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A Palestinian hold a poster with a picture of slain Jordanian pilot, Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh during a protest in front of the Jordanian embassy, in the West Bank City of Ramallah, Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
They burned him alive in an iron cage, and as he screamed and writhed in the agony of hell they made a sport of his death.

After listening to one newscast after another rightly condemn the barbaric killing of that Jordanian air force pilot at the bloody hands of ISIS, I couldn’t sleep. My mind kept roaming the past trying to retrieve a vaguely remembered photograph that I had seen long ago in the archives of a college library in Texas.

Suddenly, around two in the morning, the image materialized in my head. I made my way down the hall to my computer and typed in: “Waco, Texas. Lynching.”

Sure enough, there it was: the charred corpse of a young black man, tied to a blistered tree in the heart of the Texas Bible Belt. Next to the burned body, young white men can be seen smiling and grinning, seemingly jubilant at their front-row seats in a carnival of death. One of them sent a picture postcard home: “This is the barbeque we had last night. My picture is to the left with a cross over it. Your son, Joe.”

The victim’s name was Jesse Washington. The year was 1916. America would soon go to war in Europe “to make the world safe for democracy.” My father was twelve, my mother eight. I was born 18 years later, at a time, I would come to learn, when local white folks still talked about Washington’s execution as if it were only yesterday. This was not medieval Europe. Not the Inquisition. Not a heretic burned at the stake by some ecclesiastical authority in the Old World. This was Texas, and the white people in that photograph were farmers, laborers, shopkeepers, some of them respectable congregants from local churches in and around the growing town of Waco.

Large crowd looking at the burned body of Jesse Washington, 18-year-old African-American, lynched in Waco, Texas, on May 15, 1916. (Library of Congress)
 

Here is the photograph. Take a good look at Jesse Washington’s stiffened body tied to the tree. He had been sentenced to death for the murder of a white woman. No witnesses saw the crime; he allegedly confessed but the truth of the allegations would never be tested. The grand jury took just four minutes to return a guilty verdict, but there was no appeal, no review, no prison time. Instead, a courtroom mob dragged him outside, pinned him to the ground, and cut off his testicles. A bonfire was quickly built and lit. For two hours, Jesse Washington — alive — was raised and lowered over the flames. Again and again and again. City officials and police stood by, approvingly. According to some estimates, the crowd grew to as many as 15,000. There were taunts, cheers and laughter. Reporters described hearing “shouts of delight.”
When the flames died away, Washington’s body was torn apart and the pieces were sold as souvenirs. The party was over.

Many years later, as a young man, I visited Waco’s Baylor University, often referred to as the Texas Baptist Vatican. I had been offered a teaching position there. I sat for a while in the school’s Armstrong Browning Library, one of the most beautiful in America, containing not only the works of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the acclaimed Victorian poets, but also stained glass windows, marble columns, and elegant ceilings that bring to mind the gorgeous interior of Michelangelo’s Laurentian library in Florence.

Sitting there, I found it hard to reconcile the beauty and quiet of that sanctuary with the photograph that I had been shown earlier by a man named Harry Provence, publisher of the local newspaper. Seeing it, I realized that as young Jesse Washington was being tortured, students his own age, some of them studying for the ministry, were just finishing their spring semester. In 1905, when another black man had been lynched in Waco, Baylor’s president became a leader of the anti-lynching movement. But ugly memories still divided the town.

Jesse Washington was just one black man to die horribly at the hands of white death squads. Between 1882 and 1968 — 1968! — there were 4,743 recorded lynchings in the US. About a quarter of them were white people, many of whom had been killed for sympathizing with black folks. My father, who was born in 1904 near Paris, Texas, kept in a drawer that newspaper photograph from back when he was a boy of thousands of people gathered as if at a picnic to feast on the torture and hanging of a black man in the center of town. On a journey tracing our roots many years later, my father choked and grew silent as we stood near the spot where it had happened.

