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Advice to Plutocrat Perkins: Time to Shut Up!

There’s a rule of thumb in cyberspace etiquette known as Godwin’s Law, named after Mike Godwin, the Internet lawyer and activist who first came up with it. A variation of that law boils down to this: He who first compares the other side to Nazis loses, and the conversation is at an end. Unless you’re billionaire Tom Perkins, who seems dedicated to digging a deeper and deeper hole for himself.

By now you’ve probably heard about Perkins’s infamous letter to The Wall Street Journal (whose editorial page is the rich man’s Pravda of class warfare) in which he wrote, “I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its ‘one percent,’ namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the ‘rich…’ This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendant ‘progressive’ radicalism unthinkable now?”

It’s astonishing how ignorant (not to mention crude and cruel) the very rich can be. Surely, one of his well-paid retainers could have reminded Mr. Perkins that Kristallnacht was the opening salvo in Hitler’s extermination of the Jews, the “night of broken glass” in 1938 Germany and Austria when nearly a hundred Jews were murdered, 30,000 were sent to concentration camps and synagogues and Jewish-owned business were looted and destroyed, many of them burned to the ground. If Perkins thought his puny point survived the outrageous exaggeration, he was sadly mistaken.

Tom Perkins Apologizes on Bloomberg TV
Nonetheless, after a stunned world responded, venture capitalist Perkins went on Bloomberg TV to apologize for using the word “Kristallnacht” but not for the sentiment of his letter. “I don’t regret the message at all,” he said. “Anytime the majority starts to demonize the minority, no matter what it is, it’s wrong and dangerous and no good comes from it.”

Perkins also said that he has family “living in trailer parks,” but bragged like some cackling James Bond villain that he owns “an airplane that flies underwater” and a wristwatch that “could buy a six-pack of Rolexes.” That watch, on prominent display during the Bloomberg interview, is a Richard Mille, a charming little timepiece that can retail for more than $300,000. At that price, a watch shouldn’t just tell you the time, it should allow you to travel through it, perhaps back to the Gilded Age or Versailles in 1789, just as the tumbrils rolled in. Here in the office, our $85 Timex and Seiko watches have crossed their hands over their faces in shame.

That Richard Mille watch triggered TV producer David Simon’s comment on an upcoming episode of Moyers & Company that it should be sold and used to open drug treatment centers in Baltimore, the city where Simon was a crime reporter and which served as the backdrop and central character of his classic HBO series The Wire. You can watch the complete excerpt here:

By the way, the other David Simon to whom ours refers is no longer the highest paid American. The title now goes to CBS Chair and CEO Leslie Moonves, who’s getting a salary of $60 million, and will always be remembered by us as the man who said of rampant political spending, “Super PACs may be bad for America, but they’re very good for CBS.”

Pity the rich their gluttony; it has made them blind.

The Great American Class War: Plutocracy Versus Democracy

This is an edited version of a speech Bill Moyers recently delivered at the Brennan Center for Justice. It was first published at TomDispatch.


I met Supreme Court Justice William Brennan in 1987 when I was creating a series for public television called In Search of the Constitution, celebrating the bicentennial of our founding document. By then, he had served on the court longer than any of his colleagues and had written close to 500 majority opinions, many of them addressing fundamental questions of equality, voting rights, school segregation and — in New York Times v. Sullivan in particular — the defense of a free press.

Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan in his chambers. (AP Photo)

Those decisions brought a storm of protest from across the country. He claimed that he never took personally the resentment and anger directed at him. He did, however, subsequently reveal that his own mother told him she had always liked his opinions when he was on the New Jersey court, but wondered now that he was on the Supreme Court, “Why can’t you do it the same way?” His answer: “We have to discharge our responsibility to enforce the rights in favor of minorities, whatever the majority reaction may be.”

Although a liberal, he worried about the looming size of government. When he mentioned that modern science might be creating “a Frankenstein,” I asked, “How so?” He looked around his chambers and replied, “The very conversation we’re now having can be overheard. Science has done things that, as I understand it, makes it possible through these drapes and those windows to get something in here that takes down what we’re talking about.”

That was long before the era of cyberspace and the maximum surveillance state that grows topsy-turvy with every administration. How I wish he were here now — and still on the Court! MORE

A Special Announcement from ‘Moyers & Company’

It’s been only three weeks since I announced that Moyers & Company would end, as originally planned, on January 3. It was time, I said, to turn the corner after all the years of meeting the deadlines and demands so integral to producing television. An hour broadcast every week — virtually handcrafted from many different parts — has been exciting and satisfying, even joyful to produce, but at this age and stage I was prepared to leave the field to the next generation.

