Friday, February 18, 2011

The Fight For the Economic Security of American Workers and the Political Rights of Unions to Organize is The Very Foundation of Democracy

Narayan Mahon for The New York Times
Angry public workers, facing cuts, crowded into the Capitol on Wednesday in Madison, Wis.


I have been fervently waiting for this very moment in U.S. politics for many years now. My hope and desire was that after four brutal decades of intense conservative and reactionary domination by the right (1968-2008) the American working class and their unions would finally wake up and begin to seriously organize on a national grassroots level to DEMAND their democratic rights against the onslaught of the relentless national rightwing coalition of ruling class billionaires and multinational corporate sponsors (and whitecollar criminals) like the Koch Brothers and their endless number of viciously demagogic authoritarians, political/ideological flunkies, and venal braindead acolytes like the Republican party, the Tea Party, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Sarah Palin, Michael Savage, Karl Rove, FOX News, Roger Ailes, Bill O'Reilly, et al ad infinitum, ad nauseum...

What's truly significant about this new wave of ORGANIZED SPONTANEITY on the part of the poor as well as the working and middle classes in this country is that they are fighting back in the midst of the worse economic crisis in the country since the Great Depression. With well over 20 million people now unemployed nationally and the severe economic and fiscal meltdown of the great majority of state and local municipalities throughout the country, workers and their active supporters, friends, and colleagues among both Democratic Party liberals and independent radical leftist groups across the country recognize that the right led by the Republican and Tea Parties is deeply committed to destroying unions and all other forms and vestiges of collective worker solidarity and unity in the United States. Make no mistake about it: If we cave in to the bullying tactics, pathological lies, and intimidation strategies of the right at this point in our history we and everything Labor has fought and died for to achieve our human, civil, and political rights over the past century will have certainly been in vain. Needless to say WE CANNOT ALLOW THAT TO HAPPEN. It's way past time to draw a clear red line in the sand and say in ONE LOUD UNITED VOICE: NO MORE!!

What's important now for us all to remember and hold close to our hearts is that this is our historical time and opportunity to do what we should have doing on the left now for many years: Wage a clear and relentless battle to protect, defend, and expand our democratic rights and freedoms in every sphere of American life, culture, political econony, and civil society. While it is our hope that our ever temporizing President will somehow find the independent will and political/ethical backbone to join and support us in this quest (exactly like we in the millions openly campaigned and voted for him in 2008!!), we cannot wait on him or his tottering administration to finally make up their minds to get off the self delusional fence they insipidly and rather cowardly call "the center." There is no such place or thing in American politics or life, and it is especially at historical moments like this that we experience most clearly the blowback from the venemous LIE of the media concocted "center-right" mythology. Like always the fight for all of us including the President can only be properly and accurately described in the form of an immortal five word question in all major political, moral, and ideological conflicts from time immemorial: WHOSE SIDE ARE YOU ON?


Democrats Missing, Wisconsin Vote on Cuts Is Delayed
February 17, 2011
New York Times

MADISON, Wis. — The fury among thousands of workers, students and union supporters rose to a boil on Thursday, as state lawmakers prepared to vote on landmark legislation that would slash collective bargaining rights for public workers. Protesters blocked a door to the Senate chambers. They sat down, body against body, filling a corridor. They chanted “Freedom, democracy, unions!” in the stately gallery as the senators convened.

Then the surprising drama in Madison this week added a new twist: the Democrats disappeared.

That left Republicans, who control the Capitol and had expected to push through the bill, in limbo. Although Republicans control the State Senate by 19 to 14, 20 senators — and thus, at least a single Democrat — must be in the room to call a vote on such fiscal matters.

“It’s disgraceful that people who are paid to be here have decided to skip town,” Senator Michael Ellis, the Senate president, said shortly after the roll was called. Said another Republican leader, Senator Scott Fitzgerald, “This is the ultimate shutdown.”

And so, as the Republicans fumed and waited, and the protesters (who were buoyed by the vanishing act) went right on protesting, a desperate search was begun for 14 missing senators — one more topsy-turvy chapter in a saga that has, in a single week, turned Wisconsin into a national battleground over public workers, unions and budget crises.

Democrats, along with the thousands of workers and protesters, oppose the bill, which would weaken unions by limiting collective bargaining for state employees and many local employees, including teachers, to base wages, and would require workers to pay more for pensions and health care. Without enough votes to stop the bill’s passage, Democratic senators apparently concluded that leaving the building would stop the vote from taking place.

“The plan is to try and slow this down because it’s an extreme piece of legislation that’s tearing this state apart,” Senator Jon Erpenbach, one of the missing Democrats, told The Associated Press by telephone. (He refused, of course, to say where he was.)

By noon, the sergeant-at-arms, Ted Blazel, was climbing past the crowds in the Capitol, searching for senators through the mazelike hallways, in offices, under desks — a task he has rarely been called to carry out.

“Nothing yet,” Mr. Blazel said at one point, his forehead glistening with sweat.

By dusk, Senate Republican leaders had decided to adjourn, at least temporarily, as supposed sightings of Democrats — and rumors of supposed sightings of Democrats — were alleged by seemingly everyone. Among the claims: They had been seen leaving on a bus altogether. They were in Iowa. Or Illinois. Or both.

“They’re in Rockford!” Mr. Fitzgerald called out excitedly at one point, as he rushed between chambers. Some of the Democrats conducted interviews from what they described as “secure locations,” and others posted messages on social networking sites.

Over three days, protesters’ backpacks, sleeping bags, water bottles and homemade signs have come to jam the marble halls of this Capitol, and on Thursday evening the rallies against the bill grew. People screamed: “Shut it down! Shut it down!” Drums pounded. Students, some barefoot, danced. Extra law enforcement workers now pepper the building, trying to guide officials through the thick, chanting crowds.

Many among the protesters said that they had no plans to leave, and that they would wait, as long as it took, to end the proposal, which was introduced only a week ago by Scott Walker, the new Republican governor here. Regarding the claims by Mr. Walker that the changes were forced by gaping budget deficits, some protesters here question his figures and his motives.

National leaders, including President Obama, have weighed in with criticism.

“That’s not the real fight,” said Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, who flew here on Thursday morning. “It’s a politically motivated attack. It’s not about the money. What he wants to do is destroy the voice of educators and public employees.”

For his part, Mr. Walker, who appeared before reporters from his office even as chants from beyond security barriers echoed into the room, had no apologies and said he had no intention of changing the bill. And he chastised the Democratic senators for leaving.

“We’re certainly looking at all legal options out there, but I have faith that after they do their stunt for a day or two — it’s more about theatrics than anything else — that they’ll come back and realize again they’re elected to do the job,” Mr. Walker said. “Show up, debate the bill, offer amendments, have a healthy debate, but you don’t have that debate if you hang out down in Rockford or Dubuque.”

By 5 p.m., Senate Republicans said they were adjourning for the night. They had no immediate plans for sending law enforcement officers after the missing senators (it was unclear whether the Wisconsin State Patrol could pursue them across state borders anyway, one senator said). But they said they planned to be back on Friday, ready to vote. They hoped, they said, that the Democrats would choose to come, too.

And if they do not? No one here seemed to know. As the senators went home, the protesters, some of them bearing pillows, did not.

Monica Davey reported from Madison, Wis., and Steven Greenhouse from New York.


Gov. Walker’s Pretext
February 17, 2011
New York Times

In a year when governors across the country are competing to show who’s toughest, no matter what the consequences, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin stands out as the first to bring his State Capitol to a halt.

