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Juan Williams on Mainstream Media Bias, the Entitlement Culture and American Foreign Policy
With Anthony Wile - August 21, 2011
The Daily Bell is pleased to present this exclusive interview with Juan Williams
Introduction: Juan Williams, one of America's leading journalists, is a political analyst for Fox News, a regular panelist on Fox Broadcasting's Sunday-morning public-affairs program Fox News Sunday, and a columnist for FoxNews.com and for The Hill. He hosted NPR's Talk of the Nation and has anchored Fox News Channel's weekend daytime news coverage. A former senior correspondent and political analyst for National Public Radio, he is the author of the bestselling book Enough, the critically acclaimed biography Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary, and the national bestseller Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years, 1954–1965, the companion volume to the critically acclaimed television series. His most recent book, Muzzled: The Assault on Honest Debate, was released by Crown Publishers in late July, 2011, the main topic of which is the muzzling of honest exchange of ideas and search for solutions and compromise in America. During his 21-year career at the Washington Post, Williams served as an editorial writer, op-ed columnist, and White House reporter. His articles have appeared in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, Time, Newsweek, Fortune, The Atlantic Monthly, Ebony, Gentlemen's Quarterly, and The New Republic.
Daily Bell: Thanks for sitting down with us. Before we get into a discussion about your new book and the premises put forth in it, can you tell us briefly about your background and what led you to a career in journalism and political analysis?
Juan Williams: Sure. My name is Juan Williams and I am the author of a book called Muzzled: The Assault on Honest Debate. I wanted to be a journalist from the time I was a child. I was born in Panama. Both grandfathers died building the Panama Canal and my father, who was born in Jamaica, went there after his dad died. My mom's dad went there to open a restaurant for workers on the canal and she was born in Panama. That's how their third child ended up being born in Panama. But then my mom brought three kids to Brooklyn, New York when I was four years old, and what is telling is for me growing up in New York, my window on the world was through the eyes of a little boy, through newspapers. There were seven newspapers in New York when I was growing up. My mom was a seamstress in the garment industry and she used to bring them home for me, off the subway. I just loved them. I still love newspapers to this day. Even with the TV, the Internet, the radio, I just have always loved newspapers. My dream from the time I was a little boy was if I could be a newspaper writer, if I could help people to understand the world in the way that newspapers helped me to understand how power works in American society -- who gets the trash picked up, who gets to send their children to good schools, who has a policeman come to the door to help them as opposed to arrest them. That's what I wanted to do, was to tell that story. That's why now, at 57, I am a journalist.
Daily Bell: In the past you have made statements that were critical of black leaders in America, referring to their leadership as creating a "culture of failure." Can you please explain what you meant by this?
Juan Williams: Sure. This was the topic of my last book titled, Enough: the Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That are Undermining Black America – and What We Can Do About It. This book is largely a chronicle of Bill Cosby, the entertainer/ comedian speaking at the 50th anniversary of the Brown decision in Washington DC. Instead of delivering jokes, which is what was expected of him, he said, "Hey, what are we celebrating when half of the black and Hispanic kids in America are dropping out of school? They don't get a high school diploma. What are we saying when 70 percent of black children are born to single mothers? What's going on with our families when you have such tremendous family breakdown and what does it do to the kids? Isn't it obvious that it hurts them in terms of achievement in school and leads to those high dropout rates even more? Even more damaging, isn't it true that that leads to higher rates of incarceration of black and Hispanic children in American society?" For this, Bill Cosby was separated and treated as if he was a leper. He was said to be airing dirty laundry. Bill Cosby has not only been a cultural icon in terms of "The Cosby Show" and "I Spy," but someone who has contributed his time and his money to the civil rights movement, who was absolutely ostracized and treated as if he was now the problem rather than the sociological issue he was talking about. It was so curious to me that the black leadership had no interest in having an honest discussion about the points that Cosby was raising. But then he had become an Uncle Tom, a traitor, and I thought to myself, it's the leadership that has the problem because they're blind and they are not helping their own community. Instead, they're just so busy pointing fingers at everybody else that they have abandoned the best interests in the future of their own community.
Daily Bell: Has Barack Obama becoming president helped the black community in any substantial manner with regard to addressing its "culture of failure"?
