Posts Tagged ‘chomsky’

The US War on Yugoslavia

Michael Parenti (1999)

This talk, one of my favorites, is 1999 talk about about US empire. It offers quite a stark depiction of a US foreign policy consisting primarily of continual wars of aggression against democratic governments that thwart Wall Street Interests in exploiting their natural resources and labor force.

Parenti begins with a brief overview of colonization, starting with Western Europe’s colonization of the Slavic peoples and England’s colonization of Ireland. He goes on to to describe how India and Africa both enjoyed advanced and wealthy (far more wealthy than Europe) civilizations until they were invaded by European armies and their economies destroyed.

He proceeds with a detailed inventory of America’s continual invasions, bombing campaigns and covert wars around the world. The last half of the presentation focuses on the deliberate break-up of Yugoslavia by the US security state, demolishing the myth perpetuated by the Clinton administration and the US media that ethnic conflict was the cause of the Balkan wars.

Prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, Wall Street elites tolerated a socialist state in Yugoslavia (with free health care, education and public transport and housing) because they viewed Yugoslavian president Josip Tito’s independent socialism as a buffer against the Soviet Union.

The initial US attack against Yugoslavia was economic, when Bush senior, in 1990, persuaded Congress to end lending credits to the Yugoslav government. The legislation they passed stipulated that US banks could only loan money to autonomous Yugoslav regions (Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia, Bosnia, etc) provided they declared independence and formed autonomous republics.

Parenti notes the new law was implemented somewhat unevenly, so that only right wing fascist governments qualified for loans. By 1992, internal sanctions against Serbia had resulted in 70% unemployment, widespread malnutrition and collapse of the health care system.

He goes on to provide fresh insight into the background of Slobodan Milosovic – who Clinton described as the “new Hitler” – an anti-communist banker who was the CIA’s first choice to run Serbia. When Milosovic refused to fully embrace US colonization, he was systematically demonized by the Clinton administration and corporate media. In 2006, he would die in prison in the Hague.* The war crimes he was accused of were never substantiated.

Parenti also details the NATO carpet bombing of Serbia (designed to maximize civilian casualty by targeting life support infrastructure, such as power and water filtration plants), the CIA penetration of the Kosova Liberation Army (enabling them to corner the European heroin market), Noam Chomsky’s support for Clinton’s war against Serbia, and the notorious Sarajevo false flag operation (actually carried out by Muslim extremists) used to justify the NATO war against Serbia.


*There is strong evidence he was covertly assassinated: Did NATO’s Kangaroo Court Poison Milosevic?

Reflections on the Overthrow of Communism

Michael Parenti (2009)

Michael Parenti maintains that the Soviet Union didn’t collapse of its own accord in 1991 – that it was overthrown by the US and their allies.  He details the US-backed coup undertaken by Boris Yeltsin’s in 1993 when the Russian parliament refused to approve his extreme market-based reforms. Parenti also discusses the extreme misery Wall Street elites and the State Department inflicted on the Russian people in the effort (prior to Putin’s rise to power) to transform their country into a third world sweatshop. He highlights the massive increase in gang inequality and crime, and the increase in gender inequality (as the right to maternity leave, day care, divorce and abortion were stripped from the Russian constitution), sexual harassment, domestic violence and murder of women by their husbands.

The US Left’s Virulent Anticommunism

Parenti freely acknowledges that Soviet citizens sacrificed civil liberties for economic democracy, ie a society in which all citizens are  lifted out of poverty and enjoy free health care and education, subsidized housing and public transport and an absolute guarantee against brutal exploitation. He contrasts this with life in the US, where working people enjoy neither economic democracy nor civil liberties. He’s also scathingly critical of the American left (he mentions Noam Chomsky by name), which is much more virulently anti-communist than their right wing counterparts.

He goes on to detail serious weaknesses of the Soviet system, which he believes contributed to its demise. Overall he feels the Soviet economic system suffered from an absence of independent analysis. While Karl Marx offers a thorough critique of capitalism, he has no counterpart to critique the socialist/communist model.

The Human Nature Debate

Where Parenti and I part company is is contention that “pure socialism” (ie total abolition of the state) is impossible. He makes the argument that if workers run everything, it’s impossible to accumulate enough surplus value to finance an army to 1) to break the stranglehold of the capitalist class and 2) to defend against counter-revolution. He also maintains a state is necessary to protect against the greedy, acquisitive nature of human beings.

