Why Obama’s Big Cash-In Matters

One of my little online entertainments this year has been to ask my social media network a question: “So, what’s Obama up to lately?”

I want to know, but I haven’t had the stomach to follow the man once he left the White House.

Truth be told, I burned out on Obama years ago.

I called him out as a corporate, neoliberal imperialist and a de facto white supremacist (as ironic as that might sound given his technical blackness) from the beginning of the nationwide “Obamas” phenomenon in the summer of 2004.

Empire’s New Clothes

From 2006 through 2011, I dedicated inordinate research and writing to the “BaRockstar.” Prior to his 2009 inauguration (an event I found likely once George W. Bush defeated John F. Kerry in 2004), I tried to warn progressives (and anyone else who would listen) about Obama’s coming presidential service to the rich and powerful, their global empire and the white majority’s desire to deny the continuing power of anti-black racism in the United States. I collected my warnings in a 2008 book that bore the deceptively neutral title “Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics.”

I continued to follow Obama closely. In 2010, my next book, “The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power,” detailed his dutiful fealty to the nation’s “deep state” masters of capital and empire (and to white majority opinion on race) during his first year in the White House. This volume exhaustively refuted partisan Democrats who insisted that Obama really wanted to do progressive things but was prevented from that by a Republican Congress. It was a nonsensical claim. Year One Obama had just won the presidency with a great voter mandate for progressive change and had a Democratic Congress. He could have steered well to the wide left of his corporate-center-right trajectory if he’d wanted. But he didn’t want to, consistent with Adolph Reed Jr.’s dead-on description of Obama after the future president first won elected office in Illinois:

In Chicago, for instance, we’ve gotten a foretaste of the new breed of foundation-hatched black communitarian voices; one of them, a smooth Harvard lawyer with impeccable do-good credentials and vacuous-to-repressive neoliberal politics, has won a state senate seat on a base mainly in the liberal foundation and development worlds. His fundamentally bootstrap line was softened by a patina of the rhetoric of authentic community, talk about meeting in kitchens, small-scale solutions to social problems, and the predictable elevation of process over program—the point where identity politics converges with old-fashioned middle-class reform in favoring form over substance.

By acting in accord with Reed’s retrospectively haunting early description, the “deeply conservative” President Obama ironically helped create the very Republican “Tea Party” Congress his loyal liberal defenders were then able to cite as the excuse for his right-wing policymaking. Governing progressively in 2009 and 2010 would have been good politics for the Democrats. It might well have pre-empted the “Teapublican” victories of 2010.

You’ve Got to Meet Real Socialists

But that’s not what “Wall Street Barry” was about. He was a Hamilton Project, Robert Rubin-sponsored actor who never would have gotten the elite backing he needed to prevail had he been the peoples’ champion so many voters dreamed him to be.

Obama set new Wall Street election fundraising records for a reason in 2008. “It’s not always clear what Obama’s financial backers want,” Ken Silverstein noted in a fall 2006 Harper’s Magazine report titled “Obama, Inc.,” “but it seems safe to conclude that his campaign contributors are not interested merely in clean government and political reform. … On condition of anonymity, one Washington lobbyist I spoke with was willing to point out the obvious: that big donors would not be helping out Obama if they didn’t see him as a ‘player.’ The lobbyist added: ‘What’s the dollar value of a starry-eyed idealist?’ ”

After his 2012 re-election, Obama spoke at The Wall Street Journal CEO Council. “When you go to other countries,” Obama told the corporate chieftains, “the political divisions are so much more stark and wider. Here in America, the difference between Democrats and Republicans—we’re fighting inside the 40-yard lines. … People call me a socialist sometimes. But no, you’ve got to meet real socialists. [Laughter.] I’m talking about lowering the corporate tax rate. My health care reform is based on the private marketplace.”

It was what the socialist writer and activist Danny Katch called “a touching ruling class moment.”

The warm feelings made good capitalist sense. Fully 95 percent of the nation’s new income went to the top 1 percent during Obama’s first term. Obama won his second term partly by appropriating populist rhetoric from an Occupy Wall Street movement he’d helped dismantle with infiltration and force in the fall and winter of 2011. He did this after keeping Wall Street so comfortably bailed out and restored that plutocracy could reach the point where the top U.S. thousandth owned more wealth than the bottom U.S. 90 percent.

Obama Burnout

Documenting Obama’s predictable and predicted (by me and others on the officially marginalized left) betrayal of his “progressive base” was unpleasant and tiring work. The 44th president was an Energizer Bunny when it came to advancing the wolfish agenda of the rich, white and imperial in fake progressive sheep’s clothing.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner was way into wielding the American empire’s maiming and killing machine in Africa and the Middle East. His not-so-precisely targeted assassination drone program became what Noam Chomsky would aptly describe as “the most extreme terrorist campaign of modern times.”

“Turns out I’m pretty good at killing people,” Obama once joked to his White House staff.

Funny guy.

It became nauseating history to closely track. I started to feel like the Martin Sheen character (Capt. Willard) after too much exposure to the sociopath Col. Kurtz (Marlon Brando) in the movie “Apocalypse Now.” I had to step back.

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

So it is with a certain unmistakable tone of bemused cynicism that I ask my online correspondents: “What’s Obama up to now?”

The answers have been darkly amusing.

Post-presidential “O” has been spotted kiteboarding in the Caribbean with Richard Branson, the British billionaire airline mogul, who is leading the charge for the privatization of the United Kingdom’s National Health Service.

Ex-prez “O” has been seen boating in the Pacific with Oprah Winfrey, Tom Hanks and Bruce Springsteen on a $300 million luxury yacht owned by recording mogul billionaire David Geffen.

Before that we learned that the Obamas reached an eight-figure publishing deal ($65 million) for his-and-her memoirs on their years in the White House.

And then we learned that Obama will speak for $400,000 at a Wall Street health care conference in September, hosted by Cantor Fitzgerald, L.P.

Nothing says “show me the money” like POTUS on your resume. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose bust sat behind Obama in the Oval Office, would not be pleased. The great civil rights leader and democratic socialist sternly refused to cash in on his fame.

The Times Disheartened, Bernie Disappointed

The New York Times editorial board felt compelled to criticize the coming Wall Street speech. On Monday, the Times’ editors opined:

It is disheartening that a man whose historic candidacy was premised on a moral examination of politics now joins almost every modern president in cashing in. And it shows surprising tone deafness, more likely to be expected from the billionaires the Obamas have vacationed with these past months than from a president keenly attuned to the worries and resentments of the 99 percent. … It’s the example he set that makes it jarring to see him conform to a lamentable post-presidential model created fairly recently, in historical terms.

The editors offer a limited and naïve critique. They are happy with the Obamas’ book deal, which dwarfs the speaking fee. They overlook the fact that Obama’s candidacy was premised on a quiet, behind-the-scenes promise to serve wealthy benefactors.

Obama was/is “keenly attuned to the worries and resentments of the 99 percent.” Really? He was so attuned that he:

● Bailed out the 1 percent with no questions asked, with no financial transactions tax advanced, after they crashed the national and global economy with their reckless selfishness.

● Made zero efforts to re-legalize union organizing (his campaign promise to push the Employee Free Choice Act was kicked to the curb from Day One).

● Passed a Republican health insurance reform (minus even a limited public option) that only the big insurance companies could love.

● Advanced a Grand Bargain that went beyond what the Republicans asked for when it came to assaulting Social Security and Medicare during the 2011 debt-ceiling crisis.

● Failed to prevent his Department of Homeland Security from joining with Democratic-run cities across the U.S. to in crushing the Occupy Movement (which coined the slogan “We are the 99 percent”) through brute force.

● Spent much of his second term trumpeting the darkly authoritarian and secretive, arch-global corporatist Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Do the Times’ editors recall presidential candidate Obama’s April 2008 description of Midwestern rural and working-class people as folks who “cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations”?

Bernie Sanders felt also compelled to speak out against Obama’s coming high-priced speaking date. He probably didn’t have much choice given that he built much of his primary campaign around criticism of Hillary Clinton’s big-money Wall Street speeches. “I think at a time when people are so frustrated with the power of Wall Street and the big-money interests,” Sanders told “CBS This Morning” on Friday, “it is unfortunate that President Obama is doing this. Wall Street has incredible power, and I would have hoped that the president would not have given a speech like this.”

That was a silly thing for which to hope, given Obama’s track record. Obama’s big cash-in is more evidence that he is precisely who some of us on the left said he was from the beginning.

The Ultimate Owner of the Deep State

None of Obama’s post-White House indulgence in the means and culture of hyper-affluence is surprising or shocking to anyone who has followed his history and career—or, more importantly, to anyone who has paid attention to the many methods by which the moneyed elite controls U.S. politics and policy. Offering politicos big paydays after they’ve spent years working at moderate taxpayer-ceilinged salaries in not-so “public service” is a significant way in which the finance-led corporate sector get what it wants from government.

As Mike Lofgren noted in his widely read book “The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government”: “Wall Street may be the ultimate owner of the Deep State and its strategies, if for no other reason than it has the money to reward government operatives with a second career beyond what is lucrative beyond the dreams of avarice—certainly beyond the dreams of a government salaryman” [emphasis added].

Smart “public” officials who want to live super-comfortably after stints on the government side of the great state-capitalist revolving door know better than to antagonize the ruling class that lives behind the marionette theater of electoral and parliamentary politics in the “visible state.”

Make That Money, Obama

What is just as troubling, if not more disturbing, is the readiness of many “liberal” Democrats to defend Obama’s right to cash in on his eight years serving the nation’s unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money and empire. “Who cares if Obama gets really rich now?” the line goes. “He worked his butt off. They all do it. Why shouldn’t he? Why should a black former president not cash in? White ones all do. You’re just jealous, and maybe a little racist, too. There’s lots of rich people, including lots of rich former elected officials. If Bill Clinton and Republican pigs like Newt Gingrich can do it, then why shouldn’t Barack Obama?”

The New York Times’ editors are right, of course, to note that “since Gerald Ford enriched himself with speaking fees and board memberships after leaving office, every former president but Jimmy Carter has supped often at the corporate table.”

These sorts of rationales for the Great Obama Cash-In are ubiquitous on “social media” and the comments sections attached to news reports on Obama’s forthcoming speaking fee. You can find them in the published and broadcast commentaries of established media pundits and talking heads. Check out this rant by Trevor Noah on “The Daily Show,” in which Noah elicits liberal laughter with these snarky and venal reflections:

“I agree the system must change, but it doesn’t change with Obama, all right? People are, like, why doesn’t he not accept the money? No, f—k that! No. No. [Cheers.] I’m sorry. The first black president must be the first one to not take money off us? No, no, no, my friend. He can’t be the first of everything. F—k [bleep] that and f—k [bleep] you. Yeah, I said it.” [Cheers and applause.]

“No! Make that money, Obama. Make that money. ‘But Obama should know better!’ What about the Clintons? ‘Yeah, well, the Clintons, it’s already done.’ Well, let him already ‘done it’ as well and you guys can start [bleep] the first white president to not take the money. [Bleep] you. Obama, make that money. Make that money.” [Applause.]

No Racial Double Standard

Where to begin in responding to such excuse-making? It is futile, I suppose, to deny that one wants to live a life of fabulous wealth. If you are a lefty, you probably don’t aspire to opulence, but good luck trying to tell many Americans otherwise. They’ve been indoctrinated to believe that the pursuit of riches is “human nature” (something that raises the question of what species we should assign to such historical persons as Gandhi, King and Marx).

The racism charge falsely assumes that one only opposes cashing in when it comes to a black politician. Any decent progressive is concerned about corporate and financial corruption as a problem in and of itself. The relevant color here is green, green as in money. I don’t care what color a “democratically elected” president is. I want him “working his butt off” for we the people, not the already super-rich and powerful.

I do not support the killing of unarmed inner-city youth by white police officers if I oppose the killing of unarmed inner-city youth by black police officers. I do not support a white congressman’s call for confrontation with Russia if I oppose a black congresswoman’s concurrence with that call. I do not support the paying of outrageous speaking fees by financial institutions to the technically white Bill and/or Hillary Clinton if I happen to oppose the paying of outrageous speaking fees to the technically black Barack Obama by the same institutions.

I oppose police killings of unarmed youth, OK? I oppose the corruption of politics and policy by the promise of obscene payouts to politicians and policymakers after they leave the public sector, all right? I oppose imperialism, get it?

Big money subversion of what’s left of American democracy is why it should matter to any decent liberal or progressive that a former president of any color is cashing in.

Bad Politics

It should matter on practical as well as moral grounds. Like the Clintons’ sellout, the Obamas’ big cash-in adventure is ammunition for the right-wing monsters in and atop the Republican Party these days. It adds dark empirical substance to the all-too-accurate charge that they, too, are an elitist, corporate-captive party. The story of Obama cashing in and playing around with the rich and famous is the perfect clickbait for right-wing, white nationalists at Breitbart News. It’s the perfect story for Fox News and right-wing talk radio in their efforts to keep the white working class on board with the arch-plutocratic GOP. This is what concerns the New York Times’ honchos the most. As the paper’s editors put it:

As the presidential election clarified so painfully, the traditional party of working people has lost touch with them. In a poll released last week, more than two-thirds of voters, including nearly half of Democrats themselves, said the Democratic Party is out of touch with the concerns of the American people. For the first time in memory, Democrats are seen as more out of touch with ordinary Americans than the party’s political opponents. There’s little doubt that Democratic leaders’ unseemly attachment to the party’s wealthiest donors contributed to that indictment.

Not that I’m in the business of advising the dismal Democrats, but getting behind Obama’s post-presidential book bonanza and Wall Street speaking windfalls is just dumb in partisan and electoral terms. That kind of selfish indulgence is no small part of why the radically regressive Republicans control all three branches of the federal government and most of the state governments in a nation that understandably hates the Republican Party.

Liberals are free to retort that Trump’s regressive tax plan is yet more proof that he is not the pro-working-class populist he claimed to be on the campaign trail but is instead the arch-plutocrat we on the left said he was.

Nobody with a clue on the left side of the spectrum thought that Trump’s populism wasn’t hypocritical. The problem is that so many liberals and progressives who should know better can’t see through the game as well when charismatic and silver-tongued Democrats like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama play it.

— source truthdig.com by Paul Street

How Much Does a Politician Cost?

A Groundbreaking Study Reveals the Influence of Money in Politics.

