As President Bush met with key leaders in the Middle East to discuss his “road map” for peace, the fate of numerous settlements in the West Bank were central to the debate. While the settlements have been opposed by many US administrations, Israel has been the largest recipient of US economic and military aid. Some $3 billion a year since 1979 has been aimed at reducing Israel’s defense spending burden. But exactly where does the American aid go? NOW examines how Israel has found billions for the controversial building of settlements in the world’s most contested land.
Next, Bill Moyers and Harvard professor and expert on social policy issues Theda Skocpol discussed the rise and dominance of the GOP, the politics behind a new tax bill, and how the decline in public involvement threatens our democracy. Skocpol is an author and the Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology and the Director of the Center for American Political Studies at Harvard University. Her book, Diminished Democracy: From Membership to Management in American Civic Life, analyzes the vanishing role of civic participation and what it means for America.
In the heart of Florida’s panhandle, a million untouched acres of forests, wetlands, swamps, coastline and beachfront were in danger of becoming casualties of development. The St. Joe Company, a former paper company and Florida’s largest private landowner, wanted to turn its real estate into revenue by undertaking an unprecedented development project that would forever change an area that experts say is one of the most environmentally sensitive in the nation. NOW examines the political influence of the Florida developer St. Joe Company and looks at how the company’s plans for roads and a new airport may leave taxpayers footing the bill. Moyers ends the show with his thoughts on Martha Stewart’s indictment.
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You can access the original Web page for this program at the archived NOW With Bill Moyers website.
Moyers: Welcome to NOW.
There is no more controversial or volatile place in the world than what has come to be called the West Bank.
The West Bank is that small coin of land between the Jordan River and Jerusalem, some 25 to 40 miles wide and 80 miles north to south, smaller than a modest Texas ranch. This postage stamp of land is at the heart of the feud between Palestinians and Israelis, Semitic cousins who can’t stand each other but can’t let each other alone.
Palestinians see the West Bank as home base for the state they want to establish and run themselves. Israel, meanwhile, has been planting outposts there, and growing them into permanent settlements, as a buffer for security and because many Jews believe God once gave them this land in perpetuity, as holy ground.
President Bush made a bold and admirable effort this week to get Israelis and Palestinians back on the road to peace, but soon discovered that it will take a miracle greater than the parting of the Red Sea to resolve the question of the settlements.
With Mr. Bush twisting his arm, Prime Minister Sharon said he just might consider closing down some of the more recent and makeshift outposts if the Palestinians stop the suicide bombings. That’s not enough, Palestinians replied: what about all those settlements that would remain as a permanent thorn in the side of any Palestinian state? The story gets more complicated.
American taxpayers provide Israel with some $3 billion of aid every year, and some Israelis now are claiming that millions of those tax dollars may have been used by Israel to fund those settlements. My colleague Bob Abeshouse is just back from the West Bank, where he tried to follow the money trail.
Abeshouse: I came to the settlement of Ariel because of it’s strategic location, midway between the Mediterranean sea and the Jordan River, deep in the West Bank. There are 140 settlements crammed into an area the size of Delaware. Ariel is one of the largest. Long and narrow, it’s a growing town of 18,000 with a college, hundreds of new homes under construction, and several Palestinian villages nearby.
Nachman: I led a group of people to this barren hill, there was nothing here, nothing.
Abeshouse: Ron Nachman is the mayor of Ariel.
Nachman: That is the beginning of the city. You see me here showing with my hand what is going to be here. That is another picture, you see me trying to persuade the people to come to settle in a future setttlement.
Abeshouse: Nachman wrote the master plan for Ariel in the early 1970s, shortly after Israel captured the territories in the 1967 war. At the time, there were only about a thousand settlers in less than two dozen settlements in the West Bank.
Nachman: They called us the young generation to volunteer to the army and to the settlements. So I volunteered to the settlements.
Abeshouse: According to UN resolutions, the West Bank is occupied territory. It’s the center of a dispute between the Israelis and the Palestinians. For three decades, Israeli governments have financed settlements here. They believed it would enhance Israeli security and maintain access to a precious resource — water. Furthermore, many Israelis say God promised this land to the Jews. They call it by the biblical names Judea and Samaria.
Nachman: This is in the heart of Samaria and under the surface of the land there is the water aquifer. One third of the Israeli water is coming from this area so if you control the land, you control what is above and what is below.
Abeshouse: According to the State Department, the US gives aid to Israel with the understanding that it will not be used in the territories Israel captured in 1967. But many people claim American money is used to build settlements like Ariel. I came to the West Bank to try to find out the truth.
Abeshouse: Can you give me a sense for how much it cost to build the city?
Nachman: What’s the question how much it cost, is it for sale? Now people want to buy Ariel, give me a billion, $2 billion, let’s talk. What kind of stuff — it’s not serious.
Abeshouse: But that depends on your definition of serious. In fact, Israel is the largest recipient of American aid, totaling some $3 billion a year in military and non-military assistance since 1979. American aid is meant to reduce the economic burden on Israel, a small nation surrounded by enemies. The country has a tiny economy and enormous military costs, yet it has found billions to invest in building these settlements.
And now the settlements are at the center of the debate over what’s known as the Roadmap: the American-backed plan that calls for a freeze on the growth of settlements and their eventual removal, to make way for a Palestinian state.
