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Democracy Talks


Bill Moyers has a new book out. In the interest of full disclosure, I edited the book with him and co-wrote its introduction. And in the interest of what may seem to be shameless self-promotion, I urge you to read it.

If you don’t buy Bill Moyers Journal: the Conversation Continues, borrow it from the nearest local library (Although please keep in mind, we are the sole support of a community of endangered pundits hiding in the swamplands of lower Manhattan. The choice is yours.).

Published by The New Press, the book is a collection of interviews augmented with new introductions and updates, a compilation of some of the best and most interesting conversations conducted during his PBS series from 2007-10, as put together by Bill and the production team. But more than that, Bill Moyers Journal: The Conversation Continues functions as an informative and essential primer in contemporary American politics, society and literature, presented with a progressive point of view yet covering the waterfront of ideas and opinions.

The pages encompass a remarkable three years in American history: not just the final years of the Bush White House, but also the turbulent 2008 presidential campaign culminating in the election of our first African American president; the first 15 months of the Obama administration with its fierce debates over health care, financial reform, and escalating the Afghan war; and of course, the global economic breakdown.

We didn’t realize it at the time, but as we looked back over what many of the people had to say, we discovered that their thoughtful analysis created a unique portrait of the state of America in those years. What’s more, they were remarkably prescient about events that lay ahead.

The economists Simon Johnson and James K. Galbraith accurately predicted that no matter the financial meltdown of 2008, many of the same people who caused it would emerge more prosperous than ever. (Despite high unemployment and stagnant wages for the working class, the Wall Street Journal recently released a study reporting that CEOs at the country’s 350 biggest companies saw their pay jump 11% last year to a median of $9.3 million.)

Months before the collapse and our national, ongoing debate on the budget and deficit, historian Andrew Bacevich told Moyers that our economy resembled a giant Ponzi scheme: "This continuing tendency to borrow and to assume that the bills are never going to come due," he said. "How are we going to pay the bills? How are we going to pay for the entitlements that are going to increase year by year for the next couple of decades, especially as baby boomers retire? Nobody has answers to these questions."

Conservatives Ross Douthat, Victor Gold and Mickey Edwards talked about what many see as the death of traditional conservatism, but foresaw emerging from it the inchoate rage that has resulted in the Tea Parties and a resurgence of the radical right, driving establishment Republicans to ulcerous distraction as we approach another pivotal national election.

A few other excerpts:

Biologist E.O. Wilson: "We’re the ones that can destroy the world. No other single species ever had anything like that power. And we also have the knowledge to avoid doing it. It’s sort of a race to the finish line that we will develop the intelligence and the policies and the decency to bring it to a halt not just for life itself but for future generations before the juggernaut takes us over."

Activist and analyst Holly Sklar: "The rising tide’s not lifting all boats. Little crumbs aren’t trickling off the table. What’s really happened is that so much is being ripped off at the top. It’s a level of extreme, almost pathological greed and it’s not tolerated in any other of the democracies.’

Health care executive turned reformer Wendell Potter: "One day I was reading President Kennedy’s book Profiles in Courage. In the foreword, his brother Bobby said that one of the President’s favorite quotes was from Dante: ‘The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who, in a time of great crisis, maintain their neutrality.’ And when I read that, I said, ‘Oh jeez, I’m headed for the hottest place in Hell, unless I say something.’"

Political theorist Benjamin Barber: "We can’t buy the line that government is our enemy and the market is our friend… Government is us. Government is our institutions. Government is how we make social and public choices working together to forge common ground… We’ve got to retrieve our citizenship."

Civil rights advocate and litigator Michelle Alexander: "Much of the data indicates that African Americans today, as a group, are not much better off than they were back in 1968 when Martin Luther King delivered ‘The Other America’ speech, talking about how there are two Americas in the United States… These two Americas still exist today. The existence of Barack Obama and people of color scattered in position of power and high places creates an illusion of much more progress than has actually been made in recent years."

Poet W.S. Merwin: "The most valuable things in our lives come out of what we don’t know. And that’s a process that we never understand. I think poetry always comes out of what you don’t know. Now, I tell students, knowledge is very important. Learn languages. Read history. Read, listen — above all, listen to everybody. Listen to everything that you hear. Every sound in the street. Every dog and every bird and everything that you hear. But know that while all of your knowledge is important, there is something you will never know. It’s who you are."