Like many governors, he wants to cut the benefits of state workers. But he also decided a budget crisis was a good time to advance an ideological goal dear to his fellow Republicans: eliminating most collective bargaining rights for public employees.

Not surprisingly, thousands of workers descended on the Capitol building, pounding on windows and blocking doors, yelling “shut it down.” So many teachers called in sick that public schools in Madison and more than a dozen other districts had to be closed. On Thursday, the Democrats in the State Senate refused to show up, vowing to prevent any action until the governor drops his plan. The state police were sent to find them.

Mr. Walker has decried the chaos, but it was entirely self-inflicted. His plan to undermine the unions, which would have no direct impact on the budget, would take away nearly all of their rights to negotiate.

They would be barred from bargaining about anything except wages, and any pay increase they win would be limited by the consumer price index. Contracts would be limited to a year, and union dues could no longer be deducted from paychecks. As President Obama correctly put it on Wednesday, that “seems like an assault on unions.” (The archbishop of Milwaukee and players for the Green Bay Packers have also come out in support of the workers.)

Benefits for Wisconsin’s state workers are currently quite generous, but they weren’t stolen. They were negotiated by elected officials and can be re-negotiated at the bargaining table if necessary.

Most pay only 6 percent of their health care premium costs and Governor Walker wants to double that. The average employee contribution to premiums around the country, public and private, is 29 percent. Most state workers contribute almost nothing to their pensions; he wants them to pay 5.8 percent, which is a little less than average for government workers around the country.

Meanwhile, the governor is refusing to accept his own share of responsibility for the state’s projected $137 million shortfall. Just last month, he and the Legislature gave away $117 million in tax breaks, mostly for businesses that expand and for private health savings accounts. That was a choice lawmakers made, and had it not been for those decisions and a few others, according to the state’s Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the state would have had a surplus.

Wisconsin is certainly not as bad off as California, Illinois, and several northeastern states that are making tough budgetary decisions without trying to eliminate union rights. Nonetheless, the union-busting movement is picking up steam, with lawmakers in Ohio, Indiana, and several other states. On Thursday in Washington, John Boehner, the speaker of the House, weighed in on Mr. Walker’s side.

Keeping schools closed and blocking certain public services is not a strategy we support and could alienate public opinion and play into the governor’s hand. Short of that, the unions should make their voices heard and push back hard against this misguided plan.

Also See: Noam Chomsky | "Democracy Uprising": Wisconsin's Resistance to Assault on Public Sector, the Obama-Sanctioned Crackdown on Activists and the Distorted Legacy of Ronald Reagan. (Democracy Now! VIDEO):

Wisconsin Crowds Swell to 30,000; Key GOP Legislators Waver
by John Nichols | Thursday 17 February 2011

Published on Truthout (

"I have never been prouder of our movement than I am at this moment," shouted Wisconsin AFL-CIO President Phil Neuenfeldt, as he surveyed the crowds of union members and their supporters that surged around the state Capitol and into the streets of Madison Wednesday, literally closing the downtown as tens of thousands of Wisconsinites protested their Republican governor’s attempt to strip public employee unions of their collective bargaining rights.

Where Tuesday’s mid-day protests drew crowds estimated at 12,000 to 15,000, Wednesday's mid-day rally drew 30,000, according to estimates by organizers. Madison Police Chief Noble Wray, a veteran of 27 years on the city’s force, said he had has never see a protest of this size at the Capitol – and he noted that, while crowd estimates usually just measure those outside, this time the inside of the sprawling state Capitol was “packed.”

On Wednesday night, an estimated 20,000 teachers and their supporters rallied outside the Capitol and then marched into the building, filling the rotunda, stairways and hallways. Chants of "What's disgusting? Union busting!" shook the building as legislators met in committee rooms late into the night.

For continuing updates on Wisconsin protests, follow Truthout's blog.

The country was starting to take notice, as broadcast and cable-news satellite trucks rolled into town. The images they captured were stunning, as peaceful crowds filled vast stretches of the square that surrounds the seat of state government.

Republican legislators -- who had been poised to pass the governor’s plan Thursday, and might yet do so – were clearly paying attention. Two GOP senators broke with the governor, at least to some extent. Dale Schultz from rural southeastern Wisconsin and Van Wanggaard from the traditional manufacturing center of Racine, proposed an alternative bill that would allow limit bargaining rights for public employees on wages, pensions and health care for the next two years but allow them to continue to bargain on other issues.

While that’s hardly an attractive prospect to state workers – as it would also require them to make significantly higher pension and health-care contributions – the measure rejects the most draconian component’s of the governor’s plan. Other Republicans resisted the proposal, however, offering only minor amendments to the governor's plan.

If Schultz and Wanggaard actually vote "no" Thursday, when the measure is to be taken up, just one more Republican senator would have to join them in order to block the bill.

That the first real movement by Republicans came after Wednesday’s rally was hardly surprising, as few state capital’s have seen the sort of mobilization that occurred at mid-day, and that is likely to reoccur at nightfall as teachers from across the state are expected to pour into the city for a rally and candlelight vigil.

At a time when it's often tough to tell the difference between the corporate news and its advertisements, it's essential to keep independent journalism strong. Support Truthout today by clicking here.

In some senses, Wednesday’s remarkable rally began Tuesday evening, when Madison Teachers Inc., the local education union, announced that teachers would leave their classrooms to spend the day lobbying legislators to “Kill the Bill” that has been proposed by newly-elected Republican Governor Scott Walker.

The teachers showed up en masse in downtown Madison Wednesday morning.

And then something remarkable happened.

Instead of taking the day off, their students gathered at schools on the west and east sides of Madison and marched miles along the city’s main thoroughfares to join the largest mass demonstration the city has seen in decades – perhaps since the great protests of the Vietnam War era.

Thousands of high school students arrived at the Capital Square, coming from opposite directions, chanting: “We support our teachers! We support public education!”

Thousands of University of Wisconsin students joined them, decked out in the school’s red-and-white colors.

Buses rolled in from every corner of the state, from Racine and Kenosha in the southeast to Green Bay in the northeast, from La Crosse on the Mississippi River to Milwaukee on Lake Michigan.

Buses and cars arrived from Illinois and Minnesota and as far away as Kansas, as teachers and public employees from those states showed up at what American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union president Gerald McEntee says is “ground zero “in the struggle for labor rights in America.

The moms and dads of the elementary school kids came, and the kids, carrying hand-lettered signs:

“I love my teacher!”

“Scott Walker needs to go back to school!”

“Scott Walker needs a time out!”

And, “We are Wisconsin!

“I’ve been here since the 1960s, I’ve seen great demonstrations,” said former Mayor Paul Soglin, a proud former student radical who was nominated for a new term in Tuesday’s local primary election. “This is different. This is everyone – everyone turning out.”

Everyone except the governor, who high-tailed it out of town, launching a tour of outlying communities in hopes of drumming up support for his bill. Most of the support Walker was getting was coming from national conservative political groups, such as the Club for Growth, which have long hoped to break public-employee unions. But the governor held firm, saying after a day of unprecedented protests – in Madison and small towns and cities across the state – that he still wanted to pass his bill. He’s got strong support in the overwhelmingly Republican Assembly. But he cannot afford to lose one more Republican state senator. And the unions and their backers are determined to find that one Republican who is smart enough and honest enough to recognize that the governor's assault of public employees is an assault on Wisconsin itself.

