The World Tomorrow (Episode 10: Noam Chomsky and Tariq Ali): disappointing choice of interviewees

Julian Assange, “The World Tomorrow (Episode 10: Noam Chomsky and Tariq Ali)” (Russia Today, 26 June 2012)

Here is a really disappointing choice of interviewees: Noam Chomsky and Tariq Ali are already well-known, Chomsky is arguably past his best as both linguist and political activist and there are many people Assange could have spoken to who are better choices as people likely to influence the world’s future with fresh and innovative ideas and strategies for change. US radio journalist Robert Stark, some of whose Stark Truth interviews I have been following, finds from the land called Out-of-the-Blue interesting interviewees whose ideas, unorthodox and controversial though they might be, at least are stimulating intellectual pabulum. In this penultimate episode, Assange ploughs over familiar territory with Chomsky and Ali: democracy, protests and how First World countries were caught on the hop by the Arab Spring even though early signs, such as demonstrations over escalating food prices and severe food shortages, were apparent.

Ali is an articulate and knowledgeable speaker while Chomsky is his usual monotone scratched-record self. They basically describe what’s been happening in the world from a “leftist” point of view but are unable to go beyond the current situation and say what they believe should be done or what they would like to see occur. The emptiness of the interview is illustrated in the response Ali gives to Assange as to what a new generation of activists can take from the previous generation: Ali simply says, don’t give up, have hope, remain skeptical, criticise The Man and sooner or later “things” will change; Chomsky for his part notes that “a lot of things have changed over the years … often to the better”, that changes are afoot and people “can do something about them” before he compares humans to lemmings charging over a cliff over issues like fossil fuel use and climate change. (Obviously Chomsky has never watched Disneyland documentaries.) Quite a banal message to send to youth from these supposed giants of the Left!

Topics covered include the role of the political centre (that is, the middle ground between so-called “right-wing” and “left-wing” parties) in advancing the agenda of “right-wing” or corporatist interests, South America as a beacon of freedom and independence, the state of democracy under siege from corporatism and state capitalism as practised in the US.

It really should have been apparent to all participants in the interview that the dichotomy between “right-wing” and “left-wing” beliefs and ideologies is an arbitrary one that obscures the real division between those who would concentrate power in a small elite that controls the rest of the world through layers of bureaucrats and/or technology on one hand and on the other those who would decentralise power and spread it to all, confident in the belief that all humans can be trusted to govern themselves and do not need a nanny state to push them along; certainly Chomsky and Ali know enough of the world and what goes on in it to gently yet firmly tell Assange that things aren’t so black-and-white or right-versus-left and that the issue is about power and how it’s wielded, to what purpose and who benefits.

One consolation here is that I have never seen Assange so animated and forthright about his views on democracy, capitalism and industrialisation as he is here; something of the old Wikileaks maverick is coming to the fore at last!

The World Tomorrow (Episode 9: Imran Khan): interesting discussion with a passionate and idealistic politician

Julian Assange, “The World Tomorrow (Episode 9: Imran Khan)” (Russia Today, 19 June 2012)

For his next episode, Julian Assange springs a real surprise by interviewing famous former sports celebrity turned politician Imran Khan – yes, that Imran Khan the former Pakistani cricket team captain / all-rounder and former hand-bag to UK socialite Jemima Goldsmith. The interview takes place over a satellite link between Assange in home detention in the UK and Khan at home and it so happens that the acoustics in Khan’s lounge-room are too good so there is a lot of echo coming through in the film clip when he speaks. Fortunately a transcript can be downloaded here.

Assange starts with a brief survey of how Khan’s political began slowly and then suddenly took off after Wikileaks’ release of US embassy cables which revealed the extent of corruption within Pakistan’s government and among the country’s political elite and parties. The interesting thing about the cables is that they show Khan as clean compared to the rest of Pakistan’s political elite. Khan then lays out the territory for Assange, detailing the breadth and depth of criminality in Pakistan’s major institutions, principally the political structure and the military and the people at the top levels in those institutions, and explaining how the country’s huge accumulated debt keeps its people poor and entrenches the corruption.

