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Moving on from the matter of the migration of the papal miter (the migrating-miter matter), I’ll nonetheless remain on the subject of the Catholic Church, particularly its less than immaculate record in Latin America.  The Church has long been a major cultural/political force in Latin America, and over the last several decades it has basically opted to use its considerable influence to support the U.S. government’s unrelenting campaign to thwart/hinder/reverse democratic political movements and the liberation of poor peoples in the Southern Hemisphere… mostly under the auspices of “fighting communism” (which does little to explain the Washington-supported/facilitated coups/attempted coups in the years following the Cold War).

First, let’s (very briefly) tour some of the Central Intelligence Agency’s history in the global south.  In a fascinating article about Latin America’s outright REFUSAL to participate in George W. Bush’s (GWoT-predicated) international torture gulag, author/New York University history professor Greg Grandin devotes a few paragraphs to shedding some light on the CIA’s extensive history in the region (ellipses show where I’ve condensed the excerpt):

“Even before the 1959 Cuban Revolution… Washington had already set about establishing two, three, many centralized intelligence agencies in Latin America.  As Michael McClintock shows in his indispensable book Instruments of Statecraft, in late 1954, a few months after the CIA’s infamous coup in Guatemala that overthrew a democratically elected government, the National Security Council first recommended strengthening ‘the internal security forces of friendly foreign countries’…

“…The result was state terror on a nearly continent-wide scale.  In the 1970s and 1980s, Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s Operation Condor, which linked together the intelligence services of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Chile, was the most infamous of Latin America’s transnational terror consortiums, reaching out to commit mayhem as far away as Washington D.C., Paris, and Rome.”

And that “mayhem,” as I noted in the previous entry in this series, included the killing, disappearing, and trial-free jailing of hundreds of thousands of freedom-fighters (political dissidents, students, journalists, liberation theologians, communists, and socialists) deemed “SUBVERSIVES” by covert Washington and its thuggish proxies.

*          *          *

Returning to the complicity of the Catholic Church in these crimes, I recently heard an interesting report on Amy Goodman’s DemocracyNow! that further illuminates this history, touching on the special relationship between the CIA and Opus Dei.  For the uninitiated, Opus Dei is the secretive, hierarchical and ultra-conservative, elite order (prelature, technically) within the Catholic Church, with ties to authoritarian figures (Franco, Pinochet, etc.) and Washington spooks, alike.  Here is DN!’s 2/28/13 guest, author and theologian (ex-priest, defrocked for his progressive views by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger), Matthew Fox, discussing Opus Dei and the agenda it shares with the CIA:

The CIA has been involved in, especially with Pope John Paul II, the decimation of liberation theology all over South America, the replacing of these heroic leaders, including bishops and cardinals, with Opus Dei cardinals and bishops, who are — well, frankly, it’s a fascist organization, Opus Dei is. It’s all about obedience. It’s not about ideas or theology. They haven’t produced one theologian in 40 years. They produce canon lawyers and people who infiltrate where the power is…”

Fox goes on to describe the threat that liberation theology (founded on social justice) posed to both the Vatican and Washington, DC:

“…this non-hierarchical, this far more horizontal and circular approach to Christianity and to worship was a big threat, of course, to certain people in Rome, but it was even a bigger threat to the CIA. When Reagan was elected, two months later there was a meeting of his National Security Council in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to discuss one thing: How can we destroy liberation theology in Latin America?”

Goodman’s interview with Matthew Fox adds valuable perspective to other accounts that describe the Church’s cozy relationship with various dictators, but which don’t necessarily explain its motives.  The common factor that I see: both Opus Dei and America’s leaders in Washington (and Wall Street) insist on a certain kind of order: hierarchical, strict, secretive, authoritarian, and intolerant of dissent.  Theirs is an order of elites: it loathes and demonizes genuine populists…

“We have lowered unemployment… created more than 450,000 new jobs… Venezuela has moved up four places on the Human Development Index. The number of children in school has risen 25 percent. More than 1.5 million children who didn’t go to school are now in school, and they receive clothing, breakfast, lunch and afternoon snacks. We have carried out massive immunization campaigns in the marginalized sectors of the population. Infant mortality has declined. We are building more than 135,000 housing units for poor families. We are distributing land to landless campesinos. We have created a Women’s Bank that provides micro-credit loans. In the year 2001, Venezuela was one of the countries with the highest growth rates on the continent, nearly 3 percent… We are delivering the country from prostration and backwardness.”

— Hugo Chavez (excerpted from his 2002 interview with Le Monde Diplomatique per doctoral student and blogger Justin Delacour)

*          *          *

…which brings us to Venezuela and THE DEATH of HUGO CHAVEZ (including some discussion of the failed 2002 Washington coup against his popular democratic government).

