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The//Intercept – Talking to James Risen About Pay Any Price, the War on Terror and Press Freedoms

This is the transcript of the recorded conversation of James Risen and Glenn Greeenwald’s interview.  For Recording and Comments, please link to The//Intercept at https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2014/11/25/talking-james-risen-pay-price-war-terror-press-freedoms/

James Risen

Pulitzer Prize Winner, Journalist James Risen

By Glenn Greenwald @ggreenwald

James Risen, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2005 for exposing the NSA warrantless eavesdropping program, has long been one of the nation’s most aggressive and adversarial investigative journalists. Over the past several years, he has received at least as much attention for being threatened with prison by the Obama Justice Department (ostensibly) for refusing to reveal the source of one of his stories—a persecution that, in reality, is almost certainly the vindictive by-product of the U.S. government’s anger over his NSA reporting.

He has published a new book on the War on Terror entitled Pay Any Price: Greed, Power and Endless War. There have been lots of critiques of the War on Terror on its own terms, but Risen’s is one of the first to offer large amounts of original reporting on what is almost certainly the most overlooked aspect of this war: the role corporate profiteering plays in ensuring its endless continuation, and how the beneficiaries use rank fear-mongering to sustain it.

That alone makes the book very worth reading, but what independently interests me about Risen is how he seems to have become entirely radicalized by what he’s discovered in the last decade of reporting, as well as by the years-long battle he has had to wage with the U.S. government to stay out of prison. He now so often eschews the modulated, safe, uncontroversial tones of the standard establishment reporter (such as when he called Obama “the greatest enemy of press freedom in a generation” and said about the administration’s press freedom attacks: “Nice to see the U.S. government is becoming more like the Iranian government”). He at times even channels radical thinkers, sounding almost Chomsky-esque when he delivered a multiple-tweet denunciation—taken from a speech he delivered at Colby College—of how establishment journalists cling to mandated orthodoxies out of fear:

It is difficult to recognize the limits a society places on accepted thought at the time it is doing it. When everyone accepts basic assumptions, there don’t seem to be constraints on ideas. That truth often only reveals itself in hindsight. Today, the basic prerequisite to being taken seriously in American politics is to accept the legitimacy of the new national security state. The new basic American assumption is that there really is a need for a global war on terror. Anyone who doesn’t accept that basic assumption is considered dangerous and maybe even a traitor. The crackdown on leaks by the Obama administration has been designed to suppress the truth about the war on terror. Stay on the interstate highway of conventional wisdom with your journalism, and you will have no problems. Try to get off and challenge basic assumptions, and you will face punishment.

I spent roughly 30 minutes talking to Risen about the book, what he’s endured in his legal case, attacks on press freedoms, and what is and is not new about the War on Terror’s corporate profiteering. The discussion can be heard on the player below, and a transcript is provided. As Risen put it: “I wrote Pay Any Price as my answer to the government’s campaign against me.”

* * * * *

GREENWALD: This is Glenn Greenwald with The Intercept and I am speaking today with Jim Risen, the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The New York Times who has released a new book, the title of which is Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War. Hey Jim, thanks so much for taking some time to talk to me.

RISEN: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

GREENWALD: My pleasure. So, I’ve read your entire book, and I have several questions about it, beginning with a general one, which is: there have been a lot of books written about the failures of the War on Terror, deceit kind of embedded with the War on Terror, most of which have taken the war on its own terms, and critiqued it because of strategic failures or of failure to achieve the claims which have been made to justify the war, and I actually have written a couple of books myself about the War on Terror from that perspective. Yours is really one of the first that has focused on a particular part of the War on Terror, namely the way in which economic motives, what you call the Homeland Security Industrial Complex, has driven a huge part of the war, and there’s a lot of new reporting about how that functions.

I wanted to ask you two things about that. One is, is that something that you intended to do; that you set out to do when you began writing the book, and if so, what led you to do that, and the second part of it is, how much of this economic motive is the cause of the fact that we’ve now been at war for 13 years as opposed to traditional war objectives such as increasing domestic power or asserting foreign influence. How big of a role do you think it actually plays?

RISEN: That was my goal. That was one of the key objectives of writing the book, and I think it plays a really central role in why the war is continuing. I think it’s basically that after so many years there’s a whole class of people that have developed. A post-9/11 mercenary class that’s developed that have invested in their own lives an incentive to keep the war going. Not just people who are making money, but people who are in the government who their status and their power within the government are invested in continuing the war.

So I was trying to show that it wasn’t just greed—it was partly greed—but it was also status, and power, and ambition that all intertwined to make it so that there’s very little debate about whether to continue the war, and whether we should have any real re-assessment on a basic level. So you’re right, I was trying to get at those motivations, I was trying to understand how we could have this prolonged period of war with such little debate. And I think it’s both economic incentives and personal power incentives and ambition and status.

GREENWALD: Let’s talk about the economic part of the motive, because obviously one of the most striking things about the war is not just its duration but the fact that it’s continued essentially unimpeded, notwithstanding these wild swings in election outcomes. You have the Republicans, who were in power when the war commenced, get smashed in 2006 and 2008 as a result of, at least primarily, as a result of dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq and the general state of things, but then you had the war continue under a president who kind of vowed to reign it all in, and then even when the Democrats get killed in 2010 and then again in 2014, there’s no signs of any of this letting up.

It’s easy to see why there’s this private sector—you know, the weapons manufacturers and the defense contractors, sort of a General Dynamics, Booz Allen world—that want the war to continue. They do really well when they’re selling huge amounts of machinery, weapons, and drones. But what causes the political class to be so willing to serve their interests so brazenly, even when public opinion is so overwhelmingly against it?

