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Artwork/Political Cartoons
Artwork/Political Cartoons
Artwork/Political Cartoons
Artwork/Political Cartoons

Lately I’ve been catching up on a few missed episodes of The Daily Show, finding some worthwhile segments and interviews along the way.  I found particularly interesting last Thursday’s (2/28/13) interview with MSNBC superstar Rachel Maddow.  Having recently lumped both Daily Show host Jon Stewart and Ms. Maddow into a class I (somewhat disdainfully) dubbed “Establishment Liberals (or ELs),” I listened to the conversation very closely…  Had I been fair?  Would they meet, exceed, or fall short of expectations?  How would they talk about ____________?

First of all, as Daily Show interviews go, this isn’t a bad one.  It features two highly-informed, super-smart individuals making pithy insights and impassioned mini-speeches about the sad state of politics in America — and the dire, looming consequences for our economy (the real high points of the interview tracked these gloomy themes).

*          *          *

But before we get bogged down in the economic and political gloom, let’s take a moment to delve into the guilty pleasure portion of the interview: Rachel Maddow’s fairly priceless description of “weird” Justice Antonin Scalia: an unapologetic, arrogant, shock-jock Justice, playing for laughs (Limbaugh-style), utterly unconcerned with the manners, mores, and laws of civilized society.  Reacting to Scalia’s ludicrous suggestion that protecting the voting rights of minorities is equivalent to “the perpetuation of racial entitlement,” Ms. Maddow goes off:

“But I think he does know how that sounds, and that’s the neat thing about being there [at the Supreme Court] in person, is you can see, Oh, actually, he’s a troll!  He’s saying this for effect.  He knows it’s offensive, and he knows he’s gonna’ get a ‘GASP’ from the courtroom (which he got) — and he LOVES it!  He’s like the guy in your blog comment-thread who’s using the N-word: Blah!  Oh, made you mad?  How about if I say this?  Did it make you mad?  Did I make you mad?

And here Maddow brings her Scalia critique home (while also making the relevant point about how a major pillar of the Civil Rights Movement is about to be torn down by a quintet of robed, retrograde ideologues):

“He’s that kind of guy: When we’re all shocked that he said something so blatantly racially offensive (while talking about the cornerstone of a federal civil rights act), he’s thinking, Oh yeah, I did!

Ladies and gentlemen, his eminence, Supreme Court Justice Antonin (Archie Bunker/Eric Cartman) Scalia…

*          *          *

Okay, GLOOM time! 

Having had their righteous, partisan fun at Scalia’s expense, Mr. Stewart and Ms. Maddow move on to discuss the dreaded “SEQUESTER.”  It is during this segment that these two fine Establishment Liberals (or ELs), while making some very astute points along the way, run a teensy bit of cover for the president and quietly support the establishment mantra du jour: that manufactured crises “force us” to do “things that we wouldn’t otherwise do” (implicitly, “things” like slashing/restructuring entitlements). 

The interview is also remarkable for the phrase that somehow does NOT come up, constituting a fairly glaring omission (especially considering the way they danced all around it): THE SHOCK DOCTRINE

First, Jon Stewart broaches the topic of The Sequester with a statement that largely (though not entirely) spares the austerity president who fought so determinedly for the damned sequester in the first place:

“Speaking of frustrating legislative experiences, they — 18 months ago, or two years ago — set up a penalty so harsh, this Congress and the president… that they couldn’t (dare) face it, because of the danger and the damage it would do to this country…

“They set up a sword of Damocles — and now they’re just gonna’ let it swing down and cut us all to ribbons.”

“Yes!”  Maddow resoundingly agrees, and insightfully elucidates the prevailing model of governing in Washington, DC, these days:

“We have to INVENT NEW CRISES and it’s only the threat and the fear that we have — about that thing, that crisis that we’ve created — that’s going to force us to do something that we just need to do as part of regular governing.

“…And that strategy totally breaks down when we stop (feeling) afraid — and when that crisis no longer drives us to do things we wouldn’t otherwise do…  And when you have a self-imposed crisis every few months, because that’s the only way you know to govern…”

* While I think Ms. Maddow is really onto something, vis-à-vis the INVENTED nature of our current crises (our economy is being pillaged, plain and simple), the phrase “something that we just need to do as a part of regular governing” is unfortunate — and telling.  For I do NOT think it alludes merely to tasks like raising the debt ceiling (I’ll again refer you to the phrase “things we wouldn’t otherwise do”).  This is standard EL-speak, conveying resignation to a fictitious “necessity” and at least partial acceptance of the right’s basic (bogus) narratives, including: much of their thoroughly debunked case for austerity; their deficit hysteria; and their recycled ideas for so-called entitlement “reform” (which would DEFORM entitlements in ways that would’ve had Nixon-era or Reagan Republicans deliriously jizzing themselves for DECADES, singing “Ding dong, the New Deal is dead!”).  But Chained CPI and means-tested Medicare — movement conservatism’s desiccated old “zombie” policy prescriptions favoring the 1% — are New Deal-eroding “solutions” that today’s Liberal Establishment has largely embraced (or at least, often declined to challenge).