This is an eclectic and lively, even cacophonous, compendium of voices with a lot to say, much of it stimulating and provocative. Many of the contributors to Bill Moyers Journal: The Conversation Continues are alarmed at the state of the union and the powerful forces of wealth and venality that actively seek the destruction of what little is left of our representative democracy. But something the historian Howard Zinn says in the book also resonates throughout: "The idea of people involved in history, people actually making history, people agitating and demonstrating, pushing the leaders of the country into change in a way that leaders themselves are not likely to initiate… Don’t depend on our leaders to do what needs to be done, because whenever the government has done anything to bring about change, it’s done so only because it’s been pushed and prodded by social movements, by ordinary people organizing."

But don’t take my word for it. Read the book.

Michael Winship, senior writing fellow at Demos and president of the Writers Guild of America, East, was the senior writer for Bill Moyers Journal.


October 13, 2015
Jeremy Malcolm
All Rights Reserved: Now We Know the Final TTP is Everything We Feared
Paul Craig Roberts
Recognizing Neocon Failure: Has Obama Finally Come to His Senses?
Theodoros Papadopoulos
The EU Has Lost the Plot in Ukraine
Roger Annis
Ukraine Threatened by Government Negligence Over Polio
Matthew Stanton
The Vapid Vote
Louisa Willcox
Tracking the Grizzly’s Number One Killer
Binoy Kampmark
Assange and the Village Gossipers
Robert Koehler
Why Bombing a Hospital Is a War Crime
Jon Flanders
Railroad Workers Fight Proposed Job Consolidation
Mel Gurtov
Manipulating Reality: Facebook Is Listening to You
Mark Hand
Passion and Pain: Photographer Trains Human Trafficking Survivors
October 12, 2015
Ralph Nader
Imperial Failure: Lessons From Afghanistan and Iraq
Ishmael Reed
Want a Renewal? Rid Your City of Blacks
Thomas S. Harrington
US Caught Faking It in Syria
Victor Grossman
Scenes From a Wonderful Parade Against the TPP
Luciana Bohne
Where Are You When We Need You, Jean-Paul Sartre?
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
The US Way of War: From Columbus to Kunduz
Paul Craig Roberts
A Decisive Shift in the Balance of Power
Justus Links
Turkey’s Tiananmen in Context
Ray McGovern
Faux Neutrality: How CNN Shapes Political Debate
William Manson
Things R Us: How Venture Capitalists Feed the Fetishism of Technology
Norman Pollack
The “Apologies”: A Note On Usage
Steve Horn
Cops Called on Reporter Who Asked About Climate at Oil & Gas Convention
Javan Briggs
The Browning of California: the Water is Ours!
Dave Randle
The BBC and the Licence Fee
Andrew Stewart
Elvis Has Left the Building: a Reply to Slavoj Žižek
Nicolás Cabrera
Resisting Columbus: the Movement to Change October 12th Holiday is Rooted in History
Weekend Edition
October 9-11, 2015
David Price – Roberto J. González
The Use and Abuse of Culture (and Children): The Human Terrain System’s Rationalization of Pedophilia in Afghanistan
Mike Whitney
Putin’s “Endgame” in Syria
Jason Hribal
The Tilikum Effect and the Downfall of SeaWorld
Gary Leupp
The Six Most Disastrous Interventions of the 21st Century
Andrew Levine
In Syria, Obama is Playing a Losing Game
Louis Proyect
The End of Academic Freedom in America: the Case of Steven Salaita
Rob Urie
Democrats, Neoliberalism and the TPP
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
The Bully Recalibrates: U.S. Signals Policy Shift in Syria
Brian Cloughley
Hospital Slaughter and the US/NATO Propaganda Machine
Paul Street
Hope in Abandonment: Cuba, Detroit, and Earth-Scientific Socialism
John Walsh
For Vietnam: Artemisinin From China, Agent Orange From America
Hadi Kobaysi
How The US Uses (Takfiri) Extremists
John Wight
No Moral High Ground for the West on Syria
Robert Fantina
Canadian Universities vs. Israeli Apartheid
Conn Hallinan
Portugal: Europe’s Left Batting 1000
John Feffer
Mouths Wide Shut: Obama’s War on Whistleblowers
Paul Craig Roberts
The Impulsiveness of US Power
Ron Jacobs
The Murderer as American Hero