RISEN: That’s a question I’ve struggled with myself. I’ve tried to understand. I think we had one or two real moments when we could have gone in a different direction. The primary one was, of course, 2008. I think Obama had a chance. He had a mandate to do something different. And he didn’t do it. I think part of it was that he was never exactly what we thought he was, I think he was never really as liberal as people thought he was. I think a lot of voters invested in him their hopes and dreams without exactly realizing what he really was. I think he was always really more conservative than how he presented himself in 2008.

To give him a little bit of the benefit of the doubt, I think it’s very easy for the intelligence community to scare the hell out of politicians when they come in, and I think that Obama probably got seduced a little bit by the intelligence community when he arrived. All you have to do is look at a lot of raw intelligence to scare somebody. Convince them that “Oh, it’s much worse than you ever realized.” But at the same time, he must take some of the blame. He surrounded himself with a lot of the Bush people from the get-go. Brennan was on his campaign. Most of his team had some ties to the Bush years in the War on Terror.

To me, that’s the hardest thing to really sort out, the factors that led Obama—at that one moment, I think there was one opportunity he had in 2008 to make a significant change and he didn’t do it. And I think historians are going to be struggling with that for a long time.

GREENWALD: Well, let me struggle with that with you for a little bit because the idea, and I think it’s a commonly expressed one—there’s probably an element of truth to it—that a new president who doesn’t really have a great deal of experience with the military or the intelligence community has these impressive generals and CIA people coming in with medals on their chest and decades of experience and, as you say, purposefully scaring them.

But at the same time, anybody who’s remotely sophisticated about the world understands that that’s going to happen. Dwight Eisenhower warned of the military industrial complex 50 years ago. And you know that there are factions in Washington who maintain their power by scaring you, and you have your own advisors. If you and I know that so much of that is fear mongering, he has to know, right?

RISEN: Right, and I’m not trying to excuse it at all, and in fact I think it’s what he wanted. My own gut tells me that what he decided to do was in early 2009 was to focus on economic and healthcare policies and that in order to do those things on the domestic side, he had to protect his flank on national security and not fight the Republicans on national security, so I think there was a calculated move by Obama to prolong the War on Terror in order to try to focus on domestic issues. And I think that after a while, he lost control of that narrative.

GREENWALD: It’s always hard to talk about somebody’s motives, right? I think we have a hard time knowing our own motives, let alone other people’s, who are complicated. As you say, he had this great opportunity in 2008 because things like closing Guantanamo and reining in the War on Terror and stopping torture—these were all things that he ran on, and won on, right?

RISEN: Right.

GREENWALD: And you’ve been really outspoken about the fact that it’s not just the continuation of the Bush national security agenda but the even—especially, rather—an escalation of the attack on journalism. I’ve seen you have some pretty extreme quotes on that, that he’s the worst president on press freedom since at least Nixon, maybe worse. Do you think that’s a byproduct of the fact that every president gets progressively worse, or do you think there’s something unique and specific about his worldview and approach that has made him so bad on these press freedom issues?

RISEN: I think one of his legacies is going to be that on a broad scale he normalized the War on Terror. He took what Bush and Cheney kind of had started on an emergency, ad-hoc basis and turned it into a permanent state and allowed it to grow much more dramatically than it ever had under Bush or Cheney, and part of that—I think within that—was his attack on whistleblowers and journalists. I think it’s all part and parcel of the same thing. If you believe in the national security state in the way Obama does, then you have to also believe in squashing dissent.

GREENWALD: And I think that’s part of what makes war so degrading, right, for a political culture and a country is that it always gets accompanied by those kinds of things. Let me ask you a little bit about your own personal experience as part of that war on whistleblowing and journalism.

I know you’re a little constrained because your case is still pending. But one of the things I always find so interesting is that whenever your case is talked about, it always gets talked about in this very narrow sense: that you had a source for a story that you published in your book about some inept and ultimately counterproductive attempts to infiltrate the Iranian nuclear program and the case is about trying to force you to reveal your source, and like every good journalist should, you refuse to do so and therefore face a possibility of being held in contempt of court and being sent to prison.

But the background of your case, that I want to just step back and talk about a little bit, is that you’ve had this very adversarial relationship with the intelligence community, this increasingly adversarial relationship with the intelligence community, as a result of a lot of the reporting that you did, including exposing the warrantless NSA program in 2005, for which you won the Pulitzer Prize.

Can you talk about that, the tensions you’ve had with the government in the War on Terror reporting that you’ve done and how that has manifested and affected your life?

RISEN: Yeah, sure. In fact, I’ve said in affidavits in the case that I believe that the reason they came after me on this subpoena is because of the NSA stories that we did for The New York Times. I’m convinced, and I believe there’s a lot of evidence to show that they decided ultimately not to come after The New York Times on the NSA stories and instead wanted to isolate me by looking at something in my book. In fact, I know for a fact that they conducted leak investigations of at least three or four separate chapters in my book.

They interviewed a lot of people about totally unrelated things to the case that they ultimately came after me on and I think they were looking for something in my book to isolate me from The New York Times, and in their court papers they have repeatedly cited the fact that The New York Times decided not to run the story as one of the arguments for why it’s justified for them to come after me on it. And so I pride myself on the fact that I developed an adversarial relationship with the government because I think that’s what every reporter should do.

GREENWALD: I know from my own experience doing NSA reporting over the last 18 months—and I’ve heard you say before that you’re not going to let these kind of threats and recriminations affect your reporting. That was my mindset as well and I was actually even more determined a lot of times whenever I felt threatened to do the reporting even more aggressively, to make sure that those bullying tactics weren’t going to work. At the same time, when you hear top level government officials openly muse about the crimes that you’ve committed, when you hear privately through your attorney that the Justice Department might arrest you when you come back to the U.S., of course it does have an effect on you. It occupies a mental space. You spend a lot of time talking to your lawyers instead of focusing on journalism.