An ingenious new Roosevelt Institute study on the influence of money on politics begins with an incredible story about how the world actually works:

In the spring of 1987, Paul Volcker’s second term as chair of the Federal Reserve was running out. Volcker had first been appointed by Jimmy Carter in 1979, and was willing to stay for another four years if President Reagan asked. While Volcker had used high interest rates to engineer a crushing recession at the start of Reagan’s first term, he then allowed the economy to expand rapidly just in time to carry Reagan to a landslide reelection in 1984.

Yet Reagan wanted to replace him. Why?

The study’s authors, Thomas Ferguson, Paul Jorgensen, and Jie Chen, report that they learned the answer from a participant in the key White House meeting on Volcker’s fate.

The main opposition to reappointing Volcker came from Reagan’s treasury secretary James Baker. As the study puts it, Baker did not like Volcker’s “skepticism about financial deregulation,” specifically his opposition to attempts to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act.

Glass-Steagall, passed at the beginning of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency in the depths of the Great Depression, separated commercial and investment banking. Allowing banks to combine the two activities had created enormous conflicts of interests and incentivized manic recklessness that helped cause 1929’s financial Armageddon.

But banks had loathed Glass-Steagall ever since, because the fewer economy-destroying risks they could take, the lower their profits. By 1987 they were making progress in their long war to push Congress to repeal it. And while Fed chairs of course can’t vote themselves, many politicians take their cues from them on complex financial issues.

According to the Roosevelt study, that was why Volcker had to go:


was startlingly direct: Possible repeal of Glass-Steagall was the signature issue used by investment bankers, led by then-Goldman Sachs executive Robert Rubin, to raise money for the Democratic Party from their cohorts on Wall Street. Getting rid of Glass-Steagall, Baker explained, would alter the balance of power between the two major parties by depriving the Democrats of a central revenue stream.

So Volcker was replaced by Alan Greenspan, who gleefully supported the elimination of Glass-Steagall in 1999 — as did Robert Rubin, who became treasury secretary under Bill Clinton. Coincidentally or not, within a decade Wall Street had inflated the biggest bubble in world history in an attempt at mass suicide, saved only by trillions of dollars of government support. They were too big to fail, while millions of regular Americans turned out to be just the right size to fail.

As horrifying as this tale is, few normal people would be surprised by any of it. A 2015 New York Times poll found that 87 percent of Americans believe the campaign finance system either needs “fundamental changes” or should be “completely rebuilt.” Politicians themselves will tell you that their world is ruled by money. And the super-wealthy obviously believe money translates into power, since they continue pouring it into politics.

Strangely, almost the only human beings who think that money doesn’t warp politics are academic political scientists who study it. The Roosevelt study quotes a previous paper summarizing the “scholarly consensus” as being that “candidate spending has very modest to negligible causal effects on candidate vote shares.”

The Roosevelt authors go to extraordinary lengths to demonstrate to their colleagues that the sky is, in fact, blue. The study uses all the tools of academic scholarship in impressively creative ways, and will convince anyone who can be convinced by rationality and evidence.

First of all, the study explains, “exceptions, additions, and loopholes have proliferated around the rules governing legal contributions and expenditures. Congress has many times enacted rules that appeared to close off gushing torrents of money while in fact opening new ones.” The system is now “worthy of Gogol: a maze of bureaucratic spending and expenditures” that are exceedingly difficult to track.

The Roosevelt authors went to the effort of capturing as much of it as possible — and found that academic examinations of this subject miss as much as 50 percent of the money being spent on elections.

It’s also tough to legitimately measure how money could translate into congressional votes. Legislation often is thwarted by small numbers of politicians in committees, too few to create a good data set. In the Senate, few votes are ever taken, with most of the action going on beneath the surface. And there’s a continuous churn of elected officials, making it hard to find an inflection point in the decisions of any one individual.

The Roosevelt study therefore focuses on an issue where politicians were repeatedly forced to go on the record — House votes on the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill — and Democratic representatives who were representing the same district over several terms and would seemingly have little reason to change their minds.

Dodd-Frank was passed in 2010. After the GOP took control of the House in the midterm elections that year, representatives voted five times from 2013 to 2015 to weaken key provisions of the law in ways that big banks desperately desired.

There would be no discernible legitimate reason for Democratic representatives who’d supported Dodd-Frank to begin with to later defect from their party and vote along with Wall Street. Many did, however.

Why? Well, no one can say what was in their hearts, at least until we hear from someone like James Baker. But what the Roosevelt study demonstrates is that “for every $100,000 that Democratic representatives received from finance, the odds they would break with their party’s majority support for the Dodd-Frank legislation increased by 13.9 percent. Democratic representatives who voted in favor of finance often received $200,000-$300,000 from that sector, which raised the odds of switching by 25-40 percent.”

Intriguingly, Democratic representatives leaving the House after the 2014 elections were particularly likely to support Wall Street against Dodd-Frank. In an interview, Ferguson characterized their votes as “applications for employment.”

The study also looks at any connections between money from the telecom industry and a crucial 2006 House vote on net neutrality. For every $1,000 a representative received from corporations supporting net neutrality, like Google or Netflix, they were 24 percent more likely to vote for it. For every $1,000 from companies opposing it, they were 2.6 percent more likely to vote against.

For most people, the Roosevelt study — which is genuinely fascinating and, unusually for an academic paper, worth reading just for the quality of its writing — will confirm what they already sensed. Ferguson said he hopes it will also help “end the discussion” in academia on whether money matters in politics.

But while it should do that in a rational world, this is likely over-optimistic. Consider the fact that, no matter what the real world evidence has shown, academic economists continue pumping out studies about the desperate importance of cutting the taxes of billionaires. H.L. Menken explained that phenomenon almost 100 years ago:

To what extent is political economy, as professors expound and practice it, a free science, in the sense that mathematics and physiology are free sciences?

… When one comes to the faculty of political economy one finds that freedom as plainly conditioned, though perhaps not as openly, as in the faculty of theology. And for a plain reason. Political economy, so to speak, hits the employers of the professors where they live. It deals, not with ideas that affect those employers only occasionally or only indirectly or only as ideas, but with ideas that have an imminent and continuous influence upon their personal welfare and security, and that affect profoundly the very foundations of that social and economic structure upon which their whole existence is based. It is, in brief, the science of the ways and means whereby they have come to such estate, and maintain themselves in such estate, that they are able to hire and boss professors.

Likewise, those who hire and boss professors of political science love to hear that money makes no difference in politics. And no matter how hard academics like Ferguson, Jorgensen, and Chen work, and how much real world evidence they pile up, many other professors will likely continue making that case indefinitely.

— source theintercept.com by Jon Schwarz

The Empire Expands

Not the American One, But Trump’s

President Trump, his children and their spouses, aren’t just using the Oval Office to augment their political legacy or secure future riches. Okay, they certainly are doing that, but that’s not the most useful way to think about what’s happening at the moment. Everything will make more sense if you reimagine the White House as simply the newest branch of the Trump family business empire, its latest outpost.

It turns out that the voters who cast their ballots for Donald Trump, the patriarch, got a package deal for his whole clan. That would include, of course, first daughter Ivanka who, along with her husband, Jared Kushner, is now a key political adviser to the president of the United States. Both now have offices in the White House close to him. They have multiple security clearances, access to high-level leaders whenever they visit the Oval Office or Mar-a-Lago, and the perfect formula for the sort of brand-enhancement that now seems to come with such eminence. President Trump may have an exceedingly “flexible” attitude toward policymaking generally, but in one area count on him to be stalwart and immobile: his urge to run the White House like a business, a family business.

The ways that Jared, “senior adviser to the president,” and Ivanka, “assistant to the president,” have already benefited from their links to “Dad” in the first 100 days of his presidency stagger the imagination. Ivanka’s company, for instance, won three new trademarks for its products from China on the very day she dined with President Xi Jinping at her father’s Palm Beach club.

In a similar fashion, thanks to her chance to socialize with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, her company could be better positioned for deal negotiations in his country. One of those perks of family power includes nearing a licensing agreement with Japanese apparel giant Sanei International, whose parent company’s largest stakeholder is the Development Bank of Japan — an entity owned by the Japanese government. We are supposed to buy the notion that the concurrent private viewing of Ivanka’s products in Tokyo was a coincidence of the scheduling fairy. Yet since her father became president, you won’t be surprised to learn that global sales of her merchandise have more or less gone through the roof.

Here’s where things get tricky. We can’t pinpoint the exact gains generated from any one meeting of the next generation Trump. They rely on the idea that, because their brand was so huge to begin with, profits and deals would have come anyway. That’s why we won’t ever see their books or tax returns.

Conflicts of interest? They now permeate the halls of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but none of this will affect or change one thing President Trump holds dear — and believe it or not, it’s not the wishes of his base in the American heartland. It’s advancing his flesh and blood, and their flesh-and-blood-once-removed spouses and relatives.

Federal Regulations and Trump Family Interpretations

The Trumps and Kushners will behave in ways that will benefit their global businesses. There’s just one catch. They have to get away with it, legally speaking. So the first law of family business in the Oval Office turns out to be: get stellar legal counsel. And they’ve done that. Their lawyers have by now successfully created trusts that theoretically — but only theoretically — separate Ivanka from her businesses and deflect any accusations over activities that may, now or in the future, violate federal rules. And there are two of those in particular to consider.

The Code of Federal Regulations is a set of rules published by the executive departments and agencies of the government. Title 18 section 208 of that code deals with “acts affecting a personal financial interest.” This criminal conflict of interest statute states “an officer or employee of the executive branch of the United States Government” can’t have a “financial interest” in the result of their duties. What that should mean, legally speaking, for a family occupying the executive office is: Ivanka could not have dinner with the president of China while her business was applying for and receiving provisional approval of pending trademarks from his country, if one of those acts might impact the other. To an outsider, the connection between those acts seems obvious enough and it’s bound to be typical of what’s to come.

Meanwhile, there are real penalties for being convicted of violating this rule. These include fines or imprisonment or both as set forth in section 216 of Title 18.

Certain lawyers have argued that Ivanka’s and Jared’s appointments don’t violate Rule 208 or other nepotism statutes because they are not paid advisers to the president. In other words, because Ivanka doesn’t get a salary for her service to her… uh, country… conflicts automatically vanish. She’s already done her Trumptilian best to demonstrate her affinity for ethical behavior by cordoning herself off from her business responsibilities (sort of). According to the New York Times, “Ivanka has transferred her brand’s assets into a trust overseen by her brother-in-law, Josh Kushner, and sister-in-law, Nicole Meyer.” Phew, no family connections there! Or maybe she just doesn’t care for her siblings-in-law.

But not all assets, it turns out, are created equal. So the daughter-in-chief will, it seems, keep her stake in the Trump International Hotel, a 15-minute stroll from the White House, which just happens to boast “the Ivanka Trump Suite” and “The Spa by Ivanka Trump.” (“The Spa by Ivanka Trump™ and Fitness Center transitions guests from the Technogym setting of the Fitness Center to the tranquil spa haven that is calming, balancing, purifying, revitalizing, and healing…”) There, many a foreign diplomat or special interest mogul can “calm, energize, [and] restore” himself or herself, while angling for an “in” with the family. We don’t know precisely the nature of what the Trump family stands to gain from the hotel because its books aren’t made public, but it’s reasonable to assume that we’re not talking losses. Besides this other D.C. domain, Ivanka and Jared will remain the beneficiaries of their mutual business empires now valued at about three quarters of a billion dollars, according to White House ethics filings.

But wait. There’s an even more explicit rule against using public office (like, say, the White House) for private gain: Title 5 section 2635.702. On that subject, the section states that “an employee shall not use his public office for his own private gain, for the endorsement of any product, service, or enterprise, or for the private gain of friends, relatives, or persons with whom the employee is affiliated in a nongovernmental capacity.”

Okay, that’s wordy. And though the rule doesn’t apply to the president or vice president — we have Nelson Rockefeller to thank for that, but more on him later — for any other executive office position, the rule explains that “status as an employee is unaffected by pay or leave status.” That means that you can’t say someone is not an employee just because she isn’t drawing a paycheck, which means she isn’t, in fact, exempt just because she can’t show a W-2 form.

The second rule of family business is undoubtedly: control the means of enforcement. And President Trump just got his man onto the Supreme Court, so even if ethical charges rose to the highest court in the land, the family has at least a little insurance.

Bankers and Presidents: A Walk Through History

The idea of powerful bloodlines collaborating is nothing new in either business or politics. At the turn of the twentieth century, mogul families routinely intermarried to spawn yet more powerful and profitable business empires. And when it comes to Oval Office politics, American history is littered with multi-generational public servants with blood ties to presidents. Abraham Lincoln’s oldest son, Robert, a Republican, served as secretary of war in the administrations of Presidents James Garfield and Chester Arthur, and finally as U.S. minister to Great Britain during President Benjamin Harrison’s administration. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s son, John, became a decorated brigadier-general, served as assistant staff secretary in the White House while his father was in office and was later appointed ambassador to Belgium under President Richard Nixon (once his father’s vice-president). But neither of them inflated the coffers of the family business in the process.

Whether family business connections might influence prominent figures in the White House isn’t a subject new to the Trump era either. In 1974, when Gerald Ford, who took over the presidency after Richard Nixon’s impeachment, nominated Nelson Rockefeller to be his vice president, Nelson’s brother David ran the Chase Manhattan Bank (now JPMorgan Chase). Questions naturally arose about the notorious wealth and political reach of the Rockefeller family. Nelson, the grandson of oil magnate John D. Rockefeller, had even worked at the bank and had been on the boards of multiple oil companies.

That same year, the Department of Justice conveniently concluded that conflict of interest laws did not apply to the office of the vice president — but not before Democratic Senator Robert Byrd asked, “Can’t we at least agree… that the influence is there, that it is a tremendous influence, that it is more influence than any president or vice president ever had?” And yet, as fabulously wealthy and linked in as Nelson Rockefeller was, his situation doesn’t even compare to the family business tangle in the Trump White House.

There have been other family members than the Trumps and Jared Kushner in positions of significance in the White House. When, for instance, Woodrow Wilson fell gravely ill in 1919, his second wife, Edith, stepped in to act on his behalf, essentially running the government in a blanket of secrecy from his bedside. Her intention, however, was never to make hay with a family business, but to ensure that her husband’s policies prevailed. The two Bush presidents, with a business and banking legacy that snaked back a century, were elected, not handed power. And though Bill Clinton’s reign in the Oval Office enabled wife Hillary to garner enough public recognition (and banking connections) to successfully run for senator in New York State, become secretary of state under President Obama, and launch two ultimately unsuccessful presidential bids, the Clintons only became super-wealthy after Bill’s time in office. Though their charity foundation’s ties to foreign governments remain suspect, they never had a private business while Bill was in the White House.

