Barry’s Blog # 207: The Dionysian Moment. Trumps Lets the Dogs Out, Part Two

“Free Speech”, Provocations and Threats:

– Within 24 hours of Trump’s victory, there was a burst of “celebratory” incidents. “We actually counted 1,094 different hate crimes and lesser bias incidents in just the first 34 days after the election,” said Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center:

And in 37% of those incidents, the perpetrators actually named Trump, his slogan, ‘Make America Great,’ or his comments about grabbing women by the genitals…It was a real wave of incidents that washed across this country in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s election, and I would describe it as celebratory violence and hatred.

The SPLC found that many “patriotic” or militia groups became dormant in 2016. But Potok said that was because Trump was “so revered” by the people in these groups that they no longer needed to operate independently and simply joined his campaign. On the other hand, Trump’s white nationalism led other previously shadowy groups to emerge publicly, and the emergence of the so-called alt-right was nothing but a “rebranding” of white supremacist ideology aimed at luring younger adherents.

– Before the inauguration, the Ku Klux Klan celebrated with a parade in North Carolina.

– A prominent hate group leader bragged that his allies are now “…very well placed in his administration.”

– The White House’s Holocaust Memorial Day statement failed to mention Jews. Later, Trump responded to a question about anti-Semitism by bragging about the size of his election victory.

– Florida’s first black state attorney received a noose in the mail. Later she was racially profiled by Florida state troopers.

– Other nooses were found inside Washington’s African American Museum and in various work places.

– An Asian American family found ‘Chinks’ painted on their garage door after moving into a new neighborhood.

 – A Flint, Michigan official resigned after blaming the water crisis on “fucking niggers”.

– Trump terrorism adviser Sebastian Gorka is a sworn member of a Nazi-allied Hungarian group.

– News surfaced that James Mattis, briefly considered for Defense Secretary, had dismissed evidence that troops under his command had slaughtered dozens of Iraqis at 2004 wedding party.

– A Tennessee politician created a billboard that said, ‘Make America White Again’.

Alabama Police called It an ‘honor’ to protect the KKK at an LGBTQ pride march

Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke, briefly considered as Trump’s DHS secretary, proposed that a million people should be sent to Guantanamo Bay if they use “jihadi rhetoric” online.

– “Anti-Sharia law” rallies protest_20170610194343047_8300860_ver1.0_1280_720 occurred in 30 cities.

– Televangelist Jim Bakker claimed the victims of the bombing in Manchester, England “literally invited” the attack by mocking God.

– Arizona Trump supporters called for ‘Liberal Genocide’ and deportation of Jews:

– No professional team would hire the black football star Colin Kaepernick because of his political views, despite re-hiring several convicted felons.

– A Neo-Nazi blogger raised $150,000 after being sued for harassing a Jewish Woman:

– 48 Jewish community centers received bomb threats. In late February, Trump suggested that these threats were coming from within the Jewish community. Did he have inside information? Nearly a month later, an Israeli Jew was arrested for sending them.

Louisiana Congressman Clay Higgins told supporters on Facebook to ‘hunt And Kill’ Muslims.

– On the second day of Passover, Sean Spicer said that even Hitler didn’t “sink” to using chemical weapons like Bashar al-Assad. Later, he said Hitler “was not using the gas on his own people” the way President “Ashad” did, and referred to concentration camps as “Holocaust centers.”

– NRA board member Ted Nugent called for Hillary Clinton to be hanged.

– A Binghamton, N.Y. mayoral candidate and an Iowa democratic candidate pulled out of their races after being threatened.

– African-American professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor canceled her book tour after Trump supporters threatened to lynch her.

– California State University Fresno halted its Middle East Studies search due to outside pressure.

– California Assemblyman Rob Bonta introduced a bill to remove a nearly 70-year-old statute that makes it illegal for members of the Communist Party to work in that state’s government. The statute was an obvious violation of free speech rights, and the Supreme Court had already declared similar laws unconstitutional in 1960. Conservatives quickly mobilized to oppose the bill, and Bonta withdrew it.

– The FBI caught a number of white supremacists who were allegedly planning hate crimes.

– Harvard University rescinded admissions for at least 10 prospective students over offensive Facebook posts.

– A Muslim woman wearing a hijab headscarf was refused service at a gas station by an attendant who announced, “I don’t need to serve you anymore. We’re trying to make America great again.”

– Trump pointedly laid a wreath on Andrew Jackson’s tomb.

Over 50 reports from 26 states indicated that schoolchildren were using Trump’s words to bully Latino, Middle Eastern, black, Asian, and Jewish classmates. The Southern Poverty Law Center claimed that over 90% of educators reported that school climate had been negatively affected by the election.

Boston baseball fans hurled racial slurs at Black players.

– HUD Secretary Ben Carson said publicly that public housing is too good for poor people.

Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks claimed to support covering pre-existing health conditions, but only for people who ‘lead good lives’.

Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador told a town hall meeting that nobody dies due to lack of access to health care.

– In the San Francisco Bay area, four Albany high school juniors punished for their roles in a racist Instagram posting incident sued the school district, alleging their free speech rights were violated. Racial slurs were reported at nearby Piedmont and Berkeley High Schools.

Wyoming Senator Mike Enzi told school children that men in dresses are “asking for” violent beatings. Fox News pundit Erick Erickson concurred.

Alaska State Representative David Eastman said that women in Alaska get pregnant to get a “free trip to the city” for abortions.

– Fliers appeared at the University of Maryland claiming ‘America is a white nation’.

Missouri State Representative Tila Hubrecht called rape-induced pregnancy God’s ‘Silver Lining’.

A white man in Texas taunted a Muslim family with “Donald Trump got you motherfuckers!”

Oklahoma Representative Mike Ritze suggested handing 82,000 non-English speaking kids over to ICE.

– In Charlottesville, Virginia a torch-wielding mob protested the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee.

Mississippi State Representative Karl Oliver publicly called for the lynching of anyone attempting to remove Confederate monuments in his state.

– A Texas judge recommended on Facebook that a Black defendant be lynched. 

– At the confirmation hearing of Jeff Sessions, activist Desiree Fairooz was convicted of disorderly conduct for laughing when Senator Richard Shelby claimed that Sessions had a track record of “treating all Americans equally under the law.” The verdict was reversed on appeal.

– Trump publicly threatened James Comey and Robert Mueller and regretted having hired Sessions.

– The city of Berkeley was rocked repeatedly when white supremacists claiming to support free speech battled anti-fascists after the University refused to allow provocateurs Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter to speak there.  After the second event, an anarchist café’s windows were shot out. After similar events in Portland, local Republicans invited militia groups to provide security at public events.

