Hitting Society With A Sledgehammer
Minutes before the interview began we received news of a school shooting in CT (the Sandy Hook tragedy). Details were unclear at the time, but there was an indication that many young children had been killed. We thus opened the interview with a question about the school massacre.
Q: We are going to start with something we did not plan, we just got word about a tragedy in Connecticut. The Superintendent of Schools for the State of Connecticut just robo-called me to tell me, as a parent, that there has been a shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. 18 to 22 children killed. There were apparently two shooters, two teenagers, and one of the shooters is dead. The school has 600 students.
NC: Is there any motive, or anything?
Q: This is the latest. We don’t have much information.
NC: So there is nothing understood about the background?
Q: No. Nothing. So, does this say something about the society we live in?
NC: If it was just one incident you could think maybe [it was] some psychotic individual or something. But it’s been happening with unpleasant regularity, and it’s got to be a sign of social breakdown of some kind, which is not too surprising. I mean, the whole society has been under severe strain for about 30 years. [It’s] not at the level of Haiti or Central Africa or something but people don’t measure themselves against totally different circumstances—like nobody feels they’re rich because they’re richer than they were in the Stone Age. People judge their circumstances by what it ought to be, given what’s available in the society, given the wealth in the society, and given similar societies that they may know something about. After all, we’ve gone through a period of roughly a generation—late 70s, accelerating sharply in the 80s—of the US phase of the worldwide neoliberal assault against the populations of the world. It’s been taking different forms in different places.
This morning I happened to have a conversation with somebody in Slovenia. They were part of the old Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia collapsed in the 80s, partly under the impact of the [neoliberal] structural adjustment programs that were imposed by the international financial institutions.
Take a look at the Rwanda massacres. The conflicts go far back—I was writing about them in the 70s, happened to be in Burundi then but it was the same conflict, a lot of massacres—but in the 80s Rwanda was subjected to very destructive structural adjustment programs. It raised conflict, ethnic tensions, a society becomes dissolved, and relationships between people erode. We know what happened later. Actually it was discussed by anthropologists at the time working there, so it doesn’t surprise us.
Sometimes it can be more rapid like say Syria. If you go back two or three years it wasn’t that everyone loved each other but you didn’t have murderous Aloite-Sunni conflicts, and others rising too.
After the US invaded Iraq, for about two years Iraqis were confident that there would never be significant Sunni-Shiite conflicts because people lived together, there was a lot of intermarriage, just a lot of interaction between the two groups. But once you hit a society with a sledgehammer lots of things can happen.
And the US has been banged with a sledgehammer for about 30 years. The general facts people are familiar with: stagnation or decline for a considerable majority; plenty of growth—not growth at the level of the 50s and the 60s, the big growth period, but there’s growth—and wealth created and it’s going into very few hands. In fact for a tenth of a percent of the population it’s gone through the roof. It’s gotten much worse in the last ten years. There’s actual decline [for the population], which is quite unusual, even since the recession.
The outcome of the recession is that the perpetrators are richer and more powerful than ever. The big banks and so on are bigger, stronger, still protected by the government insurance policy so that they can get favorable credit ratings and interest rates because the credit agencies just take for granted that next time they crash the economy they’ll be bailed out, so therefore they’re secure. And even if people don’t know the details they can still sort of see it. Meanwhile for the general population: nothing.
Take a look at say the TARP legislation. TARP incidentally was a small part of the bailout. That’s what people focus on but [the bailout] was much broader than that. The Congressional legislation for the bailout had two components to it. One component was, “OK, we’ll bail out the perpetrators and get them functioning again.” You can argue about whether you should have done it or not but anyway, some justification for it. The other part was, “Do something for the victims!” That part was almost entirely abandoned, virtually nothing. Even if people don’t know those facts they see it in their lives. You can see that your lives are getting nowhere. There are a lot of these things, and much more like it.
People [come to believe] that the government is just an enemy. That ranges from the Tea Party types to ordinary people. Nobody expects the government to do anything for them. It’s an enemy.
You see it pretty dramatically with the attitude toward taxes. It’s taken for granted in the United States everyone wants their taxes reduced. Why? If you lived in a functioning democratic society you wouldn’t want that. In a functioning democratic society April 15th—or the equivalent of April 15th—would be a day of celebration. You’re getting together to fund the actions that you decided on. What’s better than that, you know? Here it’s a day of mourning. There’s an alien force coming to steal from you.
