Monday, July 30, 2012

For What He Hasn't Done

President Barack Obama will be remembered best not for what he has done, but for what he hasn't.

For openers, President Obama hasn't taken us to war with Iran.

He hasn't taken us to war with North Korea.

He hasn't taken us to war with Syria.

As part of a United Nations effort, he expedited the demise of the Libyan dictatorship, but he did not take the U.S. to war with Libya.

He did not raise taxes on 95% of Americans.

He did not push to expand federal subsidies on the oil cartel. The Republican majority in the House effectively squashed any effort by Congress and this president to end federal subsidies to the oil barons.

He did not raise the Pentagon budget, but has consistently lowered defense spending.

And, think about this: if John McCain or Mitt Romney ordered the taking down of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, and believed Pakistan to be hiding bin Laden for years, we would be at war with Pakistan now.

President Obama didn't promise to restore America, and bring America back to some mythical, magical time in our history that never actually existed. This country was founded by people of color, Native Americans. In truth, the only valid way to restore America would be to return America to Native Americans.

Most of all, he didn't make promises that even Houdini couldn't keep.

A hundred years from now, historians may well consider the Affordable Care Act one of Mr. Obama's signature accomplishments as presidents, but his greatest accomplishment of all has been to resist the ongoing global temptation to enter into armed combat with otherwise autonomous states. .

But, how the Obama administration looks from the vantage point of history is a luxury this country can't afford now. The real possibility of global economic and social collapse is immediate, and a president who will lead us, once again, blindfolded into the theatre of battle would be a disaster, and must be avoided at all costs.

The true test of a commander-in-chief is not prowess at coming up with a strategy to deploy troops, but instead the ability to come up with a strategy to avoid a military solution And, in his capacity of commander-in-chief, as one who has steadfastly avoided military conflict in Iran, the future may show President Obama to be more important not for what he has done, but for what he hasn't.

Mitt Romney's To Do List

Earlier today, I was thinking about what might happen if, on the night of November 6, Mitt Romney prevails, and wins the White House. I imagined him walking over to his desk, picking up a memo pad, and making up a "To Do List." What would that list look like?

"To Do List for First Term, January, 2013:"

1) Keep election promise, and overturn Romneycare.

2) Move troops from Kabul, Afghanistan to Tehran, Iran, and inaugurate air strikes.

3) Give cash bonuses to border patrol who have the greatest number of undocumented immigrants that "self-deport."

4) Sign an executive order to make permanent tax cuts to individuals who earn more than $250,000 a year. Finalize the Bush tax cuts on the upper 2%.

5) Make at least one appointment to the Supreme Court that will turn over the right to a legal abortion to the states, as well as work to undo affirmative action, the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act, and insure that interstate gun sales legislation is controlled by the states not the federal government.

6) Meet with the French leader, and tell him that the leader of Germany is really a socialist.

7) Work for a constitutional amendment that simulates the Defense of Marriage Act.

8) Expand the Gaza blockade

9) Bring back travel restrictions on Cuba

10) Declare Hugo Chavez a terrorist, and put Venezuela on the terrorist list.

11) Bring back the ban on assault weapons. (This will infuriate the NRA, but even Romney will have to do that.)

12) Talk about lowering the deficit while at the same time raising it by increasing subsidies to big oil, big pharma, and big tobacco.

13) Build more federal prisons, and incarcerate more small time offenders.

14) Not only bring back child labor, and work to change child labor laws, but incentivize business to employ minors. Push not only to privatize social security, and Medicare, but to end the minimum wage.

15) Enhance the state secrets act such that anything the White House does can be classified. Essentially neutralize FOIA.

This is just for starters. I invite you to come up with the next five entries on what might be Romney's To Do List...

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Mitt on Mitt

Mitt Romney got off to a royal start today when he visited London.

On the eve of the Olympics, as The Washington Post reports, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee roundly implied that Britain isn't ready to host the Olympics whereupon he so infuriated Prime Minister David Cameron that Cameron was forced to declare detractors like Romney will "see beyond doubt that Britain can deliver."

After a meeting with Cameron later, Romney tried to rescind his remark by expressing confidence that the Olympics will be successful, but no matter how you slice it, there's no walking back 'open mouth, insert foot' and, more importantly, the former governor of Massachusetts merely showed how unprepared he is himself, unprepared to become a figure on the world stage. Clearly, when Mitt Romney was talking about not being prepared, he was projecting.

And, as if that insult weren't enough, Romney plans to attend a fundraiser tonight with Barclay Bank executives. The Mittster is clearly aligning himself with the banksters of Europe.

For a candidate who has been remarkably diffident, and circumspect in his answers to questions by the press, one can't help but wonder why he chose his first major foray across the pond as the venue for revealing who he really is.

Romney also tried to disengage himself from a comment made by "an unidentified Romney campaign adviser" that appeared in a Daily Telegraph story that suggests he touts the U.S.'s unique bond with Great Britain because both countries allegedly share an "Anglo-Saxon heritage." For this, Mitt Romney, in the mainstream media, may quickly earn the moniker: Birther-in-Chief. Clearly, Mr. Romney needs more than someone named Talent to advise him.

After the White House weighed in on that one, the governor quickly denied saying that. But, given that he is a member of a party that has consistently questioned President Obama's legitimacy for office, this appears to be more than a gaffe, but instead one of the few underlying beliefs held by a candidate who has been as demure about his belief system as his foreign bank accounts.

This is just the beginning of a three country trip that will also include a visit to Israel. Maybe it's the water, having to cross the Atlantic Ocean, that is behind Romney's sudden boldness, and lack of circumspection. He ought to travel abroad more often over the next few months as the more he talks, the more obvious it becomes that there is no place for Mitt Romney on the world stage.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Letter to a Young Misfit

There was a big memorial service on Sunday for those who were slain or wounded in the massacre at a Century 14 movie theater outside of Denver, Colorado last week.

