Chris Hedges and Bob Scheer conclude their conversation about Scheer’s latest book “They Know Everything About You: How Data-Collecting Corporations and Snooping Government Agencies Are Destroying Democracy”.
CHRIS HEDGES, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: Hi. I’m Chris Hedges for The Real News. This is our seventh segment with Robert Scheer, the author of They Know Everything About You: How Data-Collecting Corporations and Snooping Government Agencies Are Destroying Democracy. Welcome, Bob. So we were talking about violence. And I just want to say that up until, let’s say, the ’60s within this country–and this goes all the way back to westward expansion, and even the colonization of New England–most segments of this population had a vested interest in the tools of subjugation of Native Americans and African Americans because it made them wealthier. And we watched that growing capacity of wealth. This was something that Tocqueville noticed when he made his travels across the United States. And therefore I would disagree with you in saying that I think most segments of the population did not ask the hard questions about slavery or about the genocidal campaign–roughly 2 million Native Americans (by 1900 there’s less than 250,000 left) who were slaughtered–because it was in their interests. As soon as gold is found in California, they’re racing through Indian territory, or gold is found in the Black Hills. The press, most of these campaigns that were carried out, like Covington out of Denver, these were–they weren’t even soldiers. They were private militias who went in and carried out indiscriminate slaughter against Native Americans. So I think it’s a bit like Nazi Germany, the idea that somehow people are manipulated. Yes, of course propaganda; the elites always manipulate. But I think it was in their interest to be manipulated in many cases, and therefore they didn’t ask the kinds of questions they should have asked. I think they’re far more complicit than you give allowance for. PROF. ROBERT SCHEER, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: Yeah, this is a fundamental disagreement we have. I just think, you know, my own parents and, you know, going to work and the kinds of jobs–my father was, you know, running knitting machines and my uncle was a welder and so forth. I’m just thinking of those jobs and how much discretionary time you had or how–. You know, you go and it’s early in the morning, five or six o’clock, and you get on that subway train. And I’m sure there’s a comparable farmland experience I didn’t grow up in. But my father was a German father farmer who came here at the time of the First World War and so forth. But, you know, you go to work and you’re running this machine, and then maybe you get a half hour for lunch or something, and then after–and then maybe you want to do something nice. If you’re younger, you go hear some music or do something. But then you’ve got to get back on that train and you work, and then you’ve got to get up and do it the next day, and maybe on the weekend you can go a little fishing or have a picnic or something. I see that in Los Angeles right now. You know, my son is married to a woman from Oaxaca. I’ve experienced immigrant culture. And we are increasingly in California–and in the nation–we have a major influx of immigrants. They’re mostly interested in survival, in family, in caring for others, and so forth. And the daily routine is a nightmare. If you get–right now in Los Angeles, and you get a ticket because that’s going to support municipal government and it ends up being a $100 ticket or something, boom, there goes the budget. HEDGES: Well, that’s how the system’s designed. It’s designed like that. SCHEER: Yeah, I understand that. But my view is these people have–I will not blame them. I blame–even when they are so-called populist movements, there’s a Father Coughlin, there’s the Koch brothers, there’s people manipulating them, there’s money pouring in. We saw it with Occupy. They’re agents of the state coming in. They’re the false divide-and-conquer. You know, oh, there are terrorists out there and there are communists out there, there’s foreign enemy, national security. And then we buy people off–you know, go into the military, be cannon fodder. And I just come from a very strong sense that throughout the world–and I’ve seen it everywhere, you know, that I’ve been–the masses of people are manipulated. HEDGES: Well, I don’t disagree. SCHEER: Okay. And their ability–so I put the onus on the manipulators, because I see–and just in my own case, even myself, going to school, I remember the first time I wrote a letter to The New York Times, and they had a whole thing about, you know, the Cold War started because the Russians grabbed southern Sakhalin, and I happened to go to the 42nd Street library ’cause I could do it. I had some job working in a store, /klaɪnz/, on Union Square, and I went and checked this out. And then I found the wartime agreements. No! They were supposed to go get southern Sakhalin. And I wrote a letter to New York Times. The New York Times didn’t print it. Fast-forward, I’m the editor of Ramparts. Martin Luther King gives that great speech at Riverside Church and he [incompr.] The New York