Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Western Civilization--A Marvelous Idea

The Muhammed Jawad case is shaping up as the moment the Obama Administration—and by extension the rest of us—decides if it treasures the rule of law and due process or endorses the torture of children as practiced by the Bush clique.

‘Mr’ Jawad—who may have been 12 when he was first arrested in Afghanistan—has never been tried for a crime, but the Bush-Cheneyite faction that I thought lost the last election thinks we should continue to persecute a kid who has now spent one-third of his life in our dungeons, rather than cede his case to the authority of a judge or jury. This has to happen, they argue, because Jawad might be dangerous to someone at some indeterminate time in the future.

Talk about ‘judicial activism’ or deciding a case based on ‘empathy’. Imagine if Sonia Sotomayor made up the law this way during her career.

Obama’s lawyers already have conceded that there’s no case against Jawad but insist he be kept in prison anyway. I innocently thought that the American Way included NOT being locked up because powerful people think there’s something wrong with you. Wrong again.

Today’s New York Times story quotes the inevitable Heritage Foundation jackal, one Charles D. Stimson, to the effect that Obama will have to decide between a ‘habeas judge’ and their own opinion that Jawad can’t ‘in good conscience’ be freed.

What a classic statement of love for dictatorial rule! What a shining proof that the so-called conservatives have lost any lingering love for the United States of America and have succumbed to barbarism. There’s nothing ‘conservative’ about these people; they are the worst sort of marauding radicals, and our man Obama now has to decide if he’s with them or us.

Here’s the background on the Afghan teenager, by the way, for those readers still interested. As the Times relates:

A military judge found last year that much of the evidence against Mr. Jawad consisted of statements he gave after he was tortured by Afghan officials. In Judge Huvelle’s July 16 hearing, Department of Justice lawyers said the government would no longer rely on those statements to justify Mr. Jawad’s detention.

The military judge, Col. Stephen R. Henley, found that Afghan officials had threatened to kill Mr. Jawad and his family if he did not confess to the attack. Colonel Henley also said Mr. Jawad had been abused at Guantánamo, finding that he had been isolated, beaten, kicked and subject to sleep deprivation. . . He attempted suicide in Guantánamo in 2003.

So there you have the choices: on the one hand, a clamor for the continued destruction of a child’s life in the name of Security for Americans. On the other, the remnants of our tattered civil protections.

Mr. Obama, how do you vote?

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Behind closed doors

I spent Sunday pedaling through the hilly terrain in the Harlem River valley 100 or so miles north of New York City and enjoying the great outdoors. Too bad hardly anyone who actually lives up there seemed to want anything to do with it—we rode for miles past manicured lawns without seeing a single soul poke his or her biped cranium out of its sealed environment.

You have to wonder what has made small-town and suburban Americans so disinclined to interact with their environment considering how much they put up with to live out there and stay clear of our mean, urban streets. I mean, who would choose to get in the car and drive five miles every time you want to buy an apple, look at a store or have a bit of random human interaction? Where do people in Millerton and Amenia go to work these days given that no one manufactures or grows anything to speak of? They must have commutes at least as disagreeable as most of us city folk.

In short, given the crude winters afflicting these northern parts, why don’t people burst out of their caves with joy and hop up and down on one leg as soon as the growing season is upon them?

After a long time in Latin America, the contrast is particularly stark given that in the Hispanic world people tend to adopt the Moorish-Iberian habit of enclosing the domicile behind fences, hedges and walls. You are not likely to pass by a Peruvian’s or Argentine’s home and observe their familial affairs through a ‘picture window’. At home, they are ostensibly much more closed to the prying, public eye, but—perhaps for that very reason—much more likely to set out into public spaces at specified moments.

One easy answer involves the comforting electronic bubble-worlds created by iPods, computerized alternative realities and 600 satellite TV channels, and no doubt they increase the creepy attraction of the hermetic life.

Another might be fear: after a few episodes of America’s Most Wanted, who can comfortably send their children out to play in backyards where child-snatching sex maniacs may lurk?

It is also curious to note the proliferation of American flags in these increasingly autarkous zones as if the idea of solidarity and interlinkage emerges with greater force as other social connections decline. That is hardly an original thought, but getting out and seeing how very peculiar heartland America is does partly explain the vaudevillian ravings of Glen Beck.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

"A Man's Home is His Castle"--NOT [UPDATED]

I wonder if the Henry Louis Gates incident will mark a sort of ‘Anita Hill’ moment when white folks finally begin to grasp what it is like to live in The Other’s (non-white) skin. Gates is the Harvard professor who got dragged away from his home by the cops Monday because they couldn’t believe that he actually owned the place and wasn’t a burglar.

