Thursday, February 26, 2009

self-defense - read newspapers through a PRISM

Great Thinkers: Chomsky speaks against the doctrinal system
By: Brendan Benedict - Asst. Marketplace Editor, Kara Kaminski - Marketplace Editor
Posted: 2/26/09
Walking into the linguistics department at MIT was certainly a memorable experience for this editorial duo. The first of our interviews for the column "Great Thinkers" was Noam Chomsky. We waited outside his office with our pens and notebooks, watching the film crew exit before us. His desk was stacked high and wide with books on foreign policy. Our nerves were eased when the actual interview started. Chomsky sits back in his chair with the demeanor of a grandfather imparting his wisdom onto his grandchildren.

Our first topic of choice was a concept he mentioned in his Boston College lecture, the commoditization and branding of American politicians. "Candidates are chosen by funders," he said. He described how both Obama and McCain were funded by the same big names; they just supported Obama a bit more, and this could be interpreted as the reason for the win. Chomsky referenced Thomas Ferguson's "golden rule," or investment theory of politics. The fact that Obama won Advertising Age's marketer of the year for 2008, beating out Apple, is evidence to the extent politicians are products to the American public.

He went into greater detail on how the people of Bolivia triumphed in their recent election. "They focused on crucial issues like nationalization and elected one from their own ranks, a poor peasant," he said. The success of Bolivia's democracy was the focus on the issues rather than the candidate and the organizational success of the repressed, indigenous people, he further explained.

Chomsky spoke with us on what he refers to as the "doctrinal system," the cooperation between the government, media, and major academia when communicating to the masses. "It's nothing coercive, it's not a conspiracy; it's natural for the elite to cooperate and to share the same goals and interests," he said, in order to protect their own power. He added that not every member of those institutions is necessarily part of the doctrinal system. He noted Charles Derber and Juliet Schor, both professors in the Sociology department, as academics who have operated outside the doctrinal system.

It is a daunting task, then, for students wishing to stay informed to try and grapple with a media that is subject to an establishment bias. Chomsky said that he reads the same news sources as most, including The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and The Wall Street Journal. But he has learned how to filter out the fiction from the facts. "It takes self-defense - it can be done if you read carefully, but you need to correct for the prism of ideology and doctrine," he said. He also relies on a variety of foreign sources. Chomsky mentioned a recent speech given by President Obama on the Israel-Palestine conflict in which Obama, while endorsing the League of Arab Nations' two-state solution, keenly omitted their statement that there would be a "peaceful resolution." This significant use of words was not found only in a South African newspaper.

Chomsky highlighted other important issues for students. "It's easiest to accept what everyone says - to take notes, regurgitate, and get an A," Chomsky said. To challenge the accuracy of a professor's lessons comes at a cost - more work for less grades - but ultimately allows one to take on the doctrinal system.

On activism, Chomsky believes students face the same difficulties. An easier life might be to "stay in goose-step," but to question and challenge the status quo comes at a price. "Fortunately, people do it, and the world improves," he said. "An African-American and a woman running for president were inconceivable in the 1960s, but that changed because of [young people]; it set in motion a civilized country. Because people don't accept authority, you get progress," he said.

We asked about whether the U.S. should be more or less engaged in foreign policy in the setting of the new administration. Chomsky's first response was that the rhetoric of the question was a product of the doctrinal system. "The U.S. is always engaged . the question is what is the nature of the engagement," he said.

Richard Holbrooke, Obama's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, is trying to reach a military solution in the region, according to Chomsky. "Karzai wants a timetable for withdrawal, but now he's vilified in the press, condemned as corrupt," he said, further underscoring the impact of the doctrinal system.

The students who flocked to Chomsky's recent lecture at BC should take his words with a grain of salt. Students should be wary of the power of the doctrinal system and strive for independent thinking that challenges the establishment.

In order to reach the full potential of American democracy, one should value ideas above money and marketing. Chomsky calls us to introspection - whether we prioritize our success above our own moral integrity.


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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Noam Chomsky on the Cuban embargo

By Noam Chomsky . February 23, 2009

What They Say:

.After 47 years. the unilateral embargo on Cuba has failed to achieve its stated purpose of .bringing democracy to the Cuban people...

Republican Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), in his introduction to a report on Cuba by his senior staffer, Carl Meacham.

