Hold It All

Philosophy/Poetics/Politics

Category: Power and Ideology

Imagining Dubya Writing Barack

I came across the following when browsing Ralph Nader’s book, Return to Sender: Unanswered Letters to the President, 2001-2015.  Ralph is not holding his breath that Obama’s successor will be any different.

 

After nearly two years out, I can imagine George W. Bush writing his successor the following letter:

Dear President Obama:

As you know I’ve been peddling my book Decision Points and while doing interviews, people ask me what I think of the job you’re doing. My answer is the same: He deserves to make decisions without criticism from me. It’s a tough enough job as it is.

But their inquiries did prompt me to write you to privately express my continual admiration for the job you are doing. Amazing! I say “privately” because making my sentiments public would not do either of us any good, if you know what I mean.

First, I can scarcely believe my good fortune as to how your foreign and military policies—”continuity” was the word used recently by my good friend, Joe Lieberman—has protected my legacy. More than protected, you’ve proven yourself just as able—and I may say sometimes even more so—to “kick ass” as my Daddy used to say.

My pleasant surprise is darn near limitless. Your Justice Department has not pursued any actions against my people—not to mention Dick Cheney and I—that the civil liberties and human rights crowd keep baying for you to do. Read the rest of this entry »

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1967

Today’s Email:  “Thank you for signing up for the [New York Times]  Vietnam ’67 newsletter. Over the course of the next year, we’ll examine the participation of the United States in the long war in Southeast Asia. The Vietnam ’67 newsletter will arrive in your inbox weekly.”

“Participation”
“Long War”

Journalist Bernard Fall writing in 1967: “It is Viet-Nam as a cultural and historic entity which is threatened with extinction. While its lovely land has been battered into a moonscape by the massive engine of modern war,  its cultural identity has been assaulted by a combination of Communism in the North and superficial Americanization in the South.”

“Extinction”
“Moonscape”

The Usefulness of Human Rights

Reading the odd, short book Things That Can and Cannot Be Said, I was reminded of the gripping 1979 study by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky on “the political economy of human rights.” The date of publication is significant. The Carter administration had been in power over two years. It was Carter’s task, after the U.S. generated bloodbaths in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos in the 1960s and 70s, to restore faith in the American Way, by assuring the world that “human rights” was the heart and soul of American policy. You could see how true this was by considering the close, cozy relations between the Carter presidency and dictators like Somoza, Duvalier, Suharto, the South American generals, and the Shah of Iran.

Actor John Cusack invited writer Arundhati Roy to rendezvous with whistle blower Edward Snowden and Pentagon Papers whistle-blower Dan Ellsberg. Things That Can and Cannot Be Said has short essays and conversations about issues pertaining to state power and surveillance. Most interesting for me, though, are Roy’s remarks on human rights scattered over a few pages: Read the rest of this entry »

A Witness to Power’s Mendacity

A while back I reread David Barsamian’s first collection of interviews with Noam Chomsky, entitled Chronicles of Dissent.  Actually, I first heard the material starting in the mid-1980s, listening to Barsamian’s cassette tapes of interviews as I drove around Louisville and back and forth to Cincinnati and Chicago in  the often grim days of the second Reagan Administration. Since then, Chomsky’s readership has expanded considerably; even in his late eighties, the linguist still produces two or three books a year. I’ve lost count of the number of collaborative works he’s done with Barsamian.

Something I’ve found refreshing about Chomsky’s lectures and interviews is he speaks pretty much in plain English. There’s no academic jargon. And there’s no cheerleading for American Exceptionalism.  Here’s one terse example: “When the guys we don’t like do it, it’s terrorism. When the guys we do like do it, it’s retaliation.”  When ISIS beheads people, it’s barbarism. When Israel uses white phosphorus on people in Gaza, it’s self-defense.

The media play a key role in focusing attention in how we as US citizens and those of our allies suffer or are harmed. Here’s Chomsky commenting on an issue form the mid-80s : “There’s a big fuss and there should be, about American veterans who have suffered under Agent Orange. However, there’s a slight observation that might be made, and that is that the people of Vietnam suffered a thousand times as much, and we’re certainly not trying to help them, in fact we want to increase their suffering.” U.S. veterans finally came to be seen as “worthy” of care and consideration; what the U.S. did to Vietnam and its people is “unworthy” of U.S.  compassion, much less reparations. Read the rest of this entry »

Mistake

Liberal filmmaker  Michael Moore infuriated some Vietnam veterans with his early May tweet that the U.S. should have national holiday on the date of the fall of Saigon, which should lead to  “a commitment to never make same mistake again.”

“Mistake” is a common shorthand used by liberals to refer to the U.S. destruction in Indochina—Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.  Even veteran and antiwar critic John Kerry at the 1971 Winter Soldier hearings in Detroit asked this question, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

Was the My Lai massacre a mistake? Was Operation Speedy Express likewise?

Was U.S. torture of the Viet Cong  (a broad category) a miscalculation?

