Noam Chomsky says Trump and allies are “criminally insane”

November 13th, 2018


The renowned linguist and controversial political critic said President Donald Trump is choosing to race toward the catastrophes of climate change.

  • Chomsky said climate change and nuclear war are the two main existential threats facing humanity.
  • The Republican Party and Trump are not only failing to address climate change, but also are choosing to make it worse, according to Chomsky.
  • Polling data show that American Republicans seem to be growing slightly more skeptical about climate change and climate science.
  • In 2016, renowned linguist and political critic famously said the modern Republican Party is “the most dangerous organization” in human history.

    His argument, which he later outlined in a New York Times opinion piece, was that President Donald Trump and his Republican allies are not only failing to address climate change—the principal existential threat facing humanity, in addition to nuclear war, according to Chomsky—but are also choosing to race toward catastrophe as quickly as possible, in the interest of short-term profits.

    Chomsky elaborated on these concerns in a recent interview with Scientific American. For example, the controversial critic told science writer John Horgan that a September 2018 report from Trump’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration qualifies as “a contender for the most evil document in history.”

    That report predicted the planet would warm by 7 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century—a catastrophic forecast by any standard—but also said the administration isn’t planning to do anything about it.

    “It presented a rational argument: extrapolating current trends, by the end of the century we’ll be over the cliff and automotive emissions don’t contribute very much to the catastrophe – the assumption being that everyone is as criminally insane as we are and won’t try to avoid the crisis,” Chomsky said. “In brief, let’s rob while the planet burns, putting poor Nero in the shadows.”

    Chomsky said the administration’s pursuit of money over stability makes it superlatively malicious.

    “There have been many monsters in the past, but it would be hard to find one who was dedicated to undermining the prospects for organized human society, not in the distant future — in order to put a few more dollars in overstuffed pockets.”

    Chomsky argued that other institutions share a responsibility to mitigate or address climate change.

    “The same can be said about the major banks that are increasing investments in fossil fuels, knowing very well what they are doing. Or, for that matter, the regular articles in the major media and business press reporting US success in rapidly increasing oil and gas production, with commentary on energy independence, sometimes local environmental effects, but regularly without a phrase on the impact on global warming – a truly existential threat. Same in the election campaign. Not a word about the issue that is merely the most crucial one in human history.”

    Does society need reform or revolution?

    Asked about the utility of incremental change versus more drastic measures, Chomsky said both are useful in particular contexts.

    “Generalizations are misleading; too much depends on specific circumstances. But some have a fair degree of validity, I think,” Chomsky said. “One is that there is both justification and pressing need for radical changes in the socioeconomic and political orders. We cannot know to what extent they can be achieved by incremental reforms, which are to be valued on their own. But unless the great mass of the population comes to believe that needed change cannot be implemented within the existing system, resort to “drastic measures” is likely to be a recipe for disaster.”

    Big Think for more

    The Globe and Mail and Rwanda

    November 13th, 2018


    General Romeo Dallaire speaking in 2017 PHOTO/Wikipedia

    Canada’s paper of record pulled another layer off the rotting onion of propaganda obscuring the Rwandan tragedy. But, The Globe and Mailhas so far remained unwilling to challenge prominent Canadians who have crafted the fairy tale serving Africa’s most ruthless dictator.

    Last month, a front-page Globearticle added to an abundance of evidence suggesting Paul Kagame’s Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) shot down the plane carrying President Juvénal Habyarimana, which sparked the mass killings of the spring of 1994. “New informationsupports claims Kagame forces were involved in [the] assassination that sparked Rwandan genocide”, noted the headline. The Globe all but confirmed that the surface-to-air missiles used to assassinate the Rwandan and Burundian Hutu presidents came from Uganda, which backed the RPF’s bid to conquer its smaller neighbour. (A few thousand exiled Tutsi Ugandan troops, including the deputy ministerof defence, “deserted” to invade Rwanda in 1990.) The new revelations strengthen those who argue that the responsibility for the mass killings in spring 1994 largely rests with the Ugandan/RPF aggressors and their United States/British/Canadian backers.

