As soon as the smoke from the funeral clears. We’re all gonna see and how, she did nothing for years. – lyric from Evita, about Argentine prima donna Eva Peron
Anyone who has read this column with regularity well knows that I seldom bite my tongue in my assessments of people, particularly those in the public realm.
And when I call somebody out as bad, I call it as I see it, unapologetically, no holds barred.
So when I say I’m giddy with glee with the departures from the world scene – within a week – of two bad men, I’m holding back none of my contempt for these two abominable bastards.
Yes. You read that right. Bastards. Inglorious, indeed.
First, let’s dispense with the one who shuffled off his mortal coil on Tuesday, a demise we all saw coming but one many would have preferred had come long before now if only to spare his people more misery and hasten their recovery.
Hugo Chavez was a thug. Dictator. Bully. Thief. A strongman who took his country’s oil wealth and plundered it.
To Venezuela’s lower class, the people he most appealed to and who were his most fervent and steadfast supporters, he promised a better future.
He delivered nothing of the kind.
Instead, he wrecked their economy and reduced them to suffering one of the highest inflation rates anywhere on the planet (as high as the 30% range), a sharply devalued currency, chronic food shortages, and rising crime numbers.
As it has so often elsewhere, socialism – in which Chavez proudly cloaked himself just as he did the trademark red shirts he often wore that symbolized it – failed Venezuela.
He embraced this dead-end economic road map, I suspect, more to cast him and his country in stark defiance to the American capitalism he despised and was always thumbing his nose at, and to score popularity points for doing so. And, too, in order to ingratiate himself with a Cuban regime he seldom passed up a chance to suck up to.
If socialism’s failure was the price his nation had to pay for his anti-American posturing and his predilection for ass-kissing Castro brothers, then pay it his people would. And they sure have.
Just as he trashed Venezuela’s economy, he trashed the country’s politics. He gutted its constitution, purged rivals from all branches of government, jailed judges who didn’t rule his way, stripped the press of its freedom, and hounded, hunted, and threatened opponents, even ones who had fled to the U.S.
South Florida has become home, since 1999, to tens of thousands of Venezuelan exiles, scared from their native country in a manner that eerily recalls that which saw Jews scared from Europe in the ’30s by the specter of an increasingly ominous Third Reich, and, since 1959, emigres scurrying from Castro’s Cuba.
Like the Jews and Cubans before them, Venezuelans were scared for their lives. For their families’ and children’s safety and futures. For their right to own a business or possess a fortune without it being snatched away by the state. For their right to express political opinions. For their right to openly disagree with an increasingly hostile and human rights-trampling regime.
This is one of Hugo Chavez’s most shameful legacies: Like thugs before him – like Hitler, like Castro – he created exiles.
Another: He has left many Venezuelans impoverished and their country in worse shape than he found it.
As the life ebbed from him in his final hours, those left in charge of his cuckoo regime truly came unhinged. Crazy conspiracy theorists crawled out of the woodwork, blaming his cancer on – who else? – their favorite punching bag, Yankee America. Even Hugo’s nitwit vice president – now his successor – concurred. The latest conspiracy? That his enemies poisoned him. That the U.S. did him in.
Gee, if we’re supposed to be so good at that sort of thing, how come Hugo’s commie pal Fidel still wakes up each day, and sporting that damn track suit of his? How is it the poison never worked on him?
On these pages in the past, my colorful insults have been bountiful: the Crackpot Cretin of Caracas. Dictator Demento. Loco Hugo. Presidente Cuckoo Bird. Señor Nutcase. Presidente Fruit Loop. Presidente Insane-in-the-Membrane.
He once stood in front of the U.N. General Assembly and denounced George W. Bush as the devil. While no defender of Dubya, I found that unfair.
He once had exhumed the bones of his revolutionary hero, the South American version of George Washington, Simon Bolivar. There were rumors he even kept a chair at his dinner table vacant for Bolivar’s “spirit.”
Now with the Cuckoo of Caracas dead and gone for good, the Venezuelan people will have to decide at the polls in about a month whether to restore democracy and trust the economy turns around, or retain Chavez’s thugs, goons, and incompetents in power and watch as the country and its prospects further deteriorate.
After mourning the tyrant and sealing him into the ground comes the truly hard work, rebuilding that broken society. There’s a lot to rebuild, and I don’t envy their task. They pinned their hopes on a savior, but all they got was a scoundrel. Good riddance. Let the reconstruction of Venezuela now commence.
But the star has gone, the glamour’s worn thin
That’s a pretty bad state for a state to be in.
