Terry Gilliam: Hollywood is just “gray, frightened people” holding on for dear life

The godfather of dystopian cinema on the death of Hollywood, why he gave up U.S. citizenship and his new movie

 

Terry Gilliam: Hollywood is just “gray, frightened people” holding on for dear life
Terry Gilliam, on the set of “The Zero Theorem” (Credit: Amplify Releasing)

If you want to illustrate the old adage about a prophet who is without honor in his own country, look to Terry Gilliam. Mind you, I guess America isn’t even Gilliam’s country anymore, and neither is Hollywood. The onetime Monty Python member and director of “Time Bandits,” “Brazil” and “12 Monkeys,” although he was born in Minneapolis and spent his teen years in Los Angeles, has lived as an expatriate for many years and renounced his United States citizenship in 2006. (That was partly in protest of George W. Bush and partly, Gilliam has said, to shield his wife and children from tax liability.)

Gilliam didn’t need to repudiate his relationship with the mainstream film industry, which had pretty much turned its back on him after the commercial failure of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” in 1998 – a movie that looks, in retrospect, like the ultimate distillation of his grotesque and visionary directorial style. Gilliam pioneered the blend of fantasy and dystopian science fiction in the days before CGI, when those things seemed like geeky and bizarre niche interests. Go back and look at the remarkable special effects in another underappreciated box-office flop, “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen,” made in 1988. He was just a few years too early, but his influence is everywhere in contemporary cinema and culture, even as his later career has been a remarkable parade of near-misses and not-quites. Not for nothing is the aging, threadbare rebel leader played by John Hurt in Bong Joon-ho’s “Snowpiercer” named Gilliam!



Gilliam was supposedly J.K. Rowling’s first choice for “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” and Alan Moore’s first choice for “Watchmen,” and can you even imagine how weird and great those movies would have been? His list of never-launched projects includes an adaptation of “A Tale of Two Cities” with Mel Gibson and an adaptation of Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” He still hopes to make “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” with Johnny Depp, a production that legendarily imploded 15 years ago. His new movie, “The Zero Theorem,” starring Christoph Waltz as an isolated computer programmer searching for the meaning of life in an overloaded info-society not far removed from our own, has been in the works for at least six years. It was originally cast with Ewan McGregor in the lead, and then Billy Bob Thornton (alongside Jessica Biel and Al Pacino), in a version that was all set to go in 2009, before Gilliam turned his attention to finding a way to finish yet another haunted film, “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus,” after the death of its star, Heath Ledger.

Gilliam has described “The Zero Theorem” as the completion of an “Orwellian triptych” that began with his dystopian masterpiece “Brazil” in 1985 and continued with “12 Monkeys” a decade later. I won’t argue that this film lives up to the earlier two, but taken on its own terms it’s a work of wicked wit and imagination, shot by cinematographer Nicola Pecorini in classic Gilliam style: wide lenses, deep focus, and the frame overloaded with grotesque detail. Waltz gives one of his best performances as a barely functional nerd-genius called Qohen, who refers to himself in the first-person plural and works on disturbing data-crunching tasks for an enormous company that seems to have devoured the state. There are all sorts of delicious supporting turns, including David Thewlis as the cheerful boss determined to draw Qohen out of his shell, Tilda Swinton as an online therapy-bot (who performs a disastrously awful rap song) and Matt Damon as the back-room kingpin known only as Management.

As veteran Gillian-watchers will already suspect, “The Zero Theorem” is more tragedy than farce, despite all its levels of technological and social satire. It’s the story of a man who is highly skilled in some ways but finds himself out of step with the world and with his time, desperate to connect with others but finally unable to do so. Gilliam didn’t write this script (which is by Pat Rushin, a creative writing instructor), but immediately agrees that he responded to it on a personal level. He wasn’t sure whether he’d be able to visit New York for the “Zero Theorem” – as an ex-citizen, he is limited to 29 days a year in the U.S., and needs to parcel them out carefully – so he called me from his home office in London.

This must be an exhausting ritual, being grilled by Americans on the phone – and about the past, in many cases.

It’s fine. After becoming depressed like Qohen for being alone as much as I am, I’m happy to talk to people.

It’s funny that you say that. Maybe this is dime store psychology, but I was irresistibly drawn to that interpretation. The curmudgeonly guy who hates everybody, who’s locked in his house trying to solve a problem that cannot be solved. How much is that you?

That’s 100 percent me [laughs]. No, I identify with him so much. I thought Christoph made him an interesting character despite his behavior. I think I’m getting more and more curmudgeonly as the years pass, because you get angry. You look at healthy young people and realize your body doesn’t do that any more, so you get even more angry.

Well, and then there’s your relationship with the film industry, which was maybe never so terribly warm and fuzzy. Is that that you have changed or that the nature of the mainstream film industry has changed? Or have the two of you just sort of drifted further apart?

I think we’ve both changed and probably drifted apart for that reason, even more. In Hollywood, at least when I was making films there, there were people in the studios that actually had personalities. You could distinguish one from the other. And now, I don’t see that at all. It’s just gray, frightened people holding on without any sense of “let’s try something here, let’s do something different.” But to be fair, I haven’t been talking to anybody from the studios in the last few years. But the films that Hollywood is making now, it’s clear what’s going on. The big tent-pole pictures are just like the last tent-pole pictures. Hopefully one of them will work and keep the studio going. It’s become … it’s a reflection of the real world, where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer and the middle class get squeezed out completely. So the kind of films I make need more money than the very simple films. Hollywood doesn’t deal with those budgets anymore; they don’t exist.

You can’t make the film in your house for $50,000. But they’re also not going to give you $100 million. You’re in a mid-budget area they don’t like, right?

Yeah. It’s terrible. I’m not alone in the mid-budget area that’s being pushed out of work. It’s a great sadness because there are many small films that can be wonderful, or you get huge $100 million-plus budgets and they’re all the same film, basically, or very similar. It’s just not as interesting as it used to be. The choice out there is less interesting. The real problem now is that when you make a small film, to get the money to promote it is almost impossible. You can’t complete with a $70-80 million budget the studios have. So it becomes less and less interesting. That’s why, in a sense, the most interesting work at the moment, as any creative person, knows is coming out of television in America now, not coming out of the studios.

The studios have two niches, and the problem is that you don’t fit in either one of them. You’re not going to do a “Transformers” movie for $250 million. And they think you’re not the right person to do the movie that maybe costs $40 million and is aimed at the Oscars, or is a prestige literary adaptation or something. They don’t trust you with those, right?

I wouldn’t trust me with them either. [Laughs.] I just want to do what I do. And I don’t even get scripts from Hollywood. I don’t even ask for scripts anymore because I kind of know what they’re going to be. They don’t interest me, so I’ve chosen to wander in the wilderness for another 40 years. We’ll see how it goes.

Going back to the character that Christoph plays in this film, there’s so much going on on the surface, but what really got to me was the tremendous sadness. This person who has a creative drive, a creative urge, and is in a situation where there’s no way for him to fulfill that. That struck me as a situation of extreme pathos.

Well that’s how I see the film. It’s very funny but it’s basically tragedy. It’s very sad. It does move me. You can sort of do the parallels between me and that guy, but at heart that’s not really what it is. Not getting to do what you want to do is one thing, but his problem is that he lets life and relationships fall apart because he can’t grasp them. He’s so damaged — I think the scene when Bainsley [a femme fatale played by French actress Mélanie Thierry] leaves and offers for him to come along, he can’t do it. For me that’s the core scene of the film. What happened to this guy? So in the end, I had to leave him with some kind of sense of dignity and a kind of peace. It may only exist in a virtual world and at least he can let the sun set. He can control that much. I mean, when I make a film, there’s always a big autobiographical element in it, that’s the only way I know how to make films. I have to identify with the character in one way or another. And this one, in retrospect, ended up being quite interesting because when I started it I didn’t think it was going to be that film exactly, but that’s what it became.