The issue of Osama bin Laden’s death and the effect that his “assassination” might have had on Pakistan’s relationship with the US are brought up. (My personal view is that bin Laden died in Afghanistan in December 2001 which is why I used quotation marks around THAT word.) Khan expresses the view that the assassination humiliated Pakistan after all the country had done FOR the US in the so-called War on Terror, having lost about 40,000 dead and put in huge amounts of resources in fighting al Qa’ida and accommodating huge waves of refugees fleeing Afghanistan. He is fearful that the War on Terror will not only radicalise Afghanistan even more against the US but will completely devastate Pakistan financially and politically. The country’s political elite will benefit from the increased corruption while ordinary Pakistanis continue to pay for their leaders’ sins with their lives. Khan suggests that Pakistan’s relationship with the US must be realigned on the basis of mutual respect and dignity, and self-respect on Pakistan’s part.

It’s not all doom and gloom … Khan mentions Turkey and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan as role models for Pakistani economic and political development and views the country’s youth, its natural resources and the Pakistani diaspora around the world as assets the country could capitalise on. Hmm, doesn’t Khan know that having valuable natural resources wanted by everyone around the world isn’t necessarily a good thing and that some of the richest countries in the world – Japan, South Korea and Sweden come to mind – actually don’t have much in the way of valuable “natural resources” and their wealth derives from their human capital instead? And that countries rolling in energy and mineral wealth tend to squander the income derived from those?

Khan comes across as a persuasive and passionate speaker and for his age is still quite good-looking. Unfortunately Assange doesn’t press Khan on what political and economic reforms he’d undertake if he were PM so his views on politics and economics remain unknown. A squiz at Khan’s Wikipedia entry reveals that Khan ‘s political platform is a mish-mash of Islamic values, democracy, decreased bureaucracy, liberal (sort of) economics with an emphasis both on deregulation and maintaining a welfare state, an independent judiciary, reform in the army and police force and decentralising and returning political power to the people. In that list one can discern a revulsion against centralised government power and one hopes also that Khan can see that centralised power in private corporations is just as bad as it would be in government, especially if private power is linked to government power.

Overall this is an interesting if not really informative interview: Khan appears genuine enough but his political platform is idealistic and as the cliché goes, only time will tell if he can translate his ideals into reality. A great deal is riding on his shoulders as well.

 

 

The Stark Truth: Interview with Ellen Brown – excellent interview ranging across several inter-related topics in banking and debt

Robert Stark, “The Stark Truth: Interview with Ellen Brown” (Voice of Reason, 1 June 2012)

I’ve come across Ellen Brown’s “Web of Debt” website before and am familiar with her articles singing the praises of public banking and the Bank of North Dakota in particular so I was pleased to see that Robert Stark has an interview with her uploaded to the Voice of Reason radio network. In the interview, Brown talks about her book “The Web of Debt”, the history of banking, the benefits of public banking, health care in the United States and why the United States allows so many illegal immigrants into the country from Mexico. All these topics are linked by the theme of debt and how debt transfers power from the public and governments to the financial industry and the major global banks in particular.

Brown has quite a sharp, almost twangy voice with a strong American accent which can be a little off-putting to non-Americans. She speaks very well and clearly and listeners not familiar with the topics she specialises in can follow her easily. “The Web of Debt” discussion is threaded with “The Wizard of Oz” metaphors and quotations: the comparison is apt because in the original Frank L Baum book, the Wizard had a lot of power until Dorothy’s dog pulled the curtain away and revealed him to be a very ordinary man; likewise, the banks are powerful because their operations are shrouded in secrecy and it’s only when we stop giving our power to them that they are revealed as being built on foundations of sand. The discussion of the book leads into a discussion of other books – namely accounting books – and the development of banking and interest over the centuries beginning in ancient times.

