Creating a better world through words and images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. The public school system (ditto);

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

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

5. The Bill of Rights;

6. Posse comitatus;

7. Constitutional governance;

8. The Rule of Law;

9. America’s infrastructure;

10. Social Security and Medicare;

11. Voting rights; and

12. The Earth’s climate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOOTHING A WHITE EDITOR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*          *          *

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

BEGINNINGS

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

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

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

What other early experiences helped shape my attitudes on race? 

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

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

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

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

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

*          *          *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*          *          *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coates concludes his damning case with the following observation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How far have we sunk? 

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

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

*          *          *

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

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

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

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

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

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

In short, no values. 

*          *          *

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

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

Absolutely vital.

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

Happy Black History Month, reader!  No doubt you noticed the quotation marks above, indicating my skepticism about America’s alleged post-racial status.  I should clarify that I realize that such skepticism hardly makes me an outlier or some marvel of progressive insight; if American bigots have proven anything in the Obama era, it is that they are utterly unrepentant and unreformed.  But I’m not just talking about the dittoheads and Glenn Beck’s army of addlepated homunculi demanding that we “Take OUR country back” — or secede from the union now that the scary black man has been swept back into office.  I’m referring to the nation as a whole, hoping to introduce a conversation about our national soul, our institutions, and the REAL state of racial progress in the “Land of the Free” (ironically, the jailer of 25% of the world’s prisoners despite having just 5% of the world’s population; even more relevant to today’s topic is the fact that nearly 60% of America’s incarcerated individuals are either black or Hispanic). 

In this blog, I will offer several facts supporting my contention that an African-American in the Oval Office does not signify a positive seismic shift in race relations in the United States (I would posit, rather, that Obama’s presidency can more accurately be attributed to his extraordinary gifts as a politician and to the considerable damage that his predecessor inflicted on the Republican brand).  I will also attempt to recap my journey from moderately racially-sensitive young Arizonan to reasonably educated/racially-sensitive middle-aged schmoe — with nods to the black voices that helped my views evolve over the years.   

How far have we come as a nation?

While I wouldn’t go so far as to deny that America has made some genuine, appreciable progress in this area, I will begin by offering some statistics that help illuminate just how “post-racial” America is not:

1. America’s law enforcement system today ensnares MORE African-Americans (including the nearly one million behind bars and millions of others on probation or parole) than the antebellum South had enslaved in 1850 (and make no mistake: many American prisoners are slaving away in our rehabilitation-averse “corrections” facilities, working for pennies an hour for corporations from Microsoft to Victoria’s Secret to various representatives of the military-industrial complex — that’s right: we coerce the labor of brown people here so we can kill brown people over there…);

2. From 2005 to 2009 (pre- and post-Great Recession), median wealth for black households fell 53%, versus just 16% for white households (with banks far more inclined to help whites renegotiate their mortgages than blacks and Hispanics — likely the same blacks and Hispanics, largely, that the banks targeted unfairly for subprime loans in the first place, even when they qualified for prime);

3. The unemployment rate for blacks today exceeds 14%, very nearly double the rate of white unemployment;

4. In 2009, white households’ median net worth topped $113,000, TWENTY TIMES the median net worth of the average black household (representing the largest such disparity measured since the U.S. government first began releasing such statistics 25 years ago; also DOUBLE the wealth disparity that existed between whites and blacks prior to The Great Recession — and nearly TRIPLE the wealth disparity in 1995);

5. Only 52% of African-American males graduate high school in four years, compared to 78% of their white counterparts (due to consistent disparities in high-minority-population schools and disproportionate singling out of young black males for disciplinary action, including suspension, expulsion, and referral to law enforcement agencies); and

6. “As of 2004, more African American men were disenfranchised (due to felon disenfranchisement laws) than in 1870, the year the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified prohibiting laws that explicitly deny the right to vote on the basis of race.” (Here I’m simply quoting Michelle Alexander, author of the acclaimed book The New Jim Crow, recapping some of her findings for The Huffington Post).

*          *          *

Some Americans might be inclined to respond to the above statistics with skepticism, arguing that however appalling the numbers are, they do not necessarily implicate the system or prove discrimination — but countless studies have demonstrated otherwise (including analyses of sentencing disparities that clearly track race and recent studies that document widespread racial profiling by police and discredit much of the “science” of police forensics, showing that long-employed crime-lab methods — from ballistics to eye-witness identification to fingerprinting — are, in fact, seriously flawed).  In short, institutional discrimination in America’s policing, lending, education, elections, legal system, and other areas has been well documented over the years — to such an extent that denying such discrimination strongly suggests willful ignorance on the part of the denier. 

Particularly egregious is the failed, socially-disastrous “War on Drugs” that has destroyed so many (disproportionately African-American and Hispanic) lives in America and more than quintupled the U.S. prison population over the last 30 years.  I find particularly damning the case against New York City’s “Stop and Frisk” program.  The NYPD annually harasses hundreds of thousands of innocent minorities simply for walking the sidewalks of New York — NINETY PERCENT OF WHOM ARE NOT EVEN ARRESTED.  Here is award-winning film documentarian Eugene Jarecki on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” discussing that travesty of law enforcement:

Black History Month in “Post-racial America” Conclusion (of Part 1): Despite some genuine progress over the last half-century or so (thanks to the efforts of determined civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X), it is reasonable to say that blacks in 2013 America face nearly as many challenges as ever.  For although slavery was officially abolished with the Emancipation Proclamation and the North’s victory in the American Civil War, that morally repugnant institution was followed by Jim Crow, the KKK, poll taxes, segregation, redlining, discriminatory voter I.D. laws, and, more recently, the “War on Drugs,” with its mass-incarceration of minorities, especially males of African-American descent.  American business and political institutions have spent the last century-and-a-half working to preserve the old (nominally “Christian,” white male-dominated) power structure, keeping blacks out of high-paying jobs, elected office, elite educational and business institutions, voting booths, and homes — while increasingly placing them in JAIL and PRISON CELLS (with black males comprising over 40% of America’s 2.4 million prisoners, most convicted for victimless crimes, like possession of small amounts of marijuana, that blacks commit at no higher frequency than whites).

In other words, America, we’ve got a long way to go before we can declare our nation exorcised of the demon RACISM.  “Post-racial” the U.S. is NOT.

Next: Part II — A brilliantly presented case against “Post-racial America” (not mine, less burdened with statistics)… and recounting my personal journey toward racial semi-enlightened status