Your portrayal of the world is so interesting, people will inevitably look back to your earlier films and other people’s. I felt like you were referencing “Blade Runner,” which came out just before “Brazil,” more directly than you ever have before. But the important thing to me was that this portrait of the informational clutter of the world is almost not a satire or an exaggeration. It’s maybe a tiny bit exaggerated, but it’s almost a portrait of the real world.

Yes. Thank you for that. People talk about it in some sort of future, dystopic view. No! It’s exactly what’s going on right now as far as I’m concerned. [Laughs.] When I walk out onto the streets of London, I’m bombarded exactly like Qohen is at the beginning of the film. It’s endless, it seems to me. And that’s why I sort of built that world around him. Everything in the world out there is colorful and people seem to be having a good time and shopping is bubbling away and things are being offered to you left, right and center. The workplace is a colorful place with people zipping around having a great time. There’s only one bit of darkness and grayness in the thing and that’s Qohen. And that’s what intrigued me about him. He’s very much like a monk. He’s in a burned-out church and it’s a church that has no meaning anymore. That particular construct of life has passed him by. And yet, that’s why I love when another character tells him, “Nonetheless, you’re a man of faith. And that is the very thing that has made you not live your life.”

I have to recommend to you a documentary called “Web Junkie” that you probably haven’t heard about, which is about young people in China being sent to re-education camps to cure them of their supposed Internet addiction. This is a movie that you could have invented, that happens to be a true story. It’s like a corollary to or the dark side of this film. You use technology in an interesting way in this film: You have tons of digital effects in here but the movie is also about the social effects of technology. What is your personal attitude about the way that it’s changed our lives?

TG: It terrifies me because I’m a junkie; I’m an addict. I’m sitting here right now in front of a high-definition computer screen. It’s consumed far, far too much of my life. It’s very seductive and that’s what makes me crazy. The days go by and I’m finding myself still sitting in front of that screen when I should be out doing something physical but it’s easier to sit there and poke around on the Web. That’s one side of it. As far as tweeting and all of that, I don’t. And I find it appalling that people cannot just get on and experience the moment. They seem to have to comment on the moment all the time. Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame is 15 megabytes of fame. Everybody, it’s all about them. The world becomes background to them as opposed to them relating to the world.

We did a thing in the Python reunion show at the end, a meet-and-greet where people paid extra money to meet and greet us. And there was a barrier that kept us from touching. And people at the beginning said “Everybody does a selfie now.” So we had them all turn their backs to us and hold the phone up and we were in the background smiling while they were in the foreground of the picture. It’s just — this is crazy. You go to a rock concert and before the first song is finished, the tweets are coming through. It makes me crazy because people are not relating to the real world anymore. That’s very worrisome. Hunter Thompson predicted America would soon be a nation of panicky sheep, and I think it’s adding to the problem.

You made “Time Bandits,” “Brazil” and “Baron Munchausen” in the ‘80s, long before the rise of CGI, and now we find ourselves in an era where every Hollywood movie is either a dystopian science fiction vision or a fantasy film. Do you feel like you explored the territory first and nobody remembers that?

Well, I don’t know. I think, yeah. I keep thinking I would like to have a chance at those kinds of things, because that’s what I’ve always wanted to make and that’s what I did back then. I just don’t know what they are anymore. They’re films — fantasy without substance and sci-fi dystopia without intelligence. I don’t know really what to comment except that they all seem to be clones of each other. And people are so happy to go back and see the same thing again and again and again. And that, to me, makes me sad about the state of the world. We want reassurance now rather than being challenged, and that’s sad.

This is what I always say when people ask me about the difference between watching 300 films a year and watching just a few, like ordinary moviegoers. Ordinary people seem largely OK, or at least historically OK, with seeing the same films over and over again, for whatever reason. Maybe with technical innovations or improvements in execution …

Technically they’re brilliantly done. They’re beautiful things but there’s nothing in them. There’s nothing new. Nothing to make you think or look at the world in a different way. It’s just the same thing going on and on and on. It really is bread and circuses these days. It may be a sign of people’s impotence, that they can’t really change anything so let’s keep going back and have that McDonald’s burger because we know exactly what we’re about to get and let’s watch another Marvel Comics film because we know exactly what we’re going to get.

You have, however, adjusted to the era of doing the effects digitally. Obviously, when you did “Munchausen” or “Time Bandits,” that was all either physical effects or camerawork.

It hasn’t changed anything really, for me. Because I’m sort of forced into the world of “You have to do it the cheapest way.” And fortunately or unfortunately, CGI is cheaper than doing old-fashioned effects. So I end up doing it that way. I’ve always used digital effects. In “12 Monkeys” there’s a lot of stuff in there. I just don’t want — I want it to be a minor part of the filmmaking process, to deal with the things I can’t quite do. What’s happening now is because you can do it with CGI, anything you want, well, that doesn’t mean you should do anything you want. I like the restrictions. Maybe it’s a way of controlling myself, having to work with a small budget. This film is about $8.5 million, but it looks a lot more expensive than that. What you do is go to Bucharest, where people get paid a fraction of what they get paid in London. You call some friends up and they work for scale rather than what they normally get paid when they work for Hollywood. So I’m happy when Hollywood pays some of my friends a lot of money so they can come work for me for next to nothing.

Actors still want to work with you, right? That’s the good part.

Yeah, that’s nice. I think because so many of them are looking for interesting parts and they’re born with the stuff — they’ll do it because it pays good money, it pays the mortgage and buys time to do more interesting things. I think that’s kind of it. I suppose what actors like about me is they know I’ll give them space to show off and have some fun and they can do things they wouldn’t normally do. I love Matt [Damon] in the film. I think he’s fantastic as that character. I’ve never seen him do that before, and that’s great. I actually said, “Matt, I’ve got a small part. A few days work.” he said “Don’t bother, I’m in.” It’s nice to have friends like that, who will do it for the joy of doing it. And we had a great time. Working with Christoph was an utter joy because he’s thinking all the time; he’s questioning. He’s utterly brilliant. Personally I think it’s the best thing he’s ever done. It might not be the most popular thing he’s ever done, but he’s never off-screen and he’s just stunning.

I don’t think anyone has ever asked Tilda Swinton to rap in a movie before. It’s possible that nobody will again.

Yes. I think she’s sealed her fate. Her MTV career is over. Here’s a wonderful thing though: I had designed this hairstyle for her and when we first met to talk about what she was wearing and the wig, she had decided that as a psychiatrist she should identify more with her patient, so she should be bald. That wasn’t in the script. That was her idea.

I need to ask whether you’ve seen “Snowpiercer,” because if there was ever a film that you’re your influence, that one is it.

I desperately want to see “Snowpiercer”! But it hasn’t arrived in this country yet. Especially since John Hurt plays a character called Gilliam. I have seen the trailer and it looks fantastic. It looks really good and really beautiful.

Well, and I think Bong Joon-ho really followed your example, in some ways. Instead of coming to Hollywood and making the film in a way that required surrendering control, he made it in Europe with European money. He got a pretty large budget, I think it was $40 million, but it was assembled from all over the place — a bunch from different European financiers and a little bit from Harvey Weinstein. And then he didn’t have to make a movie the studios were going to chop up.

And yet Harvey still tried to chop it up. At least it got made. That’s the important thing.

I’m hearing rumors that you may finally make the Don Quixote film! What’s the level of truth or fiction there?

Yep. Well, we’ve postponed it. I was planning to shoot it in October this year, but because of the Python reunion show, I postponed it. The two lead actors, their agents and the producer are in discussion as we speak. And yeah, the plan is to be shooting it next springtime. We have locations in the Canary Islands already. I’m assuming we’re going to make it. I’m just suspending all my disbelief. [Laughs.]

Your entire career has involved a certain amount of doing that, right? It’s been required.

