Noam Chomsky on the Populist Groundswell, U.S. Elections, the Future of Humanity, and More

By Lynn Parramore, Senior Research Analyst at the Institute for New Economic Thinking. Originally published at the Institute for New Economic Thinking website

We recently interviewed Noam Chomsky, Institute Professor Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Laureate Professor in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Arizona. He shares his thoughts with the Institute for New Economic Thinking on foreign policy, dissent in the Internet age, public education, corporate predation, who’s really messing with American elections, climate change, and more.

Lynn Parramore: You’ve been looking at politics and international relations for quite a long time. Over the decades, what are the continuities in these areas that stand out in your view?

Noam Chomsky: Well the continuities are the message of the Athenians to Melos: “the powerful do what they wish and the weak suffer what they must” [from Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War.”]  It’s often disguised in humanitarian terms. The modalities and the context change. The situations change but the message stays the same.

LP: What do you see as the most significant changes?

NC: There are some steps towards imposing constraints and limits on state violence. For the most part, they come from inside. So for example, if you look at the United States and the kinds of actions that John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson could carry out in Vietnam, they were possible because of almost complete lack of public attention.

I don’t know if you know, but as late as 1966 in Boston we could barely have an anti-war action because it would be violently broken up with the support of the press and so on. By then, South Vietnam had been practically destroyed. The war had expanded to other areas of Indochina. The Reagan administration, at the very beginning, tried to duplicate what Kennedy had done in 1961 with regard to Central America. So they had a white paper more or less modeled on Kennedy’s white paper that said the Communists are taking over. It was the usual steps, the propaganda, but it collapsed quickly. In the case of the Kennedy white paper, it took years before it was exposed as mostly fraudulent, but the Wall Street Journal, of all places, exposed the Reagan white paper in six months. There were protests by church groups and popular organizations and they had to kind of back off. What happened was bad enough but it was nothing like Indochina.

Iraq was the first time in the history of imperialism that there were massive protests before the war was even officially launched. It’s claimed by people that it failed, but I don’t think so. I mean, they never began to do the kinds of things that they could have done. There were no B-52 raids on heavily populated areas or chemical warfare of the kind they did in Indochina. By and large the constraints come from inside, and they understood that. By the time you got to the first Bush administration, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, they came out with a national defense policy and strategic policy. What they basically said is that we’re going to have wars against what they called much weaker enemies and these have to be carried out quickly and decisively or else there will be embarrassment—a way of saying that popular reaction is going to set in. And that’s the way it’s been. It’s not pretty, but it’s some kind of constraint.

There are increasingly conditions in international law, like the Rome Treaty [the 1957 treaty that established the European Economic Community] and so on, but great powers just ignore them if they can get away with it, and getting away with it means ignoring the constraints of other states, which, in the case of, say, the U.S., don’t amount to much. Or internal constraints from changes inside the society, which have put in conditions of some significance, I think.

It’s almost unimaginable now that the U.S. could carry out the kind of war it did in Indochina, which is something recognized by elite opinion. A typical example is Mark Bowden’s op-ed in the New York Times the other day about [Walter] Cronkite and how he changed everything. Well, what did Cronkite say? He said, it doesn’t look as if we’re going to win. That’s the criticism of the war. That’s the way it was perceived at the time, and that’s the way it’s still perceived by intellectual elites. But if you look at public opinion—which doesn’t really get investigated much so it’s not too clear what it means, but it’s interesting—the Chicago Council on Global Affairs was running polls on all sorts of issues in the 70s and 80s, and when the Vietnam War ended in 1975, about 70 percent of the population described the war as fundamentally wrong and immoral, not a mistake. That stayed pretty steady for several years until they stop asking the question. The director of the study, John Rielly, interpreted that as meaning too many American were being killed. Maybe. There’s another possible interpretation of “fundamentally wrong and immoral,” which is that the U.S. was carrying out a crime against humanity. But it was never investigated because there’s too much cognitive dissonance. Elite intellectuals can’t perceive that possibility.

Everybody had a comment when the war ended, and so the hawks said, “stab in the back” [i.e. civilian critics undermined the military] and “if we’d fought harder we would have won.” The doves went kind of like Anthony Lewis of the New York Times, who was maybe the most extreme. In 1975 when the war ended, he said the war began with blundering efforts to do good. “Efforts to do good” is virtual tautology, facts irrelevant; and “blundering” means it failed. He said that by 1969 it was clear that it was a disaster because the U.S. could not bring democracy to Vietnam at a cost acceptable to us. That’s the far left critique of the war in 1975. And Bowden, who is writing from a critical point of view, basically reiterated that point a couple days ago: Cronkite’s great contribution was to say, “look, it looks as if we can’t win, and if we can’t win…” I mean, Russian generals said the same in Afghanistan. We don’t honor them for that.

LP: When you talked about protests in Understanding Power before the digital age, you mentioned that it was difficult for dissenters and protesters to connect with each other. How has the internet changed that? Protesters are obviously under surveillance when they are online, but they are able to connect with each other more quickly. Has there been a net gain to those who want to object to wars and oppression? Or is this illusory?

NC: You may remember, during the Tahrir Square demonstrations in Cairo, which were being organized through social media, at one point [Hosni] Mubarak actually closed down the internet. That increased the mobilization. People just started talking to each other. It’s a different kind of communication. It means a lot more. So I think, yes, social media do offer opportunities for quick organization and transmission, but typically at a pretty superficial level. Face-to-face organizing is something quite different. The same, incidentally, has been found in electoral politics. Andrew Cockburn had an interesting article in Harper’s during the [2016] campaign in which he compared studies on the effect on potential voters of advertising, you know, TV, and the effect of knocking on doors and talking to people. It was overwhelming that the latter was more effective. We’re still human beings.

LP: Companies like Google and Facebook increasingly control the information we can access. They’ve even been enlisted to vet stories, to weed out fake news, though there’s evidence that they may be weeding out legitimate dissent. Yet they are often applauded as if they’re doing a service. How is this sort of thing affecting our freedom?

