Friday, June 29, 2007
Thursday, June 28, 2007
I used to meet Dr. Bonner when I stopped by his place to pickup soap, seasoning and chips to deliver to San Diego area health food stores and herb shops. I was a part of Medicine Wheel Herb and Healing Collective at the time. I loved the chips and I still use the liquid soap at times. His products were very special and so was he.
Dr. Bronner’s Magic Media Soap Opera
The counterculture’s exceptionally eccentric soap family hits the big screen
By Charles Shaw ( from Common Ground )
There’s a classic montage in the stupendously silly cult hit, Half Baked, in which Dave Chappelle describes all the different kinds of pot smokers. The most memorable, played by Jon Stewart, is the “Enhancement Smoker” — the guy who enjoys everything more intensely when he’s “on weed.” As Stewart hands over money for his bag he enthuses, “Have you ever looked at the back of a twenty dollar bill, man? There’s all kids of weird shit going on!”
Had the scene lasted just a bit longer, Stewart might have produced a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap, which bears (stoned or stone-cold-sober) perhaps the mother lode of weird label verbiage — with a back-story almost as convoluted as the one behind the Masonic symbols gracing our national currency.
It’s the story of one Dr. Emanuel H. Bronner, chemist, master soap maker, Holocaust survivor and lead prophet for the One God of Spaceship Earth. In 1947, Bronner escaped from a mental institution and began selling soap made from his family’s 150-year-old recipe out of the back of a Los Angeles tenement hotel. Today the company, run by his grandsons, David and Mike, sells more than 6 million bottles of soap a year.
This tragicomic drama propels the narrative of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soapbox, a new documentary by Sara Lamm that attempts to capture the essence of this thoroughly mad (and at times, thoroughly maddening) genius who was, in the purest sense, far ahead of his time. Using a mix of archival footage from the ’70s and ’80s and original material shot in the early part of this decade, Lamm offers up a tale of perseverance and near-staggering acts of acceptance, faith and tolerance on the part of the Bronner family.
As Soapbox illustrates, Dr. Bronner — who passed away in March of 1997, just shy of 90 years old — was definitely out there. He saw himself as part of the long lineage of prophets that includes Jesus, Mohammed, Hillel, Moses and Buddha. Bronner believed these prophets appeared on earth regularly — every 76 years to be exact, inspired by the arrival of Haley’s Comet — to lead their people to god. He was also convinced the most recent of these prophets was Mark Spitz, the American swimmer who won seven gold medals at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
Because of his profound spiritual beliefs, the label that bears his name became both his manifesto and his legacy to humanity. It is a 30,000-word treatise on “All-One,” an ever-evolving set of teachings he called “The Moral ABC,” designed, in his words, “to unite all mankind free!”
Unfortunately, the course of human history is littered with the literal and symbolic corpses of prophets — real or self-imagined — who bore new truths as harbingers of a new way. And Dr. Bronner’s fate was no different than those who came before him. He was locked away, called insane, discredited and dismissed. The FBI even had him listed in their “nut file.”
However odd or unorthodox his behavior or his theories, though, Emanuel H. Bronner’s product was a hit with the west coast counterculture, who became his best customers and sustained the business for decades. Blind for the last 20 years of his life, he remained first and always a subversive, a true believer in absolute freedom who embraced the work of Thomas Paine, made friends with Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver, advocated for hemp and organic farming, and was so rabidly anti-communist he put Nixon to shame. His “all-one” philosophy was a Universalist doctrine of mutual peace, respect and ecological harmony, based on the central tenet that we are all children of the same divine source.
The Bronner paterfamilias was also inherently a just and fair man, an ethos that runs deep and strong in his descendents. Believing in the idea of “Constructive Capitalism,” where one shares profit with the “workers and the Earth,” Bronner and Sons (and now Grandsons) built an ecologically balanced business that uses all organic vegetable oils, 100 percent post-consumer recycled plastic, fair employee wages and salary caps for David and Mike that are no more than 5 times that of the lowest paid employee (the current national average is that CEOs earn 430 percent more than their workers). To this day, the company gives away over 70 percent of its net profit to various causes all over Spaceship Earth — some of the more recent being fresh water wells in Ghana, orphanages in Haiti and China, and local organic farm projects.
What you can’t help but take away from Soapbox is the exceeding compassion and care of the extended Bronner family, who seem to posses an inherent, almost compulsive sense of acceptance and social justice. You feel their nobility not through any sense of grandiosity, but in their patient acceptance of the odd, the unfamiliar or the uncomfortable.
Nowhere is this shown more clearly than in the parallel narrative about Bronner’s oldest son Ralph who goes to Manhattan to perform in an off-off-Broadway show about the family. This leads to some of the film’s most touching scenes, involving a young musician Ralph Bronner befriends in his hotel, whose girlfriend lay dying in hospice a few feet away. As the young man breaks down before him, Bronner simply offers comfort and holds space for the man’s grief. It is a selfless act of unconditional love, in the spirit of his father, the good doctor, who had love for all of the world around him, if not sadly for his own children, who spent most of their lives in foster care. Still, Ralph Bronner is able, at the film’s conclusion, to place his father’s shortcomings into a perspective that resonates:
“Eccentric people do not make the best parents. I can’t imagine Beethoven stopping the composition of a symphony in order to feed the kids. For my father, it was always more important to save Spaceship Earth than it was to have dinner with the family.”
Headlines Read: “Germ Wrongly Jailed by Soap!”
Another film — this one hitting the small screen (See it on YouTube, to be exact) — continues the epic tale of the noble Bronner clan. The wry, upbeat and at times hilarious web short — which has received tens of thousands of downloads since it was released in early May — centers around David Bronner, grandson of Emanuel, hemp activist and current President of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, and the recent allegations by police in Newport Beach, California that Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps contain traces of GHB (Gamma Hydroxy Butyrate), a notorious “date rape” drug.
Entitled Soap, Drugs, & Rock and Roll, the seven-minute short is an original and effective use of the media as a PR tool — with our heroes the unassuming soap makers who, in one fell swoop, cast serious doubt on the practice of field drug testing, expose the lies of commercial soap producers, advocate for organic products and educate the viewer on yet another layer of our culture’s dependency on oil.
The circumstances laying the grounds for the story have already become the stuff of legend:
On the night of April 4th, 2007, Don Bolles, eccentric 51-year-old drummer for punk outfit The Germs, was driving through über-conservative Newport Beach, California on his way to an AA meeting when his tricked-out van was pulled over, allegedly for a broken taillight. Bolles gave consent to search the van, and the presiding officer found a bag of legal medical marijuana sitting next to a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s soap. For some reason (perhaps because the bottle was clearly labeled as hemp soap) the officer decided to apply a NarcoPouch® 928 field test to the soap to assess it for drug content. The test came back positive for GHB, and Bolles was arrested and taken into custody.
Upon hearing this, the Dr. Bronner’s company immediately paid Bolles’ bail and legal fees, and stepped up to defend their brand publicly. David Bronner appeared before California media denouncing the charges as “totally absurd,” and suggesting that Bolles was pulled over for the offense of “driving while weird.” They then ordered the same NarcoPouch® 928 test and began testing their soap products. What they found was astounding
“It was a gift that fell out of the sky,” Bronner says with a measure of incredulity. “We saw a golden opportunity to address greenwashing in our industry head on.”
The “gift” to which Bronner is referring was the discovery that his — and in fact any natural organic soap — will always test positive for GHB using the NarcoPouch® 928 or other similar field drug tests, which makes the false-positive a good indicator of real organic vegetable oil-based “castile” soap. What the Bronners then learned, in another seemingly pre-ordained twist, was that commercial “liquid soap” products made by companies like Dial, Softsoap, Kiss My Face, EO and Nature’s Gate, all tested negative for GHB, indicating that they contained no real soap in the recipe. In voiceover, David Bronner then explains that the “soap” in these products is really a collection of petrochemical detergents.
Thus, the NarcoPouch® 928 is outted as a lousy drug test, but a really great soap test.
“It’s not the most glamorous battle we’re fighting, but it’s our backyard,” adds the tall, quiet and unassuming David Bronner. “Our grandfather was a radical, and we’re just trying to keep pace with the standards he set. He used to quote Hillel: If not now, when? Well, we have enough strength and visibility to speak to these issues and change them in the long run. We just call things as we see it, and in this case, we saw injustice, and we came in to clean it up (no pun intended).”
“Yeah, you can use our soaps for pretty much everything,” Mike Bronner adds, “except getting high.”
Go Tell It on the Mountain
By Anand Gopal, WireTap
Posted on June 25, 2007, Printed on June 27, 2007
Issue: Environmental destruction in West Virginia
Why? Severe health consequences for school kids and families.
Action: Marches, web campaigns and student activism raises awareness and confronts legislators.
Photos: Vivian Stockman. Flyover courtesy of SouthWings.
Larry Gibson has gotten used to the threats. Gibson, a Lilliputian mountaineer with an impressive belly and an equally impressive baritone drawl, reels off the list of attacks and calamities he has faced almost with a touch of boredom. "We've had up here at my place about 122 acts of violence, from shootings and the burning of my cabin, to shooting my dog to trying to hang the other dog I had," he deadpans.
Sure enough, just yards from Gibson's modest Appalachian home sits a dull gray camper, its facade pockmarked with tiny bullet holes. In the 22 years that he has lived atop Kayford mountain, part of the picturesque massifs that form the coalfields of West Virginia, Gibson has also faced beatings, sabotage, and death threats.
What Gibson has not gotten used to, however, is the view. The rolling, verdant countryside below Gibson's home has been home to hundreds of isolated and close-knit Appalachian mining communities for generations. Much taller peaks that rose high above Gibson's home and filled the surrounding scenery, however, once surrounded Kayford mountain.
Pop The Top
Since the 1980s, coal companies have engaged in a systematic destruction of the mountains, dubbed "mountaintop removal," (MTR) in an effort to reach the abundant coal seams that lie beneath West Virginian soil. The peaks surrounding Kayford have all vanished, and with them have gone most of the area's inhabitants. Kayford was once home to a thriving mining community; Gibson estimates that over 4,000 lived and worked here just decades ago.
Today there is just one inhabitant left -- Larry Gibson. Gibson lives alone, weathering the attacks and intimidations of the nearby coal companies -- led by coal giant Massey Energy -- who have turned their attentions towards Kayford, one of the few mountaintops in the area that is still standing.
MTR mining, referred to by some as "strip mining on steroids," is rapidly supplanting underground mining as the coal extraction method du jour. Where underground mining requires hundreds of miners, only handfuls of workers and massive quantities of explosives are needed to blast the tops off mountains.
The results are devastating. Just down the road from Gibson's cabin, past a feeble, rusted gate which Gibson has christened the "Gate of Hell," you can witness West Virginia's future as it sits uncomfortably with its past. Where a mountain peak once rose 700 feet above Kayford, instead a spawning, empty chasm sits like an open wound in the countryside. Thousands of feet below, antlike cars and gargantuan machines navigate a barren terrain that looks more like a transmission from the Mars Rover than anything of this world. From this open pit, the coal travels along a labyrinth of shoots and conveyor belts into the basin below, termed the Coal River Valley, a narrow hollow where most Appalachianers make their home.
In West Virginia, coal is king, and nowhere are the indelible footprints of King Coal more visible than Coal River Valley. Take the narrow, winding Route 3 south from nearby Racine and you will drive through tiny, unincorporated hamlets with names like Eden, Montcoal and Rock Creek. Pass through Sylvester and you will see massive covered silos -- covered because residents sued coal companies after years of breathing in coal dust. Just down the road, you will pass homes covered in sludge, uninhabitable and without resale value.
Further south, take a stop at Whitesville and you will be in a modern-day ghost town. The decline in organized labor and the shift from underground to mountaintop-removal mining has thoroughly depressed living conditions and driven away businesses. Residents recall when Whitesville was the cultural and economic heart of the Coal River Valley -- decades ago there were no less that 27 inns and bars in the mining town. Today there are two.
