A Houston Education Miracle? Funding Addiction Recovery and Samantha Powers on Iraq Reconstruction

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President Bush recently tapped former Houston school superintendent Rod Paige to be the new secretary of education. Paige orchestrated what some called the “Houston miracle,” a dramatic increase in test scores. But critics contend that the approach created a climate for falsification of test scores and increased drop-out rates. What happens to the new “No Child Left Behind” education law if Houston schools are a model?

In the wake of Rush Limbaugh admitting his addiction to painkillers and his plans to check into a rehab center. But even for the millions of chemically dependent Americans with health insurance, a treatment center may not be an option. Bill Moyers talked to Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-MN) about his bill to permit doctors–not the insurance companies–to make decisions on addiction treatment.

As the debate over President Bush’s request for $87 billion to rebuild Iraq grows, Bill Moyers sits down with scholars Samantha Power and Simon Schama for their take on how reconstruction in Iraq is going. 


MOYERS: Welcome to NOW. The German dictator Adolf Hitler didn’t like universal education. He called it “a corroding and disintegrating poison.” We Americans think otherwise.

Whether we have children or not, we know in our bones that popular education is democracy’s best friend.

Every recent President has said so in one way or another.

George Bush took the motto of the Children’s Defense Fund as his own — “No Child Left Behind” — and said he wants to ensure that every kid in America has access to a good school.

He put educators on notice: there will be stiff penalties on any school that doesn’t improve student performance.

He modeled his program on what’s been called “the Houston miracle,” the school system in Texas whose superintendent is now his Secretary of Education.

Recently though, the President’s intentions have hit a rough patch.

The National Education Association says states are now being shortchanged $11 billion promised to them for testing and more teachers.

And in Houston, NOW’s own investigation uncovered some surprises. Here’s our report from David Brancaccio and producer Bryan Myers.

BRANCACCIO: Bob Kimball begins his days before dawn, putting out traffic cones at this elementary school in Houston. After that, it’s hustle the kids into the building. Once inside, he’ll get ready for his next plum assignment: cafeteria duty.

This isn’t exactly where 58-year-old Bob Kimball thought he’d be at this point in life. And it’s certainly not what you would expect from a Ph.D. and a former army Lieutenant Colonel.

In the opinion of Dr. Kimball and others, he’s here because he’s a whistleblower. Punishment, he claims, for speaking out—punishment for revealing how the Houston schools were reporting false numbers of dropouts to make themselves look good.

KIMBALL: You trust the system. You trust the school to be honest. I see everyday, everyday, you know, things that shouldn’t be done.

BRANCACCIO: And the story that started with Bob Kimball is one with implications for the entire nation. It’s a story that’s calling into question both the integrity and effectiveness of the very school system that is a model for President Bush’s national education plan.

KIMBALL: If it is the best school district in the United States, this country is in serious trouble.

BRANCACCIO: The controversy began here, at Houston’s Sharpstown Senior High School, where Kimball was an assistant principal. Each year, every school in Texas is required to submit information about its students to the state. Last October, he says the school’s computer guy brought something strange to his attention.

KIMBALL: The technologist came to me and he showed me a report and he said, “We have zero dropouts.” And at that point, I said, “That’s impossible. That’s not possible that we could have zero dropouts.”

BRANCACCIO: Dropout rates are one measure of a school’s success or failure. And in Texas, it is a felony for a school to falsely report its data. Concerned that his principal might have accidentally done just that, Bob Kimball shared his worries with her.

KIMBALL: I mean, we had 1750 students, 90% were minorities, 75% are considered “at risk” — population of poor students or other things, other reasons why they might be at risk — and yet, she was saying zero dropouts.

BRANCACCIO: Kimball was working for this woman — Principal Carol Wichmann. Kimball says it was what Wichmann told him that made him suspect that the report was false.

KIMBALL: She said, “Well, I was given my instructions when I took over this school that we had too many dropouts, that it was all about paperwork and I had to fix the paperwork.”

BRANCACCIO: Jerroll Tyler is one student whose paperwork just doesn’t reflect reality. He was a student at Sharpstown High until after one absence too many, an assistant principal pulled him aside and put him on notice: show up or else.

TYLER: I left school immediately and never looked back.

BRANCACCIO: Here’s one report from Sharpstown High dated October 22nd, 2002. On it, Tyler is correctly listed as a dropout. But here, in another report from only a day later, his name, along with all of the others listed as dropouts, is suddenly missing.

TYLER: I guess they were trying to cover up their dropout rate, you know?

BRANCACCIO: Bob Kimball eventually took his suspicions over that report showing no dropouts to a high ranking school district official who, Kimball says, also failed to do anything about it. Frustrated, Kimball and a group of sympathizers decided to turn up the heat, and went to the media.

In February of this year, local TV station KHOU broke the story of Sharpstown High. It wasn’t long before state officials stepped in to investigate. It turned out that the problem wasn’t just Sharpstown High. Almost all of the schools the state looked at had reported false dropout rates. Westside High School has 2300 students but, like Sharpstown, it claimed it didn’t have any dropouts. Yates High School said it only had 26 dropouts. In reality, it had 373 — more than a quarter of its 1400 students.

Here’s how these Houston schools were cooking the books. Texas investigators say school officials were simply coming up with reasons — like transferring or getting a GED — why students shouldn’t be listed as dropouts. Imagine Jerroll Tyler’s surprise when he found out Sharpstown officials claimed he transferred to another school he’d never even heard of — a claim he believes they knew wasn’t true.

