After watching Bill Moyers' Journal tonight, I thought it had so many soul touchpoints that I should share the transcript with you.
Some of the more relevant quotes follow, as I know you probably don't have time in which to read the whole transcript (emphasis marks are mine):
The middle class is disappearing, facing a decline in standards of living. So you'd hope that the Democrats in Denver next week and the Republicans in St. Paul the following week would confront this crisis head on and not just serenade struggling families with a chorus of sympathetic but meaningless sound bites.
As wages stagnate, prices are soaring. Economists call this pain the "misery index." It's a combination of the unemployment and inflation rates, and it's what politicians have in mind when they ask, "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" Well, the misery index is the highest it's been since George Bush's father became president, seventeen years ago.
When it comes to feeling the misery index, however, you don't go to the economists or the politicians. You go to where regular people live. And that's what we have been doing on this broadcast for months now. We've seen how the mortgage crisis has devastated neighborhoods in Cleveland, how workers in Los Angeles are scrambling for a living wage, and how gas and food prices are choking the ability of food pantries to stave off hunger here in metropolitan New York.
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RICK KARR: At the JeffCo Action Center, Mag Strittmatter has a message for the political leaders who are on their way to the Mile High City.
MAG STRITTMATTER: Take care of the middle class. Let's remember that, because that's what everyone aspires to do especially if you are in a disadvantaged place. You aspire to pull yourself to have that that place in life. And if it's eroded and gone, what's there to shoot for?
BILL MOYERS: Everyone attending the Democratic Convention next week, especially those fat cats watching Barack Obama's acceptance speech from the million dollar skyboxes at INVESCO Field would do well to heed Mag Strittmatter's words, and those of Ken Rogoff, former Chief Economist at the International Monetary Fund.
At a conference in Singapore this week, Rogoff warned, "The US is not out of the woods. I think the financial crisis is at the halfway point, perhaps. I would even go further to say, the worst is to come."
In other words, both Strittmatter and Rogoff are saying - more politely, of course - "It's the economy, stupid."
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And General Electric, the Big Daddy of defense contracts and the parent company of NBC, stands to generate at least 1.7 billion dollars in profits off these Games.
Nonetheless, among all the picturesque scenes of China accompanying the hundreds of hours of Olympic coverage, NBC has shown us practically nothing of the abuse of migrant workers who built the stadium, or the hundreds of thousands of people evicted to make room for the games, or of the Chinese journalists who have been punished for trying to tell the truth about their government.
Look at these logos of the game's top 12 sponsors. These corporations spent 866 million dollars to become Olympic partners. Yet, when the organization Human Rights Watch asked them to speak out against the Chinese government's abuses, all of them, all of them refused. One corporate executive told Human Rights Watch: "It is not our comfort zone to criticize countries." Another declared: "That is the role of human rights organizations. In this respect we are from Mars, you're from Venus."
That might be okay on Mars: No human beings, no human rights abuses. But here on Earth, human beings suffer from abuses by the powerful. Some of them fight back, against great odds. Zhang Shihe, known on the internet as Tiger Temple - he's been speaking out on his blog which he calls "24 Hours Online," and with our producer Jessica Wang.
ZHANG SHIHE: The underrepresented are the most helpless. But they're all hidden away out of sight, not spoken of.
BILL MOYERS: Zhang belongs to the so-called Lost Generation of China, people whose formal education was stymied by the anti-intellectual furies of the Cultural Revolution. In his youth, this son of a card-carrying Communist worked in a steel factory, then became a bookseller. But after the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989, he shuttered his stores. And today, he publishes on the internet.
ZHANG SHIHE: I've already lived over half my life, and I have less than half more to live. So I document real life - it's the best I can do. I have a duty to record life's truths, since right now the real history isn't being told.
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JI SIZUN: We want to protest official corruption, no phoniness. This is our lawful right. The Chinese government has made this promise to the entire world; they shouldn't go back on their word. You should do what you say, not lie to the international society, not deceive the common people.
BILL MOYERS: With a small group of media in tow as protection, Ji went to police headquarters to file his request. One of his friends had come here just days before to seek permission and he vanished.
Right away, Ji was treated as a suspect. For three hours, he was interrogated in a closed room. He emerged defiant and frustrated.
JI SIZUN: We had a heated discussion. They won't approve anything. They won't even accept my application.
BILL MOYERS: As Ji left, plainclothes police kept him under surveillance.
This is one of three parks in Beijing that the government set aside for demonstrations. We didn't see a banner, picket sign or protester in sight. In fact, all these days into the Olympics, the government has yet to permit a single demonstration in any of the official protest zones. Except for strollers, the park was empty, because China claims that only 77 applications were filed, and all but three were withdrawn, says the government, because the petitioners had their complaints satisfied. Those other three? "Oh", says China, "turned down on technicalities." Nothing is as it seems.
