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

[This comment was posted in response to a liberal friend’s observation that Obamacare is actually helping some people.  It’s a reasonable point, but I still felt compelled to remind my friend of the precarious moment that America is in.]

I have very mixed feelings on the ACA/Obamacare. Like this presidency in general, I think the law represents a missed opportunity of historic proportions. However, I’m sure it will do some good, as I know it already has (and I believe it provides a GOOD skeleton for future enhancements). On the flip side, I just read Steven Brill’s excellent piece in Time, “Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us” and found a pretty convincing argument that Obama’s signature law does virtually nothing to rein in skyrocketing (and gougingly inflated) healthcare costs. The sad truth is that corporate rule has replaced democracy and the .1% writes the bills and decides which laws will be enforced (I think Glenn Greenwald’s “Liberty and justice FOR SOME” thesis is spot-on). No matter how much I’m inclined to sympathize with this president, the degradation of the rule of law in recent years has been breathtaking, with Obama leading the charge to continue his predecessor’s shocking radicalism (rendition through secrecy through wiretapping through due-process free executions of citizens). Without a dramatic course-correction, Bush-Obama will be remembered as the fatal ONE-TWO punch to constitutional governance and what was once known as American greatness (the middle class is evaporating as I type these words thanks to Bush, Obama, and Wall Street).

[And now, if the reader will permit a brief interruption in my latest blog series, let’s take a quick, surreal walk on the slightly weird (if not totally wild) side.  This one goes out to CJ, Carl & Frank, and sports enthusiasts everywhere (“Crikey, Frank, didja’ see that?  His hook shot missed the net, the hoop, and the entire bleepin’ backboard!”  — “That’s exactly right, Carl…”).]

Last night I had a dream in which I helped save the world with basketball (I’ll allow you a moment to roll your eyes).  And, yes, it was really STUPID.

In my dream, I posted a heartrending blog in which I confessed my patently unrealizable fantasy of attending a weeklong Basketball & Politics Fantasy Camp with a lot of famous people — so we could all, you know, save the world together (surely, I’m not the only one with this fantasy). 

In my dream-blog, I brazenly listed the names of the individuals I hoped would attend camp with me: 

1) A-List’ers: I wrote that among the other campers would be powerful political figures and world leaders, including President Obama, Bill Gates, David Koch, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Hillary Clinton, Wen Jiabao, Warren Buffet, at least one Wal-Mart scion, George W. Bush… and maybe Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (though Bush would be mostly checked-out after Day 1, and Walker, I’m pretty sure, would cheat, throwing some elbows for a few bucks from Koch).  In my dream-blog, I wrote that I would take “full advantage” of my opportunities to assail these folks with some REALITY while goodnaturedly shooting some hoops, enjoying group-prepared meals, and eventually working toward SOLUTIONS (since there are so many perfectly viable solutions — to major crises, mind you — just lying on the shelf, untouched: see Keynesianism, single-payer healthcare, and sustainable energy, for starters). 

2) Progressives: Also on the Basketball & Politics Fantasy Camp roster would be certain luminaries of the Progressive Brain Trust (PBT), the geniuses and hardworking journalists who taught me about the world in which I live.  These are the rock-solid SUPERSTARS whose names should be household words in America — but whose names, conspicuously, are not (truly our best, brightest, and most overlooked).  With their great big brains and extensive knowledge, the PBT could back me up, making their own arguments (better than I can), and hopefully sinking a free throw or two.  Some likely candidates would include: Noam Chomsky, Glenn Greenwald, Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, Ralph Nader, Bill Moyers, Jane Mayer, Matt Taibbi, Norm Finkelstein, Chris Hedges, Michael Hudson, Paul Krugman, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Antonia Juhasz, Bill McKibben, Michelle Alexander, Lawrence Lessig, Mahmood Mamdani, John Perkins, Randall Robinson, and Naomi Klein (with her indispensable The Shock Doctrine and unstoppable fadeaway).

3) Celebs: Rounding out the list of attendees are some folks I’d just want to be there — MSM gatekeepers and a few celebrities — Establishment Liberals (ELs) and people whose public personas I just plain like and whose work I respect (with some qualifications): Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, Rachel Maddow, Arianna Huffington, Spike Lee, Janeane Garofalo, Sarah Silverman, Quentin Tarantino, Garfield and Oates, George Lucas, Lawrence Fishburne, Frank Miller, Clint Eastwood…  Sure, some of them would be all over the place, at least initially — politically, I mean (I’m not talking about Tarantino’s traveling or Stewart’s double-dribble) — but they would soon find themselves wholly persuaded by yours truly and the Progressive Brain Trust.  By the end of the week, all the “MSM gatekeepers” in the group would find themselves musing aloud about the GENIUSES they had so consistently marginalized over the years — representing a great loss to generations of Americans (and decades of failed policies).

…It’s a dream, obviously, so IT ALL HAPPENS.  In response to my blog, the potentates, pundits, celebrities, and progressive superstars all show up at camp.  It’s arranged clandestinely, so the press won’t be breathing down our backs and the NSA won’t be recording and storing our every syllable, sneaker-squeak, and fart.  Everyone can just have fun, relax, and be themselves.  With regard to the basketball, we all have an awesome time.  The teams aren’t divided into any kind of factions (political or otherwise), and the composition of the teams is always changing anyway, with new teammates and adversaries all the time.  It’s a friendly game: everyone gets a chance to play, and there’s a lot of patience and generosity (while never losing sight of the competitive spirit of the thing). 

