Look Away at Your Peril, Citizens

Terrible things happen regularly in our world, under the heading of “man’s inhumanity to man.”   At any given time one group of humans are catching hell from another.  For example, in 1921, a group of angry men in Tulsa, Oklahoma decided it was an intolerable outrage that another group of men, men who didn’t look like them, were prosperous while they themselves were struggling economically.   They went on a full-scale rampage, burning down a large section of Tulsa and killing an untold number of the other, hated, ethnic group.  After the pogrom, the survivors of that orgy of destruction, their former fine homes in ruins, were herded into an outdoor holding camp, presumably for their own protection from the still murderous mob.  

We don’t hear much about this particular racist massacre by a group of men who honestly believed they were superior to the people they were slaughtering, and fully justified in their violent actions.  Next year, when the centenary of the massive Tulsa Pogrom comes around, this particular little known slaughter will be placed before the public again. as if for the first time.

We can observe the sickening echoes of history, the sequences of unfolding events that “rhyme” with the most troubling episodes of the past.   We can see a familiar progression before every outpouring of mass rage:  legitimate grievance, harnessed and enflamed by finger-pointing demagogues, an “other” vilified (often as rapists and child murderers) and then, after sufficient time for this malignant brew to fully ferment, the chants begin, torches are lifted, men with guns ride to the rescue, the villains are brought to “justice,” swiftly, violently, without regard to the ordinary niceties for determining guilt or innocence.

It is a human instinct to look away from this kind of horror.   The impulse is understandable, even if it can also be fatal.   Historical comparisons are always slippery, often used to advance supremely idiotic arguments.   Certain things, however, always follow the same pattern.   In times of vast economic insecurity, for example, when massive transnational corporations employ armies of the world’s poorest, at slave wages, to maximize their profit margin, it is predictable that masses of their former decently paid workers, now without the prospect of employment for a fair wage, will rightfully feel betrayed and angry.  Angry people look for somebody to blame.  Demagogues direct their righteous rage towards some historically powerless group, the scoundrels who are to blame for this savage injustice.

It is predictable that when hundred year killer storms become the norm, instead of rare exceptions to the natural order — despite the robust right wing cries of hoax, fraud, lies, hysterical liberal alarmism — people affected by the storms will feel enormous desperation.  Every news report of a deadly tornado in an area that had never seen one, earthquakes in areas that had never had them, another large city flooded by a killer hurricane, landslides, wild fires, drought, rising sea levels causing floods … increases anxiety.  

It’s impossible to fully quell the thought, with the regular front page news of these now frequent natural disasters, that maybe this increasing natural destruction is not all a Chinese hoax invented by evil job-killing enemies who want to destroy our freedom.   The awful thought that maybe a hundred years of man’s wanton pollution has caused this scary change of the climate will creep in from time to time, especially after your own home is destroyed by an aggrieved Mother Nature.

Look away if you must.  Politics has become an ugly blood sport, the instinct to look away is stronger than it’s ever been, by deliberate design of the game.   As you turn your gaze inward to your own life, and making it as good as you can, in spite of the horrors around you, understand that only one side in the tribal wars has been actively and energetically organizing and preparing for this war for decades.  

Right now that side is winning bigly, while the other side cowers, afraid, torn by debate, many of its would be advocates turning away from “politics” and clinging to the things in life that make them feel most comfortable as the terrible rhymes of the worst episodes of history are jangling like ominous, maddeningly loud wind chimes agitated by a killing breeze.

Here in America only one side of our political divide, the extreme right, has organized a methodical long game to “right the scales” in the culture war.   One party now embraces views that, forty years ago, were the unthinkably paranoid, self-interested (and, frankly, racist) magical thinking of extreme fringe fanatics like The John Birch Society  [1].   The well-funded, smartly engineered campaign that created and funded influential “think tanks” to intellectually argue for their preferred public policies and shape national debate, endowed chairs at hundreds of universities for professors who espouse their liberty-loving views, founded, and funded, an influential national society of ambitious young lawyers and law students to ideologically indoctrinate and promote, through a fellow-traveler career ladder, future federal judges who will act as one to advance their agenda, given a case with the wiggle room to do so, funding national “grassroots” campaigns that appear on television to give the appearance of a massive, spontaneous public outcry, really has no analogue on the left. 