Anita Hill used to work for Clarence Thomas and told the Senate committee that eventually made him a Supreme Court justice (incidentally, probably the worst one in 100 years) that the man was a serial sexual harasser and a major creep. I recall that the whole incident looked peculiar and odd to most men while women’s reaction was, Doh! Of course that’s how it is in the workplace.

The early coverage of the Gates arrest was couched in the sort of police-blotter language that cops always use to paint the skeery, fearsome black guy as an obstreperous, unruly wild man that they were just forced to cuff and take downtown. Gates was reported to have said ‘This is how black men are treated in America!’ and very likely he did.

But the first reports didn’t mention that he voluntarily followed the cops outside after showing them his identification with the street address of the house on it. Any officer not racially-impaired would have accepted the evidence and let the man alone in his home. Instead, they have a major racial incident on their hands, and about time, too.

The other completely amazing element of the story is that Gates’ own neighbor was the person who phoned in the alert. What a sorry commentary on our society where people cannot even recognize the guy next door. If these suburbanites ever got out of their electronic caves and sat on their porches with each other, they’d be less likely to succumb to this pathological paranoia.

Access to and freedom in one’s own home is still completely racialized in America. While the demented Republicans insist on encouraging even more gun-owning and -packing with the crazed Thune Amendment, let no non-white males think the new rights contemplated might actually apply to them. John White found out the hard way when he used a weapon to scare off a white gang who chased his son into the front yard of their Long Island home screaming racist threats.

White, roused from his domestic peace by what he described as a ‘lynch mob’, got out his gun and fired at the white kids, killing one. He’s doing 25 years for second-degree murder.

[Update] In his news conference last night, Obama not only fielded the question on the Gates arrest, he gave an extended reply. That has to mean that he was prepared for it and wanted to make a point.

The morning-after coverage has picked up on Obama’s comment that the Cambridge police ‘acted stupidly’ in arresting Gates after he showed them proof that he was in his own home. Strong language and no off-the-cuff accident either. Obama chose to slam police abuses in a remarkably unvarnished way given his whole demeanor in office so far.

I take the smackdown as Obama’s response to the scurrilous race-baiting of his Supreme Court nominee by the Cro-Magnon faction in the Senate. Sotomayor couldn’t fight back because she had to act ladylike and garner 51 votes, and the White House couldn’t throw any punches for the same reason. But since those votes are now in the bag, it’s party time.

I don’t notice any howls of outrage from the usual suspects in cable-land or Fox News on Obama’s remarks because busting a college professor for being in his own living room is pretty hard to defend even if you’re a U.S. senator from Alabama. It suggests that the soft-sell, make-nice Obama that makes some of us pull our hair out may be a better strategist than we give him credit for.

The Cambridge police department’s goofball action gave Obama the opening to lay out a different scenario about race in America than the endless abused-white-firefighter version ladled up by the right-wing squawk machine over the last month. In using it, he showed a killer instinct that I’d like to see more of.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Whither Iran?

A fascinating article in the New York Times today suggests that Iran’s ruling elite’s decision to steal the election grows out of the new shape of the theocratic state now increasingly dominated by a sort of Praetorian guard.

In the piece a RAND expert terms Iran a ‘regular military security government with a façade of a Shiite clerical system’.

While the former Soviet Union or the current Chinese regime can be seen as one-party dictatorships, the military never took over or neutralized the ideologues. Even under the Stalinist terror, the main guy remained in charge and was hardly shy about whacking his top generals if he took a notion. Upon his demise power devolved onto the ruling party’s surviving commissars, not Beria’s secret police or the armed forces.

Times reporter Michael Slackman suggests that the Iranian theocracy is moving toward a model we know a lot about closer to home—Latin-style military dictatorships.

As often happens in military regimes, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard has branched out into the economic sphere and has generated lucrative business opportunities for its members. Similarly, Latin American secret services quickly turned their spying and repressive activities into profit-making turns from travel agencies to drug-running operations. As the security apparatus always needs lots of money, the evolution into for-profit business is natural and inevitable, especially if you can muscle your corporate rivals out of the way with convincing threats.

