The Need for a Sense of Urgency About War and the Climate Crisis: Katie Halper Interviews Paul Jay
The host of the Katie Halper Show and Paul Jay discuss Trump’s plans for confrontation with Iran and the existential threat of the climate crisis
Katie Halper: Hi. My name is Katie Halper. I’m the host of The Katie Halper Show, and I’m reporting from the People’s Summit for The Real News Network. Actually in an interesting role reversal, I’m going to be interviewing Paul Jay, the founder and CEO of The Real News Network. Paul, thanks for joining us.
Paul Jay:You’re welcome.
Katie Halper:How are you?
Paul Jay:Good. I see I’m even smiling. I’m accused of never smiling when I’m hosting, so when I’m-
Paul Jay:… guesting, I guess maybe I can smile.
Katie Halper:They’re going to tell you to stop smiling so much probably.
Paul Jay:Probably, yeah.
Katie Halper:Tell us, speaking of hosting, guesting, what is the thing that you usually host? The Real News Network, what is that for your viewers who don’t know about it?
Paul Jay:What I host?
Katie Halper:Well, what you host but also what you founded and created. Tell us about what The Real News Network is.
Paul Jay:First of all, the economic model is no government funding, no advertising, no corporate money. The idea is to follow facts where they lead, to be uncompromising about that, but I think what’s actually unique about what we do is our starting point for how we look at stories. Strangely enough, and I know it’s a very odd notion, but we actually think this is a class society. I know, I know, it’s [crosstalk 00:01:24].
Katie Halper:You got started every day reading Kapital?
Paul Jay:No, but we know it’s a class society. It’s an outrageous proposition, I guess, because in American discourse, you can have a middle class but there’s no upper or lower. In fact, I think [crosstalk 00:01:35] Bernie Sanders is maybe the first one to actually talk about an oligarchy and a billionaire class, but for us, that’s how we look at things day-to-day. We don’t think we’re all in the same boat. We don’t think red state, blue state, we’re all in the United States. We don’t think any of that. If we look at even this issue of the Russians’ interference in the elections and attacking our democracy and so on, we ask the question, “Well, who’s this democracy for in the first place?” It’s rather clear this is democracy essentially for the elites. In fact, why are the American elites so concerned about Russian interference in the election? Well, it’s because only Americans are allowed to rig American elections. You can’t-
Paul Jay:… have Russians do it. I mean, this is ours.
Katie Halper:That’s our lane, right? That’s our lane. That’s our thing.
Paul Jay:Yeah, rigging elections is-
Katie Halper:That’s part of our national heritage.
Paul Jay:Rigging elections is as American as apple pie, and you Russians, you stay out of our [crosstalk 00:02:30].
Katie Halper:Exactly. Right, right, right. Right. They’re cramping our style.
Paul Jay:Cramping our style.
Paul Jay:We start off … One, we ask these kinds of questions when we do stories, like for whom. National security, well, for whom? There’s a national security, a foreign policy, that serves a section of the elites and the military-industrial complex and so on. There’s another section of the elites, the fossil fuel industry, which is mostly driving the Trump administration foreign policy. The other part of it is the audience we want are ordinary people. We want to talk to the majority of people, particularly working people.
I’d say the other thing that’s important about the way we try to cover things is that it’s not just about to expose what’s wrong. Our headquarters is in Baltimore, and we don’t need to persuade anybody that this place, that things are screwed up. What people do need to understand, the dynamic of why things are screwed up, like for example, it’s not some accident there’s chronic poverty in Baltimore. It’s a result of very specific public policies, public-private partnerships that put tons of public money into the Inner Harbor development that was supposed to create jobs and alleviate poverty, except it made a lot of developers rich and poverty got worse.
But we also, as part of our reporting, want to look at, what do real solutions look like? A big part of what we’re moving on, whether it’s international, national, or Baltimore, whatever we’re talking about, well, what policy would be in the interest of most people? There’s sort of a constructive vision, which is why we were interested in the People’s Summit, because some of those ideas are emerging in these campaigns.
Katie Halper:What were some of the most exciting things that you captured while you were here? Are there interviews, things that you observed, conversations that you engaged in?
