783: Power, Corruption & Spies Shows


January 18th – Wars get tougher to root for when you can’t tell who is on what side. The DEA teams up with Mexican cartels, Comcast beats up the FCC, we can’t tell where Obama stands on the NSA and no one can tell where the next secret war begins. We know where Chuck Mertz stands at least – leaning over the bar.





Sarah Kendzior: “There’s been such a shift in the labor market to contingency and part-time jobs that don’t provide benefits, I think people are becoming more angry than frightened and they’re more willing to acknowledge the system isn’t going to work anymore.”

Being a poor artist in New York is getting too expensive. From a city ruled by the 1% to a labor market governed by pay-to-play internships, creativity and ingenuity are being priced out of the five boroughs. So Sarah Kendzior has an idea. Don’t move to New York. Write where you are. Write what you know. Sarah makes the case in her op-ed Expensive Cities are Killing Creativity. She calls in to talk gentrification, access and why the New York Times will never understand.

Sarah Kendzior is a writer and researcher. You can find her longer stuff on her website and her shorter stuff on her Twitter.

Interview Transcript via AntiDote


Michael Copps: “I think after 40 years now in Washington DC, I feel pretty comfortable saying I don’t think it’s much better right now than it was back in the Gilded Age from the standpoint of money controlling government, money controlling the town, money controlling the destiny of the country.”

A federal appeals court ruled something about the internet and net neutrality and the FCC this week. It’s super complicated. Good thing we have a guy who was in charge of the FCC to explain the whole thing. Former commissioner Michael Copps calls in to explain the court decision, why you should care about the minutia of decades-old telecom laws, and why unless we do something as citizens, we’ll enjoy an internet as open and affordable and satisfying as cable television turned out to be.

Michael Copps is a retired FCC Commissioner and currently a Special Advisor for the Media and Democracy Reform Initiative at Common Cause. He’s also on Twitter.


Kirk Wiebe: “The NSA has existed for 61 years. For 40 of those 61 years, it has broken the law. Imagine that! This is not a rare thing. It’s pretty much life at NSA.”

Kirk Wiebe has more in common with past-TiH! guests Thomas Drake and William Binney than just appearing on our little radio show and answering Chuck’s questions – all three men braved punishment from their own government for speaking the truth about the NSA’s unconstitutional activities. They’re not stopping anytime soon. Wiebe, Binney and Drake published a USA Today opinion column that details what actual protection from the NSA should look like. Kirk also explained why metadata is not “just” metadata in an exclusive piece for Consortiumnews. He gives a background on the NSA’s history of rights trampling, explains how commercial entities primed us to accept diminished internet privacy, and reacts to President Obama’s speech from the vantage point of someone who’s been inside (and outside) the system.

Kirk Wiebe is a retired NSA senior analyst, a whistle-blower against abuses of that same agency. He’s also a fan of Pembroke Welsh Corgis, a fact I just learned from his Twitter account. I wish I had more in common with Kirk than just that last bit.


Nick Turse: “I think there are a lot of opportunities for what in CIA trade-speak is called ‘blowback’ from these small operations around the world, but for some reason it doesn’t seem to trouble others on the national security beat in the same way.”

Nick Turse has been covering two secret wars – one long passed and one that’s just now unfolding. In his most recent book Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, he finds atrocities and violence hidden from the American public by its own government decades ago. In his TomDispatch to report America’s Black-Ops Blackout, he finds much of the same thing, but happening now, across the globe and in secret. He reports on both wars in a second appearance on This is Hell!

Nick Turse is the associate editor of TomDispatch and the winner of a 2009 Ridenhour Prize for Reportorial Distinction as well as a James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism.  Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam just came out in paperback with a new afterword.


Laura Carlsen: “What’s the endgame? And then you begin to think that maybe there isn’t one. Maybe the game itself is so lucrative and has so many political advantages that its whole purpose is to extend this violence. And that’s really tragic.”

When Mexican newspaper El Universal broke the story [en español] of a decade-long partnership between the Sinaloa drug cartel and the DEA, Laura Carlsen was the first person we called. Not just because our Spanish comprehension is terrible. Laura has been analyzing the blowback from America’s drug war for years. She gives us historical background to the breaking news, and points out that the partnership reveals a lot about the true objective of America’s longest “war.”

