Word and Image of Vermont

This site exists to promote the pleasures of discussion and to nudge us all -- myself included -- an inch or two towards decency. You're welcome, and encouraged, to comment on any of the opinions you encounter here by using the e-mail link on the left.

John R. Turner
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Thoughts for August 30, 2018

The six opinions listed here all, in one way or another, address the blankness of the American mind. It wasn’t long ago that even to mention this subject would have branded one as a heretic. Establishment propaganda made it unthinkable for most. But as the evidence for its validity piled up, more and more commentators began to conclude that they couldn’t any longer ignore it. I wouldn’t go so far as to conclude that it has now become the dominant opinion, but it is certainly much stronger than it was five years ago. The emergence of Donald Trump has had something to do with that, but we shouldn’t exaggerate it. There were plenty of indications for it well before Donald Trump appeared in the headlines every day.

  • One can trace this (the school security industry becoming a huge business) back to the mid-1990s when President Clinton’s administration, seeking to prove that Democrats could be as doggone tough on crime as Republicans, asked Congress to fund thousands of “school resource officers,” making the presence of often-armed police a daily reality in schools across the country. (Sasha Abramsky, Jumping at Shadows, 217).

  • “Tom Engelhardt is the I. F. Stone of the post–9/11 age -- seeing what others miss, calling attention to contradictions that others willfully ignore, insisting that Americans examine in full precisely those things that make us most uncomfortable.” (Andrew J. Bacevich, advanced comment to The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s).

  • Why does this despicable, orange-tinted insult to common human decency occupy the White House? He holds the most powerful office in the world because the Democratic Party has long been and remains what the late liberal-left Princeton political scientist Sheldon Wolin called the Inauthentic Opposition. “Should Democrats somehow be elected,” Wolin prophesied in early 2008, they would do nothing to “alter significantly the direction of society” or “substantially reverse the drift rightwards. … The timidity of a Democratic Party mesmerized by centrist precepts,” Wolin wrote, “points to the crucial fact that for the poor, minorities, the working class and anti-corporatists there is no opposition party working on their behalf.” The corporatist Democrats would work to “marginalize any possible threat to the corporate allies of the Republicans.” (Paul Street, Counterpunch, June 8, 2018).

  • Seventeen years of war in the Middle East and what do we have to show for it? Iraq after our 2003 invasion and occupation is no longer a unified country. Its once modern infrastructure is largely destroyed, and the nation has fractured into warring enclaves. We have lost the war in Afghanistan. The Taliban is resurgent and has a presence in over 70 percent of the country. Libya is a failed state. Yemen after three years of relentless airstrikes and a blockade is enduring one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters. The 500 “moderate” rebels we funded and armed in Syria at a cost of $500 million are in retreat after instigating a lawless reign of terror. The military adventurism has cost a staggering $5.6 trillion as our infrastructure crumbles, austerity guts basic services and half the population of the United States lives at or near poverty levels. The endless wars in the Middle East are the biggest strategic blunder in American history and herald the death of the empire. (Chris Hedges, Truthdig, June 10, 2018).

  • But Congress is controlled by Republicans. And their response to a president whose actions are manifestly not just un-American but anti-American has been … a few sad tweets from a handful of senators who are unhappy about Trump’s behavior but not willing to do anything real. Most Republicans haven’t even gone that far: They’re just silent.    ·    Why are Republican politicians unwilling to discharge their constitutional responsibilities? Relatively few of them, one suspects, actually want a trade war, let alone a breakup of the Western alliance. And many of them, one also suspects, are well aware that a de facto foreign agent sits in the Oval Office. But they are immobilized by a combination of venality and cowardice. (Paul Krugman, New York Times, June 11, 2018).

  • What makes the book -- Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House -- significant is it’s sly, hilarious portrait of a hollow man, into the black hole of whose needy, greedy ego the whole world has virtually vanished. (Peter Conrad, The Guardian, January 14, 2018).


Thoughts for August 19, 2018

The first opinion below makes a point I continue trying to make to my friends, often with little success. One called me just today very worried about Trump and what he might do. I tried to tell him that Trump, by himself, is unlikely to do anything. He doesn’t have the intellectual concentration to carry through with any thought-out scheme. But when I say that Trump is not our main problem, that he’s a product of our problem, I have a hard time getting through. My friends can’t seem to grasp what the American people have become. They are obsessed with lasting remnants of the notion of American exceptionalism. Why they insist on holding onto them I can’t understand.

