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The power to make decisions in society must remain primarily in the hands of a democratically elected government. In private hands, there is only one concern, and that is the bottom line. We have too much ‘bottom line’ directed policy as it is.

“There’s a striking difference between physicists and economists. Physicists don’t say, hey, let’s try an experiment that might destroy the world, because it would be interesting to see what would happen. But economists do that. On the basis of neoclassical theories, they instituted a major revolution in world affairs in the early 1980s that took off with Carter, and accelerated with Reagan and Thatcher. Given the power of the United States compared with the rest of the world, the neoliberal assault, a major experiment in economic theory, had a devastating result. It didn’t take a genius to figure it out. Their motto has been, “Government is the problem.”

That doesn’t mean you eliminate decisions; it just means you transfer them. Decisions still have to be made. If they’re not made by government, which is, in a limited way, under popular influence, they will be made by concentrations of private power, which have no accountability to the public. And following the Friedman instructions, have no responsibility to the society that gave them the gift of incorporation. They have only the imperative of self-enrichment.

Margaret Thatcher then comes along and says there is no such thing as society, just atomized individuals who are somehow managing in the market. Of course, there is a small footnote that she didn’t bother to add: for the rich and powerful, there is plenty of society. Organizations like the Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, ALEC, all kinds of others. They get together, they defend themselves, and so on. There is plenty of society for them, just not for the rest of us. Most people have to face the ravages of the market. And, of course, the rich don’t. Corporations count on a powerful state to bail them out every time there’s some trouble. The rich have to have the powerful state — as well as its police powers — to be sure nobody gets in their way.”

-Noam Chomsky interviewed on Tom’s Dispatch

It’s easy to get caught up in day to day events, but let’s not forget the quietly ticking bomb of a nuclear *oops* that could end us all.

The Black Swan We Can Never See

Let us turn to the other (and traditional) concern of the atomic scientists who adjust the Doomsday Clock: nuclear weapons. The current threat of nuclear war amply justifies their January 2015 decision to advance the clock two minutes toward midnight. What has happened since reveals the growing threat even more clearly, a matter that elicits insufficient concern, in my opinion.

The last time the Doomsday Clock reached three minutes before midnight was in 1983, at the time of the Able Archer exercises of the Reagan administration; these exercises simulated attacks on the Soviet Union to test their defense systems. Recently released Russian archives reveal that the Russians were deeply concerned by the operations and were preparing to respond, which would have meant, simply: The End.

We have learned more about these rash and reckless exercises, and about how close the world was to disaster, from U.S. military and intelligence analyst Melvin Goodman, who was CIA division chief and senior analyst at the Office of Soviet Affairs at the time. “In addition to the Able Archer mobilization exercise that alarmed the Kremlin,” Goodman writes, “the Reagan administration authorized unusually aggressive military exercises near the Soviet border that, in some cases, violated Soviet territorial sovereignty. The Pentagon’s risky measures included sending U.S. strategic bombers over the North Pole to test Soviet radar, and naval exercises in wartime approaches to the USSR where U.S. warships had previously not entered. Additional secret operations simulated surprise naval attacks on Soviet targets.”

We now know that the world was saved from likely nuclear destruction in those frightening days by the decision of a Russian officer, Stanislav Petrov, not to transmit to higher authorities the report of automated detection systems that the USSR was under missile attack. Accordingly, Petrov takes his place alongside Russian submarine commander Vasili Arkhipov, who, at a dangerous moment of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, refused to authorize the launching of nuclear torpedoes when the subs were under attack by U.S. destroyers enforcing a quarantine.

Other recently revealed examples enrich the already frightening record. Nuclear security expert Bruce Blair reports that “the closest the U.S. came to an inadvertent strategic launch decision by the President happened in 1979, when a NORAD early warning training tape depicting a full-scale Soviet strategic strike inadvertently coursed through the actual early warning network. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski was called twice in the night and told the U.S. was under attack, and he was just picking up the phone to persuade President Carter that a full-scale response needed to be authorized right away, when a third call told him it was a false alarm.”

This newly revealed example brings to mind a critical incident of 1995, when the trajectory of a U.S.-Norwegian rocket carrying scientific equipment resembled the path of a nuclear missile. This elicited Russian concerns that quickly reached President Boris Yeltsin, who had to decide whether to launch a nuclear strike.

Blair adds other examples from his own experience. In one case, at the time of the 1967 Middle East war, “a carrier nuclear-aircraft crew was sent an actual attack order instead of an exercise/training nuclear order.” A few years later, in the early 1970s, the Strategic Air Command in Omaha “retransmitted an exercise… launch order as an actual real-world launch order.” In both cases code checks had failed; human intervention prevented the launch. “But you get the drift here,” Blair adds. “It just wasn’t that rare for these kinds of snafus to occur.”