Like many, I have tried to make sense of an event that will never make sense. Like many, I wonder why anyone would do something like this, especially someone who was so accomplished, and so bright.

So, in the spirit of Rainer Maria Rilke's wonderful "Letter to a Young Poet," and as someone who knows a little something about being a misfit, I write this letter:

Dear Misfit,

You may think you're alone in your isolation, but you're not. Many share your experience. I, for one, know what it's like to feel like you don't fit in. In high school, I was reading Dostoyevsky and Jean Genet, smoking dope, and ditching class in stairways. I'd read Rimbaud and sneer at anyone who didn't know what surrealism meant.

While many of my classmates were either enlisting to fight in Vietnam, or prepping for ivy league colleges, I was an outcast, yet went on to graduate Summa Cum Laude from a state university in New York. And what did I do with my 4.0 cumulative index? I worked as a temporary secretary in an advertising agency. I had nothing but contempt for my situation in life. I was a poet, and thought I was brilliant. Try as I might, I never fit in then, and I don't fit in much better now.

If you consistently check the "other" box, odds are you're a misfit. But, lest you think being a misfit is unique, if medals could be given to all those who, at one time or another, felt like they didn't belong somewhere, two-thirds of us would get them.

I wanted to make a name for myself. Somehow, I think you know what I mean by that. You have a name, but it has never felt quite right to you like a belt that is too tight.

You know what it is to feel incarcerated within yourself. But, remember, you have built that prison. You have an address, but it has never felt like home to you.

You collect friends many of whom like letting their feet dangle off the edge of a roof.

Even when you're alone, you're not really alone, but filled with the contempt and criticism of others. It is as if there are a hundred fingers pointing at you in an empty room.

You awake every morning trying to convince yourself your dreams aren't nightmares, but they are.

You think no one understands what you're thinking, and you're right, except that
everyone (well, almost everyone) understands what you're saying. The words you use are not known only by you. The silence you hide behind is not exclusive to you.

You fumble for answers, but keep reinventing the questions so that answers will forever elude you. You want them to elude you. You mystify enigma, then call it science. You have less interest in the questions than the answers. You confuse the journey with the destination. Death is something that happens to somebody else.

At one time, you thought life was a joke, but you know better than that now.

You read books whose authors are obscure, and surround yourself with minutia that you compel others to believe are facts.

As one misfit to another, may I make a few suggestions?

You can't hide behind your contempt for the worldview of others, and then expect them to worship your intelligence.

More important, nobody gives a shit whether you fit or not. You needn't care either. Life is in a constant state of flux, and you must prepare to change with it. Life isn't about labels. In death, whether you're a priest or a predator, you will stink just the same.

It doesn't matter whether you're a scientist, pre-med, a straight A student, an artist, or a bricklayer. It doesn't matter how smart you are, or how much you think you know. All that matters is your heart. Your heart is not a fortress meant to protect you from imagined injuries from others, but instead a door that must open to let others through.

What you condemn most, you become.

If you commit acts of evil and, yes, as poet William Blake said, there is such a thing as evil, make no mistake, you will be damned for all eternity for those mistakes. Only the heartless may not forgive you down the road, but no one will forget what you've done. Do not confuse fame with infamy.

Don't corrupt stillness, and solitude with a pathological need to get the attention of others. Don't confuse an explosive mind with that of a visionary.

Galileo was a misfit, Joan of Arc was a misfit, Albert Einstein was a misfit, James Dean was a misfit, Jack Kerouac was a misfit, Hunter S. Thompson was a misfit; do not confuse the radically different visions that set them apart from the world with the twisted, and vapid contempt for humanity that was displayed in Aurora, Colorado at midnight on July 20, 2012. To do so would itself be an act of depravity.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

"The NRA Has America Living under the Gun"

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

You might think Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of and spokesman for the mighty American gun lobby, the National Rifle Association, has an almost cosmic sense of timing. In 2007, at the NRA’s annual convention in St. Louis, he warned the crowd that, “Today, there is not one firearm owner whose freedom is secure.” Two days later, a young man opened fire on the campus of Virginia Tech, killing 32 students, staff and teachers.

Just last week LaPierre showed up at the United Nations Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty here in New York and spoke out against what he called “anti-freedom policies that disregard American citizens’ right to self-defense.” Now at least 12 are dead in Aurora, Colorado, gunned down at a showing of the new film, “The Dark Knight Rises,” a Batman movie filled with make-believe violence. One of the guns the shooter reportedly used was an AK-47 type assault weapon that was banned in 1994. The NRA pressured Congress to let the ban run out in 2004.

Obviously, LaPierre’s timing isn’t cosmic, just coincidental and unfortunate; as Shakespeare famously wrote, the fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves. In other words, people -- people with guns. There are some 300 million guns in the United States, one in four adult Americans owns at least one and most of them are men. According to the British newspaper The Guardian, over the last 30 years, “the number of states with a law that automatically approves licences to carry concealed weapons provided an applicant clears a criminal background check has risen from eight to 38.”

Every year there are 30,000 gun deaths and perhaps as many as 300,000 gun-related assaults in the U.S. Firearm violence costs our country as much as $100 billion a year. Toys are regulated with greater care and safety concerns than guns.

So why do we always act so surprised? Violence is our alter ego, wired into our Stone Age brains, so intrinsic its toxic eruptions no longer shock, except momentarily when we hear of a mass shooting like this latest in Colorado. But this, too, will pass as the nation of the short attention span quickly finds the next thing to divert us from the hard realities of America in 2012.

