Showing posts with label Noam Chomsky. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Noam Chomsky. Show all posts

Jul 30, 2013

Chomsky on Greenwald and Snowden

"Governments as I mentioned before always plead security no matter what’s going on. The reflexive defense is security. But anyone who’s looked at– first of all, you take a look at what he [Snowden] exposed. At least anything that’s been published, it’s not any kind of threat to security, with one exception, the security of the government from its own population."
Noam Chomsky, Geneva Press Club; July 2013
Governments as I mentioned before always plead security no matter what’s going on. The reflexive defense is security. But anyone who’s looked at– first of all, you take a look at what he exposed. At least anything that’s been published, it’s not any kind of threat to security, with one exception, the security of the government from its own population.
Governments as I mentioned before always plead security no matter what’s going on. The reflexive defense is security. But anyone who’s looked at– first of all, you take a look at what he exposed. At least anything that’s been published, it’s not any kind of threat to security, with one exception, the security of the government from its own population.
Governments as I mentioned before always plead security no matter what’s going on. The reflexive defense is security. But anyone who’s looked at– first of all, you take a look at what he exposed. At least anything that’s been published, it’s not any kind of threat to security, with one exception, the security of the government from its own population.

Mar 23, 2013

Glenn Greenwald Defends Chomsky Against the Idiot Wind

Noam Chomsky
Update: "The question is: what do we strive for in developing a social order that is conducive to fundamental human needs? Are human beings born to be servants to masters, or are they born to be free, creative individuals who work with others to inquire, create, develop their own lives?"
- Noam Chomsky, 2013
---
Glenn Greenwald has new piece out defending Noam Chomsky against the latest attack by one Aida Edemariam in The Guardian.

Not surprisingly, Edemariam's is a long personal attack, short on facts.

I personally have had the pleasure of speaking with Chomsky for an interview presenting his views in The Capital Times before a Madison appearance on his Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (with Edward Herman) ( New York: Pantheon Books, 1988).

Easiest interview I have ever conducted, I asked two questions and Chomsky replied with some 60 minutes of facts and analysis from which I wrote a short piece not doing justice to the book, interview or man.

Facts and analysis are why many hate Noam Chomsky, and routinely attack him especially when America decides to declare war.

Here's Greenwald summing up the latest in the long line of attacks on Chomsky, this attack by Edemariam. Writes Greenwald:

So to recap: Chomsky is a sarcastic, angry, soporific, scowling, sneering self-hating Jew, devoid of hope and speaking from hell, whose alpha-male brutality drives him to win at all costs, and who imposes on the world disappointingly crude and simplistic arguments to the point where he is so inconsequential that one wonders whether he has ever changed even a single thing in his 60 years of political work.
So, I guess we can just ignore Noam Chomsky then. Right.

Chomsky would advise ignoring the personal attacks on him.

After Slate/The New Republic/Atlantic/New Yorker in 2001-02 all similarly attacked Chomsky for opposing Operation Enduring Freedom, as the civilian toll in Afghanistan surpassed the total of those killed on 9/11, threatening a generation with mass destruction (a prediction that has been borne out just a decade later), Chomsky advised ignoring the personal attacks and keep organizing for peace, writing in April 2002:

"(L)iberal intellectuals have lined up in support of the war machine in the familiar style — discussed, for example, by Randolph Bourne in classic essays–and since they know they do not have the intellectual competence to deal with those who refuse to go along, resort to what comes natural to the educated classes: hysterical tantrums, lies, and abuse. Why become involved? There are more important things to do–such as continue to falsify their increasingly desperate claim that everyone is following them in their depraved subordination to power."

Feb 4, 2013

Chomsky on American Paranoia

Noam Chomsky's refusal to be a bystander and let obscenities of our own country go by unchallenged have made him a champion for peace and social justice perhaps unparalleled since his birth in 1928.

From AlterNet and Tom Dispatch comes an interview outlining what America has been up to in the world recently.

[This piece is adapted from “Uprisings,” a chapter in Power Systems: Conversations on Global Democratic Uprisings and the New Challenges to U.S. Empire, Noam Chomsky’s new interview book with David Barsamian (with thanks to the publisher, Metropolitan Books). The questions are Barsamian’s, the answers Chomsky’s.]

Here's one question and answer; I recommend the book.

I was hoping Check Hegal might similarly speak the truth. "Hegal ought to appear before the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services and let the mostly Southern senators on the GOP side of the Committee have it. Say it loud and clear, the GOP is slime," I advised to the ether.

Hegal is a good man [spoke to some peace activists who met with Hegal in 2005 and they told me Hegal knew well the Iraq War was bullshit) who looked more like a child apologizing to the senators for some infraction against school rules.

As Sen. McCain and other slime on the Committee championed the Iraq War and asked and answered for Hegal at the Senate hearings, Hegal mostly backed down.

Hegal should have anwsered the question as Chomsky does: "To everyone except a dedicated ideologue, it was pretty obvious that we invaded Iraq not because of our love of democracy but because it’s maybe the second- or third-largest source of oil in the world, and is right in the middle of the major energy-producing region."

From Tom Dispatch:

Does the United States still have the same level of control over the energy resources of the Middle East as it once had?

Noam Chomsky: The major energy-producing countries are still firmly under the control of the Western-backed dictatorships. So, actually, the progress made by the Arab Spring is limited, but it’s not insignificant. The Western-controlled dictatorial system is eroding. In fact, it’s been eroding for some time. So, for example, if you go back 50 years, the energy resources -- the main concern of U.S. planners -- have been mostly nationalized. There are constantly attempts to reverse that, but they have not succeeded.

Take the U.S. invasion of Iraq, for example. To everyone except a dedicated ideologue, it was pretty obvious that we invaded Iraq not because of our love of democracy but because it’s maybe the second- or third-largest source of oil in the world, and is right in the middle of the major energy-producing region. You’re not supposed to say this. It’s considered a conspiracy theory.

The United States was seriously defeated in Iraq by Iraqi nationalism -- mostly by nonviolent resistance. The United States could kill the insurgents, but they couldn’t deal with half a million people demonstrating in the streets. Step by step, Iraq was able to dismantle the controls put in place by the occupying forces. By November 2007, it was becoming pretty clear that it was going to be very hard to reach U.S. goals. And at that point, interestingly, those goals were explicitly stated. So in November 2007 the Bush II administration came out with an official declaration about what any future arrangement with Iraq would have to be. It had two major requirements: one, that the United States must be free to carry out combat operations from its military bases, which it will retain; and two, “encouraging the flow of foreign investments to Iraq, especially American investments.” In January 2008, Bush made this clear in one of his signing statements. A couple of months later, in the face of Iraqi resistance, the United States had to give that up. Control of Iraq is now disappearing before their eyes.

Iraq was an attempt to reinstitute by force something like the old system of control, but it was beaten back. In general, I think, U.S. policies remain constant, going back to the Second World War. But the capacity to implement them is declining.

Jul 22, 2012

Scott Walker Grabs Prominent Scenes in The Newsroom

Jeff Daniels stars in Aaron Sorkin's
HBO drama, "The Newsroom"
Scott Walker and his Tea Party-Koch brothers underground movement have an ongoing role in Aaron Sorkin's HBO drama, "The Newsroom."

A fascinating new television experience, Sorkin explores what would happen if the news product of a nightly cable news show were driven by facts, truth and logic as guiding journalistic principles, encouraging thought rather than controlling it.

The process of shaping opinion, attitudes, and perceptions was termed the “engineering of consent" by one of the founders of the modern public relations industry, Edward Bernays. - Noam Chomsky in Destroying the Commons -How the Magna Carta Became a Minor Carta
Set in 2010-11, the dramatization takes direct aim at the Tea Party with the intelligence, insight and rigor that one would expect if Edward Murrow and Robert Jackson were alive as cable news journalists and covering a period of American history where elements of fascism, unorganized and incoherent as yet, have animated the rise of the Republican Party.

Scott Walker does not come off well in Sorkin's presentation of this news outlet reporting on the corporate-religious right coalition that has catapulted Walker to fame in GOP-Tea Party circles.

Sunday's, July 22 "Amen" episode opens with "news of unrest in Wisconsin in February 2011 in response to the governor's call for budget cuts bubbl(ing) up during coverage of the ousting of President Mubarak in Egypt."

As Walker even today still cannot appear anywhere in public in Wisconsin without protests, one of Sorkin's characters, a news producer, reports that as Walker is at a newspaper in Appleton, Wisconsin, 100s of teachers and demonstrators gathered to protest outside the newspaper, as dramatized in this March 2011 Appleton Post Crescent piece by J.E. Espino.