– Trump proposed that Americans who fail to report their suspicious neighbors should be ‘brought to justice’. 

– Theaters bearing William Shakespeare’s name reported a surge of abusive messages following a New York production of Julius Caesar in which the title character was dressed to look like Trump.

– Fox analysts called for Muslim internment camps.

– Former Arizona state senator Russell Pearce suggested sterilizing poor women as a condition for receiving food stamps.

– New Hampshire state representative Josh Moore said that if a law to ban topless female nudity fails, men should be able to squeeze exposed nipples in public.

A Connecticut trump supporter admitted to vandalizing a school with left-wing slogans in order to frame liberals.

 An Ohio sheriff refused to carry an opioid overdose reversal drug in a county (Butler) where 150 people died of heroin- or fentanyl-related overdoses in 2016.

The NRA called for white supremacy and armed insurrection.

– A Florida Teacher said that black students were ‘rats’ that could infest her classroom.

Iowa Representative Steve King proposed using food stamp funds to pay for the border wall with Mexico and tweeted his support for a Dutch white supremacist.

– On Independence Day Trump tweeted a video that endorsed violence against journalists.

 Trump’s personal lawyer Marc Kasowitz threatened a stranger in an email with ‘Watch Your Back, Bitch.’

– The office of Nevada Senator Dean Heller, one of the few Republicans who hadn’t yet endorsed the “healthcare” bill was broken into and a threatening note was left.

― Tennessee State Senator Mark Green withdrew his name from consideration to become the next Army Secretary after comments he had made about the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community surfaced.   

– Education Secretary Betsy DeVoss spoke to a men’s rights organization and defended those accused of campus rape. Then the top civil rights official under her at the Department of Education said that 90% of women who make rape accusations are lying about them. 

A black Mississippi high school valedictorian was forced to share the honor with a white student who’d received lower grades. She was attacked online with multiple hate statements.


– An Ohio teacher was fired for dragging a black preschooler down a hallway:

– The head of Cleveland’s largest police union asked Governor Kasich to temporarily ban Ohio’s open carry gun laws during its Republican Convention due to the arrival of armed black protesters.

– Fox pundit Brit Hume claimed that giving health insurance to sick people “defeats the core ethic values of this country”:

Now, crude and ignorant as these statements were (and as often as they undoubtedly occurred prior to the inauguration), they were not physical acts. But clearly the people who uttered them felt empowered by Trumps’ ascendancy to power, and just as clearly their viral presence on social media encouraged – gave permission to – those who were more literal minded to commit actual crimes.

Next: Specific Acts of Hate

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Barry’s Blog # 206: The Dionysian Moment. Trump Lets the Dogs Out, Part One

…Shall in these confines with a monarch’s voice
Cry ‘Havoc,’ and let slip the dogs of war;
That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
With carrion men, groaning for burial.

– Shakespeare, Julius Caesar


So if you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato,

knock the crap out of ’em, would you? Seriously. Okay?

Just knock the hell…I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees.

I promise. I promise. – Donald Trump


July 20th, 2017 – half a year since the inauguration. I don’t need to remind you how stunningly weird our public life – and for many of us, our dreams – have been, these six months. Or perhaps I do: Consider Rolling Stone’s compilation of “100 WTF Moments From Trump’s First 100 Days”. 

Of course, Trump’s arrival in the White House is an arbitrary point in time. If you have read my book or many of my articles, I’m sure you’ll agree that life in the United States has been straight-out, uncompromisingly, bat-shit crazy for a very long time. And yet, it seems to be in our nature as Americans (at least as middle-class, white Americans) to swing back, like elastic bands, into our familiar mode of denial. It can’t happen here.

So in the course of this blog series I am going to itemize for you, in rather detailed fashion, what’s been going on, if you’re willing to stay with me. I could suggest that you skip the meat of these articles and just head toward my conclusions. But that would be to treat you like a child who can’t tolerate your necessary and inevitable confrontation with reality.

Coming to consciousness often – perhaps always – involves dropping or being forced to drop our sense of specialness or uniqueness and privilege, our naiveté, and/or our innocence, and painfully accepting the reality of the darkness that surrounds us – as well as our own dark potential. This process is almost always necessary before we can fully accept that other reality: the light that both surrounds us and is within us. No dark, no light. The brightest lights cast the darkest shadows.

To go into the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark, go without sight.
And find that the dark, too, blooms and sings
And is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.

– Wendell Berry

There’s no doubt that the current version of our national madness began before the election. Perhaps it began when Trump entered the Republican primary and immediately proceeded to debase that lofty tradition.

Or was it when you realized that he was openly articulating the racism and demonization of people of color that the other candidates had only been addressing in euphemisms? Clearly, plenty of these things were already being said long before the election season. They had been happening (depending on your degree of privilege) forever. Let’s be clear about this: nothing he said was new. His rivals and his predecessors had been articulating the same hatred and intolerance for decades. The only difference was that they had been limited by some vague consensus about good taste, so they (at least as far back as Ronald Reagan) had been forced to use the coded language of implication, which had always provided them with “plausible deniability” and allowed them to say that they had not been saying what everyone knew they were saying.

But in 2016 countless white people were thrilled that Trump could “speak his mind,” without concern for “political correctness.” The phrase, writes Moira Weigel,

…conjured powerful forces determined to suppress inconvenient truths by policing language…The term is what Ancient Greek rhetoricians would have called an “exonym”: a term for another group, which signals that the speaker does not belong to it. Nobody ever describes themselves as “politically correct”. The phrase is only ever an accusation.

Or was it when it dawned on you that our political system (even Trump bragged about this) is so broken that the Democratic establishment really did steal the primaries from Bernie Sanders?

Perhaps it was a few years earlier, when you heard Hillary Clinton chortle about Muammar Gaddafi’s death: “We came, we saw, he died!” Or when Obama wept about gun deaths in America while raining death all over the Mid-East. Or the insanity of Bush’s wars, or the election of 2000, or…I could go on indefinitely.

In book talks I often ask members of the audience: When did you lose your innocence? The answers often go to the events of 9-11, or with older folks, the Kennedy assassinations. Then I ask, when did you lose your innocence the second time, and the third time, etc… The point I then have to make is that in our demythologized culture, in which true initiation rites have long been lost, the default mode that we all lurch back to at every opportunity is the denial and the desperate desire to remain innocent – in both senses, childlike and untainted by guilt. Once again, we have permission to ignore what is right in front of us. So the next time our innocence is punctured, it feels like the first time.

