Incendiary, often racist theories and news about the coronavirus seem to have spread around the world at nearly the same speed as the virus. Fortunately a new PBS NOVA series titled “Decoding Covid-19” offers a humane, global look at the illness that has brought so much of the planet to a grinding halt. Not only does the documentary feature scientists and medical practitioners, as well families impacted by the disease, but it serves to highlight the international cooperation taking place in an effort to tackle the unprecedented crisis.
On this week’s installment of “Scheer Intelligence,” host Robert Scheer speaks with documentary filmmaker Sarah Holt about how she felt while making “Decoding Covid-19” as the crisis unfolded.
“A lot of people would say to me, ‘It must be so depressing working on a film on COVID-19,’” says the filmmaker. “In fact, I found it pretty inspiring. I was really struck by the level of collaboration among scientists. And I felt like in the different areas we were working, whether it was trying to see if antibodies would protect us, to developing antiviral drugs that could help people that were really sick, to developing a vaccine, I saw a lot of hope and promise.”
Commending the much-needed global perspective her documentary provided, Scheer asks Holt about her experience traveling to Wuhan, China, the place it is believed the virus first began to spread. While China has been maligned by the U.S. government and others, the journalist points out that leader Xi-Jinping has backed a potential WHO investigation into the origins of the public health crisis, and has pledged $2 billion in aid for developing countries’ battles against Covid-19.
“You begin your documentary in Wuhan,” says the “Scheer Intelligence” host. “What insight can you give us about the origin there, the openness of the Chinese leadership?”
“We went back to Wuhan because we wanted to be there when the city opened up,” Holt explains. “They didn't open up until they had really controlled the spread of the virus; they were not reporting new cases, they were closing down their hospitals. And we did follow a 21-year-old college student who was one of the first people to get sick with the virus. He successfully fought it.
“When the city opened up,” she goes on, “we could follow him going back out into the city, and just see the incredible control the Chinese have put in place using cell phone technology. You have to scan your health data to leave your apartment building. You have to tell people where you're going. You're tracked. If you're exposed at any point to someone who is infected with COVID, the codes on your phone will change, and you're denied access to public spaces.
“So it is scary for someone in America to look at that kind of level of tracing and tracking,” she concludes. “But it shows you that the Chinese are really serious about trying to isolate individuals and avoid shutting down an entire society.”
Speaking on the day scientists at the Boston-based Moderna announced they achieved successful results from their human trials of a Covid-19 vaccine, Scheer asks Holt about her take on the news. While the filmmaker says she finds it “hugely encouraging” that the eight people in the trial were able develop antibodies, she approaches the announcement with some caution.
“It is a virus that we will be living with for some time,” warns Holt. “Even though there's been a lot of progress right now, with just the Moderna vaccine, it will still take quite a bit of time to make sure that this works in thousands of people, and that it's safe. And then to scale up a vaccine and get it deployed to people around the world.
“The Moderna vaccine is a special type of vaccine made from RNA, and it's highly unstable,” she explains. “It needs to be kept at very cold temperatures. So that's the problem we're going to have to solve to deploy this vaccine around the world, especially to places where it's hard to keep things so cold.”
The “Decoding Covid-19” filmmaker adds that a vaccine might also require a booster after a period of time due to the nature of the virus. Listen to the full discussion between Holt and Scheer as the two discuss the impact of the novel coronavirus, in addition to the power of documentary filmmaking in chronicling the world we live in, as well as the incredible cooperation required to create the film series in just 6 weeks.
It’s been over a decade since the 2008 banking meltdown, and yet many Americans are still living with the consequences of the financial crisis and the Obama administration’s decision to bailout banks over people with their own tax money. As Covid-19 spread around the world, and the economic impacts of the public health crisis began to take shape, the U.S. government once again faced a similar choice regarding bailouts. This time, Congress passed the businesses-struggle-to-survive-despite-federal-loan-programs.html">CARES Act, which, on paper, aimed to help working people and small business owners most affected by both the virus and the lockdown measures used to combat the crisis, seemingly marking a shift from the 2008 crisis handling. Yet, as banking expert Nomi Prins points out to “Scheer Intelligence” host Robert Scheer in the latest installment of his podcast, banks and large companies are once more taking advantage of a crisis to swindle the public.
“Now that we're in an even greater economic crisis [than the 2008 meltdown] as a result of this pandemic around a virus, the bailouts are much, much larger,” begins Scheer, “but there is concern that a disproportionate amount of this money is going to people who are indifferent to the problems of ordinary Americans, and they're going to be made whole.
“Is this going to be another one of those things of lifeboats for the big bankers and the powerful people, and forget everyone else?” the “Scheer Intelligence” host asks Prins.
“It is, is the short answer,” responds Prins. “It's a little bit more complicated this time around.”