What They Mean:

Lugar carefully says .stated purpose.. He is an intelligent man, and surely knows that the actual purpose was completely different. No one familiar with US practices in the region or elsewhere can possibly believe that the goal of intensive US terror operations against Cuba and harsh economic warfare was intended to .bring democracy to the Cuban people.. That is just propaganda, unusually vulgar in this case.

The actual reasons for the terror and economic warfare were explained clearly at the very outset: the goal was to cause .rising discomfort among hungry Cubans. so that they would overthrow the regime (Kennedy); to .bring about hunger, desperation, and overthrow of the government. (Eisenhower.s State Department). The threat of Cuba, as Kennedy.s Latin American advisor Arthur Schlesinger advised the incoming president, is that successful independent development there might stimulate others who suffer from similar problems to follow the same course, so that the system of US domination might unravel. The liberal Democratic administrations were outraged over Cuba.s .successful defiance. of US policies going back to the Monroe Doctrine, which was intended to ensure obedience to the US will in the hemisphere. To a substantial extent, US terror and economic warfare has achieved its actual goals, causing bitter suffering among Cubans, impeding economic development, and undermining moves towards more internal democracy. Exactly as intended.

The case is an interesting one. For decades a large majority of Americans have wanted to establish normal relations with Cuba. In more recent years, substantial US business interests (agribusiness, energy, others) are in favor of that too. Of course, the US is entirely isolated in the world in maintaining the embargo; at the UN it can only garner support, reflexively, from Israel and a few Pacific dependencies. But the policy persists, and in fact became harsher under the Democrats in the 1990s in order to cause Cubans to suffer more after Russian assistance evaporated.

It is one of the occasional illustrations of how state interests prevail over business interests; and the will of the population is as usual irrelevant. More than is usually recognized, the conduct of international affairs resembles the Mafia. The Godfather does not tolerate defiance, even from some small storekeeper. And for good reasons: the rot can spread, to use the terminology of high-level US planners (or Schlesinger, in the case cited).

Noam Chomsky

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Chomsky interview USA ECONOMY

SAMEER DOSSANI: In any first year economics class, we are taught that markets have their ups and downs, so the current recession is perhaps nothing out of the ordinary. But this particular downturn is interesting for two reasons: First, market deregulation in the 1980s and 1990s made the boom periods artificially high, so the bust period will be deeper than it would otherwise. Secondly, despite an economy that's boomed since 1980, the majority of working class U.S. residents have seen their incomes stagnate . while the rich have done well most of the country hasn't moved forward at all. Given the situation, my guess is that economic planners are likely to go back to some form of Keynesianism, perhaps not unlike the Bretton Woods system that was in place from 1948-1971. What are your thoughts?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well I basically agree with your picture. In my view, the breakdown of the Bretton Woods system in the early 1970s is probably the major international event since 1945, much more significant in its implications than the collapse of the Soviet Union.

From roughly 1950 until the early 1970s there was a period of unprecedented economic growth and egalitarian economic growth. So the lowest quintile did as well . in fact they even did a little bit better . than the highest quintile. It was also a period of some limited but real form of benefits for the population. And in fact social indicators, measurements of the health of society, they very closely tracked growth. As growth went up social indicators went up, as you'd expect. Many economists called it the golden age of modern capitalism . they should call it state capitalism because government spending was a major engine of growth and development.

In the mid 1970s that changed. Bretton Woods restrictions on finance were dismantled, finance was freed, speculation boomed, huge amounts of capital started going into speculation against currencies and other paper manipulations, and the entire economy became financialized. The power of the economy shifted to the financial institutions, away from manufacturing. And since then, the majority of the population has had a very tough time; in fact it may be a unique period in American history. There's no other period where real wages . wages adjusted for inflation . have more or less stagnated for so long for a majority of the population and where living standards have stagnated or declined. If you look at social indicators, they track growth pretty closely until 1975, and at that point they started to decline, so much so that now we're pretty much back to the level of 1960. There was growth, but it was highly inegalitarian . it went into a very small number of pockets. There have been brief periods in which this shifted, so during the tech bubble, which was a bubble in the late Clinton years, wages improved and unemployment went down, but these are slight deviations in a steady tendency of stagnation and decline for the majority of the population.

Financial crises have increased during this period, as predicted by a number of international economists. Once financial markets were freed up, there was expected to be an increase in financial crises, and that's happened. This crisis happens to be exploding in the rich countries, so people are talking about it, but it's been happening regularly around the world . some of them very serious . and not only are they increasing in frequency but they're getting deeper. And it's been predicted and discussed and there are good reasons for it.

