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Thursday, May 31, 2012

John Pilger: Latest twist in unjust legal saga

On May 30, Britain's Supreme Court turned down the final appeal of Julian Assange against his extradition to Sweden. In an unprecedented move, the court gave the defence team of the WikiLeaks editor permission to “re-apply” to the court in two weeks' time.

On the eve of the judgement, Sweden's leading morning newspaper Dagens Nyheter interviewed investigative journalist John Pilger, who has closely followed the Assange case. The following is the complete text of the interview, of which only a fraction was published in Sweden.

Assange supporters to rally in Australia on May 31 after court ruling
Activist calendar to check rally details
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Julian Assange has been fighting extradition to Sweden at a number of British courts. Why do you think it is important he wins?

Because the attempt to extradite Assange is unjust and political. I have read almost every scrap of evidence in this case and it's clear, in terms of natural justice, that no crime was committed. The case would not have got this far had it not been for the intervention of Claes Borgstrom, a politician who saw an opportunity when the Stockholm prosecutor threw out almost all the police allegations.

Borgstrom was then in the middle of an election campaign. When asked why the case was proceeding when both women had said that the sex had been consensual with Assange, he replied, "Ah, but they're not lawyers." If the Supreme Court in London rejects Assange's appeal, the one hope is the independence of the Swedish courts.

However, as the London Independent has revealed, Sweden and the US have already begun talks on Assange's "temporary surrender" to the US — where he faces concocted charges and the prospect of unlimited solitary confinement. And for what? For telling epic truths. Every Swede who cares about justice and the reputation of his or her society should care deeply about this.

You have said that Julian Assange's human rights have been breached. In what way?

One of the most fundamental human rights — that of the presumption of innocence — has been been breached over and over again in Assange's case. Convicted of no crime, he has been the object of character assassination — perfidious and inhuman — and highly political smear, of which the evidence is voluminous.
This is what Britain's most distinguished and experienced human rights lawyer, Gareth Peirce, has written: “Given the extent of the public discussion, frequently on the basis of entirely false assumptions ... it is very hard to preserve for [Assange] any presumption of innocence.

“He has now hanging over him not one but two Damocles swords of potential extradition to two different jurisdictions in turn for two different alleged crimes, neither of which are crimes in his own country. [And] his personal safety has become at risk in circumstances that are highly politically charged.”

You, as well as Julian Assange, don't seem to have confidence in the Swedish judicial system. Why not?

It's difficult to have confidence in a prosecutorial system that is so contradictory and flagrantly uses the media to achieve its aims. Whether or not the Supreme Court in London find for or against Assange, the fact that this case has reached the highest court in this country is itself a condemnation of the competence and motivation of those so eager to incarcerate him, having already had plenty of opportunity to to question him properly. What a waste all this is.

If Julian Assange is innocent, as he says, would it not have been better if he had gone to Stockholm to sort things out?

Assange tried to "sort things out", as you put it. Right from the beginning, he offered repeatedly to be questioned — first in Sweden, then in Britain. He sought and received permission to leave Sweden, which makes a nonsense of the claim that he has avoided questioning.

The prosecutor who has since pursued him has refused to give any explanation about why she will not use standard procedures, which Sweden and the UK have signed up to.

If the Supreme Court decides that Julian Assange can be extradited to Sweden, what consequences/risks do you see for him?

First, I would draw on my regard for ordinary Swedes' sense of fairness and justice. Alas, overshadowing that is a Swedish elite that has forged sinister and obsequious links with Washington. These powerful people have every reason to see Julian Assange as a threat.

For one thing, their vaunted reputation for neutrality has been repeatedly exposed as a sham in US cables leaked by WikiLeaks.

One cable revealed that "the extent of [Sweden's military and intelligence] co-operation [with Nato] is not widely known" and unless kept secret "would open up the government to domestic criticism". Another was entitled "WikiLeaks puts neutrality in the dustbin of history".

Don't the Swedish public have a right to know what the powerful say in private in their name?
[More articles by John Pilger can be found at www.johnpilger.com.]

Thursday, May 31, 2012

John Pilger:The Leveson Inquiry into the British press - oh, what a lovely game

Rupert Murdoch is a bad man. His son James is also bad. Rebekah Brooks is allegedly bad. The News of the World was very bad; it hacked phones and pilloried people. British prime ministers grovelled before this iniquity. David Cameron even sent text messages to Brooks signed "LoL", and they all had parties in the Cotswolds with Jeremy Clarkson. Nods and winks were duly exchanged on the BSkyB deal.

Shock, horror.

Offering glimpses of the power and petty gangsterism of the British tabloid press, the inquiry conducted by Lord Leveson has, I suspect, shocked few people. As the soap has rolled on, bemusement has given way to boredom;  Tony Blair was allowed to whine about the Daily Mail's treatment of his wife until he and the inquiry's amoral smugness protecting him were exposed by a member of the public, David Lawley-Wakelin, who shouted, "Excuse me, this man should be arrested for war crimes." His Lordship duly apologised to the war criminal and the truth-teller was seen off.

Why Murdoch should complain about the British establishment has always mystified me. His interrogation, if that is the word, by Robert Jay QC, was a series of verbal marshmallows that Murdoch promptly spat out. When he described one of his own rambling, self-satisfied questions as "subtle", Jay received this deft dismissal from Murdoch: "I'm afraid I don't have much subtlety in me."