What can’t be found in the historical record is someone’s child, wife, or relations holding court in the West Wing while expanding a family business, no less a network of them. The present situation, in other words, is unique in the annals of American history. Only 100 days into Donald Trump’s presidency, he already has something of the look of the authoritarian kleptocrats elsewhere on the planet who siphon state wealth into their own bank accounts and businesses.

And remember, the Trump empire is also the Kushner empire. Jared’s family business depends on global investors hailing from countries that just happen to be in his White House portfolio. He, for example, led the efforts to prepare for the state visit to Mar-a-Lago of the Chinese president (while the Kushner business was engaged in high-level talks with a major Chinese financial conglomerate). A Russian state-owned bank under U.S. sanctions whose chairman met with Jared in December referred to him as the head of Kushner Companies, though he was already visibly if not yet officially a Trump adviser.

He is similarly the administration’s point man for Middle East “peace,” even though his family has financial relationships with Israel. Meanwhile, in his role as head of the newly formed White House Office of American Innovation, the potential opportunities to fuse government and private business opportunities are likely to prove endless.

Nepotism on Parade

Faced with the dynasty-crushing possibility of selling his business or even placing it in a blind trust, Donald Trump chose instead to let his two older sons, Eric and Donald Jr., manage it. Talk about smoke and mirrors. While speaking with Forbes in March, Eric indicated that he would provide his father with updates on the Trump Organization “quarterly” — but who truly believes that father and sons won’t discuss the family empire far more frequently than that?

The family has already racked up a laundry list of global conflicts of interest that suggest ways in which the White House is likely to become a moneymaking vehicle for the Trump line. There’s Turkey, for instance, where the Trump Organization already has a substantial investment, and where President Trump recently called President Recip Tayyip Erdogan to congratulate him on his power-grabbing, anti-democratic victory in a disputed election to change the country’s constitution. Given Trump business interests globally, you could multiply that call by the world.

Meanwhile, Ivanka’s brand isn’t just doing business as usual, it’s killing it. Since 2017, according to the Associated Press, “global sales of Ivanka Trump merchandise have surged.” As a sign of that, the brand’s imports, mostly from China, have more than doubled over the previous year. As for her husband, he remained the CEO of Kushner Companies through January, only then abdicating his management role in that real-estate outfit and 58 other businesses, though remaining the sole primary beneficiary of most of the associated family trusts. His and Ivanka’s children are secondary beneficiaries. That means any policy decision he promotes could, for better or worse, affect the family business and it doesn’t take a genius to know which of those options he’s likely to choose.

Kleptocrats, Inc.

Despite an already mind-boggling set of existing conflicts of interest, ranging from business affiliations with oligarchs connected to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to the Secret Service and the Pentagon leasing space in Trump Tower (for at least $3 million per year), the Trump family business is now looking to the glorious, long haul. The family is already scouting for a second hotel in Washington. Trump has reportedly used nearly $500,000 from early campaign money raised for his own 2020 presidential bid to bolster the biz. It’s evidently been poured into “Trump-owned restaurants, hotels and golf clubs,” as well as rent at Trump Tower in New York City.

According to the latest polls, the majority of registered voters believe that the installation of Ivanka and Jared in the White House is inappropriate. But that could matter less to Donald Trump. Ask Stephen Bannon or Chris Christie what happens when Ivanka or Jared don’t like you. That’s the family version of mob-style power.

Ivanka noted in her book, The Trump Card: Playing to Win in Work and Life, that “in business, as in life, nothing is ever handed to you.” Except, of course, when your father is president and he hands you the keys to grow the family business on a silver platter.

Four decades ago, at a Senate hearing on his potential conflicts of interest, Vice President Rockefeller was asked, “Can you separate the interests of big business from the national interest when they differ?” It’s a question some senator should pose to Ivanka and Jared, replacing “big business” with “big family business.”

Making the future yet murkier, the family may be on the precipice of major problems. The most striking of them: Kushner’s marquee building, 666 Fifth Ave (an 80-story, ultra-luxury Manhattan skyscraper) has a greater than 25% vacancy rate. It hasn’t made enough money to even cover its interest payments for several years, and in two years it will have to pay principal as well on its $1.2 billion mortgage. That’s going to hurt if foreign companies don’t step in to staunch the flow of dollars out of the firm and that, undoubtedly, could require a quid pro quo or two.

In our era, it’s no secret that presidents leave office with the promise of quickly growing exponentially wealthier. But for the first family to gain such wealth while still in the White House would be a first. Yet the process that could make that possible already seems to be well underway. All this, as Donald Trump, his children, and his son-in-law continue to carve out an unprecedented role for themselves as America’s business-managers-in-chief, presiding not so much over the country as over their own expanding imperial domains.

— source tomdispatch.com by Nomi Prins

Fascist America came out of shadow

Henry Giroux

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.

Monday night kicked off the Republican Convention in Cleveland. The theme of the evening was Make America Safe Again, and how will Donald Trump and his allies accomplish this. Well, according to our next clip, Americans live in fear. And here’s Rudy Giuliani.

RUDY GIULIANI: They fear for their children. They fear for themselves. They fear for our police officers who are being targeted with a target on their back. It’s time to make America safe again. It’s time to make America one again. One America. What happened, what happened to, what happened to there’s no black America, there’s no white America, there is just America? What happened to it? Where did it go? How has it flown away?

JAY: The symbol of, the spokesperson at the convention for American policing and how this safety will be regained, and how to regain the America Giuliani is talking about was Sheriff David Clarke, sheriff of Milwaukee County. Here’s what he had to say.

DAVID CLARKE: What we witnessed in Ferguson, in Baltimore, and Baton Rouge was a collapse of the social order. So many of the actions of the Occupy movement and Black Lives Matter transcends peaceful protest and violates the code of conduct we rely on. I call it anarchy.

JAY: People live in fear. We’re on the edge of anarchy. Sounds like the language from the late 1940s and early 1950s during McCarthyism and the House Un-American Activities Committee. Then it was I was a communist for the FBI, that was on television. We were all living in fear every day the world was going to explode, and we needed the American military. Now the country is about to unravel and we need a strong police force and a stronger social order.

Now joining us to talk about the Republican Convention, the candidacy of Donald Trump, and whether or not this represents a form of neofascism in the United States is Henry Giroux. Henry joins us from Hamilton, Ontario, where he’s a professor of scholarship in the public interest at McMaster University, and his most recent book, Disposable Futures: The Seduction of Violence in the Age of Spectacle, and his new book about to come out, America at War with Itself. He’s also a regular contributor at Truthout. Thanks very much for joining us, Henry.

HENRY GIROUX: It’s a pleasure, Paul, to be here.

JAY: So there’s a real debate going on amongst much of America. Certainly progressive, liberal America, about whether or not Trump and his candidacy, first of all, does it represent a form of neofascism? And then second of all, this issue of greater and lesser evil vis-a-vis Trump and Clinton. Let’s start with part one of this debate, which is is this a form of neofascism? Or is this kind of a maverick, big personality, right populist who actually kind of speaks in some ways to some of the economic concerns of the American working class?

GIROUX: I think it’s very difficult to simply see Trump as some sort of eccentric populist who sort of came out of nowhere, who was able to identify so many concerns that a number of Americans have about being left out of a system that basically celebrates everything that the financial elite finds rewarding.

I mean, I think the forces at work that have created Trump have been sort of building for a long time. And I think it is a form of neofascism I would call a new form of American authoritarianism. I mean, it mimics many of the things that we saw in the ’30s and ’40s, what we saw in Argentina, now the call to make America great again, the notion that shared fears are more important than shared responsibilities, the assumption that there are people both in the United States and abroad who represent some kind of common enemy, whether they’re Muslims, whether they’re the black lives movement, whether they’re protesters, whether they’re young people, whether they’re immigrants. I mean, this is a very decisive, dangerous language.

What does it mean to have a candidate who basically celebrates war crimes? What does it mean to have a candidate who refuses to speak to the fact that much of his following, an increasing number of his followers, are white nationalists and neonazis? It’s pretty hard to simply suggest that Trump is simply an eccentric populist. I mean, I don’t buy that, and I think we need to look deep into the history of this country, whether we’re talking about its beginning right up until Reagan in the 1980s to recognize the forces at work. I mean, this is a system that radiates violence, and he’s become the most outspoken apologist for it.

JAY: The language that we just played in the clips, especially I thought from the Sheriff David Clarke, this is word-for-word out of Hitlerite language, the fear of anarchy. We must reinforce the social order. He had a fairly well-viraled article with a CNN host where he actually denied that blacks are targeted more often than whites are, either in being stopped by police officers [in] cars, and so on. You know, driving while black, as it’s called.

The out-and-out kind of lies that can be told, the out-and-out denial of basic evidence of what’s going on, they’ve been able through the various media, Fox and otherwise, a significant section of the American people, and apparently maybe half of American voters–although I think it’s important to always remind everyone that leaves out about 40 percent of people who don’t vote–but a significant amount of American people are so willing to believe this is somehow in their interest. And this tills the soil for a much more overt and barbaric form of hypercapitalism.

GIROUX: I think you’re absolutely right. I think you’ve hit on something that in many ways the left has seemed to ignore, and that is the crisis of politics, the crisis of agency, the crisis of history, the crisis of ethics, it’s not being matched by a process of ideas. I mean, we don’t realize the degree to which education has become central to politics itself in ways that speak to cultural apparatuses that dominate the mainstream media and other sources that are constantly producing what I call a disimagination machine, one in which evidence doesn’t matter, reason is simply ignored, evidence, again, is thrown out the window. Civic literacy is viewed as a liability, that it’s more important, basically, to be stupid than to think.

I mean, you know, Hannah Arendt had said something interesting. I mean, among other things. She said that thoughtlessness is the [instance] of fascism. And I think the right understands this, and I think the right uses the media as a giant pedagogical machine to constantly constantly reproduce lies to appeal to the basest instincts of the American public to distort history, to erase all those public spheres where actually matters of thoughtfulness and political dialog and engagement can actually take place.

I mean, it’s part of the reasons we see the attack on schools. Schools are not being attacked because they’re failing. They’re being attacked because they’re public. Because they represent a public sphere that offers a threat to the very thing that you’re talking about: this massive right-wing disimagination machine, whether we’re talking about the media, or whether we’re talking about conservative institutes, or whether we’re talking about the corporatization of eduction, or whether we’re talking about the Koch brothers and all these foundations. These people are engaged in a massive attempt to erase history, to erase memory, to basically live in the instant, in the moment. And in fact, it convinced people that the truth really is nothing more than an opinion.

JAY: And I think there’s another piece to this which we’re starting to see more revealed during this convention, which is the ideological tilling the soil for this kind of more overt authoritarianism and neofascism, is one very important piece. But if you actually look at the political alliances Trump is making, you can see how he might execute on these things. It was only just a few weeks ago that Sheldon Adelson, the far-right Likud, far-right Zionist supporter, pledged about $25 million to the Trump campaign. We can see that’s one set of alliances.

But the fact that he picks Pence as his vice president–Pence couldn’t be more pro-Likud and pro-right-wing Zionist than Adelson. I mean, Pence is in the same political camp. Pence is also very connected to the Koch brothers, so he’s now maybe made peace with the Koch brothers, who didn’t know whether to trust him in the first place. Now the Republican establishment see Pence as sort of their man in the game, there. And Pence’s biggest message in the 60 Minutes interview, sorry we don’t have the clip right now, but essentially on international affairs his fundamental message was the source of all international chaos, disturbance, and so on is the weakening of American power. And the solution was to increase American power. That’s part of making America great again.

And part of that is echoing the, again, Netanyahu’s railing against the agreement, Obam’as agreement with Iran. And this was espoused at the convention by Rudy Giuliani, again. So let’s–here’s a clip from Giuliani about how he thinks world affairs should be dealt with.

GIULIANI: To defeat Islamic extremist terrorists, we must put them on defense. If they are at war against us, which they have declared, we must commit ourselves to unconditional victory against them. This includes undoing one of the worst deals America ever made: Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran, that will eventually–that will eventually let them become a nuclear power, and is putting billions of dollars back into a country that’s the world’s largest supporter of terrorism. We are actually giving them the money to fund the terrorists who are killing us and our allies. We are giving them the money. Are we crazy?

JAY: The number of lies in that one short clip is somewhat astounding. Clearly, if there’s any one country that is funding terrorism that is coming to attack America it’s Saudi Arabia, not Iran. And it’s–anyone that knows anything about the region knows Iran is in fact kind of a balance against Saudi Arabia, and has actually allied with the United States, both in terms of fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, fighting terrorist tactics and extreme Islamic, Al-Qaeda-type forces in Iraq, and so on. And that the agreement with Iran is probably the only real significant foreign policy accomplishment that was any good under the Obama administration. But the fact that that gets conflated with Iran is the one financing the terrorists that are coming to attack America is ridiculous when anyone knows it’s the Saudis and to some extent the Qataris, and maybe Kuwait.

As well, the fundamental issue of unconditional war. What does unconditional war mean? It means what? Massive troops? It means carpet bombing? It means nuclear weapons? I mean, that seems to be what the definition of what unconditional war would mean. Hyperaggressive foreign policy talk. And even though–go ahead, Henry.

GIROUX: I think that what’s interesting here, and what you touched upon ultimately, is that we now live in a society in which politics is an extension of war. And I think that what it speaks to is a form of militarization that not only characterizes an obscene foreign policy, one in which has resulted, as we all know, in 1.2 million deaths as a result of, since 9/11, as a result of the wars that are being waged in Afghanistan and Iraq and Pakistan. But I think the other side of this is that when war–when politics becomes an extension of war, then the war comes home. I mean, the same kind of militarization that dominates that sort of mindset, the notion that violence is basically the ultimate form of mediation and is used to address almost every problem on both the foreign and domestic front, you begin to see the countours of fascism, neofascism, more clearly.

I mean, think about what that means at home. You have the rise of a punishing state. You have increasingly a number of institutions that have been modeled after prisons. You have the criminalization of social behavior. You have a country steeped in lawlessness. You have cities being turned into war zones, particularly those occupied by minorities of class and color. You have a police force that seems to act with impunity. And then you hear this discourse. And this discourse is one that is not only incredibly distorted, but it’s one that basically is saying that hey, look, state and domestic and foreign terrorism are really the sine qua non of how we’re going to define ourselves.

And I don’t think that that discourse is simply aimed at, you know, the right-wing populace who support Trump. I think it’s also a way of saying that everybody else, watch out. You should be fearful, because we’re going to use every instrument of warfare, every militarized instrument, every war technology, every mode of surveillance that we can to make sure that you understand that dissent in this America and that America is basically unpatriotic. You’re right. It does echo the ’50s. It does echo the 1930s. But it also echoes something else. It echoes what went on in Argentina, in Chile, when people started disappearing. This is a politics of disappearance. This is a politics the endpoint of which are concentration camps. This is the endpoint here, internment centers. This is the death of democracy. This is not basically a struggle over populism, right wing or whatever. This is a struggle for whether you want to live in a democracy or not.

JAY: The big lies in Giuliani’s speech are at the same scale–never mind of Hitler–but of Cheney and Bush when they say Saddam Hussein supported Al-Qaeda. When later even they had to admit it wasn’t true to some extent, they had to admit. But it was clearly, there was no support for Al-Qaeda. This defense of not talking about Saudi Arabia, the targeting of Iran, this is clearly the agenda of a Sheldon Adelson. This is Likud. This is switch-and-bait to talk about terrorism and then target Iran, which means that’s the kind of foreign policy that we’re likely to see under the, under a Trump presidency, and this is what he’s surrounding himself with.

GIROUX: I think, though, [Chomsky] is entirely right on this. I mean, the foreign policy that we’re going to see under a Trump presidency is one in which there is an enormous potential not only for massive wars all over the planet, but also for a nuclear holocaust. I mean, there are two–the two major threats, it seems to me, that the world faces, one is the possibility of a nuclear war, and secondly, of course, the environmental crisis. And I think that when I think of how stupid Trump is, when I think of the people he surrounds himself with, when I think of the bellicosity and the lies that informs almost everything that he does, and I think of a media that doesn’t hold him accountable, except for the alternative media, like your show. I mean, then it’s not surprisingly that questions of war and questions of injustice, the United States is a breeding ground for injustice and domestic terrorism.

This all becomes normalized. You know, it seems to exist in a kind of void that neoliberals had created and which they tend to believe that economic activity has no social cost. You don’t have to talk about its accountability. When accountability dies, lawlessness emerges. And I think that’s what we have here. We have a party of utter lawlessness, in its most abject, unapologetic form.

JAY: And the media treats these, this election coverage, as they have to have a kind of sort of balance. They can’t go too hard after Republicans or they’ll be seen as being partisan to the Democrats. This is–part of what’s underneath this, I’ve been pointing out in some of my stuff, recently, they earn about $6 billion a year in election advertising, and perhaps more in a year like this. So they have a very deep economic interest in creating this supposed sense of balance in this coverage.

But both of us in our writings have been pointing out that all of this Trump phenomena, this rise of neofascism, which is more than a Trump phenomena, it’s all enabled by eight years of Obama. And then you can throw in Bush, and you can certainly throw in Clinton, and so on. And back, as you say, at the beginning of this hyper-capitalism under Reagan, it’s this massive shift in wealth from ordinary working people to the very top percentile. That is what’s created the conditions for this rise.

So this puts progressives and people that want to oppose this neofascism into sort of a rock and a–between a rock and a hard place, because it’s precisely the Clintonesque-type forces, which includes Barack Obama, by the way they manage the capitalist crisis so in the favor of Wall Street and such, even if they might throw the odd crumb here and there to ordinary people, that helps create the conditions for all of this.

So we’re going to do a part two of this interview, and in that we’re going to talk about the enablers of neofascism, and where that leaves everybody in terms of what they’re going to do next. So please join us for part two with Henry Giroux on the Real News Network.

— source therealnews.com

PAUL JAY, TRNN: Welcome back to the Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.

We’re continuing our discussion with Henry Giroux, who joins us again from Hamilton, Ontario. He’s a Professor for Scholarship in the Public Interest of McMaster University, an author of his most recent book, Disposable Futures: The Seduction of Violence in the Age of Spectacle, and a new book about to come out, America at War with Itself. He’s a regular contributor at Truthout as well. Thanks for joining us again Henry.

HENRY GIROUX: It’s a pleasure to be here, Paul.

JAY: So in part one, we had a discussion about the rise of neofascism and whether or not Trump represents that, and whether that’s what’s on display at the Republican Convention. And we both came to the conclusion that it does and if you haven’t watched part one–if you’re watching live now, this, you’ll come down our website. You’ll see part one. I suggest you do watch part one because we’re going to kind of pick up where that left off.

In the first part we showed a clip from Rudy Giuliani and Sheriff David Clarke, calling for defense of the social order and everyone’s in fear. The worst kind of rhetoric we’ve heard since perhaps, well, I guess we heard it after 9/11, and we heard it during the McCarthy period. And of course what we need is a stronger police force and a stronger military. The big lies in Giuliani’s speech, especially about Saudi Arabia and Iran, and again I say, go watch part one.

So the ability of Trump and his allies to look in the camera and just outright lie–I quoted this thing in a piece I did recently which goes like this: “I reserve emotion for the many and reason for the few.” And that’s a quote from Adolf Hitler, and that’s clearly what we’re seeing on display in Cleveland. These guys know better.

Giuliani knows it’s not Iran funding this kind of terrorism. He knows it’s been the Saudis and Qataris, and maybe perhaps in some ways the Americans themselves. Certainly during the Afghan War, they did directly millions of dollars, perhaps billions went through Pakistan. to Afghanistan, which helped nurture Al-Qaeda and the Taliban and so on. And these guys know that history.

There was a small lie which everybody’s talking about, and while it seems kind of minor, I think it actually has a little more meaning to it. And that’s Trump’s wife Melania. Here’s a little clip from her speech Monday night.

MELANIA TRUMP: From a young age, my parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond, and you do what you say and keep your promise, that you treat people with respect. They taught and showed me values and morals in their daily lives. That is a lesson that I continue to pass along to our son. And we need to pass those lessons.

JAY: So I think everyone knows about this all for now. The language she used is almost word for word what Michelle Obama used at the Democratic Party Convention about her husband Barack Obama and everyone, it’s so obvious its direct plagiarism. Yet the Trump campaign this morning, Tuesday morning, denies that its plagiarism was lifted. As I say, it’s word for word. I’m sure everyone has seen the comparisons by now. I thought it was worth talking about, Henry, because it’s such an obvious lie, and yet they’ll probably get away with just saying it’s not. And their base of voters will simply move on and say blame it on the liberal media again.

GIROUX: I mean, what I find interesting about that example is that just one of many, as you’ve said many times, in which lying has become so normalized for Trump and his cohorts, that the question of reality, the question of argument, the question of evidence, the question of thoughtfulness, the question of in some way trying to engage reason at its best, has become utterly superfluous. I think that what this seems to suggest is that you have an administration that will create its own history by basically creating its own facts because they don’t care, and I think that what I find disturbing about that is that they don’t care because they can get away with it. That the media doesn’t hold them up in the way that it should. That people aren’t asking the hard questions.

I mean, what Trump buys into–and we all know this–is that celebrity culture confers authority and that you don’t have to take people seriously who are a part of that culture because we assume that they’re not serious in the first place. He’s now relegated that or elevated that assumption into a kind of central dimension of politics. And I think it’s very dangerous. I think when you give up on the enlightenment and you sort of suggest any form of thinking is an act of stupidity, then what that suggests in the long run on questions of policy or on questions of governance around questions of how identities are being shaped, it’s that the truth doesn’t matter. And basically what we’re going to do is we’re going to create a scenario where you’ll never hold us accountable because all the kind of things that make people comparable from evidence to serious arguments to important dialogue to matters of accountability now don’t matter anymore. Truly that’s the mark of a fascist regime.

JAY: And of course he can get away with this, and he’s likely to get away with–and he’s likely to get away with this, partly because he’s going to say, well, even if that’s true and maybe she did it, maybe a speechwriter did it, how does that compare with lying about these emails? And it’s very likely that the reason Hillary Clinton had this server is to avoid the Freedom of Information Act, which shows some intent at the very least to circumvent the law.

Maybe it wasn’t outright illegal, but who knows. But much bigger lies in terms of the defense of what happened in Libya–I mean, Trump might even go there, I don’t know. He certainly critiqued Clinton on Libya. Even though he himself, and this is where his own big lie is, at the time of the Libya intervention he called for American troops to invade Libya to overthrow Gaddafi.

So this supposed opposition of his to regime change in Libya is another big lie. But on the other hand, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama–but if we understand it correctly, Clinton was the sort of [impotence] here. They committed war crimes in Libya. Even if one accepts the UN resolution in defense of Benghazi, and a lot of people don’t, but even if you do, the overthrow of Gaddafi was a war crime because it was not authorized by the UN.

It was supposed to be simply defense of Benghazi. Clinton’s been involved in targeting Assad and helping create the conditions for the terrorism in Syria, and so on. She supports the Iraq War; I mean go on. Then the even bigger arching, overarching issue–and this is what I wanted to talk a bit more about in this segment–is the massive transfer of wealth from most ordinary working people to this tiny fraction.

People say 1 percent. It’s probably more like 10 percent. Even though most of it went to the 1 percent. This massive transfer of wealth, particularly during the time of the Obama administration, has helped create the conditions for all this. So the–how do you deal with this issue, Henry, of the enablers of this rise of neofascism? Because they–so many people’s lives have been ruined over the last decade and a half. And the phenomena itself of Trump?

GIROUX: I think that what you’re suggesting, and what I believe is actually quite true, is that Trump and the Democrats really represent two different elements of the same coin. I mean, what you have is a savage form of neoliberalism that now dominates most of the globe, in which questions of power and questions of justice are completely removed from any sense of accountability. And you have a system that basically consolidates in the interest of basically a financial lead. What you’re witnessing is kind of a class war with two different discourses. Two different modes of legitimacy.

One is very outright and very savage in its endorsement of the kind of [grudishness] and what we’d call the bleeding group for violence and injustice. And the other sort of takes, I think, a softer side. It doesn’t call for eliminating 12 million, 11 million Mexicans in the United States. But at the same time you have a president who has an assassination list. You have a candidate on your Democratic Party who’s basically a war monger. I mean, both of these positions share, it seems to me, in a political economic system that basically is injustice, it is brutal. And I think what we need to do is be able to understand what they have in common.

When we talk about the lying as you just did, it is very interesting where politics become unaccountable, people lie and they think that can get away from it. We see this both in the Republican and Democratic Party. Both are now parties of extremists because they’re basically governed by the financial we. We no longer have a sovereign state. We have an economic state. And I think that when economics drives politics, at one level you get the most rabid representations of that, of course in the Republican party, and then near the hand you get representations that try to downplay what it does in the name of democracy.

Trump doesn’t about democracy. He’s unapologetic about democracy. He doesn’t need it. He doesn’t want it. He doesn’t think it works. On the other hand, you have the Democratic Party that hides what it does in the false language of democracy. But they both share something in common. They both share in a system that is as savage as it is brutal. That produces enormous inequities. That has ruined the social state and has basically celebrated and expanded the punishing state. I don’t just talk about militarization. To me I’m more concerned about a society that it increasing criminalizes and militarizes all aspects of foreign and domestic policy and they both share in that.

JAY: They both share in being forms, political representation and alliances of sections of the elites, of the billionaires. They both–their, really, underlying economic policies not different. And most represent hyper-capitalism. They both represent defense of this sort of parasitical Wall Street. There is some difference, I believe, and they debate in the elite just how intense can the exploitation of American workers get?

I think that the Democrats have represented here represented over the last decades, even including Roosevelt in this about he represented a kind of more rational sector of the elites. But there’s a fight over how intense you can get and the–Reagan, I think, represents the coming to consciousness of a section of the elites that the working class is actually quite weak now. The Soviet Union is no longer a model anyone believes in. It’s starting to fall apart.

Globalization is taking off. You’re going to be able to play workers around the world against each other. You can up the ante on actually now targeting especially the upper echelons of the American working class so you don’t have to pay auto workers $26 to start. Now you can pay them $14 an hour, which is what came out of the Obama saving of the auto industry.

But there is still a difference here, and I think it’s an important one. The constituency of the far right, of the Trump Republican Party, and as we talk about in the first segment it’s a constituency of the American public willing to accept a level of kind of overt fascism. A rhetoric that would support rounding up Black Lives Matter and putting them all in jail and charging them with conspiracy for terrorism.

That’s certainly the language we’re hearing already. And from Sheriff David Clarke that speaks and others that directly try to connect the language of Black Lives Matter with the assassination of cops. Even though there’s not a shred of evidence of any of that, quite the contrary. Black Lives Matter made it clear that they have nothing to do and don’t support anything like that. You know we know that it wasn’t that long ago that the amendment to the NDAA, the act that authorizes the financing of the military, where there’s an amendment where the army itself could round people up and put them in detention camps.

In fact, again here’s the enablers of this sort of thing. Barack Obama signs off on that to even include US citizens. But this you can see this regime–if it’s a Trump regime surrounded by a David Clarke and Rudy Giuliani. I mean, these are the guys that would use that legislation to round people up. What I’m getting at is there is more danger here, and this language of greater evil and lesser evil, I think it’s a mistake to even frame it that way. It’s not a moral question and evil’s a moral category.

This is a strategic tactical question for people that are organizing to defend whatever democracy is left, and to try to move society forward to something new. That if these guys are in power there is going to be far less room to move. Because these are the guys that will make dissent illegal. The Clinton type forces, Obama type forces, they depend on a black folk. They depend on a Hispanic vote, they depend on educated voters, they depend on urban workers who don’t fall for this kind of stuff. So as long as there’s still electoral politics for the foreseeable future, there is. We don’t know how long that last. I actually think strategically it is better to have a Clintonesque presidency–I mean a Clinton, not -esque, a Clinton presidency. But be truthful with everybody what this all means.

GIROUX: I completely agree with you. I think that Trump is a real immediate danger to the planet and to human existence. And I think any vote for him is far more dangerous than, let’s say, a vote for Clinton. There were two things you could have recognized here. At one level, you’ve got a system where power is now separated from politics. The social contract is basically all but dead. Certainly on the extreme right. Meaning that power is global and politics is local. The people who now control the states, who control the nation states are basically global international organizations.