The former Goldman Sachs executive and author of “Collusion: How the central bankers rigged the world” goes on to explain how banks stand to gain from distributing the two installments of $350 billion in stimulus money allotted in two federal bills for small businesses.
“How it goes down is not necessarily that real people running small businesses with a handful of employees or even, you know, multiple handfuls of employees, necessarily get all $700 billion,” explains Prins. “The reason for that is that the big banks [realized] that they could get fees for sort of being the middleman between this money that was set aside for small-business loans through the Small Business Association. [...] Problem number two was if [small business owners] were banking with a smaller bank, that smaller bank--say a community bank, a local bank--didn't necessarily get the same allocation of funds as the big banks. So they simply had less to give under the same program. ”
Prins goes on to give a detailed example using massive banks such as Bank of America and Wells Fargo, where many Americans have accounts, to illustrate how this process has benefited banks and big businesses instead of small businesses, which the banking expert calls “the backbone of our economy.” As the conversation develops, Scheer brings up a question likely on many people’s minds: Where is all this “funny money” coming from? When Prins explains that the Federal Reserve has essentially printed the money, the “Scheer Intelligence” host makes a powerful comparison.
“So why can't the Fed just lend us the money?” Scheer laughs. “It's incredible--if you didn't call them banks, and you called them the Mafia, it would sound like a real scam, right? They get money for nothing, and then they turn around and charge you what, 13, 15, 18, even 25%.”
Although much of their discussion highlights the corrupt nature of both political parties, and how Democrats and Republicans alike have played a role during different administrations from Clinton’s through to Trump’s in transferring public money to the pockets of the 1 percent, Prins and Scheer do find a slimmer of hope to be found in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The reality is that the ideas of being both physically and economically healthy are having a sort of fusion moment,” concludes Prins. “And the idea of a virus that does not select people based on their socioeconomic stature, or who they vote for, and that is something that can attack and is prevalent throughout the world, is something that has shown us that people being able to protect themselves from a health perspective means that society and the population as a whole can be healthier, and can be better protected.
“I do think there's an economic benefit as well which has been recognized,” Prins adds, “that people at the foundation of the economy actually are a necessity of the whole economy. So even though, again, this time around there's been some disproportionate sort of subsidizing here and there, there has at least been the realization that you can't just ignore an entire swath of individuals from either a health or an economic standpoint. And so that joint realization [can] be a pivot point.”
Listen to the full conversation between Prins and Scheer as they compare the two crises as well as the approaches taken by Democrats and Republicans, and what Americans can expect to result from the coronavirus crisis that has turned their worlds, along with the whole world, upside down.
The coronavirus pandemic has revealed a number of fatal flaws in the ways the United States operates that all link back to capitalism. Perhaps the most egregious, however, is the country’s inhumane health care system. Given the global spread of Covid-19, it has been possible to witness in real time how other countries have fared against the deadly virus, and for anyone paying attention to health care systems, it has been clear from the onset that the American system, which boasts the highest costs in the world, was going to lead to mass death on a scale unseen in other nations. The combination of obscene health insurance costs, as well as deductibles and copays, and the fact that it is often tied to employment--a problem exacerbated by the rapid rise in unemployment linked to lockdowns across the U.S.--has left many Americans without recourse amid a pandemic in which the overall health of the nation has been determined by those who can’t access health care.
Dr. Margaret Flowers, a physician, activist and the co-founder of the progressive site Popular Resistance who recently wrote about the coronavirus crisis, joins “Scheer Intelligence” host Robert Scheer on the latest episode to discuss why the U.S. system was destined to fail Americans.
Scheer cites the following passage from Flowers’ recent piece,
"Although the USA comprises five percent of the global population, 32 percent of Covid-19 cases and 25 percent of deaths worldwide are there. By contrast, China, where the novel coronavirus originated, has one-tenth of the number of cases and deaths, despite having a population that is four times larger.”
“We spend more money than anybody in the world, certainly, on health care per capita. We claim we have the best system,” says Scheer, ultimately asking the doctor, “How is it possible that we have a much poorer record, not only than China, than most of the world?”
“If we look at the countries around the world that have responded well to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Flowers responds, “we find that what they have in common is that they have universal health care systems, with central planning, that are designed to actually address the health needs of the population. And that's exactly the opposite of what we have in the United States.”
The health care advocate, who has advised members of Congress on health care policy, goes on to explain the stark differences between the U.S. and Chinese approaches to the crisis. While indicating that President Donald Trump’s delayed response increased the gravity of the situation, Flowers declares that the issues the pandemic has revealed long predate the reality TV star’s presidency.
“This whole problem really started before President Trump,” she tells Scheer. “As people who advocate for a universal health care system, we've been warning for a long time that the United States was not prepared for any type of serious epidemic or pandemic because of the fundamental way that our health care system is designed, and that's really to make profit.”