We are a country which began with the forced subjugation into slavery of millions of Africans and the reliance on arms against Native Americans for its westward expansion. In truth, more settlers traveling the Oregon Trail died from accidental, self-inflicted gunshots wounds than Indian attacks – we were not only bloodthirsty but also inept.

Nonetheless, we have become so gun loving, so gun crazy, so blas̩ about home-grown violence that far more Americans have been casualties of domestic gunfire than have died in all our wars combined. In Arizona last year, just days after the Gabby Giffords shooting, sales of the weapon used in the slaughter Рa 9 millimeter Glock semi-automatic pistol Рdoubled.

We are fooling ourselves. Fooling ourselves that the law could allow even an inflamed lunatic to easily acquire murderous weapons and not expect murderous consequences. Fooling ourselves that the Second Amendment’s guarantee of a “well-regulated militia” be construed as a God-given right to purchase and own just about any weapon of destruction you like, a license for murder and mayhem. A great fraud has entered our history.

Maybe you remember a video you can still see on YouTube. In it, Adam Gadahn, an American born member of al Qaeda, the first US citizen charged with treason since 1952, urges terrorists to carry out attacks on the United States. Right before your eyes he says, “America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms. You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle without a background check, and most likely, without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?”

The gunman in Colorado waited only for his opportunity. So there you have it – the arsenal of democracy has been transformed into the arsenal of death. And the NRA? The NRA is the enabler of death -- paranoid, delusional and as venomous as a scorpion. With the weak-kneed acquiescence of our politicians, the National Rifle Association has turned the Second Amendment of the Constitution into a cruel and deadly hoax.


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

Friday, July 20, 2012

This Morning

Death rang my doorbell
this morning
I told him to go away
I’ve already made
other plans.

(c) jayne lyn stahl

Thursday, July 19, 2012

States Rights? Not When It Comes to Funding

There aren't many things the Republican Party has been consistent about for the past several years, but defending rights of states over that of the federal government is one of them. And, the latest controversial Supreme Court ruling merely confirms that. In his interpretation of the Commerce Clause, Chief Justice Roberts reinforces his federalist stance.

From Ron Paul to John McCain to Michele Bachmann to Mitt Romney, one thing may be counted on and that is the oft-repeated call for "smaller government," and shrinking the federal payroll.

But, the irony is inescapable. Those who want to empower the states most, whether it be to participate in Medicaid expansion, or to allow the unrestricted sale of guns also want to dramatically decrease federal endowments to states at a time when such cuts are most disastrous.

Consider, as The New York Times reports, three cities in California alone have either filed for bankruptcy, or are on the verge of filing for bankruptcy: Stockton, Mammoth Lake, and San Bernardino. Not to mention, too, that back in 2008, Vallejo declared bankruptcy.

Until the 1930's, it was illegal for cities to file for bankruptcy protection. We've come a long way baby, and the Republican federalist platform will take us a long way farther down that road.

Notably, bankruptcy isn't the only measurement of a state's insolvency. Many cities across the country have had to close fire stations, reduce the size of their police force, lay off teachers, and postpone reconstruction of ailing roads. Many courts have had to cut their hours. Many cities from San Jose to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Madison, Wisconsin are in the grips of a pension crisis. And, as The Huffington Post reported last month, minority neighborhoods are the ones hardest hit by "blighted, bank-owned homes."

Two years ago, a financial analyst told 60 Minutes that a hundred cities could go belly up by 2011. That hasn't happened, yet, but unless some decisive action is taken by the federal government, many more cities will file for bankruptcy protection in the coming months and years, especially under President Romney.

Rest assured that we won't see anything like the American Recovery Act President Obama put in place the first year he took office in a Romney administration, the bill that came to be known as the stimulus, one that was roundly criticized by both Republicans and Democrats alike. Republicans, of course, claiming that it led to bigger government, and some Democrats claiming it didn't go far enough.

While President Obama has worked for granting emergency aid to states, his efforts have consistently been met with obstructionism by Republicans in Congress whose goal has been not merely to shrink the government, but to shrink Mr. Obama's tenure in the White House.

But, the fiscal crisis in the states is heating up. In a report released earlier this week by the State Budget Task Force, according to the TimesTimes calls a "fundamental shift in the way the governments have responded to recessions" signals "a willingness to 'unbuild' state government in a way that has not been done before."

Make no mistake, this unbuilding of state government hasn't happened instantly either, but is the logical evolution of an ideology that calls for "smaller government," meaning defunding states while, simultaneously, espousing the primacy of states over the federal government in everything from interstate commerce, e.g. gun sales to Medicaid expansion to, down the road, a woman's right to choose.

It is undeniably hard to hold a nation together when states are sinking, particularly a nation that calls itself the United States.

Don't be surprised if, over the next few months, you hear campaign ads by the incumbent proclaim that Mitt Romney wants to cut teachers, firefighters, and law enforcement. What this means is that, should the former Massachusetts governor prevail in his bid for the presidency, you can bet on one thing. Despite advocating for states rights in virtually every respect, Mr. Romney may be counted on to best please his constituency by promoting tax breaks to corporations over fiscal stability for states.

So, when you hear the Republican battle cry that they want "smaller government," what they really mean is that they want fewer police officers, firefighters, and teachers, fewer federal subsidies to the states, but more federal subsidies to the war cartel, the oil companies, farms, big pharmaceutical companies, and of course WalMart.

Even if President Obama is reelected, if he is faced with a Republican Congress, despite his best efforts, he will not be able to enact the kind of legislation that is needed to prevent a financial forest fire among the states without a coooperative Congress. Remember that when you go to the polls in November.


Last night was another one of those nights when I got a late start to sleep, but once I did surrender, I had the most extraordinary dream.