We’re talking about the IMF, the World Trade Organization. I think that in Clinton at least strategically there was an attempt to sort of waive the idea that Clinton give lip service to against the reality of the politics that she produces. That’s an opening. I think that in short term and long term strategies. I think you’ve pointed to this. One level on the short term, I think we have to put somebody in power at the moment that is not going to destroy the planet and end up putting everybody in a concentration camp or in a prison.

I mean that’s a real danger. To think that what he can do to the Supreme Court and to claim that Clinton is just as bad as she is because she’s a warmonger, I think is nonsense. I mean as bad as she is, she’s not Trump. She’s not the extreme right. But is she acceptable as a [carry on] for what it might mean to expand the possibilities of democracy? Absolutely not.

I think in the long run what we have to do is we have to organize people to basically participate in the short term in strategic kinds of elections. For instance, where school boards will not be turned over to the right. Or make sure that social provisions are being put into place that benefit the working class. But do everything we can do defend public schools. Do everything that we can do defend public goods.

But in the long run we need a third party. More when system is utterly corrupt. It’s going to be changed. But that doesn’t mean we simply drop out of the system entirely and turn it over to the lunatics and the warmongers. I think that’s completely [inaud.]. I don’t buy that left argument. I think that the left doesn’t sense the most immediate danger that we face with these fascists who are about to unfortunately potentially come to power.

JAY: Yeah, and I don’t think in doing that you need to create illusions about Clinton.

GIROUX: We don’t need to apologize for Clinton to recognize we’re in a state of crisis so severe that it’s unlike anything we’re facing in probably the history of this nation since the Civil War.

JAY: The critical thing we have to keep saying, it’s not about Hillary Clinton and it’s not about the Democratic Party. It’s about hyper-capitalism. It’s about how hyper-capitalism has become so parasitical that finance and the preponderance of the elites, they make more money out of this gambling casino capitalism, not very interested in what actually goes on in the economy. They’ve become so short sighted they’re such con men and snake oil salesmen as I was saying, that Trump is really a legitimate face of them. Whether even though they–I would say the majority of them trust Clinton to manage capitalism more than they trust Trump to do it–a couple of things I think are for sure.

One is either one of two things is going to happen over the long run, because we know there’s going to be another economic meltdown. There’s going to be another situation where there’s going to be a tremendous impetus to go to war. And we know about the coming climate disaster. And one of only two things are going to happen, which is the Democratic Party as representative of parasitical hyper-capitalism is either going to create the conditions for another Trump, or Trump himself, to come to power.

Or two, the Democratic party will give rise to their own Trump, and they’ll morph into this type of [huge] right populism and win over enough sections of society so that they can play that card. So in the longer run we better get organized independent of these elite parties and tell people all of this. But in the shorter run to say there’s no difference between a Trump and Clinton to ordinary people in terms of their ability to get organized, it’s an illusion. I mean just go think about organizing under the dictators we know about from Latin America to–you don’t even have to go to the extremes of Hitler. You can find much more modern examples.

GIROUX: Paul, you and I under Trump will be put in jail.

JAY: No doubt.

GIROUX: I think under Clinton we’ll be ignored. But it seems to me that there’s also another issue. There’s also the possibility that the Democratic Party basically will recognize in some ways that the demographics and the mobilizations that are taking place all over the country have to somehow be addressed. And that might make it a party that’s a little more–actually less parasitic than we’ve assumed that we’ve–and predatory that it might become. I don’t know.

I don’t know if they’ll embrace that New Deal sort of logic. But the Democratic Party, unlike the Republican Party of extremists, has to find ways to legitimate itself. That means that it has to somehow create ideologies that give the impression that it’s truly about furthering democracy rather than destroying it.

On the other hand, Trump doesn’t care about ideology. He doesn’t need an ideological justification for what he does, in ways that suggests he has something to do with democracy itself. He’s just simply saying hey, look, the country’s in crisis. I’m going to mobilize fear, I’m going to get rid of people who dissent, and I’m going to be a warmonger. And I’ll do everything that I can to make sure that financial class is happy. because basically they’re going to fund my campaign. And I think that as you say, the third way is to basically begin to mobilize people in ways that recognize that the real enemy here is not the Republican or Democratic Party.

The real enemy here is finance capital. The real enemy here is a savage form of neoliberalism that has–that breeds nothing but misery, intolerance, inequality, and massive degrees of human suffering. I mean, look, 70 thousand people die a year because of poverty. I mean, you have young people that have been completely written out of the script of democracy, burdened with debts. Sort of told that all the problems that they face, they’re responsible for. We’ve lost the ability to translate private issues into public concerns and we need to mobilize in ways in which matters of education become central to politics itself.

We need to convince people. The left needs to convince people that the problems that they’re talking about are problems that people can identify and recognize themselves in. That’s going to take a long time. That’s not going to happen tomorrow.

JAY: And what’s your take on what many people are turning to, the Green Party and Jill Stein’s candidacy?

GIROUX: I think the Green Party is one possibility. I think that we need a broader social movement. We need a movement that basically brings all factions of the left together. Those are the concerns of our economic domination. Those are the concerns about the theological domination. Those are the concerns about the environment. We need as you said, a broad-based social movement. And I think the Green Party’s fabulous and important. I don’t think its reaches lie enough. I don’t think that the banner under which it operates speaks to what I would call the emergence of the necessity for discourse for radical democracy.

JAY: Okay. Well, we’ll talk about that more another time, and perhaps we’ll get somebody from the Green Party on to discuss it. Thanks very much for joining us, Henry.

— source therealnews.com

Bahraini rights activist Nabeel Rajab sentenced to two years in jail

A Bahrain court sentenced rights campaigner Nabeel Rajab to two years in jail on Monday, supporters said, for allegedly making “false or malicious” statements about Bahraini authorities. Authorities at Bahrain’s information affairs office could not immediately be reached for comment. Bahrain has repeatedly denied systematic rights abuses. Rajab was a leading figure in a 2011 pro-democracy uprising which Bahrain crushed with the help of fellow Gulf Arab countries.

— source reuters.com

Democracy Is a Threat to Any Power System

NICHOLS: Almost fifty years ago, you debated William F. Buckley on public television—on national TV, nationwide—about issues of war and peace, and the state, propaganda, so many issues—just like this, debating on national television—and it struck me: I haven’t seen you a lot on national television since.


NICHOLS: But it’s perhaps a good way to begin, because the fact of the matter is: you are—and I don’t think it’s news—you are America’s—the world’s, I would argue—leading public intellectual, and yet you are rarely seen on television, our main vehicle of communications in the United States. Why is that?

CHOMSKY: Actually, every once in a while I’m on Fox News.

NICHOLS: I know!


CHOMSKY: But one of my great honors that I’m most proud of is that National Public Radio has a primetime program, All Things Considered, their big program in the afternoon—the co-host actually is on record as saying I’m one of the people he will never permit on that program.


NICHOLS: Really?


NICHOLS: No small accomplishment.


NICHOLS: But also go deeper, because the fact of the matter is—as somebody who’s been involved for a long time in media reform efforts and efforts to kind of tackle the many challenges of American media—we have an incredibly narrow discourse in our major media in this country. And it is a discourse that does, in fact, move all sorts of folks out to the margins. And does that cover movements?

CHOMSKY: Does it?

NICHOLS: Does it cover movements? Does it cover what’s really happening, a lot, on the ground? And I think in many senses that disempowers folks, because they’re never told about what all is happening or the ideas that are in play.

CHOMSKY: Actually, the most interesting media, in my opinion, are what are called the liberal media. In fact, most of my own writing, discussion, and analysis is about them. They kind of set the limits; they say you can go this far and not a millimeter farther. And that’s true pretty much around the world. And, of course, it does cut out popular movements, popular activism—very occasionally something will break through. Zucotti Park finally broke through, slightly, with [what] actually is better coverage than I expected for a while. But, generally, the idea that people might get together, organize, act to change the world—that’s frightening. That’s like some small country deciding to go off on an independent course—that’s quite dangerous.

NICHOLS: And when that does happen, how does media—you mentioned coverage of Occupy, and, in fact, we had a brief period—I think in 2011—where there were great popular uprisings in a lot of capitals around the United States, [with the] labor movement seeming to be out there—and how does so much of our media—and our liberal media—shut that down? What’s the strategy, what’s the tactic that you see?

CHOMSKY: Actually, I think it was pretty well-described by George Orwell. He didn’t say much about it, but everyone here, I’m sure, has read Animal Farm. But probably very few people have read the introduction to Animal Farm; the reason is it wasn’t published.


CHOMSKY: It was discovered about thirty years later in his unpublished papers. Today, if you get a new edition of Animal Farm, you might find it there. The introduction is kind of interesting—he basically says what you all know: that the book is a critical, satiric analysis of the totalitarian enemy. But then he addresses himself to the people of free England; he says, “You shouldn’t feel too self-righteous.” He said in England, a free country, I’m virtually quoting: unpopular ideas can be suppressed without the use of force. And he goes on to give some examples, and, really, just a couple of common-sense explanations, which are to the point. One reason, he says, is: the press is owned by wealthy men who have every reason not to want certain ideas to be expressed. And the other, he says, essentially, is: it’s a good education. If you have a good education, you’ve gone to the best schools, you have internalized the understanding that there’s certain things it just wouldn’t do to say—and I think we can add to that, it wouldn’t do to think. And that’s a powerful mechanism. So, there are things you just don’t think, and you don’t say. That’s the result of effective education, effective indoctrination. If people—many people—don’t succumb to it, what happens to them? Well, I’ll tell you a story: I was in Sweden a couple years ago, and I noticed that taxi drivers were being very friendly, much more than I expected. And finally I asked one of them, “Why’s everyone being so nice?” He pulled out a T-shirt he said every taxi driver has, and the T-shirt had a picture of me and a quote in Swedish of something I’d said once when I was asked, “What happens to people of independent mind?” And I said, “They become taxi drivers.”


NICHOLS: Man, that is good! See, now if you could get a quote like that for every industry…


NICHOLS: …you’d rule the world!


NICHOLS: Well, this gets to a deeper question, because it’s clear in the United States today—and you see it, you travel an incredible amount around this country—and you see the movements that are there. Immigrant rights, Black Lives Matter, get rid of Citizens United, get money out of politics, labor struggles, all sorts of things that are there. So many movements, and yet, not enough coalescence, not something coming together there. And I wonder if the lack of that cohesive center—that is, a place where people can get their information in some sort of steady way—if that has a role in creating a situation where we’re sort of—we’re compartmentalized, we’re, I think, often neglected and disrespected… and it has an actual political impact.

CHOMSKY: It’s even worse than that. I’ve lived in Boston since 1950, but I go to sections of Boston for talks and discover that there’s very significant activism going on in that neighborhood that people don’t know of in the next neighborhood, where they’re doing similar things. Part of the reason is simply the absence of a labor movement; throughout history, the labor movement has been—with all of its defects and deficiencies and limits—it’s been a kind of a center around which things coalesce. In other countries, when I give talks—even countries like England—the talks are often in labor movement centers, union centers. Not in the United States; very rare. You can talk to labor activists, but somewhere else: in a church, or in a university, the few institutions that exist. But there’s been a great success in the United States—the United States is, to an unusual extent, a business-run society. That goes way back to early days, for all kind of reasons. And it has a very violent and repressive labor history. Workers were being murdered in the United States by the hundreds at a time when nothing like that was taking place in Europe, or Australia, or other places. And, repeatedly, the labor movement has simply been crushed. It’s revived again, and when it did revive it was a center around which activism coalesced, it had its own journals—as late as the late nineteenth century the labor press was very lively, active, widely read. As late as the 1950s there were still about maybe eight hundred labor journals that were reaching maybe thirty million people a week. All of that has succumbed to the massive attack of concentrated capital—you’re seeing it right now, pretty dramatically, right where you live.

NICHOLS: In Wisconsin. Scott Walker.


NICHOLS: Our great contribution to the American political process.


CHOMSKY: Right. Even the rhetoric is pretty remarkable. Like, take the so-called ‘right-to-work’ law that just passed.

NICHOLS: Yeah. You are in a right-to-work state.

CHOMSKY: Yeah. ‘Right-to-work’ means right-to-scrounge! It has nothing to do with ‘right-to-work.’ It means the right to be represented by a union to defend you, and not to pay for it. That’s ‘right-to-work.’ So it’s a right-to-scrounge law, but it’s not described that way, and it’s not interpreted that way. This is one part of a huge—in the 1920s, the labor had been virtually crushed. One of the great works of labor history is called, I think, something like The Fall of the House of Labor, referring to the 1920s; David Montgomery. And visitors from Europe and Australia were shocked to see the weakness of the labor movement and the ability to denounce, condemn, and destroy it. Well, in the 1930s it rose again: CIO organizing, a lot of labor activism during the Second World War… [during] the Depression and the Second World War there was a real wave of radical democracy that spread all over much of the world, including the United States, and it led to a very quick backlash in many ways. So, for example, in Europe—as U.S. and British troops finally began to enter the European continent late in the war, moving up through Italy—the first thing they had to do was to disperse the anti-fascist resistance, to restore traditional order, including fascist collaborators. As they reached northern Italy, they were appalled to discover that the partisan resistance had developed a functioning society with worker management, worker ownership—this, incidentally, was the time of British Labour Party—and they were appalled to discover that there were enterprises without managers and owners. All of that had to be dismantled. In Greece, same thing; and it was a very brutal war, killed hundreds of thousands of people, and so on all through Europe. The same thing happened here. Not with that much violence, but immediately after the war—1947—came the Taft-Hartley Act, undermining basic labor rights, organizing rights, secondary boycotts, and so on. Shortly after, a huge campaign began of corporate propaganda which was pretty remarkable in scale. There’s pretty good scholarship on it, like Elizabeth Fones-Wolf’s book. The concentrated capital was penetrating churches, schools, clubs…

NICHOLS: Education.

CHOMSKY: …education, and began a massive attack on labor. I mean, the labor unions are not faultless in this; the radical militant element of the labor movement was eliminated within the context of Cold War propaganda, ‘Communist’ and so on. So they were crushed, and the labor leadership accepted that. And furthermore they entered into a kind of class collaboration. It’s kind of interesting to compare the same union in the United States and Canada, like, say, UAW in the United States and Canada; same union, acted quite differently. One reason why Canada has national healthcare and the United States doesn’t, is that in Canada the labor movements militantly advocated for national healthcare. In the United States the same unions militantly advocated for good healthcare for themselves. So, the autoworkers did have decent healthcare with a compact with management. Now, a compact with management is a devil’s choice, because management can decide at any time, “It’s over.” And, as you recall, it was pretty striking—[it] must’ve been 1979 or so that Doug Fraser, head of UAW, pulled out of a cooperative enterprising that he’s discovered that capital is fighting a one-sided class war against the labor movement. Big discovery.

