This is a seven part series of an interview by Chris Hedges of Robert Scheer regarding Scheer’s book, “They Know Everything About You”. It actually is a lively conversation between the two of them on a wide range of important subjects and challenges facing America and the world today. Each one is about 20 minutes and is well worth while. These programs were taken directly from TRNN.com (The Real News Network). http://therealnews.com/t2/ Each one contains a full transcript and only a small sample of the beginning is given here. This series was also published at Dandelion Salad, www.dandelionsalad.wordpress.com
Compiled by Thomas Baldwin, May 20, 2015.
CHRIS HEDGES, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: Hi. I’m Chris Hedges. Welcome to The Real News.I’m speaking with Robert Scheer, one of the premier journalists, certainly one of the journalists I admire most in the United States, the editor of Truthdig. And I write a column for Truthdig for Bob. And we’re talking about his new book, They Know Everything About You: How Data-Collecting Corporations and Snooping Government Agencies Are Destroying Democracy, which is a brilliant explication of the security and surveillance apparatus and the fusion of government and corporate power into every aspect of our lives.And let’s begin a little bit about how this started, how it began.
PROF. ROBERT SCHEER, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: Well, I think the surveillance state has been with us in one form or another. You just go watch the movie Selma and look at what was done to Martin Luther King.And I remember those days well. I was editing Ramparts magazine. We exposed the CIA. In turn, they went after us. We were audited, we were followed, our office was broken into. And we published King.And I remember the way King began to be seen not as a convenient icon, but rather as a radical thinker, and it was particularly when he opened his support to SNCC, the younger radicals in the civil rights movement, and then when he came out against the Vietnam War, when he gave that speech–actually, he did it before, but the most prominent was his speech at Riverside Church where he condemned the U.S. government.
CHRIS HEDGES, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Chris Hedges. And this is part two of my interview with the author Robert Scheer, who wrote They Know Everything about You, his brilliant study of the security and surveillance apparatus and how we got there.In this book, Bob, you begin, at least from my reading of it, by positing that the security and surveillance apparatus really began as a commercial enterprise, primarily, and that government then came in, then saw what was going on, saw its usefulness in terms of the data collecting, and came in later. Would that be–?
PROF. ROBERT SCHEER, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: Yeah. At first it was really a boondoggle of the Defense Department. You know, we’re going to have–if we have a nuclear war–first of all, if we have nuclear war, there is no life, so there’s nothing to do. But the idiots that were talking about mutual assured destruction in the Defense Department and how do you fight a nuclear war and said, well, the first thing that’s going to go is the communications system–you know, electromagnetic impulse and all the other things that happen when you set off these bombs. So we won’t even be able to talk. We won’t be able to tell our plane, you can’t make the rubble, radioactive rubble dance unless you move over to this position; there’s still some surviving person in the Ukraine or something you’ve got to take out. And so they had this idea, how do we have redundancy in communication. And the whole idea of the internet is a system that’s decentralized.
CHRIS HEDGES, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: Hi. I’m Chris Hedges for The Real News.Welcome to part three of my interview with Robert Scheer, the author of They Know Everything About You: How Data-Collecting Corporations and Snooping Government Agencies Are Destroying Democracy.So let’s begin a little bit with the nature of totalitarianism. I would certainly argue that when government has the capacity to watch you 24 hours a day, then you can’t use the word liberty. That’s the relationship between a master and a slave. It doesn’t matter whether they use this power at the moment. They are certainly using it against people–Muslims, Occupy dissidents, environmental activists, and others. But they have that capacity now to use it against all of us should they decide to use it.The storage of all of our personal information, this is the classic, or even the core definition of a totalitarian system, where you have the ability, should you decide to criminalize an entire group of people–we spoke about that in part two–as Hannah Arendt mentioned, to instantly sweep them up. And you in part two talked a little bit about a kind of innocent discussion about the Federal Reserve. That’s a kind of a very good example of how that happens.I don’t share your optimism. I think that we’re already there. I think that at a moment of crisis, whether that’s environmental, whether that’s financial, whether that’s an act of catastrophic domestic terrorism such as 9/11, these people are totally ready to go.And I would also want you to address a little bit, you know, at this point, is there really a difference between corporate and governmental power. I would argue that at this point they’re completely fused.
PROF. ROBERT SCHEER, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: Okay. So let me take the first part.I think the founders of our country understood exactly what you said before and that any government, any government has the capacity to become coercive, destructive, in the extreme. And they were talking about themselves.
CHRIS HEDGES, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: Hi. I’m Chris Hedges for The Real News. Welcome back to part four of my discussion with Robert Scheer about his book They Know Everything About You: How Data-Collecting Corporations and Snooping Government Agencies Are Destroying Democracy.Let’s get into this issue that we discussed at the end of part three about the reaction on the part of private corporations Google, Apple, and others, because the exposure of their complicity with the security and surveillance state (which, as you point out, is global) hurts their business model (they are beginning to create systems of encryption), and whether you think that that will be an effective check on this intrusion of the security and surveillance apparatus into our personal lives.