Two days later, Ji went back to the police station to ask about his missing friend. Witnesses said Ji was led by plainclothes policemen into a dark sedan, then gone...disappeared.
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No American has had a closer look at China's abuses than my guest, Philip Pan. A graduate of Harvard who studied Chinese at Peking University, Philip Pan was the Beijing bureau chief of the WASHINGTON POST between the years 2000 and 2007. He traveled far and wide in the country and his reporting won awards from the Asia Society and the Overseas Press Club. He's now enroute to Moscow where he will be the POST's new bureau chief. But he stopped in New York to talk with me about his new book: Out of Mao's Shadow: The Struggle for the Soul of a New China.
BILL MOYERS: Why is that? If they wanted to send a valentine to the west and say, "Look at us, we're really changing," why these crackdowns?
PHILIP PAN: Part of the answer is that the priority isn't really with the Olympics. Their priority really isn't the west. They want to use this Olympics to send a message to their own people, most of all. They want to demonstrate to the Chinese people that their government is legitimate, that it has been successful, and that world approves of the government.
And when I say "this government", I mean the one-party system, in effect. You know, communism as an ideology is dead, essentially. But the Communist Party needs something to justify its continuing rule. And using the Olympics was part of their strategy, I think.
BILL MOYERS: So do you think that they cracked down on dissenters before the games in part, to keep them from spoiling the celebration?
PHILIP PAN: Oh, yes. They're worried about what the Chinese people think of the Party. They don't want the Chinese people to know that there are other voices. They want to present a united front, that this is an effective government, that everyone is happy with it, that this political system, a one-party political system merged with capitalism, can be just as effective as a democratic system in the west. And they want their people to believe that.
BILL MOYERS: Watching President Bush there at the games, I thought back to when he said, "Trade freely with China, and time is on our side." And I thought of President Bill Clinton, who went there and said, "The spirit of liberty is coming to China, just as inevitably, the Berlin Wall fell." Are our leaders making it easier for the Chinese to crack down on dissenters?
PHILIP PAN: That's a tough question. I think we have this assumption in the west that free markets lead to free societies, that capitalism will lead to democracy in China. That it's almost an automatic process. Once income levels reach a certain level there, that this political liberalization is going to happen in China, just as it did in other parts of the world.
But my argument would be that it's not automatic, certainly. You know, we've seen 30 years now of strong economic growth, and the party is arguably stronger now than it has been ever, in these past 30 years. The party has been able to use capitalism to strengthen its hold on power.
At the same time, though, the party has retreated in many ways. Its people have much more personal freedom than ever before. Because so many people have been lifted out of poverty, they have many more options in life.
So it's a mixed picture. But I think it would be naïve for policy makers to assume that this is going to be an automatic process, that, you know, we just have to continue to trade with China, and the political change is just going to happen. This party is determined to hold on to power. And they're not going to let anything happen without a fight.
BILL MOYERS: I was watching the beach volleyball the other night. And suddenly, I got up and looked at the T-shirt I was wearing. And it had a "Made in China" label. Help us understand what life is like for the women who made that T-shirt.
PHILIP PAN: Most of the women in these factories, they're from the countryside, poor villages. Many of them are young, often underage, who have been pulled out of school because their parents can't afford to pay the taxes just based on their farm income. They have to send their children to the cities to make extra income, in order to just pay taxes.
Their opportunities are limited. In these factories, their rights are limited as well. They cannot form unions. They have very few venues to complain about working conditions. And because the labor force is so large, they have little leverage as well, in terms of wages.
At the same time, though, these factories are paying them much more than they could have ever made in the countryside. And so, they're willing to take these jobs, and often times, they improve their lives through these jobs, if they can survive the conditions.
BILL MOYERS: In other accounts, I read of women crammed into dark and damp dormitories, working seven days a week with three days a year off. Their workshops filled with smoke, their eyes burning and watery, the skin on their hands peeling and painful. I read of 50,000 fingers slashed off in China every year, of more than a million workers contacting fatal diseases, of workers trying to organize, as you say, and being beaten and hauled to jail. And the picture that emerges to me is of a communist police state enforcing the most extreme model of capitalism.
PHILIP PAN: There are officials in this party who still cling to the old communist values, I would guess, of egalitarianism, of labor rights. You know, after all, this party did promise a worker's paradise.
And so, there are parts of the party that are concerned about this issue. And other parts of the party are also concerned, just simply because they're worried that if conditions get too bad, they would have a revolution on their hands. But generally, yes. You know, they call themselves Communist, but they've adopted a form of capitalism, capitalism without democratic checks on it, essentially. And so, you have market forces in the extreme, as you say, with very few options for workers to fight back.