And one of the things I’ve always found so fascinating about your case is that you have a Pulitzer, you work for The New York Times, you’re one of the best known investigative journalists in the country—one of the most institutionally protected, even though they did separate you from the Times by focusing on your book. Still, though, the fact that they were able to target you this way, for this many years, I thought was a very powerful message that if we can even go after Jim Risen, we can go after anybody.

I know you want to maintain the idea, and I know that it’s true, that none of this consciously deterred you from doing the journalism. But how does being at the center of a case like this, where people are openly talking about you going to prison, including people in the Justice Department—how does this have an effect on your journalism, on your relationship to your sources, just on your ability to do your work?

RISEN: Well, you know, it’s interesting. It affected me a lot at first, for the first couple of years. It’s one of those weird things that I’m sure you know now—these things go on forever and they take a long time and most of the time nobody’s paying any attention except you and your lawyers. During the first several years, nobody paid much attention, and it did have an effect on me then. And it took a long time for me to realize I’ve got to just keep going. But the fact that now a lot of people are supporting me has really helped me, this year in particular.

In the last six months to a year, when I’ve gotten a lot more attention and people supporting me, I feel like now I have to represent the industry, represent the profession, and so it’s changed the way I even think about the case.

GREENWALD: You have become this kind of increasingly prolific user of Twitter, out of nowhere. You were never on Twitter. You were a very late joiner. I clearly see all the signs of addiction forming, and I say this as someone who recognizes it personally. You’ve evolved—you had a Twitter egg for a long time, and now you have a real picture.

RISEN: (Laughs) My son took that picture.

GREENWALD: (Laughs) Alright, well I knew it was going to be somebody else who caused you to leave the egg behind. But one of the things I find really interesting is Twitter is a venue in which you get to speak in a different way about different things than you do, say, in an article that you write for The New York Times, where you’re a little bit more constrained in how you’re talking. And you’ve expressed some ideas that I think are very rare for someone who is a reporter at a large, establishment institution like The New York Times to express, and I want to ask you a couple of questions about that.

You had this multi-part tweet maybe about a month ago. It almost sounded like something Noam Chomsky might say, or other people might say like that, about how the big plague of establishment thought in the U.S. is a fear of deviating from conventional wisdom, and it’s only after generation or two later when people who do that get vindicated, and so there’s this really strong incentive not to do that. Can you elaborate on the kinds of things you were talking about that and what you’ve experienced that has led you to see those things?

RISEN: That was actually part of a speech I gave at Colby College. I think the best thing I’ve written on this whole issue. I compared how Elijah Lovejoy, who was an abolitionist in the 1830s who was murdered because he was trying to run a newspaper in St. Louis that was pro-abolitionism, how he was so far ahead of his time that people thought he was crazy. He was so far outside the mainstream, and people thought abolitionism and the end of slavery was this idea that was insane.

And I was trying to compare that to what we have today, where anybody who says we shouldn’t have a War on Terror is considered delusional. And I was trying to show that conventional wisdom is a creature of our time. It’s not inherently true or not true. And that the mainstream press’s dependence on conventional wisdom ultimately cripples it in a lot of different ways.

GREENWALD: The impression that I have, and I’ve known you personally only for a few years, so it’s more just a speculative observation from having seen your work before that is that a combination of your going through this case with the government where your own liberty is very much at risk as a result of the government’s actions, combined with a lot of the reporting that lead to this book kind of has radicalized you in a way that I think is a pretty common thing that people in the War on Terror have gone through where people look at their country differently, much more so than they ever did before, look at institutions differently.

Am I right about that? Is the Jim Risen of today more willing to experiment with novel ideas that aren’t conventional than the Jim Risen of 20 years ago as a result of those experiences?

RISEN: Probably, probably. I have to think about that. I’m trying to think back. I think my real change came after 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq. I was covering the CIA as a beat then. And to me, it was fascinating talking to CIA people right after the invasion of Iraq and right before the invasion of Iraq, because it was kind of like privately talking to a bunch of Howard Deans. They were all radicalized against what Bush was doing.

To me it was wild to hear all of these people inside the intelligence community, especially in 2003, 2004, who were just going nuts. They couldn’t believe the radical change the United States was going through, and that nobody was opposed to it. And that led me to write my last book, State of War, because I was hearing things from within the intelligence community and the U.S. government that you weren’t hearing publicly from anybody. So that really led me to realize—and to step back and look at—the radical departure of U.S. policy that has happened since 9/11 and since the invasion of Iraq.

To me, it’s not like I’ve been radicalized, I feel like I stayed in the same place and the country changed. The country became more radicalized in a different direction.

GREENWALD: I wonder about that a lot. Obviously, I started writing about politics in 2005, and a huge part of it was that perception, that the country had radically changed, that things that we took for granted were no longer the case, and I’ve definitely had a rapid and significant evolution in my views of how I look at those things the more I focus on them and the more the country changed.

But if you go back and look at some media critics of the ’50s and ’60s, people like I.F. Stone who were kind of placed on the outside of conventional wisdom, and were viewed as fringe or crazy at the time—a lot of that can be traced to way before 9/11. Lies about the Vietnam War. The huge military industrial complex around the Cold War. Do you think 9/11 was this radical break from how things were done in the country, or was it more an injection of steroids into processes that were already underway?

RISEN: There have always been problems. But we’ve taken this to a new level. Both because the technology has allowed the government to do things it would never have done before, but also because of the willingness of the country to accept security measures and a reduction in civil liberties that I think would not have been contemplated before. I keep thinking that if you had a Rip Van Winkle from 1995 who woke up today, I don’t think they would really recognize the country. And that’s what I’m trying to write about, and what I view, because that’s the America that I remember.

GREENWALD: There’s this fascinating debate that took place in the ’90s, after the Timothy McVeigh attack on the Oklahoma City federal building, when the Clinton administration introduced these proposals to require backdoors into all encryption, for all computers and internet usage. And it didn’t happen, and the reason it didn’t happen is because all of these Republicans in Congress, led by John Ashcroft, stood up with a bunch of Democrats in alliance with them, saying “We’re not the kind of country that gives the government access to all of our communications. Privacy is actually a crucial value.” And just a few short years later, all of that reversed, and that debate became inconceivable.

