As 2019 comes to a close and we enter a new decade, we look back at the major events and issues that shaped the year with Chris Hedges. We discuss the rise of the Right, in part due to the weaknesses of the Left, what the Sanders campaign means for activism and achieving meaningful social change and whether or not the United States is ready for a massive uprising against neo-liberalism, as is happening around the world. The next decade will be a time when major crises such as the climate, wealth inequality and militarism are devastating. At some point, a spark will be lit in the US, but in the current environment, that is likely to result in greater movement to the right unless we prepare now to build power on the left.
Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who was a foreign correspondent for fifteen years for The New York Times, where he served as the Middle East Bureau Chief and Balkan Bureau Chief for the paper. He previously worked overseas for The Dallas Morning News, The Christian Science Monitor, and NPR. He writes a weekly column for the online magazine Truthdig out of Los Angeles and is host of the Emmy Award–winning RT America show On Contact. Hedges, who holds a Master of Divinity from Harvard University, is the author of the bestsellers American Fascists, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, and was a National Book Critics Circle finalist for War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. He has taught at Columbia University, New York University, Princeton University, and the University of Toronto. He currently teaches college credit courses in the New Jersey prison system.
Margaret Flowers (MF): You’re listening to Clearing the FOG, speaking truth to expose the forces of greed with Margaret Flowers…
Kevin Zeese (KZ): and Kevin Zeese.
MF: And Clearing the FOG is a project of Popular Resistance dot-org. You can subscribe to us on iTunes, SoundCloud, Mixcloud, Stitcher and Google Play. You can also find us at Popular Resistance dot o– r– g– and while you’re there, check out our store where you can find Clearing the FOG items like t-shirts, bumper stickers, tote bags and water bottles. So, today we interviewed Chris Hedges.
KZ: Chris has been a long-time advisor, since really before the Occupy Movement and consistently the popular resistance and he’s a great analyst on where we are as a movement and where we have to go and that’s what we are talking about today.
MF: One of the things I really appreciate about Chris is that he served as a foreign correspondent for over two decades in the Middle East and the Balkans. He was in Central America. He really saw resistance movements and well, you know when regimes rise and fall, so he gained a lot of first-hand experience that way and he shares some of that with us. Before we get into our interview with Chris, why don’t we talk about some things that are in the news? We’re coming to the end of 2019. Let’s first start out with a little look at the state of the economy. Bloomberg found that the richest 500 people in the world increased their wealth by 25% in 2019, up 1.2 trillion dollars. Eight out of 10 of the richest people in the world are in the United States. Jeff Bezos, who is the richest person in the world, lost nine billion, but is still the richest person in the world. That gives you a sense of how much wealth he actually has.
KZ: You know, wealth inequality and inequality generally has been a driving issue. In fact, that’s what started the Occupy Movement. Remember the 99% versus the 1%. But over the last decade that inequality has gotten worse rather than better despite people wanting to see change and amelioration of that problem. It just keeps getting worse. We have not built the power necessary to make the changes we need. If you look at the taxes in the last couple of years, you see with this Trump Republican deformed tax system, which is the worst tax system in our history, the wealthiest actually are paying less than working-class people and major corporations, the Fortune 500 companies, are not paying any taxes at all.
MF: The Economic Policy Institute did kind of a year-end review in charts and I just want to highlight some of the findings that they have in that article, which you can also find on Popular Resistance dot-org. Wage growth has gone down. If you compare 5 years at the end of the last century, 1994 to 1999 I think is what they looked at compared to the last five years here, we see significant depression in wage growth in the United States. If you look at black workers, they are more likely to be unemployed, underemployed and 39 percent of black workers who have college degrees are not working in the field where they studied. What’s concerning is that 63 percent of jobs in the United States actually don’t even require education.
KZ: Yeah, we’re seeing in this so-called booming economy actually a downward decline in the types of jobs that people have, which is one reason why wages are flat and that you mentioned the racial inequality issue when it comes to the wealth divide and income divides, it’s actually worse now than it was in 1979 and it was a crisis then. Really over the last 50 years since the Kerner Commission, in response to race-based protests that they called riots, urged major changes in the economy to uplift the black community. But instead the black divide with whites has gotten worse.
MF: Right and then if we look at unions, less than 12% of workers in the United States are represented by a union although more than 54 percent of workers would like to be in a union.
KZ: And we’re seeing a resurgence in union activity. The number of days on strike was a record-breaker this year. We are seeing much more activity and we’re seeing unions really reach out to the community. So it’s not just about the workers but about the communities they live in to try to uplift communities.
MF: Yeah. I think that’s one of the most exciting developments is this, you know broader agenda that the Chicago Teachers and others are promoting, not just looking after their own interests but as unions did in the beginning of last century, actually understanding that they need to more broadly represent the working class and the broad needs of the working class. The Next Systems Project highlighted some gains that have been made over the past year in economic alternatives. And so there are you know this kind of new economy that’s developing around the United States is something that exists all around the world. Three major areas that they highlighted: one of them was public banks looking at California, which passed a law to put forward a public bank and New Jersey where the governor signed an executive order to create an implementation board that will actually figure out how to do a state bank in New Jersey.
KZ: That California law is a major breakthrough and I hope other states follow suit. There has not been a public banking law enacted since 1920 until that California law. The California law is very interesting. We’ll have to do a show on it sometime because a detailed look at how that system operates will be very useful for people around the country in putting in place public banking laws in their states and in their cities.