The moral implications of a system set up to feed off people at their most vulnerable are coming into high relief now that the pandemic is sweeping the nation. Perhaps, however, the coronavirus will succeed in putting to rest a fundamental lie at the core of the American health care system, as Flowers indicates, that somehow individuals lacking personal responsibility are the real reason American health care is so costly.
“I hear so many times that people would be healthier if they just took personal responsibility,” the pediatrician says, “And that drives me crazy. When you understand that when you live in a society where the air is polluted, the water is polluted, you don't have access to healthy food, you're working three jobs to keep your family fed. Those are external factors that have huge impacts on health that people just don't have control over.”
Despite the dismal state of affairs, and the daily death tolls in the thousands that are endlessly heartbreaking, there may be reason to hope that beyond the pandemic, a radical change is lurking. And it won’t be a minute too soon, since, as Scheer hypothesizes, pandemics may become the “new normal” of human existence in a globally connected world. Citing the frustrations she experienced during her time as an adviser to Congress Democrats such as Dennis Kucinich, Flowers explains how the most excruciating thing she witnessed was the government’s lopsided use of taxpayer money.
“It was just amazing to me how, if it's for the Pentagon, if it's for our so-called, you know, defense, then there's an unlimited checkbook there,” the Popular Resistance co-founder relates. “But even knowing that a national, improved Medicare-for-all, single-payer health care system would cost less than what we're spending right now, we still have not been able to win it, although I think that we're very close.
“I think that this pandemic has so exposed the failures of our health care system,” she concludes, “that we have a unique opportunity right now. We've been building for it for a long time, but I think we have an opportunity to really push and win that.”
Listen to the full discussion between Flowers and Scheer as they talk about the global response to coronavirus, the economic and political implications of it, and the rise in surveillance linked to fighting Covid-19.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to cause mass death and upheaval around the world, there has been an unexpected side effect: it has unmasked capitalism. In the U.S., this unmasking can be seen in both the Federal Reserve’s actions as well as Congress’ coronavirus aid legislation, the CARES Act, both of which reveal critical truths about an economic system that has been sold to working people as one thing and as quite another to banks and corporations. To shed some much needed light on the intricacies of our financial situation during the latest crisis, “Scheer Intelligence” host Robert Scheer spoke with acclaimed economist and attorney Ellen Brown.
There are plenty of parallels to be drawn between the last financial crisis and the coronavirus pandemic, with the clear exception being that now we’re not just dealing with a broken economy but with a deadly virus. Brown, who has written over a dozen books on economics and is the founder of the Public Banking Institute, explains how, unfortunately, the Covid-19 bailouts will once again betray Americans just as the 2008 stimulus did.
“In 2008 the bailout was basically of the banks, or we had quantitative easing that went to the banks,” the author tells Scheer. “And then the idea was that the banks were supposed to lend that into the real economy, but of course, they didn't do it. … But now we have even more credit facilities [and] the problem is, they're all going to help the big corporations, and the hedge funds, and virtually every sort of shady business. Things the Federal Reserve couldn't lend to before, [but] now they have new ways of doing it.”
The nefarious uses of the CARES Act have been blasted all over the press, and now news has emerged that the Federal Reserve is planning on handing big corporations a whopping half a trillion dollars with “no strings attached” and zero interest. As Scheer points out, however, this seemingly miraculous economic response at times of crisis, when money is suddenly conjured out of thin air, is nothing new.
“The fact is, this is like what happens in wartime. You know, you had the Great Depression, [and when ] we went to war, suddenly [Franklin Delano] Roosevelt was able to really spend money,” says the “Scheer Intelligence” host, “And as a result, we got out of the Great Depression. In wartime, the government just prints money, finds it somewhere, and no questions asked.
“And that's what happened now,” Scheer goes on. “Because of this pandemic, Congress just said, OK, we're going to find--what, you said $4 trillion; I'm sure it'll grow to $8 trillion. They don't do that ever about, say, dealing with poverty or education, or any of these things; they always are very tight with the dollar. But now, because we have this warlike situation, they can suddenly find this money, and they can spend it in a totally unaccountable way.”
But just as the deadly pandemic is becoming yet another opportunity for Wall Street and corporations to swindle the public with the help of the government, it’s also finally made one thing very clear: Universal Basic Income is absolutely possible.
“As you say, if they could find the money for all that,” Brown tells Scheer in response to his summary regarding how money has always been funneled to the top, “they could clearly find the money for the people. My preferred option [is what] they call ‘helicopter money.’ Money that's just created by the Federal Reserve and flown--theoretically, the original term came from flying helicopters over the people and just dropping the money equally on everybody. And we could still do that, and that's called a Universal Basic Income.”
