Monday, June 26, 2006

The Politics of War: Then and Now

An unpopular war raged but the president refused to acknowledge error or change course. A talented and ambitious congressman continued to support his president in spite of private doubts and even misgivings from his own children. He largely supported the president’s domestic agenda and as a Washington insider received many briefings from the Pentagon, State Department and CIA.

They all told him the administration’s policies were working and a premature withdrawal was tantamount to weakness. The war was of course Vietnam. LBJ was in the White House. And a Massachusetts congressman named Tip O’Neill was on a collision course with President Johnson after years of steadfast support.

As I followed the recent deliberations in the Senate, I felt compelled to reread Man of the House: The Life and Political Memoirs of Speaker Tip O’Neill, published by Random House in 1987. His Vietnam anecdotes were especially poignant and haunting. This passage in particular is especially relevant after listening to Republican drones unleash their stay the course and don’t cut and run propaganda:

“One Friday, I was invited to speak at Boston College, where Susan and Tommy were both undergraduates. I gave my usual talk on the war, which was followed, as usual, by a dialogue with the students. As always, they took issue with both my information and my views.

‘You know,’ I told a young man who had challenged me, ‘I think I know more about this situation than you do. I’ve been briefed forty-three times. I’ve been briefed by Robert McNamara. I’ve been briefed by the CIA. I’ve been briefed by Dean Rusk. And I’ve been briefed by the president of the United States.'

‘That’s a lot of briefings,’ said the student, whose name was Pat McCarthy. ‘But how many times have you been briefed by the other side?’

The question came as a complete shock. Nobody had ever asked that one before.

That night, as I was lying in bed, thinking over the events of the day, I kept coming back to Pat McCarthy’s question. And I had to acknowledge that I hadn’t ever taken a good look at the other side of the issue. Before I fell asleep, I resolved to do just that.”
It was 1967 and for Tip O’Neill an epiphany. O’Neill had been on the rise in the House and enjoyed a good relationship with Johnson. He was also personally close to Speaker John McCormack an avowed hawk.

It was McCormack who persuaded O’Neill not to vote against the Gulf of Tonkin resolution three years earlier:

“’If you vote against this resolution,’” he said, “’you’ll be seen as a traitor to your country. It will be the worst vote you ever make. I urge you in the strongest possible terms not to do it.’

I decided to go along with his advice. But I don’t want to blame John McCormack, because I was free to vote my conscience. I just didn’t have the courage.”
After the Boston College encounter, O’Neill found his voice and sent his constituents a newsletter declaring his opposition to the Vietnam War:

“For a mainstream Democratic congressman like myself, the newsletter represented a radical departure – not only from the views of my colleagues, but also from those of my constituents. For despite all the colleges in my district, the students who were old enough to vote did so in their home communities. Of my regular constituents, only 15 percent opposed the war. The day I sent out the letter I told my son Tommy that I had just signed my political death warrant.

But I knew it was the right thing to do.”
There was an initial backlash from his district and inside the Democratic Party leadership. Johnson feared that as a member of the Democratic establishment, O’Neill could become a rallying point for other restless members of his party and he summoned the congressman to the White House. Johnson managed to persuade O’Neill to mitigate his opposition and “give me time” to straighten Vietnam out.

Vietnam wasn’t straightened out and in another year O’Neill’s opposition was dwarfed. Eugene McCarthy launched an insurgent campaign for the presidency followed by Robert Kennedy. Johnson opted not to seek another term. Vice President Humphrey carried the Democratic banner honorably but his association with Johnson denied him the presidency. More blood was shed on both sides under Nixon.

Tip O’Neill was a good man. But he didn’t have the courage to stand up to LBJ in 1964. Not many did. When he was finally ready to dissent, O’Neill was willing to sacrifice his congressional seat for the greater good but it was too late.

Today’s politicians are cut from different cloth than Tip O’Neill. However, contrary to the media’s focus on division among the Democrats, the party is finally finding its’ voice. Not everyone supports a fixed date of withdrawal but the Democrats are deliberating over real alternatives to Bush’s moronic stay the course policies.

Understandably, as a minority congressional party the Democrats are institutionally incapable of rallying behind a single position or leader on the issue – especially with several of them jostling for 2008. Nonetheless, we are hearing some creativity from John Murtha, Russ Feingold and even Joe Biden. Even more remarkably, General Casey's plans for troop reductions strongly resemble the recent Senate resolution offered by Feingold and Kerry!