The protection of vast financial privilege, inequalities of wealth and grotesquely unequal chances for life or dignity, has long been the project of the privileged.  There is nothing mysterious about this; you or I, if we were cynics, would probably do the same, under these conditions.   If you stand to inherit a billion dollars from the family trust, and the government seeks to claim half of that in a punitive Death Tax, you will donate however many millions you are required to kick in for the cause of keeping it all.

Liberty, in fact, according to this orthodoxy, demands that the government not be allowed to coerce its citizens or unfairly confiscate the rightful property of  citizens.    An army of desperate poor people will be assembled to stand on the mall in Washington D.C. and every other major city and, in one voice, rail against this vicious government intrusion on human freedom!   Give ’em each fifty bucks and a free lunch, pay an additional ten if they make their own signs.   Why not?   That’s democracy in action, after all.   USA!  USA!!!!

The radical right has played a clever long game, learning from its mistakes, tweaking the program like a skilled engineer does to fix bugs in it.  It doesn’t hurt that they have unlimited money to deploy in sustaining their ever more effective long game.  Every beneficiary of the tangible privileges accorded to wealthy followers of the ideology will gladly kick in to advance the agenda for her own children and the children of her children’s children.   This is simply human nature, which you are free to judge, but powerless to do anything about.  

On the progressive side, historically, and presently, we tend to argue from entrenched positions — incremental change advocates (the practical art of the possible) versus institutional change advocates (justice delayed is justice denied).  We have moderates, urging us to not attempt to frontally attack long-time institutional injustices.   We have liberals, telling us that certain intolerable social evils should be reformed, must be reformed, to the extent possible in our divided political culture,  but that it may take a generation or two, or perhaps, as our recent history shows, a century or more.  

We have a few public radicals on the organized left, pointing out, correctly in my view, that the long slide toward autocracy (and bear in mind, the wealthy architects of the right wing revolution, in their hearts, prize their own liberty to be free of social coercion of any kind above everything else– autocracy for all!) cannot be countered with half measures.  We are fighting unscrupulous reactionary radicals, controlling untold wealth, who are busily spending to entrench themselves in permanent power, and only an equal and opposing energy, organizing and willingness to fight can make any difference.

The dilemma in a nation trained from birth to be pliant consumers — if you are appalled by the rapid advance of an extreme right wing agenda, there is really no place you can visit today, and directly participate to fight, that compares to any of the effective and massively well-funded one-stop shops of the formerly radical right.   If you are a young Libertarian, there is an easily findable career network and ready funding, from a variety of sources, for your liberty-enhancing ideas and a group of likeminded idealists ready to welcome you to their ranks.   Young leftists?  Good luck to you finding an organization to work with, finding people to organize, strategize and march with, in your city or town.

So, to the traumatized people of good conscience I know, I understand 100% your revulsion, and the reason you turn away from the ugly spectacle as our nation drops even the pretense of democracy.   It is painful and scary to witness, and a feeling of helpless anger is difficult to sit with.   There are wonderful entertainments to take our minds off this unsettling state of affairs, a host of diverting and excellent, healthy things to do– rather than watch in horror as the dark clouds of autocracy blot out all hopes of the light ever returning.   I get it, absolutely.   

And I will do my best to console you, sickeningly insistent realist (or unhinged, overwrought imaginer) that I am, in the cattle car, on our trip toward the relocation center.   At that point it will be senselessly cruel to remind anyone that all evil needs to flourish is for people of good conscience to look away, to do nothing.   How were you to really know how bad it was actually getting?   The New York Times was not freaking out, that much.

