My new book, ‘Chasing The Scream’, is now available

Posted by – January 12, 2015

For the foreseeable future, I’ll be updating over at the book’s website, which is www.chasingthescream.com – over there, you can order the book, read extracts, and all sorts of fun… Let me know what you think of the book at chasingthescream -at- gmail.com

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An update

Posted by – September 5, 2014

It’s a while since I posted anything here, so I thought I’d offer a quick update. For the past three years I’ve been writing a book – ‘Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs’ – that is being published in January 2015 in the US, UK, Australia and India by Bloomsbury.

This is what it says on the book’s jacket:

It is now 100 years since drugs were first banned – the opening shot in a drug war that continues to this day. As this centenary approached, the award-winning journalist Johann Hari set off on an epic three-year, 30,000-mile journey into the war on drugs to uncover its secrets – and he found that everything we have been told on this subject is wrong. Drugs are not what we think they are. Addiction is not what we think it is. And the drug war is not what we have been told it is for all these years.

Hari reveals his startling discoveries entirely through the true stories of people across the world whose lives have been transformed by this war – all told with the compulsiveness of a thriller. They range from a transsexual crack dealer in Brooklyn searching for her mother, to a teenage hit-man in Mexico searching for a way out. Hari discovers that at the birth of the drug war, Billie Holiday was stalked and killed by the man who launched this crusade – while at the end of the drug war, a brave doctor has led his country to decriminalize every drug, from cannabis to crack, with remarkable results.

In ‘Chasing The Scream’, you will begin to see what we have really been chasing in our century of drug war – in our hunger for drugs, and in our attempt to destroy them. Lauded by everyone from Elton John to Noam Chomsky, this book will change how you think about the most controversial – and consequential – question of our time.

“Superb journalism and thrilling story-telling” – Naomi Klein

“An absolutely stunning book. It will blow people away.” – Elton John

“Wonderful – I couldn’t put it down” – Noam Chomsky”

You can pre-order the book at Amazon or at any good bookstore.

I’ve also been doing some other things. I am a Visiting Fellow with Purpose, the brilliant organization in New York that launched AllOut.org, TheRules.org and launches other online campaigning movements.

I have been co-producing Russell Brand’s forthcoming podcast, and I helped him to research some of the political material in his stand-up show the Messiah Complex and in his forthcoming book.

And with my friend Sarah Punshon I have written a theatrical adaptation of a novel that is being staged next year.

I have also reported on the US Presidential election and from Mexico and Uruguay for Le Monde Diplomatique, and from Zimbabwe, Vietnam and Cambodia for High Life magazine.

As I explained back in 2011, I’m posting the audio of the quotes I use in my work that were said directly to me from now on – over 400 will be going up on my book’s website later this year.

Here is the text of the quotes for the article from Le Monde Diplomatique, followed by the audio clips:

Emma Veleta: It “was a very special day for us,” the mother, Emma, says. “We were all together.” (The translator you can hear on this recording is Julian Cardona, the Reuters correspondent in Ciudad Juarez, who was my fixer in Northern Mexico). This conversation took place in the town of Creel

Emma Veleta: “We were never apart – me and my husband were together all the time. My children were in touch with me all the time… Now I feel a big emptiness. Life makes no sense for me any more.”

President Jose Mujica: “We have, one way or another, for over 100 years been following the policy of repressing drugs,” President Mujica tells me, “and after 100 years, we have realized that it has been a resounding failure.” (The translator you can hear there is Dario Moreno, who translated this telephone interview with President Mujica.)

Defence Secretary Eleutoria Huidobro: “if we don’t do this now, in a matter of time, what happened in Mexico [will happen here]. We’re going to be in big trouble.” (The translator you here is Alex Ferreira, who was my fixer and translator in Montevideo, Uruguay, where this interview happened).

Huidobro: “By not legalizing marijuana, what you do is transfer all that money to criminals, and make the drug-dealers into a big institution with power.”

Huidobro: “The United States’ drug war,” Huidobro argues, “causes more harm than marijuana itself. Many more deaths. Much more detsabilisation. This is worse for the world in general than any drug. The remedy is worse than the illness.”

President Mujica: “since the market already exists, what we want to do is regulate this market. Take it out of the dark, and take the market away from the dealers.”

Veronica Alonzo: “As soon as you legalize… people will be using more.” (The translator here is Alex Ferreira again.) This interview took place in Montevideo

Dr Raquel Peyraube: In fact, marijuana users are, under prohibition, subject to a precisely opposite process she calls “the gondola effect.” To get marijuana at the moment, you must go to a drug dealer who will almost always sell other drugs – and he has a strong incentive to encourage you to try them. “You know how at the supermarket,” she says, “you buy things you don’t even need… because they offer [them to] you, or they give [them to] you as a present?” This interview took place in Montevideo

Sebastian Sabini: “It may take some time – it’s not going to happen now,” he says, but “of course we’ll be able to bring this same cause to the public when it comes to other drugs as well.” This interview took place in Montevideo

 

 

Here is the audio for the quotes from High Life, with the text from the piece and then the audio:

Sarah Brook: “I was the person,” Sarah tells me years later, in a chichi café in Phonm Penh, Cambodia, “who found the bullet in the leg.”

Damien Mander: “I’d rather have a rhino with no horn than a rhino lying in a pool of blood without its face.” This interview took place in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

Mr Nam: “It is a special kind of medicine – it can cure many illnesses, many ailments. That’s why I bought it,” he says. “Many people say that rhino horn is very good for reducing fever for children, and improving health for old people. I have parents and I have children to keep in the house just in case my children get sick with high fever… If my parents get ill, I would give them some.” (The translator you can hear in this interview is Dang Hoang Linh, who arranged this meeting). This interview took place in Hanoi.

Mr Nam: I ask him what he thinks about the killing of rhinos. “It is inhumane, killing rhino just for the horn,” he says. I am a little thrown by this, so it takes me a moment to reply.

“You think it’s inhumane to kill them, but you still bought it?” “Because I am just the buyer,” he says. “They are selling the rhino horn… They sell it, I buy it.”

“So do you feel any guilt, or any responsibility?” I ask.

“I am not eye-witnessing the killing of the rhino,” he says. “I don’t know what kind of rhino was killed to get the horn. The principle [is] that if I don’t see the killing, then I don’t feel guilty.”

Mr Nam: “By keeping expensive things in the house, [you have] a social symbol. It improves your social status. I was so happy when I bought the rhino horn, because I thought now I own one of the most expensive things. It doesn’t mean that I will use it, but by having it, I am very happy… I feel happy because it’s so expensive, it’s more expensive than gold. It’s very hard to buy – with gold you can easily go to the jewelry store, but not with rhino horn. It’s very difficult to find… I think that rich people must have rare and valuable things in their house. Before I was an ordinary person… In feudal times only the king and queen could possess it. Now I am like the king!”

So, I said, it makes you feel like you are above everyone else? “Absolutely right,” he replies, smiling.

Sarah Brook: “Theoretically, there’s a good argument for it, but practically, that argument just doesn’t hold water.” This interview took place in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

I have started work now on my next book.

I’ve started a mailing list, sign up over on the right. Or you can follow me on Twitter – @johannhari101

Why Does Mitt Romney Support Violently Toppling Democratically Elected Leaders?

Posted by – October 15, 2012

When you gaze at the square-jawed, brycreemed glisten of Mitt Romney, you do not immediately picture the kidnapping of a democratically elected President, nor the installation of a tyrant who slaughtered at least half a million people. Yet that is what this man has presented as a model for the future of US foreign policy, although almost nobody seems to have noticed. He has been criticized by many liberals for liquidating businesses when he was a venture capitalist, but it’s time we looked also at his willingness to liquidate democracies – and why.

In his rather bland book ‘No Apologies’, Romney doesn’t get angry – except on one occasion. It is about what happened in the small Central American nation of Honduras in 2009. President Manuel Zelaya had been chosen by his people in a wholly free and fair election. He was hardly a radical. As the veteran Latin America expert Richard Gott has written: “A wealthy landowner with timber and cattle interests, he was the candidate of the Liberal party, one of the two traditional parties of the Honduras oligarchy.” But in the second poorest country in the hemisphere, he did try to deliver substantial improvements for the majority of the population, as he had promised to during the election campaign. He increased the minimum wage by 60 percent and invested in the kind of Lula-style social programs for the poor that have helped transform Brazil.

This was enough to infuriate the right. They started to denounce him as a demagogue and an incipient dictator – a new caudillo. When Zelaya proposed to hold a referendum to see if the Honduran people wanted to reform the constitution drawn up by the military in the 1980s, they claimed, absurdly, that this amounted to a coup d’etat. And so Zelaya and his little daughter were woken up in their pyjamas in the Presidential Palace by men with machine guns.

Zelaya later explained to the US news show Democracy Now: “They threatened me, that they were going to shoot. And I said to them: ‘If you have orders to shoot, then shoot me. But know that you are shooting the president of the republic.'” They took him to a US military base and then dumped him on the tarmac in Costa Rica and told him never to return. Back home, the radios and cellphones were locked down, and Amnesty International has documented that “human rights abuses spiraled,” with “mass arrests, beatings and torture” and “grave human rights violations.” There has been a wave of murders of journalists trying to expose this, many with what appear to be signs of summary execution, while the Resistance Front say two hundred of their members have been hunted down and murdered since the coup. The new government held a forum for international businessmen bragging: “Honduras Is Open For Business.”

And Mitt Romney is angry. Very angry. The source of his fury is not that a democracy was liquidated. No. It is that the United States government was – for once – not initially on the side of throwing out an elected center-left leader in Latin America. He told a press conference with disgust: “When Honduras wanted to toss out their pro-Marxist president, our president stood with him.” In his book, he calls Zelaya a “corrupt autocrat… who was lawfully removed from office by the Honduran Supreme Court.” He adds: “It is stunning to think that the president of the United States would force Honduras to act contrary to its own laws in order to restore a repressive, anti-American leader to power.”

Thanks to Wikileaks, we know that nobody outside the Honduran far right believed this. The internal memos of the US diplomats on the ground stated that “there is no doubt” that it “constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup”, with, at its heart, “an abduction” and “kidnapping” of the elected President.

***

Yet this is part of a pattern for Romney of how he thinks foreign policy should work. In the CNN-Heritage Foundation debate last November, Romney held up one historical period in particular as a good example of how US foreign policy should proceed. He said that when it comes to Pakistan and, by implication, the wider world, the US needs to replicate “what happened in Indonesia back in the 1960s, where we helped Indonesia move toward modernity with new leadership.”

That’s one way of putting what the US government did in Indonesia in the 1960s. The other way of putting it is in the words of a leaked CIA memo, where they said the US helped install into total power a man who “rank[s] as one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century.”

So what was this policy that Romney admires so much? Indonesia mattered because, as a British Foreign Office memo put it in 1964, it was “a major producer of essential commodities. The region produces nearly 85% of the world’s natural rubber, over 45% of the tin, 65% of the copra and 23% of the chromium ore.” Through the 1950s and early 1960s, it had a somewhat autocratic leader – Sukarno – who rejected both US imperialism and Soviet imperialism and sought an independent path and for the country to control its own resources. This displeased US corporations. Clearly, when Romney praises what happened in Indonesia in the 1960s, he is clearly not talking about Sukarno.

No. He is talking about how the CIA aided the rise of Suharto, a far more autocratic and brutal military general who staged a coup in 1965. He is the “new leadership” Romney is praising. The CIA had been building up and arming the army as a rival source of power for years, and once their preferred institution was in charge, they handed over a list of 5000 names of suspected communists, including members of women’s and youth movements. According to Joseph Lazarsky, CIA station chief at the time, this was used as a “shooting list.” It was part of a wider mass killing of suspected or supposed communists that slaughtered half a million people, most of them landless peasants. Suharto later went on to invade East Timor and slaughter a third of the population there.

What was it like to live through this? The journalist John Pilger, who reported from there, describes one story from the ground. “As we [Pilger, and one of the survivors, named Roy] sat in an empty classroom, he recalled the day in October 1965 when he watched a gang burst in, drag the headmaster into the playground, and beat him to death. “He was a wonderful man: gentle and kind,” Roy said. “He would sing to the class, and read to me. He was the person that I, as a boy, looked up to . . . I can hear his screams now, but for a long time, years in fact, all I could remember was running from the classroom, and running and running through the streets, not stopping. When they found me that evening, I was dumbstruck. For a whole year I couldn’t speak.” The headmaster was suspected of being a communist, and his murder that day was typical of the systematic executions of teachers, students, civil servants, peasant farmers.”

It worked. From Romney’s perspective, Indonesia became more free – because now it was cracked open for corporations to be free to use as they please, with the ability of the people to resist crushed at gunpoint. Suharto staged a conference for multinational corporations and handed them the rights to exploit great swathes of the country. It became known as an investors’ paradise.

***

So what does this reveal about how Romney would rule? It is clear he doesn’t only think that corporations are people; he thinks that corporations are the people who deserve to be free above all else – even if it’s the freedom to topple democracies and empower tyrants.

It shouldn’t surprise us that Romney sees the world exclusively through the prism of extracting profit, because there is evidence he even sees the most intimate parts of human life in this way. The New York Times has reported that a few years after graduating from Harvard Business School, he returned to give a useful lecture. He told the students “they [as individuals] were like multinational corporations.” The Times explains: “He drew a chart called a growth-share matrix with little circles to represent various pursuits: work, family, church. Investing time in work delivered tangible returns like raises and profits. ‘Your children don’t pay any evidence of achievement for twenty years,’ Mr Romney said. But if students failed to invest sufficient time and energy in their spouses and children, their family could become ‘dogs’ – consultant-speak for drags on the rest of the company.” They later note that the business students were delighted because “Romney had proved the value of family time based not on emotion but on yield.”

If you believe that your own children need to be assessed “based not on emotion but on yield,” is it any surprise that you would assess backing murderous tyrants in the same way? The half a million peasants killed by Suharto produced no “yield” for the US – indeed, they may have been “dogs” – while Suharto did: he handed its companies profit. So it would be illogical, in this value system, to side with the former over the latter. Corporations are structured to do one thing and one thing only: maximize profit. Romney applies this value to all human institutions, from being a parent to being a President. To him, you are a multinational corporation. The US government is a multinational corporation. Corporations are people, my friend.

These same impulses drive Romney’s domestic policies. The only time he gets angry about anything at home in ‘No Regrets’ is when he discusses the tiny waning flicker of power that trade unions still hold in the US – which he says is far too great. His central complaint is that “some union CEOS” spend their time worrying about “how many of their union’s jobs they can protect, how much more they can increase wages, and how they can impose even more favorable work rules” – a reality that infuriates him. He says in the US today “union CEOs have become the 800 pound gorillas” and “the political power of organized labor has gone beyond the bounds of responsible management.”

This is all part of Romney’s consistent vision of how freedom works. He wants rich people to be able to band together in organizations called “corporations” to defend their interests – and if anybody else tries to restrict corporate freedom by banding together to defend their own interests, they must be stopped. That’s true whether they are a democratically elected government in Honduras, or a democratically constituted trade union in Wisconsin. They are obstacles to the “freedom” of people like Bain Capital, so they have to be dismantled.

***

Far from being ideologically empty, Romney is a hardline ideologue, and like all ideologues, he seems able to screen out the suffering his ideology causes with ease. Just as Stalinists didn’t hear the starvation-screams from the Ukraine – a process they too said was bringing “modernity under new leadership” – Romney doesn’t hear the slash and thud from murdered dissidents in Honduras or headmasters beaten to death in Indonesia.

So when you gaze upon Mitt Romney, don’t think Leave It To Beaver. Think Leave It To Business – at gunpoint if necessary.

 

***

This article originally appeared in Le Monde Diplomatique. You can subscribe to the English language edition here.

For updates on this issue and others, follow Johann on Twitter at www.twitter.com/johannhari101. You can email the author at johann [at] johannhari.com

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Is this the end for critics?

Posted by – June 14, 2012

My recent article for GQ magazine is here.

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Imagine there’s no heaven…

Posted by – May 31, 2012

John Lennon urged us: “Imagine there’s no heaven/ It’s easy if you try/ No hell below us/ Above us only sky …” Yet Americans aren’t turning to Lennonism any faster than Leninism. Today, 81 percent say they believe in heaven—an increase of 10 percent since a decade ago. Of those, 71 percent say it is “an actual place.” Indeed, 43 percent believe their pets—cats, rats, and snakes—are headed into the hereafter with them to be stroked for eternity. Yet the heaven you think you’re headed to—a reunion with your lost relatives in the light—is a very recent invention, only a little older than Goldman Sachs. Most of the believers in heaven across most of history would find it unrecognizable. My latest podcast is a discussion of of this strange human fantasy.

The best way to listen to the podcast is to subscribe via iTunes by clicking here. Alternatively, you can use this link for other podcasting programs, or click the little Play button below.

This podcast is sponsored by inkntoneruk – the greenest printer sellers on the web. Send them your used cartridges freepost, and they will fill them with ink and send them back – saving you and the planet a lot of grief.