Follow Route 3's twists and turns farther south and you will come across tiny Sundial, W.Va.; looming just yards behind Sundial's Marsh Fork Elementary is a giant coal silo. The school, with over 200 students, also sits less than 500 yards from 2.8 billion gallon sludge impoundment dam owned and operated by Goals Coal Co., a Massey subsidiary. The whole complex forms a processing center for Massey coal, mined through MTR.
Ed Wiley, a Rock Creek resident and former coal miner knew something was amiss when his granddaughter kept coming home sick. The Appalachian native recalls one afternoon as he drove his sick granddaughter home from school. "I checked to see if she had her seatbelt on," Wiley says. "She was all discolored really bad. She turned and looked at me -- she had tears pouring down her face -- and she said, 'Gramps, these coal mines are making us kids sick.'"
Wiley started digging deeper into Massey Energy and its record at the school site, and the more he found, the more disturbing the picture became. The sludge impoundment carries to date 249 violations, and a dam rupture would instantly flood the nearby hollow and kill all local residents within minutes. One study determined that 88 percent of households surveyed had children who suffered health problems, including asthma and chronic bronchitis. Four teachers and three children at the school have died of cancer, and another child has spent time on a respirator. Wiley has made it his personal campaign to "stand up" for the children of Marsh Fork. In the summer of 2005 he did a sit-in outside of Gov. Joe Manchin's office, and later that year Wiley trekked almost 500 miles from Charleston W.Va. to Washington, D.C., speaking along the way to all who would listen about MTR and Marsh Fork
Massey representatives and school officials declined to comment for this story. However, Massey has claimed that the coal silos actually prevent sickness since they house coal that would otherwise sit in open fields. And in preliminary studies, the EPA has not found excessive amounts of coal dust inside or outside the school. But in a state where the coal industry underwrites politics, and elected figures like Joe Manchin have extensive ties to the industry, Wiley, Gibson and other community activists are skeptical of the government's promises to help. Massey has more violations than most of the other area coal companies combined, and in a field where the stakes are so large -- 39 seams of coal, worth close to $450 million, sit under Gibson's land -- Gibson, Wiley and other area activists have turned to a local environmental group, the Coal River Mountain Watch (CRMW).
Breaking The Cycle
Judy Bonds, a CRMW co-director, recounts the organization's founding with a barely disguised indignation. "Local environmental groups started looking into tree death from acid rain," she says. "And when they went to look up in the mountains, there were no mountains -- the mountains were gone!" CRMW was soon born, and the group threw itself into raising awareness of and organizing community resistance to MTR. Integrating youth and students into the movement was an early challenge. "If daddy doesn't work for the coal industry, then your uncle does," Bonds admits. Students at Marsh Fork and youth in the area had families that depended on Massey for their livelihood, so CRMW turned to colleges.
The group recently organized an "alternative spring break," where youth and students from around the country converged in West Virginia to learn about the effects of MTR. On March 16 of this year, students attending the alternative spring break, together with members of CRMW and other community activists, occupied the state capitol building in Charleston in protest of Massey's attempts to erect a second silo near Marsh Fork school grounds. Of the 50 protestors in attendance, 13 were arrested, including Gibson and Wiley.
CRMW has also organized a campaign, Mountain Justice Summer, that has brought youth and students together for concerted grassroots activism in Appalachian areas affected by MTR. Youths involved in Mountain Justice Summer have monitored coal permits and mining practices, engaged in listening projects and organized demonstrations like the March 17 action.
Their efforts are beginning to pay dividends. In the last three years, over 2,000 college students have come to see Ed Wiley and learn about MTR, news organizations from around the globe have hiked up Kayford to hear Larry Gibson's story, and legislation is beginning to trickle in that curtails some of the worst of MTR. Just two months ago, a federal court ruled that MTR debris failed to comply with the Clean Water Act, and Massey has had its permit for the second coal silo revoked three times.
Activists attest, however, that much remains to be done. Bonds sees youth and students as playing a central role in the struggles ahead. "The youth have to be a part of this," she insists, "because they need to understand it is their future -- I'm not going to be here, but they will be." And so as Larry Gibson spends solitary nights atop Kayford safeguarding Appalachia's past, hundreds of students and community members are perched in the basin below, studying, debating and organizing, in an attempt to reclaim its future.
Learn more about this issue at I Love Mountains and Mountain Justice Summer.
Anand Gopal is a freelance journalist and writer. He is a founding editor of the Finland Station, a political magazine, and writes widely about current events. He lives in Philadelphia, Pa.
© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.wiretapmag.org/stories/43134/
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
A Revolution of Authority
From a dialogue with Brother David Steindl-Rast
Born in Vienna, where he studied art and psychology, Brother David Steindl-Rast is a Benedictine monk who has been regarded as Thomas Merton's successor in the Christian contemplative tradition. He has spent the last thirty-five years in both Eastern and Western monasteries pursuing his interest in the roots of mysticism. In the following excerpt from a dialogue which took place in Big Sur, California, he explains Jesus Christ's revolutionary teaching on the true nature of spiritual authority.
What Is Enlightenment Magazine: These days there is a wary climate regarding people who hold themselves out as spiritual authorities. There is a tendency to be very skeptical about the possibility that someone could be a genuine authority. Yet traditionally it's been fairly common for people to seek out a spiritual teacher for guidance, and to commit themselves to that teacher. What are your thoughts on this?
Brother David: Some twenty years ago, there was a much greater openness to making anybody who came along and seemed to have some great credentials for teaching your guru. Nowadays many people have been burnt and they will look twice. That is skepticism, and it can easily become cynicism, which isn't very healthy. But it also has its healthy aspect because people are less gullible and teachers have to prove themselves. On the other hand, our time is so frightening, there are so many things going on that frighten us, that many people want security at any price. They will let themselves be put down, be abused and become dependent on a teacher just in order to have a sense of security, to feel that they know everything. No questions asked, you just do what you're told, this sort of thing. That is always a great danger in times of fear. And our time is a fear-inspiring time. I understand when you say that many people are more skeptical, but there are also many people who want just this kind of security at any price, and are willing to be put down and pay that price.
There is just one great spiritual teacher, and that is the Divine Spirit in your heart. What any spiritual teacher on the outside can do, at best, is to always lead you back to that teacher in your heart. But the key word here is "authority." We have a very impoverished and actually strongly warped notion of authority nowadays, and we think that authority is the power to command. Well, that's wrong. That's a derived meaning of authority. Originally authority means: a firm basis for knowing and acting. If you want to know what to do in a given case you will go to a book that is an authoritative book, or you will go to a person who is an authority in his or her field, and so forth. So that's the original meaning of authority. However, because people who provide a firm basis for knowing and acting for others are few and far between, you put them in a position of authority, which means you give them power to command. But the more power somebody has, the greater the danger of corruption. This is where some spiritual teachers then go off the deep end. This is where the question of the proper use of authority comes in.
Jesus Christ brought a complete revolution of the understanding of authority. This is, I think, the Christian tradition's most central insight and potentially its greatest contribution to spirituality in the world. It occurred in two ways. First, Jesus placed the authority of God, which was always seen as external, in the very hearts of his hearers. The core teaching of Jesus is not, "I am going to tell you all," or anything like that. No, he presupposes you know it all. "Don't you know it? I'll remind you of it. You know it all." This is his typical voice. This question opens many of the parables, "Who of you doesn't know this already?" It's not sufficiently emphasized nowadays in Christian teaching, but the moment you are alerted to it you see it.
So, one of the really dramatic events that happened in history—and that's why the world is still reeling with what happened in the life of Jesus—is that with Jesus, the Divine authority was squarely placed in the hearts of every human being. That was a tremendous revolution. The immanence of God and the Divine in the human heart was stressed. And it was probably necessary that this should happen in a setting in which duality was stronger than anywhere else: "Holy" in the Hebrew Bible means "the altogether other." So God was the absolutely other. Then Jesus comes and maintains that, doesn't deny it in any way, but also says that the absolutely other is closer to you than you are to yourself. So that was the first part of the revolution of authority, that the Divine authority is placed in the heart of the earth.
The second aspect is best expressed in the image of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples and saying, essentially, "You call me Lord and Master. In other words, you call me an authority. You are right, that's what I am. But in the world, those who have power lord it over others. With you it should be different. The greatest among you, the one who has the most power, should be the servant of all. And that is what I show you because I am washing your feet." So that is the answer to the question, What is authority good for? Authority must be used, but there is only one legitimate use for it, and that is to empower those who are under authority. One of the most important things about Jesus is that he apparently had great authority but did not fall prey to its power. He even emphatically told his followers that that's not what you do—you turn this upside down and become the servant of all. First divine authority was placed in the hearts of everyone. Then human authority was given a task, namely, not to put those down that are under authority, but to build them up and empower them.
This also gives us a pretty good test for looking at spiritual teachers, and seeing which ones are authentic and which ones are not. Do they use their power to empower others? There may be a phase where a person has to be carried like a child. There may be a phase of dependency that one may have to go through. But you have to look at the whole picture. With any teacher you will see, by looking at that teacher's accomplished students, what it is leading to. When you see that this teacher makes them stand on their own feet, then that's authentic. When you see that this teacher makes them more and more dependent, then that's hands off, that's dangerous.
Sunday, June 24, 2007
Dalai Lama reads Raffi's A Covenant for Honouring Children
Vision of a "Child Honouring" World
by Ron Miller
Mayne Island, BC - Raffi Cavoukian is known to millions of children and their parents as the singer and performer Raffi. His engaging and positive songs (such as "Baby Beluga," "One Light, One Sun," "All I Really Need") not only delight children, but invite them into a caring relationship with the natural world and the global human family. Since his first album, Singable Songs for the Very Young, appeared in 1976, he has sold over fourteen million recordings and video/dvd's. His books, including his autobiography Raffi: The Life of a Children's Troubadour , have sold over three million copies.
Ten years ago, Raffi began turning his enormous success into a popular campaign to draw attention to children's developmental, emotional, social and health needs and the ways the modern world is failing to address them. He called this movement Child Honouring, "a children-first paradigm for global restoration that calls for a profound redesign of every sphere of society."
"I realized in the early '90s that escalating societal issues and global ecological crises couldn't be solved in isolation, that they had be viewed in a holistic, connected way," Raffi says. "Early one Sunday morning I was awakened by the phrase—Child Honouring—and I knew in that moment intuitively what it meant, what it implied, and that it was the work of the rest of my life, which my years up to that moment had prepared me for."
His extensive experience with young children, deeply attuned to their needs for three decades, inspired Raffi to launch Child Honouring. Study, observation, and experience of their playful intelligence and pure love motivated him. He was further galvanized by reading authors such as Alice Miller, Joseph Chilton Pearce and Jean Liedloff, who described the vulnerability as well as resilience of young children, and by learning about other cultures that truly respect and accommodate the natural patterns of children's development.
"Child Honouring is a comprehensive meta-framework for global change," says Raffi. "It seems that no other philosophy connects the personal, cultural and planetary domains via the lens of the young child, through the vulnerability and priority needs of the infant ecology. As social change movements go, this is unique."
His website, www.raffinews.com, explains in detail what a child-honouring society would look like: 1) It would show love for its children in every facet of its design and organization; 2) It would uphold the basic human rights of every child; 3) Corporal punishment would be a thing of the past; 4) No child would live in neglect or lack access to health care; 5) Kids wouldn't be alone after school with violent computer games, eating junk food, waiting for a parent to get home; 6) Family support centres would be developed in every neighbourhood; 7) Working with the young would be valued and well rewarded; 8) Universally available child care centres would be staffed by trained professionals.
Inevitably, the Child Honouring vision holds specific implications for our educational system, such as the development of more schools and more teachers, smaller class sizes, and a range of learning options for families to choose from. Child development would be considered a primary subject as fundamental as reading, writing, and arithmetic; children would learn about the importance of empathy and the basics of nurturant parenting.