Blair made these comments in reaction to a report by airman John Bordne that has only recently been cleared by the U.S. Air Force. Bordne was serving on the U.S. military base in Okinawa in October 1962, at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis and a moment of serious tensions in Asia as well. The U.S. nuclear alert system had been raised to DEFCON 2, one level below DEFCON 1, when nuclear missiles can be launched immediately. At the peak of the crisis, on October 28th, a missile crew received authorization to launch its nuclear missiles, in error. They decided not to, averting likely nuclear war and joining Petrov and Arkhipov in the pantheon of men who decided to disobey protocol and thereby saved the world.

As Blair observed, such incidents are not uncommon. One recent expert study found dozens of false alarms every year during the period reviewed, 1977 to 1983; the study concluded that the range is 43 to 255 per year. The author of the study, Seth Baum, summarizes with appropriate words: “Nuclear war is the black swan we can never see, except in that brief moment when it is killing us. We delay eliminating the risk at our own peril. Now is the time to address the threat, because now we are still alive.”

These reports, like those in Eric Schlosser’s book Command and Control, keep mostly to U.S. systems. The Russian ones are doubtless much more error-prone. That is not to mention the extreme danger posed by the systems of others, notably Pakistan.

 

 –Noam Chomsky The Doomsday Clock quoted from Tom’s Dispatch

  Noam Chomsky is 92 years old, yet his grasp of world and US politics remains a force to be reckoned with.

 

“The U.S. always portrays itself as the greatest force on the planet for peace, justice, human rights, racial equality, etc. Polls tell us that most other nations actually regard the U.S. as the greatest threat to stability. What in your view is the truth here?

Even during the Obama years, international polls showed that world opinion regarded the US as the greatest threat to world peace, no other country even close. Americans were protected from the news, though one could learn about it from foreign media and dissident sources.  Sometimes illustrations are reported.  Thus there has been some mention of the recent UN vote condemning the savage Cuba sanctions, virtually a blockade: 180-2 (US-Israel).  The NY Times dismissed it as a chance for critics of the US to blow off steam.  That’s quite normal.  When there are reports of how the world is out of step, the usual framework is curiosity about the psychic maladies that lead to such pathological failure to recognize our nobility.

There’s nothing new about that stance.  It’s typical of imperial cultures.  Even such an outstanding figure as John Stuart Mill wondered about the world’s failure to comprehend that Britain was an angelic power, sacrificing itself for the benefit of the world – at a moment when Britain was carrying out some of its most horrifying crimes, as he knew very well.”

“Unless someone can answer the simple questions that immediately arise in the mind of any reasonable person when claims about “theory” and “philosophy” are raised, I’ll keep to work that seems to me sensible and enlightening, and to people who are interested in understanding and changing the world.

Johnb made the point that “plain language is not enough when the frame of reference is not available to the listener”; correct and important. But the right reaction is not to resort to obscure and needlessly complex verbiage and posturing about non-existent “theories.” Rather, it is to ask the listener to question the frame of reference that he/she is accepting, and to suggest alternatives that might be considered, all in plain language. I’ve never found that a problem when I speak to people lacking much or sometimes any formal education, though it’s true that it tends to become harder as you move up the educational ladder, so that indoctrination is much deeper, and the self-selection for obedience that is a good part of elite education has taken its toll. Johnb says that outside of circles like this forum, “to the rest of the country, he’s incomprehensible” (“he” being me). That’s absolutely counter to my rather ample experience, with all sorts of audiences. Rather, my experience is what I just described. The incomprehensibility roughly corresponds to the educational level. Take, say, talk radio. I’m on a fair amount, and it’s usually pretty easy to guess from accents, etc., what kind of audience it is. I’ve repeatedly found that when the audience is mostly poor and less educated, I can skip lots of the background and “frame of reference” issues because it’s already obvious and taken for granted by everyone, and can proceed to matters that occupy all of us. With more educated audiences, that’s much harder; it’s necessary to disentangle lots of ideological constructions.

It’s certainly true that lots of people can’t read the books I write. That’s not because the ideas or language are complicated — we have no problems in informal discussion on exactly the same points, and even in the same words. The reasons are different, maybe partly the fault of my writing style, partly the result of the need (which I feel, at least) to present pretty heavy documentation, which makes it tough reading. For these reasons, a number of people have taken pretty much the same material, often the very same words, and put them in pamphlet form and the like. No one seems to have much problem — though again, reviewers in the Times Literary Supplement or professional academic journals don’t have a clue as to what it’s about, quite commonly; sometimes it’s pretty comical.