Later, Ms. Maddow talks quite sensibly about the foreseeable, economically disastrous, effects of the sequester:

“It’s gonna’ slow down economic growth.  The slow, bad recovery that we’ve got is going to get worse.  Hundreds of thousands of people are going to lose jobs.  All sorts of services are going to get cut… Nobody actually thinks that the effect of this on the country is going to be a good thing.  Nobody says, Yes, this is good policy… 

“IT’S WANTON INFLICTION OF HARM ON THE COUNTRY FOR NO REASON.  It doesn’t even really cut the deficit…”

THANK YOU, Ms. Maddow, I could not agree more! 

But neither host nor guest take advantage of this moment to make the greater point: that such an assessment applies to ALL AUSTERITY, whether it’s sequestration’s $1.2 trillion in spending cuts, Barack Obama’s $1.5 trillion, or the GOP’s $2.2 trillion it’s ALL economic suicide for the U.S. (to be explained/debunked and derided, 100% defeated, and otherwise avoided at all costs!).

Ms. Maddow then turns the subject to public sector jobs, hundreds of thousands of which have already been lost under this president:

“…having public sector jobs shrink has been bad for the economy already, and we’re about to just shrink it wantonly, with NO PUBLIC POLICY PURPOSE AT ALL… OTHER THAN TO SLOW DOWN THE ECONOMY FOR NOTHING.

Not “FOR NOTHING,” Ms. Maddow, but to break us — there is MUCH method (recognizable, practically patented) to this madness.  This method (neoliberal economics) and its path of destruction have been well documented…  So as I’m listening to this part of the interview, I increasingly yearn for one of these ELs to simply drop character and call the devil by its name: “THE SHOCK DOCTRINE!  THE SHOCK DOCTRINE!  THE SHOCK DOCTRINE!”  

The phrase is in the air (it is the PACHYCEPHALOSAUR in the room), but neither host nor guest dares speak its name: The Shock Doctrine.  Although they are undoubtedly familiar with Naomi Klein’s critically acclaimed, earth-shattering sensation of a book, neither Jon Stewart nor Rachel Maddow state the obvious: “Disaster Capitalism” has come home. 

They are two very smart, educated people, and I can’t help feeling that they must know that the U.S. economy is under siege (I like them both, but I can also picture them in a Hunger Games audience chamber, wearing great, sparkly wigs and cheering with the other 1%’ers — I’ll warrant I’ve always had an active imagination).  Do Stewart and Maddow not recognize what’s happening?  I genuinely wonder how they could not see that the precise methods American institutions have used for decades (to BREAK other nations’ economies) are today being employed against the United States.  These institutions (which we once, rather foolishly, thought worked for America) — Congress, multinational corporations, the WTO, G-8, and international banks/the IMF — have turned their humanity-enslaving, democracy-breaking sights on us (ask an Iraqi or a Chilean — most any South American — they know about “The Shock Doctrine,” having been on the receiving end).  The weapons of NEOLIBERALISM (usury/debt traps; government corruption; authoritarianism and torture; downward pressure on wages; privatization; deregulation; defunding/dismantling of social programs) are being employed to finish off America’s middle class and our brightest future.

But Jon Stewart and Rachel Maddow are silent when it comes to the big picture (the plundering of America’s economy; the near-total corruption of our government; and the unraveling of decades-to-centuries of laws).  They mostly just shake their heads at the sequester… and those goofy, intransigent Republicans.

*          *          *

In writing/researching this blog, I’ve revisited a lot of Jon Stewart’s Daily Show interviews — and some Rachel Maddow clips, too — and I’m happy to say that, overall, I am VERY GRATEFUL for the work of these two individuals.  They are both reasonably good journalists, and I believe they have each made important contributions to the national conversation and to American culture, performing some vital (satirical and journalistic) functions during an extended (unending?) period of national crisis. 

Nonetheless, I reserve the right to criticize even those public figures whom I admire, when I feel that what I have to say is constructive and valid.  And now, since I don’t especially wish to keep picking at my heroes’ foibles, I’ll wrap this up…

Mr. Stewart rounds out the interview with some GOP-bashing (a little straw-man, a little insight) and Ms. Maddow chimes in:

“…you can either be good at running the government, or you can deride the government and be bad at running it… and that’s sort of the choice that we’ve gotta’ make between the two different approaches, right now, and it feels clearer than ever.

Obviously, I think that the distinctions that Ms. Maddow and Jon Stewart routinely draw between the two parties are VASTLY overstated.  The “choice” between Austerity/Wall Street/Neocon Party #1 and Austerity/Wall Street/Neocon Party #2 is — “clearer than ever”?  I don’t think so. 

In any case, habeas corpus is gone, my friends — and the bad guys are coming for America’s spine.

Part 1: “IT, the Creature That Dismantled My Country!”

For my recent weeklong trip to Arizona, I packed just two books: one was Lawrence Lessig’s (non-fiction, political) Republic, Lost, and the other was a Theodore Sturgeon short story collection titled Not Without Sorcery — a mélange of horror, sci-fi, and fantasy.  Although I’m as impressed as ever with Lessig’s excellent book, it is Sturgeon’s opening short story, “It”, that has my blogging-wheels churning, of late.  Aside from being the first tale in the tome, “It” is the lone HORROR story in Not Without Sorcery, providing a blood-curdling prelude to an otherwise light and whimsical series.  But make no mistake: “It” is OOZINGLY horrific. 

How “oozingly horrific” is IT?  Why, it’s so unutterably ghastly that IT reminded me of WHAT’S HAPPENING TO AMERICA RIGHT NOW… 

[WARNING: This blog contains some Sturgeon story SPOILERS.]

