Tuesday, December 17, 2019

They were strangers in a strange land seeking safety and a better life for their newborn child

(14th Century Italian artist Giotto's depiction of the Holy Family in flight)

Following is a column I've run before during this time of year. The issue it addresses remains with us today.

They were descendants of immigrants who themselves became immigrants.

Soon after the baby arrived, a dream came to the father that the little family would have to leave their homeland if they were to survive. Even the life of an innocent child was in danger in their homeland.

So the three of them—father, mother and child—left their tiny village and embarked on a treacherous journey through the desert wilderness. They were very poor and had little more than the clothes on their backs.

They traveled by day and by night, ever fearful they might be captured or attacked, until they finally crossed the border. They brought no documentation with them, only their humility and the father’s willingness to work hard to support his family.

He was a trained craftsman, good with his hands, and his work was valued even if he was paid so little he could never hope to rise out of his poverty. With his teenage wife tending to their baby, he went out among the people to earn bread and shelter for them.

He heard the whisperings among those in this new land. They called him and his family foreigners, outsiders, and even illegal aliens, as if they had come from the moon and their very existence was something less than human, a violation of not only the law of the land but also God’s law.

“They’re just here to take our jobs, to feed, house, and clothe themselves at our expense,” he heard one of them say.

“They don’t even take the time to learn our language,” said another.

“Why are they even here? Is their own country not good enough for them? Perhaps they’re spies,” said yet another.

“The way people like these spawn they’ll soon be everywhere, expecting their new offspring to be treated equally just because they were born here, like so many little anchors for their illegal parents. Anchor babies, that’s what they’ll be.”

Some of these whisperings came from the very people who benefited from his labors. They would say these things as soon as they walked away from the worksite and rejoined their neighbors and friends. Local leaders heard the comments, too, and saw an advantage in such fears, prejudice, and suspicions. So they began to talk among the crowds and, being leaders, talked loudest of all, loud enough for everyone to hear.

Even some of the priests joined the chorus, invoking God’s judgment from their pulpits, condemning the strangers for breaking the law and taking advantage of people’s hospitality.

The father and mother, already homesick, longed for their faraway families and friends. They knew many did not welcome them in this strange land, but they also feared for their child’s life if they returned home. Did their little child have any idea of all the troubles that surrounded them?

The father remembered how his ancestors had been immigrants to this very land many generations before and had prospered here, but then a new leader had turned them into slaves and they had left. Now he and his wife and child had returned because their own land had become hostile. When would it all end? Where was there a refuge?

Eventually the father, whose namesake had been a dreamer and an interpreter of dreams, had yet another dream, and this one told him the time had come to return home. So he and his wife packed their belongings, wrapped up their child to keep it warm, and journeyed back to their homeland. They had to be careful. Dangers still lurked, but at least they were home.

And back in the strange land where they had sought refuge, some indeed missed them. “He did good work,” one said. “You know, they never really bothered anyone,” another said.

But these voices were quickly drowned out by the leaders and their priests who cried “Good riddance!” and then looked for others to condemn.

Friday, December 6, 2019

U.S. political leaders, as hypocritical as Shakespeare's Richard III, talk freedom and democracy but demand corporate neoliberal rule in Latin America

(To the left below, Shakespeare's Richard III as depicted by the 19th century artist Sir John Gilbert)

Ah, what a glorious hypocrite was the murderous King Richard III in Shakespeare’s 1591 play.

                        “Madam, so thrive I in my enterprise
                          And dangerous success of bloody wars
                          As I intend more good to you and yours
                         Than ever you and yours by me were harm’d!”

These were the tyrant’s words to Queen Elizabeth after he’d had her two young sons murdered along with a host of other victims of his relentless ambition to grab and keep the throne. With his hands drenched in blood, he even dares ask the queen if he can have her daughter in marriage! Here is her response:

               “No doubt the murderous knife was dull and blunt
                Till it was whetted on thy stone-hard heart,
                To revel in the entrails of my lambs.”

 What drives me to quote Shakespeare in this blog are the similarities of Richard’s hypocrisy and that of the United States in its relationship to Latin America. It’s a hypocrisy that mainstream U.S. media share--from the New York Times and the Washington Post to the major TV networks.

What country boasts more about freedom and democracy than the United States, and what country has worked harder to destroy both in the nations to its south? Memories of the CIA-backed overthrow of the democratically elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende, on September 11, 1973, came fresh to my mind when I heard of the recent coup in Bolivia that toppled the duly elected presidency of Evo Morales. President Trump, of course, immediately recognized the new military-and-police-backed regime that has already hammered down hard on protests and dissenters.

Of all the presidential candidates in the Democratic Party, only Bernie Sanders has called the overthrow what it was, a “coup”. Even anti-regime-change candidate Tulsi Gabbard has been reluctant to weigh in on developments in Bolivia. “I think Morales did a very good job in alleviating poverty and giving the indigenous people of Bolivia a voice that they never had before,” Sanders said at the Spanish language network Univision’s Democratic forum last month. “But at the end of the day, it was the military who intervened … . When the military intervenes … that’s called a coup.”

The near silence in the mainstream media is telling. Note how their coverage of protests around the world mainly focuses on the increasingly violent protests in Hong Kong against the Chinese government rather than the widespread protests in Haiti against the corruption of U.S.-backed President Jovenel Moïse, against billionaire Chilean leader Sebastian Piñera’s punitive hike in subway fairs, and against Equador President Lenin Moreno’s slashing of fuel subsidies.

Those protests have led to 35 deaths in Haiti and 19 in Chile. In Hong Kong one person has died during the protests. Mainstream media coverage reflects and upholds U.S. official policy. The Trump Administration, like its predecessors, wants governments in Latin America that are open to U.S. business, and it matters not if those governments are military juntas or dictatorships. Anything that makes China look bad is good for U.S. policy. Trump is waging his trade war with China because he wants the Communist government there to be just as corporatized as the U.S. government is.

“When official enemies can be presented as evil and allies as sympathetic victims, corporate media will be very interested in a story,” writes Alan MacLeod in EXTRA!, the newsletter of the FAIR media watch group. “In contrast, they will show far less enthusiasm for a story when the `wrong’ people are the villains or the victims.”

Many suspect U.S. agents to be encouraging the protests in Hong Kong that continue and grow even more violent despite China and the Hong Kong governments concession to protesters’ original demand that a new extradition law be dumped. From his exile in Mexico, Morales has called the coup in his country U.S.-backed.

One doesn’t have to look hard to see evidence of U.S. meddling in the affairs of Latin American countries—another hypocrisy given all the hand-wringing about alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election. President Obama’s secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, backed the brutal regime change in Honduras that has led the killing of some 30 trade unionists there since 2009. Fears grow that Trump will move beyond economic sanctions against Venezuela and eventually take military action to remove President Nicolás Maduro from power. After all, his former National Security Advisor John Bolton told Fox News in early 2019 that “It will make a big difference to the United States economically if we could have American oil companies really invest and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela.”

Argentina and its new Peronist, anti-neoliberal leaders Alberto Fernandez and Christina Kirchner better keep a round-the-clock watch because the White House and the corporatized foreign policy establishment in Washington, D.C., are not too happy about the departure of their boy, Mauricio Macri, from leadership in that country.

“This is the winter of our discontent,” Richard says at the beginning of Shakespeare’s play. “I am determined to prove a villain, and hate the idle pleasures of these days. Plots I have laid, inductions, dangerous … I am subtle, false, and treacherous.”

Such a confession! Of course, Richard is alone when he says these words, and no one is listening except those of us watching the play from our safe distance.