BYE, BYE, BENNY
The strangeness of the Roman Catholic Church’s archaic rituals doesn’t come into perspective any sharper than on occasions like this, when silly old men in dresses – I mean, cardinals in cassocks – congregate within the Sistine Chapel to mull over which one of their fellow knuckleheads they’ll make the sacrificial lamb on the altar of a church that requires one of them be its next leader and lightening rod.
Rituals like smashing the papal ring and seal. Sequestering themselves within the Chapel. White smoke for yes, black smoke for no.
This is a church enamored with its ancient rituals but reluctant to face its very modern problems. Its next pope had best confront those problems better than did his predecessor.
To know Benedict the 16th, one must know the man he was before he became pope, Joseph Ratzinger. And one must know that Ratzinger’s tentacles have been wrapped around Catholic politics and dogma long before he ever became arguably one of the worst popes of all time whose sorry reputation can only sour and worsen with time.
Long before the white smoke rose for him in 2005, he was the head of the church’s Office of the Doctrine of the Faith, aka (in ancient times) the Inquisition. He was responsible for stamping an unyieldingly conservative imprint on an array of issues facing the church from the 1980s on.
As pope, he bore responsibility for, among other things, sanitizing the church of its child-abusing priests, but revelations in recent years show that he was more comfortable with sweeping the matter under the rug rather than ordering the whole place tented and fumigated.
Ratzinger, the late Christopher Hitchens wrote, may be banal, “but his whole career has the stench of evil – a clinging and systematic evil that is beyond the power of exorcism to dispel.”
For his refusal to turn bad priests over to authorities for prosecution – as would be expected in any other facet of society – Benedict deserves not an easy retirement but hard nights’ rest on a prison cot. In other societies beyond the Vatican walls, what he did constitutes aiding and abetting, or harboring criminals.
Not just I but others demanded he and others in the church be held accountable. “Bring the Pope to Justice” was the title of a Hitchens essay for Newsweek in 2010.
As for me, while the silly old men in dresses are figuring what color smoke to send up the chimney, I’ll be communing with other locals this evening at the BankUnited Center where noted evolutionary biologist and author Richard Dawkins will speak on the “Beauty of Science.”
When he was last here in 2011, Dawkins lectured from a classroom; overflow crowds required his talk being transmitted via closed circuit TV to additional classrooms. Owing to that, this time he’s in a bigger venue to accommodate the anticipated massive turnout. Hallelujah.
Attend your churches, synagogues, and mosques to your hearts’ delight. For me, my “church” is an evening at the BankUnited listening to the wisdom of a truly learned and enlightened man. No collection plates will be passed around, no communion wavers will be swallowed. No rosary bead-kissing, no prayer-reciting, no holy water sprinkling. Just bring along your brain and be prepared to hear stuff that would make Southern evangelical types who swear by “intelligent design” foam at the mouths and pop blood vessels in their noggins.
Perusing the archives, I was surprised to see how often I wrote about Benny over the years. As a send-off to the old coot, here are excerpts:
We need more women in leadership roles in lots more places than just County Hall….I feel pretty confident that a lot of this priestly pedophilia would not have arisen were a Mother Superior – rather than a Holy Father – running the Vatican. Were she and a “College of Nuns” (instead of cardinals) in charge, you can almost bet a lot of this perverting of little Catholic children would never have gotten started in the first place, much less risen to the stench to which it has now.
Why not really turn the Church upside down and install a woman pope? Considering its current troubles, it would be an improvement. A vast one.
Imagine the phone conversation Il Papa Donna might have with one of her Vatican advisers:
“He did WHAT to those children? You summon him to Rome. Immediately! He’ll not only be defrocked, I may just castrate the son-of-a-bitch myself….And whosoever shall commit such transgressions like this… well, God will deal with them in the hereafter, but they’ll have to contend with ME first!”
I doubt Benedict or his predecessor ever once came to terms with this scandal with such resoluteness. Hence its persistence.
– May 13, 2010, column
Confirming once more how increasingly irrelevant the Vatican is in the lives of everyday people by its constantly lagging behind the times and having to keep pace with its congregants, the pope came out last month and “blessed” social networking. I guess that means all you Catholics can now tweet and “poke” without fear of excommunication!
Next up to receive Benedict’s official sanction: Sliced bread. Women wearing pants. Microwavable food. Rubik’s cube.
Elsewhere, three Philadelphia archdiocese priests and a monsignor were indicted and charged last week in the sexual abuse of two boys. (The commonplace barely raises eyebrows anymore, now does it?)
This news, however, evidently was not worthy of His Holiness’s attention. Priorities being priorities, blessing the Facebooking and Twittering of the masses ranks higher than addressing the “social networking” that’s been practiced by all his pastoral perverts.