And, more to the point, it is not as if it was our children, or the children of anyone we know, who were snatched from their mothers’ arms and lost in a system of cages spread across many states, in the name of enthusiastically chanting crowds, for the profit of politically connected entrepreneurs who, flushed with a love of liberty, increased their bottom line bigly with government contracts to house these miserable sons and daughters of rapists and drug dealers.  

Do you think that on our way to the retraining center I would be crass enough to reproach anyone for their natural turning away from horror?   Not at all.   You won’t hear a word of reproach from me.  Why would you?

 

[1]  One of these wingnuts, the wildly influential, opiate-addled Rush Limbaugh, was decorated with the nation’s highest medal for a civilian, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, hung around his neck by First Lady Melania.   Why not?   Rush was one of the pioneers of this brutal new politics, and one of the most successful promoters of ideas previously considered too insane to publicly advocate.  Without Limbaugh, you don’t get to Trump.   A grateful president acknowledges his debt, without getting too close to Rush, whose late stage cancer might be contagious, after all.  Wind farms also produce cancer, a shit ton of cancer, people are saying.  You can’t be too careful, if you want to live to see the full ripening of your movement towards absolute liberty from government coercion.

This will come as no surprise

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Hannah Arendt writes, in her masterpiece Eichmann in Jerusalem:

there had existed two categories of Jews in the camps, the so-called “transport Jews” (Transportjuden), who made up the bulk of the population and who had never committed an offense, even in the eyes of the Nazis, and the Jews “in protective custody” (Schutzhaftjuden), who had been sent to German concentration camps for some transgression and who, under the totalitarian principle of directing the full terror of the regime against the “innocents,” were considerably better off than the others, even when they were shipped to the East in order to make the concentration camps in the Reich judenrein [“free of Jews” — ed.].    (In the words of Mrs. Raja Kagan, an excellent witness on Auschwitz, it was “the great paradox of Auschwitz.  Those caught committing a criminal offense were treated better than the others.”  They were not subject to the selection and, as a rule, they survived.)   [1] 

Think about any fundamentally lawless regime, ruled by a dictator, using terror, the threat of certain, merciless, violent reprisal, to enforce its absolute will in the face of potential resistance.   These regimes conduct one-sided unappealable show “trials” without witnesses or evidence, where loyalists take oaths in vain and vote on straight party lines to endorse their leader’s abuses of power and obstruction of justice.   These trials can also be used to publicly humiliate, convict and eliminate all enemies, real or percieved.   

In totalitarian societies actual criminals are often regarded as a lawless (outside of the leader’s will, which has the force of law) regime’s bold and beautiful, rewarded as men worthy of respect because they take what they want, rejecting weak, liberal social constraints, and the restraints of liberal “conscience” on their great appetites.  Criminals are the natural aristocrats of a totalitarian society, as long as their crimes remain above politics, or are committed in the service of the leader.  Punishment is for the weak and the timid, for the millions and millions of cowering losers who, even momentarily, seem to refuse to obey blindly.  They must all be made examples of!

Here’s another angry Jew, Eli Valley, a fine artist with brilliant brushwork, and a wicked sense of humor,  making a related point that some will find overwrought.   We who read history somberly, taking careful notes, never dismiss the murderous power of an angry crowd whose passions are stoked by a master of enflaming grievance and rage.  There are many, many, many examples of irrational appeals to fear, resentment and rage resulting in mass murder. 

Of course, even though it’s happened here many times, more times than most of us are aware of,  it can’t happen here.  Of course, of course!

 

 

[1] Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, Hannah Arendt, (c) 1963-64   Penguin Classics edition,    p. 214

 

Lest we forget Mr. Trump’s greatest achievement

Fairness demands that I point out that Mr. Trump and his billionaire son-in-law, Mr. Kushner,  have done what nobody in history has come close to doing.   They brought peace to the Middle East by brokering a historic peace deal between the eternally complaining Palestinians and our great democratic allies in Israel.   

