As published at Dissident Voice, CounterCurrents, Information Clearing House and Intrepid Report, 3/10/14:
I’ve been coming to Chicago forever, but always just for a day or two. The first time was when I was only a teenager and visiting an aunt in St Louis. Another time, it was to take a physical exam for now-defunct Midway Airlines. I was trying to get a job as a baggage handler. The day before, though, I had been at a Philly party where someone handed me a joint. Never one to refuse heartfelt hospitality, I inhaled, but somehow this didn’t prevent me from being hired by Midway. Perhaps they used the same urinalyst, piss parser or golden shower technician as Major Leagues Baseball, you know, the one that kept clearing Sammy Sosa even as he hit, like, 600 home runs in one season. In any case, I never took that Midway job, for I had found another while waiting for their decision. Back in the late 80’s, it was that easy to find work, so even a no-skill, no-degreed, beer swilling and, occasionally, very occasionally, actually, pot smoking, coke inhaling or acid dropping bum like me could pick and choose. If you could lift stuff, no matter how awkwardly, you were hired.
In recent years, I had mostly come to Chicago to do poetry readings. Though my 15 minutes as a fringe poet is rapidly flaming out, there’s still a bit of kerosene left in the guttering lamp. Gone are the days when I could be paid nicely to squeak, squawk and bloviate to a full Santa Fe theater as a guest of the Lannan Foundation, or be flown to Paris, Berlin or Reykjavik to make people wish they had stayed at home instead, but invitations to read still trickle in. Shoot straight, though, and doors will slam in your face, buddy, if not worse, much worse. When I could hardly think and write, I was being published in the Guardian, New York Times and being interviewed on the BBC, but now, I can barely give my seasoned blathering away.
So an invitation to read at Roosevelt University brought me to Chicago this time, and since I wanted to linger a while, I wiggled my way into an additional reading at Wilbur Wright, a community college. Through an informal arrangement with a poet friend, Daniel Borzutzky, I ended up talking to his students after they had discussed Ariel Dorfman’s Death and the Maiden, a play about political torture. To give this work more context, Borzutzky’s also showed us a YouTube video of an escrache demonstration in Buenos Aires.
Started in Argentina, escrache has spread to other Latin American countries as a popular movement to oust, shame and ostracize retired generals, politicians and other powerful figures who have committed unpunished crimes. After locating the criminal in question, the organizers would inform his neighbors that here lives a state-sanctioned mass murderer or torturer, or a looter of public funds. Later, thousands of people would converge on this man’s house to publicly indict the blood-drenched fat cat. Though this Latin American version of a Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bush or Obama is never physically attacked, the monster will be shunned by many of his neighbors, with local businesses even refusing to sell him a meal or a newspaper.
Critics of escrache have denounced it as a form of vigilante justice and, as the outburst of an angry mob, should be declared illegal, but the protesters are only reacting to acts that are themselves clearly illegal, not to mention outrageously immoral. The protester’s public harassment does not compare to their targets’ torturing and/or raping, then throwing their victims from airplanes into the ocean, or kidnapping their children and erasing their identities.
Too often, the state will use the legality argument to bind its opponents, while doing whatever it pleases, legal or not. Not satisfied with a monopoly on violence, the state also wants to be the sole interpreter of what’s right and wrong, as implied by the often bandied about legality question, and the more criminal this state is, the more illegal, the more it will shriek about the need for everyone else to walk the straight and narrow, according it its own power-drunk markings. Talking to Borzutsky’s class, I asked the students to consider escrache in the North American context. Who are our criminals in high places and what should we do about them? Unlike our southern neighbors, we have neither the clarity to identify our enemies from within, nor the courage or unity to confront them. To be fair, though, our top criminals don’t move among us, with many never even mentioned by our obfuscating media, as great a killer of brain cells as any, and worst than any glue. Even when not anonymous, however, the most malignant Americans are hidden behind guarded gates, bullet proof glass or acres of real estate, so that it would take considerable enterprise to target them.
When faced with an illegal and ultra violent enemy, we must resort to any and all tricks, be extra clever and strike hard, for real, but most of us are too tightly bound to our bifurcated harness to do more than jiggle, every once in a while, an electronic voting machine. Geez, I wonder who they’ll let us pretend to vote for the next time, if there’s a next time?
On one of my three days in Chicago, I wandered around West Town. I began in Wicker Park, a Polish neighborhood and Nelson Algren’s old haunt turned barrio Boricua turned hipster haven turned, finally, into the yuppy bastion it is today, but not before considerable acrimony and even vandalism from the retreating hep cats. Lawdy, I know it’s awfully silly to regurgitate black slang from nearly a century ago, but hep cats are no more hooey than the hipster tag. On snowy, icy or slushy sidewalks, I then trudged into Humboldt Park, Chicago’s current San Juan. There, I spotted New Life Covenant, with its large banners announcing that it is a “CHURCH FOR THE HURTING.” Aren’t we all, my fellow collateral damages or direct hits? Finally, I found myself in what’s left of the Ukrainian Village. At the corner of Western and Chicago, there was a man of about 40-years-old walking with a cardboard sign in the middle of the street, between cars. Increasingly common across America, this sight will be ubiquitous soon enough. I got close enough to read, “PLEASE SPARE SOME CHANGE?!? HOMELESS, HUNGRY, BROKE & COLD.”
Chris was his name, and he told me had been homeless for 14 months, and usually made about $20 a day, panhandling. Wanting to hear more, I offered to buy Chris lunch. Bacci was nearby, but Chris said, “I can’t eat pizza. I have no front teeth.” To prove it, Chris flashed his nude gums. Across from Bacci, there was Village Pizza, and since it also served submarines, we went there instead. Needing something hot, I ordered a modest heap of ravioli that turned out God-awful, while Chris went for Italian beef with French fries. They looked much tastier than my red slop, that’s for sure.
“So, man, what did you use to do?”
“I was a bike courier. That’s how I lost my front teeth. Someone rear-ended me!”
“Holy shit! So did you get, ah, compensation from your employer?”
“No way, man!”
“But you were at work. You were working!”
“No, no, that’s not how they saw it. This is how it works. If I had a package on me, then they would count it as me being on the job, but I was between deliveries, so I wasn’t technically working for them.”
“But you were only out on the streets to do deliveries. You weren’t just riding your bike around!”
“I know, but that’s not how they saw it.”
“OK, OK, so they hired you as a contractor, and not as a regular employee on the clock?”
“Yeah, that’s basically it.”
“Man, that’s ridiculous!”
“Yeah, so one second I’m on the bike, then suddenly I’m in an ambulance, and since I had no health insurance, I still owe the hospital all this money.”
“So what did you do when you got out?”
“I didn’t feel like being a bike courier any more, so I got a job with Allied, the moving company. That lasted for a few years. Then I got a job at another moving company, but business was so slow, they had to let me go eventually. That was my last job. The accident, though, wasn’t the only reason I quit being a bike courier. I really got out because the money wasn’t as good any more.”
“What do you mean?”
“I used to make about 750 a week, for only four days of work, but then it got down to only 225, and I had to work all five days. Everything changed after 9/11.”
“Hmmm, how did that affect your job?”
“The security, man! Before 9/11, I could go into an elevator and take my package directly to the office, so I would be out of there in two minutes, but after 9/11, I had to go through all these people, from the front desk to the mail room, just to deliver my stupid package, and I had to fill out all of these forms, too, so what used to take me two minutes to do now took me 15 or even 20, so at the end of the day, I couldn’t deliver as many packages, and I was being paid by the package.”
“And it’s not like terrorists are itching to send package bombs!”
“Yeah, but people were so scared then. Plus, you have the internet now, and that has hurt also. Before, companies had to hire bike couriers to deliver everything, but now, they can send all these images and documents through the internet.”
“So what’s the plan now? What are you going to do?”
“I’m on three waiting lists to get into these recovery houses. I’m hoping it won’t be more than another month.”
“Are you an addict?”
“I’m in AA, but I haven’t drank in a while.”
“So the recovery house is just a way to go inside.”
“Yeah, and to have an address, because you can’t even get a job without an address.”
“Are you from Chicago originally?”
“Yeah, born and raised here, in McHenry, and I have never left except for when I was a roadie for these bands.”
“Oh, yeah? Which bands?”
“You ever heard of Alkaline Trio? No? Well, that’s the most famous one, but I’ve also worked for Sidekick Kato and Apocalypse Hoboken.”
As this civilization goes into serious decline, even its band names get really uninspired and stupid. We can’t even do nihilism right. Around 1990, I was the road manager for indie-folk Baby Flameheads, but I only lasted for half a tour. Night after night, we’d hit another bar, and there was nothing for me to do but get juiced up, through two or three sets, but then I was expected to safely drive the van away after last call. Yes, curse me all of you who are blame-free! As a young man, I made many sapling mistakes, but now that I’m older, I’m blundering as a middle-aged fool.
“Chris, don’t you have family that can help you out? Where are your parents?”
“My mom’s still alive, but she’s remarried, and my stepfather hates my guts. He gets really pissed off if he thinks she’s giving me money, so I don’t want to bother her.”
“What does he do?”
“He was laying concrete until he was laid off about five years ago, but he’s about to retire anyway, so it doesn’t really matter. He’s saved a lot of money.”
“How much money did this guy make?”
“A lot, man! He was making $38 an hour at the end.”
“Yeah, and he’d put half of each paycheck into the bank, but with what’s left, he still bought whatever he wanted. He’s not hurting. He’s loaded!”
“$38 an hour! You’re lucky to make 10 these days.”
“And how about your mom? What does she do?”
“She works in a bar in McHenry.” Immediately cheered by this thought, Chris beamed his pink smile. “If I was still drinking, I could get drunk for free each time I go see my mom!”
“Hey, it’s very good you don’t miss drinking. How much did you drink?”
“Oh, man, I can’t even tell you. I’m half Slovak and half Bulgarian. Both sides of my family are drinkers. You ever heard of rakia? It’s a Bulgarian brandy. Try it sometime. It will knock you out!”
By this time, I had managed to ingest my ravioli, plus the equally bad accompanying salad. Chris, however, had only eaten half of his sandwich and fries. If I had less manners, I would have grabbed at least a few of his fries to chase away the bad taste in my mouth. Chris ended up throwing half of his lunch away.