MF: Right and there are other states that have been trying to do this as well. For our listeners who may not be familiar with a public bank, the state of North Dakota has had a public bank now for a hundred years and it basically takes all of their public dollars, puts it into this public bank, which is not tied to the Wall Street banks. It doesn’t have to pay those exorbitant fees to the Wall Street Banks and then the state can leverage that money for public projects, supporting community banks. Those community banks can support student loans at reduced rates, people to get housing mortgages the big banks don’t want to give and in times of crisis, they can leverage that money to deal with those crises like floods and droughts and things of that sort.
KZ: Right now cities and states give their money to Wall Street banks where the banks hold it, then they borrow from those banks at very high interest rates to pay for essential infrastructure and projects in their state. It’s an absurd system. It’s so important for states and cities to break their relationship with Wall Street banks, put in place public banks so they can use their money to build their own communities.
MF: Another major area of the new economy is worker ownership of businesses and a number of states have been investing in developing more cooperative businesses. In Massachusetts, they have a fund that helps people who are retiring from their businesses pass it on as a cooperative to the next owner. Similarly, they’re trying that in Colorado. And in Maine, they have a new law that will actually help to finance those transitions of businesses to become worker-owned cooperatives.
KZ: That transition process could be an excellent way to escalate the movement toward worker ownership of the businesses where they work and it’s such an important movement because not only does it empower workers, makes them into owners where they share in the profits, it actually produces better businesses. And so it’s a model that needs to be expanded. It’s been used in a variety of areas for many years. In fact, cooperatives have been with the United States for much more than a century and this is a real opportune time as businesses grow older, as owners of businesses get ready to retire. It’s a time to transition to their workers. Give their workers the power to build that business.
MF: Right. I want to correct myself. In Maine, the new governor has expressed support for having low-interest loans for businesses that transition. It has not actually become law yet. Another major area is community land trusts. Community land trusts take the land out of the market so that it’s not subject to the whims of the market and allows the prices to be more affordable and to be more stable. California has a law that gives a property tax exemption to land that’s in a community land trust and also New York City, the council voted to provide more support for the development of community land trusts in New York City, providing technical expertise and things of that sort. These are two areas that have very high housing prices and have kind of a housing crisis as a result. So this is a solution to start addressing that.
KZ: And it really is kind of a form of direct democracy, taking away the decisions from city councils and mayors where developers have so much power and putting it in the hands of communities where people who live in the community, businesses who operate in the community, nonprofits who are in the community can get together and form a trust that determines next steps for community development. So it really democratizes how your community develops. These are great techniques. These examples, cooperatives and land trusts are examples of the kind of a new economy you need to build to replace the economy that’s not really working for most people.
MF: Right. These are mechanisms that put control of the economy into the hands of the people, not in the control of the elites who exploit it for their own interests. I want to bring our listeners’ attention to an article that we posted on Popular Resistance by Nafeez Ahmed. It’s called “The Collapse of Civilization May Have Already Begun”. I think it’s really interesting because he points to the new report that’s being compiled by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change and basically they’re predicting that we’re going to reach 1.5 degrees Celsius of temperature warming by 2030 and that we’re actually, if nothing is done to change things, we’re on track for seven degrees Celsius rise in temperature by the end of the century. We have to remember that as we have talked about earlier that carbon emissions have actually been rising in the world not going down.
KZ: Those are very big numbers. We’re talking about 7 degrees increase in temperature by the end of the century. That’s a massive increase. And it’s you know Nafeez’s report is consistent with what we’re hearing from scientists all over the world. Thousands of scientists have been calling for civil disobedience. They’ve been calling for emergency action calling a climate of urgency. They’ve been saying we’re reaching a tipping point that once we reach, we will not be a return from. Their calls for action are getting louder but we’re seeing misleadership. We just had the climate conference, which we discussed which was held in Spain, as a total failure in leadership. We’ve seen failure in leadership in the United States from both parties throughout this century and the proceeding century. Climate has not been dealt with even though people want it faced.
MF: One of the positive ideas that came out of Nafeez’s article is he talked to a lot of different scientists about the potential for a collapse of civilization something that people are concerned about and found that you know, there may be and there are actually some areas of the world where collapse is happening but that also there’s no model that says it’s imminent or its predetermined. That there’s actually a lot of things that can happen, you know, in the next years if we take action that could actually start to mitigate the climate crisis as well as there’s these groups now that are called deep adaptation groups that are talking about ways that they in their communities can take action to bring food stability and energy and the things that you would need if the climate crisis continues to worsen. And so I think these kinds of efforts will actually potentially give us the possibility of creating, you know, a real change, a real radical transformation of how we do things in a way that’s sustainable and could really mitigate the climate crisis.
KZ: You talk about the crisis of climate change and it’s really happening right now. Look at the fires in California. Look at the floods in the southeast, the droughts in the midwest. I mean and then and then Australia, the whole country is on fire. This is a crisis as we live it right now, but crisis is also leading to people finally talking about real solutions. Just last week Stanford researchers came up with Green New Deal plans for a hundred thirty countries so you could have a global Green New Deal. Howie Hawkins, the Green Party candidate who’s seeking the nomination from the Green Party, is putting forth an Ecosocialist Green New Deal that would transform our economy and put in place a Bill of Rights for workers and put in place a peacetime economy ending the militarization we deal with. So it’s forcing people to think about things and talk about things. So it’s unfortunate that it takes a crisis but it’s a crisis of capitalism and its really a challenge to capitalism to confront the climate crisis.
MF: I want to bring attention to a story that has not been getting a lot of attention in the mainstream media. Bill Binney, he’s a NSA, former NSA head and whistleblower, reported that when they looked into the Guccifer 2.0, the supposed hacked DNC emails, they found that actually there were these like, I think they call them like fingerprints, put in there that somebody was trying to make it look like it was coming from Russia, but it wasn’t actually coming from Russia. And he theorizes that the whole thing was actually coming from an arm of the US government like maybe the CIA or the NSA. So what he actually found is that the whole basis of the Mueller report is faulty making that entire report faulty.