Don’t take it from me, here’s Jared Kushner, author of the detailed eighty page plan that solved an explosive and long-festering problem that has generally been considered insoluble.   Jared summarizes his delicate diplomatic work in ten seconds or less HERE.

Our democratic institutions remain as strong as our booming economy

And the natural world has never been a less polluted, safer, more sustainable and harmonious place for all living creatures.

Now that the president has been solidly acquitted of Abuse of Power (no such high crime specified in the Constitution, losers) and Obstruction of Congress (the traitors don’t have the votes to make me obey their so-called “subpoenas”, losers) he is bringing the country back together again.   

About the acts that led up to his impeachment, a hoax he is now trying to have “expunged” from history– he has been completely and totally vindicated.  Any U.S. president, including Trump, can now comfortably do things like withholding military aid to an ally for three months, as they are under attack by a bellicose neighbor,  as leverage to exact a personal political favor– as long as he TRULY, HONESTLY AND SINCERELY BELIEVES HE IS DOING IT IN THE BEST INTERESTS OF THE U.S.A.  He can hide the records of his long campaign to pressure that ally without any consequences whatsoever.  He can have his loyal party vote on acquittal after a trial without hearing any witnesses or seeing any new evidence.  Fair is fair, and it’s always good to have the rules clarified.

To show he understands his impeachment far better than all the wise-ass, well-spoken “lawyers” who tried to make the totally bogus “legal” case against him, he reached down deep for some of his best words:

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In a rare bit of eccentric copy editing, the New York Times quoted the eloquent, often uneditable, president on the rumor that he plans to replace loyal Mick Mulvaney, Koch-funded Tea Party zealot, as acting chief of staff.  Mark Meadows, another Trump loyalist, has been traveling with the president to campaign events, leading to speculation about the change.   Here is the Times, quoting the ever-quotable most powerful man in the world, to somewhat odd effect:

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A great false relationship with Mark Meadows?   Not hard to believe, I suppose.  Everything is a self-interested transaction to the greatest president in American history.   Ask any of his wives [1] or children, or members of his own party who dare to oppose any detail of his rule, or anyone of the countless “losers” he has ever exacted vengeance on for the ultimate crime of “disloyalty”.   Loyalty to this man is a one way street.   

That street is paved with fake gold and leads directly to the ever-angry childish ego of the most powerful man in the world.  It is a street where that man could shoot somebody in the face, according to him and his own lawyers, with no consequence to him — particularly if he sincerely believes he is executing a sick and dangerous criminal traitor who desperately needs to die.

Ah, you’re better off watching this, which I pasted in here accidentally:

 

[1]   One lurid example:

The punitive prenuptial agreement between Donald and Ivanka, The Donald’s first wife, was written by none other than Roy Cohn himself.  Cohn, one of the most evil men who ever exerted undue influence in America, a self-hating gay homophobe who specialized in persecuting his enemies, using, among his most powerful tools, long-cultivated contacts in the press to rapidly spread lies advantageous to his clients, was Trump’s role model.  Cohn died of AIDS he claimed was cancer, disbarred and under criminal indictment at the time of his death.  Trump, who values loyalty above all else,  turned his back on his long-time mentor as Cohn was dying.

When Trump’s original AG Jeff Sessions did the wrong thing (in Trump’s eyes), by following DOJ ethics lawyers’ solid legal advice about recusing himself from an investigation he’d already lied about under oath, Trump, after grunting “I’m fucked!” immediately attacked Sessions for not protecting him like “Roy Cohn”.   “Where’s my Roy Cohn?” he cried out in anguish at the betrayal by DOJ “ethics” weasels who worked for him, seeking the protection of his mythical unconvicted criminal and unrepentant criminal fixer.  Bagpiper Bill Barr stepped forward to give the president such snug, cozy protection it would have given Roy Cohn an erection.   