Tamari: Settlement activity keeps us worried as Palestinians, uncertain about the future. And we don’t know the end of it.
Abeshouse: Salah Tamari sits on the Palestinian Authority’s legislative council.
Tamari: We believe deeply that settlements and peace do not go hand in hand. On the contrary, settlements and conflict go hand in hand.
Abeshouse: Akiva Eldar agrees. He is a journalist for one of Israel’s leading newspapers, HAARETZ. He has reported on the settlements for close to thirty years, and is currently writing a book about them.
Eldar: Ariel represents, if you look at the map, it’s sticking a finger into the eye of the Palestinians. The idea was of course to cut the West Bank, you know, from all the way from the west to the east to allow Israeli troops to get to the Jordan Valley.
Abeshouse: Ariel is one of the lynchpins in a system of settlements that have sprung up along roads dividing the West Bank.
Abeshouse: Do you have any idea how much Israel has spent on building and supporting the settlements?
Eldar: Nobody can tell you exactly how much money. It goes up to $60 billion, which is the equivalent of 30 years of American economic aid to Israel. But it is very hard to figure out.
Abeshouse: One reason it’s hard, I discovered, is that Israeli government ministries do not leave a paper trail. They don’t make it easy to know how much money was spent on land development, mortgage grants and other benefits used to entice Israelis to settle in the West Bank. Israelis like Lawrence Shafer.
Shafer: There’s a lot of people in the outside world think that we all live here because we’re all very right wing fanatics. No, we’re people who do not have enough money to afford to buy a flat. But we want to give something to our children.
Abeshouse: Lawrence moved to Ariel with his wife Menucha and their two children 12 years ago. He is a salesman. Like most settlers, he commutes to work on the other side of the green line, the border between Israel proper and the West Bank.
Shafer: We’ve always wanted to buy our own house. And to buy a house inside inland Israel costs three times what it costs in Ariel.
Abeshouse: The government offered the Shafers a 5 percent income tax reduction and a grant worth about $12,000 to move to the West Bank.
Shafer: If we stay here 15 years in Ariel we don’t have to repay it.
Abeshouse: When you hear people say that the reason people came to settle in the territories is because of subsidies, what’s your response to that?
Nachman: I say very nice. That’s good policy, why not? Excellent.
Abeshouse: Most of the homes are built by private contractors, but the government has spearheaded development in the settlements. In fact, a report by Peace Now, a group opposed to occupation, estimates that government non-military spending in the territories for 2001 alone totaled about $500 million. The report also pointed out that American non-military aid that year came to about $800 million, which would have more than paid for settlement activity. But does that mean American money is funding the settlements?
Nachman: They never used American money to build here. This is Israeli money. Not American money.
Eldar: The name of the game is fungibility.
Abeshouse: Fungibility. It’s a word I would hear over and over in my reporting. Fungibility means that once American taxpayer money is sent to Israel as aid and goes into the same pot as Israeli tax revenues, there is no difference between Israeli money and American money. So it becomes impossible to trace where American aid goes.
Eldar: You don’t put it directly into the settlements. You use it for something else, but then you have free money from the Israeli budget to put it into infrastructure. And you know what? The Americans know it. They turn a blind eye.
Abeshouse: The fact that American money was available, didn’t that free up other money for the government?
Nachman: Maybe yes, Maybe yes. So what?
Abeshouse: Whether or not Mayor Nachman is using American taxpayer money in Ariel, he is very good at raising private American money and getting private enterprise to the West Bank like the Texas mini-golf and burger stand.
Homer and Ruby Owen are Evangelicals from Waco, Texas, so-called Christian-Zionists. They moved to Ariel three years ago to open their business. But they also have a religious purpose. They support the settlements because like Mayor Nachman they believe that God promised this land to the Jews.
Ruby: Lots of Christians have put money in Ariel projects.
Abeshouse: But there is a twist. Christian-Zionists believe God only promised the land to the Jews temporarily in order to pave the way for the second coming of Christ.
Homer: So we are the people that God’s bringing from the four corners of the earth to encourage the Jewish people especially in the so-called disputed territory God does not want you to give not one single inch that you are to possess. And we are here to help you do that.
Abeshouse: Christian-Zionists are pouring money into Israel. But that’s not the only way they are supporting Israeli settlement of the West Bank, says journalist Akiva Eldar.
Eldar: The most important thing is that they have so much influence in Washington, that they are so influential in the White House and in Congress.
Abeshouse: Eldar believes that a powerful alliance of Christian-Zionists and conservative Jewish supporters of Israel is one reason why US opposition to the settlements has weakened over the years.
Eldar: Right after ’67 the official American policy was that the settlements are illegal. Now in certain circles in the United States they don’t talk about the occupied territories anymore. They say the disputed territories.
Abeshouse: All this is a far cry from 10 years ago when it seemed the door to peace was open. It was 1993 on the White House lawn. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat had just signed the Oslo peace accords. Now they shook hands for the first time. The accords promised a Palestinian state in return for Israeli security. The signers envisioned a slowing of settlement growth and the removal of settlements. Instead, since that day in 1993, the number of settlers on the West Bank has doubled — from about 100,000 to 200,000. Driving around the West Bank, I saw many of the more than 100 settlement outposts that have staked out new ground in the last seven years. From a few trailers on a hilltop, which is how new settlements start, to entire compounds hooked up to water and electricity.
