“Turning His Back on Student Debtors”: Biden's Debt Deal Ends Freeze on Loan Payments for Millions

"Turning His Back on Student Debtors": Biden's Debt Deal Ends Freeze on Loan Payments for Millions 1

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AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

We end today’s show looking at how the bipartisan deal to suspend the debt ceiling would end President Biden’s federal student loan payment pause, force payments to resume September 1st, and limit new student debt moratoriums. On Tuesday, Democratic Congressmember Ayanna Pressley filed an amendment to remove the section, saying, quote, “The pause on student loan payments has been life-changing for families across the country.”

For more, we’re joined by Braxton Brewington, press secretary of the Debt Collective, a group working to end the student loan crisis.

Braxton, welcome back to Democracy Now! We only have a few minutes. Can you respond to the passage of the debt ceiling legislation and how it impacts student loan?

BRAXTON BREWINGTON: This is President Biden turning his back on student debtors. What this provision in the debt ceiling does is essentially codify an end to the student loan pause, says not only should student loans — should student debtors have to resume payments on September 1st, but that the pause can never be extended again.

And so, what that risks is that, should June, this month, the Supreme Court rule against student debt relief, student loan borrowers are going to be in what could be the worst financial position they’ve ever been in, which is going through COVID, having a student debt crisis, but not having their student debt relief and having to resume costly payments.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Braxton, if you could give a sense — I mean, what is the scale of the student debt crisis? And what impact is this likely to have on literally tens of millions of student debtors in the U.S.?

BRAXTON BREWINGTON: Student debt is the second-largest household debt type in the entire country. In 2019, someone — people defaulted on their student debt every 26 seconds. A million people a year defaulted on their student debt. Senior citizens had their Social Security checks garnished. Veterans had their wages garnished. People aren’t able to purchase a home. They’re not able to have children or start a small business or start a family.

And so, the crisis of student debt is a large one before COVID, now exacerbated by COVID, where people have lost their health insurance, their wages have been stagnated, or some have even declined. We’re looking at a situation now where people, after the pandemic, don’t actually have any relief because of student debt possibly not going through because of the Supreme Court. And that’s why the backstop of the pause is so important, because it’s really the only thing keeping student debtors afloat from not falling into financial decline.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what do you think can happen right now?

BRAXTON BREWINGTON: Well, the vote is set to go through soon on the Senate side, and we’re still pressuring members of Congress to vote “no” on the provision of codifying the end of the payment pause. And we’re also pressuring President Biden to uphold his promise to implement relief no matter what the Supreme Court says. This conservative court, which has, frankly, ignored the facts of this case through every step of the process — there was no fact-finding process — we’re nervous that the Supreme Court is going to ignore the rule of law, ignore reason, and rule against student debt relief.

What President Biden can then do is use other legal tools at his disposal to ensure that people get the relief that they’ve already applied for, that they’ve already been approved for, so that we don’t come out of COVID-19 where people are in such a really bad financial situation. The Biden administration should declare student debt an emergency on its own. There’s no reason for the Biden administration to put his hands behind his back and allow the Republicans to tie him to ending the payment pause and never being able to take action on this really important domestic issue again.

AMY GOODMAN: You tweeted, “If I were a reporter I would ask the White House what they will do if they sign a debt ceiling deal that permanently ends the student debt pause but the Supreme Court rules against student debt relief.” Have you posed this question to the Biden administration?

BRAXTON BREWINGTON: We have. And so far the Biden administration has said they remain confident in their case that they argued before the Supreme Court. I think our response to that is that the White House can’t see the future. And so, if we are in a scenario where this conservative Supreme Court, which we know several members of this court have been corrupted and even bribed — if we’re in a position where the Supreme Court rules against student debt relief, the Biden administration, because of this debt ceiling deal, will have removed their leverage in ensuring that student debtors are able to stay financially afloat.

And so, it’s not too late. The vote hasn’t happened yet. We’re encouraging members of Congress and the Biden administration to strike this provision from the deal, so that student loan borrowers are not in such a precarious, bad economic situation, akin to the student debt crisis before COVID.

AMY GOODMAN: Braxton Brewington, I want to thank you for being with us, press secretary of the Debt Collective, a group working to end the student loan crisis.

That does it for our show. Democracy Now! is produced with Mike Burke, Renée Feltz, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes, María Taracena, Tami Woronoff, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo. Special thanks to Julie Crosby. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

Artificial Intelligence “Godfathers” Call for Regulation as Rights Groups Warn AI Encodes Oppression

Artificial Intelligence "Godfathers" Call for Regulation as Rights Groups Warn AI Encodes Oppression 2

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AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

We begin today’s show looking at growing alarm over the potential for artificial intelligence to lead to the extinction of humanity. The latest warning comes from hundreds of artificial intelligence, or AI, experts, as well as tech executives, scholars and others, like climate activist Bill McKibben, who signed onto an ominous, one-line statement released Tuesday that reads, quote, “Mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war.”

Among the signatories to the letter, released by the Center for AI Safety, is Geoffrey Hinton, considered one of three “godfathers of AI.” He recently quit Google so he could speak freely about the dangers of the technology he helped build, such as artificial general intelligence, or AGI, in which machines could develop cognitive abilities akin or superior to humans sooner than previously thought.

GEOFFREY HINTON: I had always assumed that the brain was better than the computer models we had. And I’d always assumed that by making the computer models more like the brain, we would improve them. And my epiphany was, a couple of months ago, I suddenly realized that maybe the computer models we have now are actually better than the brain. And if that’s the case, then maybe quite soon they’ll be better than us, so that the idea of superintelligence, instead of being something in the distant future, might come much sooner than I expected. …

For the existential threat, the idea it might wipe us all out, that’s like nuclear weapons, because nuclear weapons have the possibility they would just wipe out everybody. And that’s why people could cooperate on preventing that. And for the existential threat, I think maybe the U.S. and China and Europe and Japan can all cooperate on trying to avoid that existential threat. But the question is: How should they do that? And I think stopping development is infeasible.

AMY GOODMAN: Many have called for a pause on introducing new AI technology until strong government regulation and a global regulatory framework are in place.

Joining Hinton in signing the letter was a second AI godfather, Yoshua Bengio, who joins us now for more. He’s a professor at the University of Montreal, founder and scientific director of the Mila–the Quebec Artificial Intelligence Institute. In 2018, he shared the prestigious computer science prize, the Turing Award, with Geoffrey Hinton and Yann LeCun.

Professor Bengio is a signatory of the Future of Life Institute open letter calling for a pause on large AI experiments.

Professor Bengio, welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us as we talk about an issue that I think most people cannot begin to comprehend. So, if you could start off by talking about why you’ve signed this letter warning of extinction of humanity? But talk about what AI is, first.

YOSHUA BENGIO: Well, thanks for having me, first. And thanks for talking about this complicated issue that requires more awareness.

The reason I signed this — and like Geoff, I changed my mind in the last few months. What triggered this change for me is interacting with ChatGPT and seeing how far we had moved, much faster than I anticipated. So, I used to think that reaching human-level intelligence with machines could take many more decades, if not centuries, because the progress of science seemed to be, well, slow. And we were — as researchers, we tend to focus on what doesn’t work. But right now we have machines that pass what is called the Turing test, which means they can converse with us, and they could easily fool us as being humans. That was supposed to be a milestone for, you know, human-level intelligence.

I think they’re still missing a few things, but that kind of technology could already be dangerous to destabilize democracy through disinformation, for example. But because of the research that is currently going on to bridge the gap with what is missing from current large language models, large AI systems, it is possible that my, you know, horizon that I was seeing as many decades in the future is just a few years in the future. And that could be very dangerous. It suffices that just a small organization or somebody with crazy beliefs, conspiracy theory, terrorists, a military organization decides to use this without the right safety mechanisms, and it could be catastrophic for humanity.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, Professor Yoshua Bengio, it would be accurate then to say that the reason artificial intelligence and concerns about artificial intelligence have become the center of public discussion in a way that they’ve not previously been, because the advances that have occurred in the field have surprised even those who are participating in it and the lead researchers in it. So, if you could elaborate on the question of superintelligence, and especially the concerns that have been raised about unaligned superintelligence, and also the speed at which we are likely to get to unaligned superintelligence?

YOSHUA BENGIO: Yeah. I mean, the reason it was surprising is that in the current systems, from a scientific perspective, the methods that are used are not very different from the things we only knew just a few years ago. It’s the scale at which they have been built, the amount of data, the amount of engineering, that has made this really surprising progress possible. And so we could have similar progress in the future because of the scale of things.

Now, the problem — first of all, you know, there’s an important — why do we — why are we concerned about superintelligence? So, first of all, the question is: Is it even possible to build machines that will be smarter than us? And the consensus in the scientific community, for example, from the neuroscience perspective, is that our brain is a very complicated machine, so there’s no reason to think that, in principle, we couldn’t build machines that would be at least as smart as us. Now, then there’s the question of how long it’s going to take. But we’ve discussed that. In addition, as Geoff Hinton was saying in the piece that was heard, computers have advantages that brains don’t have. For example, they can talk to each other at very, very high speed and exchange information. For us, we are limited by the very few bits of information per second that language allows us to do. And that actually gives them a huge advantage to learn a lot faster. So, for example, these systems today already can read the whole internet very, very quickly, whereas a human would require 10,000 years of their life reading all the time to achieve the same thing. So, they can have access to information and sharing of information in ways that humans don’t. So it’s very likely that as we make progress towards understanding the principles behind human intelligence, we will be able to build machines that are actually smarter than us.

So, why is it dangerous? Because if they’re smarter than us, they might act in ways that are not — that do not agree with what we intend, what we want them to do. And it could be for several reasons, but this question of alignment is that it’s actually very difficult to state — to instruct a machine to behave in a way that agrees with our values, our needs and so on. We can say it in language, but it might be understood in a different way, and that can lead to catastrophes, as has been argued many times.

But this is something that already happens — I mean, this alignment problem already happens. So, for example, you can think of corporations not being quite aligned with what society wants. Society would like corporations to provide useful goods and services, but we can’t, like, dictate that to corporations directly. Instead, we’ve given them a framework where they maximize profit under the constraints of laws, and that may work reasonably but also have side effects. For example, corporations can find loopholes in those laws, or, even worse, they could influence the laws themselves.

And this sort of thing can happen with AI systems that we’re trying to control. They might find ways to satisfy the letter of our instructions, but not the intention, the spirit of the law. And that’s very scary. We don’t fully understand how these scenarios can unfold, but there’s enough danger and enough uncertainty that I think a lot of attention — more attention should be given to these questions.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: If you could explain whether you think it will be difficult to regulate this industry, artificial intelligence, despite all of the advances that have already occurred? How difficult will regulation be?

YOSHUA BENGIO: Even if something seems difficult, like dealing with climate change, and even if we feel that it’s a hard task to do the job and to convince enough people and society to change in the right ways, we have a moral duty to try our best.

And the first things we have to do with AI risks is get on with regulation, set up governance frameworks, both in individual countries and internationally. And when we do that, it’s going to be useful for all the AI risks — because we’ve been talking a lot about the extinction risk, but there are other risks that are shorter-term, risks to destabilize democracy. If democracy is destabilized, this is bad in itself, but it actually is going to also hurt in our abilities to fight — to deal with the existential risk.

And then there are other risks that are actually going on with AI — discrimination, bias, privacy and so on. So we need to beef up that legislative and regulatory body. And what we need there is a regulatory framework that’s going to be very adaptive, because there’s a lot of unknown. It’s not like we know precisely how bad things can happen. We need to do a lot more in terms of monitoring, validating, and we need — and controlling access so that not any bad actor can easily get their hands on dangerous technologies. And we need the body that will regulate, or the bodies across the world, to be able to change their rules as new nefarious users show up or as technology advances. And that’s a challenge, but I think we need to go in that direction.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring Max Tegmark into the conversation. Max Tegmark is MIT professor focused on artificial intelligence, his recent Time magazine article, “The ’Don’t Look Up’ Thinking That Could Doom Us With AI.”

If you could explain that point, Professor Tegmark?


AMY GOODMAN: And also, why you think right now — you know, many people have just heard the term ChatGPT for the first time in the last months. The general public has become aware of this. And how you think it is most effective to regulate AI technology?

MAX TEGMARK: Yeah. Thank you for the great question.

I wrote this piece comparing what’s happening now in AI with the movie Don’t Look Up, because I really [inaudible] we’re all living this film. We’re, as a species, confronting the most dramatic thing that has ever happened to us, where we may be losing control over our future, and almost no one is talking about it. So I’m so grateful to you and others for actually starting to have that conversation now. And that’s, of course, why we had these open letters that you just referred to here, to really help mainstream this conversation that we have to have, that people previously used to make fun of you when you even brought up the idea that we could actually lose control of this and go extinct, or example.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Professor Tegmark, you’ve drawn analogies, in fact, when it comes to regulation, with the regulations that were put in place on biotech and physics. So, could you explain how that might apply to artificial intelligence?

MAX TEGMARK: Yeah. To appreciate what a huge deal this is, when the top scientists in AI are warning about extinction, it’s good to compare with the other two times in history that it’s happened, that leading scientists warned about the very thing they were making. It happened once in the 1940s, when physicists started warning about nuclear Armageddon, and it happened again in the early 1970s with biologists saying, “Hey, maybe we shouldn’t start making clones of humans and edit the DNA of our babies.”

And the biologists have been the big success story here, I think, that should inspire us AI researchers today, because it was deemed so risky that we would lose control over our species back in the ’70s that we actually decided as a world society to not do human cloning and to not edit the DNA of our offspring. And here we are with a really flourishing biotech industry that’s doing so much good in the world.

And so, the lesson here for AI is that we should become more like biology. We should recognize that, in biology, no company has the right to just launch a new medicine and start selling it in supermarkets without first convincing experts from the government that this is safe. That’s why we have the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S., for example. And with particularly high-risk uses of AI, we should aspire to something very similar, where the onus is really on the companies to prove that something extremely powerful is safe, before it gets deployed.

AMY GOODMAN: Last fall, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy published a Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights and called it “A Vision for Protecting Our Civil Rights in the Algorithmic Age.” This comes amidst growing awareness about racial biases embedded in artificial intelligence and how impacts the use of facial recognition programs by law enforcement and more. I want to bring into this conversation, with professors Tegmark and Bengio, Tawana Petty, director of policy and advocacy at the Algorithm Justice League, longtime digital and data rights activist.

Tawana Petty, welcome to Democracy Now! You are not only warning people about the future; you’re talking about the uses of AI right now and how they can be racially discriminatory. Can you explain?

TAWANA PETTY: Yes. Thank you for having me, Amy. Absolutely.

