OpEd News | October 27 2012 | Thanks, A.L.
This is part one of a two part transcript that’s over 5000 words.
In this interview, Chris Hedges talks about the template being used to harvest America– at the expense of the middle class, the sacrifice zones feeling the most pain, and the blood price we’ve paid for the rights they are trying to take away.
Thanks to ON volunteer Don Caldarazzo for help with the transcription process.
Rob Kall: And welcome to the Rob Kall Bottom Up Radio Show (WNJC 1360 AM), sponsored byOpEdNews.com out of Washington Township, NJ, reaching metro Philly and South Jersey, and online of course on iTunes, look for Rob Kall, for this, and other ones.
Tonight my guest is one of my favorite, if not my favorite progressive author, Chris Hedges. He’s got a new book out that he co-authors with Joe Sacco: Days of Destruction-Days of Revolt. Chris Hedges is a senior fellow at The Nation Institute. He spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, in the Middle East, Africa, and the Balkans. He is part of the New York Times team that won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for the paper’s coverage of global terrorism. He writes a weekly original column, Truthdig. He was written for Harper’s Magazine, the New Statesman, and New York Review of Books.
Rob Kall: Welcome to the show Chris, again.
Chris Hedges: Thank you.
Image by Joe Sacco, from Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt
Rob Kall: This is a wonderful book that you’ve written. It’s unusual, it’s different, because of the many kind of comic book illustrations by Joe Sacco – that really gets you thinking in seeing the pictures of the destruction that you’ve described in 80% of this book. Most of this book is describing just how America has already fallen into third world status. It’s worse than third-world status, though, and I want you to talk about that, but I want to start with a quote from the book, which you put in the end under the chapter, “Days of Revolt.” You say, “There are no excuses left: either you join the revolt, or you stand on the wrong side of History. You either obstruct through civil disobedience (the only way left to us) the plundering by the criminal class on Wall Street and accelerated destruction of the ecosystem that sustains the human species, or become the passive enabler of a monstrous evil. You either taste, feel, and smell the intoxication of freedom and revolt, or sink into the miasma of despair and apathy. You are either a rebel or a slave.”
Let’s start with that. This is how you’re thinking lately?
Chris Hedges: Well, that comes at the end of the book, which is an attempt that both Joe and I made to describe a system that has been seized by political paralysis, and is dominated by [a] narrow corporate elite that no longer responds to the needs of citizens. It attempts to illustrate, by going into the poorest pockets of the country, that the formal mechanisms of power that once made incremental and peaceful reform no longer work, and that the only solution we have is civil disobedience. But that comes after detailing the conditions that people are living, in places like Camden, New Jersey, which per capita is the poorest city in the United States; Pine Ridge, South Dakota has the second poorest county in the country; The average life expectancy for a male on Pine Ridge is 48—that is the lowest in the western hemisphere, outside of Haiti; The coal fields of southern West Virginia; the produce fields where largely undocumented workers, without any kind of legal protection, organizing power or rights, pick the nation’s produce. And by the time you get there, I think, hopefully the reader has seen what happens when individuals in communities are forced to kneel before the dictates of the marketplace. It’s a kind of absurdity, it’s a Utopian ideology, but it’s one that has gripped not only neo-Conservatives, but neo-Liberals, like Bill Clinton or Barack Obama.