The coverage in the show's episode is a composite of real-life events, but the show's audience in Wisconsin recognizes the protests, if not the urgency of the protests reported by the zombie-like Wisconsin media.

Can local broadcast media in Wisconsin, and the giant media conglomerate, Gannett, which owns some 11 corporate newspapers in Wisconsin, make a news product driven by facts, truth and logic?

It doesn't today and certainly not during the Recall campaign burying coverage of the John Doe criminal probe of Walker's top aides in his 2010 campaign as well.

Rural Wisconsin which voted overwhelmingly and unusually high for Scott Walker, or perhaps not, is seen by many as Walker's base, though Walker's extremist positions are kept well-concealed by his flacks and criminal defense team.

The ideological and political effects of quasi-news broadcast media, Gannett newspapers and Party propaganda sheets like the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and Wisconsin State Journal are unclear.

Contra this propaganda product on the local and national media fronts, The Newsroom proposes dramatizing the product of a cable news show driven by a commitment to truth in the tradition of Murrow, Cronkite, Erwin Knoll and I.F. Stone.

I don't think Sorkin knows yet where he is going to go with the show after just five episodes but this Sunday night drama has so far stood towering over the crap that floods our airwaves.



- Full disclosure by MAL: I have written in a freelance capacity for the Gannett-owned Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune and the Fond du Lac Reporter.

Nov 2, 2011

Noam Chomsky: Unprecedented Growth of Occupy Movement

Noam Chomsky at Dewey Park in Boston
at Occupy Boston March in October 2011


It's a little hard to give a Howard Zinn Memorial Lecture at an Occupy meeting. There are mixed feelings that go along with it. First of all, regret that Howard is not here to take part and invigorate it in his particular way, something that would have been the dream of his life, and secondly, excitement that the dream is actually being fulfilled. It’s a dream for which he laid a lot of the groundwork. It would have been the fulfillment of a dream for him to be here with you.

By Noam Chomsky

The Occupy movement really is an exciting development. In fact, it's spectacular. It's unprecedented; there's never been anything like it that I can think of. If the bonds and associations that are being established at these remarkable events can be sustained through a long, hard period ahead -- because victories don't come quickly-- this could turn out to be a very significant moment in American history.

The fact that the demonstrations are unprecedented is quite appropriate. It is an unprecedented era -- not just this moment -- but actually since the 1970s. The 1970s began a major turning point in American history. For centuries, since the country began, it had been a developing society with ups and downs. But the general progress was toward wealth and industrialization and development -- even in dark and hope -- there was a pretty constant expectation that it's going to go on like this. That was true even in very dark times.



I'm just old enough to remember the Great Depression. After the first few years, by the mid-1930s, although the situation was objectively much harsher than it is today, the spirit was quite different. There was a sense that we're going to get out of it, even among unemployed people. It'll get better. There was a militant labor movement organizing, CIO was organizing. It was getting to the point of sit-down strikes, which are very frightening to the business world. You could see it in the business press at the time. A sit-down strike was just a step before taking over the factory and running it yourself. Also, the New Deal legislations were beginning to come under popular pressure. There was just a sense that somehow we're going to get out of it.

It’s quite different now. Now there’s kind of a pervasive sense of hopeless, or, I think, despair. I think it’s quite new in American history and it has an objective basis. In the 1930s unemployed “working people” could anticipate realistically that the jobs are going to come back. If you’re a worker in manufacturing today -- and the unemployment level in manufacturing today is approximately like the Depression -- if current tendencies persist, then those jobs aren’t going to come back. The change took place in the '70s. There are a lot of reasons for it. One of the underlying reasons, discussed mainly by economic historian Robert Bernard, who has done a lot of work on it, is a falling rate of profit. That, with other factors, led to major changes in the economy -- a reversal of the 700 years of progress towards industrialization and development. We turned to a process of deindustrialization and de-development. Of course, manufacturing production continued, but overseas (it’s very profitable, but no good for the workforce). Along with that came a significant shift of the economy from productive enterprise, producing things people need, to financial manipulation. Financialization of the economy really took off at that time.

Before the '70s, banks were banks. They did what banks are supposed to do in a capitalist economy: take unused funds, like, say, your bank account, and transfer them to some potentially useful purpose, like buying a home or sending your kid to college. There were no financial crises. It was a period of enormous growth; the largest period of growth in American history, or maybe in economic history. It was sustained growth in the '50s and '60s and it was egalitarian. So the lowest percentile did as well as the highest percentile. A lot of people moved into reasonable lifestyles -- what’s called here “middle class” (working class is what it’s called in other countries).

It was real. The '60s accelerated it. The activism of the '60s, after a pretty dismal decade, really civilized the country in lots of ways that are permanent. They’re not changing. The '70s came along and suddenly there’s sharp change to industrialization and the offshoring of production. The shifting to financial institutions, which grew enormously. Also in the '50s and '60s there was the development of what became several decades later the high-tech economy. Computers, Internet, the IT revolution was mostly developed in the '50 and the '60s, and substantially in the state sector. It took a couple of decades before it took off, but it was developed then.

The 1970s set off a kind of a vicious cycle that led to a concentration of wealth increasingly in the hands of the financial sector, which doesn’t benefit the economy. Concentration of wealth yields concentration of political power, which, in turn, arrives to legislation that increases and accelerates the cycle. The physical policies such as tax changes, rules of corporate governance, deregulation were essentially bipartisan. Alongside of this began a very sharp rise in the costs of elections, which drives the political parties even deeper than before into the pockets of the corporate sector.

A couple years later started a different process. The parties dissolved, essentially. It used to be if you were a person in Congress and hoped for a position of committee chair or a position of responsibility, you got it mainly through seniority and service. Within a couple of years, you started to have to put money into the party coffers in order to get ahead. That just drove the whole system even deeper into the pockets of the corporate sector and increasingly the financial sector--a tremendous concentration of wealth, mainly in the literally top 1/10th of 1 percent of the population.

Meanwhile, for the general population it began an open period of pretty much stagnation, or decline for the majority. People got by through pretty artificial means -- like borrowing, so a lot of debt. Longer working hours for many. There was a period of stagnation and a higher concentration of wealth. The political system began to dissolve. There’s always been a gap between public policy and the public will, but it just grew kind of astronomically. You can see it right now, in fact.

Take a look at what’s happening right now. The big topic in Washington that everyone concentrates on is the deficit. For the public, correctly, the deficit is not much of an issue. The issue is joblessness, not a deficit. Now there’s a deficit commission but no joblessness commission. As far as the deficit is concerned, if you want to pay attention to it, the public has opinions. Take a look at the polls and the public overwhelmingly supports higher taxes on the wealthy, which have declined sharply during this stagnation period, this period of decline. The public wants higher taxes on the wealthy and to preserve the limited social benefits. The outcome of the deficit commission is probably going to be the opposite. Either they’ll reach an agreement, which will be the opposite of what the public wants, or else it will go into kind of an automatic procedure which is going to have those effects. Actually that’s something that’s going to happen very quickly. The deficit commission is going to come up with its decision in a couple of weeks. The Occupy movements could provide a mass base for trying to avert what amounts to a dagger in the heart of the country, and having negative effects.

Without going on with details, what’s being played out for the last 30 years is actually a kind of a nightmare that was anticipated by the classical economists. If you take an Adam Smith, and bother to read Wealth of Nations, you see that he considered the possibility that the merchants and manufacturers in England might decide to do their business abroad, invest abroad and import from abroad. He said they would profit but England would be harmed. He went on to say that the merchants and manufacturers would prefer to operate in their own country, what’s sometimes called a “home bias.” So, as if by an invisible hand, England would be saved the ravage of what’s called “neoliberal globalization.”

That’s a pretty hard passage to miss. In his classic Wealth of Nations, that’s the only occurrence of the phrase “invisible hand.” Maybe England would be saved from neoliberal globalization by an invisible hand. The other great classical economist David Ricardo recognized the same thing and hoped it wouldn’t happen. Kind of a sentimental hope. It didn’t happen for a long time, but it’s happening now. Over the last 30 years that’s exactly what’s underway. For the general population -- the 99 percent in the imagery of the Occupy movement --it’s really harsh and it could get worse. This could be a period of irreversible decline. For the 1 percent, or furthermore 1/10th of 1 percent, it’s just fine. They’re at the top, richer and more powerful than ever in controlling the political system and disregarding the public, and if it can continue, then sure why not? This is just what Smith and Ricardo warned about.

So pick Citigroup, for decades one of the most corrupt of the major investment banking corporations. It was repeatedly bailed out by the taxpayer over and over again starting in the early Reagan years and now once again. I won’t run through all the corruption. You probably know it, and it’s astonishing. A couple of years ago they came out with a brochure for investors. They urged investors to put their money in what they call the “plutonomy index.” The world is dividing into a plutonomy, the rich and so on. That’s where the action is. They said their plutonomy index is way outperforming the stock market, so put your money into it. And as for the rest? We set them adrift. We don’t really care about them and we don’t need them. They have to be around to provide a powerful state to protect us and bail us out when we get into trouble, but they essentially have no function. It’s sometimes called these days the “precariat,” people who live a precarious existence at the periphery of society. It’s not the periphery anymore; it’s becoming a very substantial part of the society in the United States and indeed elsewhere.

This is considered a good thing. For example, when Alan Greenspan was still “St. Alan,” hailed by the economics profession as one of the greatest economists of all time (this is before the crash for which he is substantially responsible for), he was testifying to Congress in the Clinton years explaining the wonders of the great economy. He said much of this economy was based on what he called “growing worker insecurity.” If working people are insecure, if they’re “precariat” and living precarious existences, then they’re not going to make demands, they won’t make wages, they won’t get benefits and we can kick them out if we don’t like them, and that’s good for the health of the economy. That’s what’s called a healthy economy technically and he was highly praised for this.

Well, now the world is indeed splitting into a plutonomy and a precariat, again in the imagery of the Occupy movement, the 1 percent and the 99 percent. The plutonomy is where the action is. It could continue like this, and if it does, then this historic reversal that began in the 1970s could become irreversible. That’s where we’re heading. The Occupy movements are the first major popular reaction which could avert this. It’s going to be necessary to face the fact that it’s a long hard struggle. You don’t win victories tomorrow. You have to go on and form structures that will be sustained through hard times and can win major victories. There are a lot of things that can be done.

I mentioned before that in the 1930s one of the most effective actions was a sit-down strike. The reason was very simple: it’s just a step below a takeover of the industry. Through the '70s, as the decline was setting in, there were some very important events that took place. One was in the late '70s. In 1977, US Steel decided to close one of its major facilities, Youngstown, Ohio, and instead of just walking away, the workforce and the community decided to get together and buy it from US Steel and hand it over to the workforce to run and turn it into a worker-owned, worker-managed facility. They didn’t win, but with enough popular support they could have won. It was a partial victory because even though they lost it set off other efforts now throughout Ohio and other places.

There’s a scattering of hundreds, maybe thousands, of not-so-small worker owned or partially worker-owned industries which could become worker-managed. That’s the basis for a real revolution. That’s how it takes place. It’s happening here, too. In one of the suburbs of Boston something similar happened. A multi-national decided to shut down a productive, functioning and profitable manufacturing company because it was not profitable enough for them. The workforce and union offered to buy it and take it over and run it themselves, but the multi-national decided to close it down instead probably for reasons of class consciousness. I think they want things like this to happen. If there had been enough popular support, if there had been something like this movement that could have gotten involved, they might have succeeded.

There are other things going on like that. In fact, some of them were major. Not long ago, Obama took over the auto industry. It’s basically owned by the public. There were a number of things that could have been done. One was what was done. It could be reconstituted so it could be handed back to the ownership, or very similar ownership and continue on its traditional path. The other possibility was they could have handed it over to the workforce and turned it into worker-owned, worker-managed major industrial system that’s a major part of the economy and have it produce things that people need. And there’s a lot that we need. We all know or should know that the US is extremely backward globally in high-speed transportation. That’s very serious. It affects people’s lives and it affects the economy. It’s a very serious business.

I have a personal story. I happened to be giving talks in France a couple months ago and ended up in southern France and had to take a train from Avignon in southern France to the airport in Paris and it took two hours. That’s the same distance as Washington to Boston. It’s a scandal. It could be done; we have the capacity to do it, like a skilled workforce. It would have taken a little popular support. That could have been a major change in the economy. Just to make it more surreal, while this option was being avoided, the Obama administration was sending its transportation secretary to Spain to get contracts for developing high-speed rails for the United States. This could have been done right in the Rust Belt, which is being closed down. There’s no economic reason this can’t happen. These are class reasons and the lack of political mobilization.

There are very dangerous developments in the international arena, including two of them which are kind of a shadow that hangs over almost everything we discuss. There are, for the first time to human history, real threats to peace and survival of the species. One has been hanging around since 1945 and it’s kind of a miracle we’ve escaped it and that’s the threat of nuclear weapons. That’s a threat that’s being escalated by the administration and its allies. Something has to be done about that or we’re in real trouble. The other, of course, is environmental catastrophe. Every country in the world is taking at least halting steps toward trying to do something about it. The US is also taking steps, namely to accelerate the threat. The US is now the only country that’s not only not doing something constructive…it’s not climbing on the train. It’s pulling it backwards.

Congress is right now reversing legislation instituted by the Nixon administration. (Nixon was really the last liberal president of the United States, and literally, this shows you what’s been going on!) They’re dismantling the limited measures the Nixon administration took to try to do something about what’s a growing and emerging catastrophe. This is connected with a huge propaganda system, perfectly openly declared by the business world, that it’s all just a liberal hoax. Why pay attention to these scientists? We’re really regressing back to the Medieval period. It’s not a joke. If that’s happening to the most powerful and richest country in history then this crisis is not going to be averted and all of this we’re talking about won’t matter in a generation or two. All of that’s going on right now and something has to be done about it very soon and in a dedicated and sustained way. It’s not going to be easy to succeed. There are going to be barriers, hardships and failures along the way. Unless the process that’s taking place here and around the world, unless that continues to grow and kind of becomes a major social force in the world, the chances for a decent future are not very high.

Q & A

Q: What about corporate personhood and getting the money out of that stream of politics?

A: These are very good things to do, but you can’t do any of these things or anything else unless there’s a very large and active base. If the Occupy movement was the leading force in the country then you could move it forward. Most people don’t know that this is happening or they may know about it and not know what it is. Among those who do know, the polls show there’s a lot of support. But that assigns a task. It’s necessary to get out into the country and get people to understand what this is about and what they can do about and what the consequences are of not doing anything about it.

Corporate personhood is a good point, but pay attention to what it is. We’re supposed to worship the Constitution these days, but the 5th Amendment of the Constitution says no person shall be deprived of rights without due process of law. The founding fathers didn’t mean “person” when they said “person.” For example there were a lot of creatures of flesh and blood who were not persons. The entire indigenous population was not considered persons. They didn’t have any rights. There was a category of creatures called 3/5 human -- they weren’t persons and didn’t have rights. Women were not entirely persons, so they didn’t have full rights. A lot of this was somewhat rectified over the years. During the Civil War, the 14th amendment raised the 3/5 to full humans at least in principle, but that was only in principle.

Now over the following years the concept of person was changed by the courts in two ways. One way was to broaden it to include corporations, legal fictions established by the courts and the state. These “persons” later became the management of corporations; the management of corporations became “persons.” Of course, that’s not what the 14th amendment says. It’s also narrowed to undocumented workers. They had to be excluded from the category of persons. That’s happening right now. So legislation like this goes two ways. They defined persons to include corporate persons, which by now have rights beyond human beings, given by the trade agreements and others. They exclude people who flee from Central America where the US devastated their homelands, flee from Mexico because they can’t compete with the US’s highly subsidized agro-business. When NAFTA was passed in 1994, the Clinton administration understood pretty well that it was going to devastate the Mexican economy, so they started militarizing the border. So we’re seeing the consequences. So these people have to be excluded from the category of persons.

So when you talk about personhood, that’s right, but there’s more than one aspect to it. It ought to be pushed forward and it ought to be understood, but that requires a mass base. It requires that the population understands this and is committed to it. It’s easy to think of a lot of things that should be done, but they all have a prerequisite – namely a mass popular base that’s there that’s committed to implementing them.

Q: What about the ruling class in America? How likely is it that they’ll have an open fascist system here?

A: I think it’s very unlikely frankly. They don’t have the force. About a century ago, in the freest countries in the world, Britain and the United Sates at the time, the dominant classes came to understand that they can’t control the population by force any longer. Too much freedom had been won by struggles like these, and they realized it. It’s discussed in their literature. They recognize that they’re going to have to shift their tactics to control of attitudes and beliefs instead of just the cudgel. It can’t do what it used to do. You have to control attitudes and beliefs. In fact that’s when the public relations industry began. It began in the United States and England. The free countries where you had to control beliefs and attitudes, to induce consumerism, to induce passivity, apathy and distraction. It’s a barrier, but it’s a lot easier to overcome than torture and the Gestapo. I don’t think the circumstances are any longer there to institute anything like what we call fascism.

Q: You mentioned earlier that sit-down protests are just a precursor to a takeover of industry. Would you advocate a general strike as a tactic moving forward? Would you ever if asked allow for your voice to relay the democratically chosen will of our nation?

A: You don’t want leaders; you want to do it yourself. We need representation and you should pick it yourselves. It should be recallable representation.

The question of a general strike is like the others. You can think of it as a possible idea at a time when the population is ready for it. We can’t sit here and declare a general strike, obviously. There has to be approval and a willingness to take the risks on the part of a large mass of the population. That takes organization, education and activism. Education doesn’t just mean telling people what to believe. It means learning yourself. There’s a Karl Marx quote: “The task is not just to understand the world but to change it.” There’s a variant of that which should be kept in mind, “If you want to change the world in a certain direction you better try to understand it first.”

Understanding it doesn’t mean listening to a talk or reading a book, though that is helpful. It comes through learning. Learning comes from participation. You learn from others. You learn from the people you’re trying to organize. You have to gain the experience and understanding which will make it possible to maybe implement ideas as a tactic. There’s a long way to go. This doesn’t happen by the flick of a wrist. It happens from a long, dedicated work. I think in many ways the most exciting aspect of the Occupy movements is just the construction of these associations and bonds that are taking place all over. Out of that if they can be sustained can come expansion to a large part of the population that doesn’t know what’s going on. If that can happen, then you can raise questions about tactics like this, which could very well at some point be appropriate.

*This transcript has been edited slightly for clarity. To read the full address, click here.

Oct 3, 2011

Chomsky on Israel, Arab Spring, and Occupy Wall Street

Noam Chomsky was recently interviewed on RT (Russia Today), the Russian 24-7, English-language news channel.

Chomsky's appearance carries with it historical irony as it was not terribly long ago that Chomsky's work in cognitive science and linguistics was banned because it was deemed counterrevolutionary, hence his work had to be censored by the state.

Writes Chomsky, "One of the favorite weeks of my life was in about 1980, when I received two dailies denouncing me furiously for my work on transformational grammar: One was Izvestia, denouncing it as counterrevolutionary, and the other was Argentina’s La Prensa (at the peak of the neo-Nazi military dictatorship), denouncing it as dangerously revolutionary. They’re all basically alike ... ."

May 26, 2011

GOP Pres Candidates Breaking Bad

Pols for GOP nomination are lame, or not sufficiently crazy

Update: See also Sarah Posner's Christian Zionists, Bibi, Obama, and Armageddon at Religious Dispatches.

The weakness of the field at this point is comparable to December 2007 when many on the right were trashing Mike Huckabee in the twisted objections then twirling in leading Republican minds.

Sarah Palin is the recipient of similar derision today, though from different players.

As Chris Cillizza wrote then of the GOP field: "Someone Has to Win the GOP Nomination."

McCain won and lost, the target of McCaincon—a plot by authortarian (ostensibly religious) Movement officers to sabotage the GOP nominee for not being sufficientally crazy, though McCain tried mightily and got a bum rap by the right in this respect.

The parallels between the '08 and '12 nomination race are striking.

The most striking analogue is Mitt Romney.

The Ken Silverstein cover story of the November 2007 issue of Harper's seems like it could be rerun today without anyone noticing.

November 2007
Writes Silverstein: “(Romney) says all the right things, his speeches run through the litmus test on conservative issues, but there’s no conviction behind it. …,” said Cyndi Mosteller, a social rightwinger and GOP politico in South Carolina.

Add to this lack of conviction a dose of Christian religious bigotry against Mormons and you have a political Loser, now leading the current pack of crazies. [Palin, Paul, Gingrich, Cain, Pawlenty, and Bachmann]

Let's say Romney wins the nomination. Will he then pull a McCain and court the endorsement of John Hagee, another whack who says the Holocaust was part of God's plan, among other charming nonsense?

ADL in 1994 Hits Crazies
Being Christain Zionist and anti-Tolerance, anti-Pluralistic and just plain nuts, as Hagee is, sits fine with elements of the Lobby now-a-days—now making noise to align with the GOP nominee [certain to be anti-pluralistic] as long as the Christian right-endorsed candidate advocates war against Islam or at least employs the term "Islamofascism" with some frequency.

The ideologues—who may fall together into a motley coalition looking for an endless war against terror, Satan, Muslims, [maybe even South America]—look to conjure some GOP chimera.

But they may find that the vast majority of Americans are not apocalyptic, war-mongering nuts who, as Noam Chomsky wrote in 2002, do not accept the "increasingly desperate claim that everyone is following them in their depraved subordination to power" and more war.

One aspect of the American political culture persisting is the hope that people can compete with power; that the remnants of our democracy are sufficient to knock down a religious zealot like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a Medicare-destroying ideologue like Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), rightwing billionares like the Koch brothers, and the eventual Republican nominee for president.

May 24, 2011

Chomsky on U.S. Militarism

Noam Chomsky
It is also worth thinking about the name given to the operation: Operation Geronimo. The imperial mentality is so profound that few seem able to perceive that the White House is glorifying bin Laden by calling him ‘Geronimo’ -- the leader of courageous resistance to the invaders who sought to consign his people to the fate of ‘that hapless race of native Americans, which we are exterminating with such merciless and perfidious cruelty, among the heinous sins of this nation, for which I believe God will one day bring [it] to judgment,’ in the words of the great grand strategist John Quincy Adams, the intellectual architect of manifest destiny, long after his own contributions to these sins had passed. Some did comprehend, not surprisingly. The remnants of that hapless race protested vigorously. Choice of the name is reminiscent of the ease with which we name our murder weapons after victims of our crimes: Apache, Blackhawk. Tomahawk, … We might react differently if the Luftwaffe were to call its fighter planes ‘Jew’ and ‘Gypsy’.

Apr 24, 2011

Noam on Madison and the World

Wisconsin is still Ground Zero

By Noam Chomsky in TomGram

The democracy uprising in the Arab world has been a spectacular display of courage, dedication, and commitment by popular forces -- coinciding, fortuitously, with a remarkable uprising of tens of thousands in support of working people and democracy in Madison, Wisconsin, and other U.S. cities. If the trajectories of revolt in Cairo and Madison intersected, however, they were headed in opposite directions: in Cairo toward gaining elementary rights denied by the dictatorship, in Madison towards defending rights that had been won in long and hard struggles and are now under severe attack.

Each is a microcosm of tendencies in global society, following varied courses. There are sure to be far-reaching consequences of what is taking place both in the decaying industrial heartland of the richest and most powerful country in human history, and in what President Dwight Eisenhower called "the most strategically important area in the world" -- "a stupendous source of strategic power" and "probably the richest economic prize in the world in the field of foreign investment," in the words of the State Department in the 1940s, a prize that the U.S. intended to keep for itself and its allies in the unfolding New World Order of that day. ...

Those with a sense of irony may recall that Benjamin Franklin, one of the leading figures of the Enlightenment, warned that the newly liberated colonies should be wary of allowing Germans to immigrate, because they were too swarthy; Swedes as well. Into the twentieth century, ludicrous myths of Anglo-Saxon purity were common in the U.S., including among presidents and other leading figures. Racism in the literary culture has been a rank obscenity; far worse in practice, needless to say. It is much easier to eradicate polio than this horrifying plague, which regularly becomes more virulent in times of economic distress.

I do not want to end without mentioning another externality that is dismissed in market systems: the fate of the species. Systemic risk in the financial system can be remedied by the taxpayer, but no one will come to the rescue if the environment is destroyed. That it must be destroyed is close to an institutional imperative. Business leaders who are conducting propaganda campaigns to convince the population that anthropogenic global warming is a liberal hoax understand full well how grave is the threat, but they must maximize short-term profit and market share. If they don't, someone else will.

This vicious cycle could well turn out to be lethal. To see how grave the danger is, simply have a look at the new Congress in the U.S., propelled into power by business funding and propaganda. Almost all are climate deniers. They have already begun to cut funding for measures that might mitigate environmental catastrophe. Worse, some are true believers; for example, the new head of a subcommittee on the environment who explained that global warming cannot be a problem because God promised Noah that there will not be another flood.

If such things were happening in some small and remote country, we might laugh. Not when they are happening in the richest and most powerful country in the world. And before we laugh, we might also bear in mind that the current economic crisis is traceable in no small measure to the fanatic faith in such dogmas as the efficient market hypothesis, and in general to what Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, 15 years ago, called the "religion" that markets know best -- which prevented the central bank and the economics profession from taking notice of an $8 trillion housing bubble that had no basis at all in economic fundamentals, and that devastated the economy when it burst.

All of this, and much more, can proceed as long as the Muashar doctrine prevails. As long as the general population is passive, apathetic, diverted to consumerism or hatred of the vulnerable, then the powerful can do as they please, and those who survive will be left to contemplate the outcome.

- Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor emeritus in the MIT Department of Linguistics and Philosophy. He is the author of numerous best-selling political works. His latest books are a new edition of Power and Terror, The Essential Chomsky (edited by Anthony Arnove), a collection of his writings on politics and on language from the 1950s to the present, Gaza in Crisis, with Ilan Pappé, and Hopes and Prospects, also available as an audiobook. This piece is adapted from a talk given in Amsterdam in March.

Dec 23, 2010

USSR's Cold War Pravda and Izvestia Were Hard-Science Journals Compared to Fox 'News'

Even mindless U.S. news organs of the past 40 years do not compare to Fox News as rightwing corporate propaganda emulates the 1970s Soviet press

In their seminal book on the American corporate mediaNoam Chomsky and Edward Herman's Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, (New York: Pantheon Books, 1988)the authors posit a "'propaganda model' as a empirical framework for analysing the news product to which the American public is subjected.

Chomsky and Herman employ an institutional analysis in their propaganda model that has been so overwhelmingly supported by the evidence that their social thesis is now a truism.

In the process of analysing the evidence of their propaganda thesis, Chomsky has been vilified from everyone from Jacob Weisberg (Slate; "Left Behind," December 4, 2001) to the NYT/New Republic/Atlantic/New Yorker war-is-fine crowd.

Andrew Sullivan, an enthusiastic proponent of the neocon 2003 invasion of Iraq went to far as to blast Chomsky for his war opposition, saying: That “people who support the Soviet Union, as Chomsky did for so long … do not deserve fundamental respect” [November 5, 2004] joining the National Review and other reactionaries and liberals in their relentless fact-free denunciations of how corporate media supports power.

Chomsky, who was so despised in the Soviet Union that the state even banned distribution of his academic work on cognitive science and linguistics, nevertheless earned the old commie-peacenik derision in America during the Cold War, now since replaced by the imprecation, "anti-Semite."

Defending Chomsky in an article in CoreWeekly (Madison Newspapers Inc, (January 13, 2005), I reprinted a Chomsky reply e-mail to me after blasting Andrew Sullivan's laughable allusion to Chomsky's popularity among Soviet commissars.

I could imagine Noam laughing as he wrote about the range of denunciations from noted contemporary American totalitarians:


I don’t know if you are aware of how funny the line about my supporting Russia is. Two minutes research would have shown him that I've been strongly anti-Leninist throughout my life, in fact from childhood. He may not know it, but the Kremlin surely did. I was utter anathema there, so much so that my entire professional field [linguistics] was banned. I couldn’t even send technical papers to colleagues and friends in Eastern Europe because it would get them into trouble. It wasn’t until the mid-80s that there were any openings. One of the favorite weeks of my life was in about 1980, when I received two dailies denouncing me furiously for my work on transformational grammar: One was Izvestia, denouncing it as counterrevolutionary, and the other was Argentina’s La Prensa (at the peak of the neo-Nazi military dictatorship), denouncing it as dangerously revolutionary. They’re all basically alike, and Sullivan fits in probably better than he knows.
As Gene Lyons implies today in Salon, Sullivan (since ludicrously branded an anti-Semite by The New Republic) and writers such as Jacob Weisberg (now a critic of Fox News) are measured and rigorous in comparison to what Fox News has become.

Fox News is something like the Party press Izvestia or the former Argentina’s neo-Nazi La Prensa; arguably worse as they exercise veto power over the Republican Party's major decisions and perhaps its 2012 presidential nominee.

In scope and power, one has to think long and hard to think of any political mass media organ like Fox News in American history.

Here's Lyons take:

Recently, I reread Orwell's "Looking Back at the Spanish War." The 1943 essay summarizes what he learned as a volunteer militiaman fighting for Spain's Socialist government against Franco's fascist-backed rebels -- a bitterly disillusioning experience that inspired his three greatest books: "Homage to Catalonia," "1984" and "Animal Farm."

In it, Orwell describes the corrosive effect of politicized mass media. In Spain, he wrote, "I saw newspaper reports which did not bear any relation to the facts, not even the relationship which is implied in an ordinary lie. I saw great battles reported where there had been no fighting, and complete silence where hundreds of men had been killed ... I saw newspapers in London retailing these lies and eager intellectuals building emotional superstructures over events that had never happened. I saw, in fact, history being written not in terms of what happened but of what ought to have happened according to various 'party lines.' "

Welcome to the contemporary world. My own preoccupation with the awful harm caused by slipshod journalism concerned a less momentous but nevertheless troubling event. I can still recall exactly where I was sitting when I discovered that a front-page report of a highly publicized Little Rock murder trial bore no relationship to the actual courtroom testimony or crime scene photos introduced into evidence. I had the transcript and photos in front of me.

Rather, the article reflected the crackpot theories of a publicity-mad sheriff who used the case as a springboard for his political ambitions, ultimately ending up in the U.S. Congress. The effect was to cast suspicion upon an innocent man for allegedly murdering his wife -- a dark shadow he never entirely escaped despite being exonerated several times in courtrooms and grand juries. I used to think it was a peculiarly local event. The story is told in my book "Widow's Web."

Then came the great Whitewater hoax, during which the allegedly liberal Washington/New York press corps pummeled a Democratic president for eight years based upon transparently false, trumped-up charges. Most disturbing to me, as a journalist who'd long worked for many of the same magazines and newspapers pushing the scandal but who lived in Arkansas, was realizing that the "mainstream media" had acquired property rights in the bogus narrative. Correcting the record was seen as vandalism.

Reversing the errors and filling in the blanks would have made the "scandal" collapse like a soufflé. But that never happened, because everybody peddling the story (and feeding from the hands of the political apparatchiks who invented and sustained it) collectively agreed not to notice even clearly dispositive facts.

One time, a widely touted witness actually passed out and had to be helped from a Senate hearing room, never to return, after being confronted with documentary evidence contradicting her testimony. It was as farcical as a Monty Python skit, and broadcast nationally on C-Span. The newspapers and TV networks committed to the scandal highlighted her false accusations yet contrived not to mention the swoon.

I came to understand that the honor code according to which journalism allegedly regulates itself applied mainly at the lower levels. Big-time political journalism operates according to celebrity rules. Fake a byline in Des Moines and you're finished. Help start a war by trumpeting cherry-picked and downright fabricated "intelligence," as The New York Times, Washington Post and the same TV networks that promoted Whitewater subsequently did, and win a guest shot on "Meet the Press."

It also helps if Democrats are the victims of your malfeasance. Does anybody think that Dan Rather's ignominious exit from CBS News would have happened had the object of his unverifiable reporting been Barack Obama instead of George W. Bush? Republicans get even; Democrats act as if they believed all that humbug about liberal media bias.

Anyway, I wrote all that to say this: Even compared to the manifest swindles and perversions of the past 20 years or thereabouts, the United States has never seen anything like Fox News. The closest comparison to what Fox does daily would be the party-line propaganda sheets of the far left and extreme right that made Orwell worry "that the very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world."

Recently, the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland released yet another study documenting Americans' lamentable ignorance of public events. It found that regular Fox News viewers were "significantly more likely than those who never watched it to believe" many things that are objectively false: the economy is worsening, that most Republicans opposed TARP, that the stimulus contained no tax cuts, that their own income taxes had increased, that most scientists doubt global warming, etc.

A deluded citizenry can't effectively govern itself. Yet complacency and institutional cowardice causes "mainstream" media to play along with the fiction that Fox News is an ordinarily craven, celebrity-driven news organization.

People, we're in deep trouble.

  • Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of "The Hunting of the President" (St. Martin's Press, 2000). You can e-mail Lyons at eugenelyons2@yahoo.com.

  • Sep 11, 2010

    Remember 9/11 by Respecting Life and Stopping War

    "The Essence of True Humanity is Compassion."
    - Debbie Menon

    Imagine the murder and death of non-Americans

    It took a matter of weeks in 2001 after the launching of Operation Enduring Freedom for the toll of innocent civilians in Afghanistan to surpass that of those murdered on 9/11.