I must say that the contradictions have been heightened with the godfather of AI and others speaking out and authoring these particular letters that are talking about these futuristic potential harms. However, many women have been warning about the existing harms of artificial intelligence many years prior to now — Timnit Gebru, Dr. Joy Buolamwini and so many others, Safiya Noble, Ruha Benjamin, and so — and Dr. Alondra Nelson, what you just mentioned, the Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights, which is asking for five core principles: safe and effective systems, algorithmic discrimination protections, data privacy, notice and explanation, and human alternatives consideration and fallback.

And so, at the Algorithmic Justice League, we have been responding to existing harms of algorithmic discrimination that date back many years prior to this all most robust narrative-reshaping conversation that has been happening over the last several months with artificial general intelligence. So, we’re already seeing harms with algorithmic discrimination in medicine. We’re seeing the pervasive surveillance that is happening with law enforcement using face detection system to target community members during protests, squashing not only our civil liberties and rights to organize and protest, but also the misidentifications that are happening with regard to false arrests, that we’ve seen two very prominent cases started off in Detroit.

And so, there are many examples of existing harms that it would have been really great to have these voices of mostly white men who are in the tech industry, who did not pay attention to the voices of all those women who were lifting up these issues many years ago. And they’re talking about these futuristic possible risks, when we have so many risks that are happening today.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, Professor Max Tegmark, if you could respond to what Tawana Petty said, and the fact that others have also said that the risks have been vastly overstated in that letter, and, more importantly, given what Tawana has said, that it distracts from already-existing effects of artificial intelligence that are widely in use already?

MAX TEGMARK: I think this is a really important question here. There are people who say that one of these kinds of risks distracts from the other. I strongly support everything we heard here from Tawana. I think these are all very important problems, examples of how we’re giving too much control already to machines. But I strongly disagree that we should have to choose about worrying about one kind of risk or the other. That’s like saying we should stop working on cancer prevention because it distracts from stroke prevention.

These are all incredibly important risks. I have spoken up a lot on social justice risks, as well, and threats. And, you know, it just plays into the hands of the tech lobbyists, if they can — if it looks like there’s infighting between people who are trying to rein in Big Tech for one reason and people who are trying to rein in Big Tech for other reasons. Let’s all work together and realize that society — just like society can work on both cancer prevention and stroke prevention. We have the resources for this. We should be able to deal with all the crucial social justice issues and also make sure that we don’t go extinct.

Extinction is not something in the very distant future, as we heard from Yoshua Bengio. We might be losing total control of our society relatively soon. It can happen in the next few years. It could happen in a decade. And once we’re all extinct, you know, all these other issues cease to even matter. Let’s work together, tackle all the issues, so that we can actually have a good future for everybody.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Tawana Petty, and then I want to bring back in Yoshua Bengio — Tawana Petty, what needs to happen at the national level, you know, U.S. regulation? And then I want to compare what’s happening here, what’s happening in Canadian regulation, the EU, European Union, which seems like it’s about to put in the first comprehensive set of regulations, Tawana.

TAWANA PETTY: Right, absolutely. So, the blueprint was a good model to start with, that we’re seeing some states adopt and try to roll out their versions of an AI Bill of Rights. The president issued an executive order to strengthen racial equity and support underserved communities across the federal government, which is addressing specifically algorithmic discrimination. You have the National Institute of Standards and Technology that issued an AI risk management framework, that breaks down the various types of biases that we find within algorithmic systems, like computational, systemic, statistical and human cognitive.

And there are so many other legislative opportunities that are happening on the federal level. You see the FTC speaking up, the Federal Trade Commission, on algorithmic discrimination. You have the Equal Employment Opportunity Corporation that has issued statements. You have the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, who has been adamant about the impact that algorithmic systems have on us when data brokers are amassing these mass amounts of data that have been extracted from community members.

So, I agree that there needs to be some collaboration and cooperation, but we’ve seen situations like Dr. Timnit Gebru was terminated from Google for warning us before ChatGPT was launched upon the millions of people as a large language model. And so, cooperation has not been lacking on the side of the folks who work in ethics. To the contrary, these companies have terminated their ethics departments and people who have been warning about existing harms.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Professor Bengio, if you can talk about the level of regulation and what you think needs to happen, and who is putting forward models that you think could be effective?

YOSHUA BENGIO: So, first of all, I’d like to make a correction here. I have been involved in really working towards dealing with the negative social impact of AI for many years. In 2016, I worked on the Montreal Declaration for the Responsible Development of AI, which is very much centered on ethics and social injustice. And since then, I’ve created an organization, the AI for Humanity department, in the research center that I head, which is completely focused on human rights. So, I think these accusations are just false.

And as Max was saying, we don’t need to choose between fighting cancer and fighting heart disease. We need to do all of those things. But better than that, what is needed in the short term, at least, building up these regulations is going to help to mitigate all those risks. So I think we should really work together rather than having these accusations.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Professor Bengio, I’d like to ask you about precisely some of the work that you have done with respect to human rights and artificial intelligence. Earlier this month, a conference on artificial intelligence was held in Kigali, Rwanda, and you were among those who were pushing for the conference to take place in Africa.

YOSHUA BENGIO: That’s right.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Could you explain what happened at that conference — 2,000 people, I believe, attended — and what African researchers and scientists had to say, you know, about what the goods are, the public good that could come from artificial intelligence, and why they felt, in fact — one of the questions that was raised is: Why wasn’t there more discussion about the public good, rather than just the immediate risks or future risks?

YOSHUA BENGIO: Yes. I’ve been working — in addition to the ethics questions, I’ve been working a lot on the applications of AI in the area of what’s called AI for social good. So, that includes things like medical applications, environmental applications, social justice applications. And in those areas, it is particularly important that we bring to the fore the voices of the people who could the most benefit and also the most suffer from the development of AI. And in particular, the voices of Africans have not been very present. As we know, the development of this technology has been mostly in rich countries in the West.

And so, as a member of the board of the ICLR conference, which is one of the main conferences in the field, I’ve been pushing for many years for us to have the event taking place in Africa. And so, this year was the first, after — Amy, it was supposed to be before the pandemic, but, well, it was pushed. And what we saw is an amazing presence of African researchers and students at levels that we couldn’t see before.

And the reason — I mean, there are many reasons, but mostly it’s a question of accessibility. Currently, many Western countries, the visas for African researchers or from developing countries are very difficult to get. I’ve been fighting, for example, the Canadian government a few years ago, when we had the NeurIPS conference in Canada, and there were hundreds of African researchers who were denied a visa, and we had to go one by one in order to try to make them come.

So, I think that it’s important that the decisions we’re going to take collectively, which involve everyone on Earth, about AI be taken in the most inclusive possible ways. And for that reason, we need not just to think about what’s going on in the U.S. or Canada, but across the world. We need not just to think about the risks of AI that we’ve been discussing today, but also how do we actually invest more in areas of application where companies are not going, maybe because it’s not profitable, but that are really important to address — for example, the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals — and help reduce misery and deal, for example, with medical issues that are not present in the West but that are like infectious diseases that are mostly in poorer countries.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk, Professor Bengio, about AI and not only nuclear war but, for example, the issue Jody Williams, the Nobel laureate, has been trying to bring attention to for years, killer robots, that can kill with their bare hands? The whole issue of AI when it comes to war and who fights —


AMY GOODMAN: — these wars?

YOSHUA BENGIO: Yeah. This is also something I’ve been actively involved in for many years, campaigns to raise awareness about the danger of killer robots, also known, more precisely, as lethal autonomous weapons. And when we did this, you know, five or 10 years ago, it was still something that sounded like science fiction. But, actually, there’s been reports that drones have been equipped with AI capabilities, especially computer vision capabilities, face recognition, that have been used in the field in Syria, and maybe this is happening in Ukraine. So, it’s already something that we know how to build. Like, we know like the science behind building these killer drones — not killer robots. We don’t know yet how to build robots that work really well.

But if you take drones, that we know how to fly in a fairly autonomous way, and if these drones have weapons on them, and if these drones have cameras, then AI could be used to target the drone to specific people and kill in an illegal way specific targets. That’s incredibly dangerous. It could destabilize the sort of military balance that we know today. I don’t think that people are paying enough attention to that.

And in terms of the existential risk, the real issue here is that if the superintelligent AI also has controls of dangerous weapons, then it’s just going to be very difficult for us to reduce the risks of, you know, the catastrophic risks. We don’t want to put guns in the hands of people who are, you know, unstable or in the hands of children, that could act in ways that could be dangerous. And that’s the same problem here.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Professor Tegmark, if you could respond on this question of the military uses of — possible military uses of artificial intelligence, and the fact, for instance, that China is now — a Nikkei study, the Japanese publication study, earlier this year concluded that, in fact, China is producing more research papers on artificial intelligence than the U.S. is. You’ve said, of course, that this is not akin to an arms race, but rather to a suicide race. So, if you could talk about the regulations that are already in place from the Chinese government on the applications of artificial intelligence, compared to the EU and the U.S.?

MAX TEGMARK: That’s a great question. The recent change now, this week, when the idea of extinction from AI goes mainstream, I think, will actually help the geopolitical rivalry between East and West get more harmonious, because, until now, most policymakers have just viewed AI as something that gives you great power, so everybody wanted it first. And there was this idea that whoever gets artificial general intelligence that can outsmart humans somehow wins. But now that it’s going mainstream, the idea that, actually, it could easily end up with everybody just losing, and the big winners are the machines that are left over after we’re all extinct, it suddenly gives the incentives to the Chinese government and the American government and European governments that are aligned, because the Chinese government does not want to lose control over its society any more than any Western government does.

And for this reason, we can actually see that China has already put tougher restrictions on their own tech companies than we in America have on American companies. And it’s not because we — so we don’t have to persuade the Chinese, in other words, to take precautions, because it’s not in their interest to go extinct. You know, it doesn’t matter if you’re American or Canadian [inaudible], once you’re extinct.

AMY GOODMAN: I know, Professor —

MAX TEGMARK: And I should add also, just so it doesn’t sound like hyperbole, this idea of extinction, that idea that everybody on Earth could die, it’s important to remember that roughly half the species on this planet that were here, you know, a thousand, a few thousand years ago have been driven extinct already by humans, right? So, extinction happens.

And it’s also important to remember why we drove all these other species extinct. It wasn’t because necessarily we hated the West African black rhinoceros or certain species that lived in coral reefs. You know, when we went ahead and just chopped down the rainforests or ruined the coral reefs by climate change, that was kind of a side effect. We just wanted resources. We had other goals that just didn’t align with the goals of those other species. Because we were more intelligent than them, they were powerless to stop us.

This is exactly what Yoshua Bengio was warning about also for humanity here. If we lose control of our planet to more intelligent entities and their goals are just not aligned with ours, we will be powerless to prevent massive changes that they might do to our biosphere here on Earth. And that’s the way in which we might get wiped out, the same way that the other half of the species did. And let’s not do that.

There’s so much goodness, so much wonderful stuff that AI can do for all of us, if we work together to harness, steer this in a good direction — curing all those diseases that have stumped us, lifting people out of poverty, stabilizing the climate, and helping life on Earth flourish for a very, very, very long time to come. I hope that by raising the awareness of the risks, we’re going to get to work together to build that great future with AI.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Tawana Petty, moving from the global to the local, we’re here in New York, and the New York City Mayor Eric Adams has announced the New York Police Department is acquiring some new semi-autonomous robotic dogs in the coming — in this period. You have looked particularly about their use and their discriminatory use in communities of color. Can you respond?

TAWANA PETTY: Yes, and I’ll also say that Ferndale, Michigan, Michigan where I live, has also acquired robot dogs. And so, these are situations that are currently happening on the ground, and an organization, law enforcement, that is still suffering from systemic racial bias with overpoliced and hypersurveilled marginalized communities. So we’re looking at these robots now being given the opportunity to police and surveil already hypersurveilled communities.

And, Amy, I would just like an opportunity to address really briefly the previous comments. My commentary is not to attack any of the existing efforts or previous efforts or years’ worth of work that these two gentlemen have been involved in. I greatly respect efforts to address racial inequity and ethics in artificial intelligence. And I agree that we need to have some collaborative efforts in order to address these existing things that we’re experiencing. People are already dying from health discrimination with algorithms. People are already being misidentified by police using facial recognition. Government services are utilizing corporations like ID.me to use facial recognition to access benefits. And so, we have a lot of opportunities to collaborate currently to prevent the existing threats that we’re currently facing.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Tawana Petty, I want to thank you for being with us, director of policy and advocacy at the Algorithmic Justice League, speaking to us from Detroit; Yoshua Bengio, founder and scientific director of Mila–the Quebec AI Institute, considered one of the “godfathers of AI,” speaking to us from Montreal; and Max Tegmark, MIT professor. We’ll link to your Time magazine piece, “The ’Don’t Look Up’ Thinking That Could Doom Us With AI.” We thank you all for being with us.

Coming up, we look at student debt as the House approves a bipartisan deal to suspend the debt ceiling. Back in 20 seconds.

Erdoğan Reelected to 5 More Years in Turkey as His Government Grows More Authoritarian & Nationalist

Erdoğan Reelected to 5 More Years in Turkey as His Government Grows More Authoritarian & Nationalist 3

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

We end today’s show in Turkey, where President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan won Sunday’s presidential runoff. With this victory, he extends his 20-year rule for a further five years, by far the longest rule of any leader since the founding of the Republic of Turkey a century ago. Erdoğan received just over half of the vote.

The election comes as Turkey continues to oppose Sweden’s efforts to join NATO. On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken urged Erdoğan to drop his opposition to Sweden’s NATO bid, while also saying that Turkey should be provided with upgraded F-16 fighters as soon as possible.

We’re joined by Cihan Tuğal. He is a professor of sociology at University of California, Berkeley, author of The Fall of the Turkish Model: How the Arab Uprisings Brought Down Islamic Liberalism. He wrote a piece for The New York Times earlier this month headlined “Whatever Happens Next, Turkey Is in Trouble.” He’s working on a book on right-wing populist regimes, including Erdoğan’s. He has written extensively in Turkish and English about Erdoğan’s rule.

Professor Tuğal, thanks so much for being with us. Can you start off by talking about the significance of this victory? And characterize, if you will, Erdoğan’s rule over the past 20 years.

CIHAN TUĞAL: It is a significant victory. So, the far-right forces have held onto the parliament, which they were predicted to lose, and which was — what was predicted to be a tight race, the presidential race, was easily won by Erdoğan. And this was, of course, made possible by the monopolization of the media and the judiciary and manipulation of the electoral system; however, it was also made possible by the incompetence of the mainstream opposition.