Unlike what his sign said, Chris wasn’t that hungry after all, but this penchant for wasting food and everything else is very indicative of our culture. Coming from Vietnam to the States as an 11-year-old, I was immediately struck by how much food was wasted each day in the school cafeteria. Quite casually, my classmates would toss away even unopened cartons of orange juice or milk. Later, a girlfriend would laugh when she saw me struggling to finish my dinner, “You don’t have to eat it all, you know!” She thought it was cute. To this day, I won’t throw away anything that may have a milligram of nutrient on it, and that includes fast food ketchup packet. It’s not just that I will eat absolutely everything I’ve paid for, but that a bunch of people have gone through a tremendous amount of trouble and coordination to make and deliver, for example, this roll of bread, red onion, string bean or slice of (sorta) cheese to (sorta) nourish me, so I won’t insult them by throwing even a speck of it into the trash can, though those ravioli surely deserved to be flung from the top of the Sears Tower.
Among the minor quirks of an empire in decline is its gross celebration of gluttony, hence our huge restaurant portions and thousands of eating contests, with some of these revolting spectacles even shown on television. We also have celebrity chefs, just like the Romans in decadence, but before this American Century, however, before this epoch of oil-fueled prosperity and endless war, people were also fascinated by the spectacle of not eating. They would pay to see Starving Artists and Living Skeletons. Soon enough, though, these types will reappear in ballooning numbers among us, and we won’t even need tickets to gawk. Too feeble to mount even an escrache, we deserve nothing less.
All over Chicago, there are these posters that plead for donations to food banks, with “1 in 5 kids faces hunger,” and I’ve seen enough homeless Americans rummaging through dumpsters for bits of meat and limp French fries to know that hunger has become a serious issue in this greatest of nations, the indispensible one and global beacon, but too many of us will keep squandering all resources as if the worst is not coming, for even as we sink into Third World status, we can’t or won’t shake imperial habits.
Perhaps we’re only mirroring our obscene leaders, for they routinely issue pompous pronouncements and threats as the rest of the world laugh in incredulity or contempt. Even as we support Neo-Nazis in the Ukraine, for example, Hillary Clinton sees fit to compare Vladimir Putin to Hitler, and Chris Murphy, a Democratic senator from Connecticut, huffs that “Europe is not where they need to be right now. I think they are willing to give Putin a much longer leash than we are.” Nice word choice, eh? I wonder how “leash” translates back in Moscow. Personally, I think we should apply the tightest of leashes to Obama, Kerry, Hagel, Holder, Pelosi, McCain and the rest of our psychotic leadership, for only after we’ve roped them all in, then away, very far away, can this increasingly sad country be rediscovered and rebuilt.
Monday, March 10, 2014
As published at Dissident Voice, CounterCurrents, Information Clearing House and Intrepid Report, 3/10/14:
Sunday, March 9, 2014
I was supposed to have a debate with Taras Kuzio, but Kuzio was so offended by the first question from our Iranian hostess that he terminated the studio feed right after his answer, and even before I had chance to respond. Among Kuzio's titles is Head of Mission of the NATO Information and Documentation Centre in Kiev, and Marzieh Hashemi had asked him if Russia had a right to enter the Crimea. Do watch if you want to see this odd exchange, and much more. Iran's Press TV, 3/8/14:
Press TV has interviewed Linh Dinh, an author and political analyst from Philadelphia, to discuss the situation in Ukraine.
What follows is a rough transcription of the interview.
Press TV: Your take on that same question; of course, our guest [Mr. Taras Kuzio] said that the Russians, those who speak the Russian language are never threatened, but of course we did see that one of the first acts that the new government in Kiev actually started to do was to make illegal the Russian language. But going back to the original question, let’s look at why do you think, first of all, that Russia is even in Crimea?
Dinh: Another question to ask is does the USA have a right to interfere with the Ukrainians? As Victoria Nuland admitted, the US has spent five billion dollars in this regime change in Kiev. The USA is also heavily involved in this chaos.
As for Crimea, Sevastopol has been a Russian naval base going back to the 18th century, so they do have a history there. And most of the people there happen to be Russian – you know, Russian speakers. So if they want to be reincorporated back into Russia, then that’s an expression of the popular vote.
The US is calling that illegal, and yet it is supporting the protesters in Kiev. Why do they support the illegal deposing of the Ukrainian president in Kiev, and yet call the popular vote in Crimea illegal? There’s a hypocrisy there; there’s an inconsistency there.
It’s not as simple as Putin going into Ukraine and taking Ukrainian territory.
Press TV: Let me expand on something you just mentioned because you asked why was the US dealing with the protesters and supporting them? I want to look at that. Why was the United States, as coming from the other side, obviously, of the world – why were they so intent on supporting the protesters in Kiev? What do they want to gain?
Dinh: Well, you have to look at the big picture. Since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the US has been relentlessly trying to incorporate the countries of the former Warsaw Pact into its domain, into its sphere of influence, into NATO. You’re talking about Poland, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Romania, on and on, and now it’s including Ukraine.
Georgia, a little while ago, the US also instigated a war to encircle and provoke Russia. This is part of the grander scheme of the United States to encircle, isolate Russia, and to place missiles right next to its border.
It’s not as simple as Ukraine’s internal issues are at stake here, but the US design on Russia.
Press TV: Do you think that if, for example, Moscow had not moved into Crimea, really do you think the United States would pose a threat to the Russians by actually having that sphere of influence expand?
Dinh: Certainly, also because of the Russian naval base in the Black Sea. That is a crucial Russian asset. There is no way Russia will allow that to be taken away.
This is very paradoxical because by moving into the Ukraine, the US has allowed Russia to take Crimea for free, so to speak, and to not pay the annual rent for using the naval base in Sevastopol.
So, this is already backfiring for the USA. Putin, by not firing a shot so far, by shedding no blood so far, is already gaining from this.
Press TV: You talked about backfiring; I want to look at that. We know that Moscow has already threatened Kiev with cutting off the gas. What would happen right now if that would actually take place, if Moscow would put the pressure on the Ukraine and demand all the back pay for the gas and basically cut off the supplies right now? Tell me the type of effect that that could have on Ukraine right now.
Dinh: Before I go on, I want to say that I’m not trying to make light of the Ukrainians’ genuine hatred of the Russians from the Soviet years. They have legitimate beef against the Russians.
But by joining NATO, they will not gain from this because they thought they were deposing a kleptocrat in their own president.
The Western bankers will come in and loot them, impoverish them much worse because the Western banks will loan them money but impose austerity plans which will hurt the ordinary Ukrainians.
So, the Western banks are not going to come in to save them. The Western countries are not going to come in to save them. Just look at what happened to Greece.
Ukraine will become a basket base, will become impoverished, and the regular people will suffer. That’s just from the Western side of the equation.
As for the Russians, they can retaliate also. They’ve been selling natural gas to the Ukraine at a 30 percent discount. They can take that back. That would hurt the Ukraine considerably.
They’ve also been lending the Ukraine a lot of money. They have a lot of economic leverage.
By siding with NATO, they’re hurting themselves.
Press TV: Your take, sir, is it all about Russia’s interests and also the United States’ interests, or are they genuinely concerned about the situation in Ukraine?
Dinh: The US is definitely not concerned about Ukraine because here you find it supporting neo-Nazis and fascists, just as in Syria they’re supporting terrorists. The US has no ideological foundation for this. It’s just using this situation to harass Russia and also for its own financial interests.
What the US really wants to do is to bring natural gas and oil from the Caspian Sea to Europe through the Ukraine, if possible - but that’s for the long term - and also to use its banks to loot yet another country. It has financial and military objectives in mind. It’s not about helping Ukrainians. It’s always talking about freedom and democracy, but the US is never about that because you find it supporting terrorists in certain situations, and now supporting neo-Nazis, which is highly farcical considering that Hillary Clinton actually called Putin “Hitler” when the US is actually supporting neo-Nazis.
Press TV: What do you think, in general – we have seen for example during the demonstrations in Kiev several protesters killed, and now we have heard this leaked conversation between EU Policy Chief Catherine Ashton and the Estonian foreign minister saying that the former President Viktor Yanukovich was not responsible for the killing of protesters.
I want to look at this modus operandi because it appears that if we look at countries around the world, where there are some local demonstrations, usually the turn of event comes when individuals start getting killed and then the Western media has its play on actually that particular government trying to kill its own people. Do you see this as an MO that seems to be repeated when we see it time and time again in different parts of the world?
Dinh: Yes, just like in Syria with the poison gas, here you have it again. They want to escalate the situation. Some protest leaders had snipers shooting at protesters and also the police to escalate the situation and to place blame on the incumbent government.
Who does this serve? This serves the US media, serves US interests; it gives them a pretext to come in to intervene here.
There’s no proof of the CIA involvement, but it certainly looks like there are CIA fingerprints all over this.
Press TV: I just want to say really quickly to our viewers that our previous guest, Mr. Taras Kuzio, who was in Kiev, actually left the program and refused to speak because he felt that it was biased. It was unfortunate that he didn’t stay so we could really have a debate about this subject.
Mr. Dinh, what happens now? We know that now in Crimea they’re calling for a referendum in eight days. What happens if that takes place and in eight days the people say they want to become a part of Russia? Tell me possible scenarios coming from the EU and the United States at that point.
Dinh: It looks like it’s going to go back into Russia. -But what about other Russian-speaking regions in Ukraine? Ukraine is definitely going to lose Crimea, it appears. It’s running the risk of losing other parts of its country as well.
Already it’s losing its territory and it will not benefit from an incorporation into the European Union...
Press TV: You don’t think Washington will prevent that from happening?
Dinh: What can it do? I mean, it’s threatening sanctions.
The Russians also have economic leverage against the USA. China and Russia are united in this. They can devalue the US dollar.
The US is indebted to these countries. By dumping US bonds, they can devalue the US dollar and really hurt the US economy.
Europe is also not on board Washington’s threat of sanctions because Europe is very dependent on Russian natural gas. The Germans are not speaking as belligerently as Washington, and even the English, even the UK is not speaking as -
Press TV: We know that President Francois Hollande, in talking to US president Obama, is saying it appears that he is on board with putting more pressure on Moscow. Your take on that and on Holland’s perspective in general; could it backfire on Paris?
Dinh: Of course it can backfire on Paris because Hollande is not even that popular in France. Your regular French citizens are not behind this.