In a (very) different context, I could also ask: When did you get radicalized? When did it feel OK to hate? When did you feel permitted to act? When did your sense of (pick one or more) loneliness, alienation, anger, entitlement, privilege, etc, rise to the point that released your inhibitions about inappropriate speech or action? Or: When did your Dionysian moment happen? 

I don’t think I need to refer to the surface level. You already know about the 3:00 AM tweet wars with Arnold Schwarzenegger; the misogynistic insults; the juvenile bragging and veiled threats; the three million fake voters; the golf weekends; the smarmy, fake religiosity; the casual statements about missile attacks; the appointment of corporate toadies to destroy the regulatory and protective federal agencies; Sean Spicer’s and Kellyanne Conway’s surrealistic interviews; the ghoulish Stevens (Miller and Bannon); the vampire Trump siblings and Jared Kushner; the scandals; the refusal to address global warming, the attacks on Syria (nothing new there), the allegations of fake news, the actual fake news; certainly not the new Cold War and harping about evil Russians (did you notice when Democrats and the media began to refer to “the Russians” as “our adversaries?”). Even if you avoid the news altogether, you still get much of this from Stephen Colbert, The Daily Show or Facebook in easily digestible form. 



No, infuriating or depressing as it is, that’s all on the surface level. But it – and especially Trump himself – have been expressing a certain mythic role that I’ll have to take some time to unpack. And that time will be filled with the list of what else has been going on. But for now, I’ll think of this surface level as the most obvious expression of permission – letting the dogs out, or what some have called the “Trump effect.” My list has four categories: prominent hate statements; specific acts of hate; government policy; and local police actions.  The list is neither perfectly chronological nor complete; indeed, I fully expect to add plenty of items before I complete it. But I have to start somewhere. Eventually, I’ll try to put all this into a mythic context.

Next: “Free Speech”, Provocations, Threats and Hate Statements

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Barry’s Blog # 205: Funny Guys, Fake News and Gatekeepers

I’m just a comedian. – Jon Stewart

This is a revised and updated version of a blog I posted in early 2013. I enjoyed watching Jon Stewart preaching to the choir as much as anyone. However, I never expected any authentic, radical commentary from him, for three reasons. First, the fact that he never mentioned the Israeli/Palestinian conflict (regardless of whether Republicans or Democrats were in office) indicated the limits of his criticism of American policies that have been remarkably consistent, if hypocritical, since the end of World War Two.

Second, and perhaps more fundamental, was his policy of regularly inviting creeps like Bill O’Reilly as well as government spokespersons and other representatives of the corporate media onto his show for debate. Stewart was first and foremost an entertainer, and no one should have expected him to jeopardize his own status.

Now I have nothing against “reasoned debate.” Indeed, we could use much more of it. But by doing this, he gave them and their positions legitimacy before the camera and the millions who watched him, a legitimacy that they neither needed (they certainly got plenty of exposure on their own) nor deserved. This expresses what I call “liberal innocence” – the insistence, despite all evidence, that conservatives (I prefer the term “reactionaries”) and liberals will sort out “the facts” in a disengaged, orderly process on a “level playing field,” in which all participants share a common desire for enhancing the public welfare.

Bullshit. The unedited history of the last sixty years should show anyone who is willing to actually look that the Right and its flunkies have never played by the “rules” and never will. Naively hoping that they might do so only solidifies our sense of innocence and leads ultimately to disillusionment with the political process itself.

Stewart had a clear function within the corporate media: to constantly remind his viewers of the limits of acceptable discourse: meaning, from far-right to moderately liberal. Every time he playfully bantered with O’Reilly and his ilk, those scumbags moved a bit closer to the middle in the public, liberal eye. And, given that many young people admit that they got all their news colbert-700x525-1from Stewart and, perhaps, Stephen Colbert, his role becomes even more important.


For a while I also enjoyed watching Keith Olberman and Rachel Maddow trash right-wingers with their devastating wit. However, the fact that they rarely criticized the Obama administration (whose fundamental policies and financial supporters were not significantly different from its predecessors) indicates a similar kind of innocent refusal, even denial, to rock the boat. By skewering right-wingers without acknowledging either collusion by Democrats or authentic left-wing alternatives, they served the function of all the media: to constrict the terms of debate to a fraction of that spectrum and give the impression that we have real freedom of expression in this country.

Eventually, it became clear that Maddow and all her MSNBC crowd had become nothing more than spokespersons for Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party, as Fox is for the Republicans. The jokes became stale, safe, snarky and predictable.

Ultimately, his corporate bosses deemed Olberman unacceptably liberal and they fired him in 2012. And who received the task of letting the public know just why it was good riddance? Why, John Stewart,  who slammed Olberman for his “bombast” and “rage,” thereby solidifying his own position as the arbiter of reasoned discourse.

Here is the third reason why he never offered any real criticism of corporate power in America. Many parents and older people told their activist children in the 1960s, “We approve of your goals but not of your methods.” In attacking Olberman’s style, Stewart was deliberately instructing his audience that, as bad as things may be, one would be wrong to even feel rage, or by extension, to feel anything at all, other than mild (if short-lived) euphoria after having had a good laugh, let alone to act upon it. He rarely spoke truth to power, and when he did, it was from the stance of wounded innocence.

Eventually, with the dominance of Fox News, the Koch-funded Tea Party and the grand con-man Trump, the issue of “fake news” arose to muddy the boundaries between truth and fiction on several levels. But as Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky had been arguing for decades, the established, corporate, “liberal” media had always purveyed news and opinion through subtle but highly slanted narratives quite deliberately intended to reinforce the myth of American innocence and the good intentions of the American Empire.

Stewart and Colbert revived an old entertainment form: comedians pretending to be newscasters, as in Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update.” Perhaps they were simply taking note of how American culture had been changing since the Ronald Reagan years. As (despite the media’s determined efforts) our grand narrative was breaking down, so were all of our institutions. Especially in the realms of politics, education and entertainment, many people were realizing that there was hardly any difference anymore. Who coined the term “edutainment?” Walt Disney, in 1954.

But Stewart the fake newsman never pretended to have values other those of Stewart the wealthy, Jewish (that is, unquestioningly pro-Israel) liberal, or “PEP” (progressive except for Palestine). And for the reasons I’ve mentioned, he could never break out of that bubble, with its gatekeeping function.

Stewart alumnae Samantha Bee, John Oliver, Trevor Noah and Larry Wilmore have carried on the tradition without playing the fake newscaster role, but as straight-up, progressive, comedy. I would argue that Bee and Oliver, angry, persuasive and hilarious as they are (and thankfully not hosting conservatives for “reasoned” debate), have still, on occasion, revealed that they can function as gatekeepers as well. Bee regularly reinforces the anti-Russia narrative that denies the real reasons why Trump won, and Oliver has demonized those who question Big Pharma’s pro-vaccination narrative.