And in the end, the whole week goes phenomenally well: I’m blocking shots, rebounding, sinking threes — and we’re all insisting on reality-based premises, civility and warmth, facts and fair debate (on and off the court).  In no time at all, we campers are no longer talking past each other, but working cooperatively and confidently toward real solutions. 

What a vision!  Together, I and my fellow Basketball & Politics Fantasy Camp attendees “save the world.”  Sweeeeeet.

*          *          *

Okay, it’s a bunch of hooey, but I thought I’d share my “March madness” with you.  Now that we’re all awake again, we can accept the fact that, in reality, America’s secret 21st-century overlord, Dick “Dark Side” Cheney, would crash any such fantasy camp and end up scuttling the whole enterprise.  I can see it all now: Cheney and his goons (Rummy, Addington, Libby, and Yoo) running around shooting everybody in the face.  Oh, they’d call it a “hunting accident” or something similarly innocuous, but it’s not as if the MSM or Congress would investigate much, in any case.  

Please note that I’m not suggesting in earnest that the incident wherein Cheney actually shot his lawyer friend in the face was anything other than a genuine accident; IT WAS JUST A JOKE — like the rule of law in America today.  Speaking of which, it’s also feasible that “Dark Side” would simply have the whole Fantasy Camp taken out with a Hellfire Missile.  (Our current Attorney General, Mr. Holder, apparently agrees with the former VP that the Executive Branch may “legally” kill anyone-anywhere, without a hint of due process — no need to file charges, no checking with the Constitution, just BLAMMO!  How’s that for bipartisan agreement?)

Well, that fantasy sure came to an abrupt halt, didn’t it?  Alrighty, then.  I’m gonna’ go shoot some hoops…

UPDATE: In researching the new pontiff’s past for a recent blog, I found the following passage from a Washington Post article particularly interesting with respect to (then Father) Jorge Bergoglio’s support for the dictatorship of General Jorge Videla, during the 1970s and 1980s.  This passage deals with Bergoglio’s reluctance to participate in later judicial investigations into this dark chapter in Argentina’s history:

“Bergoglio twice invoked his right under Argentine law to refuse to appear in open court in trials involving torture and murder inside the feared Navy Mechanics School and the theft of babies from detainees. When he eventually did testify in 2010, his answers were evasive, human rights attorney Myriam Bregman told the AP.  ‘Bergoglio’s own statements proved church officials knew from early on that the junta was torturing and killing its citizens even as the church publicly endorsed the dictators,’ she said.”

I would say that Ms. Bregman is on pretty solid ground.  That same Washington Post article, presenting both sides, quoted Bergoglio’s biographer saying, in Bergoglio’s defense (paraphrased — and this is only slightly overstated), that Father B. was not nearly as guilty of supporting the dictator as certain other parties — and that the Church had generally erred in supporting despots in the region…  

This morning I came across another article supporting Ms. Bregman’s characterization of Cardinal Bergoglio’s 2010 testimony as “evasive.”  The article features video from the courtroom and transcripts from Bergoglio’s questioning (translated into English).  The New Republic’s Sam Ferguson, writing earlier today, presents four critical moments from the Cardinal’s testimony regarding his actions during South America’s “Dirty War.”

Regarding the charge that Bergoglio, as the senior Jesuit official in Argentina, threw to the wolves two priests under his protection — allowing them (by disavowing them) to be kidnapped and tortured for a period of months — the cardinal’s testimony is evasive.  In his answers to the court, Bergoglio attributes to the vox populi(the “voice of the people” — you know, just the hoi polloi) both the notion that the priests in question were SUBVERSIVES and the (one would think more privileged) knowledge that they were being held in the Navy Mechanics School.

The heart of the exchange goes something like this (loosely paraphrased):

Court: Cardinal, did you know about the ugly talk, the “rumors” surrounding Fathers Yorio and Jalics, priests under your protection?  That they were “zurdos” (scum-sucking leftists, cruising for a bruising)?

Bergoglio: Sure, those were the “nasty” rumors around those two.  I heard them alright!

Court: WHO talked this way about them?  WHO spread these rumors?  Do you recall the names of ANYONE who talked this way?

Bergoglio: No, not ONE name.  Not a single individual’s name comes to mind.  It was just the “vox populi.” 

Court: But didn’t it get your attention when people spoke this way?  Wouldn’t you remember at least one specific instance of this kind of talk?  The same kind of talk that had preceded the murder of Father Carlos Mugica two years earlier?

Bergoglio: Why should it stand out?  It was ugly talk, but everyone knew they were zurdos.

And, moving on to the matter of the priests’ subsequent disappearance…

Court: How did you know that the priests were being held in the Navy Mechanics School, a matter of top secret intelligence?

Bergoglio: I cannot recall WHO told me that.  I’m pretty sure I saw it on a bathroom wall.  Vox populi

Court: You don’t remember ANY names?

Bergoglio: Friends in high places.  Anonymous friends with power — judges, generals, ministers — you know, the people whom one has to ask when one wants to know where the “subversives” are being detained this year: VOX POPULI!  (Singing: Oh, WHO are the people in your neighborhood, in your neighborhood, in your neigh-bor-hood?  Yeah, WHO are the people in your neighborhood — they’re the people that you meet, when you’re walking down the street, EACH DAYYYY!)

Part II: OPUS DEI & THE CIA, THE DEATH OF HUGO CHAVEZ

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).

Next — Part III: THE GLOBAL WAR ON TERROR AND WHISTLEBLOWERS

Part I: MEET THE NEW POPE, SAME AS THE OLD POPE…

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.