Brown acknowledges that a public central bank is impossible at the Federal level with both the Democratic and Republican parties more or less ideologically opposed to instituting a Federal public bank encompassing all 50 states. Such an institution would be opposed by the powerful Wall Street banks and related interests, on whom many Congress representatives might be dependent for election campaign funding. The aim of the Public Banking Institute, of which she is the current chairperson and President, is to establish public central banks at State and County levels. County and State revenues would fuel public banks and enable them to lend to borrowers at very low levels of interest.

The Bank of North Dakota is geared towards financing and promoting State projects, especially in agriculture and energy projects. The bank also lends money to small businesses as opposed to the major private corporations. In the last few years, Brown notes that public banks have done better than private banks in the US in profitability.

Brown explains that the influx of Mexican illegal immigrants is due to Wall Street banks encouraging, even pressuring, Mexico to float its currency in the mid-1990s; the result was that the Mexican peso crashed. The central bank in Mexico was privatised abou the same time. The economy crashed as well and many small farmers lost their jobs in agriculture. They migrated to the cities looking for jobs and then started travelling to the US to find work there, often as gardeners, labourers, construction workers and domestic workers.

The issue of economic union of the US, Canada and Mexico is raised; Brown believes that such a union is now not feasible after the problems being experienced by Greece and other EU members. She suggests that Greece can still use the euro and also the drachma in parallel: the euro for international transactions and the drachma for intranational transactions.

The health care crisis and the recent reforms enacted by the Obama government come in for criticism. Brown recounts the example of her mother who needed repeated hospitalisation for various ailments, with each problem costing several thousand dollars. She comes out in favour of single-payer public medical insurance that should be offered to all American citizens which could run in parallel with private medical insurance; people could choose whether they want public medical insurance or private.

The Tobin tax is mentioned in relation to derivatives (financial contracts specifying the conditions under which two parties agree to make payments to each other for the purpose of speculation or hedging) as a brake on them and the high interest rates they generate. If a Tobin tax were placed on every stock transaction, with the seller having to pay the tax, speculation in stock markets would fall greatly.

Brown swings back to the topic of public banks, this time on a global level, and notes that three of  the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia and China – the odd one out is India) and Japan have large nationalised central banks. Neither Brazil, Russia nor China was affected by the 2008 Global Financial Crisis and all three have thriving economies with a major emphasis on large construction and infrastructure projects. Stark notes that so many of the United States’ problems could be solved wholly or in part by public banks. The chief problem is the constant psychological brainwashing in the mainstream commercial news media backed by Wall Street and its lobbyists and allies in government, government agencies and large private corporations whose senior management often go in and out of Federal government.

Overall this is an excellent interview that ranges over many related topics and illuminates many aspects of US policy with regard to illegal immigration and the state of health care and how they turn out to be aspects of the same problem.

The World Tomorrow (Episode 8: Cypherpunks – Part 2): focus on a range of Internet-related issues

Julian Assange, “The World Tomorrow (Episode 8: Cypherpunks – Part 2)” (Russia Today, 12 June 2012)

Continuing his discussion with Cypherpunks Andy Müller-Maguhn, Jérémie Zimmermann and Jakob Applebaum, Julian Assange plays devil’s advocate over a range of Internet-related issues such as personal privacy, freedom of speech, freedom of economic interactions, copyright issues and “stealing” versus “sharing” music and other cultural items. Assange generally sets the direction of the discussion and the others follow, often spiritedly but always in a friendly manner.

Interesting issues that pop up include a discussion of the systems of cyber-organisation that enable governments to spy on citizens and others and to introduce and use laws that back them up against citizens. The architecture of IT technologies that support communications networks and databases can be used by governments and their agencies to do things that are anti-democratic. Laws themselves may be organised or delineated in such a way as to incriminate innocent people in “wrong-doing”. Economic systems as they are, are discussed with the use of Socratic dialogue (with Assange explaining a scenario and the Cypherpunks guys taking it apart) to explore particular ideas and real-life problems and expose the inequalities that might exist behind them. Another subject is pornography, specifically child pornography, and whether censorship of child pornography on the Internet might actually be doing exploited children a disservice: by seeing child pornography on the Internet, people learn the extent and the scale of the problem, why it is such a problem and, because the problem is out in the open, be able to sympathise with victims and work out ways of overcoming the problem and caring for the victims.