I could be wrong on these issues myself, but we are still talking about gatekeeping, and ultimately gatekeeping always serves the interests of the wealthy. Noah, of course, in keeping with Stewart’s old format, has also proven to be an effective gatekeeper.

The African-American Wilmore committed a more serious sin: he hosted a show with an angry, progressive, mostly person-of-color cast and was openly critical of Barack Obama. He retained the interview format, but his guests were often political activists, and the interviews themselves included members of the cast. There were always at least two Black persons in front of the camera. It’s really surprising that his corporate chieftains kept him around as long as they did. Eventually, they claimed, his ratings were insufficient.

And of course this thought reminds us of a question I regularly pose in these essays: Cui bono? Who profits? Follow the money. Do you remember what CBS Chief Executive Officer Leslie Moonves said of Donald Trump’s presidential run? “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”

By this logic, even O’Reilly would turn liberal if the sponsorship or the ratings justified such a change. Up to a point, this seems to be one of the fundamental values of media in late capitalism: if it sells – if there is an identifiable market – keep selling it. Beyond that point, criticism of the system itself, aside from some of the clowns who embody it, becomes intolerable. This, combined with low ratings, spelled Wilmore’s demise.

Colbert the fake newsman actually slipped real criticism into his schtick by creating a raging blowhard persona inspired by characters like O’Reilly. Emily Nussbaum, in the New Yorker writes:

By wearing a mask made of his own face, he (Colbert) inflected every interaction with multiple ironies, keeping his guests—including politicians and authors—off balance, and forcing them to be spontaneous.

I’d take that statement further. By pretending to be a conservative chatting with other conservatives, he was able to reveal them as the thugs they really were, without giving them legitimacy. It was a subtle difference between him and Stewart, and a very important one: parody vs. satire. Colbert was a subversive: he undermined the dominant discourse and got away with it, because he had great ratings. By the way, those ratings provided the answer to the common question: “Why would those people allow themselves to look so foolish?’ The answer: Cui bono. Any publicity is good publicity.

I use the past tense here, because Colbert’s shift from Comedy Central to CBS sucked him straight into the gatekeeper vortex.

One of his very first guests in September 2015 was Trump himself. Perhaps Colbert assumed that a Trump nomination, not to mention presidency, was so unlikely that the comic potential and legitimization would be worth it. Fans who expected him to skewer Trump were certainly disappointed, however, as Trump refused to take his mild baiting and Colbert actually apologized for having criticized him in the past. lead_960

Indeed, like every interview he would do on the new show, it was a typical network-style discussion: long on safe, predictable jokes, short on the old irony and de-legitimizing. The effect was what we would later describe as “normalization.” Nussbaum describes these interviews:

With the irony drained away, Colbert was less vivid. He had a try-hard earnestness, a damp corporate pall; he was courtly with guests, as if modeling bipartisan behavior. Taking off the mask had made him less visible, not more.

Eventually, as Trump ascended, so did Colbert’s anger, but the late-night format continues to dictate the content – and the normalization. Attacking Trump is necessary and provides needed relief. colbertcartoontrump But it isn’t in itself subversive when everyone is doing it, and when much of the criticism is calculated to support the liberal narrative of Hillary Clinton, the DNC and Russian hacking: If only they hadn’t done that, we’d have a real president.

Under an absurdist regime, intensified by the digital landscape…all jokes become “takes,” their punch lines interchangeable with CNN headlines, Breitbart clickbait, Facebook memes, and Trump’s own drive-by tweets, which themselves crib gags from “Saturday Night Live.” (“Not!”) Under these conditions, a late-night monologue begins to feel cognitively draining, not unlike political punditry.

Nussbaum prefers John Oliver, Samantha Bee and Seth Myers. But it always comes back to gatekeeping, one of the primary functions, incidentally, of The New Yorker. These three are all excellent and progressive comics. Unlike Wilmore and his cast, however, they’re all white.

In 2017, when haters have free rein, from the Attorney General down to violent cops and loonies in bleacher seats, when humor is nearly indistinguishable from government proclamations, angry (even if funny) Black men are still beyond the pale. Keeping them – and their implied assault on American innocence – out there is one reason why gatekeepers do what they do, and why they are paid so well.






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Barry’s Blog # 204: Stories We Tell Ourselves About Barack Obama, Part Fifteen

Myth # 7: The Unwitting Savior

I have to ask: when did calm, rational discussion ever do us any good? I agree with Michael Meade, who says that anything worth saying is worth exaggerating. I agree with David Whyte, who says “This is not the age of information. This is the age of loaves and fishes.” May it be the age when the gatekeepers can no longer pull the wool over our eyes, when they can no longer serve up “leaders” charged with the assignment to repair the cracks in the myth of American innocence. May it be the age when the predatory and paranoid imaginations that have ruled our consciousness – and our unconsciousness – for centuries fall away to make room for the creative imagination that still resides in our indigenous minds.

I began this long essay by talking about the mythology of the King. As we search for some kind of positive conclusion, bear with me while I stretch out and play with two themes. The first is annunciation, the universal, cross-cultural story of how divine messengers appear to predict the arrival on Earth of a great being, such as the Buddha, or Maitreya, the future Buddha.

In discussing our idealizations and projections onto figures like Obama – and why we’re still so reluctant to see him as he really was, and why our disillusionment may be so overwhelming when we do – I’ve made reference to another related archetype, the longing for the return of the king, such as Odysseus in Greek myth or the Messiah in Hebrew myth. In Christian myth, the birth of John the Baptist (necessary for the later birth of Jesus) is foretold in Luke 1:5-25. And in Luke 1:26, the Angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she will become his mother. In Mark 1:3, John preaches, Prepare ye the way of the Lord.

A second theme is the holy fool, another universal figure who is innocent, unsophisticated, inexperienced and useless. Yet he appears, as Parsifal  or as the third, youngest brother in so many fairy tales to complete the task of saving the Kingdom or capturing the Firebird when his two older, heroic brothers fail. He accepts guidance from animal helpers. His intelligence is of the body, and utterly unconscious. But, unlike his brothers, he is “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.” (Isaiah 53:3).

Bear with me. When we combine these two universal themes – the one who arrives to announce the impending arrival of another (who is still only in potential), yet who is himself utterly unconscious of his actual and necessary role in the drama, who may actually be quite a wounded soul, maybe even embodying the worst in all of us – we find a mythological reframe of Barack Obama. The one in potential, by the way, will be the one who will lift the veils, who will be the enlightened, or self-aware, or no-longer-innocent one within all of us.