Some of the European leaders are giving a bit of lip service to Washington.
But there is nothing to gain for regular citizens in the European Union because why do they want Ukraine in the European Union?
Ukraine is already a struggling country. There is nothing to gain by the European Union incorporating Ukraine. So, I think this is a lot of hot air.
Most of the hot air is coming from Washington DC itself. But, it has to be careful because Washington [a slip of the tongue here. I mean Russia] can retaliate, and China is behind Russia.
Even Japan, normally very much behind Washington, is being very cautious.
Instead of isolating Russia, Washington might find itself more isolated after this incident and during this incident.
It’s very funny because Putin is so composed during this whole episode, and Washington is talking so hysterically.
There are very few options it can resort to short of outright war, which would be suicidal for everybody. I don’t think that would happen but you never know because the leadership in Washington DC is so insane right now, so psychotic right now.
Press TV: This whole event, the situation now with Russia and, of course, we have seen over the last three years, up and down, with Washington dealing with Syria and saying they’re going to have war, and then not, and then again threatening, tell me about, as far as Washington’s global image right now, do you think that it has taken a beating, that perhaps the majority of people around the world no longer see Washington, as Washington likes to believe it is, in taking the lead in the world? Do you think that Washington has lost its credibility?
Dinh: Certainly. A lot of this posturing is played up for this domestic audience. You know, it’s to convince the people back here that the US has a lot of leverage.
But worldwide, every time it starts to bluster and talk like this, people simply laugh because it does not back up anything and it just shows how out of touch the Washington leadership is.
A lot of this posturing is done for the American audience.
Press TV: Just one minute left, I want to know your perspective, your take on the future of Moscow-Washington relations. We have seen not that long ago Hillary Clinton with Sergei Lavrov pushing the reset button. It seems that button is stuck now. Where do you see it going from here?
Dinh: Russia knows full well Washington’s bad intentions. I think more consolidation between China and Russia, and former US allies moving closer to China and Russia, because it realizes that by being Washington’s puppets there is very little to gain.
The US is a sinking empire. Moving forward, it would drag its allies down.
I think many of these countries are already hedging their bets. They’re trading with China, for example, in their own currencies.
I just mentioned Japan and Russia, Japan is also dependent on Russian natural gas and oil. These countries are rethinking their alliance with Washington.
Press TV: We are sorry that Ukraine’s expert, Mr. Taras Kuzio out of Kiev, decided not to participate in this program because we at Press TV pride ourselves in having a debate, and pride ourselves in actually having two very different perspectives on every subject. Perhaps another time Mr. Kuzio would like to join us here on Press TV.
Monday, March 3, 2014
As published at Dissident Voice, CounterCurrents, Information Clearing House and Intrepid Report, 3/3/14:
The story of Joliet is familiar enough. With its industries gone, a city turns to the casino as a last ditch salvation, but cannot reverse its decline. The details of this disintegration, though, can be interesting. Take two recent crimes. In one, four people, two men and two women, invited two male friends over for some partying, which in America nearly always involves alcohol and/or drugs and the promise of sex, but the two guests ended up being strangled to death, with their corpses serving as an uneven mattress for some macabre screwing. Yes, you read that right, two of their killers ended up fornicating on top of the cadavers, though, to be fair, the revelers were sensitive enough to place a dirty sheet between the live and dead bodies. Done, they tried to saw up their victims, but without the right tools, the process turned tiresome and messy, so one of the women went out to get a chainsaw or two, and that’s how the story leaked, oozed and splattered. When cops came, they discovered the dead dudes in one room, while in the adjacent one, three ensouled and sentient beings, fastidiously and exactly made in the image of God, no less, were playing video games.
The perpetrators are all white, and the victims black, but they had also been friends before the incident. One of the white women had a child with a black man, and a black victim had a white fiancé. It’s not clear, then, to what degree race was a factor. Another question to ask is why didn’t this bizarre double murder and abuse of corpse case make more of a splash nationally? Granted, we live in a culture where the media can suppress (or inflate) anything, where a Honey Boo Boo’s fart resonates much more loudly than the bomb that killed Michael Hastings, and information flow rests in the hands of a remarkably homogeneous group that also dominates our feeble protest zone, but one would think more people would know about such an iconic crime that illustrates all too perfectly our remarkable degeneracy and blood splattered ennui. Mentally and spiritually voided, let’s kill even our buddies, not to rob them, but just for the hell of it, then why not, let’s fuck for a while on top of Eric and Terrance, then dismember them, and when that doesn’t quite work, let’s play some cool video games for an eternity. Also, when a crime is committed by a group, be it four, ten or an army, it is even more of an indictment of the culture.
Extremely violent, always farcical but draped in a thin coat of kitsch, that’s who we have become in 2014. The other day, John Kerry, liberal darling and anti-war activist, delivered this straight faced howler, “You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pre-text,” and Kerry wasn’t talking about the vicious American attacks on Iraq, Afghanistan or Libya, but Russia’s bloodless entry into the Crimea.
The second recent Joliet crime of note also involves a corpse, but no murder. A homeless couple checked into a Joliet motel to stay warm and to, well, party. They gulped so much vodka, she died, but that didn’t stop the boyfriend from continuing. Why stop, he reasoned, when there was still money left on her debit card, so he whooped it up for two more days lying next to his serene and, finally, easygoing girlfriend, and only called an ambulance when there was no more cash left to withdraw. To avoid any penalty or unpleasantness from management, he did beat the noon checkout time by over by an hour, and though the putrefaction had admittedly befouled the sheet a bit, it wasn’t like it had been that clean anyway. Hell, he wouldn’t be surprised if they kept it as is for the next guest. Now, the theme of living next to a deceased loved one is as old as the earth, and turns up in folklore, literature and the movies. Just think of Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” or Hitchcock’s Psycho, for example. The judge was not impressed by Derek Tanke’s cultural awareness or performance art skills, however, and so slapped him with a 1 ½ year prison sentence.
Already in Chicago for two college readings, I decided to visit Joliet also. I had thought about staying at the Bel-Aire, since it was likely super cheap, but there was no information about it online. Further, the logistics for my week-long trip were already complicated and taxing enough, what with four nights of sleeping on a Greyhound bus, so I decided to play it safe and book a room at the Harrah’s Casino Hotel. At check in, I wouldn’t yield my debit card since I knew it had less money on it than a corpse’s, so the unsmiling clerk said a cash deposit would do, but I firmly refused this also, “Don’t worry, I won’t order any room service or porn!” Stiffly, he gave me my key. All other Harrah’s employees were as chirpy as could be, however, for each had apparently been well instructed to shout out greetings to every guest. At only $53, my room turned out to be quite palatial, at least by my gutter standards. There was even an upholstered couch. Smiling, I peeled the layers of clothes from my filthy carcass. Such a deal, but Joliet in the dead of winter is hardly a vacation destination.
I’ve written a story about haunted hotel rooms, and before I fell asleep that night, I also thought about the corpse in the Bel-Aire, across the Des Plaines River. Composed primarily of a bed and bathroom, each hotel room is so intimate yet so public, and in each, so many tragedies and farces have occurred. Opening an eye, I half expected to see a drunken ghost standing by the bed. Come, you can lie down next to me, and though I have nothing for you to drink tonight, I’ll buy you a beer first thing in the morning.
In any small American city or town, the most beautiful and dignified buildings are invariably the oldest, built before World War II, at least, before car culture and the growth of the suburbs gutted every small downtown. The ugliest buildings are from the 70’s, when Modernism’s worst concepts have been disseminated to even the most provincial of outposts. Postmodernism is a jokey attempt to reverse this blunder, but its very mixed success doesn’t reach small and depressed, post-industrial places like Joliet, for which the Rialto Theater, built in 1926, remains the undisputed architectural gem. It’s appalling to think that it was almost torn down in the 70’s.
Done with ogling the ornate façade of the Rialto, I ducked into the Route 66 Diner, nearby. Inside I saw a black cop sitting at a table, and two other people who appeared to be office workers. Settling down at the counter, I noticed a large poster of badass Johnny Cash, with “I walk the line” beneath his name. Built in 1926, Route 66 was one of this country’s very first highways, and the song “Get Your Kicks on Route 66,” first recorded by Nat King Cole in 1946, is another romance of the open road, that most American of traditions. Like Cash’s hit, “I’ve Been Everywhere,” it ticks off places along the way, not so much to be seen as to be counted.
I’ve been everywhere, man. Crossed the deserts bare, man. I’ve breathed the mountain air, man. Of travel I’ve had my share, man. I’ve been everywhere. I’ve been to Dull Knife, Big Hole, Milk Creek, Tampico, Matamoros, Manila, Okinawa, Mogadishu, Baghdad, Kandahar, Tripoli and Kiev. I’m a killer!
The Joliet sex on corpses crew are Juggalos, by the way. That is, they’re fans of the Insane Clown Posse, a group whose music veers from revenge fantasies to kitsch, and whose stage tactics employ elements of the carnival. Your average Juggalo is white and of the lowest class. Working for minimum wage at, say, Jack in the Box, he must grin and sweat for more than four hours to pay for a single ICP baseball cap, and a full day’s work won’t even bag him an ICP hoodie, and yet he is impassioned about this music, and will spend his scarce cash to declare his allegiance to it, to show that he is indeed a Juggalo, for the ICP expresses not just his anger and frustration, but also his softer side, that is, his sodium citrate, whey and annato-infused American cheesiness.
Dark tendencies have long existed in American music, with Mamie Smith already belting in 1920, “I’m gonna do like a Chinaman, go and get some hop / Get myself a gun, and shoot myself a cop,” and Cash himself kicked open a mental door with his “But I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.” Now, though, with the Insane Clown Posse, M.O.P., Gravediggaz, Natural Born Killaz and so many more, we’re entering a new psychotic territory, and gleefully too, even as the corpses pile up.
My breakfast consisted of two eggs, over easy, plus two link sausages, home fries and wheat toasts. The waitress, a Mexican lady, kept my coffee cup full with frequent refills. “More, hon?” she would ask. Soon, a man sat next to me, so I struck up a conversation. After I told him I was visiting from Philly, he filled me in on Joliet, “Yes, the steel mills are long gone, and Caterpillar has cut back too. It’s all these free trade agreements, you see, starting with NAFTA. We do have a new trucking hub that keeps some people employed, but over all, it’s not looking too good.”