    Despite publishing multiple stories over the past two years questioning the dominant narrative, The Globehas largely ignored the Canadians that shaped this Kagame-friendly storyline. I have writtena number of articlesdetailing Roméo Dallaire’s important role in this sordid affair, but another widely regarded Canadian has offered significant ideological support to Kagame’s crimes in Rwanda and the Congo.

    As Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF in the late 1990s, Stephen Lewis was appointed to a “Panel of Eminent Personalities to Investigate the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda and the Surrounding Events”. Reportedly instigated by United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and partly funded by Canada, the Organisation of African Unity’s 2000 report, “The Preventable Genocide”, was largely written by a Lewis recruit, Gerald Caplan, who was dubbed Lewis’ “close friendand alter ego of nearly 50 years.”

    While paying lip service to the complex interplay of ethnic, class and regional politics, as well as international pressure, that spurred the “Rwandan Genocide”, the 300-page report is premised on the unsubstantiated claim that there was a high level plan by the Hutu government to kill all Tutsi. It ignores the overwhelming logic and evidence pointing to the RPF as the culprit in shooting down the plane carrying President Habyarimana and much of the army high command, which sparked the mass killings of spring 1994.

    The report also rationalises Rwanda’s repeated invasions of the Congo, including a 1,500 km march to topple the Mobutu regime in Kinshasa and subsequent re-invasion after the government it installed expelled Rwandan troops. That led to millions of deaths during an eight-country war between 1998 and 2003.

    In a Democracy Nowinterview concerning the 2000 Eminent Personalities report Lewis mentioned “evidence of majorhuman rights violations on the part of the present [Kagame] government of Rwanda, particularly post-genocide in the Kivus and in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo.” But, he immediately justified the slaughter, which surpassed Rwanda’s 1994 casualty toll. “Now, let me say that the [Eminent Personalities] panel understands that until Rwanda’s borders are secure, there will always be these depredations. And another terrible failure of the international community was the failure to disarm the refugee camps in the then-Zaire, because it was an invitation to the génocidairesto continue to attack Rwanda from the base within the now- Congo. So we know that has to be resolved. That’s still what’s plaguing the whole Great Lakes region.”

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    ‘Marx’s writing more relevant today than ever’

    November 13th, 2018


    Wolfgang Streeck PHOTO/Thekla Ehling

    Interview with Wolfgang Streeck, German political economist.

    THE German political economist Wolfgang Streeck is one of the world’s leading critics of neoliberal capitalism. He received international attention for his essay “How will capitalism end?” written in 2014 for the New Left Review. The much-discussed essay was later republished in book form. Meticulously analysing the present trajectory of capitalism, Streeck argued that “the marriage between democracy and capitalism, ill-suited partners brought together in the shadow of World War Two, is coming to an end. The regulatory institutions that once restrained the financial sector’s excesses have collapsed and after the final victory of capitalism at the end of the Cold War there is no political agency capable of rolling back the liberalisation of the markets. Ours has become a world defined by declining growth, oligarchic rule, a shrinking public sphere, institutional corruption and international anarchy, and no cure to these ills is at hand.”

    Streeck cautioned the world that what was to be expected, on the basis of capitalism’s recent historical record, was a long and painful period of cumulative decay: of intensifying frictions, of fragility and uncertainty, and of a steady succession of “normal accidents”, not necessarily but quite possibly on the scale of the global breakdown of the 1930s.

    Streeck had earlier believed that a centralist social-democratic position was a solution to the capital-labour antagonism. This would have been a solution within the capitalist system itself, but neoliberal capitalism again brought about that basic antagonism between capital and labour. Streeck has since emerged as one of the leading critics of the system. Adopting the slogan of delinking, he says that “it is essential that control is returned to local political communities as much as at all possible. That means ending the dictatorship of international organisations like the World Bank or multinational corporations over local economic development. Only then there can be democracy, i.e., participation in collective decision-making by the broad majority of working people, and only then we will see the experiments, social and economic, that can grow into an alternative to capitalism.” Streeck’s notable books include Buying Time: The Delayed Crisis of Democratic Capitalism, Social Institutions and Economic Performance and Re-Forming Capitalism.