As the theatre critic Michael Billington reminded us recently, it was in the Spectator in 1955 that Henry Fairlie coined the term "the establishment", defining it as "the matrix of official and social relations within which power in Britain is exercised". For most of my career as a journalist, Murdoch has been an influential and admired member of this club: even a mentor to many of those now casting him as a "bad apple". His deeply cynical mantra, "I'm only giving the public what they want", was echoed by journalists and broadcasters as they lined up to dumb down their work and embrace the propaganda of corporatism that followed Murdoch's bloody move to Wapping in 1986.

More than 5,000 men and women were sacked, and countless families destroyed and suicides committed; and Murdoch could not have got away with it had Margaret Thatcher and the Metropolitan Police not given him total, often secret support, and journalists not lain face down on the floors of buses that drove perilously through the picket lines of their former, principled colleagues.

Cheering him on, if discreetly, were those now running what Max Hastings has called the "new establishment": the media's managerial middle class, often liberal to a fault, that was later to fall at the feet of  Murdoch's man Blair, the future war criminal, whose election as prime minister was celebrated in the Guardian with: "Few now sang England Arise, but England has risen all the same."

Leveson has asked nothing about how the respectable media complemented the Murdoch press in systematically promoting corrupt, mendacious, often violent political power whose crimes make phone-hacking barely a misdemeanour. The Leveson inquiry is a club matter, in which a member has caused such extraordinary public embarrassment he must be black-balled, so that nothing changes.

What jolly fun to hear Jeremy Paxman grass on Piers Morgan who, he gossiped, described to him how to hack phones. Paxman was asked nothing by Jay about the essential role of the BBC and its leading lights as state propagandists for illegal wars that have killed, maimed and dispossessed millions. How ironic that the lunch Paxman attended at the Daily Mirror appears to have been in 2002 when the Mirror, edited by Morgan, was the only Fleet Street newspaper uncompromisingly opposed to the coming invasion of Iraq: thus reflecting the wishes of the majority of the British public.

And what a wheeze it was to hear from the clubbable Andrew Marr, the BBC's ubiquitous voice: he of the super-injunction. Just as Murdoch's Sun declared in 1995 that it shared the rising Blair's "high moral values", so Marr, writing in the Observer in 1999, lauded the new prime minister's "substantial moral courage". What impressed Marr was Blair's "utter lack of cynicism", along with his bombing of Yugoslavia which would "save lives". By March 2003, Marr was the BBC's political editor. Standing in Downing Street on the night of the assault on Iraq, he rejoiced at the vindication of Blair who, he said, had promised "to take Baghdad without a bloodbath". The diametric opposite was true.  In hawking his self-serving book in 2010, Blair selected Marr for his "exclusive TV interview". During their convivial encounter they discussed an attack on Iran, the country Hillary Clinton once said she was prepared to "obliterate".

In the text messages disclosed by Leveson between Murdoch lobbyist Frederic Michel and Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, there is this one from Michel: "Very good on Marr as always". In a cable leaked to WikiLeaks, the US embassy in London urged Hillary Clinton  to be interviewed by the "congenial" Marr because he often "sets the political agenda for the nation" and "will offer maximum impact for your investment of time". Inquisitor Jay showed no interest.

When Alastair Campbell "gave evidence", Jay waved a copy of Blair's A Journey and quoted Blair's view of his chief collaborator as "a genius".

"Sweet," responded Campbell.

"And with great clunking balls as well," continued Jay QC, awaiting the laughter. The silence of 780,000 Iraqi widows was a presence.

Not a single opponent of the institutional power of the media has been called by Leveson, though farce is welcomed. Richard Desmond, who owns the Daily Express and a section of the British porn industry, during his appearance damned the Daily Mail as "Britain's worst enemy" and said the Press Complaints Commission "hated our guts".

Shock, horror. Or just sweet.

31 May 2012

Thursday, May 17, 2012

John Pilger:Never forget that Bradley Manning, not gay marriage, is the issue



In the week Barack Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, he  ordered bombing attacks on Yemen, killing a reported 63 people, 28 of them children. When Obama recently announced he supported same-sex marriage, American planes had not long blown 14 Afghan civilians to bits. In both cases, the mass murder was barely news. What mattered were the cynical vacuities of a political celebrity, the product of a zeitgeist driven by the forces of consumerism and the media with the aim of diverting the struggle for social and economic justice.

The award of the Nobel Prize to the first black president because he "offered hope" was both absurd and an authentic expression of the lifestyle liberalism that controls much of political debate in the west. Same-sex marriage is one such distraction.  No "issue" diverts attention as successfully as this: not the free vote in Parliament on lowering the age of gay consent promoted by the noted libertarian and war criminal Tony Blair: not the cracks in "glass ceilings" that contribute nothing to women's liberation and merely amplify the demands of bourgeois privilege. 

Legal obstacles should not prevent people marrying each other, regardless of gender. But this is a civil and private matter; bourgeois acceptability is not yet a human right. The rights historically associated with marriage are those of property: capitalism itself.  Elevating the "right" of marriage above the right to life and real justice is as profane as seeking allies among those who deny life and justice to so many, from Afghanistan to Palestine.