PROF. ROBERT SCHEER, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: I think it’s a real eye-opener for them. And I think that there’d been this incredibly naive notion in Silicon Valley. A lot of the research for this book was done talking to these people. And somehow they were the libertarians unleashed, and the government was made up of fuddy-duddy people, and they didn’t really understand modern technology. And they were creating a new culture, a new world, in which people get to see all kinds of ideas and think all sorts of thoughts and everything.And, you know, the price of that is you still had to be nice to these government folks–for a number of reasons. You wanted tax breaks. You wanted them to intervene with foreign governments. You wanted military contracts. You know, after all, Amazon, Jeff Bezos, who bought the The Washington Post, he is now building the big cloud that is going to contain our information for NSA and the CIA.So they are complicit. There is a profit sector in government.
CHRIS HEDGES, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: Welcome back. I’m Chris Hedges. This is The Real News.This is part five of my conversation with Robert Scheer, the author of They Know Everything About You: How Data-Collecting Corporations and Snooping Government Agencies Are Destroying Democracy.I love the book. It’s brilliant. You’re a great writer. And it’s an important book.I wouldn’t say they are destroying democracy; I would say they have destroyed democracy. You have held up throughout this conversation the founding fathers. And I want to go back to Thomas Paine, who was the real radical, who called for–he didn’t use the word socialism, but a type of socialism, who was an abolitionist, who was a proponent of direct democracy, which the founding fathers were not, who opposed the genocidal campaigns against Native Americans, which all of the founding fathers embraced with relish, who wanted rights for women. And I think Zinn points out that all of these freedoms that you talk about were reserved for a very small, select group of largely slave-holding white males, our aristocratic class, who replaced the aristocratic class of Britain, and that it was–Washington, by the time he was president, was the wealthiest person in the United States, largely by seizing Indian lands with land speculators and selling it for profit–of course, he himself was a large slaveholder–And that through the constitutional conventions that were held after independence, you really saw a rolling back of that populism and radicalism that Paine, who himself became a pariah, spoke so eloquently about, and of course Common Sense and his journalism were used to fuel–most of the people fighting the revolution were yeoman farmers.So they created mechanisms by which we would never have a voice–the Senate, the Electoral College. That’s how you had Al Gore win 500,000 more votes than Bush and Bush still wins or Nader did not lose the election. Everything was built into the system to create a kind of protection of rights for a very select few. And we saw throughout American history–and Zinn does this in his book–the struggle by labor, by women, by African-Americans, the Communist Party. We have erased the importance of the Communist Party in this country all through the ’20s and ’30s. These radical movements that opened up that space in American democracy, all of those movements have been shut down in the name of anticommunism, starting with Wilson but running right through, past McCarthy. Labor is a spent force. You talk about labor, where you have less than 12 percent of the American workforce is unionized. Only 6 percent of the labor force in the private sector is unionized. We have created an oligarchic state, a form of neo-feudalism. You have half this country living in poverty or near poverty. We have a looming climate crisis, especially since we are not–and Barack Obama drills like Sarah Palin–we are not able to stop the ravaging of the planet, whether it’s the tar sands or dropping drill bits up into the summer Arctic sea ice by Shell Oil, profiting off the death throes of the planet. These people are barreling forward in terms of the impoverishment of the working class, the destruction of the environment.And they have created mechanisms–they certainly are prepared for unrest. They have run scenario after scenario after scenario, and they have created mechanisms–militarized police, drones, security and surveillance–an evisceration–Obama’s assault on civil liberties is worse then, as I said before, anything Bush has done. They’re ready to go. They know something’s coming, and they’re totally prepared.And I don’t see in that mechanism that they have put into place–and what they have done in terms of creating both a legal, a judicial, and a security system that is so powerful, so pervasive, and, as you said, far beyond anything the Stasi ever dreamt of–I don’t see how at that point appealing or believing that the system is reformable is anything but futile.
PROF. ROBERT SCHEER, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: Wow. So let’s go have a drink.HEDGES: Well, I want to resist. But it’s how you resist.SCHEER: Yeah, I understand that.HEDGES: And you resist through acts of civil disobedience, by shutting the system down.