TYLER: I ain’t never think schools, you know what I’m saying, was dirty like this, you know what I’m saying?

KIMBALL: Just, you know, some clerk will say, “Well, he went to another school district.” Or, “He went here, or he went there.” But we all knew they were dropouts. We knew they were getting kicked out.

BRANCACCIO: Why do you care?

KIMBALL: I’m a dropout myself. I dropped out of tenth grade. And so I really relate to these kids that are at risk. I really understand where they are coming from. And I know that they need a high school diploma.

BRANCACCIO: And for that, Bob Kimball says he’s being run out of the very school system about which he cares so deeply.

KIMBALL: It’s heartbreaking. And you see this happening and you just want to know what is going to happen to the future of Houston.

SPUCK: I think it was apparent that these students just basically vanished.

BRANCACCIO: It wasn’t just people inside the school district who suspected some kind of shell game was going on. Dennis Spuck heads the school of education at a local university. He says the numbers just don’t jibe. Eighty percent of students in Houston are considered “economically disadvantaged” — tragically the kind of kids most likely to leave school — yet, the district says its dropout rate is only about one and a half percent.

SPUCK: Most everyone recognized that the dropout rate was not one, or one and a half percent. That if you looked at graduation rates, it was, in most cases for most high schools in the Houston school district was probably less than 50 percent of the students actually were actually graduating.

BRANCACCIO: We repeatedly asked Houston school district officials for an interview, but they refused. Instead, they referred us to this one page statement. That statement focuses the blame for Sharpstown’s false dropout report on a single, low-level employee. And, it fails to even mention any of the other schools where the state found false information.

SPUCK: By saying, “Well, it really is only one school,” when it’s pretty systemic within the district is a cover-up.

BRANCACCIO: Critics say it’s not just the dropout rate that is being covered up. They say the scandal extends to test scores that measure student progress. For several years, those scores have been slowly going up in Houston. In fact, that rise has been touted as nothing less than a “miracle.” But now, some allege that schools found a way to manipulate those numbers as well.

Jon Dansby and Sue Nguyen are former counselors at Houston’s Stevenson Middle School. Dansby’s been working in Houston’s schools for 16 years, Nguyen for 22. They say in all their years, they’ve never seen anything like what was going on at Stevenson.

DANSBY: Our students were not only mislabeled, and the data in the computer was falsified, but the students were actually misplaced and miseducated in these classes. What kind of people would put kids in the wrong classes and ruin their futures? What type of culture would allow this to go on?

BRANCACCIO: Dansby and Nguyen have decided to go public with serious allegations of their own. They spoke with NOW in their first TV interview to discuss their claim that school administrators had a systematic and potentially criminal method to pump up standardized test scores.

NGUYEN: Under the direction of the principal, the administrators can go in there overnight, change things, hundred of student programs.

DANSBY: Hundreds!

NGUYEN: Because they have the authority to mass move.

BRANCACCIO: “Mass move” are Nguyen’s words for the sweeping changes she says administrators made to student records to perpetrate their scheme.

Here’s how, they say, the scheme worked: they claim Stevenson administrators would falsely classify hundreds of students as having “special educational needs.” For example, requiring instruction in English as a second language. By doing so, those students would be exempt from taking the state tests used to measure a school’s success.

DANSBY: They find out the probable passes and probable failures on the state mandated test. The name of the game is to eliminate those students who will probably fail, and by that, you’re only testing the students who will probably pass.

BRANCACCIO: Dansby and Nguyen began to get suspicious after parents started to complain about their kids being re-classified.. So they looked at the computer records and what they saw shocked them. Here’s one printout, which they say shows 100’s of students reassigned from normal classes to classes for kids with special needs.

And when they asked administrators about it, they say they were told to tell parents this: that it happened as a result of a computer “glitch” that would eventually be fixed.

NGUYEN: I was told by the principal that I need to “navigate” the parents. Now “navigating,” that means what? The only thing I know is to tell the parents the truth.

BRANCACCIO: In a statement to NOW, the school district says it’s reviewed these allegations, and they, quote, “have not been substantiated at any level, by any authority.” They also point out that Dansby has been involved in several employment disputes with the school district, including a recent lawsuit.

But beyond test scores, Dansby and Nguyen cite another possible motive for the reclassifications: money. Schools get extra federal and state aid for a student with special needs— in Texas, as much as $9000 per student.

But this story goes beyond Houston. It’s become a national one. That’s because the man who used to run the Houston school district , Rod Paige, is now at the helm of President Bush’s new education policy, the one known as No Child Left Behind.

And who is Rod Paige? He’s the man who became Secretary of Education based on the apparent success of the so-called Houston miracle. Now, he’s brought his ideas from Houston to Washington. Ideas like “numbers-based accountability.” The essence? Set strict numerical goals, like test results, and come down hard on administrators to meet them. That emphasis on accountability has attracted some unlikely allies.

FALLON: I think we need accountability. I’ve never had a problem with high stakes testing as long as the testing is correlated to the curriculum.

BRANCACCIO: Gayle Fallon is the head of the Houston Teachers Union, and a big believer in Rod Paige’s ideas. This despite the fact that teachers nationwide have been some of the most vocal opponents of Paige’s methods. But Fallon says his reforms as were exactly the swift kick in the pants Houston needed.