Paul Jay:I think one of the most interesting was the number of people running for office, and all kinds of people kind of taking up this call that Sanders gave in last year’s summit. It had something to do with pushing, but a lot of local organizing of people running at all kinds of levels, anywhere from city councils right up to Congress, and some with some success, primarying some of the corporate right-wing Democrats within the party structure as well. There’s places where there’s been sort of progressive breakthroughs in terms of a chairmanship of the Democratic Party in a certain district or state. I think that’s very interesting. The increasing notion of how to combine movement building with a political strategy, an electoral strategy, that’s interesting.
One of the things that bothered me about the summit is I felt there’s a little lack of urgency about some of the things. Yes, you need a positive vision to fight for. Yes, you need to build enthusiasm and confidence and so on. But we’re not in normal times. Obviously with climate change, we have a very, very short window to not be into apocalyptic, catastrophic times. The study that came out about six, seven months ago from Richard Watson and seven scientists from the IPCC said that if every country that signed the Paris Accords fulfilled the pledge completely, we would still cross the two degree threshold by 2050. That was before Trump was elected, so redo the model now that there’s going to be no US participation at all.
It’s probably going to mean hardly anybody else is going to do the Paris Accords, because they’re going to say, “Well, if Americans aren’t doing it, why us?” We could be seeing a two degree threshold cross by 2040, 2035. I mean, I don’t know, but it’s within our lifetimes. It’s within our kids’ lifetimes. We’re getting into very serious times. We talked about … I shouldn’t say we. The summit talked about climate change. It was on the agenda, which was good, but not to me the sense of urgency. Then the other thing that was really missing here, and I’ve raised that, interviewed one of the … Michael Lighty about it. They said they would talk more about it next year, but the whole issue of foreign policy.
Katie Halper:What foreign policy?
Katie Halper:Exactly right.
Paul Jay:Trump is planning war. It’s clear. He’s working with the Saudis. They’re going to upgrade US troop levels in Iraq. He joked at the CIA when we went there after his inaugural address that we should have seized the oil the first time. Well, we’re going to have a second chance at it.
Katie Halper:He already did stuff in Syria.
Paul Jay:Yeah. It’s very, very dangerous times, and this attack on Qatar, the diplomatic attack, seems to be because Qatar wouldn’t go along with the big anti-Iran strategy. Now they’re even talking about regime change in Qatar, which is a kind of crazy notion. I think there should have been an intersection in this, because what’s driving all this is fossil fuel politics. They want to get at Iraqi light crude, which is perhaps the biggest source of available, drilled for light crude in the world sitting in Iraq. They don’t like that the Iraqi government is probably more pro-Iranian than it is pro-American, and that a lot of the oil concessions that did go didn’t go to American oil companies. They went to China and some others.
This intersection between climate change issues, an administration being driven by the fossil fuel companies, tons of money being thrown at the Pentagon to say, “You’ll get $54 billion, and you’ll play ball with us in Iraq when we want to go get the oil,” I think it should have been a presence at the conference, and I think that there should have been a sense of urgency about this issue of anti-war as an integrated thread in the rest of what’s being talked about. On the whole, I thought it was … It’s pretty good to have this many people with a vision, especially a vision very willing to attack the corporate Democrats, which I don’t think there’s any serious change without defeating them or at least exposing them.
Katie Halper:And mocking them.
Paul Jay:Mocking them is [crosstalk 00:08:56].
Katie Halper:Mocking is good.
Paul Jay:Mocking is good.
Katie Halper:I would have liked to have seen a workshop dedicated to reading the passage from Hillary Clinton’s book, It Takes a Village. I don’t know if you heard about this. They recently discovered this passage. This is a book from the ’90s, but someone on Twitter found it. It’s a passage in which Hillary Clinton describes how it was a longstanding tradition in the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion to use prison labor, and she felt apprehensive about it. I’m not making this up. This is totally true. She was apprehensive about it, but it was a longstanding tradition. It’s a bit of a problematic thing when that’s your excuse for doing something, especially in the South, but there’s a longstanding tradition of prison labor that’s employed by the Governor and the First Lady. It lowers costs, and as exploitation, it’s-
Paul Jay:It’s always good to be [crosstalk 00:09:47].
Katie Halper:Yeah, exactly, as is its wont. She felt apprehensive about it, so at first, I thought that meant that she was apprehensive about using this because it’s problematic. But no, she was apprehensive about having criminals in her kitchen in the morning. She said this. She said it’s one thing to be representing these people in court. It’s another thing to be seeing them in the kitchen, but if they violated any of the rules, they were disciplined. I’m not making this up. It’s all there. I thought it’d be good to have a dramatic reading of it, or just like playing the audio, because it’s in her audiobook.