I just don’t want to accept the world as it is out there. We’ll see how that goes this time. [Laughs.] That movie has taken 15 years. It’s reached the point where I withhold a lot of my enthusiasm at the moment. I’m waiting to make sure everything is nailed down and then I’ll let go and make this thing happen. I’ve been at it so long it’s almost like it’s fake. It’s like trying to remove a tumor so I can get on with my life.

One more question: I know you gave up your American citizenship about eight years ago. I’m sure you have followed the news about Edward Snowden and the NSA stuff. Did that sum up some of the reasons why you didn’t want to be an American anymore? And secondly, didn’t the whole Snowden episode feel like something that would happen in one of your films?

Edward Snowden is a great hero, I think. It’s quite extraordinary what he’s done and yeah, all I know is I’m luckier than him. I live in England, not Russia. I was in Moscow a month and a half ago and as interesting as it is, I’m happier here. And yes, it’s part of the reason — with George W. Bush and that whole gang that has completely restructured what America is — and a Supreme Court that is so unbelievably right wing. It’s a country that is basically ruled by corporations at the expense of the citizens. I believe.

“The Zero Theorem” opens this week in many cities, and is also available on-demand from cable, satellite and online providers.

http://www.salon.com/2014/09/19/terry_gilliam_hollywood_is_just_%E2%80%9Cgray_frightened_people%E2%80%9D_holding_on_for_dear_life/?source=newsletter

“Dying in America” report

Latest volley in campaign to slash heath care costs

http://thomallison1.files.wordpress.com/2009/07/dalitime.jpg?w=640

By Kate Randall
19 September 2014

A panel appointed by the Institute of Medicine released a report Wednesday titled “Dying in America: Improving Quality and Honoring Individual Preferences Near the End of Life.” The 500-page report focuses specifically on those people with “a serious illness or medical condition who may be approaching death.”

The report identifies as a burning issue facing America the fact that people are living longer into old age and exorbitant sums of money are being lavished on them to keep them alive. The panel’s recommendations are both sweeping and sinister. They expose the reactionary character of the current overhaul of the US health care system—championed by the Affordable Care Act—whose basic aim is to slash health care spending at the expense of the lives and well being of the vast majority of the population.

The Institute of Medicine is a research arm of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), which was establish by an Act of Congress signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. According to its mission statement, “the NAS is charged with providing independent, objective advice to the nation on matters related to science and technology.” A sampling of the 21-member panel tasked with producing the “Dying in America” reveals that it is, in fact, populated with pro-corporate figures, a number of whom have served in government.

Among the doctors, nurses, insurers, religious leaders and experts on hospice and palliative care included on the panel is co-chair David M. Walker, former US comptroller general and founder and CEO of the ultra-conservative Comeback America Initiative. Committee member Leonard D. Schaeffer of the University of Southern California, Santa Monica, has served in various capacities at WellPoint Health Networks Inc., pharmaceutical Amgen, America’s Health Insurance Plans, and on numerous health industry boards. He was also assistant secretary for management and budget of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare under the Carter administration.

One could ask why insurance executives and former government budget bureaucrats are sitting on a committee tasked with overhauling end-of-life care for America’s seniors. It is precisely because this panel is concerned first and foremost with cutting costs, and realigning what is already a class-based delivery of medicine into an even more stratified system of health care aimed at cutting costs for government and increasing the profits of the health care industry.

Of central concern for the panel is the fact that life expectancy is increasing, and the costs for care at the end of life consume what they consider an unacceptable proportion of health care spending. From 1995 to 2011, average life expectancy at birth increased from 75.8 years to 78.7 years—a 3.8 percent increase. The report projects that the number of Americans 85 years or older will increase to 4.2 percent of the population by 2050, from the 1960 figure of 0.5 percent.

The report notes, “In the future, the aging US population is likely to experience large increases in certain diseases that are costly to treat,” and despite “stable or slightly falling rates of illness, the growing number of people in the higher-risk age groups means the number of cases will grow,” along with the associated costs to treat these diseases. The solution? Stop expensive hospital treatments for terminal conditions such as heart disease and cancer, and shift elderly patients to palliative care and hospice, with adequate pain management.

The panel attempts to paint this recommendation as the humane response to the needs of patients and their families. What person facing imminent death wouldn’t want to spend his or her last days at home, as free of pain as possible, surrounded by loving family members? But the real reasoning behind this recommendation becomes clear when the report points to the cost of treating some of the most prevalent chronic conditions suffered by the elderly, such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke, chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Alzheimer’s and cancer.

The report finds that in 2010, expenditures for Medicare patients suffering from six or more chronic conditions averaged $32,658. Approached from the mindset of the cold-blooded actuary, these costs must be slashed. If the committee were to state their objectives honestly, they would say that this is too much to spend on someone who is eventually going to die anyway. Better sooner than later.

The real meat of the “Dying in America” report comes with its call for a “major reorientation and restructuring of Medicare, Medicaid and other health care delivery programs” and the elimination of “perverse financial incentives” that encourage expensive hospital procedures. Leonard Schaeffer, the above-mentioned panel member, expounded on this at a public briefing on the report, saying there needs to be a shift away from fee-for-service medicine, which reimburses doctors for medical procedures, to more emphasis on financial rewards for doctors who talk to patients about their end-of-life care preferences.

In macabre fashion, the panel recommends that such “end of life” discussions begin as early as teenage milestones such as getting a driver’s license or heading to college. The objective is clear: people should be conditioned from an early age to accept that herculean efforts to save their lives, utilizing the latest medical technologies, will not be undertaken. What goes unsaid in the report is the fact that the wealthy, and members of the political and corporate establishment such as those represented on the panel, will always have access to the best medical care, as they will be able to pay out of pocket for the most advanced treatments, even if it “only” saves them a few extra days, months, or years of life.

Tellingly, the report notes that younger, poorer and less-educated individuals tend to be less likely to have end of life conversations with their doctors. In the panel’s opinion, it is this working class population that is sapping vital health care dollars in old age as they seek treatment to prolong their lives. Rather, they should be sent home for a “dignified” death free from unnecessary medical intervention.

Not surprisingly, nowhere to be found in the report are any references to the profits of the insurance industry and drug companies. But the truth is that the central financial and moral danger to American society is not the spending on medical care for the elderly working class population, but the capitalist profit system itself.

The Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, is aimed at restructuring the health care system in America in line with the rapacious aims of the ruling elite. It is a regressive attack on the social right to health care in the guise of “reform.” The Institute of Medicine’s “Dying in America” report and its recommendations are the latest volley in this campaign to realign health care in the interests of the ruling elite.

Why America will never win the war on terror

The U.S. military is neither a nation nor an army builder. It bodes ill for our future efforts in the Middle East

, TomDispatch.com

Why America will never win the war on terror
This piece originally appeared on TomDispatch.

It’s possible I’ve lived most of my life on the wrong planet — and if that sounds like the first sentence of a sci-fi novel maybe, in its own way, it is. I thought I knew where I was, of course, but looking back from our helter-skelter world of 2014, I wonder.

For most of the last several hundred years, the story in view might be called the Great Concentration and it focused on an imperial struggle for power on planet Earth. That rivalry took place among a kaleidoscopic succession of European “great powers,” one global empire (Great Britain), Russia, a single Asian state (Japan), and the United States. After two world wars that devastated the Eurasian continent, there emerged only two “superpowers,” the U.S. and the Soviet Union. They were so stunningly mighty and over-armed — great inland empires — that, unlike previous powers, they could not even imagine how to wage war directly upon each other, not without obliterating much of civilization. The full planet nonetheless became their battlefield in what was known as the Cold War only because hot ones were banished to “the peripheries” and the conflict took place, in part, in “the shadows” (a situation novelist John le Carré caught with particular incisiveness).