But that is not enough. The country must have principled courageous dissent within the GOP ranks on the Iraq war. Republicans rebelled against Bush on Social Security, immigration and Dubai ports. Yet on the Iraq War they remain mindless drones concerned more with political advantage than our national interest.

Occasionally, John McCain expresses no confidence in Rumsfeld and Chuck Hagel rebukes his party about tone. That is insufficient. Unless Republicans finally make concessions to reality, the ripple effect from the Iraq War will be impossible to contain and Afghanistan will be lost too.

Hopefully, the recent leaks about General Casey’s plans will do more than simply embarrass the Republicans and Bush. Perhaps a Bush loyalist within the GOP establishment will have an epiphany the way Tip O’Neill did forty years ago and put the national interest first. A nice thought but I’m not holding my breath.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Broadcasting Humanity: An Interview With Link TV's David Michaelis

Two years ago, David Michaelis, an Israeli citizen and Jamal Dajani, a Palestinian-American traveled to their mutual birthplace in Jerusalem and filmed a groundbreaking documentary called "Occupied Minds". The film originally aired in 2005 and powerfully illustrated the widening gulf between two entangled peoples in pain.

Both men grew up in Jerusalem just a few miles apart but in entirely different universes. Jamal’s roots in Jerusalem can be traced to the 7th century, while Michaelis was born in Jerusalem to parents who left Germany in the 1920’s because of escalating anti-Semitism.

For Michaelis, “Occupied Minds” easily fits into the tapestry of his career. Born in 1945, Michaelis earned a degree in philosophy and sociology at Hebrew University. He has produced and directed documentaries on social-political issues for the BBC Channel 4 in the UK as well as for ARD and ZDF in Germany. Michaelis also served as a news editor in London and Washington for ARD. The primary focus of the documentaries and talk shows he’s worked on is to legitimize the rights of minorities in Israel.

Michaelis is currently on the Board of Directors for Internews and is the Director of Current Affairs for Link TV in San Francisco. Link TV is a network dedicated to presenting global news, issues and culture. Before co-founding Link TV, Michaelis was the producer of “Popolitika,” the most popular news program on Israeli TV.

At Internews, Michaelis created the first satellite two-way link between Tunis and Jerusalem in October 1993. He also helped produce, with the Jerusalem Film Institute, the Palestinian Broadcasting Conference held in Jerusalem in January 1994.

Michaelis and Dajani met at Link TV six years ago. At Link TV in San Francisco, they are the only Palestinian-Israeli team working together in American media. Dajani, as Director of Middle Eastern Programming, produces the 2005 Peabody Award-winning daily newscast— Mosaic: World News from the Middle East. This program highlights daily TV news broadcasts from the Middle East, including, Egypt, Lebanon, Israel, Syria the Palestinian Authority, and Iran, among others.

After four years of professional collaboration, Michaelis and Dajani became friends and decided to combine their talents. “Occupied Minds” gives voice to a diverse range of views: a wanted Palestinian gunman, an Israeli soldier who served in the Occupied Territories, an Israeli surgeon who lost his eyesight in a suicide bombing, an Israeli mother who lost her son in the conflict, and a Palestinian activist who lost her cousin are among those interviewed. Their documentary went above and beyond the political leaders to reach the hearts and minds of those existing inside the ongoing conflict.

Michaelis generously agreed to answer questions about his life experience and perspective of the Middle-East:

ILJ: Typically we focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but you’ve dedicated much of your career to minority-rights in Israel. Are minority immigrants from Africa such as the Sudanese or Ethiopian Jews second-class citizens in Israel?
MICHAELIS: Well I think it would be more correct to focus on the Ethiopians because they have the longer history but also to be sure about their capability to integrate into Israel. Because of a long history they’re not really always welcome in every place. It varies from city to city from school to school. The first generation especially doesn’t feel like they are totally equal. The second generation, which already is integrated in the army and schools feel they are much more welcome. So there is a generational difference. But legally of course they are totally equal. The issue is social.
ILJ: Is there a racism problem with Ethiopian Jews in Israel?
MICHAELIS: Be careful not to translate into American terms of black and white relationships. Because that is what immediately any American readers or anyone who studies the black/white relationship here would interpret it in this way. It’s not that kind of … there is no background of exploitation. There are issues of color of skin of course. But it varies again from city to city. And also depending on religious background, I’ll say that secular people are much more open to receive people from outside. People from a more religious background might have doubts about the Jewishness of immigrants from Ethiopia. So, I’ll say there is a difference of attitudes between people with a more traditional religious background and secular people.
ILJ: Why did minority rights in Israel become so important to you? Was there a defining moment during your youth that served as a catalyst?
MICHAELIS: I think it’s more about the education that I got at home. And awareness that once you’re a majority you have to take responsibility. The most important turning point in my awareness has been the awareness that we have been 2000 years in minority and we were always shouting and screaming about our rights. And once we became a majority we didn’t fully internalize the responsibility of a majority to be treating minorities not only on a legal level but also on a social level such as employment and housing as totally equal citizens. It’s very interesting what happens when you’re so many centuries in the minority and you’re still thinking as a minority when you’re fully in control of the country that you’re ruling. So that has been a major issue for the last forty years especially since Arabs and Israel became aware of their rights, foreign workers became aware of their rights, women became aware of their rights. It didn’t always go as it should go - the equal rights perception not only on a religious level but also on the day-to-day level.
ILJ: Would you say that minorities have viable representation in Israeli politics?
MICHAELIS: Yeah, viable in terms of representation in the parliament - yes. But are they planted really in the power center, the financial power center, the political power center? That’s a very different story. When people vote minorities into … the Israeli Knesset as you know has many different parties and many chances for different voices to be heard. But does that translate into equal treatment? That’s another issue.
ILJ: Moving on to another topic. Did your work on “Occupied Minds” make you more or less optimistic for the prospects of peace between Israelis and Palestinians?
MICHAELIS: Well, since the film was actually done during the Intifada when things were in such a situation of regression that it couldn’t of led to any clearer position of optimism. It was so bleak during the first four or five years – 2001 to 2005.
ILJ: Right
MICHAELIS: It was so violent that it made me more pessimistic actually in many ways.
ILJ: Are you still pessimistic or has your optimism increased in the past year?
MICHAELIS: No definitely not. Because I think the leadership on both sides is still not talking to each other and not seriously building bridges. And Hamas victory added another complication on top of the … if it was complicated before, the icing on the cake was the election of Hamas. It’s become really very dicey. Both sides are exhausted from the fighting and that is the only positive thing I can say. It is not as violent as it used to be.
ILJ: How do you think the international community should deal with the newly elected Hamas government? Should they wait until Hamas recognizes Israel’s right to exist and only talk to President Abbas? Or is it better to engage Hamas now?
MICHAELIS: Better to engage them now. But it depends how. Not to make promises but to try to find political inroads through a Palestinian coalition to encourage them to work as one unity government between Abu Mazen and Hamas. So in this situation you can’t have an easy solution. It was surprised it won – the Hamas I mean. Until they figure out their act, until they will understand the responsibilities of being in government. This will take time. Everyone is counting weeks and months. I think it will take a year for the Palestinians themselves to figure out how they cope with each party inside the Palestinian social structure.
ILJ: Are the Palestinians poised for civil war between Hamas and Fatah? What would the consequences of a civil war between those two factions be?
MICHAELIS: That would be terrible. It would be a very bad outcome for the democratic process inside the Palestinian Authority territories. I think that “poised” is … I’m not sure is the right term. I think there is a power struggle but it will shy away from an open civil war. That is my assessment.
ILJ: Until the Palestinians sort out their political turmoil, what options do the Israelis have beyond unilateral disengagement?
MICHAELIS: What they should’ve done some time ago is to realize that there are leaders such as Abu Mazen and others who are really very keen to talk and avoid unilateral steps. This has not been related too seriously neither by Sharon and not by Olmert. They’re not taking any constructive steps really to talk to them. They’re walling them off. There is no dialogue. Instead of unilateral steps you can start a dialogue with people you can talk to. And it’s not happening.
ILJ: Does Abbas have any political capital in Palestine to be able to deliver peace and be a viable partner for the Israelis to engage with?
MICHAELIS: He has some. I don’t know how much. I don’t know how much capital he has. He definitely has some because people don’t want to starve. People don’t want to be cut off from foreign aid. People realize that it’s best not to be closed behind a Gaza prison and closed behind an Israeli wall. There is some hope that he would be the only sane guy with the only sane group of people who will try to mediate inside Palestine. But I can’t assess how much capital he has.
ILJ: Do you consider yourself a Zionist?
MICHAELIS: Yeah, a minimalist (laughs). I would say I think that Israel should be a land of minimal injustice. Because from the getgo it’s obvious that when you fight for the same piece of land there will be injustice. So try to be more realistic and just about what you’re doing. It took Mr. Olmert almost forty years to say, excuse me I don’t think I can hold all these territories and all these settlements. So, forty years is a very normal pace for the Middle-East. People change very slowly. But if you look at it from a western point of view forty years is a long time to learn lessons. We could have been spared lots of bloodshed if many people gave up their greater land dreams ages ago. But it doesn’t work that way apparently in real life.
ILJ: Golda Meir once said there will be peace when the Arabs love their children more than they hate ours.
MICHAELIS: Oh my God yeah. It’s part of the demonization. Arab leaders
would say that when Israelis start to understand what a refugee is … it’s sloganeering. It’s demonizing the other side, which has proven to be destructive. So this kind of “they would love” and “they would hate.” It’s simplification and painting black and white colors about everyone and it’s very dangerous and very destructive.
ILJ: Do you have any sources informing you about what is happening inside Iran? Have you heard anything about a viable dissident movement for democracy emerging?
MICHAELIS: First of all I can tell you that my only alternative sources for information that I know there, are bloggers like you (laughs), active in Iran. And they are writing and they are expressing themselves. But I don’t really have any special information of how big this movement is and how serious it is.