These views are also contradicted by decades of sociological research that human beings (like all primates) are hard wired to be social animals and naturally inclined towards cooperation and interdependence (see Human Nature: Cultural or Genetic. There is also strong evidence that much of the greed and antisocial behavior that characterizes the capitalist system stems from traumatic child rearing styles.

Lifting the Veil: Barack Obama and the Failure of Capitalist Democracy

Scott Noble (2013)

Film Review

Lifting the Veil is a well-crafted expose of the myth of so-called capitalist democracy Based on interviews and archival footage of Senator Bernie Sanders, Noam Chomsky, Chris Hedges, George Carlin, Glen Ford, Harold Pinkley, John Pilger, Richard Wolfe, William I. Robinson, Bill Moyers and other prominent dissidents, it makes an ironclad case that democracy is impossible under a capitalist economic system.

Using Obama’s extensive list of broken campaign promises as a starting point, Noble convincingly demonstrates how Wall Street corporations have seized absolute control over all America’s so-called democratic institutions. In addition to highlighting the essential role team Obama played in crippling a large, highly vocal antiwar movement, he presents historical examples to reveal how this has been the traditional role of the Democratic Party in the US – to co-opt social movements that threaten the status quo.

The first half of the film focuses on Obama’s 2008 campaign and his long list of promises to reverse specific abuses of George W Bush’s government. In a series of archival clips, we see Obama promising to

• Restore habeas corpus
• Close Guantanamo
• End government secrecy
• End wireless surveillance
• Stop foreclosures instead of enriching bank CEOS
• Expose corporate backers of tax and corporate welfare legislation
• End torture
• End extraordinary rendition*
• Withdraw from Iraq in 2009 and Afghanistan in 2011
• Pass banking regulation to prevent a new Wall Street collapse

Besides breaking every single one of these promises, Obama enacted new policies that were even more oppressive and pro-corporate than Bush’s. Among them were an indefinite detention provision in the NDAA, an executive order giving himself power to assassinate American citizens, the new war in Pakistan and Libya and $7 billion in loans guarantees for the moribund nuclear industry.

The film makes the point that the 2008 election was merely a PR exercise in marketing Brand Obama and had absolutely nothing to do with the candidate’s political agenda.

My favorite segments were those in which comedian George Carlin explains to audiences how powerful corporations sucker them into believing they live in a democracy.

The film ends on an optimistic note with a sampling of opinion polls indicating that more than 60% of Americans oppose the pro-corporate agenda Obama has foisted on them: 63% of Americans would pay higher taxes to guarantee health care for everyone, 70% oppose nuclear power, 81% want to reduce the deficit by taxing the rich and cutting the military budget and only 3% support cutting Social Security.

The only criticism I would have of Lifting the Veil is that it fails to offer specific solutions for Americans seeking to get their democracy back. The dissidents featured are pretty much unanimous that Americans need to stop looking to electoral politics as a way to reform either government or the economic system. However they are a little vague on what activists should do other than protesting and engaging in civil disobedience. Neither is likely to accomplish significant change without serious organizing and movement building to develop alternatives to the current system of government.

Given a lot of this movement building is already occurring in Spain, Greece, Italy, Ireland, Iceland, Mexico and South America and it would have been great to see examples of what this looks like.


*Extraordinary rendition is the kidnapping and transfer of a detainee to the custody of a foreign government for purposes of detention, interrogation and torture.

languageLanguage: the Cultural Tool

by Daniel Everett

Profile Books Ltd (2012)

Book Review

The purpose of this book is to outline a dispute in the linguistic community between those who believe that language is acquired – that human beings develop language as a cultural tool – and “nativists” who believe that people develop language because of their genetic programming.

Noam Chomsky, who is better known as an activist and dissident, is also considered the founder of modern linguistics. Nativists like Chomsky argue that language development is genetic mainly because all human beings acquire language, regardless of their intelligence, all languages have a similar core grammar, including Creole languages invented by children (actually they don’t, as Everett demonstrates) and all children follow the same developmental stages in learning language.

By examining linguistic research into the structure and function of language, as well as the biological requirements necessary to create it, Everett essentially demolishes all of Chomsky’s arguments – but in a nice way. As a former Wycliffe bible translator, Everett lived for many years in the Amazon and has researched over a dozen indigenous languages of Brazil. He has special interest in the language and culture of the Piraha tribe.

Everett takes the side of Aristotle, who first proposed that language is a tool 2300 years ago. Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934) was the first to articulate this view in the modern area. He believed human language was developed and shaped by the needs of social interaction.