    In this interview, Streeck talks about how capitalism will end, capitalism and future of humanity, the growth of resistance movements, the limitations of social democracy, the relevance of Marxism, the message of Brexit, capitalism and popular reactions, challenges and prospects before the European Left, the refugee crisis, globalisation and delinking, neoliberalism and the state, and the growth of worldwide inequality. Excerpts:

    In “How will capitalism end?”, your 2014 article for “New Left Review”, you gave a theoretical farewell to capitalism. You identified five disorders to the system, namely, declining growth, oligarchy, starvation of public sphere, corruption and international anarchy that would bring about the end of capitalism. Are you saying that such an end is impending or immediate before us?

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    The college where no student has paid tuition in 126 years

    November 12th, 2018


    Berea College, in Kentucky, has paid for every enrollee’s education using its endowment for 126 years. Can other schools replicate the model? PHOTO/Library of Congress

    There’s a small burst of air that explodes from every clap. And when hundreds of people are clapping in unison, it begins to feel like a breeze—one that was pulsing through the Phelps Stokes Chapel at Berea College in Kentucky. The students and staff that had gathered here were stomping, clapping, and singing along, as they were led in a rendition of the Civil Rights era anthem, “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around.”

    They had packed into the wood-framed building for a convocation address, where the speaker, Diane Clayton-White, would be talking about “Jesus, the Ultimate Rebel with a Cause.” Berea does not have a sectarian affiliation, but the remnants of its Christian foundation are readily apparent—so much so that, as Alicestyne Turley, a history professor at the college, told me, “we have students who come here who think they’re coming to a Christian college,” à la Liberty University or Notre Dame.

    White’s address was dotted with the markings of a Sunday sermon—not the stuffy kind, but the kind I’d heard time and again growing up—the jokes, the whooping, the lessons that come in threes. In her speech, White explained to the students that it didn’t take supernatural abilities to do great things—only a purpose—and that all the evidence they needed could be found on the campus where they stood.

    Berea College isn’t like most other colleges. It was founded in 1855 by a Presbyterian minister who was an abolitionist. It was the first integrated, co-educational college in the south. And it has not charged students tuition since 1892. Every student on campus works, and its labor program is like work-study on steroids. The work includes everyday tasks such as janitorial services, but older students are often assigned jobs aligned to their academic program, and work on things such as web production or managing volunteer programs. And students receive a physical check for their labor that can go towards housing and living expenses. Forty-five percent of graduates have no debt, and the ones who do have an average of less than $7,000 in debt, according to Luke Hodson, the college’s director of admissions.

    On top of all of that: More than 90 percent of Berea College students are eligible to receive the Pell Grant—often used as a proxy for low-income enrollment. Most of those students, 70 percent to be exact, are from Appalachia—where nearly one of every five people live below the poverty line. And that recruiting pipeline in Appcalachia produces a rather diverse class—more than 40 percent of the student body identifies as racial minorities.

    Every couple of years, Berea College makes national news, often for its tuition-free promise—a promise that has become all the more noteworthy as the national student debt crisis has grown. But late last year, Berea College made headlines for a different reason: a provision in the Republican-led tax reform effort that would have charged colleges with large endowments a 1.4 percent tax on the investment earnings from their endowments.

    Berea has a $1.2 billion endowment—which is how it can afford to cover the tuition of every student—and the school estimated that the tax would cost it upwards of a million dollars a year, effectively forcing it to cut back on the number of students admitted. The rebuke came quickly from both sides of the aisle. Democrats argued that it was an example of Republican mismanagement of the entire tax debate, and Republicans painted the debacle as Democrats holding a worthy college hostage. It was a point of order raised by Senator Bernie Sanders, Republicans argued, that prevented Berea from being exempt from the tax in the initial bill. Higher education leaders—even notable Republicans such as the Bush-era education secretary Margaret Spellings—were skeptical of the tax. The tax’s goal was ostensibly to punish colleges for amassing large endowments as the cost of college was rising, and not evenly helping students. By ensnaring Berea, a college that charged no tuition because it has such a large endowment, the logic of the tax broke down.

