Noam Chomsky’s Prediction

I have decided to borrow the following article from a site called “Salon” despite the fact that Chomsky worries about the rise of an “honest” charismatic character and what we have is a dishonest charismatic character in Donald Trump (who, admittedly appears to be honest to the blind mice who follow him). But the prediction is remarkable and worth pondering. Can anyone still have doubts about this nation being a de facto oligarchy?

In an interview with Chris Hedges in 2010, Noam Chomsky, the world-renowned linguist and dissident intellectual, remarked that he has “never seen anything like this.”
By this, he meant the state of American society, relative to the time in which he was raised — the Depression years — and to the tumultuous state of Europe during that same period.
“It is very similar to late Weimar Germany,” Chomsky said. “The parallels are striking. There was also tremendous disillusionment with the parliamentary system. The most striking fact about Weimar was not that the Nazis managed to destroy the Social Democrats and the Communists but that the traditional parties, the Conservative and Liberal parties, were hated and disappeared. It left a vacuum which the Nazis very cleverly and intelligently managed to take over.”
For decades, Chomsky has warned of the right turn of the Democratic Party, which has, in an effort to win elections, adopted large swaths of the Republican platform and abandoned the form of liberalism that gave us the New Deal and, later, Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.
“Trump has been viewed with bewilderment by politicians who have divorced themselves from the needs of the people and who have sold them false goods to get ahead. But Trump, as Chomsky’s prescient interview demonstrates, was inevitable.”
This new approach was canonized by Bill Clinton, who triumphantly declared that the “era of big government is over.”
With this declaration, Clinton ushered in a new era of the Democratic Party (the so-called New Democrats), which left behind the working class and cultivated amiable relationships with corporate executives and Wall Street financiers; many of them would eventually occupy key positions in Clinton’s government, and many of them emerged once more during the presidency of Barack Obama.
The philosophical bent of the New Democrats was best summarized by Charles Peters in “A Neoliberal Manifesto,” in which he defines neoliberalism as an ideology perfect for those who “no longer automatically favor unions and big government or oppose the military and big business.” Democrats, since Peters penned his manifesto, have far exceeded the bounds of this seemingly neutral stance.
Bill Clinton, for his part, destroyed welfare, deregulated Wall Street, worsened the growing mass incarceration crisis, and signed into law the North American Free Trade Agreement, a sweeping deal that harmed millions of workers, in the United States, Mexico, and elsewhere.
Today, President Obama, in partnership with congressional Republicans, is lobbying aggressively for the so-called Trans-Pacific Partnership, which has been deemed by critics “NAFTA on steroids.” The agreement, if made the law of the land, will encompass 40% of global GDP and will grant massive companies unprecedented power.
Despite President Obama’s promises of transparency, the public has been forced to rely on leaked information to glean any specifics about the deal — and, based on the information we have, the agreement is a disaster for workers and the environment and, unsurprisingly, a boon for multinational corporations.
Democrats, in short, have left the working class in the dust, often using “the excuse,” as a recent New York Times editorial put it, “that they need big-money backers to succeed.”
Republicans, meanwhile, as Chomsky has observed, are “dedicated with utter servility” to the interests of the wealthy, and their party, with its longing for war and denial of climate science, “is a danger to the human species.”
So we are faced with a political system largely devoted to the needs of organized wealth, which leaves working people anxious, worried about the future, and, as we have seen, very angry. In essence, political elites — on both sides — have created a vacuum into which a charismatic and loudmouthed demagogue can emerge.
As Chomsky noted in his interview with Hedges, “The United States is extremely lucky that no honest, charismatic figure has arisen. Every charismatic figure is such an obvious crook that he destroys himself, like McCarthy or Nixon or the evangelist preachers. If somebody comes along who is charismatic and honest this country is in real trouble because of the frustration, disillusionment, the justified anger and the absence of any coherent response.”

Do Cheaters Win?

When I coached the women’s tennis team at our university back in the Dark Ages we were initially associated with the A.I.A.W., which was an athletics association organized specifically for women in the early days of Title Nine. The organization made the huge mistake of taking the N.C.A.A. to court on the grounds that they were a monopoly and were in violation of anti-trust laws. The N.C.A.A., which even at that time was very powerful, won the case easily and the A.I.A.W. faded into the night. Our conference was faced with the option of joining the N.A.I.A. or the N.C.A.A. and I was delighted when the Conference decided to join the former. It allowed a great deal of local autonomy and there was very little politicking involved. For example, when we won our district Championship we automatically went to the National Tournament. In the N.C.A.A.  a committee votes on who gets to go to their national tournaments, though they pay the expenses, whereas the N.A.I.A. does not.

