THE CASE FOR IMPEACHMENT

Allan Lichtman predicted Donald Trump’s victory — now he calls for his impeachment

Professor who has correctly called every election since 1984 tells why the current president must be ousted

It is debatable whether President Donald Trump should actually be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors. But at this point it is no longer debatable that there should be an impeachment investigation.

As Allan J. Lichtman of American University pointed out in an interview with Salon on Tuesday, “Impeachment should only proceed when it threatens the society.” There are three ways, Lichtman argued in our conversation — and contended in his new book “The Case for Impeachment” — in which Trump’s presidency poses a clear threat to the lawfulness of our government:

1. The numerous conflicts of interest that Trump has refused to address (his dozens of trademarks in China being among many examples).

2. The overwhelming circumstantial evidence suggesting collusion between Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russian intelligence.

3. Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, which would constitute obstruction of justice if it happened — as Trump himself has suggested — because Comey was leading the investigation into the alleged collusion with Russia.

Calling for an impeachment investigation does not require us to prove these charges rise to the level of criminality. It only compels us to prove that there is sound reason to believe they could be true — and unless you are a mindless partisan, that is clearly the case now.

Lichtman himself is something of a celebrity due to his vaunted predictive powers. In 1981 he developed a set of 13 true-or-false questions that assess political, economic, geopolitical and social conditions to determine whether the incumbent party will win the presidential election or not. He has used that model to accurately forecast the outcome of every presidential contest since 1984, albeit somewhat complicated in the years when there was a popular/electoral college split.

As Lichtman pointed out in our interview, the advantage of an impeachment investigation is that it would place the future of an inquiry completely out of Trump’s hands. A special prosecutor or special counsel like Robert Mueller, after all, could be fired at whim by the president. (Consider the case of Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor fired by Richard Nixon in the “Saturday Night Massacre” of 1973.)

The House Judiciary Committee, on the other hand, is part of the legislative branch, which puts it beyond Trump’s reach. If the committee decides by a majority vote to recommend articles of impeachment for the entire House of Representatives to consider, it would then be up to America’s elected representatives to decide whether Trump should join Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton on the ignominious list of American presidents who have been impeached.

Should the House vote to do so, the president’s fate would then be in the hands of the Senate.

Realistically speaking, it is extremely unlikely that a House of Representatives controlled by a Republican majority would ever vote to impeach Trump, or that a Republican-controlled Senate would then vote to remove him from office (barring an unforeseen smoking gun worse than anything we have seen so far, of course).

For a president to be removed from office, two-thirds of the Senate must vote to convict him or her on the impeachment charges brought by the House. So in the current Senate, even if every single Democrat (and both independents) voted to remove Trump from office, 19 Republicans would have to join them. Yet even with all of the untoward revelations that have come out about Trump to date, only five Republican senators have gone so far as to support the appointment of a special prosecutor.

To be fair, it’s not clear that that the Democrats can be entirely trusted on this issue either. Let’s say that Democrats manage to retake control of the Senate and House in the 2018 midterm elections — a long shot, but not outside the realm of possibility. That opens the door to impeachment in 2019, right? Well, yeah, but if Trump were to be forcibly removed from office before the 2020 presidential election, the Democratic candidate that fall would presumably face off against President Mike Pence, who could very well be free of Trump’s political baggage.

Pence could still lose such a hypothetical election, of course, but he could also wind up benefiting from the public goodwill that often props up new presidents when they take office under emergency conditions, as was the case for Lyndon B. Johnson and Gerald Ford. So Democrats may have a political incentive to keep on harping on Trump’s scandals, but they may have less incentive to drive him from office, even if it becomes clear he has broken the law.

It’s lamentable that partisanship has reached a point in this country where the needs of justice can be ignored due to petty self-interest. And yet, even under this dark cloud, there is a silver lining. It is difficult to conceive of a situation whereby the Republicans would move against one of their own in such a historic fashion. But if they did so, the mere fact that leading Republicans had finally decided that Trump’s behavior was unacceptable would demonstrate the necessity of removing him from office.

Similarly, if Democrats were willing to risk the possibility that Pence could serve as much as 10 years in the White House after Trump’s forced removal (under this scenario, the 22nd Amendment would allow Pence to seek two terms of his own), that would be powerful evidence that they had sacrificed their own political self-interests so as to protect the integrity of the greater political system.

Let us not forget that a recent poll found 48 percent of Americans would support an impeachment of President Trump. If appeals to patriotism aren’t enough to sway Republicans and Democrats in Congress, there is a practical political case that could do so as well. As Lichtman noted, public opinion was crucial in turning the Republican Party against Richard Nixon in 1974.