“So there’s no recovery?”
“Of course, there’s no recovery,” he laughed.
“Everywhere I go, I hear the same story, and yet the media keep telling us we’re well into a recovery.”
“It’s their job to lie. There’s no recovery. I used to have five employees working for me. I had to let them all go.”
“What kind of business are you in?”
“I make these rip saw machines. They cut up lumber real fast,” and he took out his cell phone to show me a photo of a large, box-like contraption.
“So now it’s just you working?”
“Yes, I’m a one-man factory. I’m trying to build my business back up. Hopefully, I can sell it in three years to a young person.”
“No, I’ll just go work for my brother. He has a machine shop.”
“You haven’t thought about moving away?”
“No, I’m too much of a Joliet person. I was born here. Even in college, I stayed at home. And my wife’s also from Joliet. She’s not doing too well. She’s in a nursing home.”
“Hmmm. Do you have kids?”
“I have no kids, and you know something, that’s a good thing, too, because I wouldn’t want to be a young person in this economy.”
“Isn’t that right, Anna?” He shouted to the waitress. “It’s not easy to be young nowadays, right?”
“What are you talking about?” She smiled. “I’m not young.”
Returning to me, he continued, “Anna is a great person. She has a good kid. He likes to box.”
“There’s a boxing gym here?”
“Yes, we have a really good boxing gym. It’s run by this fellow from Ghana.”
“This town must have changed so much from when you were a kid.”
“Yes, it used to be mostly farmland around here. Most of my relatives were farmers. Some of them still are.”
“How are they doing?”
“They’re doing OK, I guess. It’s not easy, though.”
“What do you mean?”
“OK, how do I explain this. In the past, farming required a lot of labor, but with the improved mechanized processes, you don’t need as much manpower. With these new machines, you don’t have to go over a piece of land as many times,” and here he paused to give me time to digest, and I did appreciate his effort at making his explanation as simple as possible. “With these new machines and techniques, they only need a fraction of the people they used to, and they also save on fuel.”
“Maybe soon,” I exclaimed. “they’ll have all of these machines run by themselves. Then they can fire all the workers!”
“I’m sure they’re working on it.”
All this time, my new friend had managed to talk and chew at the same time, unlike my monomaniac and uncoordinated self. Seeing that my food had barely been touched, he said, “I should let you eat. That food is going cold!”
We each turned to our portion. Every now and then, though, he would say something to the cashier or the waitress, who both knew him well. When he recounted that he had recently gotten a speeding ticket, only the second in his lifetime, with the first going back to 1974, Anna blurted, “1974! I don’t born yet!” Interesting, I thought, since up to this point, her English had been very convincing, but nearly all her phrases had been lifted directly from the common diner catechism.
Catechism?! WTF! Did I just make a mistake there? You decide. In any case, as also a foreign-born mofo, I know all too well the innumerable linguistic trap, pot hole, sink hole or wrong turn that can, at any moment, sabotage my social carriage.
Before I left the diner, something curious happened. A rather shabbily dressed old man said to the cashier as he was paying for his coffee, “Can I have an application.”
“For a job, just in case you’re hiring.”
“No, no, we’re not hiring.”
“I just figured I’d ask,” and he meekly walked out.
Turning to me, the still baffled cashier said, “He lives in the Plaza Hotel right next door. He comes in here all the time.”
Leaving the diner, I decided to get away from downtown, so I crossed the river, but my progress was slow, thanks to the abundant snow on the sidewalks. After trudging for nearly a mile, I found O’Charley’s and marched right in for an open-ended pit stop. It was still morning, so I half expected to find a few old men nursing cheap beers, but instead encountered a handful of neatly dressed customers, including a businessman on an early lunch break. There was a clock with the map of Ireland, but the time was neither local nor Irish. I pointed this out to the bartender, Marianne.
“Yeah, I know. There’s something wrong with the battery.”
After stating that I was only visiting, I asked Marianne if there is a large Irish community in Joliet. “No, not really,” she answered. “We’re, like, the only Irish bar here, and I’m not even Irish. I just work here.”
“It seems like a very pleasant place,” and from what I had seen, it was.
“Yeah, but we’re getting more crimes, though. We have gangs here. There are black and Mexican gangs. They mostly just shoot their own kinds, but sometimes we get hit in the cross fire, and sometimes they also rob us.”
“In this neighborhood, too?”
“Yeah, in this neighborhood! It’s not safe to walk around here after dark.”
O’Charley’s was pleasant enough, but a little later, I would really get comfortable in a place called Vela’s. A cheap bar and Mexican restaurant, it’s run by a native son, Dan Gutierrez. Rotund, bespectacled, with a salt and pepper mustache and in a gray, long sleeved sweat shirt, Dan appeared as a Santa Claus chillaxing at home, during the offseason. Also born in Joliet, Dan’s dad opened a market there in 1953, “We used to go to the Haymarket in Chicago to pick up stuff to sell. Some of the farmers would bring their produce to the market in horse and buggies!”
From his dad, Dan learnt how to run a business, but his work experience has extended way beyond that. He’s been employed as an electrical inspector of natural gas pipelines, and in factories making shingles, caustic soda, sucrose and aspartame. “Hey, isn’t that that evil shit that will give you cancer?”
“Not unless you drink a million gallons of it!”
“But many people do!”
“I wouldn’t worry about it. When I was working, that aspartame dust was always in the air, and we all breathed it in.”
Currently, Dan’s day job is as a Senior Pipe Designer and Project Manager for AMS Mechanical Systems.
“Isn’t it enough just to run this bar?” I asked.
“No way,” Dan laughed. “It’s almost four, right, and you see how empty it is.”
“But it will fill up soon with the after work crowd?”
“Yes, people will trickle in, but it’s not enough. Plus, I need my day job for the health insurance. They like me there. I keep my own hours.”
“I walked all over town today and didn’t see too many bars. I would think a cheap neighborhood joint like this would pack them in.”
“Yes, but people are drinking less. I’ve noticed it. And you know what else? More of them are paying with credit cards instead of cash.”
“So they’re out drinking even when they can’t afford to drink?”
“Yes, I think so. Like my ma said, ‘People will always find a way to drink.’ Some of them come in here and try to sell me their Link cards.”
“That’s the food stamps?”
“Yes, that’s the food stamps. They would try to sell me their Link cards for half price, but I won’t buy it, since I don’t want them to drink away the money they should spend on their kids for food!”
“You know, Dan, I’ve talked to many bartenders and they all tell me that people are drinking less, and even putting less money into the jukebox,” and Vela’s had been silent for a while, with the last song being “Pistoleros Famosos,” Los Cadetes de Linares’ celebration of Mexican outlaws, “En los pueblitos de norte / Siempre ha corrido la sangre…” Yes, Mexicans also often sing of blood and shootings, but these ballads are so sweetly sung, they don’t quite incite.
OK, OK, back to Joliet. Dan also refuses to sell lottery tickets, but there are two gambling machines in Vela’s, Mega Winner and Hot New Game. When a woman of at least 50 marched in, Dan greeted her, “Good evening, young lady!”
“You know what I want.”
After he gave her the tall yellow can, she asked, “How much is it?”
“Thank you, darling!”
“Thank you, baby.”
She then went over to one of the gambling machines and grimly got down to business. I said to Dan, “It’s funny that she expects you to remember what she wants, but then pretends to not know how much it costs.”
“She always does that.”
“How often does she come in here?”
“Not that often, maybe only twice a month. She always comes around this time, and she always sits at the machine. She’ll spend about a hundred bucks before she leaves.”
“Wow, that’s ridiculous! And she doesn’t look like she can afford it. What does she do, do you know?”
“She clean houses.”
I laughed, shook my head, “If she doesn’t waste that money, she can drink and eat better.”
“Or buy clothes for her kids, take them out to dinner, but if she wants to throw her money away, that’s her choice! You can’t win with those machines,” Dan smiled. “It involves no skill whatsoever. It takes your money, but once in a while, it will give you back a little, but when someone does win, it makes these loud noises. At night, I have to turn up the volume on these machines so everyone can hear the winning sounds!”
“These gamblers are like kids, man. They like cartoon figures and happy noises!”
“But they’re very serious about it.” Dan smiled. “If you go to the casino and see one of these old people at a slot machine, you better not sit next to him, because he might be playing three machines at the same time. Grandpa will get pissed off if you sit next to him!”
Dan is likely a grandpa himself, I thought, but one never sees oneself as old, or at least nowhere nearly as old as how is seen by everyone else. “I stayed in the casino hotel last night,” I said. “I don’t think it’s doing too well.”
“No, it’s not, and it’s not doing much for the city either. Before it opened, they said that it would bring business to the city, but the people who go there, stay there. They don’t come out to the bars and restaurants in the rest of Joliet.”
“There was nothing in my room about Joliet, no guide book, no restaurant guide. Nothing!”
“Yes, of course, they want you to keep your money inside Harrah’s.”
“So this casino hires a few people, but it also rips off a bunch of locals who lose their money gambling!”
“Yeah, well, the city also gets tax revenues, but I know of people here who’ve lost their houses gambling.”
“You know, they’ll give you credit if you run out of cash, so you may have to sell your house to pay off your debts.”
By this time, more people have arrived, mostly for the pool tournament that night. As should be clear by now, Dan is very resourceful, and though he certainly knows how to make money, he also cares enough to give back some. Once a year, Dan stages an eating contest. For 35 bucks, each contestant gets a five-pound burrito, and from the photo he showed me, it looks like a murdered homunculus wrapped in an old sheet. The first pig who can stuff all this into his maw wins $100, and once, a young man managed to do so in an astounding 16 minutes. Dan sells around 40 of these a year, with $15 from each going to a charity. Of course, Dan also makes a bundle from all those who crowd in to gawk at this messy spectacle.
Leaving Vela’s, I walked to the train station and on the way, passed a mural of Bill Sudakis. Playing eight years in the Majors, Sudakis managed to bat just .234, but did hit 14, 14 and 15 home runs in three separate seasons. If he’s remembered at all these days by anybody, it’s for a hotel brawl with a Yankee teammate. Early in his career, Sudakis was switched from third base to catcher, a decision which may have wrecked his knees, so he was probably misused and ruined, but that’s just life, kid. Suck it!