There are good studies in the political science literature [about this]—they study this pretty well—and it’s a well-established conclusion that a majority of the population, roughly maybe 70%—the lower 70% on the income scale—have absolutely no influence on policy. As you move up the income scale you get more influence. When you get to the very top they essentially get what they want. People may not read the political science literature but you’ve got to be pretty blind not to see it.
I think that shows up. I don’t think this has been studied, though it could be, but if you look at non-voters in the United States—almost half don’t vote and in Presidential elections way more [vote] than in Congressional elections—why don’t they vote? Part of the reason may just be it’s become difficult to vote, there are barriers put up and so on. Alright, that’s probably part of it. But I suspect a large part of it is just the understanding, “They don’t listen to us anyway.” “I have no influence on what goes on. Why should I bother voting?” That’s another form of indication of collapse of the society.
In fact it’s kind of interesting to look at the non-voters. Overwhelmingly they’re Democratic when they’re asked what they are, which means if they had voted it’d be a Democratic landslide. But they don’t bother, because what they want nobody pays any attention to anyhow, which happens to be correct.
One of the interesting results of the election was that there’s an almost linear relationship between income and party vote so as you go down the income level the vote for Democrats becomes higher. Below the median the Democrats would’ve won by a landslide. Above the median the Republicans would’ve won by a landslide. It’s not 100%—there’s all kind of other factors entering into it—but that correlation is pretty striking. And if you had added in those who didn’t vote, it’s even more dramatic. It’s not that the Democrats do anything for anyone beyond a token, but they do something. If you look over the years, people have made out somewhat better under Democratic administrations than Republican ones, not huge but somewhat, and it’s enough to recognize something.
A lot of rights are just being undermined and destroyed. The forms of social solidarity that allow people to combat this in a constructive way, those are being destroyed.
A very important fact is what’s happening to the union movement. The labor unions used to be the main cohesive force that carried people forward towards policies that are more beneficial to the general public. Again not 100%, but the tendency’s pretty strong and that’s of course the main reason why they’re so hated by the business world. They’ve been under sharp attack since the peak of their achievements. As soon as the Second World War was over the attack began, reinitiated I should say because this has happened over and over again in American history, and by now it’s very strong and the propaganda is working like a dream.
Take what happened in Michigan the other day, the so-called “right to work” law. The “right to work” conception is straight out of Orwell. The bills have absolutely nothing to do with right to work. If an individual person wants to make a personal contract with General Motors they can do it. Like you can make a contract with General Motors and say, “I’ll be your slave.” OK, they’ll make the contract with you. But if you want to work for General Motors and get the benefits of a union contract—and there are benefits—that’s why most workers want to join unions—there are real benefits: wages, working conditions, safety, pensions, all kinds of stuff—if you want to get those benefits and not pay for it, that’s what the so-called “right to work” laws are for. It’s really “right to scrounge” laws, but the propaganda is so strong that I haven’t seen a word in the press about this. It’s all “right to work.” And that sounds nice—that’s why I say it is right out of Orwell. You know, why shouldn’t people have a right to work? Should they have a right to scrounge? No, they shouldn’t have a right to scrounge. But that’s what these laws are about. And it’s been effective. There’s no doubt that it’s been effective. I mean, the union leadership has contributed to it as well in many ways. But nevertheless, it’s very effective propaganda and it’s led to blow after blow against working people and solidarity.
It’s happened before. Go back a little over a century. There were huge popular movements in the United States. It was late 19th century. It was mostly an agricultural country still. The Farmers’ Alliance, you know, the radical farmers groups were a huge movement, very radical incidentally, and none of this nonsense about “We’re out for ourselves.” They weren’t. They were working together. They wanted to have their own banks, their own marketing systems, all kinds of things, and they wanted to link up with the Knights of Labor—a huge working-class organization that was also quite radical if you look at their programs. I mean, these are the biggest popular democratic movements in modern history, certainly in American history, and they were really strong. They were finally broken up, in part by violence; it’s a very violent country. It’s related to what you just saw; there is a long history of violence in the country, and a very violent labor history in particular. [They were broken up] in part by violence but in part by something that’s being used very effectively now: racial strategies...trying to turn people against each other on the basis of race or ethnicity, and so on. That is the kind of thing that can be done. Reagan was the master of it.