On 9 May, hours before his Damascene declaration on same-sex marriage, Obama sent out messages to campaign donors making his new position clear. He asked for money. In response, according to the Washington Post, his campaign received a "massive surge of contributions". The following evening, with the news now dominated by his "conversion", he attended a fundraising party at the Los Angeles home of the actor George Clooney. "Hollywood," reported the Associated Press, "is home to some of the most high-profile backers of gay marriage, and the 150 donors who are paying $40,000 to attend Clooney's dinner will no doubt feel invigorated by Obama's watershed announcement the day before." The Clooney party is expected to raise a record $15 million for Obama's re-election and will be followed by "yet another fundraiser in New York sponsored by gay and Latino Obama supporters". 

The width of a cigarette paper separates the Democratic and Republican parties on economic and foreign policies. Both represent the super rich and the impoverishment of a nation from which trillions of tax dollars have been transferred to a permanent war industry and banks that are little more than criminal enterprises. Obama is as reactionary and violent as George W. Bush, and in some ways he is worse. His personal speciality is the use of Hellfire missile-armed drones against defenceless people. Under cover of a partial withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, he has sent US special forces to 120 countries where death squads are trained. He has revived the old cold war on two fronts: against China in Asia and with a "shield" of missiles aimed at Russia. The first black president has presided over the incarceration and surveillance of greater numbers of  black people than were enslaved in 1850. He has prosecuted more whistleblowers - truth-tellers - than any of his predecessors.  His vice-president, Joe Biden, a zealous warmonger, has called WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange a "hi-tech terrorist".  Biden has also converted to the cause of gay marriage.

One of America's true heroes is the gay soldier Bradley Manning, the whistleblower alleged to have provided WikiLeaks with the epic evidence of American carnage in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was the Obama administration that smeared his homosexuality as weird, and it was Obama himself who declared a man convicted of no crime to be guilty.

Who among the fawners and luvvies at Clooney's Hollywood moneyfest shouted, "Remember Bradley Manning"? To my knowledge, no prominent spokesperson for gay rights has spoken against Obama's and Biden's hypocrisy in claiming to support same-sex marriage while terrorising a gay man whose courage should be an inspiration to all, regardless of sexual preference. 

Obama's historic achievement as president of the United States has been to silence the anti-war and social justice movement associated with the Democratic Party.  Such deference to an extremism disguised by and embodied in a clever, amoral operator, betrays the rich tradition of popular protest in the US. Perhaps the Occupy movement is said to be in this tradition; perhaps not. 

The truth is that what matters to those who aspire to control our lives is not skin pigment or gender, or whether or not we are gay, but the class we serve. The goals are to ensure that we look inward on ourselves, not outward to others and never comprehend the sheer scale of undemocratic power, and to that we collaborate in isolating those who resist. This attrition of criminalising, brutalising and banning protest can too easily turn western democracies into states of fear. 

On 12 May, in Sydney, Australia, home of the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, a protest parade in support of gay marriage filled the city centre. The police looked on benignly. It was a showcase of liberalism. Three days later, there was to be a march to commemorate the Nakba ("The Catastrophe'), the day of mourning when Israel expelled Palestinians from their land.  A police ban had to be overturned by the Supreme Court.

That is why the people of Greece ought to be our inspiration. By their own painful experience they know their freedom can only be regained by standing up to the German Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund and their own quislings in Athens. People across Latin America have achieved this: the indignados of Bolivia who saw off the water privateers and the Argentinians who told the IMF what to do with their debt. The courage of disobedience was their weapon. Remember Bradley Manning.

16 May 2012

Sunday, May 06, 2012

John Pilger:You are all suspects now. What are you going to do about it?

assange.jpg 
You are all potential terrorists. It matters not that you live in Britain, the United States, Australia or the Middle East. Citizenship is effectively abolished.  Turn on your computer and the US Department of Homeland Security's National Operations Center may monitor whether you are typing not merely "al-Qaeda", but "exercise", "drill", "wave", "initiative" and "organisation": all proscribed words. The British government's announcement that it intends to spy on every email and phone call is old hat. The satellite vacuum cleaner known as Echelon has been doing this for years. What has changed is that a state of permanent war has been launched by the United States and a police state is consuming western democracy.

What are you going to do about it?

In Britain, on instructions from the CIA, secret courts are to deal with "terror suspects". Habeas Corpus is dying. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that five men, including three British citizens, can be extradited to the US even though none except one has been charged with a crime. All have been imprisoned for years under the 2003 US/UK Extradition Treaty which was signed one month after the criminal invasion of Iraq. The European Court had condemned the treaty as likely to lead to "cruel and unusual punishment".  One of the men, Babar Ahmad, was awarded 63,000 pounds compensation for 73 recorded injuries he sustained in the custody of the Metropolitan Police. Sexual abuse, the signature of fascism, was high on the list. Another man is a schizophrenic who has suffered a complete mental collapse and is in Broadmoor secure hospital; another is a suicide risk. To the Land of the Free, they go - along with young Richard O'Dwyer, who faces 10 years in shackles and an orange jump suit because he allegedly infringed US copyright on the internet.