I dreamt I was living in a town called Barfville. I was an entertainer of some kind, and preparing for a performance. When I went to the local hairstylist, I explained that I had to be in a play, he told me he was strapped for cash, and directed me to deposit coins in a meter next to the counter where all his clipping supplies were kept. "50 cents?," I asked, "Is that all it costs."

As I had only bills on me, and couldn't find any other merchants nearby in Barfville, I went to find a pay phone to call a friend. There was one on the wall next to what appeared to be
the town's one and only post office. Alas, a phonecall was also 50 cents.

I was beside myself. I looked around for someone to ask, but saw no one.

At the bottom of my handbag, two quarters mysteriously appeared, evidently they had fallen from my wallet, so I walked back to the hairdresser, and gave him his money. I then went back to my hotel where the concierge informed me there was a package waiting for me in my room.

It was a small package, and it was waiting on my bed. Sensing that I was already running late for my performance, wherever it was, I hastily tore open the box only to discover a pair of white panties that had evidently been barfed on with a handwritten note: "Welcome to Barfville. Good luck on the play tonight. Carry these with you for good luck."

As someone who has always been superstitious, even in dreams, I dressed, and dutifully carried the white panties in my right hand, and headed out for the theatre. The right hand, evidently, stands for virtue.

I passed an older man on the street who shouted, "Oh come on. You can't carry those here."

Where is here, I wondered, and why were there so few passersby? There was a building that housed the editorial board of the local newspaper, and when I went to buy a copy from a newsstand, and the paper cost, you guessed it, 50 cents. I didn't have any more change, but was able to discern from the headline the lead story was about a wild eyed woman roaming Barfville carrying a pair of ladies underwear.

So, I went inside the building where I found an editor at a reception desk with a small sign, "The Barfville Times." I approached him, and asked why the town was named Barfville whereupon he introduced me to what he said was the first world's barfometer. He invited me to try it.

"About a hundred years ago, this town was very close to the capital," he told me.
"Which one?" I asked. "Why Washington, D.C."

It seems the barfometer was devised in the year 2050 to measure the amount of bunk coming from the mouths of politicians.

With a smirk, he added, "The mayor is the son of the fellow who invented the barfometer. Barfville is where politicians come to retire."

"Why is everything 50 cents?" I asked.

"Eventually, even politicians have to live on a fixed income."

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

"Presto! The DISCLOSE Act Disappears"

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

Ask any magician and they’ll tell you that the secret to a successful magic trick is misdirection – distracting the crowd so they don’t realize how they’re being fooled. Get them watching your left hand while your right hand palms the silver dollar: “Now you see it, now you don't." The purloined coin now belongs to the magician.

Just like democracy. Once upon a time conservatives supported the full disclosure of campaign contributors. Now they oppose it with their might -- and magic, especially when it comes to unlimited cash from corporations. My goodness, they say, with a semantic wave of the wand, what’s the big deal? Nary a single Fortune 500 company has given a nickel to the SuperPACs. (Even that's not entirely true, by the way.)

Meanwhile the other hand is poking around for loopholes, stuffing millions of secret corporate dollars into non-profit, tax-exempt organizations called 501(c)s that funnel the money into advertising on behalf of candidates or causes. Legally, in part because the Federal Election Commission does not consider them political committees, they can keep it all nice and anonymous, never revealing who’s really behind the donations or the political ads they buy. This is especially handy for corporations – why risk offending customers by revealing your politics or letting them know how much you’re willing to shell out for a permanent piece of an obliging politician?

That’s why passing a piece of legislation called the DISCLOSE Act is so important and that’s why on Monday, Republicans in the Senate killed it. Again.

Why? Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid: “Perhaps Republicans want to shield the handful of billionaires willing to contribute nine figures to sway a close presidential election.” The election, he said, may be bought by “17 angry, old, white men."

The DISCLOSE Act is meant to pull back the curtain and reveal who’s donating $10,000 or more not only to SuperPACs but also to trade groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and these so-called “social welfare” non-profits that can spend limitless cash on campaigns as long as it’s less than half the organization’s total budget.

The New York Times recently cited a report by the Center for Responsive Politics and the Center for Public Integrity finding that “during the 2010 midterm elections, tax-exempt groups outspent super PACs by a 3-to-2 margin with most of that money devoted to attacking Democrats or defending Republicans.” We’re talking in excess of $130 million. What’s more, the Times reported, “such groups have accounted for two-thirds of the political advertising bought by the biggest outside spenders so far in the 2012 election cycle… with close to $100 million in issue ads.”

We know a few of the corporations that are contributing, but just a few, and that’s only by accident or via scattered governance reports, regulatory filings and tax returns. The insurance monolith Aetna, for example, gave more than $3 million to a pro-Republican non-profit called American Action Network, which spent millions on ads attacking Obama’s health care plan – even though, publicly Aetna supported the president. The Chamber of Commerce has pledged to spend at least $50 million on this election. Its contributors include Dow Chemical, Prudential Financial and MetLife.

But they’re just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Without disclosure we have little idea of all the big businesses that are buying our democracy – and doing their best to drown it at the bottom of the sea.

All of this, of course, is more blowback from the horrible Supreme Court Citizens United decision, which unleashed this corporate cash monster. Just this week, Justice Richard Posner of US Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals – a Republican and until recently, no judicial liberal -- said that Citizens United had created a political system that is “pervasively corrupt” in which “wealthy people essentially bribe legislators.”

Nonetheless, at the time of the ruling two and a half years ago, eight of the nine justices also made it clear that key to the decision was the importance of transparency. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, “The First Amendment protects political speech and disclosure permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way.”