What I could not anticipate was the response of our viewers. As my grandchildren would say, I was blown away. We received thousands of well-written and heartfelt messages. The outpouring is unmistakably about the importance of public broadcasting and the value many people place on our mission to offer a place for sane, calm and civil consideration of what is going on in the world.

Our funders also weighed in with an equally simple but passionate message: keep going. And they have backed those pleas with commitments of underwriting. So, I want to announce today that we indeed will continue with a half-hour weekly broadcast and multimedia offerings that will feature the trademark ideas, interviews and analysis that you have told us are important to you.

The final episode of our current series will air January 3. One week later — on January 10 — the first episode of the new series, still Moyers & Company, will premiere.

We’re very grateful for the enthusiasm and support.

– Bill Moyers

A Letter From Bill Moyers

Two years ago, thanks to the generosity of some unexpected funders and the loyalty of long-time funders, I came out of retirement with a new weekly series, Moyers & Company. Since then our team has kept a steady focus on some of the vital nerve centers of democracy: Money and politics. Economics and inequality. The world’s endangered ecology. Citizen participation in democracy. The power to inform and inspire.

We took a multimedia approach by producing programming designed for TV, web, radio and social media, and we’re impressed with the response. When New York Times television critic Mike Hale picked his “top ten” list of television shows for 2012, they included PBS’s Sherlock, TNT’s Southland, FX’s Louie, AMC’s The Killing, Showtime’s Homeland, CBS’s The Good Wife, assorted HBO documentaries and Moyers & Company. The headline read, “Still Going Strong: Detectives, Killers and Bill Moyers.” That one’s a keepsake.

So are the messages we received from viewers. Of the thousands we have received this one is a favorite: “Your show brings me to tears, and laughter, and gives me that most dangerous of gifts: hope. Thank you for that.” In turn, my team and I thank public television and radio stations for giving us the chance to serve our audience.

Although our final broadcast will air on January 3, we are exploring the possibility of continuing to serve our audience through BillMoyers.com with the goal of engaging you in the renewal of democracy. As of today, we have over 320,000 “friends” on Facebook and their number grows every day by the hundreds. They — like so many of our viewers — take their citizenship seriously.

We’d love to hear from you, our viewers, about what you’d like to see on BillMoyers.com going forward. Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. And thanks again for watching.

– Bill Moyers

A Hurricane by Any Other Name is Still…

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) identifies storms using a rotating list of first names. This year, for example, we could be in for a Hurricane Pablo, Rebekah or Sebastien. If these storms cause massive destruction — on the scale of what Sandy wrought last year — actual Pablos, Rebekahs and Sebastiens may feel less than appreciative of the WMO’s method.

350.org, the environmental activist group headed by Bill McKibben, has suggested an alternate method of identifying disastrous storms: Name them after the politicians who prevent action on climate change in Congress. That means we might see the Gulf Coast bracing for an onslaught by Hurricane David Vitter, or one of the other lawmakers called out by the group for their past statements denying climate change.

350.org has produced this video outlining their proposal:

Read more, or sign a petition to the WMO, at climatenamechange.org.

Thank You, Facebook Fans!

Bill Moyers's Facebook PageThis week we reached 250,000 fans on our Moyers & Company Facebook page. We’re thrilled that so many of you have chosen to follow us online. While we can only provide an hour of content on television each week, our journalism expands in the digital universe, perhaps the paramount venue for the conversation of democracy.

In the more than 80 hours of TV programs produced since we started Moyers & Company in 2012, we have kept a steady focus on our main beats: Money and politics. The economic system and inequality. Our endangered environment. The need for citizens to become engaged. The power of ideas to inform and inspire.

We have sought out guests who reach back into history for insight, who are exploring ideas and ways to achieve a fairer and just future, and who have gone beyond self to engage in what could be called “compassion in action.” MORE

John Lewis Marches On

Bill Moyers and Rep. John Lewis at the Lincoln Memorial (Credit: Peter Nelson)

Bill Moyers and Rep. John Lewis at the Lincoln Memorial (Credit: Peter Nelson)

I’m writing to let you know of one of the most important and engaging broadcasts we’ve done in this series. Fifty years ago on August 28, 1963, more than a quarter-million people descended on the nation’s capital in a peaceful petition for “jobs and freedoms” that became the historic March on Washington. Ten civil rights leaders addressed the nation that day from the Lincoln Memorial. One of course was Martin Luther King, Jr., with his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. But the youngest speaker of the day — and the only one still living — was 23-year-old John Lewis, then head of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. Lewis had been almost beaten to death two years earlier in the Freedom Rides of 1961. Two years after the March on Washington, he would almost be beaten to death a second time. He survived and is today the representative for the 5th U.S. Congressional District of Georgia.

