Horses, Whips, and Haitians

The week got off to an instructive start. Few Americans probably imagined that men on horseback in this country still use leather lashes to control defenseless Black people. Live and learn.

Most Americans must have been deeply disturbed by the sight of Haitian refugees being subjected to this brutal treatment. At least, so one would hope.

Extrapolating from polls showing continued support for a certain non-incumbent, though, about one in four may have said to themselves, “Yeah, give them a few licks for me.”

Though the lesson may have been unwelcome, the sight was nevertheless instructive. It was even inspiring, in the saddest way imaginable.

According to NPR, some of the people being abused at the border by federal agents have been travelling, on foot for years. No doubt most of these journeys began out of desperation. Getting to the Rio Grande after such a trek, with no resources to speak of, suggests a level of perseverence and determination deserving of praise, not condemnation.

A just nation—particularly one that takes such overweening pride in its purported self-reliance—might consider such a background as a bona fide, justifying an accelerated citizenship process. For the moment, though, let’s deal with the nation we have, not the nation we might want or wish to have at a later time.

Many Americans, we suspect, tend to turn away from intractable problems. If a problem persists long enough, and no solution seems evident, eventually we just shrug and go back to watching whatever inanity is on offer between the commercials for pharmaceuticals.

We’re as guilty as anyone, but the latest border atrocity finally got us asking questions.

There is no mystery as to why Haitians are fleeing. They are beset by myriad catastrophes: earthquakes, hurricanes, outbreaks of cholera…the list of woes is truly terrible.

The magnitude of all these problems might be reduced if the government were not so dysfunctional. But, in addition to geology and meteorology, unseen political forces seem to be at work. Recently there was a presidential assassination; again, one might think that Americans could muster a little empathy.

Perhaps it would help if our corporate media—including NPR—would occasionally interrupt their routine hand-wringing coverage of Haiti’s latest disaster, to remind their audiences that from 1825 until 1947, France had its knee on Haiti’s neck.

To understand the scope of this crime, we must go back to 1791. After nearly 300 years of oppression, first by the Spanish and then the French, Haitians began the only successful rebellion of an enslaved people in modern history. They won independence in 1804.

To white slave-holders in the U.S., these developments were unsettling. To enslaved Blacks laboring on plantations they were inspiring. Official U.S. policy tended to line up with the interests of the former.

This was demonstrated most clearly in 1825.

President Monroe had decreed in 1823 that henceforth the U.S. would have veto power over any unwanted developments in the Caribbean. In pretty short order that policy applied to the whole damned hemisphere.

Two years later France’s King Charles X sent a fleet of ships to blockade Haiti. In a staggering example of extortion and chutzpah, Charles demanded money in exchange for lifting the blockade. Here is how Evan X Hyde, a Belizean writer, Dartmouth graduate, and publisher of Amandala, that country’s largest newspaper, sums up one of the great crimes of the 19th century:

The ransom demanded from Haiti was ten times its annual national revenue. But, with the guns of the French Caribbean fleet pointed at Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s president was forced to agree that the former slaves should compensate their masters. To make the first payment–30 million francs–Haiti was obliged to take on loans covering the full sum from Parisian banks. Interest of 20 percent on this loan–6 million francs–was demanded in advance. To pay that, the treasury was emptied.

For the first liberated Latin American nation, formal independence on 11 July 1825 did not signify the beginning of freedom, but the end of hope. The chains were not cast off; they were soldered back on. Even after it was reduced to 60 million francs in 1838, the debt was an impossible sum. During the nineteenth century, slavery would be outlawed all over Europe and in the United States. Compensation was paid to slave owners–but by the governments that outlawed slavery, not by the slaves themselves. Yet the French government continued to insist that its own ex-slaves in Haiti pay for their liberty. The slavery reparations would not be paid off until 1947.*

And what of that vaunted Monroe Doctrine? John Quincy Adams succeeded Monroe in March, 1825. Rather than take a principled stand, he did nothing about the blockade and extortion—unless you count letting Haiti serve as an object lesson in humility for other Black people.