NC: It’s service for a bad reason. The younger people just don’t read much, so they want something quick, fast, easy. You go through a newspaper, it takes time. You have to see what’s at the end of the column, not just what’s in the headline. So this kind of instant gratification culture is drawing people to these quick summaries. Practically everybody’s on Facebook (except me).

The other thing they’re doing which is kind of interesting has to do with microtargeting, which is being used for electoral manipulation. There are some cases, which have not been discussed as far as I know outside the business press. During the last German election, there was a lot of talk of potential Russian interference, you know, it’s gonna swing the election. Well, it turns out there was foreign interference, but it wasn’t Russian. It was a combination of the Berlin office of Facebook and a media company in the U.S., which works for Trump, Le Pen, Netanyahu, other nice guys. They used Facebook in Berlin to get a demographic analysis of parts of the population to allow them to microtarget ads to individuals in favor of AfD, the neo-Nazi party, which may have been a factor in their unexpectedly high vote in the election. This was reported in Bloomberg BusinessWeek. This was a real case of electoral manipulation but somehow it doesn’t make the headlines.

LP: Which brings us to the narrative of Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election. I understand you’re not very impressed with this line.

NC: Well it’s very hard to take seriously for a number of reasons. One reason is the work of Thomas Ferguson and his colleagues [“How Money Won Trump the White House”]. There really is manipulation of elections, but it’s not coming from the Russians. It’s coming from the people who buy the elections. Take his study of the 2016 election [“Industrial Structure and Party Competition in an Age of Hunger Games: Donald Trump and the 2016 Presidential Election”]. That’s how you interfere with elections. Or the pretty spectacular study that he and his colleagues did about a year ago on Congress “How Money Drives US Congressional Elections,” where you just get a straight line [correlation between money and major party votes in Congress]. You rarely see results like that in the social sciences. That’s massive manipulation. Compared with that, what the Russians might be doing is minuscule. Quite aside from the fact that the U.S. does it all the time in other countries.

LP: It’s clear from leaked emails that the Democratic National Committee meddled with Bernie Sanders in his quest for the 2016 presidential nomination by favoring Hillary Clinton when it was supposed to be unbiased towards all candidates. What do you think it would it take for a real reformist candidate, a true populist, to ever win the presidency?

NC: What it would actually take is popular organization and activism. With all its flaws, the U.S. is still a pretty free country. In this case, Democratic Party managers had to manipulate to keep Sanders from winning the nomination. His campaign, I think, was really spectacular. I couldn’t have predicted anything like it. It’s a break with over a century of American political history. No corporate support, no financial wealth, he was unknown, no media support. The media simply either ignored or denigrated him. And he came pretty close—he probably could have won the nomination, maybe the election. But suppose he’d been elected? He couldn’t have done a thing. Nobody in Congress, no governors, no legislatures, none of the big economic powers, which have an enormous effect on policy. All opposed to him. In order for him to do anything, he would have to have a substantial, functioning party apparatus, which would have to grow from the grass roots. It would have to be locally organized, it would have to operate at local levels, state levels, Congress, the bureaucracy—you have to build the whole system from the bottom.

It’s kind of intriguing now, I’m sure you’ve seen the polls where he turns out to be the most popular political figure.  Well, in a functioning democracy, the person who is the most popular political figure should appear somewhere. But nothing he does gets reported. It’s taking place, it’s having effects, but from the point of view of the liberal media, it’s as if it doesn’t exist.

LP: What about recent events in California with Senator Dianne Feinstein, who got a big surprise by failing to win the state Democratic Party endorsement for a sixth term? Is this like the Sanders phenomenon, where people who want basic things like universal healthcare and worker protections are making their preferences heard by refusing to support candidates who are unresponsive?

NC: She was voted down, and like the Sanders campaign or [Jeremy] Corbyn in England, there is a groundswell, and if it could be turned into something sustained and with a serious base, it could mean a lot. Traditionally, this has always been built around the labor movement, and that’s why the corporate sector is so dedicated to destroying the unions. It’s coming up in the Janus case, which was heard the other day, which will probably be voted in favor of Janus, which will be a lethal blow to public unions. [Mark Janus is the plaintiff in the U.S. Supreme Court case Janus v. AFSCME involving the issue of whether government employees represented by a union must pay dues to cover the cost of collective bargaining and resolving grievances].

The whole U.S. private sector is passionate about destroying the union movement. This has been going on for a long time, but now they really think they can strangle it because it’s the core of activism for almost anything. Take a look at, say, healthcare. In Canada, in the 50s, it was the unions who were pressing hard for national healthcare, and kind of interestingly, in the U.S. the same unions were pressing for healthcare for themselves, auto workers in Detroit. These are two pretty similar countries, but with this striking difference in outcomes on healthcare.

A more interesting case is England. There’s a pretty good article that just came out in the latest issue of Jacobin, which runs through the history of British healthcare and it’s quite interesting. It began, in England under Bevan in the late 40s. They got what was the best healthcare system in the world—still is, probably, and certainly was then. It started with mine workers in Wales who developed their own cooperative health system on a small scale. Aneurin Bevan was a Welsh mine worker. The cooperative system was picked up by the Labour Party as a program and the Labour Party actually won the election in 1945 and Bevan pushed it through and they got the National Health Service.

Well, there’s two points that are critical for the U.S. It’s the unions. That why you have to destroy the unions. You destroy solidarity. It’s same reason for the attack on public schools, the attack on social security. These are all based on the idea that somehow you care about others, the community, and so on, and that’s completely unacceptable in a culture where you want to try to concentrate wealth and power. You don’t want people to have anything to do except to try to gain whatever they can for themselves. In that case, they’ll be very weak, of course. It’s only when you organize together than you can confront private capital.