Barak: A week after I was elected, I went to meet Arafat and this issue was raised by him.
Abeshouse: Ehud Barak was Prime Minister of Israel from 1999 to 2001. Investment in the settlements was high during his administration, while he was negotiating with Yasir Arafat during the continuing peace process. I asked him if American aid had helped pay for the settlement building boom.
Barak: Any kind of money is on principle, fungible. But basically this aid was swallowed by our defense budget on the one hand and by the need to support an economy that are running against all odds in terms of the investment in defense.
Abeshouse: Do you think that regardless of American aid that it was a priority for the Israeli nation and that the sacrifices would have been made domestically to build those settlements?
Barak: It’s not an easy question to answer and it of course at the heart of the present dispute in Israel between right and left about how to continue toward peace.
Abeshouse: And no place is more important to peace than Jerusalem, perhaps the most contested territory in the world. I came to the outskirts of the city to meet Jeff Halper, an anthropologist and peace activist who believes Israel should get out of the occupied territories. He was born in Minnesota, but has lived in Israel for 30 years and is an Israeli citizen.
Halper: Way in the distance there’s other settlements over there. All of those make up the outer ring of settlements that will eventually be part of what we call greater Jerusalem that controls the center part of the West Bank.
Abeshouse: Halper says the growth of settlements around Jerusalem, and those near Ariel, are dividing the West Bank into pieces, which is just what Palestinians fear — isolated enclaves instead of contiguous Palestinian territory. Halper says one of the greatest threats they face is the road grid connecting the settlements to Israel.
Halper: The grid has two purposes. One is to create an irreversible situation where the West Bank and Jerusalem could never be detached from Israel because they’re simply a part of the same grid. There’s one highway grid, there’s one urban grid, there’s one electrical grid, there’s one water system. And then the other function from the point of view of the Palestinians is to prevent the establishment of a viable Palestinian state.
Abeshouse: Hundreds of kilometers of new roads carving up the West Bank were built in the 1990s, along with expensive tunnels and bridges. The total cost is impossible to know, but Halper and others I spoke to estimated the spending at hundreds of millions of dollars.
And now there is a new highway being built near Har Homa, a Jerusalem housing complex close to Bethlehem.
Halper: It’s a major new construction project. It’s a highway that cuts all the way through from Jerusalem to the whole south of the West Bank connecting all the settlements on the way. It’s about a $25 million project. It’s really the development that the road permits that significant. And that is a thickening of the Israeli settlements from Jerusalem down south.
Abeshouse: That’s what worries Salah Tamari. He’s the Palestinian Authority representative for the Palestinian towns most affected by the new road. I met him near his village overlooking the new construction slicing through the hills.
Tamari: This road will cut through every village. It turns the Palestinian areas into sort of ghettos isolated from one another.
Abeshouse: Do roads like this make it harder to get a deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians?
Tamari: Of course, the project was canceled several times before.
Abeshouse: What’s the relationship in your mind between the American aid and projects like this?
Tamari: Without the American aid, I don’t think Israel would be able to do such projects.
Abeshouse: Journalists and politicians call this new highway Lieberman’s road, for Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s transportation minister. I followed the road to its end, to the small settlement of Nokdeem where Lieberman lives.
Lieberman: This road is all a question of security.
Abeshouse: Ask Lieberman how much Israel spent on settlements and roads, he responds by talking about biblical rights.
Lieberman: This place it’s very important for our tradition, for our religion. It’s not a question of money. It’s not a question of economic policies. It’s a question of your jurisdiction of your policy, of your right for this land.
Eldar: It is very clear to me that American money was abused to finance paving roads and infrastructure in the West Bank because otherwise, the Israeli ministry of finance didn’t have the money.
Abeshouse: The fact is I could never learn the absolute truth about how American money is spent here. But there is no question that US dollars support a religious version of absolute truth which is at the heart of the controversy here.
Homer: God gave the boundaries and they are very clear in scripture. The hills of Zion, the hills of Samaria — this is the heartland of Israel. Many of the Jews are willing to give part of it away for peace. They shouldn’t do that. They really shouldn’t do that.
Abeshouse: And in the end, Mayor Nachman says it isn’t the money that matters.
Nachman: What do they think, that because of the fact that they are not giving us money or they want to cut that sum of money so we will not be living here? We have all the rights to do it from the Bible, the origin of civilization. While no other country in the world can show its rights to its territory. We are the only ones in the world. And when you have the right and you are right you win.
Moyers: So you can see why the task President Bush took on this week is so formidable. The mere talk that Prime Minister Sharon might consider ending the occupation of the Palestinian territory sent thousands of Jewish settlers angrily into the streets of Jerusalem to protest. They feel betrayed by the very idea.
But, not to worry, Sharon is committed, quote, to “dividing the territories of Judea and Samaria into tiny Palestinian cantons,” according to an influential Israeli commentator. They will be “cut off one from the other, fenced in and surrounded by a plethora of Jewish settlers.” Last month, the United States gave Israel $9 billion in loan guarantees on top of the $3 billion in direct aid the country receives every year.