About 10 years ago there was an important book called Global Finance at Risk, by two well-known economists John Eatwell and Lance Taylor. In it they refer to the well-known fact that there are basic inefficiencies intrinsic to markets. In the case of financial markets, they under-price risk. They don't count in systemic risk . general social costs. So for example if you sell me a car, you and I may make a good bargain, but we don't count in the costs to the society . pollution, congestion and so on. In financial markets, this means that risks are under-priced, so there are more risks taken than would happen in an efficient system. And that of course leads to crashes. If you had adequate regulation, you could control and prevent market inefficiencies. If you deregulate, you're going to maximize market inefficiency.

This is pretty elementary economics. They happen to discuss it in this book; others have discussed it too. And that's what's happening. Risks were under-priced, therefore more risks were taken than should have been, and sooner or later it was going to crash. Nobody predicted exactly when, and the depth of the crash is a little surprising. That's in part because of the creation of exotic financial instruments which were deregulated, meaning that nobody really knew who owed what to whom. It was all split up in crazy ways. So the depth of the crisis is pretty severe . we're not to the bottom yet . and the architects of this are the people who are now designing Obama's economic policies.

Dean Baker, one of the few economists who saw what was coming all along, pointed out that it's almost like appointing Osama bin Laden to run the so-called war on terror. Robert Rubin and Lawrence Summers, Clinton's treasury secretaries, are among the main architects of the crisis. Summers intervened strongly to prevent any regulation of derivatives and other exotic instruments. Rubin, who preceded him, was right in the lead of undermining the Glass-Steagall act, all of which is pretty ironic. The Glass-Steagall Act protected commercial banks from risky investment firms, insurance firms, and so on, which kind of protected the core of the economy. That was broken up in 1999 largely under Rubin's influence. He immediately left the treasury department and became a director of Citigroup, which benefited from the breakdown of Glass-Steagall by expanding and becoming a "financial supermarket" as they called it. Just to increase the irony (or the tragedy if you like) Citigroup is now getting huge taxpayer subsidies to try to keep it together and just in the last few weeks announced that it's breaking up. It's going back to trying to protect its commercial banking from risky side investments. Rubin resigned in disgrace . he's largely responsible for this. But he's one of Obama's major economic advisors, Summers is another one; Summer's protégé Tim Geithner is the Treasury Secretary.

None of this is really unanticipated. There were very good economists like say David Felix, an international economist who's been writing about this for years. And the reasons are known: markets are inefficient; they under-price social costs. And financial institutions underprice systemic risk. So say you're a CEO of Goldman Sachs. If you're doing your job correctly, when you make a loan you ensure that the risk to you is low. So if it collapses, you'll be able to handle it. You do care about the risk to yourself, you price that in. But you don't price in systemic risk, the risk that the whole financial system will erode. That's not part of your calculation.

Well that's intrinsic to markets . they're inefficient. Robin Hahnel had a couple of very good articles about this recently in economics journals. But this is first year economics course stuff . markets are inefficient; these are some of their inefficiencies; there are many others. They can be controlled by some degree of regulation, but that was dismantled under religious fanaticism about efficient markets, which lacked empirical support and theoretical basis; it was just based on religious fanaticism. So now it's collapsing.

People talk about a return to Keynesianism, but that's because of a systematic refusal to pay attention to the way the economy works. There's a lot of wailing now about "socializing" the economy by bailing out financial institutions. Yeah, in a way we are, but that's icing on the cake. The whole economy's been socialized since . well actually forever, but certainly since the Second World War. This mythology that the economy is based on entrepreneurial initiative and consumer choice, well ok, to an extent it is. For example at the marketing end, you can choose one electronic device and not another. But the core of the economy relies very heavily on the state sector, and transparently so. So for example to take the last economic boom which was based on information technology . where did that come from? Computers and the Internet. Computers and the Internet were almost entirely within the state system for about 30 years . research, development, procurement, other devices . before they were finally handed over to private enterprise for profit-making. It wasn't an instantaneous switch, but that's roughly the picture. And that's the picture pretty much for the core of the economy.