We're Not Backing Down

URGENT: You are needed in Madison. In an unprecedented show of solidarity, workers, students, community members, religious groups and concerned citizens are flooding the Capitol to tell Gov. Walker to stop the attacks on Wisconsin workers and save Wisconsin’s middle class. Please join us as we rally for our rights. Click on the headline above for a Schedule of Events for Friday, February 18, and other ways you can help.

Thousands Continue Wisconsin Action for Workers’ Rights

After day-long protests yesterday drew as many as 30,000 people in Madison, hundreds of Wisconsin workers, students and allies camped out last night in the Capitol Rotunda as a hearing on Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) budget bill that eliminates collective bargaining rights for nearly all of the state’s public service workers went past midnight. The state Senate is set to vote on the bill today. It was approved last night by the Joint Finance Committee on a straight party line vote with all Republicans backing the attack on worker’s rights. Today thousands workers and their supporters from around the state enter the third day of a massive protest against Walker’s plan.

Labor Movement United in Solidarity Against Budget Repair Bill

Tuesday's rally at the capital in Madison had an estimated crowd of 15,000 people, and additional actions are taking place statewide. In order to stop Governor Walker's efforts to take away the rights of Wisconsin workers, we are going to have to keep the pressure on. In fact, our goal is to kick it up a notch. Governor Walker and his allies are trying to ram this bill through as quickly as possible; it could be passed as soon as this Thursday. We’re doing all we can to stop this.
Click the headline above to read just some of the many letters to legislators urging a "NO" vote and showing the broad support of solidarity of Wisconsin workers and their unions. Also find out what you can do to help.

Voice Your Opinion NOW! Stop the move in Madison to take away the rights of workers.

We are reaching out to the citizens of Wisconsin. We ask the people who support our nurses, our EMTs, our teachers, to call their legislators and ask them to support the right to fair bargaining.

Be connected to your Senator by dialing 1-877-753-5578 and tell him or her to stop this radical budget proposal to impose drastic cuts. It isn’t about trimming the budget. It’s the first step in what promises to be a full-on assault on the middle class and all unions. If the voice mailbox is full, click here for assistance in contacting your Senator via e-mail.

Republican Budget Proposal Attacks Middle Class, Destroys Jobs
How bad is the Republican federal budget proposal? AFL-CIO Legislative Director Bill Samuel describes it as an “all-out assault against middle-class Americans.” In a letter to House members, Samuel summarizes some of the most egregious elements of H.R. 1, the Full Year Continuing Appropriations Act of 2011. Among them, is a proposed funding level for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that is so draconian, it potentially would defund the agency completely through the end of the fiscal year in September. Click the headline to read more>>

Community Services Conference - Sign Up and Make a Difference!
March 24-26, Holiday Inn - Manitowoc
ALL affiliates are encouraged to send at least one participant to the conference. The "investment" will be well worth it. Click HERE for registration information.

Unemployed Can’t Get Jobs Because They Are…Unemployed

As if finding a job isn’t hard enough, unemployed workers now face the added hurdle of being discriminated against because they don’t have a job. Speaking today before the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project (NELP), said that practices barring the unemployed from job availabilities have been growing around the country—and place a disproportionate burden on older workers, African Americans and other workers facing high levels of long-term unemployment.

Right to Work for Less? Not in OUR State!

Did you hear Wisconsin State AFL-CIO President Phil Neuenfeldt on the Joy Cardin Show this morning? The calls and comments from listeners were overwhelmingly in favor of the rights of workers who want to form strong, effect unions. If you missed your chance to call in, you can still make your voice heard.

Click here to read more:

Monday, February 14, 2011

Imara Jones On the Huge Disparity Between the Ongoing Job and Housing Crisis and the Brazen Profiteering of Wall Street

Traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange before the closing bell, Tuesday afternoon, May 25, 2010. Shares on Wall Street recouped almost all of their earlier losses to end the day flat. At one point, indexes were down more than 2 percent. (Photo: Hiroko Masuike / The New York Times)

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following article and commentary (initially dated February 1, 2011) was delayed in favor of the coverage of the events surrounding the Egyptian Revolution. It is being posted on this site for the first time

"...the bright portrayal offered by Geithner and echoed by mainstream press was strikingly different from that delivered in the World Economic Forum’s official 2011 report. The document says that there is a “new reality” at hand. This altered landscape, which will “reshape global norms,” is one where there is widening disparity between the hyper-rich and everyone else; stubbornly high unemployment; and explosive growth in the developing world, contrasted by anemic growth in industrialized countries."
--Imara Jones

"We have the largest wealth disparity since 1927—and an ongoing jobless recovery."
--Imara Jones

"In order to create employment and opportunity for everyone, the country’s political leaders need to accept that the interests of average people and the top 1 percent are divergent, not convergent. Unfortunately, there is every indication that they will continue to do the opposite."
--Imara Jones


In my January 27, 2011 post in this publication which dealt with President Obama's 'State of the Union' address to the nation last monday ("A Citizen's Critical Response to President Obama's 2011 'State of the Union' Speech") I pointed out that merely talking about the necessity of "future technological and scientific innovations" alongside "a vigorous national push for economic and educational competition with our many global partners and adversaries" were by themselves woefully inadequate to meeting the fundamental challenge facing this nation's ongoing and seriously prolonged structural crises with respect to the crucial need for rigorously advocating and expanding Job creation and stopping the massive and unrelenting hemorrhaging of the housing industry caused by the ongoing foreclosures on the property of literally millions of Americans since 2008. Not to mention the crippling stagnation caused by an economy that is still far too reliant on the endlessly corrupt and irresponsible vagaries and reckless gambling of Wall Street. In an excellent, sober, and chilling economic and social policy analysis of the current U.S. political economy by economist, media consultant, and social activist Imara Jones we receive further damning evidence of precisely why and how rhetorical evasions and platitude laden "happy talk" by the President and his major economic advisors like Timothy Geithner are leading to a self serving illusion in the Obama administration that this structurally organic crisis can be effectively halted, held off, or contained until the magical "future" arrives. Jones clearly indicates through an undeniably accurate collection of relevant empirical data and a close analytical reading of this information that the government's pollyanna projections lack both major substance and credibility--which is clearly bad news for the great majority of we American citizens who are neither rich nor "protected" by powerful political connections and interests...


Happy Days Are Here Again - as Long as You Ignore the Jobs Crisis
Monday 31 January 2011
by: Imara Jones | Colorlines | Report

If Tina Turner was to reprise her 1980’s hit in 2011, it would surely be called, “What’s jobs got to do with it?” Unemployment and underemployment remain dangerously high, at around 17 percent, but you wouldn’t know it listening to the optimism ringing out from Wall Street to Washington last week. The New York Stock Exchange flirted with 12,000, a level not seen since 2008, everyone celebrated economic growth data, and the annual gathering of global finance and business leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, was dominated by declarations of an American rebound. A fundamental disconnect between the finance economy and the real one couldn’t be more apparent.

Wall Street may be signaling that the economy is on a pre-recession roll, but in actuality most Americans will not see a return to prosperity for years, due to the ongoing jobs crisis. America is not built for long-term, structural unemployment (and the events in the Middle East show what happens when economic stagnation festers). In order to create employment and opportunity for everyone, the country’s political leaders need to accept that the interests of average people and the top 1 percent are divergent, not convergent. Unfortunately, there is every indication that they will continue to do the opposite.