KZ: Well, it’s interesting that the Mueller Report didn’t even deal with the issues that Binney raised and Binney is a top NSA tech person, former, retired, I mean he is really was top echelon and so for them to just ignore that. He had already put out reports that showed that due to the speed of how the material is transferred that it was not a hack, that it came from inside the DNC.
MF: Somebody had to physically put something into the computer and download it onto something.
KZ: Exactly and now he’s providing more evidence on that. This may be the key information that Mueller never even looked at. He never even examined the DNC computers. He relied on Crowdstrike, which has an anti-Russia bias, for their review rather than doing their own. And the NSA, FBI, CIA, they have top people in these areas. They could have done their own research. And for some reason, they just refuse to look at what Binney was putting forward and Binney is not someone they should be ignoring.
MF: And I think it’s important for our listeners to understand that Russiagate really was something that was, looks like it was designed to build animosity in the United States and suspicion of Russia as part of our whole national security strategy, so-called security strategy of going after great powers like Russia and China. And I think that it’s a very dangerous thing. Russia has just recently declared that they have a new weapons system. These are hypersonic nuclear-capable missiles that can really evade anything that the United States has in terms of missile defense.
KZ: And Russia has invited US experts in to see these systems so they know that it’s real. They’ve actually been brought into Russia to see them already and he’s offered to show more systems. And they’re doing this not to scare the United States, not to heighten the weapons race, but in order to encourage dialogue on missile defense systems, on nuclear weapons, on outer space, to stop the increased spending on these weapons. And so Putin and Russia are putting this information forward in order to encourage treaties that will reduce the risk of war.
MF: That’s right. The START Treaty is up for renewal. But instead, what it looks like the United States is doing, is responding by well, okay, you’re going to create these weapons, well now we’re going to develop a space force so that we can stop your weapons from outer space. This is spinning into this very scary arms race. And I think it’s one that the United States is not going to be able to win. We have an article by Pepe Escobar, originally in Consortium News, where he reviews a book by a Russian military analyst who works in the United States, Andre Martyanov, and basically he says that the United States is generations behind Russia in terms of weapon development and that actually even top Pentagon officials have said that they have no existing way to counter weapons that Russia has and that their only way out is a nuclear deterrent.
KZ: Russia has accomplished this at 10% of the cost of US military spending. Russia has a small economy, really the size of Italy. For them to be able to compete with the US military as they are is because our Pentagon is so wasteful and bloated and corrupt. The weapons makers produce weapons that don’t work well, that are very overpriced. We have internal weapons contracting that results in corruption. It’s just an embarrassment the way that we spend this mass amounts on weapons and war and Russia spending 10% of what we, the US, has spent has actually outpaced us and really checkmated our entire weapon system.
MF: Well, our whole weapons industry is a for-profit industry. And so it’s basically always looking for the ways that it can make a profit, not necessarily do what’s best for the society. Not that I’m a fan of weapons at all. I don’t think that we should be investing a lot of money into instruments of destruction when we have so much need, human need and protection of the planet that we need to be investing in. But it just shows that it doesn’t make any sense as a model because not only do we end up with a system that’s not designed to protect us in the United States, but the weapons industry is always pushing for more wars, more insecurity, more opportunities to sell what they’re making.
KZ: And General Smedley Butler, who is the most decorated Marine in US history, famous for his “War is a Racket” speech, came after he left the military and became an anti-war activist, he advocated back in the 1930s in favor of nationalizing the weapons industry so it was not a for-profit industry. Taking the profit out of war is a critical step. If there’s any industry that should be nationalized and run by the government for the purpose of true defense, not offense as the US Pentagon direction goes but for true defense would be to nationalize the weapons industry, follow Smedley Butler’s advice of many decades ago.
MF: And I just want to mention, we talked about last week how the United States is going after Syria’s oil, sending more tanks and troops into the area where Syria has its oil. Syria has responded by saying that the US has no right to their oil and that the government is considering filing a case against the United States in the International Criminal Court.
KZ: Well, I love that they’re trying to put the rule of law in the place of the rule of war because the rule of law is what’s going to save us. And there’s no question the US needs to get out of Syria now. It does not need to wait for any other government to leave. Syria wants the US out. It’s time for the US to get out.
MF: I want to mention that the Gaza Freedom Flotilla has announced that they’ve decided to go ahead with another Freedom Flotilla in the summer of 2020. They have had 35 previous attempts to bring supplies into Gaza, to break through the blockade that the Israeli government is imposing around Gaza.
KZ: That’s a fantastic action. It’s resulted in injury and death of people involved in it, very brave of them to go forward with that. The situation in Gaza, the largest open-air prison, is dire and this action is essential. I applaud them for it greatly.
MF: Yeah, there was another report that just came out about the Great March of Return protest that happen every Friday in Gaza and have been going on for almost two years now. The Israeli snipers are actually aiming at people’s eyes and so hundreds of people have had serious eye injuries as a result of this. And I was just thinking, you know with the blockade, it’s probably really hard for them even to get something basic like eye protection so they can continue to express their right of return in the nonviolent way that they’re doing it. Let’s talk about Lebanon, protests have been going on there, and they have now decided on a new prime minister, the acting president has chosen Hassan Diab to be the prime minister. He’s someone who has the support of Hezbollah, which is the second-largest party in Lebanon. And he now has the task of creating a cabinet. He is going to choose 20 ministers for that. He says they are all going to be independent. None of them will belong to any political party.
KZ: Well, that was a demand of the protesters. They didn’t want anyone from the political parties that are in power now to be in office, although Hezbollah was an exception to that, which is interesting. And it’s also interesting that the US’ main target in Lebanon was to get Hezbollah out of Lebanon and instead the prime minister who is coming in has the support of Hezbollah.
