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.

[laughter]

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!

[laughter]

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.

[laughter]

NICHOLS: Really?

CHOMSKY: Yeah.

NICHOLS: No small accomplishment.

CHOMSKY: Yeah.

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.

[laughter]

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.”

[laughter]

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

CHOMSKY: Yeah.

NICHOLS: …you’d rule the world!

CHOMSKY: Yeah.

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.

CHOMSKY: Yeah.

NICHOLS: Our great contribution to the American political process.

[laughter]

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…

NICHOLS: Why?

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.

[laughter]

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.

[laughter]

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.

[laughter]

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.

[laughter]

CHOMSKY: It’s very striking.

[applause]

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.

[applause]

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

[laughter]

NICHOLS: He is a friend, I realize.

CHOMSKY: I say nice things about him.

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

[laughter]

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.

[applause]

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.

[laughter]

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.”

[laughter]

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.

CHOMSKY: Good.

NICHOLS: And, it’s…

CHOMSKY: I know how it works.

NICHOLS: Yeah?

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.

[laughter]

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.

[laughter]

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.

NICHOLS: Yes.

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…

CHOMSKY: Yeah.

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.”

[laughter]

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.

[applause]

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?

[applause]

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…

[applause]

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.

[laughter]

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

[laughter]

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

NICHOLS: Yeah.

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.

NICHOLS: Yeah.

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.

[applause]

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.

[laughter]

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.

[laughter]

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.

[laughter]

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.

[laughter]

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!”

[applause]

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.

[laughter]

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.

[laughter]

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.

[laughter]

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.

[laughter]

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

NICHOLS: Hm.

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.

[laughter]

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.

NICHOLS: Yeah?

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.

[laughter]

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.

[laughter]

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

[applause]

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.

[applause]

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.

[laughter]

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.

[laughter]

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.

[applause]

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.

[applause]

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.

[laughter]

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.

[laughter]

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…

[applause]

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.

[applause]

CHOMSKY: Thanks.

— source chomsky.info

U.S. Exceeding King George III’s Despotism

Last week, Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe proposed reopening a U.S. military base in Puerto Rico as Congress considers legislation to address Puerto Rico’s debt crisis. For decades, Puerto Rico was host to a slew of U.S. military bases, where the Navy conducted bombing practices and war games, dumped old munitions, leading to lasting environmental damage, and napalmed the island. Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), who has been arrested protesting the U.S. military bases.

Rep. Luis Gutiérrez talking:

the last time the federal magistrate sentenced me to a year of probation, they were very clear that if I participated once again in protesting in Vieques and trespassing on federal lands there, that I would be sent to jail. Should they ever open that, I will protest, along with thousands of others, to stop the bombing of Vieques. We’ve won that fight and that battle. If they want, they can bomb the coast of Florida. They can bomb the coast of Georgia. They can bomb a lot of different coasts. But what does the senator say? “Oh, no”—from Oklahoma—”Let’s not bomb Oklahoma. Let’s just bomb those poor Puerto Ricans, because that’s a perfect place that we can do it.”

And we can do it because, as been established by these hearings, something that—if my dad in 1950 in Puerto Rico would have said that Puerto Rico was a colony of the United States, he would have been jailed under the Smith Act as it was interpreted in Puerto Rico, La Ley de la Mordaza in Puerto Rico, their version of the Smith Act. And yet, today, clearly, the Congress of the United States has established that Puerto Rico is ruled under the territorial clause of the Constitution of the United States. You know what that means? That means that Puerto Rico is owned by, is a property of the United States, but not a part of the United States, and that the Congress has plenary powers over the people of Puerto Rico. Here’s what I say: You know, Inhofe, it seems to me that King George III, if he were to look at the Congress of the United States and see you, Senator, he would say to himself, “God, I thought I was the despot. I thought I was the tyrannical person over the 13 colonies. You guys are exceeding anything that I did, as King George III, with my 13 colonies.” No, we fought a war against colonialism. We need to fight that same war against the colony of Puerto Rico and free it, free it, so that it can become everything that it can be.
________________

Luis Gutierrez
Democratic congressmember from Illinois. He is the chair of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

— source democracynow.org

Independence of Journalism

Mark Twain famously said that “it is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them.”

In his unpublished introduction to Animal Farm, devoted to “literary censorship” in free England, George Orwell added a reason for this prudence: there is, he wrote, a “general tacit agreement that ‘it wouldn’t do’ to mention that particular fact.” The tacit agreement imposes a “veiled censorship” based on “an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question,” and “anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness” even without “any official ban.”

