Archive for the ‘Chomsky’ Category

Noam Chomsky’s “Responsibility of Intellectuals” after 50 years: It’s an even heavier responsibility now

February 12, 2017

SATURDAY, FEB 11, 2017 01:00 PM CST

Written amid rising opposition to the Vietnam War, Chomsky’s greatest essay has added resonance in the age of Trump
JAY PARINI SKIP TO COMMENTS
TOPICS: 1960S, DONALD TRUMP, DONALD TRUMP RESISTANCE, FOREIGN POLICY, GEORGE W. BUSH, IRAQ WAR, LEFTISTS, NOAM CHOMSKY, THE LEFT, U.S. FOREIGN POLICY, VIETNAM WAR, POLITICS NEWS

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Noam Chomsky’s “Responsibility of Intellectuals” after 50 years: It’s an even heavier responsibility now
Noam Chomsky (Credit: Getty/William B. Plowman)
There are determining events, especially when we’re young and formulating our sense of the world: Times when we learn how to take ourselves, where to stand, how to move forward in a fresh way. For me, a key moment was stepping into the periodicals room of my college library in late February of 1967 — I was a sophomore — and reading an article in the New York Review of Books that caught my eye. It was “The Responsibility of Intellectuals,” written by Noam Chomsky.

Nothing was quite the same for me after reading that piece, which I’ve reread periodically throughout my life, finding things to challenge me each time. I always finish the essay feeling reawakened, aware that I’ve not done enough to make the world a better place by using whatever gifts I may have. Chomsky spurs me to more intense reading and thinking, driving me into action, which might take the form of writing an op-ed piece, joining a march or protest, sending money to a special cause, or just committing myself to further study a political issue.

The main point of Chomsky’s essay is beautifully framed after a personal introduction in which he alludes to his early admiration for Dwight Macdonald, an influential writer and editor from the generation before him:

Intellectuals are in a position to expose the lies of governments, to analyze actions according to their causes and motives and often hidden intentions. In the Western world at least, they have the power that comes from political liberty, from access to information and freedom of expression. For a privileged minority, Western democracy provides the leisure, the facilities, and the training to seek the truth lying hidden behind the veil of distortion and misrepresentation, ideology, and class interest through which the events of current history are presented to us.

For those who think of Chomsky as tediously anti-American, I would note that here and countless times in the course of his voluminous writing he says that it is only within a relatively free society that intellectuals have the elbow room to work. In a kind of totalizing line shortly after the above quotation, he writes: “It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies.”

This imposes a heavy burden on those of us who think of ourselves as “intellectuals,” a term rarely used now, as it sounds like something Lenin or Trotsky would have used and does, indeed, smack of self-satisfaction, even smugness; but (at least in my own head) it remains useful, embracing anyone who has access to good information, who can read this material critically, analyze data logically, and respond frankly in clear and persuasive language to what is discovered.

Chomsky’s essay appeared at the height of the Vietnam War, and was written mainly in response to that conflict, which ultimately left a poor and rural country in a state of complete disarray, with more than 2 million dead, millions more wounded, and the population’s basic infrastructure decimated. I recall flying over the northern parts of Vietnam some years after the war had ended, and seeing unimaginably vast stretches of denuded forest, the result of herbicidal dumps – 20 million tons of the stuff, including Agent Orange, which has had ongoing health consequences for the Vietnamese.

The complete picture of this devastation was unavailable to Chomsky, or anyone, at the time; but he saw clearly that the so-called experts who defended this ill-conceived and immoral war before congressional committees had evaded their responsibility to speak the truth.

In his usual systematic way, Chomsky seems to delight in citing any number of obsequious authorities, who repeatedly imply that the spread of American-style democracy abroad by force is justified, even if it means destroying this or that particular country in the effort to make them appreciate the benefits of our system. He quotes one expert from the Institute of Far Eastern Studies who tells Congress blithely that the North Vietnamese “would be perfectly happy to be bombed to be free.”

“In no small measure,” Chomsky writes in the penultimate paragraph of his essay, “it is attitudes like this that lie behind the butchery in Vietnam, and we had better face up to them with candor, or we will find our government leading us towards a ‘final solution’ in Vietnam, and in the many Vietnams that inevitably lie ahead.”

Chomsky, of course, was right to say this, anticipating American military interventions in such places as Lebanon (1982-1984), Grenada (1983), Libya (1986), Panama (1989), the Persian Gulf (1990-1991) and, most disastrously, Iraq (2003-2011), the folly of which led to the creation of ISIS and the catastrophe of Syria.

Needless to say, he has remained a striking commentator on these and countless other American interventions over the past half century, a writer with an astonishing command of modern history. For me, his writing has been consistently cogent, if marred by occasional exaggeration and an ironic tone (fueled by anger or frustration) that occasionally gets out of hand, making him an easy target for opponents who wish to dismiss him as a crackpot or somebody so blinded by anti-American sentiment that he can’t ever give the U.S. government a break.

I like “The Responsibility of Intellectuals,” and other essays from this period by Chomsky, because one feels him discovering his voice and forging a method: that relentlessly logical drive, the use of memorable and shocking quotations by authorities, the effortless placing of the argument within historical boundaries and the furious moral edge, which — even in this early essay — sometimes tips over from irony into sarcasm (a swerve that will not serve him well in later years).

Here, however, even the sarcasm seems well-positioned. He begins one paragraph, for instance, by saying: “It is the responsibility of the intellectuals to insist upon the truth, it is also his duty to see events in their historical perspective.” He then refers to the 1938 Munich Agreement, wherein Britain and other European nations allowed the Nazis to annex the Sudetenland — one of the great errors of appeasement in modern times. He goes on to quote Adlai Stevenson on this error, where the former presidential candidate notes how “expansive powers push at more and more doors” until they break open, one by one, and finally resistance becomes necessary, whereupon “major war breaks out.” Chomsky comments: “Of course, the aggressiveness of liberal imperialism is not that of Nazi Germany, though the distinction may seem rather academic to a Vietnamese peasant who is being gassed or incinerated.”

What he says about the gassed, incinerated victims of American military violence plucks our attention. It’s good polemical writing that forces us to confront the realities at hand.

What really got to me when I first read this essay was the astonishing idea that Americans didn’t always act out of purity of motives, wishing the best for everyone. That was what I had been taught by a generation of teachers who had served in World War II, but the Vietnam War forced many in my generation to begin the painful quest to understand American motives in a more complex way. Chomsky writes that it’s “an article of faith that American motives are pure and not subject to analysis.” He goes on to say with almost mock reticence: “We are hardly the first power in history to combine material interests, great technological capacity, and an utter disregard for the suffering and misery of the lower orders.”

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The sardonic tone, as in “the lower orders,” disfigures the writing; but at the time this sentence hit me hard. I hadn’t thought about American imperialism until then, and I assumed that Americans worked with benign intent, using our spectacular might to further democratic ends. In fact, American power is utilized almost exclusively to protect American economic interests abroad and to parry blows that come when our behavior creates a huge kickback, as with radical Islamic terrorism.

One of the features of this early essay that will play out expansively in Chomsky’s voluminous later writing is the manner in which he sets up “experts,” quickly to deride them. Famously the Kennedy and Johnson administrations surrounded themselves with the “best and the brightest,” and this continued through the Nixon years, with Henry Kissinger, a Harvard professor, becoming secretary of state. Chomsky skewers a range of these technocrats in this essay, people who in theory are “intellectuals,” from Walter Robinson through Walt Rostow and Kissinger, among many others, each of whom accepts a “fundamental axiom,” which is that “the United States has the right to extend its power and control without limit, insofar as is feasible.” The “responsible” critics, he says, don’t challenge this assumption but suggest that Americans probably can’t “get away with it,” whatever “it” is, at this or that particular time or place.

Chomsky cites a recent article on Vietnam by Irving Kristol in Encounter (which was soon to be exposed as a recipient of CIA funding) where the “teach-in movement” is criticized: Professors and students would sit together and talk about the war outside of class times and classrooms. (I had myself attended several of these events, so I sat to attention while reading.) Kristol was an early neocon, a proponent of realpolitik who contrasted college professor-intellectuals against the war as “unreasonable, ideological types” motived by “simple, virtuous ‘anti-imperialism’” with sober experts like himself.

Chomsky dives in: “I am not interested here in whether Kristol’s characterization of protest and dissent is accurate, but rather in the assumptions that it expresses with respect to such questions as these: Is the purity of American motives a matter that is beyond discussion, or that is irrelevant to discussion? Should decisions be left to ‘experts’ with Washington contacts?” He questions the whole notion of “expertise” here, the assumption that these men (there were almost no women “experts” in the mid-’60s) possessed relevant information that was “not in the public domain,” and that they would make the “best” decisions on matters of policy.

Chomsky was, and remains, a lay analyst of foreign affairs, with no academic degrees in the field. He was not an “expert” on Southeast Asia at the time, just a highly informed and very smart person who could access the relevant data and make judgments. He would go on, over the next five decades, to apply his relentless form of criticism to a dizzying array of domestic and foreign policy issues — at times making sweeping statements and severe judgments that would challenge and inspire many but also create a minor cottage industry devoted to debunking Chomsky.

