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Bill Moyers on LBJ and ‘Selma’

Bill Moyers on LBJ and ‘Selma’

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After his online chat Tuesday, Bill had more to say about the Oscar-nominated film Selma, President Lyndon B. Johnson, the Voting Rights Act and how government has changed over the past 40-plus years. Read his Q & A below, and be sure to add your comments — as Bill said in the chat, he reads them all.

What did you think of the film Selma?

(Poster of 'Selma' the movie.)

Bill: There are some beautiful and poignant moments in the film that take us closer to the truth than anything I’ve seen in other movies to date: the cruelty visited upon black people everyday by whites and armed authorities; the humiliation they faced simply trying to register to vote (“Name all the county judges in Alabama!”); the courage and fear of those black people who put themselves on the line for freedom’s sake; the ambivalence in Martin Luther King Jr. as he faced the inescapability of leadership and constant threat of death. I cannot imagine the dread one had to subdue to step on that bridge that day.And I came out of the theater shaking my head in disbelief at the obscenity of the Republican Party as it has piously but insidiously taken up voter suppression as a priority. The Party of Lincoln? Of Emancipation? Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” of 50 years ago has now become their subliminal mantra: “Whites of America, Unite!” Back in the 1970s, in the early days of a resurging conservative movement, the late Paul Weyrich — godfather of the religious right and co-founder of the American Conservative Union, and of ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council, the powerful lobbying group for corporations and conservatives) – declared:

I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of the country, and they are not now. As a matter of fact our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.

So look who won the midterm elections as voter turnout fell to its lowest in 70 years: A coalition of suppressionists doing everything they can to make it hard for black and poor people to vote – and their big donors who give millions to drown out those very same voices. That’s “Free Speech” in the Roberts era.

As for how the film portrays Lyndon B. Johnson: There’s one egregious and outrageous portrayal that is the worst kind of creative license because it suggests the very opposite of the truth, in this case, that the president was behind J. Edgar Hoover’s sending the “sex tape” to Coretta King. Some of our most scrupulous historians have denounced that one. And even if you want to think of Lyndon B. Johnson as vile enough to want to do that, he was way too smart to hand Hoover the means of blackmailing him.

Then, casting the president as opposed to the Selma march, which the film does, is an exaggeration and misleading. He was concerned that coming less than a year after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, there was little political will in Congress to deal with voting rights. As he said to Martin Luther King Jr., “You’re an activist; I’m a politician,” and politicians read the tide of events better than most of us read the hands on our watch. The president knew he needed public sentiment to gather momentum before he could introduce and quickly pass a voting rights bill. So he asked King to give him more time to bring Southern “moderates” and the rest of the country over to the cause, but once King made the case that blacks had waited too long for too little, Johnson told him: “Then go out there and make it possible for me to do the right thing.”

I was standing very near him, off to his right, and he was more emotionally and bodily into that speech than I had seen him in months. The nation was electrified. Watching on television, Martin Luther King Jr. wept. This is the moment when the film blows the possibility for true drama — of history happening right before our eyes.

To my knowledge he never suggested Selma as the venue for a march but he’s on record as urging King to do something to arouse the sleeping white conscience, and when violence met the marchers on that bridge, he knew the moment had come: He told me to alert the speechwriters to get ready and within days he made his own famous “We Shall Overcome” address that transformed the political environment. Here the film is very disappointing. The director has a limpid president speaking in the Senate chamber to a normal number of senators as if it were a “ho hum” event. In fact, he made that speech where State of the Union addressesare delivered – in a packed House of Representatives. I was standing very near him, off to his right, and he was more emotionally and bodily into that speech than I had seen him in months. The nationwas electrified. Watching on television, Martin Luther King Jr. wept. This is the moment when the film blows the possibility for true drama — of history happening right before our eyes.So it’s a powerful but flawed film. Go see it, though – it’s good to be reminded of a time when courage on the street is met by a moral response from power.

President Lyndon B. Johnson meets with Martin Luther King, Jr. on Aug. 6, 1965 upon signing the Voting Rights Act. Credit: Yoichi R. Okamoto, Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum

You were involved in passing the Voting Rights Act? How do you assess its impact all these years later?

