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 A Report from the Left Forum (6-1-14) with: Chris Hedges, Dr. Cornel West, and Richard Wolff.

Moderated by: Laura Flanders.

 By Jill Dalton, NYC June 5, 2014

 This seminar was part of the Left Forum’s three day symposium, Reform and/or Revolution: Imagining a World with Transformative Justice, held at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City (May 30 – June 1). The turn out at this conference was their largest to date, which I consider a very good sign.

Chris Hedges, Dr. Cornel West and Richard Wolff began a ten-part series starting with, according to Chris Hedges, America’s only real revolutionist, Thomas Paine. In Paine’s three great works, Common Sense, The Rights of Man and The Age of Reason, he laid down the foundations by which rebellion is morally and legally permissible. With the rise of the corporate state, they ask whether the conditions set by Paine have been met, and if Paine’s call to overthrow British tyranny should be our own.

 I’d been warned via email the event would be crowded, so I arrived forty-five minutes early to procure a good seat, and after a few minutes of inquiring who was saving or sitting in which empty seat, managed to procure myself a seat in the front row. As predicted, the lecture hall filled to overflowing, and the overflow was directed to another room where the proceedings were live streamed.

Moderator: Laura Flanders

Moderator: Laura Flanders

In Laura Flanders’ opening remarks she runs down a list: 7 million in prison, the war on terror, 46 million hungry and in poverty, and the 0.1% with 20 million or more have doubled their wealth since the 60’s. Then she quotes Thomas Paine,

These are the times that try men’s souls.

These are indeed the times that try men’s souls, but the question Paine asks is,

What is to be done?

Flanders asked the crowd two questions. First, do we want change and second, are these revolutionary times? Richard Wolff pointed out the crowd gave a strong cheer regarding change but wobbled when asked about revolution. This is understandable,” he continued, “as revolution is scary.” Many of us, myself included, believe the American population is asleep and apathetic but Wolff reminds us, “Revolution is not limited to the U.S. Revolution is global.”

Power and Language

Hedges explained the importance of Paine. “Paine understood the monarchy. He understood British power and could explain the structures of power. He understood what power was, and how it functioned, and was able to write in such a way that, according to Cornel West, “the common folk could understand it.”   Hedges continued, “Hubris blinded the British monarchy just as our system of government is blinded now.”

 West went on to say Paine was able to create a vocabulary and write ‘as plain as the alphabet.’ Paine, a Quaker, was opposed to power, and the rights of kings and belonged to no political party. Born in the UK, Paine arrived in the United States in 1774 and in 1776 wrote Common Sense, which was read far and wide including by George Washington to his troops, and this work inspired people in the Thirteen Colonies to stand up and fight for their independence from Great Britain.   Paine gave them the language to understand what was actually going on, and why they needed to fight for their freedom from British rule.

Later West gave us some language to explain what’s truly going on today. “Poverty is the new slavery,” he tells us. “Prison is the new Jim Crow. Economic inequality is slavery. The plutocrats, oligarchs, banks, Wall Street, and corporations are the monarchy.”

Richard Wolff pointed out, “We now face more than enough evidence, outrage, injustices, attacks on our freedoms, and rights on our security.” Our system is unequal, unjust, and intolerable. “Reform?” he asks. “Been there/done that/doesn’t work. They undo our reforms. They spent forty years undoing the New Deal.” Thomas Paine concluded, “We’ve got to change the system. Revolution means tell the King of England to go home. You’re out of here.”

Wolff maintains it’s the same for us. He mentions the economist Thomas Piketty, who in his 700-page book, Capitalism in the 21st Century, concludes capitalism always produces growing inequality of wealth and income. Wolff continues, “We’ve got to have the courage to make systematic change.”

If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.

Samuel Adams

 West challenged us, “We must be willing to die. We must act humanely, think critically, and that means sacrificing popularity.” He pointed out how many intellectuals today have been seduced by power, prestige and money. Not willing to take a risk but rather hide behind a veneer of being cynical and despairing.

Hedges again emphasized how important language is. Paine reclaimed words like democracy that, at the time, was considered a very negative term. Today the elites have crafted a specialized vocabulary we can’t penetrate. Paine gave them the vocabulary. We too must search for language and call things by their real name.