On Friday, the Commerce Department announced that in the last three months of 2010, the economy grew at 3.2 percent and, for the full year of 2010, at 2.9 percent. In response, The New York Times trumpeted, “US Economic Growth Bounces Back to Rate Seen Before the Recession.” The Wall Street Journal chimed in on its front page with, “Economy Picks Up Steam, Output Returns to ‘07 Levels.” Sensing that 4th Quarter growth would be strong, by midweek the Dow had achieved a three-year high. In investors’ eyes, America had come full circle.

On the same day as the Commerce Department’s GDP release, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, speaking at the Davos meeting, expressed his “confidence … in a sustainable expansion” and faith in America’s avoidance of a double-dip recession.

But the bright portrayal offered by Geithner and echoed by mainstream press was strikingly different from that delivered in the World Economic Forum’s official 2011 report. The document says that there is a “new reality” at hand. This altered landscape, which will “reshape global norms,” is one where there is widening disparity between the hyper-rich and everyone else; stubbornly high unemployment; and explosive growth in the developing world, contrasted by anemic growth in industrialized countries. The report points ominously to the combined unemployment and underemployment rate in the U.S., hovering close to 20 percent, as a source of instability for the international economic system.

The Davos report gets it right: The lack of jobs is the worry, and a 2.9 percent increase in GDP is far from what’s needed to put people back to work. As Jeanine Aversa of the Associated Press writes, economists agree that “growth would have to be 5% a full year just to drive the unemployment rate down by 1 percent.” So the American economy would have to be expanding at a rate at least 60 percent higher than it is presently, and continue doing so for five years, to return to 2007 employment levels. That’s why the unemployment rate has remained virtually unchanged.

Next year’s predicted 3 percent GDP increase is still below what’s needed to create millions of jobs. Economist Nouriel Roubani, who has been nicknamed “Dr. Doom” for his accurate 2008 predictions of economic collapse, believes that today’s employment will remain basically the same for years. Even the Dow’s approach to 12,000 didn’t look as good as analysts first thought. By the end of the week, Wall Street number crunchers concluded that the high was attributable to a re-weighting of the Dow. In other words, the surge was statistical, not actual.

Out of 7,000 words in the State of the Union, the president mentioned the word jobs only 24 times. This was mostly in the context of his call for a new “Sputnik moment” centered on an “innovation” agenda that would make the U.S. “a better place to do business” and allow it to “compete for the jobs … of the future.”

But an improved business climate and a more competitive economy are already underway. That’s how we got to 2.9 percent growth. The existing economy is more productive—“competitive” to use the president’s frame—precisely because it shed 8 million jobs. The jobless recovery is necessarily so—companies are “growing” by laying off employees and paying those they keep less.

America in 2011 doesn’t need nostalgia for a 1957 technological challenge; it needs a new grand strategy to put millions of people back to work. Solely through initiatives that encourage broad-based employment that, as President Bill Clinton once said, “put people first,” can we generate nationwide prosperity in which we can all share. An economy that works for everyone is the only way to achieve dramatic, exponential economic growth. And we can have that, if the administration moves past Geithner’s happy talk and takes the actual Davos report seriously.

Take, for instance, the total erosion of American home values that’s so crippled our economy. The foreclosure crisis is often cited as a housing and individual responsibility problem. Rather, it is about $9 trillion in lost resources. Kick-starting the jobs engine will be difficult until the housing finance morass is adequately addressed. The Obama administration seemed to understand this when it announced its foreclosure prevention plan back in 2009. But that effort, underfunded and with rules too weak to force banks to the bargaining table, has had little impact. Close to one out of 10 Americans still face foreclosure and one out of five homeowners’ properties are worth less than they paid for them. This is a structural problem that must be addressed before we can talk seriously about a rebound.

Similarly, a greener, low-carbon economy will allow the U.S. to grow faster by using less energy to produce more goods and services. America currently sends $1 billion a day abroad to pay for imported oil. With the equivalent of a 40 percent reduction in just one year’s worth of oil imports, the U.S. would generate up to 2.5 million jobs—or 2.5 times the number of jobs created last year. Capital markets are poised to inject massive investments to do so, but they can’t. The private sector is waiting for the government to design the regulatory framework for these investments and put a price on carbon. These two essential starting points for a new economy were encapsulated in last summer’s climate bill, which died in the Senate due in part, according to an October New Yorker profile, to the White House’s lackluster support.

Finally, there’s the job-rich and desperately needed work of reversing 30 years of underinvestment in U.S. transportation infrastructure. According to the Department of Transportation, every billion dollars spent on infrastructure creates 30,000 jobs. The American Society of Engineers estimates that the U.S. economy needs $2 trillion worth of improvement.

As a candidate, Obama embraced an innovative proposal to help pay for this jobs stimulator: an “infrastructure bank” that, using a relatively small amount of seed money from the federal government, could attract up $500 billion in private capital. But the administration hasn’t mentioned the idea since the fall. Nor has the president sent Congress his transportation reauthorization bill, drafted two years ago, which would direct billions of potential-employment dollars to urban areas that are home to some of America’s most jobless communities.

Of course, tackling America’s jobs crisis by implementing these policies would require the administration take on some of the country’s biggest special interests. The finance industry, the oil and gas industry, and the highway lobby have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the last decade on political contributions and lobbying. It’s paid off. These K Street heavy hitters have consistently killed or hollowed out reform legislation. Finance and housing legislation, the climate change bill, and transportation legislation all bear the mark of industry lobbyists.

That’s why a new economic rule book would also require dismantling a society-wide belief, planted during the Reagan years, that what’s great for billionaires is great for struggling families and individuals on the edge. Starting in the 1980s, the country developed collective amnesia around the fact that it had become the world’s largest and strongest nation by building a strong middle class, not just an economy for the top 1 percent. America’s collective memory loss has caused the political class to cast its lot with the finance economy and against the rest of us. And as a result, we have the largest wealth disparity since 1927—and an ongoing jobless recovery. By all signs, it will only continue to get worse.

Imara Jones is a New York based blogger. He holds a Masters in economics from the London School of Economics and in 2006 was cited by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader. His blog, is about life in our disruptive world and what comes next. He is also the editor of His Twitter handle is @imarajones.

Paul Krugman On What What We're Not Being Told About The Economy

Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
Paul Krugman


A lot of self important "pundits" and so-called "experts" in this country waste a tremendous amount of valuable time and energy desperately trying to convince or bully us into believing that they actually know what they're talking about. And then there's that all too rare and precious human being, intellectual, activist, and teacher who actually DOES know (and in exhaustive yet lucid detail!) exactly what they're talking about and what it all means. Thankfully, Paul Krugman has always been and remains one of those individuals...


Eat the Future


February 13, 2011
New York Times

On Friday, House Republicans unveiled their proposal for immediate cuts in federal spending. Uncharacteristically, they failed to accompany the release with a catchy slogan. So I’d like to propose one: Eat the Future.

I’ll explain in a minute. First, let’s talk about the dilemma the G.O.P. faces.

Republican leaders like to claim that the midterms gave them a mandate for sharp cuts in government spending. Some of us believe that the elections were less about spending than they were about persistent high unemployment, but whatever. The key point to understand is that while many voters say that they want lower spending, press the issue a bit further and it turns out that they only want to cut spending on other people.

That’s the lesson from a new survey by the Pew Research Center, in which Americans were asked whether they favored higher or lower spending in a variety of areas. It turns out that they want more, not less, spending on most things, including education and Medicare. They’re evenly divided about spending on aid to the unemployed and — surprise — defense.

