Interview excerpts from the late Alexander Cockburn



Cockburn: Globalism is great, except when it isnt.
  • Cockburn: Globalism is great, except when it isn't.
The death of Alexander Cockburn, who succumbed to cancer this weekend at age 71, left a void in the world of political commentary that will not — in fact, cannot — be filled. An Irish ex-pat who first made his name as a journalist working for a then-progressive Village Voice, Cockburn went on to co-found and edit the website CounterPunch as well as to author books like A Short History of Fear and Whiteout: The CIA, Drugs and the Press.

In 2005, while I was news editor of the Sacramento News & Review, I wrote a profile of Cockburn, who indulged my interviewing skills and spoke off the cuff with rapid-fire intelligence, eloquence and wit. I re-read the article this weekend — you can find it here — and was again amazed at his ability to intertwine arcane historical data with Hunter Thompson-worthy imagery, all in one real-time conversation.

I’m tempted at this point to say "rest in peace," but I think Cockburn would find peace kind of boring. So instead, here are a few of his quotes from our interview.

"These days, we have the Democrats about to sell out on Social Security. They sold out last month on Chapter 7 bankruptcy. You know, they’re incapable—even the most fundamental primitive efforts of protection of ordinary people are beyond them. They can’t do it. I mean, I think they’re a dead letter. They’re a huge rotting albatross hanging around the neck of every single left person in this country. And the left are putting a handkerchief to their nose trying to ignore this festering carcass, dripping with worms, reeking, hanging around their necks: 'No, it’s not. I like it. It doesn't smell bad.'"

"There’s about 30,000 a month on U.S. military bases reading CounterPunch. Now that’s pretty good, isn’t it? If I said to you 30 years ago, “We’re gonna get pamphlets, and we’re gonna go stand outside a U.S. military base and leaflet—and hopefully we won’t get our brains beaten in,” we’d have been happy if we’d have given away 500 leaflets. If we had actually managed to get 500 leaflets into 500 hairy military hands—or delicate military hands, like Lynndie England’s, maybe—we’d have counted it a good day’s work. And here you’ve got 30,000 reading our seditious prose."

"Yeah, globalism is great. It’s been going on for hundreds of years. Oh yeah, I’m against globalism of the bad sort: some fucking company in America going and screwing people in the Third World and not paying them properly. But globalism, I mean, it was very good when the Portuguese—well, it probably had a bad impact on Latin America—but it was good that potatoes and peppers got to Europe. That was early, early globalism. It’s much more rapid these days. You know, the first Indian housewife got the basics for what we regard as the eternal Indian diet in about 1550, and in about 1555 it was on every household menu in the whole of India. Cortez brought turkeys back to Europe in 1519, from the New World, and by about 1535, they were on every German Christmas table as the old traditional turkey dinner, right? And then the Puritans took the turkeys back to America in cages, and when the Indians gave them turkeys for Thanksgiving, there was a tame turkey looking out the little cage at it. That’s globalism."

"I’ve always been an optimist. You have to be an optimist. Because most people on the left, they tend to take a rather grim view of the world, as you may have noticed. You want to just generally be bushy-tailed about things, I think."

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