Q&A features interviews with writers, economists, social scientists, activists and other big thinkers with important perspectives on issues affecting our democracy.

Carol Gilligan on Why Politicians Can’t Play Nice

Psychologist Carol Gilligan has spent her career studying the childhood development of girls and boys, women and, more recently, the impasses in male-female relationships. She is the recipient of a Heinz Award for her contributions to understanding the human condition and was named by Time Magazine as one of the 25 most influential Americans.

Carol Gilligan

Carol Gilligan

She has authored and coauthored numerous books and publications, including In a Different Voice (1982), Meeting at the Crossroads (1993), Between Voice and Silence: Women and Girls, Race and Relationship (1997), and Joining the Resistance (2011).

We talked with Gilligan about whether she thinks that this Congress — the most unproductive in modern history — can re-learn how to play nice and work out their differences. Or do they need a giant time out?

Theresa Riley: As a psychologist and ethicist, when you look at the gridlock in Congress, particularly in the House of Representatives, what do you think?

Carol Gilligan: The Republicans said that they were determined to make sure that Obama did not get a second term, so I think it was really an attempt to absolutely frustrate him — and they succeeded in a lot of ways. Nevertheless, he accomplished a great deal, and now he’s been reelected, so in that sense, we’re at a different place. That agenda didn’t get realized.

Riley: In December 2010, House Majority Speaker John Boehner famously told 60 Minutes’ Lesley Stahl that he rejected the word “compromise.” In terms of childhood development, young children learn that when they verbally negotiate with others, they can keep play moving along and get what they want, at least part of the time. Do you think this is something that our lawmakers have somehow unlearned?

Gilligan: Instead of asking how we come to take the point of view of another person, how we learn to empathize with the feelings of others and cooperate, the question becomes how do we stop doing these things? I’ve done a lot of research with girls but I’ve also done a study with young boys between four and seven. Boys at that age are under pressure to become “one of the boys.” In the class that we followed, the little group of boys formed something called the Mean Team. Basically it was defined in opposition to anything that was seen as “feminine,” which was being nice or being good. So the main activity of the Mean Team was to “bother people.” That’s the point of view from which compromise looks like weakness, and it gets incorporated as part of what masculinity means. So it’s really a cultural construction that says strength is asserting power over other people. And then you get the ethics of what you saw in Congress, compromise being seen as a weakness.


Solving the Six-Billion Dollar Problem

Nick Nyhart

In the wake of the most expensive election season in history, we checked in with Nick Nyhart, co-founder, President and CEO of Public Campaign, an organization dedicated to campaign finance reform, to ask about potential solutions to the $6 billion dollar problem.  

Lauren Feeney: Six billion dollars were spent on this election. What did it buy?

Nick Nyhart: It bought winners. For the backers of winning candidates, it bought a relationship with those candidates; it bought them access and influence.

Feeney: But Mitt Romney’s supporters spent over $700 million and their candidate lost. Sheldon Adelson spent at least $53 million on eight candidates for various races and none of them won.

Nyhart: There was a small group of conservative billionaires who made loud proclamations about pouring tens of millions of dollars — an unprecedented amount of money from a handful of people — into the campaigns of conservative candidates. They had three real goals. One was to elect the next president, and they came close but failed with Romney as the candidate. The second goal was to elect a Republican Senate, backing hard right ideological conservatives, and they failed spectacularly at that — the conventional wisdom a year ago was that it’d be hard for the Democrats to hold the Senate; instead, their numbers went up. The third goal I think you could say they succeeded in, which was to consolidate the gains made in 2010. Usually, following a wave election like you had in 2010, you’d expect to lose a bunch of seats at the margins that would never have been won were it not for the strong wave of public expression of discontent. Many people thought the Democrats would do much better than they did in the House. So I’d say the conservative billionaires were one for three in their goals.


Talking About Poverty With Greg Kaufmann

Greg KaufmannGreg Kaufmann has been writing the “This Week in Poverty” column for The Nation since January. We’ve been reprinting it on BillMoyers.com for the past couple months. Kaufmann says he started writing the column because he felt that poverty doesn’t get adequate coverage in the media and he hopes that writing about the issue will help elevate solutions, the voices of people living in poverty, and give readers opportunities to get involved. We reached him to talk with him about the current state of poverty in the United States.