The state sector is innovative and dynamic. It's true across the board from electronics to pharmaceuticals to the new biology-based industries. The idea is that the public is supposed to pay the costs and take the risks, and ultimately if there is any profit, you hand it over to private tyrannies, corporations. If you had to encapsulate the economy in one sentence, that would be the main theme. When you look at the details of course it's a more complex picture, but that's the major theme. So yes, socialization of risk and cost (but not profit) is partially new for the financial institutions, but it's just added on to what's been happening all along.
Double Standard

DOSSANI: As we consider the picture of the collapse of some of these major financial institutions we would do well to remember that some of these same market fundamentalist policies have already been exported around the globe. Specifically, the International Monetary Fund has forced an export-oriented growth model onto many countries, meaning that the current slowdown in U.S. consumption is going to have major impacts in other countries. At the same time, some regions of the world, particularly the Southern Cone region of South America, are working to repudiate the IMF's market fundamentalist policies and build up alternatives. Can you talk a little about the international implications of the financial crisis? And how is it that some of the institutions responsible for this mess, like the IMF, are using this as an opportunity to regain credibility on the world stage?

CHOMSKY: It's rather striking to notice that the consensus on how to deal with the crisis in the rich countries is almost the opposite of the consensus on how the poor countries should deal with similar economic crises. So when so-called developing countries have a financial crisis, the IMF rules are: raise interest rates, cut down economic growth, tighten the belt, pay off your debts (to us), privatize, and so on. That's the opposite of what's prescribed here. What's prescribed here is lower interest rates, pour government money into stimulating the economy, nationalize (but don't use the word), and so on. So yes, there's one set of rules for the weak and a different set of rules for the powerful. There's nothing novel about that.

As for the IMF, it is not an independent institution. It's pretty much a branch of the U.S. Treasury Department . not officially, but that's pretty much the way it functions. The IMF was accurately described by a U.S. Executive Director as "the credit community's enforcer." If a loan or an investment from a rich country to a poor country goes bad, the IMF makes sure that the lenders will not suffer. If you had a capitalist system, which of course the wealthy and their protectors don't want, it wouldn't work like that.

For example, suppose I lend you money, and I know that you may not be able to pay it back. Therefore I impose very high interest rates, so that at least I'll get that in case you crash. Then suppose at some point you can't pay the debt. Well in a capitalist system it would be my problem. I made a risky loan, I made a lot of money from it by high interest rates and now you can't pay it back? Ok, tough for me. That's a capitalist system. But that's not the way our system works. If investors make risky loans to say Argentina and get high interest rates and then Argentina can't pay it back, well that's when the IMF steps in, the credit community's enforcer, and says that the people of Argentina, they have to pay it back. Now if you can't pay back a loan to me, I don't say that your neighbors have to pay it back. But that's what the IMF says. The IMF says the people of the country have to pay back the debt which they had nothing to do with, it was usually given to dictators, or rich elites, who sent it off to Switzerland or someplace, but you guys, the poor folks living in the country, you have to pay it back. And furthermore, if I lend money to you and you can't pay it back, in a capitalist system I can't ask my neighbors to pay me, but the IMF does, namely the US taxpayer. They help make sure that the lenders and investors are protected. So yes it's the credit community's enforcer. It's a radical attack on basic capitalist principles, just as the whole functioning of the economy based on the state sector is, but that doesn't change the rhetoric. It's kind of hidden in the woodwork.

What you said about the Southern Cone is exactly right. For the last several years they've been trying to extricate themselves from this whole neoliberal disaster. One of the ways was, for example Argentina simply didn't pay back its debts, or rather restructured them and bought some of it back. And folks like the President of Argentina said that "we're going to rid ourselves of the IMF" through these measures. Well, what was happening to the IMF? The IMF was in trouble. It was losing capital and losing borrowers, and therefore losing its ability to function as the credit community's enforcer. But this crisis is being used to restructure it and revitalize it.

It's also true that countries are driven to commodity export; that's the mode of development that's designed for them. Then they will be in trouble if commodity prices fall. It's not 100% the case, but in the Southern Cone, the countries that have been doing reasonably well do rely very heavily on commodity export, actually raw material export. That's even true of the most successful of them, Chile, which is considered the darling. The Chilean economy has been based very heavily on copper exports. The biggest copper company in the world is CODELCO, the nationalized copper company . nationalized by President Salvador Allende and nobody has tried to privatize it fully since because it's such a cash cow. It has been undermined, so it controls less of the copper export than it has in the past, but it still provides a large part of the tax base of the Chilean economy and is also a large income producer. It's an efficiently run nationalized copper company. But reliance on copper export means you're vulnerable to a decline in the price of commodities. The other Chilean exports like say, fruit and vegetables which are adapted to the U.S. market because of the seasonal differences . that's also vulnerable. And they haven't really done much in developing the economy beyond reliance on raw materials exports . a little, but not much. The same can be said for the other currently successful countries. You look at growth rates in Peru and Brazil, they're heavily dependent on soy and other agricultural exports or minerals; it's not a solid base for an economy.