The only thing they clearly want to cut is foreign aid, which most Americans believe, wrongly, accounts for a large share of the federal budget.

Pew also asked people how they would like to see states close their budget deficits. Do they favor cuts in either education or health care, the main expenses states face? No. Do they favor tax increases? No. The only deficit-reduction measure with significant support was cuts in public-employee pensions — and even there the public was evenly divided.

The moral is clear. Republicans don’t have a mandate to cut spending; they have a mandate to repeal the laws of arithmetic.

How can voters be so ill informed? In their defense, bear in mind that they have jobs, children to raise, parents to take care of. They don’t have the time or the incentive to study the federal budget, let alone state budgets (which are by and large incomprehensible). So they rely on what they hear from seemingly authoritative figures.

And what they’ve been hearing ever since Ronald Reagan is that their hard-earned dollars are going to waste, paying for vast armies of useless bureaucrats (payroll is only 5 percent of federal spending) and welfare queens driving Cadillacs. How can we expect voters to appreciate fiscal reality when politicians consistently misrepresent that reality?

Which brings me back to the Republican dilemma. The new House majority promised to deliver $100 billion in spending cuts — and its members face the prospect of Tea Party primary challenges if they fail to deliver big cuts. Yet the public opposes cuts in programs it likes — and it likes almost everything. What’s a politician to do?

The answer, once you think about it, is obvious: sacrifice the future. Focus the cuts on programs whose benefits aren’t immediate; basically, eat America’s seed corn. There will be a huge price to pay, eventually — but for now, you can keep the base happy.

If you didn’t understand that logic, you might be puzzled by many items in the House G.O.P. proposal. Why cut a billion dollars from a highly successful program that provides supplemental nutrition to pregnant mothers, infants, and young children? Why cut $648 million from nuclear nonproliferation activities? (One terrorist nuke, assembled from stray ex-Soviet fissile material, can ruin your whole day.) Why cut $578 million from the I.R.S. enforcement budget? (Letting tax cheats run wild doesn’t exactly serve the cause of deficit reduction.)

Once you understand the imperatives Republicans face, however, it all makes sense. By slashing future-oriented programs, they can deliver the instant spending cuts Tea Partiers demand, without imposing too much immediate pain on voters. And as for the future costs — a population damaged by childhood malnutrition, an increased chance of terrorist attacks, a revenue system undermined by widespread tax evasion — well, tomorrow is another day.

In a better world, politicians would talk to voters as if they were adults. They would explain that discretionary spending has little to do with the long-run imbalance between spending and revenues. They would then explain that solving that long-run problem requires two main things: reining in health-care costs and, realistically, increasing taxes to pay for the programs that Americans really want.

But Republican leaders can’t do that, of course: they refuse to admit that taxes ever need to rise, and they spent much of the last two years screaming “death panels!” in response to even the most modest, sensible efforts to ensure that Medicare dollars are well spent.

And so they had to produce something like Friday’s proposal, a plan that would save remarkably little money but would do a remarkably large amount of harm.

Bill Moyers On the Critical Relationship Between Language, Media, and Truth

Bill Moyers. (Photo: Grahamtastic; Edited: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t)


In an increasingly mad and maddening world and in a hopelessly vain and so-called "exceptional" country where literally tens of millions of people have happily forfeited any desire for or access to sanity and reason on behalf of rank stupidity, ignorance, paranoia, and hatred, it is more than inspiring to know that there still exist courageous individuals like Bill Moyers who continue to educate, challenge, and encourage us to demand of ourselves that we keep pursuing knowledge and information in the name of truth and justice. Bill is a national treasure whose incisive intelligence, moral clarity, mature compassion, and relentless pursuit of truth and knowledge in his work and life has been a beacon for those of us who insist on "speaking truth to power" in the U.S. media and politics for over 50 years. The following speech delivered January 27, 2011 to the influential national group of journalists, broadcasters, and media producers known as "The History Makers" is yet another sterling example of the power, insight, and dedication to facts, truth, and genuine social change that has marked Moyers's entire legendary career. Please read and pass it on...


"George Orwell had warned six decades ago that the corrosion of language goes hand in hand with the corruption of democracy. If he were around today, he would remind us that "like the rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket," this kind of propaganda engenders a "protective stupidity" almost impossible for facts to penetrate.

But you, my colleagues, can't give up. If you do, there's no chance any public memory of everyday truths - the tangible, touchable, palpable realities so vital to democracy - will survive. We would be left to the mercy of the agitated amnesiacs who "make" their own reality, as one of them boasted at the time America invaded Iraq, in order to maintain their hold on the public mind and the levers of power. You will remember that in Orwell's novel "1984," Big Brother banishes history to the memory hole, where inconvenient facts simply disappear. Control of the present rests on obliteration of the past. The figure of O'Brien, who is the personification of Big Brother, says to the protagonist, Winston Smith: "We shall squeeze you empty and then we shall fill you with ourselves." And they do. The bureaucrats in the Ministry of Truth destroy the records of the past and publish new versions. These in turn are superseded by yet more revisions. Why? Because people without memory are at the mercy of the powers that be; there is nothing against which to measure what they are told today. History is obliterated."
--Bill Moyers

Bill Moyers: "Facts Still Matter ..."
Monday 14 February 2011
by: Bill Moyers, t r u t h o u t | Speech

History Makers is an organization of broadcasters and producers from around the world concerned with the challenges and opportunities faced by factual broadcasting. Bill Moyers was the keynote speaker at the 2011 convention on January 27, 2011, in New York City.

Thanks to all of you for your welcome - and for the chance to be here among so many kindred spirits. Your dedication to factual broadcasting, to our craft and calling; your passion for telling stories that matter; for connecting the present to the past, has created a community whose work is essential in this disquieting time when "what is happening today, this hour, this very minute, seems to be our sole criterion for judgment and action." It is a sad world that exists only in the present, unaware of the long procession that brought us here. As Milan Kundera’s insight reminds us, the struggle against power "is the struggle of memory against forgetting."

I talked about this gathering when I was in California this past weekend and spent time with a good friend and supporter of my own work on television, Paul Orfalea. He's the maverick entrepreneur who founded Kinko's in a former hamburger stand with one small rented Xerox copier and turned it into a business service empire with more than two billion dollars a year in revenue. After selling Kinko's, Paul became one of the most popular, if unorthodox, teachers of undergraduates at the University of California/ Santa Barbara. When I told him what I would be doing today he applauded and understood immediately the importance of what you do. He described to me how he teaches history "backwards" to college students who have learned little about the past in high school, don't know that the past is even alive, much less that it lives in them and question its value today. He hands his students a contemporary story from some daily news source, tells them to begin with the "now" of it and to then walk the trail back down the chronology to trace the personalities, circumstances and choices that made it today's news. Their assignment, in effect, is to begin at the entrance to the cave and rewind Ariadne's thread in the opposite direction, back to the deep origins of the story. In an era marked by the lack of continuity and community between the generations, this strikes me as an inspired way to stretch young imaginations across the time zones of human experience.

And it's, of course, what you do so often in your work. No one I know does it more effectively than "Frontline." and I was pleased to learn that you are honoring its executive director, David Fanning, who is a genius, in my book, at story telling grounded in fact and presented with perspective. Over the past quarter century, I have been privileged to collaborate occasionally with David. But beyond my own personal and professional gratitude to him, all of us who produce current affairs and history programming know that he has kept the bar high while producing a body of work unequaled since Fred Friendly. Most of you are too young to have seen the whole arc of David's extraordinary career or to have known Fred Friendly's work. But some of us can never forget we're standing on the shoulder of those two giants.