Yes, it was hard to get back to sleep the night we heard the news of the Jordanian pilot’s horrendous end. ISIS be damned! I thought. But with the next breath I could only think that our own barbarians did not have to wait at any gate. They were insiders. Home grown. Godly. Our neighbors, friends, and kin. People like us.

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Previously published on BillMoyers.com.



 

The Archbishop of South Africa, Desmond Tutu, has called for an international “anti-apartheid-style boycott” against the fossil fuel industry in response to global warming. “People of conscience need to break their ties with corporations financing the injustice of climate change,” the Nobel Peace Prize laureate wrote in an essay earlier this month. Tutu’s call to action also urges a strategy of divestment, the selling off of stocks and other investments in the name of an urgent cause.

This week, Bill talks with two leaders who helped inspire the new fossil fuel divestment movement that Tutu is encouraging. Ellen Dorsey is executive director of the Wallace Global Fund and a catalyst in the coalition of 17 foundations known as Divest-Invest Philanthropy. Thomas Van Dyck is Senior Vice President – Financial Advisor at RBC Wealth Management, and founder of As You Sow, a shareholder advocacy foundation.

They are urging foundations, faith groups, pension funds, municipalities and universities to sell their shares in polluting industries and reinvest in companies committed to climate change solutions.

“The climate crisis is so urgent that if you own fossil fuels, you own climate change,” Dorsey tells Moyers. Van Dyck adds that reinvestment is needed to create “a sustainable economy that’s based on the energy of the future, not on the energy of the past.”
Moyers & Company airs weekly on public television. Explore more at BillMoyers.com.
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Previously published on BillMoyers.com.

In the coming weeks, the Supreme Court is expected to issue another big decision on campaign finance, one that could further open the floodgates to unfettered and anonymous contributions, just as the Citizens United case did four years ago.

This week Bill speaks with investigative journalists Kim Barker and Andy Kroll about the role of dark money — and the wealthy donors behind it — in this year’s midterm elections.



 

Already, three times as much money has been raised for this year’s elections as four years ago, when the Citizens United decision was announced. “This is the era of the empowered ‘one percenter’. They’re taking action and they’re becoming the new, headline players in this political system,” Kroll tells Moyers. Kim Barker adds, “People want influence. It’s a question of whether we’re going to allow it to happen, especially if we’re going to allow it to happen and nobody even knows who the influencers are.”

Barker is an investigative reporter with the independent, non-profit news organization ProPublica and Andy Kroll is a journalist in the Washington bureau of Mother Jones magazine.

Moyers & Company airs weekly on public television. Explore more at BillMoyers.com.

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Previously published on BillMoyers.com.

This week on Moyers & Company, Bill continues his conversation with author and legal scholar Ian Haney López about dog whistle politics – code words that use race to turn Americans against each other.



 

Politicians manipulate deep prejudice to rouse hostility against minorities and the government, according to Haney López, and summon support for policies that make economic inequality even worse. And it’s not just Republicans and the tea party who have used this “strategic racism” to win votes, but Democrats as well.

“Democrats have understood, even as early as 1970, [that] race was gonna be an effective wedge issue against them. And when the Democrats responded they responded not by contesting that politics but instead by embracing it. And this is part of the story of dog whistle politics — Republicans shift right and the Democrats have tracked rightward, following them,” Haney López tells Moyers.
The two also discuss dog whistling and the debate over food stamps, the presidency of Barack Obama and the rise of the tea party, as well as the origins of this election strategy. Haney López also tells Bill that he expects the racial provocations will evolve to target members of the Latino and Asian communities in the coming years.

Moyers & Company airs weekly on public television. Explore more at BillMoyers.com.

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Previously published on BillMoyers.com.

What do Cadillac-driving “welfare queens,” a “food stamp president” and the “lazy, dependent and entitled” 47 percent tell us about post-racial America? They’re all examples of a type of coded racism that this week’s guest, Ian Haney López, writes about in his new book, Dog Whistle Politics.