ILJ: Regardless of whether you supported President Bush’s war in Iraq or not, is a sovereign democracy truly achievable there as well as a positive ripple effect for the Mid-East? Or has President Bush condemned the Iraqis to decades of sectarian violence and terrorism?
MICHAELIS: Very risky venture because he walked into a society and didn’t understand what their rules are and what their history is. And by walking into something where you’re like an elephant in a china chop you create a whole mess, but I don’t know if he “condemned” them to it. That’s a strong term. But he definitely created a tribal and nationalistic and religious based mess that will take a long time to resolve. You can’t transplant democracy into tribal societies by force or by torture or through the gun. You know there is an old saying, that you can fight with a bayonet, you can’t sit on it. So, basically he’s trying to sit on a bayonet which is really impossible. Not advisable for you to try.
ILJ: What is the most common misconception you encounter about Israel and the Mid-East?
MICHAELIS: Two different kinds of misconceptions. Misconception that is the easiest to point out is that the Israeli-Palestinian fight is a symmetrical conflict -which is totally wrong. I come from a country that has nuclear power. Very well financed armed forces. And science is far ahead. And is fighting a country with a third world economy and third world weapons. And it’s totally a fight between … it’s not equal. So I don’t say who is just or unjust but just in terms of force and power, the misconception I hear many times is “oh this side is this,” “this side is that,” as if the fight is equal. But it’s very unequal.

And about the Mid-East the biggest misconceptions are more in terms of ignorance. Knowing what the Muslim religion is about. What the differences between the Muslim countries are. When I tell people the Iraqi president is actually friendly to Israel they say, why? Why would an Arab be friendly to Israel and I say he’s not an Arab. He’s a Kurd. And the Kurds have a long relationship with Israel. And people don’t realize what it means. The internal divisions in terms of not just tribes but in terms of history of people. The Kurdish people have a long history. They are part of Iraq now because of the British division of making borders on the map. And it’s very unclear if Iraq can function like that. And people just don’t know.

I think many people believe Iran is an Arab country, which it isn’t. It has 5000 years of Persian history. So the misconceptions are more in the direction of ignorance and understanding the cultural, political, linguistic and religious differences between the different groups in the Mid-East. It’s not one blob (laughs). It’s not just one big mess. You have to know who’s who. And why.

And I think we Israelis often many times always talk about “the Arabs” It’s not such a simple a thing to talk about the Arab world.