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This is not the place to defend Chomsky against his critics, as this ground has been endlessly rehashed. It’s enough to say that many intelligent critics over the years would find Chomsky self-righteous and splenetic, quick to accuse American power brokers of evil motives, too easy to grant a pass to mass murderers like Pol Pot or, during the period before the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein.

I take it for granted, as I suspect Chomsky does, that in foreign affairs there are so many moving parts that it’s difficult to pin blame anywhere. One may see George W. Bush, for instance, as the propelling force behind the catastrophe of the Iraq War, but surely even that blunder was a complex matter, with a mix of oil interests (represented by Dick Cheney) and perhaps naive political motives as well. One recalls “experts” like Paul Wolfowitz, who told a congressional committee on Feb. 27, 2003, that he was “reasonably certain” that the Iraqi people would “greet us as liberators.”

Fifty years after writing “The Responsibility of Intellectuals,” Chomsky remains vigorous and shockingly productive, and — in the dawning age of President Donald Trump — one can only hope he has a few more years left. In a recent interview, he said (with an intentional hyperbole that has always been a key weapon in his arsenal of rhetorical moves) that the election of Trump “placed total control of the government — executive, Congress, the Supreme Court — in the hands of the Republican Party, which has become the most dangerous organization in world history.”

Chomsky acknowledged that the “last phrase may seem outlandish, even outrageous,” but went on to explain that he believes that the denial of global warming means “racing as rapidly as possible to destruction of organized human life.” As he would, he laid out in some detail the threat of climate change, pointing to the tens of millions in Bangladesh who will soon have to flee from “low-lying plains … because of sea level rise and more severe weather, creating a migrant crisis that will make today’s pale in significance.”

I don’t know that, in fact, the Republican Party of today is really more dangerous than, say, the Nazi or Stalinist or Maoist dictatorships that left tens of millions dead. But, as ever, Chomsky makes his point memorably, and forces us to confront an uncomfortable situation.

As I reread Chomsky’s essay on the responsibility of intellectuals, it strikes me forcefully that not one of us who has been trained to think critically and to write lucidly has the option to remain silent now. Too much is at stake, including the survival of some form of American democracy and decency itself, if not an entire ecosystem. With a dangerously ill-informed bully in the White House, a man almost immune to facts and rational thought, we who have training in critical thought and exposition must tirelessly call a spade a spade, a demagogue a demagogue. And the lies that emanate from the Trump administration must be patiently, insistently and thoroughly deconstructed. This is the responsibility of the intellectual, now more than ever.

Jay Parini, a poet and novelist, teaches at Middlebury College. His most recent book is New and Collected Poems, 1975-2015.”
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Noam Chomsky: Trump and Our Resistance

December 30, 2016

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Noam Chomsky. (photo: Andrew Rusk/Flickr) go to original article

By Jacobin
28 December 16

Noam Chomsky on progressive reform, Fidel Castro, and building resistance under Donald Trump.
s he approaches ninety years old, Noam Chomsky’s bibliography just keeps expanding. Fortunately for the international left, he also continues giving interviews.

Earlier this month, less than a week before his eighty-eighth birthday, Chomsky sat down for a conversation at his office in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Interviewed by Vaios Triantafyllou, a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, Chomsky discussed everything from socialism, human nature, and the Adam Smith to the US president-elect. (The transcript has been condensed and edited for clarity.)

As Donald Trump fills out his Cabinet, Chomsky allows that the future could be one of bigotry and scapegoating. But the choice is still up to us: “Whether that could succeed,” Chomsky says of divide-and-conquer tactics, “depends on the kind of resistance that will be mounted by people just like you.”

How should socialists think about the relationship between reforms that humanize the existing system of production (as proposed by Sanders) and the long-term goal of abolishing capitalism altogether?

Well, first of all we should recognize that, like most terms of political discourse, socialism has more or less lost its meaning. Socialism used to mean something. If you go back far enough, it meant basically control of production by producers, elimination of wage labor, democratization of all spheres of life; production, commerce, education, media, workers’ control in factories, community control of communities, and so on. That was socialism once.

But it hasn’t meant that for a hundred years. In fact, what were called the socialist countries were the most anti-socialist systems in the world. Workers had more rights in the United States and England than they had in Russia, and it was somehow still called socialism.

As far as Bernie Sanders is concerned, he is a decent, honest person, and I supported him. What he means by socialism is New Deal liberalism. In fact, his actual policies would not have been a great surprise to General Eisenhower. The fact that this is called a political revolution is a sign of how far to the right the political spectrum has shifted, mainly in the last thirty years, since the neoliberal programs began to be instituted. What he was calling for was a restoration of something like New Deal liberalism, which is a very good thing.

So, going to your question, I think we should ask: should people who care about human beings, and their lives and concerns, seek to humanize the existing system of production by the means you describe? And the answer is, sure they should do that, that’s better for people.

Should they set out the long-term goal of abolishing capitalist economic organization altogether? Sure, I think so. It’s had its achievements, but it is based on quite brutal assumptions, anti-human assumptions. The very idea that there should be a certain class of people who give orders by virtue of their ownership of wealth and another huge class who take orders and follow them because of their lack of access to wealth and power, that’s unacceptable.

So, sure it should be abolished. But those are not alternatives. Those are things you do together.

One of the main arguments used against socialism is that human nature is by definition selfish and competitive, and hence is only conducive to capitalism. How would you respond?

Bear in mind that capitalism is a tiny period of human society. We never really had capitalism, we always had one or another variant of state capitalism. The reason is capitalism would self-destruct in no time. So the business classes have always demanded strong state intervention to protect the society from the destructive effect of market forces. It’s often business that it’s in the lead, because they don’t want everything destroyed.

So we’ve had one or another form of state capitalism during an extremely brief period of human history, and it tells us essentially nothing about human nature. If you look at human societies and human interactions, you can find anything. You find selfishness, you find altruism, you find sympathy.

Let’s take Adam Smith, the patron saint of capitalism — what did he think? He thought the main human instinct was sympathy. In fact, take a look at the word “invisible hand.” Take a look at the actual way in which he used the phrase. Actually, it’s not hard to find out, because he only used it twice in any relevant sense, once in each of his two major books.

In his one major book, The Wealth of Nations, the phrase appears once, and it appears in what amounts to a critique of neoliberal globalization. What he says is that, if in England, the manufacturers and merchants invested abroad and imported from abroad, they might benefit, but it would be harmful to England. But their commitment to their home country is sufficient, so they are unlikely to do this and therefore, by an invisible hand, England will be saved from the impact of what we call neoliberal globalization. That’s one use.

The other use is in his other major book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (which people don’t read much, but for him it was the major book). Here he is an egalitarian, he believed in equality of outcome, not opportunity. He is an Enlightenment figure, pre-capitalist.

He says, suppose in England, one landowner got most of the land and other people would have nothing to live on. He says it wouldn’t matter much, because the rich landowner, by virtue of his sympathy for other people would distribute resources among them, so that by an invisible hand, we would end up with a pretty egalitarian society. That’s his conception of human nature.

That’s not the way “invisible hand” is used by the people who you took courses with or whose books you read. That shows a difference in doctrine, not in fact, about human nature. What we actually know about human nature is that it has all of these possibilities.

Do you think it’s necessary to sketch out concrete proposals for a future socialist order, creating a solid alternative that appeals to the majority of people?

I think people are interested in authentic long-term socialist goals (which are not what is usually called socialism). They should be thinking through carefully how the projected society should work, not in extensive detail, because a lot of things just have to be learned by experiment, and we don’t know enough to plan societies in detail by any means. But general guidelines could be worked out, and many of the specific problems can be discussed.

And that should just be part of people’s popular consciousness. That’s how a transition to socialism could take place. When it becomes part of the awareness, consciousness, and aspirations of the large majority of the population.

So, take for example one of the major achievements in this direction, maybe the major one: the anarchist revolution in Spain in 1936. There had been decades of preparation for that: in education, in activism and efforts — sometimes beaten back — but when the moment came with the fascist attack, the people had in their minds the way they wanted the society to be organized.

We have seen it in other ways, too. Take, say, Europe’s reconstruction after the Second World War. The Second World War had really devastating effects for much of Europe. But it really didn’t take them very long to reconstruct state capitalist democracies because it was in people’s heads.

There were other parts of the world that were pretty much devastated, and they couldn’t do it. They didn’t have the conceptions in their mind. A lot of it is human consciousness.

Syriza came to power claiming a commitment to socialism. But they ended up cooperating with the European Union, and didn’t step down even after they were forced to implement austerity. How do you think we can avoid a similar outcome in the future?

I think the real tragedy of Greece, aside from the savagery of the European bureaucracy, Brussels bureaucracy, and Northern banks, which was really savage, is the Greek crisis didn’t have to erupt. It could have been taken care of pretty easily at the very beginning.

But it happened, and Syriza came into office with a declared commitment to combat it. In fact they actually called a referendum, which horrified Europe: the idea that people should be allowed to decide something about their own fate is just anathema to European elites — how can democracy even be permitted (even in the country where it was created).