    That was nine years ago. Comparing the civilian tolls now in 9/11, Iraq and Afghanistan is a calculation based on order of magnitude.

    "We responded to the worst kind of depravity with the best of our humanity," said President Obama in his weekly presidential address marking 9/11 today.

    Not True.

    If civilians of all nations be considered human, the tragedy of 9/11 can be seen in one scale as business as usual, inhumanity waged ferociously.

    And it didn't take long for American liberal and neocon intellectuals to get back to the business of war in 2001.

    As Noam Chomsky wrote then: "(L)iberal intellectuals have lined up in support of the war machine in the familiar style -- discussed, for example, by Randolph Bourne in classic essays--and since they know they do not have the intellectual competence to deal with those who refuse to go along, resort to what comes natural to the educated classes: hysterical tantrums, lies, and abuse. Why become involved? There are more important things to do--such as continue to falsify their increasingly desperate claim that everyone is following them in their depraved subordination to power."

    Jun 10, 2010

    Chomsky: Israel on Gaza Flotilla Attack:”Sheer Criminal Aggression, with no Credible Pretext”

    For updates, see Al Jazeera and Witness Gaza.

    By Noam Chomsky

    Haymarket Books Press Release, June 2010

    Hijacking boats in international waters and killing passengers is, of course, a serious crime. The editors of the London Guardian are quite right to say that "If an armed group of Somali pirates had yesterday boarded six vessels on the high seas, killing at least 10 passengers and injuring many more, a Nato taskforce would today be heading for the Somali coast."

    It is worth bearing in mind that the crime is nothing new. For decades, Israel has been hijacking boats in international waters between Cyprus and Lebanon, killing or kidnapping passengers, sometimes bringing them to prisons in Israel including secret prison/torture chambers, sometimes holding them as hostages for many years. Israel assumes that it can carry out such crimes with impunity because the US tolerates them and Europe generally follows the US lead.

    Much the same is true of Israel's pretext for its latest crime: that the Freedom Flotilla was bringing materials that could be used for bunkers for rockets. Putting aside the absurdity, if Israel were interested in stopping Hamas rockets it knows exactly how to proceed: accept Hamas offers for a cease-fire. In June 2008, Israel and Hamas reached a cease-fire agreement.

    The Israeli government formally acknowledges that until Israel broke the agreeement on November 4, invading Gaza and killing half a dozen Hamas activists, Hamas did not fire a single rocket. Hamas offered to renew the cease-fire. The Israeli cabinet considered the offer and rejected it, preferring to launch its murderous and destructive Operation Cast Lead on December 27. Evidently, there is no justification for the use of force "in self-defense" unless peaceful means have been exhausted. In this case they were not even tried, althoughÑor perhaps becauseÑthere was every reason to suppose that they would succeed. Operation Cast Lead is therefore sheer criminal aggression, with no credible pretext, and the same is true of Israel's current resort to force.

    The siege of Gaza itself does not have the slightest credible pretext. It was imposed by the US and Israel in January 2006 to punish Palestinians because they voted "the wrong way" in a free election, and it was sharply intensified in July 2007 when Hamas blocked a US-Israeli attempt to overthrow the elected government in a military coup, installing Fatah strongman Muhammad Dahlan. The siege is savage and cruel, designed to keep the caged animals barely alive so as to fend off international protest, but hardly more than that. It is the latest stage of long-standing Israeli plans, backed by the US, to separate Gaza from the West Bank.

    These are only the bare outlines of very ugly policies, in which Egypt is complicit as well.

    Apr 28, 2010

    Chomsky: A Middle East Peace That Could Happen (But Won’t)

    Peace will have to forced on to the region through some combination of divestment, international pressure and who knows what else. But the United States remains as much of the problem as Israel, and Noam Chomsky is not optimistic about the prospect for peace though this is what the overwhelming number of citizens of the world wish for. [Editor's Note: Noam Chomky's new book, Hopes and Prospects, can be ordered via Chomsky's site.]

    Via TomGram:
    A Middle East Peace That Could Happen (But Won’t)
    In Washington-Speak, “Palestinian State” Means “Fried Chicken”

    By Noam Chomsky

    The fact that the Israel-Palestine conflict grinds on without resolution might appear to be rather strange. For many of the world’s conflicts, it is difficult even to conjure up a feasible settlement. In this case, it is not only possible, but there is near universal agreement on its basic contours: a two-state settlement along the internationally recognized (pre-June 1967) borders -- with “minor and mutual modifications,” to adopt official U.S. terminology before Washington departed from the international community in the mid-1970s.

    The basic principles have been accepted by virtually the entire world, including the Arab states (who go on to call for full normalization of relations), the Organization of Islamic States (including Iran), and relevant non-state actors (including Hamas). A settlement along these lines was first proposed at the U.N. Security Council in January 1976 by the major Arab states. Israel refused to attend the session. The U.S. vetoed the resolution, and did so again in 1980. The record at the General Assembly since is similar.

    There was one important and revealing break in U.S.-Israeli rejectionism. After the failed Camp David agreements in 2000, President Clinton recognized that the terms he and Israel had proposed were unacceptable to any Palestinians. That December, he proposed his “parameters”: imprecise, but more forthcoming. He then stated that both sides had accepted the parameters, while expressing reservations.

    Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met in Taba, Egypt, in January 2001 to resolve the differences and were making considerable progress. In their final press conference, they reported that, with a little more time, they could probably have reached full agreement. Israel called off the negotiations prematurely, however, and official progress then terminated, though informal discussions at a high level continued leading to the Geneva Accord, rejected by Israel and ignored by the U.S.



    A good deal has happened since, but a settlement along those lines is still not out of reach -- if, of course, Washington is once again willing to accept it. Unfortunately, there is little sign of that.

    Substantial mythology has been created about the entire record, but the basic facts are clear enough and quite well documented.

    The U.S. and Israel have been acting in tandem to extend and deepen the occupation. In 2005, recognizing that it was pointless to subsidize a few thousand Israeli settlers in Gaza, who were appropriating substantial resources and protected by a large part of the Israeli army, the government of Ariel Sharon decided to move them to the much more valuable West Bank and Golan Heights.

    Instead of carrying out the operation straightforwardly, as would have been easy enough, the government decided to stage a “national trauma,” which virtually duplicated the farce accompanying the withdrawal from the Sinai desert after the Camp David agreements of 1978-79. In each case, the withdrawal permitted the cry of “Never Again,” which meant in practice: we cannot abandon an inch of the Palestinian territories that we want to take in violation of international law. This farce played very well in the West, though it was ridiculed by more astute Israeli commentators, among them that country’s prominent sociologist the late Baruch Kimmerling.

    After its formal withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, Israel never actually relinquished its total control over the territory, often described realistically as “the world’s largest prison.” In January 2006, a few months after the withdrawal, Palestine had an election that was recognized as free and fair by international observers. Palestinians, however, voted “the wrong way,” electing Hamas. Instantly, the U.S. and Israel intensified their assault against Gazans as punishment for this misdeed. The facts and the reasoning were not concealed; rather, they were openly published alongside reverential commentary on Washington’s sincere dedication to democracy. The U.S.-backed Israeli assault against the Gazans has only been intensified since, thanks to violence and economic strangulation, increasingly savage.

    Meanwhile in the West Bank, always with firm U.S. backing, Israel has been carrying forward longstanding programs to take the valuable land and resources of the Palestinians and leave them in unviable cantons, mostly out of sight. Israeli commentators frankly refer to these goals as “neocolonial.” Ariel Sharon, the main architect of the settlement programs, called these cantons “Bantustans,” though the term is misleading: South Africa needed the majority black work force, while Israel would be happy if the Palestinians disappeared, and its policies are directed to that end.

    Blockading Gaza by Land and Sea

    One step towards cantonization and the undermining of hopes for Palestinian national survival is the separation of Gaza from the West Bank. These hopes have been almost entirely consigned to oblivion, an atrocity to which we should not contribute by tacit consent. Israeli journalist Amira Hass, one of the leading specialists on Gaza, writes that
    “the restrictions on Palestinian movement that Israel introduced in January 1991 reversed a process that had been initiated in June 1967. Back then, and for the first time since 1948, a large portion of the Palestinian people again lived in the open territory of a single country -- to be sure, one that was occupied, but was nevertheless whole.… The total separation of the Gaza Strip from the West Bank is one of the greatest achievements of Israeli politics, whose overarching objective is to prevent a solution based on international decisions and understandings and instead dictate an arrangement based on Israel’s military superiority.…

    “Since January 1991, Israel has bureaucratically and logistically merely perfected the split and the separation: not only between Palestinians in the occupied territories and their brothers in Israel, but also between the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and those in the rest of the territories and between Gazans and West Bankers/Jerusalemites. Jews live in this same piece of land within a superior and separate system of privileges, laws, services, physical infrastructure and freedom of movement.”