Theodore Sturgeon’s “It” features an unlivingyetanimate confederation of muck, mold, and, yes, the long-neglected remains of a person (including some bones and a metal skull plate) — basically a “boogeyman” on the prowl. 

…I just caught myself about to describe It as a creature of “pure malevolence,” but such a description (aside from being a hackneyed cliché) would be inaccurate.  Its acts are terrible indeed, but Sturgeon’s creation is explicitly not a creature of malice.  When It snatches up small plants and field creatures — rending, smashing, and grinding them against itself — the monster is merely following an irresistible instinct to do whatever it can to increase its understanding of the world.  Lacking knowledge, it is ultimately naïve (amoral, insatiable, and pitiless… but naïve). 

But I do not wish to dwell overlong on the character of It, which is only tangentially related to my point.  [Though I welcome you to think of Sturgeon’s It as a metaphor for, say, the Corporatocracy that’s basically running the planet (into the ground): a soulless conglomeration of crud that knows little more than how to destroy things outside of itself (usually outside of itself, anyway) in order to grow by accretion… of knowledge, raw materials, bailout trillions, homes, human beings — any(every)thing it can absorb.  Think Wal-Mart, Monsanto, or Goldman Sachs.]  

What I found so devastating in Sturgeon’s short story was his gruesome description of the muck-monster’s dismantling of a dog.  The author does not linger overlong on details, nor does he need to — the thought is sufficiently revolting.  I grew up with dogs, and I’m almost embarrassed to say how much I’ve loved some of the dogs I’ve known — it would be fair to say that I found this part of the story fairly wrenching…

AND YET, IN THIS GRUESOME SCENE, I CANNOT HELP BUT SEE A METAPHOR FOR WHAT’S HAPPENING TO AMERICA, RIGHT NOW:  THE NATION IS BEING DISMANTLED. 

Long-standing public institutions — from the U.S. Postal Service to the national parks and public school systems to bona fide ENTITLEMENTS — are under assault (with Republicans and Democrats, including the president, leading the charge toward MORONIC AUSTERITY and permanent economic contraction).  AS SURE AS THE “SHOCK DOCTRINE” (Neoliberal economics) and CHICKENS COMING HOME TO ROOST, America is being surgically vivisected by Wall Street and the “Fix the Debt” crew, all the way down to our backbone and major organs (with corporations waiting in the wings to privatize what’s left and hook us up to their life support machines, charging us to breathe “their” air, eat “their” food, etc.).  

In previous blogs I’ve tried to impress readers with the significance of the political moment in which we find ourselves.  Americans have every reason to believe that the considerable harm that George W. Bush and Barack Obama have done to America’s economy and institutions (and to the nation’s fundamental character) may be lasting.  As things currently stand, Nixon, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Bush and John Yoo all stand vindicated by President Obama’s wholesale embrace of their most radical legal arguments — and the .01% is celebrating the fruition of the Reagan Revolution and the end of the social compact (and the end of laws, or even consequences, for elite criminals). 

If I may repeat myself, consider what is being undone:

1. The United States Postal Service (victim of Congressional-federal sabotage);

2. The public school system (ditto);

3. Elected government (city councils, mayors, etc. replaced with appointees);

4. The wealth of African-Americans and Hispanics (plundered by Wall Street);

5. The Bill of Rights;

6. Posse comitatus;

7. Constitutional governance;

8. The Rule of Law;

9. America’s infrastructure;

10. Social Security and Medicare;

11. Voting rights; and

12. The Earth’s climate

So, the next time you see me walking around with an expression like someone just killed my dog — well, now you’ll know why.  (Come back, Yeller!)

Part 2: Robert Kuttner’s Got a Nifty Metaphor, Too!

And now, here’s an excerpt from Robert Kuttner’s excellent blog today, featuring his metaphor for the sorry state of America’s political leadership (his metaphor is less ooky than mine, it’s true, but he’s not describing the dismantling of something he loves):

“The economy faces a persistent budget crisis. Pushback from Wall Street has gutted most of the banking reforms, unemployment is stuck around 8 percent, corporate profits have been soaring while there is no wage growth — and the newest White House proposal is… a free trade zone with Europe. This idea of a Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Area was tossed in, reportedly at the last moment, to President Obama’s State of the Union, and is being promoted in the government’s latest report on trade. You don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

“This is a classic case of changing the subject to a cause that will not address any of the economy’s deeper ills and could well worsen them. It recalls the very old joke about the drunk looking for his keys under a lamp post. He mentions to a cop that he lost the keys somewhere else, but ‘this is where the light is.’”

And there you have a fine metaphor for our leaders in Washington: so buffoonishly inept that one would suspect they are blind drunk — for what have trade pacts done but ELIMINATE American jobs?  Both sides in this Beltway debate should be wearing mile-high dunce caps for ignoring all of Keynesian economics, the entire presidency of FDR, widespread fraud, austerity’s path of destruction in Europe, and the FACT that the U.S. once SPENT OUR WAY out of a considerably deeper fiscal hole (with a far worse debt-to-GDP ratio) than the one we’re in today. 