Earlier this summer John Lewis took me back to the spot at the Lincoln Memorial where he had led off the speakers on that historic day. As we walked up the steps, he was surrounded by young people visiting Washington who were fascinated to meet this American icon in person. With Abraham Lincoln looking down on us, John Lewis recounted for the children what had unfolded there half a century ago. Later, in Lewis’ office, we pored over photographs and mementos of that day and that era when our history was transformed.

My team and I have brought these elements together in a moving portrait of a man who has lived his life with extraordinary moral consistency and courage. The broadcast airs this upcoming weekend (check local listings) on Moyers & Company, one month before the 50th anniversary itself. I hope you’ll join us.

In the meantime, enjoy these two previews from the show, as well as a detailed look at the changes Lewis was encouraged to make in his speech just before he began.

 

 

Obama Budget Ignores African-American Jobs Crisis

Campaign for America’s Future blogger Isaiah J. Poole writes about some hard truths in the African-American community that he hopes President Obama and the Democratic Party will keep in mind as they debate budget cuts in the coming weeks and months. He points out that Friday’s jobs report shows that more than one in eight African Americans is looking for a job — twice the white unemployment rate.

Citing a number of recent reports, Poole lays out what he refers to as a “crisis” in the African-American community warning the president and Democrats that they better start paying attention or suffer the consequences at the ballot box.

When President Obama formally unveils his fiscal 2014 budget on Wednesday, a lot of the progressive movement focus will be on his plan to cut Social Security benefits through a reduced cost-of-living adjustment called the “chained CPI.” But there will be another scandalous policy decision reflected in that budget as well, and this one is a sin of omission: There will not be an all-out effort to address the depression-level unemployment conditions among African Americans. MORE

Five Great Online Tools for Mining Public Records

This post first appeared on the Project On Government Oversight blog.

The homepage of the Recovery.gov website. The website was created under the Recovery Act to help Americans track government spending of Recovery funds, including contracts, grants and loans.
The homepage of the Recovery.gov website. The website was created under the Recovery Act to help Americans track government spending of Recovery funds, including contracts, grants and loans.

Thanks to our open records laws, you can find a treasure trove of information on the Web — everything from details about publically traded companies to where stimulus funds are going. You can even submit Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests online.

Take some time this week to educate yourself about the information and data available from government websites. Below are five great online tools that you can use to help hold government accountable.

FOIA Online

FOIA Online allows anyone to submit a Freedom of Information Act request online, track their request, and search past FOIA requests. Currently the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Commerce, Federal Labor Regulations Authority, Merit System Protections Board, and the National Archives and Records Administration use FOIA Online.

One of the great things about FOIA Online is that you do not have to be registered to submit or search FOIA requests. This makes it incredibly easy for anyone to begin research into what is going on in different agencies and departments of the U.S. government.

Recovery.gov

Recovery.gov was established by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, commonly known as the “Stimulus,” and is managed by the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board. It shows the distribution of all Recovery funds and how each agency is spending the money. Agencies involved must submit weekly financial reports that describe how the funds allotted to them are being distributed, and those who received contracts, grants, and loan awards of Recovery funds must submit similar reports four times per year.

Recovery.gov not only allows the public to view, research, and review the information, but it offers the ability to report suspected fraud, waste or abuse that relates to the Stimulus. MORE

Why Republicans Should Take on Inequality

Sheila Bair on Moyers & Company.
(Credit: Dale Robbins)

In an op-ed published in The New York Times yesterday, Sheila Bair, the George W. Bush-appointed chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation from 2006 through 2011, wrote that recent research by economist Emmanuel Saez should prompt Republicans to rethink their policies.

Saez studies income inequality in America, which reached a 90-year-high in 2007, immediately before the financial crisis. And Saez’s recent studies have found that, since 2009, inequality is again on the rise. The economy’s gradual recovery is only a recovery for the one percent: In the last two years, the richest Americans have seen their incomes grow by 11 percent, while the bottom 99 percent of Americans saw their incomes shrink by 0.4 percent. MORE

Watch ‘The Revisionaries’ on Independent Lens

Last year, we took a look at some of the proposed changes members of the Texas School Board had requested be made to textbooks used in the state’s schools. Because Texas has such a huge school system serving nearly 5 million schoolchildren, many of the textbook changes that get made in Texas end up making their way into school books across the country. Over 100 amendments were debated — many of which had a very clear conservative political agenda.

