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2011-10-06

Naomi Klein: Protesters Are Seeking Change in the Streets Because It Won’t Come from the Ballot Box

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Naomi Klein, award-winning journalist and author. Her latest book is called The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.

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Among the thousands at last night’s Occupy Wall Street protest here in New York City was award-winning journalist and author Naomi Klein. She is the author of the bestselling book "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism." She also wrote "No Logo," a book that has become a cultural manifesto for critics of unfettered capitalism worldwide. Klein joins us to discuss the Occupy Wall Street movement and why it is being belittled in the corporate media. "My biggest fear about the Obama presidency was that it was going to lead this generation of young people into political cynicism and political apathy," Klein says. "But instead of retreating into cynicism and apathy, they are going to where the power is. They’re realizing that the change is not coming in Washington, because politicians are so controlled by corporate interests, and that that is the fundamental crisis in this country." [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Ana Tijoux, "Shock," just out this week from Chile. It’s about the student protests there, inspired in part by The Shock Doctrine, the book by our next guest, Naomi Klein. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan Gonzalez.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, among the thousands at last night’s Occupy Wall Street protests here in New York was award-winning journalist and author Naomi Klein. She’s the author of the bestselling book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. She also wrote No Logo, a book that has become a cultural manifesto for critics of unfettered capitalism worldwide. Tonight she will be speaking at the Occupy Wall Street encampment. She traveled from Canada to participate in the protest.

AMY GOODMAN: Last month, Naomi was in Washington, D.C., where she was arrested along with more than 1,200 other people in a two-week campaign of civil disobedience outside the White House against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry oil from Canada’s tar sands to Gulf Coast refineries. We’re going to talk about that in a minute.

But, Naomi, you came here to New York to Occupy Wall Street, so tell us about what you found.

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, it’s just been extraordinary. I just want to say, just off the top, what a great show this has been. I mean, you guys, clearly, were up all night, or your producers were up all night, cutting that amazing collection of video and voices. But what struck me most is just how hard some in the corporate media must be working in order to find inarticulate voices, because there are just so many articulate voices in the protest. I mean, everybody who you stop and talk to can really give a sermon about what is wrong with this economy and have all kinds of solutions. And—

AMY GOODMAN: You know, a union activist came up to me yesterday at the rally in Foley Square, and he said, "I mean, how do we get out our message? The media will not talk to us." And I said, "I can’t believe you haven’t figured it out yet." And he said, "Well, what?" I said, "Go buy a little red clown nose. Go up to a reporter and go, 'Beep beep, beep beep,' and they’ll interview you."

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah, yeah. No, it really is a sick cultural ritual of—every time there is a new generation of politicized, engaged young people who come forward, there is this ritual mocking of them, a kind of a hazing. And it’s just—it’s such a corrupt and corrupting way to welcome a new generation into politics, and, of course, coming from a media culture that has worked so hard to dumb down this society. So, it’s just enormously ironic when they are mocking these very, very well-informed and educated—

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we don’t have to take this from you, Naomi. Let’s turn to the networks themselves—

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —to former CNBC reporter Erin Burnett, who covered—some would way, mocked—the movement in the new segment on her first day of her new CNN show on Monday night. The show is called OutFront. In this segment, it was titled, "Seriously?!" This is a clip.

ERIN BURNETT: Now for a story that made us say, "Seriously?!" The Occupy Wall Street protest entered its third week today. What started as less than a dozen college students camping out in a park near the New York Stock Exchange is now hundreds of protesters. And it’s spread to other cities. But what are they protesting? Nobody seems to know. So, this afternoon, we went to Wall Street to find out. And despite what you heard, here’s what I saw. It’s not just a bunch of dancing hippies protesting. This is unemployed software developer, Dan.

What do you do for a living?

DAN: I’m a software developer.

ERIN BURNETT: Software developer.

DAN: Yes.

ERIN BURNETT: So, currently employed or unemployed?

DAN: Unemployed.

ERIN BURNETT: Unemployed.

DAN: Fun-employed, we like to call it.

ERIN BURNETT: Fun-employed.

DAN: It’s called Occupy Wall Street.

ERIN BURNETT: So, do you know that taxpayers actually made money on the Wall Street bailout?

DAN: I was not aware of that.

ERIN BURNETT: They did. They made—not on GM, but they did on the Wall Street part of the bailout.

DAN: OK.

ERIN BURNETT: Does that make you feel any differently?

DAN: Well, I would have to do more research about it, but possibly.

ERIN BURNETT: If I were right, it might?

DAN: Oh, sure.

ERIN BURNETT: Seriously? That’s all it would take to put an end to the unrest. Well, as promised, we did go double-check the numbers on the bank bailout, and this is what we found. Yes, the bank bailouts made money for American taxpayers right now to the tune of $10 billion, anticipated that it will be $20 billion. Those are seriously the numbers.

