Joe Biden for Hillary Clinton

Could only listen to the first couple lines out of Biden tonight. Thought of Biden staffer Jeff Connaughton‘s sections in George Packer’s The Unwinding and Connaughton’s authoring The Payoff: Why Wall Street Always Wins. Philadelphia sees a string of servants to wealth putting forth a neocon hawk as the only alternative to a loud-mouthed authoritarian billionaire. USA! USA!

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On Trees and Their Absence

Roper: So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law!
More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
Roper: I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you — where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man’s laws, not God’s — and if you cut them down — and you’re just the man to do it — d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?

—Robert Bolt, A Man for All Seasons

Thinking about deforestation today.

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When Darkness Comes

In my hometown of Philadelphia an aged Paul Simon’s uninspired rendition of Bridge Over Troubled Water brings memories of 1972. I listened to Simon and Garfunkel a lot in the early 70s, and sang their songs when bicycling through New England and in Europe. In 1972 McGovern presented such hope, such a marked alternative to a criminal Nixon. I wrote lines from Peace Like a River in magic marker on my bedroom ceiling:

You can beat us with wires
You can beat us with chains
You can run out your rules
But you know you can’t outrun the history train

To me these words were a promise of life after Nixon, beyond Vietnam, the invasions of Cambodia, Laos. McGovern promised sanity, decency after the sordid thuggishness of Nixon, Agnew, Kissinger, Thiệu. Now in 2016 to succeed Obama’s drone and JSOC assassinations I am presented with the alternatives of Trump’s loud-mouthed authoritarian nightmare or Clinton’s hawkish neocon capital servitude. Darkness comes.

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We are the champions, USA! USA!

Is there something hallucinatory about Melania Trump entering and exiting the stage to the sound of a song written by a gay Parsi or is this just me?
More hallucinatory than just Melania Trump, I mean. Where is Hunter Thompson? Where is my ether?
And now Flynn chanting “USA, USA”??? Where is Michael Hastings? This is really beyond parody …

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The French are hated for their freedoms

The Guardian:

France is historically seen as standard bearer of western secular liberalism and has been singled out by Isis as a key target…

Islamic extremists may see the US as a source of moral decadence and economic exploitation, but France is seen as an atheist power which is both defending western ideals such as human rights, free speech and democracy and, in the eyes of jihadis, trying to impose them on the Islamic world.

I grew up among Americans who saw the US as a standard bearer for western secular liberalism, human rights, free speech and democracy. After the 1980s and 90s rise of the radical right, George W. Bush, Abu Ghraib, Obama’s drone war, and now Donald Trump, it seems the colors have been passed to France.

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Thought Crime

BBC:

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has suggested testing all US Muslims to see if they believe in Sharia law, and deporting those who do.…

Mr Gingrich, who was in the frame as Mr Trump’s potential running mate before Indiana Governor Mike Pence was asked, also suggested monitoring US mosques and jailing anyone who visits websites favouring a terror group.

“Anybody who goes on a website favouring Isis, or al-Qaeda, or other terrorist groups, that should be a felony, and they should go to jail,” he added.

A few months ago I was reading about the CIA’s engagement in the cultural cold war and viewed Big Jim McLain, I was a Communist for the FBI, Iron Curtain, and other artifacts of the McCarthy era. Throughout my life the McCarthy period seemed like a skeleton out of the US’s nightmare past. When my father bitterly opposed Carter’s suggestion that Boy Scouts make the rounds checking neighbor’s thermostats I didn’t understand how recent his experience with authoritarianism was.

Ray Bradbury’s epitaph is a simple one: “Author of ‘Fahrenheit 451.’” I’m thinking today that to the extent there is a war for Western civilization it is one not between English law and Sharia law, but a struggle between the literate and the functionally illiterate, between history and the ahistorical void.