As a result of this criminal act of asking people what they want, Greece was punished even further. The demands of the Troika got much harsher because of the referendum. They were fearing a kind of domino effect — if we pay attention to people’s desires, others might get the same idea, and the plague of democracy might actually spread, so we have to kill it right away at the roots.

Then Syriza did succumb, and ever since then they have done things that I think are quite unacceptable.

You ask how people should respond? By creating something better. It’s not easy, especially when they are isolated. Greece, alone, is in a very vulnerable position. If the Greeks had had support from progressive left and popular forces elsewhere in Europe, they might have been able to resist the demands of the Troika.

What is your opinion of the system Castro created in Cuba after the revolution?

Well, what Castro’s actual goals were, we don’t actually know. He was sharply constrained from the first moment, by a harsh and cruel attack from the reigning superpower.

We have to remember that literally within months after his taking office, the planes from Florida were beginning to bomb Cuba. Within a year, the Eisenhower administration, secretly, but formally, determined [the US would] overthrow the government. Then came the Bay of Pigs invasion. The Kennedy administration was furious about the failure of the invasion, and immediately launched a major terrorist war, economic war that got harsher through the years.

Under these conditions it is kind of amazing that Cuba survived. It is a small island right offshore of a huge superpower which is trying to destroy it, and obviously depended on the United States for survival all of its recent history. But somehow they survived. It was true that it was a dictatorship: a lot of brutality, a lot of political prisoners, a lot of people killed.

Remember, the US attack on Cuba was ideologically presented as necessary to defend ourselves from Russia. As soon as Russia disappeared, the attack got harsher. There was almost no comment on that, but it tells you that the preceding claims were just an outright lie, as of course they were.

If you look at US internal documents, they explain very clearly what the threat of Cuba was. So back in the early ’60s, the State Department described the threat of Cuba as Castro’s successful defiance of US policy, going back to the Monroe Doctrine. The Monroe Doctrine established the claim — they couldn’t implement it at the time, but the claim — to dominate the Western Hemisphere, and Castro was successfully defying that.

That’s not tolerable. It is like somebody saying, let’s have democracy in Greece, and we just can’t tolerate that, so we have to destroy the threat at its roots. Nobody can successfully defy the master of the hemisphere, in fact of the world, hence the savagery.

But the reaction was mixed. There were achievements, like health, literacy, and so on. The internationalism was incredible. There is a reason why Nelson Mandela went to Cuba to praise Castro and thank the Cuban people almost as soon as he got out of jail. That’s a Third World reaction, and they understand it.

Cuba played an enormous role in the liberation of Africa and the overthrow of apartheid — sending doctors and teachers to the poorest places in the world, to Haiti, Pakistan after the earthquake, almost everywhere. The internationalism is just astonishing. I don’t think there has been anything like it in history.

The health achievements were astonishing. Health statistics in Cuba were about like the United States, and take a look at the differences in wealth and power.

On the other hand, there was a harsh dictatorship. So there was both.

Transition to socialism? We cannot even talk about this. The conditions made it impossible, and we don’t know if there was an intention.

In recent years, several movements have sprung up in the US criticizing the current form of social and economic organization. Nevertheless, most of them have united against a common enemy, instead of uniting around a common vision. How should we think about the state of social movements and their ability to unite?

Let’s take the Occupy movement. Occupy was not a movement, it was a tactic. You can’t sit forever in a park near Wall Street. You can’t do it for more than a few months.

It was a tactic I had not predicted. If people had asked me, I would have said, don’t do it.

But it was a great success, an enormous success, with a big impact on people’s thinking, on people’s action. The whole concept of concentration of wealth (1 percent and 99 percent), it was there of course, at the background of people’s understanding, but it became prominent — even became prominent in the mass media (in the Wall Street Journal, for example) — and it led to many forms of activism, it energized people and so on. But it wasn’t a movement.

The Left, in a general sense, is very much atomized. We live in highly atomized societies. People are pretty much alone: it’s you and your iPad.

The major organizing centers, like the labor movement, have been severely weakened, in the United States very severely, by policy. It didn’t happen like a hurricane. Policies have been designed to undermine working-class organization, and the reason is not only that unions fight for workers’ rights, but they also have a democratizing effect. These are institutions in which people without power can get together, support one another, learn about the world, try out their ideas, initiate programs — and that’s dangerous. That’s like a referendum in Greece. It’s dangerous to allow that.

We should recall that during the Second World War and the Depression, there was an upsurge in popular, radical democracy, all over the world. It took different forms, but it was there, everywhere.

In Greece it was the Greek revolution. And it had to be crushed. In countries like Greece, it was crushed by violence. In countries like Italy, where the US/ British forces entered in 1943, it was crushed by attacking and destroying the anti-German partisans and restoring the traditional order. In countries like the United States, it was crushed not by violence — capitalist power doesn’t have that capacity here — but starting in the late ’40s, huge efforts were undertaken to try to undermine and destroy the labor movement. And it went on.

It picked up sharply under Reagan, it picked up again under Clinton, and by now the labor movement is extremely weak (in other countries, it’s taken different forms). But that was one of the institutions which did let people come together to act cooperatively and with mutual support, and others have been pretty much decimated as well.

What can we expect from Donald Trump? Does his rise provide ground for redefining and uniting a socialist movement around a common vision in the United States?

The answer to that is basically up to you and your friends. It really depends on how people, especially young people, react. There are plenty of opportunities, and they could be taken. It is not inevitable by any means.

Just take what is likely to happen. Trump is highly unpredictable. He doesn’t know what he plans. But what might happen, for example, one possible scenario is this: a lot of people who voted for Trump, working-class people, voted for Obama in 2008. They were seduced by the slogans “hope” and “change.” They didn’t get hope, they didn’t get change, they were disillusioned.

This time they voted for another candidate who is calling for hope and change and has promised to deliver all kinds of amazing things. Well, he is not going to deliver them. So, what happens in a couple of years, when he hasn’t delivered them and that same constituency is disillusioned?

What’s very likely is that the power system will do what it typically does under such conditions: try to scapegoat the more vulnerable to say, “Yeah, you haven’t gotten what we promised, and the reason is those worthless people, the Mexicans, the blacks, the Syrian immigrants, the welfare cheats. They are the ones who are destroying everything. Let’s go after them. The gays, they are the ones to blame.”

That could happen. It’s happened over and over in history with pretty ugly consequences. And whether that could succeed depends on the kind of resistance that will be mounted by people just like you. The answer to this question should be directed to you, not to me.

Noam Chomsky: Donald Trump’s Nuclear Expansion Tweet Was “One of the Most Frightening Things I’ve Seen”

December 25, 2016

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Noam Chomsky. (photo: Sascha Schuermann/Getty) go to original article

Noam Chomsky: Donald Trump’s Nuclear Expansion Tweet Was “One of the Most Frightening Things I’ve Seen”
By Rachael Revesz, The Independent
24 December 16

The US and Russia already own more than 93 per cent of nuclear warheads in the world
ne of the world’s most famous scholars said he was “frightened” by Donald Trump’s tweet on “strengthening and expanding” nuclear capabilities in the US.

Noam Chomsky, professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said Mr Trump’s tweet was “one of the most frightening things I’ve seen recently”.

“Putin’s is bad enough,” Mr Chomsky told the Huffington Post, “but at least it has a defensive cast. It’s about Russia’s borders, not Mexico’s.”

Russian president Vladimir Putin also said he wanted to build his nuclear capabilities.

“We need to strengthen the military potential of strategic nuclear forces, especially with missile complexes that can reliably penetrate any existing and prospective missile defense systems,” Mr Putin said, according to Agence France-Presse.

“We must carefully monitor any changes in the balance of power and in the political-military situation in the world, especially along Russian borders, and quickly adapt plans for neutralizing threats to our country.”

Mr Chomsky said the statements from the world leaders could bring about a change to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock, which is an internationally recognised symbol of how close we are to destroying humanity with our own technology – and is due to be updated in 2017. He said the clock might move from three minutes to midnight to “even closer to midnight”.

The professor has been a vocal critic of the president-elect, comparing his campaign pledges and rhetoric to Nazi Germany.

But Mr Chomsky was not the only opposing voice on Mr Trump’s views on nuclear weapons, given the president-elect’s history of dubious statements on the subject.

Mr Trump has previously suggested that South Korea and Japan should obtain their own nuclear weapons, and he has even reportedly asked a foreign policy adviser why the US has nuclear weapons if it does not use them. Mr Trump denied asking the question.

The US owns around 4,600 nuclear warheads and, along with Russia, owns the vast majority of nuclear weapons in the world.

Mr Trump’s tweet, limited to 140 characters, did not give national security experts and advisers much reassurance for anything other than his preference for heated rhetoric.

John Noonan, a Republican national security expert who advised presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney, wrote on twitter: “But imagine having to turn launch keys not knowing if we were under attack or it if was b/c foreign leaders said a mean thing on twitter.”

Mr Trump has done little to assure his critics that he has the presence of mind and the steadiness to make a quick decision regarding an imminent nuclear threat.