Bill: Just as Lyndon B. Johnson said at the time, the right to vote is “the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men.” We’re a different country today because of what happened then, obviously — with black Americans holding office all the way up to the president of the United States. After he signed the Voting Rights Act I asked LBJ if he thought this meant we’d have a black president in our time. He said no, we would have a woman first. Well, one down, another to go.

On the other hand, the reactionaries never give up. And the George Wallace of then would be pleased with the John Roberts of now. You may know the chief justice was a young lawyer in Ronald Reagan’s Department of Justice during the 1980s and doing everything he could to undermine the effectiveness of the Voting Rights Act. Roberts’ great conceit – shared by other conservative members of the court, including Clarence Thomas who keeps trying to kick over the ladder by which he himself was hoisted to prominence — is that racism is no longer the problem it once was. More or less what you can imagine a privileged elite of corporate lawyers would think, no? Read some of the memos and op-eds the younger Roberts wrote arguing for watering down the Voting Rights Act and you will understand why the conservative movement saw him as their new white hope on the bench. He seems to believe discrimination has to be intentional to be unconstitutional – that there’s no such thing as systemic racism, racism layered over decades or centuries. So we have now a one-time foot soldier in the conservative movement of legal resistance to equal rights occupying its commanding heights.

How do you remember LBJ? 

Bill Moyers with President Lyndon Johnson.

(Note: Bill served as Lyndon B. Johnson’s domestic policy adviser in 1964-65 and his press secretary from 1965 to 1967.)Bill: Lyndon B. Johnson owned and operated a ferocious ego. But he was curiously ill at ease with himself. He had an animal sense of weakness in other men — he wanted to know what you loved and what you feared and once he knew, he came after you. He was at times proud, sensitive, impulsive, flamboyant, sentimental, bold, magnanimous and graceful (the best dancer in the White House since George Washington); at times temperamental, paranoid, ill of spirit, vulgar. He had a passion for power but suffered violent dissent in the ranks of his own personality.

He could absolutely do the right thing at the right time — the reassuring grace, if you will, when he was thrust into the White House after Kennedy’s assassination; the Civil Rights Act of 1964; the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But when he did the wrong thing — escalating the Vietnam war — the damage was irreparable.

How would you describe the most striking and significant differences in our government that you have observed between the Vietnam era and today?

Bill: First, the sheer size and complexity of government — check out a recent post on billmoyers.com by John J. Dilulio Jr. reviewing Francis Fukuyama’s new book on the state of democracy; the two of them — Dilulio and Fukuyama — make this point brilliantly. I also just read a thoughtful piece by Charles Lane in the Washington Post arguing that the Great Society programs minted 50 years ago have mutated into sources of new and intractable problems, including their enormous cost; you can’t ignore the argument even as you also acknowledge how the giant tax cuts to the rich have cut government revenues that would help pay that cost. Everybody’s clamoring for more spending on infrastructure but hardly anyone is saying “Let’s raise the gasoline tax to pay for what all of us need and use!”

Second, the growth of the deep state — private instruments or agencies of power acting for and funded by the government (intelligence, the military, etc.). There’s a vast government we don’t see. A long-time senior Republican staff member of Congress, Mike Lofgren, wrote an extraordinary essay for billmoyers.com under the title The Deep State. Read it before you go to bed tonight. Rather, first thing in the morning. If you tackle it before bedtime, you won’t sleep.

And finally — although I should have started with this one: The triumph of money over every aspect of government. Money’s always been a force, but never to the extent it is today. We are just this close (I’m squeezing my index finger and thumb tightly) from oligarchy — the rule of the wealthy few for the purpose of increasing their wealth.

Fed. Ct.: Rauner’s GTCR orchestrated “bust out” scheme; lawsuit has merit | Republican News Watch

Fed. Ct.: Rauner’s GTCR orchestrated “bust out” scheme; lawsuit has merit

By DOUG IBENDAHL • May 6, 2014

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The U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of Florida has issued a ruling which contains some very bad news for GOP gubernatorial nominee Bruce Rauner.

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The Federal Court’s March 14 Opinion describes a “bust out” scheme orchestrated by GTCR, the private equity firm chaired by Rauner for years up until October 2012. The Court ruled that claims against GTCR for aiding and abetting a breach of fiduciary duty have merit and therefore can proceed.

