Occasional musings, Geistesblitze, photos, drawings etc. by a "resident alien", who has landed on American soil from a far-away planet called "Germany".

Monday, February 15, 2010

Books on Politics

There are some very interesting books out that deal with various aspects of the current political situation. We start with a comment by one of our "regulars" on The Forty Years War by Len Colodny and Tom Schachtman and Bomb Power by Gary Wills.


Artlvr said...

Hi Ulrich -- I've been "lurking", but hadn't much to say... Now I'm moved to comment more on the book "The Forty Years War" by Len Colodny and Tom Schachtman. They're the ones who uncovered the main source of neocon ideology over recent times: one German-born Fritz Kraemer.

They traced his deep influence on our military and politicians from clues in the Nixon tapes which had been overlooked by reporters seeking direct references to Watergate. They found that Kraemer was a mentor of Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld and especially Haig, plus many top Generals.

Kissinger too, until he was persuaded that Nixon's pragmatic approach to detente with China was more desirable than the doctrine demanding a warlike stance. At that point Kissinger broke off from Kraemer and also from Haig, who was spying on Nixon for the Joint Chiefs and even went on to forcing Nixon out through deliberately bad advice!

By the time Reagan came along, it was called Peace with Strength, but the emphasis was on coercion and covert operations rather than negotiation, even though he used the phrase "Evil Empire" only once. In Clinton's years, the neocons took advantage of his weakness during the impeachment and got him to sign War Powers legislation and also funding for Iraqi "freedom fighters"!

G W Bush 43 was their boy totally, as can be seen in the Republican platform of 2000 (well before 9-11), and in the choice of Cheney as V.P. They always intended a war in Iraq, but Bush hid it in his campaign by saying he wasn't for any "nation-building". He even appointed John Bolton, a known U.N.-hater, as ambassador to the U.N... Bush ramped up his War on Terror rhetoric to ridiculous lengths, red and orange alerts all over airports and airwaves, and posing on naval ships. Cheney is still flagrantly undermining Obama by trying to paint him as "soft".

Colodny's line about Palin is priceless -- he notes the neocons' "love of Palin is George Bush in drag." The authors also say that they've merely opened the door, and more research is under way now. The old militarism must be understood to be costly, pernicious, and polarizing our country toward civil violence and national impotence. We must get over the pervading unhealthy focus on "The Enemy" -- most recently identified as China in our military's 2002 and 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review!

Garry Wills also has a new book "Bomb Power", pointing out that the President is a civilian, not a military Commander-in-Chief to be saluted as if a general in uniform! Wills goes back to the sense of the Constitution and various legal irregularities throughout our history since its ratification. He uses the term "bomb power" to include all the secret security apparatus and militarism taking control following the WW 2 bomb development project.

Ulrich said...

@Artlvr: Needless to say, I find the German connection via Fritz Kraemer very intriguing--I've never heard of him and will try to find out more about him. I'll get back to this.

Heika said...

If the topic is political books, I have to suggest Chris Hedges's "Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and The Triumph of Spectacle," which argues, forcefully I think, that we are moving steadily toward a mindless society ripe for a right-wing takeover. Because I've been reading a good deal lately about the dark side of the Internet--do we really want to give up the right to privacy; we we really think that individual genius is a thing of the past because the "hive mind" can always produce something equally wonderful; is the group always superior to the individual--in books like "You Are Not a Gadget" and "The Future of the Internet," I was primed to agree with Hedges, but even if I hadn't been, he makes a convincing case.

Given how disappointed--actually outraged--I am by what Obama has turned out to be, a front man for Goldman Sachs, I was especially impressed with Hedges's discussion of the Obama brand and how it was sold to believing suckers like myself.

Sorry, Urich, I'd like to make a German connection here, and I can't. I do think, though, that this book deserves a wide audience. The problem will be what in the world do we do after reading it, Sharing it on Twitter doesn't seem the appropriate response. It seems more appropriate here on your blog, where thankfully words still seem to be a passion.

Ulrich said...

@Heika: I'm happy to provide a forum for "firebrands" like you--we did this during the recent presidential campaign, and I see no reason to discontinue this tradition--there's no need for a German connection in every thread.