I’m waist-deep in research and travel for the book I’m writing at the moment, so apologies for the paucity of podcast posting (wow, that was lots of alliteration, wasn’t it?) but do stay subscribed.

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Meet America’s deranged philosopher-queen

Posted by – May 11, 2012

My latest podcast is a discussion of one of the great mysteries of American politics – Ayn Rand, the woman whose ideas drive the American right, and crashed the global economy. How did a little Russian bomb of immorality – a woman who said the only virtue is selfishness – conquer the United States?

The best way to listen to the podcast is to subscribe via iTunes by clicking here. Alternatively, you can use this link for other podcasting programs, or click the little Play button below.

This podcast is sponsored by inkntoneruk – the greenest printer sellers on the web. Send them your used cartridges freepost, and they will fill them with ink and send them back – saving you and the planet a lot of grief.

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Glenn Greenwald – A Conversation, Part II

Posted by – April 11, 2012

My latest interview is part two of my conversation with the most essential political commentator in the US: Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com. He is part of a tradition of American writers – from Thomas Paine to Mark Twain to Noam Chomsky – who embody the best values of America, because it always starts from a simple premise. He looks at the victims of the US government – both at home and abroad – and asks – how would I feel if this was done to me? How would I feel if I was being wiretapped? How would I feel if my house and my family were blown up by robot-bombers sent from thousands of miles away?

In our conversation, we explore how political tribalism often blinds American liberals to crimes committed by Democrats – and how Glenn learned, from his childhood in Florida, to see beyond this.

The best way to listen to the podcast is to subscribe via iTunes by clicking here. Alternatively, you can use this link for other podcasting programs, or click the little Play button below.

Updated, 5th March (Matthew): Replaced with an .mp3 version, which will hopefully resolve Mac compatibility problems and remove a confusing edit.

This podcast is sponsored by inkntoneruk – the greenest printer sellers on the web. Send them your used cartridges freepost, and they will fill them with ink and send them back – saving you and the planet a lot of grief.

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Glenn Greenwald – a conversation

Posted by – March 30, 2012

My latest podcast is a conversation with the most essential political commentator in the US: Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com. He is part of a tradition of American writers – from Thomas Paine to Mark Twain to Noam Chomsky – who embody the best values of America, because it always starts from a simple premise. He looks at the victims of the US government – both at home and abroad – and asks – how would I feel if this was done to me? How would I feel if I was being wiretapped? How would I feel if my house and my family were blown up by robot-bombers sent from thousands of miles away?

In our conversation, we explore how political tribalism often blinds American liberals to crimes committed by Democrats – and how Glenn learned, from his childhood in Florida, to see beyond this.

The best way to listen to the podcast is to subscribe via iTunes by clicking here. Alternatively, you can use this link for other podcasting programs, or click the little Play button below.

Updated, 5th March (Matthew): Replaced with an .mp3 version, which will hopefully resolve Mac compatibility problems and remove a confusing edit.

This podcast is sponsored by inkntoneruk – the greenest printer sellers on the web. Send them your used cartridges freepost, and they will fill them with ink and send them back – saving you and the planet a lot of grief.

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In the age of distraction, we need physical books more than ever

Posted by – March 16, 2012

The best way to listen to the podcast is to subscribe via iTunes by clicking here. Alternatively, you can use this link for other podcasting programs. If there’s any problem downloading, please email matthew@johannhari.com

This podcast is sponsored by inkntoneruk – the greenest printer sellers on the web. Send them your used cartridges freepost, and they will fill them with ink and send them back – saving you and the planet a lot of grief.

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You can watch me advocating an end to the war on drugs with Richard Branson, Russell Brand and others…

Posted by – March 14, 2012

here. In the debate, I discussed this excellent paper from the British Journal of Criminology about the positive effects of decriminalization of all drugs in Portugal, and this excellent book by Jeffrey Miron which discusses the plummet in homicide rates in the US after the end of alcohol prohibition. One brief correction: I said in the broadcast hangout afterwards that the UN Office of Drug Control had argued in the 1990s for criminalizing opposition to the drug war. It was in fact the International Narcotic Control Board that did this. Apologies to the spokesman from the UNODC who correctly denied his organisation had done so.

I’m keen to hear from people about which arguments people found persuasive from either side – and especially where my argument seemed incomplete or failed to answer the anxieties people have about this issue. (I’m currently writing about this question in depth). What anxieties and questions about legalization weren’t answered to your satisfaction? Let me know – I’m johann -at- johannhari.com