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Noam Chomsky on the Economy, U.S. Midterm Elections, Climate Change, Haiti, and More

Web ExclusiveNovember 30, 2010
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Noam Chomsky is a Professor Emeritus at MIT, where he taught for over half a century. He is author of dozens of books. His most recent is Hopes and Prospects_.
Watch Part I of this conversation


AMY GOODMAN:Noam, you’re continuing your prescription, your advice that you would give to President Obama today.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, the economy is a disaster. There is 10 percent official unemployment, probably twice that much actual unemployment. Many people unemployed for years. This is a huge human tragedy, but it’s also an economic tragedy. These are unused resources, which could be producing to make the things that this country needs. I mean, the United States is becoming a kind of a third world country.

You take a — the other day, I took a train from Boston to New York. That’s, you know, the star of the trains of Amtrak, train system. I mean, it took about maybe 20 minutes less than the train that my wife and I took 60 years ago from Boston to New York. In any European country, any industrial country, it would have taken half the time. Plenty of non-industrial countries. Spain is not a super-rich country. It’s just introducing a 200-mile-an-hour new railway. And this is just one example.

The United States desperately needs many things: decent infrastructure, a decent educational system, much more pay and support for teachers, all kinds of things. And the policies that are being carried out are designed to enrich primarily financial institutions. And remember that many of the major corporations like, say, GE and GM are also financial institutions. It’s a large part of their activity. It’s very unclear that these financial shenanigans do anything for the economy. There are some economists finally, mainstream ones, finally beginning to raise this question. They may harm it, in fact. But what they do is enrich rich people, and that’s where policies are directed to.

An alternative would be to stimulate the economy. There is no — demand is very low. Business — the corporations have money coming out of their ears, their huge profits. But they don’t want to spend it, don’t want to invest it. They’d rather profit from it. Financial institutions don’t produce anything. They just shift money around and make money from various deals. The public is some consumer demand, but it’s very slight. We have to remember that there was an $8 trillion housing bubble that burst, destroying the assets for most people. They’re desperately trying to keep a little to save themselves. The only source of demand right now would be government spending. It doesn’t even have to affect the deficit, can be carried out by borrowing by the Fed, which sends interest right back to the Treasury. If anyone cares about the deficit, which is actually a minor issue, I think, that should be the major issue.

There should be massive infrastructure spending. There should be spending on things — simple things like weatherization. I mean, we should have a substantial program to reduce the very severe threat of global warming. That’s unfortunately unlikely with the new Republican legislators and with the effects of the massive corporate propaganda to try to convince people that it’s a liberal hoax. The latest polls show about maybe a third of Americans think that —- believe in anthropogenic global warming, you know, human contribution to global warming. I mean, that’s almost a death knell for the species. If the U.S. doesn’t do anything, nobody else will. We now have chairs going into the -—

AMY GOODMAN: Noam, what do you think of the U.N. climate change summit that’s taking place in Cancún?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, the Copenhagen summit was a disaster. Nothing happened. This one, Cancún, has set its sights much lower, in the hope of at least achieving something. But let’s say they achieve all their goals, which is very unlikely. It’ll still be a toothpick on a mountain. There are much more serious problems behind it.

We’re now facing a situation where the House, relevant House committees — science, technology, energy and so on — are being taken over by climate change deniers. In fact, one of them recently said, “We don’t have to worry about it, because God will take care of it.” Well, you know, this is — it’s unbelievable that this is happening in the richest, most powerful country in the world. That’s one major area where there should be substantial changes and improvements. If not, there’s not going to be anything much more to talk about in a generation or two.

Others include just reconstructing the economy here so that people get back to work, that they can produce things that the country needs, that they can live decent lives. All of that can be done. The resources are there; the policies aren’t.

AMY GOODMAN: Noam, you know, when you look at the new Congress — I’m reading from The New Yorker, “Darrell Issa, a Republican representative from California, is one of the richest men in Congress. He made his money selling car alarms, which is interesting, because he has twice been accused of auto theft. ([Issa has] said that he had a 'colorful youth.') Now, with the Republicans about to take control of the House, Issa is poised to become [the chairman] of the Oversight Committee. The post comes with wide-ranging subpoena powers, and Issa has already indicated how he plans to wield them. He is not, he assured a group of Pennsylvania Republicans over the summer, interested in digging around for the sort of information that might embarrass his fellow-zillionaires: [he said,] 'I won't use it to have corporate America live in fear.’ Instead, he wants to go where he sees the real malfeasance. He wants to investigate climate scientists. At the top of his list are the long-suffering researchers whose e-mails were hacked last year from the computer system of Britain’s University of East Anglia. Though their work has been the subject of three separate 'Climategate' inquiries — all of which found that allegations of data manipulation were unfounded — Issa isn’t satisfied. [He said recently,] ’We’re going to want to have a do-over.’”

