Thursday, June 25, 2009

Q&A Session part3&4

Transcribed by Scott Senn

"Assessing the Role of US Foreign Policy, Israeli Security, & Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories"

7 April 2009 Madison, WI

Part 3

Questioner #3: Hi. In the early 1980's when Zbigniew Brzezinski left his post as National Security Advisor for Jimmy Carter, he went back to Columbia University and taught as one of his first students Barack Obama – taught Sovietology – one of eight students chosen for that. In 1981 Barack Obama visited Pakistan and was, by the last year's president, after Musharraf resigned in 2008, the man who just became president [[?…inaudible…]] to (quote) "watch over" Barack Obama. This was at a time when State Department was discouraging all Americans from going to Pakistan; in fact, you had to have government approval to do so. And then in 1983, he left the university and worked for Business International, a CIA front company. And this is in Bill Blum's "Anti-Empire" project; this is where this information comes from, and from the New York Times in terms of the specific corporation that he worked for. And then fast forward to, you know, the presidential campaign: all of a sudden for the first time in the post-war – . Well, during the entire Cold War every president came from a high-military-spending state – per capita income, above average military spending. Every president elected during the Cold War. And then Clinton has his CIA connections. And Barack Obama are the only two exceptions. We had Illinois and New York – two very low military-spending per capita states – vying for the presidency. What was the difference? Barack Obama carried fourteen of the fifteen highest per capita military spending states in the primaries and became the next president. So is this change we can believe in, or is this just more of the military-industrial complex we've had all along?

Chomsky: Well, I don't put much faith in any of that, frankly. I'm not sure of the data. But let's say they're right. I really don't think it tells us much. If you want to know something about Obama's likely policies, don't look at military spending; take a look at his financing. That's a very good predicter of policies; in fact, there's good studies of this. His financing is primarily from the financial institutions, which preferred him to McCain quite a lot – by a large margin. And that's the kind of policies that he's implementing domestically – those that are favored by the financial institutions that were his largest funders. As far as military spending is concerned, you know, it stays pretty constant; you know, it goes up and down a little; but it stays pretty constant through presidencies. In Obama's case, it's being modified slightly: there's less spending for high-tech military equipment (like the F-22 Fighter) and more for intervention forces. Okay, that reflects the new perceived tasks of the Pentagon. They're not expecting to fight a war against Russia; they're expecting to invade other countries. But I think that's almost independent of where the president comes from. Incidentally, the so-called military-industrial complex – That's a little misleading – the phrase – you know, Eisenhower's phrase. I mean, the "military-industrial complex" in fact is the core of American high-tech industry. Thing like (say) computers and the internet and so on come out of the military-industrial complex. In fact, a large part of Pentagon funding is just devoted to creating the next phrase of the electronics-based economy. So, sure, every president is in favor of that: in favor of having the public pay the costs and take the risks of funding future profits.

Questioner #4: Dr. Chomsky, you dispelled several myths indoctrinated into the American culture tonight about the Middle East. A couple weeks ago, you shared at M.I.T. some myths about the economy. Because these are so hard to detect until you've been exposed to the other side, could you briefly list some more of these myths indoctrinated into our culture, so that we may broader our horizons?

Chomsky: Pick the topic, and you'll find myths. And, what's worse, the same is true of every country I know of. So which topic?

Questioner #4: Whatever you feel is important.

Chomsky: Let's take the main domestic concern of Americans. For decades, the major domestic concern of Americans – either top or very close to the top – hsas been the health system. Okay. And it's obvious why: it's a total catastrophe. It has about twice the per capita costs of other industrial countries and has about the worst outcomes. And, you know, like fifty million people don't have insurance or many more have much too limited insurance. Now those are things that really hurt people. You know, they're not abstract. Drug prices are like two or three times as high as in comparable countries. That hurts people, and they care about it. And furthermore people have consistent ideas, consistent beliefs over a long period. And on this issue, they have very consistent beliefs. For decades, a large part of the population has been in favor of some kind of national health care system. It's called here "single-payer" or, you know, it's called "Canadian style". The reason it's called "Canadian style" is because people know that Canada exists. And it's not called, you know, "Australian style" (which is a better system) because who knows what they have in Australia? But there's been overwhelming support for it. And it would almost certainly be much cheaper than the system we have now. In fact, if you take the socialized part of the system – Medicare – its administrative costs are a fraction of the privatized system. I mean, there's constant talk about, you know, the "problems" that Medicare is facing down the road: "we got to do something to stop it." Yeah, it's true, but the problems are because it has to work through the privatized system, which makes it highly inefficient, costly, bureaucratized, a lot of intervention, and so on.