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The Court also ruled that claims for breach of fiduciary duty can proceed against Edgar Jannotta, formerly one of Rauner’s fellow GTCR principals. Jannotta is currently one of the largest financial contributors to Rauner’s campaign.

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Under Rauner’s chairmanship of GTCR the firm was accused of complicity in the wrongful deaths of multiple nursing home residents. GTCR was then later accused of participating in a scheme allegedly intended to fraudulently transfer assets for the purpose of hiding them from successful plaintiffs and other creditors.

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Litigation in U.S. Bankruptcy Court is just part of the ongoing fallout from the disastrous attempt by GTCR’s principals (including Rauner) to get richer by building a nationwide nursing home empire.

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You can read the Judge’s entire 40-page Opinion from March 14 HERE.

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Among other things, this latest Federal Court ruling further exposes two big lies by Rauner. First, Rauner has repeatedly claimed his firm was not involved in day-to-day operations. But here is what the Federal Judge wrote: “[a]side from raising capital for THI [Trans Healthcare, Inc.], the GTCR Group was also instrumental in THI’s day-to-day management and administration.” (See p. 4 of the Opinion for more.)

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Second, Rauner has repeatedly claimed his firm got out of the nursing home business prior to the deaths which became the subject of lawsuits and enormous jury awards. Again, the Federal Court’s Opinion details the timeline and proves Rauner’s claims are false.

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The Judge’s Opinion observes that the alleged “bust out” scheme “has all the makings of a legal thriller.”

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The Judge is definitely correct. Page 9 of the Opinion for example describes one part GTCR’s alleged “bust out” scheme which would be comical if not for the tragic circumstances:

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In the second linked transaction, THI sold all of its stock in THMI to the Debtor for $100,000. The Debtor had been incorporated just months before the transaction by the law firm of Troutman Sanders, where Forman (one of FLTCH’s owners) was a partner. The Debtor’s sole shareholder is Barry Saacks, an elderly graphic artist who currently lives in a nursing home. Although Saacks has some recollection of being asked if he was interested in buying computer equipment, he was not aware that he owns the Debtor or that he acquired the stock in THMI. And, it turns out, Saacks (who did not have any money to buy any computer equipment in the first place) did not pay the purchase price—FLTCH apparently loaned him the $100,000—nor did he ever receive any of THMI’s assets. In short, the complaint paints this as a sham transaction. (Emphasis added.)

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There is definitely some complexity in this litigation and that’s reflected in the Opinion. But it’s a must read for every Illinois voter. We previously used the term “bust out” to describe Rauner’s firm’s experience in the nursing home business. But it’s not every day you see a Federal Judge using the term and so vividly explaining its application.

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While the Illinois press has largely given Rauner and his firm a pass, our judicial system fortunately has not.

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Doug Ibendahl is a Chicago Attorney and a former General Counsel of the Illinois Republican Party.

via Fed. Ct.: Rauner’s GTCR orchestrated “bust out” scheme; lawsuit has merit | Republican News Watch.

Rights Are for People Like Us | The Weekly Sift

Rights Are for People Like Us | The Weekly Sift.

Rights Are for People Like Us

Those high-flown principles put forward by the militiamen defending Cliven Bundy’s rights … do they apply to anybody else?


The best summaries I’ve seen of the conflict between Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and the federal Bureau of Land Management are from the local St. George News and the Washington Post. Cutting it down somewhat: the BLM charges that Bundy has been grazing his cattle on public land without paying grazing and tresspass fees for 20 years. (They got their first court order telling him to stop in 1998; he ignored it.) The claimed fees now amount to over $1 million, and so April 5 the BLM started seizing some of Bundy’s illegally grazing cattle.

Self-appointed defender of Freedom.

Armed militiamen who support Bundy started gathering at a camp on April 10, and on April 12 the BLM backed down after what the Las Vegas Review-Journal described as “a 20-minute standoff … [w]ith rifles pointing toward each side”. The BLM released a statement:

Based on information about conditions on the ground, and in consultation with law enforcement, we have made a decision to conclude the cattle gather because of our serious concern about the safety of employees and members of the public.