Those two superpowers divided much of the planet into mighty blocs, as the “free world” faced off against the “communist” one. What was left, often called the Third World, became a game board and sometimes battlefield for influence and dominance. From Havana to Saigon, Berlin to Jakarta, whatever happened, however local, always seemed to have a superpower tinge to it.

This was the world as it was presented to me in the years of my youth and for decades thereafter.  And then, unexpectedly, there was only one superpower. In 1991, something like the ultimate step in the concentration of power seemed to occur. The weaker and less wealthy of the two rivals, its economy grown sclerotic even as its nuclear arsenal bulged, its vaunted military bogged down in an unwinnable war with Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan (backed by the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan), suddenly vanished from the planet.  It left behind a dismantled wall in Berlin, a unified Germany, a liberated Eastern Europe, a series of former SSRs in Central Asia fending for themselves, and its bloc partner (and sometimes-rival-cum-enemy) China, still run by a “communist” party, gunning the automobile of state onto the capitalist highway under slogans like “to get rich is glorious.”



Full Spectrum Dominance on a Unipolar Planet

As with the famous cheese of children’s rhyme, the United States now stood alone.  Never before had a single power of such stature, wealth, and military clout been left so triumphantly solitary, without the hint of a serious challenger anywhere. Economically, the only other system imaginable for a century had been banished to the history books. There was just one power and one economic system left in a moment of triumph the likes of which even the leaders of that winning state had neither imagined nor predicted.

Initially, Washington was stunned. It took the powers-that-be almost a decade to fully absorb and react to what had happened. After all, as one observer then so famously put it, “the end of history” had been reached – and there, amid the rubble of other systems and powers, lay an imperial version of liberal democracy and a capitalist system freed of even the thought of global competitors and constraints. Or so it seemed.

For almost a decade, we were told in no uncertain terms that we were, no bones about it, in the era of “the Washington consensus” and “globalization.”  The Earth was flat and we were all One, swimming in a sea of giant swooshes, golden arches, action movies, and Disney princesses.  What a moment to dream — and though it took a decade, you’ll remember the dreamers well.  Having prepared the way as a kind of shadow government, in 2000 they took over the White House (with a helping hand from the Supreme Court). After a single devastating terrorist attack (the “Pearl Harbor” of the twenty-first century), they were soon dreaming on a global scale as befit their new vision of power.  They imagined a “wartime” that would last for generations — some of them even called it World War IV – during which they would establish a full-scale military protectorate, including monster bases, in the oil heartlands of the Middle East and a Pax Americana globally aimed at preventing any other great nation or bloc of nations from arising to challenge the United States — ever.

And that should have surprised no one.  It seemed like such an obvious concluding passage to the Great Concentration.  What else was there to dream about when “The End” had come up onscreen and the logic of history was theirs to do with what they would?  After all, they had at their beck and call a military the likes of which no other 10 nations could match and a national security state, including surveillance and intelligence outfits, whose post-9/11 reach was to be unparalleled among countries or in history.  They sat atop a vast and wealthy state then regularly referred to as the planet’s “sole superpower” or even its “hyperpower,” and no less regularly called its “sheriff.”

Where great powers had once been, only a few rickety “rogue states” remained: Iraq, Iran, and North Korea.  And with the help of a clever speechwriter, George W. Bush was soon to pump those three countries up into a convenient “Axis of Evil,” a phrase meant to combine the fearsomeness of World War II’s Axis powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan) and Ronald Reagan’s famous Star Wars-style moniker for the Soviet Union, “the Evil Empire.”  No matter that two of the three powers in question had been at each other’s throats for a decade and the third, a half-nation with a population regularly on a starvation diet, was quite unrelated.

Beyond that, when it came to enemies, there were relatively small numbers of jihadi bands, mostly scattered in the tribal backlands of the planet, and a few poorly armed minority insurgencies.  A “unipolar” planet?  You bet, hands down (or rather, as the Bush administration then saw it, hands up in the classic gesture of surrender that it quickly expected from Iraq, Iran, and Syria, among other places).  The future, according to the prevailing script, couldn’t have been more obvious.  Could there be any question thatdominance, or even as the U.S. military liked to put it, “full-spectrum dominance,” was the obvious, uncontested, and only possible result?

A Jihadist Paradise on Earth

As the present chaos across large swathes of our world indicates, however, it didn’t turn out to be so.  The planet was telling quite a different story, one focused not on the concentration of power but on a radical form of power drain.  In that story, the one for which the evidence kept piling up regularly in the post-9/11 years, no application of power seemed to work for Washington.  No enemy, no matter how minor, weak, ill armed, or unpopular could be defeated.  No jihadist group wiped out.  Not one.

Jump 13 years and they are all still there: the original al-Qaeda, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (Yemen), and a whole befuddling new range of jihadist groups, most of them bigger than ever, with one now proclaiming a “caliphate” in the heart of the Middle East; in Afghanistan, the Taliban is resurgent (and a growing new Taliban movement is destabilizing Pakistan); the Shia militias the U.S. couldn’t take down in Iraq during its occupation of the country are now fighting the followers of the Sunni military men whose army Washington demobilized in 2003.  The fundamentalists in Iran, despite endless years of threat and pressure, are still in power, their regional influence enhanced.  Libya, which should have been a nation-building miracle, has instead become an extremist battleground, while (like Syria) losing a significant percentage of its population; Africa is increasingly destabilized, and Nigeria in particular faces one of the more bizarre insurgencies in modern history; and so on.

Nowhere is there a hint of Washington’s Pax Americana in the Greater Middle East, no less globally.  In fact, across a vast and growing swath of the planet, stretching from South Asia to Africa, from Iraq to Ukraine, the main force at work seems not to be the concentration of power, but its fragmentation, its disintegration, before which Washington has proven remarkably helpless.

Thirteen years later, on the eve of another 9/11 anniversary, the president found himself, however reluctantly, on television addressing the American people on the launching of another hapless Iraq war, the third since 1991 — and the first in which those announcing it visibly no longer had any expectation of victory or could even imagine what the endpoint of all this might be.  In fact, before Barack Obama appeared on our home screens, word was already leaking out from official precincts in Washington that this new war would last not a decisive few weeks or even months, but years.  At least “36 months” was the figure being bandied about.

In other words, as he launched Iraq 3.0, the president was already essentially conceding a kind of defeat by willing it to his successor in the Oval Office.  Not getting out of Iraq, as he had promised in his 2008 presidential campaign, but getting in yet again would now be his “legacy.”  If that doesn’t tell you what you need to know about the deep-sixing of the dream of global domination, what does?

Nor was the new enemy some ghostly jihadist group with small numbers of followers scattered in the backlands of the planet.  It was something new under the sun: a mini-state-building, war-fighting, revenue-generating, atrocity-producing machine (and yet anything but the former “Evil Empire”).  Against it, the drones and bombers had already been called in and Washington was now to lead — the phrase, almost a quarter-century old, was making a reappearance in the general babble of reporting about, and punditry on, the new conflict — a “coalition of the willing.”  In the first such coalition, in 1991,35 nations were gathered under the American wing to crush Saddam Hussein’s Iraq (which, of course, didn’t quite happen).  And the Saudis, the Japanese, and the Germans agreeably anted up $52 billion of the cost of that $61 billion conflict, making it a near freebie of a (briefly) triumphant war for Washington.

This time, however, as befit the moment, the new “coalition” was to consist of a crew so recalcitrant, unwilling, and ill-matched as to practically spell out disaster-in-the-making.  Inside Iraq, a unification government was already being formed and it looked remarkably likeprevious not-so-unification-minded governments.  The Kurds were playing it cagy on the question of support; Moqtada al-Sadr, the Shia cleric whose militias had once fought the Americans and were now fighting the forces of the new Islamic State (IS), was warning against cooperation of any sort with the former “occupier”; and as for the Sunnis, well, don’t hold your breath.

