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Every so often one of our regular writers completes a new book and we do
a brief interview that we send. This time it is Vijay Prashad, and the
book is called Keeping Up with the Dow Joneses: Debt, Prison, Workfare,
and is published by South End Press. The interview is below. 

Also below is a recent interview with Noam Chomsky, about Cuba and Latin
America, done by phone with Radio Havana. 

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contributions by Giroux, Davis, Galeano, Monbiot, Chomsky, Roy, Bond,
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Thank you...and, now here are the promised interviews...

ZNet Interviews Vijay Prashad 
...about his new book

(1) Can you tell Znet, please, what your new book, Title? What is it
trying to communicate?

The book is called Keeping Up with the Dow Joneses: Debt, Prison,
Workfare, and it is published by South End Press.

A few years ago, Ravi Ahuja of a Marxistishe Blatter asked me to
scribble some thoughts on the US economy and the struggle. I'm neither
trained as an economist nor am I by profession an observer of the US
economy. I gave it my best try. I found it useful to pursue the problem
of debt, which is a central issue for the working-class in this country.
It also helped me focus on areas where I am involved -- such as the
fightback against welfare reform and its attendant issue, prison reform.

Study of the question of prisons and welfare, as well as of debt,
allowed me to show how the self-enforced structural adjustment of the US
created a class of people who we generally call working class, working
poor, poor, unemployed, underclass, underemployed, etc. I call them all
the contingent class -- they are all either on the edge of unemployment,
working several low end jobs, off the job train, in various illegal
occupations, unable to work, etc. The frontlines of the struggle against
US Empire is on the streets where the contingent hang out, and they are
doing much to lead the struggle.

The point that follows from this is that those of us who travel from
demo to demo need to do more organizing among the contingent and we need
to know that we are not the frontlines even if we garner all the press

(2) Can you tell Znet something about writing the book? Where does the
content come from? What went into making thei book what it is?

I wrote the book using documents created by the frontline organizations
as well as the government. I spent a lot of time interviewing the women
and men who work in the groups against welfare reform, and are a part of
the GROWL network (www.ctwo.org/growl). They spent time with me,
explaining what needed to be told to me, slowly and patiently. These
conversations helped me frame the book.

Government documents are a treasure trove, particularly the Bureau of
Prison Statistics and the GAO. Activists need to use these more often.
The state, in its contradictions, gives us a lot of information that can
be used against the ruling elite's hypocrisy.

(3) What are your hopes for Title? What do you hope it will contribute
or achieve, politically? Given the effort and aspirations you have for
the book, what will you deem to be a success? What would leave you happy
about the whole undertaking? What would leave you wondering if it was
worth all the time and effort?

Writing, for me, is always worth the effort. It is part of my
contribution to the struggle and it is a lot easier than doing the tough
work of going door to door, listening and signing up our neighbors for
the big fights. It is in many ways an escape from organizing.

I hope the book will be read by those who are involved in the
anti-globalization efforts within the US, so that they can direct some
of their energy to the creation of change within as much as without. We
need to think programmatically about our struggle and that is what the
book emphasizes throughout.

I hope that it will be read by unionists and other activists who work
among the contingent. I wish we could have a broader argument about how
the work against welfare reform and to abolish prisons is really also
about labor -- how the contingent class is disciplined not only by the
wage and work rules, but also by the fact of welfare reform and the
prison. These are not separate issues, and we need to be down on them at
the same time.


Radio Havana Phone Interview with Noam Chomsky

Telephone interview by Bernie Dwyer for www.cubadebate.cu with Professor
Noam Chomsky of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 28th August
2003. The agreed theme of the interview was 'Corporate Journalism' but,
like all good interviews, the topic spread to take in many other themes
- always with the rigorous political analysis that we are used to from
Professor Chomsky.  

[Bernie Dwyer]   A couple of new popular books have recently been
published such as Weapons of Mass Deception and Stupid White Men. Do you
see them as a viable alternative to the corporate media?

[Noam Chomsky]   No, they are not trying to be an alternative to the
corporate media. They are just books among the many books written about
the way the corporate media function and there is by now, in the United
States, more than any other western country that I know, a rather
significant popular movement concerned with the corporate media, which
is virtually all the media within the United States, and the way they
function as a kind of propaganda system. 