Secondly, there was a political party. The American political system probably wouldn’t be accepted by the European Court of Justice as a legitimate system. There’s no way for independent parties to enter the system. The Labour Party in England started as a very small party. But because the system allows—as most democratic countries do—small parties to function, they were able to develop and work within Parliament and expand and get political figures and the government and finally ended up being a big party. That’s almost impossible in the U.S. If you look at a ballot in the U.S., it says Democrat, Republican, Other. Nobody can break in. It’s a political monopoly. It’s two things that aren’t really political parties. You can’t really be a member of the Democratic Party, you can’t participate in designing its programs. You can be a member of the Labour Party. These are big differences, so I think two huge problems in the U.S. are the deficiencies of the political system, which shows up in the kind of things that Tom Ferguson and his colleagues study—you know, the enormous power of concentrated wealth in determining the outcome of elections and then the policies afterwards. That’s one, and the other is the destruction of the labor movement.

LP: Let’s talk about the attack on public schools, which Gordon Lafer has outlined in his book, The One Percent Solution.

NC: Yes, a very interesting book.

LP: He discusses efforts by ALEC and other corporate-backed groups to dismantle public education, to get legislation passed to replace teachers with online education, increase class sizes, replace public schools with privately-funded charters, and so on. You’ve talked about the history of mass education. How do you see this corporate agenda for American schools?

NC: You know, mass public education was, with all its flaws, one of the real contributions to American democracy. It was way ahead of other countries all the way through, including the college level with land grant colleges and so on. Europe just began to match that after World War II. Here it was happening in the late 19th century. Now there’s a real concerted effort to destroy the whole public education system. ALEC and Koch Brothers just recently announced a campaign taking Arizona as the test case because they figure Arizona is probably an easy one since it has probably the lowest per capita expenditure for education and a very right-wing legislature. What they’re trying to do—they describe it openly—is to try to essentially destroy the public education system, turn everything to vouchers and charter schools. It’ll be an interesting battle, and if it works in Arizona they want to do it elsewhere.

It’s a huge corporate offensive. It’s very similar to attack on unions. First the Friedrichs [Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, in which the Supreme Court deadlocked on the issue of the right of public-sector unions to collect fees from workers they represent, including those who don’t join the union, to cover bargaining and other activities], now the Janus case, and they’ll probably succeed. This right-to-work legislation is just unacceptable in other countries. In fact, in the NAFTA negotiations, at one point Canada proposed that part of a revision should be to ban measures that undermine labor rights like the right-to-work legislation. It’s kind of like using scabs. It’s just not heard of. But Reagan introduced it here—I think the U.S. and South Africa were the only countries that allowed it. In fact, the U.S. has never even ratified the first principle of the International Labour Organization, the right of association. I think the U.S. must be alone, frankly. It’s very much a business-run society.

LP: What are students being trained for now in the corporate vision of education that is taking over the country? What kind of future will they have? And what does it do to the idea of a democracy?

NC: Students will be controlled and disciplined. The education doesn’t leave any room for interaction, for creative activity, for teachers to do things on their own, for students to find a way to do things, I’ve talked to teacher’s groups.  I remember once I was giving a talk and a 6th grade teacher came up to me describing experiences. She said that after one class a little girl came up and said that she was really interested in something that came up and wanted to know how she could do some more on it. And they teacher had to tell her, you can’t do it. You have to study for the MCAS, the Massachusetts version of the regular exam [Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System]. Everything depends on that. Even the teacher’s salary depends on that. So you can’t do anything creative as an individual. You follow the rules. It’s the Marine Corps. You do what you’re told. No associations. It’s a perfect system for creating a deeply authoritarian society.

It’s also kind of a two-tiered system. It’s a little bit like what Sam Bowles and Herb Gitnis [co-authors of Schooling in Capitalist America] discussed when they wrote about early mass education. For the general worker, turn them into industrial workers, but for the elite, you have to have creativity: MIT, Harvard. You have to have people to create the next stage of the economy.

LP: In the last several years, we’ve had a number of protest movements, Occupy, Black Lives Matter, and the #MeToo movement, which have often met with hostility or dismissal in the liberal press. Take #MeToo: the protest against workplace sexual harassment and violence has shown solidarity along class lines and across countries. For example, Latina farmworkers and Indian feminists back it. Yet some in the liberal press compare #MeToo protesters to McCarthyites and warn of witch hunts, despite the fact that the movement is helping to shift power away from oppressive management towards workers in challenging things like forced arbitration clauses that deny workers the right to take charges to court.

NC: It’s a very valid protest and it’s an important movement. Charges do have to be subject to some kind of verification. Just allegation is not enough. As far as I know, the left-oriented groups like EPI [Economic Policy Institute] are in favor of ending forced arbitration, which also affects many other kinds of charges. I think they’re focusing on labor rights.

LP: That’s true, but it seems that some may not be recognizing #MeToo as really part of the labor rights struggle.

NC: That’s interesting. Yes.

LP: Let’s talk about the broader issue of economic inequality. This year, wealthy elites polled at the World Economic Forum in Davos listed inequality as number 7 on their list of global worries. They’re more worried about other things, like data breaches and involuntary migration. Do you think that they may be comforted by the fact that they’ve avoided some scary scenarios, like, for example, a real populist president in the US, and can therefore relax a bit? Should they be more worried?

NC: The danger that they perceive is that it might lead to a popular uprising, so you have to control that. There are the standard excuses about merit, which is a joke when you look at the details. I mean, take Bill Gates—a perfectly admirable person, but, as I’m sure he’d be the first to say, he based his fortune on two things, one, decades of work in the state sector which created the technology — the creative, risky work which was done since the 50s. He picked it up and marketed it. The second is the World Trade Organization, which gives him monopoly-pricing rights. I mean, that’s great but…

LP: Kind of goes against the Horatio Alger myth [the belief that anybody can get rich just by working hard].

NC: Yes.

LP: Finally, as you look ahead, what do you consider to be the biggest threats to human beings in the future? What should we be most concerned about?

