Noam Chomsky: Obama Threat Against Syria Based on Maintaining U.S. ‘Credibility’
Interview with Noam Chomsky, MIT professor and political analyst, conducted by Scott Harris
After the Aug. 21 mass casualty chemical weapons attack in Syria that Washington claimed was launched by the Syrian government, President Obama announced that a “red line” had been crossed and that President Bashar al-Assad’s regime needed to be punished with U.S. airstrikes. But after the British Parliament rejected Prime Minister David Cameron’s call to join an American attack on Syria, there has been little international support for military intervention, with the exception of France and Turkey.
With the near certainty of Russian and Chinese vetoes of any American bid for U.N. Security Council authorization for an attack on Syria and no approval by the Arab League, President Obama turned to the U.S. Congress to try and gain some legitimacy for U.S. intervention in Syria’s brutal civil war, underway since 2011. But there, too, Democratic and Republican legislators alike, reflecting overwhelming public opposition to U.S. involvement in another Middle East War, appeared to be moving toward a decisive defeat of an Obama war resolution.
Then something unexpected happened. Secretary of State John Kerry speaking off the cuff at a London press conference, proposed, then dismissed the idea of Syria avoiding a U.S. military strike by allowing international monitors to take custody of, then destroy Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal. The Russians embraced the idea, and not long after convinced the Syrian government to agree to the still vague plan. As if being thrown a lifeline in the midst of an untenable political crisis, President Obama characterized the plan as a possible diplomatic breakthough. Now, as a congressional vote on airstrikes is delayed, there is cautious hope that a deal can be hammered out at the U.N. Security Council. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Noam Chomsky, linguistics and philosophy professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and longtime peace and social justice activist. Here professor Chomsky talks about the Syrian crisis and examines the repeated rationale for American military intervention based on the need to maintain Washington’s credibility as the world’s policeman.
Congressional Compromise on Student Loans Tied to Financial Markets is Deeply Flawed
Interview with Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut’s senior U.S. senator, conducted by Melinda Tuhus
Every year, millions of students graduate from American colleges and universities with a total of billions of dollars in debt. Earlier this year, after much debate, Congress adopted legislation that rolled back student loan interest rates, but tied the rates to the financial markets, which means that over time, those rates will surely rise.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. introduced a bill that would have made student loan rates the same as those charged to the nation’s largest banks when they borrow funds from the federal reserve – 0.75 percent, but the legislation was defeated. For the coming school year, the interest rate for undergraduates is 3.86 percent, and for graduate students it’s 5.41 percent.
Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Connecticut’s U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who has been an outspoken critic of exorbitant student loan rates. He supported Sen. Warren’s bill and proposed expanding the federal government’s “Pay as You Earn” program, that reduces payments for some graduates based on the size of their family and income after graduation. Here, Sen. Blumenthal explains why Congress as a whole rejected Sen. Warren’s interest rate plan and what steps he’s advocating to reduce the burden on students facing ballooning college debt.
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: I voted against the bill that was signed by the president because it means, temporarily, lower interest rates, but eventually a very drastic increase in the charges to students – up to 8.25 percent – and the rates are climbing. So it’s really a very, very short-sighted and short-term gain at the expense of long-term pain and much increased costs for the students of next year and succeeding rates. And we need lower interest rates for students; in fact, I’ve supported a measure that would give students’ rates the benefit of those rates that are charged to the banks when they borrow from the Federal Reserve. When the banks borrow from the Federal Reserve, they’re charged less than a percentage point – .75 percent. Why not give student the benefit of the same rate?
We have to view student loans as an investment, not a help to students, but an investment in their future and our nation’s future. Last year, at 3.4 percent, the federal government made $51 billion off the backs of students. That is unconscionable for the government to profit from the student loan program is unacceptable, and we ought to be giving students the benefit of the same rates that we charge the big banks, which are presumably deficit-neutral – costless – and we need to view the student loan program as an investment in the future of our students and America, because we need those skills.
BETWEEN THE LINES: What’s in the way of Congress agreeing to make student loan rates the same as bank loan rates?
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: Members of Congress, very tragically, see the student loan program as a way to solve the deficit and the debt. They see it as producing revenue for the federal government. But we can make smart cuts, not the kind of counter-interest cuts that the student loan program has suffered over the years. There is a way to solve the deficit and the debt problem with smart cuts, a balanced approach that eliminates some federal spending and raises some revenue, but not on the backs of students who are our future and we ought to view this investment as very critical to our national interest – as much as our national defense or any other essential government investment.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Sen. Dick Blumenthal, can you give me any specifics on ways that excessive student debt negatively impacts the economy and the whole issue of jobs?
