Truthdig Radio airs every Wednesday at 2 p.m. in Los Angeles on 90.7 KPFK. If you can’t listen live, starting on Wednesday nights look for the podcast and transcript of each week’s show right here on Truthdig.
On this week’s episode of Truthdig Radio in collaboration with KPFK: the great Bill Moyers on the desperate state of our democracy, Nomi Prins on the scandalous IMF and Cole Miller on grass-roots philanthropy.
0:35 - Nomi Prins
7:09 - Cole Miller
21:20 - Bill Moyers
Click to listen to the show, or continue reading the full transcript below.
Peter Scheer This is Truthdig Radio, bringing you the best interviews and commentary from Truthdig.com and KPFK. On this week’s show, Cole Miller on grass-roots philanthropy and the great Bill Moyers on the desperate state of our democracy. But first, Nomi Prins on the IMF’s lesser-known scandals.
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Kasia Anderson: This is Kasia Anderson. I’m associate editor at Truthdig, and we’re pleased—I’m also here with Bob Scheer—we’re pleased to be speaking with Nomi Prins. And she is a financial expert and author of “It Takes a Pillage.” And she also is proprietress of NomiPrins.com. And today we want to talk about the IMF chief, Dominique Strauss-Kahn—and not just about the kind of splashy headlines that we’ve been getting about him in recent days, but also a little bit more about his background at the IMF—which, Nomi, as I gather, you have a little different take on than some of the articles that have been coming out about him.
Nomi Prins: Yeah. I think the main thing is these articles that have been coming out, for the most part, have fallen into two categories. One is all the details, or alleged details, about what’s gone on in New York. And the second is about whether his absence from the IMF is going to keep them from creating bailout packages for the periphery countries in Europe, including Greece and Portugal. And all of them are really not focused on what the IMF has done, both under Dominique Strauss-Kahn and will continue to do without him. Because the main mission of the IMF, as he led it and as it stands today, and as it has been before he was present, is really to extract severe austerity measures from struggling countries in return for loans. And in particular, recently, the loans … what have been considered bailouts very much like our own, are going to bail out the banking systems and the financial markets of some of these countries—of Greece, of Portugal, of Ireland—and to pay for that, cut pension funds and wages and social services for the population that had nothing to do with the financial destruction caused by the global banking system.
Kasia Anderson: Right. And you have experience, as I gather, from Bear Stearns in Europe, kind of before the big economic meltdown, and also from just kind of a political-economic viewpoint. Since DSK, as we may call him now, is also someone who’s being viewed as, or was being viewed as, a potential leader of France in the future, before this alleged sexual assault happened, what do you think that his … maybe some misconceptions about what he might bring to France might be, in lieu of what you were saying about his leadership of the IMF?
Nomi Prins: Well, ironically, he’s been considered—you know, despite, also, past allegations of sexual misconduct as well—to be, yeah, in the running for leading France for the socialist side, the socialist party of France. Which, to me, is a little ironic given that what he has done at the IMF—and again, it’s keeping with the IMF’s philosophy in general—is really extract severe economic pain from people and from public programs for two main reasons. One, because I think he was considering the move to lead France, and being at the head of the IMF—which has always been led by a core European political person; I mean, it’s always been a stepping stone in and out of other types of political careers. And it’s tended to be run by a Euro-elite, or basically someone from France or Germany or a country that’s sort of allied with them from an economic standpoint, as opposed to any other country. But he basically very much promoted the idea that austerity measures should be enacted in return for bailout funds. And the result of that in some of the countries has been quite devastating. In Greece, for example, where there are renewed protests in the streets, and there were a year ago when its initial bailout package was being addressed, the unemployment there is over 14½ percent on average. It’s over 35 percent for the youth of the country. It’s similar in Ireland, at 14.7 percent; Ireland got a bailout package from the IMF constructed, you know, among other people, by DSK. And it’s been in more pain. And the reason these countries are in pain to begin with was because of their own banks and the international community, international capital and banks that basically pillaged and speculated when they could and then ran for the hills when things got bad in the end of 2008. So these countries basically are struggling and being given what’s called a bailout, but it’s really a loan to give cheap money to banks—very similar to what’s happening here—in return for cutting moneys from the public. And that’s something that’s not very socialistic. [Laughs] So it’s, it’s … so even though he was sort of slated for that role and grooming himself for that role in France, the reality is that France, and Germany, as sort of the elite core of Europe, have always used these periphery countries for purposes of speculation and investment. And it was like this before the euro was—came together in 1999; there was always these big capitalist trades going on between the sort of core European countries—France, Germany—and the external ones, like Spain and Italy, back then. And it’s really what we’re … 12 years on from that, 11 years on from that, and not much has changed, except we’ve had a couple of bank crises and currency crises in between.