Juan Williams: Well, he tried and in some interesting moments he spoke about the importance of dads and being a good father and that it's not just about having a baby, it's about raising a baby. When he did that, you will recall that Jesse Jackson said he deserved to be castrated, that he was talking down to black people. That gives you a sense of how hard black leadership can be when somebody steps out of line. I think Barack Obama has been an inspiring figure for lots of people in the black community because they never thought it was possible that any black person would become president of the United States, or win 43 percent of the white vote in this country, could master the political infighting that is necessary to rise to such a height in American political life. But if you are asking me about actual metrics of making a difference, how could I say he's making a big difference when you look at the 25 percent poverty rate? That hasn't changed. In fact, it's been exacerbated by Obama's presidency to the extent that it has not improved since President Bush left office. Look at the unemployment rate of blacks and Hispanics, and again it has gone up, particularly with young black men. If you look at the efforts of Shaun Donovan, the Secretary of Education, to reform schools you would have to say so far not much has been accomplished. They have not got their legislative agenda called "Race to the Top" through the Congress. There has been no renewal of President Bush's idea, which was called, "No Child Left Behind." So we are stalled on what to me is the key civil rights issue of our time, the education reform agenda.
Daily Bell: In his controversial bestselling book, Bias, Bernie Goldberg asserted that liberal bias dominates the mainstream media world. What is your experience?
Juan Williams: Well, I don't think there's any question. I have been in newsrooms from the Washington Post to CNN to NPR and I have been in and out of so many other newsrooms during my career, and I don't think there is any doubt about it that most reporters are liberals. And at NPR, my most recent experience, they used to complain, "Isn't FOX filled with conservatives?" and I would say, "Excuse me, but at NPR, not only the management but also the people who work there come out of the same liberal mode and are so attached to American leading academic institutions, which are filled again with liberal professors who insist on liberal orthodoxy." But somehow they couldn't see that. They could only see what they perceive to be conservative hires at a place like FOX News.
Daily Bell: Can you briefly give our readers some background on the controversy that led to your dismissal from National Public Radio (NPR)?
Juan Williams: This began with Bill O'Reilly appearing on "The View" and saying that Muslims attacked us on 9/11. That prompted Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg to walk off the set in protest. They would only return if Bill would say that he was only speaking about RADICAL Muslims, not all Muslims. He didn't think it was necessary to say that but if that's the case, he was willing to say it. But then several days later, he was doing his own show and I was his lead guest and he asked me, Juan, where did I go wrong? And I said, Bill, I am not going to play politically correct games with you. The fact is that Muslims did attack us on 9/11. The fact is that the people who were in those airplanes cited the Islamic faith as justification for that attack. And then I went on to say, even if I am in an airport and I see people dressed in Muslim garb – to my mind, first and foremost as identifying themselves as Muslim – I get nervous. Now, I added, right there and then, that I don't think we should get into any discriminatory policy. We don't categorize Christians because of the terrorist behavior of Timothy McVeigh or the Atlanta Olympics bomber and we don't want to lose America's founding principle of being a land of religious liberty. We invite diversity and tolerance in the way we worship. That has always been who we are as Americans. So all this was said at the time but immediately the Council on American-Islamic Relations and Media Matters launched a campaign against me. They took my comment out of context, isolated it, and said that what I had done was committed an act of bigotry. NPR, which I believe was looking for a reason to fire me, picked up on this and called two days later to tell me that I was a bigot and I was fired.
Daily Bell: After your dismissal, NPR's President and CEO Vivian Schiller offered the following comment: "News analysts may not take personal public positions on controversial issues; doing so undermines their credibility as analysts." Do you agree with her on this?
Juan Williams: Of course not. This is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. So now journalists aren't supposed to tell you what they think? What good is a journalist who's hiding things from you or treats you like you are not a sensitive human being, sufficiently matured to absorb what he or she is telling you about their personal experience? I didn't say something in order to be provocative or call attention to myself. I said something in reference to a larger debate about how we honestly feel about the incontrovertible link between radical Islamic beliefs and terrorism. We as an American society have to be mature and deal with it and also preserve our principle of liberty.
So this was a full-throated, honest debate and she is saying a good journalist can't do that. Well, then I think you're not a journalist. Let me also add here that there is a large piece of hypocrisy involved because other NPR journalists have appeared on opinion shows and have made highly controversial comments, and those people often times are correspondents or reporters, not news analysts. As a news analyst, I should have the additional latitude to express opinions and convey experiences as part of drawing a picture, as a journalist should do, of the reality of our time. Some people call journalism the act of creating a first draft of history. Well, if I am supposed to bite my tongue, close my eyes, pretend that I don't have the experience of anxiety around people in Muslim garb at the airport, then I think I would be a liar and I would be a worthless journalist. So I think she is absolutely wrong.
Daily Bell: Tell us about your new book, Muzzled. What is its basic premise?
