[Note: This interview was taped before the Christmas interview, but my transcription time being limited, I posted the time-sensitive one first- so pardon any detriment to timeliness]
B: I’ve been thinking about what you’ve said, both on our record and off, and I think you’re right. I’ve been focusing too much on policy and politics, and not being a politician, neither is my forte- or very insightful.
But I do have a unique place in at least two worlds our readers may not have a full grasp on, the spandex set and as a highly placed member of the business community. So what I’d like to do, then, is share my unique experiences, and how I feel they bear on what we’re talking about. In the spirit of that, you’ve at least given me the broad strokes of the conversation topics, so I can be somewhat prepared.
DI: Yep. Nice sum up and disclosure- though I can’t help but feel, since we’re talking about disclosure today, that you might have been inspired. But I want to discuss with you Wikileaks, though given that you’ve spent about a third of your life behind a mask, I have an inkling of where you fall on the issue of secrecy.
B: I think a few years ago, you might have been right. There was a time in my life when secrecy was everything to me. I kept my life compartmentalized; even the people who knew I was Batman didn’t know everything.
But I also don’t knee-jerk. I wouldn’t have lived long if I simply categorized the Joker as another sociopath and tried to walk up and punch him in the face. I’ve seen supposed journalists, your peers, refer to Julian Assange as an anarchist, and its possible somewhere in the breadth of his writings that he’s asserted such, but he doesn’t to my admittedly limited reading strike me as a let it burn kind of person. He’s not against government, he’s against the conspiratorial nature of current governments.
DI: And you agree with his assessment?
B: In the broad strokes it’s virtually impossible not to. I’ll get you a link for my references, but a full fifth of the defense budget is classified. That means if these black operations were all done concurrently, we wouldn’t know what the military was doing for ten weeks out of the year. And that’s expenditures. I don’t think it harms our military readiness for anyone to know what we spent on a bomber, or even the rough estimates of what we spend on infrastructure. Given that our military is conducting policy in our names, and on our dimes, I’d balk at the idea of not knowing about a fifth of their operations- at least after the fact- and this is just budgets we’re talking about.
At the very least, I think earlier declassification dates should exist; sensitive information like details of spending on sensitive research and development can have its classification renewed, but say, the procurement budget from 2006 wouldn’t be. That would let the American people know what that 16.6 billion dollars in the budget bought them, and whether or not they thought the money was well spent.
During the mid-nineties, the US classified about 150,000 documents annually. We’ve been cutting back from a high in 2004 of 350,000 documents, but we’re still well above the 90s level, and even that I would say is probably too high.
And in the broad strokes, that’s where I agree with Assange: that the people have a right, and even a necessity to know what’s going on. And that’s why the comparison to my time as Batman isn’t apt, either; I wasn’t spending anyone else’s money, I wasn’t risking anyone else’s lives or interests. I was making decisions, backed by people who agreed enough with me to put their eggs in my basket, so to speak.
Or if you prefer, I think Assange is worried about the same interests that Eisenhower warned against in his famous speech when he said: “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”
And I think it was because Eisenhower was a man of war, as well as being a sign of his times, that he saw the military aspect of business as the main threat to liberty, but I don’t think he was unmindful of the creep of other economic interests in the corridors of power. I think Assange, again, at least in the broad strokes, just wants to create the right atmosphere for that “alert and knowledgeable citizenry” to exist.
And I think on the opposite side the reaction by some politicians has been downright scary: speaking publicly about assassination and execution. The man could pretty fairly be described as a journalist- and that’s the first time I can remember US public figures calling for the death of journalists. But if you’re looking for a comparable experience I’ve had, and not just my opinions on it, I’d point to Luthor and his political ambitions.
DI: You did ideological battle with Lex Luthor during his term as President.
B: Not just ideological. No.