NC: Climate change and nuclear war. These are really existential threats. And what’s happening now is just astonishing. If media were functioning seriously, every day the lead headline would be this amazing fact—that in the entire world, every country is trying or committed to doing at least something. One country—one!—the most powerful country in history—is committed to trying to destroy the climate. Not just pulling out of the efforts of others, but maximizing the use of the most destructive means.

There’s been nothing like this in history. It’s kind of an outrageous statement, but it happens to be true, that the Republican Party is the most dangerous organization in human history. Nobody, not even the Nazis, was dedicated to destroying the possibility of organized human life. It’s just missing from the media. In fact, if you read, say, the sensible business press, the Financial Times, BusinessWeek, any of them, when they talk about fossil fuel production, the articles are all just about the prospect for profit. Is the U.S. moving to number one and what are the gains? Not that it’s going to wipe out organized human life. Maybe that’s a footnote somewhere. It’s pretty astonishing.

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  1. SOMK

    A good read, only quibble would be the comment on Gates, there is a third key factor, his mother Mary sat on the board of United Way of America with chairman of IBM John Opel, this is how young William got the gig for supplying IBM with DOS in the first place.

    1. Anon

      And Bill’s father was a corporate attorney and taught him how to suppress/ignore the law when dealing with competitors. Remember, BG was a college drop-out; from Harvard!

        1. begob

          Not quite – DOS was developed by Gary Kildall, who settled a suit over MS-DOS. It’s a great story of geek intrigue.

          1. sgt_doom

            Negative, Mr. Kildall didn’t settle a suit, it was the bunch who founded the company which made Netware, who purchased the rights to Dr. DOS (the latter name of CP/M) after Gary’s death and settled out of court with Microsoft, sometime in either the late 1990s or early ’00s for a cool $1 billion.

            Since BillyG is such a skinflint, I have to believe the only way they would part with that much money is that they were guilty — not to mention that anyone like myself who disassembled the original DOS code noticed notes in it from Gary Kildall!

        2. whine country

          True, and he did it AFTER IBM agreed to purchase it from him. (I believe it was CPM that he stole, but let’s not quibble)

          1. Watt4Bob

            IBM didn’t purchase it, he licensed it to them, they would have been much better off purchasing it.

            That decision has been called the worst, most costly business decision in history.

            1. sgt_doom

              To elaborate on your excellent comment, Watt4Bob, what Gates and Micro$oft did was similar to a situation where all the automobiles on the planet had the same engine from the same single manufacturer.

              It was the licensing/business deal of all human history.

              (Mark Alexander, below, doesn’t explain WHY Microsoft settled out of court for $1 billion in payout. That’s a rather important and overlooked point – – so I declare Mr. Alexander to be mistaken.)

        3. Mark Alexander

          Former Digital Research employee here.

          Gates is a ruthless, unethical competitor, but he did not steal DOS. He bought DOS from Seattle Computer Products, where it had been developed by a guy named Tim Paterson. It was very similar to Digital Research’s CP/M, in that the API for system calls was practically identical. That seems like a legitimate form of reverse engineering to me.

          More on this here.

          Later, the tables were turned in a way, when Digital Research developed Concurrent DOS, which was compatible with MS-DOS but supported multitasking.
          Alas, by this time MS-DOS was so entrenched on the PC that even a superior product like Concurrent DOS could not make headway.

          1. Hayek's Heelbiter

            And don’t forget M$’s incredibly treacherous bait-and-switch with OS-2, which the Seattle Beluga was co-developing with IBM.

            As a developer who wasted hundreds of hours learning the new operating system (which was [and might still well be]) far to superior to anything M$ ever created on its own, M$ was secretly and simultaneously developing Winblowz.

            As soon as the new OS was barely shippable, M$ pulled the rug out from under OS-2 and announced they were no longer supporting the new operating system they had so loudly trumpeted lured naive developers like me into wasting tons of time and emotional energy into learning.

            Thought question, has M$ EVER actually created anything on its own? Starting with DOS itself, all of its even passably decent software was either bought or obliterated by MS$, or, as in the case of Skype, sometimes both.

            1. m-ga

              I’m pretty sure Microsoft developed Windows Phone on their own. And, in a double irony, it was the best thing they’d done in years, and was so unpopular that it’s now been cancelled.

              You can see some remnants of the Windows Phone interface in the tiles feature that is built into the more tablet-oriented parts of Windows 10.

              What’s interesting is that Microsoft took a fundamentally different design approach to the one Apple took in iOS. Unfortunately for them (and due to mismanagement by Steve Balmer) they were so late to market that they’d already lost out to Android (i.e. Google). Android is a shameless clone of Apple’s iOS.

              1. sgt_doom

                If that is true, that would be highly unusual since normally Micro$oft purchases their better-than-average products.

    2. Rodney McFarland

      Another quibble in an otherwise typically lucid analysis is that the NHS is not even close to being a great healthcare system, let along (OMG!) the best in the world. Please, the fact that you Americans understand english and have little experience of the Rest of World is not enough to make a slightly superior (to the US) healthcare system good.
      There, I’ve said it.

      1. Tomonthebeach

        I think that looking at economic analyses alone (e.g., Papanicolas et al. JAMA 2018) the NHS achieves equal or superior health services to the USA for way less than the insurance industry- corrupted system Blue Cross created in the 50s. Many people, Brits included, whine that NHS is not concierge healthcare. True enough, but nobody needs a Bentley ambulance.

        I must repeatedly remind my US healthcare workers that I do not give a damn what Medicare will or will not pay for. I want the most appropriate meds or treatments. I do this because the entire US system now makes medical decisions based on what insurers will pay for. “You need 10 weeks of physical therapy but your insurance only covers pain meds, so here is a scrip for Oxycodone.” Physicians no longer even volunteer options unless you confront them as I do.