Kasia Anderson: We’re going to have to end on that note. Once again, this is Kasia Anderson, associate editor of Truthdig. I’ve been here with Robert Scheer and Nomi Prins, author of “It Takes a Pillage” and proprietress of NomiPrins.com. You can hear the rest of this interview on Truthdig.com.
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Peter Scheer: This is Truthdig Radio. I’m Peter Scheer in studio with Josh Scheer and Cole Miller, who is the founding director of No More Victims, a grass-roots organization that connects American communities with war-injured Iraqi children and their families. Thanks for joining us.
Cole Miller: Thanks for having me.
Peter Scheer: And I should say, we spoke earlier about a rather dark vision of how human rights groups are exploited in the pursuit of war. And we’re now moving to a more positive vision of how human rights groups try to address some of the tragedies of war. Can you just sort of sum up what your organization does?
Cole Miller: Well, what we’ve done for the last—well, actually, since 2002, is identify children who are injured by U.S. forces—that’s an important element; by U.S. forces—and then we connect their medical reports with communities in the United States that have expressed an interest in organizing medical relief for those kids. Then we work to evacuate the children, bring them to the United States, where they get medical care that is unavailable to them in Iraq. And of course, things are changing; it’s changed a lot since we started, back before the invasion. But it’s still an urgent, urgent need that the Iraqi people have in the face of what we’ve done to their country. And so I—we encourage people to become involved.
Peter Scheer: How difficult is it to get people here? I mean, I guess it’s—I would guess it’s expensive and difficult to deal with visas, and that kind of thing.
Cole Miller: Well, it’s expensive; it’s less expensive now than it was previously, because there were no consular services in Iraq, so people couldn’t go to the U.S. Embassy, for example, in Iraq and get visas; now they can. So we would have to evacuate them to a third country—usually Jordan, once Kuwait—and then bring them to the United States. It is expensive; it’s time-consuming; it takes a lot of dedication. But the benefits are that children—let me just tell you a little story about, you know…
Peter Scheer: Sure.
Cole Miller: … your father was mentioning that he wanted this story told. That there’s a little boy named Mustafa Abed. And on November 3rd, 2004, one day before our election, in softening up bombing in Fallujah, he was hit and he lost about a quarter of his body. He was about 2 years old at the time; blew off his leg, his hip, most of his pelvis. And when they walked into the hospital with him, one person was carrying a bundle of his intestines in a blanket, and another person was carrying the boy’s body. And they were walking as close together as they could. Now, they thought that the boy had no chance of survival. But miraculously, they managed to save his life. Over the course of the intervening period before we got to him he had, also, nerve damage that caused him to develop kidney stones and bladder stones. And when we got him here, he had a bladder stone the size of a large egg. Now, a kidney stone—a tiny kidney stone will put a linebacker on his back screaming in agony. This kid, for four years, had to endure incredibly intense pain, periodic pain, all the time. You know? Until we got him here. We got him here; he had to receive emergency medical treatment up in Portland, Ore.; they had to remove one of his kidneys, which failed; they managed to save his other kidney; and he has been pain-free ever since. And he’s learning how to walk on a prosthetic. But if you think about the magnitude of what was done to that boy, first we go in and we blow a quarter of his body off. And then, in the intervening four years, nobody provided for that child. Not the Iraqi government; not the American military; not the American authorities. Nobody provided for that child. So he had to suffer that agony for those four years, and would have died in agony had it not been for the concern and generosity of that community in Portland. So that’s just one of the kids. And you know, you ask yourself how many thousands of children are there out there in just that situation? How many thousands have been left to die in excruciating pain, when just—you know—OK, let’s say that the damage is done, the bomb’s been dropped, the kid’s been hurt. Then you might try to alleviate that suffering by intervening, medically. Didn’t happen.