We witness the exercise of this prudence constantly in free societies. Take the US-UK invasion of Iraq, a textbook case of aggression without credible pretext, the “supreme international crime” defined in the Nuremberg judgment. It is legitimate to say that it was a “dumb war,” a “strategic blunder,” even “the greatest strategic blunder in the recent history of American foreign policy” in President Obama’s words, highly praised by liberal opinion. But “it wouldn’t do” to say what it was, the crime of the century, though there would be no such hesitancy if some official enemy had carried out even a much lesser crime.
The prevailing orthodoxy does not easily accommodate such a figure as General/President Ulysses S. Grant, who thought there never was “a more wicked war than that waged by the United States on Mexico,” taking over what is now the US Southwest and California, and who expressed his shame for lacking “the moral courage to resign” instead of taking part in the crime.

Subordination to the prevailing orthodoxy has consequences. The not-so-tacit message is that we should only fight smart wars that are not blunders, wars that succeed in their objectives – by definition just and right according to prevailing orthodoxy even if they are in reality “wicked wars,” major crimes. Illustrations are too numerous to mention. In some cases, like the crime of the century, the practice is virtually without exception in respectable circles.
Another familiar aspect of subordination to prevailing orthodoxy is the casual appropriation of orthodox demonization of official enemies. To take an almost random example, from the issue of the New York Times that happens to be in front of me right now, a highly competent economic journalist warns of the populism of the official demon Hugo Chavez, who, once elected in the late ‘90s, “proceeded to battle any democratic institution that stood in his way.”
Turning to the real world, it was the US government, with the enthusiastic support of the New York Times, that (at the very least) fully supported the military coup that overthrew the Chavez government – briefly, before it was reversed by a popular uprising. As for Chavez, whatever one thinks of him, he won repeated elections certified as free and fair by international observers, including the Carter Foundation, whose founder, ex-President Jimmy Carter, said that “of the 92 elections that we’ve monitored, I would say the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world.” And Venezuela under Chavez regularly ranked very high in international polls on public support for the government, and for democracy (Chile-based Latinobarómetro).

There were doubtless democratic deficits during the Chavez years, such as the repression of the RCTV channel, which elicited enormous condemnation. I joined, also agreeing that it couldn’t happen in our free society. If a prominent TV channel in the US had supported a military coup as RCTV did, then it wouldn’t be repressed a few years later, because it would not exist: the executives would be in jail, if they were still alive.
But orthodoxy easily overcomes mere fact.

Failure to provide pertinent information also has consequences. Perhaps Americans should know that polls run by the leading US polling agency found that a decade after the crime of the century, world opinion regarded the United States as the greatest threat to world peace, no competitor even close; surely not Iran, which wins that prize in US commentary. Perhaps instead of concealing the fact, the press might have performed its duty of bringing it to public attention, along with some consideration of what it means, what lessons it yields for policy. Again, dereliction of duty has consequences.

Examples such as these, which abound, are serious enough, but there are others that are far more momentous. Take the electoral campaign of 2016 in the most powerful country in world history. Coverage was massive, and instructive. Issues were almost entirely avoided by the candidates, and virtually ignored in commentary, in accord with the journalistic principle that “objectivity” means reporting accurately what the powerful do and say, not what they ignore. The principle holds even if the fate of the species is at stake – as it is: both the rising danger of nuclear war and the dire threat of environmental catastrophe.
The neglect reached a dramatic peak on November 8, a truly historic day. On that day Donald Trump won two victories. The less important one received extraordinary media coverage: his electoral victory, with almost 3 million fewer votes than his opponent, thanks to regressive features of the US electoral system. The far important victory passed in virtual silence: Trump’s victory in Marrakech, Morocco, where some 200 nations were meeting to put some serious content into the Paris agreement on climate change a year earlier. On November 8, the proceedings halted. The remainder of the conference was largely devoted to trying to salvage some hope with the US not only withdrawing from the enterprise but dedicated to sabotaging it by sharply increasing the use of fossil fuels, dismantling regulations, and rejecting the pledge to assist developing countries shift to renewables.

All that was at stake in Trump’s most important victory was the prospects for organized human life in any form that we know. Accordingly, coverage was virtually zero, keeping to the same concept of “objectivity” as determined by the practices and doctrines of power.