RISEN: When Dick Cheney said, “the gloves come off,” I don’t think we realized how important that was, and what that really meant. As I’ve said before, that really meant, “We’re going to deregulate national security, and we’re going to take off all the rules that were imposed in the ’70s after Watergate.” And that was just a dramatic change in the way we conduct foreign policy and national security. And I think it’s been extended to this whole new homeland security apparatus. People think that terrorism is an existential threat, even though it’s not, and so they’re willing to go along with all this, and that’s what’s so scary to me.

GREENWALD: Let me ask you a few questions about some specific examples in your book, including one that relates to what you just said. You kind of have these different wars that you conceive of and one is called the “War on Normalcy.” One of the examples is, there’s this area on the U.S.-Canadian border that used to be kind of tranquil and now there’s a ton of War on Terror money that has gone to the state police there, and it’s kind of militarized that zone, and made it so the citizens are just interfered with in all kinds of ways.

One of the most overlooked trends, I think—you mentioned Cheney taking the gloves off—all of these things we were doing overseas aimed at ostensibly foreign terrorists have now begun to be imported onto U.S. soil, like the militarization of our police force using techniques from Baghdad, the use of drones, that “Collect it All” NSA model, which was first pioneered by Keith Alexander in Baghdad, is now aimed at U.S. citizens. Do you think that’s an important trend? Is that something that’s really happened, that what was the War on Terror aimed outward is now being aimed domestically?

RISEN: Absolutely, and that’s one of the most scary elements of it. To me, when the NSA started spying domestically that was like Caesar crossing the Rubicon. It was a really important shift. People thought that was absolutely forbidden. And when the NSA started doing it, and then when you started fooling around with creating a new Department of Homeland Security, merging all of these departments—creating Immigration and Customs Enforcement and all of this stuff—I think you’ve created a much more efficient federal domestic law enforcement apparatus, and efficiency is not always a good thing when it comes to that.

One of the things I always think about, and one of my earlier books was comparing the CIA and the KGB during the Cold War, and I always remember somebody telling me that the only countries that have really efficient security services are dictatorships.

GREENWALD: Right, and you can basically only have a really efficient security service if you’re willing to at least kind of go into that realm of authoritarianism—they kind of go hand in hand. Let me ask you: there’s this pretty new reporting you have on this company General Atomics, which is the maker of drones, and you kind of describe them as the new oligarchs. In 2001 they had $100 million in government contracts and now in 2012 they have $1.8 billion, an obscene increase. At the same time, coincidentally enough, you cite a good governance group documenting that they’ve spent more to fund congressional staff travel than any other company.

One of the things that always amazes me—I remember that there was this reporting that was done by Wired, during the debate over whether to give immunity to the telecoms that participated in the NSA program that you uncovered. An extraordinary thing to do, to retroactively immunize the biggest companies in the United States, and Sen. Jay Rockefeller became the leading spokesman for it at the time. He was the Democratic chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and there were studies showing that right around the time when he became the leading proponent of telecom immunity, AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint began donating lots of money to his campaign, they threw parties for him, but still, in the context of Jay Rockefeller—a Rockefeller—with a super safe seat in West Virginia, they were pretty trivial amounts to be able to just dominate congressional policy that way. And that was what struck me too about General Atomics. So they fund some congressional staff travel.

What is it about the D.C. culture that lets these kind of seemingly trivial amounts in the scheme of things end up translating into this massive influence?

RISEN: You know, I don’t think that it’s the money that really does the trick. I think what really, you’ve got to look at is that all of the staffers, and all of the members of Congress are thinking about what are they going to do after they leave those jobs. The same is true for military officers. What are you going to do when you retire from the military, or from the House Intelligence Committee, or whatever? You’re going to need a job at a defense contractor. And so I think that the real incentive for a lot of these people is not to upset their potential employers in the future. The campaign contributions themselves are just tokens, as you said.

GREENWALD: To say that, on one hand it seems kind of self-evident, but on the one hand, it’s a pretty extraordinary observation because it’s a form of the most extreme corruption. Public officials are serving the interests of really rich corporations in exchange for lucrative private sector jobs that they get when they leave after serving their interests.

RISEN: What really hit home was when I was working on a chapter on KBR, and one of the guys who I describe was kind of a whistleblower, Charles Smith. He was an auditor for the army who tried to stop about a billion dollars of payments to KBR because they didn’t have any proof that they’d actually spent the money—or they didn’t have sufficient records to prove it—and he lost his job over his fight with KBR, he believes.

And after I started talking to him he said, “There’s this one general you could talk to who was one of my bosses for a while. He was a good guy and he would vouch for me.” So I called that general, and he had since retired, and he said, “Well, I think Charlie was a great guy, but I now work for a contractor that does business with KBR, and I don’t want to say anything publicly about Charlie because that might upset KBR.” And that’s the kind of thing that you see all the time.

GREENWALD: There’s a case that you talk about in the book that’s Burnett v. Al Baraka, where 9/11 families sued the Saudis. There are lots of influential people in D.C., like Sen. Bob Graham, the former head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and others, who have said that the role that the Saudis have played in the War on Terror, and specifically the 9/11 attack, has been really actively suppressed, because of the U.S. alliance with Saudi Arabia. And there is this sort of bizarre aspect that we’ve gone to war against a huge number of countries, one of the few exceptions to which has been the country that had the most nationals involved in that attack, and whose government has been the most persuasively implicated.

How persuasive or credible do you find those questions about the Saudi involvement in the War on Terror generally, 9/11 specifically, and whether that’s been actively suppressed?