“Impeachment,” he said, “will only really happen if the people want it.”

There is one final and absolutely critical point to be made here: The case for impeaching Donald Trump exists independent of any criticisms of his policies. As I noted during the interview with Lichtman, the impeachment of Andrew Johnson was clearly motivated by partisan and policy disagreements rather than any serious criminal offenses on his part, a fact that makes that event a permanent blot on the legacies of the politicians responsible for it rather than a mark of merit.

“I make it clear that Trump should not be impeached because he’s unconventional, because you don’t like his style or because you disagree with his policies,” Lichtman explained. “I disagree with a lot of policies of presidents, but I haven’t written a book before on the case for impeachment. I quote the great expositor of the Constitution, Alexander Hamilton in ‘The Case for Impeachment.’ It points out, impeachment should only proceed when there is such a severe abuse of power by the president that it threatens the society itself.”

This is the situation in which we find ourselves. One can only hope that the Republican and Democratic parties will rise to the historical moment, lest they be proved unworthy of it.

 

Matthew Rozsa is a breaking news writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and his work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.
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America is “a democracy on life support — it can’t breathe”

Philosopher Henry Giroux on the culture of cruelty and Donald Trump:

Author of a new book on Trump’s rise says we face “something so dark, so real, so evil” with no clear precedent

Philosopher Henry Giroux on the culture of cruelty and Donald Trump: America is "a democracy on life support — it can’t breathe"
(Credit: Getty/Jim Watson/Shutterstock)

Next week we will mark the 100th day that Donald Trump has been president of the United States. Tens of millions of Americans are still in a state of shock. These 100 days have made them feel like enemy outsiders in their own country.

It was said some years ago that “when fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.” This left the American people unprepared for how neofascism came instead in the form of Donald Trump, a reality TV star, racist, bigot, con artist and professional wrestling aficionado.

How did the United States arrive at this moment?

The American news media betrayed its sacred role as guardians of democracy who inform the public so that they can be responsible citizens who make informed political decisions.

There is a deep crisis of faith and trust in America’s political and social institutions. America’s political culture is highly polarized and divisive. The Republican Party has embraced a strategy of destroying the existing political rules and norms that make effective governance possible. Today’s conservatism is regressive and reactionary. It is an enemy of the commons and of the very idea of government.

Racism, bigotry and nativism compelled Donald Trump’s voters to act out in a nihilistic temper tantrum.

Voter demobilization and gerrymandering have subverted democracy and given Republicans a political chokehold on the country.

Russian President Vladimir Putin used his country’s intelligence agencies to undermine the 2016 presidential election by manipulating the American news media and Republican voters in favor of Donald Trump.

But none of these forces would have been so powerful if not for a deeper cultural rot and moral weakness in American society. This is what philosopher Henry Giroux has described as the “culture of cruelty.” It is the intersection of creeping authoritarianism, militarism, surveillance, violence by the state against its citizens, gangster capitalism and extreme wealth inequality, the assault on the very idea of community and government, widespread loneliness, and social dominance behavior against the Other.

How did the culture of cruelty help to create the political and social circumstances for the election of Donald Trump? Is the United States now a fascist and authoritarian state? What are the issues that could potentially unite the American people to create a more humane society and to resist the cultural and political forces that helped to elect Trump? Are Trump’s voters victims? Is American democracy in a state of crisis and permanent decline? What should resistance look like in this moment?

In an effort to answer these questions, I recently spoke with Giroux, a professor of English and cultural studies at McMaster University in Canada. He has written dozens of articles and books, including “America at War with Itself” and the forthcoming “The Public in Peril: Trump and the Menace of American Authoritarianism.”

Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity. A longer version can be heard on my podcast, available on Salon’s Featured Audio page.

What does it feel like from your point of view, having written so much about the culture of cruelty and authoritarianism, to watch it unfold in the United States in real time? 

I’ve been writing about the potential for authoritarianism in the United States for 20 years. This is not a new discourse for me. What has often surprised me is not that it unfolded or the new liberal orthodoxy that increasingly made it appear more and more possible. What shocked me was the way the left has refused to really engage this discourse in ways that embrace comprehensive politics, that go beyond the fracturing single-issue movements and begin to understand both what the underlying causes of these authoritarian movements have been and what it might mean to address them.

