Walmart has become the world’s largest retailer in part because of a simple idea: “always low prices.” But critics of the retailing giant say that in many communities, taxpayers are picking up the costs that keep Walmart’s prices low and their profits high. NOW travelled to Las Vegas and to California, where Walmart has plans to open 40 new “supercenters” in the next four years, and examines the real costs of Walmart to taxpayers and communities. The investigation looked at allegations that Walmart guides its low-paid workers to public assistance and at what happened in one community that spent millions in subsidies to Walmart in hopes of economic benefit.
As questions arose about the fate of Saddam Hussein, we heard from Samantha Power, who was awarded the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for her non-fiction book, A PROBLEM FROM HELL: AMERICA AND THE AGE OF GENOCIDE and founded the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University. Power discussed the matter of meting out justice to former tyrannical leaders like Saddam Hussein, the International Criminal Court at The Hague, and about her conversation with General Wesley Clark, who testified at the trial of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic.
NOW also interviewed former Maine Governor Angus King, who left office after eight years as one of only two Independent governors in the United States. Gov. King shares his views on everything from the economy, to homeland security, to bipartisan politics, to building casinos for state revenue.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: Welcome to NOW. Bill Moyers is back next week. Many of you have just lit the first Hanukah candles or are decking the halls for next week. The holidays also mean consumption — and of course, shopping.
The biggest retailer in the country is Walmart. The chain gets 100 million shoppers a week. No surprise. The prices are hard to beat, the greeters just inside the doors are often sincere, and no less than W. Michael Cox, Chief Economist of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, put it, “Walmart is the greatest thing that ever happened to low-income Americans. They can stretch their dollars and afford things they otherwise couldn’t.”
The thing is, Walmart is shockingly good at what it does. Its stuff is cheap because the company takes a tough line on what it pays its suppliers for their goods and its employees for their labor.
The consequences of this are playing out in a town near you, and nowhere more so than in Southern California, where Walmart is planning to build 40 stores over the next four years. These are supercenters that include the usual dry goods plus vast aisles of groceries. Some supermarket chains — girding for the new competition — have asked their workers for give-backs. The result has been a bitter strike involving 70,000 grocery workers, now coming into its third month. Our story is reported by Sylvia Chase and producer Dan Klein.
SYLVIA CHASE, CORRESPONDENT: Walmart is the nation’s biggest retailer and its biggest grocer too, but there’s evidence the low prices come — in part — at government expense — that the corporation shifts financial burdens to taxpayers. Health care is one of them. Consider this contrast: Unionized supermarket workers pay little or nothing for their health plans and have an average hourly wage of $10.35 per hour. Walmart workers earn about 25% less — a reported $8.23 per hour.
TIM MORENO, WALMART ASSOCIATE: My monthly income take home after deductions is about $12-hundred a month.
SYLVIA CHASE, CORRESPONDENT: That’s about $14,500 a year — Las Vegas produce clerk Tim Moreno says its not enough to afford the roughly $250 it costs each month for Walmart’s family medical plan. He says his pregnant wife insures their three youngsters through her job, but that comes to an end next month.
CHASE, ADDRESSING MORENO: What if you have to turn to public assistance?
MORENO: If I have to, then you know for.. . for her and my kids I’ll do it. It just, I mean I have pride in what I do and who I am as a man, but my family comes first.
ROBERT PADILLA, WALMART ASSOCIATE: The first four years I had my kids on the state health plan.
CHASE: I’m sorry.
PADILLA: On the state plan. The health plan of Nevada.
CHASE: After a rise in income, Walmart butcher Robert Padilla’s family became ineligible for Medicaid. He has had a tracheotomy tube in his throat since age 8. He’s never been able to afford Walmart’s health insurance.
PADILLA: I haven’t been to a doctor in over six years.
PADILLA: I can’t afford the deductible and the premiums. And they don’t cover certain things so it’s crazy.
CHASE: What do you do? What do you do when you get sick?
PADILLA: Ride it out. Nothing else I can do.
CHASE: Walmart’s benefits program allows full-time workers to buy into the company plan after 6 months; part-time workers have to wait two years. Without insurance, many end up at the county hospital. Larry Allen was one of them. He went to county hospital at taxpayers’ expense during a blood pressure crisis.
CHASE, ADDRESSING ALLEN: Did you get good care?
LARRY ALLEN, FORMER WALMART ASSOCIATE: Outstanding. Outstanding.
SYLVIA CHASE: Who paid your bills?
LARRY ALLEN: No one yet. And the choices I’m faced with…And you have to get realistic on this. When you have $32,333.85 was the total bill.
SYLVIA CHASE: And you got it at county hospital?
LARRY ALLEN: Absolutely.
SYLVIA CHASE: So who does that mean pays that bill?
LARRY ALLEN: The taxpayers.
SYLVIA CHASE: The taxpayers are apparently taking care of a lot of Walmart workers. According to the Institute for Labor and Employment at the University of California/Berkeley, in 2002, Walmart workers in California relied on 50 percent more taxpayer funded health care per employee than those at other large retail companies. Put another way, taxpayers subsidized $20.5 million worth of medical care for Walmart in California alone.
Larry Allen now works as a union organizer.
LARRY ALLEN AT THE UCFW MEETING: When I spoke out against Walmart’s inadequate healthcare plan I was fired.
SYLVIA CHASE: Allen is appealing his dismissal from Walmart at the National Labor Relations Board. He says Walmart accuses him of insubordination, violation of company policy and solicitation for the union.
The United Food and Commercial Workers has also recruited many former Walmart managers, representing decades of insider information about the company, people like Stan Fortune. After 17 years with Walmart as a manager and security specialist, he was fired for misconduct after a struggle with a suspected shoplifter. Authorities later ruled that there was no “misconduct.” Fortune had been fired without cause.
Fortune says that between the high cost of the company health plan and the high turnover typical in retail, many employees aren’t with the company long enough to have health insurance.