The Guards, however, unlike a secret police force, are a full-fledged military entity, and their role in the economy goes far beyond small-scale free enterprise. Their affiliated companies scoop up oil and gas contracts and construction deals, which must bring them into direct conflict with legitimate businesses that, unlike theirs, must pay taxes and submit to some forms of state oversight. Strident, public opposition from wealthy businessmen like Rafsanjani over the election debacle thus makes a lot of sense.

The Times article says the Guards also make a killing in smuggling, not mentioning the most obvious component of that—control of the heroin trade. This is a little complicated if you are a religious fanatic although, as the Taliban have shown, perfectly manageable.

Considering the severe limitations on the Iranian president’s power in a system in which the leading mullahs can simply override his decisions, it is curious that the Ahmadinejad faction was so nervous that it felt compelled to rig the election in such a ham-handed way. A more confident ruling elite would simply have repeated the experience of the 1997-2005 Khatami presidency by letting the reform candidate win and then systematically blocking him from doing anything.

Instead, they bulldozed over any pretense of democratic expression, which suggests a much weaker consensus and a more desperate power struggle at the top.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Tuskegee Today

Anyone who gets near research involving human subjects has to learn about (and pass written tests on) the notorious, shameful and criminal enterprise known as the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, but actually entitled the ‘Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male’. This 40-year (1932-72) undertaking of the U.S. Public Health Service involved allowing dozens of poor, rural, black men in Alabama to develop late-stage syphilis and die slow, painful deaths in the interests of Science.

I listened to another run-through on Tuskegee this morning as part of my new research job and could not help but take note of how depressingly timely the story is, specifically, all the direct parallels with what is taking place today on the issue of torturing defenseless prisoners. As we know, a whole lot of people continue to endorse the practice, and probably half the country couldn’t care less. Here they are:

Then: Doctors decided to let the vital organs of these men deteriorate and atrophy—despite the availability of penicilin treatments—in the name of protecting the ‘common good’.

Now: We must torture detainees in Guantámano to extract possible information they may have on future terrorist attacks that will cause harm to the rest of us.

Then: The Nuremberg Principles were passed after the horrors of the Nazi experiments were revealed after World War 2. Despite worldwide revulsion at these practices, U.S. doctors working for the U.S. government ignored the principles because, they argued, that was them, we are us. The Nazis weren’t engaged in medical research, they said. The Nazis were just killers. We’re not.

Now: The many convenants and treaties prohibiting torture, including the Third Geneva Convention and Common Article 3, do not apply to us in this case even if we signed them. Anyone who doesn’t like it can piss off up a rope. U.S. membership in the International Criminal Court, established to prevent war crimes and genocide, couldn’t ram its way through the U.S. Senate on a Harley-Davidson.

Then: Medical personnel, including doctors, nurses, researchers, academics, journal editors, all conspired to continue the study without thinking that they were violating the rights of human beings.

Now: Psychologists and researchers were involved in the original SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) program that purported to prepare U.S. military personnel to resist torture. SERE was then flipped and its techniques applied to Guantánamo detainees, according to multiple published reports on and The New Yorker magazine. The fingerprints of clinical professionals are all over U.S. torture techniques.

Then: Black men in rural Alabama weren’t really considered to have the same rights as everyone else.

Now: Afghan or Yemeni prisoners fighting for the other side or caught up in sweeps following the multiple U.S. invasions aren’t really considered to have the same rights as everyone else.

Then: The revelations of the Tuskegee abuses generated a storm of controversy, followed by a ‘study commission’ that tried to bury the issue as quickly as possible as detailed in James Jones’s excellent book, Bad Blood. Officials worried that paying too much attention to the case would damage public confidence in research and set back scientific progress.

Now: President Obama wants to ‘look to the future’ and not linger over past unpleasantness. His tentative attempts to air the abuses were met with a storm of outrage because admitting what we had done would ‘endanger American troops’.

No doubt they might. I can attest to the fact that 40 years after the Tuskegee revelations, research is still difficult in some parts of the South because people know what their government is capable of doing to them. That’s the price you pay for committing these heinous acts.

Similarly, 40 years from now representatives of the U.S. government, be they soldiers or well-intentioned aid workers in refugee camps, will still be answering for the Bushite crimes. Not because someone revealed them, but because someone did them.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Decriminalize prostitution today!