A truly independent press rejects the role of subordination to power and authority. It casts the orthodoxy to the winds, questions what “right-thinking people will accept without question,” tears aside the veil of tacit censorship, makes available to the general public the information and range of opinions and ideas that are a prerequisite for meaningful participation in social and political life, and beyond that, offers a platform for people to enter into debate and discussion about the issues that concern them. By doing so it serves its function as a foundation for a truly free and democratic society.

— source chomsky.info

Is North Carolina Still a Democracy?

It has been nearly six months since voters in North Carolina elected Democrat Roy Cooper as governor. Republican lawmakers responded by waging what many described as a legislative coup to strip away much of Cooper’s power. Meanwhile, Republicans in North Carolina are attempting to solidify their legislative power by passing a series of new laws to restrict voting rights. This comes despite a report by the Electoral Integrity Project that determined that North Carolina’s democratic institutions are so flawed the state should no longer be considered a functioning democracy.

Chris Kromm talking:

I think North Carolina definitely is ground zero. It’s a cautionary tale about what can happen with unfettered conservative rule, but also about the possibilities of resistance. You know, you think back historically, North Carolina was always viewed as this moderate state. But then, really fueled by big money, in 2012—2010, there was a sharp rightward turn, and you saw trifecta conservative control in the state, much like you see nationally now, so you understand what we’ve been going through here in North Carolina, at the federal level. And really, there was an outright, full-scale attack on workers’ rights, LGBTQ rights, voting rights—the very elements of democracy—as that report pointed out.

But really, there was also kind of a resistance movement that formed. We know about the Moral Monday movement. We know about the legal challenges that ended up striking down a lot of those laws. And then there was an electoral surge we saw last year, where there was a Democratic governor elected. One of the most progressive attorney generals was elected. The Supreme Court is now progressive majority. And so, really shows about how deeply contested North Carolina is and, I think, really a bellwether for the rest of the country.

as soon as McCrory was voted out of office, there was a special session that was held in December, and, immediately, the Republicans, who still had a majority in the House and the Senate, went to work with a slew of bills that were really aimed at trying to limit the control of the new governor, limiting the kind of appointments that he could do, trying to change the way the election boards were set up. And it was pretty amazing just to see the full-scale attack. And they have a veto-proof majority. So, for each of these bills, Governor Cooper, who was elected by a narrow margin in the last election, has been able to veto these bills, but then they have the ability to overcome those vetoes. And a lot of them are going straight to court. The Cooper administration has said they’re going to legally challenge that these are overreach, that they violate the separation of powers, and that really it’s just an attempt—a power grab by the Legislature to try to hold onto that conservative control that they enjoyed since 2012.

some of the biggest have to do with election boards. So, for example, knowing that this is going to be one of the key battlegrounds in the coming years, with a deeply contested state like North Carolina, there’s been a proposed complete overhaul of the whole election process. And so, it used to be that the governor could appoint member—the chair of the Board of Elections, that there would be a 3-2 majority for ever who was the governor—the party in power could have a 3-2 majority. Well, now they have a new bill where it’s going to be evenly divided, which of course means that they’re never going to have an agreement in these election board meetings, but, most critically, that Republicans at the local level will have the control on even-year elections. Well, of course, those are the most important elections in the entire state. And that’s when the Legislature is elected, Senate races, presidential races. And so, really, it is—was a full-scale power grab to try to put back the power to control the election process and democracy in the hands of the conservative-controlled Legislature.

REV. WILLIAM BARBER: North Carolina has been found guilty twice on voter suppression. Last August, we won a case that said their voter—so-called voter integrity law was a voter suppression law, when they cut early voting, cut same-day registration, denied 17-year-olds the right to preregister, and tried to pass not just photo ID, that the Help America Vote Act allows, but they actually wanted to pass the worst form of photo ID, which said that in this state, even if you had a college ID or a federal ID, it still would not be considered valid.

North Carolina has just really been ground zero nationally for the whole voting rights struggle. And two key things happened last year. First of all, as Reverend Barber was pointing out, a court struck down key elements of this sweeping voting law that had been passed in 2013, which had voter ID. It slashed early voting days. It took away great programs like this teen preregistration program. If you’re 16, 17 years old and you wanted to learn more about politics, you could preregister for when you did turn of age. All those got knocked down. Well, a court said that that was overreach, that that was like almost surgical precision in the way that it discriminated against certain voters in the state. And so that ultimately got overturned. And a lot of those key provisions, which were considered really far-sighted reforms in North Carolina, were reinstated.