You have to ask yourself, what are the forces at work in the United States around civic culture, around celebrity culture, around the culture of fear, around the stoking of extremism and anger about issues? About a media that creates a culture of illusion, about the longstanding legacy of racism and terror in the United States. I mean, how did that all come together to produce a kind of authoritarian pedagogy that basically isolated people, and made them feel lonely? All of a sudden they find themselves in a community of believers, in which the flight from reality offers them a public sphere in which they can affirm themselves and no longer feel that they’re isolated.

Are Donald Trump’s voters victims?

I think the notion of victim is really a bad term because it takes away any pretense for agency and social responsibility.

I try to crystallize it down to, “They voted to hurt people.”

That’s right. Exactly.

The corporate news media has refused to admit this. They want to rehabilitate these folks as having “buyer’s remorse.” That is absurd. The vast majority of Trump’s voters do not regret a damn thing. When you actually go out and look at the data it is clear that Trump is a Republican. Trump supports their agenda and conservatives are happy he is doing their bidding.

We know the anger that most of Trump’s voters were supposedly mobilized around was not against the rich. It was not about income inequality. It was about racism. It was about white supremacy. It was about inflicting pain on people. It was about taking away social provisions that even they would benefit from in the name of a false appeal to “individual freedom” and “liberty.”

This also gets us to how American liberals and progressives are seemingly unable to craft powerful narratives.

My take is that if they go to the root of the problem, they indict themselves. I think that language becomes for them simply a question of coding that often hides what they’re basically responsible for in terms of the culture of cruelty, barbarism and violence. When you talk about the mass incarceration state, you’re talking about Democrats. If you want to talk about drone strikes and private armies, you’re talking about Democrats. I think people who look to liberals for some sort of salvation in this country are fooling themselves. We need a third party and we need to stop equating capitalism and democracy.

What do you think will happen in America in the future?

I think that what we’re going to discover is that no society can exist when there’s no social fabric to bring them together. The emotional quotient has been so lowered, the bar is so low now that the only thing that people feel basically is around questions of violence and idiocy. That’s a lethal combination. It’ll be interesting to see how people talk about this issue in the future, in ways where they try to understand how the very notion of agency itself was destroyed, commercialized, commodified and turned into something that was weaponized.

Donald Trump is the crystallization of everything wrong in this country. It is funny to watch the talking heads on television and elsewhere wring their hands. They are trying to argue that Trump won despite being a misogynist, sexual abuser, bigot, racist and white supremacist. I argue that Trump won precisely because he was all of those things.

Donald Trump is the distillation of an attack on democracy that has become more cruel, more brutal and more poisonous, more militarized and more violent since the 1970s. To simply view him as eccentric, to view him as some kind of clown who now has tapped into a certain element of the culture, is to really miss the point.

What do you think are three or four specific policy goals or initiatives that could potentially bring together Donald Trump’s voters and the majority of Americans?

The first thing that has to be talked about, without any question whatsoever, is a national health care plan. Second, we need a social wage, a universal wage. Third, we need a jobs program.

Bernie Sanders was talking about many of these issues. Why do you think they did not resonate enough to win him the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination?    

It did not resonate because he is seen as part of the Democratic Party. He was a fool. I do not understand why he did this. Once Hillary Clinton won the nomination, it became embarrassing. All of a sudden Sanders is talking about issues that the Democratic Party hates. He’s talking about issues that the Democratic Party runs away from. Yet he’s arguing for issues that are basically very progressive within a structure that’s incredibly reactionary. What the hell is wrong with him? Does he not get it?

To return to questions of language, the news media has decided to legitimate white supremacists by calling them the “alt-right.” I view this as an act of surrender and cowardice.

I never use the word “alt-right” in my work. Never. I talk about white supremacists. I don’t use the words “fake news.” I talk about lies — state lies, state-manufactured lies.

What do you think resistance should look like against Donald Trump and his regime?   

Direct action. We need to talk about an economic strike. You need to bring groups together all over the country to shut it down. The country has got to become ungovernable. There are going to be moments here that even you and I will be shocked by. Trust me: This is coming. You are now living in a terrorist state. This is what the essence of totalitarianism is about. It’s organized around terror, and that’s exactly what this administration is about. I think more and more people will organize and more and more people will realize that this can’t be simply about local demonstrations. I think the only way that the Trump administration can deal with dissent is to attempt to humiliate people — but even more importantly, under Attorney General Jeff Sessions there will be a systemic expansion of what I call “punishment creep,” where every facet of society will be criminalized.

If you were to give a diagnosis for the health of American democracy, what would it be?