Juan Williams: I am glad you asked because so many people think the book is just about my having been fired from NPR. To the contrary, 90 percent of the book is about how difficult it is to have an honest debate at this point in America. There are all these people telling you, you shouldn't say that. Or if you say that you are giving aid and support to people on the far right or people on the far left. You are a crazy right-winger for saying that. You're a bleeding-heart liberal for saying that. You shouldn't be able to say that because someone could misinterpret your words as evidence of racism, bigotry, misogyny, hatred of immigrants – it just goes on and on. You are never allowed to say, listen, here's where I'm coming from, or here's what I am feeling. Let's have an honest discussion. I respect you, I respect your point of view, you're an intellect and I want to engage you. Instead what happens is people bite their tongue. People are told not to say this and then the only people that speak out tend to be the provocateurs at the far end of the political spectrum, far left and far right, and they say all kinds of crazy, obnoxious things. And in terms of our politics, the money then flows to the far poles of a political spectrum, far left and far right. In any case, people in the middle who are trying to engage in honest discussion, people who want to talk about things like, how can we resolve the immigration issue? How can we deal honestly with the budget and raising the debt ceiling? How can we deal logically, rationally with questions about the war in Afghanistan? – those people are ignored, shushed, told to shut up, or in my case, fired.
Daily Bell: Give us some examples of issues that are "muzzled."
Juan Williams: Well, the war in Afghanistan is one I just mentioned. If you ask things like why is it that we have been there ten years and so many young people have died, or why has so much money been spent, and question continuing that military commitment, there are people who will say to you, we have to win that war or else. You are not a patriot or you are someone who doesn't love their country. This is the craziest thing I have ever heard. Most Americans have serious questions about why we continue to spend so much money and blood in Afghanistan. You don't see that conversation taking place in Congress. It's almost like it's not allowed.
I will give you another example. Right now, we continue to have 12 or 13 million illegal immigrants in the country. President Bush, when he was in office, made a huge effort to try to achieve immigration reform but when he did so, there are so many people who started shouting, no you can't do that, we don't want to hear about it, we consider any of these efforts to be amnesty for law breakers or you're letting in terrorism, they shut down the conversation. It was impossible to talk about where solutions existed or common ground, and the honest debate was put aside so that even President Obama can't seem to get anything done on the issue.
Speaking of President Obama, let's get back to the discussion about terrorism and the thing that got me in so much trouble. He refuses to call terrorism, terrorism. Instead, he and Janet Napolitano and the Department of Homeland Security talk about "man-made disasters." What are you talking about, man-made disasters? They talk about man-made disasters in an effort to say they are trying to remove the stigma from people who might link, again, radical Islam to terrorism. They don't want the Islamic world to think that there's a war going on against Islam? Look, this is ridiculous. Nobody is having a war on Islam. We're having a war on terrorism and if you can't call it what it is, how do you think you are going to successfully protect us? I think, again, this is an exercise in evasion, in euphemism, as opposed to speaking in a mature way and speaking honestly to people that you respect and expect would be able to help you come up with good solutions to major problems.
Daily Bell: How would you propose changing things?
Juan Williams: One of the things we have to do is be honest with each other, listen to each other, treat each other with respect. That's just a start. But I think in a libertarian sense, it's also a matter of being willing to support people who vary from the orthodoxy, like the congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in that horrible incident in Arizona. She said that politicians who are not at the extremes of American life get no reward. Anybody who says, 'I'm a smart person, I'm thoughtful, I care about my community but I don't hold to any liberal orthodoxy or I don't hold to any conservative orthodoxy', those people are treated like a bother. They are not reliable, they are not to be trusted, and they are considered Uncle Toms or traitors to the cause. And she said that's ridiculous. If you want to get your campaign going, attack the other side, demonize them, belittle them and people will come running with money. To me, that, too, corrupts the dialogue. But the key point is if you don't have honest dialogue it's hard to have honest political action that really serves our interests. So what we can all do is one, listen, and two, seek out other points of view respectfully. Try to learn something from others but also support people who act independently in the political sphere. It's not just people that echo pre-existing attitudes and opinions on the far left or the far right.
Daily Bell: With the explosive rise of Internet-based media, which often is outside of the traditional control matrix, isn't the power of mainstream media to control the conversation on major issues failing anyway?