AMY GOODMAN: That is the new CNN host, Erin Burnett, after going down to Occupy Wall Street encampment, her first night of her new show, OutFront. Naomi Klein?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, I think that tells us a lot about what we can expect from that show. And her sarcasm and snideness are so striking, because, of course, she is one of dozens of mainstream financial reporters that cheerleaded—you know, cheerled the housing bubble and every bubble before it, completely missed every sign coming that the economy was about to crash. So I don’t think she’s in much of a position to be so snide. But, of course, you know, that—I don’t think that that is why people are protesting, because they think that they lost money on the bailout. It’s the very nature of the bailout. It’s the very nature of just—of the banks being able to get billions of dollars, hundreds of billions of dollars from taxpayers, with absolutely no strings attached, and that homeowners were sacrificed, that workers—

JUAN GONZALEZ: That the several million people who have lost their homes would definitely cheer the profit that was made on the bailout, right?

NAOMI KLEIN: It was—exactly. It was the decision to bail out the banks, with no strings attached, and not to bail out workers and not to bail out homeowners, and now to pass the bill for the crisis that was created on Main Street, the crashing of the global economy, to the public sphere, and now having the cost of that crisis passed down at the federal level, at the municipal level, and taking the forms of all the cutbacks that all the union spokespeople were talking about, the healthcare workers, the education workers. These are the people who are paying the costs for their crisis. You know, the slogan, "We won’t pay for your crisis," started in Italy two years ago, and it spread to Greece, and it spread to France, and it’s really been globalized. And that, to me, is really—that and "We are the 99 percent" is really what’s bringing people to the streets. It’s inequality, but more than the inequality, the injustice of the most vulnerable people having to pay the costs of the crisis for the rich. And, of course, she completely misunderstood the source of that rage, misrepresented it.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, earlier this week, CNBC spoke with William Gross, the co-founder of PIMCO, one of the largest global investment firms, with $1.3 trillion under management. Gross manages the world’s largest mutual fund, with almost a quarter of a trillion dollars invested. Let’s go to that clip.

BRIAN SULLIVAN: You warn about how labor is not participating in wealth creation and that is a macro global threat.

WILLIAM GROSS: Yeah, I think so. That’s certainly the most immediate problem: globalization. You know, policymakers may be killing their golden goose—in this case, the American worker, whose household income at 49,000 bucks, Brian, is the lowest in more than a decade. And to the extent that jobs go to China and overseas, as opposed to stay in the United States, then that affects obviously employment, it affects levels for unemployment, and it affects economic growth going forward. Without the consumer, without the wage earner, you have very little in terms of the potential for consumer growth and for economic growth going forward.

BRIAN SULLIVAN: You know, as Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff pointed out in their book, This Time is Different, they note how that over history, financial crises become banking crises, become political crises. We’re seeing the riots of the protests in Greece. We’re seeing Occupy Wall Street here. Is this going to turn into more of a political crises, whereby the people sort of march up, rise up, if you will, and these austerity programs are forced to go on the back burner, thus disenabling a country like Greece to pay its bills?

WILLIAM GROSS: I don’t think we’re going that far in the United States. To some extent, the movement, so to speak, that we’ve seen in Greece in terms of the strikes and the protests, simply haven’t gravitated over here, and I don’t suspect they will. You know, we’re always fascinated by the debates and by the policy differences, so to speak, but to a considerable extent, the policies are much the same, in terms of favoring capital as opposed to labor. And until we begin to have that sense, in terms of the mainstream public, that it’s labor that needs to be favored in terms of policies, then I don’t think we’re going to see much of a protest, per se.

AMY GOODMAN: That was William Gross, the co-founder of PIMCO, one of the largest global investment firms, with $1.3 trillion under management, speaking on CNBC. Naomi Klein?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, it’s a really interesting analysis, and I think there’s a lot of truth in it. This is one of the contradictions of capitalism, is that it is so destructive that it destroys its own base, you know, whether that’s its base of consumers able to buy its products, which is why you have to feed them all kinds of cheap credit, which then becomes a bubble that pops and destroys the economy, or whether it’s the destruction of the ecosphere—I mean, whether it is the destruction of the natural systems on which we depend. And this is why I think we need see the—but the economic and the ecological crisis is absolutely intertwined, if not the same crisis, that has their roots—that have their roots in unfettered greed and an inability to say, "Enough," and an inability to understand that there are limits, that there is such a thing as scarcity in the natural world. And this is one of the things that’s—there is such a thing as a limit in what our atmosphere can absorb in terms of the pollution that we put out.