MF: So he still has a big task ahead. We’ll see how that goes. He is being protested. This past weekend, they had their 59th week of the Yellow Vest protest and the 24th day of the strikes. Those strikes continue. Transportation has been severely hampered and that has actually made it possible for more people to come out into the streets since they can’t go other places. They say they are getting on their bikes and they’re heading to the protests.
KZ: Well, general strikes are incredibly powerful. And if there is one tactic that the US needs to learn, it is how to conduct a general strike. And we’re going to have to have that power. And if we had an aggressive labor movement, workers movement, we’d be learning how to do general strikes because if we could stop the economy, or curtail it significantly for two hours, for a day, for a couple of days, it wiould show the government they need the people and better start listening to the people. Workers have power but we have to learn how to exercise it and this model in France is a great one to learn from.
MF: It is. This has really been now over a year of sustained protests there and they are growing in their support. Let’s talk about India. There are massive protests. They started there over a new law that discriminated against Muslims. It was a citizenship law. And this has turned into a whole protest against the economic unfairness there under the Modi government, a right-wing government, and it’s mostly youth that are protesting, hundreds of thousands coming out to these protests.
KZ: Yeah, it’s interesting looking at the Modi government and the paramilitaries, these fascist paramilitaries that it works with. They are a frightening spectacle. Seeing videos of these paramilitary fascist groups marching that must be very intimidating. And so for people to come out and protest the way they are shows incredible bravery. And it shows how extreme Modi’s policies have gotten that people are taking to the streets despite that risk.
MF: Let’s do an update on Venezuela. On December 22nd, there was an attack against a military barrack in the southern part of the country, in the Bolivar region on the border with Brazil. The attackers tried to steal weapons. They were caught and are now being being I guess investigated and questioned. But this was another failed attempt coming from the border to try to cause disruption against the Maduro government.
KZ: It really is incredible how well the Venezuelan government is dealing with these attacks. I mean, they’ve uncovered multiple terrorist plots. They’ve learned to deal with the attacks on the electrical system and they now are dealing with these border issues. And they raised the potential of border issues in recent weeks so they knew that something was going on either on the Columbia or Brazil border. The US of course, both are right now US-allied governments. And so it’s really incredible to see how well Venezuela’s responding to a very difficult situation, both an economic war and the threat of militarism. And the economic war is starting to fail as Venezuela’s learning how to adapt to a resistance economy. And there’s projections that their economy will grow in the next year. So there’s some positive signs in the economy. We had some friends who just got back from Venezuela and they noticed a serious difference, a positive difference in the Venezuelan economy. This is pretty amazing with the intense US economic war. In fact didn’t they just have some successes in building more social housing?
MF: Right, we didn’t talk about that, but they have now built three million units of social housing in Venezuela and they have a population that’s a tenth of the population in the United States. In the US, we only have one point one million units of public housing. And you know, that’s why you don’t really find homeless people in Venezuela.
KZ: We have homeless in every city in this country. Our city of Baltimore is filled with homeless people and you make that point we have a population of 320 million and only one million public housing units. They have a population of 30 million and three million housing units. Three million housing units with four people in each house, that’s 12 million people having homes. And these are the poorest people. When we were in Venezuela, we could not find a homeless person. It shows that even in the midst of an economic war, they are prioritizing the poorest people in Venezuela first.
MF: As opposed to Juan Guaido who you know his people or whoever, the US, I know the US diplomats were helping with this when they were in Venezuela, trying to recruit military from the Venezuelan military to support a coup effort. And some of those soldiers who defected to support the coup and then came to the United States expecting to be treated as heroes actually are now in ICE detention centers and were basically abandoned by the Guaido people.
KZ: And the same thing happened with Venezuelan military who went to Colombia to support Guaido. They found themselves living under bridges. Thankfully very few military have taken that approach and the military, they remain loyal to the constitutional government. And that’s one reason why the coup has failed in Venezuela and why it seems to have succeeded so far in Bolivia.
MF: Right. I just want to mention that the next week is going to be a very important one in Venezuela because January 5th is when the National Assembly will choose their next head. Of course, the United States is hoping that they will continue to have Juan Guaido who was handpicked by the United States and who the United States has declared to be the president of Venezuela, although he’s not the president of Venezuela and doesn’t have any presidential powers. The US is saying that it will recognize the next head of the National Assembly as the quote-unquote president of Venezuela. And so this means well, so if the National Assembly chooses someone who’s not favorable to US views, what is the US going to do in that situation? Also, they have a new election coming up next year for the National Assembly and there’s no guarantee that Guaido’s people will have success in that. His party, the Popular Will Party, is only the sixth largest party in Venezuela.
KZ: And there are divisions among the opposition in Venezuela. Some are negotiating with the Maduro government over the next election and other issues while Guaido’s team of coupmongers is resisting any negotiation with Maduro’s government. This election coming up for the National Assembly will be a very interesting one, I mean the one picking the president, because of those divisions. And people should understand that no matter who is elected as the president of the Assembly, under the Venezuelan Constitution, they have no right to be the interim president. You can only have an interim president from the National Assembly between the election and the inauguration of the president. That has long passed and if you ever have an interim president from the Assembly, they only have 30 days and then there is supposed to be an election. And you only have an interim president if the president who was elected is out of power because of illness or death or removed by the Supreme Court. So there’s no justification for the National Assembly president becoming the interim president. It’s just inconsistent with Venezuelan law.