Reagan was an extreme racist. He simply launched a war against African Americans. It is called the “drug war.” It is a war against African Americans. That is the way the “drug war” is formulated and shaped, and the execution of it from police discretion on through sentencing, and everything else. He combined it with an attack on poor people, which means mostly black people because of the race/class correlation. His favorite anecdote was this fantasy about the “welfare queens,” a rich black woman gets driven in her limousine to one of the dozen welfare offices she goes to, to pick up your hard earned money. OK, so everybody is against welfare, of course. I mean, who is in favor of that? I’m not in favor of that either. So, with a straight resort to racism, which is never very far below the surface in the United States, they were able, particular through Reagan, but then beyond, Clinton expanded it, and so on, they were able to break that kind of solidarity.
The same thing happened to the populist movement, it is a lot of what Jim Crow was about. You can exploit these things and it does break down bonds of solidarity, mutual aid and so on. The end result is you get a society that is just dissolving. People don’t talk to each other, they don’t have associations, they don’t participate together in things, they don’t work together for common goals, etc. OK, so you get things where people go crazy, particularly in a society where violence is just beneath the surface and constantly used against poor and weak people. So, you get things like the Columbine story, or, I don’t know what this is going to turn out to be, but it is one of several. There has been a long series of them.
The other thing of course is the crazed gun culture in the United States. I mean it is just outlandish. Now everyone, including Obama, talks about our Second Amendment rights. What are our Second Amendment rights? That is the last few years. An ultra–right Supreme Court decided that those are our Second Amendment rights. They’ve never been our Second Amendment rights before. When you read it, well the Second Amendment isn’t totally lucid, but that is a pretty weird reading of it. But that means I’ve got to be able to carry my assault rifle into Starbucks and can get a cup of coffee. That takes off in a frightened country. And it is a very frightened country. Always has been, you go back to Colonial times…it was a terrified country.
Actually, you can see it in the Declaration of Independence. People intone the Declaration of Independence like they intone prayers in church without paying attention to what it says. But sometime pay attention to what it says. Some of it is just disgraceful, shameful. Like one of the charges against King George III is something like this: he unleashed against us the merciless Indian savages whose known way of warfare was murder and rape and so on. OK, when they were defending themselves from the invasion of the colonists, yes, there was a lot of that, but it was the colonists “known way of warfare,” the savage Europeans, the merciless European savages.
In fact, the Founding Fathers were well-aware of that. Even much later, you get people like John Quincy Adams toward the end of his life when his own major contributions, and they were major, to these atrocities were in the past, and he started reflecting on the past. He talked about that “hapless race of Native Americans who we are exterminating,” his word, “with such merciless savagery.” And they knew that. Thomas Jefferson knew that when he was writing those words. But we are the victims, no matter what is going on, we are the victims, of people who are defending themselves against us when we are invading and driving them out. We are going to “drive them over the Stony Mountains” and so on, but if they resist, they are merciless savages. Everybody reads that every July 4th, and we nod politely, but we’ve got to arm ourselves, who knows when the merciless Indian savages are going to come again. They had to arm themselves against blacks, there could be a slave revolt; huge number of slaves after all, suppose they revolt, kill all the men, rape all the women, you know, it is just imminent, we’ve got to have guns. And it just goes on like that right through American history.
By now you get things that are almost comical. Take say Rand Paul, Senator who is the libertarian hero, he has been trying to organize people to oppose the small arms treaty that is being negotiated at the United Nations. “Small arms” doesn’t mean knives and pistols. It is assault rifles and practically anything short of a tank. These “small arms” are slaughtering people all over the world. The U.S. is the main arms salesman by a long shot. And all over the world, the things that we are distributing around the world are killing masses of people. Right in Mexico, the majority of the arms that are confiscated in Mexico come from Texas and Arizona. While we are mentioning Texas, I should say, that is considered a very reactionary state, but that is the place where “The Farmers Alliance” was founded. The radical farmers came out of Texas. It is an indication of what has been happening over the century. So, those are the arms. And, why do we have to oppose the “small arms treaty?” Well, Rand Paul explains. It is a plot by the United Nations and the radical socialists, you know, Obama and Clinton, to disarm us, to take away our Second Amendment rights so then they can come and conquer us. For the UN to conquer us is about as likely, actually less likely, than an asteroid hitting the earth. Somebody might just as well organize and say “OK, let’s build shelters because there is an asteroid coming.” It is almost laughable, except that it is real. And in a very frightened society you can do it.
