We’re in the midst of that period in which nothing can remain hidden for long. Old secrets have come bubbling up in these last weeks, waiting for their day in court. The question at hand isn’t whether bad, dangerous or even criminal things have happened or if allegations are believable. The question is, do these realities so wound our sense of who we think we are that we will refuse to face them squarely?
On a relatively mundane level, we have the ongoing saga of Bill Cosby, America’s first black television star, and the first to fashion an acceptable portrait of an upper middle-class black family with it’s clan of spunky, loveable Huxtables. Back in the day, I was an eager fan of I Spy and its smart, stylish buddy-team of secret-agents posing as tennis bums. I was quite taken by Cosby’s understated performance as refined Rhodes scholar, Alexander Scott, foil to Robert Culp’s smart-ass, hang-loose character, Kelly Robinson.
Once again, it’s always good form in our culture to create the person of color as mild-mannered and studious, rather than passionate and unpredictable. Then — as now, if you study racial politics surrounding our commander-in-chief — the simple business of representing a person of color as a respectable citizen and leading man (from 1965 – 1968) so outraged some in the south that various television stations refused to air the show. It’s one of life’s little ironies that Cosby came to be not just accepted but generously quoted by those on the right, who approve his “tough love” stance on the black community.
I was much less impressed as Cosby’s career spun out. Although, to be fair, there are things to admire about the man, his innate arrogance seems to have been tolerated, even excused, due to his talent. And although his message has almost always been pro-parenting, I think the fact that the kids coming up in The Cosby Show all called their co-star “Mr. Cosby” says something about the kind of formal authoritarianism at the heart of his philosophy. That same all-powerful sense of entitlement can be tracked in the headlines today, with compelling stories of Mr. Cosby taking a similar approach in his sexual habits. His history of 13 incidents of sexual assault — and counting — go back almost forty years.
That he is reported to have often preyed on the naiveté of young, inexperienced actresses hoping to further their careers isn’t enough of a trade-off to make these ‘casting couch’ incidents acceptable to the public, although — predictably — the political right has been slowest to condemn this activity. Having worked in education for almost a decade, I recognize the expectation of deference and respect, the opportunistic use of authority to take advantage of those too young to know better as pathological. It happens, and too often. The use of drugs and coercion, however, as detailed in some of these accounts, remains Mr. Cosby’s own personal Pudding Pops.
Do we find the protestations of Mr. Cosby’s lawyer — that these forthcoming details from multiple women are “utter nonsense” — credible? Is poor Coz being victimized by “people coming out of nowhere with this sort of inane yarn …?” No doubt the media feeds on it like candy, but is it all empty calories and no substance? I’d be really surprised, if so.
Cosby has kept mum, despite the onslaught of details being unearthed, recognizable examples of that signature arrogance as impossible to ignore as a thumbprint. At 77 he’s no doubt surprised that his long string of misbehavior has caught up with him, and it wouldn’t have, had a young comic not used his sexual history as a punch line. Thus far, the Cos has refused to “dignify the allegations” and has resumed his (scheduled but slowly vanishing) comedy performances as if nothing is amiss. The public mood, however, can best be sampled by events: the pending deal with Netflix that’s been canceled, NBC’s dropping of a comedy project, and TV Land’s pulling Cosby Show re-runs.
And In Other News: The Fight to Release the Congressional Torture Report
In other news, I’ve been following the tug-of-war between Dianne Feinstein, head of the Senate Intelligence Committee (at least for a few more weeks,) and the White House, which is covering the CIA’s ass as best it can by dragging its feet on the release of the long-awaited 6,000 page Congressional Torture Report. This compendium of who did what to whom, who authorized it and to what end, has long been anticipated by progressives, who have demanded a full accounting of this series of unhappy events under the leadership of the Bush administration.
As reported by Al Jazeera American News, the report has taken seven years to produce at a cost of more than 40 million dollars, and, according to Feinstein, “uncovers startling details about the CIA detention and interrogation program and raises critical questions about intelligence operations and oversight,” as well as “exposes brutality that stands in stark contrast to our values as a nation. It chronicles a stain on our history that must never again be allowed to happen.”
This week the Committee hoped for a breakthrough, but was denied release of the material at a meeting with White House personnel on the premise that simply assigning aliases to wrongdoers (which is standard procedure) won’t completely cover them from being targeted, as those with grievances could follow the sequence of events to determine who the players were. As chairmanship of this committee will change hands — and radically so, landing in the lap of a Pub who approves enhanced interrogation techniques — in the next few days, issuing the report in a timely manner has been a primary goal of Feinstein and her fellow committee members, who have spent years on this project and refuse to accept a heavily redacted 500-page summary for release to the public.
According to a Huffpost article:
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who served as intelligence committee chair before Feinstein, was furious after the meeting, and accused the administration of deliberately stalling the report.
“It’s being slow-walked to death. They’re doing everything they can not to release it,” Rockefeller told HuffPost. “It makes a lot of people who did really bad things look really bad, which is the only way not to repeat those mistakes in the future,” he continued. “The public has to know about it. They don’t want the public to know about it.”
As negotiations continue, Rockefeller said Democrats were thinking creatively about how to resolve the dispute. “We have ideas,” he said, adding that reading the report’s executive summary into the record on the Senate floor would probably meet with only limited success. “The question would be how much you could read before they grabbed you and hauled you off.”
You may remember Feinstein having a fit not long ago over the CIA spying on a Senate Investigation Committee? This would be that one. Not only has this report been compromised along the way, but the parts played by those at the top levels of the Bush administration and Department of Justice have not been explored at all. The word ‘torture’ does not appear anywhere in these thousands of pages, nor is there any mention that such action is forbidden nationally or internationally. Meanwhile, the continuance of ‘indefinite detention’ at Gitmo, in violation of international law, stands in stark relief against a backdrop of ethical considerations ignored when we practice state-induced cruelty. Our seeming inability to take a principled stand, legally, against torture further eroded our standing as a moral nation.
Why is this important, right now, this minute, today? On November 12th, President Obama made his first appearance before the United Nations Committee Against Torture in Geneva, Switzerland. In advance of this date, a dozen Nobel Peace Prize recipients wrote an open letter to the President, strongly urging him to both release the historical details of our dalliance in torture — à la Dick Cheney and his CIA operatives — as well as repudiate the unconscionable use of enhanced interrogations in the future.
Shortly after his inauguration, Obama had issued an executive order distancing his administration from torture, but until this month, he had not taken a definitive position on world-wide torture, and his refusal to hold the previous administration culpable for past action gave an impression that he was either wishy-washy on the topic or approved it.
In the prior administration, Bush and company made it clear that the CIA and military overseas were not bound to any code of decency and unless Obama imposed one, our policy on torture would remain at the whim of the sitting president. The good news is that Obama attended the Committee Against Torture — coming before an independent body of exerts who monitor this activity among those who have signed on to its precepts — with a firm commitment to not just national but international prohibitions against “torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment at all times, in all places.” Nor, we have pledged, will this commitment be put aside in times of war or conflict. That legally changes the official position of the United States government on all matters concerning torture.
All of this has become terribly obvious, hasn’t it? How can we possibly entertain the idea that we are the be-all and end-all of civilization, while standing OUTSIDE the international consensus about torture? How can we assume our medical system superior to all others when the statistics prove otherwise? How can we pretend to be a scientifically superior and benevolent culture when — Katy bar the door! — we can’t find the courage to accept a Guantanamo prisoner or Ebola patient without coming completely unglued? And we KNOW all that, don’t we! We KNOW!
We know, even if we don’t want to. It’s easier to size up a situation than ever before. Take what’s going on in Ferguson, Missouri, today. An enormous overflow of police presence is keeping the lid on an ongoing protest that has no choice but to explode. The chance that a grand jury will find Darren Wilson culpable in the death of Mike Brown is, unless I’m dreadfully mistaken, zero to none, while the probability of sheer frustration and impotent rage leading to more violence seems obvious. Ultimately, the population of Ferguson will have the sympathy of those who have, at one time or another, been victimized by authority or racism, or both. Authority will win, but perhaps not in the court of public perception. Eventually, leadership in Ferguson, Missouri is going to have to change or consider itself the Mississippi of the 21st century.
The right is imploding over Obama giving a couple of years reprieve to around five million illegal immigrants, many of them already folded into the system, some for decades. The more the conservatives disdain the black guy keeping a compassionate pledge to the brown folks, the less chance the right has of getting that vote in the next election, or the one after that. As much as the Republicans talk about their family values and religious devotion, when it comes to “doing unto the least of these,” they not only fall short, they fall on their face. They can’t hide their fears or isolationism, their elitism, racism or white privilege, and those of us watching them try to get a grip on governance over the next few years will quickly discover they have no talent for it.
Eventually, the Torture Report will come out. Eventually, the Bush administration will be held accountable for failing to live up to the standards set for us by prior generations, even if it is only in the court of public opinion. Bill Cosby could tell us something about that court today, having found himself on the wrong side of it. As we’ve seen in these last few weeks, public opinion is not always trustworthy but, nonetheless, it has the ability to shift as it becomes better informed. We’ve evolved a bit on what constitutes sexual assault and it can no longer be ignored.
Who knows? Reading the Torture Report might change a few minds about who and what America has become. Watching the brutality in Ferguson has already changed perceptions about the Midwest and the “end” of racism in our time. And despite conservative paranoia, little will impact the economy or culture as millions of families breathe easier in this nation, ensuring the continuance of diversity in the American melting pot, perhaps even forcing some permanent solution to our immigration problem.
This far into our national nervous breakdown, it’s a no-brainer to figure out what’s coming next. Just read the headlines and get quiet with them. We know what the problems are, they’re mostly all revealed. We even know how to find solutions to them, we’re just too fractured by our internal angst and polarities to deal effectively with our external chaos. As we witness the problems, the solutions and the public opinion of this shifting era slowly taking shape, then, I think it’s worth a deep sigh and a calming thought or two, especially at this time of the year.
I usually write about Thanksgiving on this weekend, with a note about my ‘boat people’ ancestors, John Howland and Elizabeth Tilley, who arrived at Plymouth in 1620. Our Pilgrim forefathers weren’t saints, but they weren’t sinners either. My forebears weren’t galloping capitalists, or at least they weren’t for a generation or two. I would think, given their escape from persecution in Britain, they’d understand matters of immigration, but I can’t swear to it. You’d think, given their inability to shift for themselves without help from the locals, they’d understand matters of charity, cultural difference and indebtedness, but I’m not entirely sure. I’m very sure, however, that these two (of the six family members) who survived that first year in Plymouth — to marry, thrive and live long enough to see 88 grandchildren — understood the concept of gratitude.
No matter our national or personal challenges, I heartily recommend it, this Thanksgiving: a sincere outpouring of gratitude for the beauty and wonder of our lives, the miracle of changing consciousness and dawning awareness, the love that unites us all. It is gratitude, so they say, that calls in the healing power of the Universe, and, my goodness! We can use all we can get. For the events of this year, this era, this lifetime then, I thank you all for being part of my ‘bundle’ — my larger family — and I wish you an easy passage into a cooler season, blessings galore and the most loving of Thanksgiving Days — with plenty to share, and leftovers, later.