Rob Kall: Now, you start the book talking about American Indians, and how they were treated, and how that was the beginning of where many Americans are treated…
Chris Hedges: Well that’s the template for what’s happened. You had this ideology of limitless expansion and exploitation, because the reason the indigenous communities were not only pushed off their land, but slaughtered, was because the timber merchants, and the land speculators, and the mining concerns, and the railroad companies wanted the land, wanted the resources. And that became the model by which we then went on to places like Cuba, the Philippines, up and down Central America, the Dominican Republic, and of course today in Iraq and Afghanistan. And not only that, but it destroyed a competing ethic, another way of forming community. Indigenous societies were communal. Those who hoarded goods for themselves were despised. It had a different relationship to the natural world and to life, which it understood had a quality of the sacred. All of that is foreign to forces that commodify everything, including the natural world that it then exploits until exhaustion or collapse. So, these forces were unleashed on what we call sacrifice zones, first. They broke the self sufficiency of indigenous communities: [they] originally put them in prisoner of war camps, a name that later became Indian agencies, and finally reservations, and created this culture of dependence. It’s something that you see in West Virginia among the poor; you see it in Camden among the poor. And that’s what’s happening. As we reconfigure American society into a form of neo-Feudalism, we are in an essence all put on one reservation, hemmed in by a very efficient security and surveillance system. I mean, this is something that is not foreign to the experience of native communities in this country, and I think that’s why it is important to look at what’s happened in these places, because as we have created a system where we’ve lifted all impediments or restrictions on corporate capitalism–what they did there, they are going to do everywhere; they already are. There is a business term for it. Romney has actually used it on the campaign. It’s harvesting. I mean, they are just harvesting the country. They are grabbing as much as fast as they can on the way down. And you see it with the melting of the arctic summer sea ice. Forty percent of the arctic summer ice melts, and the response of our corporate masters is to mine the last vestiges of oil, gas, minerals, and fish stocks. It’s insane, of course because what we doing is attempting to extract profit literally from the collapse of the ecosystem, and that is the awful logic of these forces, and the only way at this to stop them is to challenge the mechanisms of power, because both of the two major political parties are hostage to corporate money.
Rob Kall: Yeah, I call it “strip-mining America.” In the book later on, you write about what is happening in West Virginia, how they removed hundreds and hundreds of mountaintops. I think the mountaintops they are removing are the peaks of our values as Americans: democracy, freedom, and independence. In that chapter on Native Americans, you say at one point, describing how they took away what they had, how the Native Americans became “what most of us have become: prisoners.” Do you see us that way?
Chris Hedges: I see that as where we’re headed. I mean, we have built the most efficient security and surveillance system in human history. We have stood by passively as a largely Democratic administration under Barrack Obama has stripped us of our most important civil liberties, whether that’s the refusal to restore Habeas Corpus, which of course was taken from us by George Bush, the use of the FISA Amendment Act to retroactively make legal what under our Constitution has traditionally been illegal, the warrantless wire-tapping, monitoring, and eavesdropping of tens of millions of Americans, and of course it was retroactive, because the large telecommunications companies like Verizon and AT&T had turned over our personal information to the government in violation of our Constitutional Rights. There were several cases working their way up in the lower courts which they knew they’d lose, and so they brought the lobbyists in to get legislators (including Obama) to pass this law to grant them immunity. And now we know that all the information of tens of millions of Americans is being stored out in these massive supercomputers in Utah. The use of the Espionage Act six times by the Obama administration to go after whistle-blowers, including those who have purportedly leaked war crimes to the New York Times, in the case of Sterling, the CIA agent. Now, before the Obama Administration, the Espionage Act, which is our Foreign Secrets Act–it was never designed to go after whistle-blowers–was used three times against people who had leaked information about government malfeasance to the public, the first being Ellsberg. The effect is that it essentially shut down any serious investigation of government activity, because government officials are terrified to speak, even on background, because of the fear that they would be prosecuted or charged, and go to prison. The decision by the Obama Administration to interpret (and I think many legal scholars would argue incorrectly) the 2001 Authorization To Use Military Force Act, as giving them the right to order the assassination of American citizens. And finally, of course the National Defense Authorization Act, Section 1021, and I sued the President and the Defense Secretary in federal court over this section, and won, that allows the military to seize Americans citizens on U.S. soil, hold them in military facilities, strip them of due process until, in the language of this section, “the end of hostilities.” That has been appealed. Well it had been more than appealed: the Obama administration, once Judge Catherine Forest in the Southern District Court of New York came down with her ruling, asked for an “emergency stay,” which means they want the law put back into effect until they can appeal. She refused. They asked for an emergency hearing at the Appellate Court, which they got. They asked for an emergency stay from the Appellate Court, the Appellate Court gave it to them, which means the law went back on the books until the Appellate Court makes its decision. They started hearing the case on September 28th. Now, we knew that they would appeal. I think what surprised us, and I speak for the lawyers and for the other plaintiff who join me later, including Noam Chomsky and Daniel Ellsberg, is that they did so aggressively. And I think that’s clearly because they are already using the law. I would speculate that they are probably using it on Pakistani-U.S. dual-nationals, holding them in places like Bagram.