And don’t even start in on the Turksthe Egyptians, and others in the region.  In the meantime, Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Iraq and promised that the U.S. would ante up $48 million to stand up a new Iraqi “national guard.”  It was assumedly meant as a home for disaffected Sunni fighters to bolster the American-financed, -armed, and -trained Iraqi army that had collapsed in a heap when the warriors of the Islamic State descended on them led by former officers from Saddam Hussein’s disbanded army.  And oh yes, with the help of the Saudis (who had previously funneled money to far more extreme groups of rebels in Syria), the U.S. was now planning to arm and train the barely existent “moderate” rebels of that country.  If that isn’t a description of a coalition of the shaky, what is?

Is American Leadership “the One Constant in an Uncertain World”?

From that “new” Iraqi military force to the usual set of op-eds, comments, and critiques calling for yet more military action by the usual crowd of neocons and Republicans in Washington, it’s felt distinctly like déjà vu all over again.  This time, however, it seems as if we’re watching familiar events through some funhouse mirror, everything half-recognizable, yet creepy as hell.  Ever more of the world seems this way, as for instance in the “new Cold War” that’s played out in recent months in Ukraine.

And yet it’s worth noting that some things are missing from that mirror’s distorted view.  When was the last time, for instance, that you heard the phrase “sole superpower” or the word “unipolar”?  Not for years, I suspect.  Yet the talk of “multi-polarity” has, like the Brazilian economy, faded, too, and for good reason.

On the face of it, the United States remains the unipolar power on planet Earth, or as the president put it in his TV address, speaking of American leadership, “the one constant in an uncertain world.”  Its military remains uncontested in any normal sense, with something approaching that long-desired goal of full-spectrum dominance.  No other concentration of power on the planet comes close to matching it.  In fact, even for the European Union, once imagined as a future power bloc of immense possibility, fragmentation of various sorts now seem to hover in the air.

Admittedly, two regional powers have begun flexing their military muscles along their borders (and sea lanes).  Vladimir Putin, the autocratic ruler of what is essentially a hollowed out energy state, has been meddling in Ukraine, as he did previously with Georgia, in situations where he’s felt the pressure of the U.S. and NATO pushing against his country’s former borderlands.  In the process, he has effectively brought power drain and fragmentation to the heartlands of Eurasia in a way that may prove far less amenable to his control than he now imagines.

Meanwhile, in the South China Sea and nearby waters, China, the world’s rising economic juggernaut and increasingly a regional military power, has been pushing its neighbors’ buttons as it grabs for undersea energy rights and generally tries to reverse a long history of what it considers “humiliation,” while taking its place as a regional hegemon.  As in Ukraine with NATO, so here, in its announced “pivot” to Asia, the U.S. has played its own part in this process.  Once again, division and fragmentation of various sorts shimmer on the horizon.  And yet these challenges to America’s status as the globe’s hegemon remain local and limited in nature.  The likelihood that either of them will develop into some version of the great power struggles of the nineteenth century or of the Cold War era seems remote.

Still, the conundrum for Washington remains.  For the last 13 years, it’s had access to unparalleled powers of every kind, concentrated in all sorts of ways, and yet in what has to be considered a mystery of the twenty-first century, everywhere, even at home, fragmentation and gridlock, not decisive, effective action are evident, while the draining (or paralysis) of power seems to be the order of the day.

Nowhere, at home or abroad, does the obvious might of the United States translate into expected results, or much of anything else except a kind of roiling chaos.  On much of the planet, Latin America (but not Central America) excepted, power vacuums, power breakdowns, power drains, and fragmentation are increasingly part of everyday life.  And one thing is remarkably clear: each and every application of American military power globally since 9/11 has furthered the fragmentation process, destabilizing whole regions.

In the twenty-first century, the U.S. military has been neither a nation- nor an army-builder, nor has it found victory, no matter how hard it’s searched.  It has instead been the equivalent of the whirlwind in international affairs, and so, however the most recent Iraq war works out, one thing seems predictable: the region will be further destabilized and in worse shape when it’s over.

The Greatest Concentration of Literal Power in History

Since World War II, we’ve generally been focused on the Great Concentration, while another story was developing in the shadows.  Its focus: the de-concentration of power in what the Bush administration used to call the Greater Middle East, as well as in Africa, and even Europe.  Just how exactly this developed will have to await a better historian than I and perhaps the passage of time.  But for the sake of discussion, let’s call it the Great Fragmentation.

Perhaps it started in the twentieth century with the decolonization movements that swept across so much of the globe and took down a series of already weakening European empires.  One of its latest manifestations might have been the Arab Spring and the chaos and disintegration that seemed to follow from it.  The undermining or neutralizing of imperial power and the systems of alliance and dependency it builds seems at its heart.  With it has gone the inability of militaries anywhere to achieve the sorts of victories against even the least impressive of enemies that were once the meat and potatoes of imperial power.

The Great Fragmentation has accelerated in seemingly disastrous ways in our own time under perhaps some further disintegrative pressure.  One possibility: yet another development in the shadows that, in some bizarre fashion, combines both the concentration of power and its fragmentation in devastating ways.  I’m thinking here of the story of how the apocalypse became human property — the discovery, that is, of how to fully exploit two energy sources, the splitting of the atom and the extraction of fossil fuels for burning from ever more difficult places, that could leave human life on this planet in ruins.

Think of them as, quite literally, the two greatest concentrations of power in history.  One is now embedded in the globe’s nuclear arsenals, capable of destroying numerous Earth-sized planets.  The other is to be found in a vast array of oil and natural gas wells and coal mines, as well as in a relatively small number of Big Energy companies and energy states like Saudi Arabia, Russia, and increasingly these days, the United States.  It, we now know, is capable of essentially burning civilization off the planet.

From this dual concentration of power comes the potential for the kinds of apocalypticfragmentation it was once thought only the gods or God might be capable of.  We’re talking about potential exit ramps from history.  The pressure of this story — which has been in play in our world since at least August 6, 1945, and now in its dual forms suffuses all our lives in hard to define ways — on the other two and on the increasing fragmentation of human affairs, while impossible to calibrate, is undoubtedly all too real.

This is why, now in my eighth decade, I can’t help but wonder just what planet I’m really on and what its story will really turn out to be.

 

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book, “The United States of Fear” (Haymarket Books), has just been published.

http://www.salon.com/2014/09/18/why_america_will_never_win_the_war_on_terror_partner/?source=newsletter

US safety regulators aided GM in cover-up of deadly defects

http://images.politico.com/global/2012/05/120515_gm_ap.jpg

By Shannon Jones
18 September 2014

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the supposed government watchdog over the auto industry, failed to order a recall of General Motors vehicles with deadly ignition defects even though it had evidence for years demonstrating the cars were not safe to drive. Instead, the agency gave Chevrolet models involved in a massive safety recall earlier this year its highest five-star safety rating.

A report by the US House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce investigating the GM scandal documents that the NHTSA brushed aside reports indicating that several GM models, including the Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion, were prone to sudden engine stalling. Due to low torque in the key cylinder, the ignition could easily be jarred out of the run position killing power to the engine and steering, and disabling airbags in the event of a crash.

GM knew of the problem since at least 2001, but did not issue a warning to customers or order a recall. However, the cover-up by the company was aided and abetted by the NHTSA, which repeatedly turned a blind eye to evidence of fatal crashes involving non-deployment of air bags in the Cobalt.

As early as 2007, “NHTSA had ample information to identify a potential safety defect,” the House report notes. The agency did not identify similarities in three independent investigations it commissioned into frontal crashes involving Cobalts where the airbags did not work. The report further stated that the NHTSA appeared to have been unaware of the basic workings of the airbag systems it was supposed to be regulating, not recognizing the airbags would not deploy if the ignition was turned off.