 

Haney López is an expert in how racism has evolved in America since the civil rights era. Over the past 50 years, politicians have mastered the use of dog whistles – code words that turn Americans against each other while turning the country over to plutocrats. This political tactic, says Haney López, is “the dark magic” by which middle-class voters have been seduced to vote against their own economic interests.

“It comes out of a desire to win votes. And in that sense… It’s racism as a strategy. It’s cold, it’s calculating, it’s considered,” Haney López tells Bill, “it’s the decision to achieve one’s own ends, here winning votes, by stirring racial animosity.”
Ian Haney López, a professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley, is a senior fellow at the policy analysis and advocacy group, Demos.

Moyers & Company airs weekly on public television. Explore more at BillMoyers.com.

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Previously published on BillMoyers.com.

In a web exclusive interview, political scientist Adolph Reed Jr. talks with me about his new article in the March issue of Harper's Magazine -- a challenge to America's progressives provocatively titled, "Nothing Left: The Long, Slow Surrender of American Liberals."



 

In the piece, Reed writes that Democrats and liberals have become too fixated on election results rather than aiming for long-term goals that address the issues of economic inequality, and that the administrations of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama too often acquiesced to the demands of Wall Street and the right.

As a result, Reed tells me, the left is no longer a significant force in American politics. "If we understand the left to be anchored to our convictions that society can be made better than it actually is, and a commitment to combating economic inequality as a primary one, the left is just gone."

Don't miss Michael Winship's latest essay: "Liberals Face a Hard Day's Knight?" available at BillMoyers.com.

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Originally posted at BillMoyers.com

When it comes to keeping our food supply safe and our humane values intact, sometimes there's nothing like a whistleblower -- someone who will show or tell us the truth that someone else wants to keep hidden.

In 2011, McDonald's fired a producer of eggs for its breakfast sandwiches after an activist group, Mercy for Animals, provided graphic, disturbing images of the company's farm to ABC News. That same year, Mercy for Animals took pictures at a Butterball turkey farm in North Carolina -- birds being kicked and beaten with a metal bar. An investigation ensued. The abusers were fired.

But suppose I told you that taking pictures like these could get you charged with a crime. Yes, you -- not the company endangering our food supply, or the person inflicting cruelty on the helpless creatures, but you, the photographer, for taking the picture without permission of the facility's owner.  



 

It's possible thanks to what are called "ag gag" laws -- that's a term coined by New York Times food writer Mark Bittman.

"Ag" stands for agriculture. And "gag" -- well, you know, a gag order means "shut up." And that's what these laws are intended to do -- to silence whistleblowers and investigators from trying to inform the public about bad practices at factory farms.

Now who would want to make it a crime to reveal such abuses?  

Remember our report on "The United States of ALEC"? That's right -- the American Legislative Exchange Council. The corporate-funded organization whose dubious bedfellows include industry lawyers and lobbyists and state legislators -- elected public officials. Their mission, as you've heard us say here before, is to change the country by changing its laws...one state at a time.

Now take a look at this document. It's called "Animal and Ecological Terrorism in America." This is an ALEC creation.  

Right there at the bottom of the document you can see it was approved by ALEC's board of directors, September 1, 2003.

Now think about that date. Just two Septembers after the atrocious attacks that killed three thousand Americans, and as we were still trying to figure out how to cope with terrorism, ALEC compared "extreme animal rights and environmental militants" to "terrorist groups like Al Qaeda."

That's how ALEC figured to market the model bill it would soon produce: The Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act. The bill would make it illegal -- an act of "terror" -- to take pictures at an animal facility with the intent to "defame the facility or its owner."  

Those convicted under the act would be put on a "terrorist registry" -- never mind what the facility or owner might be doing to the creatures themselves.

Laws that appear to be inspired by the ALEC model make it a crime for potential whistleblowers to take any video or otherwise document practices at factory farms and other facilities.

Now keep in mind what his could mean for public health. Animal abuse often goes hand in hand with dangerous, unsanitary conditions. Which is why Wired magazine says "Ag gag laws could make America sick."