Our state government is back in operation, which may or may not be a good thing. It’s hard to cheer when the negotiated outcome rewards the crass opportunism of a low-life like Pedro Espada, Jr. Espada, who has now triple-crossed his erstwhile co-conspirators and returned to the Democratic fold after getting a month of b.j.s from the power-horny Repubs, will come home—and become Senate Majority Leader!

Amazing. By Albany logic Aldrich Ames should be made head of the CIA.

In South America the term for this type of professional sleaze-monger is cara de palo or the even ruder cara de raja, which is shortened in Chilean dialect to the more brutish-sounding careraja. A fair translation might be: ‘guy who doesn’t mind putting his asshole in your face and laughing uproariously about it’. It describes shamelessness taken to an art form.

The Daily News listed who won and who lost in this remarkable circus act, but I have my doubts that anyone will remain in the latter category for long. If Espada lasts six months as M.L. after doing everything but sell the statehouse furniture, then all bets are off.

There are also no guarantees that this is the end of the story since the Democrats extracted no penalty from Espada for his brazen coat-turning. No doubt others laboring in the dreary vineyards of Albany are wondering why they don’t try switching sides for a few weeks as well to see what they can scoop up in concessions and payoffs.

For their part, the Republicans set themselves up for infuriated retaliation after having pissed all over the minority for three decades, then tried to scam their way back into the leather throne. Can’t wait to see how the revenge plate is served up by the briefly panicked Dems.

Governor Paterson looked less hapless than usual but only by contrast with the playground-like ambience at the Senate. He’s toast anyway.

The only possible positive outcome of the summer opera buffa would be an agreement to dismantle the long-standing dictatorships of the head guys in both houses. The end of the decades-long Rule by Triumvir that has given New York one of the country’s worst state governments would be worth something.

Meanwhile, we didn’t have to watch reality TV for a whole month. Reality was no match for ‘reality’.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Saint Michael v/s Wicked Janis

Does anyone else find problematic the adoration of MJ as a champion of childhood alongside the mass, collective amnesia about his creepy affection for specific little boys? Or how about his very public self-immolation with drugs given the continuing affinity for a war on same?

I am reminded of the untimely death of a particular favorite of mine, Janis Joplin, in 1970, one year after I saw her live in concert in Columbus, Ohio. There was a short-lived movement to create a monument to her in the city of Joplin, Missouri, but the mayor and locals shot that down in a jiffy because she was such a terrible role-model due to her sexual and opiate-related behavior.

What gives? Why the apparent double standard? I suspect these are some of the reasons MJ is on the verge on canonization while JJ remains just another fast-lane artist who crashed and burned:

Jackson used prescription ‘medicine’, not street drugs.

There’s something almost benign about walking around whacked on Vicodin or Oxycontin in the public mind because you take it from a pill bottle carrying a pharmacist’s label. No matter if you are popping them by the dozen, it’s still FDA-approved medication produced in a lab by clean people in white clothes. Nothing like Janis’s buddies scoring a packet of scag on a L.A. street corner.

Jackson did his drugs at home.

We never even saw him drinking beer in public while Janis was famous for slugging Southern Comfort on stage.

Jackson’s music is entirely unthreatening.

Jackson’s pop tunes, if not exactly bubble-gum in content, are suitable for his kiddie favorites. Happy, sappy, peppy and sometimes catchy, you may like them or detest them, but you can hardly be offended. Joplin sang tough blues numbers and caterwauled about sex and abusive lovers. Not exactly for mass icon-worship.

Jackson pretended to be straight and even a family-man.

God help us. Not that anyone was particularly convinced, but he performed the required bow to mainstream public standards, so people could pretend he was straight-arrow while knowing perfectly well that it was phony. Joplin never hid her carousing and sexual appetite. If Jackson had been convicted on the pedophilia charge, that might have cooled a few jets. But I suspect the adoration would have continued largely intact.

Jackson had no association with vaguely controversial social issues.

Neither did Joplin for that matter, but she lived at a time when our society was sharply split. It was obvious which side of the divide she came down on just from taking one look at her psychedelic Porsche.

Et cetera. The point being that in the end it’s not the behaviors that people really care about, but rather what they stand for and what the actor in question says about them. It’s about keeping your sins private and nodding in public to received authority on moral issues. You do that, and no one really gives a crap what you do behind closed doors.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Scapegoating, the biped pastime

Lucky for the four Uighur fellows long stuck in Guantánamo’s dungeons that the United States doesn’t have a large Chinese-Muslim population chafing under ethnic discrimination and engineered settlement by an imported elite. [Here they are having an ice cream--aren’t they skeery?] If that were the case, they would never have been released to go live in Bermuda as their fellow Uighurs riot in what is apparently a very serious manner.