That’s the work I’m doing on television in the Mosiac program. We compare every day for thirty minutes different points of view on the conflicts and the issues as broadcast by secular young women on TV in Lebanon and deeply religious preachers in Saudi Arabia. So it’s the way someone might say the Canadians and Americans and all the North Americans are all the same. It’s ignorance if you don’t’ see the different colors. It’s not all one color.
ILJ: You mention the Mosaic program. It’s fascinating and I’m providing a link for it on this posting (click here). Watching the recent broadcasts about Zarqawi I was struck how Jordanian television almost seemed like Fox News in a way.
MICHAELIS: Yeah. (laughs)
ILJ: The anchor was going out of his way to explicitly say Zarqawi did not represent the principles of Islam. And so forth …
MICHAELIS: Well he was clearly an enemy of the king and the kingdom and the concept of Jordan as it is. He was an enemy of the state. Grew up in Jordan. When someone from your own country turns against you, you become even more hostile than usual. He wasn’t an outside enemy. Someone who knew Jordan very well. Someone released from the prisons a few years ago. So they were definitely very, very hostile to him. So you were struck in the right way. This is more than Egypt but I don’t know who you were comparing it to. But for Jordan, Zarqawi was a major target because he would also encourage the people of Jordan to rebel. And that’s the last thing they wanted.
ILJ: Do you believe there was sympathy for Zarqawi among the people of Jordan?
MICHAELIS: I really don’t know. Basically in it’s tone it’s a very moderate country. Fanaticism is not welcome there. But I’m sure he had some people who sympathized with him either because they don’t like the king or they liked to side against the Americans. So I’m sure he had some followers. But I can’t tell you how big or small.
ILJ: How have your views about Israel’s place in the world changed during your life? And how has your views of the Palestinian people changed during your life?
MICHAELIS: Oh! You have to read my biography. Three volumes! (laughs). I’m joking but it’s a big question. Basically, I don’t know if you saw some of the “Occupied Minds” film … my views have changed mainly after ’67. Because before ’67, I believed all Arabs are the same and they’re our enemies and and there is no one to relate to. And in ’67 they came under our occupation and I was part of the occupying army in the West Bank … I went into the villages and I went into the homes of people. Of course it was in my army service but then also as a journalist and I learned who the Palestinian people are and what their story is.

And that changed me radically in my way … and I thought well I have to coexist with these people. They’re not anonymous people or Jew haters as Gold Meir defined them. They are people on the same land and we have to give them a rising chance to exist. And I with other people, since ’68, immediately like, a year after the war we said if we start settling in this land it means we have ambitions for land and not for peace. And so I have not changed one inch since ’68 to today. I still think and as I said it took Olmert 40 years ... it was one of the biggest mistakes that we’re paying for until now. To not relate to them as equals with rights and settle on their land beyond the ’67 borders. This was a turning point for me in a major way.

The ongoing struggle between Israelis and Palestinians is a flash point for all that is wrong with humanity. Two aggrieved peoples are unable to peacefully co-exist on a small piece of land. As Michaelis pointed out, this conflict is not equal in terms of force. Israel clearly holds the upper hand militarily. Both societies however appear to lack an indispensable ingredient for peace: empathy for the other. Without empathy, a just and peaceful resolution appears beyond the grasp of my lifetime.

Perhaps, one may find hope in the example of David Michaelis himself. As he noted, Michaelis served in the Israeli army in 1967. The experience however did not dehumanize him. Instead, he became an advocate for human rights. As Americans are learning, soldiers of an occupation can be dehumanized very quickly. Also, the example of his partner Jamal Dajani merits respect. Dajani became friends with someone he easily could’ve viewed as an occupier of his people. Both men learned to see the other as more than clichéd abstractions but as individual human beings. They built a visceral bridge, which is far stronger than any diplomatic piece of paper, or agreement could ever be. It is the bridges of individuals such as Michaelis and Dajani that must become the building blocks for peace.
SIDEBAR: On May 20th, author Robert Fuller agreed to an interview on this blog about his new book, "All Rise" and the quest to replace "rankism" with a "dignitarian culture." He is also responsible for introducing me to David Michaelis. Mr. Fuller will be attending a publicity event for his book at the KGB Bar in New York City on Tuesday, June 20th. The address is 85 East 4th Street and the event is scheduled between 7:00 PM and 9:00 PM.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Bush Yoyos While the U.S. Burns: An Interview With Economist Jared Bernstein

The conservative shift in American politics undermined the economic security of working people. Increasingly, individuals are absorbing more risks, working longer hours and earning less. Meanwhile, corporations and government benefit from less accountability to tax payers, consumers and employees. Renowned economist Jared Bernstein proposes in his new book, All Together Now: Common Sense For A Fair Economy, (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.) that we're ensnared in a "YOYO economy". The acronym YOYO means, "You're On Your Own." Bernstein's book illustrates how the "YOYOists" have schemed to transfer the burden of economic risk onto individuals and their families.

Former Senator John Edwards said that,

"Jared Bernstein provides a smart look at the American economy, one deeply rooted in American values. All Together Now explains the importance of having an economy that puts people first and ensures a fair shake for all."