A final point, something I’ve written about elsewhere (e.g., in a discussion in Z papers, and the last chapter of “Year 501”). There has been a striking change in the behavior of the intellectual class in recent years. The left intellectuals who 60 years ago would have been teaching in working class schools, writing books like “mathematics for the millions” (which made mathematics intelligible to millions of people), participating in and speaking for popular organizations, etc., are now largely disengaged from such activities, and although quick to tell us that they are far more radical than thou, are not to be found, it seems, when there is such an obvious and growing need and even explicit request for the work they could do out there in the world of people with live problems and concerns. That’s not a small problem. This country, right now, is in a very strange and ominous state. People are frightened, angry, disillusioned, skeptical, confused. That’s an organizer’s dream, as I once heard Mike say. It’s also fertile ground for demagogues and fanatics, who can (and in fact already do) rally substantial popular support with messages that are not unfamiliar from their predecessors in somewhat similar circumstances. We know where it has led in the past; it could again. There’s a huge gap that once was at least partially filled by left intellectuals willing to engage with the general public and their problems. It has ominous implications, in my opinion.”

Source: http://www.mrbauld.com/chomsky1.html [accessed 30 Dec 2008]

This excerpt from an interview with Marc Steiner from Real News

 

Noam Chomsky: Well, I’m old enough to remember, as a child, listening to Hitler’s speeches over the radio at the Nuremberg rallies. I couldn’t understand the words when I was six years old, but I could easily understand the mood. And it was frightening, the adoration of the screaming crowds, the ranting, and also seeing what was beginning to happen in the ’30s as fascism began to spread, and it seemed inexorably over much of the world with these hideous leaders in charge. And these memories do come to mind when I listened to one of Trump’s rallies, for example. There’s some similarity, the worship of the crowds, his very effective use of techniques of manipulation. So for example, the constant flood of lies and self contradictions and so on, which is very well designed to undermine the very notion of truth. It disappears, so you just listen to the great leader.

He’s doing very much the same, I presume, consciously, with regard to the coronavirus. If you look over his statements since January, they range all over the map, “It’s just the flu, don’t worry about it. It’s a terrible pandemic, and I was the first person ever to notice it,” and anything else. That’s a great technique. It assures that he’ll be vindicated. Whatever happens, you’ll find some statements he made that was accurate. When you shoot arrows at random, something’s going to hit the target. And when you have adoring crowds who grasp any word of the leader, when you have an echo chamber called Fox News, where they loyally repeat every bit of nonsense that he’s saying, then it’s a terrific technique of domination and control.

But before, there were people, including good scholars of fascism like Robert Paxton, who argue that we may be in danger of coming to something like fascism. Well there’s something to that. I think we should be reserved about it. Fascism was an ideology. It wasn’t just screaming and ranting at a door in crowds. It was an ideology of state takeover and domination and control of everything, of course, labor unions and so on, but also state control of business. [inaudible 00:04:49], it was called. That’s almost the opposite of what we have now. We have business-control of the state, under Trump, deepening. His primary constituency is wealth and corporate power, and he lavishes gifts for them. It was very striking at the Davos meetings in January, you know the meetings of the masters of the universe? They, very much, dislike him. The corporate executives, they didn’t like his style or anything else about him. He gave the leading speech. They liked it because he talked about his tax cut, a huge gift to the wealthy and the corporate sector, stabbing everyone else in the back. Yeah, they thought that was great.

So he understands how to serve is primary masters, how to keep the adoring crowds under control, but there’s no ideology. The ideology is simply, “Me. I’m a megalomaniac psychopath, and I just want what’s good for me.” That’s not fascism. It’s something pretty awful, but not fascism. With the coronavirus, it’s very important to… It’s a terrible crisis. We’ll recover from it at, maybe, horrible cost, but we will recover. And there are two things that are important to keep in mind. One is, there’s going to be more of these crises. Now this particular one has been predicted for 10 or 15 years, ever since the SARS epidemic, since there were corona viruses. So it was predicted, it was understood that something would come. Steps weren’t taken. It’s very interesting to look at how that works. If there’s time, I could talk about it. But it was understood that something was underway.