It’s a democracy that’s on life support. It can’t breathe. I don’t think we are tipping over into neofascism. I think we’ve tipped over. It’s just a more subtle form of neofascism than anything we’ve seen in the past. The argument that we have to have concentration camps to talk about fascism is nonsense. As any theorist of fascism will tell you, if it comes to America, it will come in different forms.

Are you ever afraid? Do you ever say to yourself, “My God, how did we get here?”   

I remember in 1980, watching Ronald Reagan get elected. I remember being around friends. At the time, I was teaching at Boston University. I thought, “Holy shit! This is really a turning point.” But it didn’t hit me existentially the way the Trump election did. I woke up the next day and I felt paralyzed. I felt that we had entered into something so dark, so real, so evil that there was really no precedent for it in terms of its all-encompassing possibilities for death, destruction and violence. I had a hard time functioning for about a week. I think in some ways there’s a residue of that I can’t shake, that now informs my work.

Chauncey DeVega is a politics staff writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

VOIZES speak up against global prison industries

By Luigi Celentano On January 31, 2015

Post image for VOIZES speak up against global prison industriesFirst-person insights into incarceration and freedom, by ex-prisoners themselves, from Barcelona’s Fractures Photo Collective and its project, VOIZES.

Today in the world, there are more people incarcerated than ever before in human history. VOIZES is an international census of this prison experience. Through a collaborative archive of interviews with prisoners and ex-prisoners, VOIZES documents what prisoners have to say about the international prison industrial complex.

– VOIZES Archive

An interview with William Sands, photojournalist with the Fractures Photo Collective and VOIZES.

Luigi Celentano: A little introduction for those who do not know you at all: What is the Fractures Photo Collective and what do you do exactly?

William Sands: Fractures Photo Collective was created in the spring of 2011 here in Barcelona, and we primarily focus on long-format photojournalism and documentary work. However, the VOIZES Archive is not exclusively a Fractures’ project. In reality, only two members of Fractures are active participants in VOIZES. The rest of the VOIZES team is made up of activists, artists, and other journalists from the Groundpress collective.

What has been your main impulse in taking up this challenge of creating VOIZES? And how was the project born?

Some of us have been long time participants in a grassroots abolitionist initiative called La Biblioteca de la Evasión or the Library of Escape. La Biblioteca de la Evasión is a prisoner book-sharing program we’ve been doing for more than five years. Two weekends a month, we visit a prison near Barcelona called Quatre Camins and give books to family members entering to visit their loved ones, and they pass the books along during the visit. Using the books as a meeting point, La Biblioteca seeks to engage prisoners where they are, in a conversation about prison abolition. Inside all of the books there is a stamp that explains the project and how they can request specific literature and an address where they can write to if they have other requests or concerns. We state very clearly that we are abolitionists and seek alternative forms of conflict resolution.

After years visiting Quatre Camins, La Biblioteca organized our first public event: Voces Desde Dentro, an exhibition of artwork by prisoners and ex-prisoners from all over the world. The exhibition was hosted in an occupied social center here in Barcelona and lasted for three days. There was poetry, photography, drawings and sketches as well as a series of presentations. The exhibit finished with a round-table discussion of prison abolition, privileging the voices of ex-prisoners, current prisoners’ family members, and social workers working in prisons.

The VOIZES Archive is a natural continuation of this process. Given that today we live in a globalized world, we believe that any real lasting conversation about prison abolition has to be international in nature and has to be guided by prisoners and the communities they come from. As a result the idea of creating a global census of the prisoner experience was born, and the VOIZES Archive was created.

Looking around the internet we couldn’t find a single site that was dedicated to collecting these stories and experiences, and even less so on an international level. So it seemed the project was relevant and worth embarking on.

Are they collaborative interviews, in the sense that anyone in civil society can contribute to the project?

Yes! Anyone can participate! Our goal is to include interviews from as many countries as possible, and the only way to do so is through collaboration. We’ve launched the website with the interviews we’ve done here in Barcelona and we plan to continue to do more interviews. But in order to expand the breadth of the project we’ve reached out to specific activists, photographers and videographers, asking them to contribute. And on the website there is a how-to manual explaining the basics of a VOIZES-interview, as well as a list of other ways to collaborate with the project. So it is our hope that eventually the project will boast of broad international participation.

In order to make the archive as powerful as possible, there are some aesthetic and theoretical guidelines to all of our interviews. They are all anonymous. All interviews use the VOIZES questionnaire. And, finally we reserve the right to approve all final edits and post-production.