As the law is politicised and Americanised, these travesties are not untypical. In upholding the conviction of a London university student, Mohammed Gul, for disseminating "terrorism" on the internet, Appeal Court judges in London ruled that "acts... against the armed forces of a state anywhere in the world which sought to influence a government and were made for political purposes" were now crimes. Call to the dock Thomas Paine, Aung San Suu Kyi, Nelson Mandela.

What are you going to do about it?

The prognosis is clear now: the malignancy that Norman Mailer called "pre fascist" has metastasized. The US attorney-general, Eric Holder, defends the "right" of his government to assassinate American citizens. Israel, the protege, is allowed to aim its nukes at nukeless Iran. In this looking glass world, the lying is panoramic. The massacre of 17 Afghan civilians on 11 March, including at least nine children and four women, is attributed to a "rogue" American soldier. The "authenticity" of this is vouched by President Obama himself, who had "seen a video" and regards it as "conclusive proof". An independent Afghan parliamentary investigation produces eyewitnesses who give detailed evidence of as many as 20 soldiers, aided by a helicopter, ravaging their villages, killing and raping: a standard, if marginally more murderous US special forces "night raid".

Take away the videogame technology of killing - America's contribution to modernity - and the behaviour is traditional. Immersed in comic-book righteousness, poorly or brutally trained, frequently racist, obese and led by a corrupt officer class, American forces transfer the homicide of home to faraway places whose impoverished struggles they cannot comprehend. A nation founded on the genocide of the native population never quite kicks the habit. Vietnam was "Indian country" and its "slits" and "gooks" were to be "blown away".

The blowing away of hundreds of mostly women and children in the Vietnamese village of My Lai in 1968 was also a "rogue" incident and, profanely, an "American tragedy" (the cover headline of Newsweek). Only one of 26 men prosecuted was convicted and he was let go by President Richard Nixon. My Lai is in Quang Ngai province where, as I learned as a reporter, an estimated 50,000 people were killed by American troops, mostly in what they called "free fire zones". This was the model of modern warfare: industrial murder.

Like Iraq and Libya, Afghanistan is a theme park for the beneficiaries of America's new permanent war: Nato, the armaments and hi-tech companies, the media and a "security" industry whose lucrative contamination is a contagion on everyday life. The conquest or "pacification" of territory is unimportant. What matters is the pacification of you, the cultivation of your indifference.
What are you going to do about it?

The descent into totalitarianism has landmarks. Any day now, the Supreme Court in London will decide whether the WikiLeaks editor, Julian Assange, is to be extradited to Sweden. Should this final appeal fail, the facilitator of truth-telling on an epic scale, who is charged with no crime, faces solitary confinement and interrogation on ludicrous sex allegations. Thanks to a secret deal between the US and Sweden, he can be "rendered" to the American gulag at any time. In his own country, Australia, prime minister Julia Gillard has conspired with those in Washington she calls her "true mates" to ensure her innocent fellow citizen is fitted for his orange jump suit just in case he should make it home. In February, her government wrote a "WikiLeaks Amendment" to the extradition treaty between Australia and the US that makes it easier for her "mates" to get their hands on him. She has even given them the power of approval over Freedom of Information searches - so that the world outside can be lied to, as is customary.

What are you going to do about it?

26 April 2012

Mark Steel: How should we sort the crisis at Heathrow? By holding the Olympics there instead!


Visiting tourists could be entertained by turning the queues into a formal marathon


It's encouraging that UK Border Control is joining in the Olympic spirit by making anyone arriving to watch the Games wait two and a quarter hours to have their passport checked, which is roughly the time it will take to run the marathon. Maybe the Government could make the queuing even more exciting by turning it into a race. Someone could run the marathon course while people are waiting to pass through passport control, with a commentary going, "The runner is crossing Tower Bridge, but what a spurt from our passenger as she dramatically moves forward nine inches, though she does look weary and is screaming for water."

There's an obvious solution to the worry of this long wait upsetting tourists who come for the Games, which is to hold some of the events in the arrivals lounge at Heathrow. Then they'd say, "It was a bit frustrating to spend the first day creeping past a thick blue rope towards immigration control, but at least we saw a fascinating volleyball quarter final between Peru and Croatia."

Then the tourist industry could place attractions by the queue, with brochures boasting, "Why not take a ride on the magnificent Heathrow Eye, a big wheel that takes you up to the roof of the airport where the views stretch as far as the baggage claim area, in a breathtaking 30-minute odyssey that lands just in time for you to shuffle up another two feet."

The Changing of the Guard could take place by the counter where you change money, and Madame Tussauds could place Brad Pitt and Saddam Hussein in the queue for fun. Then we could assure people they'd enjoy an unforgettable week and be allowed into the country with just enough time to start queuing to leave.

The queuing shouldn't be a surprise because the whole point of Heathrow is to make millions of people queue. You queue for hours to check in, at security, at a departure gate, and can only survive by putting yourself into a trance and not even caring what the next queue is for. Someone in a uniform could take down your trousers and prod your arse with a cactus, then you could be ushered past a sign that said "Remove your toenails" before a man dressed as The Riddler squirted custard in your ear – and you'd accept this must be something they've had to do since 9/11 and not complain.