MF: Right, but it’s what the US is doing because they tried a coup and it failed. So they’re just going and saying that okay, we’re picking the president anyway, and that’s who it is. Let’s talk about Bolivia. Some very serious things happening there. Of course, the MAS Party the Movement towards Socialism Party, which Evo Morales came from, members of that MAS Party are now being targeted in a very serious way by this new coup government, this very fascist right-wing coup government, which is charging them with treason and sedition. And now major members of the Morales government are in hiding in the Mexican embassy in La Paz Bolivia. And that Embassy is being surrounded by Bolivian security people who basically they have that Embassy under siege in violation of the Vienna convention.
KZ: It’s a repeat of what the Venezuelan coupmongers did to the Embassy in Washington DC when we were inside. We warned that the violation of the Vienna Convention would lead to other embassies being put under attack. When the US violated the Vienna Convention, it risked embassies around the world and we see it now happening in Bolivia. People should remember that, and we call them fascist literally because the leaders of these groups come from fascist organizations and Christian organizations in a country that is 65 to 70 percent made up of indigenous people. It’s a minority group that’s taken control and they were behaving this way before the Morales election. They were already attacking members of the MAS Party. They were already attacking buildings and setting them on fire. And so this has just continued and escalated. Since the coup began, it’s gotten worse and more violent and this is all a build-up to an election in March, which will select the next president. People are watching this very closely because we have a hard time believing that these coupmongers will allow a fair democratic election. We hope there are international election observers in Bolivia to monitor and report on what happens, but this violence leading up to the elections already is part of trying to prevent a real democratic election in Bolivia.
MF: Well, it seems like it’s already a military dictatorship. Members of the MAS Party had a large gathering, which we reported on, where they appointed Evo Morales as the leader for their campaign for the presidential campaign…
KZ: He’ll be the campaign manager, not the candidate.
MF: Right exactly. They’re still choosing their candidate and they had planned another meeting coming up very soon on the border with Argentina because Evo is residing in Argentina. And in response to that, the new government, this coup government is putting patrols, military patrols, along the border to prevent MAS Party members from being able to go to Argentina to participate in that meeting. So, it’s already looking like there’s not going to be a possibility of a real democracy or you know a fair election in Bolivia. And then I just wanted to call out the region in Cochabamba. They were able to successfully push the police out of their region. There’s still a few military there but the military people are staying inside their bases. They’re not able to leave their bases. But it has become basically a self-governing region and coup-free region of Bolivia although they’re not certain how long they’ll be able to maintain that. They do anticipate that this coup government may retaliate in a violent way.
KZ: And this is a stronghold area for the Morales government. And so for them to kick the police out, the coup police out, and to take control is a major step forward but there is definitely some fears that there will be a retaliation by the coup government coming in and causing serious chaos, injuries and deaths to take back that area.
MF: Right, so a lot going on, a lot of lessons that we can learn from it and a lot of work that we have to do in the coming year. Why don’t we take a short musical break and we’ll come back with our interview with Chris Hedges.
Margaret Flowers (MF): You’re listening to Clearing the FOG, speaking truth to expose the forces of greed with Margaret Flowers
Kevin Zeese (KZ): and Kevin Zeese.
MF: And our guest today is Chris Hedges. He is a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and author. He was a foreign correspondent for two decades and now is the host of the show on RT America, “On Contact.” His most recent book is “America: The Farewell Tour.” Thank you for taking time to join us, Chris.
Chris Hedges (CH): Sure.
KZ: So it’s the end of the year and we’re looking backward a little bit and looking forward. Let’s start with a kind of review of 2019. So much happened. We want to get your sense of what were some of the events in 2019 that you know, you thought were of importance.
CH: I would say the two is the failure to address the climate emergency, which of course is seeing an acceleration of the deterioration and destruction of the ecosystem. I mean it’s quite dramatic and quite pronounced in California, Australia, even Venice was flooded. So that would be number one because even if we stopped all carbon emissions today, which you know, once again the ruling elites utterly betrayed us and failed us in Madrid, we’re still going to deal with catastrophic climate change. And then the other was the failure on the part of the Democratic Party to address the rupture of social bonds, deep social inequality that has torn apart the country and resulted in the election of Donald Trump. So, of course, we at the end of the year we’re after the complete failure of the Mueller report, which was hyped by all sorts of media organizations, not only Rachel Maddow and MSNBC but the New York Times, just proved to be a dud, we got this kind of mind-numbing spectacle of the impeachment, again with that kind of I find very cloying and repugnant moral posturing on the part of the Democratic Party. But of course what they did, it was selective. They charged Trump not with all of the and the most egregious impeachable offenses, constitutional violations that he carried out, but with the most trivial. That’s contempt for Congress and the attempt to get the Ukrainian President Zelensky to open an investigation of Biden and his son in exchange for about 400 million in US aid and allowiing Zelenski to visit the White House. If the Democratic Party, like the Republican Party, was committed to actually defending the Constitution, then they would have to go back and impeach Trump for a series of violations that both George W. Bush and Barack Obama routinely committed and they don’t want to do that. So when I hear them talking about the restoration of the rule of law and see that they ignored the most serious Constitutional violations, which have now been normalized by both parties, it’s an example of at best self-delusion and probably, you know, very cynical manipulation. I can run through a few. I mean Bush launches two illegal wars that are never declared by Congress as demanded by the Constitution. He places the entire US public under government surveillance that’s violating the Fourth Amendment. He authorizes torture and kidnapping of foreign nationals who are not even US citizens and holds them where again they’re tortured in black sites and offshore penal colonies around the world. Obama expands the illegal wars, which are now up to 11 if we count Yemen. Edward Snowden reveals that intelligence agencies are monitoring and spying on all of us, downloading all of our data and metrics into government computers where they’re stored for in perpetuity and nothing is done. Obama misuses the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force act to erase due process. That’s when he argues that the executive branch has the right to assassinate US citizens starting with a radical cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki and two weeks later his 16-year-old son, in essence serving as judge, jury and executioner. And then, of course, he signs into law section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act, I sued him in federal court over that, overturns the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act, which prohibits the use of military as a domestic police force. And then there are other again bipartisan constitutional violations, including violating treaty clauses that are supposed to be ratified by the Senate, violating the appointments clause where you again need Senate confirmation, the routine abuse of executive order. So, watching the impeachment process was a very depressing spectacle for me because it was about the pretense of the rule of law and again exposed the fact that the Democratic Party will refuse to be self-reflective, refuse to confront its complicity in the neoliberalism and deindustrialization and programs of austerity and massive expansion of our prison system and militarizing of our police and again, try and personalize all of our problems in the figure of Trump.