FALLON: The system needs some pressure. You know, we can’t sit there and continue to decline and continue to not educate children, or we will not have a work force that can support this country.

BRANCACCIO: Professor Guadalupe San Miguel says that this emphasis on numbers-based accountability has come at a price. That’s why he’s running for Houston’s school board.

SAN MIGUEL: We need some kind of accountability system. Tests are good indicators of that, but that shouldn’t be the only indicator.

BRANCACCIO: But, San Miguel says, great education comes through great teachers, and that learning to take a test is not the same thing as learning.

What’s the danger if it’s based on one test in a given state?

SAN MIGUEL: The danger is that the curriculum begins to change so that all the classes are being geared toward that one particular test.

BRANCACCIO: San Miguel points out that Latinos make up 56% of Houston’s students, and he says many of those families share his fears about good teaching being in jeopardy. He also has a more personal reason to get involved; Dr. G., as he’s known, has two kids of his own in Houston public schools.

SAN MIGUEL: My little boy loves to read, or at least he did up until the third grade. Last year was when we started that testing at the third grade level. And all the kids were told that they had to pass the test. And it affected him so much, that after a while, he didn’t really want to read. Because they kept telling him, it’s this test that counts, not everything else.

BRANCACCIO: Secretary Paige himself compares his system of numbers-based accountability to running a car company. In a recent letter to THE NEW YORKER magazine, he admires Henry Ford’s “production principles” for their, quote, “emphasis on results.” Paige continues, “we must view education the same way. Good schools do operate like a business.”

But whatever you think about the merits of accountability in education policy, in houston, it all comes back to one question: did the drive for good test scores and low dropout rates create the incentive for school administrators to fake the data?

NORIEGA: It makes them like used car salesman. Having to meet a quota every month. Basically, “You’ve got to reach the number,” is more important than the student.

BRANCACCIO: Texas state representative Rick Noriega is from Houston. He believes Rod Paige’s reforms created the climate that fostered the current scandal.

NORIEGA: I believe that when Dr. Paige was here in Houston it was so focused on improving the numbers, that would not then ask the questions of how these numbers were derived.

BRANCACCIO: Noriega, a Democrat, says that as Houston’s education “miracle” began to unfold, Paige failed to cast a critical eye on his own suspiciously good results.

NORIEGA: He should have said, “Okay, how did we get there? Or are we just gaming the system?”

BRANCACCIO: That’s not only an important question in Houston, but nationally, because now, under the new federal No Child Left Behind law, schools must show continual improvement in the numbers. If they don’t, they face potentially costly penalties. And like Houston, school principals could even lose their jobs.

NORIEGA: I think we’re heading for a train wreck. My fear is that what we’re going to do is we’re going to place our education professionals in ethical dilemmas.

BRANCACCIO: After repeated requests, Secretary Paige’s office told us he was unavailable for an interview. And bear in mind, this story is about more than whether schools are submitting false reports or pumping up tests scores.

SPUCK: So you’re telling the world, we don’t have a dropout problem, when in fact, we know we do. And if you don’t have a dropout problem, then you don’t have programs to address the dropout issue.

BRANCACCIO: As these Houston educators remind us, any exercises in creative paperwork usually come at the expense of the very kids the schools are supposed to be educating.

DANSBY: I remember one of the most vivid examples. I talked to a single parent, a Hispanic mother. And her child, an advanced placement college-track student had been placed in the Immigrant Education classes. And I knew that once he got off of the college track, he may never return again. And that is a lost future.

NORIEGA: It is my view that we have not seen a Houston miracle. In fact, we have seen a Houston misinformation campaign, which is completely buffaloing the people.

ANNOUNCER: There’s more to come on NOW. Should insurance be required to pay for the treatment of drug and alcohol abuse? Rush Limbaugh can write a check for his rehab, but could you afford 30 days of treatment?

MOYERS: It was a big week for experts what watch foreign affairs. Our own distinguished observers had an especially tricky time of it. They had to keep one eye on the UN where President Bush won support for more international collaborations in Iraq. And the other eye on another arena where empires also rise and fall, the Coliseum.

But that’s known where I live as Yankee Stadium. Indeed, if my guests sound hoarse it’s because both of them were there last night yelling their lungs out as the Mighty Yankees threw the Christians — I mean, the Red Sox — to the lions. For whom were they rooting? I should let them declare their bias. But here’s one of them, Samantha Power, throwing out the first ball when her heroes, the Red Sox, played the Marlins on June 28th.

Samantha Power is founder of the Carr Center for Human Rights at Harvard. A journalist who won the Pulitzer Prize last year for her book A PROBLEM FROM HELL about genocide in the 20th Century.

And Simon Schama. Simon Schama, a world-renowned historian, a best-selling art and literary critic and a distinguished professor at Columbia University not far from Yankee Stadium where he lost a bet and his heart last night. Welcome back to NOW. How did this happen that you became such a Red Sox fan that you got to throw out this ball?

POWER: Well, for me it started when I moved to this country as a kid, as an immigrant. And—


POWER: From Ireland and moved to Pittsburgh in 1979. And it was just as the Pirates were about to win the World Series, were about to go to the play-offs and then they would go on to win the World Series. And I had a thick Dublin accent and was wearing a tartan skirt for my Catholic school and black patent leather shoes.