And yet conservatives today are demanding $2.2 trillion in austerity, while the “Left” — allegedly represented by President Obama and the Dems — is proposing $1.5 trillion of austerityand cuts to entitlements!  (Would you like a full pitcher of arsenic-tea today — or just two-thirds full?  Some choice!)  Neither major political party is proposing anything like putting Americans back to work by rebuilding — and greening — our crumbling infrastructure.  Neither party has begun to address climate change or ending Too Big Too Fail (confronting the REAL “moral hazards” of the world, those big, parasitic babies on Wall Street).  Neither party has discussed ending the Global War of Terror that has left hundreds of thousands of people dead and endangers millions more… 

America is being dismantled, our future frittered away — and yet we have NO LEADERS (just two packs of corrupt derelicts, searching for solutions where they know none exist).

It’s true: one doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Part III — Returning to The Atlantic in order to illuminate a disturbing dynamic; AND (finally) a suburban, white “Zonie” reflects on his imperfect and incomplete journey…

SOOTHING A WHITE EDITOR

Before I briefly synopsize my personal journey across racially complicated America, I have to add a postscript to the previous installation of this blog series.  It concerns the video embedded on the page of The Atlantic that features Ta-Nehisi Coates’ essay, “Fear of a Black President.”  This video presents Coates discussing his essay with his boss — THE editor of The Atlantic (rather than a “senior editor,” Coates’ title) — and here is why I feel compelled to discuss it: Their conversation serves (perfectly) as an unintended reinforcement of everything in Coates’ essay about the need for prominent, successful blacks to “soothe race consciousness among whites.”  It’s astonishing, really, that the editors of the magazine would embed this video, not seeing how illustrative it is of Coates’ point!

In the video we learn that Ta-Nehisi Coates’ boss, Scott Stossel — after some discussion with The Atlantic’s editor in chief, James Bennet — told Coates that his piece was “angry.”  Coates responds, “I did not think it was angry when I turned it in… You said that, and I went back and read it, and I do think, now, it is angry.” 

 Stossel feels the need to reiterate the claim, saying of the essay:  “There’s anger at the United States.  There’s also anger, or at least frustration, at Obama…” and Coates assents (Yes, boss, I said it was angry…). 

Personally, I do NOT think the piece is angry.  I think it is powerful, incisive, disturbing, and altogether brilliant.  But just because it makes some white men at the top of the organization squirm, that doesn’t mean it is an “angry” piece.

I’ve now watched the video three times, and I can’t get over the irony.  The video unintentionally makes Coates’ case for him.  It captures the moment wherein a senior black editor is (gently, even cordially) admonished, figuratively taken out to the woodshed, and made to publicly acknowledge how: a) he has, perhaps, gone too far; b) how Obama’s strategy (soothing, rather than confronting, the white establishment) is probably for the best and will “benefit” blacks; and, also, c) how none of the things he (Coates) is saying about how to succeed in the white-male dominated world apply to his nice, white-male bosses. 

Stossel: “You work with us in, in this environment… D-d-d’you act… are you conscious of acting, you know, for lack of a better way of putting it, whiter, and then you go home and…” (NOoo!  No boss, not here!  No, I like it here; I’m talking about those other blacks in those other jobs…)

Please understand that I am not trying to stand in judgment over Scott Stossel or Ta-Nehisi Coates, both of whom I very much admire.  I do not see Stossel as imperious “master” and Coates as servile “slave” — and I think that such an interpretation would be going WAY too far (offensively so).  What I am saying is the dynamic that Coates describes in his essay is REAL, pervasive, and all but inescapable in today’s America — and this video demonstrates how very far we have to go as a society, before TRUE EQUALITY is anything like a reality.

I’m saying that America will be a hell of a lot better off when we reach that place where this dynamic is fully behind us, where blacks are permitted to be as angry about racial injustice as whites — and where African-Americans are not required to soothe the consciences of whites and constantly reassure their white bosses and peers in order to succeed.

*          *          *

James’ Journey: a tale of growing up (suburban and white) in a racially kerfuffled nation

BEGINNINGS

I guess the oldest story I have in my personal history, concerning race, is one that I don’t technically remember.  It’s one of those stories from childhood that becomes a part of the family lore, told from time to time, regardless of whether the subject has any recollection of it — like the time I apparently told our waitress that she was a “lousy cook” because the toast she’d served me was burnt (“What a charming four-year old!” she must have thought to herself).  But this particular story consists entirely of the fact that first-grade James had brought home a “girlfriend” — for the first time, of course — and she was a little black girl!  My understanding is that she was a cute little thing with pig-tails and, after visiting for a while, my folks drove her home.  In the ensuing years, I was sometimes present when the story was recounted for neighbors and relatives, basically under the category of Kids do the darnedest things!  (Would there have been a story at all, had I brought home a cute little redhead or blonde?  It seems unlikely.)  But the story, I suspect, had a function apart from its race-based entertainment value.  In the brave new world of the suburban Southwest (Arizona, where I would spend the vast majority of my formative years) — in the liberal 1970s, on the heels of the largely successful Civil Rights movement — I suspect that the story was also intended, on some level, to convey my parents’ racially tolerant and enlightened beliefs.