Perhaps because filming four people sitting on sofas around a coffee table just talking about topics that can often appear abstract to most people can be a little boring, the camera crew sometimes focus on Assange eating snacks and puffing on a cigar which can detract a little from the seriousness of the issues under discussion. The filming is done well with appropriate close-ups done where you’d expect them and the camera sometimes taking a bird’s-eye view of proceedings at particular points in the film. Topics flow from one to the other quickly so sometimes it’s difficult to know when discussion of one topic has ended and when another topic is being investigated.

The discussion ends on an uplifting note (and Assange with fat cigar between fingers) with Zimmerman emphasising the importance of the Internet as the one major tool for global democracy that we have and with Applebaum stressing that people wanting to make a difference in the world can build alternative paths towards democracy on the Internet.

The Stark Truth: Interview with Paul Craig Roberts – highly informative and engrossing interview with former Reagan public servant

Robert Stark, “The Stark Truth: Interview with Paul Craig Roberts” (Voice of Reason, 25 May 2012)

Being familiar with some of Paul Craig Roberts’s articles on various websites, I was keen to hear the man himself speak about his experience as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury during Ronald Reagan’s first Presidency (1981 – 1985) and his views on what happened in New York City and Washington DC on 11 September 2001, the rise of neo-conservatism in US politics, US foreign policy in the Middle East and China, and his beliefs about future US politics and how much the US electorate can influence it. The interview runs some 56 minutes and can be accessed at this link.

PCR begins with his time in the Reagan government and his role in developing the economic policies now known as Reaganomics. This is the driest part of the interview and because he was speaking to Stark from another location through videophone or equivalent, his voice is softened and not always clear to hear. The conversation perks up when he starts discussing the outsourcing of jobs which in his view was enabled by the collapse of Communism in the Soviet Union and China and India’s decision to adopt free market principles and structures, freeing up a large quantity of labour which was exploited by Wall Street, combined with the arrival of the Internet which encouraged networking across national borders and barriers of physical geography. Job offshoring has had the effect of shrinking manufacturing and white collar work in the United States and impoverishing Americans, in turn leading to the impoverishment of society and culture across the country.

The Republican Party and George W Bush come in for criticism; PCR notes that a number of people prominent in Bush II’s administration had been sacked by Reagan in the 1980s for their neoconservative values and attitudes which included extreme belligerence towards to the USSR. PCR also comments on the Bush II government’s use of the 9/11 events to carry out wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and turn the US into a police state, and notes that current President Barack Obama is continuing the policies of Bush II. Political conservatism as a movement in the US has been destroyed and hijacked into supporting Israel and its ideology and imperial interests at the expense of the US as a viable political and economic entity.

After a break halfway through, PCR discusses the “military-industry complex” as originally conceived by outgoing US President Dwight D Eisenhower in 1961 in his last speech and its effect on the US. This talk flows into the topic of the demonisation of Muslims as a way of softening up the American people to accept ongoing wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries in the Middle East and northern Africa. The issue of suicides in the US military also crops up as a symptom of demoralisation among soldiers. Another significant issue is the need for the US to have a major enemy to justify continued military expenditure and so China as well as the Muslim world has been drafted into the role of Global Villain.

The last part of the interview becomes a muddle as PCR ranges widely over several topics whose only connection is that they have never been mentioned in mainstream news and current affairs media. The power of Wall Street is now such that Congress is unable to re-enact in whole or in part the Glass-Steagall act, repealed in 1999, which separated investment banks from commercial banks. No significant regulation of the financial industry has taken place since the Global Financial Crisis in 2008. PCR waxes at some length about aspects of the 9/11 events such as what caused World Trade Center building 7 to fall and his belief that WTC 1 and 2 had been wired with explosives before being hit by the passenger jets. PCR opines that whether Obama is re-elected or is replaced by Mitt Romney will make no difference to Iran’s future peace prospects: regardless of whoever is in power, the Middle Eastern country is sure to be attacked by US forces.