Brown goes on to explain in detail why it’s not only affordable, but won’t cause the massive inflation that critics so often write about whenever the measure is suggested.
“It's not going to be inflationary,” she explains, “and that's because of the way money comes into existence. We don't really have a money system; we have a credit system. All of our money is credit; it's created as credit on the books of banks, and it's extinguished when the loans are paid off.”
Perhaps her most shocking calculation is that were the current stimulus money to be divvied up and sent directly to families, it would end up being $13,000 per person, not the measly $1,200 the government is sending out as a one-off. Where, you may ask, did all the rest of that money go? As Brown and Scheer continually remind us, it’s been sent to the companies that pull all the strings in our rigged system.
Listen to the full conversation between Brown and Scheer as they discuss everything from public banking options to the hidden economic meaning of “The Wizard of Oz.”
Mass surveillance has been growing in our post-9/11 world and taking on breathtaking proportions not even George Orwell could have imagined. One of the most notable examples has been the U.S. National Security Agency’s spying on civilians as well as world leaders. But just when you thought companies and governments couldn’t possibly collect even more private data, nations across the world have been using the coronavirus pandemic to further expand their spying powers. While for years the West has hypocritically criticized China for the country’s use of technology to control citizens, it is now openly looking to the Chinese technological response to the coronavirus as a model.President Trump’s framing of the coronavirus as the “invisible enemy” we’re “battling” recalls the omnipresent enemy in Orwell’s “1984,” and presents authoritarian and wannabe-authoritarian governments like Trump’s with the perfect excuse for expanding the surveillance state. On this week’s installment of “Scheer Intelligence,” host Robert Scheer speaks with the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Adam Schwartz. The civil rights lawyer, who spent two decades at the ACLU, explains why Americans should be incredibly alarmed at how the pandemic could be used to chip away at whatever is left of their civil liberties under the excuse of contact-tracing.“You've raised some cautions about the blank check we're giving every government in the world to engage and increase surveillance, to track down people on the contact list, and so forth,” Scheer tells Schwartz, “But what I don't understand is the basic justification of keeping this all secret rather than transparent. Because we don't have an enemy, this ‘invisible enemy’ that Donald Trump talks about, that cares to translate, to read, to break codes.”“Obviously, governments around the world are grappling with how to contain the coronavirus, and many of them are demanding new forms of surveillance,” responds the EFF staff attorney. “The governments of the world ought to be telling us what they want to do, and why and how, so that we can have a public conversation about these things rather than individual executive officers unleashing these new surveillance programs.”As our lives move almost entirely online in light of the pandemic, we all need to be as vigilant as ever about how our data will be used without letting fear of the deadly virus overtake our cautiousness. In order to have a productive conversation surrounding the expansion of surveillance powers, Schwartz outlines questions people should be asking their governments.“The public [needs to ask] three questions,” the civil rights lawyer explains, “Number one: has the government shown that the surveillance power they want would actually be effective?[...]If it would be effective, we ask a second question, which is: Is it simply too intrusive on our precious freedoms? [Lastly,] if a technology would possibly be helpful, and is not so far invasive of our freedoms that we oppose it per se, we want safeguards.”Problematically, Scheer suggests, it is impossible to have these conversations without knowledge of their innerworkings, and, more importantly, if people do not protest these new invasions of privacy. While Schwartz believes that resistance against this type of overreach exists and will prevail, the “Scheer Intelligence” host points out just how much people are willing to give up in times of crisis.“I wonder whether you're underestimating the acceptance by the general public of this kind of surveillance,” Scheer tells Schwartz, “which has suddenly become a good word---a way of being healthier---you're being surveilled---rather than an intrusive, intimidating word---you're being watched by people who maybe don't have your best interests at heart.“To even suggest that now would be to suggest that you're kind of off-kilter and paranoid,” he goes on. “Obviously, we need as much information as we can have. And the idea that any government in the world might misuse that information is sort of put up on the shelf; that's for later.”Given how long the U.S. government has used the powers it obtained as the country grappled with the 2001 terrorist attacks, there is ample cause for concern that whatever begins in the coronavirus period will not end once the virus is under control. It should also be particularly disconcerting, as Shwartz indicates, to activists given the extensive history the U.S. has of spying on people involved in various movements.Listen to the full conversation between Schwartz and Scheer as the two discuss in detail the different forms surveillance is taking in countries such as Israel and China, foreshadowing what might come to pass in the U.S.
The coronavirus has turned everyone’s lives upside down, but at the same time Covid-19 threatens us all, Asian Americans have been subjected to another dangerous epidemic: racism. Since news of the novel coronavirus began to spread in the U.S., Asian Americans have been the victims of hate crimes, verbal and physical abuse, and have even had to hear President Donald Trump insultingly call the deadly bug the “China virus” in official White House Press briefings. The targeted prejudice comes at the same time many people of Asian descent are risking their own lives on the medical frontlines to save patients with Covid-19. This week, Asian American foreign policy experts, joined by many others in their community, sounded the alarm about the rising wave of attacks they were facing, writing.