Were my parents misrepresenting themselves?  Were they being pretentious or merely trying to act hip?  (For, though they could still do a mean Jitterbug, they were probably a bit more conservative and “square” than “with-it… daddy-O.”)  But no: they were sincere.  Aside from being basically fair minded, good hearted, and reasonably worldly, educated people, they did not (and do not) embrace ANY overtly bigoted notions.  And while prejudice and ignorance often work very subtly within the hearts and minds of many (if not most) people on this earth — and while my parents haven’t always proven immune from such biases (any more than I have) — my mother and father could not easily be mistaken for bigots or racists.  Along with the majority of the country, my mom and dad laughed at “Archie Bunker” and not with him.  And they loved Sammy Davis, Jr., Bill Cosby, and Sidney Poitier.  And they watched, with their children, much of the television mini-series “Roots,” based on Alex Haley’s book of the same name.  It was, after all, a cultural landmark and a significant chapter in white America’s slowly advancing racial sensitivity and appreciation of the African-American experience.  We all saw what those humanity-enslaving bastards did to Kunta Kinte — and we all knew that it was very, very WRONG. 

But I promised to recap my journey in this blog, so enough about my parents… (Mom, Dad, if you’re reading, I LOVE YOU!) 

What other early experiences helped shape my attitudes on race? 

Television and movies played a role, to be sure — as a child, I certainly saw my share of old Warner Brothers and MGM cartoons, several of which (like “Tom and Jerry”) occasionally featured some fairly (to very) offensive racial caricatures (not that I was sufficiently race-conscious to be offended — or particularly amused — by such “jokes”).  There was also Disney’s “Song of the South” with Uncle Remus’ tale of Br’er Rabbit and the tar baby (which, unfamiliar with the racial epithet, young Jimmy simply took to be a funny story about a trap for a tricky, briar patch-lovin’ rabbit).  There was “Rochester,” comedian Jack Benny’s television butler, who I remember (vaguely) as somewhat beleaguered, but also clever, resourceful, and wryly funny.  There were “The Jeffersons” and “Good Times” (which I remember as funny, sometimes over-the-top silly, and sometimes eye-opening, with regard to race and poverty). 

[Just now, it occurs to me that those 1970s sitcoms also taught me something about African-American culture, including that it was in some ways different from my culture (whatever that was): characters like George Jefferson and Jimmy J.J. Walker celebrated their black-American-ness with music and dancing, “jivey” lingo, and a certain PRIDE in their ethnicity that did not particularly resonate with me (my family didn’t especially celebrate our Canadian-French/Irish, New England-Roman Catholic whiteness… we just lived it).  My thoughts on that cultural difference today: perhaps there is less need to celebrate one’s ethnicity when one hails from the dominant, de facto “legitimized” race.]  

And finally, there was, as I mentioned, “Roots” featuring Kunta Kinte and Chicken George, whose stories were not funny but shocking, and based on real lives and historical events.  (One final note: I recall that actor John Amos, between “Good Times” and “Roots,” impressed me, overall, as an Everyman and a MAN (a male ideal), with his gruff-terse disposition, powerful build and strong face, his dignity, morality, and menacing glower — and his willingness to soften and capitulate to “Florida” and his TV children.)

I’ll move on now to my first encounters with black schoolmates (whom I could count on one hand, so far as my elementary school experience goes) — actual people I knew (not just characters I saw on my parents’ television set).  Who were they?  There was “Terry,” who was mostly quiet in class and generally easygoing: a NICE kid, I thought.  He was chunkily overweight, but very good at softball and kickball (as I was at soccer — and only soccer).  He was dark-skinned, unassuming and gentle, with big white teeth when he smiled (I also vaguely recall being surprised the first time I saw the palms of his large hands — so pale-pink, such contrast…).  “Terry,” in my estimation, was also more comfortable than I in the culture of young males (where I — a smallish, unsure, and crew-cutted little freak — gained acceptance only because of my exceptional drawing skills and sense of humor).  But I remember being shocked and taken aback, one day, when I saw him administer the most painful-seeming (underwear-ripping, protracted, and tear-inducing) “snuggy” (aka, “wedgie”) that I’d ever seen performed… on the class oaf, of course.  I would never in a thousand years have expected such cruelty from nice, easygoing “Terry,” who’d had an encouraging crowd around him when he performed this commonplace act of childhood sadism.  It seems to me, in retrospect, that his unusual conduct that day may have been part of his seeking acceptance in the cult of young boys (being twice as ‘good’ — or conservative — as his white peers… in this case, twice as cruel). 

There were also two black brothers at my elementary school, neither of whom was in my class.  Like “Terry,” they had full afros and were very good in sports.  The older brother, in fact, was legendary for his size and strength.  During recess, he was the ultimate (un-smearable) “queer” with a football, when we boys would play “smear the queer” — an unfortunately named game that involved tackling (or “smearing”) whoever had the football.  I once saw “Eric” remain vertical while dragging 12-14 kids, all hanging off of him and each other.  He reminded me of the folk legend “John Henry,” the “Steel-drivin’ man” who beat the machine.  And that, by the way, was a story I truly loved (WAY more than that of “Pecos Bill” or “Johnny Appleseed” or even “Paul Bunyan”) — such HEROIC DRAMA!  But I also remember that I found “Eric” and his brother intimidating, somehow, not as friendly or nice as “Terry,” who was in my class.  In fact, they seemed sullen and apart to me, disapproving or resentful, maybe.  I’m sure it confused me, but I remember feeling that they were differently black than “Terry.”  There were two of them, for one thing, often together, and I regarded them with a small measure of fear…

*          *          *

There is obviously more to this story, but it occurs to me that this is supposed to be a blog and not a book… and I do not mean to try my readers’ patience.  I’ve been wondering about when I would weigh in on The Sequester and other current events (like the apparently imminent EVISCERATION OF THE VOTING RIGHTS ACT by five so-called “Justices” on the Supreme Court).  I’ve also been reading through Lawrence Lessig’s Republic Lost, in order that I may be more specific when I talk about SOLUTIONS to our campaign finance system of legalized bribery.

