GG: Right. Well, one of the interesting things that before I began writing about politics, and what that has enabled me to do is to focus full time on it in a way that you can’t do when you actually have a job. Before I began writing about politics, I thought that I was a fairly well informed consumer of news. I did things like dutifully read the NYT, and I would read magazines and watch high end news programs and the like. I assumed there were things I was getting that were not entirely accurate. I was a litigator, so I generally assumed that people were lying constantly. It’s just a risk of the profession. But, I thought that by and large I was getting the basic story right about what the US is and what it does in the world. One of the things that was really so eye-opening for me was, and again, there is a little bit of a naiveté to it, is that once I was actually able to start focusing on these things full time, and reading original documents for myself, and not having to rely on the mediation of the media, being able to pick and chose what I would focus on, rather than having editors decide for me what I needed to know about it and what I didn’t, was that essentially all the, not just individual facts but the broad narrative that I was getting was really radically flawed. I basically erased the part of my brain that had existed, that thought that it had stored accurate political information, and kind of rebuilt it from scratch. One of the things that today is still so remarkable to me, is that there are enormously consequential events that exist, for example, in the Muslim world, that are constantly displayed on their news programs and in their newspapers, that are literally unmentioned in the American media. That has created this extraordinarily huge gap in the perception in that part of the world, and this part of the world. We like to assume that the reason why that gap exists is that they’re these primitive fundamentalists who are propagandized and who aren’t told the truth by their media and by their government. There is some extent to which that is true, but there’s huge extent to which the opposite is true, which is the reason this perception gap exists is because we are propagandized. There’s so much that happens that we don’t know about that they do. They know every time an American airplane slaughters innocent civilians and we virtually never hear about it. They know that the American government spent years imprisoning Al Jazeera journalists without any due process of any kind in order to interrogate them about Al Jazeera, and they we attacked Al Jazeera with fighter jets. I guarantee you the percentage of Americans who knows any of that is infinitesimal. And, you go down the list, and this is the definition of propaganda, when the information that we get is designed to shape our perceptions favorably to the government and there’s so much of it that we have.
DB: A number of questions focus on WL and Bradley Manning. How can people support, financially or otherwise, WL and do so anonymously…that seems to be a concern, and Bradley Manning. I know there’s a demonstration coming up in Virginia on March 20.
GG: Right. As far as financial support to WL is concerned, there are difficult ways to do that, because all American financial services corporations like Bank of America and PayPal have terminated their services and VISA and MasterCard won’t process payments. It is difficult. There are ways to do it through bank wires. I don’t know if there’s a way to do it anonymously, and again, the fact that that concern has been raised reflects the climate that I talked about earlier. But if you go the WL website which isn’t easy to find these days, thanks to the cyber attacks and Amazon, but it’s at wikileaks dot ch. There are instructions for how one can donate to WL. Bradley Manning is a much more conservative donation to make, in the sense of nobody could ever suggest that there would ever be anything illegal about it. He has a defense fund, which fortunately has raised I think ninety five or ninety six percent of the money that they think they will need for his defense. There are still other things he needs in terms of publicity to help get his story out in the media. There may be other expenses associated with protests and legal actions brought over the treatment to which he’s being subjected. So, you could just google Bradley Manning Defense Fund and you’ll find it there, a very trust worthy organization, and you can donate as well. But, I think the more important thing that one can do for WL and Bradley Manning, rather than giving money, is what we’re doing now, which is, you know, a lot of times when I write things or speak at places, there are always question, well, what can be done about this, as though what we’re doing is nothing. One of the most important things you can do is get together with fellow citizens and inform them and talk with them and buildup the dissatisfaction and the anger over it, so that there is real dissatisfaction in the citizenry for these things. There is a protest on March 20th at the Quantico Base in Virginia, the brig where he’s being held, and whoever has the resources to go there, I think would be encouraged to do so. And there are similar protests being organized all around the country, at Marine or Army facilities or at members of congress over the torture to which this American citizen is being subjected on American soil. I think this would be immensely helpful in bringing more attention to his plight.