Meanwhile, a poll conducted around the world by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center reports that by wide margins most Muslims surveyed believe the needs of Palestinians cannot be met so long as the state of Israel exists.
And yesterday the terrorist group Hamas said it won’t agree to stop killing Jews. This morning, after Hamas broke off talks with Palestinian prime minister Abu Mazen, the United States denounced the organization as an “enemy of peace.”
Moyers: Some years ago I read an essay that told me something I had never thought about before, but should have. It said that in just a couple of centuries we Americans had altered the face of this continent beyond anything our forebears would recognize.
I think of that often now when I see our teeming cities, our burgeoning suburbs, the ways we have even altered the course of our mighty rivers. I thought of it earlier this spring when I read a story by a reporter named Craig Pittman in the St. Petersburg Times. We followed up on that story, because when you talk about how the American landscape is changing, you can’t help but talk about Florida.
Our report was produced by Gregory Henry and Kathleen Hughes.
Hughes: There are fewer and fewer places like this in America today, long stretches of unspoiled beach, pristine estuaries, and miles of forest. This is Florida’s Panhandle, a place where there are more pine trees than people.
But if one company has its way, this place may be changing forever.
The corporation that owns much of this land is called the St. Joe Company. It’s named after one of the few towns down here. Now it wants to use its political muscle to build new ones to transform the region — and it wants taxpayers to help pay for it.
Hiaasen: They’re getting a huge amount of help from the taxpayers not even aware of it. And that’s why the Panhandle is such an apt name for this area. Because that’s what — St. Joe is panhandling off the taxpayer and they don’t want you to know that.
Hughes: St. Joe is Florida’s largest private landowner, a former paper company that began life in this old mill in the 1930s.
During the depression, it bought up millions of acres of timber — acres that sprawl across more than eight counties in Florida’s Panhandle. Incredibly large holdings that combined are nearly the size of the Grand Canyon National Park with hundreds of miles of forests, wetlands and swamps — 39 miles of precious coastline.
And it was all virtually untouched until 1996, when St. Joe got out of the paper business, deciding the real money was in real estate.
Pittman: Suddenly they had gone from being this very old line stodgy paper mill company, industrial operation, and then suddenly, boom, they’re on the move, and they’re developing.
Hughes: Craig Pittman covers the environment for the St. Petersburg Times. His investigation unveiled the scope of the company’s plans — plans that would not only transform the region’s economy, but its identity.
Pittman: They’d say, “No. No. We don’t call it the Panhandle. That has a bad connotation. Panhandling. We prefer to call it Florida’s Great Northwest.”
We even ran a picture in the paper of President Bush making a speech in Panama City under that big banner that said Welcome to Florida’s Great Northwest.”
Hughes: But there’s a problem in the Great Northwest. St. Joe’s plans are so big that no one state agency exists to oversee them all. And many locals are concerned about the potential economic and environmental upheaval they might bring.
Pittman: The state’s growth management laws are not set up to deal with it, local planners are not really equipped to deal with this sort of thing. Everybody is just kind of overwhelmed by the St. Joe steamroller. Nobody has a grip on what St. Joe’s doing really, except St. Joe.
Hughes: One of the roughly 20 projects underway, is right in the company’s hometown of Port St. Joe. The old paper mill is being torn down here and word is that new condominiums will replace it. Just down the street, St. Joe is putting up a development it wants to market as both new and old. They call it WindMark.
Pittman: They’re selling a specific kind of product that they call placemaking, where they’re attempting to make it something unique, something with a type of character that would appeal to folks who are interested in that kind of slower pace of life, even if by building this they wipe out that slower pace of life.
Hughes: The company is marketing the community’s “folksy charm” and “local color.” It says WindMark will be “A brand new bit of Old Florida.”
When completed, WindMark will include more than 1000 homes, shops, and maybe even a golf course. The starting price for a waterfront lot? More than a half-million dollars. Yet the average person living here makes less than $30,000 a year.
Hiaasen: The folks living there now, they’re not going to be able to afford to live in these houses. They’re not going to be able to afford to pay the greens fees at these golf courses. I mean, who are they kidding?
Hughes: Miami Herald columnist and best selling novelist Carl Hiaasen has made a career of chronicling the downside of Florida’s development.
Hiaasen: It’s the folks who have lived their lives there or who raised their families there. People who are really sort of innocent bystanders in all this. And the shame of it is, they’re being told this is your future.
Hughes: That’s an opinion the people at St Joe take issue with. Billy Buzzett is the company’s director of special projects for the region.
Buzzett: One of the things we’re interested in being is part of the population, part of complementing what’s here, not competing with it, and clearly not changing it.
We don’t want to over-develop. We know that people are coming here because of the environment, not in spite of it, and we want to be a part of that.
Hughes: But the Panhandle’s relatively untouched environment is already changing. Last year a Forest Service report said many of the rare species of plants and animals here are threatened by development. Still, St. Joe claims it can protect the environment and transform the landscape.
Buzzett: So if there’s anybody who can do it right, we can do it right. If there’s anybody who doesn’t have to squeeze every square inch out of a piece of land, we can do that, too.
Hughes: Buzzett says that the company has even hired a former Nature Conservancy director to help preserve sensitive lands. But, it’s also made millions in the process, selling more than 120,000 acres of that land to both the state and conservation groups over the past three years.