One of the DISCLOSE Act’s biggest opponents isn’t buying that argument. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who used to say, “We need to have real disclosure,” has changed his tune. Now that conservatives and the GOP are able to haul in the big bucks, he claims that divulging the identity of corporate donors would be the equivalent of creating an “enemies list,” like the one Richard Nixon kept to punish his foes and settle political scores. Here’s what McConnell said in a speech at the conservative American Enterprise Institute last month:

“This is nothing less than an effort by the government itself to expose its critics to harassment and intimidation, either by government authorities or through third party allies… That’s why it’s a mistake to view the attacks we’ve seen on ‘millionaires and billionaires’ as outside our concern. Because it always starts somewhere; and the moment we stop caring about who’s being targeted is the moment we’re all at risk.”

McConnell’s not the only one – every Republican voted to kill the DISCLOSE Act, including fourteen who just a couple of years ago supported it. Groups like Ron Paul’s Campaign for Liberty smell an un-American conspiracy lurking behind the demands for disclosure. So do the National Rifle Association and FreedomWorks, the Tea Party organizers originally funded by David Koch, each of which warned senators that their votes on the DISCLOSE Act will be included in the scorecards they keep, recording each ballot they don’t approve like pins in a voodoo doll.

Their outrage is ridiculous and hypocritical. These non-profits are just another magic trick, an illusion intended to obscure the fact that these are monumental slush funds, plain and simple. As The Washington Post noted in an editorial this week, “We seem to have created the political equivalent of secret Swiss bank accounts... In their lust for contributions, in cozying up to the moneybags of this era, candidates and political operatives in both parties seem to be forgetting that they put their own credibility at risk.”

Contrary to Senator McConnell’s view, this is more corrupt and covert than anything that happened during Watergate. The public has a right to know who’s behind the hundreds of political ads with which we’re being bombarded this year, who’s giving what to whom -- not to mention our right to try to connect the dots and figure out what their motives are.

The good news is that people are fighting back. On July 5th, California joined state legislatures in Hawaii, New Mexico, Rhode Island and Vermont calling for a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United. The Senate Judiciary Committee is holding hearings July 24th and the state of Montana, which recently had its law barring corporate spending in elections struck down by the Supreme Court, has put a voter initiative on its November ballot, also calling for a constitutional amendment.

Lee Drutman at the non-partisan Sunlight Foundation quotes the father of our Constitution, James Madison, who warned, “A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to Farce or Tragedy or perhaps both.” Drutman goes on to point out that, “The Declaration of Independence wasn’t signed by Anonymous. Those who sign the big checks should have the very same courage in their convictions.”



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

Thursday, July 12, 2012

"Banksters Take Us to the Brink"

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

Every day brings more reminders of the terrible unfairness that besets our country, the tragic reversal of fortune experienced by millions who once had good lives and steady jobs, now gone.

An article in the current issue of Rolling Stone chronicles “The Fallen: The Sharp, Sudden Decline of America’s Middle Class” and describes a handful of middle class men and women made homeless, forced to live out of their cars in church parking lots in Southern California.

One of them, Janis Adkins, drove a van filled with her belongings to Santa Barbara, where she panhandled at an intersection with a sign reading, “I’d Rather Be Working – Hire Me If You Have a Job.” Once upon a time she had a successful plant nursery business in Utah that annually grossed $300,000. But two years after the nation’s financial meltdown her sales had dropped by fifty percent and the value of her land plunged even more. She tried to refinance, but four banks turned her down flat. “Everyone was talking about bailouts,” Adkins told reporter Jeff Tietz. “I said, ‘I’m not asking for a bailout, I’m asking you to work with me.’ They look at you, no expression on their faces, saying, ‘There’s nothing we can do.’”

“Nothing we can do.” And yet it was banks like these who helped get people like Janis Adkins into such desperate jams in the first place. When faced with their own financial catastrophes, all those big-time bankers came running to the government and taxpayers for those aforementioned bailouts worth hundreds of billions of dollars, then scooped up big bonuses and perks for themselves, and went back to business as usual.

And what a business! You’ve most likely been hearing about the newest scandal in banking, centering on Barclays Bank in Great Britain and something called Libor. That stands for London Interbank Offered Rate and involves a group of bankers who set a daily interest rate affecting trillions of dollars of transactions around the world. Your home mortgage, your college debt, your credit card fees; all of these could have been affected by Libor.

Now you would think the rates would be set by market forces, right? Aren’t they what makes the world go ‘round? But it turns out some of those insiders were manipulating the index for their own gain, to make their banks look better off during the financial crisis, lower their borrowing costs, and raise their profits – by cheating. Picking our pockets and lining theirs.

The Economist magazine describes it as “the rotten heart of finance.” Here are some of the e-mails that have come to light: A banker in on the fix writes another, “Dude. I owe you big time! Come over one day after work and I’m opening a bottle of Bollinger.” One employee after being asked to submit false information, answered: "Always happy to help." And another, recruiting a colleague in the fix, wrote: "If you know how to keep a secret, I'll bring you in on it."

Caught with its hand in the cookie jar, Barclay’s agreed to pay nearly half a billion in fines to British and American authorities, and as many as 20 other megabanks are under investigation, including Deutsche Bank, Citigroup, UBS, HSBC, and JPMorgan Chase. As one MIT authority on finance told CNN, “This dwarfs by orders of magnitude any financial scams in the history of markets.”

In the middle of this mess is an American named Bob Diamond. He was the CEO of Barclays and the man behind Barclays’ takeover of what was left of Lehman Brothers when, at the height of the financial crisis in 2008, Lehman filed for the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history. His goal was to make Barclays a global investment powerhouse but his enormous salary -- his net worth has been estimated at $165 million -- and unrepentant defense of the financial industry’s behavior led one British government official to describe him as “the unacceptable face of banking.” Diamond did wind up apologizing for Barclay’s role in the Libor interest rate scandal, even offering to forfeit his annual bonus -- last year he received one worth more than $4 million. But in the end, under pressure from stockholders and public opinion, he was forced to resign.