Wired quoted an attorney at the nonprofit Center for Food Safety, who said, "public health issues, food safety issues, environmental issues: all those things can be exposed through undercover investigations."

But not if the corporations behind ALEC, their devotees, and disciples get their way.

Since 2010, ag gag bills have passed in five states: Arkansas, Utah, South Carolina, Missouri and Iowa. Overall, they've been introduced in 19 states -- in over half of them by legislators with known ALEC ties.

But this time ALEC and its ilk may have overstepped their bounds.

Ag gag has been defeated in 12 of those states, including Tennessee, where country music star Carrie Underwood helped pressure the governor into vetoing the bill.

"Shame on TN lawmakers for passing the Ag Gag bill. If Gov. Bill Haslam signs this, he needs to expect me at his front door. Who's with me?"

Apparently, Carrie, a lot of Americans are with you.

Ag gag laws are still pending in two states. In one of those, North Carolina, Mercy for Animals reported more abuse of butterball turkeys even after the 2011 incident we showed you earlier, with birds being beaten, dragged, or violently slammed into crates.  

Beware: Better get the owner's permission before photographing the brutality. Otherwise, in the United States of ALEC, you could be punished as a criminal.

Discuss

Originally posted at BillMoyers.com

Lawrence Lessig, director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University and founder of Stanford Law School's Center for Internet and Society, explains how our government -- given all the ways it can spy on us -- should just as determinedly use modern technology and technologists to protect our liberties.

"We've got to think about the technology as a protector of liberty too. So code is a kind of law...There's a way to build the technology to give us this liberty back, this privacy back. But it's not a priority to think about using code to protect," Lessig tells me.

"We have two kinds of specialized knowledge here, lawyers and coders -- those people have to be in the same room as they listen to the government and the government says, 'This is what we need to do to keep America safe.' Let's force the government to prove that to both of these lawmakers, the lawyers and the coders."
Watch our exchange of ideas on the intersection of coding, snooping, and privacy, then see the full conversation on this weekend's Moyers & Company.


Moyers & Company airs weekly on public television. Check local listings and explore more at BillMoyers.com.

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Mon May 20, 2013 at 09:48 AM PDT

Enabling Greed Makes U.S. Sick

by Bill Moyers

Previously posted at BillMoyers.com

At the end of a week that reminds us to be ever vigilant about the dangers of government overreaching its authority, whether by the long arm of the IRS or the Justice Department, we should pause to think about another threat -- from too much private power obnoxiously intruding into public life.

All too often, instead of acting as a brake on runaway corporate power and greed, government becomes their enabler, undermining the very rules and regulations intended to keep us safe.

Think of inadequate inspections of food and the food-related infections which kill 3,000 Americans each year and make 48 million sick. A new study from Johns Hopkins shows elevated levels of arsenic -- known to increase a person's risk of cancer -- in chicken meat. According to the university's Center for a Livable Future,

"Arsenic-based drugs have been used for decades to make poultry grow faster and improve the pigmentation of the meat. The drugs are also approved to treat and prevent parasites in poultry... Currently in the U.S., there is no federal law prohibiting the sale or use of arsenic-based drugs in poultry feed."

And here's a story in The Washington Post about toxic, bacteria-killing chemicals used in poultry plants to clean more chickens more quickly to meet increased demand and make more money. According to Amanda Hitt, director of the Government Accountability Project's Food Integrity Campaign, "They are mixing chemicals together in these plants, and it's making people sick. Does it work better at killing off pathogens? Yes, but it also can send someone into respiratory arrest."

So far, the government has done next to nothing. No research into the possible side effects, no comprehensive record-keeping on illnesses. "Instead," the Post reports, "they review data provided by chemical manufacturers." What's more, the Department of Agriculture is about to allow the production lines to move even faster, by as much as 25 percent, which means more chemicals, more exposure, more sickness.

