Imagining Liberation

I had an email from the thoughtful son of old friends, a young man who was already becoming a mensch when he was a boy.    He asks for contemporary liberation stories for the upcoming seder.   The seder is the Passover meal where we discuss (at the best of the seders) the concept of liberation from all forms of slavery. I’ve been thinking about contemporary liberation stories since I read his note earlier today.

My first thought was the inspiring message delivered by historian Howard Zinn toward the end of his life  when he was honored in France for his great A People’s History of the United States. [1]    Zinn viewed his project as writing a creative history to anticipate a possible future, a fairer, more desirable world, and to disclose those fleeting, often “hidden episodes of the past” when the good in us, our compassion, rose up in a wave to triumph over every one of humanity’s worst impulses.

My second thought was that what we cannot imagine we can never help bring into existence.   This works as well for great, life-saving ideas as well for awful world destroying ones.  Hateful ideas, sadly, seem to have a consistent power all their own to rouse people.   I am imagining a future better, more just, more peaceful than our present.   We have many examples of the world being one way for centuries until a big idea took shape, was afoot in the land, began to influence the beliefs of millions of people.

It was unimaginable to most Americans, in 1795, in 1820, 1850, that slavery, “the Peculiar Institution,” a powerful engine of the American economy that created vast wealth, would ever be outlawed.   Slavery was explicitly protected in the U.S. Constitution, after all.   Abolitionism took many years to rise into a commonly understood cause and later an unstoppable movement.  The pressure to crack the country in two was the result of the clash of the idea that slavery is legal, and good, and that slavery is an intolerable evil in the land of the free and the home of the brave.  An ocean of American blood was spilled to settle the question, and today even the crudest demagogue would hold himself back from publicly advocating slavery.

In 1890 it was unthinkable to Americans that 48 years later child labor would be subject to the limitations of federal law.  Prior to the 1938 law, children could be employed seven days a week, for limitless hours a day, starting as early as dawn, working well into the night, in a mill, a factory, mucking out chimney lines, bringing supplies down into mines, working on assembly lines.   The New Deal legislation that put reasonable restrictions to protect children from childhoods as slave laborers was many decades in the making, after centuries of ordinary, common brutality everybody just thought was the way the world is.  You’re born, they work you all day, every day, you die.  Before that law was written and passed the idea that children needed protection from ruthless employers had to take root, after decades of massive child suffering and millions of hobbled lives.

In 2004, after a disastrous first term, Bush and Cheney were reelected for a second term, carried to victory by millions of “values voters”– people who hated homosexuality more than they loved their own gay kids and were fired up to go to the polls and defeat those godless liberals who advocated some kind of equality for sodomites.   Only 15 years later that wave of aging bigots has no choice but to grimly accept the unthinkable, that gay marriage, and full civil rights for homosexuals, is the law of the land.

My point is that the first step to liberation is a vision of freedom, a picture of the better alternative to the status quo we all accept, an imagining of a better society.   If we don’t have words and images for it, it may be hard to imagine, but imagine it we must, even if the words for it must be diligently sought or even coined. [2]   The driver of this imagining is discontent, it is the precondition for thinking our way out of what is unbearable to us.  What oppresses us the most is also the key to our dream of liberation.   

Not to recognize this leaves us to hide our heads from the most vexing and grotesque aspects of “business as usual.”  I have many friends who no longer watch the news, for fear that Trump’s latest projectile turd will hit them in the face and finally drive them over the deep end.    POTUS is a charlatan, a blowhard, a greedily materialistic compulsive liar whose only “belief” is in “winning” (which does not appear to make the humorless liar happy, in any case).   He is obnoxious, angry, mocking, a hypocrite, a petulant, foolish, combative child with the power to  literally destroy the world. 

I understand why my friends avoid the news.  I try not to judge them for their ostrich poses, though I don’t always succeed.   I keep thinking of that old saw “all evil needs to triumph is for good people to do nothing.”    The first condition for imagining a better world, it seems to me, is looking at this world squarely and carefully.   It is imperative to hear the rhymes of history, to know as exactly as possible what we are up against, in all its devilish detail.   The unforeseen is not unforeseeable.   Outcomes can be predicted, we can watch sad fate of our mistreated earth in the regular climate catastrophe that has now become merely part of the news cycle.  The idea that this is bullshit, that one should be a “climate change skeptic” was created in a public relations lab, funded by the fossil fuel industry, the main beneficiaries of this particular extractive mode of making billions.