If a missile was launched from Russia, it would take 30 minutes to hit the White House – and just 12 minutes from the Atlantic Ocean.

_______________

(Japanese translation of the above)

ノーム・チョムスキー:ドナルド・トランプの核拡大ツイートは「私が見た最も恐怖を感じさせるものの一つだ。」

合衆国とロシアはすでに世界の核弾頭の93%を持っている

 世界で最も有名な学者達の一人がドナルド・トランプの合衆国の核能力の「強化と拡大」についてのツイートは「恐怖を感じさせる」と言った。

 マサチューセッツ工科大学のノーム・チョムスキー名誉教授は、ドナルド・トランプの核拡大ツイートは「最近私が見た最も恐怖を感じさせるものの一つだ」と言った。

 「プーチンは十分悪い、が少なくとも防衛的な役割だ。それは(米攻撃の為の)メキシコの国境では無く、ロシアの国境の話だ」とチョムスキー氏はハッフィンポスト紙に語った。

 フランス通信社によれば「我々は戦略的核軍事力、特に現存と予測されるミサイル防衛システムを突破できると信頼できるミサイル複合の軍事能力を強化する必要がある」とプーチンは語った。

 「我々は世界における、特にロシア国境での、力の均衡と政治・軍事状況の如何なる変化も注意深く監視して我が国への脅威を中和する(均衡回復する)計画を迅速に適応させなければならない。」

 チョムスキー氏は世界の指導者達の言明は、我々自身の技術で人類を破滅するのにどれだけ近いかを示す、国際的に認められた象徴である核科学者紀要の「世界破滅時計」は、2017年に更新されることになっているが、変えられる可能性があると言った。彼は真夜中まで三分は「更に真夜中に近くなる」かも知れないと言った。

 同教授は次期大統領とそのナチ・ドイツ的選挙公約や修辞をする選挙運動を声に出して批判してきた。

 しかし、本問題に関する次期大統領の疑問を持たせる言明の経緯からして、核兵器に対するトランプ氏の見解に反対する声はチョムスキー氏に止まらない。

 トランプ氏は以前に、韓国と日本は自分達の核兵器を手に入れるべきだと示唆しており、自分の外交アドバイザーに、核を使わないなら何故合衆国はそれを持っているのかと尋ねたとさえ言われている。トランプ氏はその質問はしていないと否定しているが。

 合衆国は約4千6百発の核弾頭を所有しており、ロシアと合わせると、世界中の核兵器の圧倒的多数を所有している。

 トランプ氏のツイートは、140字にとどまるので、自分の熱発生(煽る)言辞の好み以外に国家安全専門家やアドバイザーに何らかの確認(安心)を与えるものではない。

 大統領候補のジェブ・ブッシュとミット・ロムニーに助言をしていた共和党の国家安全専門家であるジョン・ヌーナンはツイッターで次のように書いている:「しかし、我々が攻撃されたかどうかも知らず、b・cの外国の指導者達がツイッターで意地悪い事を言ったのかも知れないのに、(核弾頭)発射の鍵を渡さなければならないと想像もして見なさい。」

 トランプ氏は自分が気を確かに持っているとか、向かって来る核の脅威に関して即座の判断をする平静さをもっているという(安心の)確証を彼の批判者達に与えることは殆ど何もしていない。

 もしロシアからミサイルが発射されたら、ホワイトハウスを爆撃するのに30分であり、大西洋からだとたったの12分である。

Noam Chomsky on the 2016 Republicans: ‘I Have Never Seen Such Lunatics in the Political System’

March 12, 2016

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Noam Chomsky: My Hopes for the Future

November 29, 2015

Noam Chomsky. (photo: Andrew Rusk)
Noam Chomsky. (photo: Andrew Rusk)

By Emanuel Stoakes, Jacobin

28 November 15

 

Noam Chomsky on ISIS, his foreign policy critics, and why socialist ideas are “never far below the surface.”

oam Chomsky, to rehearse a cliché, is among the world’s greatest living radical intellectuals. It is no less trite or true to add that he is also a broadly controversial figure: accused from various corners of a variety of failings ranging from “genocide denial” to rigid, “amoral quietism” in the face of mass atrocities. Most recently, critics of dissimilar political hues claim to have identified a range of follies in his statements on Syria.

In the following interview, freelance journalist Emanuel Stoakes puts some of these criticisms to Chomsky.

While reasserting his opposition to full-scale military intervention, Chomsky says he does not in principle oppose the idea of a no-fly zone established alongside a humanitarian corridor (though Putin’s recent interventions have all but killed the possibility of the former option). Chomsky also clarifies his positions on the 1995 Srebrenica massacre and NATO’s 1999 intervention in Kosovo.

In addition to answering his critics, Chomsky gives his thoughts on a wide range of other topics: what should be done to combat ISIS, the significance of popular struggles in South America, and the future of socialism.

As always, his underlying belief in our capacity to build a better society shines through.


What’s your reaction to the attacks in Paris earlier this month, and what do you think of the current Western strategy of bombing ISIS?

The current strategy plainly is not working.  The ISIS statements, both for this and the Russian airliner, were very explicit: you bomb us and you will suffer.  They are a monstrosity, and these are terrible crimes, but it doesn’t help to hide our heads in the sand.

The best outcome would be if ISIS were destroyed by local forces, which could happen, but it will require that Turkey agree. And the outcome could be just as bad if the jihadi elements supported by Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia are the victors.

The optimal outcome would be a negotiated settlement of the kind being inched towards in Vienna, combined with the above. Long shots.

Like it or not, ISIS seems to have established itself pretty firmly in Sunni areas of Iraq and Syria. They seem to be engaged in a process of state building that is extremely brutal but fairly successful, and attracts the support of Sunni communities who may despise ISIS but see it as the only defense against alternatives that are even worse. The one major regional power that is opposing it is Iran, but the Iran-backed Shiite militias are reputed to be as brutal as ISIS and probably mobilize support for ISIS.

The sectarian conflicts that are tearing the region to shreds are substantially a consequence of the Iraq invasion. That’s what Middle East specialist Graham Fuller, a former CIA analyst, means when he says that “I think the United States is one of the key creators of this organization.”

Destruction of ISIS by any means that can be imagined might lay the basis for something worse, as has been happening quite regularly with military intervention. The state system in the region imposed by French and British imperial might after World War I, with little concern for the populations under their control, is unraveling.

The future looks bleak, though there are some patches of light, as in the Kurdish areas. Steps can be taken to reduce many of the tensions in the region and to constrain and reduce the outlandishly high level of armament, but it is not clear what more outside powers can do apart from fanning the flames, as they have been doing for years.

Earlier this year, we saw the Greek government struggling with its creditors to work out a deal. It’s tempting to view this showdown, as well as the crisis as a whole, as less a case of the EU trying to manage a debt crisis in the common interests of the union and more as a battle between Greek society and those who benefit from austerity. Would you agree? How do you view the situation?

There has been no serious effort to manage a debt crisis. The policies imposed on Greece by the troika sharply exacerbated the crisis by undermining the economy and blocking hopeful chances for growth. The debt-to-GDP ratio is now far higher than it was before these policies were instituted, and there’s been a terrible toll on the people of Greece — though the German and French banks that bear a large part of responsibility for the crisis are doing fine.

The so-called “bailouts” for Greece mostly went into the pockets of the creditors, as much as 90 percent by some estimates. Former Bundesbank chief Karl Otto Pöhl observed very plausibly that the whole affair “was about protecting German banks, but especially the French banks, from debt write-offs.”

Commenting in the leading US establishment journal Foreign Affairs, Mark Blyth, one of the most cogent critics of the destructive austerity-under-depression programs, writes, “We’ve never understood Greece because we have refused to see the crisis for what it was — a continuation of a series of bailouts for the financial sector that started in 2008 and that rumbles on today.”

It is recognized on all sides that the debt cannot be paid. It should have been radically restructured long ago, when the crisis could have easily been managed, or simply declared “odious” and cancelled.

The ugly face of contemporary Europe is presented by German Finance Minister Schäuble, apparently the most popular political figure in Germany. As reported by Reuters news service, heexplained that “a write-off of some of Europe’s loans to Greece might be needed to get the country’s debt to a manageable level,” while he “in the same breath ruled out such a step.” In brief, we’ve milked you about as dry as we can, so get lost. And much of the population is literally getting lost, with hopes for decent survival smashed.

Actually Greeks are not yet quite milked dry. The shameful settlement imposed by the banks and bureaucracy includes measures to ensure that Greek assets will be taken over by the right greedy hands.

Germany’s role is particularly shameful, not just because Nazi Germany devastated Greece, but also because, as Thomas Piketty pointed out in Die Zeit, “Germany is really the single best example of a country that, throughout its history, has never repaid its external debt. Neither after the First nor the Second World War.”

The London Agreement of 1953 wiped out over half of Germany’s debt, laying the basis for its economic recovery, and currently, Piketty added, far from being “generous,” these days “Germany is profiting from Greece as it extends loans at comparatively high interest rates.” The whole business is sordid.