        Speaking generally, it is very neolib to condemn systems of care as dysfunctional when the main problem is inadequate government support. It is like the disingenuous US Congress castigating its Postmaster for running a deficit caused by Congress refusing to authorize an increase in the cost of a stamp; and then contrasting their service with FEDEX which charges 10 times as much for the same service.

        Obamacare, for example is bleeding to death because Trump took a scalpel to its jugular; not because it was otherwise a “failed-from-the-start” model, as the Moron in Chief asserts. Like its model (Hillarycare), Obamacare is flawed in that it is too micromanagey. In my opinion, it did than not to curtail costly practices, but just the opposite, to carve escape hatches for special interests. Like I said – neolib.

        1. Sue Madden

          +++++++++++++ esp re the NHS. I`ve both worked in it (well before they started to destroy and dismantle it, relatively recently) and used it extensively down the years (as have family and friends, all very grateful for the excellent FREE care). The system is amazing and unique in the world in, until recently keeping money considerations in their place. it`s imperfections are no more than normal, human ones but as a system it beats any I`ve come across (several within europe). Now it is still functioning largely because of the sheer dedication of staff who are now working under appalling conditions due to horrendous cut-backs and a deliberate destruction of a once functioning service (frighteningly, communication is breaking down between its myriad parts). Current governments are now destroying lives and all human decency in the UK.
          When so many people you care deeply for, often of modest means received life-saving major surgery and/or have been otherwise unquestioningly cared for down the years, as well as if they had been wealthy say in the US, if you have any understanding of life at all you will be eternally grateful and won`t be berating Noam Chomsky for telling it how it is/has been for millions since 1945 in Britain. The existance of the NHS is the only thing about my country I can be proud of.

      2. paul

        You cannot describe the nhs that way anymore

        As a devolved power, the non privatising scottish health service is out performing the ruk.

        Not that you would know it from the bbc

        I don’t use it myself,being a fairly healthy person, but my SO and my mother force me to interact.

        I have found that, while there are difficulties, there is much to appreciate and be thankful for.

        Free healthcare for all, it works for me and mine, and a lot of others I don’t know.

      3. Abi

        There is literally nothing as amazing as the NHS in terms of the level of access to care that everyone in the UK has, whether international students, foreign visitors and all citizens. It’s so disingenuous to dismiss the value of the NHS because it is not “great” (rolls eyes).

  2. Jef

    All of what Noam talks about here, and it is thoroughly documented and really happening right now, when combined is the most wildly extreme dystopian nightmare situation possible. None would even dare make it up for fear of being ridiculed. Yet all we can do is objectively examine the effects and discuss options for slight adjustments to a couple knobs and leavers.

    The average citizen simply proclaims loudly, “I’M MAD AS HELL…..AND I WANT TO BE A MILLIONAIRE!!!!”

    1. jsn

      Yeah, but thats why we all need to start and keep saying:

      “There’s been nothing like this in history. It’s kind of an outrageous statement, but it happens to be true, that the Republican Party is the most dangerous organization in human history. Nobody, not even the Nazis, was dedicated to destroying the possibility of organized human life” and the Democrats are their enablers, Ds put the ;) on it!

  3. djrichard

    “You can’t really be a member of the Democratic Party, you can’t participate in designing its programs. You can be a member of the Labour Party. “

    Can anybody elaborate on this? What’s the distinction being made here?

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I assume he is referring to the constitutional and legal ambiguity as to the nature of the Democratic ‘Party’ as an organisation. I don’t think anyone (including the Supreme Court) has satisfactorily explained what type of legal body it is, and as such it does not seem to be subject to the sort of legal obligations of, say, a local club or charity. In contrast, the British Labour Party (like political parties in pretty much any democratic country) is a membership organisation with a constitution and is subject to the normal national laws and regulations applying the activities and running of any such organisations.

    2. ChrisFromGeorgia

      I’m not familiar with Labour party rules and such (maybe a poster from the UK can chime in) but I believe what Chomsky is referring to is a lack of authentic grass roots input to the party policies and platform.

      To take just one example, you can join the Democratic party here in the US, become a precinct captain and go to meetings but don’t think for a minute that you are going to be given any opportunity to influence the party stance on big issues like ending the US military involvement in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

      Those big policy debates are decided by elites with no worry about what the grass roots wants. That explains why there has been zero change in foreign policy over the past 30 years despite party control of Congress and the White House shifting back and forth multiple times.

      If the Labour party has a mechanism for gathering genuine input from lower levels and affecting change in policies, that would be a big difference from the current state of affairs here in the US.

      Some recent comments I read from Jeremy Corbyn questioning the anti-Russian narrative make me suspect that there is such a mechanism in Labour.

      1. Left in Wisconsin

        Also, there is no connection between the platform and the actual positions that legislators from the party take on legislation. So there is no way for party members to insist that legislators from the party represent the interests that party members want them to.

        I call the D’s and R’s “political apparatuses” that exist to ensure we don’t have actual political parties in this country. (It is bad enough that they aren’t real political parties themselves. But it is worse that they are able to prevent the development of other political parties.) They both try to assemble 50%+1 coalitions of widely disparate interests, and in such a manner that moneyed interests control all the major decision-making in both.

        1. You Are What You Is

          “Government is the Entertainment division of the military-industrial complex.”

          Frank Zappa

        2. human

          Consider Joe Kennedy’s recent proclamation that marijuana legalization is dangerous in spite of 70% in favor.

    3. Ignacio

      This question merits a rapid course on politics and political parties, but I am not up to the task. I think he, among other things, is thinking on the different ways the leadership/candidate are selected in the Labor Party/DNC.

      Political parties have different structures and statutes between and within countries. I think it has been many times argued that the american system is more democratic than others and has more room for bottom-up policies. Democratic systems have been shown to be dynamic but sadly the dynamics during the last 30-40 years has been, at both sides of the atlantic, the capture of the system by corporate/elite interests.

      I pretty much agree with Chomsky this is consequence of the destruction of the unions. Not by chance is Corbyn a former syndicalist.

