Scout’s Honor

Photo by Phoebe Baker | CC BY 2.0

I was dishonorably discharged from the Cub Scouts for conduct unbecoming a scout. I was stripped of my merit badges, my sash, my scarf. It was a scene resembling the opening of that old TV show “Branded” with Chuck Connors. I had brought shame on my troop by decking the Scoutmaster’s son. I was eight years old.

Here’s how it went down.

On the night of April 4, 1968, I was at my grandmother Ruth’s house on the southside of Indianapolis. She liked to watch the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. To her, Walter Cronkite was like an Old Testament prophet, an unambiguous voice of truth. She never missed his show. On this night, Cronkite somberly announced the murder of a man she held in equal esteem, Martin Luther King, Jr. I had never seen her cry before, but she sobbed uncontrollably that night. “How could they? How could they? That man could have saved this country!”

She was, perhaps, one of the most unlikely followers of King. She grew up in a very poor hamlet in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. She didn’t finish high school, married young, gave birth to my father and moved north to the West side of Indianapolis, then a largely black and impoverished neighborhood. She never learned to drive, never went to church, and worked as a seamstress in a casket factory for many years. She was the kindest person I’ve ever known.

Indianapolis then (and perhaps even now) was a Klan town, split by de facto segregation, riven by racial tensions. She used to invite young black boys, many of them my father’s friends (some of them homeless), in for dinner. Sometimes they slept over, an unthinkable act for a white family in the Naptown of the late 1930s. She was a terrific cook of Southern country fare, soul food. In a city that seethed with prejudice she exhibited none that I ever witnessed, except against racists and she believed that even they might be redeemable and that King was the man who could redeem them.

The night King was murdered Bobby Kennedy was in Indianapolis to give a campaign speech in advance of the Indiana primary. Riots had broken out across downtown. The neighborhood where she raised my father was in flames. We watched Kennedy’s dramatic speech, perhaps the greatest of his abbreviated life, on her small, flickering television set. Kennedy may have saved the city from burning that night, for better or worse.

Ruth’s tears seemed inexhaustible. But they never turned to rage. I think of her now, 50 years later, as one of Picasso’s Weeping Women, a portrait of loss, grief and despair. She lived for another few years until a cruel and painful uterine cancer claimed her life. But she was never the same. She was as kind and gentle as ever, but something deep within had been extinguished. Hope for the country, perhaps.

On the day after King’s assassination, I had a Cub Scout meeting. After school, I dressed up in my blue uniform with the gold scarf (designed to resemble the attire of the genocidal 7th Cavalry) and rode my bike a couple of miles to a Baptist church in the town of Greenwood, one of the whitest and meanest of Indianapolis’s southside suburbs. The weekly meetings were held in the basement of the church, where the scoutmaster served as pastor.

I’d only been a Cub Scout for a couple of months. I was suspicious about the whole enterprise, preferring to spend my free time playing baseball, hiking in the nearby woods with my dog Prince the Retriever or watching the troubled actress Frances Farmer present the afternoon movie on Channel Four. I was a first-generation latchkey kid and my parents thought I was headed for trouble on my own. They thought I needed supervised diversions. They were probably right.

On this afternoon, I arrived a little early. The scoutmaster’s son, a tubby kid named Doug Butterworth, was already there. Doug was there early and late. He didn’t have a choice. He greeted me as I walked in, “Hey, Saint, did you watch TV last night? Unbelievable!”

“Horrible, you mean?”

“No way, Saint. Dad says that nigger deserved what he got…”

I lost it. I was a scrawny little kid, rail thin, plagued by mysterious allergies and illnesses for much of my youth, but I slugged Doug in the gut without a thought. He was a year older and outweighed me by at least 30 pounds. He kind of quivered at the blow. The breath went out of him.

“Shut your mouth, Doug.”

I hit him again. In the face this time. Right on the nose. Blood streamed out of his nostrils. The image of my stricken grandmother flashed in my mind. I cocked my fist and was about to deliver another blow, when two massive paws grabbed my shirt, hefted me off the ground. It was Doug’s dad, Reverend Butterworth, Scoutmaster and racist pig. He was a super-sized version of Doug: a corpulent man with acne scars and greased-back hair. I began kicking him, aiming for his shins, his knees, his balls, whatever. He carried me across the room like I was a carcass hanging from a crane, locked me in a closet, and called my father.

I was asked to apologize. I refused. I surrendered my badges, my sash, my scarf, my weird little cap. I paid for Doug’s doctor bill (deviated septum) by cutting hundreds of lawns that summer. That was my last day as a Cub Scout. I was free, free at last.