If we don’t look at the roots of this crisis and deal with them, there’ll be others and they’ll be worse ones because they’ll be compounded with something else that’s happening. This crisis, we will recover from. We’re not going to recover from the melting of the polar ice caps, and the other very significant impacts of the global warming crisis, which Trump is trying hard to exacerbate right into the middle of this crisis. While people are worried about getting by, he’s continuing on his relentless drive to destroy organized human life on earth. So on February 10th, well the pandemic was spreading over the US Trump, then Trump came out. Trump and his courtiers, it’s not just him. They came out with their budget proposals for next year. A lot of it was predictable, continued increasing cutbacks of every health related aspect of the government. He’s been doing that for years, so let’s continue to wipe out the health system and response system. Okay. That’s expected. Huge expenses for the bloated military and his ‘great wall’. Yeah. We expect that.

Anything that has anything of any use to human beings, we cut. But what was interesting is that he included subsidies for the fossil fuel industry to try to make the major crisis worse to furthermore his new EPA, which is corporate run. As you know, just a couple of days ago, announced the cutbacks in regulations for auto emissions that’ll have the welcomed effect of killing a lot more people from pollution, which is a major killer, but more important, expanding the race to the abyss with coming environmental crises. Now these are things we have to pay attention to. We have to think about the words of this [inaudible 00:09:12]. Now what can be done to prevent the next one? Which, very likely, will probably be worse.

Now we have to ask ourselves what we’re going to do about the truly existential crisis which is going to destroy human civilization? Not just my view, incidentally, a very interesting memo from JPMorgan Chase, the biggest American bank. The memo was quite interesting. It said that, their phrase, the survival of humanity is at risk if we continue on our present course, including the virtually genocidal commitments of the bank, his bank, their bank, to fund fossil fuels. It’s understood that the Davos men, they understand, the masters of the world understand it very well. We should understand it. We should not mince words. When I say genocidal, it’s correct. There is time. There’s not much, but there is time to deal with the crisis, even without a radical change of institutions. There are ways to do it, but not much time. Every day, every year we waste, it gets worse.

Every year we allow Trump and his accolades to expand the crisis, to accelerate it, it gets harder to deal with. If he gets reelected, I won’t say it’s a death knell for the species, but it’s a very severe blow. All of this should be right in the front of our minds as we’re thinking about this crisis. And we should recognize that it is in the front of the minds of the criminal class, the ones who are taking advantage of this crisis to ram through their programs of destruction and devastation, which, in their little sociopathic minds, are evidently dedicated to. These are not exaggerations, incidentally.

If we look at the Republican Party, we even know why they’re doing it. You go back about 10 years, John McCain running for president. Now he had the climate-change element in his platform. The Republican Congress was beginning to think about small ways to deal with the growing climate crisis, which of course they knew was coming. What happened? The Coke energy machine which had been working for years to try to keep the Republican Party on course, of supporting fossil fuels, went into motion, launched a juggernaut of bribing senators and intimidating them with threats to run alternative candidates, huge lobbying efforts, AstroTurf campaigns. They all [inaudible 00:12:30] in a moment. Ever since then, they’ve been deniers. That’s the world we’re living with. Now that has an effect. Now people listen to Fox News, which echoes what’s coming from the wealthy and powerful and their spokespersons in Washington.

The end result is, if you take a look at Republicans, its main source of information, so called, is Fox News, and about 25% of them think that it’s a serious problem, and it’s about the same number who think that humans are probably involved. This is a major crisis for the world, on that we’re right at the heart of it. Now there are things we have to do. You can learn a lot just by looking at the details of how this crisis arose. Back in 2003, it was understood by scientists that another epic pandemic, and probably a coronavirus pandemic, is not unlikely. There were things that could have been done and some things began to be done. So Obama did contract with a small company in California to produce high quality, low cost ventilators. That’s the bottleneck in the system right now, the reason why nurses have to decide who they’re going to kill. He did make the contract.

The company was quickly bought up by a large corporation, Covidien, which makes high cost ventilators. They sidetracked the project, probably because they didn’t want competition with their high cost ventilators. And pretty soon, they told the government they wanted to get out of the contract because it wasn’t profitable enough to produce what is desperately needed. It’s profitable, but you can make more money with fossil fuels. Same thing’s going with the fossil fuel companies and sustainable energy, they make profit from the sustainable energy corporations, but you make much more profit from destroying the world, so they killed this project. That’s called capitalism, and it’s particularly savage variant called neoliberalism, what we’ve been suffering from since Reagan. It has very harmful consequences.