      1. JEHR

        Please pursue the truth of your statement: “that the american system is more democratic than others.”

        Sometimes not having the perfect system creates a better opportunity to improve upon what one has. Perfection does not require such action as it is already “the best.”

        Just saying….

        Looking at what is going on in the presidency right now may belie your belief.

        1. Ignacio

          It is not my belief. It is something that I have read elsewhere or argued elsewhere. I don’t think it is true and I don’t think it is false. Just telling that someone (not american) has written that.

    4. djrichard

      You guys are kind of where I’m at. I used to be a dem precinct captain/chair for at least a couple of cycles which exposed me to some of the limits of the party from that perspective. Seemed to me resolutions at the conventions were a way for “the people to be heard” (thank you for your input). Also seemed to me that the conventions attracted a lot of people who saw the conventions as an end to themselves – a place to be heard and seen, a social club, participation in which was coveted.

      Chomsky seems to be suggesting that the resolution process (or whatever it’s equivalent is) is more functional in the UK.

      1. JEHR

        In a parliamentary system, each party chooses its leader from the members within that party; hence, the voters individually do not pick the leader at election time. The leader of the party that wins the election becomes the leader of the country. In this scenario, there seems to be a better opportunity to pick a person whose leadership has already been demonstrated rather than choosing someone who has not lead any party anywhere.

      2. sgt_doom

        I am a radical progressive/socialist, but have never been a Chomsky fan. His daughter excises US labor history out of all her talks, claiming it is all about racism!

        Chomsky has spewed lies endlessly (as in unsourced, or lies he cannot prove) about the Kennedy Administration in a most bizarre manner.

        During his so-called career of “radical speechifying” Chomsky has never named names, has successfully sounded as nebulous as possible, and said some pretty clownish stuff.

    5. artiste-de-decrottage

      Some discussion on that here:

      I present the following exchange between myself and a subject matter expert. I asked:

      What sort of legal entity is the Democratic Party, anyhow? It’s not a profit-making corporation. It’s not a 501(c)(3) or whatever. It’s not a membership organization like the DSA or British Labour. But if you believe the DNC’s lawyer in the Beck case, the party can choose whatever candidates it wants in a smoke-filled room. So apparently it’s not an association of voters. They also get (yes?) public money for running elections.

      And the expert concluded:

      This question is fantastically complicated.

  4. Kevin

    “I don’t know if you know, but as late as 1966 in Boston we could barely have an anti-war action because it would be violently broken up with the support of the press and so on. By then, South Vietnam had been practically destroyed.”

    The role of the press in keeping alive violent interventionism by the U.S. is truly something. It’s interesting to look at how the role has changed. Once protest was stomped out by violent opposition by local police. Now, the press simply regurgitates press releases from the police and FBI to sell us a narrative and maintain the “war on terror” status quo. Most recently it’s been shoved down our throat that every high school kid, especially if brown, is just minutes away from being recruited by ISIS over Facebook. “And you might not even know until they’re on the plane to Syria! Oh and look at this terrorist attack on US soil that was thwarted by the FBI!”

    Turns out no ISIS members have ever been attached to any of these plots in the US, it’s all the FBI recruiting mentally handicapped Muslim kids, offering them sex and a bride, offering them the tools to commit a crime, handing them the tools and money and then arresting them and offering them the choice between 5 counts with 20 years a piece or a plea for a 12 year sentence.

    ISIS in the US has been invented by the FBI and other agencies and the press is riding right along with it to scare the American people into funding a forever war. Good thing American education is being propped up to keep citizens vigilant and questioning of the press…

  5. jerry

    And they forcefully broke up the Occupy movement (the only remotely close challenge to our oligarchy in my lifetime), so not much has changed. A war, gun laws, sexual harassment, sure you can make some headway there. But you start getting close to the real issue in America, as Occupy did, and you get a very quick and clear response from the elites. The workings and manipulations of the money supply, the blood flow of the economy and our quality of life, will NOT be questioned. Not to mention it is too complex for a news headline or the average snapchatting, reality tv obsessed moron of a US citizen to follow.

    As Noam quotes, “the powerful do what they wish and the weak suffer what they must”.

  6. Carolinian

    Thanks for posting some Chomsky.

    This may be the nub

    The American political system probably wouldn’t be accepted by the European Court of Justice as a legitimate system

    Which is to say there’s no reason to believe an enforced political duopoly is going to represent meaningful competition any more than, say, AT&T versus Verizon. Chomsky has high praise for Sanders but doesn’t address the fact that by sticking with the Dems Sanders may simply be another episode of Lucy and the football. Is there any realistic hope that the Democrats can change? At the moment they seem to be doing everything in their power to “learn nothing and forget nothing.”

    1. JEHR

      Sanders position was an unsolvable conundrum. I remember that tiny songbird that flew up to his lectern while Sanders was speaking and I said at the time, He Should Win. It was a magical moment that can come again.

  7. John k

    My critique is his view that even if elected pres, Bernie would have been powerless.
    This would only be true if he could not get his appointments confirmed, which would be unprecedented. And certainly he could pick senators.
    Once his team is in place he could jail bankers and break up monopolies, making himself enormously popular. And he would clearly make use of the bully pulpit. Threats to campaign against individuals would be effective.
    And of course he would change out the DNC, moving the partly sharply progressive.
    And withdraw from Syria etc.
    And new chair at SEC.
    the list goes on… think of the effect trumps horrible appointments are having…
    Granted he couldn’t pass med for all in first term…
    He said maybe win election… IMO the 40% that are indies (our largest party) would vote en masse.
    There is a reason corps, their lackeys in MSM and pols hate and fear him.

      1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield

        Pleased but not surprised. Noam’s been supportive of Ferguson and his work for a long time– at least since I studied with each of them at MIT in the early ‘80s. I remember Noam citing Ferguson’s work in a class I took with him in spring ’83.