Perhaps we need a third mythic theme to put it all together. Again, we find it as a universal archetype: the divine being, or witch, seemingly evil, who demands that the hero perform a series of impossible (almost always three) tasks to save his life, or that of the realm. Often that hero (or heroine, such as Psyche, who must obey Aphrodite’s commands) is that same third sibling who gets help from those same animal spirits. The deity or witch who seems to want nothing but to destroy the hero is, at a deeper level, his initiator, who actually wants him to succeed.

For an excellent example, consider the Grimms Brothers tale called “The Drummer,”  in which a truly hideous hag requires a quite incompetent hero to drain a lake, cut down a forest and stack a massive pile of lumber. But at the end of the story, she is indistinguishable from the princess he marries.

In another incarnation, she is the even more hideous hag, Dame Ragnelle, who forces the Arthurian knight Gawain to answer, at the peril of his life, the question “What is it that women most desire?”  Later, after they have married, she gives him the choice to have her beautiful at night, when they are together, or during the day, when they are with others. Instead, he allows her to make the choice herself. This answer lifts the curse for good, and Ragnelle’s beauty returns permanently.

Still with me? We’ve arrived at the seventh and final myth, or way to grade Obama – and, for that matter, all the bankers, industrialists, militarists, fear-mongers, idle rich and all of their politician stooges, media lackeys, gatekeepers and mendacious academics who have contributed to so much human suffering in their pursuit of power and influence.

Caroline Casey says, “The situation is so dire we can’t afford the luxury of realism.” Indeed. In Chapter Twelve of my book I suggest:

We need to use sacred language, in the subjunctive mode: let’s pretend, perhaps, suppose, maybe, make believe, may it be so, what if – and play. This “willing suspension of disbelief” is what Coleridge called “poetic faith.” Then, says Lorca, the artist stops dreaming and begins to desire.

If we combine these archetypal themes – annunciation; the longing for the return of the King; the holy fool; and he/she who poses the impossible tasks – we have something I’ll call the Unwitting Savior.

Here I’m reminded of a critical point in the Bacchae, as I write in Chapter Four of my book:

…Jung said that the soul is teleological, always moving toward integration. We carelessly leave the gates unlocked for the Mystery to enter and do its destructive – and perhaps reconstructive – work. Grandiosity and innocence evoke betrayal and alienation. Usually we respond with “inauthentic suffering” – bitterness, depression or addiction. Sometimes, however, we fall into humility and grief. This may lead to repentance, compassion and wisdom, which the Greeks personified as the goddess Sophia. She could only be approached through authentic suffering. Aeschylus wrote: Sing sorrow, sorrow, but good win out in the end. We see this deeper motivation when Pentheus orders his henchmen to find Dionysus:

Go, someone, this instant, to the place where this prophet prophesies.

Pry it up with crowbars, heave it over, upside down; demolish everything you see…

That will provoke him more than anything.

“Provoke” (from vocare, to call) is marvelously appropriate. At some level Pentheus can choose. He can invoke or evoke his own Dionysian nature, or he can innocently project it outwards, provoking its expression somewhere else.

As I have written several times in the course of this essay, myth is not interested in motivation (or in psychological terms, conscious motivation). Myth is concerned with action, with the mythological facts, with what needs to happen in order to bring the story forward, or with what action that will provoke what must follow.

What if Obama, Trump and the rest of them, completely unaware of their deeper intentions, have really been asking questions such as these, and American culture has been (so far) unable to hear them:

– How can we provoke millions of Americans to wake up from their dream of good intentions and exceptionalism?

– What can we do to provoke new gaps in the veneer of the myth of innocence so broad that they can never be shored up and re-sealed? How can we make the dam burst?

– What can we do to provoke a situation in which conditions become so difficult, so irreparable that the system will respond by producing a fascist strongman – or in mythic terms a Dionysian figure – who will tear the entire system down permanently so that something much better may arise?

– How can we best provoke enough people to so completely suspend their belief in conventional political and religious thinking that they begin to remember the old ways of mythological thinking and learn to reframe their sense of who they are and what they are truly capable of accomplishing?

– What is needed to prepare the way for the return of the Goddess?

Wouldn’t such questions bring us back to where the myth of America itself wants us to go? And who would be speaking now? The hag? The billions of repressed, humiliated and tortured common people who long for peace? Or perhaps the ultimate “grader” herself – the Earth?

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Barry’s Blog # 203: Stories We Tell Ourselves About Barack Obama, Part Fourteen

Obama’s Legacy:

Obama arrived in the White House promising a new era of democracy and positive change for the common man. In 2008, the Republicans were deeply unpopular, and Sarah Freaking Palin could have been a heartbeat away from the Presidency (that doesn’t seem so bizarre anymore).

In 2012, all the GOP could muster was the grinning idiot Romney. Still, Obama won with a smaller margin than four years before. From a 2016 perspective, it was Black Tweedledee vs White bread Tweedledumb. He left Washington that year with the Democratic Party on the verge of irrelevancy and the common man supporting a fascist.

Certainly, the Republican-caused log jamb of the federal government led many to blame both parties and lose interest in politics, and (well-financed) others to organize on the right. But the major factors were the Democrats’ own failure of imagination, their indebtedness to their corporate sponsors and their blatant ignoring of both a failed economy and widespread discontent. Micah Sifry writes:

As we now know, that grand vision for a post-campaign movement never came to fruition. Instead of mobilizing his unprecedented grassroots machine to pressure obstructionist lawmakers, support state and local candidates who shared his vision, and counter the Tea Party, Obama mothballed his campaign operation, bottling it up inside the Democratic National Committee. It was the seminal mistake of his presidency—one that set the tone for the next eight years of dashed hopes, and helped pave the way for Donald Trump to harness the pent-up demand for change Obama had unleashed…“We lost this election eight years ago,” concludes Michael Slaby, the campaign’s chief technology officer. “Our party became a national movement focused on general elections, and we lost touch with nonurban, noncoastal communities. There is a straight line between our failure to address the culture and systemic failures of Washington and this election result.”…a sin of imagination, one that helped decimate the Democratic Party at the state and local level and turn over every branch of the federal government to the far right.

These political decisions – along with, of course, Obama’s actual policies – had much to do with the massive disillusionment that set in among young idealists, few of whom transferred their Bernie Sanders loyalties to Hillary Clinton, supporting her only because they feared Trump. But the damage, as Sifry says, happened much earlier. By 2016 the Democrats had lost over a thousand spots in state legislatures, governor’s mansions and Congress.