KZ: Yeah. The impeachment process really is an indictment of the system not just an impeachment of Trump because as you said there’s so many violations of law by Democratic officials that you could impeach… Like you said, Obama’s record is, just but you know, you can’t go after Trump for the Emoluments Clause where is profiting from being an office because Democrats are profiting from being in office. It’s so embarrassing.
MF: Exactly. What you’re saying is that the problems that exist are bipartisan problems and you know looking truthfully at what’s happening right now means that you would also have to dig up a lot of things that have happened, you know, over the course of the past years that the Democrats have been completely complicit in as well as what they’re doing right now. But you have written that the right-wing has kind of picked up this revolutionary rhetoric because people in the United States and around the world, they see the corruption of the elites. You know it was as you said the betrayal of the Democrats of their base that caused them to lose. So now this kind of right-wing, kind of fascists and scary right wing is rising. Do you see any possibility of the Left being able to pick up that need for revolutionary vision and plan.
CH: Well, I do see the need but I don’t see it happening and I think that is driven by fear, especially at every presidential election cycle, the left, the liberal class just crumbles. The attraction of Trump is that he rightly attacks the Deep State, which is real. But what is the Deep State? The Deep State is the generals, the war industry, the bankers, the lobbyists, the corporatists, the intelligence agencies, the government bureaucrats and technocrats who actually run both domestic and international policy. The fact is we don’t control our own economy. It’s controlled by Goldman Sachs and Citibank and JP Morgan Chase. And the Washington Post when it released the Afghanistan Papers recently, these were the roughly 2,000 or more than 2,000 pages of internal government documents about the war in Afghanistan, which they obtained through a three-year legal battle, it exposed exactly the bipartisan lies, fraud, deceit, corruption, waste and mismanagement during the 18-year conflict that was carried out by the ruling elites, by the Deep State, the Deep state that so many Trump supporters have been betrayed by and turned on with a vengeance. And Trump’s attraction is that he calls them out often in very vulgar and crude terms. And the Democratic Party is seeking and of course, they’re pushing Biden because he’s been anointed by the Democratic Party donor class, is seeking to perpetuate a system that at least half or more of the country wants to overthrow, wants to get rid of. And the Left has not embraced or I think finally understood that the whole ideology of the ruling elite – neoliberalism and imperialism, you know, the constant expansion of foreign wars – just doesn’t resonate anymore and they’re kind of trapped between you know, they’re bound to this ideology because the people funding the party recognize quite correctly and I would say even the figures like Pelosi and Schumer recognize that if they don’t have that kind of corporate money and corporate backing, they will lose power. And so they, you know, they’d rather take the whole system down, which is what they’re doing. So, yeah, I mean, this is the problem of the Left. I think it has misread power. I’m a strong supporter of Extinction Rebellion because I think they’ve correctly read power and that is that, and we can talk just about the climate and we can go back for the last four decades, carbon admissions have exponentially risen. You know, all of the attempts to work within the system, this is three fifty.org and others, has been an utter and complete failure. And the Left for some reason partly because we were so knocked off balance over the last few decades our organizations were either co-opted or destroyed is just not willing to face this reality.
KZ: You know, I’m seeing in the Left that we work with, this isn’t, which is not the Democratic Party, I think a lot of what you say is certainly true but the Democratic Party, which I guess in this continent in the corporate media, that’s the Left is kind of amusing, but the Left we work I see is much more strongly and clearly anti-imperialist, which is a kind of a phrase that disappeared for a while but seems to be coming back in peace movement circles and also anti-capitalist, which is also coming back in part because of climate but also because of the inequality that’s gotten so widespread. And we see around the world uprisings against neoliberal capitalism in Latin America and France. It’s just like such an uprising that has not really hit the United States since Occupy. It did hit during Occupy, but I think we’re due for another uplift on that. How do you see, putting aside the Democratic Party, how do you see the potential, is the left movement awakening to anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist kind of thinking?
CH: Yes. I think you’re right to point that out. But I don’t know that it’s organized. I don’t know that it has yet offered a strong alternative vision to the mainstream. Again, I think it’s often divided by identity politics without grasping always that for me the fundamental issue is class, that this is class warfare and as Warren Buffett has correctly said, his side is winning. So, I mean we also have to make it clear that they have not only marginalized us but cut down the spaces, the media, spaces by which we can communicate. That’s why I’m on RT. I mean what I do on RT, mostly I just interview authors. I mean that should be on a functioning public broadcasting system, but the public broadcasting system in particular, PBS is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Koch brothers. So the space by which we can communicate has been diminished quite remarkably because if you go back to the 70s, you could see Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, Angela Davis, all sorts of people who were not behold to institutions or to corporations offering a critique of power. I mean the last national show that we had that critiqued power is Bill Moyers show which of course is now off the air and in the end PBS wasn’t funding it. He funded it through a private foundation. So I think you’re right, Kevin. I think that all of those sentiments are on the rise, but it is yet to be translated into a political movement. And if there are uprisings without that kind of vision and focus, then the ruling elites can easily decapitate them.