The other big one that came down, too, was the shooting down of the legislative districts, which had been so heavily racially gerrymandered in North Carolina. And the upshot of that is that next year they’re going to have to redraw the maps for at least 28 seats in the House and Senate. And that’s going to affect over 50 races in the state. And so, while the conservatives in power in North Carolina have been able to really engineer these lines down to a science to ensure that they could preserve, conserve and control, that means next year a lot of these are going to be redrawn. And a lot of them are going to be competitive again. And I think that’s going to make North Carolina a very interesting state to watch in 2018.
_____

Chris Kromm
executive director of the Institute for Southern Studies and publisher of Facing South.

— source democracynow.org

How the CIA Created a Fake Western Reality for ‘Unconventional Warfare’


“The Evil Spirits of the Modern Daily Press,” a cartoon from Puck magazine in 1888. (Wikimedia)

The odd, psychologically conflicted and politically divisive ideology referred to as neoconservatism can claim many godfathers. Irving Kristol (father of William Kristol), Albert Wohlstetter, Daniel Bell, Norman Podhoretz and Sidney Hook come to mind. And there are many others. But in both theory and practice, the title of founding father for the neoconservative agenda of endless warfare that rules the thinking of America’s defense and foreign policies today might best be applied to James Burnham.

His writings in the 1930s provided a refined Oxford intellectual’s gloss to the Socialist Workers Party, and as a close adviser to Communist revolutionary Leon Trotsky and his Fourth International, he learned the tactics and strategies of infiltration and political subversion firsthand. Burnham reveled in his role as a “Trotskyist intellectual,” pulling dirty tricks on his political foes in competing Marxist movements by turning their loyalties and looting their best talent.

Burnham renounced his allegiance to Trotsky and Marxism in all its forms in 1940, but he would take their tactics and strategies for infiltration and subversion with him and would turn their method of dialectical materialism against them. His 1941 book, “The Managerial Revolution,” would bring him fame and fortune and establish him as an astute, if not exactly accurate, political prophet chronicling the rise of a new class of technocratic elite. His next book, “The Machiavellians,” confirmed his movement away from Marxist idealism to a very cynical and often cruel realism with his belief in the inevitable failure of democracy and the rise of the oligarch. In 1943 he put it all to use in a memo for the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (the OSS) in which his Trotskyist anti-Stalinism would find its way into the agency’s thinking. And in his 1947 book, “The Struggle for the World,” Burnham expanded his confrontational/adversarial dialectic toward the Soviet Union into a permanent, apocalyptic policy of endless war.

By 1947 James Burnham’s transformation from Communist radical to New World Order American conservative was complete. His “Struggle for the World” had done a French Turn on Trotsky’s permanent Communist revolution and turned it into a permanent battle plan for a global American empire. All that was needed to complete Burnham’s dialectic was a permanent enemy, and that would require a sophisticated psychological campaign to keep the hatred of Russia alive for generations.

The Rise of the Machiavellians

In 1939 Sidney Hook, Burnham’s colleague at New York University and fellow Marxist philosopher, had helped to found an anti-Stalinist Committee for Cultural Freedom as part of a campaign against Moscow. During the war Hook, too, had abandoned Marxism and, like Burnham, somehow found himself in the warm embrace of the right wing of America’s intelligence community during and after World War II. Hook was viewed by the Communist Party as a traitor and “counter-revolutionary reptile” for his activities and by 1942 was informing on his fellow comrades to the FBI.

Selling impoverished and dispossessed European elites on the virtues of American culture was essential to building America’s empire after the war, and Burnham’s early writings proved the inspiration from which a new counterculture of “freedom” would be built. As veterans of internecine Trotskyist warfare, both Burnham and Hook were practiced at the arts of infiltration and subversion, and with Burnham’s “The Machiavellians: Defenders of Freedom” as their blueprint, they set out to color anything the Soviets did or said with dark intent.

As Burnham articulated clearly in “The Machiavellians,” his version of freedom meant anything but intellectual freedom or those freedoms defined by America’s Constitution. What it really meant was conformity and submission. Burnham’s freedom only applied to those intellectuals (the Machiavellians) willing to tell people the hard truth about the unpopular political realities they faced. These were the realities that would usher in a brave new world of the managerial class, who would set about denying Americans the very democracy they thought they already owned. As Orwell observed about Burnham’s Machiavellian beliefs in his 1946 “Second Thoughts”: “Power can sometimes be won or maintained without violence, but never without fraud, because it is necessary to use the masses.”