Meanwhile, the ripples from the scandal continue to spread. The New York Times reports that the city of Baltimore, stricken by financial losses and layoffs, is in the midst of a court battle against the banks that set the Libor index and that, “Now cities, states and municipal agencies nationwide, including Massachusetts, Nassau County on Long Island, and California's public pension system, are looking at whether they suffered similar losses and are weighing legal action…

“American municipalities have been among the first to claim losses from the supposed rate-rigging, because many of them borrow money through investment vehicles that directly derive their value from Libor. Peter Shapiro, who advises Baltimore and other cities on their use of these investments, said that ‘about 75 percent of major cities have contracts linked to this.’”

What’s more, indications are that government agencies like the Bank of England and the British treasury also may have been involved, or at least looked the other way, raising questions whether other government agencies – including our own Federal Reserve -- may have played a role. That remains for the investigators to find out but according to The Washington Post, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York said “it had received word as early as 2007 from the British bank Barclays about problems” with Libor.

“In testimony last week before the British Parliament, former Barclays chief executive Robert E. Diamond said the bank had repeatedly brought to the attention of U.S. regulators -- as well as U.K. regulators — the problems that the bank was experiencing in the Libor market.

“He said the bank’s warnings to regulators that Libor was artificially low did not lead to action. Barclays’ regulator in the United States is the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which was run at the time by current Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner.”

This week the Senate Banking Committee asked for meetings with the principals involved and the House Financial Services Committee sent a letter to the New York Fed asking for transcripts of a dozen phone calls with Barclays executives.

But how far will inquiries go, especially when both American political parties are so beholden to high finance for cash? Just hours after Bob Diamond’s resignation, Mitt Romney’s campaign announced that, sadly, the disgraced financier would no longer be hosting one of two Romney fundraising events for American expatriates being held in London later this month. But no worries. The Boston Globe notes that “still among those hosting the events is Patrick Durkin, a registered lobbyist for Barclays… Durkin, who has been a top Romney bundler, is one of seven chairs for the reception and among the 13 co-chairs for the dinner.

“Others involved in hosting the events are Dwight Poler, managing director at the European branch of Bain Capital, the firm Romney founded; Raj Bhattacharyya, managing director at Deutsche Bank; and Dan Bricken, a managing director at Wells Fargo Securities. “ Each guest at the dinner event will pay between $25,000 and $75,000 for the opportunity to sup with the Republican presidential nominee.

The non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics reports that through the end of May, Bob Diamond and other Barclays employees had donated nearly a quarter of a million dollars to the Romney campaign and of course, the entire securities and investment industry has been a major donor to the Republican, more than any other. They’re giving to President Obama, too; just not as much, although they’re Number 3 on the list of top ten interest groups sending cash to the president and the Democratic National Committee.

And you wonder why the banksters still roam free, like gunslingers in a Wild West town without a sheriff.


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

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Final Decisions

"All our final decisions are made in a state of mind that's not going to last,"

Marcel Proust

Born: July 10, 1871

The Cowardly Lions of "Free Speech"

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

In all the hullabaloo over the Supreme Court's decision on health care, another of its rulings quickly fell off the public radar. Before deciding the fate of the Affordable Care Act, the Court announced it would not reconsider Citizens United, the odious 5-4 decision two years ago that opened our elections to unlimited contributions.

Within minutes of that announcement, right-wing partisans were crowing about the advantage they now own, an advantage not due to ideas or personalities but to the sheer force of money. They were remarkably candid and specific.

Here’s what Fred Barnes wrote in The Weekly Standard about the Senate race in Missouri:

For three weeks in May, Republican super-PACs took turns attacking Democratic senator Claire McCaskill in TV ads. Republicans hadn’t held their primary​—​it’s not until August 7​—​but McCaskill wound up trailing all three of the GOP candidates in polls. Now McCaskill, unnerved, is struggling to recover.

That’s what super-PACs can do. When they emerged in 2010 and worked in tandem, they were a critical force in the Republican landslide in the congressional elections. This year they’re playing an even bigger role. The size and reach of their efforts dwarf what they did two years ago.

Attaboy, Fred, for telling it like it is, for exposing the hoax that the Court’s original decision was about “free” speech. No, it’s about carpet bombing elections with all the tonnage your rich paymasters want to buy. Try not to laugh when you hear one of its perpetrators, the noted lawyer Floyd Abrams, say, as he did not too long ago: “I don’t think we should want as a matter of policy, to make decisions which are essentially, people can’t do all the speaking that they can in a political campaign. I don’t think we can ration speech.”

Speech already is rationed. On your playing field, Messieurs Barnes and Abrams, those who have no money have no speech. And just who do you think is doing this “speaking?” Poor people haven’t lost their voice -- they can’t afford a voice. Everyday working people suffer from universal laryngitis, brought on by the absence of money. As for children – children who have a big stake in our elections but no vote, forget it— for them to be heard they would need piggy banks the size of Walmart heirs. Or the Koch brothers for uncles.

And if it’s free speech the Deep Pockets are practicing and touting, why are you ashamed of it? If free speech is a right, why all the secrecy? Why hide from voters where the money is coming from? Why not openly say you are downright proud to be exercising their First Amendment rights and writing checks is your patriotic duty? Instead, conservatives across the country are fighting legal battles to keep their sugar daddies secret. Why? According to their guardian angel in Congress – the highly leveraged Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell – the right wing opposes disclosure laws because the super-rich just might be bullied and harassed by the rest of us who want to know who’s buying our elections.