Peter Scheer: Well, so, how do you find the communities? Who are the people who are providing this care? And how do you find, I guess, the people that you are trying to help, at the same time?
Cole Miller: Well, it’s all grass roots. So basically, we put together a couple of demonstration projects to show that people in ordinary circumstances could do it. And then I knew there would be news reports, because we do pretty aggressive media outreach, and we have been able to successfully penetrate quite a bit of mainstream media with these stories. And we knew that people would see it, and like-minded people would get in touch with us. At least, that was my assumption, and that’s exactly what happened. So a community gets in touch with us, expresses an interest in putting together a project, and we assist them in doing it. Now we’re—we’ve moved into phase 3, and it’s kind of an exciting time for us, because I always envisioned this as something where we put together demonstration projects, then we hook up with communities, with like-minded people and we bring children here and get those stories told. Because the basic premise is, if you object, help the victims and tell the story, and a lot will come from that. But I always thought that we would help communities to do that. And then at a certain stage, we would help communities to form it independently—use it as a model. In other words, do it themselves, raise the money themselves. And the first group, Healing Children of Conflict, in Grand Rapids, Mich., a boy whose leg was blown off by a U.S. bomb just arrived there last week.
Peter Scheer: Oh, good.
Cole Miller: So that after all of these years, we have our first—it’s been replicated completely based on our model, for the first time. Now, I … just want to say, really quickly, that we’re in the cross hairs as well. It’s not just the Iraqi people, you know—although they’ve been made to suffer savagely, obviously, things that we can’t even imagine. But the middle class is being destroyed in this country [the United States] before our very eyes. Now they’re going after Medicare; they’re going after Medicaid; they’re going after Social Security. We are being victimized by this war system as well, in a little bit different way. Now, that model—if you object, help the victims and tell the story—could be applied domestically as well as internationally. So let’s just take one instance. Supposing you have a veteran who’s come back and who discovers that there are no jobs for him, or that he’s lost his job. And that a corrupt bank is going to foreclose on his home. So he and his family are about to be evicted from that home. What would happen if some vets who are opposed to the war realize they were duped into it, got together and said, we’re going to get together with some other just everyday citizens who are of like mind, and we’re going to put our bodies between the people who are coming to foreclose on this veteran’s home, and the people who come to take it away from him. Now, if hovering in the background is some phony paperwork, you know, is some fraud on the part of the bankers, so much the better. But that kind of initiative, where you intervene to help the victim and you tell the story—I mean, I think you could get coverage for that in the mainstream media here.
Peter Scheer: We’re speaking in studio with Cole Miller, who is the founding director of No More Victims, a grass-roots organization that connects American communities with war-injured Iraqi children and their families, and is …
Josh Scheer: … I just want to say, very quickly, part of that is that you can go to NoMoreVictims.org to find out more. And also you’re selling a book too, right, that one of your volunteers wrote, for …?
Cole Miller: It’s “The Lioness, the Rich and the Humvee.”
Josh Scheer: … yeah, the Humvee.
Peter Scheer: There we go.
Cole Miller: This wonderful woman, Beth DeLap, wrote that book after meeting one of the children—Russell, who’s the sister of Sally, who you can see in the Mother’s Day video at the site. That little girl—we brought, we then brought her sister, and Beth DeLap met her and brought her over. So yes, people can purchase copies of the book there; it’d be helpful to us. She’s donated all of the proceeds to help us with No More Victims work.
Josh Scheer: And—one quick question. You’ve been doing this, sadly, for nine years. I say sadly, obviously, for obvious reasons. How many children like the ones we’ve been discussing—how many have you met? How many have you helped, and then how many …
Cole Miller: Well, we’ve helped …
Josh Scheer: … more are there?