And I quickly realized that if I could speak the language of on-base percentages, RBIs, inherited runner scoring people would be a lot nicer to me than they had been prior to that point. So I developed an obsession at an early age. And moving to Boston ten years ago, visited Fenway Park which is, you know, not the House of Doom like Yankee Stadium but the House of Grace and Goodness.

And, unfortunately, usually the House of Disappointment. And in visiting Fenway I just found myself everyday coming home from work teaching at Harvard. I would drive by the stadium and it was just an irresistible pull. So I started going to about 40 games a year which is not a good thing for your work life. But—

MOYERS: Why were you not pitching last night when Aaron Boone came up and—

POWER: You know, there are many who have asked. What you don’t see from the picture of the first pitch is the actual trajectory of the ball. That would actually— that would answer your question, unfortunately. But I do think there is something about being in the human rights business that makes being a Red Sox fan also very, very compatible.

And you learn to deal with disappointment. And you still have to get up the next morning and do your job.

MOYERS: Yeah. And you started with cricket.

SCHAMA: Yeah, but I should say, you know, I am a British Jew. If you’re Jewish you have to really be part of a persecuted minority. I just don’t understand… a Jewish Yankee fan, a Jew who wins all the time seems to me a the worst oxymoron, you know? For God’s sake, what have you got—

MOYERS: You talk about persecution and you—I was for the Mets and I was for the Cubs then I was for the Red Sox. Now how much of a loser can you get?

SCHAMA: So actually it’s our long association with you is the exclamations is an ongoing catastrophe really.

MOYERS: What did you think when you saw your first baseball game?

SCHAMA: It was like, you know, some enchanted evening. It was like kind of falling in love with a bad 1950s Technicolor musical.

It was graceful. I’d never seen anything like a well-executed double play. And, you know, it was love. What can you say? I didn’t know it was doomed love, you know? That’s the thing. Doomed love, my specialty.

MOYERS: But yesterday, to make this segue, President Bush won one more or less. He got this unanimous resolution through the Security Council in which countries say, “We support you. We are for you.” But he lost in the Senate where he wanted the $20 billion to Iraq to be a grant instead of a loan. Now, was yesterday’s victory at the Security Council symbolic or significant?

POWER: I think that it’s symbolic of the better part of the world’s desire for Iraq to get it together. I think that the resolution was in support of the Iraqi people rather than in support of the Bush Administration’s approach as such. I don’t think that the Bush Administration is going to have an easy time getting either money or troops from the countries who yesterday were willing to sign on. Russia, Germany and France have already said, “No go.”

MOYERS: But Pakistan said, “We will not put any troops or money.”

POWER: And one of the things we have to remember is that if you look back to the 1990s and a lot of the peacekeeping, nation-building missions that were undertaken, the reluctance of the states with troops that actually could perform, you know, noble and efficient functions, the numbers of those countries who actually would put troops forward is very, very small. We’ve always had this problem of people simply not wanting to go to dangerous places.

And none of the places, Rwanda, Bosnia, Cambodia, places where we had such a hard time getting peacekeepers, none of those places were places where the peacekeepers were… You knew going in that the peacekeepers were explicitly targets. You don’t— it’ll be very hard, I think, for any state to go back to their public— most of the publics regardless of what the governments were saying, most of the publics around the world, 70 percent or more, oppose the war, of course. I think it’d be very hard for leaders to get their publics to go along with basically buying into the kind of sacrifice that may be entailed by joining this effort.

SCHAMA: Yeah, I agree with Samantha. A completely empty paper victory of the kind which will be useful for spin doctoring going into an election campaign. Means absolutely nothing in terms of the burden that the American public, taxpaying public, is gonna be, you know, paying for essentially a kind of botched post-war effort so far.

And, look, you’re the Prime Minister of the Netherlands or something actually. And, you know, you’re being asked to provide money and troops and all the rest of it. And you’re going to go to your, you know, your public and say, “Yeah, well, of course, we, you know, we didn’t make this mess. But we’re delighted to sort of help out here.”

Obviously, you know, it’s never really gonna happen. There is, I will say, a disingenuous aspect I think of the Europeans or the rest of the world issue. Because actually their conditions were actually being more, you know, cuddly about it all are the quicker transition to a speedy transition to full sovereignty or something like that.

MOYERS: Give it to the Iraqis—

SCHAMA: That seems to be very disingenuous actually. Because—


SCHAMA: Well, because I think anybody with half a kind of, you know, whit of historical understanding one knows that whatever we’ve done now, the most honest thing is to say we’re gonna be there for five, ten years. And, in fact, actually I, you know, I think someone better tell the American public that as well. Not fool around with them saying, “Oh, well, there’ll be a constitution.”

Excuse me, you know, this isn’t Madison or Hamilton we’re talking here. In a year and then we wave goodbye handily timely for November 2004. The real thing is we need to be there and everybody who’s gonna get into this needs to accept they’re gonna be there for ten years. Or hello al-Qaeda, welcome to Baghdad.

MOYERS: But when you say the American people have to have that kind… they need that information and they need that kind of patience. How do you, as a historian and a scholar, take a small piece of information like this and lay it against that?

I mean, here’s an Associated Press story a few days ago saying that Halliburton, the Houston company that has a no bid contract to restore Iraq’s oil industry is billing the Army and the tax payers between $1.62 and $1.70 for the gallon of gasoline that it’s selling to the Iraqis for four cents and 15 cents at the pump and it’s getting this gasoline for 70 cents a gallon. I mean, this is quite a windfall. What does this do to support the effort in Iraq?