There is also a lot of popular protest against efforts to increase the
concentration of the media in fewer and fewer hands so as to prevent
even the limited diversity that exists. The books that you mention are
just two of the many. The books themselves, the critical literature -
I've written on it too- aren't an alternative to the corporate media but
rather a part of an on-going effort to construct alternatives or to
compel them to function in a more honest fashion.


[Bernie Dwyer] The recent war on Iraq and the current US occupation was
fully supported by the mainstream press in the US to the extent that the
media became the political wing of the Bush administration. Isn't that
pushing the power of the press beyond all limits?

[Noam Chomsky] It's hard to answer that. An independent press, of
course, would not function in that fashion. You are quite right. The
press became essentially an instrument of state policy, but there is
nothing new about that. That happens during just about every military
conflict and in fact during any general confrontation. The press tends
overwhelmingly to function within the framework of state-corporate
policy and those are very closely linked.

During the Vietnam War, which went on for years remember, the press was
almost entirely supportive of the war. Toward the end, when it started
getting costly to the United States and the business world then you
started getting timid criticisms about how it was going to cost us too
much and so on and you'll find that criticism now too: it's costing us
too much. This goes back as far as you would like. The First World War
was the same. And it's pretty much true in other countries too. 

The mass media, the business world, and the intellectual community in
general, tend to line up in support of concentrated power - which in the
US is state and corporate power. And the same is true on the issues of
Cuba. For example almost nobody knows the history of US terrorism in
Cuba since 1959. Terrorism is a big word. Everybody talks about it. You
wouldn't find a person in a thousand or maybe a hundred thousand who is
aware of the fact that the Kennedy administration intensified the
on-going terrorist operations (against Cuba) and pressed them to such a
point that they almost led to a terminal nuclear war and then they went
on for years after that. In fact they are still going on. Almost no one
knows that. It's not covered.


[Bernie Dwyer]  The US media has branded several nations as terrorist
nation or as harbouring terrorists or as being perpetrators of terrorist
attacks. Cuba has been pigeonholed as falling into one if not all of
these categories when we know that Cuba has suffered more terrorist
attacks against it than any other country. How serious do you take these
accusations against Cuba? Is the drum beat getting louder?

[Noam Chomsky]  Louder than when? Not louder than when Kennedy invaded
Cuba and then launched Operation Mongoose leading right to the missile
crisis which practically destroyed the world. But, yes, it's picking up.
The fact that the United States can label other countries as terrorist
states itself is quite remarkable because it not a secret that the
United States is incontrovertibly a terrorist state. 

The US is the only country in the world that has been condemned by the
World Court for international terrorism. The words they used were:
"unlawful use of force" in their war against Nicaragua. That's
international terrorism. There were two Security Council resolutions
supporting that judgement. The US of course vetoed them. And that was no
small terrorist war. It practically destroyed the country. US terrorism
against Cuba has been going on since 1959 and the fact that the US can
label Cuba a terrorist state when it has been carrying out a major
terrorist campaign against Cuba since 1959, picking up heavily in
the'60s and peaking in the '70s in fact, that's pretty astonishing. 

But I think if you do a careful study of the American media and
intellectual journals and intellectual opinions and so on, you will find
nothing about this and not a word suggesting that there is anything
strange about it. And if you look at the scholarly literature on
terrorism by people like Walter Laqueur and other respected scholars,
and take a look at the index, you find Cuba mentioned often and if you
look at the page references, what is mentioned is suspicions that Cuba
may have been involved in some terrorist actions, but what you will not
find is a reference to the very well documented US terrorist operations
against Cuba. 

And that is not controversial. We have reams of declassified government
documents on it. There is extensive scholarship on it, but it cannot
enter into public discourse. It's a pretty remarkable achievement, not
just of the media but of the intellectual community altogether. It's not
very different in Europe. If you did an investigation in England you
would probably find pretty much the same.


[Bernie Dwyer]  The US and the people of the US have nothing to fear
from Cuba. Cuba is not a threat. So why is the government doing such a
closed job on Cuba?  