Part 4

Chomsky (continued): Well, the public has wanted something that makes sense. But it's not on the political agenda. Very few people know that that's what everybody wants and know the reasons for it, because it's not discussed. Okay, that's a pretty impressive achievement: to have suppressed for decades – . Like, everything I said you could find the data in papers, but you've got to research it. But here's a situation where there's a major domestic concern; there's a lot of public support. If it was even discussed publicly, the support would grow much higher. You know, when things are not discussed and debated, people may have an opinion, but their feeling is: "Well, I must be crazy!"; you know, "Nobody else believes this." If it was part of an ongoing, lively debate and discussion (as would happen in a functioning democratic society), yeah, then people would see the reasons for it, and it would reinforce, and you'd have public pressure. Well, up until 2004, these ideas were never on the political agenda. So [if] you go back to the 2004 election (Kerry/Bush election), take a look at the debates and the coverage. The last debate, right before the election, was on domestic issues. [If] you go back and look at the New York Times or the Washington Post the next day, they point out correctly that Kerry never suggested any government involvement in the health care system because it's "politically impossible" and "lacks political support". Okay, the only support it had was the large majority of the population, but it "lacked political support" and was "politically impossible", which means the insurance companies didn't like it, the financial institutions didn't like it, pharmaceutical corporations didn't like it, and so on. In fact, shortly after that, Congress passed legislation which made it illegal for the government to use its purchasing power to negotiate drug prices. I think the United States must be the only country in the industrial world where anything like that is true. So, like, the Pentagon can negotiate prices, you know, to get paper clips, let's say. But Medicare can't negotiate to get lower drug prices. Well, you know, [the] Medicare program created which is a gift to the insurance companies – incidentally, the Democrats voted for it. This year, 2008, something changed: For the first time, the Democrats began putting forward programs which are towards what the population has wanted for decades. (They don't really get there; but at least they're in that direction.) First, Edwards; then, Obama and Clinton. Well, what happened between 2004 and 2008? Public opinion didn't change; it's been pretty much the same for decades. What changed is that the manufacturing industry starting coming out in favor of a national health care system, because they are being smashed by the cost of the privatized system in the United States. Like, General Motors says it cost them over $1,000 more to produce a car in Detroit than across the Canadian border, because they have a rational health care system – more rational – not perfect, but better. Well, you know, when a sector of concentrated capital becomes interested in something, it starts to become "politically possible" and have "political support". You know, these are things that people ought to be discussing and think about. What does that tell you about functioning democracy, if something can become sort of "politically possible" (even if [it's] not what the public wants), but only if a major sector of concentrated capital is in favor of it? I mean, these ought to be topics that are, you know, the main issues for people who want to create a functioning democratic society. And that's the major domestic concern. Now if you take a look at Obama's program today, it's being criticized because it's going to be expensive and we can't afford it. Well, yeah, the way he's planning, it's going to be expensive, because it's maintaining the privatized system. And in fact [the] privatized health care system is complaining bitterly right now, because if there's an option of the coverage system, as is written into the program, they won't be able to compete on a level playing field. That's a way of saying, "We're so inefficient and costly that we can't compete with a national health care system; so it's unfair." And Obama's proposals – such as they are – are now being tinkered with to help the costly and inefficient privatized system compete on a level playing field. Well, why should the population allow any of this to happen? Okay, there's a topic – a very different one – on which popular organizing can take place and should have been for decades, and in fact would have been, if democracy was functioning. If democracy means that, you know, wealthy elites run the country, then of course democracy doesn't function. And this takes us to a broader question: The general population is pretty much aware of this. If you take a look at polls, for a long period, something like 80% of the population says that the government is "run by a few big interests looking out for themselves", not by "the people". That's pretty serious. You know, is it impossible to organize people who think we live in a tyranny, that feel so hopeless they can't do anything about it? Well, it shouldn't be that hard. You know, again, much greater achievements have been made. Okay, those are other issues. And you can continue on and on. Everywhere you look, there's delusion, deceit, control of attitudes and opinions – very systematic. A lot of the business world in fact is devoted to those things, as well as media and so on. They all have to be countered by popular movements. And when they have been in the past, you've got steps towards a more decent society. There's no shortage of such tasks. Take a look almost anywhere, and you'll find them.

Questioner #5: You said before that you think there's a possibility that the human species won't survive the 21st century. I was wondering if you could explain why you think that's true, also if you could discuss Israel's Samson Plan.

Chomsky: I got everything but the last word. ....Oh, the "Samson complex". Well, actually that worries me. There's two good reasons why the species may not survive very long. (So, again, you got some Martian looking at what's gone on here: they wouldn't put high odds on the survival of the species.) One of those is nuclear weapons. I mean, there could be a nuclear war almost any time. I mean, in fact it's kind of like a miracle that we survived since Nagasaki without a nuclear war. We've come awfully close many times – I won't run through the record – but much too many for any rational person to expect. And it continues. So take (say) Obama the other day: Obama made a nice speech about reducing nuclear weapons. Okay, that's good. In the same speech, he said we're going to go ahead with the so-called missile defense programs in Czechoslovakia and Poland. All right, that increases the threat of nuclear war, for obvious reasons. Everyone on all sides is aware that so-called missile defense is a first-strike weapon. It's the only thing it could conceivable do if it were ever [[?...inaudible...]] is to stop a deterrent strike; [it could] never stop a first strike. So it could conceivably stop a deterrent if it ever worked, which it doesn't.


(to part 5&6)

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