  • “The Trump Administration did not rise like Venus on a half shell from the sea. Donald Trump is the result of a long process of political, cultural and social decay. He is a product of our failed democracy. The longer we perpetuate the fiction that we live in a functioning democracy, that Trump and the political mutations around him are somehow an aberrant deviation that can be vanquished in the next election, the more we will hurtle toward tyranny. The problem is not Trump. It is a political system, dominated by corporate power and the mandarins of the two major political parties, in which we don’t count.” (Chris Hedges, Truthdig, May 30, 2018).

  • Bronze Age Pervert (a former high-ranking White House official who changed his name) is an embodiment of the strange and effective tension between nostalgia and transgression that makes men like (Jordan) Peterson so popular. His blend of say-anything internet irony, highly eroticized valorization of splendid “warrior” bodies, and atavistic appeals to return to an era when men were real men is as close as you can get to a distillation of the Petersonian essence. (Tara Isabella Burton, Vox, June 1, 2018).

  • For Generals Kingston, Crist, or Schwarzkopf to incorporate history or religion into their thinking alongside geography or the prospective enemy’s order of battle would have required an enormous leap of creative imagination. At CENTCOM headquarters, such imagination was -- and would remain -- in short supply. (Andrew Bacevich, America’s War for the Greater Middle East, 49).

  • That’s the key. When your overriding value in life is self-glorification, what you tend to get is the moral cowardice and fecklessness of people like Obama, the Clintons, and, in truth, all centrist politicians. They’ll do whatever they have to do to rise to power, so they can realize their “destiny”—of being powerful. They’ll always try to please “both sides”—a binary notion that leaves out the genuine left, which is to say the interests of the large majority of people—because that is the safest and surest road to power. (Chris Wright, CounterPunch, June 6, 2018).

  • “If you’ve grown up to think you’re superior, as an American over anyone else ...., that sense of superiority gives you a sense of comfort and alleviates your fear. If someone steps up and challenges that worldview, you’re going to want to slap him down, because your ego identity is very fragile.” (Darcia Narvaez, psychology professor at Notre Dame, quoted by Sasha Abramsky in Jumping at Shadows, 114).

  • Trump is also the result of a Democratic Party that has separated itself from the needs of working people, minorities of color, and young people by becoming nothing more than the party of the financial elite. There is a certain dreadful irony in the fact that the neoliberal wing of the Democratic Party has been quick to condemn Trump and his coterie as demagogic and authoritarian. What cannot be forgotten is that this is the same ruling elite who gave us the surveillance state, bailed out Wall Street, ushered in the mass incarceration state, and punished whistleblowers. Chris Hedges is right in arguing that the Democratic Party is an “appendage of the consumer society” and its embrace of “neoliberalism and [refusal] to challenge the imperial wars empowered the economic and political structures that destroyed our democracy and gave rise to Trump.” (Henry Giroux, American Nightmare: Facing the Challenge of Fascism).

  • The rise of suicide turns a dark mirror on modern American society: its racing, fractured culture; its flimsy mental health system; and the desperation of so many individual souls, hidden behind the waves of smiling social media photos and cute emoticons.  ·  Some experts fear that suicide is simply becoming more acceptable. “It’s a hard idea to test, but it’s possible that a cultural script may be developing among some segments of our population,” said Julie Phillips, a sociologist at Rutgers. (Benedict Carey, New York Times, June 8, 2018).


Thoughts for August 17, 2018

There are several opinions among the seven offered below which point to the tyranny and corruption of corporate control. I don’t know why anyone should expect that corporations would be up to anything else. Corporations care nothing about societal health. They exist for one purpose only, to pile up money. And there’s nothing they wouldn’t be willing to do in pursuit of that purpose. The only thing that will stop them are regulations that might cost them more money than they would make through their shenanigans. People who want to take away all regulation of corporations are those willing to destroy social well-being in the hope of being able to dip their buckets in the flood of corporate graft.