RISEN: Well, as you said, I don’t really get into the substance of that in that chapter because it’s really about this bizarre operation and how crazy that operation became. But I think you’re right. I think it’s one of the unanswered questions of 9/11 that, as you said, Graham became fixated on, and they still have not unredacted parts of that report.

I think the role of the Saudi government is probably different from the role of wealthy people in the Persian Gulf. And that’s the distinction that people have tried to grapple with for a long time. Are these just individually wealthy people in the Gulf, either in Saudi Arabia or in the Emirates, or is there some direction from any of these governments? And that’s the question that the U.S. government has never wanted to address publicly.

GREENWALD: You said in an interview within the last week—it might have been at the Firedog Lake Book Salon, I’m not exactly sure where it was—but you described the period of time in 2004 and 2005 when you were trying to get the NSA eavesdropping story published as one of the most stressful times of your life. I think you even said the quote “most stressful period of your professional life.” The New York Times, to its credit, did eventually publish that story, and did a great job on it, but can you talk a little bit about what you meant by that? Why that period was so stressful?

RISEN: Eric Lichtblau and I were trying to get that in the paper beginning in October 2004, and they killed it, or they stopped it. They agreed with the White House not to run it before the election and then we tried again after the election, and they killed it again, and by that time it was pretty well dead. So I went on a book leave and I put it in my book, and I knew that by doing that, I was putting my career at The New York Times in jeopardy.

It was very stressful about what was going to happen between me, The New York Times, and the Bush administration. I really credit my wife more than anybody else. I told her at one point that if I do this, if I keep it in the book, and the Times doesn’t run it, I’m probably going to get fired, and I remember she told me, “I won’t respect you if you don’t do that.” And so that was enough for me to keep going, but I didn’t sleep for about six months.

GREENWALD: It’s got to be incredibly difficult knowing that you have a story of that magnitude, and that the story has been nailed down and you can’t get it out into the world. Your book, which I literally finished reading about 24 hours ago, is really riveting, and it’s not just a book that is a polemical indictment of the War on Terror, like you’ve read before, it really is an incredible amount of individual reporting on one of the most under-reported aspects of this war, which is just how many people are gorging on huge amounts of profit and waste at the expense of the taxpayer, and what a big part of the war that is. Congratulations on writing such a great book, and I really appreciate your talking to me.

RISEN: Well thank you.

Please visit this Intercept article by Glenn Greenwald for comments at https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2014/11/25/talking-james-risen-pay-price-war-terror-press-freedoms/

Photo: Alex Menendez/AP

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The Bus — Paul Kirchner

1jdadam:

This is Brilliant work…like all Art, it props once droopy eyes open…if we dare look! jdadam

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Battle For The Net

If you woke up tomorrow, and your internet looked like this, what would you do? Imagine all your favorite websites taking forever to load, while you get annoying notifications from your ISP suggesting you switch to one of their approved “Fast Lane” sites.Think about what we would lose: all the weird, alternative, interesting, and enlightening stuff that makes the Internet so much cooler than mainstream Cable TV. What if the only news sites you could reliably connect to were the ones that had deals with companies like Comcast and Verizon?On September 10th, just a few days before the FCC’s comment deadline, public interest organizations are issuing an open, international call for websites and internet users to unite for an “Internet Slowdown” to show the world what the web would be like if Team Cable gets their way and trashes net neutrality. Net neutrality is hard to explain, so our hope is that this action will help SHOW the world what’s really at stake if we lose the open Internet.If you’ve got a website, blog or tumblr, get the code to join the #InternetSlowdown here: https://battleforthenet.com/sept10thEveryone else, here’s a quick list of things you can do to help spread the word about the slowdown: http://tumblr.fightforthefuture.org/post/96020972118/be-a-part-of-the-great-internet-slowdown Get creative! Don’t let us tell you what to do. See you on the net September 10th!

via Battle For The Net.

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PTSD – how writing worked for me

1jdadam:

If you or one you love, or hate, suffer PTSD, please read this blog!

Originally posted on matt johnson:

It has quite surprised me how many people are now trying out writing as a contributory means to help treat PTSD, post traumatic stress disorder. Questions levelled at me, as to how writing helped me, have prompted me to repeat this post, which I originally published last year.

PTSD – the chemistry

In examining PTSD, one of the known factors is that an instance of overwhelming terror can alter the chemistry of the brain, making people more sensitive to adrenaline surges even decades later.

This sensitivity to adrenaline surges is a major factor in post-traumatic stress disorder, in which people can experience normal events as repetitions of the original trauma.  PTSD affects combat veterans, crime victims and millions of others. Its cause has biological basis in its affect on the brain.

New studies in animals and humans suggest that specific sites in the brain undergo these changes. Scientists say the findings…

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Capital in the Twenty-First Century: Introduction | Harvard University Press

Capital in the Twenty-First Century: Introduction | Harvard University Press.

From the Introduction to Capital in the Twenty-First Century, by Thomas Piketty

“Social distinctions can be based only on common utility.”—Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, article 1, 1789

Cover: Capital in the Twenty-First Century, by Thomas Piketty

The distribution of wealth is one of today’s most widely discussed and controversial issues. But what do we really know about its evolution over the long term? Do the dynamics of private capital accumulation inevitably lead to the concentration of wealth in ever fewer hands, as Karl Marx believed in the nineteenth century? Or do the balancing forces of growth, competition, and technological progress lead in later stages of development to reduced inequality and greater harmony among the classes, as Simon Kuznets thought in the twentieth century? What do we really know about how wealth and income have evolved since the eighteenth century, and what lessons can we derive from that knowledge for the century now under way?