CHRIS HEDGES, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: Hi. Welcome back. I’m Chris Hedges for The Real News. And I’m speaking with Robert Scheer about his new book, They Know Everything About You: How Data-Collecting Corporations and Snooping Government Agencies Are Destroying Democracy. We have in previous discussions had some dispute about whether we are destroying it or whether it’s destroyed. And we’re going to try and talk in this last section a little bit about the culture of violence in the United States, which makes it very different from many other countries–Canada would be a good example–and how in a moment of societal breakdown that violence will manifest itself.So let me begin. We are a deeply violent culture. We always have been. It is the nature of imperialism, which–of course, we colonized ourselves, and in a way that’s very different from Europe, with the subjugation and campaigns of genocide against Native Americans. The whole institution of slavery was one that was kept in force by coercion, and then the subjugation of African-Americans after emancipation through convict leasing, up to Jim Crow laws, up to the current system of mass incarceration, which of course targets, as Michelle Alexander has pointed out, primarily people of color, poor people of color. We have one of the highest rates of gun ownership in the industrialized world, 83 weapons, I think, per 100 Americans. I believe I have that figure right. Not only are there young African-American men that are killed week after week after week, even after these killings are caught on videotape and in most cases the police are not charged. I mean, since Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, we’d had 11 people shot dead in the St. Louis area. And that’s just writ large. We have these bizarre school shootings, largely carried out by people who come out of the white survivalist cult. It’s not violence by African-Americans. Adam Lanza’s mother was a survivalist. And then we have proto-fascist entities–the Christian right, Tea Party, militias, the Minutemen, and others who celebrate not only the gun culture, but celebrate or, I think, express those fundamental tenets of fascism, which is where you direct your rage and legitimate despair towards the vulnerable, towards undocumented workers, Muslims, homosexuals, liberals, intellectuals, feminists. And in a moment of breakdown–and I think we are headed for some type of breakdown–all of these groups are empowered to express themselves in our society through violence.And I think that especially having come out of disintegrating societies–I’ve covered the war in Yugoslavia or I covered the civil war in El Salvador–I’m cognizant of how swiftly societies can unravel, how quickly law and order breaks down, how fragile social, political, and cultural systems are, and how easily neighbor can kill neighbor, how swiftly human beings can be acculturated to carry out atrocities. That’s one of the most disturbing things that comes out of being a war correspondent.And I think in this last segment I’d like to have you look at, a little bit, that reality, the reality of American violence, our propensity for violence, and how, as things unravel, that may express itself within American society.
PROF. ROBERT SCHEER, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: Well, there’s no question about our propensity for violence. I was in Vietnam, both the South and the North, and I saw what carpet bombing does and I saw the destruction. I mean, three and a half million people were killed, Indochinese people, along with 59,000 Americans, and there was no rhyme or reason. And the bloodlust, the vengeance, the indifference to human life, the idea that maybe these people had families who cared, loved, you know, the people we’re bombing, napalming, and so forth, that’s pretty blatant. I still have not gotten over the bombing of Japan and Germany, even though we’re on the right side, the dropping of the bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
CHRIS HEDGES, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: Hi. I’m Chris Hedges for The Real News.This is our seventh segment with Robert Scheer, the author of They Know Everything About You: How Data-Collecting Corporations and Snooping Government Agencies Are Destroying Democracy.Welcome, Bob.So we were talking about violence. And I just want to say that up until, let’s say, the ’60s within this country–and this goes all the way back to westward expansion, and even the colonization of New England–most segments of this population had a vested interest in the tools of subjugation of Native Americans and African Americans because it made them wealthier. And we watched that growing capacity of wealth. This was something that Tocqueville noticed when he made his travels across the United States. And therefore I would disagree with you in saying that I think most segments of the population did not ask the hard questions about slavery or about the genocidal campaign–roughly 2 million Native Americans (by 1900 there’s less than 250,000 left) who were slaughtered–because it was in their interests. As soon as gold is found in California, they’re racing through Indian territory, or gold is found in the Black Hills. The press, most of these campaigns that were carried out, like Covington out of Denver, these were–they weren’t even soldiers. They were private militias who went in and carried out indiscriminate slaughter against Native Americans. So I think it’s a bit like Nazi Germany, the idea that somehow people are manipulated. Yes, of course propaganda; the elites always manipulate. But I think it was in their interest to be manipulated in many cases, and therefore they didn’t ask the kinds of questions they should have asked. I think they’re far more complicit than you give allowance for.
PROF. ROBERT SCHEER, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: Yeah, this is a fundamental disagreement we have. I just think, you know, my own parents and, you know, going to work and the kinds of jobs–my father was, you know, running knitting machines and my uncle was a welder and so forth. I’m just thinking of those jobs and how much discretionary time you had or how–. You know, you go and it’s early in the morning, five or six o’clock, and you get on that subway train. And I’m sure there’s a comparable farmland experience I didn’t grow up in. But my father was a German father farmer who came here at the time of the First World War and so forth. But, you know, you go to work and you’re running this machine, and then maybe you get a half hour for lunch or something, and then after–and then maybe you want to do something nice. If you’re younger, you go hear some music or do something. But then you’ve got to get back on that train and you work, and then you’ve got to get up and do it the next day, and maybe on the weekend you can go a little fishing or have a picnic or something.
Bios of Robert Scheer and Chris Hedges:
Robert Scheer is editor-in-chief of Truthdig and has built a reputation for strong social and political writing over his 30 years as a journalist and author. His latest book is They Know Everything About You: How Data-Collecting Corporations and Snooping Government Agencies Are Destroying Democracy.
Chris Hedges, whose column is published Mondays on Truthdig , spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years. He has written nine books, including “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle” (2009), “I Don’t Believe in Atheists” (2008) and the best-selling “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America” (2008). His book “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning” (2003) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction.