February 11, 2011

A Farce Called Hillary

I had forgotten that Hillary was scheduled to make an appearance in town the last week of January, even though a friend of mine had mentioned it to me. So, fool that I was, I drove into the town center, planning to withdraw some pesos from the ATM connected to my bank. I parked, walked about a hundred yards, and suddenly was surrounded by a fleet of SUVs, black and gray, and Mexican army regulars sporting machine guns. WTF? “What is all this?,” I asked a news vendor. “Hillary,” he sort of grunted. “She needs all these cars?” I asked him. He gave me a half smile. You poor dumb gringo, he seemed to be saying.

It was quite a show, and the worst possible one to put on in a Latin American country. But this is how the American Empire makes its appearance, namely with a display of violence and arrogance. Look how mighty we are, is the message—designed to endear us to any of our southern neighbors. I recall a few years ago William Lederer, the author of The Ugly American (1958), was interviewed by phone at his rural home in Vermont (he is now 99 years old), and told the reporter that absolutely nothing had changed since he described the stupidity of American “diplomacy” and the moronic behavior of the diplomatic corps. “It’s as if I had never written the book,” he remarked.

Hillary proceeded to give a talk that was both boring and vapid. I support President Calderón, she said. We have to fight the drug lords, and that’s what he has been doing. We need more of the same, until the cartels are destroyed. This is the only solution, she told her audience—a “solution,” BTW, that Calderón has been pursuing for more than four years now, and the result has been the death of tens of thousands of people and what seems like an actual increase in drug trafficking. What was the definition of insanity, once again?

“What pomposity!” a Mexican friend remarked to me the next day. “She said nothing she couldn’t have communicated in a diplomatic cable, or in a statement to the press in Washington. And we’ve heard it all before, after all; why did she have to come here to say it? This was about appearances, nada más.” Here are a few things Hillary did not say, which I and perhaps a small handful of Americans (and a large percentage of the Mexican population, I suspect) would like to have heard:

1. The American demand for drugs is the inevitable result of a virulent form of cowboy capitalism that we practice in the United States, and which has turned our society into a war of all against all. In addition, the American Dream has not worked out, and Americans are now leading empty lives. Actually, they always were, but now they are more or less aware of it. The same could be said of me, sadly enough, although my drug of choice is power. I can’t get enough of it.

2. In a US diplomatic memo that appeared in Wikileaks recently, dating from 2009, the official who drew up the report concluded that Calderón’s intelligence-gathering services were not very competent; haphazard and ineffectual, in fact.

3. As has been widely reported, in a few Mexican states some of the police are in cahoots with the drug dealers.

4. Also in a few cases, the drug cartels apparently provide services for the local population that neither the local or federal governments seem willing to bother with: schools, hospitals, pensions for widows, taking care of the poor, and the like. In short, they enjoy popular support, due to some of their more benevolent behavior. More on this can be found in William Finnegan’s article, “Silver or Lead,” which appeared in The New Yorker, issue of 31 May 2010.

5. There is a widespread belief down here that your own president may be leading a double life. Apparently, a lot of Mexicans believe he is “comprado”—bought—i.e., in the pay of the drug lords. I’m not saying this is true; I have no idea whether it is, and I certainly hope it’s not. But obviously, if it is true, the whole war on drugs is a sham. Which it is anyway.

6. As Carlos Fuentes and many others have pointed out, the only solution is not to do more of the same—which would be a colossal waste of time—but to legalize the stuff. After all, after the repeal of Prohibition (1933) crime dropped off significantly in the United States, because there was no longer a payoff in trafficking in (former) contraband material.

7. However, there are probably business interests in both countries that would oppose such a move. I trust I don’t have to spell this out.

8. I myself am little more than a pawn in a game of international chess. My real purpose in coming down here is to polish my career portfolio, and prepare for the Democratic nomination of 2016; in fact, possibly 2012, since Mr. Obama has been as about effective a leader as Millard Fillmore. The truth is that I care about myself and my career; beyond Mexico serving as a market for our consumer goods, and as a source of cheap labor for the United States, I don’t give two shits about the place. I suspect you all know this.

9. I appreciate, however, the fact that Mexicans are cynical about the whole drug and crime situation, and that they are savvy: they know that nothing will be done about it, in the end. As for my own countrymen, “savvy” isn’t quite the word; “clueless” is closer to the mark. Even if they did understand what was going on down here, they wouldn’t give a damn anyway. They don’t really care about much of anything beyond their own immediate situation—like me, if the truth be told.

10. Morris Berman lives in this town, as it turns out, and he can tell you that I’m so full of shit I don’t know whether I’m coming or going. When my husband was president he got the UN to maintain sanctions against Iraq, which led to the death of 500,000 Iraqi children from starvation and malnutrition. To this, I made no objection at all. In addition, for my presidential campaign of 2008 I hired Mark Penn as my campaign manager, the man who heads a PR firm (Burson-Marsteller) that served as adviser to the junta in Argentina, and which, at the request of the Argentine military, organized a campaign against human rights organizations. I’m also not bothered by the fact that he represented Blackwater Worldwide, the military contractor blamed for numerous civilian deaths in Iraq. I say this so you know who it is that stands before you; who I am.

11. What I really need to do is resign my position as secretary of state, and enroll in a 12-step program to get me off my addiction to power and bullshit. I may look impressive, but the truth is that I’m a walking tragedy. I’m no more a force for good in the world than is the American Empire, whose agenda I serve. Rather than being a force, I am a farce—a fact that haunts me every waking day of my life.

12. I shouldn’t have come here, and I apologize for wasting your time.


Clearly, it would have been a marvelous speech. As for me, I never did get to the bank.

©Morris Berman, 2011

February 06, 2011


Well, gang, whoda thunk it? This is the 100th post! I don't have anything particular to say on this occasion, but I wanted to mark the milestone. Nearly 5 yrs ago, when I was cruelly forced into doing this, I figured I would attract 3 or 4 contributors, that the blog wd last abt 3 or 4 mos., end of story. And here we are, with no less than 42 correspondents, and almost 5 yrs to our credit. Sometimes I think: Maybe I shd change the format, and just report bowling scores of various leagues around the country. Or perhaps post the average GPA's at all of the community colleges in the US, month by month. But then it's so much fun documenting our collapse, and depressing each other w/stories of life in the US, that I figure we shd just limp merrily along, doing what we do best. So a salute, then, to all of us, and I'm hoping u can join Sarah and myself north of the Arctic Circle for our nuptials, shortly after her election in 2012. It's lookin' good, no doubt abt it...xoxo, mb