 West reiterated the need for “righteous anger and indignation. Speech that is unafraid.” This is what Malcolm X did and he suffered the consequences.   Truth tellers are pushed to the margins, vilified, assassinated or all three. This is what happened to Thomas Paine when he peeled off the cover and gave a scathing critique of George Washington. He called America a bastion of capitalism and white supremacy. Paine also said indigenous people were wiser than white people. West reminds us that today, “We’re isolated from each other. We’re separated from our red, black, yellow, and white brothers and sisters.”

 Wolff pointed out, “All the people who stood against Paine are now forgotten but Thomas Paine survived.” Thomas Paine addresses, “What is to be done?” and gives us insight into what we face now. Wolff reiterates, “Democracy was a very negative term but now is the holy of holies.” “Our democracy,” Wolff points out, “is a fake–a complete fantasy. We live in the opposite of a democracy. Our institutions are undemocratic. We pretend we live in a democracy. We need to shock the population. We’re not treated like human beings.” Wolff continued, “Paine teaches us to think about revolution as a way to change a system.” “We permit institutions to be organized in an undemocratic way. We leave decisions to the few people at the top–the corporations. We have to be in charge of them. We must reorganize production.”

(L to R) Dr. Cornel West, Chris Hedges & Richard Wolff

(L to R) Dr. Cornel West, Chris Hedges & Richard Wolff

Vilification and Historical Amnesia

Hedges explained the two weapons used against Thomas Paine were: vilification and historical amnesia. Paine was followed, slandered, libeled, marginalized, arrested, pushed to the margins, narrowly escaped execution, and they finally broke him. He died a pauper in Greenwich Village. “Six people attended his funeral. Two of them were black.” But even as Paine was prosecuted and vilified he preached we must protect our enemies. Hedges went on to illustrate our historical amnesia by asking, “Where are the monuments to him? He was an important founder. He’s been ignored. The establishment works hard to erase our radical tradition.”

In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act.

George Orwell

 Truth telling is very dangerous business indeed, and certainly not for the faint of heart. West points out, “most of our friends are cowards.”  I’ll add most of us are too cowardly and lazy to get off the couch let along stand up to the system that enslaves us, call it out, and ultimately change it. But according to West, “The truth has to emerge.” We need courageous examples such as Malcolm X, Herbert Harrison Victoria Garvin, David Walker and I’ll add Dr. King, Gandhi, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. West reminds us, “We must be courageous or we’ll go under. The people organized are powerful, but the gangsters who run things are powerful too. We’re up against a lot. Their crimes against humanity include our educational system, prisons and drones” to name a few.”  “Poverty is prison, and, as West points out, “if whites instead of blacks were in prison and poverty in these numbers we’d be hearing a different story. “ “White supremacy, lies and crimes,” West assures us, “the black elites will be behind this as well.”

We thought (the United States) could lead us to freedom, but they led us into feardom, not freedom.

Giannina Braschi

 Wolff contends, “We don’t know where we are in the revolution. Be a critic. Push to see where and how far you can go. Can’t worry about what we’re up against.” He quotes, “For decades nothing may happen, but then in a moment decades happen.”

The basis of a democratic state is liberty.


 “Liberty?” Wolff asks. “There is no liberty.” We live in an NSA corporate surveillance state. He explains, “Our problem is the economic system. Our climate situation is another consequence of capitalism. We have obscene social inequalities. Our economic system is dysfunctional to most of us.”

Surveillance, without regard to the rule of law or our basic human dignity, creates societies that fear free expression and dissent, the very values that make America strong.

Edward Snowden

 I downloaded Paine’s Common Sense to my Kindle a couple of years ago and began reading it, but never finished it. I ordered a paperback of Common Sense along with The Rights of Man, as it’s easier for me to study these works with a hardcopy. I also just ordered and received Democracy, Inc. by Sheldon Wolin. Hedges always mentions this professor emeritus of politics at Princeton University, and his work on “managed democracy and the specter of inverted totalitarianism.” Not exactly light reading but important to understand what’s actually going on, and perhaps gain insight into how to change the system.