In particular, the report drew attention to the investigation carried out by a Wisconsin state trooper in 2007 into a fatal crash involving a 2005 Cobalt in which airbags failed to deploy. The trooper stated, “The ignition switch on the [subject’s] vehicle appears to have been in the accessory position when it impacted the trees preventing the airbags from deploying.” It noted that the NHTSA website had posted five complaints by Cobalt owners of the engine suddenly switching off while the car was running. However, no one in NHTSA appears to have drawn any conclusions or taken any action.

A report in the September 15 edition of the New York Times notes that by 2014, when GM finally initiated its recall, the NHTSA had received more than 2,000 complaints related to stalling in the Cobalt and other recalled vehicles.

The NHTSA’s refusal to act in the case of GM is part of a pattern of indulgence shown to all the major car manufacturers. In fact the New York Times reports it has been 35 years since the NHTSA last used its legal authority to force a manufacturer to recall cars.

Last year, the NHTSA did somersaults to accommodate Chrysler over the recall of Jeep models with gas tanks prone to explode in rear impact collisions. After initially suggesting a 2.7 million-vehicle recall, the agency reduced its request to 1.6 million vehicles. Further, the NHTSA agreed to Chrysler’s proposal to install a trailer hitch on the rear of the vehicles to provide additional protection to the gas tank rather than changing the position of the gas tank, a far more expensive fix.

At least 51 deaths are tied to the gas tank defect and the number could be as high as 160, according to the consumer group Center for Auto Safety. After arranging the deal, former NHTSA head David Strickland resigned from the agency to take a job with a law firm that lobbies on behalf of Chrysler and other automakers.

The new acting head of the NHTSA, David Friedman, vigorously defended the agency’s actions in relation to the GM recall in hearings before the Senate on Tuesday. Friedman rejected any suggestion of negligence or failing on the part of government regulators in the GM ignition scandal. Friedman denied anything was amiss at the agency, attempting to shift the entire blame for the debacle onto GM, which, Friedman claimed, should have provided more information.

Under questioning by the Senate panel, Friedman also rejected the suggestion that engine stalling was a safety issue independent of its effect on airbag deployment. “If a consumer can safely pull a vehicle over to the side of the road and restart that vehicle, that’s a situation where the consumer can be safe,” Friedman claimed.

GM had classified engine stalling a “customer satisfaction” issue rather than a safety issue, in order to avoid bringing the Cobalt ignition switch issue to the attention of the NHTSA. In this context, Friedman’s remarks amounted to agreement with GM’s cover-up.

Under further questioning, Friedman was unable to state the number of times the agency had issued subpoenas to auto manufacturers for information relating to safety issues over the past 10 years. In fact, the issuance of subpoenas by the NHTSA is a rare occurrence. At a Senate committee hearing in April, Friedman claimed he did not even know the safety agency had subpoena powers.

Friedman went on to defend provisions of a 2000 law that requires automakers to report any claims of serious death or injury as a result of vehicle defects, but makes the response of automakers to questions about the cause of the accident voluntary. As a consequence, in the vast majority of cases the auto companies choose not to answer.

Summing up the NHTSA’s attitude Friedman declared, “we don’t want to hinder innovators.”

The NHTSA chief’s responses painted a picture of a government agency in thrall of the companies it is charged with regulating. No one has been held to account by the agency for its failure to red flag the ignition defect or order a recall.

Despite election year posturing by House and Senate members who presented themselves as defenders of the travelling public, no serious proposals for reform were forthcoming from either body. The House report merely chastised the NHTSA for lack of “focus and rigor.”

For their part, Senate investigators did not propose any sanctions against NHTSA, let alone demand that Friedman be dismissed. Over the past decades both Democrats and Republicans have systematically dismantled government oversight of consumer and occupational health and safety, in the process converting bodies such as NHTSA into little more than public relations fronts for the businesses they are supposed to monitor.

The NHTSA spends about one percent of its budget, $10.61 million in 2014, on safety defect investigation. That is considerably less than GM CEO Mary Barra’s annual compensation package. A much larger portion of NHTSA’s funds go to support the activities of the police and courts, in the form of grants to the states for traffic enforcement.

As for NHTSA’s vehicle safety rating program, it is a favorite marketing tool for the auto companies. NHTSA has reportedly issued its top 5-star rating to two-thirds of the 2015 models it has rated so far. From 2001 to 2010, 87 percent of all ratings were four or five stars.

Leading tech investors warn of bubble risk ‘unprecedented since 1999′

Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel
Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel, whose company was valued at $10bn despite having never turned a profit. Photograph: Jae C. Hong/AP

Two of the world’s leading tech investors have warned the new wave of tech companies and their backers are taking on risk and burning through cash at rates unseen since 1999 when the “dotcom bubble” burst.

Bill Gurley, partner at Silicon Valley-based investor Benchmark, sounded the horn of doom on Monday warning that “Silicon Valley as a whole or that the venture-capital community or startup community is taking on an excessive amount of risk right now.”

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal Gurley, whose investments include OpenTable, Uber and Zillow, said startups were taking on risks in a way “unprecedented since ‘99”.

Gurley said that “more humans in Silicon Valley are working for money-losing companies than have been in 15 years”, and they’re burning through huge piles of cash.

“In 01 or 09, you just wouldn’t go take a job at a company that’s burning $4m a month. Today everyone does it without thinking,” he said.

His comments were backed up Tuesday by Fred Wilson, the New York-based co-founder of Union Square Ventures who has backed companies including Twitter, Tumblr and Zynga.

Burn rates – the amount of money a startup is spending – are “sky high all over the US startup sector right now”, he wrote in a blog post.

“We have multiple portfolio companies burning multiple millions of dollars a month. Thankfully its not our entire portfolio. But it is more than I’d like and more than I’m personally comfortable with,” he wrote.

“I’ve been grumpy for months, possibly for longer than that, about this. I’ve pushed back on long term leases that I thought were outrageous, I’ve pushed back on spending plans that I thought were too aggressive and too risky, I’ve made myself a pain in the ass to more than a few CEOs.”’

The comments come after a new generation of tech companies have attracted record levels of investments at levels that give the profitless businesses eye-watering valuations.

In August Snapchat, the social messaging service, was valued at $10bn after a new round of funding. The free service’s fans send 500m self-deleting messages a day, but Snapchat has yet to declare how it intends to make money. Among the other big tech valuations in recent months are Uber, the taxi app service, which was valued at $18bn after its last round of funding in June, and Airbnb, the short term rentals service, which was valued at $10bn in April.

But the valuations are not the immediate issue, according to the sceptical tech investors. “Valuations can be fixed. You can do a down round (investing at a lower valuation), or three or four flat ones, until you get the price right,” writes Wilson. “But burn rates are exactly that. Burning cash. Losing money. Emphasis on the losing.”

Asked if investors, and the people working for the companies, were distracted by the potential for reward, Gurley said: “Yeah, it’s a whole bunch of things. But you just slowly forget, and half of the entrepreneurs today, or maybe more – 60% or 70% – weren’t around in ‘99, so they have no muscle memory whatsoever.”

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/sep/16/tech-bubble-warning-investors-dotcom-losing-money

Naomi Klein on the Great Clash Between Capitalism and the Climate


Klein discusses her new book, “This Changes Everything.”
 Naomi Klein’s new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate is coming out just as the UN is meeting on climate change, and a massive rally to protest the lack of progress on global warming is shaping up in Manhattan on Sunday. Klein is the author of The Shock Doctrine, one of the most influential books of the past 50 years. She sees her new book as the natural successor to The Shock Doctrine as she deepens her critique and insists we need to fundamentally rethink our approach to climate. The inconvenient truth about global warming is that it isn’t really about carbon, but rather capitalism. Our economic model is waging war on the earth, and unless capitalism is dramatically changed, we are doomed. Yet Klein is no pessimist. She sees the seeds of a broad cross-sectional mass movement emerging that will lead to a transformation of our failed economic system to something radically better. Sunday’s People’s Climate March in New York is a key step toward a future we must create in order to survive and thrive.