His A Covenant for Honoring Children, written in 1999, further spells out the conditions of a child honoring society: "We find these joys to be self evident. That all children are created whole, endowed with innate intelligence, with dignity and wonder, worthy of respect. The embodiment of life, liberty and happiness, children are original blessings, here to learn their own song. Every girl and boy is entitled to love, to dream and belong to a loving 'village' and to pursue a life of purpose." The Covenant also describes key principles that would guide a society truly concerned about children's welfare and their thriving. These include respectful love, caring community, conscious parenting, non-violence, sustainability and ethical commerce. The Covenant is currently circulating among policymakers, religious leaders, scholars and educators, inspiring them to rethink their understanding of children in society.
To promote the Covenant's principles, Raffi and co-editor Sharna Olfman have produced an anthology of writings by eminent scholars and activists called Child Honoring: How to Turn This World Around (Praeger Publishers, 2006/Homeland Press, 2007). So far the book has been well received. The Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia, for example, held a special luncheon at which she referred to it as "required reading."
Currently Raffi travels around North America discussing ideas from the book and the Covenant. "Educators have been among the most receptive audiences for my presentations, and the reading of the Covenant often draws tears," he says. "At a number of universities—including those in Vancouver, Victoria, Pittsburgh, Halifax, Charlottesville and Toronto—Child Honoring has received a rousing welcome. In the Faculty of Education at the University of Victoria, the teacher training program uses the Covenant as part of its curriculum."
In addition to his educational work, Raffi is currently working in his native Canada with a group developing an "index of wellbeing." He is collaborating with the growing "conscious pregnancy and birthing movement," and with what he calls the "responsible commerce community." He is also re-directing his music towards adults, particularly those who grew up on "Baby Beluga" and his other ecology-oriented songs. His latest CD called "Resisto Dancing: Songs of Compassionate Revolution," includes inspiration from the Earth Charter, Nelson Mandela, Jane Goodall, Riane Eisler, and his Holiness the Dalai Lama. His newest production, a 55-minute DVD called Raffi Renaissance: Child Honoring and the Compassion Revolution, is scheduled to be released next month by his company, Troubadour Music. "Beluga Grads are saying they feel inspired by my new work," he says. "That's good news. I consider them a vital part of the Compassion Revolution."
Without a doubt, this Renaissance man is making a contribution to the world's children that goes far beyond the delightful music he has been performing for them for thirty years.
What is Child Honouring: Organizing principle, catalytic power
by Raffi Cavoukian
Across all cultures, we find an essential humanity that is most visible in early childhood—a playful, intelligent and creative way of being. Early experience lasts a lifetime. It shapes our sense of self and how we see others; it also shapes our sense of what's possible, our view of the world. The impressionable early years are the most vulnerable to family dynamics, cultural values, and planetary conditions. At this critical point in the history of humankind, the irreducible needs of all children (no matter where they live) can offer a unifying ethic by which the cultures of our interdependent world might reorder their priorities.
Child Honouring is a vision, an organizing principle, and a way of life—a revolution in values that calls for a profound redesign of every sphere of society.
It starts with three givens. First, the primacy of the early years—early childhood is the gateway to humane being. Second, we face planetary degradation unprecedented in scope and scale, a state of emergency that most endangers the very young, and that requires a remedy of equal scale. And third, the crisis calls for a systemic response in detoxifying the environments that make up the ecology of the child.
In this way, Child Honouring is a "children first" approach to healing communities and restoring ecosystems; it views how we regard and treat our young as the key to building humane and sustainable world. (It's not about a child-centered society where children rule, nor a facile notion of children being all things nice; and it has nothing to do with permissive parenting.) It is a global credo for maximizing joy and reducing suffering by respecting the goodness of every human being at the beginning of life, with benefits rippling in all directions.
What does it mean to honor children? It means seeing them for the creatively intelligent people they are, respecting their personhood as their own, recognizing them as essential members of the community and providing the fundamental nurturance they need in order to flourish. Child Honouring connects the dots between the personal, cultural and planetary factors that affect formative growth, and asserts that sustainability strategies must take into account all three domains.
Children are not a partisan concern, and Child Honouring is not pitted against person or ideology. Its allegiance is to children, and to their families. It speaks emphatically for the birthright of children of every culture to love, dignity and security. At the same time, it encompasses the whole of life. The focus on early life simply underscores a key tenet—the primacy of the early years.
Reprinted with permission from www.raffinews.com 
Friday, June 22, 2007
Over the past decade best-selling author Greg Palast has put the word "investigation" back into US journalism (while working mainly for publications in the United Kingdom). And even if much of the US media steadfastly continue to ignore his remarkable investigations – the fruit of his work is more than apparent in numerous aspects of US political life – most obviously in the growing awareness within the United States of the decay of its democratic processes and massive efforts in recent elections by the GOP to disenfranchise black voters.
A former RICO corruption prosecutor Palast became a journalist a little over 10 years ago. His latest two books "The Best Democracy Money can Buy" and "Armed Madhouse" are both New York Times best-sellers and are required reading for any person seriously interested in what is really going on inside the United States. ( His website is www.gregpalast.com - Alan)
Scoop's Alastair Thompson caught up with him today for a wide ranging interview.
All right! So, let's talk about the regime.
Yeah. First of all, you've said that you're bringing out another version of the book, so that's coming out.
Yes, indeed. Yes, indeed. Yeah, it'll be a new edition of Armed Madhouse, out on Tuesday. Expanded. Because the evil has expanded, I've had to expand the book. I'm updating everything and adding a couple more chapters, including one called Busted, which is about how I was charged with violating anti-terrorism laws by the Department of Homeland Security while I was investigating what George Bush did to the City of New Orleans, which they didn't particularly like.
And then another chapter called The Theft of 2008 about how the US elections are already fixed. I'm always writing about after the fact--I figured I'd do this one in advance.
There's some mention of voter fraud and Karl Rove in the US Attorneys controversy, which...
Oh, yeah! Actually, I'm kind of in the middle of that one. I'm working with John Congers, the chairman. What's happened is, when they went through Karl Rove's emails and made them public, there was a couple of gloating emails, one just dated this past February, in which Rove and his minions are gloating that the US media does not pick up the investigations of "that British reporter, Greg Palast." And as you can tell from my accent, I may report from the BBC out of London, but I'm simply an American in exile trying to report my news.
And he's right. The US media doesn't pick up my stuff. And Rove's people even attached an excerpt from Armed Madhouse, like, "Ha, ha! This is not what they're reading and not what they're seeing in America." In a way, he's right. It's pretty much hidden.
Which bit in particular were they referring to?
They were referring to... what they were most focused and concerned about, frankly, was that I had obtained emails from Tim Griffin, Karl Rove's right-hand hit man-- actually, dozens of emails--in which he was operating a scheme to challenge the rights of hundreds of thousands of black Americans to vote, of African Americans to vote. What he was doing... this is pretty creepy. In the US, you register to vote in advance. You can't vote unless you've pre-registered, and what he was doing is he was sending letters to voters, to soldiers who were registered out of their home addresses, and if they were sent to Baghdad, the letters would be returned as undeliverable, and they would use that as evidence that the voter was committing voter fraud and knock out their vote.
So, in other words, the way that the US system works, if someone challenges your vote and you're not there cos you're in Fallujah or somewhere, you don't know your vote's being challenged. The Republicans--I mean, I don't think the planet knows about this, and I can tell you that Americans don't know about this--the Republicans challenged three million voters--three million--in the last election, the Kerry-Bush race. And 1.1 million of those votes were thrown out, mostly because people had no idea that they'd been challenged. They had no idea that they were losing their vote.
They targeted soldiers. Mission Accomplished! Mr Bush.
And yet, in that election we saw an inordinate, a huge turnout and a massive growth in the vote. Did you have any suspicions about that?
Oh, more than suspicions; I did the calculations, and therefore ... one of the chapters of Armed Madhouse is Kerry Won, Now Get Over It. It was about how... there's no question. In the US, the presidency's determined by the winners of each state. It's a winner-take-all in each state and those Electoral votes are added up. There's no question that John Kerry not only won Ohio, which technically went to George Bush, but he won the state of New Mexico, he won the state of Iowa, probably Nevada and a couple of others. Unquestionably. If you counted all the votes. What happened was that all these votes were just thrown in the garbage. In the case of places like Ohio.
One thing I've added in the new edition of Armed Madhouse is records from the state of Ohio where someone had literally crossed out--you'll see the actual cross-outs on these documents--where they'd crossed out and removed voting machines from African American neighborhoods. That's why you had these massive lines. They deliberately removed machines so that there'd be gigantic back-up lines. Seven- and eight-hour waits to vote if you were in a minority neighborhood, but if you were in a white suburban neighborhood, you walked right in and voted. That was just one of the games that they played.
Massive challenges. Guys with little Blackberries challenging voters as they came up. No particular reason, but basically Democrats are black and they're pretty much defenseless. And, of course, the US media doesn't cover this because the US media doesn't cover anything that involves black people or poor people, in particular. And they're not going to do anything that involves challenging, suggesting that the American presidency was decided by an electoral coup d'etat.
What does all this tell us about the state of American democracy? Tim Griffin, I think, was subsequently appointed as the US Attorney for Arkansas, wasn't he?
That's right. Tim Griffin, the guy who ran the purge operation!
You have to understand, it's against the law to target black voters. I was working, I've been working with an elections attorney Robert F. Kennedy, Jr--son of the murdered Attorney General--and he was saying, "You know, this is a crime. This is a go-to-jail crime in America." You cannot target black voters en masse to take away their votes. This is what the Martin Luther King laws were all about. The Voting Rights Act of '65 passed after King was gunned down. You can't do this. So now you actually have a perpetrator--a criminal--as a prosecutor.
US Attorney means he's the chief prosecutor. So you actually have the guy who should be prosecuted being the prosecutor. That's the brilliance of vote theft. It is the perfect crime, because if you win you become the judge and you become the prosecutor and you control the whole system. You can't be prosecuted. You're prosecution-immune. You've won. You steal the election, but you also steal the system of voter enforcement.
Increasingly we seem to have seen, in terms of this US Attorneys scandal, facts emerging that a lot of the pressure on these US Attorneys and the reasons for their dismissal seems to have been related to their unwillingness to pursue voter fraud.
Yes. Well, there is massive vote fraud in the United States, but it's committed by the parties and the politicians, not by the voters. No-one's willing to go to jail just to cast a vote for a school board or even for president. I mean, just one little vote. You do go to prison for that. And there were 120 million people cast votes for president, and I'm trying to find 120 that committed fraud. And we can't.
But that was driving Karl Rove crazy, because he needed to find... in other words, to cover up their own crimes, they wanted to blame the voters, not the vote manipulators like the people out of the Rove office doing all this mass challenging. They wanted to create a hysteria which would allow them to change the voting laws--which would allow them to change the voting laws so they could make it harder to vote. Because, one Republican is saying five million illegal immigrants are voting. Well, that just doesn't... Like I say, "Find me five, please." And they can't.
Well, apparently Rove was pushing very hard to get his prosecutors to find people and bring, basically, false charges against them. In Armed Madhouse, I actually have an interview with the office of one of the fired attorneys, a guy named David Iglesias because some woman--a state politician, legislator, named Justine Fox Young; that's really her name--she's waving papers in the air, saying, "I have evidence here of voter fraud." When I asked her to show me those papers, she wouldn't. She said, "Well, the US prosecutor, US Attorney, is investigating these charges." So I called up Iglesias' office and said, "Are you guys investigating." And Iglesias's people said, No.
"Wait. He's a Republican prosecutor," I said, "Are you saying that your fellow Republicans are lying? Making up false charges?", and they were silent. I took that as the answer was Yes. What I didn't realize was that he was basically telling me that they weren't bringing charges. I didn't realize that they were pressuring him that if he didn't, he was gonna lose his job. Certainly, me... Rove does read my--as we now know, Rove has read Armed Madhouse and he could see and underline the fact that Iglesias basically called them a liar. So that was the end of his job.