The policies of austerity that have been imposed on Greece (and on Europe generally) were always absurd from an economic point of view, and have been a complete disaster for Greece. As weapons of class war, however, they have been rather effective in undermining welfare systems, enriching the northern banks and the investor class, and driving democracy to the margins.

The behavior of the troika today is a disgrace. One can scarcely doubt that their goal is to establish firmly the principle that the masters must be obeyed: defiance of the northern banks and the Brussels bureaucracy will not be tolerated, and thoughts of democracy and popular will in Europe must be abandoned.

Do you think the struggle taking place over Greece’s future is representative of a lot of what is happening in the world at the moment — i.e., a struggle between the needs of society and the demands of capitalism? If so, do you see much hope for decent human outcomes when the trump cards all seem to be held by a small number of people linked to private power?

In Greece, and in Europe more generally in varying degrees, some of the most admirable achievements of the postwar years are being reversed under a destructive version of the neoliberal assault on the global population of the past generation.

But it can be reversed. Among the most obedient students of the neoliberal orthodoxy were the countries of Latin America, and not surprisingly, they were also among those who suffered the worst harm. But in recent years they have led the way towards rejecting the orthodoxy, and more generally, for the first time in five hundred years are taking significant steps towards unification, freeing themselves from imperial (in the past century US) domination, and confronting the shocking internal problems of potentially rich societies that had been traditionally governed by wealthy foreign-oriented (mostly white) elites in a sea of misery.

Syriza in Greece might have signaled a similar development, which is why it had to be smashed so savagely. There are other reactions in Europe and elsewhere that could turn the tide and lead to a much better future.

The twentieth anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre passed this year. It has emerged that the US watched the killing take place in real time from satellites, and that many of the world’s great powers were negligent or worse when it came to making efforts to prevent predictable slaughter there. What do you think should have been done at the time? Do you think, for example, that the Bosnian Muslims should have been given a greater chance to defend themselves far earlier, for example?

Srebrenica was a barely protected safe area — and we should not forget that thanks to that status, it was as a base for Nasir Oric’s murderous Bosnian militias to attack surrounding Serb villages, taking a brutal toll and boasting of the achievement. That there would sooner or later be a Serb response was not too surprising, and measures should have been taken to “prevent predictable slaughter,” to borrow your words.

The best approach, which might have been feasible, would have been to reduce and maybe end the hostilities in the region rather than allowing them to escalate.

You’ve come in for a lot of criticism for your position on the Kosovo intervention. My (perhaps mistaken) understanding is that you believe there were alternatives to the bombing, and that the violence could have been stopped if there had been greater political will to find a diplomatic solution. Is that right? Can you outline what could have been done as an alternative?

I haven’t seen criticisms of my position on the intervention, and there are unlikely to be any, for the simple reason that I scarcely took a position. As I made explicit in what I wrote on the topic (The New Military Humanism), I hardly even discussed the propriety of the NATO intervention. That’s clearly stated in the early pages.

The topic is indeed brought up, three pages from the end, noting that what precedes — the entire book — leaves the question of what should have been done in Kosovo “unanswered,” though it seems a “reasonable judgment” that the US was selecting one of the more harmful of several options available.

As explained clearly and unambiguously from the outset, even from the title, the book is about a wholly different topic: the import of the Kosovo events for the “new era” of “principles and values” led by the “enlightened states” whose foreign policy has entered a “noble phase” with a “saintly glow” (to quote some of the celebratory rhetoric reviewed).

That very important topics must be sharply distinguished from the question of what should have been done, which I scarcely addressed. An important topic, and evidently an unpopular one, best avoided. I don’t recall even seeing a mention of the subject of the entire book in the critical commentary on it.

I did review the diplomatic options available, pointing out that the settlement after seventy-eight days of bombing was a compromise between the NATO and Serbian pre-bombing positions.

A year later, after the war ended, in my book A New Generation Draws the Line, I reviewed in extensive detail the rich Western documentary record on the immediate background to the bombing. It reveals that there was a steady level of violence divided between KLA guerrillas attacking from Albania and a brutal Serb response, and that the atrocities were very sharply escalated after the bombing, exactly as was predicted publicly, and to US authorities privately, by commanding Gen. Wesley Clark.

If there has been criticism of what I actually wrote, I haven’t seen it, though you’re right that there has been a great deal of furious condemnation — namely, of what I didn’t write.

As to a possible alternative, there were what seemed to be fairly promising diplomatic options. Whether they could have worked, we don’t know, since they were ignored in favor of bombing.

The usual interpretation, which I’ve reviewed elsewhere, is that the bombing was motivated by a sharp upsurge of atrocities. This reversal of the chronology is quite standard, and useful to establish the legitimacy of NATO violence. The upsurge of atrocities was the consequence of the bombing, not its cause — and as noted, was predicted quite publicly and authoritatively.

What do you think was the real objective of NATO’s Balkan intervention?

If we can believe the US-UK leadership, the real objective was to establish the “credibility of NATO” (there were other pretexts, but they quickly collapse). As Tony Blair summarized the official reason, failure to bomb “would have dealt a devastating blow to the credibility of NATO,” and “the world would have been less safe as a result of that” — though, as I reviewed in some detail, the “world” overwhelmingly disagreed, often very sharply.

“Establishing credibility” — basically, the Mafia principle — is a significant feature of great power policy. A deeper look suggests motives beyond those officially stressed.

Do you oppose military intervention under any circumstances during dire humanitarian disasters? What are the conditions that would make it acceptable from your point of view?

Pure pacifists would always oppose military intervention. I am not one, but I think that like any resort to violence, it carries a heavy burden of proof. It’s impossible to give a general answer as to when it is justified, apart from some useless formulas.

It is not easy to find genuine cases where intervention has been justified. I’ve reviewed the historical and scholarly record. It’s very thin. Two possible examples stand out in the post–World War II period: the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia, terminating Khmer Rouge crimes as they were peaking; and the Indian invasion of Pakistan that ended the hideous atrocities in the former East Pakistan.

These two cases do not enter the standard canon, however, because of the fallacy of “wrong agency” and because they were both bitterly opposed by Washington, which reacted in quite ugly ways.

Moving on to Syria, we see an appalling humanitarian situation and no end in sight in terms of the internecine warfare taking place. I know some Syrian activists who are furious at what they perceive to be your tolerance of the immense misery being experienced by people living with barrel bombs and so on; they say this because they think you are opposed to any kind of intervention against Assad, however limited, on ideological grounds.

Is this accurate or fair? Would you support the idea of a no-fly zone, with an enforced humanitarian corridor? Can you clarify your position on Syria?

If intervention against Assad would mitigate or end the appalling situation, it would be justified. But would it? Intervention is not advocated by careful observers on the scene with close knowledge of Syria and the current situation — Patrick Cockburn, Charles Glass, quite a few others who are bitter critics of Assad. They warn, with no little plausibility I think, that it might well exacerbate the crisis.

The record of military intervention in the region has been awful with very rare exceptions, a fact that can hardly be overlooked. No-fly zones, humanitarian corridors, support for the Kurds, and some other measures would be likely to be helpful. But while it is easy to call for military intervention, it is no simple matter to provide reasoned and well-thought-out plans, taking into account likely consequences. I haven’t seen any.

One can imagine a world in which intervention is undertaken by some benign force dedicated to the interests of people who are suffering. But if we care about victims, we cannot make proposals for imaginary worlds. Only for this world, in which intervention, with rare consistency, is undertaken by powers dedicated to their own interests, where the victims and their fate is incidental, despite lofty professions.

The historical record is painfully clear, and there have been no miraculous conversions. That does not mean that intervention can never be justified, but these considerations cannot be ignored — at least, if we care about the victims.

Looking back at your long life of activism and scholarship, what cause or issue are you most glad to have supported? Conversely, what are your greatest regrets — do you wish that you had done more on certain fronts?

I can’t really say. There are many that I’m glad to have supported, to a greater or lesser degree. The cause that I pursued most intensely, from the early 1960s, was the US wars in Indochina, the most severe international crime in the post–World War II era. That included speaking, writing, organizing, demonstrations, civil disobedience, direct resistance, and the expectation, barely averted more or less by accident, of a possible long prison sentence.

Some other engagements were similar, but not at that level of intensity. And each case has regrets, always the same ones: too little, too late, too ineffective, even when there were some real achievements of the dedicated struggles of many people in which I was privileged to be able to participate in some way.

What gives you the most hope about the future? Do you feel that young people in the US that you have interacted with are different from some of those you dealt with decades before? Have social attitudes changed for the better?

Hopes for the future are always about the same: courageous people, often under severe duress, refusing to bow to illegitimate authority and persecution, others devoting themselves to support and to combatting injustice and violence, young people who sincerely want to change the world. And the record of successes, always limited, sometimes reversed, but over time bending the arc of history towards justice, to borrow the words that Martin Luther King made famous in word and deed.

How do you view the future of socialism? Are you inspired by developments in South America? Are there lessons for the Left in North America?

Like other terms of political discourse, “socialism” can mean many different things.  I think one can trace an intellectual and practical trajectory from the Enlightenment to classical liberalism, and (after its wreckage on the shoals of capitalism, in Rudolf Rocker’s evocative phrase) on to the libertarian version of socialism that converges with leading anarchist tendencies.