  • This is a doomed tactic, but one that is understandable. The leadership of the party, the Clintons, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Tom Perez, are creations of corporate America. In an open and democratic political process, one not dominated by party elites and corporate money, these people would not hold political power. They know this. They would rather implode the entire system than give up their positions of privilege. And that, I fear, is what will happen. The idea that the Democratic Party is in any way a bulwark against despotism defies the last three decades of its political activity. It is the guarantor of despotism. (Chris Hedges, Truthdig, May 20, 2018).

  • Any exercise in arms control and disarmament involves two sets of negotiations: first is the internal set within the administration itself; second is the external set with foreign counterparts.  Typically, the internal negotiations within any administration is the tougher road. One of President John F. Kennedy’s greatest successes was disciplining the Pentagon in 1963 in order to negotiate the Partial Test Ban Treaty.  Over the past fifty years, there has never been an arms control and disarmament treaty that the Pentagon has welcomed. (Melvin Goodman, Counterpunch, May 25, 2018).

  • Jumping at Shadows is Sasha Abramsky's searing account of America's most dangerous epidemic: irrational fear. Taking readers on a dramatic journey through a divided nation, where everything from immigration to disease, gun control to health care has become fodder for fearmongers and conspiracists, he delivers an eye-popping analysis of our misconceptions about risk and threats. What emerges is a shocking portrait of a political and cultural landscape that is, increasingly, defined by our worst fears and rampant anxieties. (Amazon description of Jumping at Shadows)

  • Trump, like all despots, has no ethical core. He chooses his allies and appointees based on their personal loyalty and fawning obsequiousness to him. He will sell anyone out. He is corrupt, amassing money for himself—he made $40 million from his Washington, D.C., hotel alone last year—and his corporate allies. He is dismantling government institutions that once provided some regulation and oversight. He is an enemy of the open society. This makes him dangerous. His turbocharged assault on the last vestiges of democratic institutions and norms means there will soon be nothing, even in name, to protect us from corporate totalitarianism. (Chris Hedges, Truthdig, May 20, 2018).

  • In case you haven’t noticed, we are now as feared and hated all over the world as the Nazis once were. And with good reason. (Kurt Vonnegut).

  • Since 9/11, terrorism has been a distinctly low-level risk to the American public -- at least when compared to heart disease, cancer, car crashes, fires, or heat waves -- but has had an out-sized effect on the perceptions, and actions of the government, not to mention its visions of tomorrow. (Nick Turse, Truthdig, May 30, 2018).

  • Real leftists know that five people owning as much wealth as the bottom half of the species while millions starve and lack adequate health care and half the U.S. population is poor or near-poor is capitalism working. (Paul Street, Truthdig, May 30, 2018).


Thoughts for August 13, 2018

This is the first set of opinions I’ve posted in this portion of Word and Image which includes one of my own. And you can see in the fifth item below that it has to do with sanity. I am arguing that sanity is the key quality of virtue, or at least what I take to be virtue. There is, of course, no objective quality of virtue. There is only what each of us attempts to establish in his or her own mind and then works to live in accord with. And if one thinks vigorously about it I think he can have a pretty good chance of working out a stance that he can stick with throughout his life. But he can hold to it only if he has constructed a definition of sanity he can continue have confidence in. And that, obviously, is not altogether easy.

  • No longer content with maintaining de facto apartheid rule in the occupied West Bank, Israeli lawmakers are moving to establish the de jure variety. (Eric Levitz,Daily Intelligencer, 26 Apr. 2018).

  • “And coming back to this notion of whether or not Trump supporters are ‘deplorables,’ clearly you can’t say all 60 million-plus people who voted for one candidate share all of the same set of values. It’s too simplistic. But I think it’s fair to say that anyone who voted for Donald Trump was, at the very best-case scenario, willing to turn a blind eye to a stupendous catalog of bigotries.” (Sasha Abramsky, Truthdig, May 12, 2018).

  • Compared to the rest of the world Americans are prudish, delusional and selfish religious nuts. (Kali Holloway, Alternet, May 23, 2018).

  • The Democratic Party, which helped build our system of inverted totalitarianism, is once again held up by many on the left as the savior. Yet the party steadfastly refuses to address the social inequality that led to the election of Trump and the insurgency by Bernie Sanders. (Chris Hedges, Truthdig, May 20, 2018).