So, in terms of that whole issue of election fraud, we've now got this Holt Bill, which is an attempt to try and fix up some of the problems. Do you have any views on how effective it is likely to be?
It's such a small one. They've moved way beyond... the whole bill is intent on eliminating computer voting, paperless computer voting, because we absolutely had at least one congressional race obviously rawly stolen. Katherine Harris, her old seat in Congress was stolen by a Republican. There were 18,000 votes that were simply disappeared in the computers. They even admit it. They said they can't find 18,000 votes. Can't find 18,000 votes! It's disappeared, electronically. Zapped. All in Democratic areas, and that race was decided by 500 votes.
That's created a push, finally, to say, "No more. No more black box voting." But that's just the least of the problem. That doesn't stop the challenges. That doesn't stop... the new game that they do with these registration forms in America is to throw out the registrations. One-and-a-half million registrations were just rejected, which has never happened... It used to be in America, you wanna vote, you register, and that was it. No more. And people don't even realize that they're filling out a registration form to vote, then they go and vote and they're told, "You're not registered."
Do you have a view on the new governor of Florida?
Well, you know, it's what I call the dead body bounce. It's hard to go... they dropped so low with Jeb Bush, that this guy is a fragment better. But not much better. The one thing he has pushed for--but I don't think he's going to do it; it's more window-dressing than not--is this whole game in Florida, which I had uncovered, of knocking out voters as felons who aren't felons at all. The only way to fix that, by the way... there's no way to fix it. The records are impossible to clean up and fix, it's a mess.
Black people who came over as slaves, the number of common names, the number of John Smiths and Jesse Jacksons among African Americans is enormous. You cannot work on a basis of saying, "Oh, here's a guy Jesse Jackson should be removed because he is a criminal." You have to eliminate this whole business of having non-citizens in the US, of saying that if you were a felon, you can't vote. Only Florida and a few other states--like, six states out of fifty--say you can't vote if you have a criminal record.
This non-citizen status is left over from the Ku Klux Klan era and the Soviet Union. The European Union has just said this is a crime against humanity. You cannot tell people that they aren't citizens.
So, do you have any hope? Are the Democrats taking this whole issue of the decay of democracy seriously yet? We've seen in Ohio that there have been some prosecutions over the weekend.
Yeah, there's been some prosecutions--too late. It used to be, when I did racketeering cases--and I used to--that if there was a crime, then the fruits of the crime were seized. Well, there's the White House which is the fruit of the crime, so I think that should be seized and turned back to the public. That ain't gonna happen, but here's what IS happening.
People are waking up. They can steal a lot of votes, but not all of them. Four-and-a-half million, in the new edition of Madhouse, is our estimate for 2008. In Ohio, people were so disgusted by the theft of the election, by a war gone crazy, by auto plants closing all over the state, that the Republicans were blown so far out of the water that the main vote-fixer, for example--the creepiest vote-fixer, a guy named Blackwell--he only got... the Republicans had controlled the state of Ohio. When he ran for governor, he got only like one in five votes. I mean, he was demolished. Even Republicans refused to voted for him, it became so embarrassing. So people wise up.
The Democrats coming in... I'm not a Democrat; I'm not a Republican, I'm just... But it has opened up the possibility, as we're seeing now in Congress, of investigations. I did a story for BBC Newsnight, BBC television about these creepy guys, vultures, who were buying up African debt and basically seizing all the money for debt relief for Africa, meant for AIDS medicine, and pocketing it. There's this whole creepy process that these guys have, and they're all cronies of George Bush. I ran that story on BBC and one of our powerful Democratic congressmen went right into Bush's office at the White House and said, "I want you to watch Greg Palast's accusations and I want an answer right now. What's happening to the AIDS money?"
Now, that could not have happened before the Democrats took control of Congress. I mean, Democratic congressmen couldn't be a chairman of a committee, so he'd have no power. And this guy had the power to kick in the White House door and demand answers. Bush knew he had to give some answer, even if it was bogus, because otherwise they'll subpoena all his guys and haul them in to get the answers. So that's a big difference. The information... now we have a debate. After all, the prosecutors were fired last year, but until the new Congress came in there was no investigation.
One last question I was going to ask was: We've now got, obviously, to the point with the US Attorney scandal and these lost emails, lost all these emails, that there is, in fact, some progress being made at the White House level by the Democrats. Do you expect it to go further? Do you expect Gonzales to fall and then possibly Rove thereafter?
To me, throwing Gonzales to the wolves is a joke. When Nixon as President was being nailed for Watergate, he put his Attorney General out there, and the tapes have a wonderful... the White House tapes that they found have a great line. They sent out the Attorney General to "twist slowly in the wind".
Cheney loves watching Gonzales hang and dangle. He loves it. Karl Rove loves it. This guy's taking all the bullets, all the heat. And then they're just gonna cut him down. They're gonna tell him to resign, that he's finished. And that'll be the end of that. But he had nothing to do with it. He was just the shill. When he says he didn't know anything, he didn't know anything. By the way, that doesn't make him not culpable. I used to bring racketeering cases in the United States for something called "willful failure to know", that crime bosses use: "Don't tell me what you're doing but make sure you get it done!" Same with Gonzales.
When it came out that there was some discussion with him about the US Attorneys, and he says he doesn't remember, I know what he said. He said, "Don't tell me. Get out of the office. I don't want to know." He didn't say "Stop it." He was just, "I don't want to know." But Karl Rove was the guy that did this. Harriet Miers, probably someone you don't know, but she's a real fixer for George Bush, going back to Texas days.
These are criminals. This is obstruction of justice. It is a crime in the United States to do this. And they're blaming the Attorney General. It ain't the Attorney General... Yes, he should go because this happened and he let it happen. But he wasn't the mastermind. Once again, Karl Rove engineered the leaks in exposing a CIA agent, which was a criminal act. He was the one orchestrating the illegal removal of voters. He was the one orchestrating the firing of prosecutors. And every time these things go to hearings, someone else's head rolls, not his. Libby goes to jail, not Rove. Gonzales will lose his job, not Rove.
And ultimately there's one other actor in here who's skipping the bullet, which is George Bush. Let us remember he is the guy appointing these prosecutors and removing them. They serve at the request of the President. That's the man. So it's Rove and his nominal boss, even though it's not clear who's the puppet and who's the puppeteer.
I'm talking to Greg Palast here, author of Armed Madhouse, who's bringing out a new book on Tuesday. Greg, you mentioned at the beginning that there's a new chapter on New Orleans.
Busted. Katrina, I think, is sort of becoming... possibly along with the Iraq war, it's probably the second-largest problem for the Bush administration in terms of...
I hope so! Well, they're not really different. It's like New Orleans is Baghdad on the Mississippi. The new chapter is called Busted because I really was charged with violating the anti-terrorism laws of the US by the Department of Homeland Security, believe it or not. And that's cos I was filming. I was filming what they don't want me to film: 73,000 residents of New Orleans--by the way, that's a fourth of the city--have been dumped into the swamplands 100 miles away from the city. They've lost their jobs cos they can't get to work. They have no homes. They're not even allowed to rebuild them. And they've dumped them into a place known as Cancer Alley, right next to the Exxon oil refinery.
I was filming this. It's like Guantanamo on Wheels, because they put people in these old mobile homes. And I was charged because I was "taking photos of critical infrastructure." Like Osama can look at my pictures of poor people sucking soot from Exxon's pollution machine and say, "Oh, I wanna go there. I'm gonna take out the refinery." I finally pointed out to Homeland Security, after two days back and forth of this, that if Osama wanted to take out the refinery all he had to do was go on Google Map.
They weren't trying to protect America from terrorists. They were trying to protect America from the information that this was where we had dumped people to die. As far as I could tell, they were staying there forever. This was taken a year after Katrina--73,000 people still stuck there. After the flood.
The other thing I found that they didn't like is that how did those people who were left in the water, how did they drown? And I discovered, talking to the head of the LSU, Louisiana State University Hurricane Center--the people running the hurricane evacuation--they told me, the Chief, a guy named Ivor van Heerden, had been holding this information to himself, he couldn't stand it any more, he said, "Someone's got to speak out. Let me lose my job." What he was saying is that George Bush's White House--he emphasised the "White House"; not just the government--the White House knew 20 hours or so before the levees burst that they were cracking apart and the city was gonna flood.
He was running the operation at the hurricane center in Lousiana, the state of Louisiana, and they stopped evacuating New Orleans. They were all congratulating each other. Katrina never hit the city, it went east of the city, so they were evacuating east. The White House didn't tell them that the levees were failing, and those things collapsed and 1500 people drowned. So people think it's bad; think that George Bush screwed up. It's worse than that. It's worse than that.
The public story of what happened in New Orleans is just not fully told yet.
No, it isn't. Because, you know, he's still doing the "water surged over the top of the levees" and all that. C'mon! They broke apart, and he knew they were breaking. What happens is that... these are federal government levees. If they break, it's George Bush's responsibility to save the people. It's George Bush's and the federal government's responsibility to compensate them and bring them back. They don't want that. They wanna say, "It wasn't us."
And then what I also found out is that there was an evacuation plan in New Orleans. Where was it? How come people weren't evacuated? How come people were left behind? And the answer was that they privatized, believe it or not, emergency evacuation. They'd contracted it out to cronies of Bush who got a million bucks, and when I saw their plans--cos I'd worked on hurricane evacuation for a very rich area, Long Island, NY. There's no plan to let people float away in the rich areas. Huge, elaborate plans. In New Orleans, you couldn't find the plans. When I found them, by the crony contractors, the plan was: Get in your car, drive like hell.
What if you don't have a car? 127,000 people in New Orleans did not have cars--a fourth of the city--and they were left there. So, what happened was, I went to the contractors and said, "What's your experience in emergency evacuation?" And they couldn't tell me that they'd ever done any emergency planning ever, at all. And they got the contract two years before the hurricane. Two years before. And the answer was that their total experience, as far as I could tell, was page after page of donations to the Republican Party.
So how do we have a situation, where two years after this hurricane and this huge disaster, which obviously has affected both the political process and the people in America very profoundly, these sorts of details are still emerging as a result of your investigations? What's going on with the US media?
They're dead. You cannot... cos it's one thing to say, Oh they... you know, we had one very rich reporter, famously cry in front of the cameras, "How could they treat people this way?" In the Superdome. You can talk about bureaucrats being mean to people. What you can't talk about is the President of the United States drowning 1500 people and then going off to a golf resort knowing that the levees are cracking and saying nothing. If you say that... No one has challenged the veracity of this report. No one has challenged the integrity of my source, who is named. But they're not gonna put that on the air.
They're not gonna follow it up?
Forget it! All that's gonna happen is make sure that I'll always be working for the BBC. I mean, basically, you have to understand, what happens here is more than not covering the news; it's a program of silencing the news.
Some of the proceeds of your activities are going into this thing called the Palast Investigative Fund. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Well, it's real simple. Investigative reporting... one of the reasons they don't do it is because it's really expensive. I mean, for me to, for example, find out the purge list took months of work and it's a whole team. First of all, Greg Palast is just the nose on camera; I've got a whole team of people. A quadrilingual Bond girl from Switzerland. We set up fronts. We go undercover. We do secret filming, secret recording. This is really expensive and dangerous. And the legal costs, alone--my God! So, to cover this, we do two things.
I'm grateful for BBC and Harper's and others who've given us some funding and, of course, a platform. By the way, to put it out in the US, I give this stuff free of charge to a program called Democracy Now, and the only way I can do that is to get some donations. I don't like going to big foundations, or any of that stuff. I don't do it. I don't have any foundation money. We just ask people who watch and read our books to send a couple of bucks, 50 dollars, a hundred bucks. I'll sign a book.
And I do that so that I'm beholden to my readers and not to a network, not to a foundation, not to anyone but the people who are watching my reports and reading my material. And that's it. No advertisers.