So the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal, asks us to have pity on billionaires and those little ol’ corporations and their CEOs who just might have their tender feelings hurt; exposed to boycotts and pickets if it was known which candidates they were buying.

But wait a minute. Weren’t we taught the First Amendment also guarantees the right of every citizen to assemble and petition, even to boycott and picket? That’s what a couple of hundred protesters were doing just the other day. They marched to the DC offices of American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, those right wing money mills run by the mastermind of so much of this massive fundraising, Karl Rove. He’s making a bundle buying and selling “Free Speech,” while at the same time deploring the disclosure of big donors’ names as “shameful” intimidation!

Exercising their First Amendment rights, the demonstrators taped a kind of wanted poster on Rove’s office door, indicating they would like to see him wearing an orange prison jumpsuit. Instead, he could be seen in casual wear, buzzing around in a golf cart at Mitt Romney’s Utah mountain gathering of high rollers. No doubt plotting how to raise more millions to pay for more “free speech.”

So let’s see if we’ve got this right: On the one hand, conservatives declare that corporations and the super-rich can spend all they want on exercising their First Amendment rights, but on the other, they demand to keep it secret so the rest of us can’t exercise our First Amendment rights to fight back. Have you ever heard of more cowardly lions?

It’s one big joke. Big enough to make you cry. Three things don’t go together: Money. Secrecy. Democracy. That’s the nub of the matter. This is all a sham for invalidating democracy in the name of democracy. It’s the trick authoritarians always use to hide their real intentions, which in this case is absolute power over our public life and institutions: the privatization of everything.

The Supreme Court is pointing the way. Instead of mitigating the worst excesses of both the state and the private sector, with Citizens United and the latest decision affirming it, the Court has taken sides -- saying to the massed wealth of the one percent: America is yours for the taking, for the buying. Help yourself.

That’s what George II thought, too, which brings us back to our celebration of the 4th of July, to the Declaration of Independence and Thomas Jefferson, who seems to have thought that a little uprising now and then would be good for what ails us. This time the overweening power is not monarchy but plutocracy, the convergence of the political, religious and corporate right that would keep us in the dark about where all that money is coming from, and who it’s buying, until one day we wake up and our country is no longer our own.

Fortunately, those orange jump suits come in one size fits all. So remember, moneyed lords and ladies, what King George learned the hard way – you can only push your subjects so far.


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

Saturday, July 07, 2012


"Now that I washed the floor, I can conquer the world,"



Friday, July 06, 2012

Creators of Jobs Growth: Fact v. Fantasy

While critics of the Obama administration, pundits, and some economists point to weak job growth over the past 30 months as a failure of leadership, and lament the announcement that the Obama administration created only 80,000 jobs in June, no one is asking how about no job growth? That's right. How about no job growth at all!

A quick look at some numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics will show that for the first time since 1941, more than seventy years ago, the only time the average annual job growth rate was in the minus column was back in 2008 under another president, George W. Bush.

Oh, there you go again, you say, blaming Obama's predecessor for everything. Right you are, it was actually under another Bush, George H.W. Bush, that the average annual job growth rate fell from +2.53%, under Reagan, to +.69%, a problem Bill Clinton solved when, by the end of Clinton's first term, the average annual job growth rate rose to a whopping +2.60%. Yearly job growth under President Clinton surpassed all three terms of Ronald Reagan, as well as Jimmy Carter under whom annual job growth came in slightly lower at +2.30%.

Of course, the percentage of average yearly jobs created fell a full percentage point at the end of Clinton's second term to +1.60%, but George W. Bush managed, in 2004, to lower the annual job growth to +.51%. By the end of his second term, George W. Bush would see the average annual job growth rate drop to a seventy year record of -.84%.

That's right, for the first time since Franklin Delano Roosevelt, former President George W. Bush managed to take a positive growth rate and move it squarely into the minus column. Many of the economic policies and practices implemented by Bush, tax cuts for the rich, deregulation, loosening of environmental controls, subsidies for big oil, big pharmaceuticals, and outsourcing, the same product is now being sold with a new brand name: Mitt Romney.

Agreed, job creation under President Obama, from 2009 through the present, has been anemic, and comes in at an average annual rate of about +.75%, but forget the number that comes after the "+," and just focus on the +. For the first time since 2008, the average annual increase in job creation is in the plus territory.

Having read this, any reasonable person will want to also take a look at job growth under Mitt Romney, the presidential candidate who touts his experience as a job creator. Granted, when he took over the governorship of Massachusetts, Romney inherited a $3 billion deficit, the fact is that under his leadership the state's long term debt grew. As Media Matters reports, on Romney's watch, Massachusetts' "job growth was among the lowest in the country." While he was governor, Massachusetts gained only 1.3% in the category of non-farm workers at a time when the national average for states' job growth was 5.3%.

Romney may boast that unemployment declined when he held his first, and only, elected office, but the median income in Massachusetts actually fell, and Massachusetts went from being the 36th to 47th state in job creation.

Bottom line: there is no way to spin one's way out of the minus column. When President Obama took office, this country had experienced its first average annual job creation number in the minus column in over seventy years. The president took that minus and turned it into a plus, and while 80,000 jobs may be low job growth, it is undeniably job growth and not job loss.

If you have any questions about how many jobs were lost when he was chief executive of Bain Capital, just ask any of Mr. Romney's former employees.

If you have any questions about the efficacy of Governor Romney's economic policies, just look at his job approval rating when he left office in 2007. His job approval rating went from 61% in 2003, his first year in office, down to 34% in his last year, making Mitt Romney 48th in popularity out of 50 U.S. governors.