One major exception to this is South Korea and Taiwan. They were very poor countries. South Korea in the late 1950s was probably about the level of Ghana today. But they developed by following the Japanese model . violating all the rules of the IMF and Western economists and developing pretty much the way the Western countries had developed, by substantial direction and involvement of the state sector. So South Korea, for example built a major steel industry, one of the most efficient in the world, by flatly violating the advice of the IMF and the World Bank, who said it was impossible. But they did it through state intervention, directing of resources, and also by restricting capital flight. Capital flight is a major problem for a developing country, and also for democracy. Capital flight could be controlled under Bretton Woods rules, but it was opened up in the last 30 years. In South Korea, you could get the death penalty for capital flight. So yes, they developed a pretty solid economy, as did Taiwan. China is a separate story, but they also radically violated the rules, and it's a complex story of how it's ending up. But these are major phenomena in the international economy.
Government Investment

DOSSANI: Do you think the current crisis will offer other countries the opportunity to follow the example of South Korean and Taiwan?

CHOMSKY: Well, you could say the example of the United States. During its major period of growth . late 19th century and early 20th century . the United States was probably the most protectionist country in the world. We had very high protective barriers, and it drew in investment, but private investment played only a supporting role. Take the steel industry. Andrew Carnegie built the first billion-dollar corporation by feeding off the state sector . building naval vessels and so on . this is Carnegie the great pacifist. The sharpest period of economic growth in U.S. history was during the Second World War, which was basically a semi-command economy and industrial production more than tripled. That model pulled us out of the depression, after which we became far and away the major economy in the world. After the Second World War, the substantial period of economic growth which I mentioned (1948-1971) was very largely based on the dynamic state sector and that remains true.

Let's take my own institution, MIT. I've been here since the 1950s, and you can see it first hand. In the 1950s and 1960s, MIT was largely financed by the Pentagon. There were labs that did classified war work, but the campus itself wasn't doing war work. It was developing the basis of the modern electronic economy: computers, the Internet, microelectronics, and so on. It was all developed under a Pentagon cover. IBM was here learning how to shift from punch-cards to electronic computers. It did get to a point by the 1960s that IBM was able to produce its own computers, but they were so expensive that nobody could buy them so therefore the government bought them. In fact, procurement is a major form of government intervention in the economy to develop the fundamental structure that will ultimately lead to profit. There have been good technical studies on this. From the 1970s until today, the funding of MIT has been shifting away from the Pentagon and toward the National Institute of Health and related government institutions. Why? Because the cutting edge of the economy is shifting from an electronics base to a biology base. So now the public has to pay the costs of the next phase of the economy through other state institutions. Now again, this is not the whole story, but it's a substantial part.

There will be a shift towards more regulation because of the current catastrophe, and how long they can maintain the paying off banks and financial institutions is not very clear. There will be more infrastructure spending, surely, because no matter where you are in the economic spectrum you realize that it's absolutely necessary. There will have to be some adjustment in the trade deficit, which is dramatic, meaning less consumption here, more export, and less borrowing.

And there's going to have to be some way to deal with the elephant in the closet, one of the major threats to the American economy, the increase in healthcare costs. That's often masked as "entitlements" so that they can wrap in Social Security, as part of an effort to undermine Social Security. But in fact Social Security is pretty sound; probably as sound as its ever been, and what problems there are could probably be addressed with small fixes. But Medicare is huge, and its costs are going way up, and that's primarily because of the privatized healthcare system which is highly inefficient. It's very costly and it has very poor outcomes. The U.S. has twice the per capita costs of other industrialized countries and it has some of the worst outcomes. The major difference between the U.S. system and others is that this one is so heavily privatized, leading to huge administrative costs, bureaucratization, surveillance costs and so on. Now that's going to have to be dealt with somehow because it's a growing burden on the economy and its huge; it'll dwarf the federal budget if current tendencies persist.
South America

DOSSANI: Will the current crisis open up space for other countries to follow more meaningful development goals?