Bernstein draws on his experience as an economic policy analyst to reveal that the majority of Americans are fed up with the "hyper-individualism" ethos promoted by corporatists and the political class. From health care to globalization, Bernstein maintains that Americans yearn to replace our YOYO economy with a society based on the values of "WITT" (We're All In This Together"). He presents both an economic plan and political strategy to alleviate the burdens of risk from working people and their families.

Bernstein also provides anecdotes from focus groups he helped run in the Midwest and South on the economic challenges confronting middle-income families. His encounters have persuaded Bernstein the public is ready to embrace an agenda that balances the burdens of risk:

"For a beltway wonk like myself, the discussions were revealing and important. Those on the project with more focus group experience warned me to be careful not to over interpret these results. After all, went their caveats, we ultimately spoke with fewer than a hundred people. As an economist with lots of experience crunching data sets with hundreds of thousands of observations, surely I appreciated the risk of extrapolating beyond the sample.

You'd think so. But I'm choosing to ignore their starchy warning and offer this conclusion, because my gut tells me I'm right: people are not nearly as divided along WITT and YOYO lines as you'd think, given partisan rancor, tight election results, and all that blue-state/red-state stuff. They, and by `they' I mean a majority of the electorate, see a role for both dynamics, and they feel the pendulum has swung too far toward YOYOism. They are thus open to a moderate agenda that provides them with the opportunity to get a fair shake. They'll take it from there."

Bernstein has promoted economic fairness on the national scene for over a decade. In 1992, he joined the Economic Policy Institute to direct their research on living standards. He is a widely published author in both the popular press and academic journals. Bernstein is also a frequent commentator for CNN and has been interviewed on PBS and National Public Radio. He earned a Ph.D in social welfare from Columbia University and is the coauthor of The State of Working America (Economic Policy Institute). Kevin Phillips, an esteemed conservative scholar praised the most recent edition:

"The State of Working America is the ultimate authority on what the American economy means to ordinary Americans."

Bernstein generously agreed to respond to questions about his current book, the economy, and politics.


ILJ: Typically our national conversation about deficits refers to the federal budget. Aren't we also confronting a fiscal crisis in state and local governments? In late March, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released a report that estimates that new tax cuts in Bush's 2007 budget will cause states to lose $38 billion over the next ten years. By the year 2016 they estimated the states will lose $8.1 billion in revenues annually. How significant is the revenue shortfall on the state level for the national economy and what is the potential impact for society? Do we need a federal bail out of state governments along the lines implemented by Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton in the early days of the republic?

BERNSTEIN: I wouldn't say we need the feds to bail out the states as much as we need some grown ups to take charge of Federal fiscal policy. A key point here is that state fiscal problems are always going to be intimately connected with that of the federal government. For e.g., as the document you link to points out, many states base their tax collections on federal tax policy. It's an important example of how these reckless tax cuts reverberate throughout the country. In fact, I would argue that progressives should carefully follow the money on this one. While federal tax and spend policy probably seem pretty disconnected from people's lives, diminished state and local services do not. If the library has fewer hours, or the quality schools, parks, and roads are diminished by cuts like these, it will be important to tie such developments to the tax cuts.

The trillions of dollars of tax cuts since 2001 seem painless because we've not cut spending. So we're enjoying $400 billion more government per year than we're paying for. Of course, the arithmetic of all this is as simple as it is unforgiving. Unless things change in unforeseen ways (the baby boom finds a new planet to settle for their later years), at some point you either have to cut spending or raise taxes.

And of course, you can already here the chorus by policy makers: "We'd love to pay for all kinds of medical care and programs for disadvantaged folks and so on, but we simply don't have the money." I don't buy it and neither should anyone else. As my colleague Max Sawicky writes, "He who names the constraints controls the debate"

ILJ: Your book doesn't cover the bankruptcy legislation signed into law last year. Under the new rules an entrepreneur now assumes far more risk if his business fails and therefore has less incentive to start a new business and create jobs. Meanwhile, banks and credit card companies are assuming virtually no risk as they solicit cash strapped working people with poor credit history. Shouldn't your WITT program include scrapping the so-called bankruptcy reform passed by Republicans and some Democrats?

BERNSTEIN: Most definitely. It's a classic example of the risk shift that myself and others (Peter Gosselin, Jacob Hacker) are documenting. Like most such legislation passed over the last few years, it's basically structured to reduce the financial exposure of businesses, especially consumer credit providers, and shift that exposure onto borrowers. Look for the nation's private insurers to be up next at the Congressional trough for this kind of package. They're already engaging in a similar risk shift operation re homeowners in coastal areas.