Cole Miller: We’ve helped … well. I mean …
Josh Scheer: … Yeah …
Cole Miller: … incalculable number. And it’s really hard to get good information about the number of wounded. They—you know, we don’t do body counts; it—what is it, how many hundreds of thousands, is it a million, is it a million and a half; we don’t know. You know? And if you ask—like it’s, the mean estimate of the number of people that the United States killed in Vietnam is a hundred thousand. Well, we know it’s somewhere between 2 or 3 million … so it’s always much larger. It’s always much larger. But we have brought 10 children to the United States. They’ve been treated from coast to coast. We’ve brought a couple of the children multiple times; Sally was just here for her third trip to get prosthetic legs this year …
Peter Scheer: And this is all grass roots. This is all …
Cole Miller: This is all grass roots. And, you know, we’re in a privileged position, but see, that’s … it’s much, much harder to do now. I mean, since Obama got elected, he was the progressive’s hope, it was pretty obvious to me that he wasn’t going to end any wars. But people thought that he was going to, and then kind of went to sleep. And with the—that combined with the economic implosion has made it really, really difficult to put these together. We managed to meet all of our obligations to all the kids who were already in process. Now it’s beginning to pick up a little bit again, as people realize that this war system is not going to end simply because we have a smiley face in the White House that can pretend to be a progressive. So I think things are going to pick up, and I really do hope that people will think about ways that they can apply this model domestically. Because, you know, what does solidarity really mean? You know, what does mutual aid really mean? Unless we’re getting out there. And if you do assist somebody who’s being victimized by this system, and tell the story, it can pack a punch. And the other people out there who are frightened of losing their jobs, or who have just lost their jobs, they’re going to be in a lot of need. So the question then becomes, how do we within local communities actually create genuine community, where we look out for each other and we assist each other? And where we actually defy and point an accusing finger at the people who are taking advantage. The people in privileged positions who want to squeeze every last drop of sweat and blood out of the public that they can. And I think …
Peter Scheer: And actually do something about it, actually …
Cole Miller: … and actually do something about it …
Peter Scheer: … not just complain, not just, you know, write a blog post about it, but actually get—help someone, and then get the story out. I think this is a great model.
Josh Scheer: Well, yeah, I’d love to get more foundation support, you know. The problem is that a lot of these—not just human rights groups, but all these groups, is that they—you get these, you know, big foundation checks and everything else, and you know, a lot of these foundations could do probably a lot more for smaller human rights groups that are doing grass-roots stuff, right?
Peter Scheer: But what’s so great about this is … you’re connecting people. You’re not just—you know, it’s not institutional; it’s not, like he’s saying, bogged down in this stuff. But it sounds like you could use some help.
Cole Miller: Well, no, we definitely could use some help. Now, we focus on children who have been hurt by U.S. forces. And for that, I think for a lot of corporate money and probably foundation money too, that’s going to be a bit of a problem. We haven’t had anybody step forward and offer, you know, that kind of assistance to us. We did have an interesting experience with CNN. We went over to—it was a long, you know, all of these projects take a good long while, especially earlier on when it was so hard to move people around in Iraq and get people into other countries. But there was a little boy who was traveling with his family from Mosul to Baghdad to be with the family for Eid. And they passed an American convoy; the convoy opened fire on the car; the mother was burned to death, the boy was burned really terribly, the father was shot a couple of times. We brought that little boy to the United States for medical care, and he was treated in Boston. And at that time, we had two contacts on the inside at CNN, two senior producers, segment producers. One in New York and one in Los Angeles. The one in Los Angeles had already done a couple of segments based on, you know, about No More Victims and its work. And so they were pitching on the inside, and could get no takers. And they were very eager to tell the story, but they just could not get any takers. About a month and a half later, you saw the story of a boy named Youssef—who of course deserved assistance—but he was hurt by bad guys.
Peter Scheer: Oh …
Cole Miller: So, suddenly, he’s all over CNN.
Peter Scheer: That’s terrible.
Cole Miller: And they’re running, you know, and … they’re fundraising … et cetera, et cetera, which I don’t begrudge; I think that that’s fine. But look what happens if that’s the story, and that’s the story that CNN and the mainstream wants to tell. It’s a story about why we have to stay there. To protect these poor Iraqi children from these monsters, right?
Peter Scheer: Right.
Cole Miller: When, if you just telescope out a little bit and look at it, we’re the monsters. Why did those guys hurt that kid Youssef? Because we initiated a war of aggression. We created the circumstances … within which that sectarian strife took off. You know. And so you’re never going to get an explanation about that. I mean, every—Youssef as well—we’re responsible for them. That’s the amazing thing. We’re responsible for all the harms that are being suffered by these kids, because we initiated the war that created the circumstances that created the injury.
Josh Scheer: You have a YouTube channel where you can see a lot of these videos.