So, Erdoğan’s rule has been getting more and more authoritarian. It was quite conservative from the get-go, and it had many authoritarian elements, but these were ignored by the Western world. And Erdoğan was supported by liberals at home, too, due to his neoliberal reforms, free market reforms, mostly. But in the 2010s, he changed track. While deepening some free market reforms, such as privatization, he also started to use many state capitalist tools to bolster a big defense sector. So, the Turkish economy itself is now becoming a prop for a more and more nationalist regime. So, the regime today is more conservative, more authoritarian and more nationalist, as well as being quite anti-organized labor. And in all of these senses, it’s really destroying any prospects for democracy in Turkey.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Professor, could you talk about how the economic situation in Turkey? Because, clearly, there appears to be a deep divide between the vote in the countryside and the major cities. But also, how has wealth inequality developed under Erdoğan in terms of the masses of the people? And why does he still have so much support, especially in the rural areas?

CIHAN TUĞAL: Yes, not only in rural areas, but also in the working-class districts of the big cities. That is very important and usually ignored. So, what’s happening is, inequality is deepening. So, if you look at the numbers, that’s very clear.

So, why are the people who are losing, the laboring classes, still supporting Erdoğan? Well, we have to make the picture a little bit more complicated, actually. So, even though labor as a whole is losing, the labor in the defense sector and also small to medium-sized businesses, who benefit from low interest rates, are actually seeing a sustainable path in all of this for themselves — so, sustainable in the sense that they keep their jobs, but with low wages and under horrific conditions. So, you know, work accidents, deaths caused by work, quote-unquote, “accidents,” are rampant in Turkey. So this is not just cheap labor, but really widely exploited labor.

But the alternative to this presented by the mainstream opposition is not an alternative at all. Their vision is a return to the 2000s, where Erdoğan was still the leader, but he was applying free market policies. So, that’s what the opposition is promising. And people well know that that will mean unemployment. It will mean more debt, and not necessarily a better life. So, the people are forced to choose between an economic route that has already failed — free market, you know, pro-globalization, pro-neoliberal globalization, a route that has already failed — and a route that may be unsustainable in the very long term but at least is providing them with jobs now. I mean, that’s what the people have voted for in these working-class districts of the cities.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Tuğal, if you can talk about Erdoğan’s opposition to Sweden becoming a part of NATO? It’s not an anti-militarist opposition, but it’s because of Kurds and Kurdish political asylum seekers coming from Turkey to Sweden, the people he wants extradited. Can you explain what this is all about?

CIHAN TUĞAL: Yes, this is not an anti-NATO opposition. It’s not only not anti-militarist, it’s not anti-NATO. So, Erdoğan is solidly pro-NATO, but he wants to make sure that Sweden makes concessions before it is accepted into NATO. It wants a lot of Kurdish activists — he wants a lot of Kurdish activists extradited to Turkey before Sweden is accepted.

So, this is actually a very complex picture, because even though Erdoğan is pro-NATO, he also has very good relations with Putin, and these relations are going to get better. So, Erdoğan plays the anti-Putin card when he talks to NATO, and he plays the anti-NATO card when he talks to Putin. And at home to his own audiences, he presents himself as independent from both, and, you know, as a part of his imperial self-presentation, he sees himself and many of his supporters see him as building a national Islamic empire in the very long run, that is going to be an alternative to the NATO and to Russia.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Professor, we only have a couple of minutes left, but I wanted to ask you why repeated U.S. governments always tread so lightly when it comes to criticizing Turkey, because of its role in the Middle East and the role it plays often to assist the United States in the Middle East. Could you talk about that, as well?

CIHAN TUĞAL: Yeah, it’s not only the U.S., it’s also the EU. So, they criticize authoritarianism in Turkey. They criticize conservatism in Turkey. And then they support Erdoğan, because they’re getting something out of this. I mean, the global economy is getting cheap labor out of this, so this is in the interest of national capital. And for the U.S., Erdoğan is not a very reliable partner. They would prefer somebody else. But he is better than a true anti-imperialist. And for the EU, the calculation is much dirtier, actually. They pay Erdoğan to keep refugees out of Europe. So, the dirtiest deal is actually with the EU.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Professor Tuğal, if you can comment on the fact that in October the Republic of Turkey will celebrate its centennial? Talk about the significance of these elections in that context, Erdoğan continuing through past 20 years.

CIHAN TUĞAL: Yeah, again, there was a false hope that this will be the end — these elections will be the end of Erdoğanism, so this Islamic surge within the secular republic would just be a parenthetical note, but this was just wishful thinking. The organizational basis of Islamism and far-right nationalism in Turkey are very strong. And the mistake was always counting on the bureaucracy and the secular middle classes to present an alternative to that, completely ignoring the laboring classes and marginalizing and excluding the Kurds. So, that’s what the mainstream opposition did. So, the only way to keep republican ideals alive in Turkey is through integrating Kurds and through mobilizing labor.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Cihan Tuğal, we want to thank you so much for being with us, professor of sociology at University of California, Berkeley, author of —

CIHAN TUĞAL: Thank you very much.

AMY GOODMAN:The Fall of the Turkish Model: How the Arab Uprisings Brought Down Islamic Liberalism.

That does it for our show. A very happy birthday to Angie Karran! Democracy Now! produced with Mike Burke, Renée Feltz, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

A Dirty Debt Deal: Biden Blasted for Backing Fast-Track Approval of Mountain Valley Pipeline

A Dirty Debt Deal: Biden Blasted for Backing Fast-Track Approval of Mountain Valley Pipeline 4

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show looking at how the proposed bipartisan debt limit deal the House is voting on today could cut funds for the Environmental Protection Agency and speed completion of the controversial $6.6 billion Mountain Valley Pipeline in Virginia and West Virginia.

Over 750 frontline communities and environmental justice groups oppose the pipeline. This comes as protests in several cities demanded lawmakers vote down what they are calling the “dirty debt ceiling deal.”

If built, the proposed MVP — that’s Mountain Valley Pipeline — will carry 2 billion cubic feet of fracked gas across more than a thousand streams and wetlands of Appalachia.

It has long been pushed by powerful West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, the biggest recipient of fossil fuel money in Congress.

Meanwhile, the entire Virginia Democratic delegation in the House has submitted an amendment to the strip the Mountain Valley Pipeline provision from the debt ceiling bill, calling it a “free pass for the pipeline” that “sidesteps our nation’s environmental laws and judicial review processes.” Virginia Senator Tim Kaine says he’ll introduce an identical amendment in the Senate.

Well, for more, we’re joined in Washington, D.C., by a West Virginian who lives in the path of this massive pipeline. Maury Johnson is a southern West Virginia landowner whose organic farm has already been impacted by the Mountain Valley Pipeline. He’s a member of Preserve Monroe, as well as the POWHR Coalition — that is, Protect Our Water, Heritage and Rights Coalition. Both groups have been opposing MVP. His new essay for Common Dreams is headlined “It Is Time to Kill the ‘Dirty Deal’ Once and For All.”

Maury Johnson, welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. Why are you so concerned about the passage of the debt deal, the lifting the debt ceiling, including a final approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline?

MAURY JOHNSON: Thank you. Good morning, Amy. Thanks for having me.

So, this debt ceiling deal has a lot of things in it that should be nowhere near a debt ceiling deal. Especially the student loan thing is really bad. My son’s a recipient of student loans, and it’s just a crushing thing. But as far as the permitting and the Mountain Valley pipe exclusion from law, it’s — we have been telling the people permitting this and the people building this for eight years that they can’t build this pipeline and follow the law. And it’s been proven in court numerous times. So they just want to circumvent the law.

I’m what a sacrifice looks like. If this deal goes through, this dirty deal of Joe Manchin’s pet project, Mountain Valley Pipeline, everybody in America needs to look in the mirror and say, “I can be sacrificed also.”

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Maury, could you — for those people who are not familiar with this 303-mile proposed pipeline, how directly would it affect not only Monroe County but the entire path of the pipeline? What are your major concerns about it?

MAURY JOHNSON: Well, we have documented many things, all along the pipeline path, from the very beginning in northern West Virginia, in Mobley, across some very steep slopes, the steepest that’s probably ever been crossed in Appalachia, and slope-prone soils that’s in central West Virginia and southern West Virginia, and even in southwest Virginia. We’re in an earthquake zone, one of the most active earthquake zones in the East, and we have actually had some minor earthquakes during the construction of this pipeline. We know that the methane that leaks all along the pipeline is harmful to the climate.

It’s already impacted a lot of people’s water, including my own. I actually have not been able to use my water since 2021. I started having pretty severe — because I’m in karst, and that’s, for people — that’s caves and sinkholes. Now, they’ll say, “Well, you got to prove that.” And they have an army of attorneys. So, I suspect, very strongly suspect, that this damage was done once they blasted near my house.

There’s just so many problems with this pipeline. The eminent domain issues, where they just take — could take whatever they want. They’ve never really proven that it’s for the use of the people in this country. Former Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur, in 2017, said she’d only seen where a small portion of this was actually being used. They use something called a precedent agreement, where the pipeline company, the people building the pipeline, can sell the capacity on the pipeline to themselves — affiliate to themselves. And that’s all that FERC has said is needed.

One other thing, the day before Earth Day, President Biden issued an executive order saying that environmental justice for all is the priority of his administration. He cannot say that and permit things like the Willow project, the more LNG projects in the Gulf Coast and more pipelines across Appalachia.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you — a spokesperson for Mountain Valley Pipeline, Natalie Cox, told the Mountain State Spotlight, and I’m quoting her there, “The [MVP] project, along with all submitted plans and processes, have undergone rigorous review and evaluation for more years, and in many cases, has been subject to a level of scrutiny that is unprecedented for a project of this nature.” How do you respond to her comments?

MAURY JOHNSON: It has received lots of scrutiny, and the courts has struck down their permits, because they cannot follow the law. I don’t know how many different agencies — West Virginia, Virginia, federal agencies — have tried to change the law, weaken the law, to permit this project. Permitting should not — for any project, should not be weakened and fast-tracked. If they had followed the law and followed our bedrock environmental and Endangered Species Act, this project may not have ever been started, to begin with, or would have just drastically been changed. So, yes, and even the 4th — the D.C. Circuit just last Friday questioned FERC on: Why did you issue a two-year extension back in 2020 without doing a supplemental environmental impact statement?

This project has been very poorly designed from the very beginning, and we have told them so many, many, many times. And all they do is pay more legislators. If this project is added to the dirty — to this debt ceiling, then that just will violate constitutional law. It will end democracy for people, for citizens being able to say, “This is wrong. You can’t do this.” All that corporations would have to do is throw a bunch of money to politicians. The corporations get rich, the politicians get rich, and the people and the citizens of the country are sacrificed.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to a comment of Crystal Cavalier-Keck. We spoke to her last year. She’s chair of the NAACP Environmental Justice Committee and a member of the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation, talking about how the MVP threatens sacred burial grounds.

CRYSTAL CAVALIERKECK: So, the map, it starts in West Virginia, and it goes through the mountaintops. And on these mountaintops are our sacred burial grounds of our Monacan, Saponi and Occaneechi nations. And, you know, the MVP, they call these burial mounds “rock piles,” and they often say these do not exist, which often makes us — they’re trying to extinct us or genocide us again. But it’s going through these very sacred mountains, going through waters, boring under rivers — and these sacred waters of, like, the Roanoke, the Dan and the Haw River, which is very sacred to my tribe and my community.

AMY GOODMAN: As we wrap up, can you comment, Maury, on what Cavalier-Keck is saying, and also the very stringent rules that are being set forth in this deal that would really take power away from the courts, where environmentalists have been having a series of victories against the MVP, and demand that it be approved within, what, 21 days of signing?

MAURY JOHNSON: Yeah, well, let’s talk about the Native American artifacts and burial grounds. I’ve been told — I haven’t actually gotten to see it, but I’ve been told that in Lewis County, West Virginia, MVP destroyed Native American artifacts that were 15,000 years old. I know that in numerous areas they found lots of Native American artifacts in Summers County on a place called Keeney’s Knob. I know that on Peters Mountain — I can see Peters Mountain from my house — where the Appalachian Trail will be impacted, not only there but along this pipeline for over a hundred miles, unprecedented impacts. On Peters Mountain on the Virginia side, I have and other people have photoed an area of significant Native American artifacts. And they just want to blast through it. They’re not going to do a — they won’t have to do any kind of a study or looking for it. It’s happened in Bent Mountain, Virginia. And then, if the MVP is completed and they do the MVP Southgate that goes through Crystal’s area, there’s lots and lots of Native American artifacts and areas in southern Virginia and south, northern North Carolina.

So, this pipeline — this bill says that the federal government and the state government has to issue permits within 21 days. Whether they can meet the actual rules or not, it doesn’t matter. And you can’t take it to court. There’s the unconstitutional part of it. Citizens’ rights to redress their grievances before the court is part of the Constitution, and they’re taking the power from the citizens and from the courts. If they can do that to us and people in Appalachia, they can do it to anyone.


MAURY JOHNSON: They also said that — yes?

AMY GOODMAN: We just have to wrap up. We have 15 more seconds.

MAURY JOHNSON: OK. OK. Well, they just need to get this out of this debt ceiling package, or let’s just pass a clean CR and get some of this bad stuff, like this permitting and this Mountain Valley Pipeline and the student loan stuff — it needs to go. And thank you, Tim Kaine and the delegates from Virginia and the others who are fighting on our behalf.

AMY GOODMAN: Maury Johnson, I want to thank you for being with us, southern West Virginia organic farmer whose land has been impacted by the Mountain Valley Pipeline, member of the Preserve Monroe, as well as POWHR Coalition —


AMY GOODMAN: — Protect Our Water, Heritage and Rights Coalition. We’ll link to your article

MAURY JOHNSON: And we have a website.

AMY GOODMAN: — “It Is Time to Kill the ‘Dirty Deal’ Once and For All.” The website, Maury?




AMY GOODMAN: Next up, we look at a major Supreme Court ruling weakening the Clean Water Act. Back in 30 seconds.

“King: A Life”: New Bio Details Extensive FBI Spying & How MLK's Criticism of Malcolm X Was Fabricated

"King: A Life": New Bio Details Extensive FBI Spying & How MLK's Criticism of Malcolm X Was Fabricated 5

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

We spend the rest of the hour with the author of the first major biography of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in decades. Jonathan Eig’s King: A Life was published this month and draws on unredacted FBI files, as well as the files of the personal aide to President Lyndon Johnson, that shows how he and others partnered with the FBI’s surveillance of King and efforts to destroy him, led by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.