NICHOLS: It took a while.

CHOMSKY: Yeah, it took a while. But by that time it was pretty late.

NICHOLS: But that war has really stepped up, especially in the last few years where we’ve seen… at one time, Arizona got to be right-to-work, and a lot of southern states, but it didn’t move north. Now we have Michigan becoming a right-to-work state; Indiana, a great steel center, becoming a right-to-work state; Wisconsin, the center of American progressivism, becoming a right-to-work state; public center unions being busted down, losing collective bargaining rights…. I mean, this is a very aggressive, concentrated initiative that’s happening right now.

CHOMSKY: Happening right now…


CHOMSKY: …and it goes back to the 1940s.

NICHOLS: No, go ahead; it’s history, but why now, why does it all come now?

CHOMSKY: Well, if you look at the last period since the Second World War, the counterattack against labor, popular democracy began immediately. It was held back for twenty years by a number of factors: one was the strong appeal of the New Deal measures, which a large part of the population strongly supported. You may recall that Eisenhower said that anyone who questions the legitimacy of New Deal programs is crazy.

NICHOLS: Is a nut!

CHOMSKY: Is a nut. I mean, Eisenhower, today, would be way out on the left of the political spectrum.


NICHOLS: Well, your buddy Howard Zinn would occasionally say that, in many ways, Eisenhower was a pretty impressive president because he didn’t send troops to the Middle East, but he did send them to Arkansas.

CHOMSKY: That’s right.


CHOMSKY: Actually, he did send them to the Middle East.

NICHOLS: I realize. We’re gonna get to the rest of the world in a minute, yeah.

CHOMSKY: Yeah. But through the fifties and the sixties there was the remaining, powerful appeal of the New Deal measures, there still was a labor movement—also, these were periods of very high growth. Mostly based on the state sector of the economy—which you’re not supposed to know—but it was high growth; this is sometimes called the Golden Age of American Capitalism. And it was egalitarian growth, so the lowest quintile did about as well as the highest quintile. Furthermore, capital was regulated—very crucial.

NICHOLS: And taxed. The wealthy were taxed.

CHOMSKY: The wealthy were taxed, but capital was regulated. Banks were banks. Banks were places where you could put your money in, they’d lend it to somebody to buy a car or something—not like today. This system broke down in the early seventies, and that had a major effect. In fact, there were no financial crises in the fifties and the sixties, because the regulatory system was intact. Internationally, the Bretton-Woods system of regulated capital was intact. That was dismantled in the early seventies. You begin to get what has become the global neoliberal assault on the global population everywhere, taking one or another form. In the United States, the form that it’s taken is an increasing attack on the general population, including the labor movement. So, for example, for most of the population, since, say, the mid-seventies—it’s escalating under Reagan, continuing under Clinton, and on—but for most of the population, real wages have stagnated or declined. For male workers today, real wages are about what they were in 1968. There’s been growth, but it’s going to very few pockets—narrower and narrower. And this has had a striking and dramatic effect even on things like popular opinion. So take—the last couple years of Obama’s kind of major initiative was the Affordable Care Act. And it’s interesting to look at public attitudes towards it, and to look back at the past. This is a very heavily polled country; we know a lot about people’s attitudes. Ever since the 1940s, there’s been strong support for national healthcare. Polls depend a little bit on how the question’s asked, but it’s often a large majority; very substantial. As late as the late 1980s, about a majority of the population thought that there ought to be a constitutional guarantee for healthcare, and actually about forty percent of the population thought it was in the Constitution.


CHOMSKY: That’s not that long ago. Well, when Obama’s initiative began, almost two-thirds of the population supported a public option: meaning, of the various options you could choose, one would be, essentially, Medicare—public national healthcare. That wasn’t even mentioned; it wasn’t even proposed.

NICHOLS: They jettisoned it right away. Along with single-payer which was what we [unintelligible].

CHOMSKY: It disappeared. One of the strange—maybe unique—features of the U.S. healthcare system is that the government is not permitted, by law, to negotiate drug prices. The VA is, so drug prices are lower there. The Pentagon can negotiate prices for paperclips, let’s say, but the government cannot negotiate—say, for Medicare and Medicaid—drug prices; so of course they’re out of sight. Obama never even tried to touch this, even though eighty-five percent of the population are opposed to it. And if you look at the following years, the propaganda has so changed people’s expressed attitudes, whatever their actual attitudes are, that even the mild reforms of the Affordable Care Act—which are some kind of a step forward, they don’t really deal with the problem—even those are opposed. And think that not that many years ago—like, 1990—forty percent of the population thought there was a constitutional guarantee for public healthcare. This is a tremendous triumph of propaganda.

NICHOLS: And we’ve created a system now where it is so easy to flood so much money into the communication process—Citizens United, McCutcheon, all these decisions of the courts—which, whatever minimal barriers are knocked down, you hear the Koch brothers planning to spend close to a billion dollars in the next election—and then you find out they spend hundreds of millions to do just these things, to take apart.

CHOMSKY: And some of the things that’ve been done are really sophisticated. There’s an interesting study by Suzanne Mettler [of] Cornell University, a sociologist: it’s called The Submerged State. And what she shows, pretty convincingly, is that there’s been a change from visible government programs of reform and subsidy and support, where you see that the government is doing something for you, to indirect means, where you don’t see that the government is doing it. What you see is some private entity doing it, which is being subsidized by the government. And the end result is that people think the government is harming them, it’s not helping them. And, of course, as the submerged state develops, [it] turns out most of the subsidy is going to the wealthy. So, for example, a home mortgage interest deduction, which is a very substantial sum of money. Overwhelmingly, it goes to the wealthy. In the for-profit educational system, which is a big thing here, most of the funding comes from the taxpayer, but you don’t see it. And of course it’s going to the corporation. And there’s devices like that all across the country; the result is that—some strange results—people who are most subsidized by the government tend to be most opposed to government subsidy.


CHOMSKY: It’s very striking.


NICHOLS: Do they not know they are subsidized, or are they just cynical?

CHOMSKY: You don’t know.

NICHOLS: They do not know.

CHOMSKY: I mean, who would know that a tax deduction for employer health insurance is a huge subsidy to the corporations? Or that the home mortgage deduction is a subsidy to the wealthy? I mean, you can figure it out if you think about it, but it’s not obvious on the surface. And that goes case-by-case.

NICHOLS: So, in this terrific new book from Haymarket Books—Noam Chomsky, Masters of Mankind—which, on the cover, Glenn Greenwald says, “There is no living political writer who has more radically changed how more people think in more parts of the world about political issues than Noam Chomsky.” Which is kind of nice.


CHOMSKY: You have to realize that he’s a friend, and you [unintelligible].


NICHOLS: He is a friend, I realize.

CHOMSKY: I say nice things about him.

NICHOLS: You say it back and forth, it’s wonderful.


NICHOLS: We are at a book festival, so some people are aware of blurbs on books. But I have the sense that Glenn probably means it. And also, this is a collection of essays, and one of the interesting things is… for a variety of reasons, my favorite one is an essay that you wrote some years ago titled, “Consent Without Consent.” And I think that comes [to] a lot of what we’re talking about with the submerged state, but also this notion that—an awful lot of what’s happening when you assault labor, when you assault so many of the vehicles by which people might organize, might push back… it’s really an assault on democracy itself.

CHOMSKY: Democracy is a threat to any power system.


CHOMSKY: It doesn’t matter what it is. For pretty obvious reasons. So, yes, the general assault on the population includes a major assault on democracy. And what’s happened in the United States is extremely revealing; one of the main topics in mainstream academic political science is comparison between public attitudes and public policy. Which is a pretty straightforward inquiry; we see public policy, there’s extensive polls—they’re pretty reliable, they’re consistent over time—so you get a pretty good sense of public attitudes. And the results are quite intriguing. By now, about seventy percent of the population is literally disenfranchised. They’re the lower seventy percent on the income/wealth scale. Their political representatives simply pay no attention to them, so it doesn’t matter what they think. As you move up the scale, you get a little bit more influence. When you get to the very top, policy’s made. That correlates very… one of the major students of political participation, Walter Dean Burnham, years ago pointed out that if you look at the non-voting—in the United States it’s very high—said if you look at the non-voters, and their demographics, and compare it with Europe—they are the people who, in Europe, would vote for some laborite or social democratic party. But since no such thing exists here, they don’t vote. Maybe they don’t—they may not read academic political science, but they know that nobody’s paying attention to them. So why bother voting? This is a plutocracy; it’s not a democracy. And the effects are pretty striking. The last election, November 2014, was carefully analyzed by two really fine political scientists, Walter Dean Burnham and Tom Ferguson, [who] wrote a careful analysis of it (voting participation). Turns out that voting participation was about at the level of 1830.

NICHOLS: Well, it was also—it was thirty-six percent.

CHOMSKY: But if you compare it state-by-state…

NICHOLS: But what was interesting was, is it was the lowest since 1942.

CHOMSKY: Since 1942. It’s worse than that; take a look at their analysis, state-by-state. It’s about 1830; that was a time when voting was restricted to propertied white males. And this has been declining; and by now, most people, as they point out, just don’t vote.

NICHOLS: Well, in fact, when we flood so much money into politics, and so much of it goes to pay for negative ads on televisions—one side saying don’t vote for this guy, one side saying don’t vote for that guy, a lot of people make the logical choice and don’t vote for either.


NICHOLS: And the interesting result on that is that you do have one entity that comes out getting really rich by this politics that drives so many of the people away: and that is the big broadcast companies. They make a fortune.

CHOMSKY: They do.

NICHOLS: But not in any way, I think, advancing democracy.

CHOMSKY: I mean, what’s happening now is indeed extreme. But we should remember that it goes way back…

NICHOLS: It wasn’t good before.

CHOMSKY: …way back.

NICHOLS: Yeah, yeah.

CHOMSKY: Remember about a century ago, Mark Hanna, the great campaign manager, was asked, “What do you really need to run an effective campaign?” He said, “There are three things. The first one is money. The second one is money.” And the third? He said, “I can’t remember.”


CHOMSKY: That was around 1900.

NICHOLS: But there were sort of some interventions between 1900 and now…

CHOMSKY: There were changes.

NICHOLS: …we sort of tried to address some of those problems.

CHOMSKY: There were changes.

NICHOLS: And now we are…

CHOMSKY: Now we’re going back. In fact, it’s worse than it was, probably, ever.

NICHOLS: Now, that’s an important thing—do you think that it is worse, that we are maybe at the worst point now when we look through the history of this country?

CHOMSKY: Well, it’s a mixed story, because there is plenty of political activism, and, in fact, if you look at people’s attitudes closely, they tend to be pretty social democratic. There have been studies of the subclass of people who say, “Get the government off my back. I don’t want a government,” and so on. You take a look at them: what they want is more spending on healthcare, more spending on education, higher taxes on the wealthy, a range of positions which you and I would probably agree with. But they’re the ones who say, “Get the government off our back. We don’t want any government.”

NICHOLS: I don’t want the government messing with my Medicare.

CHOMSKY: Yeah, “Don’t mess with my Medicare,” that kind of thing.

NICHOLS: We’ve got this wonderful group of folks—they are actually graduates of this university who started a little company here to democratize how we do Q&A, how we actually talk.


NICHOLS: And, it’s…

CHOMSKY: I know how it works.


CHOMSKY: The amount of money you put in determines who’s question [gets asked].

[laughter, applause]

NICHOLS: No, no no, that’s the next application. These guys, they call it “Two-Shoes” app—as in ‘goodie two-shoes,’ like, the person who raises their hand. And they actually created something—that you featured it on your Facebook site or someplace—where…

CHOMSKY: I don’t have a Facebook site.


NICHOLS: I know. Somebody who does something, someplace…

CHOMSKY: Somebody put something on Facebook.

NICHOLS: Yeah, it’s like the person who made the T-shirt in Sweden… they asked what we could ask you in the “Two-Shoes” app. And it was very interesting that a lot of the questions—the hopeful questions, actually—focused on things going on outside the United States. Which I find frustrating because I do believe there’s a lot of great activism here, but there were questions especially about Greece and Spain, and particularly about the rise of Syriza and the rise of Podemos. Both political parties that did not exist—or political groupings that did not exist—but, in Greece, have now risen to being the governing party, and potentially, in Spain, could do so. You’ve been watching these closely.

CHOMSKY: Very closely.

NICHOLS: And I’m very interested, first off, in your general impressions—and many people ask questions about this—but also your sense of why they are coming together and functioning politically and something happening, that we are still waiting for in the U.S.?

CHOMSKY: Actually, I’ve just been at an international conference in Buenos Aires—that’s where I was yesterday—an international forum on emancipation and inequality, where it drew groups like this from all over the world; Podemos activists and leaders were there, Syriza activists, and so on.

NICHOLS: And you were very impressed by the Podemos ones.

CHOMSKY: They were pretty impressive, yeah. But we have to remember what’s been happening in Europe; one of the great successes of Europe in the post-Second World War era has been to construct a reasonably well-functioning social democratic welfare state society—a lot of problems, but by comparative standards, pretty successful.

NICHOLS: Due to the nightmare circumstance of Norway.

CHOMSKY: Oh, that, yeah. But all over the continent. And, of course, the business classes hate it. And Europe has been subjected to an extreme form of punishment in the past few years which is an attack on democracy, an attack on living standards, and an effort to undermine and dismantle this achievement. And the policies that have been followed are policies of austerity during recession, which even the IMF (the International Monetary Fund) says is economically ridiculous. But it may be economically ridiculous, but it’s politically and socially sensible from the point of view of class war. It is slowly achieving a result which has long been hoped for by the ruling sections, by the dominant sections of capital. But it’s very severe. And it’s been worst—the worst hit have been the peripheral countries: Greece…

NICHOLS: Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland…

CHOMSKY: …Spain, Portugal, Ireland. What’s actually happened is that the banks—the northern banks, the German banks, and so on—have made very risky loans to countries which were unable to sustain them. When the crash came and they couldn’t pay them back, the big banks—like other sectors of capital—don’t believe in capitalism. In a capitalist system, say, if I lend you money—and I know that you’re a risky borrower, so I put heavy conditions on it—I make a lot of profit. And then you can’t pay; in a capitalist system it’s my problem. But not the way the world works.