DB: Again, this is an amalgam of several questions. You talked in your presentation about this enormous consortium of government and corporate power and that faction is so powerful. In some ways, that’s very disenabling in terms of creating this tremendous force. How can people confront it?
GG: One of the interesting dynamics that I confronted from the very beginning of my working on political issues, writing about political issues full time, was this idea that if you, and it’s almost a paradox, but it’s almost like the more you document just how heinous things are, the more hopelessness you risk breeding, because, the more you demonstrate how these powerful factions are seemingly invulnerable, and how immunized they are from any forms of accountability, the more daunting the task seems to confront them. And, what I would always say, whenever people would say this seems so hopeless and everything seems pessimistic in terms of the prospects for change, I would say that any systems that have been constructed by human beings can be destroyed and replaced, or even modified by other human beings. History proves that. One of the things that I think is so vital about what’s happening in the Middle East is, I mean, “hopelessness”-if you were to look up that term in the dictionary, you would find essentially the pictures of the people who were living under the repression in those countries. I mean, these are dictatorships that have been in place for decades. The people are disempowered, not just financially and in terms of weaponry, but in terms of being kept illiterate and poor education. I mean, that’s not true in all the countries, but in many. When you have a country that is under that level of repression for so long, it breaks their spirit, it breaks their psychological belief that they can actually change things. And, so the fact that in that part of the world the most unlikely part of that world, people, ordinary people are rising up together and essentially putting great fear in these tyrants and in these monarchs who are propped up by the US and have been for decades; and are winning should prevent any person in this country with the resources and the relative domestic liberties that we have, from ever succumbing to resignation. That ought to be the model that prevents that from happening.
DB: It took the Egyptian people eighteen days to overthrow a 30 year autocracy.
GG: Yeah, exactly.
DB: [9:40] Quite an amazing accomplishment. What do you think is behind Obama’s decision to restore military tribunals in Guantanamo?
GG: Well. This is part and parcel of the entire preservation by Obama of the Bush-Cheney architecture for the war on terror generally and the detention regime specifically. There’s this idea, [I actually wrote about this today even though I was traveling, but it was irritating me so much that I found the time because I thought I was going to go crazy if I didn’t], that Obama wanted to close Guantanamo so very, very badly, but unfortunately he was thwarted by the Congress, because they denied him the funds to do so, and then enacted legislation barring the transfer of detainees from Guantanamo to the US, and that he is therefore forced, against all of his wishes, to preserve what’s taking place in Guantanamo. And this is actually a complete fiction, because if you go and look at what Obama actually said he wanted to do, and intended to do, prior to the time that Congress did anything, he, it is true, wanted to “close” Guantanamo, in the sense of taking all of the parts that compose it and moving it a couple thousand miles north to a maximum security facility, a super-max in Thompson, Illinois, where the detainees there would continue to be detained without any due process of any kind, without being charged, without any recourse beyond the say-so of the president and to continue their system of military tribunals as well that caused so much controversy during the Bush administration. I was pretty involved in the debates over the Guantanamo disputes, and my recollection is pretty clear that what made people so angry about Guantanamo, was not that it was located in Cuba rather than Illinois, so that if you move it to Illinois it’s all problem solved. I think what made people angry, was that it was sort of un-American and unjust to put people in prison for decades or for life without so much as charging them with a crime; or inventing new tribunals, [instead of allowing them access to our regular courts] that were essentially rigged in advance to ensure their conviction. So, this idea that Obama wanted to close Guantanamo, and isn’t that great and too bad he got thwarted is true only in the narrowest sense. The reality is he all along wanted to simply transfer this system that was Guantanamo to a different location on the premise that if he did that, I guess, it would fool enough people in the Muslim world, and in the US, to make everyone think that the nightmare of the Bush regime was over. That would never have fooled anyone, other than a few partisans in the US and probably the entire cast of cable news, but other than that, it would not have fooled anyone. It is true that Congress forced this system to continue in Cuba, but what Obama wanted to do wasn’t all that different.
DB: Talk about the social media and its impact; Face Book, Twitter, You Tube. I was just in Kashmir ten days ago. The kids there who are in revolt against the Indian occupation are taking their cell phones and photographing and then uploading those onto You Tube and they’re spreading all over.
