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Transcript: Thom Hartmann & Rick Falkvinge: Swedish politics. January 12, 2012
Thom Hartmann: Welcome back, Thom Hartmann here with you. And sitting here next to me in the studio is the founder and political evangelist for the Pirate Party of Sweden, Rick Falkvinge. Falkvinge?
Rick Falkvinge: Yes.
Thom Hartmann: Hey, pretty good. Or close enough, right?
Rick Falkvinge: Absolutely.
Thom Hartmann: Rick, the Pirate Party actually has two seats in the European Parliament. You know, when it was first rolled out a lot of people thought oh come on, these are a bunch of Internet kind of, free speech freaks…
Rick Falkvinge: Right, but that’s the way it goes. Whenever you have a political large movement that’s founded from a grass roots level, the establishment will never take them seriously. That happened with the Social Democratic movement, when they came in, it happened with the Green movement and it happened with us. So we got, as they say, into the warmth of Parliament in three and a half years. That’s a record time for a new political movement. And as the Greek Pirate Party is being founded, pretty much this week actually, media counted and did the total tally and there’s now 56 Pirate Parties. We're in the...
Thom Hartmann: 56 different countries have Pirate Parties?
Rick Falkvinge: Yes we do. So, I feel confident saying that this is the next generation reconquering and reclaiming their liberties. There is absolutely no reason why their amount of civil liberties when they live their life online should be any less than that of our parents who communicated by mail and letter.
Thom Hartmann: Certainly. So the Pirate Party has, as its focus, the online world as it were. What about the physical world? Where are you in alignment with, for example, the Greens? Or the other, you know, progressive movements. It seems like there would be a natural alliance there. Are there areas of disagreement of conflict?
Rick Falkvinge: There is quite a bit of alignment, quite a bit of agreement. There’s a reason why we are aligned with the Green group in the European Parliament for instance. We are agreeing on many points although they have agreed to vote with us on information policy in exchange for us with voting on everything else, I mean that’s the way it goes.
Thom Hartmann: On environmental issues.
Rick Falkvinge: Right, that’s the way coalitions go, after all. And about every 40 years there is a new major movement that is taking the progressive stance, and I think this is us.
Thom Hartmann: So, so the new major progressive movement in Europe is the Pirate Party. When you guys started this thing, and I mean the black flag is your logo.
Rick Falkvinge: Yeah, the black sail. I mean, when we were founded the Pirates of the Caribbean were all the rage so it became quite a bit logic to just have a black sail as the logo, you know.
Thom Hartmann: But it was started as a lark, wasn’t it? I mean these are serious issues.
Rick Falkvinge: No we were absolutely serious. I had done the math and realized that okay there are over a million people who share files and Swedish air culture and they were being actively demonized by the establishment. So if just one in five would rebel against being demonized and actively pointed out as a criminal, if just one in five would say that, I’m not taking this, then we would be in Parliament.
Thom Hartmann: And you are.
Rick Falkvinge: We are.
Thom Hartmann: And that’s really, it’s really quite extraordinary. I’m not laughing, I am impressed.
Rick Falkvinge: Well thank you.
Thom Hartmann: I think that’s an absolutely…
Rick Falkvinge: Although I have got to say we are not in National Parliament, not yet. We are in the European Parliament, because that’s, it’s seen as more of a niche parliament. You can vote for specific issues in the European elections and the parties will go into European Parliament. We are learning that in order to get into national Parliaments you need to broaden your scope a little bit because people will vote on a more complex range of issues. That’s what the Berlin Piratenpartei found when they got into the Berlin State Legislature, which caused a new shock for the establishment. But hey, this success for the Swedish Pirate Party wasn’t just a flash in the pan. Now they’re succeeding in Germany too, where is this going?
Thom Hartmann: Right. So to expand this conversation a little bit beyond this, as a Swede, you’re very familiar with the political scene here, being the founder and a political evangelist of the newest and one of the most progressive parties in existence. I’m curious, in the United States people who call themselves conservatives want to do away with old age pensions run by the government called Social Security, they want to do away with health insurance for elderly people called Medicare, they want to do away with health insurance for poor people called Medicaid. They don’t want there to be any national health program for working people, you’re on your own buddy.
Rick Falkvinge: Right.
Thom Hartmann: They don’t want there to be, they want it to be very limited rights, payments, for people who are unemployed and in fact there are demands now that they must be drug tested every couple weeks and they must do 16 hours a week of volunteer labor and all these other things. These are the conservative positions in America. Are the conservatives, the right wingers, in Sweden, in agreement with those kinds of positions?