Juan Williams: It is. I think it's a really good thing, but it's still the case that the big brands, even on the Internet, carry such powers. You think about the power of the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times, NPR for that matter, MSNBC – these are big brands on the Internet. These are where people go for news and information on the Internet. Bloomberg is another one. So these brands do control much of the conversation because when people go to a lot of the Internet sites that are less known or emerging they have to deal with a credibility issue. The big brands are known to be credible but where the big brands can't control the conversation is in terms of opinion and sometimes new information. Look what happened to Dan Rather. CBS might be a great brand but they could not handle the idea that the Internet revealed, that he had fabricated information to make a story.
Daily Bell: Do you think, as we do, that an information-led knowledge revolution is occurring, one that threatens to reshape the entire media and political landscape in the Western world as more and more people simply "tune out"?
Juan Williams: Well, I think this is an interesting moment because more and more people are not reading newspapers, they're not watching evening news. They are turning to places like the Internet, cable news, and turning to each other. There are more news sources now and I think the mainstream media is losing that grip as a result.
Daily Bell: Why do mainstream media commentators, when discussing the ills of the US economy, never open up the debate to discuss the Federal Reserve and the US dollar with respect to an honest look at what really causes monetary inflation? Is questioning the legitimacy of the fiat-dollar and fractional reserve banking a no-no?
Juan Williams: Again, I don't think they make an effort to break through the orthodoxy that says, 'Oh, those people know what they are doing; they are smarter than we are.' It's a very closed club and they allow it to remain closed without challenging and questioning. This is an example of where mainstream media really becomes a lapdog to the powers that be. This is where you have to give thanks for media such as the Internet in that it allows people to challenge this perceived wisdom that we are all supposed to sit down and behave ourselves while the Federal Reserve and the big banks ruin our economy.
Daily Bell: We think that mainstream media and politicians alike utilize a two-sided posturing system, an Hegelian dialectic or process, if you will, to create the illusion of a debate when all they are really doing is limiting the range of discussion to ensure the more "eye opening" debate doesn't happen.
What do you think?
Juan Williams: Too often I think that is the case, and that is why people get frustrated. I think that's why resentments fester. I think that's why people start to believe every conspiracy theory that they hear, because they don't trust whether they are getting the straight story anymore. They don't know whom they can trust but they do know that too often the people with self-serving interests are serving the powers that be.
Daily Bell: Let's talk economy for a bit. Do you think it was the right move for Congress to pass the debt ceiling increase?
Juan Williams: Absolutely. But the deal is not one you can love or wrap your arms around; it's like nobody's child. I just thought it was essential. And given the market reaction even with the deal in place, you get the sense how fragile the recovery is. The idea that it didn't make a difference when the debt ceiling got raised is so erroneous and reckless to me; I think it would have thrown us back into a deep recession if not a depression.
Daily Bell: Do you think that the US debt is unsustainable and that entitlement spending needs to be slashed?
Juan Williams: It needs to be cut. I don't know about slashed, but it needs to be done in a compassionate and sensible way. The question is, how do you do it? But there is no question that you have to do it.
Daily Bell: How about military spending? Why does America feel they should maintain military bases in over 100 countries around the world? Is it making America safer? Isn't it helping to drive up the debt unnecessarily?
Juan Williams: I agree. I make that case all the time with people telling me I'm a nut bag. You have to take into account the history in places like Germany and Japan where we have such heavy presence. To my mind, the notion that we are the world's policemen and the world's military force is not in keeping with America's ideals. I agree that we should be a positive force in the world but to always be bearing the hard share of the burden is a hell of a tax on us every day that nobody ever takes the times to deal with as a tax – not to mention the damper on our economics train.
Daily Bell: Do the American people need to accept more personal responsibility for their own lives and stop buying into the "freebie" mentality?
Juan Williams: I don't think there is any question and this is something that I was shocked about. I discuss this in Muzzled. I was shocked at the high percentage of Americans, and it is over 40 percent, that receive a government cheque every month. They are part of the entitlement culture. So it's either social security, unemployment, Medicare, Medicaid, disability – it just goes on and on. Can you imagine it's over 40 percent? Then if you look at who pays taxes you see that over 50 percent of Americans don't pay taxes and you can start to understand the danger that we have become an entitlement society rather than a free, capitalistic, entrepreneurial people.
Daily Bell: Do you believe in the accidental version of history or a more directed version of history?
Juan Williams: I am not sure exactly what that means but I do believe we make a difference, that we write the script, if you will. We are writing the script in a story we didn't start so we inherit a lot of chapters and precedents, if you will, that limit what we can say and do in terms of change. But I do believe it is us, not fate, that are the ultimate authors of our history.
Daily Bell: Do you think that there is a global conspiracy to establish a new world political and monetary order to be managed by the UN, IMF, World Bank and other alphabet soup international agencies?