Think of that and think of the 85,000 industrial chemicals available today - only a handful have been tested for safety. Ian Urbina writes in The New York Times, "Hazardous chemicals have become so ubiquitous that scientists now talk about babies being born pre-polluted, sometimes with hundred s of synthetic chemicals showing up in their blood."

Think, too, of that horrific explosion of ammonium nitrate in the Texas fertilizer plant. Fifteen people were killed and their little town devastated. The magazine Mother Jones noted, "Inspections are virtually non-existent; regulatory agencies don't talk to each other; and there's no such thing as a buffer zone when it comes to constructing plants and storage facilities in populated areas." For years, the Fertilizer Institute, described as "the nation's leading lobbying organization of the chemical and agricultural industries," resisted regulation and legislators went along. People can lose their lives when federal or state government winks at bad corporate practices -- 4,500 workplace deaths annually at a cost to America of nearly half a trillion dollars.

As Salon's columnist and author David Sirota observes, "If all this data was about a terrorist threat, the reaction would be swift -- negligent federal agencies would be roundly criticized and the specific state's lax attitude toward security would be lambasted. Yet, after the fertilizer plant explosion, there has been no proactive reaction at all, other than Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry boasting about his state's 'comfort with the amount of oversight' that already exists."

Finally, consider this story from ProPublica's investigative reporter Abrahm Lustgarten about a uranium company that wanted a mining project in Texas that threatened to pollute drinking water. The EPA resisted -- until the company hired as its lobbyist the Democratic fundraiser and fixer Heather Podesta, a favorite of the White House. Her firm was paid $400,000, she pulled the strings, and presto, the EPA changed its mind and said yes, go ahead and do your dirty work. In fact, ProPublica found that "the agency has used a little-known provision in the federal Safe Drinking Water Act to issue more than 1,500 exemptions allowing energy and mining companies to pollute aquifers, including many in the driest parts of the country."

Of course, in a free society we'll always be debating the role of government and its agencies. What are the limits, when is government oversight necessary and when is it best deterred? But it's not only government that can go too far. As long as there are insufficient checks and balances on big business and its powerful lobbies, we are at their mercy. Their ability to buy off public officials is an assault on democracy and a threat to our lives and health. When an entire political system persists in producing such gross injustice, it is making inevitable wholesale defiance.

Moyers & Company airs weekly on public television. Explore more at BillMoyers.com

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Fri May 10, 2013 at 04:07 PM PDT

Don't Shoot -- Organize!

by Bill Moyers

Originally Posted at BillMoyers.com

We were struck this week by one response to our broadcast last week on gun violence and the Newtown school killings. A visitor to the website wrote, "It is interesting to me that Bill Moyers, who every week describes the massive levels of corruption in our government... [and] the advocates for gun control don't understand that we who own guns in part own them to be sure that when our government becomes so corrupt we have guns to do something about it."

About the same time that man's post showed up on the web, we saw the startling survey from Fairleigh Dickinson University's PublicMind polling organization, the one finding that nearly three in ten registered voters agree with the statement: "In the next few years, an armed revolution might be necessary in order to protect our liberties." Three out of ten! That includes 44 percent of Republicans, 27 percent of independents and 18 percent of Democrats.

That poll also noted that a quarter of Americans think that facts about the Newtown shootings "are being hidden," and an additional 11 percent "are unsure." As Sahil Kapur wrote at Talking Points Memo:

"The eye-opening findings serve as a reminder that Americans' deeply held beliefs about gun rights have a tendency to cross over into outright conspiracy theories about a nefarious government seeking to trample their constitutional rights -- paranoia that pro-gun groups like the National Rifle Association have at times helped stoke."
Paranoia and just plain meanness. On May 8, Christina Wilkie reported in The Huffington Post that Connecticut Carry, a pro-gun lobbying group, had issued a press release detailing the arrest record and financial difficulties of Neil Heslin, father of one of the children murdered at Newtown's Sandy Hook Elementary School. Connecticut Carry accused him of "profiting off of the tragedy." Their release read, in part, "Mr. Heslin has found the employment he has needed for so long lobbying against the rights of the citizens of Connecticut and the rest of the country," and the group implied that Heslin had received payment from Mike Bloomberg's Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which adamantly denies anything of the sort. Similar smears have been attempted against other Newtown parents.