Worse than the inefficiency is how Heathrow has succeeded in making travel, one of the most romantic aspects of life, into a soulless, sterile, trial of endurance. So if history's most charismatic travellers were to journey across the world now, their diaries would go, "To lift spirits we sang, shared a biscuit between us, and showed each other photos of our loved ones. Then Simpkins appeared to crack, screaming and kneeling on the floor making barking noises. "Don't worry," Shackleton reassured him. "Next year, we'll go to Norfolk."

The Independent May 4 2012

Noam Chomsky on America's Economic Suicide



Noam Chomsky

We’re a nation whose leaders are pursuing policies that amount to economic “suicide” Chomsky says. But there are glimmers of possibility.
May 4, 2012  | 
 
Noam Chomsky has not just been watching the Occupy movement. A veteran of the civil rights, anti-war, and anti-intervention movements of the 1960s through the 1980s, he’s given lectures at Occupy Boston and talked with occupiers across the US.  His new book, Occupy, published in the Occupied Media Pamphlet Series by Zuccotti Park Press brings together several of those lectures, a speech on “occupying foreign policy” and a brief tribute to his friend and co-agitator Howard Zinn.

From his speeches, and in this conversation, it’s clear that the emeritus MIT professor and author is as impressed by the spontaneous, cooperative communities some Occupy encampments created, as he is by the movement’s political impact.

We’re a nation whose leaders are pursuing policies that amount to economic “suicide” Chomsky says. But there are glimmers of possibility – in worker co-operatives, and other spaces where people get a taste of a different way of living.

We talked in his office, for Free Speech TV on April 24.

LF: Let’s start with the big picture. How do you describe the situation we’re in, historically?

NC: There is either a crisis or a return to the norm of stagnation. One view is the norm is stagnation and occasionally you get out of it. The other is that the norm is growth and occasionally you can get into stagnation. You can debate that but it’s a period of close to global stagnation. In the major state capitalists economies, Europe and the US, it’s low growth and stagnation and a very sharp income differentiation a shift — a striking shift — from production to financialization.

The US and Europe are committing suicide in different ways. In Europe it’s austerity in the midst of recession and that’s guaranteed to be a disaster. There’s some resistance to that now. In the US, it’s essentially off-shoring production and financialization and getting rid of superfluous population through incarceration. It’s a subtext of what happened in Cartagena [Colombia] last week with the conflict over the drug war. Latin America wants to decriminalize at least marijuana (maybe more or course;) the US wants to maintain it.  An interesting story.  There seems to me no easy way out of this….

LF: And politically…?

NC: Again there are differences. In Europe there’s an dangerous growth of ultra xenophobia which is pretty threatening to any one who remembers the history of Europe…  and an attack on the remnants of the welfare state. It’s hard to interpret the austerity-in-the-midst-of-recession policy as anything other than attack on the social contract. In fact, some leaders come right out and say it. Mario Draghi the president of the European Central Bank had an interview with the Wall St Journal in which he said the social contract’s dead; we finally got rid of it.

In the US, first of all, the electoral system has been almost totally shredded. For a long time it’s  been pretty much run by private concentrated spending but now it’s over the top. Elections increasingly over the years have been [public relations] extravaganzas. It was understood by the ad industry in 2008 -- they gave Barack Obama their marketing award of the year.  This year it’s barely a pretense.
The Republican Party has pretty much abandoned any pretense of being a traditional political party. It’s in lockstep obedience to the very rich, the super rich and the corporate sector. They can’t get votes that way so they have to mobilize a different constituency. It’s always been there, but it’s rarely been mobilized politically. They call it the religious right, but basically it’s the extreme religious population. The US is off the spectrum in religious commitment. It’s been increasing since 1980 but now it’s a major part of the voting base of the Republican Party so that means committing to anti-abortion positions, opposing women’s rights…  The US is a country [in which] eighty percent of the population thinks the Bible was written by god. About half think every word is literally true. So it’s had to appeal to that – and to the nativist population, the people that are frightened, have always been… It’s a very frightened country and that’s increasing now with the recognition that the white population is going to be a minority pretty soon, “they’ve taken our country from us.” That’s the Republicans. There are no more moderate Republicans. They are now the centrist Democrats. Of course the Democrats are drifting to the Right right after them. The Democrats have pretty much given up on the white working class. That would require a commitment to economic issues and that’s not their concern.

LF: You describe Occupy as the first organized response to a thirty-year class war….

NC: It’s a class war, and a war on young people too… that’s why tuition is rising so rapidly. There’s no real economic reason for that. It’s a technique of control and indoctrination.  And this is really the first organized, significant reaction to it, which is important.

LF: Are comparisons to Arab Spring useful? 

NC: One point of similarity is they’re both responses to the toll taken by the neo lib programs. They have a different effect in a poor country like Egypt than a rich country like the US. But structurally somewhat similar. In Egypt the neoliberal programs have meant statistical growth, like right before the Arab Spring, Egypt was a kind of poster child for the World Bank and the IMF [International Monetary Fund:] the marvelous economic management and great reform. The only problem was for most of the population it was a kind of like a blow in the solar plexus: wages going down, benefits being eliminated, subsidized food gone and meanwhile, high concentration of wealth and a huge amount of corruption.

