This reminds me of a story. Around 1977, two mathematicians published a paper claiming they had proved the four color map theorem using computer methods involving examination of about 1,100 cases of something or other, and Scientific American wrote it up.
One of the authors was speaking in Manhattan, so I and two friends from college took the PATH train from Hoboken to hear him talk. The mid-size lecture hall was packed with at least 200 people. I remember turbans. If I said I remember saris that would be embellishing, but it was an international event, no doubt. There were several polite questions at the end. Then a wiry old man stood up in the back row and said, “I read your paper and listened to your talk now, and I heard your coauthor speak in Buffalo last month, and I STILL don’t know what you are talking about.”
And everyone in the audience made a sound – a high, sharp, relieved sigh – all the same sound. Maybe that was universal grammar.
In fact, just as a rule of thumb, if anything is discussed as if itâs just obvious, we donât have to talk about it, everyone agrees, but we know itâs complicated. In any such situation, we should be asking, whatâs going on? Nothing complicated can have that degree of uniformity about it. So some scam is underway.
Over the past four years, have we been in a strange and new period of American history? Or are we seeing a continuation of American history that is pretty much in line with what it has always been?
Of course, itâs the same country. We havenât undergone a major revolution, but the last four years are very much out of line with the history of Western democracies altogether. By now, itâs becoming almost outlandish. In the three hundred and fifty years of parliamentary democracy, thereâs been nothing like what weâre seeing now in Washington. I donât have to tell you. You read the same newspapers I do. A President who has said if he doesnât like the outcome of an election, heâll simply not leave office, and is taken seriously enough that, for example, two high-level, highly respected, retired military officersâone of them very well known, Lieutenant Colonel John Naglâactually went to the extent of writing an open letter to General (Mark) Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reminding him of his constitutional duties to send in the American military to remove the President from office if he refuses to leave.
Thereâs a long article, which youâve probably seen, by Barton Gellman, reviewing the strategies that Republican leadership is thinking of to try and undermine the election. There has been plenty of tampering before. Weâre not unfamiliar with that. In fact, one case that comes to mind is kind of relevant at the moment: 1960. Richard Nixon had pretty good reason to believe that he had won the election. Nixon, who was not the most delightful person in the history of Presidential politics, decided to put the welfare of the country over his personal ambition. Thatâs not what weâre seeing now, and thatâs only one sign of a very significant change. The executive has been almost totally purged of any critical independent voicesânothing left but sycophants. If theyâre not sufficiently loyal to the master, fire them and get someone else. A striking example recently was the firing of the inspectors general when they started looking into the incredible swamp Trump created in Washington. This kind of thing goes on and on.
Whatever one thinks of Trump, he is a highly skilled politician, with a good sense of how to gain popular approval, even virtual worship in some circles. His job approval just passed 50 percent for the first time, according to the latest Zogby poll.
He certainly has taken control of the GOP, to quite a remarkable extent. Heâs been very successful with his two constituencies: the primary one, wealth and corporate power; and the voting base, relatively affluent fairly generally, including a large bloc of Christian evangelicals, rural whites, farmers, workers who have faith in his promises to bring back jobs, and a collection of others, some not too admirable.
Itâs clear why the primary constituency is mostly delighted. Corporate profits are booming. Wealth continues to be concentrated in very few hands. Trumpâs administration is lavishing them with gifts, including the tax bill, the main legislative achievement, across-the-board deregulation, and rapidly increasing fossil fuel production. He and McConnell â in many ways the evil genius of the administration â are packing the judiciary with reactionaries, guaranteeing the interests of the corporate sector and private wealth even after these âglory daysâ are past. They donât like his trade wars, which are causing disruption of global supply chains, but so far at least thatâs outweighed by his dedicated service to their welfare.
To keep the rest in line is sometimes easy, among them the Christian right, white supremacists, ultranationalists and xenophobes, and those in terror of âhordesâ of immigrants. It is easy to throw them occasional chunks of red meat. But sometimes maintaining their allegiance takes the kind of demagoguery at which he is expert. Thus many who are understandably aggrieved by the economic policies of the neoliberal years still seem to feel that heâs the one person standing up for them by shaking his fist at those they blame for taking away their jobs: immigrants and âthe scheming Chinese,â primarily.