The Conference was dominated in most sports by the University of Minnesota at Duluth and when their softball team won their district championship one year it cost the university a small fortune to send the team to Florida for the National Tournament. The President of the university decided that this was enough of that sort of foolishness and he threw his weight around to persuade the other presidents to leave the N.A.I.A. and join the N.C.A.A. At that point I retired from coaching women’s tennis, thankfully. I was delighted that I would not have to deal with the N.C.A.A. which had a rule-book as thick as the Manhattan telephone directory and was an organization that was run out of a central office that allowed little or no local autonomy and politics were the order of the day.

Since that time I have had an opportunity to take closer look at the N.C.A.A. and especially its control over the large semi-professional (let’s admit it) sports programs at the Division I level. I have written about it and will not repeat here what I have already said. But I noted recently that Bob Bowlsby, Commissioner of the Big 12 Conference expressed his dismay over the alleged fact that the N.C.A.A. was lax in its enforcement of its own rules. He indicated that a high percentage of the universities involved in football and basketball at the Division I level were in violation of the rules and yet the N.C.A.A. was doing nothing about it. Bowlsby also claimed that their infraction committee hadn’t even met for nearly a year — even though it is generally known that there are violators of the innumerable rules governing fair play in all sports at the collegiate level. Furthermore, many of these violators were heading up very successful and lucrative programs, prompting Bowlsby to remark that “cheating pays” at the highest levels of college sports. Needless to say, a number of football coaches expressed well-rehearsed outrage at those comments.

Sociologists love to point out that the problems at the collegiate level merely reflect the problems of society at large. If this is so (and I don’t claim to be a sociologist) then there are a lot of cheaters out there who are very successful in spite of (because of?) the fact that they are breaking the rules knowingly. As some wag once said: “it’s not cheating if you don’t get caught.” This is nonsense, of course, but I do believe that this attitude is widely shared and that the colleges and universities are merely in step with some of the most successful people in this society. As a culture we have lost sight of the moral high ground that Martin Luther King spoke about so eloquently and have convinced ourselves that since everyone does the wrong thing that it therefore isn’t wrong. When Nixon was caught in the Watergate scandal, for example, it was said by many outspoken commentators that this wasn’t such a bad thing because all politicians do that sort of thing. If everyone does it, it can’t be wrong. This is what logicians call the fallacy of ad populum, or the appeal to what is generally done. It saves us having to think about things and, of course, is a handy excuse if we do get caught.

But one would hope that the universities and colleges would hold themselves to a higher standard than politicians and other low-lifes, and if, in fact, cheating in college sports is widespread it should be thoroughly investigated and the culprits publicly shamed. The Commissioner I referred to above suggested that outside agencies, even the Federal Government, should get involved. I would hope the Federal Government has more important fish to fry, but the suggestion of an outside agency is not a bad one. If the N.C.A.A. cannot police its own rules, then someone else should do it. Or the N.C.A.A. should be disbanded altogether, which may not be such a bad idea. If the N.C.A.A. won’t even enforce its own rules, it seems to have outgrown its usefulness and appears to be motivated by greed, pure and simple. There is a hellova lot of money involved in collegiate sports these days — and that may be the root of the entire problem, come to think of it.

The Scuzzy Threesome

As we knew would happen, the Three Stooges have been nominated for the baseball Hall of Fame. Now the sportswriters of America must wrestle with their consciences and decide whether Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens, and Barry Bonds are worthy of inclusion.

There’s no question the three of them played exceptional baseball. What is in question, as the world knows, is whether they deserve to be enshrined in baseball’s highest hall of honor. The ballot states clearly that “voting shall be based upon the payer’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contribution to the team(s) on which the player played.” Note that all six criteria apply: it doesn’t say “either, or.” It would appear that of the six criteria all three of these men fail at least half: character, integrity, and sportsmanship.

Our judicial system rests on the principle that a person is innocent until found guilty and, strictly speaking, none of these three men has been found guilty of using performance enhancing drugs. But the circumstantial evidence is overwhelming and the court of public opinion has already found all three guilty of using banned substances. At least two of them also seem to have lied to Congress and if the government hadn’t fumbled the ball, Roger Clemens, at least, would have been fund guilty of Contempt of Congress.