While it’s generally fruitless to try and compare the suffering of different groups of people, we can’t help but notice a parallel. White American families have developed their wealth over generations, largely through home ownership enabled by friendly federal housing policies. Black Americans were explicitly shut out of that process for most of the 20th century. The consequences can be seen in the relative net worth of the two groups.

This newspaper would be perpetuating a great injustice if it were to cast aspersions at the French and former U.S. presidents without acknowledging its own sins.

The first thirty years of our existence were only made possible by the use of enslaved labor.

The longer we go on, the more clearly we see that with every issue of this paper, our debt increases.

The least we can do is to remind ourselves and others of this simple, essential fact.


Every fortnight we trek to the Post Office on Heritage Avenue—one-third of the way to the Massachusetts border—to mail our paper to subscribers. On September 10th, we noticed that the flag at the intersection of Lafayette and Heritage was not in compliance with the Flag Code. Ten days later we revisited the scene. The photograph above shows what we found. We publish it here, trusting that the Flag Police—their motto, “Eternal vigilance is the price of upholding the fetishization of material objects which symbolize the values of a purported republic in the absence of any perceptible functionality”—will know how to handle this egregious violation.


Doctor Praised for Violating Texas’ New Abortion Ban

Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams

“I provided an abortion to a woman who, though still in her first trimester, was beyond the state’s new limit. I acted because I had a duty of care to this patient, as I do for all patients, and because she has a fundamental right to receive this care.”

Dr. Alan Braid, who provides abortion care in San Antonio, explained his decision to violate Texas’ new law in a Saturday opinion piece for The Washington Post, drawing praise and gratitude from reproductive rights advocates and healthcare professionals nationwide.

Texas’ Senate Bill 8—which the U.S. Supreme Court’s right-wing majority let take effect this month, in spite of Roe v. Wade—bans abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, with no exceptions for rape or incest, and empowers anti-choice vigilantes to enforce the law.

Readers turned to Twitter to thank Braid, express admiration for his courage and integrity, and encourage others to engage with his “extremely powerful, must-read” piece.

Braid began his obstetrics and gynecology residency in 1972, the year before the nation’s highest court affirmed the constitutional right to abortion with Roe. He noted that before the landmark ruling, “abortion was effectively illegal in Texas—unless a psychiatrist certified a woman was suicidal.”

“At the hospital that year, I saw three teenagers die from illegal abortions,” the doctor recalled of 1972. “One I will never forget. When she came into the ER, her vaginal cavity was packed with rags. She died a few days later from massive organ failure, caused by a septic infection.”

Detailing his career from Roe to S.B. 8, he wrote, “For the next 45 years—not including the two years I was away in the Air Force—I was a practicing OB/GYN in Texas, conducting Pap smears, pelvic exams and pregnancy check-ups; delivering more than 10,000 babies; and providing abortion care at clinics I opened in Houston and San Antonio, and another in Oklahoma.”

According to Braid:

“Though we never ask why someone has come to our clinic, they often tell us. They’re finishing school or they already have three children, they’re in an abusive relationship, or it’s just not time. A majority are mothers. Most are between 18 and 30. Many are struggling financially—more than half qualify for some form of financial aid from us.

“Several times a month, a woman confides that she is having the abortion because she has been raped. Sometimes, she reports it to the police; more often, she doesn’t.”

The doctor disclosed that he provided an abortion that violated state law on September 6th. Although his unidentified patient is not legally at risk, Braid is. As part of a scheme to make the statute harder to strike down in court, S.B. 8 enables individuals to sue anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion beyond the new limit and potentially collect a $10,000 “bounty.”

“I fully understood that there could be legal consequences—but I wanted to make sure that Texas didn’t get away with its bid to prevent this blatantly unconstitutional law from being tested,” wrote Braid, whose clinics are among the plaintiffs represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) in an ongoing federal lawsuit to stop S.B. 8.

In an interview with The New York Times, Braid said he had consulted with CRR lawyers and expressed hope that his disclosure would contribute to invalidating the Texas law.