Paul Jay:Sort of like the Howard Zinn’s-
Katie Halper:People Speak, exactly.
Paul Jay:People Speak, except this would be Hillary Speaks.
Katie Halper:Hillary Speaks, exactly.
Katie Halper:That should have been like the epilogue, right? The past is prologue? The ’90s past is epilogue. It was kind of amazing. The best thing about it was seeing the neoliberals who like to call everything that Sanders does misogynist and racist and homophobic, it was interesting to see their creative ways of responding to it. They actually tried to pretend that the people objecting to this use of prison labor, we were okay with prison labor. It just was that we were using it to criticize Hillary. The narrative is that, before this happened, we didn’t care about that. We were all pro-prison labor. Then we found out Hillary used it, and now we’re against it.
Paul Jay:Yeah, the elites everywhere.
Paul Jay:It’s not unique about the American elites, but you got to dehumanize those who you exploit. The more you want to exploit them, the more you got to dehumanize them.
Katie Halper:But what’s weird about what we’re seeing now is this total, I think, hijacking of identity politics, where the people who claim to speak for or care about disenfranchised groups are the ones who then turn around and actually it’s so sinister. It’s kind of like the Twilight Zone. It’s like a futuristic Twilight Zone, I don’t know, a Handmaid’s Tale something, where they actually pretend that they are protecting disenfranchised people. They are speaking out against misogyny by defending Hillary Clinton’s use of prison labor.
Paul Jay:Well, I thought also a similar note was when Hillary kind of said that it was unfortunate how many people had suffered because of Bill Clinton’s crime bill.
Katie Halper:The one she stumped for.
Paul Jay:The fact that … Yeah, the one she stumped for. The fact that they introduced a system of mass incarceration, it’s unfortunate that some people suffered from that.
Katie Halper:Right. Yeah, it’s-
Paul Jay:People are not … I had a chance to get to know Gore Vidal pretty well before he died.
Katie Halper:Oh, nice.
Paul Jay:I interviewed him a bunch of times. He said you have to understand about the American elites is that they are completely, utterly amoral on every level, whether it’s their personal life or the way they look at the world. Then number two, people who are not in the elites, it’s only a level of various degrees of how human people are, but they’re all subhuman. If you’re a white worker, you’re a subhuman as a white worker, but then if you’re a colored worker, if you’re a black worker, if you’re a woman, there’s all these degrees. But everybody outside the elites are not really fully human.
Katie Halper:Right, but it’s the divide and conquer technique that works so well, right? Which I think the Clinton … I think that actually that’s what a lot of people do with this trying to pit … You know, this idea that someone like Sanders is somehow throwing people of color and women under the bus by offering single payer? I don’t know. There’s this total pitting together of groups as if they have different interests. Obviously I’m not oversimplifying it, like different populations and groups have different histories and circumstances, but it’s not like single payer hurts some people and helps other people. It helps everyone. It helps the 99% of the world.
Paul Jay:Yeah, I don’t even get the argument on that.
Katie Halper:I mean, this is a weird thing that you hear from, again from neoliberals, from people who pretend that everything on the left is like a privilege, a single white male … a white male privilege. I don’t know if you’ve heard this. We’ll have to do a whole … I’m going to have to do a webinar on this. It’s this thing that-
Paul Jay:Workshop on that.
Katie Halper:Yeah, workshop on it.
Paul Jay:We’re going to need a workshop on this.
Katie Halper:Yeah, it’s really comedic, but this is stuff that like people like Joan Walsh talk about all the time, right? It’s on Twitter, and I know Twitter’s not the real world, but Twitter is a window into where the soul of the media would be if they had a soul. It’s true. You see these people literally arguing that things like single payer or the minimum wage are privileges and radical, and straight white men are the only people who have the luxury of caring about that stuff. I know. I believe that the technical political science term for it is mishegoss.
Paul Jay:I think so, yeah.
Katie Halper:Yeah. Well, they are giving me the wrapping it up sign, because that’s what happens when you start using Yiddish. People get uncomfortable. Thank you so much, Paul Jay, for speaking to me, Paul Jay of The Real News Network.
Paul Jay:Thank you.
Katie Halper:I’m Katie Halper of The Katie Halper Show.