Hiaasen: They’re not losing money there. They’re making money off of that. Off their own generosity. Even that’s a profit-making action.
Every cheese ball developer in Florida does that when he comes in. It’s the same deal. They have to. “Oh, you want a park? We’ll build you a little park over here. And maybe we’ll even throw in some money for some swings, you know. And a sandbox.” And then they get a little plaque. And everybody’s happy and then they get noticed in the paper. Gee, St. Joe donated this for a park. Whoop-dee-do. While they’re paving the rest of your town, you can go sit in the park and watch.
Hughes: And according to Craig Pittman, there are good reasons to be skeptical. The company has already been caught playing fast and loose with the facts near this aquatic preserve 45 miles east of Port St. Joe. It owns the shoreline here and intends to turn it into a playground for the well to do. One called SummerCamp.
Pittman: When they first started working on SummerCamp, folks from the environmental community, state representatives from that area went to them and said, “Hey, look, what are you building here? Uh, you’ve got plans for Franklin County?”
“Oh, no, no, no,” they were told, “No, no. We’re not planning anything big here.”
“Uh, we hear rumors about a marina.”
“No, no. We’re not planning any sort of marina, it’s just, you know a real small little development, no, not a big deal.”
Hughes: The ecology here is one of the most diverse in the country. More than 10 percent of America’s oysters are harvested nearby, and thousands of acres of sea grasses act as a nursery for Florida’s prized game fish. It’s an environment easily damaged by too much boat traffic.
Pittman: And suddenly the plans come out and it’s a 26 split marina, with storage for 200 boats and it’s for the thousands of people up in Tallahassee, that they’ll all be coming down. And, oh my God, it’s just huge. And there were a lot of people who looked at that and said, “St. Joe speaks with a forked tongue.”
Hughes: St. Joe’s original plans not only envisioned a marina, but a hotel, shops and 499 houses. Why 499? Because one more house would trigger a state environmental review.
And that’s under a law that St. Joe successfully lobbied to change just two years ago. Before the law was changed, building only 250 new homes would have started that review.
A concerned coalition of environmental groups pressured the company to scale back the project.
Johnson: We don’t think it’s as simple as just saying no to St. Joe. We think that telling them that they need to do it right is the proper way to go.
Hughes: Paul Johnson is a director of the Apalachee Ecological Conservancy and one of those who held the company’s feet to the fire.
Johnson: A lot of people feel that to stand in front of the bulldozer will stop it, but we feel that we would be more effective in telling St. Joe where the bulldozer needs to go, or more importantly, where it doesn’t need to go.
Hughes: Last winter St. Joe agreed to drop plans for the marina at SummerCamp and the company now says it will cluster the new homes so that nearly 70 percent of the site will remain as is.
Pittman: SummerCamp is maybe the closest thing to an environmentally sensitive development that St. Joe’s got because they screwed up in the beginning and they tried to be, you know, they tried to be clever about it and it backfired on them.
Hughes: But since then, most of the company’s other projects seem to be moving forward with few setbacks. The man heading the effort is Peter Rummel, St. Joe’s president and CEO.
Rummel: The things we do are large scale. Nobody else does things in this region does things on the scale that we do them.
Hughes: Rummel came to St. Joe in 1997 from the Walt Disney Company. He was a driving force behind the 2000 home community of Celebration, Florida.
He also led Disney’s controversial effort to build a theme park right next to a Civil War battlefield in Manassas, Virginia. But this project is by far his most ambitious.
Pittman: Their ultimate goal, and they make no bones about this, is to create a sort of domino effect. They would begin by developing along the coastline, the most desirable property of all, and then the next step back, a little bit further inland, so then they develop there.
Well, that creates demand for development behind that. And as they kind of, you know, as the dominos fall eventually they go all the way up to, to the Alabama state line.
They call that, “creating value to the nth degree.”
Hughes: But creating that kind of value takes more than owning the land, it takes political influence. During the 2000 elections, Peter Rummell and his wife gave $20,000 to the Republican Party.
For the past six years, St. Joe has made campaign contributions to more than 100 candidates in both parties for Florida state offices. And its subsidiary, Arvida, made additional donations to many of the same candidates, among them, two of the state’s most powerful officials, State Senate President Jim King and Governor Jeb Bush.
Hiaasen: If it was Democrats who were the front runners they’d be throwing money at them, too. I mean, they bet on the winners.
Hughes: And when it comes to beating back local opposition, St. Joe’s political connections can come in handy. To make their folksy WindMark development attractive to wealthy buyers, St. Joe wants to provide as much beachfront access as possible. But there’s a problem. A road’s in the way.
US 98, a scenic coastal highway that runs the length of the Panhandle, cuts right through St. Joe’s beachfront property. And instead of moving WindMark, St. Joe wanted to move the highway.
One county commissioner, fearing the community would lose access to the beach, called for a non-binding referendum— nothing with the force of law, simply as a way to express public opinion on the record.
But after this meeting of county planning commission, that ceased to be a problem for St Joe. It happened in January 2002.
See that man walking to the podium? His name is Clay Smallwood. He volunteers his time as chair of a board that advises the Commission. According to Craig Pittman, right before this meeting, Smallwood met privately with each of the commissioners, letting them know he was submitting a resolution to move the highway, effectively killing the referendum.