Rick Falkvinge: Not in the slightest Thom. I mean, we're, in Scandinavia in general, and maybe even Sweden in particular, we are very much in favor of equality. I saw a number from a couple of years ago that Sweden has the lowest Gini coefficient in the world, meaning that we have the lowest income inequalities. If I go to, if I go to a hospital because I have the common cold, it’s going to cost me about $30. If I need heart surgery it’s also going to cost me about $30.
Thom Hartmann: Wow.
Rick Falkvinge: And we’re taking that for granted.
Thom Hartmann: Even the conservatives.
Rick Falkvinge: Nobody is touching that. It doesn’t happen.
Thom Hartmann: Nobody has, it’s not part of the discussion.
Rick Falkvinge: It’s not, completely not part of the discussion.
Thom Hartmann: They’re not trying to, that’s amazing. And you know, among all these other things. And so what makes conservatives conservatives in Sweden? Is it just the immigration issue, principally?
Rick Falkvinge: No. the immigration issue is not part of the conservative social democrat discussion. I mean there is this, there was a new party that are being portrayed as Xenophobic that got into Parliament the last election I think, it’s part of the establishment’s failure to even discuss the issues. But what is part of the public opinion is basically where, how large is social welfare? Where do we draw the line between the individual’s responsibility and the social network, the social welfare network?
Thom Hartmann: So where is this debate happening? What’s the space where it is?
Rick Falkvinge: It’s on things like unemployment benefits, it will be on schools, a bit on healthcare but it doesn’t come close to saying you’re on your own. That’s just not on the chart.
Thom Hartmann: Yeah. So unemployment benefits, how long, if you’re unemployed in Sweden because there’s a recession, what do you get and how long does it last and what, what, how would the conservatives want to change that if that’s something that they think about changing?
Rick Falkvinge: If you’re laid off in Sweden, involuntarily laid off, then you’re getting about 80% of your pay up to a ceiling for…
Thom Hartmann: Right. 80%?
Rick Falkvinge: 80%, yes.
Thom Hartmann: Oh my goodness.
Rick Falkvinge: But it is up to a ceiling, so you’re not getting 80% if you were a high income earner.
Thom Hartmann: Not if you’re a billionaire.
Rick Falkvinge: Right.
Thom Hartmann: Right.
Rick Falkvinge: And I think you get that for 100 days after which the demands on you for looking for a new job harshens quite significantly and you get a little bit more, up to 200 days. I’m not entirely familiar with the details here.
Thom Hartmann: Sure, sure. But it’s a fairly generous system.
Rick Falkvinge: But there, you do get an, you do have an insurance for getting a new job and you have a couple of months to do that, essentially.
Thom Hartmann: Right. And that, OK, that’s not, and we have, you know, one minute here until the break. So what we call conservatives in the United States…
Rick Falkvinge: Right, how would the conservatives change that.
Thom Hartmann: Yeah.
Rick Falkvinge: There is pushes for making it more, this insurance, more voluntary, there is some push for having a couple of uninsured days, no wait that was health insurance, never mind. So yeah it’s basically moving towards privatizing the insurance instead of having it as part of mandatory social welfare network.
Thom Hartmann: Yeah. Interesting, very interesting. And it’s really quite remarkable how the conservative side, and the Pirate Party, are you taking positions on these issues? Or are you staying…
Rick Falkvinge: We are. We are looking at it. I mean if you look at the German Piratenpartei they are strengthening the social welfare system even further, seeing that we’re going post industrial here. When, if you’re looking at Japan, if you’re looking at what happened, what’s happening in the industry, we need less and less people to work, to actually maintain what we are producing. And just a couple of, one decade or two decades out, that’s going to be a large problem. So we’re looking at some sort of unconditional basic income, basically, that does pay everybody.
Thom Hartmann: A base wage for everybody. Remarkable. We’ll be right back, Thom Hartmann here with you.
[Start of commercial break]
Thom Hartmann: OK, welcome back, Thom Hartmann here with you in Copenhagen - Stockholm! Yeah, we were in Copenhagen 3 days ago. Stockholm, Sweden. I'm sorry, wrong country. It's called Nacka, oh, Nacka actually is the town where we are. And with me, Rick Falkvinge. Falkvinge?
Rick Falkvinge: Yep, Falkvinge.
Thom Hartmann: Falkvinge, the founder and political evangelist for the Pirate Party of Sweden and Rick where, are you making any inroads in the United States? And I'm curious about your thoughts on some of this legislation that's coming out of the United States to restrict Internet ability.
