Interview by Mark Johnson
for HUSTLER Magazine – June 2011
Investigative journalist and political commentator Webster Griffin Tarpley is used to controversy. Going wherever his research leads him, he has questioned the events of 9/11, challenged the mythologies of Barack Obama and tackled the massive bank fraud at the heart of the economic meltdown. A graduate of Princeton University and a former Fulbright Scholar, Tarpley gained wide notoriety when he went after Bush the First in George Bush: The Unauthorized Biography. More exposés followed, including 9/11 Synthetic Terror: Made in USA and Obama: The Postmodern Coup—Making of a Manchurian Candidate.
Tarpley’s latest book, Surviving the Cataclysm: Your Guide Through the Greatest Financial Crisis in Human History, lays out the real causes of our new economic depression and calls for a truly American solution.
HUSTLER: Is there any hope for Obama?
WEBSTER TARPLEY: Obama has been a catastrophic President. First of all, he’s a warmonger. Under Obama we’ve had more combat troops in the field than we ever had under [George W.] Bush. That means Iraq and Afghanistan, now a third war in Pakistan and a possible fourth war with Iran.
Contrary to popular belief, Obama is also a union buster. What he did to the United Auto Workers as part of the Detroit automobile bailout was to loot its union finances and send the money to Wall Street. The UAW was forced to swallow cuts in wages and benefits that degrade its members to the level of nonunion workers. The union also agreed to hand over healthcare assets to the hedge fund hyenas that now own huge stakes of our automakers. Obama’s car czar, Steve Rattner, notes in his new book that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s motto during the negotiations was “Fuck the UAW.” Obama is now using charter schools, merit pay and denial of tenure to bust the teachers’ unions.
My biggest critique of Obama is that he’s a Wall Street puppet. Look at the gaggle he has around him: Tim Geithner and Larry Summers [who recently resigned ] are disciples of Bob Rubin of Goldman Sachs and Citibank. Obama is a representative of the interests of the large Wall Street banks.We hear that he’s a socialist. That’s absolutely absurd. He serves the banks. My criticism of Obama comes from his left. Look at Obama compared to the positive tradition of the Democratic Party. Franklin D. Roosevelt created Social Security, an absolutely successful program. What’s Obama’s relation to that? He wants to destroy it, privatize it. The goal of his Bowles-Simpson Commission is to carry out a wrecking job on Social Security.
The crowning achievement of Lyndon B. Johnson’s career was Medicare. Obama has gutted it with $500 billion in cuts as part of his healthcare bill, which will lead to further rationing of care.
The difference between Obama and Bush is that Bush was an open, brutal reactionary and warmonger, but Obama does it all by deception, by duplicity. That’s why people have difficulty understanding the way he operates.
If the Democrats do not produce a challenger to Obama in the  primaries, the Democratic Party is going to be clinically defunct.
What happened to our economy?
We have a world economic depression, similar to the 1930s but worse. It’s not a normal business-cycle event, not simply a boom and bust. It’s a disintegration of the U.S. and British banking systems and of the dollarbased system that the world has lived under since the 1940s.
Right-wingers like to say the depression was caused by poor people who took out subprime mortgages, and when they defaulted, that brought down the entire Anglo-American banking system. That’s just a fantastic story. Rather, what happened was a panic in the world derivatives market.
Derivatives such as collateralized debt obligations, credit default swaps and structured investment vehicles are very complex things, hard for the average person to understand. It’s something like this: If we have the horse Seabiscuit running in the ninth race at Belmont Park one afternoon under the old system, whoever bets on Seabiscuit can either win or lose their money. Those losses are relatively limited.
Now imagine there’s a horse called Subprime running, and Wall Street decides they’re going to bet a quadrillion in derivatives on Subprime in the ninth. Notice, they don’t buy the horse. They don’t even go to the track; they do it through a floating bookie operation. If Subprime loses, that’s going to bring down the New York banking system. You wouldn’t blame poor Subprime; you would say it was criminal for these lunatics to put all those resources on such a shaky vehicle.
Derivatives were illegal in the United States from 1936 until 1982 under the New Deal Commodity Exchange Act. Then there was a process of legalizing them in which Ronald Reagan, Phil Gramm, Alan Greenspan and others were involved. Because of this, by 2007 we had a worldwide bubble of about $1.5 quadrillion in toxic derivatives, compared to a world gross domestic product of about 65 trillion. That is a black hole of bankruptcy and economic destruction. There’s not enough money in the world to bail that out.
Are we in a new Great Depression?
This is a world economic depression. It’s useful to go back and look at 1929 and the years after that. The Great Depression started with the stock panic in October 1929, but that was just the beginning. The second wave was a banking crisis in Europe in 1931.
Compare that to the timeframe from 2008 to 2010, and you see that we’re going through something similar. In 2008 we had a banking panic in New York that destroyed the entire U.S. banking system, which was then put on life support through the bailout. In 2010 we had a European banking crisis.
Countries are now on the verge of a new currency war, trying to drive down the price of their currencies. That is also what happened in 1931. The idea is, if you can reduce the value of your currency, your existing debts are less of a burden, and you can export easier. It doesn’t work though because it spreads the depression to the entire world. The question debated now is: Will we have a deflationary crash, like the U.S. in 1932, when commodity and real estate prices plummeted, or will we have a hyperinflationary takeoff? I think we’re likely to have the worst of both: a hyperinflationary depression, meaning a collapse in the dollar’s purchasing power combined with a collapse in overall economic activity—an extreme form of the stagflation we saw in the 1970s. That would mean all kinds of businesses closing, unemployment at 35% and prices going wild. It would happen worldwide; that brings social chaos. If you look at the 1930s, you see the succession: depression, dictatorship, world war. We’re still in the depression phase.
Your opponents would say the free market will fix the crisis.
The notion of a free market is one of the most fantastic fabrications in modern political life. We have never had a free market. Indeed, the whole United States was built on the negation of that. The government acts to promote, foster and facilitate economic development, carried out largely through privately owned companies.
The market never delivered the basic prerequisites of modern life in terms of decent standards of living and decent working conditions. That took mass struggle. You would not have an eight-hour day and a 40-hour week if you waited for somebody to grant that to you. There are reactionaries today who think that child labor laws and the minimum wage are unconstitutional. These people are working for reactionary, superrich interests. The responsibility for our current depression goes to the [free-market theories of] the Chicago School of Milton Friedman and ultimately to the Austrian School of Friedrich August von Hayek and Ludwig von Mises—economic charlatans. Henry Clay, the 19th-century congressman, senator and secretary of state who was praised by Lincoln and JFK, coined the term the “American System” in 1824. He pushed for a protective tariff, a national bank and internal infrastructural improvements. That’s the kind of alternative we need today.
We’re told we have to dump the New Deal and take up the poisonous foreign doctrine of the free market, which is not successful anywhere. The American System is the real basis of life in the United States.
How do you get out of the depression once you’re in it?
The first thing is take steps to stop speculation. Go back to what we had successfully from 1936 to 1982, which is a ban on certain kinds of derivatives. The collateralized debt obligation is in many ways the most destructive; that is what brought down Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch. That should be outlawed.
The other one that should be banned is the credit default swap, which is a bet on whether or not somebody else is going to go bankrupt. That should be illegal for two reasons: At face value it’s gambling, so it should be illegal under the gambling laws. And if you claim that it’s insurance, anybody issuing a credit default swap who is not an insurance company should be shut down because they’re issuing them without registering as an insurance company and without the capital requirements. Derivatives haven’t been outlawed because Obama’s Wall Street cronies, along with the procorporate Congress, will block anything the banks don’t want.