Pittman: He told them, “This is coming up. I’m going to bring it up, this is what I want you to do.” And three of them went along with it.
Hughes: The “fix” was in. Clay Smallwood also happens to be a St. Joe executive.
Pittman: The public didn’t get any notice that this was going to come up. There was no chance for, you know, hundreds of people to show up and complain. It just ran right on through. St. Joe got what it wanted.
Hughes: Nearly four miles of US 98 will be moved at St. Joe’s expense. And the company promises to give the public two points of access to the private beach.
But St. Joe also wants two more highways built through the Panhandle at public expense.
Governor Bush has already earmarked 2 million state dollars toward one of those: a new four-lane highway cutting across swampland owned by St. Joe. The company is also asking for a new $700 million interstate connecting the Panhandle’s coast to Alabama. That goes through, it would require not only state, but federal tax money.
Hiaasen: Florida has a grand history of accommodating developers who can’t get their suckers to a particular area to buy land. We’ll just build ’em a road.
Hughes: But suppose people want to fly, not drive, to Florida’s Great Northwest? There’s a plan involving state and federal tax dollars for that, too.
Pittman: St. Joe wants to make it easier to get to their developments. One of the big things they want is a brand new airport for the Panama City area, not in Panama City, because they’re not building in Panama City. They want it 20 miles outside of town, next to a state forest in an area where they own the surrounding 70 thousand acres.
Hughes: But there already is an airport in Panama City. It was renovated only seven years ago and has been operating at less than 50 percent capacity. Still, St. Joe wants to shut that one down and build a bigger one in the forest, right in the middle of a huge tract of land on which it has plans to build its biggest project yet.
Pittman: The net result is the tail wagging the dog. Ideally you build transportation projects in order to accommodate a need. And instead I think they’re building, they want to build these transportation projects in order to create a need.
Hughes: Estimated cost of St. Joe’s new airport? $200 million — the bulk of which will be paid for by taxpayers.
Male Voice, WMBB-TV, Panama City, Florida (from tape): Governor, you talk about reducing government, yet this airport project’s gonna cost something like $200 million in state, federal, and local tax money. And a lot of the critics say, “Hey, don’t let this air — the existing airport’s not even being utilized.”
Gov. Jeb Bush (from tape): The critics will have many forums to be able to discuss their views on this. I mean, that will be a community decision.
Kathleen Hughes: Or will it? The recent record isn’t encouraging.
The Governor, whose former real estate company recently sold a one-third interest to St. Joe, has been one of the airport’s biggest cheerleaders. He recently traveled to Panama City to promote the idea for which he’s already budgeted $10 million of state funding.
But Gov. Bush is not the only influential person paying attention to the airport. The man St. Joe hired as their lobbyist is William Harrison. He was also the local chairman of both Jeb and George W. Bush’s last campaigns through the Panhandle.
Critics say that with these kinds of connections, the future of the airport will be anything but a ‘community decision.’
Hedrick: This airport seems to be being set up for just one company’s large benefit, that is, the St. Joe Company’s, to have it benefit their property.
Hughes: Jon Hedrick is the founder of the Panhandle Citizens Coalition. Last spring he and his colleagues went door to door in an effort to get enough signatures for a local referendum on the airport.
Hedrick: Citizens have the right and the ability to be able to be the ones that are actually shaping their own destiny and not leave it up to a developer or several developers.
Hughes: But even though opponents thought they had enough signatures, the city commission is arguing that the airport falls under state, not local control and has refused to get involved. The coalition is challenging that decision in court.
Meanwhile, the St. Joe Steamroller rumbles on.
Buzzett: We think doing it differently doesn’t mean that you can’t protect the environment. And doing it differently doesn’t mean that you can’t make a fair return for your shareholders. And at the end of the day, I’d like to be able to stand up and say that we’ve been able to do it all and I think we can. And shame on us if we can’t.
Moyers: As we’ve just heard, St. Joe likes to point out it’s a responsible corporate citizen, sympathetic to the environment and generous in its contributions to Florida’s parks, schools, and hospitals.
Nonetheless, ordinary residents in the path of that juggernaut complain about money and power shutting them out of the decision-making process, effectively silencing their concerns.
Well, there will be a public hearing next Thursday, called by Florida’s Bay County Commission to consider changing the zoning so that Panama City’s airport can be relocated.
On this point, you might want to make a habit of checking out the occasional legal notices in your own local newspaper that tell about upcoming zoning changes.
The print is usually tiny, but the implications are often of great magnitude.
It’s how America gets changed before you know it.
Announcer: Next week on NOW, novelist Isabel Allende on losing one country and finding another.
Allende: The world is a very mysterious place. The things happen that we cannot explain, and if we just accept them, we can add them to our lives.
Announcer: That’s next week on NOW.
And connect to NOW With Bill Moyers online at pbs.org.
Israeli settlements on the West Bank: their turbulent history. Learn more about Florida’s Panhandle and the delicate balance of its environment. Media deregulation: how the media giants may affect your community.
Connect to NOW at pbs.org.
Moyers: America’s landscape is not the only thing in America that’s been changed in our time. So have our politics and civic life. When Frenchmen were still welcome here, a young Alexis de Tocqueville toured the new country and was astonished at how Americans formed groups and organizations to get things done as citizens.