My feeling is that the basic ideas of this tradition are never far below the surface, rather like Marx’s old mole, always about to break through when the right circumstances arise, and the right flames are lit by engaged activists.

What has taken place in recent years in South America is of historic significance, I think. For the first time since the conquistadors, the societies have taken steps of the kind I outlined earlier. Halting steps, but very significant ones.

The basic lesson is that if this can be achieved under harsh and brutal circumstances, we should be able to do much better enjoying a legacy of relative freedom and prosperity, thanks to the struggles of those who came before us.

Do you agree with Marx’s prognosis that capitalism will eventually destroy itself? Do you think that an alternative way of life and system of economics can take hold before such an implosion occurs, with potentially chaotic consequences? What should ordinary people concerned with the survival of their family, and that of the world, do?

Marx studied an abstract system that has some of the central features of really-existing capitalism, but not others, including the crucial state role in development and in sustaining predatory institutions. Like much of the financial sector, which in the US depends for most of its profits on the implicit government insurance program, according to a recent IMF study — over $80 billion, a year according to the business press.

Large-scale state intervention has been a leading feature of the developed societies from England to the US to Europe and to Japan and its former colonies, up to the present moment. The technology that we are now using, to take one example. Many mechanisms have been developed that might preserve existing forms of state capitalism.

The existing system may well destroy itself for different reasons, which Marx also discussed. We are now heading, eyes open, towards an environmental catastrophe that might end the human experiment just as it is wiping out species at a rate not seen since 65 million years ago when a huge asteroid hit the earth — and now we are the asteroid.

There is more than enough for “ordinary people” (and we’re all ordinary people) to do to fend off disasters that are not remote and to construct a far more free and just society.

 

Noam Chomsky: History Doesn’t Go in a Straight Line

September 27, 2015

Noam Chomsky. (photo: Va Shiva)
Noam Chomsky. (photo: Va Shiva)

By Noam Chomsky, Jacobin

24 September 15

 

hroughout his illustrious career, one of Noam Chomsky’s chief preoccupations has been questioning — and urging us to question — the assumptions and norms that govern our society.

Following a talk on power, ideology, and US foreign policy last weekend at the New School in New York City, freelance Italian journalist Tommaso Segantini sat down with the eighty-six-year-old to discuss some of the same themes, including how they relate to processes of social change.

For radicals, progress requires puncturing the bubble of inevitability: austerity, for instance, “is a policy decision undertaken by the designers for their own purposes.” It is not implemented, Chomsky says, “because of any economic laws.” American capitalism also benefits from ideological obfuscation: despite its association with free markets, capitalism is shot through with subsidies for some of the most powerful private actors. This bubble needs popping too.

In addition to discussing the prospects for radical change, Chomsky comments on the eurozone crisis, whether Syriza could’ve avoided submitting to Greece’s creditors, and the significance of Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders.

And he remains soberly optimistic. “Over time there’s a kind of a general trajectory towards a more just society, with regressions and reversals of course.”

In an interview a couple of years ago, you said that the Occupy Wall Street movement had created a rare sentiment of solidarity in the US. September 17 was the fourth anniversary of the OWS movement. What is your evaluation of social movements such as OWS over the last twenty years? Have they been effective in bringing about change? How could they improve?

They’ve had an impact; they have not coalesced into persistent and ongoing movements. It’s a very atomized society. There are very few continuing organizations which have institutional memory, that know how to move to the next step and so on.

This is partly due to the destruction of the labor movement, which used to offer a kind of fixed basis for many activities; by now, practically the only persistent institutions are the churches. So many things are church-based.

It’s hard for a movement to take hold. There are often movements of young people, which tend to be transitory; on the other hand there’s a cumulative effect, and you never know when something will spark into a major movement. It’s happened time and again: civil rights movement, women’s movement. So keep trying until something takes off.

The 2008 crisis clearly demonstrated the flaws of the neoliberal economic doctrine. Nevertheless, neoliberalism still seems to persist and its principles are still applied in many countries. Why, even with the tragic effects of the 2008 crisis, does the neoliberal doctrine appear to be so resilient? Why hasn’t there yet been a strong response like after the Great Depression?

First of all, the European responses have been much worse than the US responses, which is quite surprising. In the US there were mild efforts at stimulus, quantitative easing and so on, which slowly allowed the economy to recover.

In fact, recovery from the Great Depression was actually faster in many countries than it is today, for a lot of reasons. In the case of Europe, one of the main reasons is that the establishment of a single currency was a built-in disaster, like many people pointed out. Mechanisms to respond to the crisis are not available in the EU: Greece, for example, can’t devalue its currency.

The integration of Europe had very positive developments in some respects and was harmful in others, especially when it is under the control of extremely reactionary economic powers, imposing policies which are economically destructive and that are basically a form of class war.

Why is there no reaction? Well, the weak countries are not getting support from others. If Greece had had support from Spain, Portugal, Italy, and other countries they might have been able to resist the eurocrat forces. These are kind of special cases having to do with contemporary developments. In the 1930s, remember the responses were not particularly attractive: one of them was Nazism.

Several months ago Alexis Tsipras, leader of Syriza, was elected as Greece’s prime minister. In the end, however, he had to make many compromises due to the pressure imposed on him by financial powers, and was forced to implement harsh austerity measures.

Do you think that, in general, genuine change can come when a radical leftist leader like Tsipras comes to power, or have nation states lost too much sovereignty and are they too dependent on financial institutions that can discipline them if they don’t follow the rules of the free market?

As I said, in the case of Greece, if there had been popular support for Greece from other parts of Europe, Greece might have been able to withstand the assault of the eurocrat bank alliance. But Greece was alone — it did not have many options.

There are very good economists such as Joseph Stiglitz who think Greece should have just pulled out of the eurozone. It’s a very risky step. Greece is a very small economy, it’s not much of an export economy, and it would be too weak to withstand external pressures.

There are people who criticize the Syriza tactics and the stand that they took, but I think it’s hard to see what options they had with the lack of external support.

Let’s imagine for example that Bernie Sanders won the 2016 presidential elections. What do you think would happen? Could he bring radical change in the structures of power of the capitalist system?

Suppose that Sanders won, which is pretty unlikely in a system of bought elections. He would be alone: he doesn’t have congressional representatives, he doesn’t have governors, he doesn’t have support in the bureaucracy, he doesn’t have state legislators; and standing alone in this system, he couldn’t do very much. A real political alternative would be across the board, not just a figure in the White House.

It would have to be a broad political movement. In fact, the Sanders campaign I think is valuable — it’s opening up issues, it’s maybe pressing the mainstream Democrats a little bit in a progressive direction, and it is mobilizing a lot of popular forces, and the most positive outcome would be if they remain after the election.

It’s a serious mistake to just to be geared to the quadrennial electoral extravaganza and then go home. That’s not the way changes take place. The mobilization could lead to a continuing popular organization which could maybe have an effect in the long run.

What is your opinion on the emergence of figures such as Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, Pablo Iglesias in Spain, or Bernie Sanders in the US? Is a new left movement on the rise, or are these just sporadic responses to the economic crisis?

It depends what the popular reaction is. Take Corbyn in England: he’s under fierce attack, and not only from the Conservative establishment, but even from the Labour establishment. Hopefully Corbyn will be able to withstand that kind of attack; that depends on popular support. If the public is willing to back him in the face of the defamation and destructive tactics, then it can have an impact. Same with Podemos in Spain.

How can one mobilize a large number of people on such complex issues?

It’s not that complex. The task of organizers and activists is to help people understand and to make them recognize that they have power, that they’re not powerless. People feel impotent, but that has to be overcome. That’s what organizing and activism is all about.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it fails, but there aren’t any secrets. It’s a long-term process — it has always been the case. And it’s had successes. Over time there’s a kind of a general trajectory towards a more just society, with regressions and reversals of course.

So would you say that, during your lifetime, humanity has progressed in the construction of a somewhat more just society?

There have been enormous changes. Just look here at MIT. Take a walk down the hall and take a look at the nature of the student body: it’s about half women, a third minorities, informally dressed, casual relations among people and so on. When I got here in 1955, if you’d walk down the same hall it would have been white males, jackets and ties, very polite, obedient, not posing many questions. That’s a huge change.

And it’s not just here — it’s all over the place. You and I wouldn’t have looked like this, and in fact you probably wouldn’t be here. Those are some of the cultural and social changes that have taken place thanks to committed and dedicated activism.

Other things have not, like the labor movement, which has been under severe attack all throughout American history and particularly since the early 1950s. It has been seriously weakened: in the private sector it’s marginal, and it’s now being attacked in the public sector. That’s a regression.

The neoliberal policies are certainly a regression. For the majority of the population in the US, there’s been pretty much stagnation and decline in the last generation. And not because of any economic laws. These are policies. Just as austerity in Europe is not an economic necessity — in fact, it’s economic nonsense. But it’s a policy decision undertaken by the designers for their own purposes. I think basically it’s a kind of class war, and it can be resisted, but it’s not easy. History doesn’t go in a straight line.