Cole Miller: Yeah, we have a YouTube channel. I just started it about last year, and haven’t pushed it at all. Bu t…
Josh Scheer: Push it here, push it here.
Cole Miller: … you type in NoMoreVictims—with no spaces or anything—and it will pull up that station.
Josh Scheer: OK. Great. And it’s—it’s pretty, I mean, heart-wrenching stuff.
Cole Miller: Yeah, and we’re … going to be posting more of it; you know, there’s a lot; we have a backlog of stuff that we’re getting together, and we’re going to put it out there.
Josh Scheer: OK, great. Thank you.
Peter Scheer: Thanks for being with us.
Cole Miller: Thank you.
Peter Scheer: Cole Miller is the founding director of No More Victims, a grass-roots organization that connects American communities with war-injured Iraqi children and their families. Find out more at NoMoreVictims.org.
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Peter Scheer: This is Truthdig Radio. I’m Peter Scheer with Robert Scheer, and we are speaking with the legendary Bill Moyers, whose newest book is “Bill Moyers Journal: The Conversation Continues.” Thanks so much for making the time.
Bill Moyers: I’m glad to be with you.
Robert Scheer: You know, let me begin—this is Robert—ah, with a sort of longer-run question. I know things are pretty bad now in terms of deception, and so forth, but hasn’t it ever been so? And particularly in the area of foreign policy, I was thinking of the warning of George Washington and his farewell address, where he said “beware of the impostures of pretended patriotism.” And coming down through the years, we generally have been lied to about foreign policy, national security matters. Is it really much worse?
Bill Moyers: I don’t think so, except it’s just—there’s just more of it. We have, now, not only the government lying, but we have 24-hour media; you’ve got Fox News, you’ve got Rush Limbaugh, all dealing in misinformation—disinformation. And there’s just an incredible fog—a smog, you might say—surrounding us now.
Robert Scheer: Yeah, but you know, we on the Internet—and this is what Truthdig is all about—we’ve had about 60 million people come to our site, and we’re by no means one of the larger ones. But we think there’s a redeeming quality to this new, new form, that people can weigh in—professors, experts, whistleblowers. Do you see a positive side to it?
Bill Moyers: Oh, yes. I think it’s our last, our last hope, actually, is a free Internet with democratic, small “d” democratic access. I think that our administration—the Johnson administration, in which I served for the first 2 ½ years—would not have gotten away with a one-sided explanation of Vietnam if we’d had the Internet at that time. There were, as you know, brave reporters out in Vietnam trying to get back to the public with news, but they had to work through their organizations; it took a while; and too many of their bosses in Washington were comfortable with the administration’s propaganda line. So yes, I think the Internet is the best hope we have, if we can keep it. And of course, as you know, as we speak, the Internet … net neutrality is under siege from powerful corporate forces.
Robert Scheer: You know, let me ask you about those corporate forces. One of the great promises of the Johnson administration was the War on Poverty, and the hopes of redressing some of the class imbalances in this society. They’ve gotten much more intense. And we now have a situation where, according to [Joseph] Stiglitz, the top one percent of the wealthy control 40 percent of the wealth in this country. What do you think Lyndon Johnson would make of this current situation?
Bill Moyers: Well, of course, that’s impossible to say. But at heart he was a populist. When he started out as the son of a man who’d been laid low by the Great Depression of ’29, Lyndon Johnson—and populism had been held hostage by corporate power, and railroads [affecting] the farmers, as we know, at that period—he, his heart was populist. He was elected in a field of 11 candidates for Congress by saying, I’m the only one of the 11 who will be 100 percent for Franklin Roosevelt. So he was a New Dealer, a populist at heart. Of course, as he rose in power, representative of the Senate—which … of a state that’s very conservative, as opposed to his populist district in central Texas—he became friendlier with the interests of oil, the interests of construction, the predecessor to Halliburton, Brown & Root. But at heart remained with … you know, with the folks he had taught when he was a schoolteacher for one year in a town, at a high school of Mexican students in Cotulla, Texas. I think he’d be astonished and saddened by the fact that the difference today between the top and the bottom in America is greater—in income and wealth—is greater than it’s been since the Depression. I think he’d be—I think he’d be indignant about that.
Peter Scheer: Do you see a parallel there with Barack Obama, who started also as a populist working in communities with working people, who now seems to be more interested in corporate power, influence?