SCHAMA: There’s an outrage. An absolute outrage. And, you know, any oppositional Democratic politician or Republican politician worth their salt ought to indicate its outrageousness.

Guess what? It’s sacrifice time.

MOYERS: Halliburton’s not sacrificing.

SCHAMA: Yea, and how they’re not sacrificing.

MOYERS: Samantha, does it really matter? You’ve been looking at human rights for a long time. Does world opinion really matter? Isn’t the President closer to the truth when he says it is better to be feared than respected?

POWER: Well, I think what his exact quote is it’s better to be feared than liked. And I think I would say that it’s better— you need to be feared when you do have an enemy that has hard power and is disposable even if it’s of an asymmetric kind as we’ve talked about in the past. It’s not traditional hard power. But ultimately these are people who are out to kill you.

You have to have the tools of policing, the tools of armed force. But to think that you can win a war on terrorism and to think that there is a definable end state to that war, it seems to me misses one of the central insights of the last half century which is the indispensability of American soft power. Soft power is the ability to make others want what we want.

And I think there’s a major division in our country right now between people who think that we are under attack, our institutions abroad and us at home because of who we are. And those who believe — and this is the Bush line — which is that we’re under attack because of our way of life, the American way of life.

You know, because we wear short skirts or because we practice multiple religions. That’s who we are. We’re America. We’re free and thus people want to get us. That’s a constituency in this country. They really believe that. And then there are others, and I put myself in this camp, who believe that some number of people do hate us for those reasons.

But that on the spectrum of anti-Americanism right now and certainly on the spectrum of those who are willing to strap, you know, bombs— put bombs into their backpacks is quite small. And that, in fact, what we really need to think about it, are the things that we do that engender resentment. And that not only drive people into terrorism but that make it very difficult to secure cooperation in law enforcement.

And these are things that are fixable. I mean, Colin Powell was just at Halabjah a couple weeks ago. Halabjah is the scene of one of the most ghastly chemical weapons attacks in the 20th Century. It was in 1988 with Saddam against the Kurds. 5,000 people killed in the most repulsive way could possibly die. Powell, in a very, very dignified ceremony goes to Halabjah to pay his respects.

Here’s a moment where you have an opportunity to say, “You know what? We got it wrong in the ’80s when we were aligned with Saddam.” It was a mistake. These kinds of crimes were being committed and we, in fact, were aiding his regime. We were giving him $500 million a year in credits to buy American farm products.

We doubled our aid to his regime the year following this attack. You don’t even have to get into that detail if you’re Powell. But you can say, “We just— we got it wrong. We didn’t sort of see straight. We should have taken these things more seriously at the time.” Instead, the tendency is to pretend that history hasn’t happened. And, frankly, to insult the Iraqi memory, Powell, of course, was National Security Advisor at the time of the policy, at the time of Halabjah, at the time of doubling American aid.

And yet the hope is that somehow people are gonna judge the merits and demerits of our arguments in the particular case at hand, the particular argument we’re trying to win.

MOYERS: Let me show you a speech that Vice President Cheney made last week. A very aggressive speech before a very friendly, conservative crowd in Washington. And followed by the speech that the President made last night in California as he left for Asia. The themes are the same. Look at this.

VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: I would remind the critics of the fundamental case the President has made since September 11th. Terrorist enemies of our country hope to strike us with the most lethal weapons known to man. And it would be reckless in the extreme to rule out action and save our worries until the day they strike.

PRESIDENT BUSH: In this new kind of war, America is following a new strategy. We are not waiting for further attacks. We’re striking our enemies before they can strike us again. We have taken unprecedented steps to protect the homeland. Yet wars are won on the offensive. And America and our friends are staying on the offensive. We are rolling back the terrorist threat. Not on the fringes of its influence but at the heart of its power.

MOYERS: What are you hearing?

SCHAMA: I’m hearing a dangerously obtuse misunderstanding of what the threat actually is. The threat we face are not from states, they’re not the sort which the 3rd infantry, you know, is the complete answer. Threats are men in basements with dirty bombs.

And the real argument that has to be made is that, you know, our preemption in Iraq has made it less easy for this kind of highly atomized nucleative Al Qaeda kind of operation to happen. The claim is that that’s so. But it’s demonstrably a claim that in my view it hasn’t necessarily been proved.

There’s something else too. There’s a kind of, you know, testosterone driven quality really about find ’em, squish ’em, get the hell out. And if you actually are gonna be, you know, consistently preemptive we should be in Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, you know, you go on and on and on. It is not a sensible policy. The sensible policy to protect ourselves is figuring out the hierarchy of the scary, the imminently dangerous and the truly bloody terrifying. That doesn’t happen there.

MOYERS: One of the right wing architects of the invasion of Iraq, Richard Pearle, an advisor to the Pentagon, was quote by the AP just this week saying that Syria could well be the next target or might be the next target.

POWER: Well, I think when you’re foundering the best defense is a good offense. I think part of what we’re seeing is a kind of lunge. I mean, most people— Bush’s popularity numbers went up last week and most people think it’s because of this offensive so it’s clearly having some effect on Americans. But I think what the only check on that kind of a doctrine, really of uninhibited devotion to hard power and commitment to preemption and this, what Cheney also earlier in the week called the Bush doctrine which was not only getting the terrorists but getting any states that shelter them or aid them in any way. I mean, as Simon said it sort of opens up a whole universe including many of our allies.