Within the past couple of weeks alone, an acid attack against a woman in Brooklyn caused her to suffer severe burns, and a man in Texas has been charged with attempted murder after attacking an Asian American family. Such stories have become disturbingly frequent since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the FBI has warned that this trend may continue.
We, the undersigned, are alarmed by the severity of such hate crimes and race-based harassment against people of Asian descent in the United States — assaults that endanger the safety, well-being, dignity and livelihoods of all those targeted. We are not alone. On March 20, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights expressed concern over violent attacks against people of Asian descent. Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) leaders and organizations have condemned such bigotry and mobilized important resources and initiatives to counter racism and xenophobia.
In this week’s installment of “Scheer Intelligence,” host Robert Scheer speaks with Janet Yang, the legendary film producer of “The Joy Luck Club" and "The People vs. Larry Flynt,” among many other films, about the appalling onslaught of racism people of Asian descent are currently facing. Yang, who was born in the U.S. and has experienced discrimination since her childhood, notes the different between what she faced her whole life and the terrifying shape racism is taking today amid the unprecedented crisis.
“It is shocking to me that at this age, in my many decades after I [was taunted as a child] on the school bus, for the first time in my life I have to worry about [going outside],” laments Yang.
The Chinese American producer, who pioneered the connection between Hollywood and the Chinese film industry, comments on how in a recent article for The Hollywood Reporter, she celebrated how far Asians and Asian Americans had come in Hollywood, noting the popularity of films such as “Crazy Rich Asians,” “The Farewell” and the Oscar-winning Korean film “Parasite.” And yet within a matter of months, it seemed that the very same respect and adulation transformed into suspicion and animosity, even violence.
“I should not be surprised, perhaps,” Yang tells Scheer, “I have seen this incredible seesaw effect. We can go back to the turn of the century, when Chinese were the only people to be legally excluded from this country because people were so fearful of the jobs they were taking.
“That was seemingly a place that we would never go to any more, that level of vitriol,” she goes on. “We've seen it, though, in waves since then: World War II, we had an Asian enemy; Korean War, we had an Asian enemy; Vietnam War, we had an Asian enemy. And then we had Asian enemies that were economic in nature.”
Scheer points out that it seems that regardless of the political conditions in China, throughout American history people with Chinese ancestry have been discriminated against, just as we’re seeing now.
“The dominant culture in the U.S. has disrespected the Chinese,” says the “Scheer Intelligence” host, “whether they represented a feudal society to be exploited, whether they represented a nascent, democratic capitalist society before the communists, whether they represented communism at a certain point, whether they represent capitalism now--because they are actually the most successful center of capitalist inventiveness and so forth in the world now.
“It doesn't seem to matter,” he continues. “What matters seems to be the need for an enemy. And even if you have a virus that you're describing, it is convenient to that narrative to define the virus as having some kind of alien national identity.”
In response to this vilification, former 2020 Democratic candidate Andrew Yang wrote a controversial op-ed in the Washington Post encouraging members of his community to lean in to their “American-ness” to show their value to the country as they faced virulent attacks. The Hollywood producer comments that while she’s sure he was well-intentioned, that is exactly the wrong way to approach this problem.
“[What Yang wrote] sounded a little Uncle Tom-ish: bow your head and just keep doing good, and wear red, white, and blue,” she tells Scheer, “I don't think that's the solution anymore.
“Quite the contrary,” adds Yang. “It is time to speak up. […] Sometimes it takes a crisis for us to come together even more strongly as a community and be able to speak as one voice. Because what is happening seems almost unspeakable, and we must speak of it.”
Listen to the full conversation between Yang and Scheer as the two trace the history of Asian Americans in the U.S., the waves of racism the community has faced, and the many accomplishments and contributions they’ve made to the U.S. and the rest of the world.
In a special edition of “Scheer Intelligence,” host Robert Scheer becomes the guest as filmmaker Stephen French asks for the journalist’s take on the coronavirus crisis. Speaking on the eve of Scheer’s 84th birthday, the “Scheer Intelligence” host draws from lessons learned in his seven decades of reporting to make sense of this unprecedented moment. His two most recent books, “They Know Everything About You” and “The Great American Stickup,” are especially helpful in understanding how governments, as well as financial institutions and private companies are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
When the filmmaker asks him what he thinks about the pandemic sweeping the world, Scheer initially discusses the impact the coronavirus is already having on privacy and civil liberties. He explains that when he first wrote “They Know Everything About You” on the ever-expanding surveillance state, and our willingness to sacrifice all sense of privacy to companies for the sake of convenience, he had not expected he’d live to see the day people around the world would also welcome government spying. Yet, the terrifying spread of the novel coronavirus has provided governments with a justification for expanding already wide-reaching, invasive surveillance apparatuses.