What to do if your ACA health insurance is illegally terminated

If your insurance company terminates your insurance, claiming you missed a once a year ten-day “grace period”  for payment, go to this site and make an immediate on-line consumer complaint.   The complaint at this agency restored my illegally terminated health care in two business days.   The New York State Department of Financial Services (yeah, I know) now, finally, does the consumer protections functions of the abolished (in 2011) Department of Insurance.  The NYSDFS does what the Attorney General cannot do.  (I know…)

Here are the numbers of two offices in New York City that were enormously helpful while I was trying to have the illegal decision terminating my insurance overturned:

For immediate support, and solid advice during this illegal termination, contact the New York City Human Resources Administration, Department of Health, Public Engagement Unit (212-331-6266  M-Th  9am-8pm  Fri til 6:30).   Alexa at this office urged me to file the NYS Department of Financial Services’s on-line consumer complaint form.  She also assured me, 100%, that the unappealable corporate decision to terminate my insurance without notice would be reversed, which it was.  Bless her.

In addition to excellent and knowledgable support they will direct you to New York City’s new  program, NYC Care.  It  provides an extensive safety net for low-income individuals who lose access to affordable health care.   This wonderful pilot program can save a lot of lives, because it provides for low cost doctor visits long before a too late, ER diagnosis of a fatal stage of a once treatable disease.  This compassionate, life-saving program should be well-known by all New Yorkers and well-publicized until it is.   

NYC Care has a helpline at 646-NYC-CARE (692-2273).  The program is only active in the Bronx, so far, but if you go to any public hospital (Bellvue, Harlem Hospital, Jacobi, Lincoln, Montefiore and others)  you can enroll, at the Financial Planning or Business Office of that hospital, in the low-cost, pay-as-you-go “Options Program”.   

 

Mitch, Lindsey and Bolton did nothing wrong!

Any indignation about the processes and procedures involved in “exonerating” our serially “exonerated” president, a blameless man however you slice it, is written off as “Trump Derangement Syndrome”  [1].  This syndrome is the same one performed by a childhood bully who uses the victim’s own hand to smack the victim with while saying, with feigned concern, “why do you keep hitting yourself, are you deranged?”  It is also a witty variation on “Bush Derangement Syndrome”, the wild attacks made by angry liberals on history’s second greatest president, George W. Bush.   

While some Americans would consider the open collusion between Republican Senators and the impeached president’s legal defense team, publicly announced by the Majority Leader on the eve of the impeachment trial, another successful chapter of an impressively detailed book of Obstruction of Justice by an innovatively brazen and lawless administration, we can safely dismiss that belief as a symptom of “Trump Derangement Syndrome.”

At the risk of expressing a bit more of this serious emotional disease:

Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham, two of the president’s most passionate supporters, declared up front that they’d work closely with the president’s defense team and do whatever was necessary to quickly acquit the president after an expedited trial pursuant to baseless partisan accusations based on no direct evidence.  Mitch and Lindsey further stipulated, before the trial, that  previously blocked witnesses and previously withheld evidence would probably not be allowed at the trial.  What would the point be, if the goal is to quickly acquit their leader?   

This is kind of arrangement is generally called “collusion” or “conspiracy to obstruct justice”.  A trial without firsthand fact witnesses or documentary evidence  is usually called a “show trial” and has traditionally been allowed only in dictatorships or theocracies.   Before officially assuming their special roles as impartial jurors (the law stipulates that jurors must be free of obvious bias), Mitch and Lindsey (and their 51 Republican co-conspirators) took an oath,  administered by the impartial Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, solemnly swearing to listen to all evidence and render an impartial judgment based only on that evidence.  Hence, the banning of any and all potentially damaging evidence at the trial.  No harm, no foul, no evidence to ignore, no possible jury bias!

Mitch and Lindsey (and fifty other Republican Senators) did nothing wrong, their apologists will say.    If they had, they’d have been arrested and prosecuted for perjury, the “argument” goes, since we are, as we’re often reminded,  a nation of laws.   As it was argued by the president’s lawyers during the impeachment “trial”– Obstruction of Congress is not a crime, particularly when members of Congress participate willingly in the so-called obstruction.  Taking a false oath is no crime for a Senator, nor is it an ethical matter — except between the taker of the false oath and the God they swear to.  Only an actual provable federal crime, which the president himself cannot be indicted for (or even investigated for) while in office, rises to the level of an impeachable, or even censurable, offense in the United States of Trump.