We have a structural analogue here – in fact the same is true in South America –  some of the most dramatic events of the last decade (and we saw it again in Cartagena a couple of weeks ago) Latin America is turning towards independence for the first time in five hundred years. That’s not small. And the Arab Spring was beginning to follow it. There’s a counterrevolution in the Middle East/North Africa (MENAC) countries beating it back, but there were advances. In South America [there were] substantial ones and that’s happening in the Arab Spring and it has a contagious effect – it stimulated the Occupy movement and there are interactions.

LF. In the media, there was a lot of confusion in the coverage of Occupy. Is there a contradiction between anarchism and organization? Can you clarify? 

NC: Anarchism means all sort of things to different people but the traditional anarchists’ movements assumed that there’d be a highly organized society, just one organized from below with direct participation and so on.  Actually, one piece of the media confusion has a basis because there really are two different strands in the occupy movement, both important, but different.
One is policy oriented: what policy goals [do we want.] Regulate the banks, get money out of elections; raise the minimum wage, environmental issues. They’re all very important and the Occupy movement made a difference. It shifted not only the discourse but to some extent, action on these issues.
The other part is just creating communities — something extremely important in a country like this, which is very atomized. People don’t talk to each other. You’re alone with your television set or internet. But you can’t have a functioning democracy without what sociologists call “secondary organizations,” places where people can get together, plan, talk and develop ideas. You don’t do it alone. The Occupy movement did create spontaneously communities that taught people something: you can be in a supportive community of mutual aid and cooperation and develop your own health system and library and have open space for democratic discussion and participation.  Communities like that are really important. And maybe that’s what’s causing the media confusion…because it’s both.

LF: Is that why the same media that routinely ignores violence against women, played up stories about alleged rape and violence at OWS camps? 

NC: That’s standard practice. Every popular movement that they want to denigrate they pick up on those kind of things. Either that, or weird dress or something like that.  I remember once in 1960s, there was a demonstration that went from Boston to

Washington and tv showed some young woman with a funny hat and strange something or other.  There was an independent channel down in Washington – sure enough, showed the very same woman. That’s what they’re looking for. Let’s try to show that it’s silly and insignificant and violent if possible and you get a fringe of that everywhere.

To pay attention to the actual core of the movement  — that would be pretty hard. Can you concentrate for example on either the policy issues or the creation of functioning democratic communities of mutual support and say, well, that’s what’s lacking in our country that’s why we don’t have a functioning democracy – a community of real participation. That’s really important. And that always gets smashed.

Take say, Martin Luther King. Listen to the speeches on MLK Day – and it’s all “I have a dream.” But he had another dream and he presented that in his last talk in Memphis just before he was assassinated.  In which he said something about how he’s like Moses he can see the promised land but how we’re not going to get there. And the promised land was policies and developments which would deal with the poverty and repression, not racial, but the poor people’s movement. Right after that (the assassination) there was a march. [King] was going to lead it. Coretta Scott King led it. It started in Memphis went through the South to the different places where they’d fought the civil rights battle and ended up in Washington DC and they had a tent city, Resurrection Park and security forces were called in by the liberal congress. The most liberal congress in memory. They broke in in the middle of the night smashed up Resurrection Park and drove them out of the city. That’s the way you deal with popular movements that are threatening…

LF: Thinking of Memphis, where Dr. King was supporting striking sanitation workers, what are your thoughts on the future of the labor movement? 

The labor movement had been pretty much killed in the 1920s, almost destroyed. It revived in the 1930s and made a huge difference. By the late 1930s the business world was already trying to find ways to beat it back. They had to hold off during the war but right after, it began immediately. Taft Hartley was 1947, then you get a huge corporate propaganda campaign a large part if it directed at labor unions: why they’re bad and destroy harmony and amity in the US.  Over the years that’s had an effect. The Labor movement recognized what was going on far too late. Then it picked up under Reagan.

Reagan pretty much informed employers that they were not going to employ legal constraints on breaking up unions (they weren’t not strong but there were some) and firing of workers for organizing efforts I think tripled during the Reagan years.

Clinton came along; he had a different technique for breaking unions, it was called NAFTA [the North American Free Trade Agreement.] Under NAFTA there was again a sharp increase in illegal blocking of organizing efforts. You put up a sign – We’re going to transfer operations to Mexico…  It’s illegal but if you have a criminal state, it doesn’t make a difference.

The end result, is, private sector unionization is down to practically seven percent. Meanwhile the public sector unions have kind of sustained themselves [even] under attack, but in the last few years, there’s been a sharp [increase in the] attack on public sector unions, which Barack Obama has participated in, in fact. When you freeze salaries of federal workers, that’s equivalent to taxing public sector people…

LF: And attacks on collective bargaining? 

NC: Attacks on collective bargaining in Wisconsin [are part of] a whole range of attacks because that’s an attack on a part of the labor movement that was protected by the legal system as a residue of the New Deal and Great Society and so on.

LF: So do unions have a future? 

NC: Well, it’s not worse than the 1920s. There was a very lively active militant labor movement in the late part of the 19th century, right through the early part of 20th century. [It was] smashed up by Wilson and the red scares. By the 1920s right-wing visitors from England were coming and just appalled by the way workers were treated. It was pretty much gone. But by 1930s it was not only revived, it was the core element of bringing about the New Deal. The organization of the CIO and the sit-down strikes which were actually terrifying to management because it was one step before saying “O.K. Goodbye, we’re going to run the factory.” And that was a big factor in significant New Deal measures that were not trivial but made a big difference.