We need to be vigilant, to watch, to discuss, to find the right actions to take.  It is not hard to dream of a system better than this, where we are subjected to ever more crude cartoon characters making our laws.  We are strong enough to do it, and we have to be, to dream of a better world than this one, run by the worst of us.   And to make that idea a rallying cry.

 

 

[1]    Howard Zinn (hear him deliver his short speech, cued up here):

“I wanted, in writing this book, to awaken a consciousness in my readers, of class conflict, of racial injustice, of sexual inequality and of national arrogance, and I also wanted to bring into light the hidden resistance of the People against the power of the establishment.   

I thought that to omit these acts of resistance, to omit these victories, however limited, by the people of the United States, was to create the idea that power rests only with those who have the guns, who possess the wealth.  I wanted to point out that people who seem to have no power — working people, people of color, women– once they organize and protest and create national movements, they have a power that no government can suppress.

“I don’t want to invent victories for people’s movements, but to think that history writing must simply recapitulate the failures that dominate the past is to make historians collaborators in an endless cycle of defeat.  And if history is to be creative, if it’s to anticipate a possible future without denying the past, it should, I think, emphasize new possibilities by disclosing those hidden episodes of the past when, even if in brief flashes, people showed their ability to resist, to join together, occasionally to win.

“I am supposing, or perhaps only hoping, that our future may be found in the past’s fugitive moments of compassion rather than in the solid centuries of warfare.”

more about context to gained from reading good history

 

[2]  The terms extractive vs. regenerative, for example, can be applied to economic systems, with illuminating results.  An extractive model requires great pollution and eventually exhausts the resource being extracted (think extracting petrol from tar sand).  A regenerative model is based on sustainability and not harming the earth (renewable power and so on).  Which model would you prefer, if you were the Decider?

Pop’s hammer

This is the “European hammer” that belonged to my grandfather.   I will have more to say about the old fellow and his life in the coming days, but, for the moment, here is the hammer itself:

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You can see how ready it is to get to work, banging in a thin nail or doing some serious peening (whatever the hell that is).   Here is another view of the business end of my grandfather’s ball-peen hammer:

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I never saw my grandfather use this hammer, that I can recall.   The hammer, I must say, reflects his style.  My grandfather had a certain graceful delicacy about him.  He was surprisingly light on his feet.   My sister once witnessed him, at close to eighty, doing a mocking dance move behind his overbearing wife’s back.   It was during a dispute over the fate of some cash my grandfather was planning to deposit in the bank.

“Don’t put that money in the bank! I’m taking Abby out for lunch and then we’re going shopping, I need the money,” my grandmother said, in the tone of one used to being the boss.  

My sister then had the miraculous luck to witness a little dance that my grandfather must have done countless times over his long life with Yetta.   As his wife went into the other room, he did a kind of shrug and with fluid grace lifted one leg, bent the other knee and threw his arms to the side in a comically ironic manner.  

“She don’t want to put the money in the bank,” he said quietly, moving his head from side to side as he danced his mocking dance.   “She don’t want to put the money in the bank!”

Decades later I found a great clip somebody put together of Paolo Conte’s [1] wonderful “It’s Wonderful” with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing.   A beautiful job.  Take a moment to enjoy it, and enjoy it you certainly will.   I sent it to my sister with the caption “Pop” and she instantly agreed.

 

[1]  dig  what Conte plays behind the sax solo, (I’ve cued it up for you), great stuff!

Empathy is the first casualty of stress

Flipping through some channels yesterday I heard an observation from a scientist Sanjay Gupta was interviewing about the crisis facing humanity these days.   Constant stress, the guy pointed out, robs us of our ability to empathize.

One of the first casualties of being constantly stressed out is the loss of humane feeling for the suffering of our fellow human beings.    It makes intuitive sense, if your ass is literally on fire your brother’s heartburn, no matter how severe, will not register.  Perspective 101.

I thought back to my old friends’ marriage from hell.   They are in a constant war, locked in a mutual inchoate rage almost impossible to comprehend.   Each one is a basically kind person, has a good sense of humor, is very smart, and so on.    Together they are highly toxic, as they have long been to each other.  

In recent years my friend could not seem to resist provoking me every time we met. When he provoked me, and my temper began to rise, told him his line of conversation was irritating me, asked him to back off, talk about something else. His response was always to double down, tell me it was my problem, that I have a problem with anger.  I do.  Anger is a problem.  I don’t seek it, want it or need it.   But there it is, waiting, in any situation where we are treated badly, unfairly.   

Why couldn’t he stop provoking me?   On one level he probably wants someone to kick his ass, make the screaming in his head stop, if only for a minute.  That’s my best guess.   This seems to be the case in the endless neurotic cycle of violent fights with his wife.  

