Hold It All

Philosophy/Poetics/Politics

Category: Power and Ideology

The Preferential Option for the Rich

“[You in the Western countries]  have organized your lives around inhuman values [which] are inhuman because they cannot be universalized. The system rests on a few using the majority of the resources, while the majority can’t even cover their basic necessities. It is crucial to define a system of values and a norm of living that takes into account every human being.”

–Father Ignacio Ellacuría
Quoted in Noam Chomsky, Deterring Democracy

Advertisements

The World according to Chomsky: Winter Reading Group 2018

In recent years, I’ve known many people who ask themselves, “What can I do, given the state of the world?”   In the past year, this question has been especially urgent, given the toxicity of the US political scene.  It’s easy to be continually distracted by the latest outrage; yet, it’s imperative that we understand more of the big picture involving the institutions that have  long had significant impact on both U.S. citizens and the rest of the word.

I invite you to spend several weeks with me reading, thinking about, and discussing a few essays by Noam Chomsky, long-time MIT professor and prolific political writer.   In so doing, we may encounter fresh critical perspectives, analyses, and questions, which we can bring to our  own civic priorities.

Back in 1979, a New York Times reviewer said of Chomsky, “Judged  in terms of the power, range, novelty and influence of his thought, Noam Chomsky is arguably the most important intellectual alive today.”    Some important themes of Chomsky’s work include liberal criticism and the limits of thinkable thought;  the how and why of propaganda;  the responsibility of the writer and intellectual; ; the political economy of human rights;  the power of activism; and the elite fear of democratic participation.  He became known to the American public in the later 1960s because of his opposition to the Vietnam War.  He has  since been involved in issues of justice and peace regarding Israel/Palestine, East Timor, Central America, Afghanistan, Iraq, among many others. Read the rest of this entry »

Finkelstein’s Gaza

I just received  Norman  Finkelstein’s latest book, Gaza: An Inquest into Its Martyrdom.  I noticed this blurb by Alice Walker:

“This is the voice I listen for, when I want to learn the deepest reality about Jews, Zionists, Israelis, and Palestinians. Norman Finkelstein is surely one of the forty honest humans the Scripture alludes to who can save ‘Sodom’ (our Earth) by pointing out, again and again, the sometimes soul-shriveling but unavoidable Truth. There is no one like him today, but in my bones I know this incredible warrior for Humanity and Justice is an archetype that has always been. And will always be. Small comfort in these dark times, perhaps, but a comfort I am deeply grateful for.”

 

December 10 Sunday Share the Wealth with Andrew Wimmer: Reckoning with Torture

In November 2005, Stop Torture Now, a project of the Center for Theology and Social Analysis in St. Louis, delivered a Peoples’ Indictment against Aero Contractors and the commissioners of the Johnston County airport in North Carolina from which Aero operated extraordinary rendition flights to Guantanamo and CIA black sties. We dubbed Aero’s operation the Torture Taxi.

Watch for two minutes to get a sense of what Aero was involved in.

A dozen years later, and after sustained work by a dedicated group in North Carolina, The North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture held a two-day hearing before a board of commissioners with witnesses from around the world, including those who were rendered, psychologists, military interrogators, international legal investigators, and journalists.

Take a look at the NCCIT website to see the scope of their work.

The question on everyone’s mind and the one voiced repeatedly throughout the two days of hearings was “And now what do we do?” Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t Expect Applause

Tom Hayden was a major player in the antiwar movement of the 1960s as well as a familiar liberal and progressive  activist, commentator, and researcher since.  His last book is entitled,  Hell No:  The Forgotten Power of the Vietnam Peace Movement.  Here’s his basic point: “What we should honor and strive for today is an inclusive demonstration of the power of the peace movement.”    Hayden wanted the mainstream to acknowledge all that the peace movement had done.   (He highlights the leading role in resistance to U.S. power  by the Vietnamese themselves, U.S. communities of color, and veterans.) Even at this late date, Hayden yearned for recognition and validation from the powerful as to the history the movement “made.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Audacity of Impunity

Dear Carla and Perry
Some thoughts for you
Cal

A few weeks before in took office
Barack Obama said
No one is above the law.

But once he was in office
Bush and Company
Were above the law

What the Oval Office means is
Whoever occupies it
Is able the law

Maybe the Ferguson youth
Realized the irony of going to DC
To share their experiences with President Obama

Darren Wilson got away with it
He was above the law
Like the nation’s Chief Assassin himself

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 »

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 »