“The extreme surveillance state [we’re already seeing in China, for example], is, I suspect and from all reports seems to be, quite popular there,” says Scheer. “People think it's necessary and they think the government will only do it when necessary. I'm sure there are some who are suspicious, but suddenly every society in the world, whatever they call themselves — socialists or capitalist democratic or authoritarian religious — they're all using this new surveillance technology.
“And [the public is] eager for the government to have their private data,” he continues, “because the government will make them safer. Or at least that's what the government has promised. And they're desperate, they're scared, they're afraid of this invisible enemy.”
French and Scheer go on to discuss how the novel coronavirus has highlighted something crucial about all societies: every member is interconnected. It seems like an obvious point, and yet this idea of the collective — and collective health — has been obfuscated by years of rampant capitalism and the over-glorification of individualism. As many people are currently arguing, COVID-19 has made it incredibly clear that there is no way the wealthiest members of society can really hide from the fact that we are all only as healthy as the most marginalized people around us, a point Scheer drives home during his conversation with French. This is why, the journalist believes, the 2020 election and the trajectory of America as a whole have shifted dramatically since the beginning of the year.
For starters, Bernie Sanders, despite having ended his presidential campaign on Wednesday, has undoubtedly won the ideological war, especially when it comes to Medicare for All, posits Scheer. In addition, the debate surrounding the future of the country will necessarily change dramatically in the coming months as Americans struggle to repair their lives after the mass death and job loss caused by the pandemic.
“[Post-plague], you will not be able as a political candidate to talk about anything but how you make us whole [after this crisis],” says Scheer. “Anything else will be like a cop out. They don't want to hear about what you're going to do in Syria, you know, and they don't want to hear about, you know, some plan of getting us closer to God and, [how to] get rid of the homosexuals or you know, Roe vs Wade. That will all just be seen as obvious obfuscation and noise.
“People want to know how are you going to make us feel economically safe, medically safe, secure in our communities. That's what they're going to want to know,” the “Scheer Intelligence” host concludes.
Recalling the lessons of Scheer’s book on the 2008 financial crisis, which details how a bipartisan, decades-long deregulation led to the wholesale swindling of the American people, French asks an important question about the economic consequences of the pandemic.
“You mentioned how [the government’s] financial injection into main street [with the CARES Act] might revolutionize, for the short term, the financial markets,” says French. “I also want to make that point in conjunction with your previous book, ‘The Great American Stickup: How Reagan and Clinton Enriched Wall Street While Robbing Main Street.’ Is there a potential that history could repeat itself somehow?”
“No,” responds Scheer, “I think the American public right now, they're in a state of shock, but they're not going to have [the trust they had during the 2008 banking bailouts] anymore.
“The good thing about the bailout is that this time,” says the journalist, “[is that the government] didn't just bail out the people who had created all [the problems of inequality]: the big corporations and the banks. [And] it wasn't just the Democrats putting pressure [on Republicans] because they control the house. That was helpful, but Donald Trump himself and the Republicans knew they were going to have riots in the streets if they didn't help people stay in their homes.”
Listen to the full conversation between French and Scheer as the two find glimmers of hope for a better future in the midst of this unprecedented crisis.
In early March, senior judges in the international criminal court ruled that an investigation into the actions the U.S., Afghan and Taliban military committed in 2003 could take place, overturning a previous ruling. Perhaps more remarkable than the fact the ICC, which had earlier assumed such an investigation wouldn’t be possible because none of those implicated would be likely to cooperate, was the U.S. response to the decision.
“This is a truly breathtaking action by an unaccountable political institution masquerading as a legal body,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Although the Trump official’s blatant disparaging of a global justice organization is deeply troubling, American undermining of the ICC predates both Donald Trump’s rise to power and the Afghanistan War. As the retired Maj. Danny Sjursen and author of the upcoming book “Patriotic Dissent: America in the Age of Endless War” explains to “Scheer Intelligence” host Robert Scheer on the latest episode of his podcast, the U.S. preempted any attempts to investigate its actions in the aftermath of 9/11 days after the terror attacks took place and before the ICC was fully established in 2002.
“Three days after the towers came down on September 14th, we signed [the American Service Members Protections Act, also known as the Hague Invasion Act,] a law that basically authorizes the president to go after Al Qaeda,” says the Army veteran. “But it's very vague and I think guys like Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton [who voted in favor of it in the Senate] were very aware that the U.S. military is about to run rampant in the middle East. It's about to do whatever the heck it thinks it needs to do in order to stamp out terrorism.