Bill Moyers: Well, I’ve seen this with most Democrats since Johnson’s time, who have bought into the system as it is…and I think that’s Barack Obama’s greatest problem, is that he’s bought into America as it is, and therefore he can’t lead us out of the crisis the way most people thought he could. Yes, he’s a good servant of corporate interest, despite some of his rhetoric. He accepts the system now as it is. He’ll take secret money next year if he has to; he refused to participate in public funding for the election in ’08. And he understands where the deck is stacked, and where the money comes from. No question about it.
Robert Scheer: So where did we liberals go wrong? You know, it’s sort of an irony. You mentioned conservative Texas, but you know, I kind of like the fact that Ron Paul from Texas is at least … [Laughter] raising some questions, you know. And what happened to the sort of liberal outrage, and liberal populism …?
Bill Moyers: I think we thought that we could negotiate, and civilize the corporate power. … We thought that they would respond responsibly to the pleas for equality, justice, or at least fairness. We thought we could … you know, and then Johnson’s great quote from the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible: “Come now, and let us reason together.” And I think liberals thought that you could regulate these predatory powers so that they would foam less at the mouth, consume less at the meal, and sleep a little easier at night. But they’re restless; you know, money is restless for more. And we have discovered, too late, that they refuse to be reasoned with.
Robert Scheer: Not just reasoned with, but they don’t seem to have any sense of being accountable to future generations. At least with the old moneyed elite, the Rockefellers and so forth, there was some sense of leaving something, of worrying about how you’d be perceived 50 or 100 years up the road. This new crowd just seems to be, you know, get in and get out, and grab what you can.
Bill Moyers: It’s more “now,” and therefore there is no governance; there is no balance wheel. I’ve been doing deep research, forensic research, into the period between 1860 and 1912, the period that followed the Civil War, saw the populist movement in an effort to tame the growing powers of great wealth—the railroads, the trusts, the monopolies. And we’re seeing the same thing now that we saw then, only more so. There was a period of time when the populace and the progressives—William Jennings Bryan…people like that, frontier champions of the people—thought that they could regulate these powerful economic interests, and discovered that they couldn’t. Liberals came along after the New Deal, thought we could regulate capitalism, and it turned out capitalism was regulating … capitalism captured the regulatory state. I think we have to go back to what Jim Hightower, the great populist from Texas, present populist from Texas, says about the populists: that they didn’t want to criticize the government, they wanted to own the government. And I think that’s exactly what’s—I mean, democracy is in trouble. We’re almost out of time. It’s always a series of narrow escapes, representative government, and we just—we may be running out of luck right now.
Peter Scheer: Do you think we have a bias of the present? I mean, you’re talking about this broad swath of history, and you were in the White House during the civil rights movement, the great achievements of that era. And now we live in a situation where, you know, we often say well, things have been much worse; and yet at the same time we have more people in prison now in the United States than any other country in the world, and many of them people of color. Are we better off, are we worse off? And do you think we’re in—we’re always moving from crisis to crisis, whether it’s nuclear weapons or global warming, or—are things really moving in the wrong direction, the right direction, are we somewhere in between?
Bill Moyers: Well, in some respect, there are great advances. I mean, with gay people and women and African-Americans. Even in this regard: Look at what’s happened here in New York with the alleged, with the arrest of the head of the IMF, a rich powerful white man who allegedly tried to take advantage of a poor working immigrant from Africa who was coming in to clean his room. If there’s ever a metaphor for how the rich and upper class regard their servants, you’ve got it right there. But now, she can file a suit, has filed a suit; and he’s been arrested, he’s being held. Once upon a time, where I grew up in the South—once upon a time anywhere in this country—a servant, household help would, if they made a charge against a rich powerful white man like this, it would, nothing would happen. So in that metaphorical sense, and in a real sense, there have been some changes. But in terms of the distribution of wealth, in terms of equality of opportunity, in terms of a decent wage, living wage, in many respects we are losing ground rapidly. I just saw a piece about some new jobs being created out in the Midwest with the return of some manufacturing functions, but they’re jobs paying a third of what the old jobs that were shipped abroad are paying. So, you know, I think comparisons are somewhat misplaced. Going back to Robert’s original point, from the very beginning this has been a tempestuous journey. As I say in the opening of the foreword to my new book, when de Tocqueville got off of the boat coming for his celebrated visit in New York in the 1830s, he was greeted by what he called a “mighty tumult.” And that’s what democracy is. But there have been periods in our history when organized people—that is, operating through their government—have been able to check and balance the power of organized money. At the moment, organized money is winning. And with serious consequences for working men and women and for the poor.