Laura Carlsen is the director of the Americas program at the Center for International Policy. Her commentary page on Latin America is a great survey of trade, rights and immigration stories throughout the region.


Spencer Thayer: “We worry about the iPods we buy, but the food that we eat is also tainted with below-poverty-wage labor. So when you’re burdened with that, the only solution me and Tegan found was to grow our own food.”

At the end of 2013, producer / correspondent Spencer Thayer left Chicago to drop out (as much as one can) from the grossness of capitalism and start a subsistence farm in New Orleans. He landed right in the middle of a speculative real estate bubble. Spencer’s wife Tegan wrote about the price and problem of New Orleans property for The Lens. He calls in to talk about his move, how Warren Buffet ruined his plans, and offers a few helpful tips on squatting.

Spencer “Thunderball” Thayer told me he would write his own bio and never did. He is on Twitter, he has a CRASS tattoo and can’t eat gluten. That’s really all I know about him. Oh yeah and he has a dog and two cats.

Interview Transcript via AntiDote


Nicole Aschoff: “Neoliberal ideas are really powerful, but there’s not a 1-to-1 match between neoliberal ideas and neoliberal policies. And I don’t think the US is following a neoliberal strategy in superintending the global economy.”

If you didn’t feel bailed out by the 2007-8 bailout, don’t worry, you were never the point.  The US Treasury serves two masters, argues Nicole Aschoff in her Jacobin piece The Schizophrenic State, one of which is the interests of global capitalism. The other is you looking for bus fare at the bottom of the laundry hamper. Nicole uses two recent books about the economic crisis, Bailout by Neil Barofsky and Austerity by past guest Mark Blyth to point out how that tension plays out in our economic policies. She talks about all of that with Chuck after she teaches him how to finally pronounce Jacobin properly.

Nicole Aschoff spends her time thinking about capitalism and teaching about sociology. Nicole’s work has appeared in the Socialist Register, Jacobin, and Dollars and Sense. She is currently working on a book about the auto industry and spending too much time indoors. You can find her work at This Game is Rigged.


Jeff Dorchen: “My main goals on the level of conduct are to stay out of jail, get invited to dinners and not make anyone I like cry.”

A hyperactive anti-Palestinian motorcycle enthusiast’s Facebook comments launch Jeff into a journey to discover the meaning of the meaningless of the universe. Daoists, Charlie Kaufman, Goya, and Sam’s Club follow along.

According to his contacts on LinkedIn, Jeff Dorchen can do just about anything. He’s a visual artist, songwriter/musician, actor, essayist, poet, playwright and screenwriter. His many unfinished novels are still unfinished.


Producers Theron Humiston and Alexander Jerri spend a great deal of time talking about rails. Not that kind of rails you creep. Although if y… no. NO! That part of my life is over.




  • demand_sider

    The relative obscurity of This Is Hell is an INTERNATIONAL travesty. At least non neoliberal Chicagoans have a clue. Irreverence and exclusive news stories are combined to create the most listenable and informative weekly podcast in the English speaking world. Viva Chuck Mertz and his band of merry men and women.

  • http://www.thisishell.com/ Alexander Jerri

    Thanks for the kind words. We’re working on the relative part of the obscurity!

  • demand_sider

    We are so indebted to you guys. Dan Ellsberg, Sami Al-Arian, Scott Ritter, Noam Chomsky, Greg Palast, Juan Cole, Naomi Klein, Christopher Hitchens, Ray McGovern, Alexander Cockburn, Thomas Frank, Dean Baker, Glenn Greenwald, Bill McKibben, Stephen Walt, Rami Khouri, James Galbraith, Barbara Ehrenreich, Immanuel Wallerstein, Dahr Jamail, Paul Craig Roberts, Andrew Bacevich, Chris Hedges, John Mearsheimer, Deepak Tripathi, Seymour Hersh, Ellen Brown, Coleen Rowley, Howard Zinn, etc, etc, plus assorted reporters from The Czech Republic to Ireland, to Vermont. Our cups runneth over! I listen to you at work every Monday here in Minnesota.

    P.S. If you offer a This Is Hell tee shirt and or mug, etc, I would like to buy one or two. Thanks

  • http://spencerthayer.tumblr.com Spencer “Thunderball” Thayer

    We can arrange that.

  • http://spencerthayer.tumblr.com Spencer “Thunderball” Thayer

    My bio is awesome!

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