So, there is violence, fear, dissolution of social bonds, a loss of the ways of reacting sensibly and constructively to quite destructive policies, and so on. And out of that it is not surprising that you get incidents of this kind.
Q: We are going to move from the daily catastrophes, to some of the larger scale catastrophes that we are facing. One is climate change. If this is not too hypothetical a question, could you lay out what you see as the worst case scenario related to climate change over the next twenty or thirty years.
NC: First of all, there is a very broad scientific consensus on this. There are skeptics at both ends of this, both ends! If you look at the public debate it is between the consensus and a small group of people including a couple of scientists who don’t think it is that serious. There is a third group that is omitted, a much larger group of scientists. For example, the Climate Change Study Group right here [at MIT] (http://globalchange.mit.edu/). What they have been arguing for years is that the consensus is too conservative. That it is nowhere near alarmist enough. And time after time they have been proven right. Time after time the consensus has been proven much too optimistic. The consensus is bad enough, incidentally. It means we are falling over a cliff. But it is nowhere near what the likelihood is, what the serious skeptics are saying, those who say “it is a lot worse than you think.” And the serious skeptics include people in the major international organizations and others quite mainstream, like the climate group right here…very good scientists.
We see it all the time, like a couple of weeks ago, when the arctic ice melts over the summer, and when it stopped melting there were measurements of how much it had melted, and it was dramatic enough to make the front page of the New York Times. When you read the story it tells you where we are. The first half of the story said the arctic ice is melting a lot faster than the consensus predicted, the computer models were too optimistic, and a little talk about the effects of this. It has an escalating effect. More dark waters exposed results in more absorption of sun rays and less reflection. It speeds up the process. They talked about it. That is the first half of the article. The second half of the article is what a great opportunity it is, more mining, more extraction of fossil fuels, i.e., lots of ways to make the problem worse, so let’s celebrate. If somebody was watching this from outer space they would think “you guys are insane.” You are marching toward disaster and you are very happy because you can make it worse.
Listen to the presidential debates. Nobody talks about climate change, you don’t talk about that. But both candidates were euphoric about what they call “energy independence.” I don’t know what is supposed to be so great about energy independence, and in fact it is mostly a joke, but what does it mean? It means, they claim, we have a hundred years of fossil fuels domestically or in Canada that we can use to create a greater disaster. That is the excitement. What kind of world will it be in a hundred years? Well, we don’t ask that question.
When you look at tar sands and fracking and these disputes, there is plenty of opposition. Most of it is local, “you are destroying our water supplies,” and things like that, which is all true. But the real problem is global. Unless those fossil fuels are left in the ground we’re in real trouble. And that is recognized by some groups around the world. Rather strikingly, mostly by indigenous groups. You look around the world, the indigenous societies, tribal societies and first nations, whatever you want to call them, these groups have been pressing very hard for paying attention to what is sometimes called “the rights of nature,” which is really the right of survival for species, including us. And in the countries where they have significant influence, maybe a majority, or at least they are in the political system, they are actually doing something about it. For example, in Ecuador where there is a large indigenous population, the government is pursuing a program; they are appealing to the rich industrial countries for aid to enable them to keep the oil in the ground. They have fairly substantial oil reserves and say “we’d prefer not to use them,” but of course it is cutting down our opportunities for development so help us out so we can develop without destroying the world, and destroying the Amazon, and so on.
In Bolivia there is actually a “Rights of Nature” provision in the Constitution. You go to Australia it is the same thing. I happened to be there not long ago and the indigenous groups, the remnants of the indigenous groups, mostly exterminated, they are pressing very hard not to lift uranium. There are large uranium deposits in the areas where they still have their kinds of reservations and they say “leave it in the ground.” They have a whole history of what we call myth, I mean a kind of aural tradition about the danger of allowing the yellow plague to escape, and what will happen. And they are right. You lift that uranium and you’ll be in real trouble. In this case it is not climate change it is probable nuclear war. And it is the same everywhere.