PCR’s voice has a homely quality and he spoke at a fairly slow to medium pace so he is easy to follow. The interview is highly informative and reveals a man with many unorthodox views at odds with the official narrative adopted by mainstream news media about what happened on 9/11 and why Americans should support ongoing war in the Middle East and other parts of the world.

 

The World Tomorrow (Episode 8: Cypherpunks – Part 1): chatty conversation about online surveillance, loss of privacy and reclaiming online freedoms

Julian Assange, “The World Tomorrow (Episode 8: Cypherpunks – Part 1)” (Russia Today, 5 June 2012)

Yes, you read that right and it’s not a typo: Cypherpunks is a movement that originated in the late 1980s by activists aiming to improve individuals’ privacy and security and to act for social change through the proactive use of cryptography and who set up the Cypherpunks’ Electronic Mailing List to achieve those ends. In this discussion which spans two episodes, Assange shoots the breeze with Jacob Applebaum, a staff research scientist at the University of Washington and developer and advocate for the Tor Project, an online anonymity system to fight government and corporate surveillance and Internet censorship; Andy Mueller-Maguhn of the Chaos Computer Club in Germany who also runs a company called Cryptophone; and Jeremie Zimmermann of the citizen advocacy group La Quadrature du Net which is a European organisation defending online anonymity rights and encouraging awareness of government regulatory attacks on Internet freedoms. The episode available on Youtube.com and the Russia Today website lasts about 27 minutes but a transcript of the 90 minutes of the first part of the interview is available online.

The discussion ranges from obvious topics like Facebook and its role in facilitating government, corporate and military access to people’s privacy and personal information to the extent that Andy says, quite justifiably in a way, that Facebook users are the product and the client base is the advertising companies and other agencies interesting in using the information Facebook users post to their accounts with the network; to the changing role of computer hackers in the online world and their responsibility in creating online tools and encouraging their use for democracy and open exchange of information, and for fighting surveillance, invasion of privacy and repression through the violation of privacy and use and manipulation of personal information. Issues that arise include the increasing complexity of information technology and companies’ deliberate attempts to make understanding this technology difficult by designing IT hardware in such a way that people will have problems opening it to look at the components and see how they all fit together, among other things; the militarisation of cyber-space, IT hardware and even the language used in describing IT concepts and cyber-systems and structures; and how people might win back online freedoms, rights and privileges. Online surveillance of people’s activities and information by governments and other agencies arises again and again to the extent that as a theme it completely dominates the conversation.

More conversational than a formal discussion or interview, the foursome are chatty and meander from one topic to the next so that viewers really have to concentrate hard to follow the direction of talk among the quartet of hackers and media activists. The Cypherpunks guys mention Wikileaks and Assange’s previous work as a hacker in the 1980s quite a bit in a slightly fawning way.

It’s a pity that the episode doesn’t show or have Assange asking Applebaum, Zimmermann or Mueller-Maguhn what they recommend people should do to reduce their online exposure to government, corporate, military and other surveillance, and to resist attempts from those agencies to control their activities or capture information about them. Zimmermann’s admission that he doesn’t use Facebook points to one way people can reduce their online vulnerability to privacy violation. Twitter and Google are mentioned as enabling surveillance and encouraging people to surrender their privacy and information to unknown agents and so avoidance of both, where possible, should be considered.

The discussion ends on the participants more or less agreeing that decentralisation of power and control and people reclaiming that power and control and creating their own information networks are best though no ideas or suggestions are thrown about as to how such decentralisation and reclamation might proceed.