CHOMSKY: Well, it's been happening. One of the most exciting areas of the world is South America. For the last 10 years there have been quite interesting and significant moves towards independence, for the first time since the Spanish and Portuguese conquests. That includes steps towards unification, which is crucially important, and also beginning to address their huge internal problems. There's a new Bank of the South, based in Caracas, which hasn't really taken off yet, but it has prospects and is supported by other countries as well. MERCOSUR is a trading zone of the Southern cone. Just recently, six or eight months ago, a new integrated organization has developed, UNASUR, the Union of South American Republics, and it's already been effective. So effective that it's not reported in the United States, presumably because it's too dangerous.
So when the U.S. and the traditional ruling elites in Bolivia started moving towards a kind of secessionist movement to try to undermine the democratic revolution that's taken place there, and when it turned violent, as it did, there was a meeting of UNASUR last September in Santiago, where it issued a strong statement defending the elected president, Evo Morales, and condemning the violence and the efforts to undermine the democratic system. Morales responded thanking them for their support and also saying that this is the first time in 500 years that South America's beginning to take its fate into its own hands. That's significant; so significant that I don't even think it was reported here. Just how far these developments can go, both dealing with the internal problems and also the problems of unification and integration, we don't know, but the developments are taking place. There are also South-South relations developing, for example between Brazil and South Africa. This again breaks the imperial monopoly, the monopoly of U.S. and Western domination. China's a new element on the scene. Trade and investment are increasing, and this gives more options and possibilities to South America. The current financial crisis might offer opportunities for increasing this, but also it might go the other way. The financial crisis is of course harming . it must harm . the poor in the weaker countries and it may reduce their options. These are really matters which will depend on whether popular movements can take control of their own fate, to borrow Morales' phrase. If they can, yes there are opportunities.

Sameer Dossani, a Foreign Policy In Focus contributor, is the director of 50 Years is Enough and blogs at shirinandsameer.blogspot.com.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

CYPRUS INTERVIEW - Chomsky on GAZA

Chomsky On Gaza

By Christiana Voniati

16 February, 2009


Voniati: The international public opinion and especially the Muslim world seem to have great expectations from the historic election of Obama. Can we, in your opinion, expect any real change regarding the US approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

Chomsky: Not much. Quite the contrary: it may be harsher than before. In the case of Gaza, Obama maintained silence, he didn.t say a word. He said well there.s only one president so I can.t talk about it. Of course he was talking about a lot of other things but he chose not to talk about this. His campaign did repeat a statement that he had made while visiting Israel six months earlier .he had visited Sderot where the rockets hit- and he said .if this where happening to my daughters, I wouldn.t think of any reaction as legitimate., but he couldn.t say anything about Palestinian children. Now, the attack on Gaza was at time so that it ended right before the inauguration, which is what I expected. I presume that the point was so that they could make sure that Obama didn.t have to say something, so he didn.t. And then he gave his first foreign policy declaration, it was a couple of days later when he appointed George Mitchell as his emissary, and he said nothing about Gaza except that .our paramount interest is preserving the security of Israel.. Palestine apparently doesn.t have any requirement of security. And then in his declaration he said of course we are not going to deal with Hamas -the elected government the US immediately, as soon as the government was elected in a free election the US and Israel with the help of European Union immediately started severely punishing the Palestinian population for voting in the .wrong way. in a free election and that.s what we mean by democracy. The only substantive comment he made in the declaration was to say that the arab peace plan had constructive elements, because it called for a normalization of relations with Israel and he urged the arab states to proceed with the normalization of relations. Now, he is an intelligent person, he knows that that was not what the arab peace plan said. The arab peace plan called for a two state settlement on the international border that is in accord with the long standing international consensus that the US has blocked for over 30 years and in that context of the two state settlement we should even proceed further and move towards a normalization of relations with Israel. Well, Obama carefully excluded the main content about the two state settlement and just talked about the corollary, for which a two state settlement is a precondition. Now that.s not an oversight, it can.t be. That.s a careful wording, sending the message that we are not going to change their (Israel.s) rejectionist policy. We .ll continue to be opposed to the international consensus on this issue, and everything else he said accords with it. We will continue in other words to support Israel.s settlement policies- those policies are undermining any possible opportunity or hope for a viable Palestinian entity of some kind. And it.s a continued reliance on force in both parts of occupied Palestine. That.s the only conclusion you could draw.