I also had the privilege of witnessing Fred in action. When he was president of "CBS News" and I was the White House press secretary, he would come down from New York on the shuttle and slip in the back door of the White House and along the hall past the Cabinet Room to the private entrance to my office for an hour-or-so chat. I had done some preliminary work at the Office of Education on the future of public television in 1964, and we were soon talking about the medium's future; he was a true believer in television "that dignifies instead of debases" and of the importance "of at least one channel free of commercials and commercial values." Little did we know at the time that he would soon quit the job he relished as president of the news division that he and Edward R. Murrow had built. The two of them created "See It Now" and "CBS Reports," which set the standard for investigative reporting and documentaries of unprecedented power and impact. One of their collaborations was the famous documentary on the demagogic and dangerous Senator Joseph McCarthy. They made the brilliant decision to let McCarthy speak for himself, an entire broadcast's worth of his bullying words and techniques. McCarthy obligingly hanged himself on national television, far more effectively and fatally than anyone else's words could. His own words had turned Americans against his demagoguery - something for which the right to this day has never forgiven what they denounced as the "Communist Broadcasting System." Watching that documentary over and again, I realized that it is through such unhurried honoring of reality that we can approach the myriad and messy truths of human experience. For lasting effect, those truths cannot be forced into the mind of the public; they must be nurtured.

Fred never wanted to leave CBS, but in 1966, when the network refused to carry Senate hearings on the Vietnam War, choosing instead to run a repeat of "I Love Lucy," he resigned, became the media adviser to the Ford Foundation and was the prime mover in the creation of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. He became our Johnny Appleseed, persuading the foundation to put its money - millions of dollars - where his mind was.

I had left the White House by then to be publisher of Newsday and would soon join public television as anchor of a weekly broadcast. Fred's first teaching assistant, Martin Clancy, was my star producer. It was usually one of Fred's people who taught me the most about our craft - how it was possible through the coupling of word and image to come close to the verifiable truth and an honest accounting of reality. Fred played a critical role in my life when, after stints at both CBS and PBS, I had to choose between the two. I had found it increasingly difficult at the network to do the work I most wanted to do, but was reluctant to take off the golden handcuffs and leap into the world of independent production. I went over to see Fred at the foundation and there was nothing subtle in his advice. He said, "You're never going to do the work you most want to do until you do it for yourself." So, I followed him overboard.

Fred was right, as he so often was: independence meant the best hope for me to pursue journalism as a mission. Perhaps, we were naïve, but in those days many of us still assumed that an informed public is preferable to an uninformed one. Hadn't Thomas Jefferson proclaimed that, "Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government"? And wasn't a free press essential to that end?

Maybe not. As Joe Keohane reported last year in The Boston Globe, political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency "deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information." He was reporting on research at the University of Michigan, which found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in new stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts were not curing misinformation. "Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger." You can read the entire article online.

I won't spoil it for you by a lengthy summary here. Suffice it to say that, while "most of us like to believe that our opinions have been formed over time by careful, rational consideration of facts and ideas and that the decisions based on those opinions, therefore, have the ring of soundness and intelligence," the research found that actually "we often base our opinions on our beliefs ... and rather than facts driving beliefs, our beliefs can dictate the facts we chose to accept. They can cause us to twist facts so they fit better with our preconceived notions."

These studies help to explain why America seems more and more unable to deal with reality. So many people inhabit a closed belief system on whose door they have hung the "Do Not Disturb" sign, that they pick and choose only those facts that will serve as building blocks for walling them off from uncomfortable truths. Any journalist whose reporting threatens that belief system gets sliced and diced by its apologists and polemicists (say, the fabulists at Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and the yahoos of talk radio.) Remember when Limbaugh, for one, took journalists on for their reporting about torture at Abu Ghraib? He attempted to dismiss the cruelty inflicted on their captives by American soldiers as a little necessary "sport" for soldiers under stress, saying on air: "This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation ... you [ever] heard of need to blow some steam off?" As so often happens, the Limbaugh line became a drumbeat in the nether reaches of the right-wing echo chamber. So, it was not surprising that in a nationwide survey conducted by The Chicago Tribune on First Amendment issues, half of the respondents said there should be some kind of press restraint on reporting about the prison abuse. According to Charles Madigan, the editor of the Tribune's Perspective section, 50 or 60 percent of the respondents said they "would embrace government controls of some kind on free speech, particularly when it has sexual content or is heard as unpatriotic."

No wonder many people still believe Obama was born in Kenya, not Hawaii, as his birth certificate shows; or that he is a Muslim, when in fact he is a Christian; or that he is a socialist when day by day he shows an eager solicitude for corporate capitalism. Partisans in particular - and the audiences for Murdoch's Fox News and talk radio - are particularly susceptible to such scurrilous disinformation. In a Harris survey last spring, 67 percent of Republicans said Obama is a socialist; 57 percent believed him to be a Muslim; 45 percent refused to believe he was born in America; and 24 percent said he "may be the antichrist."

The bigger the smear, the more it sticks. And there is no shortage of smear artists. Last year, Forbes Magazine, obviously bent on mischief, allowed the right-wing fantasist Dinesh D'Souza to tar Obama with a toxic brew so odious it triggered memories of racist babble - a perverted combination of half-baked psychology, biology and sociology - that marked the heyday of the Ku Klux Klan. Seizing upon the anti-colonial views of Obama's Kenyan father, who had deserted the family when the boy was two years old and whose absence from his life Obama meditated upon in his best-selling book "Dreams of My Father," D'Souza wrote that, "Incredibly, the US is being ruled according to the dreams of a Luo tribesman of the 1950s. This philandering, inebriated African socialist, who raged against the world for denying him the realization of his anticolonial ambitions, is now setting the nation's agenda through the reincarnation of his dreams in his son."

In a sane political world, you might think at least a few Republican notables would have denounced such hogwash by their own kind for what it was. But no. Newt Gingrich, once their speaker of the House, whose own fantasies include succeeding Obama in the White House, set the tone by praising D'Souza's claptrap as the "most profound insight I have read in the last six years about Barack Obama." D'Souza, said Gingrich, has made a "stunning insight" and had unlocked the mystery of Obama. I could find only one conservative who stood up against this trash. David Frum, the former speechwriter for George W. Bush, wrote on his blog: "The argument that Obama is an infiltrating alien, a deceiving foreigner - and not just any kind of alien, but specifically a Third World alien - has been absorbed to the very core of the Republican platform for November 2010." Once again, the right-wing media machine had popularized a false narrative and made of it a destructive political weapon.

Disinformation is not unique to the right, of course. Like other journalists, I have been the object of malevolent assaults from the "9/11 truthers" for not reporting their airtight case proving that the Bush administration conspired to bring about the attacks on the World Trade Center. How did they discover this conspiracy? As the independent journalist Robert Parry has written, "the truthers" threw out all the evidence of al-Qaeda's involvement, from contemporaneous calls from hijack victims on the planes to confessions from al-Qaeda leaders both in and out of captivity that they had indeed done it. Then, recycling some of the right's sophistry techniques, such as using long lists of supposed evidence to overcome the lack of any real evidence, the "truthers" cherry-picked a few supposed "anomalies" to build an "inside-job" story line. Fortunately, this Big Lie never took hold in the public mind. These truthers on the left, if that is where GPS can find them on the political map, are outgunned, outmatched and outshouted by the media apparatus on the right that pounds the public like drone missiles loaded with conspiracy theories and disinformation and accompanied by armadas of outright lies.