“So preemptively, I think there's a fear that if we don't punish some of our guys, if they got out of order or some of our allies, these militias in warlords that we're gonna operate through,” the historian continues, “we might face an awkward situation where U.S. troops or a U.S. general or even a U.S. civilian official in the Bush administration might be called before this court.”
The profound cynicism behind declaring a nation imperious to international law preemptively is not lost on either Scheer or Sjursen. As Scheer points out, the law, which allows the U.S. to invade the ICC’s headquarters in The Hague to release Americans held by the court, is a codification of a broader American belief that whatever the nation does is always morally correct, despite potentially being defined by international organizations as a war crime.
“This investigation by the international criminal court really struck a raw nerve with three different administrations, Democratic and Republican, Obama, Trump, and Bush, right?” says the “Scheer Intelligence” host. “All these years [after the Afghanistan war began], the brave prosecutor [Fatou Bensouda] finally got permission from the international criminal court [to investigate torture and war crimes].
“That's how wild and reckless they are in making charges against the U.S.,” Scheer adds sardonically. “It's taken them all this time, right? For 18 years, really almost the length of the war, to look into what was done by the United States as well as the Taliban in Afghanistan.”
Sjursen, who served in Afghanistan and says he witnessed war crimes committed by U.S. allies in the Afghan army, as well as the unintentional death of civilians at the hands of soldiers under his command, indicates that to him the refusal to allow for accountability is not only reprehensible, it’s actually offensive to members of the military such as himself.
“Ultimately this is us saying that we are above the law,” asserts the historian, “and I also find it somewhat insulting because the implication is that I can't keep my own soldiers in line, right? That our laws aren't sufficient.
“But you know, from a historical perspective,” he goes on, “one can understand Pompei’s and [former White House adviser John] Bolton's fear, but not in the same way that they frame it. The ICC is supposed to be the court of last resort when the individual nation responsible is not holding their people to account. Well, if you look at the Kelly Case in Vietnam at the MI Lai massacre where hundreds of civilians, including babies, were murdered in a ditch--he really served no time. Now you look at the [Eddie] Gallagher case, the Navy SEAL who allegedly murdered a captive and his own SEALs turned him in.
“We have a very bad record historically holding our people to account,” the retired Army major concludes.
Listen to the full discussion as Sjursen and Scheer delve into the sordid thinking behind American exceptionalism and how it poses a danger to the international community.
Nearly 19 years into the Afghanistan War, it seems the U.S. might be finally ready to end the longest armed conflict in its history. The Trump administration announced in late February that a peace deal was being negotiated with the Taliban and there was intention of recalling U.S. troops. Retired Maj. Danny Sjursen, an author and historian who spent half of his life in the Army, speaks with host Robert Scheer on this week’s episode of “Scheer Intelligence” to analyze how we got caught up in Afghanistan in the first place.
Tracing the conflict through his personal and professional experiences, Sjursen recalls how the Sept. 11 attacks became the impetus for so many young men like himself to put their lives on the line for a country they believed would be on the right side of history. Not long into his service, however, the retired army major learned that the multiple wars he fought in had little to do with the terrorist attacks billed as the cause, as evidenced by his first deployment.
“I went to Iraq before Afghanistan,” says Sjursen, “And I think that is illustrative of this war and some of its absurdity and irrationality, because when those towers came down---and then when we found out soon afterwards that it was probably Afghan-based, or at least that [Osama] bin Laden was Afghan based---I mean, one would assume that my first deployment would be Afghanistan.[Instead in 2005] I went to Iraq, [and] actually we had about 120,000 to 130,000 soldiers in Iraq, and we had about 20,000 in Afghanistan.”
“The big irony here,” Scheer remarks, “is that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. So, you know, we hear a lot about fake news now in the era of Trump, [but] the fact is, the Iraq War is one of the stunning examples of fake news.”
The “Scheer Intelligence” host goes on to remind listeners that Al Qaeda, Bin Laden’s organization, “couldn't operate in Iraq” and the entire premise for invading Iraq was fabricated weapons of mass destruction alleged to be in Saddam Hussein’s possession. Almost two decades later, with countless American, Afghani and Iraqi lives lost, and ever-growing instability in the Middle East, it’s never been clearer that the two conflicts, which became inextricably linked, were engendered by government propaganda that mainstream media had no qualms about propagating. Scheer points out that while government and media both carry the lion’s share of the responsibility for the wars, there may be other people to blame for what are widely known as our forever wars.
“We think we live in a society that is designed to encourage you to challenge power,” says the “Scheer Intelligence” host. “We have a sense of limited government, we have separation of powers, you have First Amendment freedoms and others. And yet---and I'm not just talking about people who are on active duty---people don't speak out in general, you know. They go along.”