Rick Falkvinge: Right. I'm very concerned about that. I mean, there are, the thing is, here, what the Internet has changed, and I'm going philosophical for 30 seconds here, is that it's given everybody a voice and just like when the Catholic Church tried to attack the printing press in the Middle Ages, they did that up to and including the death penalty for unauthorized copying.
There's this privileged elite in society that has held the privilege of interpreting truth and telling people what the truth is. That privilege has been broken by the Internet, so very, very strong economic interests are now trying to curtail the net and prevent, essentially, losing this privilege.
So, I'm very concerned when you see, like, American politicians talking about instituting censorship. That's frankly not the America I grew up with. And I'm talking about the Stop Online Piracy Act, I'm talking about Protect IP Act, and all of this. I mean, America, for me, has always had freedom of speech as its flagship. And all of a sudden I am seeing how the net is threatening economic interest and all of a sudden these liberties weren't worth the thing they're printed on.
Thom Hartmann: Hmm. And are there movements like the SOPA in the United States, are there movements like that going on in Europe?
Rick Falkvinge: There have been attempts in the European Parliament to put similar things, and I've got to say that I'm quite proud that our presence in the European Parliament stopped exactly that happening in Europe.
Thom Hartmann: Really.
Rick Falkvinge: There was something called the Telecomms Package which would enable people to be cut off from the Internet and our specific presence in the European Parliament made sure that that didn't happen.
Thom Hartmann:The Pirate Party's presence.
Rick Falkvinge: Yes.
Thom Hartmann: That's remarkable. And are those interests funded by the big entertainment corporations?
Rick Falkvinge: Yes, they are. It's the copyright lobby which has lost a very lucrative distribution monopoly. See, it doesn't cost anything to distribute digital information any more. So essentially, since it doesn't cost anything, in a functioning market you can't charge for it.
But since these large corporations have a monopoly distribution they're trying to clamp down in the liberties that enable us to distribute digital information at no cost, because it threatens their entire business model.
But my point is that if civil liberties are at odds with your business model, it is your business model that has to change. No entrepreneur on the planet has the right to say that I can't sustain my business in the face of sustained civil liberties.
Thom Hartmann: Yeah. Very, very well said. Rick Falkvinge, say it please.
Rick Falkvinge: Falkvinge. It means wing of a falcon in Swedish.
Thom Hartmann: Oh, that's marvelous. Falkvinge. The founder and political evangelist for the Pirate Party of Sweden. We'll be back in a just a moment with a little bit more. Stick around.
[End of commercial break]
Thom Hartmann: Welcome back, Thom Hartmann here with you. And another Swedish band as a bumper. Jacob is so good at picking out our music. Rick, the wing of the falcon, Falkvinge...
Rick Falkvinge: That’s it.
Thom Hartmann: ... is our guest here. He’s the political evangelist with the Pirate Party in Sweden. And one of the other, you know, in America, in America when people think of Sweden they, number one, you guys nationalized your banks back in the ‘90s, because your banks crashed the way ours did.
Rick Falkvinge: Right.
Thom Hartmann: And you just said okay that’s it, screw the bankers. Threw them out. They lost all their money. The country nationalized them and then they slowly sold them back into the private marketplace at a profit, I guess. And you know, why haven’t we learned from that. I’m curious about your thoughts on that.
Rick Falkvinge: You’re right. And Iceland, I mean Iceland did the same thing, they allowed the banks to fail. I mean if you’re investing money, the government, essentially the tax payers, guarantee that you’re not taking any risk. There’s no incentive whatsoever to not go out and take all the risks you can.
Thom Hartmann: Right. So the banks in Sweden now are in a position where if they make insane loans like the privatized banks did in Iceland, like the private banks in the United States did and in the UK, if they play games, they’re actually going to have to pay the price of the circumstances?
Rick Falkvinge: Right. I mean, there was this huge crisis in the ‘90s as you say, banks essentially went belly up and the government didn’t bail them out but they bought the…
Thom Hartmann: They nationalized them.
Rick Falkvinge: They bought the foreclosure essentially.
Thom Hartmann: Yeah. Yeah.
Rick Falkvinge: So after that, like you say, it’s been gradually reprivatized. It’s been gradually getting back into the game. But I think everybody remembers that if you’re taking risks, you’ve got to know what you’re playing with.
Thom Hartmann: Yeah, yeah. Now the other thing that when Americans think of Sweden, other than, you know, strong social safety net, democratic socialist society, is Julian Assange. Is this whole kerfuffle around Wikileaks and Julian Assange and what not.