Were the 20 million bomb craters just one mistake after another? Read the rest of this entry »

US Subversion of Free Elections

In early November 1989, the Bush Administration brought the US candidate Violeta Chamorro to Washington for some publicity. President Bush promised “to lift the trade embargo and assist in Nicaragua’s reconstruction” if Chamorro won the election, the White House announced.

It took no great genius to perceive that the US would continue to torture Nicaragua, with elite support across the spectrum, until it restored US clients to power. This renewed display of the traditional fear and contempt for democracy among US elites, which reached new peaks in the 1980s, could hardly be understood in respectable circles here, however. There was much discussion over proposals to send aid to the opposition or to involve the CIA in covert operations. In comparison with the actual and virtually unchallenged US actions designed to subvert free elections in Nicaragua, these questions are trivialities.

–Noam Chomsky, Deterring Democracy

 

photo by Mev Puleo

 

Share the Wealth with Tony Albrecht–Tentative Description of a Dinner Given to Promote the Impeachment of President Trump

During this time when Trump is on the tip of so many American tongues, I’m preparing for an unusually political Share the Wealth. Our conversation this Sunday will not, however, traverse the usual spectrum between liberal and conservative. No talk of Hillary’s emails. No talk about Mr. Trump’s…take your pick.

We will instead dive right into the deep end of the political pool and discuss why the Trump administration could pose an existential threat to our Republic based on their utter disregard for American values that transcend partisan politics, things like the freedom of the press and the separation of powers.

We will discuss what President Trump (and his administration) have done to compel citizens to protest in unprecedented ways. We will talk about how President Trump could realistically be removed from office well before the 2020 election, as impeachment is a topic I’ve become very interested in recently. And most importantly, I’ll share ideas for how you could help make impeachment happen AND engage in a little bit of activism (through writing) with the potential to have a big impact.

Join us for a delicious potluck supper followed by a robust discussion. Perspectives from across the political spectrum are most welcome.

Tony Albrecht is a lawyer and social entrepreneur who recently started Get Out of Our House, a campaign setting out to rally citizens around the single demand that President Trump and his administration be removed from office during 2017. He currently resides in Toronto with his wife Sawil but has returned to St. Louis to engage in the Resistance.

Join us
Sunday 5 March
Potluck dinner begins at 6:00 pm
Tony begins sharing at 6:45
At the home of Jessie and Savannah
714 Limit Avenue
Apartment #1N
Saint Louis, M0 63130

get-out-of-house

Know Thyself

There are many intellectuals who call the world into question, but there are very few intellectuals who call the intellectual world into question.

–Pierre Bourdieu,  Sketch for a Self-Analysis Read the rest of this entry »

Elie Wiesel and Worthy Remembrance

See, Wiesel has often made this claim quite explicit:  I am above politics, my message is so precious and pure it cannot afford to be sullied by compromise. Such is the transcendent dignity of the murdered Jews of whom I am their delegate and spokesman.  My task is to show, au contraire,  how and why he’s (unconsciously?) political, that is to say, not as independent as he thinks he is, not as distant and detached and free from the determinations of the “political” as he would like to think.  For to reap the symbolic profits that he has himself reaped, he has had to cover a lot of distance in the move from a space of  relative in cognito to one of major publicity and prestige.  And yet, I need to attend to the subtleties involved in his case, because he is often quite deliberately political in the case of Sanctuary for example, even if he in the same case contradicts himself.

Another issue worth investigating  is whether by his own efforts, Wiesel has assisted in the process of transforming the Holocaust from a perennial warning to a political fashion statement [which affords him plenty of symbolic profits, and which he himself already denied in his memoir about “capital”]. Read the rest of this entry »

Authors for Reading Alongside Svetlana Alexievich’s Secondhand Time

I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.
—Franz Kafka, Letters 

Though for us it’s absurd to cut our brother’s head off only because he’s become our brother and grace has descended upon him, still, I repeat, we have our own ways, which are almost as good. We have our historical, direct, and intimate delight in the torture of beating. Nekrasov has a poem describing a peasant flogging a horse on its eyes with a knout, ‘on its meek eyes.’ We’ve all seen that; that is Russianism. He describes a weak nag, harnessed with too heavy a load, that gets stuck in the mud with her cart and is unable to pull it out. The peasant beats her, beats her savagely, beats her finally not knowing what he’s doing; drunk with beating, he flogs her painfully, repeatedly: ‘Pull, though you have no strength, pull, though you die! ‘ The little nag strains, and now he begins flogging her, flogging the defenseless creature on her weeping, her ‘meek eyes.’ Beside herself, she strains and pulls the cart out, trembling all over, not breathing, moving somehow sideways, with a sort of skipping motion, somehow unnaturally and shamefully—it’s horrible in Nekrasov. But that’s only a horse; God gave us horses so that we could flog them.
—Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

There [Communist bloc] nothing goes and everything matters; here [USA] everything goes and nothing matters.
—Philip Roth, Shop Talk Read the rest of this entry »