All over the world there are wars going on over mining. In India, half the country is in flames. There is a major war in the tribal areas, basically, where there are plenty of resources to mine but there are communities who live there and don’t want to see their lives destroyed. And many of them do not want to see the species destroyed. I’ve been somewhat involved in the same things in Colombia, my daughter much more so…same kinds of problems. And they have a kind of sensibility that the sophisticated, educated people don’t have, and if we don’t get it we are in bad trouble. So that is serious.
I mean even the consensus is serious. The likelihood, which is worse than the consensus, is much more dangerous. We are very close to the point which is regarded generally as a kind of tipping point, you know, 2 degrees centigrade rise in temperature. We are very close to that now, and it won’t take long to get there. If we get there it could be irreversible. In fact, the International Energy Association (http://www.iea.org/topics/climatechange/) is predicting we are likely to get to 4 degrees centigrade, and nobody knows what that would mean. Boston would be under water, things like that.
Q: Living in this society that is atomized and fearful, frustrated and uncertain about the future, how does “catastrophism” play out? We can see it playing out in different ways. The right wing could mobilize people, religious fanatics could mobilize people about “the end times,” or the left, which isn’t well organized, could try to organize people to try to fight back. How do you see this catastrophism playing out?
NC: The end times catastrophism is a huge thing, tens of millions of people, but it is kind of different. They have a whole story about how there is going to be a big war in the Middle East and everybody kills each other, Armageddon, saved souls rise, that whole story, and that is a huge thing in the United States. This is not only an ultra-religious society by world standards, but by world standards unbelievably extremist. Take say the Republican Party…roughly two thirds of the Republic Party think that the world was created a couple of thousand years ago. When Rubio a couple of weeks ago was caught in his statement, he was just repeating what his constituency probably believes.
Q: This is when a reporter asked him how old he thinks the earth is and he said “I’m not a scientist.”
NC: He said “It is debate among theologians.” He said “it is a mystery, and we’ll never answer it, maybe it is a couple of thousand years ago, maybe it is a little longer, but it is just a bunch of theologians.” This is after all two-thirds of the party, and probably close to half the general population. So, that is one problem.
The other problem, which is also quite serious, is, first of all, there is enormous corporate propaganda, huge corporate propaganda to try to marginalize the question or suppress it, in all kinds of ways – publishing fake studies, everything. That is why the party programs, which pretty much reflect corporate propaganda, they say practically nothing about it. The Republican Party program this time around I don’t think even mentioned climate change. The Democratic program sort of had a couple of empty words about it, but no policy proposals. They say openly, it is not a secret, that they are carrying out (they don’t call it “propaganda”) publicity campaigns to try to make people understand that there is no problem. And you can see why the Koch Brothers would believe that, along with the American Petroleum Institute, the Chamber of Commerce, and so on. They themselves, the individuals themselves, may be contributing to environmental causes, but in their institutional role as business leaders they are concerned with short-term profit. And it is true that if you pay attention to things like climate change you might harm short-term profit. Incidentally, that is not obviously true; we could come back to that. Under some kinds of calculations it is true, and they do not want to bother with it. And that is having an effect on the population. The majority of the population still thinks it is a problem, but it is declining, and it is less than many other countries. It’s one of the reasons the U.S. drags its feet in international conferences, partly it is just business power, partly it is because the popular constituency isn’t as big as it should be. (So, other places like Europe are way ahead of us on this).
And they have an argument. This takes us back to our earlier discussion. And the argument is convincing. The argument is that it will cut back growth. Well, should we have growth? Suppose you are a majority of the population which has been subjected to the neoliberal assault (that we were talking about earlier). Well, you want things to get better for you, you are in bad shape. And the mantra is “growth.”
Q: Is growth a code word for “profits”?
NC: When it is used by the business world, yes. But when it is used in public propaganda it says it is a way for you to have food on the table. So, it is a code word for that. But it is not the way to get food on the table. The point is there is no alternative presented. So they are given a choice between “Can I improve my circumstances, can my kid get a job, can I get food on the table, can I have some security.” That is one side. Or, shall I worry about global warming? Given that choice, people are pretty likely to say “Look, I want the things I need and my family needs.” It is a totally false choice, but that is the way it is presented. And that is a serious problem.