    The leading academic specialist on Gaza, Harvard scholar Sara Roy, adds:
    “Gaza is an example of a society that has been deliberately reduced to a state of abject destitution, its once productive population transformed into one of aid-dependent paupers.… Gaza’s subjection began long before Israel’s recent war against it [December 2008]. The Israeli occupation — now largely forgotten or denied by the international community — has devastated Gaza’s economy and people, especially since 2006…. After Israel’s December [2008] assault, Gaza’s already compromised conditions have become virtually unlivable. Livelihoods, homes, and public infrastructure have been damaged or destroyed on a scale that even the Israel Defense Forces admitted was indefensible.

    “In Gaza today, there is no private sector to speak of and no industry. 80 percent of Gaza’s agricultural crops were destroyed and Israel continues to snipe at farmers attempting to plant and tend fields near the well-fenced and patrolled border. Most productive activity has been extinguished.… Today, 96 percent of Gaza’s population of 1.4 million is dependent on humanitarian aid for basic needs. According to the World Food Programme, the Gaza Strip requires a minimum of 400 trucks of food every day just to meet the basic nutritional needs of the population. Yet, despite a March [22, 2009] decision by the Israeli cabinet to lift all restrictions on foodstuffs entering Gaza, only 653 trucks of food and other supplies were allowed entry during the week of May 10, at best meeting 23 percent of required need. Israel now allows only 30 to 40 commercial items to enter Gaza compared to 4,000 approved products prior to June 2006.”

    It cannot be too often stressed that Israel had no credible pretext for its 2008–9 attack on Gaza, with full U.S. support and illegally using U.S. weapons. Near-universal opinion asserts the contrary, claiming that Israel was acting in self-defense. That is utterly unsustainable, in light of Israel’s flat rejection of peaceful means that were readily available, as Israel and its U.S. partner in crime knew very well. That aside, Israel’s siege of Gaza is itself an act of war, as Israel of all countries certainly recognizes, having repeatedly justified launching major wars on grounds of partial restrictions on its access to the outside world, though nothing remotely like what it has long imposed on Gaza.

    One crucial element of Israel’s criminal siege, little reported, is the naval blockade. Peter Beaumont reports from Gaza that, “on its coastal littoral, Gaza’s limitations are marked by a different fence where the bars are Israeli gunboats with their huge wakes, scurrying beyond the Palestinian fishing boats and preventing them from going outside a zone imposed by the warships.” According to reports from the scene, the naval siege has been tightened steadily since 2000. Fishing boats have been driven steadily out of Gaza’s territorial waters and toward the shore by Israeli gunboats, often violently without warning and with many casualties. As a result of these naval actions, Gaza’s fishing industry has virtually collapsed; fishing is impossible near shore because of the contamination caused by Israel’s regular attacks, including the destruction of power plants and sewage facilities.

    These Israeli naval attacks began shortly after the discovery by the BG (British Gas) Group of what appear to be quite sizeable natural gas fields in Gaza’s territorial waters. Industry journals report that Israel is already appropriating these Gazan resources for its own use, part of its commitment to shift its economy to natural gas. The standard industry source reports:
    “Israel’s finance ministry has given the Israel Electric Corp. (IEC) approval to purchase larger quantities of natural gas from BG than originally agreed upon, according to Israeli government sources [which] said the state-owned utility would be able to negotiate for as much as 1.5 billion cubic meters of natural gas from the Marine field located off the Mediterranean coast of the Palestinian controlled Gaza Strip.

    “Last year the Israeli government approved the purchase of 800 million cubic meters of gas from the field by the IEC…. Recently the Israeli government changed its policy and decided the state-owned utility could buy the entire quantity of gas from the Gaza Marine field. Previously the government had said the IEC could buy half the total amount and the remainder would be bought by private power producers.”

    The pillage of what could become a major source of income for Gaza is surely known to U.S. authorities. It is only reasonable to suppose that the intention to appropriate these limited resources, either by Israel alone or together with the collaborationist Palestinian Authority, is the motive for preventing Gazan fishing boats from entering Gaza’s territorial waters.

    There are some instructive precedents. In 1989, Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans signed a treaty with his Indonesian counterpart Ali Alatas granting Australia rights to the substantial oil reserves in “the Indonesian Province of East Timor.” The Indonesia-Australia Timor Gap Treaty, which offered not a crumb to the people whose oil was being stolen, “is the only legal agreement anywhere in the world that effectively recognises Indonesia’s right to rule East Timor,” the Australian press reported.

    Asked about his willingness to recognize the Indonesian conquest and to rob the sole resource of the conquered territory, which had been subjected to near-genocidal slaughter by the Indonesian invader with the strong support of Australia (along with the U.S., the U.K., and some others), Evans explained that “there is no binding legal obligation not to recognise the acquisition of territory that was acquired by force,” adding that “the world is a pretty unfair place, littered with examples of acquisition by force.”

    It should, then, be unproblematic for Israel to follow suit in Gaza.

    A few years later, Evans became the leading figure in the campaign to introduce the concept “responsibility to protect” -- known as R2P -- into international law. R2P is intended to establish an international obligation to protect populations from grave crimes. Evans is the author of a major book on the subject and was co-chair of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, which issued what is considered the basic document on R2P.

    In an article devoted to this “idealistic effort to establish a new humanitarian principle,” the London Economistfeatured Evans and his “bold but passionate claim on behalf of a three-word expression which (in quite large part thanks to his efforts) now belongs to the language of diplomacy: the ‘responsibility to protect.’” The article is accompanied by a picture of Evans with the caption “Evans: a lifelong passion to protect.” His hand is pressed to his forehead in despair over the difficulties faced by his idealistic effort. The journal chose not to run a different photo that circulates in Australia, depicting Evans and Alatas exuberantly clasping their hands together as they toast the Timor Gap Treaty that they had just signed.

    Though a “protected population” under international law, Gazans do not fall under the jurisdiction of the “responsibility to protect,” joining other unfortunates, in accord with the maxim of Thucydides -- that the strong do as they wish, and the weak suffer as they must -- which holds with its customary precision.

    Obama and the Settlements

    The kinds of restrictions on movement used to destroy Gaza have long been in force in the West Bank as well, less cruelly but with grim effects on life and the economy. The World Bank reports that Israel has established “a complex closure regime that restricts Palestinian access to large areas of the West Bank… The Palestinian economy has remained stagnant, largely because of the sharp downturn in Gaza and Israel’s continued restrictions on Palestinian trade and movement in the West Bank.”

    The World Bank “cited Israeli roadblocks and checkpoints hindering trade and travel, as well as restrictions on Palestinian building in the West Bank, where the Western-backed government of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas holds sway.” Israel does permit -- indeed encourage -- a privileged existence for elites in Ramallah and sometimes elsewhere, largely relying on European funding, a traditional feature of colonial and neocolonial practice.

    All of this constitutes what Israeli activist Jeff Halper calls a “matrix of control” to subdue the colonized population. These systematic programs over more than 40 years aim to establish Defense Minister Moshe Dayan’s recommendation to his colleagues shortly after Israel’s 1967 conquests that we must tell the Palestinians in the territories: “We have no solution, you shall continue to live like dogs, and whoever wishes may leave, and we will see where this process leads.”

    Turning to the second bone of contention, settlements, there is indeed a confrontation, but it is rather less dramatic than portrayed. Washington’s position was presented most strongly in Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s much-quoted statement rejecting “natural growth exceptions” to the policy opposing new settlements. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, along with President Shimon Peres and, in fact, virtually the whole Israeli political spectrum, insists on permitting “natural growth” within the areas that Israel intends to annex, complaining that the United States is backing down on George W. Bush’s authorization of such expansion within his “vision” of a Palestinian state.

    Senior Netanyahu cabinet members have gone further. Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz announced that “the current Israeli government will not accept in any way the freezing of legal settlement activity in Judea and Samaria.” The term “legal” in U.S.-Israeli parlance means “illegal, but authorized by the government of Israel with a wink from Washington.” In this usage, unauthorized outposts are termed “illegal,” though apart from the dictates of the powerful, they are no more illegal than the settlements granted to Israel under Bush’s “vision” and Obama’s scrupulous omission.

