Josh Bunting interviews author and political analyst Dr. Michael Parenti. His books include History As Mystery, To Kill A Nation, Against Empire, and Inventing Reality.
Last week the Democratic Party presidential candidates held their first debate and some states are moving the dates of their primaries earlier. What's the motivation for extending the US presidential campaign process?
It's just an attempt by some states to gain some additional leverage by being the first in the primary. It gets pretty silly because what, in effect, we have is that the entire year before the election, 10 months before the election, is now taken up by campaigns before the actual primaries and the whole year before that as well. So we now have a two year campaign period; whereas European countries have a three or four week campaign period because they have a much saner system. The parties have identifiable positions, they have proportional representation, and the use of money is very seriously limited.
That's the way to really get money out of the campaign – not by repressive measures for bidding or spending limits, because they continually find loopholes of one sort or another – but by removing the need for so much money. And the direction we're going in is just increasing the need.
Remember, we have three primaries in this country. We have the voting primary. We have the money primary, in which the candidates actually parade how much money they've been able to gather as a demonstration that they are serious and mainstream and top contenders. And the third primary that we have is the media primary. The media anoints and appoints certain people as front-runners.
Early polls showed that John Edwards was the one Democrat who could beat any Republican candidate. After Obama and Hilary Clinton announced, the media simply dropped Edwards and ignored him, not that they ever gave him much publicity anyway. And they focused on Obama and Clinton, both of whom have serious problems as far as winning the election. Obama is incredibly inexperienced, with only 16 months in public life at the federal level, and Clinton because she's Hilary Clinton, even a lot of Democrats don't particularly like her. And Obama is of mixed race and that might evoke certain things. But since the focus has been only on Obama and Clinton, Edwards has dropped and slumped in the polls. So they create, by the exposure that they give, that Edwards is losing the media primary.
Dennis Kucinich is losing neither the media primary nor the money primary because he was never even in them, not as a serious candidate. So they don't take him seriously. He is a very serious candidate, but not coming up with many millions of dollars and not winning the corporate media's attention and being frozen out, he in effect is not even in the primary.
The extension of the primary period simply increases the extension of the horse-race. These candidates don't discuss in any meaningful way the issues, and what's happening or not happening. They sell themselves as someone would sell a product. That may entail some association with issues or a patting-on-the-back, saying, “I did this,” or “I'm for that,” or something, but there's no real education that goes on, at least not that I know, except for candidates like Kucinich and maybe to a lesser degree, Edwards.
A lot of us remember from the Cold War the Berlin Wall being seen as this very obvious symbol of repression. But nowadays, this very same structure, a wall through a city hasn't provoked the same kind of domestic outrage when it appears in Palestine or Iraq or even on our own southern border. Could you comment on the inherent amnesia that is necessary to come up with that perception?
I think you explained it yourself, that there is a double standard of evaluation here. It is a little different. The wall in front of East Germany was put up by the East Germans and the Soviets to stop the brain-drain and the stampede due to the conditions in East Germany being a lot tougher than West Germany, which got enormous amounts of aid and was developing in prosperity. The professionals especially went stampeding over to West Germany and so they put this wall up to say that they had to work to re-build their own society. It was a very coercive thing, of course, with guards and everything else.
The wall in Palestine is really to maximize the existing oppression of the Palestinian people, to keep them in there. On a day-to-day basis, the people of Palestine don't have much. They have problems with just food and water and basic housing. The conditions imposed on them are so severe that it really amounts to a kind of ethnic cleansing.
The wall in Iraq was put up to prevent attacks, supposedly to protect sectarian communities from each other, or from people in one who would attack the people in another. But it's really a kind of security containment and under the guise of protecting the Sunni community, they really are trying to contain the Sunni insurgency, “they” meaning the United States. So these are all repressive kinds of things. Whenever you see a wall, you know it's the powerful trying to wall in or to wall out the powerless, those in want.
When the US empire collapses, do you think it will be from within or from without?