That is like the other problems, it is like “right to work” versus” right to scrounge.” You’ve got to break through the doctrinal shackles if you want to understand these things. Alone, it is pretty hard to do that. That takes organization, association, etc., what the “Wobblies” in the old days used to call “talking to your neighbors.” You’ve got to talk to your neighbors. You have to be with other people and think things through, and so on. That is mostly what the unions were for, including “the Wobblies.”
As that shatters, people are left on their own, and then you can easily succumb to this propaganda which has a certain level of veracity to it. Even the most vulgar propaganda systems usually have some truth in them. And this one has some truth in it, and it can sell. Under those circumstances it has been difficult to develop a popular movement on a sufficient scale to overcome the pressures that are leading us to march off the cliff.
Q: Another problem that threatens the fate of the species is global militarism; something you have been talking about. It seems that over time there will be a convergence of these two threats, climate change and militarism, as access to resources is struggled over and with a decline in resources. So, how do you see climate change impacting U.S. foreign policy in the coming years?
NC: The way climate change is impacting policy is kind of…what is happening is that you can’t even put it in those terms. What is happening is that lack of concern about the disasters of climate change is driving policy toward increasing the dangers, like the hundred years of fossil fuels independence. But the threat of militarism is very severe. And again, it is largely centered here.
The U.S. spends almost as much on the military as the rest of the world combined. We are the only country with bases all over the world, a thousand bases if you count them properly, [and with] a far higher technological level. They are working very hard to get to much more extreme forms of destruction, and in fact, using them. Like the global assassination campaign, the drone warfare. That is using high tech for mass murder. If anyone else was doing that we’d go after them with nuclear weapons. When we do it, it is fine because we are “defending ourselves.”
Actually, I just saw a quote the other day in FAIR (“Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting” www.fair.org ). They have a journal in which they have quotes of the month. One of them in the last issue kind of blew my mind. It was a quote from Joe Klein [from “Newsweek”]. He was asked a question about drones, and they said “You know, suppose there is this group of people standing around somewhere and the President doesn’t like them, he can assassinate them and maybe kill four year old children on the side.” His answer was interesting. He said “Better we kill their four year old children than they kill ours.” In other words, we should kill people who maybe by some stretch of the imagination might somehow or other harm us, and even killing their four year old children, that is fine, because there should be no possibility of anybody ever anytime harming us. That is a sign of this fear I was talking about at a real psychopathic level. I mean the idea that you should murder children because maybe someday somebody might harm us, is pathology at an extreme level. And that is right in the mainstream, the probably more or less liberal mainstream.
That is what happens in a society that has a streak of psychosis, a society that can have a Declaration of Independence with the phrase that I quoted, for example, and not notice it. A country that can be carrying out a race war against African Americans and pretend to itself we are terrified of drugs. Well, maybe the people are terrified of drugs, but it is a totally concocted fear. In fact, it becomes pretty dramatic when you look at the race war.
There are drugs that are extremely harmful substances. By far, the worst is tobacco. It is orders of magnitude beyond anything else. Actually, an academic study just came out called “The Tobacco Holocaust” which estimated that about 100 million people were killed in the past century from tobacco, and I think they estimated about a billion in the coming century. All the drugs in the world do not add a footnote to that. It is hundreds of thousands of people every year [in the United States], way beyond anything else. For a long time, the government and the corporations colluded to prevent people from knowing about it. It has all been exposed…direct collusion to keep the people from knowing about it.
Actually, what has happened with tobacco use is extremely revealing. It is not criminal, but its use has become a class issue. So, if you walk around the campus here, or any campus, you won’t see students smoking. They are from the educated sectors. You see staff smoking. If you go to a local bar or something people are smoking. So, it has become pretty much a class issue. Not by law, just by education. If you want to deal with whatever problems you think marijuana and cocaine have, smaller problem, but whatever it is, prevention and education are the way to do it. The last president to have a program like that was Richard Nixon, the last liberal president. His programs, and there was plenty wrong with them, but his drug war had a commitment to prevention and treatment, the only thing that works.