You are finding, of course, that there is a very, very widespread Internet dissemination of your material and you use the Internet very well, effectively.
In fact, by the way, I'm not copyrighting any part of my book, which is very unusual. Even though it's a New York Times best-seller. I want the word out! Go use it. It's a weapon. It's a weapon of mass instruction. By the way, got to the website www.gregpalast.com and you can hear some of the audio from the book. I got big comics like Larry David and Greg Proops reading this material, but we also have dance tracks and Jello Biafra has produced a spoken word CD which we'll also release next week, called Live from the Armed Madhouse, Greg Palast Making Trouble, and including some dance tracks which are samples from the book Armed Madhouse. So, there you go. You can dance to it!
It's a bit of a media revolution really, what you've undertaken.
If I have to do sky-writing... Whatever it takes to get the word out. I'm not going to rely on US networks, in particular. Look, I've got it easy in Britain and the Commonwealth because you can turn on the TV and watch it. But you can't do it in the US, so I have to do things like have musicians. For example, one of the more interesting ones is that Eminem did a video based on my stuff, called Mosh. So if that's the way to get it out, I'm for it.
How has it then that people like Michael Moore are able to have a mainstream audience in the United States?
Well, he was very... he did some smart stuff. He's been very helpful. Basically, he took a lot of my material and popularised it. What he does is, he was able to get away with his programs by... well, he was thrown off television, so that was gone. Even though he was a popular show. But they couldn't take away the movie screen, even though Disney tried to.
The answer is that he comes out as entertainment. He does the kind of clown act. And it's good, because it's a way to get it out; it's bad because he's dismissed as a clown. But the information is very solid. I know because I provide it. That's another way to get it out. In fact, our little joke at BBC is if Greg Palast can't get his reports on the air in America, just give it to the fat guy with the chicken suit.
Are you still trying to get stuff into the NY Times and the big papers and networks over there, or have you given up?
You know, I do try. I owe it to the public to give it a shot. But I have to tell you, Bobby Kennedy just asked the head of ABC television, the big ABC network--which is owned by Disney, the big Disney television network--"Why don't you run Greg Palast's BBC reports?" They have a deal with BBC; they can run it for free. And the answer is, "Oh, we'd love to." They were just giving him the old jive. They called me up at Bobby Kennedy's request and basically told me in so many words, "You can forget it, Palast."
Cos the other broadcaster is Keith Olbermann who seems to have a peculiar... I mean, he seems to be allowed to.
To some extent. One thing I'll say--and I'm not bitter about it--but where was Olbermann when the going was tough? A lot of guys--I mean guys who, like, totally licked Bush's behind, like Bob Woodward, who wrote Bush At War. Woodward went from writing All the President's Men to becoming one of the president's men, but now he takes some potshots. So these guys are pretty good at coming out of the woodwork and shooting the wounded, but you're not going to see anything too heavy on these things. You're gonna see a lot of dissent. Until the winds change and they'll change with it.
At a slightly more serious level, the overall picture that you get from a lot of what you're saying is that the political process is corrupt. We look at the Bush family and they obviously have ties to banking industries and the oil industry and various other things. Are we talking about corporate fascism here? Is this really what's happening in the United States, these days?
No. And people are going to be shocked to hear me say that. And the reason I say that is that it's not 1933. We ain't got that bad yet. And I say that with good caution because it could get bad. Be careful. But I think it's more like 1927. In 1927, as I pointed out in Armed Madhouse, when the levees broke in New Orleans and the city drowned it was a time of corporate aristocracy, you could call it corporate fascism. The Republicans were in charge of all edges of government. It was grim. And the Democratic Party seemed like it had no answers. They were weak and had nothing to say.
Then one guy rose up from the floodwaters of Louisiana and said, "Enough already. It's time that we kicked the rich in the ass and got our fair share. We need a system of old age pensions. We need free schools in America. We need to tax the oil companies and stop using the money on bogus wars." That was a guy named Huey Long. And his program was adopted by Franklin Roosevelt, became the New Deal, and America was changed, and Hitler was destroyed. So, I think it's 1927, not 1933 Germany. It's 1927 Louisiana again.
If it's 1927, then next year's 1928 and there's another election.
Yeah. So what I would say is that... look, we saw in the US mid-term election they still stole races but, you know, you can't steal all the votes all the time. With that, I'm going to leave you and say that, you know, pick up a copy of Armed Madhouse before the PATRIOT Act 3 goes into effect in America and they'll have to confiscate it. And I'll see you at the Scoop wing at Guantanamo next year.
Thank you very much.
Okay. Catch you later. Bye.
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
06/19/07 5:10 PM
Well, the time has come. The latest iPod stereo dock is out, the iCarta, designed, and refined, to hold toilet paper. The product comes with docking materials, collapsible tissue holders that can be used as the stereo dock and you guessed it — moisture-free speakers.
In honor of this ground-breaking invention, here is a list of actual products relating to iPods that you may not have heard about but are popping up all around the Internet.
iBuzz. Half iPod, half sex toy. Enough said.
Bevy. Bottle opener/keychain/earbud wrap/iPod shuffle case.
Tadpole. Wheel-design iPod case for kids (a.k.a. virtual babysitter).
Redwire jeans. Totally expensive jeans that let you retract your headphones and supply a joystick controller in your pocket (or are you just happy to see me?).
iBeams. Snap a flashlight or laser beam onto your iPod.
TuneBuckle. Wear your iPod whilst holding up your pants.
- Mother Jones
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This article has been made possible by the Foundation for National Progress, the Investigative Fund of Mother Jones, and gifts from generous readers like you.
© 2007 The Foundation for National Progress
Monday, June 18, 2007
Whether people are beautiful and friendly or unattractive and disruptive, ultimately they are human beings, just like oneself. Like oneself, they want happiness and do not want suffering. Furthermore, their right to overcome suffering and be happy is equal to one's own. ...When you recognize that all beings are equal in both their desire for happiness and their right to obtain it, you automatically feel empathy and closeness for them. Through accustoming your mind to this sense of universal altruism, you develop a feeling of responsibility for others: the wish to help them actively overcome their problems. Nor is this wish selective; it applies equally to all.
- The Dalai Lama, Compassion for the Individual
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Tricycle's Daily Dharma: June 11, 2007
There is a simple way to become a buddha: When you refrain from unwholesome action, are not attached to birth and death, and are compassionate toward all sentient beings, respectful to seniors and kind to juniors, not excluding or desiring anything, with no designing thoughts or worries, you will be called a buddha. Do not seek anything else. --Zen Master Dogen, Moon in a Dewdrop, edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi
Friday, June 08, 2007
Dem Consultants: Calculations of War
By Brent Budowsky
May 30, 2007
Editor's Note: Since 2002, Democratic consultants have been whispering in the ears of party leaders to give George W. Bush what he wants on the Iraq War as a way to avoid accusations that they are "soft" or "unpatriotic" or "against the troops." The results of those calculations can now be measured in the growing lists of dead and wounded as well as in the Democrats' plummeting poll numbers.
In this guest essay, political analyst Brent Budowsky traces this thinking and its consequences:
Now we read in the Boston Globe how John Kerry, preparing to campaign to be Commander in Chief, voted in 2002 for the Iraq War after his political consultants informed the would-be leader of the free world that he would not be “politically viable” unless he voted yes.
This followed the disclosure that Bob Shrum advised John Edwards to send young men and women to die as a way of improving his weak national-security resume in 2002.
Why Democratic officials listen to this is beyond me.
Here are the presidential campaigns that Bob Shrum lost: 1972, 1976, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004. Here are the presidential campaigns Mr. Shrum won: none.
Nice work, if you can get it.
By the way, Republican consultants are no better. They loved the Iraq War when they could use it to run television ads, accusing Democrats of being unpatriotic. Now they are reduced to gibberish about “surrender dates” while their members run to the White House and whine to the President, waving their polls, then vote for it again.
From the moment of the Democratic victory in the congressional elections of 2006, many of these Democratic consultants told party leaders that it would be wrong to make a powerful and principled stand against the Iraq War policy.
The majority consultant view was summed up early in the Democratic Congress by Celinda Lake, quoted in the Washington Post as believing that Democrats were not elected to solve the Iraq War, and that waging a politically heroic fight for change would be a distraction.
Think about it, folks: The Democratic 2000 nominee for vice president (Joe Lieberman) is one of America’s leading neoconservative theoreticians in favor of the war. The Democratic leaders in 2002 joined Messrs. Cheney and Perle in advocacy of the war.
The Democratic nominees for president and vice president in 2004 (John Kerry and John Edwards) both supported the Iraq War in 2002 after hearing the voice of the consultant class. They then lost an election they should have won through vacillation on the war, made famous by the quote about what one voted for before one voted against.
From the beginning, at every stage, Democrats did better in elections, to the exact degree that they spoke out strongly. In 2002, they voted for the war and lost. In 2004, they moved daintily in opposition and did better, but lost again. In 2006, they took their strongest position yet, and won, and Democrats in Congress surged ahead of the Republican Congress and Republican President in early 2007 opinion polls.
Enter the Democratic consultants.
Here, again, is their handiwork. We entered 2007 with one of the most unpopular presidents in history and one of the most unpopular Republican Congresses in history. Now, after a few short months of not fighting courageously for change, the Democratic Congress shows up in polls as equally unpopular as George W. Bush.
Here are some truths that you haven’t read yet in the Washington Post or The Hill or seen on the cable talkies, though you will.
The Democratic consultant class likes the Iraq War because it gives Democrats the chance to play pretend with non-binding actions, issue talking points about how they fought to change the policy, then lose everything in the end, at which point they can blame the Republicans for the war.
The majority view of Democratic consultants is they don’t want to win a change in policy, because then they have ownership. They want to look like they tried, then lose, and then blame Republicans for the war.
Morally speaking, this is dead wrong; in politics, this is half-right. Here is something else you have not seen from the pundit class, but it’s true, and you will. There is a gigantic difference in the objective political interest between Senate Democrats and House Democrats.
With 21 Senate Republicans running for reelection, the Democrats will pick up seats. There is a chance the Democrats pick up many seats, based purely on the math.
The Bob Shrum award for lack of courage and principle on war votes, coupled with an uncanny ability to lose elections, goes to the Senate Republicans. They support a war that few privately believe in, and commit political hari-kari by doing so. Anyone who believes “we can work this out in September” is dreaming.
On the House side, with an overwhelming majority of Americans loathing this war, the vulnerability is in the freshman class of new Democrats and those Democrats who won narrow victories. Their objective interest politically is doing far more than the current Congress for troops and vets and offering principled opposition to the hated status quo.
Projecting current trends, it is very possible that Democrats increase their margin in the Senate while losing control of the House. Remember where you heard it first.
Here’s my view, as an unyielding opponent of the war policy and unyielding supporter of troops and vets: Who cares about the politics? War is a moral and patriotic matter that should be decided on the grounds of high principle and high honor.
We have just ended one election, which neither party now honors with regard to Iraq, and the next election is about a year and a half away.
Here is the state of play, rounding off the numbers. Seventy percent of the American people disapprove of the current policy; disapprove of President Bush; disapprove of Republicans in Congress; and now disapprove of the Democratic Congress.
It is America versus Washington.
On matters of patriotism, honor, war and peace, reasonable people can disagree about the policy. What is extraordinary and unique in my experience is that on this matter the truth is that 98 percent of Democrats in Congress, 70 percent of Republicans in Congress, perhaps 100 percent of the Joint Chiefs of Staff strongly oppose the current policy in private but then act to continue it in public.
On the most authoritative poll, in Military Times, the president’s popularity among active-duty troops in the military is under 40 percent. Think about it.
Meanwhile, the Marine Corps makes an urgent appeal for life-saving equipment in 2005, which is 90 percent held in contempt, i.e. ignored, by the very politicians who vote for a war they don’t believe in, then give Memorial Day speeches proclaiming their love for the troops.