Then, after the war, starts the attack, but it’s a constant battle right though American history. It’s the history of this country and the history of every other country too, but the US happens to have an unusually violent labor history. Hundreds of workers getting killed here for organizing at a time that was just unheard of in Europe or Australia…

LF: What is the Number One target of power today in your view? Is it corporations, Congress, media, courts? 

NC: The Media are corporations so… It’s the concentrations of private power which have an enormous, not total control, but enormous influence over Congress and the White House and that’s increasing sharply with sharp concentration of  private power and escalating cost of elections and so on…

LF: As we speak, there are shareholder actions taking place in Detroit and San Francisco. Are those worthwhile, good targets? 

NC: They’re ok, but remember, stock ownership in the US is very highly concentrated. [Shareholder actions are] something, but it’s like the old Communist Party in the USSR, it would be nice to see more protest inside the Communist Party but it’s not democracy. It’s not going to happen.
[Shareholder actions] are a good step, but they’re mostly symbolic. Why not stakeholder action? There’s no economic principal that says that management should be responsive to shareholders, in fact you can read in texts of business economics that they could just as well have a system in which the management is responsible to stakeholders.

LF: But you hear it all the time that under law, the CEO’s required to increase dividends to shareholders. 

NC: It’s kind of a secondary commitment of the CEO. The first commitment is raise your salary. One of the ways to raise your salary sometimes is to have short-term profits but there are many other ways. In the last thirty years there have been very substantial legal changes to corporate governance so by now CEOs pretty much pick the boards that give them salaries and bonuses. That’s one of the reasons why the CEO-to-payment [ratio] has so sharply escalated in this country in contrast to Europe. (They’re similar societies and it’s bad enough there, but here we’re in the stratosphere. ] There’s no particular reason for it. Stakeholders — meaning workers and community – the CEO could just as well be responsible to them. This presupposes there ought to be management but why does there have to be management?  Why not have the stakeholders run the industry?

LF: Worker co-ops are a growing movement. One question that I hear is  — will change come from changing ownership if you don’t change the profit paradigm?  

NC: It’s a little like asking if shareholder voting is a good idea, or the Buffet rule is a good idea. Yes, it’s a good step, a small step. Worker ownership within a state capitalist, semi-market system is better than private ownership but it has inherent problems. Markets have well-known inherent inefficiencies. They’re very destructive.  The obvious one, in a market system, in a really functioning one, whoever’s making the decisions doesn’t pay attention to what are called externalities,effects on others. I sell you a car, if our eyes are open we’ll make a good deal for ourselves but we’re not asking how it’s going to affect her [over there.] It will, there’ll be more congestion, gas prices will go up, there will be environmental effects and that multiplies over the whole population. Well, that’s very serious.

Take a look at the financial crisis. Ever since the New Deal regulation was essentially dismantled, there have been regular financial crises and one of the fundamental reasons, it’s understood, is that the CEO of Goldman Sachs or CitiGroup does not pay attention to what’s calledsystemic risk. Maybe you make a risky transaction and you cover your own potential losses, but you don’t take into account the fact that if it crashes it may crash the entire system.  Which is what a financial crash is.

The much more serious example of this is environmental impacts. In the case of financial institutions when they crash, the taxpayer comes to the rescue, but if you destroy the environment no one is going to come to the rescue…

LF: So it sounds as if you might support something like the Cleveland model where the ownership of the company is actually held by members of the community as well as the workers… 

NC: That’s a step forward but you also have to get beyond that to dismantle the system of production for profit rather than production for use. That means dismantling at least large parts of market systems. Take the most advanced case: Mondragon. It’s worker owned, it’s not worker managed, although the management does come from the workforce often, but it’s in a market system and they still exploit workers in South America, and they do things that are harmful to the society as a whole and they have no choice. If you’re in a system where you must make profit in order to survive. You are compelled to ignore negative externalities, effects on others.

Markets also have a very bad psychological effect. They drive people to a conception of themselves and society in which you’re only after your own good, not the good of others and that’s extremely harmful.

LF: Have you ever had a taste of a non market system — had a flash of optimism –– oh this is how we could live? 

NC: A functioning family for example, and there are bigger groups, cooperatives are a case in point. It certainly can be done. The biggest I know is Mondragon but there are many in between and a lot more could be done. Right here in Boston in one of the suburbs about two years ago, there was a small but profitable enterprise building high tech equipment.  The multi-national who owned the company didn’t want to keep it on the books so they decided to close it down. The workforce and the union, UE (United Electrical workers), offered to buy it, and the community was supportive. It could have worked if there had been popular support. If there had been an Occupy movement then, I think that could have been a great thing for them to concentrate on. If it had worked you would have had  another profitable, worker-owned and worker managed profitable enterprise. There‘s a fair amount of that already around the country. Gar Alperovitz has written about them, Seymour Melman has worked on them. Jonathan Feldman was working on these things.

There are real examples and I don’t see why they shouldn’t survive. Of course they’re going to be beaten back. The power system is not going to want them any more than they want popular democracy any more than the states of middle east and the west are going to tolerate the Arab spring… .They’re going to try to beat it back.