With Reagan that is out the window. It is just a race war, very clearly. Take say cocaine use. The big propaganda in Reagan’s drug war was crack…that they make in the streets. The problem with that is the race war started a couple of years before that. He called it in 1982 and crack appeared four or five years later, but OK, “we can handle that.” The use of cocaine, whatever you think about it, is probably more among affluent whites than among blacks. But take a look at who is in prison. And in prison forever, just like after Reconstruction, the late nineteenth century when black life was essentially criminalized, and you reinstituted a form of slavery. And the same here; ridiculously heavy sentences. People, “people” means “black kids,” get higher sentences for a small degree of possession, not doing anything, than for murder in most other countries. It is just totally out of sight. And the discretion at every level, prosecutors, police, and so on, is aimed almost entirely at the African American community. That is how you get this incredible incarceration rate which no other country comes close to, certainly no industrial country.
So, it is effectively a race war, and it ought to be described as that. But people are afraid, they are frightened, and they are frightened because they are told it is a danger to us. When George, the first Bush, you know, the “good” Bush, when he wanted to invade Panama to kidnap some minor thug [Manuel Noriega], who was getting out of hand, and who had been on the CIA payroll when he committed most of his crimes, a couple of months before the invasion they stirred up a fear of Hispanic narco-traffickers. You know, these guys are coming from Panama to shoot up your kids, and this and that, so we’ve got to invade them to save ourselves. And, in fact, if you look at the polls, fear of drugs shot up. Reagan pulled the same things over and over, and so did his successors. Clinton did the same, the second Bush the same. When Condoleezza Rice started talking about mushroom clouds the fear of Iraq went way up.
And this an elite phenomenon, so you read somebody like Thomas Freidman, liberal columnist for the New York Times, on “The Charlie Rose Show,” the “intellectuals” show, where “smart” guys are talking to other “smart” guys, he was asked something about what should troops do in Iraq, and you’ve got to read this comment, I can’t reproduce it properly, but basically he said, “Look, American troops ought to go in and smash up homes in Basra and Baghdad and get these people to understand, approach them by saying ‘what is it you don’t understand about the fact that we don’t want to be attacked.’” What the hell does a woman in Basra have to do with attacking Americans? But, if you are a liberal columnist for the New York Times, yea, we’ve got to teach them by humiliating them and smashing them up, because we don’t want to be attacked. Again, that is kind of like that Joe Klein column. That is fear carried to the level of psychosis. And this is all an elite phenomenon. I’m not talking about some “red neck” in Alabama. I’m talking about the guys who are the most respected figures in the liberal intellectual scene.
So, you can create fear. The population is already frightened and has been basically for hundreds of years. It is not that hard to stimulate fear. So we get these things happening.
Q: These extra-judicial killings that you have been talking about, what connection does that have with international law? You just pointed out that if another country were doing this, there would be a price to pay.
NC: International law you can forget about. The United States just violates international law with impunity. Nobody even notices it. Every time any political figure opens his mouth about Iran and they say “all options are on the table,” meaning “if we want to bomb you we will.” There happens to be something called the UN Charter which is the foundation of modern international law. The US was very proud to have helped implement it. Take a look at Article II; you don’t have to go very far. It bans the threat or use of force in international affairs. The threat! So, if you say “We are going to bomb you,” that itself is a violation of international law, let alone sending around assassination teams all over the place to kill people. They happen to come from the sky, but they are still assassination teams. Just suppose that Iran was assassinating people at random in the United States because they are standing on street corners and they think “they can harm us some day,” so what would the reaction be?
In fact, the Iran case is extremely interesting, especially when you talk about nuclear war. Take a look at the presidential debates, or the press. [They say] the greatest threat to world peace is Iran’s nuclear capability, which maybe they don’t have, but nevertheless that is the greatest threat to world peace. “Capability,” notice, not bombs. That is uniform, across the board.
It does raise some questions for a person who can break out of the propaganda system for thirty seconds. First of all, who thinks so? Well, it turns out to be a Western obsession. Most of the world doesn’t think so. The Arab world, which is sitting right there, they don’t like Iran, hostilities go back a long time, they don’t regard Iran as a threat. There are good polls of Arab public opinion. They don’t like Iran, but they don’t think of it as much of a threat. The threat they see is Israel and the United States. That is the threat and it is pretty realistic. Now that is not what is reported here. What is reported is that the Arabs support us in Iran. What that means is that the dictators support us. So, maybe the dictators support us. But, if the dictators support us, and the populations are all against us, that means “they support us,” because [U.S. power’s] hatred of democracy is so profound that it just doesn’t matter what people think. As long as the dictators support us and they can keep the populations under control we’re fine. That is deep and it is again elite opinion, and not, you know, so called “rednecks.”