By 1949 the CIA was actively in the business of defrauding the masses by secretly supporting the so-called non-Communist left and behaving as if it was just a spontaneous outgrowth of a free society. By turning the left to the service of its expanding empire, the CIA was applying a French Turn of its own by picking the best and the brightest, and the creation of the National Security Act of 1947 institutionalized it. Assisted by Britain’s Information Research Department (the IRD), the CIA recruited key former Soviet disinformation agents trained before the war who had managed non-Communist front groups for Moscow and put them to work. As Frances Stoner Saunders writes in her book “The Cultural Cold War,” “these former propagandists for the Soviets were recycled, bleached of the stain of Communism, embraced by government strategists who saw in their conversion an irresistible opportunity to sabotage the Soviet propaganda machine which they had once oiled.”

By its own admission, the CIA’s strategy of promoting the non-Communist left would become the theoretical foundation of the agency’s political operations against Communism for over the next two decades. But the no-holds-barred cultural war against Soviet Communism began in earnest in March 1949 when a group of 800 prominent literary and artistic figures gathered at New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel for a Soviet-sponsored “Cultural and Scientific” conference that would sue for peace. Both Sidney Hook and James Burnham were already actively involved in enlisting recruits to counter the efforts of Moscow’s Communist Information Bureau (Cominform) to influence Western opinion. But the Waldorf conference gave them an opportunity for dirty tricks they could only have prayed for.

Demonstrators organized by a right-wing coalition of Catholic groups and the American Legion heckled the guests as they arrived. Catholic nuns knelt in prayer for the souls of the Communist atheists in attendance. Gathered upstairs in a 10-floor bridal suite, a gang of ex-Trotskyists and Communists led by Hook intercepted the conference’s mail, doctored official press releases and published pamphlets challenging speakers to admit their Communist past.

In the end the entire conference became a twisted theater of the absurd, and Hook and Burnham would use it to sell Frank Wisner at the CIA’s Office of Policy Coordination on taking the show on the road.

The Congress for Cultural Freedom: By Hook or by Crook

Drawing on the untapped power of the Fourth International, the coming-out party came on June 26, 1950, at the Titania Palace in occupied Berlin. Named for Hook’s 1939 concept for a cultural committee, The Congress for Cultural Freedom’s 14-point “Freedom Manifesto” was to identify the West with freedom. And since everything about the West was said to be free, free, free, then it went without saying that everything about the Soviet Union wasn’t.

Organized by Burnham and Hook, the American delegation represented a who’s who of America’s postwar intellectuals. Tickets to Berlin were paid for by Wisner’s Office of Policy Coordination through front organizations and the Department of State, which helped arrange travel, expenses and publicity. According to CIA historian Michael Warner, the conference sponsors considered it money well spent, with one Defense Department representative calling it “unconventional warfare at its best.”

Burnham functioned as a critical connection between Wisner’s office and the intelligentsia moving from the extreme left to the extreme right with ease. Burnham found the congress to be a place to inveigh not just against Communism but against the non-communist left as well and left many wondering whether his views weren’t as dangerous to liberal democracy as Communism. According to Frances Stoner Saunders, members of the British delegation found the rhetoric coming out of the congress to be a deeply troubling sign of things to come. “Hugh Trevor-Roper was appalled by the provocative tone. … There was a speech by Franz Borkenau which was very violent and indeed almost hysterical. He spoke in German and I regret to say that as I listened and I heard the baying voices of approval from the huge audiences, I felt, well, these are the same people who seven years ago were probably baying in the same way to similar German denunciations of Communism coming from Dr. Goebbels in the Sports Palast. And I felt, well, what sort of people are we identifying with? That was the greatest shock to me. There was a moment during the Congress when I felt that we were being invited to summon up Beelzebub in order to defeat Stalin.”

The Congress for Cultural Freedom didn’t need Beelzebub. It already had him in the form of Burnham, Hook and Wisner, and by 1952, the party was just getting started. Burnham worked overtime for Wisner legitimizing the congress as a platform for the Machiavellians alongside ex-Communists and even Nazis, including SS Gen. Reinhard Gehlen and his German army intelligence unit, which had been brought into the CIA after the war intact. E. Howard Hunt, Watergate “plumber” and famous CIA dirty trickster, remembered Burnham in his memoirs: “Burnham was a consultant to OPC on virtually every subject of interest to our organization. … He had extensive contacts in Europe and, by virtue of his Trotskyite background, was something of an authority on domestic and foreign Communist parties and front organizations.”

