Rick Sanchez, an anchor for Russia’s RT-America, reported last week of “Signs that the US attempt to change-out presidents in Venezuela may be falling flat.” He was speaking about the in-plain-sight US coup attempt unfolding on the northern coast of South America against the elected president of Venezuela. Lucas Koerner, a reporter with Venezuela Analysis, …
I just listened to Joe Biden’s seventeen-and-a-half minute 2003 eulogy for his political friend Strom Thurmond, the former Dixiecrat segregationist from South Carolina who became a Republican in 1964. It’s clear Biden liked the man, who he worked closely with to pass crime bills in the early 1980s. As Thurmond’s replacement as chairman of the …
No other country in the world symbolizes the decline of the American empire as much as Afghanistan. – Robert Kaplan, New York Times, January 1, 2019 Robert Kaplan is too much of an imperialist-military cheerleader for my taste. His 2005 book, Imperial Grunts, was an account of travels around the world reporting on the US …
Anyone who has ever questioned the Iraq War and Dick Cheney as a vice president expropriating power as second banana to a shallow man ill-equipped to lead anything has to see the Adam McKay film Vice. It’s nothing short of incredible. The filmmaker has created a hybrid genre that’s part narrative, part essay; most important, …
As gullible North Americans were told of disease-ridden Mexican and Central American rapists, killers and ISIS terrorists invading America from the infernal regions of the western hemisphere, on November 17 and 18, Veterans For Peace and other activist organizations sponsored a two-day border-straddling demonstration in Ambos Nogales, the term that covers both Nogales, Arizona (population …
There’s so much bald-faced lying going on among Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee that the media needs to stop accepting this condition as normal and “to penetrate that lie.” That’s the view of Lawrence O’Donnell, a self-proclaimed mainstream socialist who isn’t afraid of controversy, a man who has worked in a number of roles …
Heartbreak is unpreventable; the natural outcome of caring for people and things over which we have no control.
– David Whyte
The afternoon of August 15, my wife Lou Ann got a call from her sister that their cousin Clara Lee had died in a freak accident with her car. We had just visited Clara Lee in early July in Raleigh. Her husband Tony died two years earlier; they were both academics with PhDs. This July was my fourth visit with Clara Lee and it was the one in which, in retrospect, I realize I fell in love with my 76-year-old cousin-in-law. Aretha Franklin died the day after Clara Lee’s death, adding a national mourning spin that seeped into our states-of-mind. Death was close. I was already feeling rather mortal due to a diagnosis for prostate cancer. I liked to joke: “None of us get out alive.” It wasn’t funny now. Clara Lee wasn’t a celebrity, but with her energy and empathetic heart, she was one of the best of us, an authentic peace- and joy-loving spirit. Her love of life was contagious, and I had caught it just on the cusp of her death.
Lou Ann and I drove down to Raleigh on Saturday August 25. It was a moving funeral ceremony, full of loving stories and tears; Clara Lee was affectionately eulogized as an Energizer Bunny known for an openness and warmth of heart that matched the headlong way she moved. She died, no doubt, in a characteristic flurry of things to do and to be done. That night, she was to lead a meeting of the neighborhood association that had voted her its president. That morning, she was headed to baby-sit for her two wonderful granddaughters. She started her car, a heavy old Mercury SUV, and began to back out of the driveway. She forgot something and ran to get it, leaving the car in gear. The heavy car rolled downward, gaining momentum as it dropped off the driveway toward the trees that surrounded her home. Somehow, attempting to stop it, she got caught between the door and a large tree. One can only hope the massive crushing of her birdlike chest was quick enough she did not suffer; those who saw her body said there was not a mark on her and she seemed peaceful.
John McCain died August 25, the day of Clara Lee’s funeral. Occupied with our personal mourning, we missed the initial McCain coverage. Lou Ann and I got the first dose of McCain funeral-drama Sunday night in a Raleigh motel, a worshipping bio complete with McCain’s “last words” taped especially for the American people. This led inexorably to the highly theatrical National Funeral on the following Saturday.
The fact is I’ve never liked John McCain. He was always too much the National Security State’s darling war-child. That would be the National Security State created in 1947 by law following the US victory in World War Two. I was born in 1947, an early pop in the baby boom and a bit of a “war child” myself. My father wasn’t an admiral, but he was a very proud Navy man who had skippered a PT boat around some of the worst battles in the South Pacific. He told his kids of pulling his PT boat into the mangrove to hide from the Japanese and being very scared; he told of torpedoing Japanese fishing boats and other small craft. The Solomon Islands and Peleliu were a long way from suburban New Jersey, where his wife and my then infant older brother held down the hearth.
I have nothing against The Green Party. I have friends who swear by it and work for it and its candidates. During the 2012 election, I struggled with Philly cops to photograph Jill Stein getting arrested for civil disobedience at a bank in Philadelphia. She’s an honorable person with good intentions. But I never voted for her. In national elections like the one in 2016, I was a hold-your-nose, strategic voter for the Democrat; I saw a vote for Stein as a wasted vote — or worse. As it turned out the election was incredibly close, creating questions, such as whether a vote for Jill Stein was Quixotic and whether it had greater strategic power as a spoiler vote for Donald Trump.