– “Bennie’s Seal of Approval,” Feb. 17, 2011, column
This is arguably the worst excuse of a pope since Pius XII seven decades ago did scant little to aid European Jews desperately trying to escape a one-way ticket to oblivion on Der Fuhrer’s eastbound trains.
The reputation of “God’s Rottweiler” looks like it’ll be consigned, appropriately, to history’s dog house. May his papacy be a mercifully short one, compared to his predecessor’s. Catholics will require a much better pontiff to shepherd them and their church, one who isn’t a reich-wing, homophobic, pedophile-coddling, contraception-condemning, hypocrisy-spewing, medievally-hard-headed-close-minded-and-head-buried-in-the-sand bigot of monumentally embarrassing proportion.
The next time the white smoke wafts from the Sistine Chapel, may it be of sufficient strength and amount to commence the arduous task of snuffing out the detrimental and repressive stench of this fool’s diabolical years as head of the Roman Catholic Church.
– “Clueless in Rome,” May 5, 2011, column
If your child was sexually molested by my employee, and not only was I aware of his crime but I conspired to aid and abet his evasion from prosecution – housing him, continuing to employ him, even promoting him – would you say I deserved to be prosecuted into prison myself?
So lock the pope up already, the damn bastard.
Stick him in the dock, begin the trial, throw the book at him. And I don’t mean the “Good Book.”
But that would have to be a pretty large dock, larger than Nuremberg’s, to fit all those lesser Vatican do-no-gooders who deserve also to be tried for their roles in the abomination that has become the Roman Catholic Church’s Scandal of the Century. (Make that Centuries.)
Plenty of antacids were likely sliding down the papal throat after Benedict and his morally-bankrupt accomplices in the Vatican got wind of the disagreeable news from Dublin last month: the Irish government – everybody, opposition parties included – denounced the Holy See(-No-Evil) for undercutting the Irish bishops’ 1996 decision to begin reporting cases of suspected child sex abuse to police.
You see, the Vatican encouraged its bishops there not to squeal to the police, never mind the law.
“This is not Rome. This is the Republic of Ireland 2011, a republic of laws,” a defiant Irish prime minister told legislators.
With each revelation that trickles out, with every additional drip-drip of sludge that oozes out into the broad daylight, showing us yet more evidence of the Vatican’s sordid wallowing in this cesspool, this pope and the male hierarchy that props him up come off more and ever more disgraceful for their collusion to cover it up – sh–, stench, and all.
So, yes, jail to the pope! Too bad we can’t haul his predecessor up from the Vatican catacombs and prop the old Pole up in the dock beside him, same charges. (Oh – but they’re too busy canonizing JP2.)
Can a pope be impeached? Forced to resign? Removed from office? Can he be indicted, convicted, imprisoned? Why not? Let’s find out. If ever there was a meaty issue for which to, and a good enough time to do so, this and now are it.
Try as they may to sandblast away the layer of encrusted pigeon poop off this antiquity of a pope, the PR shamans in Vatican City cannot steam clean away the fact that all during the decades that these crimes were being committed – in dioceses the globe over – “God’s Rottweiler” was enforcing an unyielding, rigid view of church law while head of the Doctrine of the Faith office – the one and the same that gave the world that fine and splendid production known as the Inquisition.
Nor the fact that more recently (2001), while head of that office, Cardinal Ratzinger issued a letter affirming the church’s privilege to conduct its investigations with secrecy, handling matters – like the sex abuse – in its own way. Internally.
Then there’s his own complicit role in shuffling kid-diddling priests from one parish to another while he was Archbishop of Munich in the ’70s.
“Christ’s representative on Earth”? Spare me. More like, every pedophile priest’s best ally.
More and more, this pope, this Vatican, this confederacy of we-can-do-no-wrong frat boys, as it were, interested only in circling the wagons and protecting their own kind against – well – against the world, and an increasingly disgusted one at that, make the Sicilian mob, of all organizations, appear to be Italy’s more moral and upstanding citizen class.
– “Irish Eyes Are Scowling,” Aug. 11, 2011, column
Is he good merely because he’s pope, as if being elected by about 100 fellow cardinals somehow conferred upon him goodness, no matter if he was lacking in it beforehand?
Or was he always good, even before his papacy, including those years when he was protecting kid-diddling German priests, shuffling them from parish to parish? Or when he, as “God’s Rottweiler,” was stifling dissent and enforcing strict conservative orthodoxy? Many child victims of the abuse, as well their families, might disagree with “good,” as might those aggrieved, offended, and oppressed by his doctrinal hard line over the decades.
And what of those Muslims whom he, after becoming pope, insulted when he delivered a lecture critical of their faith? And what of those Africans he demeaned when he scolded them that condoms would only increase their AIDS epidemic, not curb it, and were still verboten by the Church?