When I hear people say that Donald Trump sullied the honor of the Boy Scouts during his rant in Glen Jean, West Virginia, I can only wonder what “honor” they are talking about. This is after all a paramilitary organization, a training program for eager young imperialists. For anyone who wants to read a bracing history of the origins of the Boy Scouts, I urge you to consult that imperishable book Corruptions of Empire for Alexander Cockburn’s profile of Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts, whose brutal tactics in India and southern Africa included assassination of prisoners and mass starvation of native populations.

In the US, the Boy Scouts of America put Baden-Powell’s racist views into practice on the domestic front. Into the 1920s, the BSA considered blacks as being “racially handicapped.” The organization treated black scouts as part of a special program for kids the leaders considered “feeble-minded” and “delinquent.” In the South, black scouts were fully segregated into “black-only troops.” These troops were separate, but far from equal. Black scouts were not permitted to wear uniforms, their troops were starved for funds and enjoyed few facilities. Across most of the country, Scouts partnered with the YMCA for use of basketball courts and swimming pools. But not in the South, where the BSA refused to team up with the Ys because they didn’t want blacks using the same pools as whites. Until 1954, there was only one integrated Scout troop south of the Mason/Dixon line.

In the coded words of William Murray, author of A History of the Boy Scouts of America, “Negro lads in the South and in the northern industrial centers were somewhat out of the stream of American boy life and needed special aid.” In practical terms, the aid wasn’t for the “negro lads,” but for the US military, which used the “special Scout troops” as a recruiting zone for young blacks and immigrants, who had been lured into the Scouts through a program known as “railroad scouting.” Racism, sexism and homophobia have been the hallmarks of the Boy Scouts for most of its history and this institutional bigotry is still deeply embedded in the organization’s structure.

Although Trump wasn’t a Scout, you can see why his speech struck such a resonant chord for 38,000 kids who had been indoctrinated in the scouting way. They were an audience conditioned to respond to any call from an authoritarian leader. Trump gave those Scouts an important life-lesson in leadership. He stripped away all of the fake homilies about God, country and selfless service to community. He revealed that politics is about greed, lying, bloodshed and vanity. In his master class in Glen Jean, Trump just left one thing out. He should have told those boys that there’s no honor among thieves.

Roaming Charges

+ Still missing The Sopranos? You’re in luck. Anthony “the Fandango” Scaramucci is in town. We don’t yet know if The Smooch is actually on the West Wing payroll, but who cares. He has brought a whole new kind of gangster palaver to the White House. In less than a week, Smooch has attacked Jeff Sessions, Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus and threatened to “fire everyone” in the White House communications office. Smooch proves that the Gambino Family has got nothing on your average Wall Street hedge fund manager. He talks riper smack than Christopher Maltisanti, Tony Soprano’s volatile nephew.

Like most mobsters, Smooch has thin skin. Perhaps even thinner than Trump’s. Scaramucci suffered a meltdown when Politico got its hands on his financial disclosure forms, implied that chief of staff Reince Preibus was the rat who leaked them and threatened to call the FBI on Preibus, even though his boss Tweeted on the very same day that the acting director of the FBI (Andy McCabe) is on the take from the Democrats. (The incriminating documents, which reveal Smooch’s $50 million stake in Skybridge Capital, were publicly available.)

Things got more inflamed on Wednesday night, when the Smooch read a Tweet (Twitter has replaced the AP Wire for breaking news in Trumplandia) by New Yorker writer Ryan Lizza reporting that Trump had gone out to dinner with Sean Hannity, former Fox executive Bill Shine and Scaramucci. The Smooch smelled a rat, Reince the Rat to be precise. He got on the phone to Lizza and unleashed one of the wildest streams of White House profanity since LBJ harangued his cabinet while taking shits on the Oval Office toilet.

Scaramucci demanded to know Lizza’s source. “Is it an assistant to the President? O.K., I’m going to fire every one of them, and then you haven’t protected anybody, so the entire place will be fired over the next two weeks.” At least he didn’t threaten to garrote them. “They’ll all be fired by me,” Scaramucci fumed. “I fired one guy the other day. I have three to four people I’ll fire tomorrow. I’ll get to the person who leaked that to you. Reince Priebus—if you want to leak something—he’ll be asked to resign very shortly.” By now, it’s apparent that Scaramucci should have replaced Arnold on “The Apprentice.”

Scaramucci pauses for a breath as former Fox executive Bill Shine comes into the room and then begins impersonating Reince the Rat:  “Let me leak the fucking thing and see if I can cock-block these people the way I cock-blocked Scaramucci for six months.’” At this point, editors of the New York Times, who were eager to reprint Lizza’s report of The Smooch’s rant, had to make an historic decision, could they actually print “cock” in the paper? The green light was given. (DH Lawrence must be laughing.)