I’ve always been troubled the unquestioning adulation Chomsky receives from the activist community, especially in view of his dismissive attitude towards an extensive body of research pointing to a government role in 9-11 and the John F Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations. Thus I was intrigued to learn of similar concerns in the linguistic community about the unquestioning embrace of his linguistic theories.

bernays

The Century of the Self is a four-part BBC documentary that delves deeply into the life and work of Sigmund Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays. Bernays was the first to perfect the science of thought control. In the political sphere, he referred to mass psychological manipulation as “engineering consent.” When he used propaganda and psychological manipulation to sell corporate products, he called it “public relations.” Parts 1 and 2 focus on the Freudian theories underpinning the early public relations movement.

The Century of the Self

BBC Documentary (2005)

Film Review

Part 1 (Happiness Machines) and Part 2 (Engineering of Consent)

The Transformation from Citizen to Consumer

The twentieth century is frequently referred to as the selfish century. This documentary lays the blame for this at the feet of Sigmund Freud and his nephew Edward Bernays.

Prior to World War I politicians and businesses used facts and information to win votes or to persuade people to buy their products. When Woodrow Wilson hired him to run his Committee for Public Information to produce pro-World War I propaganda, Bernays incorporated Sigmund Freud’s theory that human behavior was based on unconscious instinctual drives. By appealing to these unconscious and irrational feelings, he succeeded in selling World War I to a profoundly isolationist American public

 As well as his pivotal role in engineering corporate and government propaganda, Bernays was also responsible for popularizing Sigmund Freud’s work by emphasizing its sexual content.

 The Shift from a Needs to a Desire Based Culture

Curious whether similar techniques would also work in peace time, Bernays hired himself out to corporations to help them improve their sale of consumer products. His goal was to shift US society from a needs culture, where people only bought what they needed, to a desire culture, where they purchased products to make them feel better. Aware that the word propaganda had an extremely negative connotation, Bernays coined the term “public relations.”

Bernay’s stunning success gave birth to 1920s “consumptionism” and was largely responsible for the economic bubble that resulted in the 1929 crash. Already by 1927, social critics were concerned that Americans were no longer citizens but consumers. Confident of their ability to engineer consumer demand, banks funded national expansion of department store chains and hired Bernays to persuade ordinary people to borrow money to buy shares in the stock market.

Driven to record levels by borrowed money, the stock market collapsed.

During the Great Depression, Bernays shifted gears to focus more on influencing public political views. Neither Freud nor Bernays believed in the equality of man. Frightened by the rise of fascism in Europe, both believed that democracy was a fundamentally unsafe form of government (due to human beings’ dangerous unconscious drives).

Both believed that people must be controlled – that mass democracy could only work if popular consent was engineered. Bernays was also convinced that the best way to control people in a mass democracy was to render them passive consumers – by triggering a continuous irrational desire to consume and satisfying it with consumer goods.

Roosevelt Tries to Rein in Business

Unlike Freud and Bernays, Franklin Roosevelt believed that people were capable of knowing what they wanted and relied on the new science of public opinion polling (pioneered by George Gallup) to ascertain what people were thinking. His response to the Great Depression was to grant himself extensive executive power and subject business to central economic planning, which they hated.

In 1936, the National Association of Manufacturers hired Bernays to initiate an ideological campaign against the New Deal (and the rise of unionism as Alex Carey mentions in Taking the Risk Out of Democracy.

When World War II ended, the CIA hired Bernays to advise them on how to control the “irrational aggression” of the masses. In his CIA role, Bernays devised a campaign for the Eisenhower administration to convince the American public they were under imminent threat from Soviet Communism.

As part of this campaign, Bernays mobilized public and congressional support for the 1954 coup against Guatemala’s democratically elected president Jacobo Arbenz. Bernays also worked for the United Fruit Company, which was concerned about Arbenz’s plans for land reform, i.e. breaking up their extensive Guatemalan banana plantations.

The First Focus Groups

Meanwhile the public relations industry hired psychoanalysts to set up focus groups to use advertising more effectively to improve consumer demand for corporate products. These early focus groups employed psychoanalytic techniques to help advertisers improve sales by secretly appealing to unconscious needs and insecurities.

photo credit: Saint Iscariot via photopin cc

Originally posted in Veterans Today

dirty truths

Dirty Truths

by Michael Parenti (City Lights Books, 1996)

Book Review

Nearly 17 years old, Michael Parenti’s 1996 Dirty Truths offers an analysis of the national security state that props up monopoly capitalism which is largely missing from scholarly “leftist” literature.

