A Weird Holiday at Mobutu Sese Seko’s Jungle Hideaway
The world has seen tyrants more evil than Zaire’s ruler Mobutu Sese Seko, even among Africa’s legion of Big Men who snatched power and held it when Europe relinquished its colonial chokehold on the continent. But no despot was quite as colorful. A case could be made for Jean-Bédel Bokassa of the Central African Republic who proclaimed himself emperor in 1977 and enjoyed feasting on the flesh of his enemies. The closest Mobutu ever came to cannibalism was simply downing the occasional beaker of human blood.
Mobutu managed to control Zaire (now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo) for 32 years before being deposed in 1997, and during that time he bled the country dry while enjoying a lifestyle a real emperor might have envied. Once, after flying with Mobutu on his private DC-8 from France to Zaire, I watched with astonishment as he sent the jet immediately back to the Riviera to retrieve a fashion magazine Madame Mobutu had forgotten.
In June 1993, CNN’s Africa correspondent Gary Striker wanted to interview “Le Maréchal” about what amounted to a civil war in the southeastern part of the country while his army, unpaid for months, pillaged Kinshasa, its capital. I was Gary’s producer, but sensing we’d never get the truth from “The Helmsman” (Mobutu had a laundry list of unofficial titles), I had a secret agenda. I wanted Mobutu’s hat: that trademark jaunty leopard-skin number he sported everywhere.
As the military began ransacking Kinshasa, Mobutu literally headed for the hills to his native village of Gbadolite, where he’d erected a lavish presidential palace for himself in the heart of the equatorial forest. Of course, getting there—as well as convincing Mobutu to grant an interview—posed herculean challenges, even for Africa.
I’d been in contact with Mobutu’s advisors for weeks while we covered other news in Gabon: the second African/African-American Summit in Libreville, the capital, as well as Albert Schweitzer’s famed leper colony in Lambaréné. The hospital was still functioning, along with a small museum containing the doctor’s fabled organ (with Bach sheet music) and other personal items that belonged to the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Suzanne, the museum’s guide, was only a child when Schweitzer ran the place and said Big Al, who believed promptness to be a virtue, savagely beat both girls and boys if they were late for school—a juicy historical tid- bit the Nobel Committee obviously overlooked. “Oh, yes,” Suzanne insisted, “he slap us VERY hard across zee FACES.”
Back in Libreville, I finally received confirmation that Mobutu would be sending a plane to shuttle us to his jungle outpost. We were instructed to be at the airport early the next morning where we waited about 14 hours for a flight that never arrived. It was yet another WAWA1 moment. Two days and $600 in telephone charges later, we were back at the airport… still waiting. After standing around for another 12 hours with our dicks in our hands, a white 727 with Zaire’s distinctive red-and-gold torch livery on its tail landed and rolled up the tarmac. Finally, less than ten minutes later, we were airborne.
CPAC Is Full of Santorum
Today marks the big day at CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference. In Washington, all the heavies of the Grand Old Party: candidates, think-tank whores and the screamingly evil flunkies of the conservative alternate-reality press will assemble like the Gathering of the Juggalos. Of course, that’s not an entirely fair comparison. One group is made up of disturbed violent clowns committed to the destruction of everything decent in America. The other is made of ICP fans.
Our newest blog post about Ron Paul has turned into a sort of Facebook clusterfuck, as these things inevitably do. Want to join in on the action?
Best comment so far: “if you think the people who write vice are dumb try lookin at the readers lol”
“It’s an amazing spectacle for both [Gingrich & Romney] to be so maligned they have to stand between two opposing malevolent forces and somehow effect the fictional position (for them) of “decent middle-Americans.” Thus you have a conception of two powerful, white Christian millionaires having their country stolen by supercilious wealthy elites above them, as their heels are nipped from beneath by grubbing hordes all too happy to try to rob and execute them. The hordes are probably black and on food stamps, and favoring taxation makes black hordes the worst reverse-racists of all.”
—Let Us Now Pity Famous Men
“I want to see this thing continue because iron sharpens iron. Steel sharpens steel. These guys are getting better in their debates. They are getting more concise. They are getting more grounded in what their beliefs are and articulating what their ideas are for getting America back on the right track and getting Americans working again. If I had to vote in South Carolina in order to keep this thing going, I would vote for Newt, and I would want it to continue. More debates, more vetting of candidates.”
— Sarah Palin, Hannity, January 17
Apart from global appeal, intentional comedy, puckish charm and hints of a first-rate mind operating under a veneer of stupidity, Sarah Palin has something in common with Bart Simpson. I’m specifically talking about the scene where Grandpa, forced to babysit the kids, refers to a note card provided to him by Marge. It reads: “Always do the opposite of what Bart says.” Too bad the GOP isn’t as smart as Abe Simpson.