We now have the precedent, set by Bush and ratified by Obama, that such violent acts justify imprisonment without trial and that the accused can rot in jail pretty much forever because ‘protecting the American people’ takes priority over minor details like civil protections and the rule of law.

The Chinese dictatorship couldn’t agree more, just substituting ‘Han Chinese’ and the ‘People’s Republic’ where appropriate. No doubt the Politburo will be organizing show trials soon to focus the blame on ‘hooligans’ and ‘anti-state elements’ complete with forced confessions and kangaroo courts pre-set to send the automatically convicted off to prison camps.

Or maybe they’ll just pack a few hundred of the suspects away somewhere out of reach of lawyers and relatives and sit on them for a decade, telling anyone who asks that it’s none of their business and that public order has been restored successfully—end of discussion. A few innocents swept up in the campaign is a small price to pay in the thinking of autocratic states—and most of their biped citizens.

As usual, the knee-jerk repressive approach, so popular with the masses and so easy to sell, obscures any underlying social problems. So it is ironic that while the release of the four Uighur prisoners from Guantánamo had the Chinese overlords asphyxiating from the knots in their knickers, the worst riots in decades were brewing in their country’s western outposts.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Dungeons and Beacons

The Statue of Liberty’s innards were reopened for July 4, and a few hardy patriots were allowed to climb up the iconic torch-bearing arm and view 20 miles of New Jersey for the first time in years. Lucky for them that the unsettled global climate has brought virtually nonstop rain and chill to the New York area and kept temperatures below triple digits inside the metallic dame as they performed the 160-stair assault on her digital summit.

We swell with pride at the sight and the symbolism of our audacious experiment in a free society, and I include myself without embarrassment. Grandpa Frasca sailed into port here along with 12 million other immigrants and glimpsed that promising sight as a penniless teenager. I don’t know if foreigners were more welcome then or just better absorbed and exploited. But the statue suggests at least begrudging respect for humanity in all its forms and reminds us of a guiding principle even if it’s honored in the breach all too frequently.

I got a good look at Lady Liberty Friday night on a shipboard dancing party in which I formed part of a distinctly minority ethnicity and couldn’t help thinking about how our various ancestors steamed into the Atlantic shores over the course of recent centuries, some escaping from oppression, others as chattel slaves hopelessly in the grips of it. Although we assume human rights are applicable to all these days, it was quite recently that a tenuous consensus on who might qualify as a ‘human’ has been achieved.

It’s easy to think that times have changed for the better and for good, but history suggests otherwise. How many accounts have we read in just our adult lifetimes of communities living peaceably side by side for centuries—in Rwanda or Bosnia or yes, even Iraq—only to find that external forces suddenly rip through the fabric of civility and turn once cordial neighbors into deranged genocides.

All of which makes the more repugnant our blithe pawning of the nation’s ever-fragile civil protections in exchange for the right to continue punishing the chained up accused enemies in Guantánamo. Hardly a day goes by without another revelation of the ongoing abuse of the defenseless detainees there, accompanied by continuing complicity with state policy by the major media, which, as the incomparable Glenn Greenwald points out, refuse to use the word torture when describing anything done by the Land of Liberty while simultaneously calling it precisely that when done by others. And given the lack of outcry over the scandal, not to mention the smooth adoption of some of the worst Bushite policies by President Obama, the abuses now depart from the category of ‘excesses’ or actions by ‘rogue agents’ or a political faction mercifully ousted. No, they are now crimes for which we bear collective responsibility and for which our descendants will pay a fearsome price.

Speaking of which, I fear I am not old enough to avoid witnessing the eventual consequence of this massive national waffle on the principle of the physical integrity of the bound and helpless. I have no doubt that, sooner or later, others deemed enemies of the state also will be subjected to torture by its agents. As a society we have endorsed, through our actions and through our silences, the torment of the few to guarantee the safety of the many, and the lesson will not be lost upon those wielding power over us.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Gay Pride and the Conquest of Gaul

Julius Caesar was quite a man. He was determined to make his way politically in Rome, and he decided to bring the fractious barbarian tribes of Gaul within the imperial system—along with their territories, of course. It took him less than a decade and roughly a million Gallic lives to achieve his ambitions.