And this is all come under Obama, not to mention the XL pipeline, the shredding of Kyoto, the refusal to go after Wall Street, or curb Wall Street’s clearly fraudulent and criminal behavior, the inability to build a serious jobs program, to respond to the foreclosure crisis. I mean, all of these things when you lay them out, I think are pretty stark evidence that the system does not work on our behalf.
Rob Kall: First, I want to comment on your lawsuit. Thank you so much for doing that! It seems to me that, well I mean, I would be hopeful that your effort in initiating this lawsuit would act as meme inspiring others to take on similar needs for lawsuits challenging legislation that just shouldn’t be there, that totally flies in the face of the values of the Founding Fathers. Are you seeing any of that? And is there any systematic effort being made to help identify targets, and support people who are going after other attempts? Because I’m sure that this one is just one of the”
Chris Hedges: These forces have seized most of the mechanisms by which citizens were traditionally were able to respond and defend their own interests. And then again, that’s why I go back to the first quote you read from the last chapter, “Days of Revolt,” in arguing that it is only by building a mass movement that defies both parties. And we saw this with the Chicago teacher’s strike, would be a good example of that, where you had organizational activity that defied not only the traditional unions, but was battling the traditional democratic establishment as embodied in a figure like Rahm Emanuel. So, that is the sort of denouement of the book, is that there’s where we have to go.
Rob Kall: And are there details, is there a website, is there an organization, are there foundations, you know, there are only supposedly progressively left-leaning foundations–are any of them supporting the kind of ideas that you’re talking about?
Chris Hedges: No. Most of the foundations, again, are hostage to the demands of their donors, and who is it who has money. So yeah, no. I think that’s part of the problem you see with Moveon.org, in that they have just been co-opted by the Democratic establishment, because their donors in essence support that establishment, and that has rendered them not only worse than impotent–they have essentially become a tool to propagandize the Democratic party, and, I think, undercut those of us who care about defying the corporate state. You saw that on the issue of the public option; Moveon.org was a force that, in essence, because it had been co-opted, was used to fight back against those of us who were battling for the public option. So, I’m afraid we are going to have to accept that the Revolution is not going to get funded! I mean, we’re just going to have to do it on our own.
Rob Kall: Now, yeah, we’ve been having conversations for the last couple years, and I’ve thrown at you my theory that we’re moving toward a bottom up revolution, and I really believe that Occupy was a bottom up movement (along with “horizontalism”). You were kind of resistant to that at first. Has that changed at all for you, here? What do you think about the role of bottom up approaches to making this all happen now?
Chris Hedges: I don’t know if I was resistant. I think that there are serious problems, and I think the people in Occupy (certainly in Zuccotti) would admit it, in terms of how they were organized. I mean, general assemblies work really well for small groups: they don’t work well when you have four thousand [4,000] people. Keeping Zuccotti a kind of “open space” worked well when you had a few hundred people. It didn’t work well when the New York City Police were delivering the homeless population to the park, and because in the end this is a political movement, I mean, you know, essentially the infrastructure or the capacity of Zuccotti to sustain itself collapsed, especially when the individual tents went up. And you had Activists staying up all night in de-escalation teams. You know, we’re just not prepared to cope with the ills of society; we can’t do it. And we have to make very hard decisions on what we can do and what we can’t do. And I think that there was a kind of maturation process that took place in the Occupation. So, it’s not that I was resistant, but I think that these are all issues that have to worked out, as well as a kind of discipline. I mean, I think the organizers in Zuccotti did realize from the beginning: NO drugs or alcohol in the park. And of course that was a part of what brought the park down: once the tents went up, the drugs came in.
Rob Kall: Okay, so there were definitely problems. How do you see the big picture evolving then, with resistance, with civil disobedience? What are the next steps?