    The Obama-Clinton “hardball” formulation is not new. It repeats the wording of the Bush administration draft of the 2003 Road Map, which stipulates that in Phase I, “Israel freezes all settlement activity (including natural growth of settlements).” All sides formally accept the Road Map (modified to drop the phrase “natural growth”) -- consistently overlooking the fact that Israel, with U.S. support, at once added 14 “reservations” that render it inoperable.

    If Obama were at all serious about opposing settlement expansion, he could easily proceed with concrete measures by, for example, reducing U.S. aid by the amount devoted to this purpose. That would hardly be a radical or courageous move. The Bush I administration did so (reducing loan guarantees), but after the Oslo accord in 1993, President Clinton left calculations to the government of Israel. Unsurprisingly, there was “no change in the expenditures flowing to the settlements,” the Israeli press reported. “[Prime Minister] Rabin will continue not to dry out the settlements,” the report concludes. “And the Americans? They will understand.”

    Obama administration officials informed the press that the Bush I measures are “not under discussion,” and that pressures will be “largely symbolic.” In short, Obama understands, just as Clinton and Bush II did.

    American Visionaries

    At best, settlement expansion is a side issue, rather like the issue of “illegal outposts” -- namely those that the government of Israel has not authorized. Concentration on these issues diverts attention from the fact that there are no “legal outposts” and that it is the existing settlements that are the primary problem to be faced.

    The U.S. press reports that “a partial freeze has been in place for several years, but settlers have found ways around the strictures… [C]onstruction in the settlements has slowed but never stopped, continuing at an annual rate of about 1,500 to 2,000 units over the past three years. If building continues at the 2008 rate, the 46,500 units already approved will be completed in about 20 years.… If Israel built all the housing units already approved in the nation’s overall master plan for settlements, it would almost double the number of settler homes in the West Bank.” Peace Now, which monitors settlement activities, estimates further that the two largest settlements would double in size: Ariel and Ma’aleh Adumim, built mainly during the Oslo years in the salients that subdivide the West Bank into cantons.

    “Natural population growth” is largely a myth, Israel’s leading diplomatic correspondent, Akiva Eldar, points out, citing demographic studies by Colonel (res.) Shaul Arieli, deputy military secretary to former prime minister and incumbent defense minister Ehud Barak. Settlement growth consists largely of Israeli immigrants in violation of the Geneva Conventions, assisted with generous subsidies. Much of it is in direct violation of formal government decisions, but carried out with the authorization of the government, specifically Barak, considered a dove in the Israeli spectrum.

    Correspondent Jackson Diehl derides the “long-dormant Palestinian fantasy,” revived by President Abbas, “that the United States will simply force Israel to make critical concessions, whether or not its democratic government agrees.” He does not explain why refusal to participate in Israel’s illegal expansion -- which, if serious, would “force Israel to make critical concessions” -- would be improper interference in Israel’s democracy.

    Returning to reality, all of these discussions about settlement expansion evade the most crucial issue about settlements: what the United States and Israel have already established in the West Bank. The evasion tacitly concedes that the illegal settlement programs already in place are somehow acceptable (putting aside the Golan Heights, annexed in violation of Security Council orders) -- though the Bush “vision,” apparently accepted by Obama, moves from tacit to explicit support for these violations of law. What is in place already suffices to ensure that there can be no viable Palestinian self-determination. Hence, there is every indication that even on the unlikely assumption that “natural growth” will be ended, U.S.-Israeli rejectionism will persist, blocking the international consensus as before.

    Subsequently, Prime Minister Netanyahu declared a 10-month suspension of new construction, with many exemptions, and entirely excluding Greater Jerusalem, where expropriation in Arab areas and construction for Jewish settlers continues at a rapid pace. Hillary Clinton praised these “unprecedented” concessions on (illegal) construction, eliciting anger and ridicule in much of the world.

    It might be different if a legitimate “land swap” were under consideration, a solution approached at Taba and spelled out more fully in the Geneva Accord reached in informal high-level Israel-Palestine negotiations. The accord was presented in Geneva in October 2003, welcomed by much of the world, rejected by Israel, and ignored by the United States.

    Washington’s “Evenhandedness”

    Barack Obama’s June 4, 2009, Cairo address to the Muslim world kept pretty much to his well-honed “blank slate” style -- with little of substance, but presented in a personable manner that allows listeners to write on the slate what they want to hear. CNN captured its spirit in headlining a report “Obama Looks to Reach the Soul of the Muslim World.” Obama had announced the goals of his address in an interview with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. “‘We have a joke around the White House,’ the president said. ‘We’re just going to keep on telling the truth until it stops working and nowhere is truth-telling more important than the Middle East.’” The White House commitment is most welcome, but it is useful to see how it translates into practice.

    Obama admonished his audience that it is easy to “point fingers… but if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: the only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.”

    Turning from Obama-Friedman Truth to truth, there is a third side, with a decisive role throughout: the United States. But that participant in the conflict Obama omitted. The omission is understood to be normal and appropriate, hence unmentioned: Friedman’s column is headlined “Obama Speech Aimed at Both Arabs and Israelis.” The front-page Wall Street Journal report on Obama’s speech appears under the heading “Obama Chides Israel, Arabs in His Overture to Muslims.” Other reports are the same.

    The convention is understandable on the doctrinal principle that though the U.S. government sometimes makes mistakes, its intentions are by definition benign, even noble. In the world of attractive imagery, Washington has always sought desperately to be an honest broker, yearning to advance peace and justice. The doctrine trumps truth, of which there is little hint in the speech or the mainstream coverage of it.

    Obama once again echoed Bush’s “vision” of two states, without saying what he meant by the phrase “Palestinian state.” His intentions were clarified not only by the crucial omissions already discussed, but also by his one explicit criticism of Israel: “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.” That is, Israel should live up to Phase I of the 2003 Road Map, rejected at once by Israel with tacit U.S. support, as noted -- though the truth is that Obama has ruled out even steps of the Bush I variety to withdraw from participation in these crimes.

    The operative words are “legitimacy” and “continued.” By omission, Obama indicates that he accepts Bush’s vision: the vast existing settlement and infrastructure projects are “legitimate,” thus ensuring that the phrase “Palestinian state” means “fried chicken.”

    Always even-handed, Obama also had an admonition for the Arab states: they “must recognize that the Arab Peace Initiative was an important beginning, but not the end of their responsibilities.” Plainly, however, it cannot be a meaningful “beginning” if Obama continues to reject its core principles: implementation of the international consensus. To do so, however, is evidently not Washington’s “responsibility” in Obama’s vision; no explanation given, no notice taken.

    On democracy, Obama said that “we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election” -- as in January 2006, when Washington picked the outcome with a vengeance, turning at once to severe punishment of the Palestinians because it did not like the outcome of a peaceful election, all with Obama’s apparent approval judging by his words before, and actions since, taking office.

    Obama politely refrained from comment about his host, President Mubarak, one of the most brutal dictators in the region, though he has had some illuminating words about him. As he was about to board a plane to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the two “moderate” Arab states, “Mr. Obama signaled that while he would mention American concerns about human rights in Egypt, he would not challenge Mr. Mubarak too sharply, because he is a ‘force for stability and good’ in the Middle East… Mr. Obama said he did not regard Mr. Mubarak as an authoritarian leader. ‘No, I tend not to use labels for folks,’ Mr. Obama said. The president noted that there had been criticism ‘of the manner in which politics operates in Egypt,’ but he also said that Mr. Mubarak had been ‘a stalwart ally, in many respects, to the United States.’”

    When a politician uses the word “folks,” we should brace ourselves for the deceit, or worse, that is coming. Outside of this context, there are “people,” or often “villains,” and using labels for them is highly meritorious. Obama is right, however, not to have used the word “authoritarian,” which is far too mild a label for his friend.

    Just as in the past, support for democracy, and for human rights as well, keeps to the pattern that scholarship has repeatedly discovered, correlating closely with strategic and economic objectives. There should be little difficulty in understanding why those whose eyes are not closed tight shut by rigid doctrine dismiss Obama’s yearning for human rights and democracy as a joke in bad taste.

    Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor emeritus in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is the author of numerous books, including the New York Times bestsellers Hegemony or Survival and Failed States. His newest book, Hopes and Prospects, is out this week from Haymarket Books.

    [Note: All material in this piece is sourced and footnoted in Noam Chomsky’s new book Hopes and Prospects.]

    Copyright 2010 Noam Chomsky