Fukushima Fallout: even-handed survey of situation in northeast Japan, one year after the earthquake / tsunami / nuclear meltdown disaster

Kathy Hearn, “Fukushima Fallout” (101 East / Al Jazeera, 8 March 2012)

A year after the combined earthquake / tsunami / Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant explosion and meltdown disaster in northeast Japan in March, 2011, very little has appeared in the news about how the country is coping and whether there’ve been moves to prevent another nuclear plant catastrophe. This documentary by Kathy Hearn, made for the 101 East program on the TV news channel Al Jazeera, goes some way towards explaining what’s been happening in Fukushima and surrounds, what the Japanese government has been doing (or not doing), what the Tokyo Electric Power Company has been doing (or not doing) and what ordinary citizens have been up to and how they have been coping. Hearn travelled about northeast Japan to interview Fukushima residents and refugees, a TEPCO spokesperson, an actor-turned-activist, some politicians, a researcher and others about their views on the nuclear disaster and what they believe Japan should be doing with the Fukushima reactors, other nuclear reactors around the country, and its future energy needs.

Hearn provides some voice-over narration and appears sporadically throughout the documentary: her style is straightforward and low-key, sticking to presenting the facts she finds. She allows her interviewees to speak for themselves with English-language translators speaking over them where needed. Throughout the film, various issues in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster arise and pop up periodically: the ragged psychological health of the Fukushima residents and refugees, many of whom are suffering stress, uncertainty and depression; the continuing leakage of radiation from the stricken reactors into the environment and the panic and other reactions this causes; the inaction and obfuscation by the Japanese government and TEPCO; and what to do about the country’s remaining nuclear reactors. All these issues and others are linked: the longer the government and TEPCO delay doing anything significant to the Dai-ichi nuclear complex, the more frustrated and upset people in the affected areas become. A researcher is shown teaching Fukushima residents how to take matters in their own hands and not rely on the government for help that might never come; a volunteer, Kenji, delivers donated bottled water to elderly residents and teaches yoga as a way of helping people to cope with stress.

The film moves at a steady clip and features some beautiful nature vistas in parts. There is a sickly kitsch Oriental music soundtrack but most of the time it’s not obtrusive. The narrative frequently takes the point of view of the interviewees and zigzags smoothly between individual points of view and an overarching general survey of the situation in Fukushima and Japan.

While the documentary tries to be even-handed in its treatment of its interviewees and of TEPCO and the government, neither condemning nor praising anyone, it’s hard not to be angry at Japan’s leaders and TEPCO for concentrating so heavily on nuclear energy production and neglecting other forms of energy production such as solar energy, wind energy, tidal energy and geothermal energy. The United States also must share some of the blame for pressuring Japan in the late 1940s and the 1950s into adopting nuclear energy technology as part of the American Cold War strategy to use allies to counter the power of the Soviet Union.

Perhaps the film could have gone much further and looked at ways in which Japan is developing alternative forms of energy production and by doing so, ended on a more optimistic note about the country’s future. As is, Hearn’s presentation is an interesting and informative survey of the post-3/11 nuclear meltdown disaster and of how people cope with on-going stress and uncertainty in the face of a dithering and ineffective government.

 

The Stark Truth: Interview with Joseph Fasciani – an informative and valuable hour with social credit / small-scale capitalism advocate

Robert Stark, “The Stark Truth: Interview with Joseph Fasciani” (Voice of Reason, 27 April 2012)

With the global financial industry coming under greater public scrutiny and people beginning to question the assumptions underlying debt-based financial systems, perhaps it’s time to investigate social credit as a possible credible alternative to a system in which to create money, it is created as debt and thus automatically births an unequal relationship in which the lender has power over the borrower. In this episode of “The Stark Truth”, Robert Stark discusses social credit with US-born Canadian writer / poet Joseph Fasciani and various issues related to or deriving from it. The interview is highly informative though at times tough-going as I’ve already discovered with previous “The Stark Truth” episodes; if listeners’ attention wavers even for less than a minute, the thread of conversation can be lost very quickly as interviewer and interviewee range over a very wide territory of all things monetary. Fasciani has a strong interest in monetary systems, especially alternative monetary systems, and his enthusiasm for social credit and alternative economic ideas such as distributism is reflected in the depth of his knowledge about these and in his articulate speaking manner.