The only check on that — because it has no limits built into it as it’s articulated — is America’s overextension right now. So, my only skepticism about going after Syria is that we can’t. We are utterly overextended. Already the murmurs from the military families, which is a very, very important constituency in this country, about, you know, wanting to bring their boys home. Can you imagine going into Syria when Iraq is undone, when Afghanistan is, you know, sort of descending into greater and greater chaos by the day?

SCHAMA: There’s been a real aversion to reasonable limits, you know, and you think about the intelligent policymakers — American policymakers in the 20th century, you know, in Roosevelt’s, in Truman’s time — there was some sense of what you had to do and then what you can do and what you could legitimately do as well. This is so much about juicing the electorate, you know, juicing the constituency. It’s incredibly irresponsible.

MOYERS: Earlier this week the President moved to local television anchors to get his message out. Look at this little piece of tape.

ANCHOR: Good Tuesday morning, everybody. I’m Roop Raj.

ANCHOR: And I’m Margaret Orr. Thanks for being with us. Well, in the news President Bush wants to set the record straight.

PRESIDENT BUSH: I’m mindful of the filter through which some news travels. And sometimes you just have to go over the heads of the filter and speak directly to the people.

MOYERS: He’s going to the people through local television. Will it work?

SCHAMA: Tactically, a very smart move, I think, actually. I wish it weren’t. But it is actually the sense in which the presence is extremely good on a folksy sort of level that often a media which doesn’t want anything longer or more complicated than a one minute sound byte about “How bad are things or how good are things?”

That local news, you know, has to always trade-off, you know, a mugging in a city place with the rescue of a family of kittens or something. It actually— it’s a very smart PR move. But that’s not good for the country. I mean, obviously no politician is going to get elected saying, “I’m gonna bring you the maximum gloom and the maximum possible hard time.” They’re not. But actually we do need a lot of difficult truths.

MOYERS: Let’s close on something very important to you. Amnesty International said thousands of people have been detained worldwide in the context of the war on terror, including several hundred— 600 or so being held at Guantanamo Bay. Arbitrary arrests prolong secret detention even, in some cases, torture. And that this is undermining international standards of human rights. Is that the price that has to be paid to thwart a shadowy, faceless peril?

POWER: Look, the balancing act between liberty on the one hand and security on the other is notoriously taxing, excruciating, impossible to get right. But the thing that we have to embed into our system to do the balancing act is some kind of adversarial process. And I think what’s most disturbing about the detentions, especially those in Guantanamo, is the presumption that we have the capacity to kind of look out for both sides, that we have the capacity to internalize, in a way, the framers of this country put a Bill of Rights in place because they knew they couldn’t trust themselves. They knew that the tyranny of the majority would run amuck of that the urgent would always trump the important.

In Guantanamo we are operating precisely hostile to that notion. I talked to a U.S. official the other day and he said, you know, he felt much better because he’s been down— he talked to the interrogators in Guantanamo, the supervisors. And I said, “You know, great. What makes you feel so much better?” He said, “Well, I really think he’s trying to hear both sides of the story.”

We trust ourselves to be the check within the, you know, the operator. In lieu of putting somebody in place who might actually be able to translate, you know, articulate the needs and the justice claims of people who have been locked up, we are trusting ourselves to do the balancing act. And we know from history, you know, from a rich history, 300 years of history that this is very dangerous and that too many innocent people, I think, get left behind.

MOYERS: The paradox is that there have been some serious security breaches at Guantanamo Bay.

SCHAMA: If we’re gonna do this we might as well have chaplains, you know, working for the Jihad.

MOYERS: Simon Schama, Samantha Power, next year in Fenway Park.

SCHAMA: Promises, promises.

POWER: So they say.

ANNOUNCER: Next week on NOW WITH BILL MOYERS: the American blue collar worker as an endangered species.

Strikers at a plant in Wisconsin watch from the sidelines as their company takes the ax to their wages and benefits.

SHULMAN: If we cut wages, if we cut benefits, what we’re doing is saying, “We’re going to eliminate long-term, family-sustaining jobs, and make good jobs go bad.”

ANNOUNCER: Downward mobility in America, next week on NOW.

And connect to NOW WITH BILL MOYERS online at pbs.org.

Check student scores in your school district. Find out more about fighting addiction. Read what the International Red Cross has to say about the Guantanamo prisoners. Connect to NOW at pbs.org.

MOYERS: As just about everyone knows, Rush Limbaugh is now in treatment for drug addiction.

He is also under investigation for using a housekeeper at his Palm Beach mansion to buy drugs for him on the black market.

You probably also know that the right wing’s favorite talkmeister is in favor of heavy sentences for drug abusers.

Here’s what he said on his television show, quote: “Too many whites are getting away with drug use. The answer is to go out and find the ones who are getting away with it, convict them, and send them up the river too.” So his detractors are having a field day.

IMUS: Suck it up, fatso, and stop taking 100 pills a day and employ some discipline in your life.

MOYERS: And his allies are standing behind him.

DRUDGE: It makes me want to reach out to him and say, “We love you, Rush; we know you are going through terrible hell, but your commitment to us, and to your beliefs.” You know, he is our voice.

LIDDY: I would distinguish Rush’s situation from someone who was a recreational drug user and was caught playing with fire and got addicted.