In 1953 Burnham was called upon again by Wisner to reach beyond Communism to help overthrow the democratically elected Mohammed Mossadegh in Tehran, Iran, apparently because Wisner thought the plan needed “a touch of Machiavelli.” But Burnham’s greatest contribution as a Machiavellian was yet to come. His book, “The Machiavellians: Defenders of Freedom,” would become the CIA’s manual for displacing Western culture with an alternative doctrine for endless conflict in a world of oligarchs. In the end, it opened the gates to an Inferno from which there would be no return.

— source truthdig.com by Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould

part 4: the-final-stage-of-the-machiavellian-elites-takeover-of-america

South’s political clout rising under Trump

In the 2016 elections, Southern states delivered 160 Electoral College votes to Donald Trump, more than half of the 306 total that propelled him to the White House.

Now, nearly 100 days into Trump’s presidency, Southern Republicans have emerged as key figures in the new administration and the GOP-controlled Congress, giving Southern states growing influence in shaping the nation’s political agenda.

The South provided a strong base of support for Trump in 2016. Of 13 Southern states, only Virginia voted for Hillary Clinton last November, and several Southern politicians became key supporters of Trump’s insurgent campaign.

The South was also important to ensuring that Republicans maintained control of the U.S. House and Senate: GOP candidates won 73 percent of the South’s 147 House races in 2016 and all of the region’s eight Senate races, even as Democrats achieved modest gains in both chambers elsewhere in the country.

After helping fuel the nation’s rightward shift in last year’s elections, Southern conservatives find themselves in key positions of influence in both the executive and legislative branches in Washington.
Southerners in Trump’s cabinet

President Trump’s cabinet features several key Southern Republicans, including a handful of conservatives who became important endorsers of Trump’s run for the White House. So far, 19 of Trump’s 23 cabinet picks have received confirmation by the U.S. Senate, with Southerners taking leadership of influential posts including attorney general, secretary of state and Trump’s top budget official at the Office of Management and Budget.

NIKKI HALEY, Ambassador to the United Nations

In a cabinet that The New York Times describes as “more white and male than any cabinet since Ronald Reagan’s,” former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is the exception: The daughter of Indian immigrants, Haley is one of only four women and three non-white members of Trump’s 19 confirmed cabinet officials.

Haley is also unique among the cabinet officials in the level of criticism she directed at Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign, where she initially backed U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. In February of last year, Haley called Trump “everything a governor doesn’t want in a president.” Before the critical South Carolina presidential primary in March, Haley blasted the eventual GOP nominee for not distancing himself enough from white supremacists and his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the country, which she called “un-American.”

But Haley hasn’t been entirely at odds with Trump and his agenda. Haley embraced the Tea Party wing of the GOP in her first gubernatorial run in 2010, and in 2015 announced she didn’t want Syrian refugees resettled in South Carolina, in line with Trump’s position. Before the 2016 elections, Haley said she would be voting for Trump.

Despite a thin foreign policy resume, Haley was confirmed by the U.S. Senate by a 96-4 vote. In a statement announcing Haley’s nomination for the position of ambassador to the United Nations, Trump downplayed their past disagreements, saying:

Governor Haley has a proven track record of bringing people together regardless of background or party affiliation to move critical policies forward for the betterment of her state and our country. She is also a proven dealmaker, and we look to be making plenty of deals.

MICK MULVANEY, Office of Management and Budget

Another South Carolinia Republican with Tea Party roots, former U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney was one of the most conservative members of Congress after being elected in 2010 and a founder in 2015 of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus. Although an initial backer of U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky for president, Mulvaney later swung behind the Trump campaign.

Mulvaney’s nomination to Trump’s top budget position was deeply contested; the three-term congressman squeaked by on a 51-49 confirmation vote, in part due to revelations that he failed to pay $15,000 in payroll taxes from 2000 to 2004 for an in-house nanny.

Mulvaney’s two-month tenure in the Office of Management and Budget has also been embattled. In March, Mulvaney accused the Obama administration of “manipulating the numbers” about unemployment and declared the Congressional Budget Office was “way, way off” in estimating the impact of Obamacare, both claims that fact-checkers demonstrated were false.

Controversy only increased when Mulvaney’s office released the outlines of the president’s budget, which was declared “dead on arrival” by both Democrats and Republicans and attacked for slashing or eliminating entirely funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, National Endowment for the Arts and the National Institutes of Health, as well as funding for school lunch programs, climate research and humanitarian aid.

Mulvaney has avoided one anticipated source of conflict during his brief tenure: a battle between Congress and the White House over military spending. As a congressman, Mulvaney advocated deep cuts to the military budget, including a vote in 2013 with Democrats to trim $3.5 billion from a defense appropriations bill. But in Trump’s cabinet, Mulvaney appears to have made peace with generous military spending: The budget proposal Mulvaney unveiled in March included a $54 billion increase in the defense budget.