LF: They tried to beat back the sit-in strikes back in the 1930s. What we forget is entire communities turned out to support those strikes. In Flint, cordons of women stood between the strikers and the police. 

NC: Go back a century to Homestead, the worker run town, and they had to send in the National Guard to destroy them.

LF: Trayvon Martin. Can you talk for a few minutes about the role of racism and racial violence in what we’ve been talking about?  Some people think of fighting racism as separate from working on economic issues. 

NC: Well you know, there clearly is a serious race problem in the country. Just take a look at what’s happening to African American communities. For example wealth, wealth in African American communities is almost zero. The history is striking. You take a look at the history of African Americans in the US. There’s been about thirty years of relative freedom. There was a decade after the Civil War and before north/south compact essentially recriminalized black life. During the Second World War there was a need for free labor so there was a freeing up of the labor force. Blacks benefitted from it. It lasted for about twenty years, the big growth period in the ‘50s and ‘60s, so a black man could get a job in an auto plant and buy a house and send his kids to college and kind of enter into the world but by the 70s it was over.

With the radical shift in the economy, basically the workforce, which is partly white but also largely black, they basically became superfluous. Look what happened, we recriminalized black life. Incarceration rates since the 1980's have gone through the roof, overwhelmingly black males, women and Hispanics to some extent. Essentially re-doing what happened under Reconstruction. That’s the history of African Americans – so how can any one say there’s no problem. Sure, racism is serious, but it’s worse than that…

LF: Talk about media. We often discern bias in the telling of a particular story, but I want you to talk more broadly about the way our money media portray power, democracy, the role of the individual in society and the way that change happens. …

NC: Well they don’t want change to happen….They’re right in the center of the system of power and domination. First of all the media are corporations, parts of bigger corporations, they’re very closely linked to other systems of power both in personnel and interests and social background and everything else. Naturally they tend to be reactionary.

LF: But they sort of give us a clock. If change hasn’t happened in ten minutes, it’s not going to happen. 

NC: Well that’s a technique of indoctrination. That’s something I learned from my own experience. There was once an interview with Jeff Greenfield in which he was asked why I was never asked onto Nightline.  He gave a good answer. He said the main reason was that I lacked concision. I had never heard that word before. You have to have concision. You have to say something brief between two commercials.

What can you say that’s brief between two commercials? I can say Iran is a terrible state. I don’t need any evidence. I can say Ghaddaffi carries out terror.  Suppose I try to say the US carries out terror, in fact it’s one of the leading terrorist states in the world. You can’t say that between commercials.

People rightly want to know what do you mean. They’ve never heard that before. Then you have to explain. You have to give background. That’s exactly what’s cut out. Concision is a technique of propaganda. It ensures you cannot do anything except repeat clichés, the standard doctrine, or sound like a lunatic.

LF: What about media’s conception of power? Who has it, who doesn’t have it and what’s our role if we’re not say, president or CEO. 

NC: Well, not just the media but pretty much true of academic world, the picture is we the leading democracy in the world, the beacon of freedom and rights and democracy. The fact that democratic participation here is extremely marginal, doesn’t enter [the media story.]  The media will condemn the elections in Iran, rightly, because the candidates have to be vetted by the clerics. But they won’t point out that in the United States [candidates] have to be vetted by high concentrations of private capital. You can’t run in an election unless you can collect millions of dollars.

One interesting case is right now. This happens to be the 50thanniversary of the US invasion of South Vietnam – the worst atrocity in the post war period. Killed millions of people, destroyed four countries, total horror story. Not a word. It didn’t happen because “we” did it. So it didn’t happen.
Take 9-11. That means something in the United States. The “world changed” after 9-11. Well, do a slight thought experiment. Suppose that on 9-11 the planes had bombed the White House… suppose they’d killed the president , established a military dictatorship, quickly killed thousands, tortured tens of thousands more, set up a major international  terror center that was carrying out assassinations , overthrowing governments all over the place, installing other dictatorships, and drove the country into one of the worst depressions in its history and had to call on the state to bail them out  Suppose that had happened? It did happen. On the first 9-11 in 1973.  Except we were responsible for it, so it didn’t happen. That’s Allende’s Chile. You can’t imagine the media talking about this.

And you can generalize it broadly. The same is pretty much true of scholarship – except for on the fringes – it’s certainly true of the mainstream of the academic world.  In some respects critique of the media is a bit misleading [because they’re not alone among institutions of influence] and of course, they closely interact.

Former Air America Radio host, Laura Flanders is the host and founder of GRITtv with Laura Flanders, a daily talk show for people who want to do more than talk. She is the author of the New York Times bestseller BUSHWOMEN: Tales of a Cynical Species (Verso, 2004) and Blue GRIT: True Democrats Take Back Politics from the Politicians (Penguin Press, 2007). A regular contributor on MSNBC, Flanders has appeared on shows from Real Time with Bill Maher to The O’Reilly Factor. Flanders is the editor of At the Tea Party: The Wing Nuts, Whack Jobs and Whitey-whiteness of the New Republican Right… and Why we Should Take it Seriously (October 2010, OR books). For more information, go to LauraFlanders.com or GRITtv.org.