Mark McGwire who has been on the ballot three times before has failed to garner more than something like 20% of the votes of the sportswriters — 70% being required for acceptance into the Hall. He confessed to using banned substances as he and Sammy Sosa chased and passed Babe Ruth’s home-run record (which means that he also lied to Congress). The three stooges may have the same results. One never knows. This decision would appear to be cut and dry, given the criteria that must be met to get into the Hall. But I have heard several sportswriters interviewed on ESPN who are going to vote for all three simply because they were outstanding players — thereby ignoring half of the criteria. Their rationalization is that “everyone else was doing it and these three stood out among the rest.”  But haven’t we heard this before? (Fade to Nixon after Watergate.)

It must be OK because “everyone else is doing it.” Logicians call this ad populum and it is a very weak, indeed fallacious, argument. In ethics it is sometimes referred to as the “two wrongs fallacy.” In any event, it is muddle-headed. The fact that all of the other baseball players were using PEDs — which is doubtful — cannot be said to be a sufficient reason for any one of these three men doing what they knew was illegal and would give them an edge. If something is right it is so because it is grounded on a moral principle, such as fairness of respect for persons. If something is wrong it is because it violates one or more of those principles: it matters not how many people are or are not doing “it.” In the case of these three men it is evident that they lack sound character and integrity and were poor sports. Thus, they do not deserve to get into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

It is significant in this regard that Barry Bonds doesn’t know what all the fuss is about. He wants in and he has been quoted by USA Today (11/29/12) as saying “I don’t understand all the controversy we’re having about it. For what reason?” Indeed. Apparently those drugs don’t only make the athlete stronger and more agile, they apparently interfere with the mental process. But in a sense Bonds is right: there shouldn’t be any controversy. This is a no-brainer. The three should be kept out of the Hall of Fame.

Back On Board

The conservative newspaper “Wall Street Journal” recently faulted Mitt Romney for fumbling the ball on “Obamacare,” calling him “dumb” and insisting that his waffling on whether the mandate is a tax or a penalty may end up costing him the White House. They also faulted him for taking an expensive vacation at a key moment in this important race. Poor Mitt can’t win for losing.

A recent article on Huffington Post summarized the Wall Street op-ed piece and also noted that Mitt’s overall strategy is to repeatedly point to the sitting president’ failure to solve America’s economic woes. Specifically, the article says Romney’s campaign strategy so far has been to pivot all points of discussion to Obama’s failed economic record, but according to the Journal, voters would benefit from actually learning why Romney’s policies would fare any better — something his campaign has yet to elaborate on.

I am not a political strategist, but it does seem to me that voters in this country find a willingness to change one’s mind in the face of new facts a serious character flaw. As a general rule, I would not fault Romney for changing his mind unless he did it for purely political reasons — which is assuredly the case here. But then apparently I am more tolerant than most. Voters faulted George McGovern for changing his mind about Thomas Eagleton in 1972, a decision that critics said virtually assured Richard Nixon’s victory. In any event, the pattern has been fairly clear since that time: be consistent even if you are consistently wrong. Voters admire a man or woman who “sticks by their guns” even if the path they have chosen is stupid and possibly treacherous — witness George W. Bush and the “weapons of mass destruction” (which some people still think are hidden somewhere in Iraq). But I suspect voters will soon forget that Mitt has done an about-face on the mandate, that he may have fumbled the ball, because he and his team will divert their attention elsewhere.

Romney’s strategy is to simply say nothing until his opponent opens his mouth, or keep pointing an angry finger at the economy while he repeatedly insists it’s all Obama’s fault. This may in fact be a politically wise course to take, given past elections. If we have learned anything, we have learned that if a thing is repeated often enough, people will believe it. It doesn’t matter if what is repeated is right or wrong, true or false, no one will take the time to check. If they hear is often enough, it is as though it were carved in stone.

So we had best prepare ourselves for the endless repetition of the mantra: Obama is to blame for the retched economy….and he wants to raise your taxes. It will be repeated ad nauseam. In the meantime, Mitt has joined his fellows on the Republican band wagon and now insists that the mandate is a tax (which Obama has foisted on the American people) and we will soon forget that he ever thought otherwise. All we will hear is how the sitting President is to blame for the poor economy and for the thousands of Americans being out of work — though, as the above quote suggests, we should not expect this candidate to provide us with a program of his own or convince us how he would have acted other than Obama has acted — given the mess he inherited.