These are the questions I attempt to answer in this book. Let me say at once that the answers contained herein are imperfect and incomplete. But they are based on much more extensive historical and comparative data than were available to previous researchers, data covering three centuries and more than twenty countries, as well as on a new theoretical framework that affords a deeper understanding of the underlying mechanisms. Modern economic growth and the diffusion of knowledge have made it possible to avoid the Marxist apocalypse but have not modified the deep structures of capital and inequality—or in any case not as much as one might have imagined in the optimistic decades following World War II. When the rate of return on capital exceeds the rate of growth of output and income, as it did in the nineteenth century and seems quite likely to do again in the twenty-first, capitalism automatically generates arbitrary and unsustainable inequalities that radically undermine the meritocratic values on which democratic societies are based. There are nevertheless ways democracy can regain control over capitalism and ensure that the general interest takes precedence over private interests, while preserving economic openness and avoiding protectionist and nationalist reactions. The policy recommendations I propose later in the book tend in this direction. They are based on lessons derived from historical experience, of which what follows is essentially a narrative.

A Debate without Data?

Intellectual and political debate about the distribution of wealth has long been based on an abundance of prejudice and a paucity of fact.

To be sure, it would be a mistake to underestimate the importance of the intuitive knowledge that everyone acquires about contemporary wealth and income levels, even in the absence of any theoretical framework or statistical analysis. Film and literature, nineteenth-century novels especially, are full of detailed information about the relative wealth and living standards of different social groups, and especially about the deep structure of inequality, the way it is justified, and its impact on individual lives. Indeed, the novels of Jane Austen and Honoré de Balzac paint striking portraits of the distribution of wealth in Britain and France between 1790 and 1830. Both novelists were intimately acquainted with the hierarchy of wealth in their respective societies. They grasped the hidden contours of wealth and its inevitable implications for the lives of men and women, including their marital strategies and personal hopes and disappointments. These and other novelists depicted the effects of inequality with a verisimilitude and evocative power that no statistical or theoretical analysis can match.

Indeed, the distribution of wealth is too important an issue to be left to economists, sociologists, historians, and philosophers. It is of interest to everyone, and that is a good thing. The concrete, physical reality of inequality is visible to the naked eye and naturally inspires sharp but contradictory political judgments. Peasant and noble, worker and factory owner, waiter and banker: each has his or her own unique vantage point and sees important aspects of how other people live and what relations of power and domination exist between social groups, and these observations shape each person’s judgment of what is and is not just. Hence there will always be a fundamentally subjective and psychological dimension to inequality, which inevitably gives rise to political conflict that no purportedly scientific analysis can alleviate. Democracy will never be supplanted by a republic of experts—and that is a very good thing.

Expert analysis will never put an end to the violent political conflict that inequality inevitably instigates. Social scientific research is and always will be tentative and imperfect. It does not claim to transform economics, sociology, and history into exact sciences. But by patiently searching for facts and patterns and calmly analyzing the economic, social, and political mechanisms that might explain them, it can inform democratic debate and focus attention on the right questions.

Nevertheless, the distribution question also deserves to be studied in a systematic and methodical fashion. Without precisely defined sources, methods, and concepts, it is possible to see everything and its opposite. Some people believe that inequality is always increasing and that the world is by definition always becoming more unjust. Others believe that inequality is naturally decreasing, or that harmony comes about automatically, and that in any case nothing should be done that might risk disturbing this happy equilibrium. Given this dialogue of the deaf, in which each camp justifies its own intellectual laziness by pointing to the laziness of the other, there is a role for research that is at least systematic and methodical if not fully scientific. Expert analysis will never put an end to the violent political conflict that inequality inevitably instigates. Social scientific research is and always will be tentative and imperfect. It does not claim to transform economics, sociology, and history into exact sciences. But by patiently searching for facts and patterns and calmly analyzing the economic, social, and political mechanisms that might explain them, it can inform democratic debate and focus attention on the right questions. It can help to redefine the terms of debate, unmask certain preconceived or fraudulent notions, and subject all positions to constant critical scrutiny. In my view, this is the role that intellectuals, including social scientists, should play, as citizens like any other but with the good fortune to have more time than others to devote themselves to study (and even to be paid for it—a signal privilege).

There is no escaping the fact, however, that social science research on the distribution of wealth was for a long time based on a relatively limited set of firmly established facts together with a wide variety of purely theoretical speculations. Before turning in greater detail to the sources I tried to assemble in preparation for writing this book, I want to give a quick historical overview of previous thinking about these issues.

Malthus, Young, and the French Revolution

When classical political economy was born in England and France in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, the issue of distribution was already one of the key questions. Everyone realized that radical transformations were under way, precipitated by sustained demographic growth—a previously unknown phenomenon—coupled with a rural exodus and the advent of the Industrial Revolution. How would these upheavals affect the distribution of wealth, the social structure, and the political equilibrium of European society?

Title page of the original edition of An Essay on the Principle of Population.

For Thomas Malthus, who in 1798 published his Essay on the Principle of Population, there could be no doubt that the primary threat to European society was overpopulation.

For Thomas Malthus, who in 1798 published his Essay on the Principle of Population, there could be no doubt: the primary threat was overpopulation.1 Although his sources were thin, he made the best he could of them. One particularly important influence was the travel diary published by Arthur Young, an English agronomist who traveled extensively in France, from Calais to the Pyrenees and from Brittany to Franche-Comté, in 1787–1788, on the eve of the Revolution. Young wrote of the poverty of the French countryside.

His vivid essay was by no means totally inaccurate. France at that time was by far the most populous country in Europe and therefore an ideal place to observe. The kingdom could already boast of a population of 20 million in 1700, compared to only 8 million for Great Britain (and 5 million for England alone). The French population increased steadily throughout the eighteenth century, from the end of Louis XIV’s reign to the demise of Louis XVI, and by 1780 was close to 30 million. There is every reason to believe that this unprecedentedly rapid population growth contributed to a stagnation of agricultural wages and an increase in land rents in the decades prior to the explosion of 1789. Although this demographic shift was not the sole cause of the French Revolution, it clearly contributed to the growing unpopularity of the aristocracy and the existing political regime.