Theresa Riley: Last month’s numbers from the U.S. Census showed poverty numbers holding steady from 2010 to 2011. That’s not exactly good news since poverty levels are the worst they’ve been in 50 years. What should people be paying attention to in these numbers?

Greg Kaufmann: I think the biggest takeaways from the recent numbers are that only the top quintile saw its income rise in 2011; the bottom four-fifths all saw a decline. Also, only the bottom and the top saw growth in the number of full-time, year-round workers — which speaks to the proliferation of low-wage jobs and difficulty reaching the middle class. In short, I think the numbers speak to the fact that we need to stop looking at poverty as a separate phenomenon from the rest of the economy — an economy with a proliferation of low-wage jobs and a weak and inequitable recovery. Finally, the number of people living below twice the poverty line — less than about $36,000 for a family of three — rose from 103 million to 106 million Americans. That’s a better representation of who is struggling in this economy than the 46 million people below the poverty line. Even at two times the poverty level people are making impossible choices between food, housing and healthcare — and forget about savings for college, for example.

How Big Media Ignores the Poor

Steve Rendall, Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting

In a recent report, the media watchdog FAIR looked at six months of campaign coverage (from Jan.1 to June 23, 2012) by eight major news outlets and counted campaign-related stories that addressed the subject of poverty in a substantive way. The study found scant mention of the issue, despite the high poverty rates reached during the economic downturn. We caught up with FAIR senior analyst Steve Rendall to find out why.

Rebecca Wharton: Your study shows that the mainstream media makes little mention of poverty in its election coverage. Just how little?

Steve Rendall: On average, just .2 percent of campaign stories discussed poverty in any substantive way. And this is at a time when poverty is hovering at historic highs. To understand how scant the coverage was, PBS’s NewsHour led all outlets with .8 percent of its campaign stories addressing poverty. That amounted to a single story on the NewsHour. ABC World News, NBC Nightly News, NPR’s All Things Considered, and Newsweek ran no campaign stories substantively discussing poverty. MORE

What Drives Latino Voters?

More Latinos are expected to go to the polls this year than ever before, and their vote could be decisive in the presidential election. We reached out to Sylvia Manzano of Latino Decisions, a leading Latino polling organization whose clients include Univision, ABC News and the Los Angeles Times, to learn more about the concerns and influence of this growing demographic.

Volunteers for President Barack Obama's reelection campaign, Carissa Valdez, right, and Vanessa Trujillo, left, as they leave campaign headquarters as they work to register new voters while they canvass a heavily Latino neighborhood shopping plaza Friday, June 29, 2012, in Phoenix. Across the country both political parties have been courting the Latino vote, the nation's fastest-growing minority group. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Lauren Feeney: A record 24 million Latinos are eligible to vote this time around, about four million more than in 2008. Who are these new voters?

Manzano: Those four million new eligible voters are a combination of people who have become American citizens since the last round of elections and young Latinos who aged into the electorate. Hispanic Americans as a consumer base are much younger than non-Hispanics — an average age of 28 compared to 42 for whites. MORE

Election Expert Richard Hasen on Voter Fraud and Disenfranchisement

Richard Hasen’s new book The Voting Wars chronicles the partisan battles over election rules from the 2000 Florida recount to the present. The story continues on his Election Law Blog, the go-to source for updates on the wave of new voter ID laws, registration roll purges, and other efforts to manipulate voter turnout and potentially skew elections. We caught up with Hasen to talk about election fraud, voter suppression and the chances that either could make the difference in a close election this November.

The infamous 'butterfly ballot.' (AP Photo/Adele Starr)

The infamous "butterfly ballot." (AP Photo/Adele Starr)

Lauren Feeney: What’s been the legacy of the Florida recount of 2000 (aside from the eight-year presidency of George W. Bush, of course)?

Rick Hasen: People learned the wrong lesson in Florida. They learned how election rules could be manipulated for partisan advantage; that you could try to game the refs in terms of what rules are in effect and how the votes are counted; that going to court is sometimes a successful strategy for changing the rules for counting the vote after the election. They learned, essentially, that election law can be used as a political strategy.

The good news is that we’ve made tremendous improvements in the technology we use for casting and counting ballots. There are now millions more votes that will be counted instead of being lost by bad technology. Unfortunately, that’s the only good news; the rest of the news is bad.