ILJ: Do you believe nationalized healthcare would liberate small business entrepreneurs to create more jobs? Could universal healthcare actually serve as a job stimulus? Have you seen data from other countries that provide universal healthcare to suggest more jobs are created in the private sector when the government assumes the risks and financial burdens of healthcare?

BERNSTEIN: As I stress in the book, seeking a more efficient way to provide health care coverage is as much a competitiveness issue as it is one of social justice. Though I haven't thought enough about the large v. small business differences, there are a few ways in which smaller entrepreneurs would meaningfully benefit. First, compared to larger firms, small firms don't have access to a large risk pool and thus cannot spread costs around more broadly. Under universal coverage, all players access the benefits of large-scale risk pooling and avoid adverse selection. Second, as it is, smaller firms are less likely to provide coverage, and thus suffer a competitive disadvantage in terms of the quality of the jobs they offer. A universal coverage program would level that playing field.

ILJ: Do you agree with the new law passed by the Massachusetts legislature and signed by Governor Romney requiring all citizens to obtain health insurance? Will that lower the cost of healthcare or create additional hardships for the poor?

BERNSTEIN: I do support the new law. There are challenges to be worked out--will premiums be set at a level affordable to low-income families? But even in Massachusetts, in this day and age, it's tremendously complicated to build the political coalition to pass legislation like this.

Regarding the characteristics of the bill, I wouldn't get too hung up on them. Throughout our history, the state's have served as laboratories for what's to come at the national level. In my book, I argue for what I think is a simpler, more efficient approach to solving the growing problem of the uninsured: Medicare for All. But I'm all for an incremental, bottom-up approach for getting there.

ILJ: Where do you stand on the current immigration debate? Are advocates for a guest worker program correct that immigrants perform work most Americans won't do? Or is that merely an excuse so the business community can import cheap labor? How can America improve Mexico's economy so their citizens won't need to cross our borders?

BERNSTEIN: Myself and my colleagues at EPI have written on the topic on the Viewpoints section of our website, I think `guest workers' are a mistake. I just can't see a rationale for creating a new, clearly inferior status for people who are living here and working and paying taxes. To the contrary, it sound like a great way to preclude economic and social intergration. No, there is no relation between where you were born and the type of job you might do--that's just political nonsense. True, if you degrade the quality of a job down to the point where only the most desperate person will accept the job, then by definition, only someone in dire straights do the job. Needless to say, that's not a basis for crafting useful policy. Re reducing the push from Mexico, read Jeff Faux's oped on our website.

ILJ: Is the immigration issue a potential wedge for your WITT coalition?

BERNSTEIN: To the contrary, it fits right in. The WITT agenda argues that we use the breadth and scope of federal government to might the challenges we face, and immigration is no different. It's important not to view this issue in a vacuum. One of the points I stress in my book is the importance of a full employment economy. We had very large immigrant flows in the latter 1990s yet wages were rising in the low wage sector at the rate of productivity growth for the first time in decades (click here for an op-ed Bernstein wrote about this topic).

So here's my program. A path to citizenship for those who are here already and are willing to work, pay taxes, etc. No guest workers, and we wrest control of the border by getting serious about employer sanctions.

Sounds easy, right?

ILJ: Are the doomsayers correct that the eminent retirement of the baby boom generation has put the future of Social Security and Medicare in jeopardy? Or is that merely propaganda? What needs to be done to insure the solvency of Social Security and Medicare for Generation X?

BERNSTEIN: First of all, in the spirit of my response to question 1, I want to be very clear that this is a YOYO framing of the question (I know--them's fighting words...let me explain).

Why don't you ask me if the future of the defense build-up is jeopardized by the need to provide a comprehensive, equitable, and efficient system to deal with the challenge of the baby boomers' retirement and health care needs?

How about, "Does meeting future health care needs mean that we won't be able to spend $280 billion making the estate tax cut permanent?"

If the Bush tax cuts are made permanent, they will cost three times as much as the Social Security shortfall over the next 75 years. Just the value of the cuts to the top 1%--about 0.5%--would be enough to offset most of the Social Security shortfall.

To address your points, I'd say Social Security is not in jeopardy in a fiscal sense in that some well-considered and worthwhile policy changes could ensure the programs fiscal health over the long-term. For example, raising the salary cap on payroll taxes would go a long way, as would embedding more realistic assumptions into the actuarial forecasts. (Click here and here to read two pieces about this topic as recommened by Bernstein.)