I will try to return to this subject (perhaps sooner, perhaps later), if only to finish what I’ve started.  But for now, the journey will have to remain incomplete.

Part II: Ta-Nehisi Coates’ (quite possibly perfect) analysis of racial double standards in 21st-century America

In the previous installment of this blog series, I set out to debunk the dubious claim that, simply by electing our first ever African-American president, America has finally exorcised the demon called Racism. Not hardly, I scoffed, disgorging a superfluity of statistics to support my contention that, while much improvement has been made, America has a LONG way to go in this area.  Today, I’ll add one more such statistic, courtesy of Adam Gopnik, writing just over a year ago in The New Yorker:

“More than half of all black men without a high-school diploma go to prison at some time in their lives. Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country today — perhaps the fundamental fact, as slavery was the fundamental fact of 1850. In truth, there are more black men in the grip of the criminal-justice system — in prison, on probation, or on parole — than were in slavery then.”

Although Mr. Gopnik seems to be merely elaborating on one of the key findings in Michelle Alexander’s celebrated book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, the point is well made.  Also, it reinforces the basic argument I’ve been offering: that slavery/oppression of black people in America has morphed rather than been eradicated, with several fairly sickening permutations to date (including the post-Civil War decades of Ku Klux Klan terrorism and lynchings, “Separate But Equal” laws, mass-political disenfranchisement, and a “justice” system that does little more than racially profile and gratuitously incarcerate millions of non-whites… with much brutality along the way).

Now here’s the twist: Just when I was putting the final touches on that first blog installment, I discovered an incisive and truly damning essay in The Atlantic that blew me away: “Fear of a Black President.”  Atlantic senior editor Ta-Nehisi Coates had compiled a far more sweeping and devastating case against “Post-racial” America than I had managed, with a scholarly tour of U.S. history, rather than a barrage of statistics, leading the way.  Coates has simply (very efficiently) recapped an American history of racism and racial double standards at the national-political level: a succinct account of America’s racial-political history that leads up to — and most definitely includes — the presidency (thus far) of Barack Hussein Obama.

I decided on the spot that Mr. Coates’ excellent (quite possibly perfect) September 2012 essay deserved its own spotlight in a future installment on this topic… and here it is (I’ll hit a few key points, using excerpts from Coates’ piece, but I HIGHLY recommend reading the essay in its entirety).

*          *          *

My response to “FEAR OF A BLACK PRESIDENT” by Ta-Nehisi Coates:

After expounding on certain challenges facing African-Americans in the United States — who have to be “half as black” and “twice as good” (and/or conservative) as their white counterparts in order to gain acceptance in the broader, predominantly white community — Mr. Coates acknowledges the complexity of the “post-racial” question, with respect to the election of Barack Obama:

“Watching Obama rack up victories in states like Virginia, New Mexico, Ohio, and North Carolina on Election Night in 2008, anyone could easily conclude that racism, as a national force, had been defeated. The thought should not be easily dismissed: Obama’s victory demonstrates the incredible distance this country has traveled. (Indeed, William F. Buckley Jr. later revised his early positions on race; Robert Byrd spent decades in Congress atoning for his.) That a country that once took whiteness as the foundation of citizenship would elect a black president is a victory. But to view this victory as racism’s defeat is to forget the precise terms on which it was secured, and to ignore the quaking ground beneath Obama’s feet.”

Indeed, after his election in 2008, the ground was quaking so furiously that Mr. Obama apparently felt that, in order to reassure The Man, he had to immediately surround himself with some of the very worst elements of the thoroughly rotten (and white-male dominated) establishment: from the tainted agents of Wall Street, Tim Geithner, Rahm Emmanuel, and Larry Summers; to the warmongering neocons, Stanley McChrystal, David Petraeus, Bob Gates, John Brennan, and Hillary Clinton.  The effect was an utter negation of one of the most sweeping presidential election results in American history, putting disreputable and discredited Wall Street crooks and the torturing, law-averse neocons firmly in charge of our government despite Bush/Cheney’s exit from office and an unmistakable repudiation of all they stood for (even Obama’s 2008 opponent, Senator McCain, took great pains to distance himself from Bush’s radicalism, torture, and failed policies).  But President Obama’s Cabinet members, generals, and top advisors alternately tag-teamed, “rolled,” and brazenly defied him from the start, corralling him into permanent, global, extralegal war and a $16 trillion, reform-free bailout of the criminals who trashed the world’s economy (and clearly promise to do so again).

Eventually, Coates offers a statistic of his own, one well worth contemplating:

“One in four Americans (and more than half of all Republicans) believe Obama was not born in this country, and thus is an illegitimate president.”

It’s a telling (and deplorable) statistic, eloquent of the reality of irrationally obstinate racism in 21st-century America — and not merely of how politically divided the nation is.  As Coates explains: Clinton-bashing in the 1990s, however vehement and unhinged, didn’t go nearly as far in questioning President Clinton’s very legitimacy.  And, to be fair, conservatives had, in Bill Clinton, an actual target — a man with significant personal moral and ethical failings (albeit, not when it came to matters of public policy — at least, not from a corporatist-conservative perspective).