“I hope the law gets overturned,” Braid told the newspaper, “and if this is what does it, that would be great.”

After the Post piece was published, Nancy Northup, CRR’s president and CEO, said in a statement that “Dr. Braid has courageously stood up against this blatantly unconstitutional law.”

“We stand ready to defend him against the vigilante lawsuits that S.B. 8 threatens to unleash against those providing or supporting access to constitutionally protected abortion care,” Northup added.

In addition to challenging Texas’ ban, CRR is among the advocacy groups calling on the Democrat-controlled Congress to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act (H.R. 3755/S. 1975), legislation to codify Roe which the U.S. House of Representatives plans to vote on this month.

While the Biden administration is also suing Texas over S.B. 8 and taking steps to support abortion patients and providers in the state, the new law and an upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case that could overturn Roe has bolstered arguments for abolishing the filibuster in the Senate so that Democrats can enact federal protections for reproductive rights.

This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.


Governor MugWump Wants It Both Ways

Chris Sununu faces a difficult challenge: getting through the abortion obstacle course and into the U.S. Senate.

First Texas turned up the heat on the issue by passing the craziest anti-abortion law yet. Then the Executive Council voted down contracts for Planned Parenthood, thereby inserting itself into the treatment rooms of thousands of New Hampshire women.

Sununu signed off on the Council’s decision, leaving reproductive health care providers scrambling. Then he suggested bringing the contracts back for another look. Finally, after protesters showed up outside an Executive Council meeting, he laughed about it all.

“It doesn’t bother me,” he told WGIR’s New Hampshire Today, with a laugh. “Look, I do my job […] I try not to get wrapped up into all that drama. That’s just a lot of drama.”


Our Humpback Has Gone “Extinct”

Our Wandering Photographer strolled over to the Worth Lot on Sunday for one last look at Portsmouth’s landlocked whale.

If you want to see a humpback whale around these parts, you’re gonna need a boat. Judging from photos in Wednesday’s Formerly Award-Winning, Formerly-Local Daily—taken by Still Excellent Photographer Deb Cram—this flaking, patched-over leviathan has now gone the way of all flesh and brick and mortar. Here’s how it looked on Sunday.

Scaffolding had been erected on the east wall of the Cabot Furniture building, and demolition crews had knocked down the graffiti-covered western end, but the baleful eye was still gazing back.

Wyland painted 100 Whaling Walls between 1981 and 2008. Ours, “Isles of Shoals Humpback,” was number 37. Dedicated June 14, 1993, it has how joined 25 others previously listed as “Extinct.”


From Zero to Hero in a Single Anecdote

Not to make light of a serious subject, but Americans who may have been thinking of ending it all recently got reminded of a good reason to live: unimaginable surprises may be coming any day.

If an incident being used to jack up sales of Bob Woodward’s latest book holds up to scrutiny, James Danforth “Dan” Quayle—the most-mocked Vice President since Spiro “Ted” Agnew—may now be eligible for elevation into the pantheon of American heroes. [Note: “Heroes” is the plural of “hero.” To spell it correctly, one adds an “es” to the singular “hero”—just as with the word “potato.” – The Ed.]

After the former guy lost the presidential election, an alleged lawyer named John Eastman handed a six-point plan to former radio talk-show host and second-most-mocked Vice President &c. Mike Pence. Under Eastman’s plan, Pence would [insert incomprehensible and absurd patch of legal jargon here].

If Pence had followed through, and the plan had not been an incomprehensible and absurd patch of legal jargon, the former guy would now be the current guy.

Pence—who, let us recall, is afraid to be in the same room with any woman not his wife—was flummoxed. Not knowing to whom to turn for advice, he called the aforesaid Quayle.

Quayle, bless his heart, talked sense into Pence, thus preventing a SNAFU from becoming FUBAR’d.


Thomas Bailey Aldrich Revealed

We take this opportunity to draw the attention of local hagiographers to an essay by W.D. Ehrhart which appears on page seven of this newspaper.

It appears that one of our local heroes, the author Thomas Bailey Aldrich, was a “bad boy” in more ways than one.

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