“What’s happened on the ground is that voters have been punishing Democrats for eight solid years — it’s been exhausting,” said South Carolina State Senator Vincent Sheheen, who lost two gubernatorial campaigns…“If I was talking about a local or state issue, voters would always lapse back into a national topic: Barack Obama.” After this year’s elections, Democrats hold the governor’s office and both legislative chambers in just five coastal states: Oregon, California, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware. Republicans have the trifecta in 25, giving them control of a broad swath of the middle of the country.

I have argued that despite all this incompetence, it still took massive voter suppression and outright computer fraud to win the 2016 election.

But consider if Clinton had actually won: another 4-8 years of obstruction on domestic policies and empirical wars abroad, balanced at best by a moderate on the Supreme Court, and another generation of disillusioned young people. And amid the faux-feminist self-congratulation among liberals, no need for hagiography about Obama.  At worst, if Clinton actually fulfilled her campaign rhetoric and established a no-fly zone over Syria and ordered “military responses” to the alleged Russian cyber attacks, we’d be at war with Russia.

In December the White House worked to recruit the centrist Tom Perez to run against and ultimately defeat the more liberal Keith Ellison as DNC chairman. Had they learned nothing from Clinton’s defeat? Or, as Greenwald writes,

…it seems Democratic leaders prioritize ensuring that the left has no influence in their party over strengthening itself to beat the Trump-led Republicans…

We can only understand this mess by reverting to our mythological view: Obama played the inspirational role of the King in order to get elected. But it was only a role; and it was played by a trickster. The King imagines for us all; the Trickster (a poor version of the Trickster – the Con Man) is out for himself.

As Gary Younge writes, this latest transition is not simply a matter of sequence – one bad president following a good one – but consequence: one horrendous agenda made possible by the failure of its predecessor.

I’m sure you could offer all kinds of counter-arguments to what I’ve been saying from your own grading perspective. And you should; we all need to step back occasionally and consider what motivates our strong opinions. And I’m suggesting that our position within the myth of American innocence is a strong motivator. From outside the myth, others see us more objectively.

Perhaps Obama really has tried but been unable to reform a dreadfully wasteful and brutal militarism that has remained remarkably consistent, regardless of who has occupied the White House, for seventy years. We’d still like to believe that notion, because to think otherwise would be to call into question our most fundamental assumptions about who we are as Americans. To ask about our own collusion in perpetuating the story of American goodness and exceptionalism – despite all the evidence – would be to ask how we cannot see that the President has perfected the art of appearing to embody the Archetypal King – while actually enacting its, and our, shadow.

I certainly can entertain this possibility: perhaps Obama’s con-act was not a conscious process. His tears for American victims of gun violence were real – and so were his war crimes.

In this sense, from the empire’s grading point of view, he was a complete success. To bring this discussion back to mythological thinking, we remember that we all inhabit a story. In this story Obama was a hired gun, brought in to shore up the cracks in the myth of innocence that had appeared during the Bush years, and he succeeded for a while. In this grading perspective, even the Republicans (speaking honestly for once, off the record) would give him a straight-A.

Once again we need to address the fundamental question that progressives constantly dance around without really examining: good-intentioned mistakes rising from incompetence vs. deliberate, cynical policy. How many times have you heard this assessment (shared by almost all politicians, pundits and historians) that the Viet Nam war (please feel free to substitute Iraq, Afghanistan, etc) was a “mistake”? High school students all across the country learn the story, how our leaders had the best of intentions – defending freedom and stopping the spread of communism (feel free to substitute “Islamic terrorism”) – and it was only their own incompetence and changes in American popular opinion that defeated them.

Noam Chomsky, however, reminds us that America invaded Viet Nam, to prevent it “…from becoming a successful model of economic and social development…” It was the Vietnamese people who won the war, not the Americans who lost it. This is one reason why Chomsky’s name almost never appears in the New York Times. And the only level on which this and all the other horrors I’ve been detailing were mistakes was the moral level.

They were crimes. They were intended as crimes, planned, prosecuted and perpetuated by Harvard-educated criminals. These were and are the crimes of imperialism, not innocent blunders, and Obama is as complicit as any of his predecessors.

What if we were to drop our assumptions of American innocence and ask our grading questions but from a different perspective, that of the Deep State and the actual managers of policy and public opinion? Questions such as:

1 – How can we direct public opinion and policy so that the military – and its ever-increasing budget – remains permanently in a certain part of the world?

2 – How can we direct increasingly greater shares of the nation’s resources towards the military-industrial complex, the education-industrial complex, the prison-industrial complex, Big Pharma and the financial and insurance industries?

3 – How can we best manipulate the levels of irrational fear and anxiety so as to distract common people from such policies – and eventually choose a more blatant demagogue?

4 – How can we vet prospective political candidates and journalists to make sure that none of them ever question these policies?

5 – How can we serve up pliant legislators for lobbyists to shape?

6 – How can we make most Americans so utterly insecure about jobs, housing, education, health and the future in general that they will acquiesce to any of our demands?

7 – How can we make the rest of the population so tired, depressed and disillusioned that they simply stop bothering to vote?

Now from that point of view, let’s ask another basic question. After eight years, have the one percent come to accumulate as much wealth as the bottom fifty percent despite Obama’s policies or because of them? In mythology, we recall, motivation doesn’t matter, only actions. Mythology looks at what happened and asks what needed to occur in order for the story to move on.

Our one consolation is that if we pay attention, it also asks how we might reframe the story.

Once again, what about those signs of mild, incremental progress? Consider that for those who actually control the American Empire, policy decisions have only two potential consequences. The first as always – Cui bono? – is financial: who pays and who profits? The second is political: how much political capital is gained or lost?

Saving the auto industry? Why not ask: what is the price of keeping these inefficient and failing corporations alive even though they’ve outsourced most of their jobs to the Third World, when the obviously better solution is to buy them out at bottom-dollar prices and create worker-owned collectives? Answer: keep a few of those jobs in this country.

Health care? Why not ask: What is the price of delivering vastly more wealth and influence to the insurance industry? Answer: mandate expensive health coverage for some of the people.

Cuba? Iran? Why not ask: What is the price of opening up new consumer markets totaling nearly 90 million people in countries that were never any threat to our safety? Answer: Take actions that conservatives would never (claim to) support anyway. Nothing risked, nothing lost.

Supporting gay rights? Why not ask: What is the price of securing some nine million potential voters for the Democratic Party, especially when we’ve done nothing to repair the fact that several million African-Americans remain disenfranchised? Answer: Nothing at all. Again, nothing risked.

I take no pride in this. It isn’t about venting my frustration or expressing gratuitous cynicism. It is about waking up from the dream of innocence, exceptionalism and good intentions. Before we can begin to reframe our stories, we have to realize that we have inhabited a very toxic one for our entire existence as a nation, and it still holds us by the short hairs.