There was a time even in my youth when to be a member of the Oddfellows or the Elks or the Grange or the Order of the Eastern Star was a badge of honor. Something you might even have chiseled on your tombstone. Then, as my guest reports in her new book, civic life suddenly changed after the 1960s with consequences that are now obvious.
The title of the book is Diminished Democracy and the author is Theda Skocpol. Miss Skocpol is the director of Harvard’s Center for American Political Studies. She’s a much published author and lecturer. And she’s the president this year of the American Political Science Association. Welcome to NOW.
Skocpol: It’s nice to be here.
Moyers: We are living in a changed public world, you write. What’s the biggest change you have in mind?
Skocpol: The biggest change is we’ve gone from a nation with a genius for organizing membership associations, that people could join at the local, national and state level, to a nation of professionally run civic organizations that do things and speak for people rather than doing things with them.
Moyers: And you say we have lost, as a result of that, fellowship across class lines.
Skocpol: That’s right. Most American voluntary groups in the past were not just businessmen on the one hand or laborers or farmers on the other hand. They were groups that brought people together from all walks of life. Men together, women together, but from all walks of life. And now our associations are much more likely to activate educated professionals.
Moyers: Now, you write that we moved from membership and mobilization to what?
Skocpol: To professional management. We thought all of a sudden that we needed experts. And we do need experts to do research, to do lobbying, to press the government to enact the laws we want. But we forgot about the other thing that American voluntary associations always did so well which was to draw people from various walks of life into active participation.
To give millions of citizens a chance to run committees, to be elected officers, to hold responsible our national leaders for engaging in a regular conversation with the rest of us about how we thought about our values and our concerns and our democracy.
Moyers: Give me some examples. A couple of examples.
Skocpol: Well, back in the 1940s, we were just coming out of World War II. And we were debating what to do for the 16 million returning veterans and their families. Military veterans, those who fought the war. There was debate going on in which many college presidents and experts thought we should have a very narrowly framed G.I. Bill.
Maybe provide a year of college to the returning veterans and not spend too much money on this. Well, a voluntary group got involved: The American Legion. Now, not exactly a liberal organization. I think people of an older generation would have thought “American Legion, it’s anti-Socialist. It’s anti-trade union. We wouldn’t expect much from them.”
But because they were a vast membership group with chapters all over the country, they were in tune with the fact that the returning veterans needed generous college benefits and post-high school training, farm loans, home loans for all the veterans. And they actually wrote the G.I. Bill of 1944.
They took it away from the experts. They wrote it. They lobbied liberals and conservatives in Congress to get it through. One conservative said, “Why should I want our boys to go and study with a bunch of Red Sociology professors in the universities?” And the American Legion said, “Because they all deserve a chance to go to college,” and pressed them to put it through.
Flash forward now 40 years to the health security debate of 1993-94. There were no vast participatory voluntary associations involved in the writing the legislation that was put forward. And instead 500 experts were convened to work out a very complicated, very detailed in some ways not so generous health plan that President Clinton proposed to the Congress.
And then thousands of advocacy groups, business groups, professional groups went to work chopping that legislation to pieces. And in the end, Congress didn’t pass anything. A lot of money was spent. A lot of advocacy groups got involved. But the democratic interest, small d, the popular interest in having health insurance for all Americans was completely lost sight of in that battle.
Moyers: What is missing most from democracy today?
Skocpol: Well, I think we have a huge gap in much of American democracy between what average citizens think and want and what they feel they can band together to do. Alexis de Tocqueville once said that the art of combination is central to democracy.
Moyers: The art of combination. I love that term.
Skocpol: The art of combination. And since Americans are no longer combining in these vast organizations that have real clout, that make it possible to hold our elected representatives responsive to the popular will, we see again and again these days a situation which the polls tell us. Seventy-two percent of Americans would prefer to spend money on health care rather than big tax cuts.
But we get the big tax cuts. And I think part of the reason for this is that we’ve lost this art of combination. The other part of the reason that’s very important is that the loss has been uneven. Conservatives today do a better job—
Moyers: Well, I was just gonna ask you where do you see the most robust political activity because there is some.
Skocpol: There is some. And, in fact, during the period where we’ve gone from membership associations to professionally managed groups, there’s been an exception to that partly on the right. Christian conservatives, the National Rifle Association, the National Right To Life Association. These are examples of newly expanded voluntary associations that have used some of the old methods along with the new methods.
Sure they have big money. And they have professionally run offices. But they also have networks of state and local chapters that get millions of citizens involved. For example, Christian right groups reach out to people in their church congregations, Evangelical church congregations, which are a growing part of the religious scene. And ask them to get involved in local political activities and activities in and through the Republican Party.
The National Right to Life Committee of course was greatly energized by the Supreme Court decisions legalizing abortion. And at a period of time when many liberals thought they could get things done in Washington by contacting a congressional staffer or by running a lawsuit, the Christian Right and the conservative pro-life movement realized that they were frozen out.
So they turned to grassroots organizing. To organizing from below at the same time they were organizing from above. The National Rifle Association could build on hunters’ clubs. Clubs of hunters that exist all over rural America. And they now have a four million strong organization that holds conventions which 50,000 people attend.