STAN FORTUNE, FORMER WALMART MANAGER: My guess was under 40 percent actually — got benefits — or got the health insurance benefits from the company.
SYLVIA CHASE: Walmart puts that figure at closer to 50 percent, but Fortune also says that Walmart viewed health care as just another item in the budget that had to be cut.
STAN FORTUNE: You were responsible for reducing all of your controllable expenses from one year to the next. If it was down 1/10 of 1 percent that’s fine. You still reduced it. But you still were responsible for reducing every line of your controllable expense.
SYLVIA CHASE: And health was one of those lines of controllable expense?
STAN FORTUNE: The group insurance was one.
SYLVIA CHASE: If — how do you do that? You’ve got a certain number of people that qualify for the plan. They’re on the plan.
STAN FORTUNE: You counted on your turnover to get rid of some of the people that were in the eligibility — or had gone past the eligibility date and were actually eligible to get the insurance. And this went on for years that you would — you were trying at store level to cut back against last year’s numbers.
SYLVIA CHASE: So putting it in plain language you had to get rid of some workers. You had to replace them with part-time workers. You had to keep your workers un-eligible for health insurance coverage.
STAN FORTUNE: If you — if you wanted to reduce your cost you would keep your workers ineligible for coverage.
SYLVIA CHASE: The fact many Walmart employees aren’t insured is so well-known that it provided fodder for a routine on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart this past October.
SYLVIA CHASE: But the pressure on Walmart managers to keep the costs down is no laughing matter.
GRETCHEN ADAMS, FORMER WALMART MANAGER: So the lower wages and the lower benefits is the less money that the store has to put out, which puts more money on the bottom line. And that’s after all basically what Walmart cares about is the bottom line.
SYLVIA CHASE: In her 10 years at Walmart, manager Gretchen Adams says she opened 27 supercenters, receiving glowing performance reviews, but she says she quit the company after being ordered to reduce payroll following 9/11. She too has joined the union and says Walmart’s culture encourages employees to turn to taxpayer-funded assistance.
GRETCHEN ADAMS: The personnel office will generally keep lists for their territory, for their town — because so many of the associates cannot afford the health care. So being that whenever they do have an issue or a problem that comes up and they come to the office then they — personnel has a list of the state agencies so that we could have some place to send these associates.
SYLVIA CHASE: For Medicaid.
GRETCHEN ADAMS: For Medicaid, for, well, baby care, for whatever it is that they need.
SYLVIA CHASE: Food stamps?
GRETCHEN ADAMS: Food stamps. Yes.
SYLVIA CHASE: Jon Lehman says his Rolodex of charities and taxpayer funded services proves that managers were expected to refer employees to seek public assistance. It’s policy, he says, he was taught at company headquarters.
JON LEHMAN, FORMER WALMART MANAGER: We were supposed to go and learn leadership ideas and you’re supposed to learn how to lead. They have a session where they take you aside and teach you about these types of things as well.
SYLVIA CHASE: These types of things being?
JON LEHMAN: Well, how to direct associates. How to look into your community and take full advantage of the ministries, the civic organizations, tax-based organizations, subsidy organizations within your community that’ll help workers in need. For food, clothing, indigent healthcare, whatever. Whatever needs to be.
SYLVIA CHASE: It’s institutional then. This is part of the Walmart culture? Is that what you’re telling me?
JON LEHMAN: Of course it is. Yeah.
SYLVIA CHASE: Of course it is?
JON LEHMAN: Yes, ma’am. Yes, ma’am. I mean, it — and, you know, as a store manager I was — I worked for Walmart for 17 years and I didn’t think it was wrong until I left.
SYLVIA CHASE: Walmart refused NOW’s request for an interview, But in response to written questions said “Walmart does not encourage associates anywhere to apply for public assistance, nor do we hold training sessions for managers to encourage their associates to apply for public assistance.” But remember Larry Allen? He says this flyer was in his Walmart pay envelope. Labelled “Instructions for associates,” it provides step by step instructions to employees applying for social services and lists a Web site and 1-800 number.
STAN FORTUNE: I think that it speaks for itself that the company is using the state to subsidize their profit by making the state pay for people that get sick or pay for their health care benefits.
SYLVIA CHASE: Walmart policies that seem stingy to people like Stan Fortune look like a winning formula to others.
GARY STIBEL, NEW ENGLAND CONSULTING GROUP: Their culture is based upon saving money and driving costs down and nothing stands in the way.
SYLVIA CHASE: Gary Stibel heads a business consulting group and speaks for many when he says Walmart is an exemplary business model for Wall Street and a Mecca on Main Street— with sales of $245 billion in 2002.
GARY STIBEL: It is a culture that is focused on a singular benefit which is: how can we improve the standard of living for our customers? How can we drive prices down lower?
SYLVIA CHASE: And if that means — as Walmart critics say — that taxpayers subsidize Wal-Mart because its employees can’t get along on what they earn?
GARY STIBEL: On balance, I think Walmart does far more to relieve the burden of unemployment, to relieve the burden of people who can’t satisfy the needs and demands of their families because they can’t afford to shop elsewhere. So on balance, I think Wal-Mart does more to relieve the burden of the taxpayer and the municipality than it does to add to it.
SYLVIA CHASE: The battle for and against Walmart is being waged across California, where Walmart has plans to build 40 supercenters over the next four years. Supercenters combine a giant retail operation with a grocery store. In Contra Costa County, supervisors were in the drafting phase of an ordinance to ban stores that big when the Board of Supervisors Chairman, Mark DeSaulnier received a visit at his restaurant from Walmart’s lobbyist.
MARK DESAULNIER, CONTRA COSTA COUNTY SUPERVISOR: He said, “You can expect us to be — to have a referendum on it if you are to pass it.” And they will spend whatever money they need to spend to get it overturned.