How do you think that the capitalist system will survive, considering its dependence on fossil fuels and its impact on the environment?

What’s called the capitalist system is very far from any model of capitalism or market. Take the fossil fuels industries: there was a recent study by the IMF which tried to estimate the subsidy that energy corporations get from governments. The total was colossal. I think it was around $5 trillion annually. That’s got nothing to do with markets and capitalism.

And the same is true of other components of the so-called capitalist system. By now, in the US and other Western countries, there’s been, during the neoliberal period, a sharp increase in the financialization of the economy. Financial institutions in the US had about 40 percent of corporate profits on the eve of the 2008 collapse, for which they had a large share of responsibility.

There’s another IMF study that investigated the profits of American banks, and it found that they were almost entirely dependent on implicit public subsidies. There’s a kind of a guarantee — it’s not on paper, but it’s an implicit guarantee — that if they get into trouble they will be bailed out. That’s called too-big-to-fail.

And the credit rating agencies of course know that, they take that into account, and with high credit ratings financial institutions get privileged access to cheaper credit, they get subsidies if things go wrong and many other incentives, which effectively amounts to perhaps their total profit. The business press tried to make an estimate of this number and guessed about $80 billion a year. That’s got nothing to do with capitalism.

It’s the same in many other sectors of the economy. So the real question is, will this system of state capitalism, which is what it is, survive the continued use of fossil fuels? And the answer to that is, of course, no.

By now, there’s a pretty strong consensus among scientists who say that a large majority of the remaining fossil fuels, maybe 80 percent, have to be left in the ground if we hope to avoid a temperature rise which would be pretty lethal. And it is not happening. Humans may be destroying their chances for decent survival. It won’t kill everybody, but it would changethe world dramatically.

 

Noam Chomsky: Bernie Sanders is good for the Democratic Party

August 13, 2015

The linguist and philosopher reflects on the Vermont senator and our broken electoral systemVIDEO

TOPICS: ALTERNET, BERNIE SANDERS, NOAM CHOMSKY,

Noam Chomsky: Bernie Sanders is good for the Democratic Party(Credit: fotostory via Shutterstock)
This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

AlterNetThe linguist and political analyst Noam Chomsky is one of the most quoted individuals in the world, and one the globe’s most prominent thinkers.

Although he has a sizable following, he is rarely seen in mainstream media, and has only been called to testify before Congress once (during the Vietnam War).

Yet today Chomsky finally has a mutual admirer in the political system, and he happens to be out-polling every GOP contender.

In May of 1985, then-Mayor Bernie Sanders of Burlington, Vermont brought Noam Chomsky to talk about the U.S. military intervention in Latin America. “At a time when many intellectuals…find it more comfortable to be silence and to go with the flow as it were, it is comforting to find on occasion individuals who have the guts to speak out about the important issues of our time, and certainly Professor Chomsky has been the person to do it,” he said.

Watch Bernie introduce Chomsky, and Chomsky’s address to Burlington:

Chomsky: Hillary and Obama Are ‘Opportunists’

June 16, 2015

Prof. Noam Chomsky, linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist and activist. (photo: Va Shiva)
Prof. Noam Chomsky, linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist and activist. (photo: Va Shiva)

By Jerome R. Corsi, WND

15 June 15

 

http://player.ooyala.com/iframe.html#ec=5lajFsdTo-MF6NwELUT_d2T-3Cqmp7oE&pbid=40d9b99b682e4c5f990d970e4a0828cd&docUrl=http%3A%2F%2Freadersupportednews.org%2Fnews-section2%2F318-66%2F30746-focus-chomsky-hillary-and-obama-are-opportunistsn a wide-ranging interview at his MIT office, liberal icon Noam Chomsky expressed no enthusiasm for Barack Obama or the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency, dismissing Obama as “an opportunist” and characterizing Clinton as much the same, “only more militant.”

Born to immigrant Jewish parents in Philadelphia in 1928, Chomsky explained his political views were formed growing up during the Great Depression, and he rejected any attempt to tie his academic work in linguistics to his decades of anti-war protest and leftist criticism of the United States.

The “father of modern linguistics,” as he often is described, told WND he had “no interest whatever” in the fact that Osama bin Laden at the time of his death had two Chomsky books at his compound, “Necessary Illusions: Though Control in Democratic Societies” and “Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance.”

“Why do I care what books Osama bin Laden was reading?” asked Chomsky, author of more than 100 books.

He noted that the recent disclosure of documents seized at the compound in Pakistan where bin Laden was killed showed the al-Qaida leader had a variety of reading material, including publications written by the CIA.

Chomsky, who was voted the “world’s top intellectual” in a 2005 poll, said he was not disappointed in Obama, because he “didn’t expect anything.”

“So, I’m not one of those who was disillusioned,” he said.

“I wrote about him before the primaries in 2008, simply using his webpage – the way he was presenting himself – and he seemed to me like an opportunist,” said Chomsky.

“His portrayed idealism could not be taken seriously. The policies he was proudest of I thought were awful.”

With Obama nearing the end of his presidency, WND asked Chomsky for his assessment of the impact of Obama’s administration.

“It’s a mixed story, like most presidents,” he said. “What the administration regards as their major achievement, the Affordable Care Act, is a small step toward dealing with what’s, in fact, an international scandal.

“The U.S. health-care system is outrageous,” said Chomsky. “It has about twice the cost of comparable societies, at least per capita, and some of the worst outcomes.”

He said he supports a nationalized, government-paid health-care system.

The Affordable Care Act is “a small step toward remedying that, not the step the public wanted,” he stressed.

“Almost two-thirds of the public was in favor of including a public option, essentially national health care. That was thrown out without discussion. But it is a step forward. Better than it was.”

‘Rescinding the Magna Carta’

Chomsky was extremely critical of Obama’s use of drones against jihadist leaders in the Middle East, charging the president “has essentially rescinded the principle that was established in the Magna Carta 800 years ago.”

“A principal element of the Magna Carta was the establishment of the presumption of innocence – that a person is innocent until proven guilty through due process in a trial before their peers,” he said.

“With the drone assassination campaign, Obama has essentially rescinded this principle by officially designating a person as guilty if the White House decides that they might some day want to harm us,” he said.

“If any other country were doing this, like Iran, we would consider it justification for a nuclear war,” he contended.

Chomsky was also very critical of Obama’s expansion of National Security Administration policies to conduct surveillance on U.S. citizens.

“The whistleblower revelations have demonstrated that the state has gone to pretty extreme levels of surveillance in the effort to control the population,” he said. “I think all of that is unconscionable.”

WND asked Chomsky if he was optimistic about the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency, or if he saw any difference in comparison to Obama.

“[Hillary would be] maybe a little more militant,” he said.

Blame Israel

Chomsky pinned the blame for the threat to Israel’s security on the Jewish state itself.

“To the extent that Israel is threatened, it’s Israel’s own choice,” he asserted.

“For the past 40 years, Israel has pursued a policy very consciously of preferring expansion rather than security.”

He insisted Israel could have had almost complete security 40 years ago, if it so chose.

“In 1971, Egypt offered Israel a full peace treaty, just in return for the occupied Egyptian territories. Israel refused, preferring to expand,” he said.

In 1976, Chomsky argued, the major Arab states of Jordan, Egypt and Syria brought a resolution to the U.N. Security Council calling for the establishment of two states using the internationally recognized border, the so-called “Green Line.” The deal, he said, included guarantees for the right of an Israeli and a Palestinian state to exist within secure and recognized borders.

“Accepting that would have radically reduced the security problem,” he contended. “The U.S. vetoed it. Israel was furious, refused even to attend the session. Didn’t want to hear about it. And it continues like that. As Israel continues to take over the occupied territories, we’re not going to have peace.”

WND asked Chomsky if he has any enduring commitment to Israel, having personally lived through the Holocaust of World War II.

“I thought 40 years ago and I think today that people who call themselves supporters of Israel are, in fact, supporting its moral degeneration, its increased international isolation and possibly its ultimate destruction,” he said. “I think these policies are suicidal and immoral.”

WND asked Chomsky his opinion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership that the Obama administration is currently attempting to “fast-track” through Congress, with the assistance of GOP establishment leaders.

“It’s called a free-trade agreement, but it’s not,” Chomsky replied. “We don’t have the details, because it is essentially kept secret. But from all indications, it’s like all the other agreements that are not free-trade agreements. They are investor-rights agreements. The idea is that the Obama administration wants to ram the deal through without public discussion. The idea is called ‘fast-track authority.’”

Formative Depression

Chomsky said his parents sent him to an experimental private school run by Temple University and the Department of Education that was influenced by famed, progressive thinker John Dewey.

Chomsky’s political views were influenced by “the suffering and misery you could see right around you in the depths of the Depression.”

“In the family, it was the unemployment,” he said. “Also the atmosphere in the 1930s was quite different from today.”

During the Depression of the 1930s, Chomsky explained he felt optimism about the future, fueled by the New Deal policies of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

“In absolute terms, it was much poorer; the problems were much greater,” he observed. “But there was a sense of hopefulness. There was a sense things would be better; there were things we could do; the future was in our hands. Lots of political activism; there were radical politics, engagement, the growth of the labor movement that was spectacular.