Eig wrote in a New York Times opinion essay about the book that the documents reveal how, quote, “Johnson was more of an antagonist to King and a conspirator with Hoover than he has been portrayed. By personalizing the F.B.I.’s assault on King, Americans cling to a view of history that isolates a few bad actors who opposed the civil rights movement — including Hoover, Gov. George Wallace of Alabama and the Birmingham lawman Bull Connor. They thus fail to acknowledge the institutionalized, well-organized resistance to change in our society.” That’s Jonathan Eig, author of King: A Life, for which he also interviewed more than 200 people, including many who knew King closely, like the singer, actor and activist, the late, great Harry Belafonte.

The book has also drawn attention for its revelation that King was less critical of Malcolm X than previously thought. Eig found the original transcript of an interview King did with Alex Haley, who’s the author who collaborated with Malcolm X on his autobiography. The transcript shows how Haley misquoted and even made up part of King’s response. In fact, King never said, “Malcolm has done himself or our people a great disservice.” And King’s comment about “fiery, demagogic oratory” was not related to Malcolm X.

To talk about all of this, we’re joined in Chicago by Jonathan Eig.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Jonathan. This is an epic work. Congratulations on years of research and writing. Why don’t we begin where I left off, on this exposé around what Martin Luther King really thought of Malcolm X? Talk about the significance of how Alex Haley shaped the narrative for so many decades, and who Haley was.

JONATHAN EIG: Alex Haley was one of the best-known African American journalists of his era. He wrote for a lot of mainstream white publications, like Reader’s Digest and Playboy. And the Playboy interview that he did with Martin Luther King was the longest interview — the longest published interview that King ever gave. So it had significant impact. It reached a lot of white readers who were not otherwise going to be exposed to such a long interview with King.

And because of the comments that King made, or supposedly made, about Malcolm X, it’s been handed down for decades, for generations, that this is what King actually thought about Malcolm X. And it was, as you pointed out in the introduction, largely fabricated.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about how you found this out and what you understand King really thought about Malcolm X. They actually only met in person once — right? — in Washington, D.C., although Malcolm X did go to Selma. And talk about what he said to Martin Luther King’s wife, Coretta Scott King.

JONATHAN EIG: Yes, the men only met once, and Malcolm did go — he was speaking in Tuskegee, and some students told him that King was in Selma, they could drive there and be there within hours. So Malcolm X got in the car, drove to Selma, did not get to meet King, because he was in jail, but he did sit next to Coretta Scott King at a church rally and said to Coretta, “Let your husband know that I’m here, that I support him, and that maybe it’s helpful to him, in a way — if everybody knows that I’m the alternative, perhaps they’ll be more willing to listen to Dr. King.”

And that’s the truth. The truth of the relationship, as James Baldwin wrote, is that by the time of their deaths, they were pretty much indistinguishable in their philosophies. That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but they were definitely moving toward each other. And this quote in Playboy really did a disservice. It really misrepresented their relationship.

One of the things that I do any time I find a really good interview with a subject of a book that I’m working on is I’ll go to the archives and try to find the original tapes or the original transcript of that interview to see what was left out. And that’s really all I was doing when I went looking for the Alex Haley transcript of his interview with Martin Luther King. I wanted to see what got left out, because, you know, you can never really publish the full interview. You have to choose the best parts.

But as I was reading through the transcript, I was shocked to discover that whole parts of it were moved around so that answers to questions were changed in their meaning, and some sections were completely fabricated. And King never said that he thought Malcolm’s fiery oratory was doing a disservice to the Black community. In fact, he said that about the Nation of Islam, but not specifically about Malcolm.

And when asked about Malcolm, King actually expressed great open-mindedness. He said, “I don’t agree when Malcolm X calls for violence, but I’m also not so arrogant to think that I have all the answers.” And he’s suggesting in this interview, the part that wasn’t published, that he’s open-minded to learning more and to talking more to Malcolm. That’s one of the great things about King. He was always interested in listening to the people who disagreed with him.

AMY GOODMAN: So, if you can talk about that kind of research that you did, Jonathan, and why you chose to do a profile of King, the — not just a profile, an epic work? Talk about the other biographies that you wrote and how that brought you to King at this critical moment, when, what, Harry Belafonte just died. He was 96. Dr. King, of course, would have been in his nineties, and what that means about those around him who knew him best.

JONATHAN EIG: About 10 years ago, when I was working on my Muhammad Ali biography, I was interviewing people who knew Ali and also knew Martin Luther King, and I was asking them about the couple of occasions when King and Ali met. I was speaking to people like Harry Belafonte, Dick Gregory, Andrew Young, Reverend Jesse Jackson. And as I began talking to them, I found myself just asking a lot of questions about King. I was curious what he was like.

And that’s when it occurred to me that in the last, you know, 40, 50 years or so, we’ve turned King into kind of a two-dimensional figure. And I think especially with the advent of the national holiday, he’s become kind of a Hallmark card, and we’ve watered down his vision. And these men were telling me that they considered King a radical, as radical as Malcolm X in many ways. And the public image of him has changed so much that I felt like this was a great opportunity to write a book that would correct that image, and also an opportunity to write that book while so many people who knew King were still alive.

And I traveled the country over the last six years interviewing folks not just like the ones I mentioned, but also Juanita Abernathy, Dr. June Dobbs Butts, Reverend James Lawson, Reverend Bernard Lafayette, and asking them, “What was it like to be around King? What was his message? How have we lost sight of the real man?” I wanted to write a more intimate portrait. And it had been, you know, a good 35 years since the last King biography had been published, so I felt like this was an urgent mission, really.

AMY GOODMAN: Jonathan, I want to get to his early years, the descendant of enslaved people, but I also want to talk about what you discovered in the last years from declassified FBI documents, and also this personal secretary of Lyndon Baines Johnson kept her own archive, and how that wasn’t released until recently. I want to talk about FBI surveillance, from the Kennedys to Johnson, and how it wasn’t just surveillance but proactive attempting to drive Dr. Martin Luther King to suicide.

JONATHAN EIG: It began with an authorization by Robert F. Kennedy to begin to surveil King. They began by putting wiretaps on some of his associates’ phones. Eventually, they started wiretapping King’s home and office phones. And then they also began to put listening devices in his hotel rooms.

Originally, the rationale for that was that they were concerned he was consorting, associating with communists and former communists. When it became clear that King was not interested at all in communists, and the communists were not influencing the civil rights movement in any way that moved them toward communist beliefs, they acknowledged that, but by then they had become obsessed with his personal life and trying to catch him in affairs with other women, other than Coretta, his wife.

So, it became, really, a personal vendetta, fueled in part by the racism in the FBI, fueled in part by the insecurities of J. Edgar Hoover, who resisted and really raged when King criticized the FBI for being racist. And then it became really the personal obsession of people like Hoover and LBJ, who I think just had a prurient interest in keeping tabs on King’s personal life.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about how they weaponized that. I mean, you talk extensively about Martin Luther King dealing with depression. And I think this also goes to demystifying an icon. It doesn’t take away any of his power, but for people who are — who wonder if they themselves could make a difference in the world, who suffer from depression. From his early sort of halfhearted attempts at suicide as a child to being institutionalized and yet accomplishing so much, take us on that trajectory.

JONATHAN EIG: I think it’s really important for us to acknowledge that our heroes have flaws, and if we expect our heroes to be perfect, nobody will ever rise to the occasion. Nobody will even try.

And King was deeply flawed. As you mentioned, he attempted suicide twice as a teenager, jumping from a second-story window of his home when he was upset about, first, an injury suffered by his grandmother and then, later, by her death. And when he won the Nobel Peace Prize, he was hospitalized at the time for what he called anxiety, but for what Coretta described as depression. He was hospitalized numerous times throughout his life because the pressure had just gotten to him so badly.

And, of course, the FBI knew about this and attempted to weaponize it, as you say. They took his personal life, reported on it, distributed that information not only to the president of the United States, but to members of Congress and to members of the media, hoping that somebody would go public with it and destroy his marriage, destroy his reputation and, essentially, destroy the civil rights movement. At one point, they even planned for a replacement for King, choosing Samuel Pierce to become the next leader of the civil rights movement once they managed to get King out of the way.

So this was a deliberate, extended and really mean-spirited campaign, driven not just by their fear of King, not just by their fear of a race — of a Black man rising to prominence, but really driven by a fear of losing the power as was enjoyed by white people primarily at that time. They wanted to maintain the existing power structure.

AMY GOODMAN: And when you talk about distributing the surveillance transcripts, when they were listening to him in hotel rooms, when they were listening to him on the telephone, talk about the role of the media, in one sense being called heroic — for example, The New York Times for returning those documents without reporting on them — but not exposing the fact that he was being surveilled and wiretapped.

JONATHAN EIG: This is one of the great mysteries of the civil rights era. Why didn’t anybody report on the fact that our government, the FBI, was in fact surveilling private citizens — not just King, but many of his closest associates — and, as we later discovered in 1971, when some of these FBI documents were stolen in a break-in, that the FBI was conducting a massive campaign of trying to disrupt protest leaders, trying to disrupt activists who were engaged in peacefully, for the most part, trying to bring change and expand the system of democracy?

But the real interesting part of the story to me is that dozens of reporters were being leaked these documents, dozens of reporters were being beseeched by the FBI to publish the news of King’s personal life, to write about his sexual affairs, and they patted themselves on the back for not reporting that story, protecting King’s privacy, but none of them picked up what should have been the much bigger story, which was the surveillance in the first place. Why was our government doing this? Why was it engaged in this kind of conduct against a private citizen, in fact, one of our great moral leaders?

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about how that went back to the Kennedys, both President John F. Kennedy and Attorney General Robert Kennedy. What was their relationship with King — on the one hand, calling Coretta, being deeply concerned about him being jailed, and, on the other hand, authorizing the wiretaps?

JONATHAN EIG: Martin Luther King did not endorse JFK, but a lot of people felt like his tacit endorsement, his words of approval for Kennedy, helped Kennedy swing the election. And after that, King was really disappointed that Kennedy didn’t move more quickly to enact civil rights legislation. He felt like Kennedy was hemming and hawing, playing politics, trying to conserve — to preserve white votes in the South, not wanting to take any chances. So, the relationship was a complicated one.

At the same time, it was the Kennedys who authorized the FBI to begin these wiretaps. The Kennedys were, at first, truly concerned that King’s connections to communists might have damaging political effects, that if the news got out that King had these former Communist Party members and perhaps some current Communist Party members in his circle, that it would damage any chances they had of passing civil rights legislation. And the Kennedys warned King and asked him to get rid of these people. King ended up getting rid of one of them, but keeping his relationship with the other, because he truly believed that this was a good man and that his former ties to communists were irrelevant. So, King was not playing politics. He was doing what he believed was the right thing morally, standing by a friend and an important ally. And the Kennedys didn’t seem to understand that. They didn’t understand why he wasn’t more concerned with the political optics.

AMY GOODMAN: And then, going on to Johnson, the fact that he understood he had to keep these memos of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover secret, who was sending as many as one a week, detailing Dr. King’s private life — who knows? — filled with facts, filled with lies, and putting this through a whole different channel with the private secretary of Lyndon Baines Johnson, and when those documents came out, Jonathan?

JONATHAN EIG: Just last year, really, within the last year, year and a half. I petitioned the LBJ Library to open up the files of Mildred Stegall, who was LBJ’s personal secretary, because we’ve known for a long time that Johnson kept his most important papers in Mildred Stegall’s safe. He kept his private business papers there. He kept recordings that he made, unbeknownst to others that he was recording all the phone calls from the Oval Office. He kept the tapes in Mildred Stegall’s safe. So I asked them to check to see if there were any FBI files in the safe, in Mildred Stegall’s files.

And, in fact, there were hundreds of pages of documents directly from J. Edgar Hoover to the White House with the most personal details, really shockingly odd in how personal they were, really gossipy things that could not have borne any, really, importance when it comes to national security. But it just appeared that LBJ and Hoover enjoyed gossiping about the personal details of King’s life, and also about any kind of criticism that King might have had for LBJ. It was raised to the level of high national importance, at least in Hoover’s mind, if King said something critical of LBJ. And LBJ, by this time, was becoming consumed with the Vietnam War. It was giving him nightmares, literally causing him nightmares. And when King began to speak out more aggressively against the war, LBJ took this very personally. So, LBJ seemed to join in the vendetta with Hoover in this attack on King.

And I think it’s important to recognize that that has consequences. You know, when LBJ took office, he viewed King as one of his most important allies. They worked together to pass some of the greatest legislation in this country’s history — the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. And I think their partnership was an amazing one, maybe the greatest partnership we’ve ever seen between a president and an activist. But J. Edgar Hoover helped to really spread cancer into that relationship. And you can hear it in their phone calls. You can hear how he goes from calling him “Martin” in those early calls to referring to him as “Dr. King” and “Reverend King” and really losing the warmth of that relationship, and to the point where they are really antagonists. LBJ becomes an antagonist of Dr. King’s.

AMY GOODMAN: So, I’m going to go through a chronology. After FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover called Dr. King, quote, “the most notorious liar in the country,” a reporter asked Dr. King for his response.

REPORTER: Dr. King, what is your reaction to the charges made by J. Edgar Hoover?

REV. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: Well, I was quite shocked and surprised to learn of this statement from Mr. Hoover questioning my integrity. And very frankly, I don’t understand what motivated the statement.

AMY GOODMAN: Not long after J. Edgar Hoover called Dr. King “the most notorious liar in the country,” on November 18th, 1964, Dr. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. This is an excerpt from his acceptance speech on December 10th, 1964.

REV. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: I must ask why this prize is awarded to a movement which is beleaguered and committed to unrelenting struggle, and to a movement which has not yet won the very peace and brotherhood which is the essence of the Nobel Prize. After contemplation, I conclude that this award, which I receive on behalf of that movement, is a profound recognition that nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time, the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Dr. King in his Nobel acceptance speech. There’s so much to talk about here, Jonathan Eig. As you said, when he learned he was going to win the Nobel Peace Prize — that announcement comes in October — he was hospitalized for depression. Talk about his response at the time. And then, that quote of J. Edgar Hoover, who knew all of this was going on, was right after the announcement, and knowing that Dr. King had been hospitalized. And the response of Dr. King to hearing Hoover call him this?

JONATHAN EIG: I think J. Edgar Hoover was furious that Dr. King had won the Nobel Prize. He took it personally. You know, here’s this Black man, this man who’s attacking American values, as J. Edgar Hoover sees them. J. Edgar Hoover is deeply committed to his version of white Christian nationalism. And for King to win the Nobel Prize was a personal affront to him, I think. And he redoubled his efforts at that point to try to damage King, to try to destroy his reputation.