Ultimately I don’t care if you come to agree with my assessment of Obama. I do hope that you come to realize how much of your thoughts are determined by the mythology of innocence that we all subscribe to, how much your longing for the return of the King in your own heart determines the idealizations that you project onto politicians and entertainers.

Is there any difference any more between them? Trump knows the answer. And here’s something that everyone in Washington (including its 50,000 lobbyists) knows about con-men: while you fretted as his right hand (Trump) promised to move the cups on the table, his left hand (Obama/Clinton) had already been in your pocket.  Perhaps you deplore my hyperbole. Yes, I’m a curmudgeon, and yes, as George Carlin said about the American Dream: “You have to be asleep to believe it.” My next post will conclude this essay.


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Barry’s Blog # 202: Stories We Tell Ourselves About Barack Obama, Part Thirteen

“Missile Defense”

Do you remember Reagan’s spaced-based “Strategic Defense Initiative”, known derisively as “Star Wars”? It was never built because it was costly, provocative and consistently unreliable. Since then, however, each successive administration has continued to lavish vast resources on it, with the total costs over $180 billion so far.  Any normal person could ask why, and the truth comes down to this: the defense industry, knowing a cash cow, has never relinquished its hold on elected politicians.

And this: despite the fact that even the newest version of the program has less than a 50% success rate under even the simplest of scenarios, the generals have always coveted a workable missile defense system that could be an indispensible part of a first-strike threat against either Russia or China. They have always known that, rather than protecting America from some mythical, unprovoked attack, the system would actually be insurance against retaliation by anyone the U.S. might choose to attack first. For this reason, the Obama administration expanded the program.

Presidential Powers

Even Time Magazine wonders:

Future historians will ask why George W. Bush sought and received express congressional authorization for his wars…and his successor did not. They will puzzle over how Barack Obama the prudent war-powers constitutionalist transformed into a matchless war-powers unilateralist…Although he backed down from his threat to invade Syria last summer, President Obama proclaimed then the power to use unilateral force for purely humanitarian ends without congressional or United Nations or NATO support.

Should the government be able to kill its own citizens without explaining to a court why and what it’s doing? This awesome power is no longer subject to any judicial oversight. Now, with Trump in office after a campaign in which he promised to revive the torture program and carry out war crimes such as killing the families of suspected terrorists (and at the date of this posting he already has), we have to wonder what box of horrors Obama – the assassin-in-chief – opened up. If he could order the murder of radical preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen, what limits will Trump recognize? John Knefel writes:

For the past eight years, critics of Obama’s secret assassination programs and mass surveillance operations have made two critical points. The first is that…these kinds of broad authorities invite abuse, mistakes and errors, even if those calling the shots are operating in good faith. But the second point, now made painfully relevant, is that someday you might not trust the people calling the shots. You might realize, instead, that they are terrifying. That day has come.

Trump has inherited not only the drone assassination program but the Special Forces units that Obama expanded so greatly, essentially the President’s private army – 70,000 men, many of them Christian extremists and blatant racists – operating in secrecy, seldom discussed in the media except in action movies. Tomdispatch reports:

Now, in these last weeks of (Obama’s) presidency, his administration has given JSOC new powers to “track, plan, and potentially launch attacks on terrorist cells around the globe” and to do so “outside conventional conflict zones” and via “a new multiagency intelligence and action force.”  As a result, whatever this new task force may do, it won’t, as in the past, have to deal with regional military commands and their commanders at all. Its only responsibility will be to the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and assumedly the White House.

 Arms Dealer in Chief:

Obama stood on the high ground of moral righteousness, publicly weeping as he decried gun violence in America. But behind the sanctimonious finger-pointing, he discreetly brokered and authorized the sale of more arms to foreign governments than any president since World War II. Arms exports totaled over $200 billion, exceeding the amount Bush had approved by $60 billion. Over half of that amount went to the Saudis. Cui bono?

The U.S. did temporarily ban some of the worst human rights offenders from these weapon deals. However, when Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Kuwait, the United Arab Republics and Qatar “donated” to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s foundation, she waived those restrictions.

Nuclear Proliferation:

In April 2009 Obama pledged himself to make “the world free from nuclear weapons.” Six months later, despite having escalated the war in Afghanistan, he received the Nobel Peace Prize. In a bizarre twist on the “Watch what we do, not what we say” theme, the Nobel Committee cheapened itself by rewarding someone for things he said he might do, rather than for actually doing any of them.  But even in his acceptance speech, Obama could not resist defending American militarism.

The truth became clear soon enough, as he announced plans to build redesigned nuclear warheads (smaller and thus much more likely to be used), new bombers, submarines, land-based missiles, weapons labs and production plants. Under Obama nuke spending rose higher than under any other president. The cost over thirty years would exceed $1 trillion and violate the 1968 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Indeed, he reduced the nuclear arsenal far less – about 5 % – than any of his three immediate predecessors had.

In 2015 his belligerent and costly policies led a member of the Nobel Committee to openly regret awarding him the Peace Prize. Two weeks before leaving office, and with the obviously unstable Trump arriving, Obama still ignored requests to take the nuclear attack program off its provocative and dangerous “hair-trigger alert” status.

Waste and Corruption:

Obama’s final year was a festival of self-congratulation for the waste and corruption that took place on his watch. In May he presented the Distinguished Public Service Award to the war criminal Henry Kissinger.

In June the Defense Department’s Inspector General admitted that the Army – the Army alone, not including the Navy and Air Force  – made $2.8 trillion in wrongful adjustments to accounting entries in one quarter alone in 2015, and $6.5 trillion for the year, and that it lacked receipts and invoices to support those numbers or simply made them up. Dave Lindorff writes:

…the Pentagon has been at this dodgy game for decades. In 1996, Congress passed a law requiring all federal agencies to comply with federal accounting standards, to produce budgets that are auditable and to submit an audit each year…two decades later, the Pentagon has yet to comply…the only federal agency that is not complying or, the IG’s report suggests, even trying to comply.

And in December, he very publicly added fuel to the “blame the Russians for hacking the election” fires with feeble and purely symbolic sanctions, including deporting the chef of San Francisco’s Russian consulate. These actions, of course, were merely the beginning of what would be daily media attacks on Trump, and this story is certainly not over. I’ve already dealt in great detail with the real reasons why the Democrats lost the election here. Juan Cole offers a few fundamental questions about this charade:

…if the charge is that the Russians influenced the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, then either they did or they didn’t. If they didn’t, they aren’t very good hackers and might have been safely ignored. If they did, then why no demand that the results of the election be set aside and new elections held? Why are no specific effects of the Russian hacking demonstrated?