“The New Deal measures were changing society,” Chomsky said.

He also acknowledged the concern he shared as the 1930s unfolded about the rise of Nazism in Europe.

In reflecting on World War II, Chomsky commented “the kinds of massive atrocities that became second nature during the Second World that had been considered almost unthinkable on the eve of the war – the horrors that were going on in Nazi Germany were unanticipated; but also the brutality and violence of the Western conquest was shocking.”

“By 1944, it was pretty clear to internal and outside observers that the Allies had won the war,” he said.

“But the next year was one of massive atrocities – the fire-bombing of Dresden and Tokyo were carried out with a kind of blood-thirsty fanaticism, and then the atom bomb.”

He said that what “fundamentally changed politics is that the United States emerged from World War II in a position of power and wealth that had no historical precedent.”

“The U.S. economy actually bloomed during the war as manufacturing and production virtually quadrupled,” he said.

“At the end of the Depression, the other industrial economies were either devastated or severely damaged, and by the end of the war the U.S. had literally half the world’s wealth,” he said. “That was unheard of – incomparable security with control over both oceans and the ultimate weapon.”

He said the “planners right through the war understood something like this would happen.”

“Plans were laid to govern the world, and they were implemented to some significant extent.”

‘Dangerous’ JFK

Chomsky called President John F. Kennedy “one of the most dangerous figures in American politics.”

“The most severe case, and here I disagree with most analysts, is the Cuban missile crisis, where I thought Kennedy’s handling of the crisis was foolhardy and totally irresponsible,” he said.

“At the peak moment of the crisis, there was a proposal from Khrushchev to end the crisis by withdrawal of Russian missiles from Cuba, with the simultaneous withdrawal of U.S. missiles from Turkey, and Kennedy turned it down,” Chomsky continued.

“Kennedy was willing to withdraw the missiles secretly from Turkey, but not publicly. And remember, those were obsolete missiles for which a withdrawal order had already been given, because they were being replaced by much more lethal Polaris submarines,” he said.

“So the choice Kennedy had to make was, ‘Do we demonstrate to the world that we have a right to threaten the destruction of Russia by surrounding them by lethal missiles, but they don’t have a right to have missiles in Cuba that were minor in comparison?’”

Chomsky said Kennedy’s “own subjective estimate was the probability of war as between one-third and one-half.”

“I think this was one of the most atrocious decisions in human history,” he said.

Chomsky discounted the possibility Kennedy was planning to pull out of Vietnam after the 1964 election.

“If Kennedy had any intention of getting out of Vietnam, he had a perfect opportunity to do it a couple of months before the assassination,” he argued.

“The U.S. intelligence discovered the U.S. client regime, the Diem regime, was secretly negotiating with the north to end the conflict. That would have been a perfect time to say, ‘Fine, you guys get together and end the conflict. Then we pull out without political cost,’” he said.

“Instead, the Kennedy administration organized a military coup to overthrow the Diem regime, in the course of which Diem was assassinated and replaced with a more hawkish general to keep the war going,” he said.

“If you look at the record, Kennedy was willing to accept the proposals that came from [Secretary of Defense] Robert McNamara that a withdrawal come after victory. Crucially, right to the day of his death, Kennedy said, ‘Yes, we can withdraw, but it will come after victory, not before.’”

Majority ‘disenfranchised’

Chomsky said the U.S. has reached a point at which the majority of the population is “effectively disenfranchised.”

“If you look at mainstream, academic political science, it shows pretty convincingly that the lower roughly three-quarters on the income scale have no impact whatsoever on policy,” he said. “What they want is disregarded. Move up the scale and you get a little more influence. Policy is basically set at the top.”

He said elections and policies are predictable on the basis of campaign spending.

“That’s been true for some extent for some time, but it’s gone way beyond by now. And I think the public is probably aware of this,” he said.

“If you take a look at the last election, November 2014, voting participation was about at the level of the early 19th century when the franchise was limited to propertied white males,” he said.

“I presume, as the political scientists who have analyzed it have concluded, that it simply means abandonment of belief in any kind of a democratic system,” he said.

Chomsky’s legacy

Chomsky said his interest in linguistics fits with his interest in politics “only in a very abstract way.”

“There’s a kind of connection that goes back to the Enlightenment and earlier, when there was the beginnings of an understanding that that was pretty significant, (that) language is at the core of human nature and its fundamental element is a kind of instinct for freedom, that we have the capacity for free, creative action not under control of external events. And that’s just the core of our nature, and language is the clearest illustration of it,” he said.

“That relates, not logically, but loosely, to the conception that this should be true of all institutional structures.”

He dismissed the idea that Hebrew or any other language is an archetypical language fundamentally at the base of all language.

“Language is probably 75,000 years old,” he said, “and the linguistic capacity hasn’t changed since then. Each language is part of a cultural system that has a certain approach to the world.”

Asked what he would like to be the legacy of his life’s work, he said the answer was clear.

“The human species is racing toward disaster,” he answered. “On the one hand, there’s the nuclear threat, which is significant and growing. On the other is environmental catastrophe. Unless all of us, including me, dedicate ourselves to saving ourselves from our own insanity, we are doomed.”

He said it would take “a sharp reversal of policies.”

“We have to move toward

sustainable energy

very quickly,” he said. “We have to eliminate the threat of nuclear weapons.

“It’s all within range and achievable, but with a lot of effort.”

 

Noam Chomsky: Buzzfeed and Vice “Distorting Free Media” With Advertising

June 4, 2015

Prof. Noam Chomsky, linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist and activist. (photo: Real News Network)
Prof. Noam Chomsky, linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist and activist. (photo: Real News Network)

By Mary-Ann Russon, International Business Times

03 June 15

 

enowned media scholar Noam Chomsky has declared that the Buzzfeed-style of clickbait journalism is a new form of propaganda aimed at “manufacturing consent” in the interests of elite, dominant groups in society.

The book Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy Of The Mass Media by Edward S Herman and Noam Chomsky was first published 27 years ago in 1988 and remains one of the most-read texts in most media-related degree programmes around the world.

Much has changed in the media since then, with the 2010s seeing the demise of many traditional print publications, the introduction of the 24-hour news cycle and the rise of “click-bait” articles by new media organisations like Buzzfeed, Mashable and Vice, as well as listicle blog sites, like Clickhole, Distractify and The Poke.

These clickbait articles are shared on social media networks in the hope that the content will go viral and thus generate millions of site visitors, but some of the content is actually “native advertising“, where an advertorial is disguised as genuine editorial content to trick the user into clicking on it.

Native advertising is distorting free media  

However, Chomsky, who is currently an institute professor and professor of linguistics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), feels that although there have been changes in the global media industry with the advent of the internet, the “Propaganda Model” he and Herman wrote about is still relevant, only with different filters.

“This [native advertising] is exaggerating and intensifying a problem that is serious and shouldn’t even exist in the first place,” Chomsky told crowdfunded independent journalism website Byline.com.

“The reliance of a journal on advertisers shapes and controls and substantially determines what is presented to the public… The very idea of advertiser reliance radically distorts the concept of free media.”

Chomsky goes on to explain that there is no mistaking it – all modern commercial media are really businesses.

“If you think about what the commercial media are, no matter what, they are businesses. And a business produces something for a market. The producers in this case, almost without exception, are major corporations,” he said.

“The market is other businesses – advertisers. The product that is presented to the market is readers (or viewers), so these are basically major corporations providing audiences to other businesses, and that significantly shapes the nature of the institution.”

Businesses don’t mind whistleblowing 

While businesses always want to be presented to the public in the best light, Chomsky notes that whistleblowers, like Edward Snowden, have always been tolerated because they keep the government in check.

“The media do quite a lot of very good exposes on this, but the business world is quite willing to tolerate the exposure of corruption,” he said.

“The business world is also quite willing to tolerate exposure of governments intervening in personal life and business life in a way that they don’t like, as they don’t want a powerful and intrusive state.”

Chomsky also stressed that he personally felt the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists acted like “spoiled adolescents”.

“Well, I think we should strongly support freedom of speech…but freedom of speech does not mean a lack of responsibility,” he stressed, mentioning that the media is frequently irresponsible, such as when UK and US press supported the invasion of Iraq, which led to the sectarian conflict tearing the region apart today.

“I think [the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists] were kind of acting in this case like spoiled adolescents, but that doesn’t justify killing them.”

 

Noam Chomsky: “America is Not a Democracy (and Was Never Intended to Be)”

May 29, 2015

 

OpEdNews Op Eds 5/28/2015 at 22:13:59

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Noam Chomsky
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I don’t know where or when this priceless gem was recorded (it seems to have been at MIT, and shortly after the 2000 Presidential elections). But it’s hard to imagine seeing Chomsky nail one of his most basic themes any more clearly and soundly on the head…

 

 


Noam Chomsky
(image by libcom.org)
  DMCA

(Article changed on May 29, 2015 at 06:58)

(Article changed on May 29, 2015 at 06:59)

 

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