RICK PERRY, Secretary of Energy

Early in the 2016 campaign, former Texas governor and “Dancing with the Stars” competitor Rick Perry called Donald Trump a “cancer on conservatism,” and the president-to-be’s politics a “toxic mix of demagoguery and mean-spiritedness and nonsense.” But by May, Perry had decided Trump was “one of the most talented people who has ever run for the president I have ever seen,” and became a vocal Trump supporter throughout the rest of the campaign.

Such about-faces were also a hallmark of Perry’s confirmation hearings, which began with the two-time presidential candidate apologizing for his 2011 statement that the Department of Energy, along with other federal agencies, should be eliminated entirely. Perry stated early in his testimony that “[a]fter being briefed on so many of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination.” Perry also walked back earlier claims dismissing the threat of climate change, which he told the Senate is a “crisis,” although he declined to say how much of it is due to human activity.

As Perry advisor and energy lobbyist Michael McKenna told the New York Times, Perry’s understanding of the agency has also involved a “learning curve.” Early in the confirmation process, Perry’s statements focused on energy policy, while about two-thirds of the agency’s $30 billion budget is devoted to overseeing the nation’s nuclear weapons arsenal.

In terms of energy policy, Perry brings a mixed record. On one hand, the longtime Texas governor was a fierce proponent of expanding oil and natural gas drilling, and as a 2011 report noted, “Under Mr. Perry, Texas has moved eagerly to build coal-fired power plants, even as other states have stopped issuing permits for the plants because of pollution concerns.” But under Perry, Texas was also the first state to adopt utility energy efficiency requirements, and he used generous incentives to back the growth of wind power, which now accounts for nearly half of the state’s electricity generating capacity.

TOM PRICE, Secretary of Health and Human Services

An orthopedic surgeon and six-term congressman from Georgia, Price endorsed President Trump’s campaign in May 2016. Like Trump, Price has been a vociferous critic of the Affordable Care Act. Price was also a member of the right-wing Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, a group founded in 1943 that opposed Medicaid and Medicare and that continues to “fight socialized medicine and to fight the government takeover of medicine.”

Price has been dogged by questions about his cozy relationship with the health industry before and after his cabinet nomination, which Democrats boycotted in committee and which only narrowly succeeded on a 52-47 vote in the full Senate.

As a congressman, Price received generous backing from the health and pharmaceutical industries, and he wasn’t shy about going to bat for his backers. As the investigative website ProPublica documented, Price urged a government agency to remove a damaging drug study on behalf of a pharmaceutical company whose CEO donated to Price’s campaign.

As a U.S. representative, Price repeatedly attacked the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, a group of physicians and academics who evaluate which medical procedures are backed by good science and provide advice to insurers under the Affordable Care Act. After the Task Force judged that certain cancer screenings weren’t necessary — a move that could cause health practitioners to lose patients — Price and other Republicans lashed out at the Task Force’s “bureaucrats.”

Last December, the Wall Street Journal reported that Price “traded more than $300,000 in shares of health-related companies over the past four years while sponsoring and advocating legislation that potentially could affect those companies’ stocks.” Reports by CNN, ProPublica and Time all found cases where Price took legislative action to help companies in which he was invested.

According to a source identified by ProPublica, former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who was removed from his post by the Trump administration, was overseeing an investigation into Price’s stock trades at the time of his dismissal.

JEFF SESSIONS, Attorney General

By far one of the most bitterly-contested of the new administration’s cabinet picks, former U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama was an early endorser of Trumps’ candidacy, famously donning a “Make America Great Again” hat at an August 2015 rally. Sessions’ long-time communications director Stephen Miller was an early hire of the Trump campaign.

Trump’s November 2016 announcement that Sessions would be his pick for attorney general revived controversy that had scuttled his nomination in 1986 to be a U.S. District Court judge for the Southern District of Alabama. During those nomination hearings, lawyers who worked with Sessions and others testified to comments he had made including allegedly saying the NAACP was “un-American” and that he thought the Ku Klux Klan was “OK until I found out they smoked pot.”

In a letter to Congress at the time, civil rights widow Coretta Scott King famously attacked Sessions for his aggressive and failed prosecution of African-American leaders for alleged voter fraud while a U.S. attorney, concluding that “Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters. For this reprehensible conduct, he should not be rewarded with a federal judgeship.”