COULTER: I mean, he had back surgery, he got addicted to this, which I think is completely different from taking any kind of drug, including alcohol, for kicks.

MOYERS: What’s lost in all this is that nobody, nobody, expects to become an addict.

Look at this recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It confirms what the AMA first said 50 years ago: addiction is a medical disease, not a moral failing.

Every addictive substance — nicotine, cocaine, heroin, alcohol, amphetamines — affects the brain, so that some people who never want to become addicts can start using a substance and then find it impossible to stop.

Our own family learned this. Our oldest son’s ten-year struggle with addiction led us to produce a PBS series a few years ago called CLOSE TO HOME. We searched out leading scientists in the field to report on the hijacked brain.

LESHNER: There’s something about these biological changes that are going on at the neuron level, at the cellular level, at the molecular level that gets translated into compulsive, uncontrollable drug use.

MOYERS: You call it a disease.

LESHNER: It’s a disease because it’s a result, actually, of drugs changing the brain in fundamental and long-lasting ways.

And it’s a chronic, relapsing disease because typically — sadly, but typically — people don’t have only one episode of addiction, they have repeat episodes.

Addiction is not a voluntary circumstance. It’s not a voluntary behavior. It’s not just a lot of drug use. It’s actually a different state.

MOYERS: When we have a pleasurable experience, the brain releases dopamine.

HYMAN: What the drug abuser finds is that they can literally fool the brain, they short-circuit the brain.

They take the drugs and they get this sense of well-being, of happiness, of euphoria, and what’s really striking is that it’s reliable.

When they take cocaine, when they take heroin, they can produce this again and again on a regular basis.

None of the vagaries of, “will this experience live up to expectation?” And that’s what gets them in trouble, because by bombarding the nucleus acumbens and the rest of the brain with more dopamine than it had ever seen before, the brain adapts.

It literally becomes more dependent on the drug; it is changed by the drug.

You can no longer feel okay, once you’re addicted, without the drug.

MOYERS: This is telling them that they must have it and it’s changing their behavior to get it?

HYMAN: Absolutely. This has been hijacked.

The part of the brain is there to say, “this is good, this is important, this is what makes the world good for you.”

And what’s happened is that in response to the drug we have made this part of the brain and associated structures unable to function without the drug.

The brain has been compromised, usurped, changed, whatever.

You’re a different person once you’ve been addicted.

MOYERS: So, of this science is sure; drugs change the brain. But as we reported in the series it is possible to retrain the brain to cope with addiction. It’s called treatment. Unfortunately most Americans who need treatment don’t have access to it. And that’s why a Republican Congressman from Minnesota has introduced legislation with the acronym HEART, the Help Expand Access to Recovery and Treatment Act, calling for substance abuse parity in our healthcare system. With me from Washington now is Representative Jim Ramstad now serving his seventh term in the House. Thanks for joining us.

RAMSTAD: Thank you.

MOYERS: I want to declare my bias. You know our son who is working in this field and believes in treatment because it worked for him. I’m on his side obviously as I know you are. You’ve had personal experience with this disease haven’t you?

RAMSTAD: I sure have, Bill. I’m a grateful recovering alcoholic of 22 years, only because of the grace of God and the treatment experience that I had back in 1981. I’ve learned firsthand that treatment works, that it’s cost effective and I’m very grateful that I had access to treatment.

MOYERS: What happened to you then? You woke up in jail if I remember correctly.

RAMSTAD: I woke up in a jail cell on July 31, 1981 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and that was my first step when I realized and accepted my alcoholism and realized that I could, through treatment, start recovering from this disease.

MOYERS: How have you managed to stay sober?

RAMSTAD: Only because of the grace of God and the fellowship of other recovering people with whom I meet regularly have I been able to stay sober for 22 years now and two months. And for that I’m very, very grateful.

MOYERS: The legislation that you’ve introduced in the House has also been introduced in the Senate by Senator Norm Coleman, your colleague from Minnesota, also a Republican. Exactly what would this bill do?

RAMSTAD: This legislation, the Chemical Dependency Treatment Parity Bill simply requires that insurance companies not discriminate against people with addiction. Which is to say that they cannot attach limitations, conditions that they don’t attach to the treatment of physical diseases. So we’re trying to knock down the barriers to the treatment for people like Rush Limbaugh, like myself who are addicted to chemicals.

We’re just staying to the insurance companies, “You cannot attach artificially high co-payments or deductibles that you don’t attach to the treatment of other diseases.” You can’t limit treatment status to five to seven days which they’re now doing because you don’t do that for other diseases. We’re just trying to eliminate the discrimination against people with addiction in terms of their treatment.

If you believe that addiction is a disease, which the American Medical Association has shown and your documentaries have shown, then you can’t justify the current discrimination against alcoholics and addicts in their treatment. And that’s why we need parity or equality in treatment.

We’re not mandating that the insurance companies do anything. That they cover people who aren’t presently covered. We’re just trying to address the problem of discrimination by the insurance companies against people in health plans.

MOYERS: Wouldn’t the bill add to the cost of the premiums that people pay?

RAMSTAD: At most, according to all the empirical data, we’d only experience one half of one percent increase in premiums. In fact, if the premiums were to increase more than one percent then the parity requirement is off right in the legislation. So for the price of a cup of coffee for people with health insurance we can treat 16 million Americans through this legislation.