Massachusetts came in 47th out of 50 states in job creation, and Mitt Romney 48th in popularity out of 50 U.S. governors. It doesn't get any plainer than that. Numbers don't lie. They may change, but they don't lie.

We can no more afford the illusion of robust job creation than we can the reality of zero percent annual job growth. Slow but steady job growth may not be sexy, and may not result in landslide elections, but the alternative is to pitch tent in the minus column which is untenable, and unsustainable.

To put this in perspective, let's look at just one statistic. George W. Bush lowered taxes on the wealthiest Americans, what the Romney camp like to call "job creators," and the average annual job growth rate in 2008, Mr. Bush's last year in office, was about -.5%. Again, Bush was the first president in more than seventy years to produce annual job growth in the minus column. Mitt Romney has made it clear that he will continue what he likes to think of as tax incentives to "job creators," so we may expect Romney to create jobs like Bush did.

But, in the end, it isn't just about creating jobs. Mr. Romney's claim that he is the kind of economic Houdini this country needs now is not credible. A Romney presidency will doubtless result in a deficit of credibility, one that is more dangerous than any budget deficit we now face. Oh, and how does the saying go, those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

If only...

July 4, 2012, if only it were possible for the second president of the United States, John Adams, to magically find himself walking among us today, how, if at all, might he change some of his most famous quotes, I wonder. Here are a couple to ponder:

"Power must never be trusted without a check." Now, in light of the Supreme Court's ruling on Citizens United, John Adams might instead write: "Power must never be trusted with a check."

and this:

"Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." Given former senator and presidential candidate, John McCain's assertion that America is "a Christian nation," President Adams might choose to edit his statement so that it would read: "Our Constitution was made only for a moral people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."

If Adams were to insist on inclusion of the word "religion" now in the above quote, seeing how America was founded by men looking to escape religious tyranny, he would doubtless also insist on adding the word "diverse" before "religious people."

Finally, here's one quote that Adams might indeed leave unchanged, and something to think about on this American's her 236th birthday:

"Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present Generation to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven that I ever took half the Pains to preserve it."

We are still fighting for freedom, but over the past hundred years or so, it has been for somebody else's freedom. Nowadays, we must fight against the tyranny of corporations, banks, boardrooms, and country club elitism, the kind that would turn the Oval Office into the Polo Lounge.

We must also remember that we are the "posterity" to which John Adams alludes, and make good use of that concept of freedom, one that affirms separation of church and state. We must fight, too, to uphold diversity of all kinds as this was what prompted the founding fathers, at some peril, to establish the America we celebrate today.

For, in the end, what good is a country that fights for everyone's freedom, but its own.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

"In London, Mitt Banks on the Wrong Horse"

By Michael Winship

So what do you get when you combine Mitt Romney, expensive horseflesh, fancy dinners and a financial scandal in the City of London? An interesting confluence of people and events that once again raises questions about the wealthy Republican candidate’s ability to relate to ordinary Americans and highlights the overwhelming, caustic influence of big money in this year’s presidential race.

Two weeks ago, Mitt Romney told Bob Schieffer on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that he wouldn’t be joining his wife Ann at the London Summer Olympics to watch her champion dressage horse, Rafalca, compete. “I have a campaign to attend to,” Romney said, “so I won’t be able to see it perform, but I’m very pleased for [Ann].”

Speculation has been that Romney’s campaign was wary of their candidate attending an upper class equestrian happening that might only feed ongoing accusations of patrician elitism, accompanied by potentially ruinous photo ops and endless late night jokes, of which there already have been plenty – just ask Stephen Colbert. The New York Times reported:

“As millions tune in to the Olympics in prime time this summer, just before Mr. Romney will be reintroducing himself to the nation at the Republican convention, viewers are likely to see ‘up close and personal’ segments on NBC about the Romneys and dressage, a sport of six-figure horses and $1,000 saddles. The Romneys declared a loss of $77,000 on their 2010 tax returns for the share in the care and feeding of Rafalca."

But several media outlets — including the Times, CNN, and the British newspaper The Telegraph have reported that Mitt Romney will in fact take time from the campaign to attend the opening ceremonies of the Olympics with his wife on July 27 (the Romney horse’s event begins Aug. 2). He was, after all, head of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games. And an appearance at the opening, filled with extravagant special effects, music and patriotic flag-waving for the U.S. team, is safer than showing up at an event where your wife’s horse is worth several times the mean yearly per capita income for individuals in the United States.

So family loyalty is trumped by political expedience, but while in London, Romney will find time to attend — you guessed it — a private fundraising dinner. According to The Telegraph, “The price of invitations dwarfs the amounts paid for such fundraisers in British politics. Each guest must pay between $25,000 (£17,000) and $75,000 (£50,000) for a seat at the dinner, which will be hosted by Bob Diamond, the chief executive of Barclays.”

Bob Diamond? Why is that name familiar? Oh right, it was announced this week that Barclays would pay American and British authorities $453 million in fines as a settlement over allegations that the financial giant manipulated international interest rates, causing millions of borrowers to pay the wrong amount on their loans. The New York Times reports, “At the height of the financial crisis, regulators say, the big British bank reported bogus figures that in some cases had influenced a benchmark for student loans, credit cards and mortgages.”

An ongoing Justice Department investigation of Barclays — as well as of other banks, including Citigroup — could lead to criminal charges. Calls have come for Diamond’s resignation. He responded by announcing that he would forgo his annual bonus for the year — in 2011, Diamond received $4.2 million.

In a speech, British Labour Party leader Ed Miliband said, “This cannot be about a slap on the wrist, a fine and the forgoing of bonuses… When ordinary people break the law, they face charges, prosecution and punishment.”

But of course, ordinary people don’t host $75,000-a-plate dinners for the man who may be the next president of the United States.


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