Meanwhile, as I mentioned above, Obama signed into law the Defense Authorization Act that further strengthened the repressive capacities of the state. He could have closed the Guantanamo prison by executive order but didn’t. And he quietly ensured that the Senate’s investigation into the CIA’s use of torture after 9/11 would remain classified for at least another 12 years. No one would be prosecuted for torture (or for causing the financial collapse), and none of Trump’s thugs need worry about future war crimes.

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Barry’s Blog # 201: Stories We Tell Ourselves About Barack Obama, Part Twelve

Sub-Saharan Africa:

American troops swarmed over the continent during the Obama years, allegedly to fight terrorism. They were also there to prop up friendly regimes with horrific human rights records, such as Nigeria, Uganda and Rwanda. And they were driven by a new scramble for resources – such as the rare-earth minerals so crucial to producing cell phones – and by intensified competition with China, now Africa’s, as well as Asia’s, largest trading partner. But it was mostly about oil.

Africa has about 10% of global oil reserves, and imports from Africa to the U.S. equal those from the Mid-East. Huge reserves have been discovered in Uganda. South Sudan now controls about three-quarters of the formerly united country’s oil production. The Guardian claims that in Somalia the “potential is comparable to that of Kuwait, which has more than 100 billion barrels of proven oil reserves,” and that “if true, the deposits would eclipse Nigeria’s reserves and make Somalia the seventh largest oil-rich nation.”

As always, securing access to oil underpinned Obama’s security concerns. Bush had created the AFRICOM military command in 2007. Yet under Obama, AFRICOM’s budget rose to $302 million, almost tripling since its launch. And these funds don’t include vast sums spent on training, arming and financing African militaries, which climbed to about $1 billion, plus another $1 billion for private military contractors.

Lee Wengraf writes:  “It is no exaggeration to say that the U.S. is at war in Africa. The continent is awash with American military bases, covert operations and thousands of Western-funded troops.” U.S. troops are now in Uganda, Mali, Chad, Burundi, Niger, Ethiopia, Kenya, Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Congo, the Central African Republic, the Seychelles, South Sudan, Nigeria and several other African nations.

There is a secret network of drone bases in East Africa, especially Somalia, which has suffered over two decades of civil war. One Somali told David Axe, “You Americans, you’ll destroy an entire city to get three people.” Both Kenya (which receives a billion dollars in U.S. aid) and Ethiopia have launched invasions into Somalia. The U.S. now has its largest military presence there since it left the country in 1993. The conflict has generated hundreds of civilian deaths and thousands of refugees.

But the death toll was far higher in South Sudan, where tens of thousands died and three million people joined the refugee flow toward the Mediterranean. The U.S., predictably, was the source of this misery. According to Thomas C. Mountain, the CIA was funding a dirty war “little different than the wars the CIA funded in Angola and Mozambique” to overthrow the government. As it had done in those countries, it used a “rebel leader” with arms funneled from U.S.-friendly Ethiopia to wage an ethnic-based war, pushing for regime in the name of a doctrine called “Responsibility to Protect” (much the same rationale as in their war against Libya).

Why? Because South Sudan was doing business with China. The oil fields there are the only Chinese owned and operated in Africa. Despite horrifying tales of black on black tribal violence, the U.S. was the only beneficiary, having been able to repeatedly damage or shut down the Chinese oil fields as a result of the rebellion. As Obama left office, South Sudan, despite its oil riches, was on the brink of an all-out ethnic civil war and famine. “It’s that simple,” writes Mountain, “…the war in South Sudan is about denying China access to Africa’s oil.” Cui bono?

Latin America:

The region has been under Washington’s thumb for nearly 200 years, and again Obama’s policies were completely consistent with those of the past: protecting Wall Street’s investments, training and supporting thugs who promised to return their countries to the old authoritarian rule, and destabilizing democratically-elected leaders who opposed it. Bush’s attempts to overthrow Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, with its own vast oil reserves, are well known. Less known perhaps is the fact that both before Chavez’ death in 2013 and since then, against Chavez’s elected successor, Nicolas Maduro, Obama pursued the same actions.

Tactics included speculation that led to collapse in the price of crude oil and subsidization of protestors and anti-government media. Once again, the mainstream media functioned as cheerleaders for this effort, as the Washington Post trumpeted, “How to derail Venezuela’s new dictatorship.”

During the Obama years the U.S. meddled repeatedly in Haiti, Guatemala, Suriname, Guyana, Mexico, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Ecuador (fomenting a failed coup),


Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, claiming that the CIA was trying to overthrow his government

Bolivia, Colombia (where $450 million per year was widely seen as merely a cover for U.S. military power projection in South America) and Brazil, where the new President Michel Temer openly boasted that he’d led the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff not for any crime but for her refusal to implement a right wing economic plan.  Paraguay experienced a similar parliamentary coup in 2012, and the U.S. tellingly refused to join the rest of the hemisphere in condemning it.

But Obama’s worst Western Hemisphere crime – and this was not a continuation of something Bush had begun – was crushing democracy in Honduras and turning it into a narco-state that now serves as a primary transit point for drugs into the U.S. In June 2009, the Honduran army seized President Manuel Zelaya and whisked him away in a plane that refueled at a U.S. military base. The OAS, the U.N. and others refused to recognize the subsequent sham election, but the U.S., predictably, did. The coup leaders, like so many others, had trained in the U.S. at the notorious Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, which had formerly changed its name from School of the Americas because of its long-term association with torture.

The tiny country, formerly used by Reagan in the 1980s as a base for the Contra war, now has the highest murder rate on Earth. The Obama administration cynically provided the military with plenty of aid for fighting the drug trade ($18 million in 2016 alone), knowing full well that it is used to repress indigenous activists such as Berta Caceres,


Berta Caceres, winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize

who, shortly before being murdered in March 2016, quite specifically blamed Hillary Clinton for the coup. Indeed, Clinton openly boasted of her role.

The causes were America’s insatiable demand for resources – in this case, cocaine – and its stubborn refusal to let nations determine their own destiny. Once again we see a tragic pattern. The U.S. destabilizes an independent country, causing violent coups, civil wars, repression or large-scale, drug-related violence, even famine. Thousands leave, unable to find work or basic safety, and add themselves to the vast flow of refugees attempting to enter Western Europe or the U.S., where right-wing groups demonize them and blame them for our internal problems.

Was this some kind of cruel joke? Did he do this just because he could do it? As one of his very last acts, a week before Trump’s inauguration, with no evidence of any threat and months after the opening to Cuba, Obama signed an executive order renewing the status of both Venezuela and Cuba as “national security threats.”

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