This hate in our country -- egged on by fervid ideologues and profiteering fearmongers -- is palpable, stirred by years of irresponsible invective against public officials and agencies. Gun sales are going through the roof. In a sense, so much anger and so much disillusionment are understandable in a country where the gap between rich and poor is so vast that an environment is created in which brooding resentment is easily hatched. Sure, there is corruption in government and business -- crony capitalism is the offspring of it -- and when the public sees plutocrats who regard politicians as the hired help, and Washington as the feeding trough, it's natural to fear that we are becoming vassals; subjects rather than citizens.

But a violent uprising, with all the bloodshed and chaos that would follow? Armed revolt is when people are so desperate they kill and are killed. Who would wash the blood from the streets, restore order after the chaos and bury the dead? Have we lost our minds?

There is an alternative to force, blood, and suffering. It's called democracy. Yes, there is plenty of injustice, greed and sheer wickedness. But don't mourn the fact -- organize. Stop wringing your hands and berating real and imaginary foes. Join up with others, stand up to the exploiters, throw the rascals out. If Congress and the White House are crooked and out of touch, come Election Day, you make sure they lose. And on all the other days, when you can, you work for change and demand a say.

It's not easy, but slow, hard and demanding - it takes long and patient activism to make democracy work. But with committed people organized and united toward common goals of social justice and accountability, victories are possible. Drop your weapons and celebrate that we live in a country where peaceful change is still possible. Make democracy work.

Moyers & Company airs weekly on public television. Explore more at BillMoyers.com.

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BY BILL MOYERS & MICHAEL WINSHIP

Originally posted at BillMoyers.com

This week, we spent time with Francine and David Wheeler, parents of six-year-old Ben Wheeler, one of the 20 children and six educators shot and killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Francine and David moved from New York City to Newtown to raise a family somewhere safe. They could never have imagined that in that quiet place on a Friday morning, just days before Christmas, gunfire would take their younger son's life.

The Wheelers' courage and commitment deeply touched us. Since their son's death, they have managed to cope with memory and hold together their lives -- and the life of their surviving son, Nate -- with uncommon grace. Along with other Newtown families, they lobbied the Connecticut state legislature -- which now has the toughest gun law in America -- and in Washington, they walked the halls of Capitol Hill, urging senators to vote yes for the amendment that would expand the use of background checks for people buying guns.

Although a majority favored the legislation, they fell six votes short of the 60 votes necessary for passage, but the Newtown families, friends and neighbors do not intend to quit. They are part of a growing nationwide movement committed to changing our gun culture. They call it Sandy Hook Promise. "America is in desperate need of a new path forward to address our epidemic of gun violence," they write. And then comes the promise: "THIS TIME THERE WILL BE CHANGE."

You want to believe with all your heart that this is one promise that will be kept. But arrayed against them are mighty forces, mountains of money, a corrupted political system, and habits deeply ingrained in the human psyche.

That Minnesota radio host who told the Newtown families "to go to hell" is hardly alone in placing his freedom to own weapons over a child's right to live. The gun industry's most conspicuous pitchman, Wayne LaPierre, is the walking embodiment of the sociopathic mentality, one radically devoid of empathy. His National Rifle Association spent $18.6 million on the 2012 elections and then at least $800,000 lobbying the Federal government in just the first three months of this year -- pushing back against those like Sandy Hook Promise who have been calling for change after the Newtown massacre.