And our understanding of limits is so twisted, because we don’t understand those limits. We don’t understand real—the real limits imposed on us by physics and chemistry. But we impose these absolutely false limits, when it comes to economics. And this is one of the themes that really struck me talking to demonstrators yesterday at the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, was the theme of false scarcity, that we are living in this age where everybody is told there’s not enough. There’s not enough money for people to have decent healthcare. There’s not enough money for people to have decent housing. There’s not enough space in the country for immigrants, because there’s not enough. And we’re told this all the time, and we live with this, and that’s what’s so powerful and so symbolic about the decision to go to Wall Street, to go to this space of abundance and expose the lie of scarcity. But at the same time as we expose that lie of scarcity, and to show yet, no, actually this is an abundant society, we have a crisis of distribution in this society, we also have to recognize where there are real limits, and the limits of our natural systems to absorb the tremendous stresses that we’re putting on them, and climate change is only one part of those stresses.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Naomi, speaking of not enough, there’s the argument also that the country doesn’t have enough energy, and what—you were arrested in the protest against the XL pipeline. Unfortunately, some of the construction unions are lobbying for that now, because they see it as jobs, as part of the solution to unemployment.

NAOMI KLEIN: Marching in Labor Day parades—

JUAN GONZALEZ: Right.

NAOMI KLEIN: —arm in arm with TransCanada, the company that is pushing the pipeline—I think a low point in labor history.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And in terms of the XL pipeline—

NAOMI KLEIN: But some great unions are supporting the protests, including the Transit Workers Union, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes, there is a division in the labor movement on that issue. But I would like to ask you about the XL pipeline and some of the latest discoveries, in terms of the State Department’s role. Evidence is mounting of a tar sands corruption scandal at the State Department.

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Emails uncovered by Friends of the Earth reveal State Department employees had a cozy relationship with Paul Elliott, a leader on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. He’s now a head lobbyist for Keystone XL, offering personal favors, praise, advice, and generally cheerleading the project while it was under review. Here are some quotes: "It’s precisely because you have connections that you’re sought after and hired," was offered as a praise for Elliot’s work. Another quote reads, "Go Paul," after he won support for the project from a senator. This goes on for pages and pages.

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah, it’s extraordinary. You know, Bill McKibben said it’s wonderful that people are occupying Wall Street, but Wall Street is occupying the State Department. It seems from these demonstrations, there is—obviously there is a connection, because I think what’s driving people to the streets in New York and around the country now, in the Occupy together movement and moment, is the realization that change is not going to come through the ballot box, because the political process has been bought and paid for.

And, you know, one thing that I find so inspiring about this moment—and I say this of both the Keystone XL protests and the Occupy Wall Street protest—is that my biggest fear about the Obama presidency was that it was going to lead this generation of young people into political cynicism and political apathy, because you saw such tremendous hopes raised in 2008, and so many young people really drove that campaign, knocking on doors and sleeping on floors for Obama. And, you know, many of us saw the betrayals coming. And they have come, and in climate, I think, more than any other area, but also just in the failure to provide hope for this generation. And they could be retreating into cynicism and apathy. But instead of retreating into cynicism and apathy, they are going to where the power is. They’re realizing that the change is not coming in Washington, because politicians are so controlled by corporate interests, and that that is the fundamental crisis in this country. And that’s what’s so profound about this.

But in terms of those emails, it’s just an illustration of it. So, you have Paul Elliott, who was deputy campaign director for Hillary Clinton’s campaign, gets hired by TransCanada, which is the company that is building—wants to build this pipeline from the Alberta tar sands to Texas to carry a very dirty form of oil. Tar sands oil emits three times as much greenhouse gases as a regular barrel of Canadian crude, because, of course, it is in solid form. So, you have to use all of this energy to get it out and to liquify it and then to put it into that pipeline. So it’s very controversial. They know it’s controversial, because there’s a huge international movement against the tar sands. Europe is working very hard to ban tar sands oil. And there’s a very good chance that that oil carried to Texas wouldn’t actually go into the U.S. market, that much of it would be exported to Europe or to Latin America. It’s going to an export port. And so, they know they’ve got a fight against—ahead of them, so they hire Paul Elliott, Hillary Clinton’s campaign director, to be their lobbyist. And this is key. Because it’s a Canadian company and a Canadian project, it doesn’t go through Congress. The approval goes through the State Department. The State Department has to issue a certificate of national interest. So they’re very, very smart. They hire Paul Elliott as their lobbyist, who’s friends with everybody at the State department. And now Friends of the Earth got copies of these emails, and they show this outrageously cozy relationship, where literally you have—you have somebody in the—that email comes from somebody in the U.S. consulate in Ottawa. And Paul Elliott is informing her—her name is Marja Verloop—that he has gotten Max Baucus, Senator Max Baucus, on side for the Keystone pipeline project, which was a major political coup.

AMY GOODMAN: We have 20 seconds.

NAOMI KLEIN: And she writes back, "Go Paul!" Exclamation mark. So, literally cheerleading him. So if you—and the response of the State Department was, "Well, we meet with environmentalists, too." But just imagine them writing an email to Bill McKibben: when he says, "We got more than 1,200 people arrested," and they would write back, "Go Bill!"? The day that happens, I’ll stop worrying.

AMY GOODMAN: Naomi Klein, thank you for being with us, and we’ll continue this conversation offline, and we’ll put it on our website at democracynow.org. Naomi Klein, journalist and author. Her latest book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, was arrested just a few weeks ago in Washington, D.C., at the tar sands protest. Over 1,200 people were arrested there.

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