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: As much as I’m concerned about the level of interest rate now on student loans, I’m equally, if not more concerned about the trillion-plus dollars in existing debt from past years, and that is not only financially crushing to those people (who took out loans), but it’s also a tremendous waste and drag on the economy. Those people who owe tens of thousands of dollars in debt cannot start new businesses, build homes, form families, because they are mired down by debt, so consumer spending is dragged down by the tens of thousands of dollars that each person owes – an average of about $29,000 for every student now graduating in Connecticut; and that $1.1 trillion in debt is a tremendous drag on the economy.
BETWEEN THE LINES: What do you think is the solution to the student debt debacle?
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: There are basically three legs to the solution. One is to reduce interest rates on these student loans. The other is to provide means of these students having opportunities for debt relief, for repayment relief, on existing debt. And I’ve urged, and I’ve proposed legislation to expand the pay as you earn program so students don’t have to wait 20 years before their debt could be relieved, and the public service program that recognizes students for what they give back, whether in teaching or providing medical services, if they work in the community, if they provide service, their work ought to be recognized and their debt forgiven, at least in part. And there are ways to expand existing programs, but also to change the tax code so as to enable students to have repayment options that they lack right now. And the third leg of dealing with student debt is to reduce the cost of tuition – drive down the cost of higher education in college and also reduce costs, for example, of text books and other expenses that students have. We need to drive down the cost of college.
Some of the for-profit colleges are making very large amounts of revenue without providing sufficiently valued product. Some of the cost of supplies like textbooks, are excessively high. And some of the charges in colleges – put aside tuition – living expenses in dorms and so forth, can be driven down. So, we need a national strategy to drive down the cost of tuition.
BETWEEN THE LINES: I’ve read some horrible stories about how for-profit colleges and training institutes prey, especially, on low-income young people. They promise them jobs, but don’t follow through. What kind of regulations are they under?
RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: There are proposals that I’ve made to regulate more strictly, or oversee and scrutinize, the colleges. Some have improved. But many of the practices that prey on lower-income students – and our veterans – continue to exist. So I think we need to take a hard look at for-profit colleges. An investigation released last year by Sen. Harkin and myself showed that many, many people leave the for-profit colleges without degrees, but with huge amounts of debt.
For more information on continuing efforts to address unsustainable student debt, visit Student Debt Crisis at studentdebtcrisis.org and National Student Power Convergence 2013 at www.studentpower2013.org.
King Amendment in Pending Congressional Farm Bill Would Repeal Many State Laws Protecting Animal Welfare
Interview with John Goodwin, director of Animal Cruelty Policy at The Humane Society of the United States, conducted by Scott Harris
This year’s congressional Farm Bill, which sets policy for many federal agricultural programs, has been the focus of controversy. The House version of the bill, approved by the majority Republicans, voted to increase farm subsidies to giant agribusiness companies, while completely eliminating the food stamp program that assists millions of the nation’s poor families. The GOP will separately propose a measure that will cut $40 billion over 10 years from food stamps before moving to a House-Senate conference on the Farm Bill.
But another contentious, although less discussed legislative plank in the Farm Bill relates to the so-called “King Amendment.” This amendment, proposed by Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King, would prevent states from enforcing their own laws regarding the production of “agricultural products” — a term so broad that it could include not only farm animals, but also dogs in puppy mills. According to groups whose mission is to prevent cruelty to animals, if this provision if enacted, many animal welfare standards set at the state level could be eliminated.
Opponents of the King amendment say the measure threatens current regulations outlawing extreme confinement of animals in factory farms, as well as bans on horse slaughter and the consumption of dogs and cats for food. In addition, the amendment would prevent states from passing any new laws to protect animal welfare. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with John Goodwin, director of Animal Cruelty Policy at The Humane Society of the United States, who explains why his group and many others around the country, are working hard to remove the “King amendment” from the final version of this year’s Farm Bill.
Find more information on Animal Cruelty Policy at The Humane Society of the United States.
This week’s summary of under-reported news
Compiled by Bob Nixon
The future of legal dissent in Iraq is in doubt after security forces suppressed a protest over government pensions in late August. Police denied a permit for a rally in front of Parliament and closed off roads and bridges blocking anti-government activists.
In 1956, Soviet soldiers ordered citizens out of their homes in present day Kanonerka, Kazakhstan before nuclear bomb tests were about to be carried out in a nearby military test site. Village resident Anastacia Kyseleva recalls residents who ran towards the radioactive bomb blast either died or became very ill.
In early September, Ford and General Motors announced major increases in cars sales and profits, even as the city of Detroit, once the hub of the nation’s auto industry, is now mired in bankruptcy. Detroit’s city workers, retirees and majority African-American population now face a new wave of austerity budget and service cuts.