SYLVIA CHASE: In other words, Walmart would go over the heads of elected officials and drive bargain-conscious shoppers to the ballot box. They paid an estimated $100,000 for a Sacramento firm, professional signature gatherers. In short order, Walmart had made it onto the March, 2004 ballot. It’s a tactic that works. Last spring, voters in Calexico, a border town, gave Walmart a resounding “yes,” even though many studies say Walmarts could cost taxpayers too much.
MARK DESAULNIER: So it’s creating more pressure on our local infrastructure. And that’s why just as a good planning tool, we don’t think we should have these. They can’t, from a business model, pay for the impacts they have on the community.
SYLVIA CHASE: Retail Forward, a research firm that includes Walmart among its clients, predicts that every new supercenter will drive two local supermarkets out of business. Another study says that in Southern California alone, such failures could result in an annual loss of $500 million or more in wages and benefits.
JOHN GIOIA, CONTRA COSTA COUNTY SUPERVISOR: A new Walmart supercenter does not bring in the new revenue into a community that they claim. They usually take away from existing stores. Cause other stores to potentially fail. Which also causes layoff and lost jobs.
SYLVIA CHASE: Yet, communities still receive Walmart with open arms. In the Southern California desert, Cathedral City welcomed Walmart a decade ago, with visions of sales tax revenues dancing in their heads.
SYLVIA CHASE: How much did the city of Cathedral City invest to get Walmart?
GREG PETTIS, MAYOR, PRO TEM, CATHEDRAL CITY: The initial investment was $1.8 million.
SYLVIA CHASE: How much did you get back?
GREG PETTIS: To date, nothing.
SYLVIA CHASE: A payday was expected, once Cathedral City had reimbursed Walmart’s building and other expenses at the new mall. Here’s how the deal works.
GREG PETTIS: Every quarter when the sales tax checks come in to us from the state from Walmart, we turn around, and write that check right back to Walmart, anticipating that at the end of this time, we’re gonna see all of that money coming back into our coffers.
SYLVIA CHASE: But just as Cathedral City made good on its end of the $1.8 million deal with Walmart came a rude surprise: Walmart is closing in Cathedral City and opening three new stores down the road.
GREG PETTIS: Our first notification was when we saw it in the newspaper that the neighboring City Council was gonna be having a discussion about it.
SYLVIA CHASE: You’re kidding? You read about this in the newspaper?
GREG PETTIS: Right. And we were the ones who made the first phone call to Wal-Mart, saying, “What’s going on? Can we do something —
SYLVIA CHASE: And what did they say?
GREG PETTIS: Oh, there’s nothing that can be done. We’ll sit and talk with you. But there’s nothing to — nothing to discuss.
SYLVIA CHASE: And nothing to fill up the million dollar annual contribution Cathedral City had expected from sales taxes at the Walmart.
GREG PETTIS: Right. A million dollars every year. And this is money, general fund money, which is exactly what we pay for the police, the fire, paramedics — parks, street maintenance. I mean, that’s the real bread and butter for a city’s economy is what they get in their sales tax. And that’s going to go away.
SYLVIA CHASE: Pettis says they will be lucky if they get $500,000 in sales tax out of the deal. When Walmart abandons this store, the other tenants in the mall are expected to suffer.
The Walmart owned Sam’s Club is also going, so this smaller mall has turned over new leases at reduced rates and the lube and oil shop folded up all together. For Cathedral City, it’s a symbol of what’s wrong about Walmart and that is one reason why Contra Costa County wants nothing to do with the company consumers can’t seem to do without.
Customers love Walmart. Cheap stuff. Good stuff. One stop shopping.
JOHN GIOIA: Well, first of all while everyone likes a good deal, that when you walk out of Walmart and you look at your receipt, you need to add onto that receipt the cost that you’re paying for increased transportation taxes for streets and roads, increased taxes to cover subsidies for their — for their employees. Both in health care and social services. That’s a hard concept to get across. Because it’s not there in black and white on the receipt. But it’s — black and white in your pocket. You pay it.
ANNOUNCER: There’s more to come on NOW. A true independent. The former governor of Maine levels his gaze at the confusion in Congress.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: We turn now to judgement at Baghdad. Or will it be judgment in The Hague for Saddam Hussein — whose photograph would have been hard to miss this week. Venue is a key strategic choice in any big trial, no less so in the case of the former Iraqi dictator.
Those Iraqis appointed by the US to the governing council have their own ideas about the trial. President Bush said he’d work with them, but didn’t commit to letting Hussein be tried in their special criminal tribunal. The president did say, though, that it’s up to the Iraqi people whether to execute Hussein.
If you get the feeling they’re making it up as they go along, you’re right. But there is another existing international model for trying war criminals: the United Nations’ International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague, where former Serbian President Slobodan Milosovic is now on trial.
Earlier this week, Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark broke from the campaign trail to testify in The Hague. As former NATO Supreme Commander, General Clark estimates he spent more than 100 hours in ultimately futile negotiations with Milosovic before directing the bombing campaign against his forces in Serbia.
The U.S. has been cautiously supportive of similar UN-backed trials in Rwanda, East Timor and Sierra Leone. But an even more ambitious global court is now taking shape. The International Criminal Court – which will try large scale crimes against humanity that go unpunished in national courts.
The idea is to develop a single set of policies to try war criminals and get away from the UN’s ad hoc system. The ICC has yet to try a case but already has a Web site, an office in The Hague, a prosecutor and 18 judges. Ninety-two countries are already signatories to the ICC.
But the US has done everything in its power to sabotage the court. Why? They’re afraid our own diplomats and soldiers could be put on trial.
Here to talk to us about that is Samantha Power. She’s co-founder of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard. She’s also the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “A PROBLEM FROM HELL: AMERICA AND THE AGE OF GENOCIDE.” As a journalist she’s often covered the court in The Hague. Samantha, welcome back to NOW.