Peter Scheer: This is Truthdig Radio and we’re speaking with Bill Moyers.
Robert Scheer: Let me ask you a question—you know, you came from the South and I came from the Bronx [Laughs], and we had the conceit that we needed national politics to straighten you people out, you know; civil rights, and so forth. And I increasingly feel that this preoccupation with the federal government has been a mistake, that maybe there’s something to states’ rights. We’re broadcasting from California, where actually we ran against the national trend in our election; where there seems to have been a rejection of kind of the tea party populism; there’s a recognition that government is needed. And increasingly, I wonder whether the federal government is really the indispensable agent of liberal change.
Bill Moyers: It certainly isn’t right now; it could be, and its tax policies and … look, what’s the one thing the federal government has done well in the last 15 years? Get bin Laden. But it took 10 years, $2 trillion, two wars, and a lot of lives before we did. That’s about the only thing you can claim that the federal government has got right in the last 12 or 15 years. It has fallen into a relationship with corporate money that has rendered it largely inoperative when it comes to the real lives of ordinary people. But you know, Robert, there was no states’ rights before the Civil War; there were no states before the Civil War, as such. It was only when Lincoln organized the federal government to defend the Union that we got a federal government that was actually doing things for people, like … homeland, railroads, all of that. The federal government’s not working right now. And out of 2008 came an actually interesting contradiction of forces. A lot of people emerged from that saying, the market has failed us; and then with the bailouts and all of that, a lot of other people emerged and said, we ought to go back to the traditional state. So if you don’t want the markets to govern your lives, and you don’t believe that the traditional state can, you’ve got to go local. And to me, that is where there is hope right now for some change. I mean, you’ve got some conservative change; look at South Carolina, look at Mississippi, look at places like that; you’re going to get some progressive change elsewhere.
Robert Scheer: You know, it’s a point of focus, I think. Because I covered—I was working for the Los Angeles Times as a reporter—and I covered the deregulation under Bill Clinton. And it just was so obvious to me that there was no consumer presence, no popular voice; that the banks were going to rewrite these laws and reverse the New Deal, in just the way they wanted, and get what they wanted. And so—and in the process, we took away the power from the states to regulate usury, to protect consumers, to govern the banks. There had been, I think, 23 states that had, in their constitution, restrictions on interest rates and, you know, serious rules about the banks. And I wonder whether as a sort of liberal standard now we should be saying, hey, the federal government—we can agree with the right wing, some of the principal libertarians—the federal government is out of control. We really can’t control it; the powerful interests do. And that’s the sense in which I bring up states’ rights; that maybe the battlefield is to—as some of these state attorney generals, now the attorney general of New York, who is going after Wall Street—maybe these are the people who … this is the battlefield.
Bill Moyers: Well, many of the states’ attorneys general are one hope. They—27, 30 of them have organized on various issues to protect the consumer, consumer rights. It all depends on what—anywhere you have representative government, the powers-that-be are going to try to take over, buy out, buy off that government. If you go to Texas, my home state, of course it’s the business interests that run the state of Texas now, with [Rick] Perry, who was George Bush’s successor. You really can’t get anything done if you’re a consumer advocate, an advocate of the poor in Texas, because it’s run by the landed and vested interests in that state. So without a populist, progressive citizens’ muscle of some form or another, if you go to only the states’ rights, you’re going to get a lot of oppressive reaction in the government.
Peter Scheer: You’ve been an ardent defender of the press, or of good press, for many, many years. And making that connection with the decline of our—of how desperate our situation is with respect to our democracy, we’re in the middle of a fund drive here at KPFK, and I wonder … you know, I find that as an editor at Truthdig, whenever we post stories about the decline of the media, it’s like—people just don’t care. They never click on them, they sort of ignore them. And there’s a small sort of intellectual group that has active discussions about it, but by and large, it’s just frustrating to … I guess I’m asking, can you make the case for people, why they should care about the decline of media, and make that connection with our situation.