Parenti is one of the few theoretical Marxists to formally acknowledge the impeccable scholarship of Sylvia Meagher, Mark Lane, Carl Oglesby, Peter Dale Scott, and others in uncovering the role of the national security state in John Kennedy’s murder. Noam Chomsky, Alexander Cockburn, the Nation and other high profile mouthpieces for the American left are all highly critical of leftists who subscribe to so-called “conspiracy theory.” In addition to eye opening chapters on the JFK assassination and the apparent 1970 assassination of labor leader Walter Reuther, Dirty Truths also features an excellent chapter on the bloody US-supported coup Russian president Boris Yeltsin carried out in 1992.

 “Selective Fascism”

Most of Dirty Truths is dated and of mainly historical interest. In his introductory chapters, Parenti, a PhD historian whose anti-Vietnam activism ended his teaching career, offers a Marixian analysis of the structural origin of poverty, corporate media censorship, and American military empire that are now taken as a given by most liberal intellectuals. Yet already in 1996, Parenti writes at length about the fascist nature of the national security state and its role as an all-powerful shadow government. Like Chomsky and other media analysts, Parenti believes the modern state mainly uses propaganda and brainwashing to prevent the working class from agitating for social justice. However when ideological control fails, it freely indulges in a a “selective fascism” of unrestrained violence, particularly against minority communities.

According to Parenti, most Americans fail to recognize the fascist nature of the national security state because the corporate media sugarcoats the militaristic violence and brutality that has crept into community policing.

Yeltsin’s 1992 Coup

His chapter on Yeltsin’s 1992 coup casts a whole new light on the break-up of the Soviet Union. In 1992, the corporate media glorified Boris Yeltsin as a hero of democracy when he behaved exactly like the puppet dictators the US props up in the Middle East. After ordering Russian troops to shell the parliament building (while the Russian Parliament still in session) and killing upwards of 1,000 people, he officially disbanded both Parliament and the constitutional court, nullified the new Russian constitution, banned labor unions, jailed all the opposition leaders, abolished city and regional councils and outlawed fifteen political parties. He took these actions when a parliamentary majority voted down some of the “market reforms” Wall Street and the IMF were trying to impose on Russia.

Once Yeltsin had a free hand to end price controls and sell off the state-owned industries (to foreigners and Russian gangsters), the result was an economic disaster that transformed Russia into a 3rd world sweatshop for US investment. The rampant inflation turned the Russian people into instant paupers. This, along with the collapse of the health care system, led to mass starvation and epidemics of typhoid, TB that reduced Russian life expectancy by an average of twenty years.

The JFK Assassination and the Gangster State

Parenti’s discussion of the conspiracy to murder John Kennedy fits neatly into his analysis of the national security state as a large unaccountable state power with a primary purpose of protecting the ruling elite. Any individual or group who poses a serious threat to the corporate elite is automatically subject to neutralization in the form of illicit surveillance, sabotage, infiltration, false arrest, tax harassment, and violence and assassination. I suspect Parenti’s depth of knowledge relates in part to personal experiences as an anti-Vietnam War activist, which he describes at the end of the book. It’s also a matter of public record that the CIA, FBI and other intelligence agencies enlist the services of mobsters, drug traffickers, and assassins to target peasants, intellectuals, clergy, student and labor leaders and community activities who threaten US financial interests, both overseas and domestically.

Parenti devotes most of this chapter to Oswald’s role as a low level intelligence operative (and patsy) and the aggressive role corporate media has played in suppressing volumes of documentary and research evidence linking the assassination to the national security state.

He’s also highly critical of what he describes as a “conspiracy phobia” on the part of Chomsky, Cockburn, the Nation and other high-profile leftist and progressive publications. He includes excerpts of his lengthy correspondence with Chomsky, highlighting the illogic of the MIT linguist’s principle arguments against serious consideration of the assassination literature: 1) studying conspiracies (supposedly) “distracts” activists from focusing on the structural problems of capitalism, 2) the US government (supposedly) had no reason to assassinate the Kennedy brothers because they were both cold warriors and mainly acted in the interests of the ruling elite, and 3) focusing on assassinations (supposedly) leads activists to idealize the Kennedys and overlook their shortcomings.

Parenti also notes that Chomsky and Cockburn both condemn the meticulous and extensive work of Sylvia Meagher, Mark Lane, Carl Oglesby, Peter Dale Scott, and other scholars without ever reading any of it.

 Free from the Open Library

I borrowed Dirty Truths from the Open Library. Following registration, borrowers can download a PDF or Epub version of a large selection of books. All have a two week due date and vanish from your hard drive two weeks after you borrow them.