Was Susan B. Anthony “Pro-Life?”

Dark money groups tend to have ambiguous names. From Crossroads GPS, which sounds more like a brand of navigation software than Karl Rove’s “social welfare” organization spending tens of millions of untraceable dollars to defeat the president, to Restore Our Future, which, when you think about it, would require some kind of time machine, the names seem designed to obscure true intent.

Perhaps one of the most misleadingly named groups is the Susan B. Anthony List. As everyone knows, Anthony led the fight for women to vote in the late 19th century and is remembered today as one of America’s most prominent activists for women’s civil rights. So it may come as a surprise that the Susan B. Anthony List is dedicated to getting pro-life candidates elected to office — not an agenda most modern-day feminists would get behind.

Deborah Hughes is president and CEO of the National Susan B. Anthony Museum and House in Rochester, N.Y. She explains why she thinks Anthony wouldn’t be happy about her name being used as a celebrity endorsement.

Lauren Feeney: What is the Susan B. Anthony List?

Deborah Hughes: The Susan B. Anthony List is a 501(c)4 whose purpose is to promote an agenda which they call “pro-life.” They fundraise for “pro-life” candidates and have a “pro-life pledge” which they ask candidates to sign.

Feeney: And who’s behind this organization?

Hughes: It’s hard to know who exactly is behind a political action group. I would encourage people to read about them on their website and the OpenSecrets site.


Is it Better to Vote With Your Heart or Your Head?

Photographer: Dale Robbins

One of the first guests Bill Moyers invited to Moyers & Company was moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt. His interview, which focused on differences in how conservatives and liberals think, is consistently one of the most-watched on BillMoyers.com.

This week’s interview with Green Party presidential and vice presidential candidates sparked a discussion in our editorial meeting about third parties, voting and the spoiler issue. Say, for example, that a voter reads the Green Party platform and feels like it represents their values and beliefs better than any other platform. Should they vote their heart — to send the signal that they support those policies — or should they vote for the party that comes closest to their beliefs and has the best chance of actually winning?

We wondered if there is a moral or “right” way to vote. So we emailed Jonathan Haidt, and asked him for his professional opinion.

Theresa Riley: Morally speaking, should a person vote for the candidate who represents their views most closely? Or should a voter game out the system and vote for the candidates who have the best chance of winning?

Jonathan Haidt: The ethics of voting depends on which view of voting you hold. Many people treat voting as a strategic game, a way in which people are trying to rationally pursue either their self-interest or their moral goals, or some combination. On this view it is always irrational as well as unethical to vote for a third-party candidate for president (unless someday there is one who might actually win). On this view, Democrats should be angry at Ralph Nader and at everyone who voted for him. Together they changed the world in profound and irreversible ways.


Party Time! Who’s Behind the Best Parties in Tampa?

The Sunlight Foundation’s Political Party Time might be the most important gossip blog you’ll ever read. Sunlight’s reporters collect invitations to political fundraisers, find out who’s hosting and benefitting, and, on occasion, try to duck under the red velvet rope and get inside. We caught up with Sunlight’s Liz Bartolomeo, who’s on the ground in Tampa, to ask about the party scene at the Republican National Convention.

Lauren Feeney: What’s happening behind the scenes of the RNC, off camera and outside the reach of your average delegate?

Liz Bartolomeo: There are three tiers of money and access here in Tampa. We’re dubbing it the pyramid convention. On the bottom you have what you see on TV; the speeches, the delegate breakfasts and lunches. Then you have private events — most of them are evening events hosted by lobbyists, corporations and political fundraisers. There’s a cost to attend them — whether it’s a $50,000 event sponsorship, or a donation to a PAC or a member of Congress. And then on the very, very top, you have the super-donors — members of the finance committee for the Romney Victory fund, super PAC donors, influencers in dark money groups — and they are having very private events that are not on any calendar. We’ve found some of these events and have been told basically to go away and don’t take a picture.

Feeney: Tell us about some of the more outrageous events going on in Tampa.

Bartolomeo: Yesterday there was a “cocktails and cosmetics” reception hosted by the Personal Care Products Council. It was at a salon in the hip Ybor district, and it promised makeup and nail refreshers. That was hosted by an industry council pushing their agenda relating to health and safety regulations for the cosmetics industry.