  • Over the past several weeks various friends have said to me that the world seems to be going crazy. I certainly agree with them. That leaves us with the question of what we can do about it. I’ve wondered about this for a long time now and I’ve finally arrived at a fairly firm decision. We should ally ourselves with people who are standing for a sane, just, and merciful world and forget about arguing crazy people into sanity. No matter what percentage of the population we represent -- even if it’s quite low -- we have to rely on the force we can exert on public policy. A unified segment of the population, if they are smart and articulate, can achieve more than their numbers might suggest. Besides,  that’s the only strategy that makes any sense. You can’t argue a bigot into fair-mindedness. I’m not saying a bigot can’t escape from the human scrapheap, but if it’s going to happen he has to do it himself, by attending to reasonable opinions. Some of them will, but a greater number will not. The latter will live and die in the scrapheap. So trying to win them over directly with rational arguments is not a useful tactic. We shouldn’t hate them or wish them ill, and on a basic human level we should help them as much as we can with issues like sickness and grief. But we shouldn’t forget that they are trying to pollute the world and, therefore, that they need to be combatted by contrast, and without wasting energy on personal appeals.(John R. Turner, May 24, 2018).

  • But there is a strand of these that I find significant: the way Trump’s use of indeterminate language is a way of weakening the fundamental supports of truth itself. Truth is absolute. Things happened or they didn’t, at a particular time. They can be counted and accounted for.  ·  But not the way Trump constructs language. It is not just his outright lies that degrade our discourse; it is also his use of language that muddles to the point of meaninglessness, language that rejects exactitude, language that elevates imprecision as a device to avoid being discovered in his deceit. (Charles Blow, New York Times, May 25, 2018).


Thoughts for August 11, 2018

The seven opinions below include two pointing to the destructive egomania that for years was called “American Exceptionalism.” Politicians were more or less compelled to say they believed in it in order to insure their elections. We don’t hear the term now as much as we used to, but it became ingrained in policies and attitudes which are still very much in effect, and which the other five opinions cited here denounce.

  • The United States leads the world in everything from military spending to war-making to incarceration to various measures of environmental destruction, and various other undesirable categories. (David Swanson, Truthout, May 13, 2018.).

  • U. S. Exceptionalism, the idea that the United States of America is superior to other nations is no more fact based and no less harmful than racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry. (David Swanson, Truthout, May 13, 2018.

  • Quite simply, exceptionalism has always been core to American patriotism, and American exceptionalism is no longer tenable. Exceptionalism is the idea that the country bears some special lesson for the rest of the world, some vital role in world history. But if the US represents something invaluable to the rest of the world, what is that? (Sam Haselby, Alternet, May 12, 2018).

  • The new militarism, glorifying war and sacrifice, and boosting an imperial reach, is being made an integral element of the public piety so conspicuous in American politics. (Sheldon Wolin, Democracy Incorporated, 2017.

  • The Libyan Model is very much the reason why tinpot dictators like Kim are determined to acquire and keep nuclear weapons. For guys like Kim, whose lives can be measured in their ability to inflict damage on others, Trump’s actions concerning the Iran treaty have only served to confirm that any “protections” offered by the United States are only as good as the next Donald Trump. (Mark Sumer, Daily Kos, May 17, 2018)

  • Trump “traffics in slurs and untruths. The deepest form of rot is the erosion of the distinction between truth and falsehood. Totalitarianism was one big lie perpetrated on human beings reduced to the often hopeless quest for survival in a fog.” (Roger Cohen, New York Times, May 18, 2018).

  • The very idea that the government can control what words we use and don’t at a university-related event seems to violate everything we as a country hold dear about the independence of educational institutions from government control, not to mention the sanctity of free speech and the importance of public debate. But that, of course, was in the era before Donald Trump became president. (Karen J. Greenberg, TomDispatch, May 17, 2018).


Thoughts for August 10, 2018

I’ve been on a lengthy furlough from posting on this site, but now I’ve decided that I’m ready to start back. I admit the reason I stopped was there seemed only two topics to address. We now have a president who is a mean-spirited imbecile, and a Republican Party which is moving ever closer to fascism. These are bad conditions, but simply to repeat them day after day becomes tiresome. I needed to find a different approach.