Rick Falkvinge: Right.
Thom Hartmann: And I realize that you can’t talk much about that but I’d like you to explain why if you don’t mind.
Rick Falkvinge: Sure. Absolutely. I mean Julian Assange was, in Sweden, this last fall, and he’s been, he’s got a bit known for that. But what’s also, he was also here to sign a deal with the Pirate Party which was widely publicized. We offered him server space pro bono to run Wikileaks and protect it.
Thom Hartmann: Oh, interesting.
Rick Falkvinge: And what we got out of that was that if anyone would attack Wikileaks they would have to attack the Pirate Party first and get a subpoena against us and that would be really yummy in an election campaign trying to attack the party.
But I can’t speculate on the legal case against Julian Assange personally, especially not in media. And the reason for that is I was so close to these events that happened that if it goes to trial I am going to be a key defense witness so therefore I can’t speculate on the merits of the case in the media because it will be part of my testimony.
Thom Hartmann: Yeah. Well I’m not asking you to. I am curious though, and when we were in Iceland we spoke with a member of Parliament whose Twitter account was hacked by the U.S. State Department.
Rick Falkvinge: Right.
Thom Hartmann: And worldwide famous now, the situation. And she has introduced into the Icelandic legislature a ten step program that basically guarantees Internet privacy and keeps the government out. Not just the government of Iceland but any government if it’s the .is domain. And she thinks that can hold. Is there, how is that, and much of that is coming out of what happened with Assange and Wikileaks. I mean that was kind of the match that lit the kindle even though, the kindling, even though the kindling for some time was accumulating in the form of the Internet and information. How is that situation in Sweden?
Rick Falkvinge: Well you know, this is Pirate policy, it’s privacy, accountability, transparency, and civil liberties. So…
Thom Hartmann: So, I’m talking about your party here.
Rick Falkvinge: Right. So the problem, as everywhere else, is that politicians aren’t necessarily malicious but they don’t understand information policy. And it’s worse than that, they get their emails printed for them by a secretary and they think that they therefore understand what the net is about. But people who live their lives online have a completely different perception of course. And if you go to a 60-year-old legislator and make them understand that the laws they are making would be the equivalent of putting microphones under every café table when they were young, they would be absolutely horrified out of their minds. But they don’t realize that. They are thinking it is just some sort of way to curtail, share, the illegal sharing of music online. It’s much, much more than that. So…
Thom Hartmann: How do we get them to realize that?
Rick Falkvinge: Well, when I founded the Pirate Party I realized that you can’t really ask somebody to take three weeks off of that job and just understand a new perspective. You’ve got to make it personal for them. And at the end of the day, all politicians care about is getting re-elected. So after three years we had stopped talking to the politicians and bypassed them, talked directly to the voters. Challenged the politicians on election day, and that changed the narrative.
Thom Hartmann: That’s interesting. And so the narrative here in Sweden has changed.
Rick Falkvinge: It has absolutely. Now we didn’t get in on the last national election, like I say, that’s kind of a complex election so we need more, we need a broader platform. We are getting there. But we did get into the European elections and that changed the story entirely.
Thom Hartmann: Yeah, and, you’re a member of the, you have two seats in the European Parliament. What in the …
Rick Falkvinge: We do. Two out of Sweden’s 20.
Thom Hartmann: What in the 30 or 40 seconds we have left, what kind of power does that give you? What, how, what’s the value of that?
Rick Falkvinge: Well, we did prevent the entertainment industry’s attempt to shut people off the net without a trial. That’s not going to happen. They had attempted to shut people off by the tens of thousands without trial, that didn’t happen because of us.
Thom Hartmann: Wow.
Rick Falkvinge: We have gotten the Green group, which is the third largest group in the European Parliament, I believe, 3rd or 4th, to adopt our policies right off the blue print.
Thom Hartmann: That’s great.
Rick Falkvinge: So we’ve gone from…
Thom Hartmann: Is there a Pirate Party in the United States of any consequence?
Rick Falkvinge: There are in some states. They are forming. I mean, it’s uphill because of the political system in the United States, but they’re forming.
Thom Hartmann: Yeah. Remarkable. Okay, we’re, oops, I’m sorry we’re on camera. Rick Falkvinge, the political evangelist and founder and political evangelist for the Pirate Party of Sweden and of the European Parliament.
Rick Falkvinge: Thank you Thom I really enjoyed being on the show.
Thom Hartmann: Pleasure having you with us, Rick, thanks so much for joining us.
Transcribed by Suzanne Roberts, Portland Psychology Clinic.