So first, the non-aligned movement, which is most of the world, they don’t regard Iran as much of a threat. It is a US and to some extent a European obsession. OK, let’s say it is a real danger, let’s agree. How do you deal with it? There happens to be a very simple way which could be implemented tomorrow, literally tomorrow. What you do is move towards a nuclear weapons free zone in the region. Just move towards it. That alone would begin to mitigate the threat. If you can implement it, that eliminates the threat such as it is. It happens to be supported by the whole world. It is not hard to implement.
At the last meeting of the non-aligned movement, they again called for it. The non-aligned countries are pressing for it very hard. Egypt has been in the lead for years in trying to move towards a nuclear weapons free zone. The support is so strong that Obama had to verbally say “Yea, it is a good idea,” although they added “not now, and it has to exclude Israel.” OK, so no nuclear weapons free zone.
Can you implement it? Sure. This month, December, there was supposed to be an international conference in Helsinki, Finland, to move toward establishing the framework for a nuclear weapons free zone. Well, Obama was quiet about it for awhile, until Iran said they would attend. As soon as Iran said they would attend, in early November, within days Obama canceled it. So, the meeting is canceled. We can’t allow Iran to attend a conference supported by virtually the whole world which would end the alleged Iran threat.
That didn’t end the story. The Arab states and the non-aligned movement continued to press for it, even after Obama cancelled it. Right after that the United States announced a nuclear weapons test, which much of the world regards as a violation of the non-proliferation treaty…we’re supposed to be getting rid of nuclear weapons.
Well, all of this happened just in the last couple of weeks and nobody is protesting and there is a very simple reason why nobody is protesting. Nobody knows! Who knows about any of this? Unless you are a kind of fanatic who carries out your own private research projects, or unless you read some of the very-marginalized left press, I mean I’ve written about it, you can’t know. You can’t know because it hasn’t been reported.
It is kind of amazing, here is “the greatest threat to peace in the world,” and you cannot report the fact that there are ways to deal with it and the United States is blocking them. That is a degree of subordination to power that I don’t think could be achieved in a totalitarian state. And it is totally internalized. If you ask an editor they won’t know what you are talking about. There is no force; nobody’s got a gun to your head. There is no threat if you don’t report it.
You do find a couple of words here and there, maybe sometimes. The Washington Post reported a couple of lines from a Reuters wire service report. I think that is about it. Nothing happens to you. It is just internalized. You subordinate yourself to power, period. It doesn’t matter how significant the issues are. So, we’re moving on.
In fact, there was a meeting just a couple of days ago; it was organized by WINEP, “The Washington Institute for Near East Policy” which the press constantly turns to as a neutral source for analysis on the Middle East. It is an offshoot of AIPAC. They know it. But that is the “neutral” source. They just had a conference a couple of days ago in which Dennis Ross and a couple of these guys sounded off. They say they know, I don’t know how they know, or whether they know, in the Obama Administration they are planning a few months of negotiations and if that doesn’t work then we bomb them.
OK, so you asked about international law? Forget it. In fact, even technically the United States is self-immunized to international law. One of the things everybody ought to learn in elementary school is that when the United States agreed to join the World Court in 1946 (which the U.S. helped set up) it added a reservation -- the U.S. cannot be charged under any international treaty. So it cannot be charged with any violations of the UN Charter, the Organization of American States, or any serious international treaty. So sure, we are immune to international law.
In fact, we are immune to trial under the “Genocide Convention.” That was a reservation. Sure, we’ll sign it after forty years, but it doesn’t apply to the United States. All of this, incidentally, has come up in the “World Court,” in the international tribunals, and the U.S. position has been accepted. “Yes, you guys are free to violate laws as much as you want,” because the structure of the international tribunals is that both sides have to agree, unless you are trying some African, then you can do whatever you like, but among people who are considered human both sides have to agree, somebody has to agree to be subject to the jurisdiction. And so the U.S. is human, so therefore we are not subject to it. So even raising the question of international law is kind of beside the point in the United States.