Today there’s a Patriots for Romney and Ryan event, where the key speaker is Rick Santorum. This is a who’s who of Tea Party members coming out to support Mitt Romney — hosts include Foster Friess, Ralph Reed and Grover Norquist.


Everything You Want to Know About the Budget

Are you secretly confused by all this talk about the Ryan budget? If the conflicting rhetoric, incalculable numbers and incessant punditry leave your head spinning — don’t worry, you’re not alone. Here to help is Mattea Kramer, author of A People’s Guide to the Federal Budget and senior research analyst for the National Priorities Project, which aims to make our complex federal budget “transparent and accessible so people can exercise their right and responsibility to oversee and influence how their tax dollars are spent.” We caught up with Kramer via phone to learn more about the Ryan budget, the president’s budget and the budgeting process in general.

Lauren Feeney: There’s a chart on your website comparing the budgetary priorities of vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan and President Obama. Ryan’s budget contains a similar chart (on page 5), but the charts differ dramatically in their emphasis and conclusions. Can you tell us about some of the key differences?

Mattea Kramer: One thing that I would immediately draw attention to is the difference on taxes. Ryan proposes really deep tax cuts — a change from our current six tax brackets to only two. The reality of that change would be really rich tax cuts for folks at the top of the income spectrum. Naturally, Ryan doesn’t couch it in those particular terms — he says that this is a pro-growth, pro-jobs platform.

Because of that tax platform, Ryan actually projects he doesn’t have the revenue to balance the budget within the ten-year time horizon — he projects a $287 billion deficit in 2022. So, while presenting himself as a deficit hawk, because he cuts revenue so dramatically, he’s not projecting enough income to close deficits. That’s an interesting point which is not put forth in a straight manner in The Path to Prosperity. As for the president, his proposal doesn’t do much on deficit reduction, so by 2022 his projected deficit is still north of $700 billion. So of course, that’s not something that President Obama puts forth openly. MORE

What is a Living Wage?

Just last month, the federal minimum wage — currently at $7.25 an hour — celebrated its three-year anniversary. At that rate, a security guard, retail store clerk or nanny working full-time for minimum wage makes just $15,080 a year. That’s barely above the poverty line for a single person ($11,344) and far below it for a family of four ($22,314).

In this week’s episode, Sister Simone Campbell talks about our poverty crisis and her belief that we need to replace minimum wages with “living wages.” Sister Simone is not alone in advocating for the living wage concept. Economist Robert Pollin wrote his book, The Living Wage: Building a Fair Economy, in 2000. It chronicled the living wage campaigns that swept the country in the 1990s. At the time journalist Robert Kuttner, co-editor of The American Prospect , noted in a back-of-the-book blurb that “The living wage campaign is the most interesting (and under-reported) grassroots enterprise to emerge since the civil rights movement.”

We called Pollin to find out more about the concept and why it’s important not to sacrifice the welfare of workers in tough economic times.

About 100 immigrant janitors marched through downtown Houston to protest a local cleaning company accused of withholding paychecks from its employees and not paying them for all hours they worked. June 2006 (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
About 100 immigrant janitors marched through downtown Houston to protest a local cleaning company accused of withholding paychecks from its employees and not paying them for all hours they worked. The march took place after a federal lawsuit was filed against Houston-based Professional Janitorial Service. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Theresa Riley: What is a living wage?

Professor Robert Pollin

Professor Robert Pollin

Robert Pollin: Conceptually the idea of a living wage emerges out of social movements and thinking about what it takes for people to live a minimally decent life. There’s a great book by Lawrence Glickman – it’s called A Living Wage: American Workers and the Making of a Consumer Society– and he defines it as “a wage level that offers workers the ability to support families, to maintain self-respect, and to have both the means and the leisure to participate in the civic life of the nation.”


Juan Cole on America’s Terrorism Double Standard

On his oft-cited blog Informed Comment, author, scholar and historian Juan Cole writes about the Middle East and American politics. In the wake of the attack at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, Cole compared our nation’s response to what he calls “white terrorism” with its response to “other” (read: Islamic) terrorism. We reached him by phone to learn more.

Lauren Feeney: The two recent mass shootings at a movie theater in Colorado and a Sikh temple in Wisconsin — were they terrorism?