Not every town can produce a hall-of-famer, so Joliet’s baseball hero is merely Bill Sudakis, but even there he’s barely seen, for his likeness is shoved under an overpass, behind some columns and, to make matters worse, someone has drawn a huge phallus jutting from his crotch, so there Bill stands, erect yet forgotten, showing cracks and peeling, like Joliet itself, like so many other wrecked and neglected places in this insane clown posse nation.
Saturday, February 15, 2014
In a recent post here, Ando Arike reveals that he is the latest victim of the blatant censorship on the popular leftist website Common Dreams. He says that all of his past and current posts have been deleted from the discussion boards. I can confirm that his story is 100% accurate. I remember reading many of his comments there – and they are all gone now.
Craig Brown is the editor-in-chief of Common Dreams, and he is responsible for such decisions. Ando Arike's recent banning is more evidence of Craig Brown's continuing dishonest and authoritarian practices. These actions are shameful, and they should be called out for what they are: pure censorship. Another voice has been silenced by the fake progressive, Craig Brown.
This exact thing has happened to many commenters on CD before. Why don't more people know about it? Because Craig Brown goes out of his way to hide the truth about his nefarious actions. All censors need to work in the dark –- because censorship that is readily visible is far less effective.
In a note added to CD's comment policy, Craig Brown declares:
"We do not censor comments for their political opinion. Period."
This is simply a bald-faced lie. Craig Brown bans commenters for their political opinions all the time. if you doubt this, search "common dreams, censorship, banning" and read any of the articles or blog posts that are listed. One of the best summaries of Common Dreams' censorship is found in Metaphoria ("Progressives Disappearing Progressives"). Here's a link: http://www.metaphoria.org/issues/08vol16/ac4t0905.html
One of the fastest ways to get banned and erased from Common Dreams is to mention the censorship that occurs there. The more truthful you are about this taboo subject, the quicker your comment will be erased. Craig Brown is ruthless and unrelenting on this point. (If you are a daring sort, why not try this yourself and see what happens?)
Ando Arike has been commenting on Common Dreams for some time, so now there are big gaps in the discussion records where his comments used to be posted. This not only decreases the CD community's level of shared knowledge, it also makes it impossible for researchers to use this site as an accurate resource regarding social history. On a personal level, Ando Arike has to contend with the theft of his contributions from a communal discussion. This kind of punishment is akin to the banishment that was inflicted on criminals (or simply dissenters) in medieval societies. They often feared this more than any other punishment, as it is very painful psychologically and emotionally. I know how much anguish I endured when I was erased from the Common Dreams website.
Even one single incident like this -- the unwarranted deletion of a regular commenter's entire history from the site -- should be adequate grounds for Common Dreams readers to withhold all donations and demand that Craig Brown be removed from his participation on the site. Genuine leftists would certainly withdraw their support from CD and condemn Brown for the hypocrite he truly is. After all, Craig Brown's censorship is a direct attack on people's thoughts and ideas, and his intention is to suppress them and frighten others from speaking out. This is what totalitarians do. It is unconscionable.
What really disturbs me is that many writers (like Ralph Nader, Dave Lindorff, Naomi Klein, Glenn Greenwald, and others) have been informed about this censorship -- yet they continue to contribute their work to the site. They are just as much to blame as the censors at Common Dreams -- for condoning actions against others that they would never tolerate being taken against themselves. Ralph Nader is particularly culpable on this point, as he has repeatedly criticized people for "self-censorship" -- for failing to voice their opinions on civic issues. Yet, he has turned his back on Craig Brown's repeated abuse of people who have tried to do just that. And so it continues: Ralph Nader keeps contributing articles to Common Dreams, and Craig Brown keeps censoring commenters who hold beliefs or report truthful facts that he finds unacceptable.
This kind of behavior does not "build progressive community." On the contrary, it destroys true progressive community – because true progressives condemn the repression of honest and open discussions.
If the only forums available to those of us on the left are compromised in this fashion, what can we do? Where can we meet and discuss important issues without fear of censorship or reprisal?
* * *
If your readers are interested, I will provide further information about my contacts with Ralph Nader and Glenn Greenwald regarding censorship on Common Dreams. I will also offer some of the fascinating information I've learned in my research of "left gatekeeper" websites like CD. They serve a very Important function in helping to manage the population of United States.
I will close with this quote:
"The best way to control the opposition is to lead it ourselves."
--Vladimir Ilyich Lenin
Friday, February 14, 2014
I mentioned your name today in a comment on Commondreams, and within 30 minutes not only was I "banned" from commenting any further on the site, but all my previous comments were deleted (along with any replies -- which you'd think would be a bit embarrassing for the site administrator.) Apparently, you are taboo on CD -- persona non grata -- or in Orwellian terms, an "unperson".
This is the first time I've experienced the whimsical wrath of Big Brother, and it's certainly a strange feeling to be subjected to such Thought Police tactics -- to be sent down the "memory hole," as it were... What do these Thought Police wannabes think they're doing? How do they rationalize their actions? Do they think nobody notices when all of a sudden somebody is "disappeared" -- or to stay within Orwell's lexicon, "vaporized"?
Anyway, it's clear now to me that the "progressive movement" is, in large part, an astroturf operation run by the Democratic Party and that many "progressive" websites are Info Ops for the Democrat-leaning foundations & rich donors... John Stauber laid out as much in a Counterpunch article last spring. But why has Counterpunch abandoned you? I've always caught suspicious whiffs in Commondreams' liberal odor -- but I thought Counterpunch was dependable. Oh, well...
Glad to learn the truth, and that we've communicated. As I mentioned, I've admired your work for several years now. You've managed to create a language that burns like a laser through all the threadbare political verbiage of our time... Thanks --
My note: I should clarify that CP never abandoned me per se, but after saying they wanted no more of my Postcards, they responded to readers' complaints by ridiculing my writing, thinking and even character, so there was no point in giving them any of my writing for free after that.--Linh
As published at Dissident Voice, 2/15/14:
So now you know, don’t take a stripper
To your mom’s house, especially if
It’s worth a million and a half, but
Jay Dee also has other lessons:
“Down to no money, you can bounce
Checks at different stores, and even
Get $50 cash back. At each, they will
Only scan your driver’s license, and if
You haven’t stiffed them before, you’re fine.
Considering how many stores there are,
This can keep you going for a while. As
For your bank penalties, just make sure
You don’t go over $500, total, or they will
Investigate you for check fraud, OK?
If you want to move to another state, or
Just drive around for the hell of it, you can
Get free gas. As long as you don’t place the
Nozzle back in its slot after you’ve filled up,
They won’t know the transaction is done.
By the time they realize something is wrong,
You’re way gone. Also, it’s best to steal gas
Just before you cross a state line. The cops
Won’t likely chase after you in another state.”
Jay Dee also said he was snagged in Manhattan,
But the details were a bit too weird. He claimed
Someone had shot something at his calf, then
Restrained him with handcuffs that electrocuted.
There is such a device, you know. Did the cops
Test their new toy on a homeless guy? Though
A petty criminal, Jay Dee broke no law that day,
Short of having no warm and soft place to lie.
“Ask for work. If they don’t give you work, ask
For bread. If they don’t give you work or bread,
Take bread,” so said Emma Goldman, except
You shouldn’t steal from any mom and pop,
That’s a given, and you must also know how
To shoplift, as in tucking that can of tuna
Into your underwear, and not any pocket
Or purse, but even then, they can hold you
Until the cops come to slap that Augmented
Detainee Restraint onto your wrists, and shock
The living anarchy out of your ass, all for
A bit of protein in sunflower or canola oil,
And yes, stealing is always wrong, unless
You’re a banker, as protected and partnered
By the government of the United States. As
They kill and cheat, so will we hustle and
Bloody each other, and maybe even them.
Thursday, February 13, 2014
As published at Dissident Voice, 2/14/14:
Jay Dee was with his woman for five years, saw her
Every day and slept with her every single night.
They had a great kid together, a boy. Only trouble
Was she was bipolar, you know, so they’d argue
All the time, and I mean screaming arguments.
So sick of it, Jay Dee finally said, “We’re splitting,
But I’m keeping Timmy.” That’s his kid’s name, and
You know what she said? She laughed, “You ain’t
Keeping nothing, 'cause he ain’t even your kid.”
Test proved it. Jay Dee wasn’t Tim’s dad after all.
Right after the result, Jay Dee went to a go-go bar,
And blew, like, 700 bucks. He sat there until closing,
And this chick, a really hot one too, blonde, said,
“Why are you blowing all your money?” He told her,
So her eyes went doggy sad, “I’m so, so sorry, but
You know what? Let’s get a motel room, and I’ll make
Sure you feel a whole lot better.” Here was this babe,
Nearly all skin, and steaming from all that dancing.
Her hand was on his thigh and she rubbed against him.
What would you do? Not stupid, though, Jay Dee
Could tell she was only being friendly because she
Had seen his cash, so he said, “I’m broke,” and he was.
He must have spent over 300 bucks on her alone.
Sometimes he didn’t even tuck bills into their G-strings,
But threw money on the floor for the chicks to pick up.
Smiling, she said, “Don’t worry, I’ll pay. I just hate to
See you looking like that. I’ll do a good deed today!”
So they checked into this motel. It was only 53 bucks.
If I were fanciful, I could invent Jay Dee fiddling
The clock radio, to come up with Santana,
Nirvana or AC/DC, and on the wall, a print
Of Old Faithful or a unicorn, but since this is
Straight forward reporting, I can’t even claim
That her eyes were green, like a girl I used to know.
They drank Bud, did some coke and he tried, you know,
To have sex with her, but she said, “We need liquor.
Let’s go to your place and get us some liquor.”
She knew he had moved back in with his mom,
But his mom was away, and wouldn’t be back
Until morning, so they went to his mom’s house
To get a couple of bottles. This was in Medford,
A really affluent town, you know, 97% white,
And his mom’s house is worth a million and a half,
With lots of trees all around, and spare rooms and
Bathrooms everywhere. He showed her around.
She was like, “Wow, you’re really loaded!” “No,
Only my mom is loaded!” He kept a close eye
On her his whole time, to make sure she didn’t
Filch anything. He barely blinked this whole time.
Never a book type, Jay Dee never went to college,
But he did learn how to do brick and cement works,
And even had his own business, with a truck and two,
Sometimes three Mexican guys sweating for him.
Soon enough, he would also inherit a bundle, for sure.