I haven't read Hedges's book and cannot say anything about it except that it indeed appears to be worth reading--I, too, am completely stunned by the difference between the Obama campaign and the Obama White House and eager to hear explanations that go beyond platitudes or are manifestly contradicted by the evidence, like "the Senate is the problem". The Senate is indeed dysfunctional as a political body, but that doesn't explain what the Obama administration has done/not done by half. Just one example, one that is particularly troubling to me: Obama follows the judicial precedents set by the former administration w.r.t the treatment of the prisoners at Gitmo (especially the suspension of habeas corpus, which is a benchmark for a society governed by law, not by the whim of its rulers)--and this from a former professor of constitutional law!

I am also bewildered by the "new collectivists" who seem to believe that "decision making by committee" yields superior results as long as the "committee" consists of people meeting on the web.

Now, how does Hedges tie these strands together?

fikink said...

Ulrich, thank you for this forum.
@Heika, I also intend to read Hedge's book and thank you for the recommendation.
It is a subject that is in the air here and is particularly appropriate to my individual struggle to keep my information mine.

Ulrich said...

@artlvr: I did a little clicking on Fritz Kraemer. The wiki entry is remarkably silent on Kramer's politics and focuses entirely on his military expertise--I understand why the book comes as a revelation to many.

Other things of interest: There is no entry for him in the German wikipedia, and there was also a General of the Waffen-SS named Fritz Krämer, who has his own wiki entry in the American edition, again remarkably "value-free", given what the Waffen-SS stood for.

try said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Heika said...

Hi Ulrich and Finkink, Well my garbled praise of Hedges misled you both. Hedges doesn't talk that much about the very real threat of the Internet being used to invade and monitor every nook and cranny of our lives, although I can see how you got that impression. I meant that I have been reading books that stress the threat in the collectivist urges that are being celebrated on the Internet and ready to accept Hedges' notion that if the country gets any less intellectual and anymore group, as opposed to individual, oriented, it will be ripe for a takeover by a dictatorship because so few people will be left who can think with any complexity.

Hedges's argument is really about the many ways in which the populace is increasingly becoming semi literate and . (His figure is 30 per cent of the population is illiterate or semi-literate) and unskilled in thinking about politics . As he puts it, "We are a culture that has been denied, or has passively given up, the linguistic and intellectual tools to cope with complexity." For him--and for me--that makes the country ripe for the appeal of a demagogue. I mean how else do you explain people admiring Sarah Palin, who couldn't put two coherent thoughts together in succession.

For Finkink, if you are interested in books that share your concern about the increasingly chanted mantra that privacy is an old social norm we should rid ourselves of--This idea was first publicly espoused by the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, a man who obviously hasn't yet had a enough of a life to keep private--take a look at Jaron Lanier's "You Are Not A Gadget," in which he says correctly, that if a government or corporation were espousing some of the things high tech gurus like Zuckerberg and the Google crowd are saying, everyone would be yelling and screaming about it being Orwell's "1984" for real.

Also, see Johnathan Zittrain, "The Fuiture of the Internet and how to Stop It." Both Lanier and Zittrain are fans of what technology can do and really worried about what it has become. Me too. I used to love all the web sites where really informed people published information about their passions from music to cooking to the Constitution just because they loved talking about subjects so dear to their hearts. Now everywhere I turn, there is some mindless nitwit recording his/her every daily move or someone trying to get me to buy something or else share my every thought and reaction to the world while making sure that my friends become my "followers." Just creeps me out.

It's late. I'm tired. I hope this made sense. Apologies for misleading you both about Hedges, but he is really very good on the topic, albeit he offers no solutions. I'm sorry to say.

Marlene said...

Hi, I feel I have to pitch in here, having just read an interview with Gerald Graff, the author of "Clueless in Academe," who says something very similar to what Heika says Chris Hedges maintains. Graff worries about the political consequences of students' cluelessness but he lays a lot of the blame on academics who don't care if their students can understand an argument, let alone make one:

"I think cluelessness in academe is a major threat to democracy, especially at a moment when talk-back radio, Cable TV talk shows, the Internet, and the reliance of politicians on opinion-polling have made a certain kind of public debate—even if it’s debate within narrowly constrained parameters—more immediately important in American and global politics. In these conditions, one needs not only an ‘informed’ citizenry, but a citizenry that’s sophisticated enough in weighing arguments to spot logical contradictions and non-sequiturs, not to mention outright lies."