Nobody Likes You, Jon Hunstman
Jon Huntsman isn’t mad as hell, and it’s not getting him anywhere.
In a Republican field whose primary emotional output has been glower, hysteria, and paranoia, the composed and articulate former governor of Utah barely registers—except with Democrats watching the debates, which is to say, with nobody who actually counts.
Huntsman seems to be Democratic voters’ “acceptable Republican” for this year’s primaries, and it’s hard to see why. Aside from more respect for the diplomatic process and a willingness to flirt with environmental heterodoxy by not drawing a cape over his face and making a hissing noise at the word “science,” Huntsman offers enough conservative bona fides that no bipartisan love should exist here.
While governor, he repeatedly voted to restrict abortion. He passed a flat tax—which disproportionately punishes the middle class—while slashing dividend, capital gains, and corporate taxes. His constant kowtowing to Israel is on par with that of the other Christian Zionists who share the debate stage with him. And for all the respect he gets as the “diplomat” candidate, his attitude toward Iran is one blind to the encirclement of US-friendly powers arrayed around it, while we threaten it with another Iraq job by saying: Produce the evidence of the nukes you’re not actually creating or prove that you are not creating the nukes we say you are; if not, the ground invasion starts at 12:01 AM. If the logic of that previous statement seems indecipherable, you are probably not part of the GOP’s target foreign-policy demographic: someone who can be scared shitless by the logically impossible.
Similarly, Democrats issue him plaudits for being the “environmental” Republican. He was for Cap and Trade before he was against it—although he’s not really against it. It’s just not a good time for it “right now…” or something… because… the economy. Or something. Naturally. There’s always one time it’s never good to do anything difficult, and the name of that time is always “now.” Besides, environmental overhaul and investing in alternative energies, industries and infrastructure could cost jobs in the short run and only create many more over the course of generations while reducing environmental wastage. So, you know, fuck that.
Similarly, his belief in evolution offers one of those “gee whiz” moments for Democrats, but supporting the theory means nothing in terms of substantive change. You can pay lip service to evolution, and it still won’t rewrite the Texas Board of Education’s American history books, which include maps of America redrawn likeCandyland accompanied by fanciful stories about how Milton Friedman appeared to Moses in a burning bush, telling him to guide the Mayflower to a City on a Hill, so John Winthrop could found Reagonia.
Vaporous appeal to Democrats gets Huntsman nothing, because it disappears under scrutiny and only alienates GOP voters. He’s already got enough strikes against him as a Mormon (goodbye, Southern voters), a diplomat (nobody cares who George Kennan is; “REAL MEN SHOOT BUT VERIFY”) and a career politician who’s been an eggheaded functionary for four presidents—including, damningly, Obama; just imagine how that plays in parts of the country with high cotton yields. Plus, apparently he can speak Chinese, (or maybe not) so he’s basically the Model UN kid whose charts you threw out the bus window in 10th grade.
Overall, Huntsman is sucking wind nationally and in Iowa, garnering 4 precent in a recent PPP poll. And it would be easy to chalk that up to his conservative heresies if the current pack leader for the Tea Party and values voters wasn’t an odious piglet who nursed so hard at any money sent to him for being a government man that he could create a one-percenter-style credit line at Tiffany’s so he could buy baubles for his mistress-turned-wife.
No, Huntsman’s biggest problem is that he’s not a complete gaping asshole, whereas watching Newt Gingrich is like watching a Belladonna/Dana DeArmond science fiction porn movie about a world where all chairs are replaced by construction cones. Newton Leroy Gingrich is the inevitable consequence of a Tea Party conception of America beset by ever increasing apocalypses.
Like Ron Paul, Huntsman is almost all semi-substance and zero style. He can hold the military timetables for Iran’s deracination in his fists, but the Sturm und Drang won’t register. He can insist on defending all existential threats to Israel, but he conveys a lack of urgency. He can sell out even an extremely market-friendly environmental half-step like Cap and Trade, but he never suggests that the cops start beating every longhair between Santa Barbara and Humboldt counties.
Huntsman fails to grasp that you can’t just advocate for turning America into a choking plutocratic dystopia perpetually at war against everything; you have to also do that while kicking the shit out of anyone who starts quoting history books—especially that smug elitist, radical socialist Barack “Hussein” Obama, the American existential triple-threat. Newt gets this, and Huntsman doesn’t.
Huntsman’s still trying to debate on policy points and correct measures, but he’s attempting to win a contest that has little to do with the GOP nomination. Newt’s tapped into what’s driven the GOP movement since 2009: the Tea Party’s ferment of rage, paranoia and eliminationism. Newt only claims to be in the debate business: what pays the bills right now is the humiliation and punishment business.