So we come up to the present, let’s say last October, there was a high level simulation of a coronavirus pandemic showing how awful it would be. That was October. In December, China notified the World Health Organization that they were finding pneumonia-like symptoms with unknown etiology. On January 7th, they informed the World Health Organization that they, Chinese scientists, had identified the source as a coronavirus, had identified the virus, sequenced it, provided the information to the entire world. The US Intelligence knew. In January and February, they were the pounding on the doors of the White House, trying to get someone to pay attention. As one intelligence official put it, they couldn’t get Trump’s ear. For him, it was just a minor flu, “Don’t worry about it.” Finally, it comes, the recognition that it’s a big problem, so of course, he’s the first person who ever knew it was a pandemic, we go into that routine. And that’s where we are now.

It’s the epicenter of the crisis. The only major country in the world, the only one, that is so dysfunctional that it cannot even provide data to the World Health Organization on the number of possible cases. Every other major country can. Now that’s what we’re living with. Now we’re going to make a decision pretty soon as to whether to continue with it, or get rid of it and try to move back to some level of sanity. I should say, this is not the only case for worry. You mentioned the doomsday clock. It’s been moving towards midnight ever since Trump was nominated. This year, broke all records, the analysts abandoned minutes, turned to seconds, a hundred seconds to midnight.

One reason is what we’ve just been talking about, but there’s another one which nobody seems to want to talk about. Trump is tearing to shreds the last parts of the arms control agreement, which go back to Reagan and Eisenhower that have helped maintain the virtual miracle that there hasn’t been a nuclear war yet. Not only doing that, but doing it very blatantly, virtually appealing to other countries, Russia in particular, to find ways to destroy us. So last August, Trump, as you know, abandoned the Reagan Gorbachev INF Treaty, which had significantly reduced the threat of war. He abandoned it, but went beyond, immediately after abandoning it, the US launched a missile, violating the treaty. That’s virtually pleading with adversaries, “Okay. Try to develop means to destroy us as fast as you can.” Great for military industry. They were exalting huge new contracts to develop the new ways to destroy everything. And as they pointed out, down the road, there’ll be even bigger contracts to try to find some hopeless way to defend against the destructive systems that were now developing.

So for them, it’s wonderful. And for the rest of us, saying, “Yeah, we’re toast. They want to kill us all.” Now that’s the meaning of the decisions that are being taken about arms control. And the Russians have been calling for continuing the next major treaty, the New START Treaty. They say, “Let’s just continue it.” The US won’t respond. They don’t say anything. The time is getting short. Very little time for negotiations. That one will probably go. Also facing the ax is the Open Skies Treaty, which was suggested by Eisenhower. That’s under the ax. So anything you can think of that can harm people and destroy civilization, that’s a high priority. Is that an exaggeration? Unfortunately not. Is this the most dangerous administration and party in human history? I’m afraid so. It’s not an exaggeration when you think of the consequences. Those are the issues that we should be thinking about just as the gang of criminals is.

The interview is long and well worth a full read.

 

I’m disappointed that Bernie Sanders did not get the Democratic nomination.  I suspect the only way he will ever get into the race proper is if he runs as an independent.  The structural opposition within the Democratic party is just too strong to overcome currently.  I hope that Chomsky’s observations are correct and the political movements that have started now, remain active and continue to grow, allowing them to influence public policy in the future.

 

“AMY GOODMAN: Before we go to break, on Wednesday, just before Bernie Sanders announced, but it did look like he was about to pull out of the presidential race, I asked political dissident, linguist and author Noam Chomsky about his assessment of the Bernie Sanders campaign in this time of the coronavirus pandemic.

NOAM CHOMSKY: If Trump is reelected, it’s a indescribable disaster. It means that the policies of the past four years, which have been extremely destructive to the American population, to the world, will be continued and probably accelerated. What this is going to mean for health is bad enough. I just mentioned the Lancet figures. It will get worse. What this means for the environment or the threat of nuclear war, which no one is talking about but is extremely serious, is indescribable.

Suppose Biden is elected. I would anticipate it would be essentially a continuation of Obama — nothing very great, but at least not totally destructive, and opportunities for an organized public to change what is being done, to impose pressures.

It’s common to say now that the Sanders campaign failed. I think that’s a mistake. I think it was an extraordinary success, completely shifted the arena of debate and discussion. Issues that were unthinkable a couple years ago are now right in the middle of attention.

The worst crime he committed, in the eyes of the establishment, is not the policy he’s proposing; it’s the fact that he was able to inspire popular movements, which had already been developing — Occupy, Black Lives Matter, many others — and turn them into an activist movement, which doesn’t just show up every couple years to push a leader and then go home, but applies constant pressure, constant activism and so on. That could affect a Biden administration.”

Going against the dominant expectations as a teacher, as Chomsky says, is a dangerously fine line. Those who do, please keep up the great work.

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