The one I’ve chosen and the one I think I can make use of for quite a while is to draw attention to opinion, mainly those of others, but occasionally a few of my own, with the intention of giving readers a chance to think about how much they agree with those opinions, and to ask themselves why they agree or disagree. I’ve been collecting opinions now for a couple months, and so have a pretty good stockpile from which to begin. I’ll try to include a half-dozen or so in every posting. Today I’ll start with an even six:

  • The corporate state’s assault on education, and on journalism, is part of a concerted effort to keep us from examining corporate power and the ideologies, such as globalization and neoliberalism, that promote it. (Chris Hedges, Truthdig, May 6, 2018).

  • The evidence that racism, sexism, and nativism motivated Trump voters is overwhelming. (Chauncey DeVega, Alternet, May 7, 2018).

  • The point is that the authentic historical horror of the highly organized and largely industrialized Nazi effort to eradicate European Jewry has given Israel a lethal blank-check sense of entitlement to commit their own different but hideous crimes against Arab and Muslim humanity in the Middle East. (Paul Street, Counterpunch, May 4, 2018).

  • Conveniently, those deciding whether a police officer should be immune from having to personally pay for misbehavior on the job all belong to the same system, all cronies with a vested interest in protecting the police and their infamous code of silence: city and county attorneys, police commissioners, city councils and judges.  (John W. Whitehead, Counterpunch, May 4, 2018).

  • Systemic corruption, crassness, overt racism, a view of misfortune as a weakness, unapologetic bigotry, and a disdain of the public and common good has been normalized under Trump after gaining strength over the last 50 years in American politics.  (Henry Giroux, Counterpunch, April 27, 2018).

  • But we all seem to assume that America—the entity, the corporation—has some sort of larger reasoning behind the actions it takes, the actions put forward by the ruling elite. And almost all of us know that the reasons we’re given by the press secretaries and caricature-shaped heads on the nightly news are the ripest, most fetid grade of bullshit. (Lee Camp, Truthdig, May 2, 2018).

As always, I’m eager to hear from you about what you think about anything you find here.


Thoughts for February 20, 2018

I know of no reputable thinker who continues to assert the reality of American democracy. The inevitability of its decay was first laid out for me more than a decade ago by Chalmers Johnson and Morris Berman, each of whom produced a trilogy of books pointing to American decline. Berman’s final effort in 2014, was titled conclusively, Why America Failed -- no doubt left in that naming.

Though they and other writers, most notably, perhaps, Sheldon Wolin in Democracy Incorporated, have traced a series of causes, I don’t of any who have concentrated on a psychological condition I think played a larger role than anything else in bringing American democracy to its knees. I’m referring to a doctrine most commonly called “American exceptionalism.” which held that America was “great” (never adequately defined) just because it was, and not because of any particular talents that the American people either possessed or practiced. In other words, Americans didn’t have to do anything to be great. They just were great, a quality bequeathed to them by Providence. That was that, and there was nothing more to be said.

It was as if a football team declared itself to be of championship quality though it never practiced or never touched a football.

People lost all connection with what they thought their government ought to be doing, or perhaps more important, with what their government ought not to be doing. They held no principles of government in their minds. To the degree they thought at all about why they voted it was solely concerning whether they expected their vote to add a few dollars to their paychecks. What a petty reason for constructing a democratic republic!

The actual behavior of their government never entered their minds. Ask a random citizen how many countries his nation has military forces stationed in and the most likely response you’ll get is a blank stare (I know this is true because I’ve done it many times). Ask him why they’re there and the stare will get even blanker.

Has there ever been a more vacant-minded citizenry than the U.S. possesses at the moment? I doubt it. And I know there has never been one more obsessed with its own grandeur.

This is a condition that cannot be recovered from by a handful of elections. People don’t move from pure emptiness to an intelligent perspective in a few decades. If such a transformation is even possible, it would require generations.

We are now lost in the wilderness and we will remain here for many years. The vaunted American democratic republic didn’t just die. It was murdered by its own people and their egomaniacal theory. Those people now have no idea how to restore it. Or any real desire.