AlterNet editors Don Hazen and Jan Frel spoke with Klein via phone in Canada, where she lives, on Friday, Sept. 12, prior to her traveling to New York and participating in a wide range of protest events, debates and discussions. The interview has been lightly edited for clarity and readability.

AlterNet: Let’s start with the big climate march on Sunday and your support of and involvement in it. Do you have a reaction to Chris Hedges’ critique of the march which seems to be consistent with your critique of the big enviro groups in your book? Basically he says the demands are amorphous, anybody can join, it doesn’t have much meaning.

Naomi Klein: Knowing the amount of work, energy and coalition-building and care that has gone into the organizing, the march—which you know obviously it’s not perfect—but I think it was grossly mischaracterized as being simply some big green thing. When It’s actually been incredibly grassroots.

Do I think a march is going to do anything? No. The point is this march is different in that it’s a manifestation of real rooted movements that are fighting fracking in their backyard, and refineries that are giving their kids asthma, and students who are demanding divestment of fossil fuels at their universities, and faith groups who are doing the same in their churches and synagogues. And what the march will be is a moment where people feel the size of this movement, and it will give people the strength to go home and continue at these moments of convergence too. Every once in a while it’s nice to see how big you are. Especially since so many of these movements are local. It can feel small and isolated. There haven’t been many moments of convergence like this for the climate movement, so I think it’s great.

And I don’t see the point of throwing stones. The decision was made to have an open call so that any group could endorse the march as long as they abided by certain organizing principles. And so the groups that are drawing attention, some of which I’ve gone after in the book, are not the groups who organized it. They’re just groups that endorsed because, for whatever reason, they thought it would be useful for them. Which I think speaks to more of the strength of this movement, and that everyone wants to be a part of it. But I just think to dismiss all of this incredible organizing in this kind of guilt-by-association way; frankly I’m a little offended by.

AlterNet: Hedges seems to have sit-ins and protest at the U.N. as his priority.

Klein:Well there’s going to be direct action. And I support the direct action, I support the Flood Wall Street action on Monday as well, and the people who are organizing that also support the climate march. So I don’t see what the point of sowing these divisions is right now. I don’t. I’m not saying it’s perfect. But there was a big debate about the fact that Zionist groups are also marching. And the response to that is that there’s going to be a really strong Free Palestine bloc, which I think is fantastic, and they have all my support…I’ll just leave it there.

AlterNet: Here’s a different kind of question. You mentioned privatization and deregulation as pillars of neoliberalism, which of course are true, but shouldn’t we add militarization? And there’s nothing like wars to really screw up the environment. And since 9/11 we’ve had nothing but war, and now we’re heading into a new war with massive pollution. And there’s no end in sight: more bombs, more deaths, more messes. How do you reconcile the constant presence of war all over the world with the need to change everything in terms of the climate?

Klein: Well, it’s a huge piece of the puzzle and I think a lot of the original peace organizing activities in the region had fossil fuels at their heart, and continue to. So it’s intimately linked. It’s something I do talk about—the pollution associated with the military, carbon pollution, and also the need to just get that money, huge resources that are spent on the military, and funnel it toward the building of the new economy that we need. Because part of what’s standing in our way is that we’re told that we’re broke all the time. And we’re not broke, it’s just that the money is in the wrong places. So we need to get more of the resources from polluters, whether they’re fossil fuel companies or whether it’s the military.

But I could easily have had a chapter in the book on drawing stronger connections between the anti-war movement and the climate movement. It’s a big book and it does a lot, but it doesn’t do everything. And my greatest hope, frankly, and already in having conversations about the book, is that it will inspire lots of smart people to go, hey it’s about this, and what about this, this is also a climate issue. And, it’s like, yes, exactly, write that. Having the anti-war movement more engaged in climate and vice-versa, is exactly what we need.

AlterNet: Speaking of how a book can’t do everything, your previous book, The Shock Doctrine, had a tremendous impact and influenced many people. The book basically makes the case that capitalism is at its worst when there are crises. And as the climate crisis gets worse, isn’t the response of capitalism going to get worse if we believe what you wrote in your previous book? Do you see any contradiction here?

Klein:I don’t think it’s a contradiction. I think that’s exactly why I wrote this book. The Shock Doctrine really ends with the disaster of apartheid in New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina and this is the future that we will have if we stay on this road. We can count on neoliberalism to respond to climate change as an opportunity for land grabbing, for trading weather futures. If we don’t radically change course the weather is going to get hotter, things are going to get way more brutal. And I think we, on some level, know that.

That’s why every disaster flick seems to be about a future of post-apocalyptic 1 percent, the 1 percent of the 1 percent at the front of the train or up on a planet of their own. Whatever it is—Hunger Games, Elysium, Snowpiercer—we just keep telling ourselves the same story. What I argue in The Shock Doctrine is that crisis either makes us fall apart or makes us grow up.

And there are precedents of crises being progressive moments. That’s what brought us the New Deal. We responded to crisis in a way that actually got at the roots of why the crisis was happening. So that’s when you had the most dramatic regulation of the banking sector. And that’s when you had the kind of huge investments in the public sphere that we need in this moment. So we are capable of responding to crisis differently than in the way that I described in The Shock Doctrine. And the fact that I argue in The Shock Doctrine that the whole technique was developed by right-wing think tanks because they knew that in natural crises, if you don’t get in there, it will become progressive moments. The Right is afraid of another New Deal moment. Everything about the right in the states is about undoing the gains of the New Deal and making sure it never happens again. That’s why the whole think tank infrastructure exists. And that’s why that whole tactic was developed.

So, yes, there are lots of precedents for crises being moments where inequality is deepened unless things get a whole lot worse. And no one knows that better than me. I don’t see there’s a contradiction there. I’m trying to prevent that from happening with climate change. For me, it follows quite naturally.

AlterNet: So would you say you are more optimistic after writing this book than after writing Shock Doctrine?

Klein:You know, what makes me optimistic is that I see a lot of movement. I saw a lot of things changing, in the first couple of years I was writing this book. At first I think I was really quite depressed because I was seeing Shock Doctrine tactics repeated all over Europe in the context of the economic crisis, and in the U.S., and even though people were resisting, it wasn’t working to prevent even worse things from happening. And the climate science is never fun. But in the last few years of this research, there’s just been such an explosion of grassroots activism. And this new militancy within the climate movement, led by indigenous people and by young people. As I say at the end of the book, it’s been happening so fast that I couldn’t write fast enough to keep up with it. So I feel more hopeful because I feel like we are at the beginning of a real movement moment.

I think things are changing and it isn’t about a brand-new movement. It’s about so many of our past movements coming together. You know, I’ve talked to journalists, and they’re like, well movements don’t work, look at Occupy. Occupy didn’t disappear. Everybody who was engaged during Occupy is still deeply involved in trying to fight for a better world, and lots of them are now engaged on climate change, and a lot of them are involved in the Flood Wall Street organizing. And many were involved in Occupy Sandy. So movements change and different strings come together, and I think we’re in one of those movements of convergence where we’re seeing patterns, we’re seeing common threads, and people are feeling more courageous, too. So that always makes me feel hopeful.

AlterNet: As your book opens, you talk about your “aha” moment, meeting with the young Brazilian ambassador Angélica Navarro Llanos, and how her imagination of how first-world countries, the major polluters, must come to the aid of third-world countries suffering from climate change through mostly no fault of their own. Can you tell us how her vision helped shape your vision?

Klein: I was in Geneva at the time writing a story for Harpers about reparations for slavery and colonialism and was covering a UN conference where somebody told me that I should meet with Angélica Navarro. And I did and she put the case to me that the perennial question of how we address these deep scars left behind by colonialism and slavery that has so distorted the distribution of wealth around the world and within the our own country in the Global North—that climate change could be a tool to heal these wounds.