Although Fasciani spent the first 26 years of his life in the United States and was a successful self-employed businessman in California, he emigrated to Canada in 1969, dissatisfied with the direction of society in his native country, and much of what he talks about with Stark is about Canadian society, especially society in British Columbia and Alberta, and Canadian politics. He traces the history of social credit in Canada, how for a while it was successful and how ultimately the Canadian government under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in the 1980s throttled it by privatising so many public institutions and corporations. The fact that the social credit movement was dominated by charismatic individuals or families with few if any of the principles of social credit written down did not help the movement either. Fasciani also explains how social credit works in Canada; to me, a couple of examples he uses to illustrate its workings seem the same as what the Australian government does except here in Australia the “social credit” is called a “tax rebate”. So Australia has also been following social credit principles and I did not know that!

Interesting topics discussed include a theory on why US President Abraham Lincoln was killed in 1865 – it was apparently nothing to do with conventional explanations of John Wilkes Booth’s motivations and possibly everything to do with the President’s attempts to control money creation and supply in defiance of private banks – plus banking and finance in the Roman empire, Austrian economics, the need for small-scale capitalism, a social service tax on alcohol and tobacco (which together are responsible for 40% of health care costs in Canada), US retailing giant Walmart and the rise of Barack Obama from obscurity in Chicago to the White House and the incestuous relationships of money, as Fasciani puts it, backing him. On each topic, Fasciani dives straight into the deep end and if it weren’t for his plain style of speaking, I’d have been totally lost on several topics he speaks on.

Fasciani is a surprisingly humble man, saying at the end of the interview that he hopes Stark’s listeners gained something out of what he said for nearly an hour. Wow, there is so much to be gained just from five minutes of his time alone! Googling his name, I could not find if he had a website but he is on Facebook and has written several articles for various websites including an essay “Gaza is our Guernica” in which he deplores the Israeli genocide of the Palestinian people.

The World Tomorrow (Episode 7: Occupy Movement): a lively discussion which cuts out before the really interesting parts

Julian Assange, “The World Tomorrow (Episode 7: Occupy Movement)” (Russia Today, 29 May 2012)

Unfortunately the transcript of this episode is unavailable so this review is based on the half-hour video clip made of the interview which was filmed in the former Deutsche Bank building in London, due to the number of people who turned up to make this episode. Here, Assange interviews the leaders and organisers of the Occupy Wall Street and Occupy London movements. The program splits into two parts: the first part looks at how the Occupy movement arose and the second part attempts to chart out a likely future path for the movement.

The leaders of the Occupy movement link it to the Arab Spring uprisings that originated in Tunisia and spread to Egypt and other parts of the Middle East. Issues that arise during the activists’ conversation include the role of social media in the spread and maintenance of the Occupy movement and people’s realisation that the role of the nation-state in the early 21st century has changed radically from what’s usually taken for granted – a political, social and economic entity that expresses the culture, beliefs, hopes and identity of the people who inhabit its space – and that public policy in nations is not necessarily determined by their politicians on behalf of the electorates who vote for or support them. Several streams of influence have fed into the Occupy movement so it is a multi-cephalic hydra that responds to different political and economic environments in many ways yet whether in London, New York or elsewhere, the movement’s strands have some values and goals in common. The movement is particularly grounded in a historical and economic context: among other things, the Global Financial Crisis in 2008 exposed some of the workings and the agenda of the global banking industry and enlightened many people as to the true nature of capitalist society and its institutions.

One diversion from the discussion of the nature of the Occupy movement  comes halfway in the film where Assange mentions Bradley Manning, the US military whistleblower who supplied thousands of US cables to Wikileaks and stresses the way in which US authorities have used him to warn people of the consequences if they follow his rebellious example. The topic isn’t dealt with in much detail but segues into a talk about how Occupy has developed its own forms of media to bypass the official mainstream news media.