But Gregg Lee Carter, the editor of the encyclopedia Guns in American Society, told the Center for Public Integrity:

"The issue is not so much how much the NRA gives any senator or member of the House, it's how they can make their lives miserable. And how they make their lives miserable is they e-mail 'em, they call 'em, they fax 'em, they show up at meetings... They're much more activist than the other side and that's what really produces their gains."
As the NRA holds its annual meeting in Houston this weekend (expected attendance: more than 70.000), you see their tracks everywhere. A kindred, pistol-packing spirit, the Arizona Citizens Defense League has been raffling off an AR-15 semi-automatic at their website's online store, similar to the weapon Adam Lanza used at Sandy Hook Elementary School. They've taken it down from their site now -- when we first saw the offer, there were only five tickets left, so maybe it's sold out, but here's what the offer looked like (including the Statue of Liberty brandishing a rifle, Rambo-style).



That same group cheered on Arizona Governor Jan Brewer this week as she signed two pro-gun bills -- one that prohibits local governments from keeping lists of people who have firearms - not them any of them were - and another that requires police to take guns that are voluntarily surrendered in buyback programs and instead of destroying them, sell them back to the public. That's right: get them off the street and then get them back on the street as fast as you can. Perhaps they should install a drive-through window at the precinct houses.

Granted, this is in Arizona, where the OK Corral is hallowed ground (reenactment daily at 2 pm) and there's even a TV station in Tucson with the call letters K-GUN, but the mindset pervades across the country, even as there have been eight school shootings since Newtown and more than 3,800 gun deaths. The killing field that is America never calls a truce. In Kentucky this week, a two-year-old girl was accidentally shot and killed by her 5-year-old brother who was playing with a rifle he had received as a gift. In Alabama, a stray bullet fired nearby killed a 24-year-old mother holding her 10-day-old baby in her arms. She fell onto a couch by the door still clutching her child.

Hold that image in your head and in your heart, so emblematic of a country that has taken leave of its senses. Remember all the dead from all the solitary shootings and all the massacres. Some senators suggest there may be another vote on background checks before the end of the year. If, as David Wheeler suggested to us, this is a tipping point for the movement against gun violence, the moment has come to push harder than ever.

Make the promise: THIS TIME THERE WILL BE CHANGE.




Watch Bill's complete interview with Francine and David Wheeler this weekend. Check here for Moyers & Company times and channels. Watch a preview.

Discuss

BY BILL MOYERS & MICHAEL WINSHIP

Originally posted at BillMoyers.com

If you want to see why the public approval rating of Congress is down in the sub-arctic range -- an icy 15 percent by last count -- all you have to do is take a quick look at how the House and Senate pay worship at the altar of corporations, banks and other special interests at the expense of public aspirations and need.

Traditionally, political scientists have taught their students that there are two schools of thought about how a legislator should get the job done. One is to vote yay or nay on a bill by following the will of his or her constituency, doing what they say they want. The other is to represent them as that legislator sees fit, acting in the best interest of the voters -- whether they like it or not.

But our current Congress -- as cranky and inert as an obnoxious old uncle who refuses to move from his easy chair -- never went to either of those schools. Its members rarely have the voter in mind at all, unless, of course, that voter's a cash-laden heavy hitter with the clout to keep an incumbent on the leash and comfortably in office.

How else to explain a Congress that still adamantly refuses to do anything, despite some 90 percent of the American public being in favor of background checks for gun purchases and a healthy majority favoring other gun control measures? Last week, they ignored the pleas of Newtown families and the siege of violence in Boston and yielded once again to the fanatical rants of Wayne LaPierre and the National Rifle Association. In just the first three months of this year, as it shoved back against the renewed push for controls, the NRA spent a record $800,000 keeping congressional members in line.

And how else to explain why corporate tax breaks have more than doubled in the last 25 years? Or why the Senate and House recently gutted the STOCK Act requiring disclosure of financial transactions by White House staff and members of Congress and their staffs and prohibiting them from insider trading? It was passed into law and signed by President Obama last year -- an election year -- with great self-congratulation from all involved. But fears allegedly arose that there might be security risks for some in the executive branch if their financial business was known.