Bill Moyers: Well, I think it’s one of the oldest arguments in our democracy. That, you know, for all of his flaws, I think Thomas Jefferson was right when he said that an informed public is to be preferred to an uninformed public. And I think that is generally the case now. There’s an interesting study out from the University of Michigan about how people don’t want to listen to the facts. Even if they know a fact is authentic, if they know it’s true, but if it offends their—or insults or undermines their belief system, they don’t want to, they don’t accept it; they reject it. That’s one reason, the explanation for the solid support the right-wing and conservative media have. Unless there’s an alternative to Fox News, to Rush Limbaugh—unless there are guys like you, Thom Hartmann and Amy Goodman out there, continuing to press the evidence to the contrary, continuing to do forensic journalism, deeply researched journalism—really we’re going to live in that smog of propaganda, sentimentality and frankly, pornography, which has—political pornography has transformed our discourse into an ugly and grotesque version of what should be a good conversation of democracy. So the artists may be small, the artists may be underfunded; without these alternative voices, we are left to the mercy of the state and to the big, powerful corporations that control much of the media now. I mean, if you’re listening to this broadcast or going to Truthdig, imagine what happens if this channel goes silent and Truthdig disappears. What is your life like? Where do you go to compare what you’re hearing here, and reading on Truthdig, to what you’re getting from talk radio—85% of whose hosts are right wing—or from Fox News, where large numbers of people get their news? So without these independent voices, without the Tom Paines, without the William Allen Whites, without the Iconoclast—which was an independent newspaper in Texas many years ago—without these, we’re beholden to the propagandists.
Robert Scheer: You know, I’d like to—this is Bob Scheer—I’d like to end on a more positive note [Laughs] than my son Peter seemed to be going. You know, we’ve been doing this a long time; you’ve been doing it a lot more effectively than I have. But still, you know, it’s great—it’s great to rebel; it’s great to challenge. It’s great to seek the truth. And as I look around, I think we have—there’s one saving grace to this society, which has sort of manifested in the Internet. You know, yeah, there’s a lot of noise; there are special interests. But the basic values of the country remain surprisingly noble. And I think people really want to do the right thing at the end of the day. And I think that’s why we keep doing what we’re doing. We do find an audience. You have found an incredible audience. You, through public radio and everything else you’ve done, you’ve been able to reach tens of millions of Americans. And we see it now with someone like Chris Hedges that we publish on Truthdig, who brings up sort of a prophetic voice—there is an audience, and it does cut through the clutter. So do you have a …
Bill Moyers: Well, I have to say that—you’re kind in those remarks, but I have to say that people like me depend on people like you. I’m serious, Bob. Your columns cut through the fog, as I call it; they are courageous; they’re bold; they’re grounded in evidence. And I live off of them, and so do a lot of other people I know. When you recently published that—after the killing of bin Laden, you published that quick piece by Chris Hedges, it went viral. I know; I was getting it sent, hundreds of people were sending it to me. I’m just supporting what you say by saying it’s not one, it’s not two; it’s all of us trying to create a domino effect of alternative journalism. And I wouldn’t trade my life for anything. People used to say, why don’t you go into politics; and I’d say, are you kidding? The life of the journalist, for all of its frustrations, is a deeply rewarding one. And I think if we can figure out how to make a living at it, what you’re doing is the future for the next generation coming along. Young journalists come to me and say, what should I do? Should I go into television, should I go into newspapers? Television seems so trivial; newspapers seem so endangered. And I say, look, if you’ve got a fire in your belly, you’ll find a place; you’ll find a venue. And go to the Internet and look at the places like Truthdig and Amy Goodman and Josh Marshall, at TalkingPointsMemo.com. There are a lot of places where you can still signify as a journalist today, and we need every one of them and more.
Peter Scheer: What a great note to end on. Bill Moyers, thanks so much for making time for us.
Robert Scheer: Thank you.
Bill Moyers: My pleasure. Thanks to both of you.
Peter Scheer: Take care.
Bill Moyers: Goodbye.
Peter Scheer: “Bill Moyers Journal: The Conversation Continues” is his latest book. That was Bill Moyers, the legend.
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Peter Scheer:… That’s it for this week’s episode of Truthdig Radio. Thanks for listening.