Juan Cole: The federal code contains a definition of terrorism — it’s the deployment of coercion or violence against civilians for the accomplishment of a political purpose. The movie theater incident wasn’t terrorism, as far as anybody can tell. That was mental illness. As for the Sikh temple shootings, I think there’s ample evidence that this individual was motivated by a political program of hatred for what he considered to be non-whites. The likelihood is that he thought he was targeting a Muslim congregation, because Sikhs wear turbans and beards and a lot of uneducated Americans mistake Sikhs for Muslims.

Feeney: CNN’s CNN’s Peter Bergen recently reported that militants linked to al-Qaeda or inspired by the jihad-instilled ideology have carried out four terrorist attacks in the U.S. since September 11th, while “right-wing extremists” like Wade Michael Page have committed at least eight. Why then do you think Americans still equate terror with Islam?

Cole: There is a certain amount of, frankly, latent racism in this issue. Sociologists have long remarked that there’s a kind of mainstream, who are unmarked, and minorities, who are marked. In other words, if a bank robber is white, the reporting on the bank robbery won’t mention that in its news. It’ll just say, “The bank was robbed.” If the bank robber is a member of a minority, then the ethnicity of the bank robber will typically be mentioned. I think the same thing, marked and unmarked identities, operates with regard to terrorism. MORE

The Funny Side of Race and Politics

W. Kamau (rhymes with ka-pow!) Bell is a San Francisco-based comedian whose new show, Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, will provide a satirical take-down of the week’s political and cultural news. Executive produced by Chris Rock, the show — which might be described as a racially-charged version of The Daily Show — premieres Thursday night on FX. We reached Bell to talk about race, politics, and how to make both funny.

Lauren Feeney: You’ve said your goal for your new show is “to be a comedic thorn in the side of evil.” Tell us more. 

W. Kamau Bell: It is going to be my weekly take on the events of the world through a social and political lens. I’m a race person, so the lens of race will never be that far from what I’m doing. We’re excited about coming out right before the election. The hope is that we will be able to enter the national discussion around the election the same way that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and Bill Maher have. I think they’re all doing great, but I think there’s room for more.


The Huge Downside to ‘Home Field Advantage’

This week’s guest Moyers & Company guest — filmmaker Anthony Baxter — criticizes Donald Trump’s aggressive efforts to build “the greatest golf course in the world” across ancient sand dunes in Scotland. Baxter says the local Scottish community pays a heavy price for such greedy expansion in terms of both their homes and the environment. Now imagine that “greatest golf course” on a much larger scale: The Olympics. A recent story in The Atlantic called the Olympics a “loser’s game” for the host country, so we asked Dave Zirin, who writes about the intersection of sports and politics for The Nation, to further explain the surprising downsides to “home field advantage.”

This aerial photo shows the Olympic Stadium and the Orbit during the 2012 Summer Olympics at Olympic Park in London. August 2012. (AP Photo/Jeff J Mitchell, Pool)
This aerial photo shows the Olympic Stadium and the Orbit during the 2012 Summer Olympics at Olympic Park on Friday, Aug. 3, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Jeff J Mitchell, Pool)

Theresa Riley: Historically, is it true that hosting the Olympic games is a risky bet? What are some of the downsides?

Dave Zirin: No matter what the democratic or autocratic traditions, no matter if it’s a Western democracy or a country like China, the results are very similar whenever the Olympics occupy a given city. You get a huge explosion of debt. You get the displacement of people from their homes, and you get the imposition of a police state.


The Military Suicide Epidemic

One a day — that’s the current rate of suicide for members of our military. It’s also the headline on the cover of last week’s Time magazine. In their article, reporters Mark Thompson and Nancy Gibbs tell the stories of two Army captains — one a helicopter pilot handsome enough to be nicknamed Captain Brad Pitt; the other an Army doctor and father of three — who both ended their own lives on the same day.

We caught up with Thompson to learn more about the alarming rise of suicide in the military.

Lauren Feeney: How pervasive is the problem of suicide in the U.S. military?

Mark Thompson: The problem has grown markedly worse in the last decade. For generations, the military was proud that its rate was lower than the civilian rate. But starting in about 2004-2005, especially in the Army, that began to change. Over the past decade now the suicide rate in the Army has doubled from where it was ten years ago. More U.S. military personnel have died by suicide since the war in Afghanistan began than have died fighting there. MORE

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