The Bundy Ranch blog described the scene like this:

The result was a group of Bundy’s family members and supporters making a slow advance on a line of armed agents who kept ordering them to halt. At one point, the protesters were even told “one more step and you’re dead,” but the group kept coming, eventually walking easily through the line of federal agents and SWAT members who obviously didn’t have the courage of their convictions. According to InfoWars, the BLM had already announced it was leaving, but the county sheriff refused Bundy’s demand to disarm the federal agents and return his cattle. Within about a half hour, the cattle were released from the federal pen.

In other words, federal agents tried to enforce the law, were met with armed resistance from a mob, and decided to temporize rather than start killing people. On the extreme Right, this was celebrated as a victory for Freedom. Bundy’s son said, “The people have the power when they unite. The war has just begun.”

And the mainstream Right went along. The Powerline blog wrote “Why You Should Be Sympathetic Toward Cliven Bundy” while admitting “legally, Bundy doesn’t have a leg to stand on.” National Review‘s Kevin Williamson made “The Case for a Little Sedition“, saying

Of course the law is against Cliven Bundy. How could it be otherwise? The law was against Mohandas Gandhi, too

Fox News commentator Andrew Napolitano described the BLM (and not the miltiamen) as “a group of thugs dressed in military uniform with loaded M16s pointed at a rancher and his family.” Fox News produced this sympathetic segment, in which National Review editor Rich Lowry described the resistance as “in the finest American tradition of civil disobedience going back to Henry David Thoreau.”

To me, the Bundy incident has captured much of the basic sickness of conservatism in America: The rhetoric is full of high principle, but it’s hard to find any actual principle that would apply to anyone other than People Like Us — people like the people who belong to the conservative fringe.

It’s tempting to characterize this kind of thing as racism. Certainly that’s what the NYT’s Timothy Egan is suggesting with:

If you changed that picture to Black Panthers surrounding a lawful eviction in the inner city, do you think right-wing media would be there cheering the outlaws?

But it’s more subtle than that. Probably a black man who behaved like a far-fringe-rightist in all other ways could become People Like Us and come to have similar “rights” recognized. But the Black Panthers are clearly not People Like Us, so it would be an absolute horror if they were to arm themselves and resist the law. Likewise, it would be a horror if a Hispanic militia decided to liberate one of Sheriff Arpaio’s detention camps for immigrants. If some miltiamen got killed in such an attempt, I doubt Fox News would lament about “government overreach”. The Occupy protesters weren’t People Like Us, so they could be thrown off public land with impunity. Imagine the outrage if Occupy had militarized Zuccotti Park!

One of the reasons Bundy is supposed to deserve sympathy is that “his family has been ranching on the acres at issue since the late 19th century”. You can imagine how far similar sympathy would extend if armed Native Americans were threatening to kill whites over land their people had been hunting and fishing on for thousands of years. Hispanics have been wandering back and forth across the Rio Grande for centuries, but if they do it today, we have to enforce the Rule of Law. If people get killed, well, so be it.

But not People Like Us. When we feel wronged and take up arms, everyone should sympathize, the government should show restraint, and the media should re-litigate our case to the general public.

A number of Bundy’s sympathizers are rehashing the bizarre claims he has made in court: that the federal government can’t own land inside a state, or that the federal government is itself illegitimate. Bundy repeatedly refers to the federal government’s ownership as “unconstitutional”, probably because his reading of the Constitution never got as far as Article IV:

The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States

This is why we have courts, to adjudicate disputes like this. Bundy made his argument in court and lost. Most people don’t then get to appeal their case to the Court of Nuts With Guns. But People Like Us do.

Whenever Bundy supporters are given media time, I would like to see them challenged to state their position in such a way that they would support similar rights for people not at all like them and not already part of the conservative movement. And I’d like to see mainstream conservative pundits confronted with a different challenge: Are there any limits to what you will support if the people doing it are on your side?

Mitt Romney Explains Where Obama Went Wrong (Hint: It Is ‘Everywhere’)

Not ashamed to admit I send monies to Wonkette for the pleasure she brings. For ten bucks, you really get bang for your buck.

via Mitt Romney Explains Where Obama Went Wrong (Hint: It Is ‘Everywhere’).