To further elaborate on the motives of the Washington plotters, I’ll now make use of William Blum’s April 14, 2002 piece mulling over the mere possibility of CIA involvement in the coup attempt against Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez (which had taken place just three days earlier).  After offering some circumstantial evidence supporting the notion of a Washington-sponsored coup — referencing the many meetings between coup leaders and Bush officials (including convicted Iran-Contra figures and other shady characters) — Blum lists several reasons that the U.S. and CIA would want Chavez out of the picture, regardless (Chavez’s “crimes,” Blum facetiously calls them).  This (condensed) list is instructive of the U.S. government’s posture toward Latin America and the world in general; this is what EMPIRE is all about:

“Consider Chavez’s crimes:

“His defense minister asking the permanent US military mission in Venezuela to vacate its offices in the military headquarters in Caracas, saying its presence was an anachronism from the Cold War.

“Not cooperating to Washington’s satisfaction with the US war against the Colombian guerrillas.

“Denying Venezuelan airspace to US counter-drug flights.

“Refusing to provide US intelligence agencies with information on Venezuela’s large Arab community.

“Questioning the sanctity of globalization.

“Promoting a regional free-trade bloc and united Latin American petroleum operations as a way to break free from US economic dominance.”

Sounds like all Chavez wanted for Venezuela was a little sovereignty and the right to self-determination…

*          *          *

Lastly (and this time I’ve saved the best for last), I will recommend you to an excellent installment of C-Span’s Book TV, featuring author Bart Jones in September of 2007, discussing his book: Hugo! The Hugo Chavez Story from Mud Hut to Perpetual Revolution.  The author is energetic, knowledgeable, and engaging; the portion where he reads from his book is fascinating; and the question and answer session is also lively.  It clarifies that Mr. Jones does not put Chavez on a pedestal.  The author enumerates his (2007-vintage) criticisms of Venezuela’s popular president (paraphrased): a) Chavez is a bit too interested in perpetuating his time in office (albeit, democratically); b) although Chavez has delivered healthcare, education, services, and land to the poor, he has failed to crack down on corruption; and c) Chavez has not done enough to control street crime.

Jones’ reading (14min. into the program) dramatically depicts a moment early in the coup, when Venezuela’s president was a prisoner and Venezuelans were simply trying to figure out what had happened:

“Outside Chavez’s office, his ministers had not seen him for nearly two hours. They wanted to know what was going on.  They were confused by General Rincón‘s announcement.  They started banging on the door to be let in.  A guard finally opened it.  Chavez was sitting in a chair when they walked in.  He seemed serene.  He explained the situation: he said he wasn’t going to resign.  He said he was going to surrender himself as a ‘president prisoner.’  He had no choice.  The rebels were going to start bombing at any moment (the rebels had actually threatened to bomb the palace if he did not resign immediately).  He had followed the advice of his vice president, who urged him not to sign any resignation letter: ‘Don’t sign, so it’s a coup,’ he said.

“Ana Osorio, the environmental minister, came out of the president’s office to inform the crowd what was happening: ‘Politically, it’s clear, this is a coup,’ she said, ‘it’s not that the president resigned.  He didn’t resign!  He’s being taken a prisoner, because it’s a coup!’  Then, her voice rising, and tears welling in her eyes, she said, ‘Let the world know: IT’S A COUP!’  The crowd started clapping and yelling in defense of Chavez.  ‘It’s a coup!’ Osorio shouted.  ‘It’s a coup against the people — against the people of Venezuela, who love him!’  She wiped a tear that was coming down her cheek.  The crowd began to shout: ‘HUGO, HUGO, HUGO!’”

Jones’s book then recounts how Chavez allowed himself to be taken away, after making his final goodbyes to his cabinet members and loyalists, among them a few officers in the military (including the elderly general who promised Chavez “This isn’t ending here!”).  In Jones’s telling, Chavez clearly did NOT expect to survive the night.  He’d heard his captors discussing whether or not they would simply kill him, noting the difficulty of killing the president, plus his cabinet — how does a coup plotter make that look like an accident… a group suicide?

Revisiting this subject, I can’t help but reflect on articles I was reading at the time (in April 2002, just as the coup was happening), and I remember thinking that everything I was reading pointed to only one conclusion: Washington DC had its fingerprints ALL OVER that anti-democratic mess!  (And nothing I’ve learned in the years since has shaken that conclusion in the least.)  The usual suspects — Otto Reich, Dick Cheney, Eliott Abrams, and a president named Bush — had proven once again that imperialism never dies.

I’ll give the last, last word to the late Nobel Laureate Harold Pinter (his ELOQUENT 2005 acceptance speech, parts one and two, wherein the famous playwright blisteringly condemned the United States for its anti-democratic and murderous history in Latin America… and beyond).



Okay, that’s not really fair, even if it is too close to the truth for comfort.  But let’s make the due distinctions between the two popes currently living in the Vatican, shall we? 

The ex-pope, Benedict XVI (Germany’s Joseph Ratzinger), was the imperious, divisive, and extreme loose-cannon with the seriously stained history (beginning with his Hitler Youth membership and culminating in his lead role in the decades long cover-up of the Church’s little problem with pedophile priests).  During his tenure, Pope Ratz regularly made inflammatory statements denigrating Jews, Muslims, homosexuals, women, and secular humanists, alike.  Despite his charismatic leadership (now that’s sarcasm), the Catholic Church’s public relations woes and dwindling global membership continued, and Ratz finally decided to become the first pope to RESIGN in nearly 600 years (offering that he needs to spend more time with his wife and kids… or some equally convincing explanation).