Back at the motel, they drank and he tried again
And again, but she kept stalling. I mean, he could touch
But that was it. Then, she said, “I’ve got to call my dad.
He’s probably worried sick that I haven’t gotten home.
I’ll be right back,” and she went outside to call her dad.
She was gone so long, Jay Dee started to think maybe
She won’t return, and he’ll be stuck with the bill,
But the door opened, finally, and there she was,
As hot as if she was upside down on a pole, but
Her disposition remained stale. They nibbled
Each other a bit, but only Jay Dee was naked.
Finally, she said, “Listen, it’s not working out.
Let’s just sleep,” and they cuddled, which was nice,
Sort of, as he touched himself, until morning.
Before they parted, she gave him her phone number,
But this was no more real than her name, Mercedes.
“Call me tonight, let’s do something.” She kissed him.
From the top of the cul-de-sac, Jay Dee could spot
Half a dozen cop cars outside his mom’s house.
Burglars had taken his mom’s safe, with its 40
Thousand dollars, plus 80 more grand in jewelry.
There was no sign of a break in. They had entered
Through a back door left unlocked by Mercedes.
Jay Dee, then, became the only suspect, so
He was handcuffed right then, then locked up
For three months, until his case was thrown out.
Mom and son haven’t chattered since, and Jay Dee
Has been homeless for eight months now. He sleeps
Outside nearly every night, since the shelters
Don’t have enough sleeping spots, and assholes
Will cut in front even when you show up early, then
Rob you, so you must sleep with one eye open. With
Today’s snow and sleet, buses have stopped running,
And people are falling left and right just trying to walk.
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
at Information Clearing House, 2/12/14:
manfred noa · 5 hours ago
As some one that has enjoyed his articles it's a little disconcerting that Linh Dinh should use Viet Nam in the argument.This nation more than any other on earth has suffered under the brutal boot of US Imperialism and has to be rightly suspicious of a returning 'white' poet whose parents I assume left the country classified as counter revolutionaries. Visiting the homeland, attempting to bribe poorly paid officials ( not hard to do lets face it) and then sitting around in cafes paying the bill for 'poets'and disaffected writers with his bagful of books and expensive camera equipment what the hell does he expect? It has to be said that this sort of behaviour is unacceptable in any country much less Viet Nam.
Linh Dinh · 20 minutes ago
I didn't attempt to bribe, I actually did, because that's how things get done there. Everyone bribes every official as needed, and it's not just this government, but the former South Vietnam too, and the Colonial government. You get the picture. The dissident poets and fiction writers I've translated are working within the Vietnamese context and dealing with Vietnamese issues. They do not care about American concerns or what Americans think about them, but merely pointing out the many gross abuses of power from the RULING CLASS of Vietnam. They are speaking from the point of view of regular people, that is, from the Vietnamese working class, and I didn't live there like some American fat cat. I had no expensive camera, and like most people, I flushed my toilet with a bucket.
If you're interested in the results of my time there, then check out The Deluge: New Vietnamese Poetry, which has just been published by Chax Press of Tucson, or my novel of Vietnam, Love Like Hate. The Deluge took years to compile, and I made not a dime from it. Why? Because I admire and love the poets I translate. I have also translated plenty of American poetry into Vietnamese, including T.S. Eliot's Waste Land, for also no money. I'm telling you this to clarify that I love writing, including other people's writing, and that's why I've translated so many authors' works.
As for the elites of Vietnam, news just came out that McDonald's will open its first eatery there, and the man behind it is the Vietnamese-American son-in-law of the Prime Minister. The cops who harassed me and my friends are serving this elite, and not the people. The richest, most corrupt people in Vietnam are in the upper echelon of the Communist Party, and they are grossly materialistic, just like the elites anywhere. Though they flaunt their wealth constantly and indulge in the worst decadence, they will brand me and my friends as "decadent and reactionary."
Lastly, I do not write from ideology, but from common sense, and abuses from any source are still clearly abuses, unless you let ideology or partisanship cloud your judgement.
Additional thoughts on this: It's also odd that this reader faults me for bringing books to my writer friends. In Vietnam, you're expected to bring back gifts after a trip, and during my 2 1/2 years there, from 1999 to 2001, this was my only visit to the US. Before I left, some of my friends asked me specifically to bring back books for them. A poet requested the Norton Anthology of American Poetry, so that's what I got. I also brought him a volume of Allen Ginsberg. For another poet, I brought the Selected Poems of Michael Palmer. The Balthus, I gave to an artist. I brought several copies of a Vietnamese poetry journal published in California. So why are these contrabands, you may be wondering, but in a totalitarian system, the government can declare just about anything illegal, and it doesn't even have to be consistent with its own rules.
Also, how is it "unacceptable" to give books away while sitting in a "cafe"? Speaking of which, Vietnamese of all types sit in cafes for hours, drinking very slowly their cheap beer or coffee, but "sitting around in cafes" as used here implies the lifestyle of idle bon vivants... And what's up with 'poets' in quotation marks, which further reveals this reader's assumption that these so-called poets were merely decadent trouble makers "sitting aroung in cafes," but even if that's all they were, how is it "unacceptable"? As for my "expensive camera equipment," which I didn't even have then, how would that add to the unacceptableness of my presence in Saigon?
A note too about my use of "Saigon": Everyone in Saigon uses the old name, with Ho Chi Minh City relegated to official documents, official pronouncements and the evening newscast. In conversations and on shop signs, it's Saigon, because that's what the people who live there prefer. "Saigon" is also seen on long distance buses. The word Saigon itself evokes an entire culture, so that even in Hanoi, you might see a shop sign advertising "Saigon fashion." A people's culture and heritage cannot be changed with a government decree.
Saturday, February 8, 2014
Iran's Press TV, 2/8/14:
The United States plans to increase spending on the country’s missile systems over fears of China, “America’s real nemesis,” a political analyst and writer in Philadelphia says.
The Pentagon plans to ask Congress for $4.5 billion in extra missile funding over the next five years as part of the fiscal 2015 budget request, Reuters reports, citing experts and congressional sources.
At the same time President Barack Obama has signed legislation that will cut $8.7 billion in food stamp benefits over the next 10 years, causing 850,000 households-- 1.7 million people-- to lose an average of $90 per month in benefits.
“The US is squeezing the poorest Americans to fatten the Pentagon, and the justification this time is the threat from North Korea and Iran, which is ridiculous,” Linh Dinh told Press TV on Saturday.
“America’s real nemesis, China, is not mentioned, although everything that’s happened lately points to an increase in tension between these two super powers,” Dinh pointed out.
“The reason why China and the US are preparing for war is the impending economic collapse that will cause an incredible amount of political and social stress in both countries,” he added.
“As money runs out, and resources run low, they will fight to salvage their relative standing in the world, so many of the pieces are being put into place for a conflict which will pit America and her allies on one side, and China, Russia and their allies on the other side,” the analyst explained.
Dinh said most Americans do not even realize there is a potential for war between Washington and Beijing. “Distracted by their stupid media, many Americans still have no clue about what’s happening.”
As published at OpEd News, Dissident Voice, CounterCurrents, Information Clearing House and Intrepid Report, 2/8/14:
In 1928, Ho Chi Minh was in Thailand while his Chinese wife, Zeng Xueming, remained in Canton. He sent her this letter:
“From the day we parted, already more than a year.
I miss you with such anguish, it needn’t be said.
Borrowing rosy wings, I send a few lines to reassure you.
Such is my desire, and I wish your mother ten thousand good lucks.
Translating, I’ve kept intact Ho’s tone and “rosy wings” image, which indicates a high flying, red colored bird, but also implies rose petals. Though it sounds weird in English, it does convey his sweetness and anguish. Ho’s letter never made it to his beloved, however, for it was intercepted by French intelligence and is now stored at the Centre des Archives d’Outre-Mer in Aix-en-Provence.
Ho never saw his wife again. Considering all the turbulences and dangers Ho encountered, this episode may come across as so minor, an interesting footnote in a life defined by cataclysmic upheavals, but it is still a disturbing example of how the state, with its despotic power, guns and spooks, can so casually yet completely disrupt lives. Zeng Xueming simply assumed her husband had abandoned her. After reading this intercepted letter, the French could still allow it to be sent, but why bother? Ho was their enemy, after all, and though this missive had no value as intelligence, it was still carefully stashed away, while in Canton, a young woman pined. She never remarried, by the way.
If a lawless outfit will laugh as it kills, then even piss on the corpses afterwards, then of course it will intercept your stupid letters, or goofy emails, to bring things up to date. The unprecedented reach of this criminal gang will also allow it to monitor and harass an unprecedented number of people. If it doesn’t like you, specifically, it can sabotage not just your personal life, but your financial and professional well being as well. A job offer or job application can be intercepted, then tossed out. An important business communication can be deleted or tampered with. These goons can implode your entire existence, in short. And let’s us be clear about this: You don’t have to be a world class revolutionary to warrant their attention. With their unprecedented budget, humongous staff and state of the art equipments, they have more than enough resources to tail, electronically or physically, anything on this earth that can grumble, shout or wave a fist. They can even crush you by mistake and not worry about it.
With its army of hackers, the NSA can penetrate just about any computer, but occasionally a more direct molestation is required. In a December 30, 2013 article, Der Spiegel points out that the NSA sometimes intercept brand new computers as they’re being delivered, so malicious software and/or hardware can be inserted into them. These are then used to track targeted individuals. Of course, our criminally complicit media ignored this bombshell completely, as if it’s Norman Rockwell-OK that our postal service is in cahoots with the monstrous NSA, and that our possessions can be tampered with by our sneeringly lawless government.
We’re still in the early stage of our Fascist transformation, so until the jackboots step on their ituned heads, many Americans will dismiss talks of Big Brother as mere paranoia. To these folks, systematic evil is always somewhere else, in Iran, Syria, China, North Korea or Russia, not here, and so any closer look at who killed Gary Webb or Michael Hastings, for example, is instantly dismissed as conspiracy lunacy. Other regimes harass, arrest, torture or kill truth seekers, but somehow not this one, they will insist, and so they would not believe that Tom Feely of Information Clearing House was threatened by two thugs in a parking lot, with one saying, “You need to stop what you are doing on the web,” or that three well-dressed men barged into Tom’s house to terrorize his wife. Again, the message was that he must “stop what he is doing on the Internet, NOW!” Reporting this 2008 incident, Mike Whitney said that Tom’s wife then contacted the FBI, but of course they did nothing. I’m inclined to think that all of these enforcers were from the FBI, or at least one of our other intelligence agencies. We’ve got so damn many. For his part, Tom wondered why “They are reaching down SO far to get someone who just runs a web site.”