What I realize now is that the stress he is constantly flailing against in his painful marriage is a huge factor in his inability to stop when he is provoking his oldest friend.  Compared to the hell he lives in every moment of every day, what problem could a lucky fellow like me possibly have?  How dare I pretend that he’s provoking me?!!

All I’ve got is “addition by subtraction.”   You need to stay away from people who are incapable of empathy, you really do.  

Our current president’s lack of empathy is perhaps the most destructive thing about him.  Everything is a transaction he is attempting to win, so that he feels like a “winner”.   He has no friends, only people who are useful to him, until they are not.  He constantly provokes and attacks, ratcheting up the anger and stress, disabling anyone from discussing anything empathetically, intelligently, with nuance.  

If I could speak to his followers I’d tell them that I completely understand how screwed they feel, how desperate they are for fundamental change, more fairness, being able to meaningfully participating in our democracy, how right they are to feel this way.    Fellow citizens, we have been fucked for a long time here in the land of the free and the home of the brave.  We’ve been fed many kinds of poison, very lucrative for the sellers, very bad for us.  

If I could convince them that we are in the same leaky boat, I’d ask them, quietly, how many of the alternative fact president’s promises for their lives has he actually kept.

They may point to an army of lifetime federal judges who will ban abortion and favor corporations over humans.   They may mention the huge huge tax breaks he gave to the wealthiest Americans, or his no-nonsense get tough policy on children fleeing horrible conditions south of our border.   He took us out of the Paris Climate Accord, the Iran Deal, increased the military budget, just as he promised he would.  There are many campaign promises he made that he has kept, like nullifying virtually everything his Kenyan Muslim predecessor did by Executive Order.

One important question: how do any of these things actually benefit you or the people you love?

Do you have health care that is cheaper and better than Obamacare?   He promised us that.   Do you have a great job in a coal mine?    Do you feel optimistic that the people of the earth, working together, can solve the most pressing problems we face or are you still constantly angry at how cruelly you’ve been fucked?    

If it’s anger, and you’re looking for someone to blame, I’m your man, the eternal Jew, friend of the enslaved, who created this mess.   It’s good to have someone to blame for your rage.   A glance at any history book will illuminate the fine uses of this principle for you.

Addition by subtraction, it’s really the best I’ve come up with for mercilessly self-absorbed people in my life.    Better to have a couple of comfortable friends you don’t have to keep your guard up with than many friends you have to dance a careful dance with to avoid serious problems.  My take, anyway.

 

Dehumanize those you wish to destroy

If you see the pleading humanity in the eyes of someone who simply wants to live, you will have a harder time driving a bayonet into him, even selecting his home for a remote controlled missile strike.   Thus, in order to have successful war, and an effective army, you must dehumanize the persons you are about to kill. Those you are about to wipe out must be seen as an inhuman enemy, if you are to kill them without hesitation.  Without the crucial step of dehumanizing the enemy, you are going to have an army with a lot of fucking qualms.   It is common sense to make them hate the dehumanized enemy first, War 101.

This dynamic of dehumanization is not limited to physical war, of course.    It applies, in an increasingly visceral way, to politics in our divided world.   The humanity of the opposing side is amazingly easy to dismiss, particularly when tempers flare.   We believe it is a human right, in a wealthy, industrialized country, to have enough food to eat, sufficient clothing and a place inside to sleep every night.   You believe that people with mental problems, living in poverty, isolated and unable to thrive for one reason or another, are not quite as human as those of us who are not homeless.   We believe that care must be taken to protect the weakest among us.  You believe the weak should learn to be as strong as the rest of us, it is a matter of principle, liberty and life choices.

We can go on and on with the examples.  The fossilized fucking Koch brothers, Charles and David, can smile their grotesque rictus grins now as they prepare for eternal life, to see how far to the merciless side they and their privileged ilk have swung the public discussion about rights and humanity in America.   Tax is equated with murder, liberty trumps every other value — to a man like Charles, born to great wealth who then went out and earned billions of dollars.   I cannot see the humanity of these two motherfuckers, no matter how many philanthropic endowments David seems to make.  

Yet, even these two prime pieces of shit are as human as you or I, presumably.   They have things they love and care about deeply, people and places they are very attached to.  They feel pride and shame, fear and boldness, happiness, sorrow; sometimes they must feel humility, gratitude. 

Like the rapists who keep surging over our borders, in search of young girls and boys to rape.   Like the vicious murderers who mass along the Gaza border with Israel, surging toward the fences and screaming the most hateful things, expressing their deadly wishes with molotov cocktails on kites.   Like those who support Trump/Hillary and all they represent.