Caesar’s own description of his steady elimination of rivals in the Gallic wars—which I just read for the first time—is hair-raising and yet somewhat bloodless. The wars and campaigns are related in terms of strategies, negotiations, alliances, battles, sieges of cities, and the technology of weapons and war-making.

But you never get a sense of axes cleaving shoulders, javelins piercing sides, or swords cutting into flesh and bone. Bodies pile up; prisoners are marched off; women and children sold into slavery—all as a matter of course. The overall logic is that superior force is its own end, that one’s group must triumph because it is one’s group. This underlying raison de guerre is so obvious to the author (and by implication to his audience) that it is never stated.

Caesar implies that living under Roman rule—he calls it civilization—is good for the subjugated tribes although he recognizes that they chafe at conquest. In all fairness, warfare and atrocity certainly didn’t arrive with the Romans, and the impression of the life of the Gauls prior to their Romanization looks just as nasty, brutish and short as it was afterward.

Of course, if Vercingetorix, the last defeated Gallic chieftain, had had some of Caesar’s literary skill, we’d undoubtedly have quite a different perspective on the first century BCE. But he didn’t, and we don’t.

Biped society hasn’t evolved much since then as evidenced by our attitudes toward warfare today, and the eagerness of men to prove themselves as soldiers. Last week’s hilarious Drag March from Tompkins Square Park over to New York’s West Village and the gay-historic Stonewall Inn was a reminder of just how anxious a lot of men still are, even in hip, free-wheeling New York City, at the idea of abandoning their assigned gender role. I thought I could read in their nervously amazed faces the question, How could a man in a dress defend his fortress and slaughter the enemy?

We assume the mechanization and professionalization of warfare has precluded us from needing the barbarian virtues of endurance, pride, honor, sacrifice and the thirst for blood. But hearing accounts of our ongoing wars of conquest and the unquestioning acceptance that American troops should be pacifying the countryside and laying waste to Afghan fields (of opium) sound eerily familiar after finishing The Conquest of Gaul.

On the airplane I just took from Mississippi, the crew nearly forced us to applaud the presence of uniformed soldiers on the flight for their heroic sacrifices ‘defending our freedom’. Both Caesar and the Gauls would have understood completely.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Latin America’s stinging reaction to Honduran coup

[Note: I have not had easy internet access in the last two weeks for various technological and scheduling reasons and so have not kept this blog current. I will be back more frequently now.]

It has been remarkable and even encouraging to see the swift and unambiguous reaction to the armed forces coup in Honduras earlier this week. Key figures in the Organization of American States condemned it in no uncertain terms, and ousted president Manuel Zelaya made a triumphant appearance at the United Nations yesterday where he was applauded by both the chavista Venezuelans and the obamanian Americans as the legitimate, elected representative of his country. Diplomats from nearly 200 other countries joined the ovation.

Years ago people would have hardly noticed a military seizure of power in Latin America, but the horrors of the 1970s and 1980s have left some historical memory. Not many people on the continent want to go back to the bad old days of dictatorship and instability, least of all the business owners who are doing better than ever throughout the region. And there is a level of universal consensus that democracy is worth preserving on the long-suffering continent.

The U.S. under Obama is also playing quite a different role than what we could have expected from Bush, Rice and Cheney, who might well have thought the removal of a Chávez ally by coup d’état was just dandy. Although Obama is keeping the U.S. ambassador in place, the huge sums (relatively speaking) that flow from Washington to Tegucigalpa will be on everyone’s mind in the next few days and will give O considerable leverage.

Zelaya sounds like a blowhard and an adventurer, and he should have known better than to try to ram Hugo-naut constitutional changes past his very considerable opposition via plebiscite. Anything that could pave the way for him to stick around for another term starts to sound like president-for-life Hugo’s approach to governance, and the Honduran ruling elite obviously didn’t like the idea.

But they’re also as dumb as their Venezuelan counterparts. They may have successfully generated the nightmare they feared by rousting Zelaya out of bed in his pajamas and expelling him to Costa Rica. No one is going to believe the army’s lame backpedaling about how it wasn’t really a ‘coup’ because no one got killed (yet).

Now, Zelaya may be reimposed on them and return as the triumphant, abused hero. This is exactly what strengthened the Chávez juggernaut a few years ago with the help of incompetent Condoleeza & Co., who fell face forwards into the whole mess. It ain’t so easy to pull the rug out from under elected, civilian leaders in Latin America any more, and that’s a wonderful thing, no matter who Zelaya is.