SAMANTHA POWER: Good to be here.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: You spent a lot of time thinking about this. What do you suppose is the optimum way for Saddam Hussein to face justice?
SAMANTHA POWER: Well, I think it’s essential that the trial take place of course on Iraqi soil with the Iraqis empowered to make decisions about how the trials proceed, what the procedural protections are. But it’s also essential I think for us to draw upon the international expertise that we’ve developed over the course of the last decade conducting trials like this — very, very complicated trials, trials where you have to actually excavate mass graves in order to present forensic evidence. There are 260 mass graves in Iraq.
Trials where you have to go over thousands and thousands of pages of documentary evidence. Saddam and his cronies were pack rats very much like the Nazis and they left an extensive paper trail. There are people out there in the world now who’ve spent a lot of time thinking about these questions and so one of the challenges for the court will be simultaneously to bring in that expertise without pulling the rug out from under the Iraqis. There is a statute that the Iraqis announced the existence of last week and presented to the world —
DAVID BRANCACCIO: That’s brand new for a national tribunal. They had a system ready for this.
SAMANTHA POWER: They did indeed. I mean, there’s a real coincidence of timing that the statute is announced three days before the arrest of Saddam but I do think it was something of a coincidence. And it’s great for the Iraqis that they had already produced that statute because it, I think reduces the likelihood that the international community will try to move the tribunal outside of Iraq.
But I think it’s essential while that statute is a good place to start that it actually be presented to the Iraqi people and that there be now a public process where they begin to feel ownership of the trial it proceeds. And the reason I say that is just from looking again at other places that have attempted to grapple with crimes against humanity of this scale you see an inevitable dashing of expectations when these processes take hold.
And the more that you can get front-end buying where the Iraqis are at least they begin to sort of confront some of the trade-offs and the limitations of justice up front rather than thinking that all of their prayers are gonna be answered and that this is gonna be a vehicle for them to get back their homes, to discover their loved ones, to see the person they despise punished.
It will do some of those things. It will be an opportunity for them to retrieve some of their dignity. But it can’t achieve everything. And the more that they become a part of this process I think the more likely it is that they will stay the course and support a process despite its inevitable imperfections down the road.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: It sounds like something for you- that is sine qua non- is being sure that the trials or whatever it is– the proceedings are in Iraq. That’s important.
SAMANTHA POWER: Essential. We have these two international criminal tribunals that are functional right now. One for Rwanda and one for Yugoslavia. Both of them are outside the countries where the crimes took place. The Yugoslav tribunal is at The Hague, the Rwanda tribunal is in Arusha, Tanzania.
The victims of the crimes that were carried out, the genocide, the murder of 800,000 people in Rwanda and the killing of probably around 200,000 people in the former Yugoslavia don’t tune into these proceedings. The court processes has ended up really, I mean, putting some of the worst men of the 20th century behind bars. Incredibly important, incapacitating them, ensuring that they’re not going back to those regions and screwing things up again and destabilizing and causing more violence.
But the victims who have the most to gain, again, by being acknowledged as human beings– people who have been told, “You are not human, you are sub human”– the chance to actually see retribution be done. Those people are not tuning into the proceedings. Indeed the courts are so far away metaphorically and geographically– that the judges and lawyers don’t even really think about the victims as an audience. They don’t translate their judgments and their indictments into Serbo-Croatian or Rwandan until much later. Months and months later they do– translate them into French, into English so that– you know, again the international judges can function.
But I think it’s essential again if these courts and if this process of justice is to be an exemplar of the rule of law that has so long been denied these countries the victims actually have to be a part of it.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: But for the main headline trials you’re arguing not just Iraqi judges?
SAMANTHA POWER: I think to rely solely on Iraqi judges would be a mistake for a couple of reasons. One– so many of the lawyers who are present now in Iraq are tainted in some way. They’re either tainted because they were part of the Ba’ath regime and they didn’t give up their jobs. They seem to be tainted because they were victimized by the Ba’ath regime and thus how could you be impartial to prosecute people who were your own tormentors?
And thirdly, many of the people who actually have extensive criminal law experience are exiles who have come from outside back to Iraq in the wake of the war and those people of course seem to be associated with the American occupation. So they’re seen to be tainted. I think both for the Iraqis at home and for the sake of meeting international standards to inject some of the expertise that exists on the international stage– preferably by taking judges from the region, from the Middle East, who have experience, let’s say, at the Yugoslav Tribunal or the Rwanda Tribunal or just in their own criminal justice systems.
Or– bringing– you know, some judges from non-Western countries. I think just to have a component of that you would reduce of some of the taint of victims’ justice and victors’ justice and simultaneously you’d have an injection of the kind of expertise that is needed to do what are the most intensely complicated trials that we’ll probably see in the next decade.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: I mean, I hear you arguing for this hybrid Iraqi and international system. You’ve heard the argument though that making it too international is patronizing. I was reading the WALL STREET JOURNAL yesterday under the title “Judicial Colonialism” is what they labeled this idea that the Iraqis aren’t ready to run these trials. It concludes, “there’s a peculiar condescension to the view that only Europeans or the UN can properly try and punish Saddam as if Iraqis are too uncivilized to run a trial.” You don’t think that given a little bit of preparation– it could be really seen as an Iraqi affair?
SAMANTHA POWER: Well, I actually think the point is a good point that one can’t be at all condescending about this– which is the temptation whenever you say, “Oh, no. You can’t do it on your own. We’ve got to bring in– you know, all these experts in from the United Nations– ” the Iraqis say, “Wait a minute. The United Nations? It’s the UN that imposed all those sanctions for all those years. It’s the UN that didn’t enforce its resolutions — ”
DAVID BRANCACCIO: In essence there’s a conflict of interest in Iraq.