If you think calmly, for even a moment, you will see the sickeningly idiotic fallacy of each of the examples in the paragraph above.

For every Mexican rapist who comes to the U.S. border there are many thousands of people, humans, merely seeking a less desperate life.  The vast majority never rape, would never think of doing such a thing.   Yet, they can be painted as rapists, drug smugglers, killers, wetbacks, Spics, Beaners, ass-dickers, what have you.   See?  Then any reasonable person would support using any force necessary to keep these sick fucks out of our great nation.

Same with the Palestinians who are being shot with live ammunition for massing along the Gaza/Israel border every week.   They are not desperate, not living in isolation and generations of poverty– they are all hate-filled terrorists that Israeli snipers may take out with impunity.   The Israeli defense minister proclaimed as much when he approved the use of live ammunition against the masses of Gazans who come to the border fence to rail against Israel’s policies.   All terrorists, not a single one a human being with any human need like any of ours!

Same with those who support a rather angry, harsh president who lies publicly many times every day.   It’s hard for someone like me to remember that these people are as human as I am, as human as people I love and care about.   Every one of them has a compelling reason to overlook the man’s many flaws, see only the greatness he promises to deliver.   Which is a very human thing to do, see the best in somebody, in the face of their large and glaring flaws.  

I can’t see the good in Trump, I think of him as a very dangerous, supremely damaged and self-serving man-child.    I have to look hard to see the humanity of those support him, those who come forward to sing his praises.  I can’t often do it, all I want to do is make them shut up when they open their mouths to explain why a greed-driven, unapologetic, compulsive liar president is actually a great thing for American democracy.

Same with those who voted for Hillary.  I held my nose to vote for her, as did many I knew, but there were people who truly thought she’d make a great president.   Human hopes were placed on her by other humans.  The whole process, very human.

But, fair is fair, it is truly hard to hate if you constantly see the humanity of the person you are supposed to destroy.   Dehumanization is the only humanly possible way to do that.   The enemy must always be nothing like us, he must be motivated only by vicious, inhuman desires.   Otherwise, we’d be constantly killing ourselves and members of our own tribe, and how much would that suck?

 

The Limits of Law

There is plenty of evil that is not illegal.   You can see it everywhere.   Things that are plainly wicked, but that no specific law proscribes.   Greedy rich financial geniuses hatched a complicated plan where they sold “tranches” of the inflated value of “toxic” assets, underwater “liar’s loans” mortgages, falsely rated triple A by ratings agencies paid to truthfully advise investors, and made literally billions while causing a vast economic catastrophe.    They all got richer and collected record bonuses, laughed all the way to the bank.   Nobody was ever prosecuted for the vast conspiracy.   The law has its limits.

The two American psychologists, Mitchell and Jessen, who designed the recent American torture protocols and were paid tens of millions for their rude expertise.   Perfectly legal.  They eventually coughed up a few bucks to settle a civil suit brought by some of their victims, but, so what?

The architects of a current program to terrify already traumatized legal asylum seekers by taking their children from them, housing them in privatized cages, losing track of them, etc., arguably are violating no laws but God’s.  

There is an adage used by lawyers and judges to describe injuries, even serious ones, that are not remediable in a court of law: de minimis non curat lex — the law does not concern itself with trifles.

So if you have a lawless man, the beneficiary of seventy years of financial fraud committed by his family and himself, he can behave as lawlessly as he likes, provided there is no actual law that he is technically violating.  If the man lies publicly ten thousand times, even a million times, it is no crime unless he did it under oath.    His ever changing battalion of lawyers will not let him testify under oath– perjury trap!    The man can’t help being what he is, but there is, fortuitously for him, no specific law against being that way.

Some are constrained by traditions of what we think of as decent behavior, we call these ethical practices norms.   Norms are for assholes, losers.  Common decency?   It says it right in its name, common.   For extraordinary men, born booted and spurred to ride the rest of our sorry asses, well– unless you have a smoking gun, in my hand, that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt, to a jury of my peers, that I have violated some specific law, well… fuck off.    Nothing to see here! Fake morality!!  

As Mr. Hitler himself styled it, conscience is a Jewish invention, part of their vicious conspiracy to dominate the world.  I know it’s part of mine, anyway.

For those of us who don’t take our cues on ethical living from the likes of Mr. Hitler (who had an army of Nazi lawyers putting his every opinion indelibly into law), well, it’s not always necessary to have a specific law to let us know when we are treating others in a way that’s hateful to us. 