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A fish rots from the head

Adrien and I would often argue about whether dictators were products of their societies or whether the inverse was true and societies were shaped by the trauma and repression of dictatorship. In Iraq I saw the kidnapping epidemic that swept through Baghdad after Saddam fell—thousands, tens of thousands of children and women were kidnapped for ransom; literally every middle-class family had a horror story—and I tried to make sense of such widespread cruelty and criminality. Perhaps, I pondered, it was the product of an inculcated degradation of public morals. As the fish rots from the head, the example of a brutal corrupt regime had brutalized and corrupted its subjects. Adrien did not agree. He would say, “Yes, but Saddam was Iraqi. He came from that society. He learned brutality and corruption from other Iraqis…” Tarek also shook his head at my theory. Society was not a single thinking thing; neither was “the people.”

—Wendell Steavenson, Circling the Square, (New York: HarperCollins, 2015), 245-46.

I’ve some idea of the effects Bush’s presidency had on the Middle East. What might be some of the lasting effects on the American psyche from this man’s tenure? Pershing Summer fears aside, what did it do to us all to have Bonzo’s instructor in the White House? I read daily in the European press of opinions on Donald Trump’s candidacy. How will the national consciousness recover from this time? What long-term damage is being done by permitting consideration of Trump as something other than a vulgar buffoon?

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The greatest generation and the last good war

We Americans have the dangerous tendency in our international thinking to take a holier-than-thou attitude toward other nations. We consider ourselves to be more noble and decent than other peoples, and consequently in a better position to decide what is right and wrong in the world. What kind of war do civilians suppose we fought, anyway? We shot prisoners in cold blood, wiped out hospitals, strafed lifeboats, killed or mistreated enemy civilians, finished off the enemy wounded, tossed the dying into a hole with the dead, and in the Pacific boiled the flesh off enemy skulls to make table ornaments for sweethearts, or carved their bones into letter openers. We topped off our saturation bombing and burning of enemy civilians by dropping atomic bombs on two nearly defenseless cities, thereby setting an all-time record for instantaneous mass slaughter.

As victors we are privileged to try our defeated opponents for their crimes against humanity; but we should be realistic enough to appreciate that if we were on trial for breaking international laws, we should be found guilty on a dozen counts. We fought a dishonorable war, because morality had a low priority in battle. The tougher the fighting, the less room for decency; and in Pacific contests we saw mankind reach the blackest depths of bestiality.

—Edgar L. Jones, “One War is Enough,” Atlantic, February 1946. Jones was an ambulance driver and journalist during World War II. Reprinted in War No More, Lawrence Rosenwald, ed., (New York: Literary Classics of the United States, Inc., 2016), 281.

I remember as a kid sharing my dad’s interest in the war in the Pacific, where he had sailed aboard Liberty ships. His telling me of American memoirs’ common mention of machine-gunning Japanese sailors in the water was at odds with the mythology served at school.

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The most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party

Bernie Sanders Endorses Hillary Clinton

The BBC reports that Bernie Sanders has endorsed Hillary Clinton, saying “there was a significant coming together between the two campaigns and we produced, by far, the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party.”

I find this improbable. I’m reflecting on the 1936 Democratic Party Platform:

12 years of Republican surrender to the dictatorship of a privileged few have been supplanted by a Democratic leadership which has returned the people themselves to the places of authority,…

We have begun and shall continue the successful drive to rid our land of kidnappers and bandits. We shall continue to use the powers of government to end the activities of the malefactors of great wealth who defraud and exploit the people.…

Monopolies and the concentration of economic power, the creation of Republican rule and privilege, continue to be the master of the producer, the exploiter of the consumer, and the enemy of the independent operator. This is a problem challenging the unceasing effort of untrammeled public officials in every branch of the Government. We pledge vigorously and fearlessly to enforce the criminal and civil provisions of the existing anti-trust laws, and to the extent that their effectiveness has been weakened by new corporate devices or judicial construction, we propose by law to restore their efficacy in stamping out monopolistic practices and the concentration of economic power.

On the one hand, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton. William Jennings Bryan. Hillary Clinton.

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UK foreign secretary: US decision on Iraqi army led to rise of Isis

Today’s Guardian:

Maybe it was too great an ambition to dismantle quite a sophisticated country with a long-established civilisation, traditions and culture of its own, and to recreate a mid-Atlantic construct of what government should look like, often going against the grain of local culture and tradition.

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