 We are the empire.

Chris Hedges

I’ve included a link to this amazing ninety-minute talk with these three enlightened truth tellers. Please check it out for yourself. Then we, like Paine, must ask ourselves, “What is to be done?” And then go a step further. What can I do? How can I get involved? It’s time for a revolution. Our system no longer serves us, and is a threat to humanity and the planet. We must stop these illegal wars of aggression that murder millions in our names.  The U.S. military is the largest terrorist organization on the planet.  Our elected officials no longer listen to us.  We’re merely commodities to the elites, as is the environment, which they are in the process of destroying. As Hedges pointed out in his closing comments,

Whites are now enduring what people of color have already endured. The minimum wage is critical. What they’ve done to college students is criminal. Something is coming– no jobs, mortgage crisis, climate change. There will be blowback.

 According to Thomas Jefferson we need a revolution every twenty years.  I’d say we’re long overdue.

God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion.  The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. … And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to the facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants.  It is its natural manure.


If You See Something, Say Something

By Jill Dalton


I’m finding New York City harder and harder to deal with. First, I’m accosted by the “If you see something, say something” signs painted on the steps in the subway stations.  And once I’m on the train there’s the disembodied voice straight out of Orwell’s “1984” warning me, “If you see a suspicious package, we have the right to search all bags and backpacks; if you see something, say something;” and on and on it drones.  

And the other evening, as I exited from the 5th Avenue/Bryant Park stop I came upon two police officers standing by a table with a large sign that read, “We have the right to search your bags.”  I wanted to take a photo, but I was running short on time, and would have needed to situate myself so as to not be detected, so instead, I kept moving.  And then there are the ubiquitous security cameras I see everywhere, including in Central Park.   

It’s really all about fear isn’t it?  Be afraid.  “Be very afraid” is the message the security state wants to convey; because when people are afraid they’ll do anything to feel safe, including giving up their civil liberties.  The Soviets used this fear tactic in the 50’s, and then the Bush Administration incorporated this tactic into their propaganda bag of tricks.  Remember those red/orange/yellow terror alerts?  

And now the kinder, gentler face of American empire, the Obama Administration, uses fear to control us with their pathetic, lame excuses for massive spying on U.S. Citizens.  “Be afraid.  Yes, be very afraid.  After all, the terrorists are coming!  But we’re here to protect you.  We spy on you for your own good.” 

Really?  Is anyone actually buying this anymore? 

Since 9/11 the security state has systematically taken our civil liberties away, and Americans have barely uttered a whimper.  President George W. Bush signed the USA PATRIOT Act into law on October 26, 2001. The title of the act is a ten letter bacronym that stands for Uniting (and) Strengthening America (by) Providing 

Providing Appropriate Tools Required (to) Intercept (and) Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001.  The act was in response to the September 11th World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks.  According to Wikipedia the act,

significantly weakened restrictions on law enforcement agencies’ gathering of intelligence within the United States; expanded the Secretary of the Treasury’s authority to regulate financial transactions, particularly those involving foreign individuals and entities; and broadened the discretion of law enforcement and immigration authorities in detaining and deporting immigrants suspected of terrorism-related acts. The act also expanded the definition of terrorism to include domestic terrorism, thus enlarging the number of activities to which the USA PATRIOT Act’s expanded law enforcement powers can be applied.

Then Obama extended three key provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act on May 26, 2011:

roving wiretaps, searches of business records (“library records provision”), and conducting surveillance of “lone wolves” – individuals suspected of terrorist-related activities not linked to terrorists groups.

photo-28After Bush was caught spying, the solution found and implemented was FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act).  But FISA has proved to be a rubber stamp—2,000 or more requests for domestic spying, and all but one was approved.

The NSA (National Security Agency) is caught spying on Americans and to rectify the situation “the senate passes the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) amendments act which overhaul government eves- dropping rules in terrorism and espionage cases, granting immunity to telecom companies that participated in domestic surveillance.  Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill.) votes for this bill.  — Washington Post

Once FISA was installed many of us assumed the spying had stopped.  Au contraire.  And now, so as not to be outdone, Obama has used the USA PATRIOT Act to illegally spy on Americans as well. 