The within/without dichotomy might not be that crucial or that realistic because the empire feeds off the republic. So the way you can get a $685 billion military budget – it's $487 billion, but then you have another $25 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan, and you have several billion more for homeland security and the Department of Energy, and if you really want to add the portion which is the interest on the national debt that you have to pay out every year, that's another $100 billion. So we're talking about an enormous sum of money, easily $700 billion depending on how you want to say it.
And you can see the effects. That's the empire feeding off the republic. We have the largest military budget in the world, bigger than all the other military budgets in the world put together. The consequences are quite visible in the republic. You see libraries cutting back their hours. You see public hospitals closing down. Just in the last couple of months, federal programs to help disabled and diseased children have been cut back. Money for forest service has been cut back, and money for ecology and conservation. They can't even build a decent levee to protect one of the most wonderful cities in North America.
It's even made worse by the fact that the people who occupy the White House today do not even really believe in the efficacy of government. They believe in the power of the state. They want strong police forces and internal security forces and all these armies and bases all over the world, but they don't want governance and to demonstrate that the government can rescue people, help people, put out services that are cheaper than the private market, produce medicines that are cheaper, educate people at state universities for less money than private universities, and so forth. They don't want any of that demonstrated. They don't want it demonstrated that the railroads, such as in Europe, that are government-owned, run much better at less cost than the ones that are run by private investors, by the way supported by heavy government funding. They want government funding for corporate America for research and development, for export subsidies, even for moving or investing abroad. They're actually paying money to corporate America to get them to export the jobs of American workers to cheaper labor markets.
Equity subsidies, especially in the defense industry, are just amazing. It's amazing that McDonell Aircraft can get millions and millions of dollars. They get the land, they get the factory, they get everything, even the equipment and machinery sometimes. And that's a story that's not told too often. Probably another $100 billion a year is spent that way.
So the republic is being bled for the empire and for the interests of the ruling stratum whose main concern is not a safe America, a clean America, a healthy America. Their... not main concern, but their only concern is the maximization of profits. And all empires are dedicated to that – to the enrichment of their ruling classes. That's what empires do. They do imperialism. And the reason they do it is not for the glory of dominion, it's not power for power's sake, they pursue that power because it brings wealth to certain very influential people.
The Belgians went into the Congo not to bring them the white man's burden, not to uplift the Congolese, not to teach and “civilize” them, but to plunder their countryside and enslave their labor and to get rich off that labor. That's what King Leopold did, that's what the French did in their colonies, that's what the Americans have done in various places.
So what the empire does is it impoverishes the people at home and the people of other countries. It collapses finally... and there's no iron law that it's going to collapse. This empire might not collapse, or as it starts going down it might bring the whole global ecology down with it before it can be done away with and its habits rectified.
In some of your talks you quoted Gramsci as saying that one must have a “pessimism of the mind and an optimism of the will.” Our staff and readers have plenty of the former but we lack in the latter. Where can we get some of this “optimism of the will” stuff?
Well, by recognizing certain things. First that you're not alone. There are millions of us who understand that something is going terribly wrong. There are millions of us who know what alternative policies we can put in and how government could operate in a more effective, humane way, creating a stronger and more secure society. There are millions of us who know that bayonets do not bring security, but a decent standard of living does and treating other people fairly does.
People are speaking up. There are even people in corporate America calling for something to be done about the environment and are afraid of what's happening. The Republican Party itself is showing itself to be more divided than I ever remember it being because it's ultra-reactionary wing is really going off the deep end. And you have people in that party in the 2004 election, ex-generals, former policymakers, from former Republican administrations saying that this administration has taken a wrong turn and so on.
Consciousness about global warming has increased a thousandfold. I remember some years ago when you'd get a little article in the back pages once every two months or so, and now global warming is a constant issue. People are realizing that what we have to do is stop the idiots who give you all this information about global warming and then say, “And unless we act by the end of this century, there may be a crisis,” or “I guess we can't think of eons anymore, we have to think in terms of centuries.” We don't have centuries. The crisis is right now and it's moving with a horrible feedback effect. So I guess that's what I would tell people. Develop critical judgment, don't believe most of what is said to you, and work with those who really are developing an alternative.
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