Who do they think they’re kidding?
It is America versus Washington, and what Washington insiders don’t get is this: When 70 percent disapprove of them all, and they issue talking points proclaiming their own greatness, all this does is make Americans disapprove of them even more strongly.
On all issues involving the war and the troops, we have the most educated Americans in history. They cannot be fooled; politicians who insult them, with obviously untrue talking points, do so at their peril.
Here’s my advice: First, tell the truth. Second, support the troops and vets in ways that are far more comprehensive and honorable than what either party is doing today. Third, fight like hell to change the policy.
When Washington begins to respect America, Americans will no longer feel 70 percent disrespect for both parties in Washington.
The way to win the election in 2008 is to respect the election of 2006.
Brent Budowsky was an aide to U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen on intelligence issues, and served as Legislative Director to Rep. Bill Alexander when he was Chief Deputy Whip of the House Democratic Leadership. Budowsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. (A version of this story originally appeared at The Hill.)
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
John Perkins on "The Secret History of the American Empire: Economic Hit Men, Jackals, and the Truth about Global Corruption"
Tuesday, June 5th, 2007
Hundreds of thousands of protesters are gathering in Germany ahead of tomorrow's G8 meeting of the world's richest nations. The three-day summit is being held in the coastal resort of Heiligendamm. German police have spent $18 million dollars to erect an eight-mile-long, two-meter-high fence around the meeting site. Global warming will be high on the agenda. Going into the meeting, President Bush has proposed to sideline the UN-backed Kyoto Accords and set voluntary targets on reducing emissions of greenhouse gas. Other top issues will include foreign aid and new trade deals. Today, we spend the hour with a man who claims to have worked deep inside the forces driving corporate globalization. In his first book, “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man”, John Perkins told the story of his work as a highly paid consultant hired to strong-arm leaders into creating policy favorable to the U.S. government and corporations -- what he calls the “corporatocracy.” Perkins says he helped the U.S. cheat poor countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars by lending them more money than they could possibly repay and then taking over their economies.
John Perkins has just come out with a new book. It's called “The Secret History of the American Empire: Economic Hit Men, Jackals, and the Truth about Global Corruption.” John Perkins joins me now in the firehouse studio.
John Perkins, From 1971 to 1981 he worked for the international consulting firm of Chas T. Main where he was a self-described "economic hit man." He is the author of the new book "The Secret History of the American Empire."
AMY GOODMAN: Hundreds of thousands of protesters are gathering in Germany ahead of tomorrow’s G8 meeting of the world’s richest nations. The three-day summit is being held in the coastal resort of Heiligendamm. German police have spent $18 million to erect an eight-mile-long, two-meter-high fence around the meeting site.
Global warming will be high on the agenda. Going into the meeting, President Bush has proposed to sideline the UN-backed Kyoto Accords and set voluntary targets on reducing emissions of greenhouse gas. Other top issues will include foreign aid and new trade deals.
Today, we spend the hour with a man who claims to have worked deep inside the forces driving corporate globalization. In his first book, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, John Perkins told the story of his work as a highly paid consultant hired to strong-arm leaders into creating policy favorable to the US government and corporations, what he calls the “corporatocracy.” John Perkins says he helped the US cheat poor countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars by lending them more money than they could possibly repay and then taking over their economies. John Perkins has just come out with his second book on this issue. It’s called The Secret History of the American Empire: Economic Hit Men, Jackals and the Truth about Global Corruption. John Perkins joins us now in the firehouse studio. Welcome to Democracy Now!
JOHN PERKINS: Thank you, Amy. It’s great to be here.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, before we go further, “economic hit men” -- for those who haven’t heard you describe this, let alone describe yourself as this, what do you mean?
JOHN PERKINS: Well, really, I think it’s fair to say that since World War II, we economic hit men have managed to create the world's first truly global empire, and we've done it primarily without the military, unlike other empires in history. We've done it through economics very subtly.
We work many different ways, but perhaps the most common one is that we will identify a third world country that has resources our corporations covet, such as oil, and then we arrange a huge loan to that country from the World Bank or one of its sister organizations. The money never actually goes to the country. It goes instead to US corporations, who build big infrastructure projects -- power grids, industrial parks, harbors, highways -- things that benefit a few very rich people but do not reach the poor at all. The poor aren’t connected to the power grids. They don’t have the skills to get jobs in industrial parks. But they and the whole country are left holding this huge debt, and it’s such a big bet that the country can't possibly repay it. So at some point in time, we economic hit men go back to the country and say, “Look, you know, you owe us a lot of money. You can't pay your debt, so you’ve got to give us a pound of flesh.”
AMY GOODMAN: And explain your history. What made you an economic hit man?
JOHN PERKINS: Well, when I graduated from business school at Boston University, I was recruited by the National Security Agency, the nation’s largest and perhaps most secretive spy organization.
AMY GOODMAN: People sometimes think the CIA is that, but the NSA, many times larger.
JOHN PERKINS: Yeah, it is larger. It’s much larger. At least it was in those days. And it’s very, very secretive. We all -- there’s a lot of rumors. We know quite a lot about the CIA, I think, but we know very, very little about the NSA. It claims to only work in a cryptography, you know, encoding and decoding messages, but in fact we all know that they’re the people who have been listening in on our telephone conversations. That’s come out recently. And they’re a very, very secretive organization.
They put me through a series of tests, very extensive tests, lie detector tests, psychological tests, during my last year in college. And I think it’s fair to say that they identified me as a good potential economic hit man. They also identified a number of weaknesses in my character that would make it relatively easy for them to hook me, to bring me in. And I think those weaknesses, I [inaudible] might call, the three big drugs of our culture: money, power and sex. Who amongst us doesn’t have one of them? I had all three at the time.
And then I joined the Peace Corps. I was encouraged to do that by the National Security Agency. I spent three years in Ecuador living with indigenous people in the Amazon and the Andes, people who today and at that time were beginning to fight the oil companies. In fact, the largest environmental lawsuit in the history of the world has just been brought by these people against Texaco, Chevron. And that was incredibly good training for what I was to do.
And then, while I was still in the Peace Corps, I was brought in and recruited into a US private corporation called Charles T. Main, a consulting firm out of Boston of about 2,000 employees, very low-profile firm that did a tremendous amount of work of what I came to understand was the work of economic hit men, as I described it earlier, and that’s the role I began to fulfill and eventually kind of rose to the top of that organization as its chief economist.
AMY GOODMAN: And how did that tie to the NSA? Was there a connection?
JOHN PERKINS: You know, that’s what’s very interesting about this whole system, Amy, is that there’s no direct connection. The NSA had interviewed me, identified me and then essentially turned me over to this private corporation. It’s a very subtle and very smart system, whereby it’s the private industry that goes out and does this work. So if we’re caught doing something, if we’re caught bribing or corrupting local officials in some country, it’s blamed on private industry, not on the US government.
And it’s interesting that in the few instances when economic hit men fail, what we call “the jackals,” who are people who come in to overthrow governments or assassinate their leaders, also come out of private industry. These are not CIA employees. We all have this image of the 007, the government agent hired to kill, you know, with license to kill, but these days the government agents, in my experience, don't do that. It’s done by private consultants that are brought in to do this work. And I’ve known a number of these individuals personally and still do.
AMY GOODMAN: In your book, The Secret History of the American Empire, you talk about taking on global power at every level. Right now, we’re seeing these mass protests taking place in Germany ahead of the G8 meeting. Talk about the significance of these.
JOHN PERKINS: Well, I think it’s extremely significant. Something is happening in the world today, which is very, very important. Yeah, as we watched the headlines this morning, you know, what we can absolutely say is we live in a very dangerous world. It’s also a very small world, where we’re able to immediately know what’s going on in Germany or in the middle of the Amazon or anywhere else. And we’re beginning to finally understand around the world, I think, that the only way my children or grandchildren or any child or grandchild anywhere on this planet is going to be able to have a peaceful, stable and sustainable world is if every child has that. The G8 hasn’t got that yet.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what the Group of Eight are.
JOHN PERKINS: Well, the Group of Eight are the wealthiest countries in the world, and basically they run the world. And the leader is the United States, and it’s actually the corporations within these companies -- countries, excuse me -- that run it. It’s not the governments, because, after all, the governments serve at the pleasure of the corporations. In our own country, we know that the next two final presidential candidates, Republican and Democrat alike, are going to each have to raise something like half a billion dollars. And that’s not going to come from me and you. Primarily that’s going to come from the people who own and run our big corporations. They’re totally beholden to the government. So the G8 really is this group of countries that represent the biggest multinational corporations in the world and really serve at their behest.
And what we’re seeing now in Europe -- and we’re seeing it very strongly in Latin America, we’re seeing it in the Middle East -- we’re seeing this huge undercurrent of resistance, of protest, against this empire that’s been built out of this. And it’s been such a subtle empire that people haven’t been aware of it, because it wasn’t built by the military. It was built by economic hit men. Most of us aren’t aware of it. Most Americans have no idea that these incredible lifestyles that we all lead are because we’re part of a very vicious empire that literally enslaves people around the world, misuses people. But we’re beginning to understand this. And the Europeans and the Latin Americans are at the forefront of this understanding.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to talk to you about Congo, about Lebanon, about the Middle East, about Latin America, much of what you cover in The Secret History of the American Empire, when we come back.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guest is John Perkins. From 1971 to ’81, he worked for the international consulting firm of Charles T. Main, where he was a self-described “economic hit man.” His new book is called The Secret History of the American Empire: Economic Hit Men, Jackals and the Truth about Global Corruption. Let's talk back, going to Latin America, about this ChevronTexaco lawsuit.
JOHN PERKINS: Well, that’s extremely significant. When I was sent to Ecuador as a Peace Corps volunteer in 1968, Texaco had just gone into Ecuador, and the promise to the Ecuadorian people at that time from Texaco and their own politicians and the World Bank was oil is going to pull this country out of poverty. And people believed it. I believed it at the time. The exact opposite has happened. Oil has made the country much more impoverished, while Texaco has made fortunes off this. It’s also destroyed vast areas of the Amazon rainforest.
So the lawsuit today that’s being brought by a New York lawyer and some Ecuadorian lawyers -- Steve Donziger here in New York -- is for $6 billion, the largest environmental lawsuit in the history of the world, in the name of 30,000 Ecuadorian people against Texaco, which is now owned by Chevron, for dumping over eighteen billion gallons of toxic waste into the Ecuadorian rainforest. That’s thirty times more than the Exxon Valdez. And dozens and dozens of people have died and are continuing to die of cancer and other pollution-related diseases in this area of the Amazon. So all this oil has come out of this area, and it’s the poorest area of one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere. And the irony of that is just so amazing.
But what I think -- one of the really significant things about this, Amy, is that this law firm has taken this on, not pro bono, but they expect if they win the case, which they expect to do, to make a lot of money off of it, which is a philosophical decision. It isn’t because they wanted to get rich off this. It’s because they want to encourage other law firms to do similar things in Nigeria and in Indonesia and in Bolivia, in Venezuela and many other places. So they want to see a business grow out of this, of law firms going in and defending poor people, knowing that they can get a payoff from the big companies who have acted so terribly, terribly, terribly irresponsibly in the past.
And Steve Donziger, the attorney -- I was in Ecuador with him just two weeks ago -- and one of the very touching things he said is -- he’s an American attorney with, you know, very good credentials, and he says, “You know, I’ve seen a lot of companies make mistakes and then try to defend themselves in law courts.” And he said, “That’s one thing. But in this case, Texaco didn’t make mistakes. This was done with intent. They knew what they were doing. To save a few bucks, they killed a lot of people.” And now they’re going to be forced to pay for that, to take responsibility for that, and hopefully open the door to make many companies take responsibility for the wanton destruction that’s occurred.
AMY GOODMAN: Let's talk about Latin America and its leaders, like Jaime Roldos. Talk about him and his significance. You wrote about him in your first book, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.