The Curse of Fairness

Justice Louis Brandeis, among others, pointed out that when we consider what is just we are thinking about what is fair.   Justice is fairness.   Fair enough.    You want someone you are arguing with to admit it when something you say is fair.   “That’s a fair point,” is a concrete step toward agreement.    Children, at a certain age, are obsessed with fairness.   They are right to be, fairness is manifestly better than unfairness.  Sadly, it’s a childish idea that is soon slapped out of young heads by the observable world around them.   The world, by and large, doesn’t really give a rat’s armpit about fairness.   By that I mean that the powerful, who have the option to enforce extremely unfair arrangements, are almost never shy about doing so.

So we have American billionaires, citing their liberty, who cry that raising their tax rate (radically cut by recent Republican presidents) by 2% is as inhuman as placing them in Auschwitz.  OK, in fairness, it was one American billionaire, probably having a very bad day, who publicly carried on that way.   The rest of America’s billionaires  shook their heads, it made them all look bad, even if it was hard for many of them to disagree with the sentiment.  

The American discussion of fairness has been shaped by the beneficiaries of an increasingly unfair arrangement.    In the name of freedom and liberty for all, some compromises must occasionally be made.  The CEO of Amazon, for example, acceded to the until recently unthinkably radical idea that American workers should be paid a minimum of $15 an hour.   Fair is fair.  Nobody who works for the richest corporation in the world should work for less than $600 a week, or almost $30,000 a year, before taxes.   So although he does not allow unionized workers, collective bargaining or other basic mechanisms of what a kid might think of as fairness,  he stepped up and paid Amazon workers the $15/hr.   He continues to make almost $9,000,000,000/hr but, then again, he is an amazing American genius, so, why are we talking about childish things like “fairness”?

Many intractable problems could be solved by investing billions to fix them, poverty being one of them.  It would require a real commitment, and the best ideas of how to do it–  a large scale multifaceted government program, job training, low cost public colleges, affordable housing and so on, but we could eradicate poverty in the wealthiest country in the world, if we were dedicated to doing it.  The same goes for slowing the catastrophic climate disruption we are already seeing.   It will take a commitment, and a lot of money, but it can be done.

America has always had unlimited funds for war (whether justifiable or not) but peace is harder to justify spending money on. A hundred million for the president (whoever he or she happens to be) to launch a massive missile attack against an airbase somewhere?   No problem at all, the blank check is already in your pocket, Mr. President, ma’am.   A hundred million to continue funding a program to make sure the elderly can afford heat in the winter?   Well… why can’t the old fucks just put on an extra sweater, a scarf and a hat?  If they weren’t morally weak or  criminally stupid they would be rich enough not to need the subsidy, right?

(You can fact check me here and  here and see how full of shit my numbers are.)

The discussion is always arranged to make certain ideas– like the vaunted Free Market– sound just and reasonable, while others– like renewable energy and a sustainable rather than extractive economic model— are the mad ideas of crazy radicals (as a $15/hr minimum wage was two or three years back).   The Free Market subsidizes many vastly wealthy corporations and industries to the tune of many billions annually.  How exactly is it free?   No matter, renewal, sustainable— just crazy talk you crazy commie bitches!

I heard this bit from Rupert Mudorch’s FOX mocked the other day by one  of our most successful late night comics.   In a discussion of raising revenues by increasing taxes on the ultra-wealthy, something apparently supported by most Americans, a Fox host fought back the idea in  a laughable but honest way.  The reason 70% of those polled by Fox favor raising taxes on the very rich is that there is a creeping ideology of “fairness” that is about to become an electoral force when these little bastards reach voting age.  

Schools have apparently been teaching children fairness for years, and it has distorted a whole generation’s values!   You can read most of the weak ass “discussion” below. [1]

The idea expressed by Louis Brandeis and others, that justice and fairness are the same thing, is deeply, intuitively true.   Eisenhower appointee Earl Warren apparently believed the same thing, and acted on it as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court from 1953 to 1969.   He steered the court to numerous decisions based on common decency and fairness.  He was not shy about what his project was– increasing fairness and justice at law, sometimes relying on the court’s equitable powers– the power to go beyond the law to fashion relief that’s fair.   He got landmark decisions on the Civil Rights of all Americans, took stands to protect workers’ rights, the rights of the poor, the weakest among us.   Warren’s court was one of the most liberal in American history.   This, naturally infuriated many. 