And they’ve got organized — 14,000 chapters and chapters in every state. I think it was partly that the Right ironically felt excluded from the bargains between professionals in Washington. So they turned to grassroots organizing. And that suggests something that progressives might learn now. If progressives are beginning to feel like they’re frozen out of a Washington, DC that’s completely dominated by conservatives.
And I think there are many progressives that feel that way right now. Don’t mourn. Organize. And reach out and try to create networks of groups, whether you call them chapters or not, that have a presence in many localities. Start holding conventions so that people feel a sense of “we,” a sense of moral purpose together. And organize to take back the Congress. That’s what the conservatives do.
Moyers: Now, what does it mean to ordinary people that there’s been this big change from mobilization and movements, from organizations with chapters and members to organizations that are represented by paid professionals lobbying in Washington? What does it mean to the ordinary citizen?
Skocpol: I think ordinary citizens believe increasingly that politics and public life are something that goes on in a set of arguments that they see on television. And then they get called at dinnertime by a pollster to ask them what they think. They think civic life and politics goes on above their heads.
And they don’t have the experience of people reaching out and saying, “Join the group. Come to a meeting. Get involved.” And offering them pointers on how to influence community and public life.
Moyers: Help us to understand this. The president’s tax cuts — he’s done two now — did not have strong public support. In fact, the biggest tax cuts go to the richest people. And yet, it passed in a country that is not full of rich people. How do you explain that?
Skocpol: Well, I think the organizational imbalance is part, not all, but part of the explanation for why that could happen. The majority says they’d rather spend money on education, on health care, on the environment, than have big tax cuts that are tilted toward the rich.
But if you go and look at what groups are mobilized to press their case on Congress, there’s a deficit. The right is more organized. And they’re able to say, “we would like these tax cuts.” It’s not just business people and rich people who are organized, although they certainly are.
But some of these popularly rooted groups supported— on the right, supported these tax cuts. Even though they’re not the majority, they may be the majority of what Congressmen here and Congresswomen here when they’re deciding how to vote.
Moyers: Well then, aren’t you talking about diminished democracy for some but not for others? I mean democracy is what you exercise. Democracy belongs to those who exercise it. So if the conservatives and the right are exercising democracy, it’s hard to say democracy’s being diminished except for those who don’t exercise it.
Skocpol: Well, democracy needs to be exercised by all. So, in that sense, I think it has been diminished if its diminished for large groups of us. But you know the fact of the matter is, we should worry less about what those of us who are not on the right, should worry less about what the right is doing and worry more about doing more of it ourselves.
Moyers: So what’s your prescription for getting people involved again? How do we renew democracy? Not just for one party or one group, but for everyone?
Skocpol: Well, for one thing, our civic organizers and our civic leaders need to get it straight that opening an office in Washington isn’t enough. That we should be trying to create networks. Networks of different kinds of associations, perhaps. Some of which have a presence in the localities in the states. That is the classic American formula for democratic involvement. We need to reinvent it, recreate it.
For example, I think we should have a national Election Day holiday. The one part of America where large number of people turn out to vote is Puerto Rico. And they have a holiday on Election Day. And then various groups, political groups and civic groups compete to get people to the polls.
Moyers: It’s amazing in Puerto Rico. I mean they enjoy politics. Politics is not just about a dancing in the street. It’s about dancing in the streets and then going to the polls.
Skocpol: Well, that’s another good point that you raise, you know? Civic life in politics used to be fun in this country. Back in the 19th and early 20th century when people voted in larger numbers, eligible voters went, 75 to 90 percent of them went to the polls compared to the 50 percent who go now.
Partly they got involved in politics cause it was fun. There were picnics, there were parades. That’s part of what we need to do. We need to recreate that special combination of social life and public life that used to be characteristic of volunteerism in America.
Moyers: Don’t progressives, liberals and others need also to develop the kind of “moral vision” that the right has brought to politics in the last 20 years?
Skocpol: Absolutely. We need a sense of what we as Americans together want and need to express our shared citizenship. And part of that is active government that works for the majority. Doesn’t sneak things through in the middle of the night for the privileged minority.
Moyers: The book is Diminished Democracy. The author is Theda Skocpol. Thank you for joining us.
Skocpol: It’s been a great pleasure.
Moyers: A final note to this week: from our offices here in Manhattan we can look out on the New York headquarters of Martha Stewart. From time to time we’ve spotted her helicopter bringing her down the Hudson River from Connecticut where she lives.
Martha Stewart is someone I admire. She uses this medium to inform her viewers about some of the good things they can do to brighten up their lives and homes. We can all use a little how-to when it comes to the quality of our days. Now Martha Stewart has been indicted on charges of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and securities fraud — very serious stuff. She of course proclaims her innocence and has launched a campaign asking her public to support her. We’ll have to leave it to the justice system to sort out the truth.
But because I have been a fan of her television skills, I’ve read more of the stories than I ordinarily would. What’s clear, and sobering, is that Martha Stewart embodied so much of American success in the ’90s. Our financial and political elites, our celebrities and stars, our corporate giants — so many of the people on top — seemed to think they were exempt from the normal boundaries of excess. What’s clear, and sobering, is that Martha Stewart had everything, and it wasn’t enough.
That’s it for NOW. Thanks for watching. I’m Bill Moyers.