JOHN PERKINS: Yeah, Jaime Roldos was an amazing man. After many years of military dictators in Ecuador, US puppet dictators, there was a democratic election, and one man, Jaime Roldos, ran on a platform that said Ecuadorian resources ought to be used to help the Ecuadorian people, and specifically oil, which at that time was just coming in. This was in the late ’70s. And I was sent to Ecuador, and I was also sent at the same time to Panama to work with Omar Torrijos, to bring these men around, to corrupt them, basically, to change their minds.
You know, in the case of Jaime Roldos, he won the election by a landslide, and now he started to put into action his policy, his promises, and was going to tax the oil companies. If they weren’t willing to give much more of their profits back to the Ecuadorian people, then he threatened to nationalize them. So I was sent down, along with other economic hit men -- I played a fairly minor role in that case and a major one in Panama with Torrijos -- but we were sent into these countries to get these men to change their policies, to go against their own campaign promises. And basically what you do is you tell them, “Look, you know, if you play our game, I can make you and your family very healthy. I can make sure that you get very rich. If you don’t play our game, if you follow your campaign promises, you may go the way of Allende in Chile or Arbenz in Guatemala or Lumumba in the Congo.” On and on, we can list all these presidents that we’ve either overthrown or assassinated because they didn’t play our game. But Jaime would not come around, Jaime Roldos. He stayed uncorruptible, as did Omar Torrijos.
And both of these -- and from an economic hit man perspective, this was very disturbing, because not only did I know I was likely to fail at my job, but I knew that if I failed, something dire was going to happen: the jackals would come in, and they would either overthrow these men or assassinate them. And in both cases, these men were assassinated, I have no doubt. They died in airplane crashes two months apart from each other in 1981 -- single plane; their own private planes crashed.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain more what happened with Omar Torrijos.
JOHN PERKINS: Well, Omar, again, was very stalwartly standing up to the United States, demanding that the Panama Canal should be owned by Panamanians. And I spent a lot of time with Torrijos, and I liked him very, very much as an individual. He was extremely charismatic, extremely courageous and very nationalistic about wanting to get the best for his people. And I couldn’t corrupt him. I tried everything I could possibly do to bring him around. And as I was failing, I was also very concerned that something would happen to him. And sure enough -- it was interesting that Jaime Roldos's plane crashed in May, and Torrijos said -- got his family together and said, “I’m probably next, but I’m ready to go. We’ve now got the Canal turned over.” He had signed a treaty with Jimmy Carter to get the Canal in Panamanian hands. He said, “I’ve accomplished my job, and I’m ready to go now.” And he had a dream about being in a plane that hit a mountain. And within two months after it happened to Roldos, it happened to Torrijos also.
AMY GOODMAN: And you met with both these men?
JOHN PERKINS: Yes, I’d met with both of them.
AMY GOODMAN: What were your conversations like?
JOHN PERKINS: Well, especially with Torrijos, I spent a lot of time with him in some formal meetings and also at cocktail parties and barbecues -- he was big on things like that -- and was constantly trying to get him to come around to our side and letting him know that if he did, he and his family would get some very lucrative contracts, would become very wealthy, and, you know, warning him. And he didn’t really need much warning, because he knew what would be likely to happen if he didn’t. And his attitude was, “I want to get done what I can in my lifetime, and then so be it.”
And it’s been interesting, Amy, that since I wrote the book Confessions, Marta Roldos, who’s Jaime’s daughter, has come to the United States to meet with me, and I just spent time with her in Ecuador. She is now a member of parliament in Ecuador, just elected, and she married Omar Torrijos's nephew. And it’s really interesting to hear their stories about what was going on -- she was seventeen at the time her parents -- her mother was also in the plane that her father died in; the two of them died in that plane -- and then to hear her talk about how her husband, Omar's nephew, was in that meeting when the family was called together and Omar said, “I’m probably next, but I’m ready to go. I’ve done my job. I’ve done what I could do for my people. So I’m ready to go, if that’s what has to happen.”
AMY GOODMAN: So what were your conversations at the time with other so-called economic hit men? I mean, you became the chief consultant at Charles Main.
JOHN PERKINS: Chief economist.
AMY GOODMAN: Chief economist.
JOHN PERKINS: Right. Well, you know, when I was with other people that -- we could be sitting at a table, say, in the Hotel Panama, knowing that we’re both here to win these guys over, but we also had our official jobs, which were to do studies on the economy, to show how if the country accepted the loan, it was going to improve its gross national product. We would talk about those kinds of things. It’s, I suspect, a little bit like if two CIA agents, spies, get together or have a beer together, they don’t really talk about what they’re really doing beneath the surface, but they’ve got an official job, too, and that’s what you focus on. And, in fact, the two, in my case, are very closely linked.
So we were producing these economic reports that would prove to the World Bank and would prove to Omar Torrijos that if he accepted these huge loans, then his country's gross national product would just mushroom and pull his people out of poverty. And we produced these reports, which made sense from a mathematical econometric standpoint. And, in fact, it often happened that with these loans, the GNP, the gross national product, did increase.
But what also was true, and what Omar knew and Jaime Roldos knew and I was coming to know very strongly, was that even if the general economy increased, the poor people with these loans would get poorer. The rich would make all the money, because most of the poor people weren’t even tied into the gross national product. A lot of them didn’t even make income. They were living off subsistence farming. They benefited nothing, but they were left holding the debt, and because of these huge debts, their country in the long term would not be able to provide them with healthcare, education and other social services.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about Congo.
JOHN PERKINS: Oh, boy. The whole story of Africa and the Congo is such a devastating and sad one. And it’s the hidden story, really. We in the United States don’t even talk about Africa. We don’t think about Africa. You know, Congo has something called coltan, which probably most of your listeners may not have even heard of, but every cell phone and laptop computer has coltan in it. And several million people in the last few years in the Congo have been killed over coltan, because you and I and all of us in the G8 countries demand low -- or at least we want to see our computers inexpensive and our cell phones inexpensive. And, of course, the companies that make these sell them on that basis, that “Oh, here, mine’s $200 less than the other company.” But in order to do that, these people in the Congo are being enslaved. The miners, the people mining coltan, they’re being killed. There’s these vast wars going on to provide us with cheap coltan.
And I have to say, you know, if we want to live in a safe world, we need to be -- we must be willing, and, in fact, we must demand that we pay higher prices for things like laptop computers and cell phones and that a good share of that money go back to the people who are mining the coltan. And that’s true of oil. It’s true of so many resources that we are not paying the true cost, and there’s millions of people around the world suffering from that. Roughly 50,000 people die every single day from hunger or hunger-related diseases and curable diseases that they don’t get the medicines for, simply because they’re part of a system that demands that they put in long hours, and they get very, very low pay, so we can have things cheaper in this country. And the Congo is an incredibly potent example of that.
AMY GOODMAN: You talk about the so-called defeats in Vietnam and Iraq and what they mean for corporations.
JOHN PERKINS: Yeah, well, that’s -- yeah, we, you and I, look at them as defeats, perhaps, and certainly anybody who lost a child or a sibling or a spouse in these countries look at them as disasters, as defeats, but the corporations made a huge amount of money off Vietnam, the military industry, huge corporations, the construction companies. And, of course, they’re doing it in a very, very big way in Iraq. So the corporatocracy, the people that are in fact insisting that our young men and women continue to go to Iraq and fight, they’re making a tremendous amount of money. These are not failures for them; they’re successes from a very strong economic standpoint. And I know that sounds cynical. I am cynical about these things. I’ve been there. I’ve seen it. And, you know, we must learn not to put up with that anymore. All of us.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to John Perkins. His book is The Secret History of the American Empire. It’s the fortieth anniversary of the 1967 Israeli-Arab war. You talk about Israel being a Fortress America in the Middle East.
JOHN PERKINS: I think it’s very sad and very telling, once again, that the Israeli people, for the most part, are led to believe that they’ve been given this land as a payoff, basically, for the Holocaust, because they deserve to be recompensed. And, of course, the Holocaust was terrible, and they do deserve to be taken care of and recompensed and have stability.
But why would we locate that place in the middle of the Arab world, their traditional enemies? Why would we locate that place in such an unstable area? It’s because it is serving as a huge fortress for us in the biggest oil fields known in the world today, and we knew this when Israel was located there. And I think the Israeli people have been terribly exploited in this process.
So, in fact, we built this vast military base, armed camp, in the middle of the Middle Eastern oil fields that are surrounded by the Arab communities, and in the process, we’ve obviously created a tremendous amount of resentment and anger and a situation that it’s very difficult to see any positive outcome there. But the fact of the matter is, our having this military base in Israel has been a huge defense for us. It’s been a place where we could really launch attacks, rely on. It’s been our equivalent of the Crusaders’ castles in the Middle East. And it’s very, very sad. I think it’s extremely sad for the Israeli people that they’re caught up in all of this. I think it’s extremely sad for the American people. It’s extremely sad for the world that this is going on.
AMY GOODMAN: As we crisscross the globe, John Perkins, which is exaclty what you did in your years as an international consultant, having been groomed by the National Security Agency, but then becoming a top economist in an international consulting firm, you have also written books about Shamanism. You also write about Tibet. Where does Tibet fit into this picture?
JOHN PERKINS: Well, you know, I was just in Tibet a couple of years ago, and it was an interesting thing, because I took a group of about thirty people into Tibet with me as part of a non-profit organization. I was leading the trip. And some of these people had been in the Amazon with me, been to other places. And, of course, Tibet right now is -- it’s very depressing, because the Chinese presence is extremely strong, and you see how the Tibetan culture has been put down. And you’re always aware that there’s Chinese soldiers and spies all around you. And many of the people on the trip came to the realization, yeah, this terrible here. “Free Tibet,” we all know about that, but the ones who had been with me on a trip to the Amazon, where the oil companies and our own military are doing the same things, said, “But doesn't this remind us of what we’re doing in so much of the world?” And it’s something we tend to forget.
We can all wave banners about “Free Tibet,” which we should, but how about freeing the countries that are under our thumb, too? And certainly Tibet is not nearly -- well, I hate to say it this way, because some people might disagree with me, but I think Iraq is in worse shape than Tibet is these days, although both of them are in pretty bad shape. But so, what we saw in Tibet is that same kind of model that we’re implementing around the world. And yet, most Americans are not aware that we’re doing it. They’re aware that the Chinese are doing it, but not aware that we’re doing it on actually a much bigger level than the Chinese are.
AMY GOODMAN: John Perkins, talk about your transformation. You were making a lot of money. You were traveling the world. You were in a position where you were meeting presidents and prime ministers of countries, bringing them to their knees. What made you change, and then, ultimately, the decision to write about it?
JOHN PERKINS: You know, Amy, when I first got started -- I grew up -- three, four hundred years of Yankee Calvinism -- in New Hampshire and Vermont, with very strong moral principles, came from a pretty conservative Republican family. And all during the ten years that I was an economic hit man, from ’71 to ’81, I was pretty young, but it bothered my conscience. And yet, everybody was telling me I was doing the right thing. Like you said, presidents of countries, the president of the World Bank, Robert McNamara, patted me on the back. And I was asked to lecture at Harvard and many other places about what I was doing. And what I was doing was not illegal -- should be, but it isn’t. And yet, in my heart, it always tore at my conscience. I’d been a Peace Corps volunteer. I saw. And as time went by and I began to understand more and more, it got to be more and more difficult for me to continue doing this. I had a staff of about four dozen people working for me. Things were building up.