At the same time, the Nobel Peace Prize becomes a calling to Dr. King and to Coretta Scott King, both of whom say, “We have a greater responsibility than ever now. And that responsibility includes not limiting our work to the fight in the South, not limiting our work to integration, but to look at racism throughout the country, to look at poverty, to look at militarism, to look at materialism.” And he really begins to expand not just his vision, but his activism, his work. He begins taking on more fights in the North. He begins speaking out more against the Vietnam War. And he broadens his role and becomes, you know, a much greater moral leader.

And this, in turn, further infuriates J. Edgar Hoover. And we see the campaign to destroy King just growing and growing. So, what we have here, sadly, as the Nobel Prize helps to crystallize, we recognize that J. Edgar Hoover is actually one of the few people who understands that Martin Luther King is presenting a massive threat. He’s calling for a new kind of American democracy. He’s calling for a vision of America that gets us past some of our materialistic, militaristic habits and brings in a new dawn of a new day. And that is a huge affront and a threat to J. Edgar Hoover in the way he sees the world.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to that address, Dr. Martin Luther King, April 4th, 1967, a year to the day before he was assassinated in Memphis, the speech he gave at Riverside Church explaining why he opposed the War in Vietnam.

REV. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they ask, and rightly so, “What about Vietnam?” And they ask if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home. And I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government.

AMY GOODMAN: Jonathan Eig, the significance of what he said, going beyond civil rights in the United States, the attack on him not only by those who opposed him, but by his closest allies, saying he was risking the entire civil rights project? And then the corporate media. You had Life magazine calling the speech “demagogic slander sounding like a script for Radio Hanoi,” The Washington Post saying King, quote, “diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country, his people.” Talk about how King both was deeply affected by this, but doubled down because he said it was his moral obligation.

JONATHAN EIG: To me, this is my favorite King speech, because it summarizes his entire life and everything he’s believed in from childhood. This is a man — remember, he came to fame at age 26, leading the Montgomery bus boycott; he was assassinated at age 39 — a very short career, 12-and-a-half years of activism. But it all began with the lessons he learned before he knew how to read, lessons he learned from the Bible, that said all men are created equal, that said war is wrong, war is a sin against God, and that all men are brothers. And he sums it all up in this speech on April 4th, 1967, at Riverside Church in New York, sums it up so beautifully, really crystallizes everything he’s been saying all his life, and doubles down at a time when he could have backed off, when he could have stepped aside, when he was under attack from the left and the right. He was not conservative enough for the conservatives; he was liberal enough for the liberals. He was getting it from all sides.

He really just keeps marching, keeps going forward, and plans for this Poor People’s Campaign in Washington, where he’s going to basically occupy Washington, D.C., until the government agrees to fundamental economic reforms and fundamental changes in how we feed and care for the poor, fundamental changes in how we view our militarism. And he is battered for this. The New York Times, Life magazine, The Washington Post, they all attack him. And we have transcripts of his phone calls. We can even hear him on the phone with one of his best friends and closest advisers, who says to him, “That speech was a mistake. It’s going to cost us funding in the North. We’re going to lose our liberal supporters. You’re going to have no relationship anymore with LBJ.” And it’s painful to read these transcripts. You can just — your heart goes out to King, because he has to explain to one of his closest friends, “Don’t you understand me? Don’t you know what I’ve been saying all these years? It’s not out of pragmatism. I may have been wrong politically, but I was not wrong morally.”

And that is King. That is what makes him a hero for our day, because he never backed down. He never gave up on his true beliefs. And he continued to insist, even when it would have been a lot easier for him to step back.

AMY GOODMAN: Jonathan Eig, I want to thank you for this interview and hope you can stay for us to do a post-show interview, and we’ll post it at democracynow.org, to talk about King’s early years and the allies he was forced to sever ties with for a time, like Bayard Rustin. We’re talking to Jonathan Eig, longtime journalist, author. His new biography is out, King: A Life.

That does it for our show. Go to democracynow.org for all transcripts of show. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.

Debt Deal Raises Military Spending & OKs WV Pipeline While Introducing New Work Rules for Food Stamps

Debt Deal Raises Military Spending & OKs WV Pipeline While Introducing New Work Rules for Food Stamps 6

This post was originally published on this site

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy are urging lawmakers to support a deal to suspend the debt ceiling until January 1st, 2025, in order to prevent the United States from defaulting on its debt for the first time in history. A tentative deal has been reached, but it must still be approved by members of Congress, where progressive lawmakers and members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus have expressed opposition to parts of the deal. President Biden announced the agreement Saturday.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: And this is a deal that’s good news, I believe you’ll see, for the American people. The agreement prevents the worst possible crisis: a default for the first time in our nation’s history — an economic recession, retirement accounts devastated, millions of jobs lost. It also protects key priorities and accomplishments and values that congressional Democrats and I have fought long for, long and hard for.

AMY GOODMAN: House Speaker Kevin McCarthy praised the deal, which places new caps on government spending.

SPEAKER KEVIN McCARTHY: We were able to do this when the president said he wasn’t even going to talk to us. This is really a step in the right direction. It puts us a trajectory that’s different. We put a statutory cap on only spending 1% for the next six years. So we let government grow, but at a slower rate.

AMY GOODMAN: The deal calls for nondefense discretionary spending to remain mostly flat, while boosting military spending by about 3%. New work requirements would be established for some recipients of food stamps and the Temporary Aid for Needy Families program. And it cuts funding to the IRS. In addition, the deal would also lift a moratorium on student loan payments which has been place since the pandemic.

The deal also speeds up the approval and construction of the proposed $6.6 billion Mountain Valley Pipeline in Virginia and West Virginia, which has been strongly backed by Democratic Senator Joe Manchin. The group Food & Water Watch condemned this provision, saying it will irreversibly scar Biden’s legacy on the environment and clean energy. Virginia’s Democratic Senator Tim Kaine says he’ll introduce an amendment to strip the Mountain Valley Pipeline from the debt limit bill.

The debt ceiling legislation now heads today to the House Rules Committee, where two members of the House Freedom Caucus — Congressmembers Chip Roy of Texas and Ralph Norman of South Carolina — have already said they oppose the deal. Meanwhile, South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham has blasted the deal for not increasing the military budget enough.

Progressive critics of the deal include Bishop William Barber of the Poor People’s Campaign. He said, quote, “The great contradiction of this debt ceiling deal is that, while poverty is the fourth-leading cause of death, this deal will make it harder to get food stamps but easier to spend money on war.”

We’re joined now by Lindsay Owens, executive director of the Groundwork Collaborative, a progressive think tank. She’s a former policy adviser to Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Lindsay, welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. Can you basically summarize this deal further and talk about your concerns with it?

LINDSAY OWENS: Sure. So, the deal does two big things. First, it suspends the debt ceiling until January 2025. So, assuming Congress gets this passed before the June 5th X-date, we hopefully won’t be in position to default on our debt again until early 2025, when we’ll get to do this all over again.

The second thing that the proposal does is sets two years of budget caps. This is effectively the maximum amount of money that Congress allocates for the federal government to spend over the next two years. As you mentioned, for the first year, they set, effectively, flat funding, and for the second year, a 1% increase. But I think it’s really important to know that given the high inflation that Americans are experiencing right now, flat funding isn’t so flat. It’s actually an inflation-adjusted cut, which means that we will not be able to offer the same amount of services we did last year, after inflation takes its share — really, eats its share.

And then, in addition to the funding levels and, obviously, the suspension of the debt ceiling, you know, Congress tucked in a variety of other pretty harmful proposals, including the Mountain Valley Pipeline being greenlit, including basically bringing student loan payments back online beginning in September, which is really critically important, given that, you know, the Supreme Court is hearing — has heard this case and will be deciding soon. If the Supreme Court knocks down the Biden administration’s effort to offer broad-based student loan forgiveness, as early as September 1st, Americans will have to start paying those student loans again.

So there are a number of problematic provisions that Congress tucked into this proposal that they’ll be voting on later this week that I think really set us back in terms of the economic health of this country.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to New York Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaking on the House floor Thursday.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIOCORTEZ: Republicans have run up a bill that they now do not want to pay. They have run up this bill with extremely excessive military spending. They have run up this bill with extraordinary tax cuts for the wealthiest people in this country. And now when it comes down to time to pay for this bill, they do not want to pay it.

And not only that, but they are accusing Democrats of saying we spend too much. For anyone that wants to entertain that thought, I ask you to think about the last time a person said — has said in this country that the government does too much for them, that their Social Security check was too high, that teachers are paid too much. When was the last time anyone has heard or seen that?

AMY GOODMAN: Progressive Caucus Chair Representative Pramila Jayapal spoke to CNN’s Jake Tapper about the new work requirements in the debt deal.

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL: We are one of the only countries in the world, if not the only country in the world that is an industrialized country, that puts any requirements on people who just want food. So, very bad policy, does not save money, and, by the way, does not work. We’ve seen reams of data that show that when you put these work requirements in, they’re really just administrative red tape that prevent the people who need help from getting help.

AMY GOODMAN: And speaking to Fox News Monday, the Florida Republican governor and presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis blasted the deal.

GOV. RON DESANTIS: Prior to this deal, Kayleigh, our country was careening towards bankruptcy. And after this deal, our country will still be careening towards bankruptcy. And to say you can do $4 trillion of increases in the next year and a half, I mean, that’s a massive amount of spending. I think that we’ve gotten ourselves on a trajectory here, really since March of 2020 with some of the COVID spending; it totally reset the budget, and they’re sticking with that. And I think that that’s just going to be totally inadequate to get us in a better spot.

Look, in Florida, we run big budget surpluses. We have a $1.2 trillion economy, but our debt is only $17 billion, second lowest per capita in the country. But we make tough choices, and we make sure that we look forward to the long haul. Obviously, in Washington, D.C., they do these cycles to just get them through to the next election. And that’s ultimately one of the reasons why they continue to fail.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Chip Roy of Texas called the deal a “turd sandwich.” And the far-right radical Lauren Boebert of Colorado said, “Eliminating $1.8 billion for Biden’s new army of IRS agents is great until you realize that Democrats appropriated $80 billion for [the IRS].” Lindsay Owens, if you can respond to it all?

LINDSAY OWENS: Sure. I mean, it’s interesting how Congress always finds the money for military spending, always finds the money to cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans. And I think the IRS funding cuts in this bill are a great example of this.

You know, last year, when Congress passed the Inflation Reduction Act, they allocated $80 billion in new spending for the IRS. That spending is supposed to do a couple of things. First, it’s supposed to enable the IRS to go after the wealthiest tax cheats. About 70% of the tax gap — that’s the difference between the taxes owed and the taxes collected by the IRS — are actually coming from the top 1% of filers who are evading their taxes. And the IRS just hasn’t had the resources — the humans, the staff, and the financial resources — to crack down on that, to go after those tax evaders. And actually, over time, over the last 10 years, audits of the wealthiest filers have dropped precipitously. And so, when Republicans are going after this IRS funding, they’re very explicitly, effectively, greenlighting paving the way for the wealthiest Americans to continue cheating on their taxes.

The other thing that that money was slated to do is really modernize the agency, to be able to bring down wait times so that Americans who have questions about filing their taxes can get on the phone with an agent and get those questions answered. And it’s already working. Call wait times were down 85% this tax season, which is really wonderful for so many Americans, I mean, really improving that customer service.

So, you know, I think the IRS cuts are really unfortunate here. And I think they really show the hypocrisy of the Republican Party, who likes to talk a lot about deficit reduction, but actually ushered in a series of cuts that increases the deficit, because when you spend money on the IRS, you not only recoup all of that money back, you actually recoup more in those additional revenues that the agency is able to bring in by cracking down on the wealthiest tax cheats.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Lindsay Owens, what is the Groundwork Collaborative’s alternatives at this point in a number of different areas? And how does this work right now through the House, which has been called back? Now today in the House Rules Committee, will it even get out of that? And then, tomorrow, a vote expected.

LINDSAY OWENS: Yeah. You’re hearing a lot from the Biden administration officials right now as they try to sell this deal, which, obviously, you know, we don’t want to default on our debt. It would be an extraordinary catastrophe. You know, economists predict up to 7 or 8 million Americans unemployed if we did that. So, obviously, we want to avoid the worst-case scenario. But you’re hearing a lot from the administration that, you know, this deal could have been worse, and so Democrats really need to line up behind it.

And, you know, our position at the Groundwork Collaborative is that this deal could also have been better, that it’s possible to take care of the debt ceiling without kicking older Americans who need food assistance in the teeth, which is what this bill does, increasing those SNAP work requirements. You know, we have work requirements already on the books for individuals 18 to 49, and this bill extends those to folks ages 50 to 55. I mean, if you are a poor American in your early fifties not working, you face a lot of obstacles to getting back into the labor market — age discrimination; you know, your skills may have been atrophied; you’ve been out of the labor market for a while. You know, a lot of older Americans are not going to be able to clear that hurdle, and, as a result, go without food.

And so, I think, you know, there was an easier, softer way here first, I think, as many of us advocated for. You know, as soon as we realized that we wouldn’t have the House of Representatives in this next Congress right after the election in November, you know, Congress should have taken on the debt ceiling then, during the lame duck, and avoided this debacle of hostage-taking by Kevin McCarthy altogether. But also I think there are alternatives the Biden administration could pursue to negotiation even still, including invoking the 14th Amendment, which effectively says we have to pay our debts, and so we’ll do that.

So, I think, going forward, you know, we’re going to be in this position again in 2025. And it’s really our hope that as we approach that 2025 debt ceiling limit again, we explore alternatives, including, if we want to bring down the deficit, let’s do it through revenue. Let’s tax the wealthiest Americans and corporations, make sure they pay their fair share, instead of, you know, this sort of death-by-a-thousand-cuts scenario where we really just go after programs that so many Americans depend on, that, frankly, are already underfunded after decades of not really meeting the needs of Americans on a number of counts.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Lindsay Owens, does the Groundwork Collaborative recommend that the Progressive Caucus vote down this deal?

LINDSAY OWENS: Look, I think we have to clear the debt ceiling, so I would say, you know, if we’re getting to the point where McCarthy and the Republican caucus in the House is unable to supply the votes to get this over the finish line, and therefore they need the Progressive Caucus’s vote to pass this bill, then I think the short version is the progressives should get something for it. Let’s get some policies in place that work for Americans. Let’s maybe remove this harmful student loan provision, so that if the Supreme Court does strike down broad-based student loan forgiveness, Americans can get another extension while the administration works on a Plan B. So, I think if the progressives are going to have to vote for this, they should get something for their vote.

AMY GOODMAN: Lindsay Owens, I want to thank you for being with us, executive director of the Groundwork Collaborative.