Voniati: Let us talk about the timing of the assault on the Gaza Strip. Was it accidental or did it purposefully happen in a vacuum of power? To explain myself, the global financial crisis has challenged the almost absolute US global hegemony. Furthermore, the attack on Gaza was launched during the presidential change of guard. So, did this vacuum of power benefit the Israeli assault on Gaza?

Chomsky: Well, the timing was certainly convenient since attention was focused elsewhere. There was no strong pressure on the president or other high officials of the US to say anything about it. I mean Bush was on his way out, and Obama could hide behind the pretext that he.s not yet in. And pretty much the same was in Europe, so that they could just say, well we can.t talk about it now, it.s too difficult a time. The assault was well chosen in that respect. It was well chosen in other respects too: the bombing began shortly after Hamas had offered a return to the 2005 agreement, which in fact was supported by the US. They said, ok, let.s go back to the 2005 agreement that was before Hamas was elected. That means no violence and open the borders. Closing the borders is a siege, it.s an act of war... not very harmful but it.s an act of war. Israel of all countries insists on that. I mean Israel went to war twice in 1956 and 1967 on the grounds, it claimed, that its access to the outside world was being hampered. It wasn.t a siege, its access through the Gulf of Aqaba was being hampered. Well if that is an act of war then certainly a siege is, and so it.s understood.

So Khaled Mashaal asked for an end of the state of the war, which would include opening the borders. Well, a couple of days later, when Israel didn.t react to that, Israel attacked. The attack was timed for Saturday morning . the Sabbath day in Israel . at about 11:30, which happens to be the moment when children are leaving school and crowds are miling in the streets of this very heavily crowded city. The explicit target was police cadets. Now, there are civilians, in fact we now know that for several months the legal department of the Israeli army had been arguing against this plan because it said it was a direct attack against civilians. And of course, plenty civilians will be killed if you bomb a crowded city, especially at a time like that. But finally the legal department was sort of bludgeoned into silence by the military so they said alright. So that.s when they opened .on a Sabbath morning. Now two weeks later, Israel . on Saturday as well- blocked the humanitarian aid because they didn.t want to disgrace Sabbath. Well, that.s interesting too. But the main point about the timing was that there was an effort to undercut the efforts for a peaceful settlement and it was terminated just in time to prevent pressure on Obama to say something about it. It.s hard to believe that this isn.t conscious. We know that it was very meticulously planned for many months beforehand.

Voniati: In a recent interview with LBC, you said that the policies of Hamas are more conducive to peace than the US.s or Israel.s.

Chomsky: Oh yes, that.s clear.

Voniati: Also, that the policies of Hamas are closer to international consensus on a political peaceful settlement than those of Israel and the US. Can you explain your stance?

Chomsky: Well for several years Hamas has been very clear and explicit, repeatedly, that they favor a two state settlement on the international border. They said they would not recognize Israel but they would accept a two state settlement and a prolonged truce, maybe decades, maybe 50 years. Now, that.s not exactly the international consensus but it.s pretty close to it. On the other hand, the United States and Israel flatly reject it. They reject it in deeds, that.s why they are building all the construction development activities in the West Bank, not only in violation of international laws, US and Israel know that the illegal constructions are designed explicitly to convert the West Bank into what the architect of the policy, Arial Sharon, called bantustan. Israel takes over what it wants, break up Palestine into unviable fragments. That.s undermining a political settlement. So in deeds, yes of course they are undermining it, but also in words: that goes back to 1976 when the US vetoed the Security Council resolution put forward by the arab states which called for a two state settlement and it goes around until today. In December, last December, at the meetings of the UN.s General Assembly there were many resolutions passed. One of them was a resolution calling for recognition of the right of self-determination of the Palestinian people. It didn.t call for a state, just the right of self-determination. It passed with 173 to 5. The 5 were the US, Israel and a few small pacific islands. Of course that can.t be reported in the US. So they are rejecting it even in words, as well as .more significantly- in acts. On the other hand, Hamas comes pretty close to accepting it. Now, the demand which Obama repeated on Hamas is that they must meet three conditions: they must recognize Israel.s right to exist, they must renounce violence and they must accept past agreements, and in particular the Road Map. Well, what about the US and Israel? I mean, obviously they don.t renounce violence, they reject the Road Map . technically they accepted it but Israel immediately entered 14 reservations (which weren.t reported here) which completely eliminated its content, and the US went along. So the US and Israel completely violate those two conditions, and of course they violate the first, they don.t recognize Palestine. So sure, there.s a lot to criticize about Hamas, but on these matters they seem to be much closer to .not only international opinion- but even to a just settlement than the US and Israel are.