Times doesn’t print his speech (we printed it at Ramparts), and they condemn him editorially for dividing the civil rights movement. So what I have seen in my life as a journalist, as a young person, and everything was a pattern. And this is why I wrote this bloody book, because I think now, with the new tools of surveillance, you know, being able to compare our biometrics and with Facebook being able to move the discussion from pessimistic to optimistic, with somebody like Barack Obama coming into power because he was able to use all of this data to target advertising, I see a lessening of the ability of most people to be able to know what’s going on, to challenge it. HEDGES: Well, all of that’s true. And yet I think we as an imperial power are infected with the disease of imperialism. And imperial power is primarily about the violent subjugation of others, abroad and at home. And we have become the richest nation on the planet through the suffering of the wretched of the Earth. And it is not in our interest economically, you know, however hard we may work, whatever, to look at the wretched of the earth. SCHEER: See, I disagree. I think it’s the interest of American workers to look at the exploitation of Chinese workers now, because if they would–in these trade agreements–and you’ve written about this–in these trade agreements, if they would support these agreements, including the right of people to organize unions and have basic human rights and so forth, you wouldn’t be able to keep wages as suppressed as they are in China. HEDGES: You’re exactly right. But I’m talking about now we’re living in a system that’s supranational. These global corporations have no loyalty to any sovereign state. So I’m talking about–and you’re right. But in the past–. SCHEER: In the past, who paid the price for these wars? I think it was–you know, who were the ones who actually ended up dying in these wars? HEDGES: Well, of course, as always it’s the working class and poor. SCHEER: Right. So I don’t accept the idea that somehow we were living high off the hog, because we didn’t get the goodies. I disagree with that. HEDGES: Well, but look at the 1950s. The average American worker within–anywhere on the planet was, in relative terms to other workers, making more than any–I mean, you had–. SCHEER: I was working in the post office the 1950s. That’s how I went to college. And, yes, I made $2.20 an hour. I was a temporary part-time sub, but I worked 12 hours a day if I could get the hours. And, you know, I wasn’t starving or anything, but I certainly was not living high. HEDGES: Well–yeah. Right. But, Bob–. SCHEER: No. Wait. My mother was going to work in the–I remember this very well. When I went to college, I was living with my mother in the Bronx. She was going to the garment district and I was going down to work in the post office after school. And I worked my tail off with a lot of people who had been vets in the army and everything else. They thought they were middle class or lower middle-class, but they were hanging on by a thread. And the only reason the post office job meant anything at all is we had the beginnings of unions. You know. And the people, all–my family were working. They weren’t living high on the hog. HEDGES: Right. Well, but, of course, unions created the middle class. And my grandfather worked in the post office and was a vet and was in a union and retired with a pension. And you’re right, he didn’t have much money. He was probably lower working class, whatever. SCHEER: Your father didn’t have much money. HEDGES: No, my father–this was my mother. My father came from money; my mother didn’t. SCHEER: But as a minister he didn’t make–. HEDGES: No, he didn’t make much. But you had a pension, you had a house. Now, as Barbara Ehrenreich said, being working poor in this country is one long emergency. You’re working three jobs, you’re in debt. You know, in real terms your wages have declined or stagnated since the ’70s. You can’t afford a house. You’re sleeping in your car. SCHEER: Absolutely. HEDGES: It’s a completely different scenario. SCHEER: No, not completely different. HEDGES: It’s very different. SCHEER: No. No. See, this is where I disagree. It was never good to work in a factory. You know. I mean, I did some of this. You know. I mean, it was not. I was in the /ˈfɛrlɨs/ steel plant. I was working on the original Levittown houses in Pennsylvania, ’cause as a kid you got those kind of jobs, and even later. And my relatives worked in those jobs. No, it was never great to climb in and out of cars on the assembly line, you know, at Ford or something. But you’re right: with unionization, with some labor protections before they were stripped away, you could have a decent life with public schools that worked. And I’ll tell you something, and here I’m going to agree with you. Colin Powell wrote an autobiography, and it happened that he grew up in a part of the Bronx where I grew up, and his family was very similar and had similar jobs, and we both were in the same class at City College. Okay? We were studying engineering. I wasn’t a friend or anything, but I got to talk to him about it later in life. He wrote an autobiography about this period. And where you’re absolutely right: what was done for