Nevertheless, Young’s account, published in 1792, also bears the traces of nationalist prejudice and misleading comparison. The great agronomist found the inns in which he stayed thoroughly disagreeable and disliked the manners of the women who waited on him. Although many of his observations were banal and anecdotal, he believed he could derive universal consequences from them. He was mainly worried that the mass poverty he witnessed would lead to political upheaval. In particular, he was convinced that only the English political system, with separate houses of Parliament for aristocrats and commoners and veto power for the nobility, could allow for harmonious and peaceful development led by responsible people. He was convinced that France was headed for ruin when it decided in 1789–1790 to allow both aristocrats and commoners to sit in a single legislative body. It is no exaggeration to say that his whole account was overdetermined by his fear of revolution in France. Whenever one speaks about the distribution of wealth, politics is never very far behind, and it is difficult for anyone to escape contemporary class prejudices and interests.

When Reverend Malthus published his famous Essay in 1798, he reached conclusions even more radical than Young’s. Like his compatriot, he was very afraid of the new political ideas emanating from France, and to reassure himself that there would be no comparable upheaval in Great Britain he argued that all welfare assistance to the poor must be halted at once and that reproduction by the poor should be severely scrutinized lest the world succumb to overpopulation leading to chaos and misery. It is impossible to understand Malthus’s exaggeratedly somber predictions without recognizing the way fear gripped much of the European elite in the 1790s.

Ricardo: The Principle of Scarcity

In retrospect, it is obviously easy to make fun of these prophecies of doom. It is important to realize, however, that the economic and social transformations of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were objectively quite impressive, not to say traumatic, for those who witnessed them. Indeed, most contemporary observers—and not only Malthus and Young—shared relatively dark or even apocalyptic views of the long-run evolution of the distribution of wealth and class structure of society. This was true in particular of David Ricardo and Karl Marx, who were surely the two most influential economists of the nineteenth century and who both believed that a small social group—landowners for Ricardo, industrial capitalists for Marx—would inevitably claim a steadily increasing share of output and income.2

For Ricardo, who published his Principles of Political Economy and Taxation in 1817, the chief concern was the long-term evolution of land prices and land rents. Like Malthus, he had virtually no genuine statistics at his disposal. He nevertheless had intimate knowledge of the capitalism of his time. Born into a family of Jewish financiers with Portuguese roots, he also seems to have had fewer political prejudices than Malthus, Young, or Smith. He was influenced by the Malthusian model but pushed the argument farther. He was above all interested in the following logical paradox. Once both population and output begin to grow steadily, land tends to become increasingly scarce relative to other goods. The law of supply and demand then implies that the price of land will rise continuously, as will the rents paid to landlords. The landlords will therefore claim a growing share of national income, as the share available to the rest of the population decreases, thus upsetting the social equilibrium. For Ricardo, the only logically and politically acceptable answer was to impose a steadily increasing tax on land rents.

This somber prediction proved wrong: land rents did remain high for an extended period, but in the end the value of farm land inexorably declined relative to other forms of wealth as the share of agriculture in national income decreased. Writing in the 1810s, Ricardo had no way of anticipating the importance of technological progress or industrial growth in the years ahead. Like Malthus and Young, he could not imagine that humankind would ever be totally freed from the alimentary imperative.

His insight into the price of land is nevertheless interesting: the “scarcity principle” on which he relied meant that certain prices might rise to very high levels over many decades. This could well be enough to destabilize entire societies. The price system plays a key role in coordinating the activities of millions of individuals—indeed, today, billions of individuals in the new global economy. The problem is that the price system knows neither limits nor morality.

It would be a serious mistake to neglect the importance of the scarcity principle for understanding the global distribution of wealth in the twenty-first century. To convince oneself of this, it is enough to replace the price of farmland in Ricardo’s model by the price of urban real estate in major world capitals, or, alternatively, by the price of oil. In both cases, if the trend over the period 1970–2010 is extrapolated to the period 2010–2050 or 2010–2100, the result is economic, social, and political disequilibria of considerable magnitude, not only between but within countries—disequilibria that inevitably call to mind the Ricardian apocalypse.

To be sure, there exists in principle a quite simple economic mechanism that should restore equilibrium to the process: the mechanism of supply and demand. If the supply of any good is insufficient, and its price is too high, then demand for that good should decrease, which should lead to a decline in its price. In other words, if real estate and oil prices rise, then people should move to the country or take to traveling about by bicycle (or both). Never mind that such adjustments might be unpleasant or complicated; they might also take decades, during which landlords and oil well owners might well accumulate claims on the rest of the population so extensive that they could easily come to own everything that can be owned, including rural real estate and bicycles, once and for all.3 As always, the worst is never certain to arrive. It is much too soon to warn readers that by 2050 they may be paying rent to the emir of Qatar. I will consider the matter in due course, and my answer will be more nuanced, albeit only moderately reassuring. But it is important for now to understand that the interplay of supply and demand in no way rules out the possibility of a large and lasting divergence in the distribution of wealth linked to extreme changes in certain relative prices. This is the principal implication of Ricardo’s scarcity principle. But nothing obliges us to roll the dice.

Marx: The Principle of Infinite Accumulation

By the time Marx published the first volume of Capital in 1867, exactly one-half century after the publication of Ricardo’s Principles, economic and social realities had changed profoundly: the question was no longer whether farmers could feed a growing population or land prices would rise sky high but rather how to understand the dynamics of industrial capitalism, now in full blossom.