Juan Williams: No, but I think that these organizations are controlled by people who are powerful and who have money and who are, at this point, part of a global economic structure. So the idea of local control can be deceptive because big money moves around the globe so fast and is attracted to cheap labor and to opportunity wherever the growth markets may be. Right now that is places like China, India and Brazil. That has direct impact on the decline of the job market right here in the US. There is no getting away from the idea that we have less control through the US government and the US economy than we have ever had. So is that a result of a grand conspiracy? I don't know if you have to call it that but I think it is a fact that we are losing control.
Daily Bell: Is it a good thing in your opinion?
Juan Williams: No, (laughing). I don't like not having control of my life.
Daily Bell: Finally, in America third parties have been purposefully marginalized or muzzled, if you will. Do you think that it is possible for a third political party to actually win a US federal election?
Juan Williams: This may be a good election cycle to test it. We have had four consecutive seasons of tidal wave type change in American politics. You think about the Democrats coming in and taking over the House and the Senate in 2006, then a liberal Democrat first-term senator, Obama, taking over the White House in 2008. Then you come back and the Republicans come in and sweep the House in 2010. So this will be the fourth cycle that Americans will have the mind to kick out the bums. The problem is, who are the bums? A lot of them look like bums.
So I think one of the things that could happen this time is that the people are not excited by the likes of a Mitt Romney, turned off by the likes of Barack Obama, and maybe will go to someone who launches a third party bid. Now, they would be at a stark disadvantage in terms of a political structure and campaign funding, but remember, this is a lot like the moment when Ross Perot got 19 percent of the vote. So if you get a strong personality, like a Sarah Palin or a Donald Trump, or on the left it could be someone like a Russ Feingold or a Howard Dean – if you get somebody who catches lightning in a bottle, I think this could be the moment when the third party really emerges as a viable alternative for the American voter.
Daily Bell: Any final thoughts you would like to share with our audience?
Juan Williams: No but I really appreciate all your patience today because I was a bit overwhelmed so thank you.
Daily Bell: It's been a pleasure.
The Daily Bell
We thank Mr. Williams for sharing his views, especially as they relate to mainstream media and its "muzzling" of journalistic opinion on matters deemed untouchable. Certainly anyone who is a regular visitor to the DB knows that we consider mainstream media part of international money power's control structure – one that has a lot more to do with echoing dominant social themes than investigating issues.
There are some areas of this interview where we respectfully depart company with Mr. Williams, though. The first would be related to the war on terrorism. Here is what we have said on this issue previously:
The War on Terror may be said to have begun officially after the attacks on the World Trade Towers known throughout the world by the numerical acronym 9/11. It took very little time for the Bush Administration to identify the supposed culprits and then to attack the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The putative reason to attack in Afghanistan was to rout Al Qaeda from Afghanistan. Al Qaeda means "list" in Arabic and the CIA helped form Al Qaeda when Afghans were fighting the occupation of the USSR. There is considerable controversy over whether Al Qaeda existed at the time of 9/11 and, if it existed, whether it was in some sense a captive client of the CIA, which had helped create it.
Today, there is little evidence of Al Qaeda activity and even less significant evidence for its continued existence as a formal, independent fighting force. Its terrorist efforts are often accompanied by significant Western intelligence involvement and given these circumstances, the idea that the West and especially the US is fighting a worldwide "war on terror" is increasingly doubtful. There are "bad guys" in the world that the West intends to face down. But Al Qaeda, as a formal entity, appears less and less to be among them.
We also part company with Mr. Williams on the issue of the debt ceiling increase. We think it was a terrible thing to do and here is what we have previously written:
There is no "cure" here. The "plan" is not going to solve anything because it DOESN'T ADDRESS THE REAL PROBLEM.
The real problem has to do with a faulty currency that is unrestrained because it is inflatable at the will of politicians and central bankers. And people have been conditioned to believe that there are others out there who can do a better job of looking out for their needs than themselves.
The truth of the matter, as we see it, is ... the Federal Reserve will go about monetizing another couple of trillion and devaluing the purchasing power of the US dollar. Jobs will not be created, the real economy will not grow and another chance to actually address America's monetary problems will pass by. Inevitably, the system, as any PONZI scheme, will collapse and the financial hurricane approaching America's shores will be even more devastating.
Finally, we do feel that international money power seeks control over the world's population via global governance, a single currency and an international military. We also believe that mainstream media isn't silent on the issues related to fiat money fraud and the global governance issue – we think they are a major part of helping to make sure all that the elite wants, happens.