But Sessions’ views on civil and voting rights weren’t just matters of historical interest. In 2013, when the U.S. Supreme Court gutted a key enforcement provision of the Voting Rights Act, Sessions praised it as “good news … for the South,” claiming that “[i]f you go to Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, people aren’t being denied the vote because of the color of their skin.” Sessions has also taken far-right positions opposing climate science and immigration that align him with many of Trump’s controversial statements; the Southern Poverty Law Center called Sessions a “champion of anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant extremists.”

Sessions has also found himself ensnared in the scandal over ties to Russia that have plagued the Trump administration. During his nomination hearing, Sessions was asked if “anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign,” to which Sessions replied, “I’m not aware of any of those activities.” It was later found that Sessions himself had met twice with a Russian envoy during his time as a representative of the Trump campaign, a fact he didn’t disclose to Congress.

REX TILLERSON, Secretary of State

In a cabinet marked by unusual choices, Texas native and oil executive Rex Tillerson has had one of the most unique routes to a key post in Trump’s administration.

Tillerson hasn’t worked in any role in government, or any other company besides what is now energy giant Exxon Mobil, which he joined in 1975 as an engineer. Tillerson steadily rose through the ranks, with a portfolio that centered on the company’s dealings with Russia and the Middle Eastern nations of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Syria. He served as CEO from 2006 to 2016.

As a leader at Exxon, Tillerson often operated at cross purposes with the very State Department he now leads. In his dealings with Russia, Tillerson developed a close relationship with the state-run oil company Rosneft, but the joint projects ended when the U.S. imposed sanctions after the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014. As Steve Coll noted in the New Yorker, Exxon Mobil also joined an oil-production agreement with the authoritarian president of Chad worth more than $500 million dollars, and later defied the State Department in cutting an oil deal with the Kurdish Regional Government. According to Coll, Tillerson justified the latter arrangement by saying, “I had to do what was best for my shareholders.”

Also notable have been Tillerson’s changing views on climate change. While in 2005 Tillerson claimed that “science isn’t there to make [a] determination” about changing climate, by 2012 Tillerson stated in another forum that “I’m not disputing that increasing CO2 emissions in the atmosphere is going to have an impact. It’ll have a warming impact.” But even while admitting the role that fossil fuels will play in changing climate, Tillerson has appeared to advocate a hands-off approach when it comes to policy and regulation, instead implying that humans will find ways to adapt to new climate realities. As the Washington Post reports, in 2012 Tillerson said at an event:

And as human beings as a — as a — as a species, that’s why we’re all still here. We have spent our entire existence adapting, OK? So we will adapt to this. Changes to weather patterns that move crop production areas around — we’ll adapt to that. It’s an engineering problem, and it has engineering solutions. And so I don’t — the fear factor that people want to throw out there to say we just have to stop this, I do not accept.

Southerners’ congressional clout

As Southerners have taken important leadership positions in Trump’s White House leadership, Southern states have also seen their influence grow in Congress.

Since 1990, the publication Roll Call has produced a Congressional Clout Index to measure the influence of each state’s delegation using a formula that looks at leadership on powerful committees, seniority and other factors.

The sheer size of Florida and Texas puts them in the top five of Roll Call’s rankings. The report notes that while Texas has only about two-thirds of California’s population, the Lone Star state is threatening to overtake its West Coast rival for the top spot. This is due largely to powerful Texas leaders like Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn and 21 committee chairs in the House, including the leaders of the influential Armed Services, Financial Services, Rules, and Ways and Means committees, as well as Agriculture, Homeland Security, and Science, Space and Technology.

One of the notable states that has seen its clout skyrocket in the new political landscape, despite its modest size, is Tennessee. One of the reasons is seniority. As Roll Call notes, “[A]ll but one of the Volunteer State’s lawmakers have been in office longer than six years.” That longevity has given them access to key leadership roles: The state’s two senators in their third years of leading premier panels — Bob Corker at Foreign Relations and Lamar Alexander at Health, Education, Labor and Pensions — and Reps. Diane Black (Budget) and Phil Roe (Veterans Affairs) also chair key committees.

Rounding out the top 20 rankings, the fast-growing states of North Carolina and Georgia rank as having the 11th- and 12th-most influential congressional delegations by Roll Call’s analysis. Alabama, Kentucky and Mississippi, despite each having seven or less House members, all rank in the top 20 as well, a reflection of the long-term Republican leadership coming from these smaller Southern states.

— source facingsouth.org by Chris Kromm