Last week’s post about Ron Paul, discrimination, and conspiracy elicited a familiar but frustrating response from supporters of the good doctor. I’ve replied to a lot of those responses here, but let’s take a second to consider a solicitation letter from Ron Paul, apparently written while out of office, during the first Bush presidency:
“I’ve been told not to talk, but these stooges don’t scare me. Threats or no threats, I’ve laid bare the coming race war in our big cities. The federal-homosexual cover-up on AIDS (my training as a physician helps me see through this one.) [sic] The Bohemian-Grove—perverted, pagan playground of the powerful. Skull & Bones: the demonic fraternity that includes George Bush and leftist Senator John Kerry, Congress’s Mr. New Money. The Israeli lobby, which plays Congress like a cheap harmonica. And the Soviet-style “smartcard” the Justice Department has in mind for you.”
Now, forget it. Let’s indulge the certain-to-be-leveled assertion that we cannot pin these on Paul because we don’t have notarized signed pictures of him writing them by hand while holding up a copy of that day’s newspaper. Instead, let’s switch gears and ask ourselves what we can celebrate about the Ron Paul candidacy.
If there’s one thing Paul owns that should embarrass Barack Obama—it’s policy on the Global War on Terror. You might recognize his opinions on the GWOT as “all the parts of the Republican debates where the audience boos something other than gay people.”
First, his most sinister apostasy: Israel. The American foreign policy debate on Israel is so fraught with the potential to be accused of anti-Semitism that it’s far easier to be critical of Israel in Israel. Haaretz routinely posts editorials that, penned by an American official, would send AIPAC on a crusade to force his resignation. Paul’s one of the few figures from either party who’s willing to entertain the notion that America’s uncritical support of Israel generates negative perceptions that can radicalize Muslims—an idea he probably got from a2004 Department of Defense analysis commissioned by Donald Rumsfeld.
That same DoD analysis didn’t just single out Israel, but also included the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and our propping up of sclerotic dictatorships, like those of Hosni Mubarak and Muammar Gaddafi, the bedouin-tent bunkmate of John McCain.
Every time Paul argues foreign policy in a GOP debate, he drops another fact-based turd in the punchbowl. He actually mentioned the 1953 Iranian coup while explaining our complicity in enraging Iran—which, by Republican debate standards, is like reciting pi to the 500th decimal. Newt Gingrich can spew his verbal chaff and rattle off vague bullet-point plans, but it’s clear that Paul is the only one who’s come to class on book report day after having done any of the fucking reading. The most embarrassing part is that the assignment was a Pentagon report from the previous Republican administration.
Paul’s attitude toward the GWOT on American soil is also in conflict with those of his fellow candidates. Last week, a bipartisan Senate vote passed the Levin/McCain bill, which extends the United States’ ability to indefinitely detain American citizens for “terrorism” charges so amorphous as “substantially [supporting]” Al-Qaeda or “associated forces.” The conduct of the last two administrations shows that “associated forces” is a meaningless modifier, an exploitable ambiguity whose purpose is preemptively excusing abuse of the Fourth Amendment. Paul, to his credit—unlike Obama and the other GOP candidates—violently opposes indefinite imprisonment of American citizens without due process.
And that’s why Paul will never win. His insistence on being just on these issues makes him unelectable by his own party. So why focus on those racist newsletters? Why do they matter? Well, they matter because there’s something to cheer here.
If we accept, as we must, that Paul can never win, then we have to ask what purpose he serves. In this case, it’s injecting positive ideas into the discourse and challenging a complacent corporatist two-party system. But, if those things matter, it matters who brands those ideas and who opens them to the easiest dismissal.
If you want to reevaluate America’s attitude toward Israel, don’t use as your representative someone who published anti-Semitic comments in a newsletter. If you want to calm fears about the existential threat foreign Muslims pose to America, your best speaker is not someone who’s printed warnings about inevitable race war. When you assert that the security state is becoming a problem, don’t cite a man warning against a fascist occupation of the United States in the 1980s.
Whoever wins this next election will assuredly continue America’s global killing and domestic assaults on liberty. That moral catastrophe is inevitable. What we can do morally, however, is refuse to add more shame to the tally. Whether it was Ron Paul himself who wrote those letters or a staffer who saw the value in selling homophobia, racism and violent paranoia, that history and audience exists.
When you opt to support anti-imperialist and civil liberties ideals by supporting Paul the Candidate, you end up supporting everything else about him. That includes those newsletters and the unambiguous message to those who enjoy them: You can write these things and succeed; this works. The other good ideas to which he’s signatory can’t erase the fact that he put his name to those words printed above. The moral weight of those newsletters drags down even the most high-minded aspirations he has about civil liberties, and everything crashes down on all of us.