Health care spending, however, is on an unsustainable track, but it's not just Medicare: private sector health care is on the same path, and given the Promethean inefficiencies in that system, as I articulate in the book, it's even more scary. Since unsustainable trends are just that, something's gotta give. The YOYOs have a plan: Health Savings Accounts, designed to make us all better `health care consumers.' But as every other advanced economy on the planet has realized, market solutions alone simply won't cut it.

Here's an excerpt on this from the book:

"...the YOYOs think individual savings accounts and more head-to-head competition will solve the [health care] problem. That approach works wonderfully for millions of commodities in our economy, from pork belly futures to toothpaste at the drugstore. But access to health care is not a commodity; it's a basic human right in an advanced society like ours. So we need to take it out of the market and ensure that it's delivered equitably and efficiently. At least in this regard, we are simply not that different from every other industrialized economy that figured this one out long ago."

ILJ: What if the federal government funded a program to underwrite 401K pension plans for small businesses so all levels of employees from low skilled labor to high skilled workers could benefit? Is that plausible? Could we establish a system in which even workers earning minimum wage might have wealth generated for their future retirement? Why not combine the insurance provided by Social Security with a wealth generating initiative for the entire workforce?

BERNSTEIN: It's a fine idea, especially in combination with a strengthened Social Security system. The key word in your question is "combination." Savings, pensions, and Social Security are the three legs of the retirement stool, and all need strengthening. As a guaranteed pension system, Social Security is particularly important, but as you suggest, we ought to have a universal system along side to encourage wealth accumulation. There's tons of good work on this. Google "Individual Development Accounts" or look for the work of Ray Boshara at the New America Foundation regarding such programs for low-income persons.

Also, see the work of the Hamilton Project, a DC based policy group, on this point.

ILJ: Are there any policies or issues on economics that upon reflection you no longer hold? How has your views evolved and changed over time? Or has your philosophy remained consistent?

BERNSTEIN: I think my views have evolved over time. I certainly hope so! For example, early in my career, I think I initially had less of an understanding and appreciation for the importance of a well-functioning macro-economy. Like many in my field, I pretty much assumed that was "taken care of elsewhere" and that, except for recessions, we were always generating enough growth to meet society's needs.

I've come to recognize that over the last 30 years, we've often been underutilizing our human resources. Plainly put, we simply have not invested enough in quality jobs and quality skills to create the necessary opportunities for all our fellow citizens to realize their potential.

YOYO economics, as I stress in Chapter Two of the book, is a big reason. Here's an excerpt from that chapter:

"Today's economics also has two goals: (1) getting rid of the policy set associated with the old economics and (2) making sure that individuals are offered the optimal incentives, the ones that should lead them to behave in ways that, according to the mathematical models, bring about the most efficient results.

When the goal of economic policy makers shifted from full employment for the society to the optimal incentives for the individual, YOYO was born. Today, we're seeing the outcomes: greater inequality, a fiscally bankrupt government, the shifting of risk from the government and the firm to the individual, and the loss of the systems and institutions--like pension coverage, minimum wages, overtime rules, and a durable safety net--that insulated workers from market failures and inequities.

With this change in the thrust of economic thinking, the central question of economic policy went from, What can government do to be sure that everyone can contribute to and benefit from the available resources? to, What can government do to get out of the way? The former question considers the challenges inherent in national economies since Adam (Smith, of course) and points to collaborative solutions; the latter, especially when mixed with our unique brand of heavily lobbied government, ignores workers except to tell them, 'You're on your own. Here's a tax cut. Now go out there and optimize.'

It is extremely unlikely that we as a society will be able to implement WITT policies under the current economic regime. What's needed is a shift in the way we talk, think, and plan for dealing with the risks and opportunities in today's economy. The first step to building an All Together Now movement requires exposing the class biases inherent in YOYO economics and stressing the advantages of a different approach to government, economic policy, and risk sharing. A brief history of how we got to the present state of affairs should help set the stage."

For too long conservatives dominated the market place of ideas by controlling the terms of the debate. Their communications infrastructure of think tanks, corporatist media collaborators and special interests machine has successfully shifted the center of gravity to the far right. However, five and half years of GOP hegemony have thoroughly discredited conservative ideology. Bernstein's book presents a viable alternative because it is based upon decency and common sense. What ultimately replaces the conservative era will evolve over time. Decency and common sense is a good place to start.