George Orwell had warned six decades ago that the corrosion of language goes hand in hand with the corruption of democracy. If he were around today, he would remind us that "like the rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket," this kind of propaganda engenders a "protective stupidity" almost impossible for facts to penetrate.

But you, my colleagues, can't give up. If you do, there's no chance any public memory of everyday truths - the tangible, touchable, palpable realities so vital to democracy - will survive. We would be left to the mercy of the agitated amnesiacs who "make" their own reality, as one of them boasted at the time America invaded Iraq, in order to maintain their hold on the public mind and the levers of power. You will remember that in Orwell's novel "1984," Big Brother banishes history to the memory hole, where inconvenient facts simply disappear. Control of the present rests on obliteration of the past. The figure of O'Brien, who is the personification of Big Brother, says to the protagonist, Winston Smith: "We shall squeeze you empty and then we shall fill you with ourselves." And they do. The bureaucrats in the Ministry of Truth destroy the records of the past and publish new versions. These in turn are superseded by yet more revisions. Why? Because people without memory are at the mercy of the powers that be; there is nothing against which to measure what they are told today. History is obliterated.

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The late scholar Cleanth Brooks of Yale thought there were three great enemies of democracy. He called them "The Bastard Muses": Propaganda, which pleads sometimes unscrupulously, for a special cause at the expense of the total truth; sentimentality, which works up emotional responses unwarranted by, and in excess of, the occasion; and pornography, which focuses upon one powerful human drive at the expense of the total human personality. The poet Czeslaw Milosz identified another enemy of democracy when, upon accepting the Noble Prize for Literature, he said "Our planet that gets smaller every year, with its fantastic proliferation of mass media, is witnessing a process that escapes definition, characterized by a refusal to remember." Memory is crucial to democracy; historical amnesia, its nemesis.

Against these tendencies it is an uphill fight to stay the course of factual broadcasting. We have to keep reassuring ourselves and one another that it matters and we have to join forces to defend and safeguard our independence. I learned this early on.

When I collaborated with the producer Sherry Jones on the very first documentary ever about the purchase of government favors by political action committees, we unfurled across the Capitol grounds yard after yard of computer printouts listing campaign contributions to every member of Congress. The broadcast infuriated just about everyone, including old friends of mine who a few years earlier had been allies when I worked at the White House. Congressmen friendly to public television were also outraged, but, I am pleased to report, PBS took the heat without melting.

But shining the spotlight on political corruption is nothing compared to what can happen if you raise questions about corporate power in Washington, as my colleague Marty Koughan and I discovered when we produced a program for David Fanning and "Frontline" on pesticides and food. Marty had learned that industry was attempting behind closed doors to dilute the findings of the American Academy of Sciences study on the effects of pesticide residues on children. Before we finished the documentary, the industry somehow purloined a copy of our draft script - we still aren't certain how - and mounted a sophisticated and expensive campaign to discredit our program before it aired. Television reviewers and editorial pages of key newspapers were flooded with propaganda. Some public television managers were so unnerved by the blitz of misleading information about a film they had not yet broadcast that they actually protested to PBS with letters that had been prepared by the industry.

Here's what most perplexed us: the American Cancer Society - an organization that in no way figured in our story - sent to its 3,000 local chapters a "critique" of the unfinished documentary claiming, wrongly, that it exaggerated the dangers of pesticides in food. We were puzzled. Why was the American Cancer Society taking the unusual step of criticizing a documentary that it had not seen, that had not aired and that did not claim what the Society alleged? An enterprising reporter named Sheila Kaplan later looked into those questions for the journal Legal Times. It turns out that the Porter Novelli public relations firm, which had worked for several chemical companies, also did pro bono work for the American Cancer Society. Kaplan found that the firm was able to cash in some of the goodwill from that "charitable" work to persuade the compliant communications staff at the Society to distribute some harsh talking point about the documentary before it aired - talking points that had been supplied by, but not attributed to, Porter Novelli. Legal Times headlined the story "Porter Novelli Plays All Sides." A familiar Washington game.

Others also used the American Cancer Society's good name in efforts to tarnish the journalism before it aired, none more invidiously than the right-wing polemicist Reed Irvine, who pumped his sludge through an organization with the Orwellian name Accuracy in Media. He attacked our work as "junk science on PBS" and demanded Congress pull the plug on public broadcasting. Fortunately, PBS once again stood firm. The documentary aired, the journalism held up and the publicity liberated the National Academy of Sciences to release the study that the industry had tried to cripple.

However, there's always another round; the sharks are always circling. Sherry Jones and I spent more than a year working on another PBS documentary called "Trade Secrets," a two-hour investigative special based on revelations - found in the industry's own archives - that big chemical companies had deliberately withheld from workers and consumers damaging information about toxic chemicals in their products. These internal industry documents are a fact. They exist. They are not a matter of opinion or point of view. They state what the companies knew, when they knew it and what they did with what they knew (namely to deep-six it) at peril to those who worked with and consumed the potentially lethal products.

The revelations portrayed deep and pervasive corruption in a major American industry and raised critical policy implications about the safety of living under a regulatory system manipulated by the industry itself. If the public and government regulators had known what the industry knew about the health risks of its products when the industry knew it, America's laws and regulations governing chemical manufacturing would have been far more protective of human health. But the industry didn't want us to know. That's what the documents revealed and that was the story the industry fought to keep us from telling.

The industry hired as an ally a public relations firm in Washington noted for using private detectives and former CIA, FBI and drug enforcement officers to conduct investigations for corporations under critical scrutiny. One of the company's founders acknowledged that corporations may need to resort to "deceit" and other unconventional resources to counter public scrutiny. Given the scurrilous campaign that was conducted to smear our journalism, his comments were an understatement. To complicate matters, the Congressman, who for years had been the single biggest recipient of campaign contributions from the chemical industry, was the very member of Congress whose committee had jurisdiction over public broadcasting's appropriations. As an independent production firm, we had not used public funds to produce the documentary. But even our independence didn't stop the corporate mercenaries from bringing relentless pressure on PBS not to air the broadcast. The then president of PBS, Pat Mitchell, stood tall in resisting the pressure and was vindicated: one year later, The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences awarded "Trade Secrets" an Emmy for outstanding investigative journalism.

Now, you can understand how it is that journalism became for me a continuing course in adult education. It enabled me to produce documentaries like "Trade Secrets" and out-of-the-box series like "Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth." It enabled me to cover the summits of world leaders and the daily lives of struggling families in Newark. It empowered me to explain how public elections are subverted by private money, and to how to make a poem. Journalism also provided me a passport into the world of ideas, which became my favorite beat, in no small part because I never met anyone - philosopher or physicist, historian, artist, writer, scientist, entrepreneur or social critic - who didn't teach me something I hadn't known, something that enlarged my life.