[A personal note: Having just returned from a week in Arizona, I can attest to the resiliency of kneejerk Obama-loathing in some American hearts (though this observation should not be construed as applying to all Arizonans, by any means, but merely to a few individuals I encountered).  From the least informed to others who were clearly better educated, I heard that Obama was responsible for everything from defunding NASA — which began in earnest under George W. Bush — to the rise of fascism in America — which also began in earnest with Bush (Obama has merely sealed the deal, and with none of the self-aggrandizement of Bush… or Hitler, for that matter — with whom I heard Obama compared at least twice during my travels).]

Ta-Nehisi Coates explains the tradition of “black self-hectoring” in connection to his point that, in order to succeed in white society, ambitious black men and women must be “half as black” as prominent whites: half as willing to stand up for blacks and call out racism and institutionalized oppression.  While lamenting this tradition, Coates admits the shrewdness of the strategy: prominent African-Americans understand that the American establishment has little tolerance for an angry (or even critical) black voice — whether that anger is justified or not (…precisely because it is justified — and defensive white America, especially the ownership class, does NOT want to hear about it: “Those are our forty acre lots and our mules” they insist, “and deals with blacks aren’t worth any more than, say, treaties with Native Americans!”). 

Mr. Coates then presents the findings of a study showing that (two years into his first term) President Obama had discussed race less than any Democratic president since 1961, and further observes that this president: 

“…declines to use his bully pulpit to address racism, using it instead to engage in the time-honored tradition of black self-hectoring, railing against the perceived failings of black culture.  His approach is not new. It is the approach of Booker T. Washington, who, amid a sea of white terrorists during the era of Jim Crow, endorsed segregation and proclaimed the South to be a land of black opportunity.”

Other prominent examples of this phenomenon that spring to mind are ultra-conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, last year’s Republican candidate for president (brief frontrunner and bona fide screwball) Herman Cain, and even comedian Bill Cosby (a funny, likeable, and admirable public personality who drew criticism from some quarters — appropriately, I would say — for disproportionately blaming poor blacks for the social ills prevalent in their community, while sparing the system that routinely cheats and oppresses them).

Coates then recounts the Obama administration’s shameful handling of the Shirley Sherrod “scandal” (another Breitbart frame-up) providing yet another example of how, generally speaking, this president won’t touch RACE with a ten-foot pole, even when innocent African-Americans are being slandered and destroyed.  In the case of Ms. Sherrod, as with ACORN, the decades-old social service organization, careers were ENDED (and whole communities injured) by the blatant falsehoods of an unambiguously disreputable and bigoted political hack and miscreant (may he rot in peace). 

Coates concludes his damning case with the following observation:

“Part of Obama’s genius is a remarkable ability to soothe race consciousness among whites. Any black person who’s worked in the professional world is well acquainted with this trick. But never has it been practiced at such a high level, and never have its limits been so obviously exposed. This need to talk in dulcet tones, to never be angry regardless of the offense, bespeaks a strange and compromised integration indeed, revealing a country so infantile that it can countenance white acceptance of blacks only when they meet an Al Roker standard.”

Well, there you have it: Ta-Nehisi Coates has perfectly summed up America’s arrested state of development (if not actual regression), when it comes to racial progress.  He has made PLAIN our national refusal to come to terms with endemic and widespread racism — and Barack Obama’s presidency has only underlined that reality.  READ HIS ESSAY and please feel free to tell me whether or not you find it persuasive.

Next: Part III — A suburban, white “Zonie” reflects on his imperfect and incomplete journey…

The Return of "MoneyDrone" -- a cartoon ahead of its time...

With the Senate confirmation hearings of John Brennan (“Father John” above — Obama’s morally repugnant nominee for CIA Director), plus the controversy around Zero Dark Thirty, and Obama’s “KILL LIST” all receiving prominent attention in the news, these days, I thought it appropriate to reprint the above political cartoon before returning to my series on race relations in 2013 America.

Although The New York Times had just published a high-profile article about the existence of this (Bush-worthy) program when my cartoon was first published (6/10/12), many Democrats, liberals, and nominal progressives were still in the dark (willfully, it seems) with regard to Obama’s extrajudicial killing program — including his “signature strikes.”  (Signature Strikes explained: if the Yemenis/Somalis/Libyans/etc. on the ground look like militants, we launch our Hellfire missiles first and ask questions about their identities and guilt/innocence later — meaning never.  It’s the same profiling principle that left young Trayvon Martin dead at the hands of George Zimmerman — just for walking around with Skittles, iced tea, and a hoodie in the wrong Florida neighborhood while black.  It’s also the principle/policy that explains how an ANTI-al Qaeda cleric in Yemen was recently murdered in a U.S. missile strike.) 

But back when the above cartoon was first published, it was easier to deny the very existence of this radically un-American program (despite the news reports).  Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL) even had the gall to treat one interviewer as if he were a total loon for questioning her about Obama’s “kill list” (“I’m happy to answer any serious questions,” she responded condescendingly). 

Well, the president’s reflexively dishonest, torture-defending, blood-stained nominee to head the nation’s premier intelligence agency has dragged the policy out into the open… so the unprincipled left should can the ostrich routine (and they should also, as Glenn Greenwald has been arguing, make their apologies to Bush, Cheney, Yoo, Rumsfeld and the rest of that war-criminal cabal — with whom, when it comes to Washington’s post-9/11 radical departure from our Constitution, they apparently wholeheartedly AGREE).

