domingo, 13 de março de 2011

Noam Chomsky Interview - Obama's Presidency

Below is the last part of our interview with Noam Chomsky in which we discussed the presidency of Barack Obama, the health care reform, financial crisis and the federal deficit. Enjoy.

How would you summarize the presidency of Barack Obama as of now? Is he doing fine?

Noam Chomsky: Obama is a man of absolutely no principles. He has two constituencies. One of them is the popular constituency, the people who voted for him. For them he is doing essentially nothing. He has another constituency: the people who financed his campaign, the financial institutions. And they are getting rewarded. Obama came in the middle of the financial crisis so the first issue was what to do with the economic crisis? Well, he put together an economic team to deal with it but take a look at them. The business press went through the appointments and pointed out that these people should be getting subpoenas and should not be fixing the economy. They are the people who wrecked the economy. Nevertheless, they were picked by Obama to put bandages on our economy. I can go through the individuals if you like, for example Robert Rubin crew. They basically rescued the financial institutions, something that had to be done, but in fact they are now richer and more powerful than they were before. In the last weeks, Obama was attacking federal workers and imposed tax increase on them by freezing their salaries. There is also an attack on unions in the State of Wisconsin, but let’s stay at the federal level. In the middle of this, CEO of Goldman Sachs Lloyd Blankfein awarded himself $12.5 million bonus and more than tripled his base salary. These are Obama’s policies. He says he wants to do something about jobs but “jobs” is a special word in the English language. There is an obscene word in English which you are not supposed to pronounce so I will spell it for you: p-r-o-f-i-t-s. That you can’t pronounce but there is actually another way to pronounce it: “jobs”. So when a political leader says that he has to do something about “jobs”, he means he has to do something about “profits”. Obama had to pick somebody to do the jobs program and whom he picked? The CEO of General Electric, a company that has half of its work force overseas. So Obama is reaching into deep corporate pockets for a very simple reason. The Financial Times recently estimated that the next presidential election will cost $2 billion. Where is that going to come from? Well, this will come from the pockets of Jeffrey Immelt and his friends. Those are Obama’s policies. But take a look at the lame duck session of Congress. Obama is being greatly praised by Democrats and others for his bipartisanship approach and passing of the legislation. Yes, he worked together with the Republicans. There was one major issue in the lame duck Congress: should there be a tax cut for the very rich? And I mean the very rich. For example, I am pretty well off but below the point that they were talking about. And the population was overwhelmingly against it. But Obama just gave it away and in the meantime we are screaming about the deficit but we gave a tax cut to the very rich. At the very same time, Obama announced tax increase for the federal workers. They didn’t call it an increase. They called it a “freeze”. But freezing a pay of federal workers is identical to a tax increase on them and because it lasts over time it is a continuing tax increase. Same thing with all other issues. Pick for example the deficit. We are supposed to be worried about the deficit but that’s the big propaganda story. It’s not that clear whether we should have a deficit in the middle of recession or not but let’s put that aside. But where the deficit comes from? Half of it comes from military spending. America’s military spending is practically the same as the rest of the world combined. What’s the other half? Well, it’s a dysfunctional health care system. U.S. health care system is twice as high per capita as in comparable countries but it has some of the poorest outcomes. It is the only unregulated privatized system that is extremely expensive. There is a lot of bureaucracy, profits, advertizing or administrative costs. It is wasteful. If we had the same health care system as France has we would probably had a surplus not a deficit. Take a look at Obama’s commission that he picked to deal with the deficit. He picked two deficit hawks both of whom want to go after entitlements. Obama’s own proposals are not those. Obviously, the Republicans didn’t even dream of it. They are so deep into the pockets of corporate America that you need a telescope to find them. They stopped to be a political party some 20 years ago, what is phenomenal. But the Democrats won’t touch this. Read the New York Times or any other liberal newspaper. They say we have a real deficit problem and they are criticizing Obama because he didn’t go after it. And what they say is that he has to go after the entitlements: social security, Medicare and Medicaid. But in any of that social security does not contribute a penny toward a deficit. Social security is paid for by payroll taxes. People work all their lives, put money aside in a trust and are supposed to get something from it. There is nothing in it to the deficit. But there is a major effort to get rid of the social security. It doesn’t do any good to the rich, it is supporting only the poor, so let’s get rid of it. But Medicare and Medicaid are problems, however not because of their own internal structure. They are expensive because they have to deal with private insurance companies. But Obama doesn’t touch this problem. The other thing is the pharmaceutical industry. Drugs in the United States are roughly twice as expensive as in comparable countries. The U.S. government is the only one in the world that I know of which is not allowed to negotiate drug prices. For the general population, the government may negotiate the prices of paper clips for the Pentagon but not the drugs. The population is overwhelmingly opposed to that but Obama gives it away. These things are not touched. Anything that involves wealth and power is essentially left untouched. There was an effort to do something about the regulation of the financial industry. It’s better than nothing, but when you look at it, it has all kind of loopholes that have to be filled in by legislation and the lobbyists are already all over it. The lobbyists are making sure that the legislation will be such that it leaves the financial institutions alone. The major problem is the regulation and the government’s insurance policies. The government does give insurance policies to financial institutions. It is called “too big to fail”. It is telling Goldman Sachs you can make any kind of risky transaction you may like, since it is risky you will make a lot of money, it will collapse at one point but don’t worry the tax payers will come and bail you out. So of course we are having a financial crisis. These are Obama’s policies.