The more oppressive a government, the more it seeks to monopolize information, but totalitarianism has progressed from simple censorship to one that relies mostly on nonstop distraction. With so much crap addling each brain, a dissident doesn’t necessarily have to be arrested, since he’s already being ignored by nearly everyone. The trouble maker still needs to be watched, however, and since any oppressive government is essentially a control freak, it will monitor an irrationally huge number of people, and will reach very far down indeed. None, however, has attempted such a comprehensive dragnet as the United States of America, for it’s attempting to spy on, literally, the entire world, and won’t stop until it has achieved full spectrum peeping tomism.
This past week, there was some irregularity with my email account. On Wednesday, Press TV sent me an email before noon, but it only arrived seven hours later. I thus missed my interview with the Iranian station. That same day, an organizer of a poetry festival at the Lincoln Center sent me an invitation to participate, but this email only showed up 26 hours later and, most curiously, it came as a “Forwarded message.” When I asked the sender how this could happen, she couldn’t answer. Now, these two instances might just be technical glitches, but perhaps not, especially the delayed message from Press TV. A thorn in the side of the US Empire, Press TV has been removed from the American, European and even East Asian markets, and it’s fair to assume that all communications to and from Press TV are being monitored by American intelligence, and since I’ve been providing political commentaries on Press TV for over three years now, it’s a safe bet that I’m also on the NSA’s radar. In fact, it would be very naïve of me to think otherwise.
When I ruminated on my blog about the NSA, Press TV and your lowly self, I received this comment, “Is this a sly attempt at humor? Do you think US Intelligence agencies really would jam up your email based on your intelligent writing and commentary on world events? You’re not that important in the multi-decade schemes of these systems.” His mocking tone made me suspect he might be a government troll, for they will routinely mock all opponents while taking them very seriously. Just think of Occupy, for example. Even as the government spent lots of money and time to infiltrate that movement, it made them out to be incoherent freaks with poor hygiene whose ideas should just be ignored. Every protest movement in the US has been mocked and caricatured. Left or right, it doesn’t matter, they have all been turned into freaks should they dare to doubt the righteousness of their criminal rulers, but this can only mean the government takes dissent most seriously, with trolls even sent into forums to disrupt debates among ordinary, “unimportant” citizens.
Though only a bottom feeding fish lurking in the darkest water, I nevertheless attracted the spooks’ attention when I was living in Saigon from 1999 to 2001. I will recount my experience there since it echoes some of what we’re going through here, and even prefigures what we will encounter. Most of my friends in Saigon were poets, a group that has become increasingly irrelevant in every postmodern society. With almost no one reading them, there was no longer a need to arrest poets, but still we were being watched, just in case. As a translator of Vietnamese literature into English, I also elicited extra scrutiny since I was a kind of gateway, not unlike, say, an editor of a dissident webzine. I had already published Night, Again, an anthology of fiction that included a number of banned writers.
Under that impossibly hot sun, we would often meet to drink iced beer and talk about everything. There was one among us whom everyone suspected to be an undercover cop, so the conversation had to be curbed whenever this sly dude was around. After so many decades under totalitarianism, people had well internalized which subjects, or even words, to avoid, at least in suspect company. That too will happen here, if we don’t veer from our current vector, and Americans will also learn to become more suspicious of nearly everything and everyone. The currency of any oppressive government is a steady stream of lies, so in that sense, we’re well on our way down that septic whirlpool. These days, almost every sentence that’s burped up by an American official is a bald lie, with not even a farcical comb over, but here’s the most insidious part to all this: Being lied to all the time, many of us will also learn to routinely pervert truth ourselves. Even our children will do this. You watch.
So I was definitely being watched, you see, but to what extent I didn’t really know until 2001, when I was invited by the Lannan Foundation to give a poetry reading back in the States. Thinking I might not be allowed to return to Vietnam, I paid a corrupt cop $500 for a businessman's visa, since this afforded me multiple entries. Done with my little song and dance in Santa Fe, plus additional readings in Boston and New York, I flew back to Saigon with a large bag of books for my friends. Toting the contrabands, I readied myself to bribe the airport official, but luckily, he never even noticed them. The lateness of my arrival, past 2AM, might have had something to do with his negligence, but I was more than glad to save a few bucks.
After a day-long flight, I barely slept but was up by 8:30, such was my excitement to give books to my friends, so I called to arrange a meeting that very morning. Soon as I hung up the phone, however, it rang, and I mean immediately, with barely a second in between, and the guy on the other end was, you guess it, the cop assigned to monitor me. I still remember his first name, "Viet," which is as patriotic as you can get. Very tersely, Viet huffed that he was coming over to chat with me. Though he was clearly furious to find out that I had left the country without his knowledge, he didn't mention this fact when he showed up, but merely asked about my trip in a pseudo friendly way. Before he arrived, though, I had hidden the most incriminating books under my bed, but leaving enough on my desk so he had enough to frown at. Viet opened a volume on Balthus, looked at the reproductions of the languorous and budding nude teens, voiced his mild disapproval, but did not confiscate it. After staying for at least half an hour, Viet left.
Speaking of confiscation, the Saigon post office had already seized my short story collection, Fake House, when this was sent to me earlier that year. I still have the receipt somewhere. On it, the reason given for the confiscation is that the book is "decadent and reactionary." I remember trying to argue with the post office official. I tried to reason that since the book was in English, it wouldn't have any impact whatsoever in Vietnam, but the lady didn't buy it. I also joked that since I was the author of the book, I couldn't corrupt myself. She didn't laugh.
Even after I left Vietnam in 2001, I was not done with its friendly and thorough intelligence service, for my writing in Vietnamese has several times provoked their irritated reaction. They’d send me a fake email accompanied by a virus, for example. Let’s say I have a friend named WXYZ, with a WXYZ@yahoo.com email account. The Vietnamese intelligence would set up a nearly identical account, _WXYZ@yahoo.com . See the difference? Just a _ before the other email address. Using this fake account, they would send me an email purportedly from WXYZ but with a virus in the attachment.
A Vietnamese-Australian academic returning to Saigon on a visit was called several times to the police station. At these interrogations, he would be asked about his associates inside the country and overseas, including me. Now, there is something very old school about these Vietnamese tactics, but don’t think that America won’t resort to them also, for when it comes to intimidation and violence, we can be as crude and naked as they come.
I won’t bore you with more of these Vietnam incidents, but suffice it to say that even a lowly critic of the regime will be tracked by the government, for polemics and insights still matter, in spite of everything. Moreover, a government that feels itself vulnerable will naturally increase suppression. Look for a heavy crackdown on voices of dissent as our society becomes more unstable from the impending financial collapse, and as our economy deteriorates further from its already wretched condition. That, my fellow targets, is our true state of the union.
Friday, February 7, 2014
Dinh was born in Saigon, Vietnam in 1963, came to the U.S. in 1975, and has also lived in Italy (as a guest of the International Parliament of Writers) and England (as a David T.K. Wong Fellow at the University of East Anglia).
He also is the author of two collections of stories, Fake House and Blood and Soap; and five books of poems, including All Around What Empties Out and Borderless Bodies. His work has been anthologized in several editions of Best American Poetry and Great American Prose Poems from Poe to the Present, among other places. He edited the anthologies Night, Again: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam and Three Vietnamese Poets, and translated Night, Fish and Charlie Parker, the poetry of Phan Nhien Hao. He has also published widely in Vietnamese. He lives in Philadelphia.
Ed Park, editor of the Believer, calls Dinh “one of the secret masters of short fiction,” and Matthew Sharpe, author of Jamestown, says that “Linh Dinh is one of the great original voices in American literature of the 21st century." Dinh himself says of his work, “I’m attempting to show how the individual is formed and deformed by the forces of history.”
Free and open to the public, the reading is presented by the MFA in Creative Writing Program, the University’s literary magazine, Oyez Review, and the Department of Literature and Languages at Roosevelt University. For more information, contact email@example.com or 312-341-2417.
[That's an ancient photo. My hair is completely white now, all my teeth have fallen out and I now stumble about with three canes...]
Tuesday, January 28, 2014
As published at OpEd News, Dissident Voice, CounterCurrents, Information Clearing House and Intrepid Report, 1/28/14:
Though Thomas Paine galvanized this country into being and gave it its very name, The United States of America, there is almost no trace of him here. In Philadelphia, where he spent his most significant years, there is a Thomas Paine Plaza, but it is barely marked as such, with no statue of the man. Instead, one finds a bronze likeness of Frank Rizzo, of all people, and a Jacques Lipchitz sculpture that Rizzo once compared to a dropped load of plaster. Composed of torturous human forms holding up some insufferable burden, it’s titled “Government of the People,” though walking by it for decades, I actually thought it was a Holocaust memorial. Just outside the Paine Plaza, there is also a huge statue of Ben Franklin as a printer. Unlike Paine, Franklin is all over Philly, with the largest monument to him the bridge that leads to Camden. When it opened in 1926, it was the world’s longest suspension bridge. Franklin is so beloved here, even his toilet is commemorated with a explanatory marble lid.
Up the river in Bordentown, New Jersey, where Paine had a house for 25 years, there is a statue of this most significant of Americans and, for two years now, an Easter egg hunt-styled game around Paine’s birthday, with plastic “Thomas Paine” bones hidden at downtown businesses. Hey, if it can more customers in, then why not? Buried in New Rochelle, NY, a town that didn’t even allow Paine to vote in local elections, his bones were dug up by a British admirer, for the purpose of a ceremonious burial back in England, but his remains somehow became lost. It is said that one of his ribs might be in France, his skull in Australia, with other bones turned into buttons.
In 2006, I had a chance to visit Thetford, Paine’s birthplace, and there I saw his statue, one of only five in the entire world, but the most impressive monument in Thetford belongs to the Maharajah Duleep Singh. Maharajah who?! A child king of the Sikhs, Singh nominally ruled the Punjab, bigger than England itself, but after the English stole his kingdom and, incidentally, the Koh-i-Noor diamond, largest in the world at the time, they exiled Singh to Norfolk and converted the boy to Christianity. Queen Victoria thought him cute, “Those eyes and those teeth are too beautiful.” Although he died dissolute and broke, Singh now appears regal and dignified on his stately horse, elevated on a pedestal taller than a man’s head. Prince Charles dedicated the statue.