An interesting topic Assange raises is Occupy’s preference for using public space instead of underground cyber-networks to spread its message and agenda. This issue continues for several minutes and the activists explain why they prefer to use and dominate public spaces and land. Conflicts that arise between groups within Occupy and between Occupy and the police are dealt with in different ways by the movement in London and New York, depending on the severity of the reaction towards Occupy from the authorities.

The video cuts out before Assange and his guests can discuss the future of Occupy which is a blow. Generally though the conversation meandered quite a lot and some issues were dealt with in considerable depth and others only sparingly. The Occupy activists spoke well and were sincere and passionate about their cause. Had I had access to the transcript, I’d have been able to judge whether this is one of the better episodes in “The World Tomorrow” series but the conversation was quite lively and convivial.

 

 

The Stark Truth: Interview with Marc Armstrong – the case for public banks

Robert Stark, “The Stark Truth: Interview with Marc Armstrong” (Voice of Reason, 7 May 2012)

With recent public anger at the behaviour of large private banks over the last 30 years across the world, it’s time to revisit the idea of publicly owned banks that accept deposits and lend money purely to fund the production of goods and services. In Australia, all major banks are now privately owned and only the central bank, the Reserve Bank of Australia, is owned by the Australian government. In the United States, there is one publicly owned bank, the Bank of North Dakota, which funds public infrastructure projects in a state that has experienced rapid economic growth and has the lowest employment rate in a country where most states have struggling economies and many people out of work. In this episode, journalist Robert Stark interviews Marc Armstrong of the Public Banking Institute which advocates the creation of public banks at state and community level and holds the Bank of North Dakota as an ideal to emulate. The interview can be found at this link.

Armstrong makes a very strong case for public banks as major agents that stimulate investment and activity in an economy suffering downturns and credit crunches, and which moderate economic growth and prevent over-heating in the form of runaway inflation and a “two-speed” economy aka Dutch Elm disease in which some booming industries encourage capital flight away from other industries which then slump, affecting jobs and employment and other industries that depend on them. Throughout the interview Armstrong points out how public banks help economies climb out of recession, empower small businesses, create flexibility and adaptability in an economy and devolve power away from centralised institutions and give it back to communities. He points out that China has  a central public bank that serves the people and finances major infrastructure projects.

The Bank of North Dakota gets considerable attention as the US’s only major public bank and Armstrong notes that it is 100% state-owned. He talks about the history of the BND, how it was founded by farmers and the fact that the bank has so far been able to keep out-of-state corporations away from North Dakota’s agricultural industries. He notes that North Dakota has always had a strongly populist tradition and that the idea of public banking is not a “leftist” or socialist idea as some people to think but, on the contrary, has a strong libertarian appeal in that it enables communities to regain control of their money supply and use it in ways that benefit their members. Indeed, he notes that the US Constitution provides support for having public banks as creating money and regulating its value is a sovereign task of US Congress and such activity is best done through a people’s bank.

Stark asks intelligent questions from the viewpoint of Californians as he lives in the state itself and, at the time of the episode’s broadcast, the California State Assembly currently had AB2500 before it, this bill being a proposal to reintroduce public banking in the Golden Gate state. Armstrong answers questions clearly and well: the man not only knows what’s there to know about public banking, he is a Very Big Believer in the worth of public banking. At the end of the interview, Stark asks Armstrong to plug his organisation, the Public Banking Institute, and Armstrong runs through a list of activities and symposia being held to promote public banks.

This is a very important interview for all Americans and for others living in countries where public banks either don’t exist or used to exist and where private banks are held in contempt due to a history of exploitation based on debt. In case listeners are not convinced of the claims Armstrong makes for public banks or miss much of the interview – it is very involved and people must be able to follow the medium-fast flow of conversation – they can always visit the Public Banking Institute’s website or attend any activities and symposia hosted by the organisation.