NICHOLS: But that would never happen in the U.S. The banks would never get bailed out here.


CHOMSKY: In fact, I’ll come to that in a moment. But the response of the so-called troika—the European Commission, the bank, and the IMF—[has] been to pay back the culprits. Pay the bankers. So, when there’s money given to Greece—what’s called money to Greece—means give it back to the banks that lend money to Greece and want to be repaid. Very anti-capitalist. The same thing happens here. So take, say, the big banks here. There was recently a study by the IMF of the profits of the big banks in the United States. It turns out that they make virtually no profit. Their profit almost entirely depends on the implicit government insurance policy; the business press estimates that it’s over eighty billion dollars a year. You can argue about the numbers, but it’s very high. It’s not just the bailouts—that’s a small part of it. It’s inflated credit ratings, access to cheap money, the ability to make risky loans which are profitable—knowing you’re gonna be bailed out. All of that amounts to quite a lot. Same in Europe. And alongside of this is an attack on democracy so extreme that even The Wall Street Journal commented, correctly, that no matter who’s elected in a European country—Communists, right-wing, whatever it may be—policies are the same because policies are made by the Brussels bureaucrats and the Bundesbank. Doesn’t matter what the public wants.

NICHOLS: And those policies are [to] cut the pensions, make people work longer…

CHOMSKY: …austerity, neoliberal attack during periods of recession.

NICHOLS: Attack trade unions, attack the ability [to bargain]—the whole list.

CHOMSKY: The whole list. And sometimes it’s pretty dramatic. So, right now, for example, Syriza and Greece hinted that they might undertake a referendum. The roof fell in on them! How dare you ask the public about policies that they’re being subjected to? This happened a couple years when Papandreou, the prime minister, suggested mildly that maybe there should be a referendum in Greece to see if they should accept these extremely harsh and savage policies that are being imposed. Again, across the spectrum, he was bitterly denounced; he had to back off. This idea that the public should be asked about policies that are being imposed on them is considered outrageous. Policies have to be made by the Brussels bureaucrats and the big banks. That’s a major attack on democracy. Now, in reaction to this there have been popular uprisings: Podemos—the party in Spain—is just a couple years old, but the indignados, the activism of young people, is quite insistent.

NICHOLS: You said, in many ways, something—not exactly, because it’s a different country—but in many ways something we might see is parallel to what we saw with Occupy…

CHOMSKY: Occupy, very much so.

NICHOLS: …when Occupy became a political movement.

CHOMSKY: It went on in Spain, to everyone’s surprise—nobody could have predicted this three or four years ago—but out of it came a political organization which is now running ahead in the polls [and] could take over. Syriza in Greece, it’s pretty similar—in fact, they did take political power. But you couldn’t have predicted it a couple years ago. And there’s a very challenging and, in a way, frightening situation. If Podemos, Syriza, and similar organizations fail, the likely outcome is popular movements of the far-right.


CHOMSKY: That’s happened before: late twenties, early thirties. We’re seeing something similar. If the organized left doesn’t succeed in taking control, we may very well get the organized right—with horrible consequences, which we’ve seen before.

NICHOLS: The great British parliamentarian Tony Benn said that he was old enough to remember when countries around the world were essentially making the choice, and at exactly the same time…


NICHOLS: …some going toward fascism, some going toward a progressive democracy.

CHOMSKY: They all had the choice; it was the same in all of them. And it depended [on] who won.

NICHOLS: And obviously in Greece that’s a reality, because there is a far-right…

CHOMSKY: Oh, yeah.

NICHOLS: …that is very fascist.

CHOMSKY: Yeah; Spain, too. France, England [we can] look at, for example.

NICHOLS: And yet, so many of our political leaders in America seem to be… at the very least, disinterested—at least publicly.

CHOMSKY: They’re paying plenty of attention.

NICHOLS: I know they are, yeah, but they’re not—we hear very little discourse about this among our political figures.

CHOMSKY: Because it’s dangerous to talk about it. You don’t want people to know that it is possible for the population to become organized, active, effective; take power, take control of their fate, and create a different society. For example, you don’t hear in the United States about the fact that, in Spain, there’s a major conglomerate which is worker-owned and which, in fact, survived the recession: Mondragon, which includes manufacturing, finance, health, housing… it’s a huge and effective conglomerate. Worker-owned—directors picked by the workers—and working quite well. You don’t see headlines about that.

NICHOLS: Not at all. And yet very cutting-edge; they’re actually ahead of the curve…

CHOMSKY: They are.

NICHOLS: …on developing new technologies, developing new industries.

CHOMSKY: Yes. And you also don’t see much about the fact that something similar is happening here. Not on that scale, but—[unintelligible] is one person who’s written about it—in areas of the old Rust Belt, as you know…

NICHOLS: Cleveland, and other cities…

CHOMSKY: Yeah, Northern Ohio, other places… there’s the beginnings of [the] development of worker-owned enterprises—which are not on the Mondragon scale, but not insubstantial either. Incidentally, they also get conservative support.

NICHOLS: What’s that?

CHOMSKY: They even get conservative support.

NICHOLS: Oh, yeah. And one of the things that struck me—[it] got remarkably little attention in the United States—was when the bankers crashed the economy of Iceland. Tiny little country. And then, basically, they cut a deal that Iceland’s going to pay the banks. And then, because it was a small-enough country, the people went to the president’s house and said, “We don’t want to do this.”


NICHOLS: And they basically forced a referendum on the issue, and, amazingly enough, Iceland voted not to pay back the banks.

CHOMSKY: And what’s more, they did pretty well.


NICHOLS: And they’ve come out okay, yeah! Or, at least, not to pay back quickly.

CHOMSKY: The British were infuriated, but it worked well. In fact, something similar happened in Argentina.

NICHOLS: Tell us what happened.

CHOMSKY: Around 2000. They essentially defaulted on the debt, and the economists and the governments around the world said, “You’re going to destroy yourselves.” They have practically the highest growth rate in Latin America since then. They’re now under attack by U.S. vulture funds backed by the judicial system, which has really undermined them. Actually, the judge in the United States, Judge Griesa, made the ruling. It was requiring—demanded—that Argentina pay back the vulture funds without the so-called ‘haircut’: the cutting-back of profit that they demanded. And he’s now insisting that institutions like, say, Citibank, not deal with Argentine bonds because they’d be in violation of his order. They’ll be in violation of Argentine law if they don’t do it. And they’re caught in the midst of this conflict between the U.S. vulture funds backed so far by the U.S. judiciary and a country which, correctly, didn’t pay back the money. Notice that these debts are really not legitimate debts; these are what are called ‘odious debts.’ That’s a concept [that] was invented by the United States, actually. When the United States took over Cuba in 1898, it did not want to pay Cuba’s debts to Spain. And the U.S. argued, quite correctly, that these debts were illegitimate—‘odious,’ they were called. The people of Cuba had not incurred the debt, so why should they be forced to pay it? But that’s true of debt all over the world. The people don’t incur the debt; the rulers do. Why should the population pay?


NICHOLS: And, we actually—we’re looking at the questions people have submitted, we have quite a few questions in this range, or in this area—and there is… again and again people come back to this question of, “How do we get folks focused on that?” And Naomi Klein wrote a book…


NICHOLS: …This Changes Everything…

CHOMSKY: Important book.

NICHOLS: …arguing that perhaps torching the planet might get people interested. Other folks have suggested—we have a number of questions on this—other folks have suggested that the decline of work—the fact that we are replacing people with robots and apps and it’s harder and harder to find meaningful work, or at least work of a decent pay—that there may be issues that bring us together. What’s your sense on this? Is there something that—be it climate change, be it some sort of economic shift—that could, in the United States, spark a mobilization, a change?

CHOMSKY: Well, a prediction in human affairs is a very low-probability affair.


NICHOLS: Yeah, I realize. See, I read Chomsky’s old essays for that.


CHOMSKY: For good reasons. I mean, an awful lot depends just on will and choice.


CHOMSKY: And we don’t know. Nobody knows. Podemos, for example, you couldn’t have predicted. CIO organizing in the 1930s, you couldn’t have predicted. The United States could’ve gone towards fascism—could’ve. These are questions of people’s choices and decisions. Take Naomi’s Klein’s point; whether she’s going to be right or wrong, we don’t know. But if she’s wrong, we’re doomed.

NICHOLS: Well, there’s a tough puppet, yeah.

CHOMSKY: And we are coming towards a precipice. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that the threat of environmental catastrophe is quite real. And not in the very distant future—maybe the next generation—it could be extremely serious. We also can see that the race towards disaster is being carried out with almost euphoric intensity. Take a look at this morning’s Wall Street Journal; [the] lead article, the top article, is about how the energy corporations in the U.S. are—there’s an oil glut at the moment—and they’re preparing right now that if this [oil glut] declines, they’ll immediately put into motion enterprises they’ve already established which will greatly increase the flow of oil. In other words, drive us farther toward the precipice. We’re racing towards this. And what Naomi Klein is pointing out is, we’d better organize to stop it, or else the prospects for a decent existence are going to disappear. Now, will it work or won’t it? Well, that’s a matter of will and choice.

NICHOLS: [gesturing to audience] These folks [have] got to decide?

CHOMSKY: And take the question of work.


CHOMSKY: It’s an interesting question… take a look around the country. This country is falling apart. Even when you come back from Argentina to the United States, it looks like a Third-World country. When you come back from Europe, even more so. Infrastructure’s collapsing, nothing works, the transportation system doesn’t work, the health system is a total scandal—twice the per capita cost of other countries and not very good outcomes. Point-by-point. The schools are declining, they don’t have enough teachers… there’s a huge amount of work to be done, there are plenty of idle hands who want to do it, there’s ample resources, but the system is so corrupt that it cannot put together massive resources, idle hands, and needed work. That can be overcome.


CHOMSKY: And the extent of this is really astonishing. So take, say, transportation. Now, you can take a high-speed train from Beijing to Kazakhstan. You can’t take one from Boston to New York. That’s the most heavily travelled corridor, I suppose, in the world: Boston to Washington. It’s about the way it was sixty years ago. The first time I took a train from New York to Philadelphia to Boston [was] 1950; I think if I take the [Hima-]Sella—the fast train today—I think it’s maybe fifteen minutes faster. As it goes along the Connecticut Turnpike, it’s not keeping up with the cars.


CHOMSKY: Literally. I mean, a couple years ago, I was giving talks in Europe—I ended up in southern France—and I had to take a train from Avignon, southern France, to the [Charles] de Gaulle airport in Paris; there happens to be a direct train, not surprisingly. It’s about the distance from Washington to Boston. It took two hours. Boston to Washington is like seven hours. And this is just symptomatic of what’s happening to the country.

NICHOLS: But I’m sure an election between Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush would sort this all out, though.


CHOMSKY: [laughing] Right, right. Well, they have private jets—it doesn’t matter.

NICHOLS: [laughing] They have private jets, it doesn’t matter!

There’s so many things to bring in here and discuss—we’ve been bouncing a little bit on the rest of the world—before we come back into U.S politics for a second, I would be remiss if I didn’t note that on Tuesday, Israel’s going to have an election. And the prime minister of Israel recently visited the United States to give our Congress some advice.


NICHOLS: Which, intriguingly enough, if you read the polls may not have helped him in Israel, in fact. But give us a sense of the—as we look at the Netanyahu visit, and then also the play-out with our forty-seven Republican senators who have just decided to become diplomats.


CHOMSKY: Actually, there was an interesting article on the Netanyahu speech to Congress by [unintelligible], he’s one of the…

NICHOLS: One of the great thinkers in Israel.

CHOMSKY: …smartest, really fine Israeli intellectuals and activists; he’s a little older than me. And he started—believe it or not—he started the article by saying that when he was watching Netanyahu in Congress, it reminded him of something. And he had to think what it was reminding him of, and finally it dawned on him. It was Hitler’s speeches to the Reichstag. He said all that was missing was, “Heil!”


CHOMSKY: And it was quite a performance. It was a really demeaning performance. And it’s a combination of a number of factors. One factor is—just as you mentioned before—money; a ton of money goes into funding Congressmen who will support the latest [unintelligible]. Another part is evangelical Christians. A large part of the base of the Republican party—now these are Republicans, mostly—is evangelical Christians who succeed in combining almost extreme support for Israel with extreme anti-Semitism.


CHOMSKY: It’s an interesting combination. I mean, if you look at their theology—the theology of a large number of them—the idea is that there’ll be a great war between Israel and its enemies, it’ll end up at armageddon, everyone will kill each other. The saved souls will rise to heaven, the rest go to eternal damnation.

NICHOLS: Won’t be so good for them, yeah.

CHOMSKY: Which includes virtually all the Jews. 160,000, for some reason, will be saved; they will have found Christ in time. Now, you can’t get more anti-Semitic than that.


CHOMSKY: Even Hitler didn’t go that far. But this [anti-Semitism] combined with what’s called support for Israel to such an extreme extent that the Israeli government has to try to control it, has to try to prevent people from blowing up the Temple Mount to create the war which will lead to armageddon. And this is pretty broad in the United States; actually, something like that even included the second President Bush. As perhaps you know, when Bush was trying to gain international support for the invasion of Iraq, he met the French president, Chirac. And he—well, I’ll tell you how I learned about this, and then tell you what the story is. Around that time I got a letter from a Belgian theologian, who sent me a disquisition that he wrote on a very obscure passage in the Book of Ezekiel about Gog and Magog coming and doing terrible things to Israel. Nobody knows what it means—are they people, are they places? It’s just a very obscure passage. But in an extreme of evangelical theology, this means an evil force will come from the north, attack Israel, lead to armageddon, [and] then all these things happen. Well, what happened with Bush and Chirac? Bush apparently started—this is January 2003, right before the war—he went off and started talking to Chirac about Gog and Magog. Chirac didn’t know what the heck he was talking about.


NICHOLS: I’m sure.

CHOMSKY: So he asked his aides at the French Foreign Office, “What’s this guy raving about?” They didn’t know, so they contacted this Belgian theologian, who explained to them what it’s about. I learned about this at the time, but I didn’t believe a word of it, so I never wrote about it.


CHOMSKY: But I did mention it to an Australian academic—a researcher, Clive Hamilton—and he looked into it, and it’s true.