Reminds me of a book I read years ago, Neil Postman's "Amusing Ourselves to Death." The question is, of course, what do we do to help students--and for that matter ourselves--frame, follow, or challenge an argument.

Ulrich said...

@Heika and Marlene: You two can certainly make a day start on a gloomy note. But all of this strikes very close to home with me: What I have encountered is the attitude that all opinions are created equal--the notion that an opinion may or may not make sense in light of known facts is considered 'elitist'--who are you to tell me what to think? In other words, as soon as something is declared an opinion, it's above criticism.

A long time ago, when I started my academic career at SUNY Buffalo, I learned that in a class on logic, which also dealt with the so-called informal fallacies (ad hominem, ad populum, false alternative and so on), students got bonus points when they brought examples of such fallacies used in political speeches. I thought that was inspired on the part of the instructor b/c I have heard speeches that consisted of nothing but a string of such fallacies. One of my favorite examples of the slippery slope fallacy is Anthony Scalia's argument against gay marriage: When we allow it, we are on the way to allowing marriages between people and animals--people say this actually with a straight face, and it helps enormously when you have a term to characterize the type of "argument" involved.

Which is to say, teachers have to step to the plate--and that is difficult in the present political and cultural climate

Ulrich said...

Here's another essential for a well-informed citizen: Being able to look through disingenious and self-serving, if not outright dishonest, use of statistics, a practice Republicans have raised to a fine art. For example, whenever someone proposes to raise taxes on the very wealthy who disproportionately benefitted from the Bush tax cuts, Republicans take the projected tax revenue and divide it by the total no. of households, not just the no. of households affected by it, which makes it appear as if everyone's taxes would be raised. This statistic is arithmetically correct, but totally misleading. It's as faulty as when someone claims the average income of every patron in a neighborhood bar has risen by several million when he sees Bill Gates walk in--arithmetically correct, but practically meaningless.

Ah, books: Joel Best has written some very illuminating books about the abuse of statistics, e.g. Damned Lies and Statistics. Untangling Numbers from the Media, Politicians, and Activists. I believe this should be a required topic in a civics class.

ArtLvr said...

I hope you all saw the TV special on CNN Presents last night (Sat. March 6) called "Scream Bloody Murder"? It was a stunning recap of Christiane Amanpour's work reporting on genocides and the indifferent global response to most of them!

She starts with Raphael Lemkin, a Polish lawyer who coined the term "genocide" in reaction to the Turks' ethnic cleansing of Christian Armenians. Lemkin emigrated to the US in 1941 and got the concept recognized as a Crime against Humanity, forming the basis for the Nuremburg trials. The UN later adopted a resolution requiring action by its members in such cases, futilely as it turns out...

The rest of her mind-blowing presentation shows how the world has mostly ignored genocide in modern times, from Cambodia's Khmer Rouge atrociities, Bosnian Serb Christians' massacre of Moslems, Saddam's gassiing of Iraq's Kurds, the slaughter in Ruanda by the Hutus, and now the mass murders in the west of Sudan (Darfur).

In each case she shows how global response was feeble: Reagan was undercutting his State Dept.'s negotiators trying to settle the Iraq/Iran conflict when it turned out he was secretly selling arms to Iran. Bush "Sr." was given authority to liberate Kuwait but not to tackle Saddam in Baghdad. Bill Clinton campaigned on a promise to relieve the victims in Bosnia, but as President reneged until it was too late. The UN sent a tiny force of peace-keepers to Ruanda but ignored pleas from their Canadian general that troops had to be augmented to stem the coming bloodbath, and made him withdraw in despair. The action against Sudan was blocked in the UN by the Chinese veto: the Chinese were heavily into buying oil there and selling arms to Sudan's Arabs.

Christiane does seem to hold out hope that the current reductions in our newspapers' foreign correspondants will be offset by public outcry via the rise of the internet reporting such as we have seen from Iran. She also ended her report with the unimaginable success of a compassionate reconciliation program in Ruanda, where killers and survivors of their frenzy have made peace, and are once more living and working side by side.