SAMANTHA POWER: I think that would be part of the argument. But also just the UN, the UN? You know, who are you to tell us about how justice should be dispensed. Where were you when we needed you? And, you know, you were, I mean, I think that’s the perception among many Iraqis. And I think that there is an element of condescension when someone like me stands up and says, “Oh, you know, we have to bring in this foreign expertise, et cetera, et cetera.”
I think the only way that the hybrid model will work is if the demand comes earnestly from the Iraqis themselves.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: A related issue is even within the international community are — we, the international community, is so great at running these war crimes trials. The UN has been trying Slobodan Milosevic, the former Serbian strongman for most of this century if I have my calculations correct. It’s a slow moving process.
But is that trial, from your point of view, the Milosevic trial– is it working?
SAMANTHA POWERS: I mean, I think, then one has to ask, “Compared to what?” If the Serbian government was not prepared to try him, as it– I think they believed it would have been far too destabilizing to try him for genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity.
Then this is really the only forum that we have.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: Then as it happens, it’s been a– particularly vivid week in that Milosevic trial. Very high profile testimony from a man that happens to now be a democratic candidate for US President, Wesley Clark. He testified early this week, my understanding is you got to talk to him once he got back to the states?
SAMANTHA POWER: I did. I–
DAVID BRANCACCIO: What he say?
SAMANTHA POWER: He said that– surprisingly that he had enjoyed his time with– Mr. Milosevic.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: Enjoyed?
SAMANTHA POWER: Enjoyed– it was a sparring match. I mean, it was two men who had negotiated and sparred on the battlefield before. And so, suddenly General Clark is in a position sitting at the witness stand having- a former head of state, the only head of state ever to be prosecuted in one of these courts interrogating him. I mean, it was actually quite a risky thing to go and do I think. You can come off looking pretty badly when someone says, “Well, you know, if I was so bad, why did, you know, you have dinner with me that night?” Or, you know, “Why did we do the Dayton deal in the first place?” And aren’t you somehow implicated, and what about your war crimes that you committed in Serbia over the course of the NATO bombing.
You know, these kinds of taunts, that’s what the exchange I think looked like. But, I think you know, what’s really important about General Clark’s testimony is, I mean, it’s a four star US General, going to an international court in the Hague, to testify against a man who presided over three wars, possibly presided over genocide. Certainly presided over war crimes and crimes against humanity.
And for an American General to go over there and legitimate that court, given America’s squeamish relationship with international justice, I think is very important for the court. And it’s also I think it signals, at least, it signals General Clark’s belief anyway I think, that international justice is in the American interest. It’s not simply about the victims in Kosovo or in Bosnia. It’s also about trying to create a world where these crimes are deterred.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: Indeed, a squeamish attitude towards these issues of international justice on the part of the United States. The International Criminal Court, the United States doesn’t like this idea of a permanent– system for this, why?
SAMANTHA POWER: Well, the International Criminal Court, is a court of last resort. It is a court that will only kick into gear when national systems are unable or unwilling to prosecute crimes against humanity, genocide, et cetera. So, this, here again, the Yugoslav case is a very good example.
The American objection to the court is that the United States does not have a veto, or does not have final say on who gets prosecuted. And so the American fear is that if you put a prosecutor in place who is independent, and you don’t allow the United States or the Security Council to vet what it is he’s doing, or she is doing, then there is a risk down the road that perhaps American acts of war will be covered by the statute. And there is a risk that Americans will be prosecuted.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: But, not an insane risk. Let’s say in Kosovo when we finally intervened there, it’s possible that an International Criminal Court system gone awry could have– prosecuted US officials or diplomats or military people.
SAMANTHA POWER: Indeed, the court at The Hague that does exist, actually examined allegations of American wrong-doing, and decided that, you know, they didn’t– cut muster, and that they didn’t meet the standard for– and the standard is incredibly robust. I mean, the standard is not simply stray missiles– you know, that happened to hit the Chinese Embassy. The standard is genocide, systematic and widespread crimes against humanity, and basically a policy of war crimes.
I mean, it is a very high or as it were low bar that you would have to meet. The American fear is that some Anti-American prosecutor is gonna say on the basis of very little evidence, “Well, that’s a war crime, or that’s systematic and widespread.” There are checks in place at the court that make this extremely unlikely. The primary check is that all the United States has to do whenever a charge is filed, is simply investigate it itself.
Use the robust courts marshal system if that’s necessary. National judicial processes to investigate these crimes, and then that’s it. The ICC will not have jurisdiction. But, for the Americans, even just the smallest risk that the International Criminal Court would come back and say, “Well, no your investigation was insufficient,” has been enough for the United States to say we don’t want any part of that.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: I mean, it’s hard to overstate the Bush administration’s opposition to this court system. I mean, they’re really throwing their bodies in front of it.
SAMANTHA POWER: Well, the Clinton administration wasn’t terribly friendly to the court either. I mean, the Clinton administration had the same attitude, which was that the risk to American personnel outweighed the good that the United, that the– outweighed the good that International Criminal Court–
DAVID BRANCACCIO: But, he signed the thing didn’t he? He signed the treaty?
SAMANTHA POWER: He signed in the eleventh hour the treaty. But, that was an effort to say, we’re for international justice, we’re not gonna be a part of this court, but we’re for it. We like the idea of international justice, we think it’s a good thing when genocide–
DAVID BRANCACCIO: And Bush somehow unsigned it. I didn’t know you– could do that but–
SAMANTHA POWER: Bush did something that I don’t think any– American President had ever done, which was to unsign a treaty upon taking office. But, not just that, to actually launch a campaign to kill the court. So, if Clinton’s position was that the United States will not be a part of this, but we kind of wish it well, and we’re gonna protect our own; Bush’s position has been that the existence of the court is a threat to the United States.
So, what the administration has done and– I think this is really quite unusual, is that it has actually first of all passed a law with something in it called the Hague Invasion Clause. Which entitles the United States to invade Holland to secure the release of any Americans who are arrested. Let’s say hypothetically in the future by the International Criminal Court.