Because, of course, the history of colonialism and the history of slavery are intimately tied to the history of fossil fuels. You know, coal built the modern world. And when European countries gained access to the steam engine, that sort of supercharged the coal exchange between North and South. And while that was happening we were also pouring carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. And the thing about carbon is it sticks around for a couple of hundred years and is steadily warming the planet. So the legacy of that today is the legacy of climate change. So in addressing climate change in a just way and a way that recognizes historical responsibility, which our governments have all agreed to do when they signed the UN Climate Convention, we have an opportunity to address these core inequalities. We have another chance, really.

And that was Angélica’s argument. If we live up to our historical responsibilities and have a just climate response it would mean that the countries that created the crisis would lead the way, would cut our emissions first, but also help developing countries to pull themselves out of poverty without repeating our errors by leapfrogging over fossil fuels and moving straight to clean energy. Which would mean that this could really be a tremendous force for social justice.

And when she laid out this case, which she called the Marshall Plan for Planet Earth, I suddenly saw how climate change could be a catalyst for tremendously positive change. And then as I started paying attention to climate negotiations and going to Copenhagen and covering the Copenhagen Summit, it became clear that this issue of whether or not the Global North is going to live up to its responsibilities, whether there’s going to be a just response, its the fundamental issue at the heart of the negotiations. And it’s why so little progress has been made because Northern countries refuse and generally refuse to acknowledge that responsibility. And that’s the intractable problem.

AlterNet: As you point out clearly in the book, climate deniers know full well the ramifications of dealing with climate change. It’s going to mean a huge dent in capitalism, which is probably why they’re deniers. How will they be convinced to provide the billions of dollars for the Marshall Plan when they’re going to think, at least economically, that they’re going to be victims of climate change as well?

Klein: Well, I don’t think this is about convincing climate deniers. It’s about engaging a much larger constituency of people who do believe that climate change is real, or not actively denying the science, but are looking away because there doesn’t seem to be a way out of this crisis that is in any way hopeful, is any way inspiring, is any way doable. So really the book is a call for a revival of the kind of broad-based social movements that have won mass progressive victories in the past. We don’t have that anymore. We have slick NGOs, and everybody’s in their silos, and everybody tackles their issue and they only talk to each other. And climate change connects the dots between so many issues: labor, women’s right, indigenous rights, like I said, reparations, the decay of our cities, the dismantling of the public sphere, racial justice. I mean it’s everything, immigration. And why wouldn’t it be? This is our home, this is not an issue. This is everything. So it is a framework, really, for bringing movements together.

And that is the only way that we have ever changed our economy. If we think about, how did social movements win the victories of the New Deal? Or win social security and healthcare? Any of the great progressive victories of the past have been won by large broad-based social movements. And climate change hasn’t had that kind of movement before. There’s been a theory that you had to do it from the top down. It had to be a former vice-president and billionaires and Hollywood celebrities who are going to get together and fix this for us. And I think that’s part of the reason why a lot of lefties tuned out, because it seems to be this very elite. And it was, but it doesn’t have to be.

And I think that that’s really changing. We’re going to see in New York in the Climate March, the face of a much broader grassroots climate movement that is born out of frontline struggles against fossil fuel extraction. And it’s the flip side of the fossil fuel frenzy that has been ripping up our continent of late, and these fossil fuel companies have been so aggressive in laying claim to more and more land and more and more waterways that they’ve built their own opposition in the form of the anti-fracking movement, and the anti-tar sands and anti-tar sands pipeline movement, anti-coal movement. They’ve gone into a lot of hostile territory. People are fighting back but they’re also connecting with one another. And I think what will be exciting about the Climate March is that a lot of these connections are happening online, and are happening in small pockets, but I think we’re going to see the physical manifestations of that on the streets of New York.

AlterNet:Following up on your last answer you must have grappled many times as you wrote this book with the effects that messages of looming apocalypse have on people. Setting up the situation where informing people of the nature of the problem encourages them to do nothing about it, not unlike, say, telling someone that their shoelaces are untied. Did you feel like you arrived at the best way to convey these messages for social change?

Naomi Klein: Because the climate movement has been so ineffective, it’s very sort of faddish in terms of messaging. So one year it will be like, okay, scare people, make them really scared. And then the next year it’s like, okay don’t scare people, don’t scare people. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with scaring people if it’s true. I think we need to be honest that this is a scary moment and we don’t have that much time left. What I think is ineffective is thinking that just scaring people is going to turn people into activists. Just scaring people just makes people scared. And when people are scared, they want to curl up in a ball.

I think it’s the combination of telling the truth about how serious the situation is and that we’re out of deadlines, that this is the real one, and that there’s nowhere to run to. We need to leap, but we need somewhere to leap to that is exciting. Like you go to a UN conference and it’s on mitigating the effects climate change. And it’s just like, is that the best we can do, mitigating it back? It just sounds terrible. And is there a way that we can survive? Is there a way that we can have better cities, and better communities, and better relationships, and better jobs, and a better relationship to work, and can we address so many other things that aren’t working in our societies?

So I think if we allow ourselves to dream a little bit and take a picture of a place that could leap to, I believe that we may leap. And I say leap because I’m not here to be Pollyannaish about this. I don’t believe we are doomed, nor do I believe that success is guaranteed. I think we’ve got a shot and we have to do our best. But in terms of being afraid of scaring people and painting pictures of looming apocalypse, when the World Bank is telling you you’re headed for 4 degrees warming, and Pricewaterhouse Coopers is saying no, it’s 6 degrees, you’ve got to listen up, you know, and pay attention to what that actually means. Because that, first of all, is Celsius. Somebody made the argument that the big problem of climate change is that it’s all in Celsius and Americans think it’s vaguely Communist.

At any rate, I think it’s the combination of that real fear and we should be scared. And the deadline, and I really believe in deadlines because I’m a writer, and I know how important deadlines are, and having somewhere to run. I think that’s the combination.

AlterNet: One followup on this question of “we.” There is the mass society but there’s pretty clear evidence from history and in our industrial past, that the strongest arrangements are between manufacturers, financiers and governments that preside over them. And say, for example, in the case of Bangladesh, where there were factories that collapsed, and huge media attention, there were only just the slightest tweaks in the arrangements between those parties. So you have, say, a warning from Pricewaterhouse Coopers, but how do you actually get the folks who are part of “we” but really have a much bigger role in the way society is structured in reforming those agreements when they’re hugely profitable and they’re the means of staying powerful. Have you entertained the possibility that those are the very parties that are going to need to have a way to stay rich and powerful revealed to them without extracting carbon-based fuels?

Klein:It’s not that there’s no money to be made and no wealth in a green economy, in a renewable economy, or regenerated economy. That it’s not going to generate the kind of wealth that fossil fuels develop. Fossil fuels really do create a hyper-stratified economy. It’s the nature of the resources that it’s concentrated, and you need a huge amount of infrastructure to get it out and to transport it. And that lends itself to huge profits and they’re big enough that you can buy off politicians.

And the problem with renewable energy is not that you can’t make money off of it, but you’re never going to make that kind of huge money off of it because it’s inherently decentralized. The air and wind are free, first of all, and they’re everywhere. So it’s a different kind of economy. It’s a more decentralized economy. It’s a more level economy. So does power concede anything without a fight? No. It doesn’t mean that there’s no role for the powerful in this, but the idea that they’re just going to do it for us, which is basically the model that the UN is still advancing. If you look at the plans for the official summit in New York, it’s all about the politicians and it’s the idea that they are going to address this problem of the goodness of their hearts… Well it’s not going to happen that day. So we haven’t quite solved it. We haven’t solved the problem of entrenched wealth. I’m going to leave that to you guys.

Visit Naomi Klein’s official website to learn more about her new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate.

Don Hazen is the executive editor of AlterNet.