LET’S GO DO SOME CRIMEA 1:30 pm March 18, 2014

Mitt Romney Explains Where Obama Went Wrong (Hint: It Is ‘Everywhere’)

by Doktor Zoom

We need a leader who instills respect in his foesIt sure is a good thing that politics stops at the water’s edge, because otherwise this Mitt Romney pouting in the Wall Street Journal sure would be controversial, since basically he tells America that we really screwed up bad by choosing such a terrible president who is decidedly not Mitt Romney. You see, were it not for all of Barack Obama’s manifest failures to do things much differently, the world would be a pretty nice place, but as it is, everything that foreign countries have done is the result of Barry Bamz being a big weakling. Also, Hillary Clinton, too. Romney laments that there are “no good options” on a whole bunch of international issues, like Crimea of course, but also Afghanistan and Iraq and Iran and North Korea, all of which Obama really screwed up on, leaving America with its hands tied:

A large part of the answer is our leader’s terrible timing. In virtually every foreign-affairs crisis we have faced these past five years, there was a point when America had good choices and good options. There was a juncture when America had the potential to influence events. But we failed to act at the propitious point; that moment having passed, we were left without acceptable options.

Fittingly, the column was published on a Monday night; you sort of imagine Mitt in a helmet and shoulder pads, calling plays into the past. Because if you look at history, it’s clear that America can always make other countries do exactly what America wants when we have a good leader who does the right thing, as proven by that quote from Shakespeare about how you gotta catch the tide just right and ride it, because Charlie don’t surf.

First off, on Ukraine, Barry totally failed to recognize the possibility that Putin would invade Crimea, even though it should have been obvious once the government started responding violently to the protests:

That was the time to talk with our global allies about punishments and sanctions, to secure their solidarity, and to communicate these to the Russian president. These steps, plus assurances that we would not exclude Russia from its base in Sevastopol or threaten its influence in Kiev, might have dissuaded him from invasion.

Which is a pretty good backwards psychic prediction, because it doesn’t need to account for pesky details like the fact that shortly before the Ukrainian government started shooting protesters, it was looking like it was going to negotiate with them instead, and then that government fell almost as suddenly as it started killing people. But yes, had Obama just seen the situation with the clarity of a month later, he should have warned Putin, and we all know how Putin listens to other leaders.

Similarly, when protests in Syria first started to turn into a revolt against Bashar Assad, Mitt tells us that

the time was ripe for us to bring together moderate leaders who would have been easy enough for us to identify, to assure the Alawites that they would have a future post-Assad, and to see that the rebels were well armed.

Why, yes, all you have to do is look at the headlines from three years ago, when they all said “Good Guys In Syria Easy to Identify” — and when the administration sought to work with the moderate rebels, there certainly weren’t any teabaggers like Michele Bachmann screaming that the Arab Spring was just a cover for al Qaeda trying to take over everything.

And so on — in one foreign situation after another, Mitt Romney finds the perfect moment where Barack Obama was asleep at the switch again. Really, he should go back in time and fix stuff, but he refuses to because he is Weak. But has anything worked out for poor feckless Barack? Heck no, because he failed to bully the world into fearing America the way he should have:

President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton traveled the world in pursuit of their promise to reset relations and to build friendships across the globe. Their failure has been painfully evident: It is hard to name even a single country that has more respect and admiration for America today than when President Obama took office, and now Russia is in Ukraine.

Because god knows, we were so very, very admired and respected under the able leadership of George W. Bush.

[WSJ]

Hey, Bruce Rauner: Payton Prep is a union school! | Bleader | Chicago Reader

Bruce Rauner, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Payton Prep high school, budget cuts, Chicago Public Schools, charter schools, Chicago Teachers Union, librarian, Chicago Tonight, Image

via Hey, Bruce Rauner: Payton Prep is a union school! | Bleader | Chicago Reader.

One Chicago parent’s view of Bruce Rauner’s clout caper – Opinion – Crain’s Chicago Business

Another fun look at the GOP front-runner for Illinois Governor. Mr. Political-outsider, apparently, is a clout-brandishing hypocrite. Can’t even joke about being shocked *sigh* Welcome to the spotlight, Bruce. This is why the rich and powerful prefer to hire hack attorneys to front for them in the system.

One Chicago parent's view of Bruce Rauner's clout caper – Opinion – Crain's Chicago Business.