The most striking fact of the day was the misery of the industrial proletariat. Despite the growth of the economy, or perhaps in part because of it, and because, as well, of the vast rural exodus owing to both population growth and increasing agricultural productivity, workers crowded into urban slums. The working day was long, and wages were very low. A new urban misery emerged, more visible, more shocking, and in some respects even more extreme than the rural misery of the Old Regime. Germinal, Oliver Twist, and Les Misérables did not spring from the imaginations of their authors, any more than did laws limiting child labor in factories to children older than eight (in France in 1841) or ten in the mines (in Britain in 1842). Dr. Villermé’s Tableau de l’état physique et moral des ouvriers employés dans les manufactures, published in France in 1840 (leading to the passage of a timid new child labor law in 1841), described the same sordid reality as The Condition of the Working Class in England, which Friedrich Engels published in 1845.4

What we see in the period 1870–1914 is at best a stabilization of inequality at an extremely high level, and in certain respects an endless inegalitarian spiral, marked in particular by increasing concentration of wealth. It is quite difficult to say where this trajectory would have led without the major economic and political shocks initiated by the war. With the aid of historical analysis and a little perspective, we can now see those shocks as the only forces since the Industrial Revolution powerful enough to reduce inequality.

In fact, all the historical data at our disposal today indicate that it was not until the second half—or even the final third—of the nineteenth century that a significant rise in the purchasing power of wages occurred. From the first to the sixth decade of the nineteenth century, workers’ wages stagnated at very low levels—close or even inferior to the levels of the eighteenth and previous centuries. This long phase of wage stagnation, which we observe in Britain as well as France, stands out all the more because economic growth was accelerating in this period. The capital share of national income—industrial profits, land rents, and building rents—insofar as can be estimated with the imperfect sources available today, increased considerably in both countries in the first half of the nineteenth century.5 It would decrease slightly in the final decades of the nineteenth century, as wages partly caught up with growth. The data we have assembled nevertheless reveal no structural decrease in inequality prior to World War I. What we see in the period 1870–1914 is at best a stabilization of inequality at an extremely high level, and in certain respects an endless inegalitarian spiral, marked in particular by increasing concentration of wealth. It is quite difficult to say where this trajectory would have led without the major economic and political shocks initiated by the war. With the aid of historical analysis and a little perspective, we can now see those shocks as the only forces since the Industrial Revolution powerful enough to reduce inequality.

In any case, capital prospered in the 1840s and industrial profits grew, while labor incomes stagnated. This was obvious to everyone, even though in those days aggregate national statistics did not yet exist. It was in this context that the first communist and socialist movements developed. The central argument was simple: What was the good of industrial development, what was the good of all the technological innovations, toil, and population movements if, after half a century of industrial growth, the condition of the masses was still just as miserable as before, and all lawmakers could do was prohibit factory labor by children under the age of eight? The bankruptcy of the existing economic and political system seemed obvious. People therefore wondered about its long-term evolution: what could one say about it?

This was the task Marx set himself. In 1848, on the eve of the “spring of nations” (that is, the revolutions that broke out across Europe that spring), he published The Communist Manifesto, a short, hard-hitting text whose first chapter began with the famous words “A specter is haunting Europe—the specter of communism.”6 The text ended with the equally famous prediction of revolution: “The development of Modern Industry, therefore, cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own gravediggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.”

Over the next two decades, Marx labored over the voluminous treatise that would justify this conclusion and propose the first scientific analysis of capitalism and its collapse. This work would remain unfinished: the first volume of Capital was published in 1867, but Marx died in 1883 without having completed the two subsequent volumes. His friend Engels published them posthumously after piecing together a text from the sometimes obscure fragments of manuscript Marx had left behind.

Like Ricardo, Marx based his work on an analysis of the internal logical contradictions of the capitalist system. He therefore sought to distinguish himself from both bourgeois economists (who saw the market as a self-regulated system, that is, a system capable of achieving equilibrium on its own without major deviations, in accordance with Adam Smith’s image of “the invisible hand” and Jean-Baptiste Say’s “law” that production creates its own demand), and utopian socialists and Proudhonians, who in Marx’s view were content to denounce the misery of the working class without proposing a truly scientific analysis of the economic processes responsible for it.7 In short, Marx took the Ricardian model of the price of capital and the principle of scarcity as the basis of a more thorough analysis of the dynamics of capitalism in a world where capital was primarily industrial (machinery, plants, etc.) rather than landed property, so that in principle there was no limit to the amount of capital that could be accumulated. In fact, his principal conclusion was what one might call the “principle of infinite accumulation,” that is, the inexorable tendency for capital to accumulate and become concentrated in ever fewer hands, with no natural limit to the process. This is the basis of Marx’s prediction of an apocalyptic end to capitalism: either the rate of return on capital would steadily diminish (thereby killing the engine of accumulation and leading to violent conflict among capitalists), or capital’s share of national income would increase indefinitely (which sooner or later would unite the workers in revolt). In either case, no stable socioeconomic or political equilibrium was possible.

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Green Scare: Animal Rights Activists Face Terrorism Charges for Freeing Minks from Fur Farm | Democracy Now!

Green Scare: Animal Rights Activists Face Terrorism Charges for Freeing Minks from Fur Farm | Democracy Now!.

The government has unveiled federal terrorism charges against two animal rights activists accused of helping to free minks and foxes from fur farms in rural Illinois. In newly unsealed indictments, the prosecutors accuse Tyler Lang and Kevin Olliff of freeing about 2,000 mink from their cages on a fur farm and then removing parts of the fence surrounding the property so the mink could escape. The activists are also accused of spray-painting “Liberation is Love” on the farm’s walls. Lang and Olliff have been indicted under the controversial Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), with each count carrying a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. We are joined by reporter Will Potter, who covers animal rights and environmental issues at GreenIstheNewRed.com. “It really doesn’t matter how you feel about animal rights groups or about these alleged crimes of stealing animals,” Potter says of the AETA, which he argues is too broad while criminalizing protests and civil disobedience. “This is really about a corporate campaign to demonize their opposition and to use terrorism resources to shut down a movement.” Potter also discusses his wildly successful Kickstarter campaign to purchase a drone for use in photographing abuses at factory farms.

 

To view the program and/or read the transcript please follow the link above. Or go to DemocracyNow.org

 

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