What has been the process of selection of inmates for these interviews? Did you have certain parameters to follow as to which kind of prisoners to approach, or was it more of a voluntary process on their part? [I talk about inmates and prisoners, but I’ve realized most of them are in the process of getting out, or have been released already]

Anyone who has been incarcerated for more than a month can be interviewed. And we define incarcerated fairly broadly: immigration detention, prison, jail, juvenile detention, court ordered psychiatric treatment in a closed facility, etc. We’ve decided on the one month minimum in order to establish a basic common denominator given that the experience can vary so much between institution, state, country, etc.

Unfortunately most of the interviews we’ve done have come from our own communities. They are friends and family. I say, unfortunately, because we all would prefer not to be so intimately affected by the prison industrial complex.

How do you think these interviews help the prisoners themselves? Is it merely cathartic for them? What has been their reaction to the interviews and to the project?

I can’t really presume how this project has helped any of its participants. I’d hope that it is in some way cathartic, however I think the experience for the interviewees varies greatly. This being said, of all the people we have interviewed ourselves, regardless of how they felt about participating before the interview started, none have responded negatively. All edited interviews must be first approved by the interviewee before they go online, and everyone has been happy with the final cuts.

While I’m not specialized in mental health, I want to believe this project has some therapeutic value. It is designed to be a safe space to anonymously share an experience that unfortunately too many people in this world have lived. Sharing is an important first step to healing any sort of trauma, and it probably goes without saying, but I consider incarceration a trauma.

Have you encountered any kind of opposition or censorship from penal authorities when coming up with this project?

So far, no. I say so far because we’ve been doing all of our interviews outside of incarceration facilities. We are currently working on getting access to interview inside some prisons, but it is a slow and very bureaucratic process. Hopefully, in the future we’ll have more opposition and censorship, because that would probably mean the project is effective.

So far we have seen interviews about Spain and Puerto Rico prisons. Which has been the most difficult to shoot? Is there any subject the inmates refused to talk about, despite the questionnaire? And, in which other countries have you made interviews or received interviews from?

All of the current interviews have been shot here in Barcelona or in the surrounding area, including the interview with the woman that was detained in Puerto Rico. Generally, the questions in the questionnaire are designed to be broad, so as to highlight parallels and accentuate the differences between individual interviews. By far, the most difficult question for the interviewees to answer is the question about alternatives.

We are currently working on coordinating interviews in Argentina, Israel, Palestine, Ukraine, Venezuela, and France. And in March we are planning on taking the project to the United States where we’ll be organizing a series of workshops and presentations, as well as continuing the collection of interviews.

The majority of prisoners interviewed were incarcerated for the first time and they tell about the trauma of such an experience, of being imprisoned, of regaining liberty and its aftermath. Have you interviewed recidivist prisoners? Do you think they deal differently (or better, if we can say that) with the prison system?

So far we have only done one interview with someone that has a long history of recidivism. While I can’t point to any specific differences, other than the broader focus of the interview, generally speaking the shorter the interviewee’s sentence is/was, the more they talk about their detention and entry into prison. Whereas in those interviews we’ve done with people that have served longer sentences or have been incarcerated repeatedly, the interviewee has focused more on the experience and institution of incarceration.

Many of the prisoners, when asked about who’s inside, they all agree on the same thing: the majority of the people incarcerated are individuals without resources, the poor, people who can’t afford a good lawyer, immigrants, minorities. The mere thought of it is depressing enough, but isn’t this a reflection of our society, of its inability or unwillingness to address its flaws accordingly? Isn’t prison a mirror wherein society can actually punish these people even more and in more appalling ways, for being what they are or what circumstances made them to be?

I think this is true. But I’d add that it’s also about maintaining very specific power structures and economic structures that guide the globalized capitalist world. Prison is about control and subjugation. It is about guaranteeing the economic and political interests of those in power, those controlling the criminal justice system and the broader economy. More than punishment, I’d say prison is about maintaining white power. It is the ultimate tool of marginalization. As a result, as long as we don’t address the broader legacies of slavery, colonialism, and imperialism and understand the prison industrial complex within this framework, it will be hard to affect any lasting change.

Dostoyevsky once said that a society is best judged by the way it treats its prisoners, and there is a saying that asserts that every prisoner is political. It already says a lot about Western civilization and the society we live in. Do you think that a change in the way we deal with the established concepts of crime and delinquency and, consequently, with sentencing, imprisonment and prisoners’ reinsertion into society, ought to be a progressive and gradual one, both from the inside as well as the outside, from the prisons themselves and from society and its political structures; or should it be a radical one?