Here's an example: One of my favorite of all interviews was with my sainted fellow Texan, the writer and broadcaster John Henry Faulk, who had many years earlier, been the target of a right-wing smear campaign that resulted in his firing by CBS from his job as a radio host here in New York, one of the low moments in that network's history. But John Henry fought back in court and won a landmark legal victory against his tormentors. After he returned home to Texas, I did the last interview with him before his death in 1990. He told me the story of how he and his friend Boots Cooper were playing in the chicken coop when they were about 12 years old. They spied a chicken snake in the top tier of nests, so close it looked like a boa constrictor. As John Henry put it, "All our frontier courage drained out our heels - actually it trickled down our overall legs - and Boots and I made a new door through that henhouse wall." Hearing all the commotion Boots' momma came out and said, "Don't you boys know chicken snakes are harmless? They can't harm you." And Boots, rubbing his forehead and behind at the same time, said, "Yes, Mrs. Faulk, I know that, but they can scare you so bad, it'll cause you to hurt yourself." John Henry Faulk told me that's a lesson he never forgot. Over and again I've tried to remember it, too, calling on it to restore my resolve and my soul.

I've had a wonderful life in broadcasting, matriculating as a perpetual student in the school of journalism. Other people have paid the tuition and travel and I've never really had to grow up and get a day job. I think it's because journalism has been so good to me that I am sad when I hear or read that factual broadcasting is passé - that television as a venue for forensic journalism is on its way out and that trying to find out "what really happened" - which is our mandate - is but a quaint relic in an age of post-structuralism and cyberspace. But despite all our personal electronic devices, people are watching more television than ever. Much of this programming is posted online; I believe at least half the audience for my last two weekly series on Friday night came over the weekend via streaming video, iPods and TIVO. I was pleased to discover that the web sites most frequented by educators are those of PBS and that our own sites were among the most popular destinations. That's what keeps us going, isn't it? The knowledge that all the bias and ignorance notwithstanding, facts still matter to critical thinking, that if we respect and honor, even revere them, they just might help us right the ship of state before it rams the iceberg.

That's why, on balance, I count WikiLeaks a plus for democracy. Whatever side you take on the controversy, whether or not you think this information should be disclosed, all parties - those who want it released and those who don't - acknowledge that information matters. Partly because I grew up in the south and partly because of my experience in the Johnson White House, I'm on the side of disclosure, even when it hurts. The truth about slavery had been driven from the pulpits, newsrooms and classrooms during the antebellum days; it took a bloody civil war to drive the truth home. At the Johnson White House, we circled the wagons and grew intolerant of news that didn't conform to our hopes, expectations and strategies for Vietnam, with terrible, tragic results for Americans and Vietnamese, north and south. I say: "Never again!"

Here's a sidebar: I remember vividly the day President Johnson signed the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA): July 4, 1966. He signed it "with a deep sense of pride," declaring in almost lyrical language "that the United States is an open society in which the people's right to know is cherished and guarded." That's what he said. The truth is, the president had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the signing ceremony. He hated the very idea of journalists rummaging in government closets, hated them challenging the authorized view of reality, hated them knowing what he didn't want them to know. He dug in his heels and even threatened to pocket veto the bill after it reached the White House. Only the courage and political skill of a Congressman named John Moss got the bill passed at all and that was after a 12-year battle against his Congressional elders, who blinked every time the sun shined on the dark corners of power. They managed to cripple the bill Moss had drafted and, even then, only some last-minute calls to LBJ from a handful of influential newspaper editors overcame the president's reluctance. He signed "the f------ thing," as he called it and then, lo and behold, went out to claim credit for it.

It's always a fight to find out what the government doesn't want us to know. The official obsession with secrecy is all the more disturbing today because the war on terrorism is a war without limits, without a visible enemy or decisive encounters. We don't know where the clandestine war is going on or how much it's costing and whether it's in the least effective. Even in Afghanistan, most of what we know comes from official, usually military, sources.

Thus, a relative handful of people have enormous power to keep us in the dark. And when those people are in league with their counterparts in powerful corporations, the public is hit with a double whammy. We're usually told the issue is national security, but keeping us from finding out about the danger of accidents at chemical plants is not about national security; it's about covering up an industry's indiscretions and liabilities. Locking up the secrets of meetings with energy executives is not about national security; it's about hiding confidential memos sent to the White House showing the influence of oil companies on policies of global warming We only learned about that memo from the Bush White House, by the way, thanks to the Freedom of Information Act.

Consider WikiLeaks, then, to be one big FOIA dump. Were some people in high places embarrassed? Perhaps. They did squeal, but I don't think they were stuck.

And even so, we learned some important things from WikiLeaks. For example, as Reza Alsan writes in The Atlantic, the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, may not be as fanatical as we think he is; the diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks portray him as "a moderate reformer who'd like to cut deals with the West, but can't because hard-liners are calling the shots." One of them even slapped Ahmadinejad across the face when, at a high-level meeting. he proposed that the government allow more personal and press freedom at the height of the 2009 public protests in Iran. Such information can help us evaluate the incessant demands of neoconservative warmongers - the very people who rode the circuit with news of "weapons of mass destruction" in an effort to build support for invading Iraq - that we use military force against Iran to eliminate its nuclear capacity.

There are other uses of the disclosures from WikiLeaks admirably compiled by Greg Mitchell in the current edition of The Nation, where the one-time editor of Editor and Publisher performed an important public service by culling the gold from the dust.

I will close with an urgent appeal to you about one fight we won't win unless all of us join it. I'm sure everyone here agrees that we will eventually be moving to the web, all of us and that "free, instant, worldwide connectivity" is the future. But I'm sure you know that this incredible, free, open Internet highway is at risk, that corporations are on the brink of muscling their way to the front of the line. Media companies want the power to censor Internet content they don't like, to put toll booths on the web so they can charge more for the privilege of driving in the fast lanes, to turn it into a private preserve.

You may have heard that last month the FCC decided to protect free/open Internet access only on landline connections, not wireless - which is to say, there's no net neutrality in most of the online world. As Jenn Ettinger of the nonpartisan, nonprofit Free Press reported in Yes! magazine just two days ago:

The rules that the FCC passed in December are vague and weak. The limited protections that were placed on wired connections, the kind you access through your home computer, leave the door open for the phone and cable companies to develop fast and slow lanes on the Web and to favor their own content or applications.

Worse, the rules also explicitly allow wireless carriers ... to block applications for any reason and to degrade and de-prioritize websites you access using your cell phone or a device like an iPad.

Perhaps the FCC is biding its time, waiting to see how things develop technologically, with the current FCC chair seemingly more open to citizen input than was his predecessor. Or, again, maybe the landline regulation was meant simply to get media reformers off the commission's back. We can't relax our vigilance. In Ettinger's words:

The FCC still has the opportunity to put in place a solid framework that would put the public interest above the profit motive of the phone and cable companies that it is supposed to regulate. And the FCC should take immediate steps to close the loopholes it created, to strengthen its rules and to include wireless protections. The fight is far from over. We can work to change the rules, demand better oversight and consumer protections and make sure that the big companies can't pad their bottom lines on the backs of their customers.

In this effort, we have a strong ally in FCC commissioner Michael Copps, who. on my broadcast last year, spelled out how "our future is going to ride on broadband. How we get a job is going to ride on broadband. How we take care of our health. How we educate ourselves about our responsibilities as citizens ... And it's absolutely imperative that we have a place, that we have a venue to go to, to make sure that that Internet is kept open ... That's our decision to make as a people, as citizens: who's going to control this ultimately?"

With all the media consolidation that's happening today, the web may be the last stand of independent factual broadcasters like you. The stakes are high and we have come to the decisive round. I'll leave you with a story Joseph Campbell told me years ago for my series "The Power of Myth." It seems a fellow rounding the corner saw a fight break out down the block. Running up to one of the bystanders, he shouted: "Is this a private fight or can anyone get in it?"

The Internet fight for democracy is a public fight. Come on in!