BILL MOYERS: What makes them Communist?
PHILIP PAN: Well, that's a good question. I've asked them that. They have long answers about ideology and all that, how this capitalism is only a temporary phase, that they're using this to achieve real communism. But there are aspects of the political system, I think, that recall communism. I don't know if it's the communism that Marx might have envisioned. But it's still a one-party state. They still have a propaganda bureau. They still control the press and the television stations and the radio stations.
BILL MOYERS: But one could say that of fascism, or could say that of any dictatorship, but they still proudly call themselves Communist?
PHILIP PAN: Well, they're not willing to let go of that legacy.
The party has built its reputation on the revolution in 1949, the Communist Revolution. Even though there were 29 years of violence and famine under Mao, Mao is still revered by many people as a hero. They need that history in order to stay in power. It's a history that they've defined. But they need that in order to stay in power.
PHILIP PAN: They call themselves Communists, but they're only in power, really, because they've been able to deliver economic growth now. And they believe that the only way to deliver this economic growth is through this extreme form of capitalism. They're worried that if they allowed checks on the market forces, that if they allowed workers to organize, that their own political power would be threatened.
BILL MOYERS: Last year, there was something of a revolt in several factories, after workers doing 50-hour shifts died of organ failures, the workers rose up and demanded some change. The government seemed, for a while, to be panicky, to be willing to give them some of their rights, even to let them have elected trade unions.
But American corporations, Microsoft, Nike, Ford, Dell, among others, working through the American Chamber of Commerce, threatened to take their business elsewhere if the Chinese government allowed these workers to organize. What should we make of that?
PHILIP PAN: I think it's a little bit more complicated. I think the Communist Party is never really going to allow workers to organize, though. That's the first thing.
BILL MOYERS: Even though the coal miners' effort to organize their revolt triggered the start of the Communist Party many years ago?
PHILIP PAN: That's right, that's right. This party was built on this promise of workers' rights. But right now, they are much more concerned about the economy. And for them, that means suppressing worker rights, essentially. Many of the factory managers themselves are party officials, or are relatives to party officials.
BILL MOYERS: But are American corporations, are we American consumers, is the American government sticking our fingers in our ears while our businesses work with a Communist government to make sure workers don't get their rights?
PHILIP PAN: Yeah. I think American companies, well, let's put it this way. The factories in China that are run by American companies, are only a few, because most of the Americans subcontract to Chinese factories. The ones that are run by American companies, conditions are generally better. So let's put that out there first.
BILL MOYERS: Right.
PHILIP PAN: At the same time, though, most of the products that we purchase here that are sold by American companies; they buy them from Chinese factories. And I don't think they're doing enough.
BILL MOYERS: Like my T-shirt?
PHILIP PAN: Like your T-shirt, almost certainly. It's not going to be made by an American factory. It will be made by a Chinese factory. And I don't think the American companies are probably not doing enough to see what kind of, they don't want to see what kind of standards workers are . . .
BILL MOYERS: Look the other way?
PHILIP PAN: The interesting thing is, if the American business community wanted to take a stronger stand for labor rights in China, if they wanted, for some reason, to push for the right to organize labor unions, I think the government might consider it. But especially since this is supposed to be a Communist Party. But I don't see any real pressure from American companies to push for labor unions.
Wal-Mart, for example. They don't actually own factories there. But Wal-Mart runs stores all across China. And they've been - even the Chinese government there's actually one labor union in China. It's run by the party. It's not a real labor union. But even that fake labor union, which is essentially a tool of management in most factories even that fake labor union, Wal-Mart doesn't want in their stores.
For them it seems this company it seems, I think this is just that they have a strong anti-union stance, and they just don't want to give into this. Even though it would really not affect their bottom line at all. It's just a principle they have.
But the larger picture is that we have multinational companies, not just American firms, but from around the world. Especially from overseas Chinese communities investing in China. They believe that they're improving the lives of these workers. And in many ways, they are.
At the same time, though, there are abuses. Because frankly, most of these companies subcontract to Chinese companies, and these Chinese managers are often in bed with the party officials. They can easily pay bribes to avoid the inspectors who are supposed to enforce Chinese labor standards. I've heard from the companies, the factories that make goods for Wal-Mart, for example, that Wal-Mart is so insistent on the lowest price, that they are forced to do all they can to cut costs. And inevitably, that would mean tougher, lower wages and longer hours, and less safe conditions for workers.