In general I think history moves slowly, and as a result so will any abolition debate or movement towards meaningful reform in the dominant logics of criminal justice. Prison abolition or any radical change of the criminal justice system will not occur in a vacuum, it must be part of a broader social transformation. As a result it is part of an extended struggle, probably longer than our lifetime. Undoubtedly, there will be moments of radical change, but I think we should all be planning on playing the long game.

Finally, considering all the accounts of detention and subjugation stemming from the prisoners’ interviews, do you see any hope in the fight against the prison industrial complex in terms of better conditions, better treatment of inmates and detainees, or do you see this business becoming more profitable for speculators and at the same time more abusive and tyrannical in its scope, in spite of all the resistance movements against it?

I have to be hopeful; otherwise there is no sense in doing this work. As a documentary photographer and photojournalist I’ve covered many topics and followed many people documenting their stories of loss, struggle, resistance, consumption, and marginalization. And I’m continuously inspired by the human spirit. Our strength, creativity, and courage are really powerful. As result, I believe strongly in our capacity to affect change. Specifically, in regards to the prison industrial complex, I believe we’ve reached a critical historical moment where the opportunity for radical change is growing.

In the United States, where the prison industrial complex was born, the economic crisis has ushered in a new opportunity for debate. For many states the economic costs of mass-incarceration have become just too much of a burden. This, coupled with shifts in the country’s feeling about current drug policy, means there is more space for debate than ever before. I think we have to take advantage of this moment. Internationally, I believe that for the same reasons there is a growing awareness that incarceration does not work, be it subconsciously or not. So we just have to keep plugging along.

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions. We hope to see more interviews at VOIZES in the future and we wish you all the best for the project.

Thank you for this opportunity to talk about VOIZES. We really appreciate it, and we strongly encourage your readers to take a closer look at the website and if possible, collaborate!!! Thanks again.

Luigi Celentano is an independent writer and translator based in Buenos Aires. As an advocate of libertarian (anarchist) ideas he has been contributing with his work to the abolitionist and social justice movements for several years.

All photo material taken from voizes.org.

 

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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

“Surveillance breeds conformity”: Salon’s Glenn Greenwald interview

 

Glenn Greenwald tells us what he’d have done different in ’13, why privacy matters and his hope for his new venture

 

 

Glenn Greenwald (Credit: AP/Silvia Izquierdo)

 

Longtime Salon readers will have known for some years that Glenn Greenwald is an unapologetically opinionated journalist with an unwavering skepticism about corporate-government power. In 2013, the rest of the world learned the same. It was an intense, banner year for Greenwald, who has played a principal role in releasing startling revelations about the National Security Agency through Edward Snowden’s leaks.

Without Greenwald’s work with Snowden (and fellow journalists like Laura Poitras), it’s safe to say we would be considerably less informed about the sprawling, totalized surveillance state in which we live. For this service, Greenwald now fears returning to the U.S. from his home in Brazil (although he plans to do so in 2014); his partner, David Miranda, was detained for nine hours in a London airport for the crime of carrying journalistic materials; and his source, Snowden, faces Espionage Act charges. Truly, Greenwald stands on the front lines of the U.S. government’s war on information.

Speaking to Salon via phone from his Brazil home (his pack of renowned stray dogs barking reliably in the background), Greenwald reflected on the bygone year, the principles underpinning his efforts and his hopes in the coming year for his new billionaire-backed news organization. The following has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

In the spirit of year-end features, in some sort of “Christmas Carol” hypothetical, what would the Glenn of late 2013 warn or advise Glenn of late 2012 about the year ahead?

I would begin by telling myself: If you’re going to be in the middle of a media storm, it would be good to be very cautious of what media outlets are going to do in terms of how they cover what you say, and what their motives are in terms of how they’re incentivized to sensationalize what you say and take it out of context to make it more interesting and more newsworthy. That has happened to me a lot, where I was insufficiently careful about things I said, without realizing that some media outlets were unscrupulous about how they would interpret it.

I would also say it’s really important to have a little bit of humility about one’s ability alone to navigate really complicated and difficult stories, like this one. I think it’s a good thing to be confident in your judgment and your ability (which I am), but when you’re working on a story where even small mistakes can get magnified, where the consequences can be significant, it’s important to exercise more caution than you might otherwise exercise and to consult other people’s opinions. And those are the two pieces of advice that I’d like to give myself retrospectively.