Coming up, we look at a major new biography of Martin Luther King based in part on thousands of newly released FBI files on the human rights leader. We’ll speak with author Jonathan Eig and also ask him about what he revealed about how the world misunderstands what Martin Luther King thought of Malcolm X. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: Harry Belafonte singing “Martin Luther King” at a concert in Germany in 1988.

Free Julian Assange: Noam Chomsky, Dan Ellsberg & Jeremy Corbyn Lead Call at Belmarsh Tribunal

Free Julian Assange: Noam Chomsky, Dan Ellsberg & Jeremy Corbyn Lead Call at Belmarsh Tribunal 7

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Former British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg and famed linguist and dissident Noam Chomsky joined others earlier this year calling on President Biden to drop charges against Julian Assange. The WikiLeaks founder has been languishing for over four years in the harsh Belmarsh prison in London while appealing extradition to the United States. If he’s extradited, tried and convicted, Julian Assange faces up to 175 years in jail for violating the U.S. Espionage Act for publishing documents that exposed U.S. war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In January, Noam Chomsky, Dan Ellsberg and Jeremy Corbyn all took part in the Belmarsh Tribunal held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The tribunal was organized by the Progressive International and the Wau Holland Foundation. I co-chaired the tribunal with the Croatian philosopher and activist Srećko Horvat.

Today, we spend the hour airing excerpts of the Belmarsh Tribunal. We begin with Ben Wizner of the American Civil Liberties Union. He’s the lead attorney for NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

BEN WIZNER: No government in any kind of system will voluntarily disclose its own crimes. For that, we need brave sources who have firsthand evidence, and we need a free press and brave publishers who are willing to bring this information to the people, to whom it belongs.

Now, in this case, the government characterizes that collaboration between a courageous source and a courageous publisher as a conspiracy. Of course it was a conspiracy. Good investigative journalism is always a conspiracy. It’s a conspiracy to end the monopoly on information that governments control and to give people the seat at the table that they must have in order for us to be able to judge powerful people and hold them accountable. But this is the first time, as you’ve heard already today, under the century-long history of the Espionage Act that the government has charged this kind of collaboration as a criminal conspiracy. And this is vitally important.

Remember, without sources like Chelsea Manning, like Edward Snowden, without publishers like WikiLeaks and the partners that it worked with to bring this information forward, what would we have not have known? Just over the course of my career, we would not have known that prisoners were tortured and sexually humiliated at Abu Ghraib. We would not have known that the CIA set up an archipelago of dungeons where people were held incommunicado and subjected to barbaric treatment. We wouldn’t have known that any innocent person ever died in a drone strike. We wouldn’t have known that governments developed and deployed systems of mass surveillance without the consent or knowledge of the public. These are all things that governments classified at the absolute highest level of secrecy. And yet, can anyone really say that the public in a democracy doesn’t have a right to know or a need to know any of the things that I have just said?

If this prosecution goes forward and ends in conviction, it will be a very dark day for press freedom in the United States. The prosecution has already had a chilling effect in newsrooms around the country. The lawyers for publications are already assessing the risks of publishing certain information in a way that they never had before.

But let’s not just focus on the threat to press freedom in the United States, because this is an attack on press freedom globally. And that’s because the United States is advancing what I think is really the extraordinary claim that it can impose U.S. criminal secrecy laws on a foreign publisher who is publishing outside the United States. Let’s think about that for a second. Let’s linger on that for a second. This is opening an incredible Pandora’s box. Every country has secrecy laws. Some countries have very draconian secrecy laws. If those countries try to extradite New York Times reporters and publishers to those countries for publishing their secrets, we would cry foul, and rightly so. Does this administration want to be the first to establish the global precedent that countries can demand the extradition of foreign reporters and publishers for violating their own laws? I truly hope not.

SREĆKO HORVAT: It is my great pleasure to announce the next speaker, Jeffrey Sterling, who is an American lawyer and former CIA employee, who was arrested, charged and convicted of violating the Espionage Act. Please, Jeffrey, join the stage.

JEFFREY STERLING: I spent two-and-a-half years in prison after being wrongfully convicted — on no evidence — of violating the Espionage Act. It was a travesty of a trial. And that sentence was held up as a shining example of the reasonableness and fairness that Julian Assange will face being tried here for violating that same Espionage Act. I remain sickened to this day that my persecution was held up as the benchmark of what Julian Assange is going to face in trial here.

Of course, the benchmarks they did not talk about include my experience fighting against the Espionage Act, a biased criminal justice system and the realities of being behind bars here in the United States. I can tell you that any claims of fair or humane treatment in store for Julian Assange here within our criminal justice system and prisons were outright lies.

But I would like to focus on the law that Julian Assange has supposedly violated. First and foremost, it is virtually impossible to defend against the Espionage Act. Truth is no defense. In fact, any defense related to truth will be prohibited. In addition, he won’t have access to any of the so-called evidence used against him. And to make it even more difficult, the government doesn’t have to show any harm. It is a law and prosecution in which the government says what it wants. It’s a “because we say so” law, not to be questioned, not to be challenged. The trial will be nothing more than an affirmation and continuation of the character assassination that the government has launched against Julian Assange from the moment that he spoke up.

So, but what are we really talking about here? I mean, what is this law, the Espionage Act, that he’s accused of violating, and that I was accused of violating? You know, we’re led to believe that Julian and other whistleblowers are threats to the national security of this country, hence being charged with violating the Espionage Act. But I’m living proof of what national security actually means here in the United States.

Here’s a real benchmark they don’t tell you about. In my example, I sued the CIA for racial discrimination because they said I was too big and Black to serve my country. According to the government, in that instance, and upheld by the same courts that they’re intending to try Julian Assange, was that a Black man fighting for his constitutional rights is a threat to national security. Not a surprise, really. One of the original and enduring threats to the national security of this country is and has always been African Americans. And to punish me as an African American for having the audacity to sue the CIA, I was falsely accused of and put on trial for violating the Espionage Act and, by default, our national security. The only evidence needed to convict me was the color of my skin.

SREĆKO HORVAT: I’m really happy that I can now announce our next member of the tribunal, Margaret Kunstler, the legendary American civil rights attorney, who has spent her whole career providing support and protecting the rights of activists. She was the co-chair of the Belmarsh Tribunal together with me in New York City, but this time she is coming to this stage, to this room, to Washington, D.C., as a witness to speak about the lawsuit against the CIA. Please, Margaret, join us.

MARGARET KUNSTLER: Well, I’m not only deeply involved in this lawsuit as a witness, but I am deeply involved in this lawsuit as a plaintiff. And there are many people who — perhaps who are not with us today who would be very happy to hear that the name of the lawsuit was Kunstler against Pompeo.

This is a lawsuit that we hope will, in fact, be one of the major ingredients about why the United States cannot try Julian in this country. They cannot try Julian in this country because they’ve overdone their misconduct. They’ve engaged in the level of misconduct in interfering in the defense of Julian Assange that cannot be tolerated.

And it’s brought in this country so that people can understand just the tip of the iceberg about what has been done to Julian Assange, the actions that have been taken against him. Here, lawyers, doctors and other professionals who visited Julian Assange were — their conversations were recorded. But more than that, their equipment was taken — their telephones and their computers — and they were gone through.

Now, this started happening in 2017. Before that, we had thought that the surveillance of the embassy was to protect Julian. But we found out, through a lawsuit that was brought in Spain, that starting in 2017, the lawsuit had completely — the type of surveillance that was going on had completely changed. And now the surveillance was on a level that has been unheard of in this country and unheard of anywhere in the world, that you would record and take information about conversations, about what plans were being drawn up, about — specifically about the health of Julian and about what was going to be the defense at trial. Now, you’re not allowed to do this. This absolutely violates the concept of justice in this country.

And what caused this? How did we reach this level of hatred, of disobeyance of law when it comes to Julian Assange? Well, it’s significant that it began in 2017, because that was the year that Pompeo came into authority. And Pompeo’s very first speech was that he considered Julian and WikiLeaks a nonstate hostile intelligence agency. Now, to say that was an explanation that Julian had no rights left to him, that they could go in, they could kill him, anything they wanted to do was fair game. And that is something that is so astounding to our level of understanding of justice in this country, that that was the cause of this lawsuit.

AMY GOODMAN: Civil rights attorney Margaret Kunstler testifying at the Belmarsh Tribunal at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Coming up, we’ll hear former British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Noam Chomsky, Dan Ellsberg and more. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “Wish You Were Here,” a special performance by Roger Waters for Julian Assange at the Belmarsh Tribunal in Washington, D.C. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we return to the tribunal held in January at the National Press Club. I chaired the proceedings with the Croatian philosopher and activist Srećko Horvat.

SREĆKO HORVAT: With us, the British politician, former Labour Party — former Labour Party leader, a great friend of ours, a member of the Progressive International and a vocal supporter of Julian Assange. If he was prime minister of the United Kingdom today, perhaps Julian Assange would have been free already. But it’s never too late. So, it’s my great pleasure to present Jeremy Corbyn today in Washington, D.C.

JEREMY CORBYN: Thank you. Thank you, Srećko, and thank you, Amy, for presiding over today’s event in this amazing setting of the National Press Club, where Julian Assange revealed uncomfortable truths to the world about the murder — the murder — of innocent civilians in Iraq, by specific military orders to do so, knowing full well they were breaking the law.

What’s Julian charged with? Telling the truth. Telling the truth all over the world about what governments do and what governments want to hide from. I, as an elected politician, am very well aware that elected politicians don’t like being questioned on the decisions that they make. But it’s fundamental to a democratic society that they are constantly under surveillance and under question. They’re very keen on putting everybody else under surveillance. Their decisions should be under surveillance at the same time.

And so, Julian published, through WikiLeaks, huge volumes of information. He went to extraordinary lengths to anonymize the sources and protect the sources at the same time. He was extremely responsible in his journalistic approach to this.

And the way his character has been denigrated all over the world is a shame and a disgrace. He’s threatened with the Espionage Act — the Espionage Act, for somebody who revealed truths. And if he arrives in this country and is put on trial here, which I hope he never is and I hope he never does, would then face a 175-year sentence. It is, in effect, a death sentence, and he would be left for the rest of his life in a maximum-security prison in the most appalling conditions.

He’s being held in Her Majesty’s Prison — His Majesty’s Prison Belmarsh in southeast London. I’ve visited that prison on previous occasions to visit prisoners there. It is an awful place. It is a brutal place. It is a place devoid of humanity. And he is stuck there — not a convicted criminal but a remand prisoner who is potentially awaiting trial. He’s the only one in that category in that particular prison.

Now, he is accused and WikiLeaks are accused of damaging the interests of the U.S. government, of the British government, of the French government. And actually, if you plow through the tens of thousands of documents there, you’ll find they’re pretty embarrassing to pretty well every government in the world, including, as a matter of fact, the government of Russia, as well, because Julian wanted the truth out about what powerful nations do to people without power, who are victims of their exercise of that power. So he also exposed the way that desperate, poor migrant people face dangers in the Mediterranean, the English Channel and so many other places.

And so, our plea is here today about support for Julian. But I say this to journalists who may be watching this around the world. You might say, “Well, OK, that’s Assange. That’s different. That’s the way.” Sorry, it’s not. It’s you, as a journalist, because if Julian Assange ends up in a maximum-security prison in the United States for the rest of his life, every other journalist around the world will think, “Oh, should I really report this information I’ve been given? Should I really speak out about this denial of human rights or miscarriage of justice in any country around the world? Because the long arm of the United States espionage might reach me, and an extradition treaty might put me in that same prison.” And around the world, there are, sadly, hundreds of very brave and brilliant journalists who have lost their lives trying to expose the truth. So, today, here in the National Press Club, we’re speaking up for journalists, real journalists, all over the world who want to expose the truth, that we are better informed, and democracy functions better as a result.

Now, as I said, I’m an elected politician. And what worries me is the silence of so many fellow elected politicians around the world. So, my plea here today is this. You have been elected by an electoral democratic process. The people who elected you placed their faith and their trust in you to speak up for them and their democracy. Your silence makes it worse for Julian. Your silence makes it worse for democracy as a whole. And so, when we surrounded the U.K. Parliament, the British Parliament, the Houses of Parliament, with a chain of people, thousands of people, in support of Julian, we were demonstrating our wish that our Parliament speaks up. In the same way, some politicians in a number of countries have spoken up.

But I appeal to elected politicians in the United States. Speak up to defend democracy. Speak up against the powers of the Espionage Act. And speak up for Julian Assange, because our human rights are under threat all over the world. The rollback of the advances of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the European Declaration of Human Rights, European Convention on Human Rights, and many others are under threat at the present time. Our actions around the world in support of Julian, in support of the right to know, can and, I believe, will change the course of what’s going on.

So, let’s get a message out here today from this National Press Club in Washington. We are bearing witness to a travesty of justice, to an abuse of human rights, to a denial of freedom of somebody who bravely put himself on the line that we all might know that the innocent died in Abu Ghraib, the innocent died in Afghanistan, the innocent are dying in the Mediterranean, and innocents die all over the world, where unwatched, unaccountable powers decide it’s expedient and convenient to kill people who get in the way of whatever grand scheme they’ve got. We say no. That’s why we are demanding justice for Julian Assange. Hear the call. Let’s free Julian Assange, and we will all be safer as a result of that. Thank you very much.

SREĆKO HORVAT: Unfortunately, some people who are connected to WikiLeaks couldn’t have been today with us. I want to remind of two names, particularly, who were, besides Julian Assange, working on the leaks and analyzing all these secret documents, who are still not allowed to come to the United States because they would probably end up in Virginia or in a high-security prison. One name is Sarah Harrison, and the other name is Jacob Appelbaum.

We were supposed to have Kristinn Hrafnsson with us today, but he was advised by his lawyers not to travel to the United States, similar to some other members of the tribunal who didn’t arrive today. So much about the United States again. Kristinn Hrafnsson is an Icelandic investigative journalist, who became, unfortunately, because Julian Assange is in prison, the editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks in 2018.

KRISTINN HRAFNSSON: In recent weeks I’ve traveled to several Latin American countries and met presidents who are very concerned about the precedent set in the Assange case.

After meeting President Alberto Fernández of Argentina and his vice president, Cristina de Kirchner, they both sided with the Assange campaign, urging the Biden administration to drop the charges against him. Argentinians, as do others in the region, know fully well the capability of the CIA in planning, kidnapping or killing of individuals. As we now know, the agency was plotting against Julian in 2017.

I met Luis Arce, the president of Bolivia, who fully committed himself in support of Assange.

The same applied to the newly elected president of Brazil, Lula da Silva, who understands better than most the nature of the lawfare against Julian, having himself spent more than 500 days in prison because of such lawfare, a lawfare where it is well documented that the U.S. Department of Justice was involved. President Lula assured me that the fight to end the injustice entailed in the Assange case would be a priority in his foreign policy.