He unleashed a 7.6 earthquake on Gotham City. He lobbied the government, specifically FEMA, to declare the city a “no man’s land,” cut off from federal authority and assistance. The city descended into violent chaos, and apparently, it was all part of some long-con he had planned, to buy up real estate and corporations based in the city at pennies on the dollar. He perpetrated mass murder through technology to make a quick buck.
He tried to destroy me- not Batman, but Bruce Wayne- and very nearly succeeded. After he became President, he killed someone I cared about, and framed me for it. I briefly considered ‘killing’ Bruce Wayne and just becoming Batman full time.
And we waged economic war, pitting his vast empire against mine, at the conclusion of which I took control of all of his companies.
DI: It’s funny. Superman being from Metropolis, having a long, personal history with Luthor, you’d expect him to hate the man, but he didn’t. He was saddened, by what I think he saw as the loss of all the good Luthor could have potentially done. You, on the other hand, are a few seconds away from popping that throbbing vein in your forehead.
B: If Luthor shot Lois, and Maggie Sawyer, Clark might have the reasons I do.
B: Luthor hired David Cain to kill Vesper Fairchild, a reporter I’d been seeing- a woman I think I loved. And while he might not have shot Commissioner [James] Gordon’s wife himself, he all but put [Sarah] Essen in that room with the Joker.
DI: But then shouldn’t the blame for her murder fall to the Joker?
B: It does, and it doesn’t. If you put a rattlesnake in bed with an infant, do you blame the snake?
DI: I suppose not- or at least, there’s more to it than just the snake.
B: Exactly. But my overarching point isn’t just that Luthor’s corporation functioned easily as a criminal organization, but that it fit seamlessly in with the government of the United States. There wasn’t even a learning curve for him. Corporate interests are so embedded in the mindset of Washington that what’s good for business is often seen as what’s good for the country.
There is a little truth to that idea. Business creates jobs, which create prosperity for individuals. But when businesses, as they have been doing at least on the macroeconomic level for thirty years now, continue to siphon wealth from the lower classes, without sharing any of the increased productivity of the American people with those on whose back that productivity was gained- that’s when the idea that what’s good for business is good for the country becomes hollow.
DI: It sounds like Luthor shook your trust in government.
B: Trust, yes.
Most people assume their political leaders are criminals, morally if not technically. But I knew it. I could all but prove Luthor murdered Vesper… David Cain admitted as much to me. And all the while his poll numbers remained high.
I don’t expect the government to do what’s right just because it’s right- I don’t think I was ever that naïve. But I still think there’s a place for government. After all, Luthor didn’t become corrupt the day he was sworn in- he was corrupt long before. The only thing that changed was the scale of his corruption.
Government is like any organization. It has to be held accountable. If we want our government to do what’s right, if we want them to pursue our best interests, as a nation, rather than the best interests only of those with money and influence, we have to pay attention, and make noise when people do wrong.
DI: But you were a vigilante- the least kind of accountable.
B: I was. And maybe in that I was wrong. But I also don’t think I’d have been able to have the same impact working within the system, either. There are limits to what the system can do. So if you’re asking do I advocate non-governmental organizations, including businesses, to work towards the common good? Absolutely. That’s why I run a philanthropic organization that’s bigger than most companies. But I also believe the everyone has to work together. I worked with the police, and as far as possible I obeyed the rules of law.
The government, at least at the conceptual level, is we the people. We guide and shape our collective destiny. At its best, it gives us all an environment in which to thrive and prosper. The dangers of government are that it stops listening to us, that it begins to serve other masters, or worst of all, itself. The purpose of Wikileaks, then, is to make it harder to serve secretive agendas, and increases the cost of doing clandestine business. The more difficult it is to use government as a weapon, the less frequently it can happen.
I’m still not entirely sure Assange’s is the right approach. It’s a risky strategy, and I can see how it could have negative consequences. But ultimately he seems to want a government that can’t have its own priorities- that has to do the people’s work. And that at least is an idea I can get behind.