That concern was examined by the Columbia Journalism Review, which "consulted four cybersecurity experts from leading think tanks and private security consultancies. Each came to the same conclusion: that Congress's rationale for scrapping the financial disclosure rules was bogus." Nonetheless, the House and Senate leapt at the opportunity to eviscerate key sections of the STOCK Act when almost no one was watching. And the president signed it.

Then there's the fertilizer plant in West, Texas, where last week, fire and explosion killed at least 15 -- 11 of them first responders -- and injured more than 200. The Reuters news service reported that the factory "had last year been storing 1,350 times the amount of ammonium nitrate that would normally trigger safety oversight by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security." Why wasn't Homeland Security on top of this? For one thing, the company was required to tell the department -- and didn't. For another, budget cuts demanded by Congress mean there aren't enough personnel available for spot inspections.

Same goes for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration - OSHA. The plant hadn't been inspected in nearly thirty years, and there are so few OSHA inspectors in Texas that it would take 98 years for them to take a look at each workplace in the state once. According to the non-partisan reform group Public Campaign, "Already only able to conduct 40,000 workplace inspections a year in a country with seven million worksites, OSHA will see its budget cut by an additional 8.2 percent this year on account of the sequester."

Twelve members of Congress want to make a bad situation even worse, sponsoring the industry-backed General Duty Clarification Act; its banal title hiding that, as reported by Tim Murphy at Mother Jones magazine, "The bill is designed to sap the Environmental Protection Agency of its powers to regulate safety and security at major chemical sites, as prescribed by the Clean Air Act."

"'We call that the Koch brothers bill,' Greenpeace legislative director Rick Hind says, because the bill's sponsor, GOP Rep. Mike Pompeo, represents the conservative megadonors' home city of Wichita, Kansas. (The sponsor of the sister legislation in the senate, GOP Sen. Pat Roberts, represents the Kochs' home state of Kansas.) The brothers have huge investments in fertilizer production, and Hind thinks they'll ultimately get what they want, whether or not the bill becomes law."

No coincidence, perhaps, that the sponsors of the House bill and Senator Roberts, Public Campaign reports, "have collectively taken over $670,000 from the chemical manufacturing industry over their careers." Since 2011, the industry has spent $85.1 million lobbying.

Congress quietly acquiesces as the regulations meant for our safety are whittled away. The progressive website ThinkProgress notes that even though food related infections -- which kill 3,000 and sicken 48 million Americans each year -- rose last year, congressional and White House budget cuts may mean up to 600 fewer food inspectors at meat and poultry plants, leaving it up to the industry to police itself. That rot you're smelling isn't just some bad hamburger.

It's true that ninety-two percent of Americans say, yes, reducing the deficit and spending cuts are important, but all on their own the people have figured out cuts that make more sense than anything Congress and its corporate puppeteers want to hear about. Mattea Kramer, research director at the National Priorities Project, says"a strong majority" -- 73 percent of us -- want a reduced reliance on fossil fuels, and fifty percent want something done about climate change. A carbon tax would help with both, and raise an estimated $125 billion every year. Response from Congress: crickets.

Fifty eight percent of the U.S., according to Gallup, wants "major cuts in military and defense spending," the average American favoring a reduction of 18 percent. Good luck -- the Pentagon and defense contractors already are bellowing about the puny 1.6 percent reduction called for in the new White House budget.

Mattea Kramer writes that Americans for Tax Fairness, a coalition of 280 organizations, has "identified 10-year budgetary savings of $2.8 trillion simply by limiting or eliminating a plethora of high-income and corporate tax loopholes." Congress is busily revising the tax code as we speak but how many of those loopholes and other perks like credits and deductions do you bet will go away?

Not many if the lobbying industry has anything to do with it. The House Ways and Means Committee has eleven working groups considering rewrites and according to the congressional newspaper The Hill, they're quietly meeting with lobbyists and other interests - "deep pocketed players" -- all the time. Keep your eye on who's donating to the re-election campaigns of each of those working group members as we move toward the midterms next year.

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