You mentioned in a recent Esquire interview that you’d feared the NSA leak stories would be met with apathy and lack of interest, but that your fears had been allayed by the public’s response. I agree that much outrage and recourse to legal action have emerged. Maybe my bar is too high, but I’ve also witnessed a lot of resignation and acceptance of this state of surveillance, too. As I like to think about it: There’s too much outrage, not enough rage. Can you expound a little more on why you’re pleased with the response?

I think sometimes there is excessive impatience with how political change actually happens. And I empathize with that impatience because I share it and in some ways that impatience has great value because it drives us for change and to keep wanting more. But at the same time it’s really important to realize that it was less than six months ago that we began doing this reporting. And radical change doesn’t happen in six months. Major institutions of power aren’t subverted and undermined radically in less than six months. National security state — power centers that have reigned for many years without challenge — don’t collapse in less than six months.

So I think it’s important not to look for unrealistic metrics in determining whether or not a story has had an impact or is successful. Always the prelude to any kind of meaningful change is people first becoming aware or what is taking place, and then persuading each other that they ought to take it seriously enough to respond. So the prism through which I’m evaluating this is the extent to which people’s thinking has changed about the issues. Of course it’s not as much as I’d like, I’d like people to be in upheaval over the surveillance state, but that’s not realistic. I think perspectives have changed about a huge number of very critically important issues in a short period of time as a result of all of these disclosures. I think if you look, not just from the perspective of the United States but around the world, there are some very serious movements to fortify Internet freedom, to augment technologies that shield our communications from invasion. There are radically different ways of thinking about state secrecy and the role of the United States in the world and the role of journalism, so I think these changes tend to not be instantaneous but to take place in a ripple effect. And here we are six months later and the fact that it’s one of the biggest stories in the world is a big testament, if not the biggest testament, to just how much of an impact it has made.

As your recent interchange with Jeffrey Toobin on CNN highlighted, there are some chilling media tendencies to condemn whistle-blowers like Snowden in fealty to the established order. How do you account for the U.S. media’s defense of an administration that has consistently lied about the level of surveillance going on?

I think the path of least resistance and the greatest careerist benefits come from embracing orthodoxies and supporting those in power. That has been true forever. If you’re kind of an outsider, and you are looking for ways to up your status, you become a loyalist to the king, you go serve the royal court, this is, I think, common in all societies. There is a temptation among certain kinds of people to further themselves by turning themselves into servants of power, and a lot of people in journalism are very much like that.

I also think that because most of our well-known journalists work for large corporations there is an institutional ethos embedded into these institutions saying that those in authority are to be respected and admired and obeyed. That is the nature of what large institutions inculcate. People who thrive in those corporations tend to embrace that way of thinking. So unlike, say, 50 years ago when journalists were kind of these consummate paid outsiders, now the television stars, the Jefferey Toobins, tend to be authoritarian; they tend to be supportive of the status quo because it has rewarded them so much. And then, finally, there is the tendency in American journalism to be very closely identified with those in political power, and anyone who opposes political power in D.C. — Julian Assange or Chelsea Manning or Edward Snowden or any of those whistle-blowers — are going to to be hated by journalism because they are going to be viewed through the prism of those who wield political power. I think all those factors combine to bring hostility toward people who can bring about transparency. The ultimate irony is that journalists, if you can believe anything that they say about themselves, should be cheering for those who bring transparency.

Much of the discussion about privacy generated by Snowden’s leaks has been embedded in a legal and rights discourse. No doubt, it’s crucial to point out that our national security apparatus has systematically violated the Fourth Amendment. But the surveillance state stretches beyond where constitutional protections apply. Let’s talk about why privacy, in principle, is important and worth protecting in the first place. Can you talk a little about why you think privacy — privacy of communications, in particular — is so important? What are the deep dangers of a surveilled citizenry, in your view?

I think the primary value of privacy is personal as opposed to legalistic or constitutional or political, by which I mean it’s essential to what it means to be human that we have a private life. We interact with other human beings as social animals, and live part of our lives in the public eye — that’s crucial — that’s why if you put someone in solitary confinement for 23 and a half hours a day like we do in U.S. prisons, it’s a form of torture. And it makes people go insane, because we need, as part of our human functioning, to be seen by other human beings and to be perceived by them and understood through the eyes of other people. But equally important to who we are is a realm where we can be free of those judgments, of people watching us.