Later this week we’ll be hitting the books again with our guest, activist Zack Kopplin. The Louisiana native became alarmed when he realized that a law that passed the state legislature was making it easier to teach creationism in public schools. Kopplin wrote a research paper on the law when he was just 14 years old. He assumed someone else would take on the law. No one did. So Kopplin started a campaign to repeal the law. He worked with Sir Harry Kroto, a British chemist who shared the 1996 Nobel Prize in chemistry, to write a letter opposing the law that was signed by 78 Nobel laureates. He’s also drafted three bills, two of which have been introduced in the Louisiana state legislature. MORE

Mass Incarceration and the New Jim Crow

(AP Photo/David Goldman)
(AP Photo/David Goldman)

In the latest installment of his excellent New York Times series, Time and Punishment, John Tierney writes that mass incarceration trends of the past 30 years may have done more to harm crime-ridden communities and their residents than help them. As the number of prisoners has risen and the length of sentences has grown, Tierney writes:

The shift to tougher penal policies three decades ago was originally credited with helping people in poor neighborhoods by reducing crime. But now that America’s incarceration rate has risen to be the world’s highest, many social scientists find the social benefits to be far outweighed by the costs to those communities.

“Prison has become the new poverty trap,” said Bruce Western, a Harvard sociologist. “It has become a routine event for poor African-American men and their families, creating an enduring disadvantage at the very bottom of American society.”

Among African Americans who have grown up during the era of mass incarceration, one in four has had a parent locked up at some point during childhood. For black men in their 20s and early 30s without a high school diploma, the incarceration rate is so high — nearly 40 percent nationwide — that they’re more likely to be behind bars than to have a job.

According to a report from the Sentencing Project, a justice reform group, 75 percent of black males in Washington, D.C. can expect to go to prison or jail during their lifetime. Longer sentences mean many spend decades behind bars — well into middle and old age — even though studies have shown that the likelihood of committing a crime drops steeply once a man enters his 30s.
MORE

Analyzing the State of the Union Address

Did you watch President Obama’s State of the Union address last night? Here’s a roundup of articles and analysis that we found interesting this morning. In the comments section, share links to your favorite articles, as well as your thoughts about the speech, the president’s policy ideas and his priorities.

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio listens at right as President Barack Obama gives his State of the Union address during a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday Feb. 12, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, Pool)

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio listens at right as President Barack Obama gives his State of the Union address during a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday Feb. 12, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, Pool)


In State of the Union, Obama Presents a Powerful Progressive Agenda
“In the first State of the Union address of his second term, President Barack Obama sent a clear signal: He will vigorously pursue an unambiguous progressive agenda in his final years as president. Universal preschool, boosting the minimum wage, passing gun-safety legislation—Obama delivered a left-of-center demand list for Congress and his administration.” David Corn, Mother Jones MORE

The Fight to Curb a Consumer Watchdog

Barack Obama, Richard Cordray
Barack Obama and Richard Cordray. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

A letter sent to the president at the beginning of February from 43 Senate Republicans promised, once again, to oppose Richard Cordray, his pick to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, when he comes up for a confirmation vote. As one of four controversial recess appointments Obama made in January 2012, Cordray will need to pass a Senate confirmation vote at the end of the year — and maybe sooner — to stay in his job. But his precarious situation hasn’t kept Cordray from getting things done: Among other accomplishments, the CFPB has halted predatory practice by mortgage lenders and won an $85 million settlement with American Express.

From the beginning, Republican Senators have opposed the CFPB, a regulatory agency created by 2010′s Dodd-Frank legislation to protect the public from the kind of lending practices that contributed to the financial crisis. In May 2011, nearly all Senate Republicans signed a letter, promisingthey would block any nominee to head the bureau — by filibuster, if necessary — until key structural changes were made to the agency. Obama waited half a year for the Senate to vote on Cordray’s nomination before bypassing the Senate confirmation process with a recess appointment. At the same time, he appointed three nominees opposed by Republicans to the National Labor Relations Board. Last month, a federal appeals court ruled that Obama overstepped his bounds with the NLRB appointments, a decision that, if upheld by the Supreme Court, will likely extend to Cordray. Even if he is allowed to stay in his post, recess appointments only last for two years and Cordray’s will expire by the end of 2013. MORE

‘Rise of the Drones’

In case you missed it, last night’s episode of NOVA, “Rise of the Drones”, provides a fascinating look at the technology behind unmanned aircraft and the impact it will have on the future of warfare. Drones are about to become much more sophisticated (and probably more deadly) through the use of robotics and artificial intelligence. Watch it in advance of next week’s Moyers & Company, in which Bill will be speaking with Vince Warren and Vicki Divoll about the legal and moral implications of drone strikes, and, more broadly, civil liberties and executive power during a time of terrorism. MORE

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