The Smooch’s tenure in the Trump Administration may be limited by the fact that his narcissism (and paranoia) is as grandiose as Trump’s.  “They’re trying to resist me, but it’s not going to work. I’ve done nothing wrong on my financial disclosures, so they’re going to have to go fuck themselves.” At this point Scaramucci turns his ire against the Dark Lord himself, Steve Bannon and gives American children an object lesson in obscure sexual practices. “I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own cock. I’m not trying to build my own brand off the fucking strength of the President. I’m here to serve the country.” I wonder how the Smooch defines “serve”?

I had assumed that this particular sexual act for the limberest of men was a kind of internet myth perpetuated by porn star Ron Jeremy as an advertisement of penis enlargement scams. So I consulted Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality for guidance to see if the Greeks had ever discoursed upon it. If the Greeks hadn’t done it, no one else had. Sure enough in Volume Three, The Care of the Self, Foucault notes that one of the first known descriptions of the act appears in Artemidorus’ “Oneirocritica,” (circa 200 AD) where the act of “taking [one’s] sex organ into one’s [own] mouth” is mentioned as one of three kinds of ways to enjoy sexual relations with one’s self. The official term for this kind masturbation is Autofellatio, but I guess from now on they’ll be calling it The Bannon Maneuver.

To sum up, Scaramucci called Lizza at the New Yorker to leak shit about Priebus leaking shit about him, then forgot to say his own leaking was off the record…Sad.

+ Tough week for The Smooch. Looks like he just got “cock-blocked” again…

+ With Reince the Rat being ousted and replaced by Gen. John Kelly, there are now more generals than GOP figures in Trump’s inner circle and there are more Goldman Sachs executives than generals. So who will spring the palace coup? The military or the banks?

+ So Trump just announced that he is banning military service by transgendered people for the completely fallacious reason of the “tremendous medical costs” allegedly associated with their care. Those costs amount to less than $8 million a year. This sudden act of budgetary consciousness erupted from a man who just christened the most expensive ship ever built, the USS Gerald Ford, an $18 billion boondoggle that may not even be seaworthy (thankfully). Imagine the bill when the USS Gerald Ford docks at Valvoline for it’s monthly oil change? If Trump really wants to trim the Pentagon’s medical bills perhaps he should put a stop-order the $41 million a year the Defense Department spends on Viagra.

+ How weird is Trumplandia? Two of the most loathsome swamp creatures in DC, John McCain and Jeff Sessions, are now being held up as moral exemplars by the liberal commentariat.

+ At the direction of Jefferson Sessions, the Justice Department is arguing in federal court that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act does not protect gays from discrimination in the workplace, a major retreat from Obama-era policy. Grow a pair and fire this menace, Donald…

+ Former CIA director James Woolsey, a backdoor advisor to Trump, is going around DC saying that the US needs to seriously consider using nuclear weapons against North Korea. The MAD Doctrine has now been replaced by the Madness Doctrine.

+ Memo from Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: “Gen. Jack D. Ripper lives….!”

+ Just don’t share your test results with the Russians, kids!

+ Kellyanne Conway defended the President’s serial prevarications with the novel excuse that the “president doesn’t believe he’s lying,” which is pretty much the DSM’s definition of a sociopath.

+ The City of Detroit is now demolishing houses with money that had been appropriated to renovate them. How much official abuse is one city supposed to tolerate?

+ If Bill Clinton was the first black president, then surely Trump is the first rapper in the Oval Office, as he tries to ignite West Wing / DoJ smack war….

+ In introducing his “A Better Deal” plan of shopworn neoliberal tricks and treats, Charles Schumer announced that the Democrats not the Russians were primarily responsible for Hillary’s defeat. Here is a real thought problem. Is it possible that a man (in this case the Senator from Citibank) who has never been right in his life ultimately stumble upon the truth? Nah. It’s a marketing gimmick.

+ Battery died on my remote. TV stuck on MSDNC’s Joy Reid. In the 15 seconds it took me to turn it off manually her panel attacked both Cuba & Venezuela as Trump-like regimes! Make it stop!!

+ When the new Russian sanctions take effect, I envision a congressional hearing where suspect Americans are hauled before a new version of HUAC and asked: “Do you now, or have you ever, watched RT?”

+ A judge in Tennessee named Sam “Mengele” Benningield is making convicts an offer: “get sterilized and I’ll cut time off your sentence.” It recalls the Malthusian choice offered by the Clintonoids to poor Haitian women in the 1990s: get a NORPLANT birth control implant and we’ll provide you food and housing. Eugenics lives.