Thoughts for February 19, 2018

I see that the Oscars Awards Ceremony is coming up on Sunday, March 4th, just two weeks from yesterday.

I have seen only five of the nominated films, and among those I have seen, it seems clear to me that Three Billboards Outside Ebbings, Missouri and The Shape of Water are the best. I would be very surprised if a film other than one of those two were the winner.

For best actor, I’d say Daniel Day-Lewis has a lock on the award, more so than any other of the actors. However, Frances McDormand is also pretty dominant among the lead actresses. They both gave memorable performances.

For best supporting actor, Woody Harrelson was very appealing, but basically himself, whereas Richard Jenkins in The Shape of Water exceeded anything else I’ve ever seen him in and deserves to win.

My favorite supporting actress is Octavia Spencer; everything she did in The Shape of Water was perfect, and whenever she was on screen the film took on even greater life.

Best director is also pretty much a lockdown. Guillermo del Toro is almost sure to take the prize.

So, there’s not great suspense this year about who’s going to win. The surprise, rather, is the kinds of movies in the lead. Who could have anticipated that the story of a woman so enraged about the inability of law enforcement to find the killer of her daughter that she goes completely insane, would win viewers to her insanity, would have people cheering her on as she does utterly nutty stuff, and laughing at her too? And then who would have expected non-human and human sexual romance to generate the tenderest love story in years?

We are in a different mode of thought. I only hope the times they are a changing for the better. And perhaps movies are the best signs they are.


Thoughts for February 18, 2018

One reason I stopped posting for about three weeks is that I came to realize that the U.S. has lost all prowess for democratic government. Our system is now best described as a bizarre plutocracy.  We have hordes of vastly wealthy people, who employ vague rules for how they generally behave towards one another, rules they fight about incessantly. Their basic rule is they will take minor advantage of one another, but they will always protect their class. Rule Number One is the plutocracy will always prevail.

It may be that most of the people have not awakened to this condition. They don’t know what to think or say about it. They have literally been struck dumb.  So when we have school shootings, the plutocracy has nothing to say about them. Consequently, they pray. If we can believe Paul Ryan, he is praying virtually all the time. This is pure emptiness. This is where we are now -- in pure emptiness.

A country that is praying always is doing nothing else. Therefore nothing is getting done. We enter a state of paralysis. And breaking out of paralysis is the hardest thing to know how to do.

Breaking out. That’s the job now

But how do we even get started?

I see no sign that anybody with much influence (are there such people?) even knows how to start.

The only thinkers are the ones who go out and kill.

With guns, in this gun besotted society, we have killed more of each other in the past fifty years, 1,516,863, than have been killed in all of America’s wars since the beginning of the nation, 1,396,733.

How do we think about that?


Thoughts for February 17, 2018

I normally find little to cheer in the writings of the New York Times columnist Bret Stephens. He is a Wall Street champion whose basic social goal is to increase the wealth of the rich and decrease the percentage of wealth held by the poorer 75% of the population. He wants a population in which a majority is always enduring financial suffering.

Still, I have to acknowledge basic sanity. In Stephens’ column this morning calling for the repeal of the Second Amendment he at least demonstrates a streak of that fundamental intellectual virtue. He recognizes there is nothing in the amendment as it is currently interpreted by the courts which pertains to the intentions of the 18th Century citizens who added it to the bill of rights. It no longer contains any of its original meaning. It has become a cause for intellectual freaks. And it is clearly an aid to murder.

I particularly applaud Stephens’ assessment that supposed conservatives who speak about the rash of shootings in schools are offering nothing but “false bromides and empty prayers.” All they can utter to parents whose children have been killed in the places where they should be safest is nonsense worth less than a pinch of fecal matter. If there was ever intellectual disgrace, this is it.

Fools like Paul Ryan who continue this practice should at least have enough empathy to shut up and not make the horror worse. What people mean by praying for people they don’t know I can’t imagine; I doubt they mean anything at all.

We have become a people whose political speech is not only meaningless; it is obscene. It spits in the faces of those whom it claims to console. What can be more foul?

So, I’ll praise an opponent who can summon that degree of honesty. We have so little of it now.


 



 
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