Numerous press reports reveal how the scam works. Thus, in The New York Times, Patricia Cohen investigates the attitude of owners of large farms to Trumpâs trade wars, which sharply cut their exports to China and cause severe financial hardships. In general, she finds, they continue to support the president. âI get why heâs doing it,â her major informant says: âAmerica has been bulliedâ by China. And if the trade war persists through the 2020 election, âI would be OK with that.â Heâs sure that Trump will do everything possible to help. Furthermore, âIt makes me feel really good to hear Trump say farmers are important to this country. Thatâs what makes me want to stick with the president.â
Shaking a fist at the âYellow Perilâ and a little sweet talk carry the day, helped by $16 billion to compensate for export losses.
The gift is largely paid by a new hidden tax on the general public. Tariffs are in effect a tax on consumers (contrary to Trumpâs pretenses about China paying for them). The New York Fed estimates the cost to consumers at $1.6 billion annually, a tax of $831 for the average American household. Hence Trumpâs tariffs tax the general public to maintain the loyalty of a prime constituency. (...)
Edward S. Herman, an economist who collaborated with scholar and political activist Noam Chomsky on blistering critiques of U.S. foreign policy and the mass media, most influentially with their book “Manufacturing Consent,” died Nov. 11 at a hospital near his home in Penn Valley, Pa. He was 92.
Dr. Herman had bladder cancer, said his wife, Christine Abbott. The disease was not diagnosed until after his death.
An emeritus professor of finance at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, Dr. Herman was known as a soft-spoken, cat-loving pianist, fond of donning a T-shirt that read “Thank God for Mozart” during times of political tumult.
Yet his tenderness in person was belied by a ferocious rhetorical style in his prose, where he criticized “humanitarian wars” in Iraq and Vietnam, and lambasted mainstream media outlets. (...)
In brief, the Global War on Terror sledgehammer strategy has spread jihadi terror from a tiny corner of Afghanistan to much of the world, from Africa through the Levant and South Asia to Southeast Asia. It has also incited attacks in Europe and the United States. The invasion of Iraq made a substantial contribution to this process, much as intelligence agencies had predicted. Terrorism specialists Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank estimate that the Iraq War “generated a stunning sevenfold increase in the yearly rate of fatal jihadist attacks, amounting to literally hundreds of additional terrorist attacks and thousands of civilian lives lost; even when terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan is excluded, fatal attacks in the rest of the world have increased by more than one-third.” Other exercises have been similarly productive. (...)
(This piece, the first of two parts, is excerpted from Noam Chomsky’s new book, Who Rules the World? (Metropolitan Books). Part 2 will be posted on Tuesday morning.)
When we ask “Who rules the world?” we commonly adopt the standard convention that the actors in world affairs are states, primarily the great powers, and we consider their decisions and the relations among them. That is not wrong. But we would do well to keep in mind that this level of abstraction can also be highly misleading.
States of course have complex internal structures, and the choices and decisions of the political leadership are heavily influenced by internal concentrations of power, while the general population is often marginalized. That is true even for the more democratic societies, and obviously for others. We cannot gain a realistic understanding of who rules the world while ignoring the “masters of mankind,” as Adam Smith called them: in his day, the merchants and manufacturers of England; in ours, multinational conglomerates, huge financial institutions, retail empires, and the like. Still following Smith, it is also wise to attend to the “vile maxim” to which the “masters of mankind” are dedicated: “All for ourselves and nothing for other people” — a doctrine known otherwise as bitter and incessant class war, often one-sided, much to the detriment of the people of the home country and the world.
In the contemporary global order, the institutions of the masters hold enormous power, not only in the international arena but also within their home states, on which they rely to protect their power and to provide economic support by a wide variety of means. When we consider the role of the masters of mankind, we turn to such state policy priorities of the moment as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, one of the investor-rights agreements mislabeled “free-trade agreements” in propaganda and commentary. They are negotiated in secret, apart from the hundreds of corporate lawyers and lobbyists writing the crucial details. The intention is to have them adopted in good Stalinist style with “fast track” procedures designed to block discussion and allow only the choice of yes or no (hence yes). The designers regularly do quite well, not surprisingly. People are incidental, with the consequences one might anticipate. (...)