I mean, we have actually passed a law saying we are prepared to invade Holland. To me, not the most diplomatic way of proceeding, especially at a time when we’re looking for European support for things that we want elsewhere.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: Well, it’s the whole idea of world judges that you have no political access to, standing in judgment over you.
SAMANTHA POWER: Yeah, and I think our position towards the International Criminal Court is not dissimilar from our position toward international treaties generally. I mean, we do wanna write our own rules. We do wanna kind of, we want international law to take hold, but we want to be able to exempt ourselves from it, because we do have concerns about other people intruding in our affairs. We are very concerned about sovereignty and about control.
The problem is, right now especially in light of the preemptive attacks and a kind of more holistic hostility to multilateral institutions, is that there is a perception of course that the United States is a rogue nation that’s actually afraid of international law. And the perception is that we have something to hide.
Whereas in the American– you know, mindset, it is not that we have anything to hide, it’s just they are to be feared. So I think that the United States unfortunately is actually doing a disservice to its larger interest in enhancing US security and in– in creating enforceable rules of the road that will be useful, even in prosecuting the war on terrorism.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: The book is called, “A PROBLEM FROM HELL: AMERICA AND THE AGE OF GENOCIDE.” Samantha Power, thanks so much for stopping by again on NOW.
SAMANTHA POWER: Thank you.
ANNOUNCER: Next week on NOW WITH BILL MOYERS, a unique vision based on the teachings of Jesus from one of the world’s great preachers.
REV. JAMES FORBES: What is God thinking about in these times of war, widening gap between the haves and the have nots. God’s heart aches and it’s a sin to be silent.
ANNOUNCER: A message of Christian prophesy— preaching tolerance and social justice. “Speaking to Power”: a special hour next week on NOW.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: All politicians are not alike. If you look hard enough you can find one who doesn’t wind up his term with the usual bid for higher office or with a spin through the revolving door into the land of lobbying.
In January, Angus King finished his eight years as governor of the state of Maine. Politically King is neither fish nor fowl, one of those party-defying independents whom Mainers send to their state house once in a while.
King took his iconoclasm with him as he left office — purchasing this 40 foot Newmar Dutch Star with galley kitchen, bunks, satellite TV and shower.
King and his wife Mary Herman, who is an educator, decided to homeschool thier children Molly and Ben — if that’s what you call taking classes along a 15,000 mile loop around the country. The sights and sounds of America provided the curriculum. The family logged the progress of their five and a half month, 34-state journey online. King had agreed to call into my old public radio show, MARKETPLACE, every couple of weeks.
It was more than just a long family vacation. It was a chance for King to connect with the rest of the country and to assemble his thoughts after a decade of flat-out politics and governing.
ANGUS KING FROM THE ROAD: I was along the Northern California coast and it just was so reminiscent of Maine where you had forcetory and fishing, they both were in decline and there wasn’t much to replace them. And it was just heart-breaking an I just wonder where that leads us.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: The R.V. made it back to Maine safely with just three little scratches to show for the epic journey. His family wasn’t much worse for wear, either.
Angus King is now teaching a class on leadership at Bowdoin College and has just joined a Maine law firm. But I was curious how he put it all together following his voyage, about any added wisdom he acquired from the trip, and how Angus King, independent, views what’s happening in politics today. Good to see you back in one piece, Governor.
ANGUS KING: David, glad to be here.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: You know, there’s a West African proverb that says, “One must come out of one’s house to begin learning.” You really got out of the house and got on the road.
ANGUS KING: And we were way out on the road.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: Did it tie in at all– to politics? I mean in a sense, it– looks a bit like a primary campaign. Not that you’re running for anything. But this is– you’re meeting folks, different parts of the country, trying to figure out what concerns– not just your family, but people around you.
ANGUS KING: Well, it didn’t — I mean there’s no direct tie-in, because I’m through with elective office. I said that when I ran for governor of Maine nine years ago, that I was gonna be governor and then go home. And that’s what I’ve done.
But I’m inveterately curious. I can’t stop asking questions and trying to find out what’s going on, and what the issues are, and how things are working. And I’ll tell ‘ya one thing that helped was that I came to realize that Maine isn’t the only place that has, for example, fiscal problems of their state budget.
We had places out West that there really in many ways, in worse shape. And that’s a good thing to realize that you’re not the only, you’re not the only guy looking up for a– from the bottom.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: But it’s a bad thing, in general. I mean the states really are under a lot of pressure right now.
ANGUS KING: They’re in the worst shape they’ve been in since The Great Depression. They’ve suffered a kind of triple whammy. And I don’t think people really realize how serious it was.
And it happened very fast. Combination of declining resources, declining revenues, because most states have an income tax and a sales tax. That’s their source of revenues. When the stock market went down, people stopped selling their businesses, revenues just dropped dead.
I mean I’ll never forget riding from Bangor to Augusta, getting a phone call saying they just told us that we’re gonna be $90 million short this year, you know, totally unexpectedly in the end of April of 2000.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: Now in the context of Maine that is a lot of money.
ANGUS KING: That’s a lot of money. That’s a big hunk of our budget. So revenues went down. Then the federal government in the tax cuts that have been passed in the last three or four years, had the effect of cutting revenues further. Because most states’ income tax systems are based on the federal income tax.
So if you cut federal income taxes, it cuts the state income tax. So there’s another I think I remember that the first– the first round of tax cuts cost the states something like $14 billion collectively.
And then finally, September 11th came, and a lot of new burdens were put on the states and the localities with not a heck of a lot of additional money to deal with it. I, you know, the old saying is, “Our military establishment is the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard. Now it’s the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard, and the Waterville PD.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: The Waterville, Maine PD, my home town.
ANGUS KING: Absolutely. I just chose that in random. But the point is a lot of responsibilities are having to be taken in the communities. And frankly, the federal government hasn’t stepped up.
