corporate Mitt that would require 80% or more of premiums to be spent only on patients. After all, Romneycare was intended to be a booster shot for the private insurance industry, and not a way to deal with the working poor.

How Romney dealt with the poor and working poor in his state was to veto provisions of his health care law that would have given dental benefits to those who were on Medicaid.

And, for those who believe Romney, during the Republican debates, when he says this country was founded by immigrants, how much he respects immigrants who are here legally, keep in mind that he also opposed providing any health coverage at all to legal immigrants who were not eligible for federal Medicaid, even those who were seniors, and/or disabled.

What a statement about where we are as a country when someone like Mitt Romney can be considered a moderate in any party?

Romneycare was essentially the Massachusetts legislature's gift to private insurance companies in that state. Make no mistake. Romney has read the fine print. When he talks about wanting to make his first official act as president the elimination of so-called Obamacare, Romney isn't interested in getting rid of a government mandate that forces you to buy health insurance, but instead he wants to overturn a provision that stops private insurers from pocketing your a larger percentage of your premiums for their own personal use.

Sunday, January 01, 2012


The new year is here, and I'm already breaking this year's New Year's resolution which was not to make any more New Year's resolutions. Instead, this year I resolve to:

Eliminate any and all toxic relationships from my life, especially those who make themselves feel better by making me feel worse.

Stop feeling guilty for refusing to enable narcissists.

Surround myself only with life-affirming people who look at the cup as half-full and not half-empty.

Stop settling for sex when what I really want is intimacy.

Make peace with myself and recognize that, like everybody else, I have flaws and imperfections.

Try and change the things about myself that I don't like with the understanding that I can only change things about myself not others.

Come to terms with the fact that there are people in this world you can't please, no matter what, and those whose only satisfaction comes from knowing they've made you suffer almost as much as they have.

Stop mistaking the dream for the dreamer. No one person contains the truth. We are all vehicles.

Life is a gift. There are no exchanges and no returns. One who truly knows this understands that the only way to reciprocate is to serve others.

Acknowledge that, as poet William Blake said, "there is such a thing as evil" in this world as there is meanness, and there's no negotiating with either.

Affirm that which works to sustain others in healthy ways, and abstain from conversing with that which seeks its own destruction, and the destruction of others.

Never expect from others what I am not prepared to give myself.

Know that there are limits even to limits.

Embrace solitude as it is not a shadow of the soul, but the soul itself.

Understand that attachment to artificial, and largely arbitrary notions of identity ultimately means attachment to one's own mortality. Identity and mortality are inextricably linked.

Avoid stasis, and people who wallow in their own paralysis.

Feed the inner child, and absolve the free spirit.

Realize that spirit must learn to coexist with matter. Detaching the mind from the body can only lead to the decimation of both.

Get light from the flame, and not just heat.

Most of all, I resolve to become the good news I've been waiting for.