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On contact


Author and social critic Chris Hedges hosts a weekly interview show called ‘On Contact,’ which will air “dissident voices” currently missing from the mainstream media. Hedges interviews the black sheep of the establishment, leading discussions that can’t be heard anywhere else.

Feb 27, 2022 12:02

On Contact: Race and America's long war

On the show, Chris Hedges discusses America's inner and outer wars and its nexus with capitalism and empire with Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis and History at New York University Nikhil Pal Singh.

The internal violence in the United States, militarized police, and the largest prison system in the world, along with America’s endemic racism, are mirrored in the foreign wars that have been fought almost continuously by the United States since the end of the 19th century. These inner and outer wars, argues historian Nikhil Pal Singh, are intimately connected. The gunning down of unarmed black people in American cities is expressed outside our borders in the gunning down of unarmed Muslims in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia, often by militarized drones. The prison-industrial-complex at home is given form in the myriad of overseas black sites where victims, kidnapped and transported to other countries by the CIA, are held in secret, tortured, and killed.

What happens internally and what happens externally are part of the same racial ordering of capitalism and empire, an organic whole. The ‘war on drugs’ and the ‘war on terror’ are the logical conclusion of the racial wars that stretch back to the European invasion and conquest of North America. “Foreign policy and domestic politics develop in a reciprocal relationship and produce mutually reinforcing approaches to managing social conflict,” Singh argues. There is a cross-pollination between those who manage our inner and outer wars. William Casey oversaw the Phoenix Program, which “neutralized” over 26,000 suspected members of the Viet Cong through torture and assassinations, and went on to help found the Manhattan Institute that formulated the ‘broken windows’ policing strategy in poor communities, used to justify heightened police surveillance, daily harassment, brutality, over-arrests, and the dehumanization of poor people of color.

Search and stops by police at home are no different from ‘cordon and search’ operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Night raids in Fallujah look like night raids in Oakland. The photos of brutalized prisoners at Abu Ghraib have their corollary in the photos taking by white lynch mobs in the south. Richard Zuley, accused of torturing prisoners in Guantanamo, was a member of the Chicago police unit that tortured black suspects in the Chicago police department’s own secret black site. Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo in his 2003 memo seeking to justify torture turned to an 1873 case of Modoc Indian prisoners for a legal precedent. The code name for the operation to kill Osama Bin Laden was, not accidentally, Geronimo. America has from its founding made war on racialized enemies, always described as subhuman and condemned as incapable of being civilized.

Nikhil Pal Singh's new book is ‘Race and America's Long War’.

Feb 25, 2022 09:21

On Contact: George Washington and the legacy of white supremacy

On the show, Chris Hedges discusses George Washington, the fallible human being and one of the principal architects of the United States, with author Nathaniel Philbrick.

As America fractures into ideologically hostile camps, it colors how we interpret and remember our past. Perhaps few historical figures are as divisive as the country’s first president, Washington, who with his wife owned more than 300 slaves and oversaw brutal military campaigns against Native Americans. A statue of Washington in Portland, Oregon was spray-painted with the words “genocidal colonist” and torn down in 2020. Students at the University of Washington in Seattle have called for the removal of his statue on the campus. At the same time, school districts and Republican-controlled legislatures in states such as Texas are banning books that explore racism and the ugly side of colonialism, as well as sex and gender identity. Nathaniel Philbrick in his new book ‘Travels with George: In Search of Washington and His Legacy’, retraces the former president’s lengthy excursions throughout the new colonies to reflect on the origins of the United States, on Washington’s character, and on what our country was and has become. His portrait of the first president is not always flattering. Washington could be cruel to human beings he considered his property and Native Americans. But he was, undeniably, a brilliant military leader in the war for independence against the British, and unified the fractious colonies into a coherent nation. He was determined to protect America’s very flawed democracy, which excluded blacks, women, Native Americans, and men without property, rather than recreate, as many suggested, a monarchy built around himself. He was in his lifetime venerated by whites as a father figure. Sigmund Freud, in writing about the infantile fantasies that children ascribe to their fathers, could have been writing about how many viewed Washington. “They obliterate,” Freud wrote of those who look up to these father figures, “the individual features of their subject’s physiognomy, they smooth over the traces of his life’s struggles with internal and external resistances, and they tolerate in him no vestiges of human weakness or imperfection. Thus, they present us with what is in fact a cold, strange, ideal figure instead of a human being to whom we might feel ourselves distantly related.”

Nathaniel Philbrick is the author of ‘Travels with George: In Search of Washington and His Legacy’.

Feb 20, 2022 06:19

On Contact: Oppenheimer & the bomb culture

On the show, Chris Hedges discusses J. Robert Oppenheimer and the making of the bomb with author Kai Bird.

J. Robert Oppenheimer, “the father of the atomic bomb,” was by the end of World War II one of the most celebrated men in America. He was instrumental, as one of the world’s leading theoretical physicists, in the massive government effort to build the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But in the post-war anti-communist hysteria he was declared a security risk because of his warnings about the use of atomic weapons and his opposition to the development of the hydrogen bomb as well as the Air Force’s plans for massive strategic bombing with nuclear weapons – plans he condemned as genocidal. He was hauled before Red-baiting congressional investigative committees, the FBI tapped his home and office phones and put him under surveillance. Scurrilous stories about his political past were planted in the press and he was put on trial, becoming America’s most prominent victim of the post-war anti-communist witch hunts. Oppenheimer was a central figure in the greatest struggles and triumphs faced by the United States in war, science, social justice, and ultimately the Cold War. He oversaw the development of the most devastating weapon in human history and then spent the rest of his life warning that this weapon of indiscriminate terror did not make us safer but more vulnerable. The only effective defense against the nuclear nightmare, he said, was the elimination of nuclear weapons. For this warning he was ruthlessly silenced. “We have had the bomb on our minds since 1945,” E.L. Doctorow observed. “It was first our weaponry and then our diplomacy, and now it’s our economy. How can we suppose that something so monstrously powerful would not, after forty years, compose our identity?” The great golem we have made against our enemies is our culture – its logic, its faith, its vision.”