BILL MOYERS: Here's something we didn't hear about during the Olympics, Philip. A report by the Economic Policy Institute in Washington that the growing U.S. trade deficit with China cost our economy 2.3 million jobs over the last seven years. Are these lost American jobs subsidizing a communist regime?
PHILIP PAN: Well, these lost American jobs are being replaced by jobs in China. And these jobs are taken by people who are even worse off than American workers, and who are, you know, this is a tremendous opportunity for many of these Chinese workers. Their lives are improving.
At the same time, you ask a very tough question. Does the fact that we're improving, that we're helping to improve the lives of people in China mean the government is stronger? And I think inevitably, that's true. ______________________________________
August 22, 2008 BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the JOURNAL. Working Americans, and that's most people, are experiencing the "big squeeze." In fact, they're trying to survive one of the most profound social and economic changes in our history. The middle class is disappearing, facing a decline in standards of living. So you'd hope that the Democrats in Denver next week and the Republicans in St. Paul the following week would confront this crisis head on and not just serenade struggling families with a chorus of sympathetic but meaningless sound bites. As wages stagnate, prices are soaring. Economists call this pain the "misery index." It's a combination of the unemployment and inflation rates, and it's what politicians have in mind when they ask, "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" Well, the misery index is the highest it's been since George Bush's father became president, seventeen years ago. When it comes to feeling the misery index, however, you don't go to the economists or the politicians. You go to where regular people live. And that's what we have been doing on this broadcast for months now. We've seen how the mortgage crisis has devastated neighborhoods in Cleveland, how workers in Los Angeles are scrambling for a living wage, and how gas and food prices are choking the ability of food pantries to stave off hunger here in metropolitan New York. TOM MCGARRY: For a while I was very cynical and I looked down my nose at a lot of people, but now I am one of those people that I looked down on. BILL MOYERS: This week, we go to the city of the hour - Denver, the site of the Democratic National Convention. Nearly 75,000 people will gather in the Mile High City as Barack Obama makes history by becoming the first African American to be nominated by a major party for president. But outside the convention center doors, history of a different, more prosaic sort is being made. This year oil hit a record high - $147 a barrel when last year, it was less than half that - around $68. A loaf of bread is up 14% from last year, a dozen eggs is up 33%, and pizza makers have seen the cost of their cheese soar from $1.30 to $1.76. Flour used to make the dough has tripled in price. As these prices soar, the value of homes is sinking. One in three home buyers since 2003 now owe more than their property's estimated worth. Not only has home equity plummeted, so has the value of other holdings, like stocks and bonds and pensions, the investments families count on as a cushion during hard times. So America's middle class, our "fearful families" as some people call them, is taking it on the chin. The history-making nominations aside, all the rhetoric from all the speakers at next week's Democratic Convention will be so much hot air above the Rockies unless the party comes to grip with how people are living and hurting today. Just imagine what might happen if instead of going to all the shindigs being paid for by all the wealthy donors and corporations next week, the Democratic faithful - and their candidates - spread out across Denver's neighbors, and listened to people caught in the big squeeze. That's what our producer Betsy Rate and correspondent Rick Karr did just the other day. RICK KARR: The line started early in the morning, outside a school in a middle-class suburb of Denver. Parents and their kids queued up for a little help, something to tide them over in tough economic times. Within a few hours, there were scores of people in line - not for free food, or clothes, or vouchers to take the sting out of gas prices - but for free school supplies. A local aid agency has been doing this for ten years, but this year, far more families showed up than ever before. Jolene Montoya picked up things for her three kids at the event. She says she was laid off a few months ago, so she simply can't afford to buy everything that her kids need for school.Read the rest of the transcript here.
And I think one of the disappointing things about President Bush's performance is that he hasn't been focused so much on individual cases and I think that many of the activists overseas and in China believe that if he had focused on individual cases for example, if he had brought up this blind lawyer, Mr. Chen, in public, or even in private, with the Chinese leadership, that could have an effect. Now, some people say, "Oh, individuals. That's just individual cases. That's not going to have a long term effect on the country." But I think that these are the individuals who are changing the country. For example, you have evidence of this in other countries as well. If we hadn't pushed for Nelson Mandela's release from prison in South Africa, maybe events would have turned out differently there as well. So these individuals can make a difference if we help them. BILL MOYERS: The book is Out of Mao's Shadow. Philip Pan, thank you for being with me on the Journal. PHILIP PAN: Thanks for having me. BILL MOYERS: We try to deal with reality on the JOURNAL and all too often that means bad news. But there's a lot you can do to make a difference. On our website at www.pbs.org you'll find out more about organizations that you can support that fight human rights abuses in China. There's also a map that will show you the location of food banks and other social services at which you can volunteer. Look at it at pbs.org.Thank you for your attention. Suzan _____________________________________