I got the same strong support from Gustavo Petro, president of Colombia, who called for Julian’s release and the end of the persecution.

Lastly, I met Andrés Manuel López Obrador, president of Mexico, who has been a constant supporter of Julian, and one who understands that this case is more than the battle for the freedom of one individual, but a priority fight for underlying principles. It was Obrador who said that if Julian is extradited to the United States, the Statue of Liberty should be dismantled and returned to the France. The Mexican president received us in the WikiLeaks delegation earlier this month and assured us he would take the matter up personally with President Biden. They met last week in Mexico City.

It is not just the political leaders of every major country south of the border of the United States that now recognize the gravity of Julian’s case, as Anthony Albanese, prime minister of Australia, has recently added his voice to the demand for Julian’s freedom. He said in the Australian Parliament that enough is enough. And we agree.

AMY GOODMAN: Our next speaker is Jesselyn Radack, human rights attorney, renowned for her work protecting whistleblowers and journalists. While working at the Justice Department, she disclosed the FBI committed ethics violations in their interrogation of John Walker Lindh. Among her many roles, Jesselyn is the director of national security and human rights at ExposeFacts.

JESSELYN RADACK: I’m Jesselyn Radack, and I represent whistleblowers and sources for a living, basically. I have defended the most number of media sources in the U.S. who have been investigated and charged under the Espionage Act.

More recently, I represented, and still represent, Daniel Hale. Huge shoutout to Daniel. I know he’s paying attention to this. But, basically, Daniel had to navigate an Espionage Act prosecution in the most conservative federal court in the country, the exact same court where Assange is indicted, in front of the same judge.

Daniel is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force who participated in the U.S. drone assassination program. After leaving the Air Force, he became an outspoken opponent of the U.S.’s targeted killing program. He basically called out and informed the public about targeting ineffectiveness and casualties and consistently exaggerating the accuracy of drone strikes and underreporting civilian deaths. Daniel’s house was searched in 2014. Like Julian Assange, he lived under a sword of Damocles for a better part of his adult life. In May 2019, he was finally arrested and indicted on allegations that he disclosed classified documents to the U.S. military’s clandestine drone program, believed to have been the source material for a series in The Intercept called “The Drone Papers.”

Daniel pleaded guilty to a single count under the Espionage Act and was sentenced to 45 months in prison. I think his case is a prescient warning of how an Espionage Act case against Assange would proceed. Bear with me. At sentencing, the judge recommended — he recognized that Daniel was a whistleblower, and recommended that he be placed in a minimum-security medical prison. But the Bureau of Prisons instead sent him to an Orwellian communications management unit, nicknamed Gitmo North. There are only two such facilities in this country. Created in the aftermath of 9/11, they were intended to house terrorists. Daniel is a pacifist with no priors. Until recently, he has been housed in this special prison with the “Merchant of Death,” Viktor Bout, who was recently released.

So, when the U.S. gives assurances that Assange won’t be put in a supermax, don’t be fooled, because he’ll end up in a far worse place, one of these communications management units. In the CMU, Daniel is far more isolated from his support network, unable to receive the medical and psychological care he so desperately needs, and has more restrictions on his communications, reading materials and visitors, with other people, than anyone on death row.

SREĆKO HORVAT: There are a few people in Washington, D.C., who were not afraid to talk about Julian Assange all these years, and our next member of tribunal is one of them. So, it’s my big pleasure to present the one and only Chip Gibbons, policy director of the organization Defending Rights & Dissent.

CHIP GIBBONS: I want to start by acknowledging three people who cannot be here today. One is Julian Assange, who is imprisoned in a dungeon called Belmarsh.

The second is Daniel Hale, who is currently being held in a communications management unit. I’ve been told that Daniel watches Democracy Now!, which is streaming this. Daniel, if you can hear this, I want to say, on behalf of everyone in this room, you have our solidarity. Never let them break your spirit. A better world is possible only because of people like you.

And the third person who can’t be here is, of course, Edward Snowden, who exposed that our government was lying to us about how they were spying on us, and, for this patriotic act, was driven into exile, while the lying spies continue to enjoy lucrative careers with war profiteers and cable news programs. And you have to ask yourself: Do they view those as two different jobs? Because, after all, someone has to sell the wars that line their pockets.

The U.S. government knows, like we know, that without sources, there is no journalism. But the U.S. government is no longer content with merely going after the sources. They have made Assange the first person ever indicted under the Espionage Act for the crime of publishing truthful information. Make no mistake: The attempts to silence Assange is part of a larger war to silence those who expose the crimes of empire, militarism and the U.S. national security state.

And it’s not just a legal war involving a prosecution, but an extralegal war involving covert action and propaganda. While the U.S. security state is cloaked in secrecy, there have been a steady trickle of revelations about the three-letter agencies’ war on WikiLeaks. The NSA added Assange to their man-hunting database. The CIA plotted to kidnap and maybe even kill Assange. Various agencies sought to get around rules protecting press freedom by arguing WikiLeaks were not journalists. The NSA discussed the idea of declaring WikiLeaks a malicious foreign actor. The FBI and the CIA demanded a personal audience with Barack Obama to persuade him that rules protecting press freedom should not apply to WikiLeaks, as WikiLeaks should instead be classified as information brokers. I’m not sure what an information broker is; I don’t think the CIA and the FBI know, either. And finally, they invented the term “hostile nonstate intelligence agency” to allow the CIA to engage in offensive counterintelligence against WikiLeaks, something previously reserved only for rival spy agencies, and requires even less oversight — and there’s the very little oversight over the CIA — over CIA covert action.

The U.S. government’s legal and extralegal war on WikiLeaks is a war on journalism itself.

AMY GOODMAN: Chip Gibbons, policy director of Defending Rights & Dissent, testifying at the Belmarsh Tribunal in the case of Julian Assange in Washington, D.C., at the National Press Club. Coming up, Noam Chomsky, Dan Ellsberg and more.


AMY GOODMAN: “At My Window Sad and Lonely” by Woody Guthrie, sung by Billy Bragg and Wilco. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we return now to the Belmarsh Tribunal in Washington, D.C., on the case of Julian Assange. It was held in January at the National Press Club. I co-chaired the proceedings with the Croatian philosopher and activist Srećko Horvat.

AMY GOODMAN: And now to Betty Medsger. As a reporter for The Washington Post in 1971, she was one of the only journalists willing to cover leaked documents exposing FBI crimes, including surveillance of students, of academics, of antiwar and civil rights activists. One of the stolen files revealed the existence of one of the FBI’s illegal programs, COINTELPRO, the Counterintelligence Program, under J. Edgar Hoover. She’s the former chair of the Department of Journalism at San Francisco State University and the author of The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI. Betty Medsger.

BETTY MEDSGER: I’m honored and humbled to be part of this panel that seeks justice for Julian Assange, sorely needed.

I’m here with a case study, something that I think shows very clearly the great importance of protecting whistleblowers and the necessity of a free press. And it is the story of the people — the impact of the people who burglarized an FBI office in 1971 and then stole every file in the office and made them public. I’ve worked with them twice — when I didn’t know them, and they sent files to me, back in 1971, and then when I worked on the book, when they revealed their identity, even though the FBI had at that time the largest search that they had ever had and didn’t find the burglars. They came out in 2014.

These eight people were outside whistleblowers. They were average citizens, though they did extraordinary things. In fact, they called themselves a Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI. They had decided that because Congress and the executive branch had never carried out responsibility to oversee the FBI, they would exert oversight, as citizens, in order to get documentary evidence of whether the government was suppressing dissent. And they made the decision to do this after thinking very seriously about it. Three of them had very young children, and they realized that, if arrested and convicted, they could serve many years in prison. But they thought it was so important to uncover what this hidden, all-powerful agency was doing, that they decided to break in to an office. They used tools quite different from the tools of today’s whistleblowers. Instead of multiple thumb drives or vast spaces on the internet, their tools were a crowbar, a carjack, large suitcases, flashlights and getaway cars, and eventually copiers. But their motivation — their motivation was the same as the motivation of other whistleblowers: get important information to the public about injustices being done secretly by the government.

They found what they were looking for: evidence of massive suppression of dissent. But they also found — and I should say, it’s important that this was 52 years ago, and nobody prior to that was writing about anything about intelligence agencies. It was assumed, both by the government, by Congress, the people who should have had oversight, and by journalists, that they had an obligation to let those agencies keep their secrets. There was no accountability.

In the files that these people released was that one thing was a shocking policy: enhance the paranoia, get the point across there is an agent behind every mailbox. They also found campus employees were hired as FBI informers to inform on students and faculty. And every Black student on at least one campus in the Philadelphia area was under FBI surveillance. They also found that Hoover operated a massive, Stasi-like program throughout the country against Black Americans. Every agent in the country was forced to participate and had to hire an informer to create files on Black people. To be Black, in Hoover’s mind, was to be dangerous, and therefore subject to surveillance by the FBI. They also discovered that Hoover maintained a security index, an ever-expanding list of people believed by Hoover to be subversive and who were to be secretly detained by the FBI during a national emergency.

Calls for congressional investigation of Hoover and FBI died less than two months after the burglary. Congress had no appetite for this. But thanks to NBC reporter Carl Stern, a congressional investigation later became imperative. Without Carl’s determined effort to find out what COINTELPRO was, those bureau operations, regarded eventually as the worst, might never have been revealed. Carl would like to have been here with us today, and I wish he could have been, but he has a very serious case of COVID. As a result of his successful lawsuit in December 1973, journalists were now armed with the stated purpose of COINTELPRO: to secretly expose, disrupt and neutralize political movements. And they began requesting COINTELPRO files, and they started pouring out.

The public now learned for the first time that the FBI conducted lawless operations that ranged from crude to cruel to life-threatening and murder. Prostitutes known to be having a venereal disease were hired to infect campus activists. FBI informers were coached to give false testimony against innocent people, people known to be innocent to the person testifying, testimony that led to convictions and decades in prison for the falsely accused, most of them Black people. A plot was designed to cause Martin Luther King to commit suicide and murder. An FBI informer provided the Chicago police with the crucial information that made it possible for police to shoot Fred Hampton dead as he slept.

In January 1975, thanks to all this information that came out, both the House and the Senate opened investigations of FBI and all intelligence agencies. It was the first time Congress had done such a thing. At hearings, high FBI officials testified under oath that bureau officials had never considered the legality or ethics of COINTELPRO or any other operations.

These hearings and the reforms the senators successfully recommended would not have happened without whistleblowers who risked their freedom and a free press that reported their important revelations, and, ultimately, a Congress that finally was willing to act, including establishing permanent intelligence oversight committees and strengthening the Freedom of Information Act. All of these reforms, as probably everybody in the room knows, have been battered and bruised at various times since then, but they exist, and they are still valuable.

It was Joe Biden’s Congress that put in place the reforms that flowed from the Media burglary. The Biden administration surely knows, from the very important revelations made by whistleblowers in the past, that this source of crucial information must not only not be threatened, but must be protected. To continue the prosecution of Mr. Assange under the Espionage Act of 1917 could not only continue Mr. Assange’s imprisonment for decades, it also could, in violation of the Constitution, gut the First Amendment rights of journalists — a radical result that surely neither President Biden nor Attorney General Garland wants to have as their legacy. Thank you.

SREĆKO HORVAT: So, the next speaker at this tribunal, and we have three more left — thanks a lot for the patience of all of you — is one of the most famous whistleblowers, not in U.S. history but in global history. And it’s my great honor to present him today, Daniel Ellsberg.

DANIEL ELLSBERG: One of the foundation stones of our form of government here in the United States and democracy in our republic is our First Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids any law by Congress or the states abridging freedom of speech or of the press, along with freedom of religion and of assembly. That press precluded the passage of a British-type Official Secrets Act, which most countries have. Almost no other country has a law singling out the press as protected by our freedom by the First Amendment. And the British-type Official Secrets Act, which criminalizes any or all disclosure of information protected by the government, by the executive branch, even disclosure to the public or to the press or to the Congress or Parliament, is criminalized and subject to prison. We’ve never had such an act because of our First Amendment.

In fact, one was almost inadvertently passed by Congress in the year 2000, but it was vetoed by President Clinton as a clear-cut violation of the First Amendment. He cited in his opinion accompanying that some of the opinions in the Pentagon Papers case of half a century ago. That had resulted from my disclosure of information that I had authorized possession of as a contractor to the government at that time, 7,000 pages of top-secret documents about the history of U.S. decision-making in Vietnam, which disclosed a repeated sequence by four different presidents of lies and, in effect, violations of the Constitution, treaties, and, in particular, misleading Congress as the costs for war.

I was facing 115 years in prison, but not for an Official Secrets Act, which we don’t have. It was an experiment by President Nixon to use our Espionage Act, which had always been directed and intended for use against spies giving information secretly to a foreign government, especially in time of war, had never been used, as it was by Nixon in my case, in substitute for an Official Secrets Act for disclosure to the public.

Up until Julian Assange’s indictment, the act, however, had never been used as an Official Secrets Act, yes, against other than sources, like myself, who had possession of information, who disclosed it to the public. It had never been used against a journalist, like Julian Assange, although in each case, of course, of such disclosures or leaks, some form of media was involved, many, many people involved in that, but they had never been indicted for that before.

Actually, if you’re going to use the act against a journalist, in blatant violation of the First Amendment’s denial of Congress’s ability to criminalize acts by journalists, by the press, the First Amendment is essentially gone. As I say, we’re almost the first to have it. We fought a War of Independence and established a Constitution, so we have a First Amendment. Britain does not, where Julian now is. And they have an Official Secrets Act, which we don’t. If we acquire that, we give up the main result, I would say, of that War of Independence, in the sense that we are no longer really a republic or a democrat. We have monarchal powers, imperial powers, formally. And every empire requires secrecy to cloak its acts of violence that maintains an empire, the American. It’s a major change in our form of government.

AMY GOODMAN: Thank you, Dan Ellsberg. Before we turn to Noam Chomsky, attorney Suchitra Vijayan is — formerly worked for the United Nations war crimes tribunals in Yugoslavia and Rwanda. She is founder now of the Polis Project, a New York-based research and journalism organization supporting civil resistance around the world.

SUCHITRA VIJAYAN: The persecution of Julian Assange is not just about First Amendment. It’s not just about the freedom of press. It goes to the heart of the crisis of citizenship, the rapid erosion of civil liberties in the hand of deeply authoritarian democracies in the West. We need to name the beast. We have to start calling Western liberal democracies what they are. They are deeply authoritarian, totalitarian, with deep lines of fascist ideologies that get implemented not today, but for many, many years. Criminalizing dissent, persecuting dissidents, political trials, imprisoning journalists in high-security prisons and treating them as terrorists are not new. These are part of the long-established strategies of state terror. Throughout history, the U.S. government has incarcerated its political opponents — Black activists, students, labor organizations, writers, intellectuals, antiwar activists, protesters. The list is long. Today the U.S. considers its most dangerous enemies those who challenge its abuse of power and expose its crimes both at home and abroad.