Ron Paul: Reactionary Racist Leprechaun
With Herman Cain in the jaws of defeat from trying to indulge in so much victory snatch, and Ron Paul turning his knives on Newt Gingrich, it’s time to ask who’s the new GOP flavor of the week. Everyone else had the chance to hove into view on this carousel of social and moral failure, so, since he took the initiative, why not Ron?
Because Ron Paul is apocalyptically insane.
It’s easy to see his appeal to independents. Just like in 2008, people who think both parties are crooked like to hear new voices. His Middle East policy—his unwillingness to slobber about Iran or uncritically submit American interests to Israel’s—makes him the only reasonable candidate on the issue in either party. The good news ends there.
Liberals cheer his opposition to America’s wars, but his isn’t a moral choice so much as it is an echo of George Washington’s injunction against “foreign entanglements.” Further, while Ronald isn’t down with wars that cost money and expand federal power, he’s totally fine with the government making a buck from other people’s wars: He was the only member of congress to vote against the Darfur Divestment Act, which proposed the radical idea of prohibiting the American government from investing in businesses fueling a fucking genocide.
The biggest strikes against him are ones that existed in 2008, over which the struggling, oppressed Paulestinian masses stick their fingers in their ears and say “Lalalalalala, that’s not true! Gandhi quotes!” I’m talking about the Ron Paul newsletters.
Published under various names—”The Ron Paul Survival Report,” “The Ron Paul Political Report” etc.—the Ron Paul Newsletters provided a buffet of white racial paranoia, militia advice, communist conspiracy, and Bircherite offal. The best resource for excerpts is an article by The New Republic’s James Kirchick It’s under a pay wall, but, in one of life’s great ironies, you can read his rundown of white racial hatemongering on FreeRepublic.com. I know, right? Who knew?
It’s an open secret that many newsletters were written by bigoted shitswine Lew Rockwell, which the Paulestinian crowd considers exculpatory. But that doesn’t cut it in a presidential election. Paul’s responses were inconsistent with someone finding out that someone wrote horrible things in his name. Reason, the libertarian magazine, even has a timeline that shows him owning the newsletter content, then handwaving it away, then playing dumb. There’s no way Paul could have been ignorant of the content in an 8-12 page newsletters published under his name for over ten years. Paul supporters face three losing propositions:
-He lacks the competency to control content published under his own name for over a decade, and is thus unfit to lead a country.
-He doesn’t believe these things but considers them a useful political tool to motivate racist whites, which makes him fit to be a GOP candidate, but too obvious about it to win.
-He’s actually a racist, which makes him unfit to be a human being.
The hits keep coming. Independents sick of the government’s invasions of privacy celebrate Paul’s veneration of the Constitution, but that veneration is as convenient as Bush and Obama’s. Paul has repeatedly submitted the “We the People Act” to Congress, whose provisions remove Supreme Court review of First Amendment cases. If a state chose to criminalize being Muslim, citizens would have no federal redress. If a state chose to criminalize birth control, the penumbras of individual protections of privacy as explicated by William O. Douglas would disappear.
His Constitution would also be a lot slimmer. He subscribes to the notion that the Fourteenth, Sixteenth, andSeventeenth amendments are invalid or must be repealed. So long, income tax, but also so long to voting for senators yourselves. And if you don’t like foreign brown people, Paul’s opposition to the Civil Rights Act means you won’t have to share a dinner table with them for their last meal before they join 10 million other human beings in railcars, calling at all points south.
But nobody wants to hear that stuff. Government non-interference is sexy when it’s sold to you as, “Ron Paul opposes the War on Drugs.” What isn’t mentioned is that he has no problem with the concept of 50 individual state wars on drugs, and deregulating evidently stops when it comes to uterine production—he’s OK withvoting for federal partial birth abortion bans, for instance.
Then there’s Paul’s dreamed-of return to the Gold Standard, which would replace our “valueless” paper currency, backed by economic confidence, with currency backed by gold. We’d replace a collective assumption of value with… the collective assumption of value. You see, gold has intrinsic value, because we’ve said it does for a lot longer than we’ve said that about paper. It makes pretty shiny things and improves your speakers’ performance.
This is basic economics for Paul. Any time you have the chance to contract the global economy by tying it to a commodity whose total worldwide value is probably insufficient to represent even America’s wealth, you’ve gotta take it. You gotta zip along in a car at 70 MPH and put that fucker in “park.” It’s not like there could be any ulterior motive to immediately increasing the value of gold by orders of magnitude—like, say, being heavily invested in gold mines..
The way to fix the 21st century is to return to the values and socioeconomic order of the 14th. After you gut the FDA, you can even literally bring back the plague, which shouldn’t affect the rich people in Congress. They’ll be able to afford all the colloidal silver they can drink.