[Noam Chomsky]  The United States, to its credit, is a very free
country, maybe the freest country in the world in many respects. One
result of that is that we have extremely rich internal documentation. We
have a rich record of high level planning documents which tell us the
answer to your question. And that's an achievement of American
democracy. However, almost nobody knows about it and that is a failure
of democracy. 

So the information is there. It's in the scholarly literature. It's in
the declassified record and it answers your question very clearly. So
when the Kennedy administration took over, for example, it immediately
organised a Latin American mission. Latin America was going to be a
centre piece of the Kennedy administration policy. It was headed by a
well-known American historian, Arthur Schlesinger, who was adviser to
the president. Schlesinger's report of the Latin American mission has
been declassified for the last number of years and the mission explains
to Kennedy the importance of overthrowing the government of Cuba. 

The reason is that they are concerned about, virtually quoting, the
spread of the Castro idea of taking matters into one's own hands which
will have a lot of appeal to suffering and impoverished people around
the hemisphere who are facing very similar problems. We don't want that
idea to spread. If you go on in the declassified records, you find
descriptions by the CIA and the intelligence agencies of how the problem
with Cuba is what they call its successful defiance of US policies going
back a hundred and fifty years. That's a reference to the Monroe
Doctrine. The Monroe Doctrine, which the US was not powerful enough to
implement at the time, stated that the US would become the dominant
force in this hemisphere and Cuba is not submitting to that. That is
successful defiance of a policy that goes back a hundred and fifty years
and that can't be tolerated. They make it very clear. They are not
worried about Cuban aggression or even subversion or anything. They are
worried about Cuba's successful defiance and that's not just Cuban.
That's common. 

When the US overthrew the government of Guatemala in 1954 - again we
have that rich record of declassified documents - what they explain is
that the threat of Guatemala was that its the first democratic
government had enormous popular support. It was mobilising the
peasantry, instituting social reforms and this was likely to appeal to
surrounding countries that might want to do the same thing. And that
couldn't be tolerated or else the whole framework of US domination of
the hemisphere would collapse. 

And it was the same in South East Asia and the rest of the world. The
threat of independent nationalism has always been a primary threat. And
actually if you go back far enough, remember the American colonies when
they liberated themselves from England, they were regarded by European
statesmen as a tremendous threat. The Czar, Metternich and others were
extremely upset by this threat of republicanism which might appeal to
others and undermine the conservative world order and its moral
foundations. It's the kind of thing that you can't really accept. It's
basically the threat of independence, of taking matters into your own
hands, that can't be accepted. And anyone who wants to know about this
can find it out. 

As I say, it's a very free country. We have a rich documentary record of
high level planning going way back and it's constantly the same thing. I
mean why did the United States, Britain and France support Mussolini and
Hitler as they did? Well, because they were afraid of what they called
the masses in Italy and Germany. If the masses, inspired by the Soviet
Union, might try to take matters into their own hands and threaten the
rights of property and power, and the only people who can stop them are
Hitler and Mussolini, then that's why they supported them almost to the
day that the war began. These are old policies and they're
understandable. They're understandable if you want the world to be
subordinated primarily to domestic power interests.


[Bernie Dwyer] Because of 43 years of non-stop aggression Cuba has
obviously had to take matters into their its own hands even though they
did appeal to the United States to stop some of this terrorism emanating
from the right-wing anti-Cuba groups in Miami. Are you familiar with the
case of the five Cuban political prisoners in the US who were
incarcerated for fighting against terrorism?

[Noam Chomsky]  That's an amazing case! Cuba approached the United
States with an offer to cooperate in combating terrorism and, in fact,
the FBI sent people to Cuba to get information from the Cubans about it.
The next thing was that Cubans who had infiltrated the terrorist groups
in the United States were arrested. That is utterly shocking! Do you
think it's reported? Nobody knows about it. I mean, here are Cubans who
are infiltrating illegal, terrorist organisations in the United States,
which are violating US law and the infiltrators are arrested, not the
terrorists. It's astonishing. The US has refused intelligence
cooperation with Cuba on terrorism because it would lead directly back
to terrorist groups based in the United States. 