Assange is a political prisoner. He is a dissident of the West. His crime? Exposing brutal acts of violence, abuse of power, and about the crimes against innocent civilians. For this, every legality, deception and malice has been deployed against him — systematic violations of due process, judicial bias, manipulated and manufactured evidence, constant surveillance, defamation, lies, propaganda, denial of basic dignity, assassination attempts and threats. Just let that sink in.

But why is Assange a threat? I came of age in the age of the aftermath of 9/11. In the past 20 years, we’ve witnessed a proliferation of militarized borders, camps and carceral citizenships. As a young lawyer, I worked providing legal aid for Iraqi refugees in Cairo. During this time, we served over 800 families. Hundreds of legal summaries that I wrote were not just about asylum petitions or resettlement requests. These were also biographies of a destruction of a nation and its people, imperial violence unleashed on them, torture, death, mutilation, rapes, disappearances. In 2010, WikiLeaks posted classified U.S. military videos depicting the killing of dozens of unarmed Iraqis, including two Reuters journalists. The release confirmed what many of us had already known. The War in Afghanistan was no different.

Orwell wrote, “The frightening thing about totalitarianism is not that it commits ‘atrocities’ but that it attacks the concept of objective truth: it claims to control the past as well as the future.”

SREĆKO HORVAT: Last but not least, we have a very short message by one of the most important living public intellectuals of the United States, Noam Chomsky.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Our message for today is quite simple: Free Julian Assange.

Assange has been indicted under the Espionage Act. It’s another shameful chapter in its sordid history from its origins, should be stricken from the books. The act has no place in a free and democratic society. We should, perhaps, not be surprised that the act is now being used to punish the exercise of journalism. Letting citizens know what is being done in their name is an unforgivable assault against the majesty of the state. The crime of the indictment under this disgraceful legislation is compounded by the years of imprisonment and torture that Julian Assange has already suffered.

The targets of the indictment, however, reach far beyond their immediate victim. They reach, in fact, to all of us who hope to understand what is happening in the world, and to the journalism profession, whose task it is to perform this essential service in a democratic order. Those who seek to perform this honorable task are under harsh attack in these troubled days. That’s more reason to assure the attack on journalism will not be joined by the most powerful state in human history.

In short, free Julian Assange, without further unconscionable delay.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Noam Chomsky, speaking before the Belmarsh Tribunal on the case of Julian Assange, which took place in January at the National Press Club. To watch the full two-and-a-half-hour tribunal, go to democracynow.org. You can also watch our recent interview with Dan Ellsberg, who was recently diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer.

Special thanks to Charina Nadura, Denis Moynihan, Ishmael Daro, Mike Burke, Robby Karran, Sam Alcoff, Deena Guzder and Julie Crosby. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.

Republican prosecutors can subpoena phone data to hunt down 'evidence' of possible abortions

This post was originally published on this site

We are about to see a new wave of anti-abortion terrorism and violence, thanks to a Supreme Court majority that believes individual rights not only ought to flip around according to the whims of each new election but that if the U.S. Constitution makes things awkward, the states can designate private-citizen bounty hunters and evade whatever else the courts might say about it.

Sen. Ron Wyden is dead right when he warns that we’re about to see a new era in which women who seek abortions or who might seek abortions are going to have their digital data hunted down. Much of the hunting will be by Republican-state prosecutors looking to convict women who cross state lines into better, less trashy states to seek abortions that are now illegal in New Gilead. But in states like Texas, it’s likely to be private anti-abortion groups gathering up that data—not just to target women seeking abortion, but as potential source of cash. The $10,000 bounty on Texas women who get abortions after six weeks turns such stalking into a potentially lucrative career.

Sen. Wyden to Gizmodo: “The simple act of searching for ‘pregnancy test’ could cause a woman to be stalked, harassed and attacked. With Texas style bounty laws, and laws being proposed in Missouri to limit people’s ability to travel to obtain abortion care, there could even be a profit motive for this outsourced persecution.”

It’s not just that Republican prosecutors can subpoena data records of pregnant women looking for, for example, evidence that they might have looked up “pregnancy test” or “abortion pills” or “my remaining civil rights.” All of those would constitute “evidence” that woman who had a miscarriage might not have “wanted” her pregnancy—thus paving the way for criminal charges. It’s happened before, despite Roe, and after Roe falls will likely become a rote fixture of red-state prosecutions.

We’re likely to to see such subpoenas become a primary way for conservative state prosecutors to “prove” that American women crossing state lines did so to obtain now-criminalized abortions. “Even a search for information about a clinic could become illegal under some state laws, or an effort to travel to a clinic with an intent to obtain an abortion,” Electronic Privacy Information Center president Alan Butler told The Washington Post.

Republican states have already been examining ways to criminalize such travel. It’s coming, and American women will find that the phones they use to look up reproductive health questions can also be used by prosecutors to hunt them down for asking the wrong questions.

Bounty hunters looking for women to target may not have those same subpoena powers—though heaven knows what the future will bring, in a theocratic state that finds its best legal wisdom from colonial era witch hunters—but they will have the power of extremely amoral data tracking companies on their side. It was revealed just days ago that data broker SafeGraph, slivers of which may be hidden on your own phone inside apps that quietly collect and sell the information they gather on you, specifically offers tracking data for phones visiting Planned Parenthood providers—including the census tracks visitors came from and returned to.

For just $160, SafeGraph has been selling that data to anyone willing to buy it. It’s a trivial investment for bounty hunters eager to cross-reference such clues to find who to next target. It’s also a valuable tool for would-be domestic terrorists, of the sort that are going to be once again emboldened by a Supreme Court nod to their beliefs that not only should abortion be banned, but that activists are justified in attacking those that think otherwise. Nobody can plausibly think far-right violence will decrease, in the bizarre landscape in which they have finally achieved victory in half the states while being rebuffed by the others. It has never happened that way. It never will.


Data collection company sells the information of people who visit abortion clinics

Louisiana Republicans push abortion bill doing exactly what national Republicans deny wanting to do

If SCOTUS kills Roe, many states are poised to swiftly enforce abortion bans, sweeping restrictions

America doesn’t want abortion overturned, does want an expanded Supreme Court

Thursday, May 5, 2022 · 7:15:16 PM +00:00 · Hunter

Another data miner, Placer, tracks Planned Parenthood visitors to their homes and provides the routes they took. Among the apps mining data for Placer is popular tracking app “Life360.”

The maps also showed people’s routes that they took to and from Planned Parenthood clinics. One in Texas showed people coming from schools, university dorms, and visiting a mental health clinic after. The free tier offered tracking to homes — the paid tier offered workplaces.

— alfred 🆖 (@alfredwkng) May 5, 2022

Biden reportedly caught off guard by Supreme Court leak; here's how the administration can catch up

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If the Washington Post is to be believed, we’ve got a big problem, because if the White House wasn’t prepared for the news that the Supreme Court is poised to end federal abortion rights start, they have a serious lack of understanding of the reality in which we live.

“Biden officials spent much of Tuesday panicked as they realized how few tools they had at their disposal, according to one outside adviser briefed on several meetings,” the Post reports. “While officials have spent months planning for the possibility the court would overturn the landmark ruling,” the Post reports, “the leaked document caught the White House off guard.” It shouldn’t have. A leak is unusual, yes, but the only surprise in the contents is just how bloodthirsty Justice Samuel Alito is in coming after abortion, and ultimately all the other 20th century rights the court established.

“We will be ready when any ruling is issued,” Biden said in a statement Tuesday. Will they? Because they really should have seen this coming, and been prepared with some ideas by now. The fact that they pivoted to deficit reduction, of all things, as the message for Wednesday doesn’t inspire a whole lot of confidence that they’ll be ferocious in this fight. That they’ll be creative and that they will try everything to fix this, to tell the majority of Americans who support abortion rights that we’ve got a powerful ally in the fight.

Back in February, Shefali Luthra of The 19th News reported on the executive actions Biden can take. First, expand access to medication abortion, something the Food and Drug Administration can do. “The most significant thing the Biden administration has done is through the FDA, and the most significant things the Biden administration will be able to do going forward are through the FDA,” Mary Ziegler, a law professor at Florida State University who studies abortion, told Luthra.

Christine Pelosi talks about the Supreme Court’s leaked decision on Roe v. Wade, and what Democrats are doing now, on Daily Kos’ The Brief podcast

The FDA has already acted to expand the availability of medication abortion. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it allowed for the pills to be prescribed virtually, via telemedicine, and provided through the mail. It also allowed online-only providers to mail the pills to patients in other states, including those with restrictive abortion laws. Those rules have been made permanent.

The two-pill regimen for medication abortion has been safely used for two decades, and now accounts for more than half of all abortions in the U.S., according to the Guttmacher Institute. It’s approved for use up to 10 weeks, though it’s been demonstrated safe to use beyond 10 weeks, up to 20. In Great Britain, it’s used up to nearly 24 weeks.

“There is some support for the idea that states cannot ban FDA-approved medication,” Greer Donley, an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh Law School, told the 19ths Luthra. “This is a novel legal argument. Maybe it would mean states cannot ban the sale of medication abortion, which would mean states must allow abortion up to 10 weeks.”

Forced birth groups are of course focusing on getting states to enact restrictions on medication abortion, and while there’s no precedent for FDA guidance to supersede state restrictions, it’s worth forcing the challenge.

The EMAA [Exanding Medication Abortion Access] Project has been having preliminary conversations with the administration, its director Kirsten Moore told the LA Times Jennifer Haberkorn. One thing they’re considering is pressing insurers to cover the drugs. “There is no obvious, one, two, three things to solve the problem,” she said. “We’re going to have to be really creative. And it may only be helpful on the margins—which may be important margins.”

Online providers of the medication are also getting creative. Aid Access, one of the sites, uses European healthcare providers and a pharmacy in India to provide the pills. It’s a relatively inexpensive option at $110, but takes up to four weeks. Another provider, PlanCPills.org has been gaming out the options for people in every state.

For instance, a patient in Texas—where abortion is banned after fetal cardiac activity is detected, or about 6 weeks of pregnancy—could – https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2021-09-17/is-this-legal-texans-scramble-to-get-abortions-out-of-state – drive across the border –  into New Mexico and conduct a telehealth appointment with a doctor there. The pills can be shipped to a friend in New Mexico or a temporary mailbox the patient has set up in the state and forwarded to Texas. Or a patient could stay in Texas and directly buy the drugs from an online pharmacy at a cost of $200 to $500.

Another option for the federal government: federally-sponsored clinics or leases to abortion clinics on public lands. Located on federal lands, the clinics could be exempt from state laws. They could also be located on tribal lands, where tribal leaders would allow them.

“It is possible that clinics can operate on federal lands without having to follow state law. That has to be explored. The federal government needs to push the envelope,” David Cohen, a professor at Drexel University’s Kline School of Law, told Luthra. “It’s not a slam-dunk legal argument, but these are the kinds of things that need to be tried.”

Audio: McCarthy weighed 25th Amendment for Trump in private after Jan. 6

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A new audio recording of House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy has reportedly captured him weighing whether to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove then-President Donald Trump from the White House two days after the assault on the Capitol.

With much attention largely trained right now on the Supreme Court after the leak of a draft opinion poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, McCarthy has managed a slight reprieve from the headlines. 

It was just over a week ago that a different series of audio recordings featuring the House GOP leader went public and he was heard, in his own words, telling members of his party that he was prepared to call for then-President Donald Trump’s resignation. 

In those recordings, and now in this new set, McCarthy’s private agony is yet again starkly contrasted against the public support—and cover—that he has ceaselessly heaped upon Trump. 

Related story: Jan. 6 committee may have another ‘invitation’ for Kevin McCarthy

The latest audio recordings—obtained by New York Times reporters Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns as a part of their book, This Too Shall Not Pass and shared with CNN—reportedly have McCarthy considering invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump as he listened to an aide go over deliberations then underway by House Democrats. 

Christine Pelosi talks about the Supreme Court’s leaked decision on Roe v. Wade, and what Democrats are doing now, on Daily Kos’ The Brief podcast

When the aide said that the 25th Amendment would “not exactly” be an “elegant solution” to removing Trump, McCarthy is reportedly heard interrupting as he attempts to get a sense of his options.  

The process of invoking the 25th Amendment is one not taken lightly and would require majority approval from members of Trump’s Cabinet as well as from the vice president.

“That takes too long,” McCarthy said after an aide walked him through the steps. “And it could go back to the House, right?”

Indeed, it wasn’t an easy prospect.

Trump would not only have to submit a letter overruling the Cabinet and Pence, but a two-thirds majority would have to be achieved in the House and Senate to overrule Trump. 

“So, it’s kind of an armful,” the aide said. 

On Jan. 7, 2021, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called on the president’s allies to divorce themselves from Trump after he loosed his mob on them, Capitol Hill staff, and police. 

“While there are only 13 days left, any day could be a horror show,” Pelosi said at a press conference where she called for the 25th Amendment to be put in motion.

Publicly, McCarthy would not budge.

The House voted 232-197 to approve a resolution that would activate the amendment on Jan. 13.  McCarthy called for censure instead of impeachment through the 25th Amendment. Then, from the floor of the House, McCarthy denounced Trump. 

“The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding,” McCarthy said. 

During the Jan. 8 call, the House GOP leader lamented that impeachment could divide the nation more. He worried it might also inspire new conflicts. He also told the aide he wanted to have Trump and Biden meet before the inauguration.

It would help with a smooth transition, he said. 

In another moment in the recording after discussing a sit-down with Biden where they could discuss ways to publicly smooth tensions over the transition, McCarthy can be heard saying that “he’s trying to do it not from the basis of Republicans.”

But rather, “of a basis of, hey, it’s not healthy for the nation” to continue with such uncertainty. 

Yet within the scant week that passed from the time McCarthy said Trump bore some responsibility for the attack and the impeachment vote, McCarthy switched gears again. 

He didn’t believe Trump “provoked” the mob, he said on Jan. 21. 

Not if people “listened to what [Trump] said at the rally,” McCarthy said. 

McCarthy met with Trump at the 45th president’s property in Mar-a-Lago, Florida a week after Biden was inaugurated. Once he was back in Washington, the House leader issued a statement saying Trump had “committed to helping elect Republicans in the House and Senate in 2022.” 

They had founded a “united conservative movement,” he said.