Guess it all depends on what your definition of “good” is. I don’t find his picture next to the definition in my copy of Webster’s.
– Sept. 1, 2011, column
IS THIS ANY WAY TO GOVERN? – First it was the debt ceiling. Then it was the “fiscal cliff.” Now it’s sequestration. And each and every time, we’re treated to foot-dragging, name-calling, finger-pointing, and wholesale failure of both Congress and the president, Democrats and Republicans, to resolve crucial budget matters. “Washington,” the Financial Times lamented last week, “remains in desperate need of adult supervision.” Indeed.
STRANGE best describes Monica Cepero‘s pull-out, at such a late stage, from the Miami Beach city managership sweepstakes. It’s bewildering why she hinted that the process (she described it variously in her Feb. 26 withdrawal letter as “protracted” and “lengthy”) was too much for her and that she thought the “nature of the process” made clear to her that she was not the “right fit” for the job. Shouldn’t the process of finding the city’s next top administrator – and highest paid official – be anything but a rush job? A careful, thoughtful, deliberative process is what is expected. We get only one chance to get it right. The Commission appreciates that and has regarded it that way. If you can’t take the heat of the process, honey, best get out of the kitchen. Miami Beach Silly Hall is a pressure cooker. Best we found this out about Cepero before we handed her the job.
TWO HOPEFULS in this year’s Miami Beach City Commission sweepstakes made sure to throw their hats in the ring early – reeeaaal early. Elsa Urquiza filed to run for Jerry Libbin‘s Group 1 seat as far back as two years ago. Sherry Roberts, who entered the race on Monday, originally filed last March to run for Jonah Wolfson‘s Group 4 seat when he vacates it in 2015 (how’s that for advance planning? A good three years ahead of time.) but has determined she wants on the dais, like, now, and switched to run for Michael Gongora‘s Group 3 seat. This is Sherry’s second stab at City Hall; in 2009, she finished third for the Group 2 seat now held by Jorge Exposito and didn’t make the run-off. This, too, is Elsa’s second try. In 2007, she was the top vote-getter among four candidates for the Group 4 seat but lost in a run-off – by a mere 64 votes – to Deede Weithorn.
Roberts will be the guest speaker at Tuesday Morning’s (March 12) Breakfast Club at David’s Cafe (1058 Collins Ave.). She is expected to formally announce her candidacy then.
DOING A MEDIOCRE OR TERRIBLE JOB hosting the Oscars isn’t the fault of merely the host himself. It takes a team of writers. Don’t forget to fault them, too. Blame Seth McFarlane, but I also blame the writers who were assigned to him, the geniuses behind such one-liners as “the actor who got most inside Lincoln’s head was John Wilkes Booth,” and the equally tasteless “We Saw Your Boobs” number. And with plenty of blame to go around, don’t forget the show’s producers and director. I say, pink slips for everybody!
WE MAY REGARD EATING HORSE MEAT repulsive (see: European horse meat scandal), but it is a staple of some cultures just as – yes – cats and dogs may be in others. It is detestable that people in developed nations look down their noses at those of other nations whose cultures they neither understand nor try to. Those people may find our affinity for pork or beef as equally unappetizing and revolting as we find their strange delicacies. At least they accept the differences between us with more civility, it appears.
WHILE SORTING CHANGE THE OTHER DAY, I noticed my first 2013 penny. It reminded me of an annual ritual-of-sorts, how as a kid I would take note of the first shiny coins that came into my possession and engraved with the new year on them. Though I seldom pay as much attention to that now as I’ve gotten older, I’ll still pause and inspect a shiny penny or silver piece when it catches my eye around this time of the year, and recall how excited it used to make me to notice the freshly-minted, tarnish-free coins of each new year.
ON THAT NOTE, I remain a proponent of getting rid of the penny. Add to that the nickel and dime. Okay, keep the quarter if you want. Tradition is one thing, but the minting of budget-busting coins is another. To produce many of these coins, it costs the government more than they’re worth. Times change and so must this nation’s currency.
A POX ON US – And you thought the only communicable “social” diseases our party town was known for were the – ahem – venereal kind. And only among the young. Comes the revelation this week that chicken pox-stricken news lady Barbara Walters (83), just off the sick list, caught it from having shared a New Year’s hug and kiss with Dracula. No, scratch that. He only played Dracula. I mean she smushed skin with the actor Frank Langella (75), in – where else? – Miami. Langella was soon to come down with shingles, which can transfer the pox to someone who’s never had it before. Another fine mess that can be attributed in some small way to us. We had a role in nearly felling one of the preeminent, trailblazing journalists of our time. Way to go, Miami!