798: Plunder the Influence Shows


May 3rd – We’re fighting for democracy in other people’s countries because we don’t know how to fight for it at home. We can’t use bullets here, we have to use money, and that’s too expensive for most people. Too rich especially for your bitter, blind, broke, gap-toothed radio host Chuck Mertz. He’ll stick to his guns. Metaphorically. Actual guns are too expensive too.






Ben Page: “It depends on how you choose to define democracy – I define it in terms of equal political influence by all citizens, and government responsiveness to all citizens… According to my meaning of the term, we’re not in great shape.”

Ben Page is the only person not using the word ‘oligarchy’ to describe his findings about power, wealth and influence in America. He prefers “economic elite” because he is a political scientist, and is a lot more careful about his words than we are. Whatever you call them, rich people / oligarchs / economic elites wield a disproportionate influence on politics and regular people basically just vote every few years.

Along with fellow researcher Martin Gilens, Ben documents that influence in their academic paper Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens. Chuck talks with Ben about his recent work, why he won’t use the “O” word, how political power has steadily been rising upwards for centuries, and the prospects for democracy in a land ruled by wealth.

Ben Page is the Gordon Scott Fulcher Professor of Decision Making at Northwestern University. His most recent book is 2011′s Living with the Dragon: How the American Public Views the Rise of China, which he co-wrote with Tao Xie and Andrew J. Nathan. Prior to that, Ben wrote he 2009 book, Class War?: What Americans Really Think about Economic Inequality.


Anand Gopal: “The Afghan war exists in large part for show, for people in the US to think we’re doing something good for the Afghans. But if you talk to Afghans in the areas where the war is being fought, they’ll say their lives have become miserable in the last 10 years.”

Last month’s Afghan elections were mostly peaceful and fair, according reporters that missed all the violence and corruption. Those reporters were mostly in urban areas of the country, but Afghanistan is a rural nation, and life outside the cities is less stable than before the American occupation. That’s the Afghanistan Anand Gopal covers in his book No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War through Afghan Eyes, in which he follows the lives of a Taliban commander, a US-backed warlord and a village housewife as they experience America’s war on terror.

Anand calls in to This is Hell! to explain how Western coverage of Afghanistan misses most of the country and relies on dubious Afghan and American government narratives, why the war on terror is a self-replicating system we no longer control, and how the US imports and encourages corruption in Afghans society.

Anand Gopal has served as an Afghanistan correspondent for The Wall Street Journal and The Christian Science Monitor, and has reported on the Middle East and South Asia for Harper’s, The Nation, The New Republic, Foreign Policy, and other publications. Anand is a fellow at the New America Foundation.



Ali Abunimah: “Obama gave them a contract to set up surveillance systems on the US-Mexico border. Guess where those systems were developed. Palestinians under apartheid were the lab rats for these systems that are now being brought to the US.”

A giant wall and series of checkpoints might be keeping Palestinians out of the occupied territories, but they aren’t stopping the conflict from spilling out across the world. University campuses serve as a battleground for public opinion and free speech rights, American borders rely on Israeli backed security systems, and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement grows in power and visibility around the world.

Ali Abunimah‘s book The Battle for Justice in Palestine follows the struggle for Palestinian rights, from South Side Chicago segregation to the new peace movements springing up in the Middle East. He talks with Chuck about the power of words like “zionist” and “apartheid,” the undemocratic lengths authorities will go to shut down BDS movement, and what American liberals really mean when they wish for nonviolent resistance.

Ali Abunimah is a journalist and co-founder and director of The Electronic Intifada. Ali is the recipient of a 2013 Lannan Cultural Freedom Fellowship and a current fellow at the Palestine Center.

Interview Transcript via AntiDote.


Marc Flury: “Safety is going to suffer when you put economics ahead of people. And I think you can look at the sinking of the Sewol as the comeuppance of the past decade of neoliberal policies in South Korea. “

The sinking of the MV Sewol took the lives of at least 248 people, and the investigation is taking a toll on Korea’s faith in government and capitalism. Live from Seoul, Marc Flury stays up late into the night to talk about the causes of the ferry disaster, the effects on Korean society, beer vs sochu vs makgeoli, labor activist Jeon Tae-il’s legacy, a new generation of student protestors, and his in-progress videogame, THUMPER.

With limited Korean language ability, Marc Flury consistently out-scoops the US media by translating and re-reporting Korean headline news. He’s interested in inter-Korean relations, North Korean economic development, and the US military presence in the Pacific. Marc is also a video game creator, currently working on THUMPER, the world’s most psychedelic survival rhythm game.



Valérie Bergeron: “I’m sure I said ‘independentist’ like 20 times during this segment, but for Quebec it is really important that when we make changes to important institutions and to the structure of our democratic life, that we get the approval from the provinces.”

Is baseball popular enough in Quebec to anchor a metaphor? Because this interview with Valérie Bergeron is an inside-baseball look into Canadian politics. We get an update on Quebec’s Charter of Values fight, an primer on Canada’s useless senate, and explanation of the country’s internal battle over federalism, and a very reluctant admission that Conrad Black was right about a thing.

Valérie Bergeron is studying law at Université Laval, Québec city, Canada. She is interested in student movements across the world, Canadian politics and the Middle East, where she travels as often as she can. Her greatest achievement yet has been to ride on the top of a truck full of chickens in the Sinai peninsula.



Jeff Dorchen: “After all these centuries of the best, brightest, most inventive, most resourceful, looking out for number one, rising to the top, captaining our industries – after all this, our economy should resemble a fine, thoroughbred racehorse. Instead it looks like an overweight sow dragging its million buttocks through the mud.”

The fact that he calls them the California Clippers either reveals an under-the-table viral marketing scheme he’s worked out with the Humboldt Park bar, or explains how much Jeff Dorchen actually knows about basketball. Everyone knows that the Los Angeles Clippers have an owner, and that owner is racist. No one has taken issue with that first fact, so Jeff checks himself into the game. I accidentally hang up on him at the end of this clip. I’ll own that mistake, at least.

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.

Producers Alexander Jerri and Richard Norwood wipe off a mystery liquid ominously oozing on the control panel.