In an excellent, very readable Law Review article called  Justice-as-Fairness as Judicial Guiding Principle,  author Michael Anthony Lawrence writes:

At the same time, many Warren Court decisions were hugely controversial, upsetting the settled expectations of those who benefited from long-entrenched governmental biases and practices. The ubiquitous “Impeach Earl Warren” [2] billboards seen throughout the countryside during the late 1950s and the 1960s reflected the underlying efforts of laissez-faire conservatives to overturn aspects of the New Deal, which began a quarter century earlier. The intensity of the political opposition to the Court’s newfound commitment to fairness and equality was matched only by the infamous pre-Civil War Dred Scott case a full century earlier. To this day and through the decades, conservative jurists, academics, and others have bemoaned the Warren Court’s “lawlessness” and lack of principle.

Laissez-faire conservatives are generally wealthy and content with the status quo, as long as it zealously protects their particular privileges and immunities, their inalienable liberties in the pursuit of happiness.  Laissez-faire [3]  is a French term that translates to “go fuck yourself”.  “Leave it alone” is the mantra of these liberty loving conservatives, unless, of course, the thing you are leaving alone is an honest societal commitment to basic fairness.   Too much fairness is unfair to the most privileged beneficiaries of a system that favors unfettered liberty above all else.   Unfair tyranny over the few by the many!  Stinking majoritarian hoards!

 

[1]  SANDRA SMITH (CO-HOST): There is — what seems to be, a movement against capitalism in this country. This is a piece in Politico, just published: “Soak the rich? Americans say go for it.” In this piece — it talks about how recent polling is showing that the American public is increasingly on board with raising taxes on the rich. As evidence, we pulled up this latest Fox News poll on the issue, whether Americans support raising taxes on the wealthy, on incomes over $10 million. Those that are in favor of that, 70 percent, Charles. Over a million dollars in income, 65 percent are in favor of raising taxes.

CHARLES PAYNE (FOX HOST): The idea of fairness has been promoted in our schools for a long time. And we’re starting to see kids who grew up in this notion that fairness above all and now they are becoming voting age and they are bringing this ideology with them. In the real world, though, you have places, very progressive states like in New York where you have the governor saying, hey, 46 percent of — the 1 percent pay 46 percent of the taxes. Last year in California, the governor, you know, [former Gov. Jerry] Brown said the 1 percent pay 48 percent of the taxes. Let’s not go back to that well anymore. So there’s a practical, realistic idea about this and there’s the ideological, hey I’m going to — it’s the right thing to do. It doesn’t work. But I will say capitalism has to do a better job defending itself….

source

[2]  My footnote:

“Impeach Earl Warren” was embraced by Fred Koch, charter member of the John Birch Society (once the lunatic fringe of the far right) and father of the accursed octogenarian brothers Charles and David Koch, men whose life’s work has been to make the lunatic fringe of the extreme right mainstream.    How proud ruthless Fred would be of these two highly successful motherfuckers!

 

[3]  Google translates the French term laissez-faire into English as laissez-faire.  Nice work, boys.  (without the dash it is rendered as “let do”)

here’s a generic definition of the English term:

lais·sez-faire/ˌ    lesāˈfer/   noun
  1. a policy or attitude of letting things take their own course, without interfering.
    • ECONOMICS
      abstention by governments from interfering in the workings of the free market.
      “laissez-faire capitalism”
    • synonyms:  free enterprise, private enterprise, individualism, nonintervention, free-market capitalism, private ownership, market forces, deregulation

 

Canary in the Coal mine and Felix Sater

Kurt Vonnegut compared creative types to the canaries British coal miners used to carry into the mines to detect odorless poison gases like carbon monoxide.    When the tiny-lunged bird keeled over in his cage the miners knew it was time to get out of there.   (This practice was apparently stopped in 1986 when electronic sniffers replaced the wee birds).  Vonnegut meant by this comparison that those who fret and worry about communicating to others are often more prone than the rest to succumbing to the invisible deadly gases that are looming to kill everyone.

In an age when the kind of straightforward information in the paragraph above can be found by anyone with internet access and a few seconds to spare, why do we have so much plainly bogus news?   How can lies be fed to us so consistently, so brazenly, with no consequence for the liars?   We are busy living lives of quiet, increasingly hectic desperation in a dangerous world on the brink of massive catastrophe.   WE DO NOT HAVE TIME TO WASTE!  Time is MONEY! Wasting money is a sin.   (As our over 500 billionaires know so well).