MF: I agree with you. That leads right into the next question because you worked with us back when we were organizing the occupation in Washington DC, back, you know, throughout 2011 and that was a time of a lot of these kind of uprisings around the world. The Occupy Movement really took off in the United States. Now we’re seeing a real rise again around the world against the corruption and neoliberal capitalism. Do you think that that has the potential to come back to the United States in another wave and what do we need to do to be kind of prepared for that if it does?
CH: Well, I mean, I covered uprisings for 20 years as a foreign correspondent all around the globe, the Palestinian uprisings, most of the revolutions in Eastern Europe, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Romania, the street demonstrations that brought down Slobodan Milosevic. And what’s fascinating is that what ignites it, no one can predict it. Even purported leaders of the opposition don’t know what pushes people over the edge, which is usually something very relatively in and of itself minor and even banal. But yes, you’re right, we’ve watched as neoliberalism or global capitalism is a global phenomenon, it has affected people in the same way. One of the things we don’t hear about the protests in Hong Kong, which are I mean truly courageous, is that especially the young are without work and again that social inequality is very pronounced and I think that that economic tyranny lies at the root of the uprisings that we’ve seen not only in Hong Kong, but in India, Chile and France, in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, but it also lies at the root of the rise of these right-wing demagogues as we just saw in Britain with Boris Johnson, Narendra Modi in India, Trump in the United States. And so yes, I think that we’re not immune to this kind of social unrest and this kind of upheaval, especially as the forces that created it have no regulation and no restraint. Student debt, personal debt, national debt, we’re about to watch the Republican Party again take an axe and slash social services, food stamps. So these corporatists know only one word and that’s more and they won’t stop until there’s blowback. The problem is that if that, go back to the point we made before that if that blowback is just kind of a release in the streets of anger and frustration and rage, all legitimate, without an alternative vision and without alternative structures to begin to challenge power, then it can be crushed.
KZ: A lot of things I want to respond to in that, a couple of things. First off, you know, when we were involved in Occupy, it was a different phase of really the movement’s development. Now since Occupy that was kind of an eruption of anger, the 99% versus 1%. Now since Occupy, there has been a lot of work done by various groups on new economy ideas, whether it’s participatory budgeting or worker-owned businesses, cooperatives, a whole range of, public banks. Now we have California the first state to do a public bank since North Dakota in 1919-20. So we’re seeing some movement toward the beginning I think of a vision that you’re describing and I think that’s a potential positive. The other thing that’s a challenge in the United States is the electoral system because right now so many activists are getting pulled into the 2020 election particularly through the Sanders campaign and a little bit through the Warren campaign and somewhat in the Green efforts but those are so squashed in the United States that they are hardly visible. But people are getting pulled into this and essentially has, we see the election system as a kind of a mirage democracy. It’s you know, it’s molded, manipulated and in the end never quenches people’s needs. And Sanders is interesting because if he loses because of the Democratic primary violation that occurred, that could create an eruption itself. People get angry about that and there’s you can see the Democrats working very hard to defeat him. Or if he wins, then you get a situation where wow you have someone in office you can actually push to try to get things done. That can, may cause eruption. So, win or lose, it’s like the Sanders campaign can have that kind of an impact.
CH: Yeah, although I mean, I think you could make a strong case that the nomination was stolen from Sanders in 2016. You did have people walk out of the Democratic National Convention, but it didn’t have that impact. And the New York Times has run more than one story where they are interviewing anonymous Democratic Party donors who are already organizing to make sure neither Sanders or Warren and I don’t trust Warren too much, neither Sanders or Warren get the nomination. I find it, I mean it is that question is whether you can work from within. I have long argued that the Democratic Party is not salvageable. It’s not reformable. It is not in any sense a real political party in a sense that the base has any real say. You know maybe the Sanders campaign will prove me wrong. I hope they do prove me wrong, but I don’t think so. And if Sanders did get the nomination, these rich donors who find Trump an embarrassment and repugnant and vulgar and inept have made it clear they will support Trump. If Sanders had won in 2016, we would have had complete paralysis because Sanders would have never had the base within either the Republican or the Democratic Party to push through the kinds of reforms he says he wants to institute. So I just don’t think at this point our system of what Sheldon Wolin called “inverted totalitarianism” is reformable, is salvageable nor do I think that electoral politics are going to bring about the kinds of radical reforms, especially in terms of our addiction to fossil fuels, that are urgently needed.
KZ: Oh, I certainly agree on that point. The Democratic Party I don’t think are reformable. I just think the Sanders campaign is kind of sucking up a lot of energy for activists right now, but no matter how it turns out, it could be a tool for us to actually take off again with another phase of uprising.
MF: Yeah. Well, you’ve written that, you know, it doesn’t matter, Democrat or Republican, it’s global finance, you know, that’s really behind the scene running things and can’t really be controlled by the political systems that we have. I think looking around the world at the various uprisings that are happening, what’s happening in Chile is really interesting because that really was put out as kind of a model of neoliberalism working in Latin America. And while there have been, you know protests going on particularly by students over the years what’s happening right now is I think stronger than what anyone predicted and Piñera just announced that he will put forward in April discussions and planning to talk about developing a new constitution, which is one of the major demands of the protesters in Chile. What are your thoughts on kind of what’s happening down there?