    MSN for more

    Paraguay’s blue gold

    November 12th, 2018


    Anything but blue: drawing water from a well at a Paraguayan landless peasants’ encampment on the banks of the Ñacunday River east of Asunción PHOTO/Norberto Duarte/AFP/Getty

    The country has more water than anywhere else in Latin America, but its huge underground reserves are threatened by over-exploitation and worsening pollution.

    The tap in Odina Moreo’s garden was dripping, and a few more drops sputtered as she tried to tighten it: ‘I can never turn it off completely — it’s such a waste. I only use it for washing and washing up, or to wet a cloth for the floor.’ She lives in one of 400 asentamientos or shantytowns round Paraguay’s capital, Asunción. In Paraguay’s Central department, rapid population growth, rural exodus and a failing public water supply system have led to a flourishing private market in water. As in neighbouring settlements, the residents of Moreo’s shantytown, where some houses are more than 30 years old, get their supply from private companies known as aguateras.

    It’s relatively cheap, at 22,000 guaranis (around $3.70) for 8,000 litres a month, though that’s still twice what the state water company Essap (Sanitary Services Company of Paraguay) charges in the capital itself. However, Moreo said, ‘there’s often red sand in it. I have two children, and there’s no way I’m going to let them drink it. You can’t trust it.’ So out of her meagre pay as a seamstress, (around $175 a month) Moreo, like many other Paraguayans, buys bottled water. It costs 180 times more than the aguatera’s tap water, but is supposedly safe, meaning that it contains no pathogens; the aguatera’s water sometimes has to be treated at home before it can be drunk.

    Paraguay’s underground water reserves, supposedly better protected than its surface water, are tested only intermittently. ‘The water quality monitoring people came by yesterday. They come once a year,’ said an employee of Santa Clara, the small family-owned aguatera that supplies Moreo. ‘The rest of the time, we pay a private lab to check it,’ said her colleague. Santa Clara, which is based a few hundred metres from Moreo’s house, draws its water from a welldrilled into the huge Patiño aquifer.

    Le Monde Diplomatique for more

    If Pakistan shuns the term ‘Ancient India’ in its history books, is it entirely to blame?

    November 12th, 2018


    The Katas Raj temple complex in Pakistan is just one example of the shared history of India and Pakistan. PHOTO/Faisal Saeed

    Modern India’s exclusive use of the name ‘India’ has helped spread the perception that it is the only rightful inheritor of the subcontinent’s ancient legacy.

    A few months ago, I visited a newly-opened museum in Lahore that, along with sections on Partition and the contemporary history of Pakistan, also included an exhibit on its ancient and pre-colonial history. It was titled “Ancient Pakistan” and included references to the Indus Valley civilisation, the Mauryan Empire, the Kushan dynasty and even the Khalsa Empire of Ranjit Singh. While there were certain conscious inclusions and exclusions in the exhibit, possibly to align with the current nationalist discourse in the country, the title of the section stood out as a little odd. It felt like a modern category had been imposed on the ancient, a trend increasingly on the rise across South Asia. The generally used term “Ancient India” perhaps would have not evoked a similar reaction.

    The overarching nationalistic tilt of the museum might explain why its curators were reluctant to use the term “Ancient India” for its exhibits. In such a nationalistic framework, there is only one India – the Republic of India. In this narrative, the nuance of the term “Ancient India” – which, in addition to including parts of contemporary India, also includes areas of Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh – is lost. In this simplistic framework, contemporary India becomes the modern-day incarnation of the ancient civilisation that is India.

    However, this phenomenon is not unique to Pakistan and its nationalist discourse. The Republic of India, which emerged after the Partition of British India, embraced its ancient Indian heritage, becoming the visible successor of Ancient India. What helped its cause was the continuity in the names – India. While on one hand, the contemporary Indian state drew historical continuity from its ancient past, on the other hand, its exclusive use of the name “India”, also helped spread the perception globally that it was the only rightful inheritor of the legacy of Ancient India.