GG: Right. To me, this new social media really is just he inevitable and logical progression from what I think the internet did several years ago in terms of making political discourse much more democratized. It really was the case not all that long ago, even just going back to 2002, 2003, when the only people who could really be heard loudly in political discourse in the US were people who either were entrenched political officials who had access to large media outlets or employees of large multinational conglomerates who essentially comprise all the people who call themselves journalists in the US. Every person you saw on television who delivered the news, who talked about the news, journalists who wrote for newspapers, the largest newspapers are all employees of huge corporate institutions. That meant that there was a very homogenized voice, set of voices that were shaping political discourse, which is why, if you go back and read political debates in 2002 and 2003 as I sometimes still do, you’ll be shocked. No matter how much you think you remember just how insane it all was, if you go back and read what happened on PBS or CNN as they talk about Saddam Hussein and all his scary weapons; or if you talk about, people who talk about in newspapers George Bush and Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld being brave and even sexually arousing warriors and how manly they were, all very common themes. You don’t have to look very hard for that, it’s all there, you will be shocked by just how rotted and degraded our political discourse was, even that recently. What the internet really did was it allowed people, such as myself and a lot of other people, to no longer have to go to large institutions and corporations in order to have the means for building a readership and building an audience and using the technology that can disseminate ideas to large numbers of people. It really diversified and democratized political discourse and brought in a lot of new voices and therefore a lot of new ideas, which is why I do think things have improved slightly in terms of how political debates are conducted. What Face Book and Twitter and what all that social media has done, is, it has brought it to parts of the world where it didn’t exist before and it has just democratized it further. So now, all you need is access to You Tube and a cell phone, and you can make major international news without the mediation of any corporate editors, in a way that was completely unthinkable even seven or eight years ago. It especially is effective at organizing like-minded people in a very quick way to create their own alliance of power that could compete with far more entrenched power. Again, I think we’re at the very insipient stages of this process, and that is why internet freedom is such a vital war to be attentive to, because people in power know how threatening it is, and that’s why they’re constantly devising ways to control it, to undermine it, to dilute it and to subvert it.
DB: It’s been said more than once that corporate media is a WMD-a weapon of mass distraction, and needs to be regulated to some extent. Now, talking about, you just mentioned political discourse. The question here is about the affect of the Citizen’s United [CU] case and what can be done to reverse the effect of corporate money in elections, and how that relates to the regime of secrecy.
GG: [16:41] Right. One of the things I think that CU did was…I personally don’t think that CU changed very much, because, CU dealt with a very narrow form of corporate spending, which is the ability of corporations to spend money specifically in a sixty day period prior to an election in order to elect a candidate. Prior to CU, corporations were completely free to spend as much money as they wanted to do things like run what were called “issue ads”, so they could run an issue the day before the election and spend as much money as they wanted saying Congressman Smith has supported this horrendous piece of legislation that’s the equivalent of the worst tyranny. Call Congressman Smith and tell him to stop it, which was just a poorly disguised way of saying vote against Congressman Smith. All CU did was allow corporations now to make their spending more overt so that they could now say vote against Congressman Smith, vote for this person. Prior to CU, in my opinion, corporate influence, the influence of corporate money in American politics was already far and away the most serious problem that we face. I think…because what it encompasses is everything I talked about earlier. It’s the ability of the nation’s wealthiest factions to control our political process in a way that was never intended. Until that problem is redressed, there isn’t very much within the democratic process, voting, referenda, petitions, calling members of congress, none of that really matters because the people to whom they’re answering are the people who are the oligarchs, the people who control all the financial wealth because they own the political process. I personally am more comfortable, a lot more comfortable, with leveling that playing field with a very robust form of public financing so that if corporation give ten million dollars to a particular candidate, there’s a public financing scheme that will give ten million dollars to their opponent, and will level out the playing field so that candidates don’t have to be beholden to moneyed interests. I think that that’s the only way to subvert that, combined with genuine full disclosure so that people like the Koch brothers and others can’t operate in the dark and act covertly. But, I think public financing can truly level the playing field in a way that will alleviate the need of politicians to serve who their masters are now which is to the people who pay into and buy the political system.