+ Bank profits are nearing their pre-crisis levels of 2008, despite (or because of?) Dodd-Frank regulations. In the casino of American capitalism, the House always wins.

+ This week the Three Rivers Independent School District became the 27th school district in Texas to approve paddling as a disciplinary measure. Making American kids great again, one whack at a time. It’s the Full-Metal Jacket theory of child-rearing. De-humanize them early in life, so that they will be capable of any atrocity as adults.

+ The NFL is the DDT of professional sports….

+ Jared Kushner keeps hiring aides from the Rosemary Woods Secretarial Pool….

+ Backstage at the Boy Scout Jamboree, Ryan Zinke and Rick Perry pledged allegiance to Exxon, BP and Chevron (one finger for each)…Zinke loves to play dress up. He must be hoping Trump doesn’t impetuously announce anti-transvestite policy for Interior Dept. Of course, he may have other pressing issues on his mind, like avoiding jail time for attempting to blackmail Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski for defying Trump on the Health Care Repeal Bill.

+ Last weekend police pounded on the door of a house trailer in Southaven, Mississippi, to serve a warrant on a domestic violence incident. A dog came hurtling out of the screen door. The police shot the dog. A man followed the dog. According to the police, he appeared to be holding a gun. The police opened fire, killing the Ismail Lopez. The police never announced their presence. Never demanded that Lopez drop his gun. Never even checked if they were at the right house. They weren’t. This series of events, common throughout America, is unlikely to happen when police serve Jared Kushner with a warrant.

+ Trump urges cops to rough up suspects before they arrest them. Cops applaud

+ A San Antonio photographer named Alexei Wood is facing 70 years in prison for covering the Inaugural protests. Who will they come for next? The sketch artists?

+ In 1962, a mysterious metal box-like object attached to a parachute landed in the remote woods of New Brunswick, Canada. Soon Canadian police showed up and took the strange white box away. It came to be known in nearby communities as “the Thing in the Woods.” Was it a space probe? No. Something much more menacing: a high-altitude CIA camera designed to spy on the Soviet Union.

+ Oh, dear, New York Times book review editor Michiko Kakutani is retiring after 40-years pounding out wooden prose, week after week. Now how will we put ourselves to sleep when the Scotch, huckleberry kush and Ambien don’t do the trick?

+ Go Tell Pelosi: Writing in The Week, Mathew Walther makes a conservative case for Single Payer Health Care.

+ When Kenneth Starr starts lecturing Donald Trump, it’s hard to resist the temptation to leap to the president’s defense…

+ The only difference between this home mortgage scam artist and Wells Fargo is that he went to jail and the Wells Fargo execs got bonuses and bailouts for defrauding their customers…

+ The American economy is essentially one of renter and rentiers, with more renters, many of them struggling to pay their bills, than at any time in 50 years.

+ This week witnessed the second, or was it the third?, fall of Kurt Eichenwald.

+ Rome is running out of water. Vercingetorix’s Revenge?

+ There’s been a power shift in the shadow government. Apparently, Solar City has taken Exxon’s seat in the board room of Deep State, Inc.

+ Radioheadless’s tour is now being actively promoted by Israeli embassies around the world…

I’m a creep, I’m a fool
I play cheap, I’m a tool
While children weep, I act cool
I’m a creep, I’m a fool
I’m a creep, I’m a tool….

+ Paying the travel costs to DC for a group of kids with disabilities so that they could protest cuts to Medicaid is the best thing Rod Stewart’s done since Every Picture Tells a Story…

+ All tar and no nicotine makes Stanley a dull boy…

+ The greatest thing that’s happened all summer….

Sound Grammar

What I’m listening to this week…

The Sounds of Crenshaw, Vol. 1 by The Pollyseeds

With You in Mind by Stanton Moore

Wild Change by Kalo

Sounds From the Other Side by Wizkid

Conquistador by Sotomayor

Booked Up

What I’m reading this week…

Henry David Thoreau: a Life by Laura Dassow Walls

Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump and the Storming of the Presidency by Joshua Green

The Force by Don Winslow

The Liberal Neutrals

Terry Eagleton: “The liberal state has no view on whether witchcraft is more valuable than all-in wrestling. Like a tactful publican, it has as few opinions as possible. Many liberals suspect passionate convictions are latently authoritarian. But liberalism should surely be a passionate conviction. Liberals are not necessarily lukewarm. Only the more macho leftist suspects that they have no balls. You can be ardently neutral, and fiercely indifferent.”

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents (with Alexander Cockburn). He can be reached at: or on Twitter @JeffreyStClair3