    India vs Hindustan

    A couple of weeks ago Shoaib Daniyal wrote an incisive piece on in which he pointed out that for a brief moment in the history of South Asia, Muhammad Ali Jinnah objected to the use of the name “India” by the new country, arguing that it should be referred to as Hindustan. Nothing came of that conflict, but there are contesting theories as to why Jinnah raised the issue in the first place. Perhaps he saw both India and Pakistan as the successors of historical British India.

    As opposed to being a universal name for the entire Indian subcontinent, the name “India” was picked by the British after the formation of their Empire. It has Greek roots. The Greeks referred to the land across the Indus as India. Once the name took root, the history of the land began to be referred to as Indian history. In all academic discourse, the pre-Partition history of Pakistan and Bangladesh continue to be referred to as “Indian history”. Maybe Jinnah anticipated that the Republic of India’s use of the name “India” might gradually exclude Pakistan from this collective Indian heritage.

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    Weekend Edition

    November 9th, 2018

    Shrine custodian*

    November 9th, 2018

    by B. R. GOWANI

    a person hovers around a saint’s shrine
    someone inquires about the saint
    he says: the grave in the shrine is empty;
    there is no saint in the grave
    it’s a hoax to lure gullible people

    in response, he was beaten mercilessly
    his cognitive faculty was severely damaged
    he used to be able to do a little work to survive
    now his state of mind rendered him incapable of any job

    many years later…

    people managing the shrine felt pity for him
    they assigned him some work
    he would run errands for them

    he would listen to stories about the saint
    and the miracles he performed to heal people

    he himself never thought about getting healed
    or to get his normal thinking process back
    because it never occurred to him that his brain was damaged

    still later…

    they made him the custodian of the shrine
    he would tell people stories about the saint
    his miracles, his healing power, and his greatness

    B. R. Gowani can be reached at

    *(Based on a dream I had in October 2018.)

    The radical dissent of Helen Keller

    November 9th, 2018


    The Texas Board of Education recently voted to remove Helen Keller from the state’s required social studies curriculum. This is a good excuse to remind people about Keller, who is one of the most iconic public figures of the past century but whose life and legacy is misunderstood. Most people think of her as a blind person who overcome obstacles to become an advocate for the blind. That’s true. But she was also a feminist, socialist, pacifist, civil libertarian, and civil rights activist. I wrote this tribute to her in 2012.

    Here’s what they don’t teach: When the blind-deaf visionary learned that poor people were more likely to be blind than others, she set off down a pacifist, socialist path that broke the boundaries of her time—and continues to challenge ours today.

    So long as I confine my activities to social service and the blind, they compliment me extravagantly, calling me ‘arch priestess of the sightless,’ ‘wonder woman,’ and a ‘modern miracle.’ But when it comes to a discussion of poverty, and I maintain that it is the result of wrong economics—that the industrial system under which we live is at the root of much of the physical deafness and blindness in the world—that is a different matter! It is laudable to give aid to the handicapped. Superficial charities make smooth the way of the prosperous; but to advocate that all human beings should have leisure and comfort, the decencies and refinements of life, is a Utopian dream, and one who seriously contemplates its realization indeed must be deaf, dumb, and blind.

    —Helen Keller (letter to Senator Robert La Follette, 1924)

    The bronze statue of Helen Keller The bronze statue of Helen Keller that sits in the U.S. Capitol shows the blind girl standing at a water pump. It depicts the moment in 1887 when her teacher, Anne Sullivan, spelled “W-A-T-E-R” into one of her 7-year-old pupil’s hands while water streamed into the other. This was Keller’s awakening, when she made the connection between the word Sullivan spelled and the tangible substance splashing from the pump, whispering “wah-wah,”—her way of saying “water.” This scene, made famous in the play and film “The Miracle Worker,” has long defined Keller in the public mind as a symbol of courage in the face of overwhelming odds.

    Less well known (but no less inspiring) is the fact that Keller, who was born in 1880 and died in 1968, was a lifelong radical who participated in the great movements for social justice of her time. In her investigations into the causes of blindness, she discovered that poor people were more likely than the rich to be blind, and soon connected the mistreatment of the blind to the oppression of workers, women, and other groups, leading her to embrace socialism, feminism, and pacifism.