us as working class kids is not done for kids now. The schools–. HEDGES: Well, and let me be clear. SCHEER: Yes. HEDGES: You talk about City College. Who destroyed City College? Rockefeller. SCHEER: Yes. Absolutely. HEDGES: Destroyed it. SCHEER: Yes. HEDGES: And it was one of the great colleges in the country. SCHEER: Yes. And, yeah, City College originally had free textbooks, no tuition. Now, even if you go to any public university–. HEDGES: Well, not only that. In terms of the quality of the education, it equaled any college around the country. SCHEER: Right. Well, it was superior, I would say. HEDGES: Well, it was certainly a major university. SCHEER: Yeah, we thought we were better than Harvard. But, anyway–but if you look at the quality of public schools and the enthusiasm, the optimism about certainly inner city schools schools in America, that has been taken away. So here I will agree with you emphatically that the opportunities, such as were–yes, they have been stripped away. HEDGES: Well, but that’s the point. SCHEER: Yeah, agreed. I agree. I agree. HEDGES: I mean, that’s the point. So I’m not– SCHEER: But where I disagree–. HEDGES: –I’m not pretending that working in a factory was any fun. SCHEER: What I’m disagreeing [on] is that the amount that–we didn’t benefit from imperialism. I disagree. The rich benefited from imperialism. HEDGES: Well, disproportionately the rich benefited from imperialism. SCHEER: No. We benefited from labor unions. We benefited from our ability to organize. We benefited from the fact that our government was involved in a worldwide struggle to prove to–. HEDGES: With communism, which meant they could–as soon as the Cold War’s over, it means we can treat the people any way we want. SCHEER: Right. Agreed. HEDGES: And the fact is, they had to be careful, they had to allow unions, they had to allow the working class to achieve a modicum where they could buy a house and they could retire. SCHEER: And they had to desegregate. HEDGES: Right. SCHEER: They had to desegregate. That was [crosstalk] HEDGES: And once the Cold War was over, they didn’t have to. SCHEER: You’re right. HEDGES: And so they didn’t. SCHEER: You’re right. HEDGES: And so I think that we have to make that dividing line. I don’t want to romanticize what it was like. And my mother’s family was working class and lower working class, so I know how they struggled. And yet, compared–I mean, my grandfather today would never have the economic security, however minimal that was,– SCHEER: You’re absolutely right. HEDGES: –that he has now. And that’s important distinction. SCHEER: It’s a very important distinction. And let me say something by the way. This growing income inequality has been bipartisan. HEDGES: Yeah. SCHEER: Absolutely. And this is–what is so bizarre about the election we’re moving into is here the choice is between two groups that participated in the destruction of that [crosstalk] HEDGES: That’s right. Well, Clinton did more to destroy the working class in this country than Ronald Reagan. SCHEER: Yes. Yes. Reagan at the–because of the savings and loan crisis at the end of his term–and this I document in the last book–did actually go for increased regulation. And, look, I remember–and maybe this is a good point, and just so we don’t have any illusions–I remember going down to Arkansas to interview Clinton when he was running for president. And there was a program called Project Success, which was his welfare reform. And it was a Potemkin village–it never happened. And I remember–. HEDGES: Yeah. And he destroyed welfare, Clinton. SCHEER: He destroyed it. And so, yes, this is a question to ask for those who are supporting Hillary Clinton now: why was the aid to families with dependent children–70 percent were children in need–and that program was destroyed when you folks were in the White House, and you never said a word against it. Yes. HEDGES: Well, and the whole prison population exploded under the 1994 omnibus crime bill under Clinton. And so I think those distinctions between the working class then and now are important, and I think that you have families that were kind of basically holding it together. But they were able to hold it together. They can’t hold it together anymore. And what happens when you sink to that kind of despair–and I’ll go back to Yugoslavia–is that you have a legitimate rage, which, as you point out, is then manipulated by elites. But what it does is it rents the society apart, because a certain segment–through propaganda, without question–that rage is then directed against the vulnerable. That’s how fascism works. And, unfortunately, given the nature of our country and the kind of undercurrent of racism which still exists in this country, very deep–let’s look at undocumented workers. Undocumented–they are invisible people. We walk by them every day. They have no rights. They’re physically abused. Their families are broken apart. And we just walk by them like they don’t exist. And we all see them. They’re all around us. I mean, we’re talking about–they’re not even second-class citizens. They’re not citizens. They’re not even–within the rights of law, even human beings. In many states they can’t even get driver’s license, they can’t–. SCHEER: And they feed