Top-secret documents obtained by the Guardian illustrate what the FISA court actually does – and does not do – when purporting to engage in “oversight” over the NSA’s domestic spying. That process lacks many of the safeguards that Obama, the House GOP, and various media defenders of the NSA are trying to lead the public to believe exist. 

           No individualized warrants required under 2008 FISA law.

Glenn Greenwald, “FISA court oversight: a look inside a secret and empty process.  Obama and other NSA defenders insist there are robust limitations on surveillance but the documents show otherwise.”

After 9/11 Congress gave the government a blank check, and thus began the surveillance state.  Now 70% of this mass spying is privatized, with little or no government oversight.  They’ve built huge computers in Utah to house all the data.  Several whistleblowers have come forward to report the abuse, which included a spying program called Trailblazer that used $6 billion in taxpayer money and was a total bust.

I guess it’s not enough to have TSA scanners in airports radiate you; if you refuse to be radiated, never fear, some TSA lackey will gladly grope you.  I stopped flying soon after they infringed upon our 4th Amendment right of illegal search and seizure.

In New York we have the Stop and Frisk law, which is used to harass mainly black and Hispanic males anytime the police feel like it without probable cause.  This has resulted in racial profiling, illegal stops, and ignoring of privacy rights.  And guess what?  It’s only a matter of time before this draconian practice moves out into the rest of the population.  The privatized security state marches on, and the only word it knows is, “More!”  You see, to the corporate security state, we’re all potential terrorists.

Recently when Bloomberg was criticized over Stop and Frisk his response was, “ . . . I think we disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little. 

And then there’s the drone program, where we learn from The Washington Post: 

The FBI has received clearance from federal aviation officials to conduct drone surveillance operations in the United States on at least four occasions since 2010, according to public records and U.S. officials.

And if that isn’t disturbing enough, according to the same article, “Congress has directed the FAA to open domestic airspace to drones by 2015.”  

The ACLU has this to say about drones on their website: 

U.S. law enforcement is greatly expanding its use of domestic drones for surveillance. Routine aerial surveillance would profoundly change the character of public life in America. Rules must be put in place to ensure that we can enjoy the benefits of this new technology without bringing us closer to a “surveillance society” in which our every move is monitored, tracked, recorded, and scrutinized by the government. Drone manufacturers are also considering offering police the option of arming these remote-controlled aircraft with (nonlethal for now) weapons like rubber bullets, Tasers, and tear gas.

Numerous states are considering (and some have passed) legislation regulating the use of drones. You can see a chart summarizing the developments around the country here. Congress has ordered the Federal Aviation Administration to change airspace rules to make it much easier for police nationwide to use domestic drones, but the law does not include badly needed privacy protections. 

Turns out drone legislation has been, “proposed in 42 states, enacted in 5 states, and is still active in 29 states.”

 According to the New York Times article, “Rise of Drones in U.S. Drives Efforts to Limit Police Use.” 

A federal law enacted last year paved the way for drones to be used commercially and made it easier for government agencies to obtain them. The Department of Homeland Security offered grants to help local law enforcement buy them. Drone manufacturers began to market small, lightweight devices specifically for policing. Drones are already used to monitor movement on the United States’ borders and by a handful of police departments, and emergency services agencies around the country are just beginning to explore their uses.

Turns out Mayor Bloomberg is all for spying and having drones hovering above New York City.  He’s quoted as saying on his radio program, “Oh, it’s Big Brother; get used to it.”

Amazing how much disdain Mayor Bloomberg, President Obama and most of our elected officials have for civil liberties–other than their own, of course.  Seems they’re just not that into the Constitution.  It makes sense–the corporatists and their criminal buddies, who run the “too big to jail” banks, Wall Street, and the corporations that run our government–need drones to protect their self-interests.

Bloomberg brags, “I have my own army in the NYPD, which is the seventh biggest army in the world.”  Actually, they are nowhere near seventh; it’s more like ninety-seventh, but who’s counting?  According to Detective Abad Nieves’ “We are in the business of scaring people–we just want to scare the right people.” The NYPD has been rife with corruption, from rape to intimidation, harassing, pepper spraying, and beating Occupy protestors, as well as gunning down black teens over marijuana.  The NYPD has expanded into the largest police force in the U.S. with surveillance and military capabilities.