It is quaint, I know, to find history fascinating, as I do.   It all flashes by so fast, after all, it’s hard to take note of it.   Did you know, for example, that there is a twenty year-old Supreme Court case, Clinton v. Jones, holding that there is no bar to suing a sitting president in federal court for acts done before he was president?    You could look it up, as Casey Stengel used to say.   [1]

I knew that Clinton’s lies under oath in that case (about sexual relations with a former intern called as a witness by Paula Jones’ attorneys, though she didn’t meet Clinton until years after the president exposed himself to Jones) were the basis for his impeachment.  I remembered (and heard again recently on a Showtime documentary) that the case was dismissed, suggesting then Arkansas governor Clinton did not show his dick to Ms. Jones.   I don’t ever recall hearing that Bill Clinton paid former employee Paula Jones more than $850,000 to end the sexual harassment lawsuit, suggesting strongly that he did something very wrong.  [2]

I don’t know why the intricacies of this world are so intriguing to me, but they are.   I had a friend who attends services and Bible study at the Chabad of Port Washington.   In 2010 and 2014 Port Washington Chabad’s Man of the Year was a wealthy Jew named Felix Sater.   Sater lost his broker’s license after slashing a guy’s face and breaking his jaw in a bar.   He spent a relatively short time in a minimum security prison for the felony assault.   A few years later he pleaded guilty to fraud in a couple of massive financial scams, and gave evidence against his co-conspirators to stay out of prison (and keep his fortune).  

Since he was barred from finance he got into another lucrative line of work, real estate development, and was partners with our current president in at least two massive development deals.  He was the money man for Trump SoHo and the liaison with Russian officials for the planned Trump Tower Moscow.  I’ve been wondering about this nefarious little fucker for about two years, since I first heard of him.  Congress is going to talk to him next week.  He will be under oath, too.

It is so easy to get the outline of the facts these days, but SO MANY FACTS!  [3]

The president is a liar, he can’t help himself.  He’s apparently always been this way.   Everybody knows it.  His defenders say that he never promised not to lie, so there’s that.  Plus, his lies are always in the service of making the country great again.  Plus, he frankly calls “bullshit” on people who call him a liar.  Plus, there’s no law against lying, unless you lie under oath.  If the president ever lied under oath, like the disgraced Bill Clinton, we don’t have the proof of that, and, anyway, if he got away with it doesn’t it just show how smart he is?  He’s not like other people.   He is the president of the United States and the richest, most successful man in the world!

If he paid off a couple of women he had extra-marital sex with to dummy up about it in the final days of his presidential campaign, whose business is that?  Many Americans wouldn’t have voted for him if those stories came out, if he didn’t pay off these women.   He basically had to pay them to shut up or he would have lost the presidential election, because Americans are so judgmental about this kind of thing.   Felony, shmelony!   USA!   USA!!!!

Have we ever had a compulsive liar as president? That would take some digging to know for sure, but I don’t think we ever did.  There have been several total shitbird presidents, without a doubt, but our current guy seems to be setting a prodigious record for lying.  And, most impressively, he’s doing it in an era of almost instant fact checking that can show the lies in real time.   His defenders will point out that he has never been convicted for lying, so shut up, nothing to see here.

It’s morning in America, boys and girls, and history is being written in the blood of those who hate our freedom, their innocent neighbors and a million fucking canaries.    The stories we read about it, so many of them, cunning and deadly as that gas that so often fills my own beak.

 

[1] Clinton v. Jones, 520 U.S. 681 (1997), was a landmark United States Supreme Court case establishing that a sitting President of the United States has no immunity from civil lawlitigation, in federal court, against him or her, for acts done before taking office and unrelated to the office.[1] In particular, there is no temporary immunity, so it is not required to delay all federal cases until the President leaves office.[1]

[2]   Wikipedia:

As a consequence of his conduct in the Jones v. Clinton civil suit and before the federal grand jury, President Clinton incurred significant administrative sanctions. The Independent Counsel considered seven non-criminal alternative sanctions that were imposed in making his decision to decline prosecution: (1) President Clinton’s admission of providing false testimony that was knowingly misleading, evasive, and prejudicial to the administration of justice before the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas; (2) his acknowledgement that his conduct violated the Rules of Professional Conduct of the Arkansas Supreme Court; (3) the five-year suspension of his license to practice law and $25,000 fine imposed on him by the Circuit Court of Pulaski County, Arkansas; (4) the civil contempt penalty of more than $90,000 imposed on President Clinton by the federal court for violating its orders; (5) the payment of more than $850,000 in settlement to Paula Jones; (6) the express finding by the federal court that President Clinton had engaged in contemptuous conduct; and (7) the substantial public condemnation of President Clinton arising from his impeachment.   source

[3]    Wikipedia:

Felix Henry Sater (born Felix Mikhailovich Sheferovsky; Russian:Фе́ликс Миха́йлович Шеферовский; March 2, 1966) is a Russian-American former mobster, convicted felon, [6] real estate developer and former managing director of Bayrock Group LLC,[7] a real estate conglomerate based out of New York City.  Sater has been an advisor to many corporations, including The Trump Organization,[8] Rixos Hotels and Resorts, Sembol Construction,Potok (formerly the Mirax Group), and TxOil.