In Philadelphia, Paine is more invisible than Ben Franklin’s colon’s target, and in Thetford, his hometown, he’s lesser than Queen Victoria’s pet Indian, so what gives? As one who ridiculed the British Crown, it’s understandable that Tom’s effigy would not be anywhere within a canon shot of Buckingham Palace, but why has he been faded out here, in a country he had a seminal role in creating?
In bits and pieces, Paine does turn up in quite a few places, it is true. So quotable, his words are appropriated by numerous camps, including Libertarians, “Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil,” or gun owners, “The supposed quietude of a good man allures the ruffian; while on the other hand, arms, like law, discourage and keep the invader and the plunderer in awe.” In fact, if you donate up to $99,999 to the National Rifle Association, you will be listed as a member of its Thomas Paine Society. Bump that to a million or more, and you’ll be allowed into the Charlton Heston one. In the NRA pantheon, Paine is a sort of Scottie Pippen, or maybe just a Steve Kerr. A selfless man of unimpeachable integrity, Paine has even been hijacked by one of the phoniest Americans ever. In his first Inaugural Address, Obama dropped a Paine title into this sentence, “Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations,” then quoted him entire later, “that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [and to repulse it].” It’s not clear why Obama skipped the last part. Maybe the teleprompter flickered. In any case, it’s telling that Obama did not mention Paine by name, only that this passage was read to American troops by “the father of our nation,” George Washington, he of the 300-plus slaves.
Hey, isn’t that a cheap shot? Didn’t they all, like, own slaves? Well, a bunch of the Founding Fathers certainly did, including Jefferson, Franklin, John Hancock, James Madison, John Jay and Benjamin Rush, but some of them didn’t, including, notably, John Adams, Samuel Adams, Alexander Hamilton and, of course, Thomas Paine. A signer of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, Robert Morris, had also been a slave trader.
Poor most of his life, Paine couldn’t afford a slave had he wanted one, not that he ever did. Sanely seeing slavery for the barbarity that it was, Paine was one of the earliest and most outspoken polemicists against it. In fact, he thought that the very first act of the new American nation should be to abolish this monstrosity, “And when the Almighty shall have blest us, and made us a people dependent only upon Him, then may our first gratitude be shown by an act of continental legislation, which shall put a stop to the importation of Negroes for sale, soften the hard fate of those already here, and in time procure their freedom.”
Over and over again, Paine would speak and act from his firmest convictions, no matter the cost. A poor man, he gave his royalties from Common Sense and American Crisis to clothe the Continental Army, and even donated his life savings to it. As our first whistleblower, Paine exposed Silas Deane as an embezzler and war profiteer, thus provoking the wrath of not just Deane’s many powerful allies, but other corrupt officials as well. In Age of Reason, his dismantling of organized religions, Paine alienated many ordinary folks, his natural audience.
Always blunt and upright, Paine annoyed or threatened many people, including erstwhile allies, like George Washington, for one. When Paine was imprisoned and almost killed during the French Revolution, Washington didn’t gnash his ivory, cow bone and black slave teeth in worries or sorrows, and this mean coldness destroyed their lopsided relationship. Paine had mistakenly considered Washington an intimate friend. Except for Paine, America’s Founding Fathers came from the wealthiest stratum of American society, so during and after the Revolutionary War, they sought to protect their privileges. They tolerated Paine since he could rally the ordinary people, “the grazing multitude” in Washington’s memorable phrase, but when the war had been won, they had no more use for him.
Just as you and I inhabit a world entirely alien to those who rule over us, Paine was also viewed by the elites of his time as a clear outsider or pesty gadfly, if not outright freak. Speaking on the floor of Congress, Gouverneur Morris described Paine as “a mere adventurer from England, without fortune, without family connections, ignorant even of grammar.” John Adams acknowledged Paine’s unmatched sway over the masses, but arrived at a colorful and telling conclusion, “I know not whether any man in the world has had more influence on its inhabitants or affairs or the last thirty years than Tom Paine. There can no severer satyr on the age. For such a mongrel between pig and puppy, begotten by a wild boar on a bitch wolf, never before in any age of the world was suffered by the poltroonery of mankind, to run through such a career of mischief,” so to have such influence over ordinary people is to indulge in a career of mischief? So Paine was little more than a demagogue from many elites’ perspective, but if he could get farmers and tradesmen to pick up rifles, then he had a temporary role to play.
Paine gave the American Revolution a much more democratic veneer, and he’s still trotted out every now and them, in tiny doses, to give the impression that we have stayed true to his vision, but if Paine’s foundational ideas are really compared to the actual state of our union, it’s clear that we’ve gone from a flawed yet promising beginning to become this physically and mentally ill, insatiably rapacious yet raped nation. Throughout our entire history, the American underclass has been partially appeased by a trickled down prosperity achieved through endless plunder and conquest, but our rottenness is becoming harder to hide as our ship creaks, lists and sucks in cascades. Standing in this bilge, we can’t help but see our misfortune steadily rising to our ankles, shins, thighs and higher. It’s past time we act.
To begin to see what ails us, let’s start at the top. Paine equated kings with wars, and although we have no king as such, our executive office has usurped the power to unleash war to itself, irrespective of Congress or popular opinions, so that each President has become a de facto king as long as he occupies the White House. With no check or balance, he can have anyone killed, imprisoned or tortured, and even destroy an entire nation. Or take our current President’s nonchalance towards his kill list, as in “I’m a very good killer” and joking about drone strikes, and compare it to the agony Washington went through as he contemplated executing a Brit soldier, Charles Asgill, in retaliation against an American prisoner of war who had been hanged by the English. Asking Congress to decide Asgill’s fate, Washington wrote that “It is a great national concern, upon which an individual ought not to decide.” Echoing Washington’s anguish, Paine called this possible revenge murder “a sentence so extraordinary, an execution so repugnant to every human sensation.” In the end, Asgill was spared. Released, Asgill charged that he had been treated barbarically during his captivity, but this is only an indictment against his local jailers, not anyone higher up. An Abu Ghraib it was not. Think also of how American diplomacy and civility has declined since, for Washington’s behavior is a far cry from Hilary Clinton’s chirpy “We came, we saw, he died!” when speaking about Muammar Gaddafi, a foreign leader who had been sodomized with a knife, killed then displayed in a supermarket freezer by the American-supported thugs. And no, such breezy barbarity is not at all common, since no one but the US routinely violates foreign countries, persons or corpses.
As for Congress, Paine writes that our elected representatives “are supposed to have the same concerns at stake which those have who appointed them, and who will act in the same manner as the whole body would act were they present.” It sure doesn’t sound like what we have, that’s for sure. In fact, Americans’ approval rating for their “representatives” has been hovering in the single digits, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it hit zero soon enough, complete with a dead cat bounce. Maybe it will even sink below zero. With fresh outrages each day, we’ll have to come up with new ways to measure our degradation. First of, an American politician cannot serve the common man when he can really get paid by the big boys or, more importantly, be destroyed by them should he step out of line. With mass surveillance a normalized fact of life, all of his hidden crimes, vices, peccadilloes and goofy or ghastly kinkiness can also be exposed. This is no conspiracy theory but what happens when our bankers and war profiteers are also in control of our mass media. The same fat guys and gals sit on each other’s boards.
Paine spoke of the American Tories as an internal enemy who should be expelled, with their properties confiscated, which in fact happened to 60,000 Loyalists of all kinds after the War of Independence, but who are our internal enemies of today? Contrary to the relentless propaganda that molests our synapses daily, America’s greatest internal threat does not come from terrorists lurking at airports, train stations and shopping malls, but a ruling apparatus that openly serves supranational or even foreign interests. A Federal Reserve that bails out openly criminal banks, domestic and foreign, is certainly an internal enemy, as are all politicians who support the wrecking of our financial and moral standings to advance another nation’s geopolitical interests. Besides oil companies, who do you think benefit from our series of ruinous Middle East wars? Last week, newly elected mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, proudly declared, “Part of my job description is to be a defender of Israel [for] it is elemental to being an American.” No, it’s not, Bill, for it’s only elemental to being an American politician, as things now stand. Persistently defending a rogue state, we have become a naked one ourselves, as led by traitors who have pledged “Israel, right or wrong.” The continued offshoring of American industries and jobs under the cover of “free trade” is also hostile to our interests, so all American politicos who facilitate it must be considered as enemies.
In Scranton, I once saw Thomas Paine quoted on a huge, unsightly memorial outside the county courthouse, “If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace.” Since most of the other quotations advocated unquestioning participation in any American war, the Paine snippet had clearly been taken out of context. Again, he was being used. Far from a being a limp protestor, Paine fully believed in the use of violence, but only if the cause was just. He supported the American army when it was a popular force fighting against oppressive, despotic rule, and certainly not wars of greed, “Not all the treasures of the world, so far as I believe, could have induced me to support an offensive war, for I think it murder.” If Paine was alive today, he would be aghast at our brainwashed or mercenary soldiers who don’t question being sent anywhere to defend the war profiteers’ and banks’ bottom lines and, episodically, even Israel.
There is something very relevant, though, about Paine’s admonition about not passing on our troubles to subsequent generations, for that is exactly what we are doing, and in the most grotesque manners, too. No people in history have so mortgaged the future. We’re indebted beyond salvation, and as our currency becomes debased through reckless money creation, or quantitative easing in current parlance, we won’t just sink ourselves but condemn our offspring to a much degraded existence. In this, Paine also had plenty to say, for he warned against the abuses of fiat money, as controlled by a greedy elite. He would be astounded to see that not only have we allowed paper money to breed unchecked, we’ve come up with the dodgy innovation of paper gold. Soon enough, even the still smug among us will find out that we’re rich in paper only.
In Paine’s time, the enemy was a distant and easily identifiable king, but in ours, the enemy is within and mostly invisible. Our public officials are only the cabana boys and girls, or waiters, of this sick system, and they’re certainly not serving us. In fact, we can’t even press our noses against the glass to see who are dining within. Standing out back, we fight among ourselves for the discarded scraps and that, for now, is our only battle. We’re sad.
Hola, It's Io
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