Kai Bird, along with Martin J. Sherwin, wrote the Pulitzer-prize winning biography ‘American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer’.

Feb 18, 2022 06:47

On Contact: John Brown, abolitionist

Chris Hedges discusses the novel ‘Cloudsplitter’ and John Brown with author Russell Banks.

The painter Jacob Lawrence, in his 22-piece series ‘The Legend of John Brown’, first exhibited in 1941, chronicles in each of his panels a seminal stage in the life of the abolitionist John Brown. The first panel depicts Brown as Christ nailed to a cross, blood flowing from his nailed feet to the ground. The next scenes portray Brown as a man of exceptional religious conviction, willing to suffer financial failure and hardship in his fight for abolition. The middle compositions tell the story of Brown’s plans to free slaves, including his raids that massacred pro-slavery settlers in Kansas, his failed attack on the US arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, and the final panels portray his capture, with his head bent, covered by long hair, and holding a cross, his sentencing and hanging. Brown’s religious zeal and martyrdom became a catalyst to the bloody civil war that followed. Brown remains one of the most enigmatic figures in American history, a bundle of contradictions, a man of rigid morality and high ideals, who at the same time could kill those who supported slavery with unmitigated savagery. To many Blacks he is a hero; indeed, Malcolm X said Brown was the only white man he respected, while whites often dismiss him as at best misguided or insane.

W.E.B. Du Bois, in a speech at Harpers Ferry in 1932 to honor Brown, was aware of his ambiguities. He said: “Some people have the idea that crucifixion consists in the punishment of an innocent man. The essence of crucifixion is that men are killing a criminal, that men have got to kill him ... and yet that the act of crucifying him is the salvation of the world. John Brown broke the law; he killed human beings... Those people who defended slavery had to execute John Brown although they knew that in killing him they were committing the greater crime. It is out of that human paradox that there comes crucifixion.” Few have captured the paradox of John Brown better than Russell Banks in his monumental novel ‘Cloudsplitter’, one of our greatest works of contemporary fiction.

Feb 13, 2022 17:44

On Contact: Richard Wolff & the precarious state of the US economy

Chris Hedges interviews economist Richard Wolff on the precarious state of the US economy and its consequences

A bipartisan group of senators are crafting legislation to impose sweeping sanctions on Russia if it engages in what they consider hostile action of any kind against the Ukraine. New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, the chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, calls the legislation “the mother of all sanctions bill.” The bill led in the House by Gregory Meeks of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, like Menendez a Democrat, demands that the administration “not cede to the demands of the Russian Federation regarding NATO membership or expansion.” This cuts off the ability to discuss Moscow’s core demands, including a ban on future NATO membership for Ukraine. The proposed sanctions target Russian banks, state-owned enterprises, government debt, energy firms, and the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, as well as many individual members of the government and military. They are the most extensive economic sanctions the US has attempted to deploy since the post-Cold War global economy was constructed. The sanctions, if enacted, would remove Russia from SWIFT, the international financial transaction system that uses the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency. The proposal to cut Russia off from SWIFT, while it will certainly hurt the Russian economy, will also further push Russia, along with China and other countries, especially those such as Cuba and Iran that are also targeted by the United States, to create their own global monetary exchange system. If the US dollar is no longer the world’s reserve currency, it will seriously erode the already precarious health of the US economy, not only because the dollar would significantly decline in value, but because the treasury bonds sold to fund the huge US deficits would no longer be attractive investments. The US is already reeling under the ascent of the People’s Republic of China, whose economy will be larger in terms of its footprint in the global economy than the US by the end of this decade. The desperate financial tricks, flooding the global market with new dollars, and lowering interest rates, which staved off a major depression after the 2000 dotcom crash and 9/11, were accelerated after the 2008 global financial meltdown. Easy access to money at unprecedentedly low interest rates incentivized every corporation in the country to borrow massively from the Federal Reserve, often to paper over shortfalls and bad investments. The result is that US businesses are deeper in debt than at any time in history. Added to this morass is rising inflation, caused by businesses that have increased prices in a desperate effort to make up for lost revenue from the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. This inflation has forced the Fed to curtail the growth of the money supply and raise interest rates, which then pushes corporations to further raise prices. No matter which way you look, serious financial dislocation in the United States seems inevitable. Chris is joined by Richard Wolff, visiting professor in the Graduate Program in International Affairs of the New School in New York, who has also taught economics at Yale University and the Sorbonne. He can be found at Democracy at work.

Feb 11, 2022 06:41

On Contact: Veganism & mass incarceration

Chris Hedges discusses veganism and mass incarceration with educator and poet Gretchen Primack.

The poet Gretchen Primack has for many years taught in the American prison system. Her book ‘Visiting Days’ gives words to the suffering and grief of those locked in cages across the country. She is acutely aware that our prison system – the largest in the world with 25% of the globe’s prisoners, although we are less than 5% of the global population – not only destroys the lives of those we lock away, but those on the outside who must also bear the trauma of mass incarceration. Prison culture poisons us all. She draws parallels between what we do to human beings we lock in cages, often for decades, and what the animal agriculture industry does to animals. This barbarity is related. Primack argues that once we treat all living beings as sacred, which means becoming vegan, we will live by the values that most of us already profess, in our words if not our actions: Cruelty towards sentient beings is a sin.

Gretchen Primack’s poetry collections include: ‘Visiting Days’ and ‘Kind’