    Early Life

    Keller was born on a plantation in Tuscumbia, Alabama, to Arthur Keller, a former Confederate officer and a conservative newspaper publisher, and Kate Keller, a descendant of John Adams. At nineteen months old, she lost her sight and hearing as a result of a fever. She became uncontrollable, prone to tantrums—kicking, biting, and smashing anything within reach. In that era, many blind and deaf people were consigned to an asylum. Some family members suggested that this was where Helen belonged.

    Instead, her mother contacted the Perkins School for the Blind in Boston, which recommended that a former student, the 20-year-old Sullivan, become Helen’s private tutor. In 1887 Sullivan—the daughter of poor Irish immigrants and nearly blind herself—moved to the Kellers’ home. She helped calm Helen’s rages and channel her insatiable curiosity and exceptional intelligence. She patiently spelled out letters and words in Keller’s hand. With Sullivan’s support, her student soon learned to read and write Braille, and by the age of ten she had begun to speak.

    Her story became well known and she, a celebrity. Newspapers and magazines in Europe and America wrote glowing stories about the young Keller. Her family connections and fame opened up many opportunities, including private schools and an elite college education. Mark Twain, who admired Keller’s courage and youthful writings, introduced her to Standard Oil tycoon Henry Huttleston Rogers, who paid for her education. She later acknowledged,

    Monthly Review Online for more

    What makes Indian vegetarians different from Westerners who have given up meat?

    November 9th, 2018


    PHOTO/Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters

    In the West, it’s an act of rebellion. In India, it’s largely driven by conformity to traditional social norms.

    To the world, India is often known as the land of Gandhi, spiritualism, and yoga – three sets of beliefs and practices closely associated with some form of vegetarianism. They have played a role in creating the widely held assumption that Indians are vegetarians.

    Though India has the largest population of vegetarians worldwide, it is a predominantly meat-eating nation. Nevertheless, vegetarianism is both a powerful norm, and an important performance, both of which are central to a person’s claim to high status in the largely caste-based Indian worldview. As a desired attribute of so-called upper caste groups, vegetarian norms are so desirable that they enforce periodic ritual abstinence even among frequent meat eaters.

    Vegetarianism is also present in several societies outside India, especially in the West where a small but increasing number of people aspire to live without consuming meat. The roots of vegetarianism both in India and in the West lie in a comparable time period. Vegetarianism started becoming an aspired value in the South Asian region around the seventh century BCE in Hindu scriptures, and a few centuries later in Jain and Buddhist texts and practices.

    In Europe, the earliest mention of the virtues of vegetarianism is found in the works of the Greek philosopher Pythagoras (sixth century BCE), who propagated a meatless diet. In fact, vegetarians in Europe were called Pythagoreans until the founding of The Vegetarian Society in Ramsgate, England in 1847, and the American Vegetarian Society in New York City in 1850. However, similarities between Indian and western vegetarianism end here. While vegetarianism has been popular in India for a much longer period than in the West, the more important difference is that vegetarianism is led by, and leads to, very different worldviews in both places.

    West: Vegetarianism for social justice

    Although 19th century vegetarianism in Britain and the US was rooted in the Bible Christian Church, it has evolved in these two countries primarily through secular social movements. Four broad values have driven these movements: ethics and morality, environmental concerns, animal rights, and health and food safety. Barring the last one, the first three concerns are comparatively altruistic, and oriented towards a shared public good. Participants in vegetarian social movements transform themselves both in thought and behaviour, by changing not only their belief about food but also everyday consumption patterns. This is an extraordinary transformation because eating habits are one of the most resilient to change, especially those that involve excluding previously consumed food items completely.

    In the West, to be a vegetarian is also to be against the general norms about food – it is often seen as a rebellious act opposed to long-standing cultural norms and expectations. Therefore, vegetarianism in the West is a lifestyle that involves a deep commitment to self-transformation, breaking away from everyday dietary preferences, going against the forces of socialisation, and rebelling against cultural norms – all for the sake of newly discovered ethics and concerns.

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