Actually, since the 1970s, the United States has at least officially
opposed this US-based terrorism. But it still tolerates it - it doesn't
close down the terrorist bases or the terrorist funding - but
theoretically it opposes it and in fact has even occasionally prosecuted
people. Up until then (the 1970s) the US wasn't relying on Cuban exiles.
It was itself organising the terrorism. That's right into the 1970s
officially. What is going on now, we don't know. We know the official
record up until 20 or 30 years ago. 


[Bernie Dwyer]  How are you following the case of the five Cubans
considering the media silence surrounding the case?

[Noam Chomsky]  There are, fortunately, independent sources although I
can't think of an article in the United States. The British press has
covered it. There are several independent alternative journals in the
United States that have covered it. There was quite a good article on it
by William Blum in Counterpunch. There's a good quarterly journal called
Socialism and Democracy which published the testimonies of the Cuban
prisoners. You can find material on some of the Internet sites like
Z-net. So, it is possible for people to find out about it, but it's a
research project. An ordinary person cannot be expected to do that. It's
a major research project. 


[Bernie Dwyer] The US obsession with overthrowing the Cuban Revolution
reached new heights when James Cason became chief at the US Interests
Section here in Havana. He deliberately set out to subvert the Cuban
social project from the inside by recruiting, for money and favours,
Cubans who would act as agents for the US. When the Cuban government
reacted by arresting, putting on trial and imprisoning those
mercenaries, there was a lot of criticism from many of Cuba's friends.

[Noam Chomsky]  Yes, I have criticized them for that. I think it was a
mistake. In the case of the petition I signed we insisted that it
emphasised US terrorist actions and any illegal economic warfare going
on against Cuba since 1959. It went on to say that in case of the people
that were imprisoned, no public information had been available - and it
still isn't - to justify the charge that they are US government agents,
not critical dissidents. I mean the fact that they met with Cason, I may
be wrong, but it doesn't prove it. I think it was the wrong thing to do
and not very wise. It was just a gift to the harshest elements in the
United States. 


[Bernie Dwyer]  You would still uphold your admiration of the Cuban
system as you did before?

[Noam Chomsky]  As far as I am concerned, I do not pass judgement on
what Cubans decide to do. I am in favour of Cuba's successful defiance
of the United States. I am in favour of them taking matters into their
own hands. Exactly how they carry it out... I have my own opinions. A
lot of things I think are fine, a lot not, but it's a matter for the
Cubans to decide. My concern is that the hemispheric superpower not
resort to violence, pressure, force, threat, and embargo in order to
prevent Cubans from deciding how to determine their own fate. 


[Bernie Dwyer]  There seems to be a move forward in Latin America with
Chavez, Lula and Kirchner. Are you feeling optimistic for the future of
Latin America? 

[Noam Chomsky]  There certainly are opportunities. What happened in
Brazil is quite dramatic. It's a real lesson for the industrial
democracies. Brazil taught a lesson to the industrial democracies that
they ought to learn. There was an achievement of democracy in Brazil
which has not been equalled in any of the rich industrial democracies.
Popular forces based in the working class, in the peasantry, human
rights organisations and others actually succeeded in electing their own
president - a quite marvellous person, I think - over tremendous odds. 

That doesn't happen in the western countries. It can't happen in the
United States for example. But how far that can go is a difficult
question. Forty years ago when Brazil had a moderately populist
president - nothing like Lula, but at least moderately populist - the
Kennedy administration just organised a military coup which overthrew
him. It was one of the actions that set off a major plague of repression
throughout the hemisphere. They are not doing it this time even though
Lula is a far more significant figure than Goulart was and has much more
popular support. They are not doing it for a number of reasons. One of
them is that the international economic arrangement that has been
imposed in the last 20 or 30 years in neo-liberal structures creates a
stranglehold which prevents democracy from functioning. The main
purpose, I believe, of the main neo-liberal measures is to reduce the
options for democratic choice. 

Now whether Brazil and others in the region will be able to combat this
is a serious question and it certainly will require a very high degree
of North/South solidarity for them to break out of this network of
controls that has been designed to prevent people from making democratic
choices without military coups

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