There’s been a lot of talk about homeland security. But the reality is a lot of the day to day homeland security takes place with the police department, the emergency response people. I mean we had to do all these Anthrax tests and all that kinda thing.
And there has been some funding from Washington, but really, not — it hasn’t recognized the fact that national defense is now a domestic issue as well as an international one. It ain’t all at the Pentagon.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: Too bad you can’t print money, like the federal government does.
ANGUS KING: If we could, we’d be up to our eyeballs in Maine is Moose Bucks or something. I mean it’s probably a good thing. But right now, the federal government’s printing it pretty fast. And I’m pretty worried about that.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: But that’s the classic thing that you see in politics. People wanna get reelected, so they make promises, and they hope someone else can figure out where the money comes from.
ANGUS KING: Well, I see that. And I saw it in the last few years I was in office. And I saw it around the country as something of an epidemic.
People have never liked taxes. I mean let’s be serious. But what’s happening as I observe, is a rising sense of entitlement. Everybody wants the government to take care of whatever ails ’em. And people expect the goodies, the roads paved, the schools, the Medicare drug benefit, but at the same time, they vote for tax caps. And I never have been able to figure that one out.
A perfect example hit me when I was still governor. I used to tour Maine on a Harley. I like to ride motorcycles. You get a good feel for the road.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: Do the state troopers let you go out on a motorcycle?
ANGUS KING: Yeah. They weren’t crazy about it, believe me. And they’d follow behind, you know, in the car. Was sort of like having training wheels with these guys behind me.
But we’d go around and hit a lot of the rural areas. And I once pulled into a little general store up in northern Maine. Put gas in the motorcycle. Walked across the parking lot to pay for it. And the lady’s behind the counter. And she sees me comin’. She knows who I am.
She’s got her hands on both sides of the cash register. And I walk through the door. The first words out of her mouth were, “Ha! The tax man.” Well, I can deal with that. I paid for my gas and everything. But the punch line is, I’m on the way out, and she says, “Where you going from here?” I said, “Well, I’m headed south, down the road.” She says, “Good. I hope you have a bumpy ride. Maybe you’ll fix the road!”
So she didn’t wanna pay the taxes, but she wanted the road fixed. And nationally, that seems to be where we are. And I don’t wanna sound preachy. But, you know, people, there ain’t no free lunch.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: But some things that people are asking for in your state and around the country aren’t frills.
ANGUS KING: I don’t mean to imply that these thing– aren’t things that people have a right to ask for. I think they do, and I think, to some extent, government has an obligation to deliver them. All I’m saying is there’s gotta be two sides of the equation. You can’t have it both ways.
Perfect example is, in the last several weeks, we’ve seen the big debate in Washington about a Medicare drug benefit that’s gonna cost $400 billion. Nobody’s talking about how it’s gonna be paid for. We’re already in the deficit.
Nobody wants to tell people they can’t have what they want. Nobody wants to tell people they have to pay for it. What happens? What something’s gotta give.
What happens is the states are now searching for gimmicky ways to get money. Casinos.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: You’re not a big fan of casinos.
ANGUS KING: I hate ’em. For a lot of reasons. I think they’re you know, I think they’re a tax on the poor all of those kinds of things. And we saw it’s a cancer. No state has ever stopped with one.
You go to places like Montana, you think of Montana, beautiful, incredible state, outdoors. Every general store’s a casino. We went to a pizza parlor in in Missoula. There are 12 Keno machines out back. This is you know, a family restaurant.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: But what’s the beef? Are you’re a Puritan or something?
ANGUS KING: No, it’s– I think it’s part of it is that it does take advantage of people. I mean you go into these places, you don’t see lawyers and doctors in there. You see people who are unemployed. You see people that really can’t afford it.
And you say, “Well, it’s voluntary.” Gambling is addictive. I don’t think it– I’m a conservative in a sort of classical sense. And for almost all of human history, most societies have controlled or proscribed gambling. Why? Because it’s dangerous.
Drugs are dangerous. We don’t allow them. And I don’t think it’s being Puritanical, I think it’s just looking at the effects.
But what really bothers me is when the state becomes a partner. And that’s really what we’re talking about is, you know, all these proposals say, “Well, the state’s gonna get the one in Maine, state’ll get 100 million a year.” We then have a stake in our own people gambling.
And I think if politicians wanna say that, you know, prescription drugs for the elderly is important, or good roads are important, or more aid to schools, they ought to look the public in the eye and say, “By the way, we gotta pay for it.” Not get ’em drunk in the middle of the night and pick their pocket. That’s what gambling’s all about.
But you see it all over the country. And it’s only gonna get worse until, I predict, it’s in some period and I don’t know whether it’ll be two years, five years there’s gonna be a public revolt against it because of what people are gonna see. The problem is, by then, these folks are gonna be so entrenched, and there’s so much money involved, that it’s gonna be very hard to unwind it.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: So I have an Independent sitting in front of me, so I wanna ask you about this.
ANGUS KING: Sure.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: About partisanship in contemporary American politics. It’s getting pretty nasty out there. Bipartisanship is for losers, it seems.
ANGUS KING: Yeah.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: When they draw up Congressional districts now, they do it ruthlessly. So what you get are state legislatures and, to some extent, Congress filled with people who will play by their own party’s rules and no one else’s.
ANGUS KING: It’s not in the public interest. I mean and I’m not saying that because I’m an Independent. I mean, it just doesn’t serve the public interest.
There is so much energy and effort put into gaining the advantage, who’s up and who’s down, and not that much thought about how that translates into public policy or will make a difference in people’s lives.
That the stuff of, well, the California recall. However you feel about Governor Davis, he had just been reelected less than a year before. You know, California’s, you know, gonna turn into Italy. I mean how many governments are you gonna have in a limited period of time. It’s mischievous.