That’s why people have always sought out realms where they can conduct themselves with anonymity and privacy. Where there aren’t other human eyes forming judgments and posing decrees about what they should and shouldn’t do. The reason it is so crucial is that it is only in that state that we are free to do the things that other human beings would condemn us for doing. We can be free of shame and guilt and embarrassment; it’s where creativity resides, it is where dissent to an orthodoxy can thrive. A human being who lives in a world where he thinks he is always being watched is a human being who makes choices not as a free individual but as someone who is trying to conform to what is expected and demanded of them. And you lose a huge part of your individual freedom when you lose your private realm. Politically that is why tyranny loves surveillance, because it breeds conformity. It means people will only do that which they want other people to know they’re doing — in other words, nothing that is deviant or dissenting or disruptive. It breeds orthodoxy.

Tech giants like Google and Facebook have made a big, face-saving effort since the leaks came to light about their desire to defend users from government mass surveillance. Given their structural role in building and upholding a state of totalized surveillance, this strikes me as hypocritical. Beyond this, these tech giants are still inherently structured around collecting and hoarding our communications, whether sharing this information with the NSA or not. What are you thoughts on these tech giants’ reactions?

The stench of hypocrisy that is emanating from these Internet giants and their reaction to the NSA stories is nothing short of suffocating. When nobody knew about it they were completely content to cooperate with the NSA, far beyond what the law required. They were eager to do it. There were a couple of exceptions: Twitter certainly resisted a lot of government surveillance and deserves a lot of credit for it, Yahoo on occasion has as well. But by and large they were full-fledged partners to the NSA in constructing the surveillance state; they were instrumental to it. They barely raise a public peep in protest. It was only when their behavior became publicly known and became a threat to their self-interest, only then did they find their voice and say this was objectionable and needed to be reined in. On the one hand, part of what I think needs to happen is that the cost to these companies of acquiescing to and participating in this surveillance state needs to be raised — that has happened, and that’s a good thing. But for them to pitch themselves as the defenders of the privacy rights of their customers is a ridiculous joke and I think nobody has trouble seeing that.

Let’s talk about your new venture. What, above all, do you hope this organization will do differently than already existing outlets? Do you think there’s something a little disheartening about living in a world where it takes a billionaire investor, like eBay billionaire Pierre Omidyar, in your case, to get these kind of projects going?

Well, a couple of things. First of all, I think the central principle of what we’re building is journalistic freedom and editorial independence so we don’t want any of our journalists interfered with in terms of what they can write about or what they can cover or what they can say or how they can say it. That has been the central animating principle of what we’re building.

The only real rule is that what you’re saying has to be rigorously factually accurate. But beyond that, who you want to cover or the ideology you advocate will be completely shielded from interference from anyone, whether it’s editors or journalistic or societal pressures, of anything. Editorial independence and journalistic freedom are central to what we’re doing in a way that is unique. I also think there are other independent journalists and bloggers who have the adversarial spirit that we’re hoping to institutionalize. But I think there is a big difference when you’re out there on your own in terms of the limits of what you’re able to do. If you really want to cover large resource-rich institutions like governments or big corporations, you need to have large amounts of resources yourself. You need multiple journalists working with you: editors, lawyers, the ability to travel, the ability to work on stories for a long period of time, not being compelled to publish every day to keep up with revenues. Most of all, you need to know that you can publish what you believe in, about the government or whatever corporation, without fear that you’re going to be sued or prosecuted in a way that you can’t afford …

I totally agree with you — I don’t think we need billionaires who are willing to defend editorial independence and journalistic freedom in order to have it. I think there are dangers to waiting on billionaires to do that. I think it’s rare to be able to find someone who is willing to fund a major media organization and is willing to stay true to the principles of editorial freedom, that they’re not going to interfere with the journalistic. I don’t think that’s a model we can rely on exclusively to rejuvenate investigative journalism in the United States. There are other models too. I relied on reader-funded journalism for a long time and there are a lot of people doing the same. You can rely on grants and things to do journalism too. But one of the things that I’ve learned is that if you really want to take on big institutions in a meaningful way that shakes up their foundations you need to have the resources to stand up to them and compete with them on a resource level. And if somebody is aware of other types of models that can fund a media organization that is truly devoted to that and the way it needs to be funded, I think that’s great. I hope there are other alternatives, but I am absolutely convinced, as is Laura Poitras, as is Jeremy Scahill, that Pierre is truly committed to this model of genuinely independent journalism and adversarial journalism.

If we’re wrong about that we would not be staying; so as long as the journalism that we’re able to do is free of interference, then I think it’s great that we’ve found a way to do the journalism that we’ve been doing for the past decade or so in an even more powerful way.

Natasha Lennard Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.