MOYERS: Sixteen million Americans who are addicted or alcoholic?

RAMSTAD: Who are addicted and/or alcoholic and who are currently covered by health plans.

We also need to provide more Medicaid funding for the ten million Americans who are indigent and who are not covered by health insurance, I might add. This bill doesn’t reach that or doesn’t address that problem. But we need to do that down the road as well.

MOYERS: How do you explain the discrimination against addicts and alcoholics?

RAMSTAD: I think there’s a certain stigma against this disease that doesn’t exist for cancer or migraine headaches or ingrown toenails or heart disease, whatever the other physical malady might be.

MOYERS: Wait a minute.

RAMSTAD: There’s a—

MOYERS: You’re putting— you mentioned cancer and addiction in the same breath?

RAMSTAD: Well, because they’re both diseases and we don’t discriminate against people with cancer, that physical disease, and we shouldn’t discriminate against people such as Rush Limbaugh with addiction.

MOYERS: One of your staff told us that this could pass in the Senate but that it’s not likely to pass in the House. Why is that?

RAMSTAD: Well, I think more House members need to be educated as well as to the nature of addiction, as to the cost efficacy of treatment. I mean, for every dollar we spend in treatment we save $7 in healthcare costs, criminal justice costs and so forth.

People like me— yeah, and business costs. People like me who have been treated who are treated alcoholics, our healthcare costs are 100 percent lower than people still suffering the ravages of this disease suffering from alcoholism and addiction or out drinking and using. So it is cost effective. We just need to do a better job of educating people.

MOYERS: On your web site I read that you’ve offered five strong anti-crime bills. I know that the law enforcement associations have consistently named you their favorite, if not their favorite, one of their favorite members of the House. And that you are a former prosecutor. What kind of impact does a bill like this have on crime? Are we being soft of crime where we’re treating addiction equally?

RAMSTAD: Not at all. We’re being smart on crime by treating addiction as a disease. By dealing with the underlying problem of criminal activity in America. Eighty-two percent of people in prisons or jails in America are there directly or indirectly because of alcohol and/or drugs.

And we need to deal with the underlying problem of chemical dependency on the part of people who commit crimes. And so this is a smart approach to dealing with crime. We need a balanced approach that includes not only tough penalties but also treatment and education as well.

MOYERS: I want to put on screen a story just this week in the Orlando Sentinel in Florida where Rush Limbaugh lives. The headline says, quote, “Help for drug addicts just got a lot less likely.” And the story goes on to say that more people are sent to prison for drug offenses in Florida than on any other charge. But at the same time, the state is slashing the treatment they can get both in prison and when they are released. What does that say to you?

RAMSTAD: Well, I understand in these difficult fiscal times for not only the federal government but state governments as well that there are certain cuts that are being made across the country. And it’s unfortunate that usually chemical dependency treatment for prisoners, chemical dependency treatment for people on Medicaid, that’s the first area that many politicians look to for cuts which is really short-sighted and very unfortunate.

I mean, 82 percent of the people in jails and prisons today are there because of their addiction, their alcoholism. And if we don’t treat the disease of addiction among those people they’re gonna commit more crimes because 99 percent of them are gonna get out of prison or jail some time. And they’re just gonna continue their life of crime.

MOYERS: One of the knocks on treatment is that there’s a high casualty rate.

There is a story out just today that says Limbaugh apparently detoxed twice. That is he relapsed as we say in the field, and had to go to detox twice. That’s not uncommon is it?

RAMSTAD: Not at all. And anyone who’s been through the experience, anyone who’s chemically dependent knows that it’s very, very difficult to recover. The recidivism rate for most physical diseases is higher than the recidivism rate for addiction. Treatment is a viable means to recovery. Treatment doesn’t work for everyone. But the statistics vis-—-vis those for physical diseases compare quite favorably as far as recovery is concerned.

MOYERS: Well, Congressman, some of us think Rush Limbaugh is wrong and misinformed and wildly biased on just about every issue he addresses. That he sees the world only as a right-wing partisan who never shows compassion to anyone who disagrees with him. But we nonetheless wish him a successful experience in treatment. What would you like to see Limbaugh do in this hour of his trial?

RAMSTAD: Well, because Rush Limbaugh is such a public person he has anywhere from 20 million to 30 million loyal listeners each week. Rush puts a very public face on addiction and hopefully through Rush’s experience — I’m just hoping and praying that his treatment experience will be as valuable and helpful in beginning his recovery as mine was — through his experience, I’m hopeful that many, many Americans will be educated about chemical dependency, about chemical addiction. I’m hoping that the American people will finally learn what the American Medical Association declared in 1956; that chemical addiction is a disease and it’s a fatal disease if not treated.

MOYERS: What’s the most important thing from your own experience that you would like Limbaugh to learn?

RAMSTAD: That treatment works. And that recovery is a blessing and very, very possible. And that treatment provides the tools for recovery.

MOYERS: Someone cares about this issue, what can they do?

RAMSTAD: They can write to their Congressman or woman, write to their United States senator and urge them to co-sponsor the Chemical Dependency Treatment Parity Bill.

MOYERS: Congressman Jim Ramstad, Republican from Minnesota, thank you for joining us on NOW.

RAMSTAD: Thank you, Bill.

MOYERS: That’s it for NOW. David Brancaccio and I will be back next week.

I’m Bill Moyers. Good night.

This transcript was entered on August 13, 2015.

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