us. [crosstalk] HEDGES: [crosstalk] they do all of the labor. They work in construction and they work in the hotel industry, they work in the–everywhere else. And so the idea–we’re not the country we were. We have become something really frightening. And I blame the American public, because I think that there’s a willful kind of blindness. And we can just take the case of–African-Americans in this country, two-thirds, the bottom two-thirds or three-quarters are living worse than when King marched in Selma. The civil rights was a legal victory, but it was never an economic victory, and King understood that if there was no economic justice, there was no racial justice. SCHEER: Yeah. When King was killed, it was because he was in Memphis to support the striking garbage workers– HEDGES: That’s right SCHEER: –and the war on poverty [crosstalk] HEDGES: And so I think that we have to acknowledge that we are not working within the same paradigm that we are–were working in before. SCHEER: Okay. But you have to understand, getting at–we only have a minute. Let’s get back to my book, okay? The reason I write books and I assume you do is that I think there is sufficient space in this society to organize. And I think it’s a copout if people think the game is so rigged and is so bad there’s nothing you can do. I think the Occupy movement was an incredibly successful movement,– HEDGES: I do too. SCHEER: –successful, and raising an issue that cannot be ignored, that you cannot have a representative republic if the people do not have the means to have a decent life and survive and think. I agree with that. My concern and the reason I wrote this book on surveillance is I think that people with power in this country are afraid of most Americans. HEDGES: Of course. SCHEER: They’re afraid of their organizing. They don’t want them to be–. HEDGES: Well, we’re in total agreement. SCHEER: Okay. And so I think my concern is that people will be more intimidated than they are now when they’re observed, when they’re watched. HEDGES: You’re right. SCHEER: Okay. HEDGES: That’s why they built it. SCHEER: That’s right. And so I want to challenge it. HEDGES: I do, too. But we’re not going to challenge it by voting. We’re going to challenge it by building mass organizations with a radical agenda that disrupts the system to such an extent that we can begin to break it down. But it’s not, you know, voting for Hillary Clinton or some other Democratic candidate. These people are, I think you would agree, as complicit in building, supporting, and sustaining this system and, as you said, I think, off-camera, correctly, that it isn’t just Hillary Clinton hates Snowden; they would like him to be killed, because he has exposed their utter bankruptcy and given us a window into who these people really are. SCHEER: I don’t think there’s any question. But let me defend being involved with elections. I don’t think it should become the be-all and end-all, but I would like to see someone like a Bernie Sanders run. I forget her name, the woman who’s on the city council in Seattle. HEDGES: Kshama Sawant. She is great. SCHEER: Yeah, but I was on a show with her. If she would run against Hillary Clinton, I’d vote for her in a minute. HEDGES: Of course. SCHEER: And I think elections are a attempt to–at least can raise issues. And I think there are some issues that are going to be raised in this election which we–. HEDGES: But I think elections without movements are futile. SCHEER: Well, but you–. HEDGES: Without movements. SCHEER: It’s not an either/or. Look, I can tell you. I ran for Congress. And I mentioned this on Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman, and I was shot down by some people who said, well, that was 50–. Okay. But I ran in Oakland and Berkeley, and I raised the question, I said, end the war in Vietnam, end poverty in Oakland. And, obviously, we didn’t succeed. But we did succeed in getting rid of a Democratic hack that wasn’t addressing either of those questions and electing Ron Dellums, ’cause I got 45 percent of the vote, and we were able to get him elected. And Ron Dellums ended up being the conscience of the Congress. HEDGES: Because there were movements, Bob. SCHEER: Yes. HEDGES: There was antiwar movement. SCHEER: Well, that’s why I write a book. That’s why you write. So I’m trying to help a movement get going here. HEDGES: Well, that’s–we are total agreement. SCHEER: Yeah. HEDGES: And I think that every totalitarian country I’ve covered from Syria to–they’ve all had elections. And I’m not saying don’t vote. I mean, I voted for Jill Stein. As you know, I worked for Nader; I wrote his speeches for him in 2008. But if we don’t build radical movements to push back, mass movements that defy the system and understand how dark that system has become, we’re finished. SCHEER: I agree with that. HEDGES: Thank you very much. I’m Chris Hedges for The Real News. I’ve been speaking with the great journalist Robert Scheer, the author of a tremendous book, They Know Everything About You: How Data-Collecting Corporations and Snooping Government Agencies Are Destroying Democracy. Thank you, Bob. SCHEER: Thank you. HEDGES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.
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