DB: You excoriate in very clear terms the Democrats and the Republicans. Is it time for a second political party?
GG: A third?...[laughs] Right. That took me a second. It’s interesting, but some of the critics of the American political process whom I respect most will say, no matter how critical they are of the Democratic Party, and how insistent they are that there’s very little difference between them, that it’s still important at the end of the day to vote against Republicans and vote for Democrats. That’s something that Noam Chomsky says all the time. I’m not for the moment saying that’s my opinion, so if you want to applaud him go ahead. That has always been persuasive to me, or at least it was for a long time, that…Chomsky’s argument is, and Howard Zinn’s would say the same thing, and others, too, that even though the differences are so minute, relatively speaking from a bird’s eye view, and even though the kinds of issues we talked about tonight, there are no differences, that when you’re talking about a structure as enormous as the US government, that even minor differences between the two parties in terms of how they allocate resources, which programs they fund, and which ones they defund, can have a very substantial impact on the lives of millions of people and it’s irresponsible to say that because the differences aren’t great enough, that I’m going to abstain, or that I’m going to become indifferent about which political party wins. Because it actually does matter in the lives of a lot of people whether Social Security is cut a lot or kind of a lot, and things like that. That’s that argument, and it’s an argument which I have found somewhat persuasive. Lately, I’ve become a lot more ambivalent about that argument. The reason is that, though it is true that if you look at short term political cycles there are some differences between Democrats and Republicans. It may very well be the case that had John McCain and Sara Palin won, that we would have instead of just a few wars we would have one more with Iran, which would be an extremely bad thing for countless millions of people. At the same time, it’s also the case that if you look a little bit broader at the political conflicts, at some point you have to say, I’m willing to sacrifice some short term political gain in order to find a way to make more meaningful improvements over the long term. Otherwise, we’re going to be having the same conversation in 2016 and 2020 and 2024 and our children will and our grandchildren will, and everyone’s going to be lamenting how terrible it is that we don’t have any choices and yet nothing will change because at the end of the day all the loyalists lineup behind the two parties on the ground that the other one is just slightly worse. Until that mind set is broken, and I don’t know what the answer is for breaking it because I acknowledge that there is real danger from abstaining from the political process, or in becoming indifferent about which of the two political parties wins, but what I know is as long as we continue doing what we’re doing the same dynamic will persist. That’s just logical. So, at some point, I think you need to start to say that the differences are minor enough that I’m willing to let this slightly worse party win a couple more seats than they otherwise might, maybe even win an election because I want the Democratic Party to know that if they continue doing what they’re doing on the grounds that they can just take for granted all of our support, at some point that assurance in their mind needs to be broken so that they become more attentive to the people they claim to represent.
GG: Well, there was a story for a while that they had some very explosive documents about a major bank which everyone assumed correctly was Bank of America [BoA]. And that actually lead to a recent scandal where the BoA hired a law firm and some internet security firms to start trying to coordinate a response to WL, and to attack it. I’m not sure how significant those BoA documents are really going to be. Obviously, there’s lots of corruption and wrong doing at the highest levels of every major American Bank. The BoA is America’s largest bank. So, it isn’t that the corruption doesn’t exist I just don’t know if these document are going to be able to fulfill the original promise. What I do know is that WL’s problem right now is that they’re so overloaded with disclosures of documents that seem at face value to be extremely significant, that one of the reasons why they actually do need financial support is because it’s very expensive for them to go through the process of verifying and authenticating those documents. They’re well aware that the Pentagon wants to feed false documents to them, that their credibility would be instantly destroyed if they ever released in this major fanfare of a way documents that turned out to be fabricated. So, when they do get documents, they go to extreme lengths to ensure that they are authentic. That’s why it takes some time. So they are sitting on some documents that I know for a fact, if they’re real, will make as much headlines, if not more than the previous disclosures. It’s just a matter of getting those documents verified.
GG: It is true. It is a major coup of WL. They have authenticated that.
DB: You heard it right here. Thanks very much for coming. Have a wonderful evening.
GG: Thank you very much. [31:05]