The Nation, lately

Here are the first two paragraphs of Stuart Klawans’ review of Richard Linklater’s docudrama, Me and Orson Welles:

 The story of an omelet told from an eggshell’s point of view, Me and Orson Welles relates the events of one week in November 1937, when a fictional high school student named Richard happens upon some actors goofing off on New York’s Forty-first Street and gets cast in a show that just might open: the Mercury Theatre’s soon-to-be-legendary Caesar. A day-tripping kid from the suburbs will accidentally participate in greatness. As the Mercury’s office manager and all-purpose sweetheart puts it, he will get to sit at the feet of Orson Welles and be showered with his spittle.

As swift and stripped-down as its title, the Caesar into which Richard has wandered will thrillingly transform Shakespeare’s Roman general into a present-day dictator in jackboots and black shirt, provided the director and star ever lets the play get out of rehearsals. Welles is a dictator too, you see, though without any ideal of military discipline, and evidently can’t bear to set an opening date, because then the chaos would end and he could no longer go on bullying and seducing and making everyone in the company wait on his every whim. “Can you play the ukulele?” Welles demands of Richard upon seeing him on the sidewalk, as if it were the first question that would pop into anyone’s mind. Without asking why, Richard looks Welles in the eye, lies and says yes. Welles stares back, recognizes the lie and hires him anyway, telling him he’s now Lucius. It seems the dictator has found a new underling, one with just enough spirit to make him temporarily interesting to break.

“Can you play the ukulele?” is a fine greeting so far as I’m concerned… 

That’s from the 21 December issue, as is Lori Wallach’s piece about the World Trade Organization.  Wallach has done yeoman work over the years publicizing the fact that the World Trade Organization is not just about “trade,” but takes a wide variety of issues out of the democratic process in its member states and subjects them to cloistered bureaucracies that respond only to major corporate interests.   

The main thing I want to remember from the 14 December issue is a piece about the killing of Fred Hampton.  Fred Hampton was the chairman of the Black Panther Party in Chicago when police shot him to death at his home, 2337 West Monroe Street, on 4 December 1969.  The official story from the Chicago Police Department at the time was that Hampton fired first; crime scene photos showing that most of the blood Hampton lost drained into his mattress suggested that he was in bed throughout the gun battle.  Hampton must have been very tired indeed to have remained in bed while waging a firefight against the police.    

The author of the piece is Jeffrey Haas.  Here is Haas’ summary of his own role in the response to Hampton’s death:

I was the first person to interview the survivors in the police lockup, where Hampton’s crying and pregnant fiancée told me that after she was pulled from the room, police came in and fired two shots into Hampton and said, “He’s good and dead now.” The autopsy showed he had been shot twice in the head at point-blank range. My colleagues went to the raid scene, examined the bullet holes and found that the trajectory of all the bullets except one was from the direction of the police toward the Panthers. Later, an FBI firearms expert testified that more than eighty shots were fired by the police at the Panthers, with only one coming from a Panther. That one shot was fired in a vertical direction by a falling Mark Clark after he had been fatally wounded.

Two years after the murder, antiwar activists raided the FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, and found and distributed documents that demonstrated that FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover was conducting a secret war on the left–the Counterintelligence Program, or Cointelpro. Its most aggressive and lethal tactics were used against the black movement, and the Panthers in particular. Cointelpro mandated FBI agents in cities with Panther chapters to “cripple,” “disrupt” and “destroy” the Panthers and their breakfast program and to prevent the rise of a “messiah” who could unify and electrify the black masses.

In 1969 I was a young, newly radicalized lawyer, one of the founders of a collective called the People’s Law Office, which represented the Panthers. After successfully defending the survivors of the raid against bogus criminal charges, we filed a civil rights suit against the police and the prosecutor, and later the FBI. My book The Assassination of Fred Hampton chronicles our long legal and political struggle to uncover the truth about the FBI’s role in the killing. After thirteen years of litigation, we proved that the raid was a Cointelpro operation. FBI agents in Chicago gave Hanrahan and the Chicago police a floor plan of Hampton’s apartment, which included the location of the bed where Hampton would be sleeping. They urged Hanrahan to conduct the raid and later took credit for it in internal documents. The FBI informant who provided the floor plan was given a bonus because his information was deemed to be of “tremendous value” to what one agent referred to as the “success” of the raid.

Noam Chomsky has called the murder of Fred Hampton “the gravest domestic crime of the Nixon Administration.” It is hard to imagine a more serious abuse by a government than the deliberate assassination of a citizen for his political beliefs and activity. But though we were finally able to reveal that Hampton’s death had been an assassination, it has never gotten the attention it deserves. The government’s cover-up and stonewalling basically worked.

Haas explicitly compares the assassination of Hampton and the subsequent failure to prosecute the officials responsible for it with the abuses the Bush-Cheney administration committed in the name of fighting terrorism and the Obama administration’s apparent unwillingness to bring the perpetrators of those offenses to justice.  I would point out that the FBI man in charge of the COINTEL program was Assistant Director W. Mark Felt.  Felt was once prosecuted for some of his actions related to COINTEL.  In 1980, a federal court convicted him of ordering illegal break-ins of houses thought to be associated with the Weather Underground.  Ironically, it was the assassination of Fred Hampton that prompted the Weather Underground to begin its program of bombings.  Felt’s felony conviction for crimes committed against suspected Weathermen might have portended further prosecutions of Felt and other officials responsible for COINTEL, but it was not to be.  President Ronald Reagan pardoned Felt in April 1981, effectively precluding any such action.  By the time of his death on 18 December 2008, Mark Felt was lionized as “Deep Throat,” the man who encouraged naval intelligence officer-turned-Washington Post metro reporter  Bob Woodward to pursue the story of White House involvement in the Watergate break-in, and who used his contacts with people close to President Nixon to supply Woodward with key information.


  1. cymast

     /  December 16, 2009

    “the Obama administration’s apparent unwillingness to bring the perpetrators of those offenses to justice”

    Obama is on pre-election record promising accountability for US war criminals. That’s probably the most blantant of Obama’s lies thus far. He’ll have a hard time topping that whopper.

  2. acilius

     /  December 16, 2009

    Did he really promise to hold war criminals to account? I must have missed that one.

  3. cymast

     /  December 16, 2009

    Yes, he did. I remember that vividly.

  4. acilius

     /  December 16, 2009

    I hate to doubt you, but do you have a link for that? It doesn’t sound like anything such a faithful tool of the power elite as Mr O would ever be caught saying.

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