Voniati: On the other hand, Hamas has been accused of using human shields to hide and protect itself. Israel insists that the war was a matter of defense. Is Hamas a terrorist organization, as it is accused to be? Is Israel a terrorist state?

Chomsky: Well, Hamas is accused of using human shields, rightly or wrongly. But we know that Israel does it all the time. Is Israel a terrorist state? Well yes according to official definitions. I mean, one of the main things holding up cease fire right now is that Israel insists that it will not allow a cease fire until Hamas returns a captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit - he.s very famous in the West everybody knows he was captured. Well, one day before Gilad Shalit was captured, Israeli forces went into Gaza City and kidnapped two Palestinian civilians (the Muamar Brothers) and brought them across the border to Israel in violation of international law and hid them somewhere in the huge Israeli prisons. Nobody knows what happened to them since. I mean, kidnapping civilians is a much worse crime than capturing a soldier of an attacking army. And furthermore this has been regular Israeli practice for decades. They.ve been kidnapping civilians in Lebanon or on the high seas.They take them to Israel, put them into prisons, sometimes keeping them as hostages for long periods. So you know, if the capturing of Gilad Shalit is a terrorist act, well, then israel.s regular practice supported by the US is incomparably worse. And that.s quite apart from repeated aggression and other crimes. I don.t like Hamas by any means, there is plenty to criticize about them, but if you compare their actions with US and Israel, they are minor criminals.

Voniati: Though of Jewish decent, you have been repeatedly accused of anti-Semitism. How do you respond?

Chomsky: The most important comment about that was made by the distinguished statesman Abba Eban, maybe 35 years ago, in an address to the American people. He said that there are two kinds of criticism of Zionism (by Zionism I mean the policies of the state of Israel). One is criticism by anti-Semites and the other is criticism by neurotic self-hating Jews. That eliminates 100% of possible criticism. The neurotic self-hating Jews, he actually mentioned two, I was one and I.F. Stone, a well-known writer was another). I mean that.s the kind of thing that would come out of a communist party in its worst days. But you see, I can.t really be called anti-semite because I.m jewish so I must be a neurotic self-hating Jew, by definition. The assumption is that the policies of the state of Israel are perfect, so therefore any kind of criticism must be illegitimate. And that.s from Abba Eban, one of the most distinguished figures in Israel, the most westernised . praised, considered a dove.

Voniati: How do you comment on the Davos incident concerning Erdogan.s verbal attack against Peres?

Chomsky: It was impolite. You are not supposed to behave like that at Davos. But the idea that Peres was given 25 minutes to justify major atrocities and aggression, that.s what.s shocking. Why have that at Davos? I mean, do you allow Saddam Husein in such a gathering to justify the invasion of Kuwait? So Erdogan reacted, in my view, not in accord with the gentile atmosphere of the collection of the people who but basically appropriate under the circumstances.

Voniati: Have you, by any chance, been informed about the Cypriot-flagged vessel "Monchegorsk" that is docked in Limassol and seems to have been carrying weapons to the Hamas-run Gaza Strip? Israel and the United States requested that the vessel be stopped...

Chomsky: I don.t know about the Iranian vessel but I do know that right in the middle of the Gaza attack, Dignity was blocked in international waters and attacked by the Israeli navy and almost sunk. Now, that.s a major crime. That.s much worse than piracy off the coast of Somalia for example. If the Iranian vessel was stopped in international waters, that.s completely illegitimate. Israel has no authority to do anything in international waters. And the talk about not sending arms to Gaza .I mean, do they stop sending arms to Israel? I mean right in the middle of the Gaza war, the pentagon announced that it was sending a huge shipman of armaments to Israel. Did anybody stop that? They should say that those armaments are not intended for use by the Israeli army. The pentagon also announced that they are being prepositioned, that is, that they re being placed in Israel for the use of the US army In other words what they re saying is .and it.s been true for a long time- is that the US regards Israel as an offshore military base of its own, which they can use for their aggressive acts throughout the region.

Christiana Voniati is head of International News Department POLITIS Newspaper, Nicosia, Cyprus.

E-mail: christiana.voniati___at___politis-news.com

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