In 1998, Sater pleaded guilty to his involvement in a $40 million stock fraud scheme orchestrated by the Russian Mafia,[9][10] and became an informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation and federal prosecutors, assisting with organized crime investigations. In 2017, Sater agreed to cooperate with investigators into international money laundering schemes.[11]

During the 2015-16 American presidential campaign, Sater worked with Michael Cohen, former attorney for The Trump Organization, to broker a deal to build aTrump Tower Moscow, asserting to Cohen that he could boost Trump’s election prospects through his Russian contacts. He is scheduled to testify publicly before the House Intelligence Committee on March 14, 2019.[12]

(and a few details:)  

Felix Sater has been described as a career criminal due to his links to organized crime.[30][31][32][33][34] In 1991, Sater got into an argument with a commodities broker at the El Rio Grande restaurant and bar in Midtown Manhattan. He stabbed the man’s cheek and neck with the stem of a cocktail glass, breaking his jaw, lacerating his face, and severing nerves, creating a wound that would require 110 stitches to treat. Sater was convicted of first degree assault, and spent 15 months in minimum security Edgecombe Correctional Facility in New York City before being paroled.[35][4][23] 

In 1998, Sater was convicted of fraud in connection to a $40 million penny stock pump and dump scheme conducted by the Russian Mafia[9][10]involving his company White Rock Partners. In return for a guilty plea, Sater agreed to assist the FBI and federal prosecutors as an informant in organized crime.

In 2009, he was sentenced to pay a $25,000 fine and served no prison time. As a result of his assistance, Sater’s court records were sealed for 10 years by Loretta Lynch, then the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. Lynch’s decision to seal his records was discussed at her 2015 Congressional confirmation hearings to become attorney general; she stated that Sater provided “information crucial to national security and the conviction of over 20 individuals, including those responsible for committing massive financial fraud and members of La Cosa Nostra.”[36][37][38][39]

The Financial Times, citing five sources with knowledge of the matter, reported that Sater had agreed to cooperate with investigators looking into an international money laundering scheme involving Viktor Khrapunov, a former government minister in Kazakhstan. Khrapunov, who now lives in Switzerland, has been accused by the Kazakhstani government of embezzling millions of dollars and is wanted by Interpol.[11]

Sater received multiple subpoenas to produce documents and be deposed in the case against Mukhtar Ablyazov who is alleged to have defrauded BTA Bank of up to $5 billion as chairman.[40] Ablyazov’s alleged fraud is one of the biggest cases of financial fraud in history.[41]

Involvement with Trump Organization during presidential campaign   [edit]

The Trump Organization pursued a luxury hotel and condominium project in Moscow—dubbed the Trump Tower Moscow—during the Trump presidential campaign. This project was facilitated by Michael Cohen, then an attorney for the Trump Organization, and from January 2017 to May 2018 Trump’s personal attorney. Trump signed a nonbinding “letter of intent” dated October 13, 2015, to proceed with the project.[42] The letter, also signed by Russian investor Andrei Rozov, was forwarded to Cohen by Sater. He boasted to Cohen about his connections to Vladimir Putin, saying in an email to Cohen on November 13, 2015, “Buddy our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get all of Putins [sic] team to buy in on this. I will manage this process.” He also asserted that he had secured financing for the project through the Russian state-owned VTB Bank, which was under sanctions by the United States government.[43]BuzzFeed News reported on March 12, 2018, that Mueller’s investigators had questioned Sater,[44] and on April 13, 2018, reported that a former Russian spy had helped secure financing for the project.[45] In 2010, Sater was provided business cards describing himself as “Senior Advisor to Donald Trump” with an email address at TrumpOrg.com.[46] In a 2013 sworn affidavit, Trump said “If [Sater] were sitting in the room right now, I really wouldn’t know what he looked like,”[47] and in 2015 he stated “Felix Sater, boy, I have to even think about it. I’m not that familiar with him.”[48] Sater is scheduled to testify publicly before the House Intelligence Committee on March 14, 2019.[49]

Personal life[edit]

Sater resides in Port Washington, New York. He has three daughters.[50][51] Felix Sater was a member of the Chabad of Port Washington and was named their Man of the Year in 2010 and 2014.[52][53] In November 2017, Sater put his home inSands Point, New York on the market for $2.5 million.[54] The home sold in February 2019 for $2.03 million.[55]