And then, one day I was on vacation, sailing in the Virgin Islands, and I anchored my little boat off the St. John Island, and I took the dinghy in, and I climbed this mountain on St. John Island in the Virgin Islands up to this old sugar cane plantation in ruins. And it was beautiful. Bougainville. The sun was setting. I sat there and felt very peaceful. And then suddenly, I realized that this plantation had been built on the bones of thousands of slaves. And then I realized that the whole hemisphere had been built on the bones of millions of the slaves. And I got very angry and sad. And then, it suddenly struck me that I was continuing that same process and that I was a slaver, that I was making the same thing happen in a slightly -- in a different way, more subtle way, but just as bad in terms of its outcome. And at that point, I made the decision I would never do it again. And I went back to Boston a couple of days later and quit.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to John Perkins, worked for Chas Main International Consulting Firm, self-described “economic hit man,” now has written a new book called The Secret History of the American Empire. When we come back from break, we’ll talk about -- well, from quitting the American empire to taking it on. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to John Perkins. His second book on the issue of economic hit men is called The Secret History of the American Empire. John Perkins is a New York Times bestselling author. His book Confessions of an Economic Hit Man took this country by storm.
So, you quit, but that was one step. Writing about it was another. Talk about your attempts over time.
JOHN PERKINS: Oh, yes. After I quit, I tried several times to write the book that became Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, and each time I reached out to other economic hit men I had worked with or jackals to try to get their stories, word got out and I was threatened. I had a young daughter at the time. She’s now twenty-five. And I also was offered some bribe. In fact, I accepted a bribe of about a half a million dollars. It’s what’s called a legal bribe, but it’s a bribe, and it was given to me with the condition that I not write the book. There was no question about that. I describe it in detail.
And I assuaged my guilt by putting a lot of that money into nonprofits I had formed -- Dream Change and Pachamama Alliance -- that are helping Amazonian people fight oil companies, so to assuage my guilt some. But I didn't write the story. And this happened a number of times, and I would find one excuse or another, and I wrote other books about indigenous people. I worked with these people. I wrote the books you mentioned earlier about Shamanism and so forth, and so I kind of, you know, distracted myself and assuaged my guilt and went on with this.
And then, on 9/11, I was in the Amazon with the Shuar people, had taken a group of nonprofit people in to learn from indigenous people in the Amazon. But shortly after that, I came up to New York to Ground Zero, and as I stood there looking down into that terrible pit, that smoldering -- and it still smelled of burning flesh -- I realized that I had to write the book, I could no longer defer, that the American people had no understanding of why so many people around the world are angry and frustrated and terrified, and that I had to take responsibility for what happened at 9/11. In fact, we all have to take a certain responsibility, which is not in any way to condone mass murder by anybody ever -- I’m not condoning that in any way -- but I did realize that the American people needed to understand why there’s so much anger around the world. I had to write the book.
So this time I didn’t tell anyone I was writing it, and even my wife and daughter, they knew I was writing something, but they didn’t know what. I didn’t reach out to other people. It made it a little more difficult to write it. But finally I got it in the hands of a very good New York agent, and he sent it out to publishers. At that point, this manuscript becomes my best insurance policy, as at that point if something strange happens to me, including now, suddenly the book will sell. Even though it’s been a bestseller for a long time, it will sell a lot more copies, if something -- people sometimes laugh and say, “Do you worry that your publisher may be trying to assassinate you, because it would certainly help book sales?” I don’t worry about it. But, you know, so at that point, once I got the manuscript there, it became my insurance policy.
AMY GOODMAN: You write “A jackal is born,” about Jack Corbin. Who is he?
JOHN PERKINS: Well, Jack Corbin -- and that’s not his real name, but he’s a real person -- he’s alive and well today, working for us in Iraq. But he is a jackal, he is an assassin. And one of the most fascinating stories, I think, involves Seychelles, which is a small county, an island country, off the coast of Africa. And it happens to be located where Diego Garcia, one of the United States’s most strategic air bases, is located.
There’s a long history behind Diego Garcia. But in the late '70s, Seychelles had a president that was very friendly to us, James Mancham, and he was overthrown in a bloodless coup by [France-Albert] Rene, a socialist. And [France-Albert] Rene threatened to get us out of Diego Garcia, to expose the real facts behind the terrible things that went on to put us in Diego Garcia. There’s a lot of details that I won’t get into now.
In any case, I was called down to Washington to meet with a bunch of retired generals and admirals, who were trying -- who were all working as economic hit men for consulting firms, and they were prepping me to go in and corrupt [France-Albert] Rene and bring him around to our side. But before doing that, they wanted to find out whether he was really corruptible or not. And it was sort of interesting that they -- one of these generals had a young protégé, a young man, and the general had noticed that a high diplomat from Seychelles in Washington had a young wife who was not very happy. So this young man was sent in to seduce the wife and compromise her and get information from her, which is a fairly common tactic. Sex is a big thing in this game of diplomacy and economic hit people. And sort of an interesting bi-story here is that one time at lunch this general came back, and he said, “You know, I think you economic hit men have a much tougher job than you women counterpart, because,” he said, “now this woman, the diplomat’s wife, is buying into this with the young man, but she wants to be convinced that he loves her. So, you know, my god, you know, I’d give the keys to the Pentagon to a young lady just for some good sex. I don’t need to be convinced that she loves me. But I guess that’s the difference between men and women.” That’s what he said. Kind of interesting. Anyway, in the end, the young man did get the information from the wife, and the information was that [France-Albert] René was not corruptible. There was no point in even trying.
AMY GOODMAN: Also, Diego Garcia is very significant as a military base.
JOHN PERKINS: Extremely significant. And it was used -- it’s being used in Afghanistan and Iraq and sorties that we fly in to Africa or any part of that world. In any case, I was called off the job, and a little while later a team of assassins were sent in from South Africa -- forty-five, forty-six, I can’t remember the exact number -- were sent in as a rugby team to bring in Christmas gifts to children of the Seychelles, but their real job was to overthrow the government and assassinate Rene. At the time, I didn’t know these individuals. Now, I know Jack Corbin. I know him very well, personally. I’ve met him since. Our paths crossed back then, but we didn’t know each other.
AMY GOODMAN: What exactly did he do?
JOHN PERKINS: Well, the team went in, and they were apprehended at the airport. A security guard discovered a hidden weapon on one of them. A huge gun battle broke out at the Mahi airport, and these mercenaries were surrounded by perhaps a thousand soldiers on the outside. Jack told me it was one of the few times in his life where he figured he was going to die and had time to think about it. Many times he could have died, but he just reacted quickly. And they didn’t know what to do, but eventually an Air India 707 came into view and asked permission to land, and they gave it permission to land. As soon as it landed, they hijacked it, and they flew it back to Durban, South Africa.
And I’m now watching this on the national news. This was now on US national news, and I’m knowing that this is -- I didn’t know what was going to happen when I was called off the case, but now I’m seeing it unfold. And to the world, what we saw is this plane, Air India 707, flies into Durban, South Africa, surrounded by South African security guards. The men on the plane give themselves up. They march off. They’re sent to court and then sentenced to prison, and some, I think, to execution, and that’s the end of the story, as far as we know.
Now that I know Jack, what actually happened was when the plane was surrounded, the security forces got on the telephone with the plane and discovered there was their good friends, their teachers in fact, on the plane. They worked out a deal. The men gave themselves up. They did spend three months in prison. They had their own wing with television, etc., and then were quietly released after three months. A lot of those same men, that team, a lot of them today are in Iraq working for us there, doing things that, you know, our soldiers are forbidden from doing. And they’re making very good money doing it.
AMY GOODMAN: Who is this man, so-called Jack Corbin, working for today in Iraq?
JOHN PERKINS: Well, he works for a private company in Iraq that has a contract, you know, that comes through the Pentagon, CIA, one of those organizations. So, like so much of this work, there’s a tremendous, as you’ve reported on this program, a tremendous number of these mercenaries there. Jack Corbin and his people are at the very top of that level. They’re the extremely skilled ones who do the really delicate work. We’ve also got a lot of people working for Blackwater and others that, you know, are not quite as skilled and are just out there doing kind of the grunt work. But there’s all kinds at that level.
AMY GOODMAN: Bechtel, Bolivia, the water wars. You’re based in the Bay Area, where Bechtel is based, and the continent you know best, South America.
JOHN PERKINS: Yeah, well, you know, Bechtel was given the franchise to own and operate the water system of Cochabamba, Bolivia, third largest city in that country. And the World Bank forced this to happen. It’s so sad. When it happened, suddenly the price of water quadrupled for some people, went up by tremendous amounts. People could no longer afford water. Cochabamba is a pretty poor city. There’s sections of it that are extremely poor.
And so, the people took to the streets. They rebelled against this. There were riots. And Bechtel dug in its heels, but eventually they threw Bechtel out of Bolivia. Bechtel then sued Bolivia for $50 million in a European court, because they couldn’t sue in a US court, because of the laws between Bolivia and the US. And then Evo Morales was elected president of Bolivia, and very shortly after that, Bechtel dropped its lawsuit. But it was interesting that the lawsuit was for lost profits that they hadn’t been able to realize because they had been thrown out for doing things that were so onerous to the people there.
AMY GOODMAN: John Perkins, what do you see as the solutions right now?
JOHN PERKINS: Well, you know, Amy, this empire that we’ve created really has an emperor, and it’s not the president of this country. The President serves, you know, for a short period of time. But it doesn't really matter whether we have a Democrat or a Republican in the White House or running Congress; the empire goes on, because it’s really run by what I call the corporatocracy, which is a group of men who run our biggest corporations. This isn’t a conspiracy theory. They don’t need to conspire. They all know what serves their best interest. But they really are the equivalent of the emperor, because they do not serve at the wish of the people, they’re not democratically elected, they don’t serve any limited term. They essentially answer to no one, except their own boards, and most corporate CEOs actually run their boards, rather than the other way around. And they are the power behind this.
And so, if we want to turn this around, we have to impact them very strongly, which means that we have to change the corporations, which is their power base. And what I feel very strongly is that today corporations exists for the primary purpose of making large profits, making a few very rich people a lot richer on a quarterly basis, on a daily basis, on a very short-term basis. That shouldn't be. There is no reason for that to be.
Corporations have been defined as individuals. Individuals have to be good citizens. Corporations need to be good citizens. They need to take -- their primary goal must be to take care of their employees, their customers and all the people around the world who provide the resources that go into making this world run, and to take care of the environments and the communities where those people live.
We must get the corporations to redefine themselves, and I think it’s very realistic that we can do so. Every corporate executive out there is smart enough to realize that he’s running a very failed system. As an economist, as a rational person, nobody can conclude anything otherwise. If you look at the fact that less than 5% of the world's population live in the United States and we consume more than 25% of the world's resources and create over 30% of its major pollution, you can only conclude that we’ve created a very flawed and failed system. This is not a model that can be sold to the Chinese or the Indians or the Africans or the Middle Easterners or the Latin Americans. We can’t even continue with it ourselves. It has to change. And corporate executives know that. They’re smart individuals. I believe that they want to see change.
And when we have really pushed them to change, we’ve been extremely successful. For example, we’ve got them to clean up rivers that were terribly polluted in the 1970s in this country. We got them to get rid of the aerosol cans that were destroying the ozone layer. We got them to change their policies toward hiring and promoting minorities and women. We’ve gotten them to put seatbelts in cars and airbags, against their initial resistance. We’ve got them to change tremendously in any specific area where we’ve set out to do that.
Now, it behooves us, we must convince them that their corporations need to be institutions to make this a better world, rather than institutions that serve a few very rich people and their goal is to make those people even richer. We need to turn this around. We must.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask one last quick question on Ecuador, and that is the death of Ecuador’s Defense Minister Guadalupe Larriva, who died in a helicopter crash last year near the Manta US Air Base installation. Do you know anything about that?
JOHN PERKINS: Well, yeah. I just came from Ecuador, and everybody is talking about it, because the same thing happened to Jaime Roldos’s minister of defense before he was assassinated. And the fact that it happened next to the US air base in Manta and it was a freak crash, two helicopters collidng, the similarities between what happened to Jaime Roldos, people all through Ecuador are saying this was a warning to Rafael Correa, the new president of Ecuador.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there. John Perkins, thanks for joining us. John Perkins’s new book is called The Secret History of the American Empire: Economic Hit Men, Jackals and the Truth about Global Corruption.