        Plus, see the bit under MIT controversy in Tom’s wikipedia entry:

        Thomas Ferguson (academic)

  8. XXYY

    If you look at a ballot in the U.S., it says Democrat, Republican, Other. Nobody can break in. It’s a political monopoly.

    This is not a figurative statement, it’s literally true.

    At one time, elections in the US were conducted by people dropping slips of paper in the ballot box with the candidate’s name written on them. In other words, anyone could be a candidate.

    At some point this was changed, and the voting system began using preprinted ballots. The ballots, of course, were printed by the government. So now, there was a powerful gatekeeper who could determine who the population is allowed to vote for. Naturally, the parties in existence at the time of this changeover are the ones whose candidates are allowed to appear. Other parties have to surmount various obstacles, which differ from county to county, each one being a project in its own right. Quite a change.

    Ralph Nader, who ran for US president in 2000 as a member of a third party, wrote at some length about how his campaign staff was constantly occupied with getting his name on the ballot in various jurisdictions, and keeping it on in the face of relentless attacks by an entrenched two-party arrangement. I came away from reading about this thinking that it was a practical impossibility to run as a third party candidate in the US because of the ballot access issue alone.

    Sanders’ decision to align (temporarily!) with the Democrats for his presidential run is clearly the only reason he got as far as he did. As an Independent he would have been down there with Jill Stein, a historical footnote.

    I say none of this with any joy, but it does indicate that an electoral strategy in the US for anything beyond school board or city council must be based on running (nominally) D or R candidates.

    1. sharonsj

      Absolutely true. I am reminded of Jesse Ventura’s book about running for governor as an Independent. The state would give him matching campaign funds–but only when the election was over!

    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      Well . . . it would take several decades of many small scale organizing efforts all over to overtop the legal minimum percent requirements for supporters in order to get on ballots and stay on ballots long enough for people beyond the circle of committed supporters to get used to various experimental parties being on many ballots and staying there.

      And the experimental parties would have to be serious and sincere in offering broad-coverage well thought out plans for what to do about what.

      And perhaps they should have serious sounding names. “Green Party” is a one-issue hobby-horse type of name. “Democratic Socialists of America” is a serious sounding name suggesting the presence of serious people. “Social Populist” could be another such serious name if people were to create a Social Populist movement and a Social Populist party and give it that name. For example.

  9. Spoofs

    NC: They used Facebook in Berlin to get a demographic analysis of parts of the population to allow them to microtarget ads to individuals in favor of AfD, the neo-Nazi party, which may have been a factor in their unexpectedly high vote in the election…

    LC:Which brings us to our next point about Russia influence…

    Me: The next question should be “why would the AMERICAN elites want to get a higher turn out for the Nazi party in GERMANY?” Why!? If you follow this line of question to the end, it would explain a lot of what’s is happening with…Very shadey indeed!

  10. Livius Drusus

    I am glad that Chomsky mentioned the superiority of face-to-face communication over online communication. You really have to build face-to-face relationships in order to have some kind of solidarity.

    The drive in favor of online education is another facet of the attempt to atomize the population and make people highly individualistic and only interested in their own goals and desires. More time online and in front of screens has also been linked to lower levels of empathy and other personality problems. Sherry Turkle has written about this as have other writers.

    If people cannot socialize well then any attempt to cooperate for political goals will be doomed to failure. Robert Putnam pointed out that television was a likely culprit in the decline of community life in the United States following the heyday of American civic culture in the immediate post-war period. The more that people retreated into their homes to sit in front of the TV the more they became disengaged from other people and the wider community, including politics.

    I fear the same thing is happening with modern technology like smartphones. Social media networks are a poor replacement for face-to-face relationships and as we have seen they are easy to monitor and manipulate.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      People who have lived, or are living, in one place for a long time will have to organize with eachother to be the semi-permanent scaffolding around which an ever-changing mass of constantly moving-in and moving-away transients can align with while they are “in town” before they move away again.

      And perhaps find another permanent local scaffold of the same broader movement to algn with in their next new home-of-the-moment.

  11. Bugs Bunny

    While I’m definitely on the side of the Chomsky argument, his use of hyperbole is infuriating. He needs to stick to logical arguments that follow facts in a chronological order. I guess it’s a little too late to be saying this.

    1. Jamie

      That’s a great sweeping condemnation, but a little short on specifics. Care to point out one or two little infuriating hyperboles in the interview above so we know what you are talking about? I admire Chomsky, largely because he does apply logic where others spout dogma. But I am willing to entertain cogent criticisms if you will point out the illogic and overreach. Don’t assume that what is obvious to you can be plainly seen by everyone. I need my attention drawn to specifics.

    2. paul

      I will shed a tear while you prepare your point.

      It is in moderan now

      If you make no sense, I will reabsorb it, and like true warriors, we will recognise our paths.*

      *needs a new pimple chatoroom , trying to famous for fifteen likes.

    3. sgt_doom

      That’s the norm for Noam, keep ’em as confused as possible, and hopefully they will fall asleep. I have provided too many links time and again about Chomsky and his BS ways.

      Chomsky is the best asset the CIA’s Mockingbird Program ever fielded.

      And he fools a great many of the rubes out there.

      1. James T. Cricket

        A great man once spoke about this exact point. I would provide a link to it but I’m too tired for this post to contain any information. And I once provided a few links to someone a year or so ago.

        Hang on, no, it went like this:

        Jamie said:

        That’s a great sweeping condemnation, but a little short on specifics. Care to point out one or two little infuriating xhyperbolesx [confused or BS ways] in the interview above so we know what you are talking about? I admire Chomsky, largely because he does apply logic where others spout dogma. But I am willing to entertain cogent criticisms if you will point out the illogic and overreach. Don’t assume that what is obvious to you can be plainly seen by everyone. I need my attention drawn to specifics.

  12. paul

    tom on the beach
    I want the most appropriate meds or treatments

    Outsde gross surgery, no one knows what they are.