Same thing with the Texas redistricting. There’s a tradition, an unwritten tradition, that you redistrict once after a decennial census, and then you move on. They came back and took a second bite out of it.
And I guess the party in power has the right to do that. But it’s– I think they’re opening Pandora’s Box.
Another good example is the problems that President Bush is having getting his judicial nominees confirmed. Talk to Bill Clinton about that. I mean I don’t know how many hundred federal judges Bill Clinton couldn’t get through because the Republicans in the Senate wouldn’t let ’em through. I mean, you — what goes around tends to come around in politics.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: God, you really are an Independent. What is in the water up there in Maine?
ANGUS KING: Well, this goes back I think it goes back a couple a hundred years. My political philosophy, if you had to put it on a bumper sticker, is, “I call ’em as I see ’em.”
And I actually had one period, David, it was divine. It was wonderful. One period of six weeks where I had both parties demonstrating outside my office on different issues. And —
DAVID BRANCACCIO: They both couldn’t stand you for various reasons.
ANGUS KING: They both hated me. “Hey– you know, I’m doing something right here.” But– and I don’t wanna be– I’m not a basher of the parties. I think they perform a very important function.
But when the parties become– sort of an end in itself. When it’s all about who gets the job, I don’t think that serves the public well.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: Do you worry, though, that it’s just a reflection of America? I mean you look at the polls, this is a pretty split-down-the-middle country.
ANGUS KING: Yeah, but I don’t think the country is I disagree. The country is split, but it’s a soft split, in the sense that it’s these the country is not divided into sharp partisan divisions.
Yes, there’s 15 percent on each side that are really partisan and can’t stand each other, and have ideologies, and are fighting for, you know, truth, justice, the American way. The vast majority of people are somewhere in the middle.
In Maine, you know, 30 percent are Republicans, 30 percent are Democrats, 40 percent are un-enrolled in either party. And in fact, if you study elections, they tend to– go back and forth.
And, I think a lot of the public just sits back and sort of scratches their head and say, “What are these guys fighting about? I just want the road fixed.”
You know, what is all this redistricting stuff, and– drawing a district that’s ten miles wide and 200 miles long?
DAVID BRANCACCIO: Now I can’t imagine a politician goes very far in your state without being able to render a classic Maine joke. You got any?
ANGUS KING: Oh, gee. Most of ’em are pretty long, and I won’t bore you. But–
DAVID BRANCACCIO: It’s not film, it’s videotape.
ANGUS KING: I got one.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: Alright.
ANGUS KING: When my oldest son was born in Skowhegan, Maine and — I wasn’t born in Maine myself. My son was born in Skowhegan, Maine 30 years ago.
I ran out onto the main street. I was so excited. I ran into an old farmer I knew, and I said, “Mr. Forbis, guess what? I just had a son born in the Skowhegan Hospital. He’s a native of Maine.”
And the old man put his pulled his glasses down on his nose, and he said, “Well by garry, just ‘cuz the cat has her kittens in the oven don’t make ’em biscuits.” So I learned that day you can’t be a native of Maine even if you’re born there!
DAVID BRANCACCIO: But you became governor. Thank you very much.
ANGUS KING: David, a real pleasure.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: Now what?
There is evidence that with enough grit, wits and determination it may be possible to chisel a nice loophole into campaign finance laws, despite the recent victory for the law in the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Associated Press is reporting that the National Rifle Association wants to buy some radio or TV stations. Reruns of GUNSMOKE or THE RIFLEMAN? Well, not quite. The plan is to use the stations to transform the NRA into a bona fide member of the news media. And why would the respected and powerful firearms lobby want to acquire the pitiful title of “news media”?
The answer lies in 2002’s campaign finance law. It prevents groups that take corporate or union money from buying certain types of political ads on radio or TV 30 days before a primary or 60 days before a general election.
But there’s a key exception—It’s for the news media who are free under this law to write editorials for and against candidates, to cover the news, or to interview whomever they see fit right up to and beyond election day.
The NRA seems very serious about becoming a broadcaster, come hell or high water. The ap quotes the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre saying the organization will look at every option to continue to exercise its first amendment rights-even putting a ship with a transmitter in international waters and “beaming in,” if it comes to that.
In the profession, we call that pirate radio, a form of broadcasting with a swashbuckling and romantic history, but hitherto not much of a force in U.S. electoral politics.
All of this says something about the enduring magic of radio and TV to communicate political messages, despite competition from the internet and other media. The NRA covets these broadcast stations even though it already runs a handsome set of internet Web sites and a fine series of magazines with titles like SHOOTING ILLUSTRATED, WOMAN’S OUTLOOK, and AMERICA’S FIRST FREEDOM.
And you have to admit that if the Second Amendment folks ever put some kind of “NRA-TV” on the air, it could make compelling televison—. It might even look something like this:
Item: The Mayor of Geuda Springs, Kansas this month vetoed a city council plan to force most households to own a firearm or face a ten dollar fine. The measure may come up again in February. There’s a County Sheriff but Geuda Springs, population 210, has no local police force.
Item: About 12-thousand people showed up for the Knob Creek Gun Range Machine Gun Shoot in West Point, Kentucky earlier this fall. A 16-year-old won the women’s submachine gunner prize. There was also a flamethrower competition.
Item: We’re still monitoring one tiny piece of the massive 328 billion dollar omnibus spending bill that will come up again in Congress in January. It would force authorities to throw away firearms background check information after 24 hours. Currently, the government holds that information for 90 days.
And in sports—the final score is in from Northwestern New Jersey, after six days—the hunters defeated the black bears 328 to nothing.
That’s our firearms update. NRA-TV is not real – yet – but those stories are as real as can be. Connect to pbs.org to see our sources.
That’s it for NOW. Bill Moyers will be back next week with a special hour on a unique Christian vision. I’m David Brancaccio. Good night.
This transcript was entered on August 19, 2015.