Endemic Racism and Brutality Yields Vigilantism and Terrorism (featuring a discussion of American VALUES)

Rodney King, Abner Louima, Amidou Diallo, the systematic oppression of African-Americans, and the ever-more violent “creeping annexation” of Palestine — what do they have in common?

Systematic brutalization of whole peoples, predicated on racism, inevitably provokes a violent response.

As the United States has slid (so easily, so casually) into fascism — right down to eliminating due process and collecting and storing virtually all citizen communications — American culture has embraced savagery and bloody revenge as “values.”  Americans today cheer for war (as many did when George W. Bush took us to war in Iraq and, more recently, when President Obama helped bomb Libya into chaos).  Americans today celebrate outright murder (Saddam Hussein’s, Muammar Qaddafi’s, and Osama bin Laden’s).  And we defend, or at least tolerate, torture, PRETENDING that it yields good intelligence (something that liberals, Alan Dershowitz through Hollywood, have now joined conservatives in doing — with Tinseltown’s pernicious propaganda film, Zero Dark Thirty, misleading Americans in theaters across the nation as I type these words).

How far have we sunk? 

Over the last few days, an African-American ex-cop turned vigilante/cop-killer has become something of a folk hero to some misguided Americans who have clearly adopted these post-9/11 values — in part, because they see justice in this ex-police officer’s recent crimes, but also because they have embraced their own victimhood (often a necessary step in making the transition from abused to abuser).  The media is in a state of high dudgeon, a veritable hypocrites’ parade, with the typical double-standard being applied when it comes to blacks, Muslims, and other targets of official discrimination (to illustrate the point: Christopher Dorner, the ex-cop “vigilante,” has been generally depicted as a monster by the MSM, whereas American Sniper author, Chris Kyle — the proud butcher of over 150 “damn savages” in Iraq — has been treated in media reports as a “hero” …turned martyr, thanks to the rash, bloody act of a fellow Iraq War veteran at a Texas gun range).

But this kind of senseless violence is simply a logical consequence — and, increasingly, a commonplace event — when a nation blithely chucks its traditional values and instead exalts pure, unadulterated savagery. 

*          *          *

Some shrewd observers of our politics have noted that had the United States prevailed in Iraq, few Americans would have had any problem whatsoever with that grotesque incident of mass-slaughter founded on witting lies.  Having witnessed the rapid disintegration of American values in the post-9/11 period, I have no doubt at all that this sad observation is 100% correct. 

[Incidentally, please set aside the conventional use of the word “values” in our modern political discussion, which I realize is usually coded bigotry — an excuse to denigrate homosexuals, minorities, artists, and intellectuals.  I’m talking about actual traditional American values: RESPECT FOR THE LAW; REVULSION AT THE VERY SUGGESTION OF TORTURE; CIVILITY; TOLERANCE; HUMAN DECENCY; and JUSTICE — which is, in fact, distinct from REVENGE.] 

Savagery, permanent war, and barbarism have been inculcated as “values” for some time in America, I realize — and largely through the efforts of supposedly liberal Hollywood: Death Wish, 24 (the torture-lobby’s favorite TV show), Zero Dark Thirty, etc.   But we have arrived at a new and terrifying place, and it’s time we stop and take note of that reality.

Following the example set by their cowed and feckless elders, America’s youth (my outstanding-educator wife tells me) have adopted “savage” and “sick” in place of “awesome” and “cool.”  That’s the new slang in classrooms today.  (But, kiddos, I am not down with this particular sickness, however “legit” you might deem it.  No, thank you.  Not now.  Not ever.)

What rogue ex-cop Christopher Dorner did is not remotely acceptable… but it was predictable (just as Major Nidal Hasan’s bloody actions at Fort Hood in 2009 were utterly predictable after years of enduring Muslim-bashing bigotry from his peers — and even more predictable when we take into account the way Hasan’s superiors were forcing him to deploy to a war he found profoundly morally objectionable… his objections, like his record of treating the psychological wounds of his fellow soldiers, were casually dismissed). 

The sad truth is: what Mr. Dorner did comports perfectly with America’s post-9/11 values.  Attacked by terrorists?  Exploit that tragedy to invade an uninvolved, geopolitically-significant oil-rich country, quite possibly leaving over a million people dead.  No worries — and, save for the American casualties, no qualms.

In short, no values. 

*          *          *

My friends, the only respite we have from this madness lies in a return to human decency and the rule of law.  We might even try something truly radical and adopt the “Truth and Reconciliation” model that helped end Apartheid in South Africa without prolonging the extreme racial violence that had marked that conflict.  Such is the kind of conduct that we need to emulate and model for our children — else discard all our high-sounding rhetoric and admit that we’re not substantially different from the enemies we habitually demonize.

In the wake of tragedy, the late, great (brilliant) American writer/filmmaker/political activist, Susan Sontag, warned (all-too presciently) that the official response to the September 11, 2001 attacks was to manipulate Americans in a way that would ultimately infantilize us as a people.  At the time, I found her words chilling.  Unfortunately, she was right.  And it’s high time someone told the alleged “adults” in this country that TWO WRONGS DON’T MAKE A RIGHT and KILLING IS WRONG.  Seem pretty basic?  Well, it’s a lot easier to preach than practice… but VITAL that we make the effort to live by these values.

Absolutely vital.

America, I beg you: NO MORE GODDAMN LYNCHINGS, NO MORE BLOODY REVENGE.  END THIS MADNESS NOW.