CH: Well, I think both the examples of Chile, Hong Kong, Lebanon are important because these people have taken to the streets to put pressure on the ruling elites, which is what we have to do. Yeah, that Constitution was written as soon as Pinochet took power by the so-called Chicago School, the global corporatist and neo-liberal, you know, Milton Friedman-type economists on behalf of the world’s ruling elites. And the hands of any Chilean government have been effectively tied because of that Constitution. You know, there’s nothing at this point that has proved to be an impediment on the further concentration of wealth in the hands of this global oligarchic elite. I mean eight families now hold as much wealth as 50 percent of the world’s population. We’re certainly seeing during the Trump administration an acceleration of the demolition of government controls and regulations, the further privatizing of public lands, public services, the assault on labor unions, the ability of global speculators to use trillions of dollars lent to them of government money at virtually zero percent interest to do things like buy back their own stock to swell their own compensation packages. The corporations are back to doing exactly what they were doing before 2008 with the you know structured asset destruction through inflation, stripping assets through mergers and acquisitions, raising levels of debt incumbency, which has created this huge debt peonage on the public, all the corporate fraud. I mean, Jamie Dimon is been indicted along with JPMorgan Chase more than any other bank in American history for this kind of fraud. I mean really sleazy stuff like having veterans sign mortgage loans and then jacking those loans up to amounts that they can’t pay. And so, you know, we’ve created another bubble. The Ponzi schemes are back in business and that is going to in addition to creating the income inequality and the monopoly power, it is going to create another financial collapse. When it comes, I don’t know what will trigger it, but it’s not a sustainable system and what will happen then? Will they go back and demand more money, trillions of dollars from the US Treasury? How will people react? I mean certainly people will react with a kind of outrage and anger but we’re headed for I think an extremely difficult period especially because they have stripped us of all of our rights: privacy, due process, habeas corpus and then of course now under Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act, can deploy the military into the streets. And they’ll use everything in within their power. They will not shrink from using coercion and force to maintain control. And it could get pretty ugly. I mean, we have a thousand of our citizens right now are shot dead by police, almost all of them unarmed, almost all poor people of color in American cities. That’s one every eight hours.
KZ: It’s a terrible, I mean the violence of the government is getting more extreme. You know, one of the challenges I also see on the left is understanding what’s happening around the world. The United States is going, gotten more aggressive and somewhat more sophisticated in its regime-change campaigns. Poor Bolivia, you could just look at that example, but like poor Hong Kong. There’s so many reasons for people in Hong Kong to protest. It’s a neoliberal capitalist paradise, I mean where there’s almost no enforcement of business crimes or finance crimes and people have a very wide, high wealth divide and inequality, expensive housing, low paying jobs with no future. It’s just a really hard situation for the vast majority of people in Hong Kong so that it’s understandable that it’s a big uprising. But then it’s so interesting to see the National Endowment for Democracy’s role in Hong Kong. They are spending more than a million dollars a year. They have been funding anti-China movements in Hong Kong since before the turnover of Hong Kong to China back in the 1990’s. In 1996, 9195, they started funding, 1997 was a turnover. And it’s so interesting, you see these Hong Kong protests that as I said, very legitimate reasons to protest the system, turning into “Trump save us” or anti-China stuff, singing the Star-Spangled Banner or putting up the UK flag in the legislature, “bring us back to colonialism.” Some aspects of that protest are manipulated and often the main message, which is I think the main problem in Hong Kong, which is the neoliberal capitalist Disneyland they have, gets lost in this whole anti-China stuff, which is really the US target is great power conflict. And China is number one on the list with Russia following closely behind. So this confusion that the US creates, we saw it in Nicaragua. We see it in Venezuela with any NED-funded protest creates problems on the left.
CH: Right. But you know, it was Lord Salisbury who said there’s there are no permanent allies, there’s only permanent power. So if you look at the whole human rights drive going back to Charter 77 founded by Václav Havel in Czechoslovakia. He was a non-person within Czechoslovakia. The only way you could hear Václav Havel’s voice was over Voice of America. I knew Havel and Havel was not a supporter of US imperialism. He was a socialist. And so in repressive situations, we’ll often make alliances. I mean all the points you make Kevin are true. I’m not arguing them. But the idea that any resistance movement is somehow untainted is wrong. I mean the whole Cold War you saw the Soviet Union, which you know had a very deeply repressive, anti-democratic system, nevertheless backing revolutionary socialist governments, you know such as the Cuban government, which I would support. So I think you know in terms of foreign affairs, there often are contradictions, moral contradictions as you correctly pointed out, but I don’t think that invalidates the uprisings themselves.
MF: Finally, for our last question: what are your thoughts or what would be your advice to activists going forward? The 2020s is going to be a time when major crises are really culminating, the climate crisis, economic crisis, the militarism, the repression, what would be your advice to activists to where they should put their focus or things that they should be preparing for?
CH: Well, I think Extinction Rebellion, which is this radical climate group that just had organized thousands of people to shut down city centers in about 60 cities around the globe has got it, that it’s nonviolent occupation of bridges and roads and roundabouts to paralyze commerce and to begin to force the ruling elites to respond to the climate emergency. I mean Extinction Rebellion is quite clear that they’re not interested in reform. They’re interested in rebellion. They are interested in removing the ruling elites from power. They will do that by breaking the law and by going to jail. I mean over I think a thousand people were arrested in London. And that’s where we really have to go. We have to use our numbers to paralyze the system. That’s the only hope that we have. And I think that’s what we have been seeing in countries like Lebanon, Chile, Hong Kong. You know but I think that is especially if we talk about the climate emergency alone, that is the only mechanism left to save us.
KZ: Well, you know, that’s definitely the perspective of Popular Resistance, that we’ve been working toward. So we appreciate your analysis of that. And thanks for taking so much time to talk with us. I’m sure our listeners will appreciate it. You can read Chris on Truthdig and watch him on RT. So if you want more Chris Hedges, he’s out there and available.
CH: Thanks, Kevin. Thanks, Margaret.