In an email published by WikiLeaks, an FBI official joked about how shocked Americans would be if they knew how egregiously the NYPD is stomping all over their civil liberties.

Check out “Nine terrifying facts about America’s biggest police force” by Tana Ganeva and Laura Gottesdiener.

So yes, Big Brother is alive and well, and flourishing in the U.S.  Our freedoms are systematically being stripped from us, our police forces militarized, and the NSA is data-mining every phone call, email and social network site, and all in the name of protecting us from terrorism.  You see, the powers that be know what’s coming.   As the economy gets worse for regular Americans, and climate change brings more disasters, and resources become less available the corporate security state is afraid of mass civil disobedience and unrest.

And if you have the unmitigated gall to actually report abuses of the corporate security state or the military industrial complex (Snowden, Manning, Assange, Drake, Greenwald, Hastings, etc.) you’ll be vilified, demeaned, and hunted down with the full intention of silencing and destroying you.  No one is off limits.  Seems real journalists (investigative reporters) are in the crosshairs as well.

The First Amendment to our Constitution protects freedom of the press.  Our press is supposed to report abuses by our government, but instead these talking heads who pose as reporters on TV are merely sycophants on the corporate tit.  And they not only spew the state’s propaganda, but condemn and openly chastise any reporting by real journalists who have the courage to stand up and speak truth to power.  And because of this new attack on journalists real sources have dried up according to Jane Mayer of The New Yorker.


In Greenwald’s interview on Meet the Press, Dick Gregory accuses him of “aiding and abetting” and asks, why shouldn’t he (Greenwald) be charged with a crime?  And then there’s the recent untimely death of Michael Hastings (who wrote the famous Rolling Stone article on General Stanley McChrystal forcing McChrystal’s resignation), was met with much ridicule by many of these actors in the corporate media, calling themselves reporters, yet serving only to protect their overblown salaries and the status quo.

Glenn Greenwald and Snowden have really blown the cover off the whole corporate security surveillance police state that’s been covertly put into place.  And like many whistleblowers and journalists before them, they’re demonized by the security state and the corporate media whores posing as journalists.

And now that the cat’s out of the bag, so to speak, and the American people are outraged our senators cry fowl; “How could this happen?”  It happened because they voted for it and their outcry is merely posturing because they got caught. 

The NSA is not about protecting us from terrorists; it’s about protecting our corrupt security state from us.  And I for one will not go quietly into that good night.  So here’s to those of us who refuse to remain silent. 

Like Greenwald said in his talk to the 2013 Socialism Conference in Chicago 

Courage is contagious. If you take a courageous step as an individual, you will literally change the world because you will affect all sorts of people in your vicinity, and they will affect others, and they will affect others.  Never doubt your ability to change the world.

It doesn’t matter who you are as an individual or how formidable or powerful the institutions you want to challenge are.

He (Snowden) is a person with zero power, zero prestige, zero position, zero privilege, yet he, by himself, has literally changed the world.”

 Indeed, and so have you, Glenn Greenwald.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. —  Margaret Mead

So, to all the whistleblowers, truth tellers, real journalists, occupiers, and individuals who stand up and speak out about the injustices and cruelties being done in our name, I thank you.  I salute you.  I commend you.  I emulate you.  You give me hope.  It’s time to join with these great spirits in truth, justice, and peace.

 Fear not!  Like Greenwald said:

 You don’t need to be afraid.  Stand up to the US government, and be defiant, and exercise your constitutional rights.  Ultimately, we know we have rights we ought to exercise, and the only way they can go away is if we give in to fear.  Do not be afraid.

If you see something, say something.



Glenn Greenwald Speaks Out: Socialism 2013 Conference

Socialism 2013—Glenn Greenwald:  Courage is Contagious + Trnascript

Timeline of electronic surveillance under Bush and Obama from 2001 – 2013.

Michael Jackson:  Somebody’s Watching Me

Sometimes I Feel Like Somebody’s Watching Me