Enter (in a puff of white smoke): Argentina’s own Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, the first-ever New World/Southern Hemisphere pope… though not the first-ever non-European pope (but you have to go back over a thousand years for those other, mostly Middle Eastern, pontiffs).  Mr. Bergoglio is also the first-ever Jesuit pope, representing the Church’s intellectual/social justice wing (cool… though Bergoglio’s social justice record is mixed, at best, as I’ll soon explain).  He’s chosen the papal name Francis I, specifying that St. Francis of Assisi was indeed his inspiration; the choice seems genuinely significant, as Bergoglio has reportedly long eschewed the trappings of wealth and power.  Socially very conservative (duh) and politically very active — he’s said some repugnant things while campaigning against marriage equality — Bergoglio is nonetheless renowned for living humbly and reaching out to weak and vulnerable populations (even while mounting forceful political opposition to parties and policies with proven track records of serving those populations).

Let’s see, now… what have I left out?  Only the stinking skeleton in Bergoglio’s closet (yep, I saved the worst for last).  As a young man in a position of high office — the thirty-something senior official of Argentina’s Jesuit company — Jorge Bergoglio notably helped the Catholic Church bless (legitimize, condone, and otherwise support) the 1976 military coup that overthrew Argentina’s democratic government, initiating a several-year nightmare that would leave several thousand people dead and tens of thousands more disappeared (mostly tortured/killed) in at least seven countries on three continents.  In the years since, Bergoglio has mostly opposed and refused to cooperate with official investigations into that coup de tat and the ensuing crimes against humanity (which were considerable).  He has maintained this intransigent stance despite Argentina’s courageous, ongoing efforts to expose the nation’s darkest chapters under the dictatorship of General Jorge Videla (supported by officials in the Church and in Washington, DC).  It is also worth noting that Cardinal Bergoglio, rather than reconciling with the political left of Argentina, continued to vigorously attack and oppose liberal politicians who have credibly and successfully championed Argentina’s poor (like the now-deceased president Nestor Kirchner and his spouse-successor President Cristina Kirchner).

From today’s DemocracyNow! here is Argentine journalist Horacio Verbitsky (an expert in this chapter of his country’s history) summarizing Bergoglio’s complicity in the 1976 Argentinean military junta’s kidnapping and torture of two Jesuit priests under his authority:

“But when the military coup overthrew the Isabel Perón government, he [Bergoglio] was in touch with the military that ousted this government and asked the Jesuits to stop their social work. And when they refused to do it, he stopped protecting them, and he let the military know that they were not more [no longer] inside the protection of the Jesuits’ company, and they were kidnapped.”

Between Verbitsky’s account and a few others I’ve now looked over, I think it’s fair to say that Bergoglio and other high officials of the Catholic Church were relatively cozy and complicit with the authoritarian (torturing, “Dirty War” fighting) regime of General Videla.  The CIA was running Operation Condor at the time (expanding the program of murderous and despotic CIA-installed Chilean president General Augusto Pinochet), working with six Latin American authoritarian regimes to kill, disappear, jail, and otherwise silence hundreds of thousands of “subversives” (leftists, journalists, communists, students, lawyers, social justice advocates, liberation theology-practicing nuns and priests, etc.).  During this period, an estimated 50,000 political dissidents were killed and another 30,000 disappeared (presumed dead), with over 400,000 dissidents jailed (using statistics from The Center for Justice and Accountability, cited in a 3/5/13 CNN article).  And “Argentina is where the greatest number of killings of foreigners was carried out under Operation Condor” (Amy Goodman, on her 3/7/13 show).

Another DemocracyNow! guest today, Ernesto Séman (New York University historian and former reporter for two Argentine newspapers), first acknowledges Bergoglio’s complicity in Argentina’s “Dirty War” and then connects the Cardinal’s leftist-condemning past to his more recent opposition to progressive-populist policies:

“The case of this complicity of Bergoglio with human rights violations during the dictatorship is by far the most important episode. But during the last decade, he did, as the State Department implicitly suggests, [lead] the opposition to the government, in a decade in which Argentina lived the largest and fastest reduction of poverty and inequality, as in most of all Latin American countries. So that kind of paradox between the kind of social conservatism and an opposition to social agenda that has been pretty successful during the last years is very important.”

Verbitsky adds: “He was against liberation theology…. Being among the poor doesn’t mean to be for the poor.”

So, does Pope Francis represent an improvement over his abominable predecessor?  Yes, but only a modest one (the skeletons in his closet appear to be every bit as ghastly as those in Benedict XVI’s).  Granted, the optics are good with this changing of the papal guard, but don’t be fooled by appearances (South American Bergoglio may be, but as I’ve cautioned before, identity politics is for suckers!).

Next — Part II: The Death of Hugo Chavez

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…


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…


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


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…