NOAM CHOMSKY: Yeah. That’s part of the massive offensive, basically a corporate offensive. And they haven’t been quiet about it, like the Chamber of Commerce, biggest business lobby, American Petroleum Institute and others have said quite publicly that they’re carrying out a massive, what they call “educational campaign” to convince the population that global warming isn’t real. And it’s having an effect. You can see it even in the way the media present it. So you read, say, a New York Times discussion of climate change. They have to be objective, present both sides, so one side is 98 percent of qualified scientists, and the other side is Issa and Senator Inhofe and a couple of climate change skeptics. There, notice, also missing is a third side, namely, a very substantial number of leading scientists who say that the consensus is nowhere near alarmist enough, that in fact the situation is much worse. Well, you know, the United States is now — it has been dragging its feet on this for a long time, and it’s now much worse.

I mean, there was just recently — a couple days ago, there was a report of an analysis of green technology production. It turns out China is in the lead, Germany is next, Spain is high up there. The United States is one of the lowest. In fact, investment from the United States in green technology is higher in China — I think twice as high in China — than in the United States — than it is in the United States and Europe combined. I mean, these are real social pathologies, exacerbated by the latest election, but just one aspect of where policy is going totally in the wrong direction, where there are significant alternatives, and if they’re not pursued, there could be real disaster, and maybe not too far off.

AMY GOODMAN: I’d like to switch gears for a minute, Noam Chomsky, and talk about the elections in Haiti that just took place.

NOAM CHOMSKY: “Elections,” you should put in quotation marks. If we had elections in the United States in which the Democratic and Republican parties were barred and their political leaders were exiled to South Africa and not allowed to return to the United States, we wouldn’t consider them serious elections. But that’s exactly what happened in Haiti. The major political party is barred. As we know, the United States and France essentially invaded Haiti in 2004, kidnapped the president, sent him off to Central Africa. His party is now banned. Most analysts assume that, as in the past, if it was allowed to run, it would probably win the election. President — or former President Aristide is, by all information available, the most popular political figure in Haiti. Not only is he not allowed to run, by essentially the U.S., but not allowed to return. They’ve been trying to keep him out of the hemisphere. Can’t go back to Haiti, but the U.S. has been trying to keep him out of the hemisphere altogether. What’s taken place is a kind of a charade. I mean, it’s not nothing. You know, Haitians are trying to express themselves. We should respect that. But the major choices that they might have are barred by foreign power, U.S. power, and France, which is the second of the two historic torturers of Haiti.

AMY GOODMAN: Honduras. Actually, interestingly, in these cables that have come out through the WikiLeaks release is a U.S. diplomatic cable from 2008 that says exactly what the U.S. government would not say publicly, that the coup against Manuel Zelaya was outright illegal. Your response, Noam Chomsky?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Yeah, that’s right. This is an analysis by the embassy in Honduras, Tegucigalpa, saying that they’ve done a careful analysis of the legal and constitutional backgrounds and conclude — you can read their summary, which is a conclusion — that there is no doubt that the coup was illegal and unconstitutional. The government of Washington, as you point out, wouldn’t say that. And in fact, after some dithering, Obama finally essentially recognized the legitimacy of the coup. He supported the election taking place under the coup regime, which most of Latin America and Europe refused to recognize at all. But the U.S. did it. In fact, the U.S. ambassador publicly accused the Latin Americans who wouldn’t go along as being seduced by magic realism, you know, García Márquez’s novels or something, just a statement of contempt. They should go along with us and support the military coup, which is illegal and unconstitutional. And has many effects. One effect was that it preserves for the United States a major air base, the Palmerola Air Base, one of the last ones remaining in Latin America. We’ve been kicked out of all the others.

AMY GOODMAN: Noam, I have two questions, and we only have two minutes left. One is about North Korea. The WikiLeaks documents show Chinese diplomats saying that Chinese officials increasingly doubt the usefulness of neighboring North Korea and would support reunification. The significance of this?

NOAM CHOMSKY: I’m very skeptical about that statement. There is no indication that China would be willing to have U.S. troops on its border, and that’s the very likely outcome of a reunified Korea. They’ve been bitterly objecting to U.S. naval maneuvers in the Yellow Sea, not far from their coast, what they call their economic territorial waters, and expanding U.S. military forces near their borders is the last thing they want. They may feel — I don’t know — that North Korea simply is unviable, and it will have to collapse, and that’s a terrible problem for them from many points of view. That I don’t know. But I’m pretty skeptical about that leak.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Noam, your latest book, Hopes and Prospects, what gives you hope?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, the “hopes” part of that book is mostly about South America, where there really have been significant, dramatic changes in the past decade. For the first time in 500 years, the South American countries have been moving towards integration, which is a prerequisite for independence, and have begun to face some of their really desperate internal problems. A huge disparity between islands of extreme wealth and massive poverty — a number of the countries, including the leading one, Brazil, have chipped away at that.

AMY GOODMAN: We have ten seconds.

NOAM CHOMSKY: And Bolivia has been quite dramatic with the takeover by the indigenous population in a major democratic election. These are important facts.

AMY GOODMAN: Noam Chomsky, thanks so much for being with us. Oh, by the way, happy birthday, pre-birthday.


AMY GOODMAN: Noam Chomsky, Professor Emeritus at MIT, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, author of over a hundred books, his latest called Hopes and Prospects.

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