While the two analyze the careerism and power involved at the highest ranks of the military, the combat veteran concludes with a remarkable analysis that Sjursen admits will seem controversial.
“Those soldiers on the football fields that we see every Sunday are the good Germans that Hannah Arendt spoke of,” says the retired Army major. “And I was one of them. We are the foot soldiers for empire. [That's] the truth of the matter. We went along to get along, and in the process, we were guilty.”
Drawing from his extensive knowledge as a historian, Sjursen nuances his comparison between Germans and Americans, adding that while the slaughter of the holocaust is not equivalent to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, Americans, like Germans, were involved essentially illegal conflicts that cast a pall on our actions.
“The only difference between us and the Germans when it comes to the principles we laid down [in the Nuremberg trials] is that we were the winners,” he concludes. “We were the winners. So we don't apply those Nuremberg principles of, hey, you have to speak out against aggression and lies and militarism in the world--we don't apply that to our soldiers or our generals. And we won't until we're not the prevalent power in the world.”
Listen to the full discussion between Scheer and Sjursen as the two trace the historical context of the continual bloodshed that has marked U.S. history for the better part of this century.
The movement that has grown around Sen. Bernie Sanders has become a political force to reckon with in the 2020 election. Part of its strength is the many different intersections it has with other progressive movements, some of which have been around for many years, others which stemmed from his 2016 primary campaign against Hillary Clinton. His campaign has been endorsed by or includes members from Black Lives Matter and the Sunrise Movement, among many others, and from its inception was made up of activists.
One such movement that stemmed from Sanders’ first presidential bid was founded by a 2016 Sanders delegate, Norman Solomon. Solomon, whose columns are regularly featured at Truthdig, is also the founder of online initiative RootsAction. The writer and activist joined Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer last week in the run-up to Super Tuesday to discuss Sanders’ 2020 campaign and the socioeconomic conditions that led to the democratic socialist’s rise.
Speaking at a time in which Sanders was the clear frontrunner in the democratic race, Solomon, who has witnessed firsthand how the Democratic Party worked to undermine Sanders in 2016, warned that the worst is yet to come. His words of course proved prophetic as in the moments before the March 3 primaries in 14 states, corporate Democrats rallied around Joe Biden in an effort to impede the Vermont senator’s path to the presidential nomination.
“We're at an extraordinary moment as we come into the spring of 2020 the Bernie Sanders campaign because of the grassroots strength and the fact that he has always been part of a movement, even with the contradictions of being in Congress,” the progressive organizer explains. “For instance, this is an upsurge of progressive populism with a strength in electoral arenas that I never would have anticipated.
“So now we're operating at a level of who's going to gain state power,” Solomon goes on, “and the amount of backlash, the amount of viciousness that we've already seen this year, 2020 is just a prelude to pulling out all the stops to try to block Bernie Sanders and the movement that he's part of.”
The movement, the two acknowledge, is built on ideas of class that for many years Americans did not hear discussed in media, let alone in the halls of Congress and other institutions. To Scheer, the oppression of the working class and the many betrayals it suffered at the hands of Democrats such as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, as well as Biden, led to Sanders’ unexpected success both in 2016 and now.
“The way [media harps on], you would think it's Bernie that started class war or the people around them or young people,” says Scheer. “That's not the way I see this history that I've lived through.”
Scheer delves into this personal history to provide a context for what he views as Sanders’ true predecessor, a wealthy U.S. president who wasn’t trying to implement socialism, but rather save capitalism years ago.
“I was born in 1936. My father lost his job the day I was born,” recalls the Truthdig editor in chief. “Roosevelt was the hero in our house. Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Why? Because the ruling class in our country, the robber barons, the rich people---and he was from a rich family---they undermined their own system. They were so consumed with greed and short term profit and swindling, the market and everything else that they forgot about stability in society.”
Continuing on the thread of systemic change that needs to take place in the U.S., Solomon recalls a crucial lesson from Martin Luther King, Jr., that he believes both Sanders and his movement are well aware of.
“I ran across in an essay and then the last book that Martin Luther King wrote, ‘Where We Go From Here,’ where he talked about power and he talked about love and he said, ‘Power without love is cruel, it's abusive and so forth.’ He says, ‘but love without power is ineffectual and anemic.’
“There hasn't been a focus [on the American left] on gaining power tangibly,” laments Solomon. “And that has to include government electoral power as much as we might wish that the electoral system as it now exists with something we never need to deal with because so awful and tacky and uh, dominated by money. And what Bernie is saying and the movement is saying is much in sync with what Martin Luther King was saying. If you want to effectuate love towards human beings as social policy, you need power. And if you don't have power, you're going to be anemic.”
Listen to the full discussion between Solomon and Scheer as the two discuss the forgotten history of progressive movements in the U.S. and what the results of the nail-biting Democratic primary may be.
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