    Medical science has always been a bit musky

    and in my honest opinion it has not best served public health that much.

  13. RBHoughton

    NC = Noam Chomsky or Naked Capitalism, two forces for good in a bad world. Many thanks for this.

  14. Anarcissie

    I have come to feel that Climate Change politics and controversies are, like gun rights/gun control, abortion, Welfare, cop-minority violence, Identity, Russia fables, and so on, a species of prolefeed. My reasoning is that the ruling class certainly know where and how to get good science when and if they want it, and expect to be able to avoid such consequences as may occur to them or their progeny down the road. However, struggles about climate fit well into the tribal warfare which they manipulate the rest of us into. The contents of prolefeed are not important to them, even if important to the proles. What they are concerned with is maintaining overwhelming imperial military and police power and deep surveillance. It seems to me a sage like Noam should have pointed this out.

    His remarks about the fairly awful Bill Gates stuck in my craw, but Gates is pretty small potatoes.

  15. Carla

    Chomsky re: Sanders: “he came pretty close—he probably could have won the nomination, maybe the election. But suppose he’d been elected? He couldn’t have done a thing. Nobody in Congress, no governors, no legislatures, none of the big economic powers, which have an enormous effect on policy. All opposed to him. In order for him to do anything, he would have to have a substantial, functioning party apparatus, which would have to grow from the grass roots. It would have to be locally organized, it would have to operate at local levels, state levels, Congress, the bureaucracy—you have to build the whole system from the bottom.”

    That’s the crux of the matter. We need another party (that will inspire and enable the development of an entirely different political apparatus . This is exactly why Sanders’ decision to run on the Democrat ticket struck me as a fools’ errand from the beginning. Surely the man is smart enough to understand that even if he won the office, he wouldn’t be permitted to do a goddamned thing. So what the hell has he been doing?

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      Well, if he had been elected as a lonely President without any support, he could keep proposing this and trying that and every time he was prevented, he could describe the kind of support he would have needed or could have used to achieve this or that. He could turn that into a 4 year seminar of teachable moments and work with movement-loads of people on the ground to create these support structures and support people and co-power-players for New Deal Restoration.

    2. Tyronius

      He has shown everyone now and forevermore that America will not be a democracy until it address the problems his campaign so effectively highlighted. If he never does another thing, that’s an enormous accomplishment.
      ‘The first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one.’

  16. James Charles

    “LP: Which brings us to the narrative of Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election. I understand you’re not very impressed with this line.”

    This is why H.R.C. ‘lost’?

    “And it’s deadly. Doubtless, Crosscheck delivered Michigan to Trump who supposedly “won” the state by 10,700 votes. The Secretary of State’s office proudly told me that they were “very aggressive” in removing listed voters before the 2016 election. Kobach, who created the lists for his fellow GOP officials, tagged a whopping 417,147 in Michigan as potential double voters.”

  17. Crosley Bendix

    Chomsky is engaged in wishful thinking when he asserts this:

    There are some steps towards imposing constraints and limits on state violence.

    There is no significant anti-war movement in the US anymore. The US military is, at this very moment, conducting genocidal operations in Yemen and there is no real negative consequences for US elites now. The anti-war movement was drowned in the cesspool of the Democratic party and Chomsky played a part in that in his support of the war in Libya and involvement in Democratic campaigns.

    1. sgt_doom

      Thank you — a thousand thanks, Crosley Bendix!

      Your mention of: Chomsky played a part in that in his support of the war in Libya and involvement in Democratic campaigns.

      Cannot be restated enough, just as the lies he has spewed forth about the Kennedy Administration should be attacked at every opportunity and deconstructed as to why the revisionists do so!

          1. James T. Cricket

            In fact, I would like to see where, anywhere, a comment indicates that Chomsky had the smallest support for the war in Libya.

            As for ‘involvement in Democratic campaigns’, you mean that Chomsky supported the Sanders’ nomination for the Democratic campaign? In other words, that he supported and encouraged the type of Democratic campaign that virtually every reader here on Naked Capitalism, or at least those who commented explicitly about it, agrees with and would like to see again?

            It should also be added that Chomsky along with writer John Halle, wrote an “Eight Point Brief for LEV (Lesser Evil Voting)” in June of 2016. In the eight-point brief Chomsky and Halle warned against voters in swing states voting for a third-party candidate in place of Democrats until they had considered several points (which were intended to be debatable) that contrasted the purpose of voting with the likely differences between a Republican and a Democratic victory.

            What they recommended for people in swing states was that voters consider whether their vote would more likely produce Republican victories rather than Democratic ones in their key states and, if that were the case, whether the policies produced by Republican and Trump victories, eg. on climate change, nuclear proliferation, health care, policing, immigration, might likely be worse to them and the world in general than Democratic/Clinton ones. Chomsky and Halle had effectively asked: Voting against Clinton and Democrats might produce in you for the day some satisfaction, but is that itself satisfactory?

            One can argue about the points if one considers them. However, the article was soon condemned in many places by writers and commentators who ignored the points. They did not debate the aspects. They did not consider the implications nor take note of the careful qualifications in them. They did not tell us what they thought about likely outcomes. Some of those that did discuss or entertain the points concluded that Hillary Clinton’s policies and persona would produce worse outcomes than Republicans and Trump and, having thought about the points Chomsky and Halle had suggested ought to be considered, these writers declared Chomsky and Halle to have erred in their conclusions and to be promoters of bad faith for making them think about it.

            For everyone else, I recommend it still worthwhile to read through the eight-points and see how many of them are wrong and how many of them you think result from bad faith and ‘involvement in Democratic campaigns’.

  18. sgt_doom

    NC: Well it’s very hard to take seriously for a number of reasons. One reason is the work of Thomas Ferguson and his colleagues [“How Money Won Trump the White House”]. There really is manipulation of elections, but it’s not coming from the Russians. It’s coming from the people who buy the elections.

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