This question really stands out in the special congressional election this week in the Ohio 12th District. “That district has been Republican in 48 out of 50 years,” said Republican pollster Frank Luntz about the closeness of the race. “That’s a hit in the head with a baseball bat.” There was a less than 1% difference in votes between the two candidates; and with over 3000 provisional and absentee ballots still to be counted, the Democrat could still win the election in the end. The Green Party reportedly got about 1% of the vote. Do the math. Because the election was so very close, the Green Party seems to have been a key factor in putting the congressional Republican over the top.
I wonder whether the Green Party is a self-inflicted wound on the part of a greater Left, which one might see as a volatile coalition of moderate, centrist liberals and more radical, angrier leftists. Green Party people, of course, disdain moderate, liberal Democrats like the plague. This has little to do with personalities or ideologies or utopian visions. It has to do with pragmatic electoral politics in a nation at a profound crossroad. (We could debate this stuff all night.) There’s intense polarization and a growing sense of tribalism. Everything that was once common ground is now shaky. There’s all the old government crimes to deal with and, suddenly, there’s a new sense of encroaching authoritarianism that may be in synch with unsavory events and personalities around the world. Great gobs of dark money are obviously fueling it all. More and more normally-centric people are realizing it could happen here. There’s the old metaphor of the frog in the water who does not jump out because the temperature is raised very slowly a half a degree at a time. Presumably, at some point the frog will recognize it’s damn hot — but by that point the little fellow’s energy may be so tapped-out by the rising heat that he can’t move and is doomed. But that’s just a silly metaphor.
Cruelty is the expression of hate and of the will to power. … The sadistic traits, the tendency to barbarousness, the impulse to destroy, manifest themselves in a manner that is senseless, brutal, scornful of every cultural achievement. … The sadist revels in the fear, the anger, the humiliation of his victim. … The sadist pictures to himself what is happening in the mind of his object, whose resistance he calls forth and breaks. Only this feeling of himself into the affective life of the object brings him the expected pleasure.
- Wilhelm Stekel, Sadism and Masochism: The Psychology of Hatred and Cruelty (1929)
[T]he powerful often turn to torture in times of crisis, not because it works but because it salves their fears and insecurities with the psychic balm of empowerment. . . . Once torture begins, it seems to spread uncontrollably, particularly during times of crisis, in a downward spiral of fear and self-empowerment.
- Alfred W. McCoy, A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War On Terror (2006)
The way the Trump administration has gotten tough with immigrant families and children from Central America and Mexico shares something with psychological studies of sadism and the United States government’s own research on torture tapped by the George W. Bush administration to justify its cruelty in a moment of perceived crisis. Cruelty and torture are like pornography; as a famous Supreme Court justice put it: “I know it when I see it.” Cruelty as policy — ie. the inducing of suffering among the powerless by the powerful — is an ancient reality that hinges, as Dr. Stekel put it in 1929, on “the expression of hatred and of the will to power.” Stekel was an Austrian and a student of Freud’s; it’s noteworthy he wrote his 430-page work on sadism synonymous with the rise of European fascism. Trump’s Make America Great Again campaign can be seen in such a psychological and mythic light as a return to the “greatness” that presided over this land during the days of slavery, Jim Crow and Manifest Destiny, an expansive period when the politics of cruelty prevailed as a necessary tool for the capture and control of a wild land. As McCoy suggests, above, the politics of cruelty appears in times of crisis. For the atavistic populist, there’s no need to articulate this clearly; since it’s all there buried deep in the loam of US history and myth, dog-whistling will do.
In the privacy of intimate relationships, I have engaged in role-playing and other consensual sexual activity.
- NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman upon resigning
I’m not going to sit here, with the benefit of hindsight, and judge the very good people who made hard decisions, who were running the agency in very extraordinary circumstances.
- Gina Haspel, before the Senate Intelligence Committee
Life and politics are getting weirder and weirder. Now we have a powerful political figure — the New York state attorney general — who publicly advocated for, and allied with, the #MeToo Movement, who fought for the physical safety of women vis-à-vis men in the criminal justice system, who is, out-of-the-blue, outed by four women who accuse him of choking and beating them. His immediate explanation is that, whatever he did, he was participating in “consensual sexual … role-playing.”
It’s becoming so weird it’s now trite to say: “You can’t make this stuff up.”
Thanks to Mr. Schneiderman’s predicament I learned a new acronym: BDSM, Bondage, Domination, Sado-Masochism. I also learned about the notion of “safe words.” That is, if Mr. Scheiderman is truthful in his claim that he has “never engaged in non-consensual sex” and the four women are truthful in their accusations of being on the receiving end of violent acts they apparently did not accede to, then the issue seems to be a kinky legal, contractual one. Law school Contracts 101. Did the attorney general get a bit over-enthusiastic and break his contractual agreement? Did the woman in question contractually agree to being choked as long as the attorney general agreed to stop when she said her safe word — or when she gasped, “I can’t breathe!” That is, was it play-acting akin to the plot of bestselling female romance novels and movies like 50 Shades of Gray or was it play-acting NYPD bad cop? There are so many questions looming in a bizarre case like this, thanks to the fact such apparently kinky behavior is naturally kept secret.