CHOMSKY: It shows up in the French biographies of Chirac. This tells us that—speaking of the dangers we face—our fate is sometimes in the hands of people who are, by any rational standards… hard to believe.


CHOMSKY: And it’s not the only case. Actually, Reagan talked about Russia as Gog and Magog.

NICHOLS: Well, we seem to be having a little trouble in our relations with Russia right now.

CHOMSKY: Serious trouble.


CHOMSKY: And it’s a complex story; it goes back to 1990—around then—when the Soviet Union collapsed. There was an agreement made between Mikhail Gorbachev, the Russian leader, and George Bush I, the first Bush president.

NICHOLS: George Bush the Greater, versus George Bush the Lesser.

CHOMSKY: The statesman-like Bush; the first [one], yeah.


CHOMSKY: Gorbachev agreed to allow Germany to be reunited and to join NATO—[a] hostile military alliance. It’s quite a concession if you look at the preceding history of the century. Germany alone had practically destroyed Russia several times, and he was agreeing to allow the united Germany to join a hostile military alliance. There was a quid pro quo; the phrase that was used was that “NATO would not expand one inch to the east,” which meant East Germany. That was the agreement. And NATO immediately expanded to East Germany. Gorbachev complained, naturally; and he was informed that this was only a verbal agreement. It wasn’t on paper. The unstated implication—I’ll add it, not them—is if you’re naïve enough to make a gentleman’s agreement with us, it’s your problem.

NICHOLS: Not ours.

CHOMSKY: Not ours. Clinton came along, expanded NATO further—right to the borders of Russia. The current issue over Ukraine is, in a region of enormous geo-strategic significance to Russia—it’s right at the heart of Russian concerns—any Russian leader would not accept Ukraine joining NATO; even joining the European Union is problematic for them. It’s kind of like Mexico joining the Warsaw Pact in the 1970s or 1980s; we’d have a nuclear war to block that. And, in fact, the new Ukrainian government—the one that came in after the coup—the parliament voted overwhelmingly—something like 300 to 10, or something—to take steps toward joining NATO. That’s a serious threat to Russia. I mean, whatever you think about Russian actions—however horrible you believe them—this is a real strategic threat. Now, there’s a solution, and everyone knows what it is: declare Ukrainian neutrality. Ukraine should be neutral; not part of any military alliance. There has to be a settlement about autonomy, which is not a trivial issue, but can be solved—that could prevent what could be escalation up to the level of nuclear war. It’s very serious. It doesn’t take much to set off a war. Small things can set off a war, we know that. Look back one century and you see an example, but there are plenty of them since. This is really playing with fire. And it makes no sense to press a nuclear arms state to the limit, or it might react violently. That’s saying, “Let’s commit suicide.” It literally is. I mean, it’s been known for a long time that there’s absolutely no escape from nuclear war. None. You cannot have a limited nuclear war among major powers. Back in 1962, at the time of the [Cuban] Missile Crisis—which came very close—there were war games run in Washington; they all showed that any limited war is going to explode to a total war.

NICHOLS: A couple questions, actually: do you have any optimism as regards to the U.S. negotiations with Iran? As regards to nuclear power or nuclear weapons?

CHOMSKY: It’s interesting the way it’s discussed here. First of all, the standard line is, “The international community demands that Iran give up its nuclear programs.” Who’s the international community? Well, the term ‘international community,’ again, comes straight out of Orwell: it means the United States and whoever happens to agree with it.


CHOMSKY: That’s the international community. What about the world?


CHOMSKY: I mean, there happens to be a world out there. This is a pretty insular country, but you can’t deny its existence. The non-aligned countries—the G77, the old non-aligned countries; that’s a large majority of the world’s population—they had their regular meeting in Tehran a couple years ago. And they once again vigorously supported Iran’s right to develop nuclear power as a signer of the non-proliferation treaty. Well, why shouldn’t they have that right? Now, in the United States the standard line about Iran is, “It’s the greatest threat to world peace.” As Netanyahu said: it’s aggressive, violent, wants to conquer the world, and so on. There are a lot of things wrong with Iran, not my favorite place by any means—but is it aggressive? Where’s ‘aggressive’ taking place? There are actually two countries that are very aggressive in that region: one, of course, is the United States, carrying out aggression all the time. The other’s Israel, which has invaded Lebanon five times.


CHOMSKY: And, of course, Israel has a huge nuclear weapons capacity: probably hundreds of nuclear weapons. What is the actual concern about Iranian nuclear weapons? The standard talk is, “Well, if Iran has nuclear weapons, it’s going to destroy Israel, it’s going to attack the United States, it’s going to the conquer the world.” I mean, anyone with a gray cell functioning—including every intelligence agency—knows that if Iran had nuclear weapons and even tried to load a missile, the country would be vaporized. Period. And whatever you think about the ruling clerics, they’ve given no indication of being suicidal, of wanting to lose everything they have. Actually, U.S. intelligence has explained publicly the threat of Iranian nuclear weapons—publicly. There are regular reports to Congress on the global security situation; it’s all public. And what they’ve pointed out is that Iran’s strategic doctrine is defensive. For understandable reasons, if you look at their surroundings. They have low military expenditures, even by standards of the region, and their strategic doctrine is to try to prevent an attack long enough for diplomacy to begin to operate. They add that if Iran is attempting to develop nuclear weapons—which no one knows—it would be part of their deterrent strategy. Now, the United States and Israel cannot tolerate a deterrent. If there’s a deterrent, you cannot use force and violence freely. I think that’s the heart of the matter. Is there a solution to this? Yeah, several possible solutions. So, for example, a couple years ago—2010—there was an agreement reached between Iran, Turkey, and Brazil, under which Iran would transfer its low-enriched uranium to Turkey, and, in return, the Western powers would provide the radioactive isotopes for Iran’s medical reactors and so on. And as soon as that agreement was reached, there was a bitter attack here by the government and the press against Brazil and Turkey for implementing this agreement. The Foreign Minister of Brazil was kind of upset about it, and he released a letter from President Obama to the president of Brazil proposing this [agreement]. Presumably because they assumed Iran would never accept, and it would be a propaganda weapon. Well, they accepted. What do we do? We bitterly denounce them for breaking ranks and accepting, and so on. And there were all kind of pretexts offered, but they didn’t amount to much. A couple of years later—December 2012—there was to be a meeting in Helsinki to carry forward a program that was initiated by the Arab states in the early nineties to try to impose a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the region. There’s enormous international support for that; support so strong that the United States, England, and others kind of formally agree, but they say, you know, “Not right now.” This meeting was an attempt to carry it forward; it’s under U.N. auspices. Israel said they wouldn’t attend the meeting. The next question is: what’s Iran going to do? Iran said it would attend the meeting, without preconditions. A couple days later, Obama canceled the meetings. This was barely even mentioned in the U.S. press—try to find it. The meetings did go on, but only with nongovernmental organizations; if the U.S. is not going to take part, nothing is going to happen. Now, this might or might not work—but it might work, that’s the point. Now, why is the U.S. opposed to it? Because Israel would have to give up its nuclear weapons. And the U.S. is not willing to agree to that. But these are possible answers to a manufactured crisis. Again, it’s not that Iran is a nice place. A lot of things wrong there—incidentally, by the standards of our allies, it’s pretty regressive. Compare it to, say, Saudi Arabia, it looks like a free and open society.


CHOMSKY: So this is by no means supportive of Iran’s clerical quasi-dictatorship. But the fact of the matter is that there are potential solutions which are within reach, but are not being discussed. And the reason, I think, goes back to what the U.S. intelligence reports: the U.S. and Israel are unwilling to accept the possibility—it’s a remote possibility, but some possibility—of a deterrent. Chances are, if you try to guess what Iran’s probably trying to do—we of course don’t know—but the chances are that they’re probably trying to develop what’s sometimes called nuclear capability; that is, the capability to produce nuclear weapons if they decide to do it. There are many countries in the world that have that capability. And conceivably—not implausibly—they might be trying to do the same thing. It wouldn’t be surprising if you look at the region. They’re surrounded by nuclear weapons states: the United States of course, Israel, Pakistan, India. They’re in an environment of extreme threat, and the conflicts with Iran now are reaching a level which is almost surreal. Take a look at Iraq. The United States—it’s main enemy in Iraq is supposed to be ISIS. Who’s fighting ISIS? Iran. Iran is backing the government of Iraq; it’s providing the military support, the training, the arms, and so on to try to press ISIS out of its recent conquests. In fact, the Iraqi military, the Iraqi leadership is saying openly—thanking Iran and saying, “The U.S. isn’t helping us.” Well, if you really want to eliminate ISIS, you’ve got to cooperate with the people who are doing it. Iran is the one state that’s doing it. There’s also fighters on the ground who happen to be on the U.S. terrorist list: the PKK.

NICHOLS: The Kurds.

CHOMSKY: Patrick Cockburn, a great correspondent…

NICHOLS: Fabulous. Very important book.

CHOMSKY: Yeah. What he’s pointed out is that U.S. policy, he says, has come straight out of Alice in Wonderland. We’re refusing to cooperate with the people who are fighting our enemy—and, in fact, we’re attacking them!

NICHOLS: Well, you’ve spent the better part of sixty years now suggesting U.S. policy has an Alice in Wonderland component to it. And as we circle around here—I think probably most people in the room would love it if we sat up here for another three or four hours—but you’ve just flown all the way from South America to be with us. So, we’re over our time limit, but I did want to ask you… you’ve been so consistent. And very consistent for a very, very long time in your assessment of a whole host of domestic and international issues. And If I’m right about it—I interviewed you some years ago about this—a lot of it roots back to your youth. You used to hang out at your uncle’s newsstand; your political education came in New York City at a newsstand, where I’m sure The Nation was prominently displayed.

CHOMSKY: 72nd and Broadway.

NICHOLS: 72nd and Broadway. But this was… tell us about where this started.

CHOMSKY: Well, I was a kid…

NICHOLS: You were about ten, eleven?

CHOMSKY: Eleven, twelve years old. But one of the first things I learned at the newsstand is that’s there’s a newspaper in New York which you’ve probably never heard of: it’s called The Noosnmira. And the way I knew that is when people—it was at a subway station—when people came out of the subway station, racing out, they asked for The Noosnmira, and I handed them two tabloids. Later, I discovered it’s two newspapers: The News and The Mirror.


NICHOLS: This is the beginning of your study of linguistics.

CHOMSKY: The beginning of my political education. The next part was to notice that as they took The Noosnmira, the first thing they did is open the racing forms. So I got some insight into society. But the fact of the matter is, there were—my uncle’s a very interesting person. He’d never gone past fourth grade; very self-educated, very intelligent, very perceptive person, long story. But he attracted around the newsstand émigrés who were—this was the late thirties, early forties—who were coming from Europe; so German psychiatrists, other people… there were interesting discussions going on. As a child, I listened to them. Meanwhile, at the same time I was hanging out at anarchist offices in Union Square, bookstores on 4th Avenue…

NICHOLS: Yiddish newspapers…

CHOMSKY: Yeah, Freie Arbeiter Stimme… I was there. And there were again refugees coming: a lot of Spanish refugees, Spanish anarchists, and I learned a lot from that. That’s one part of my education.

NICHOLS: You’ve been pretty consistent on keeping a lot of those values alive in our discourse, at a time when to suggest that you might be a libertarian socialist is not necessarily something that every major reporter understands.

CHOMSKY: Libertarian socialism is just the traditional name for anarchism.


CHOMSKY: Left-wing anarchism. The United States—the term ‘libertarian,’ in the United States, has a different meaning than it had traditionally, a very different meaning. It’s very anti-libertarian.

NICHOLS: So, you’re telling me Rand Paul is not really libertarian at all?

CHOMSKY: You take a look at American-style ‘libertarianism’—it’s basically advocacy of private tyranny.


CHOMSKY: Not that the people say it, or even believe it, but if you think about the policies that’s what it ends up being.

NICHOLS: And the number one question that people asked—and it’s genuinely democratic, they get to vote, they vote a question up the ladder, and so far there’s no campaign advertising, so it’s reasonably legitimate, I think—the number one question they asked you… they all know you. Well, there was actually somebody [who] asked whether you, having grown up in Philadelphia, had a favorite Philly cheese steak.


NICHOLS: But the number one question was: “Noam, you’ve been at this political commentary for a very long time. Have you ever gotten anything wrong in your interpretation? And if so, have you ever publicly admitted as much?” And a somewhat related question, “What are the two most important subjects that you’ve changed your mind on, and what prompted you to do so?” Pretty long question, but it’s an interesting [one].

CHOMSKY: Well, plenty of mistakes. The usual mistake—which happens over and over—is getting involved in things too late. It’s a serious mistake. So take, say, what we were talking about before: global warming. The time to get involved in that was the 1970s. I remember very well when the two friends, one who was head of earth sciences at Harvard, the other head of meteorology at MIT, both around the same time came with very gloomy countenances; they were getting information indicating that the effect of human contributions to carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere were reaching severe proportions. I didn’t do anything, very few people did anything. It wasn’t until years later that I and others became seriously involved: at the point when it’s a real crisis. All right, that’s a bad mistake. The same is true of the Vietnam War, for example. I was very much involved in anti-war activism, in resistance, and so on—but from the early sixties. And the time to become involved was 1950. That’s when the policies were set that led to this destruction. I could go over case after case. The general error—at least my own, when I look back—is just not getting involved sufficiently when it matters.

NICHOLS: Is that the underpinning of your great essay on the responsibility of an intellectual?

CHOMSKY: Like most of my articles, that was a talk. It’ll surprise you to find out where it was given: to the Harvard Hillel Association. This is before 1967, when everything changed.

NICHOLS: So much has changed, but for so many years you have been a remarkable voice, and one that people have… maybe people disagree with you. You never seem to mind it when people disagree with you; you like the debate, you like the argument.

CHOMSKY: Well, often they’re right.


NICHOLS: But also, many people have learned to look at media, politics, economics, and society in fundamentally different ways. And as a person who’s been involved in media reform for an awfully long time, I can tell you that a month ago, when the media reform movement in this country succeeded in getting the FCC, the Federal Communications Commission…

CHOMSKY: That was important. That was really important.

NICHOLS: …to protect net neutrality, and to protect the Internet itself…


NICHOLS: …I think an awful lot of them—I believe almost every activist who came to every rally—was carrying a copy of Manufacturing Consent. Ladies and gentlemen, Noam Chomsky.


CHOMSKY: Thanks.

— source chomsky.info