John Bolton has long been a raging asshole who loves the projection of American power through war.   He has argued for years that the U.S. must destroy Iran.   During the time he was Trump’s national security advisor he was seen as more hawkish that the impulsive  Transactionalist-in- Chief, The Artist of the Deal, Mr. No Quid Pro Quo Why Not Quid Pro Quo? himself.   Bolton was fired by Trump, Trump says now, on September 10, 2019, day 83 of the “hold” on military aid to Ukraine, the day before Trump finally allowed the aid to be released.  Bolton and Trump apparently had serious policy disagreements, one being the illegal hold on military aid to Ukraine.   Bolton seems to have finally won that argument, hence his firing the day before the shakedown on Ukraine was ended by releasing the aid.  Bolton claims to have resigned.   Flip a coin to decide which of these unimpeachable public servants is lying.

In a case of having your cake and eating it too, Bolton after refusing to appear in the House Impeachment Inquiry, publicly offered, if subpoenaed (LOL!), to testify in the Senate during the trial itself.  This was great publicity for sales of his soon to be released tell-all book about his time as National Security Adviser to Trump and a safe bet for Bolton.   He had little worry about anyone actually sending him a subpoena for a trial without witnesses and could appear to finally be doing the principled thing, the correct and patriotic thing, without risking book sales or spoiling the dramatic revelations of wrongdoing set forth in the soon-to-be bestseller. 

In refusing to testify in the House, Bolton lawyered up to wait for the court’s permission to testify over the objections of his former employer who was asserting a blanket privilege to block any testimony that could incriminate him.  Presumably this was a byzantine new, Bill Barr-inspired variation of the famous Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.   

It will require a precedent shattering 5-4 partisan Supreme Court precedent to uphold a president’s right to obstruct an impeachment by any means at his disposal.    Much more limited claims of presidential immunity were made by Nixon and Clinton [2] as their impeachment inquiries proceeded.  Only Nixon’s executive privilege to withhold evidence claims reached the Supreme Court, where they were unanimously denied in a precedent that stands until today.  

No matter, John Bolton did nothing wrong, that is, nothing illegal.   Mitch and Lindsey are cool too, the same way.   These are honorable men we are talking about.  And we all know what they say about honorable men.

 

 

[1]  A paroxysm of Trump Derangement Syndrome:

The last few weeks have featured contradictory, largely incoherent “arguments” about why Abuse of Power is no vice– the Founding Fathers liked it just fine, they liked it so well that they never specifically made it an impeachable offense, by deliberate design.   If they had meant to ban it, obviously, they’d have used those exact words “Abuse of Power” and only those words, clearly, because that’s how they rolled (see, e.g.. the clear and unambiguous language of the Second Amendment — “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” ).   As for an unprecedented claim of  absolute presidential immunity and unlimited powers to  obstruct all testimony and evidence that could tend to incriminate him as corrupt, including in any of the several ongoing legal actions into Trump’s secret, shady financial entanglements droning on, even as the impeached president actively and openly colluded with his 53-47 Senate majority to further obstruct justice and grrrrr… grrr… grrrr!  At least we had blessed silence from fucking Bagpiper Bill Barr during that time… along with the wall of silence from Mike Pompeo, Mick Mulvaney, Mike Pence, Rudy, etc.

 

[2]  Wikipedia:

In 1998, President Bill Clinton became the first president since Nixon to assert executive privilege and lose in court, when a federal judge ruled that Clinton aides could be called to testify in the Lewinsky scandal.[15]

Later, Clinton exercised a form of negotiated executive privilege when he agreed to testify before the grand jury called by Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr only after negotiating the terms under which he would appear. Declaring that “absolutely no one is above the law”, Starr said such a privilege “must give way” and evidence “must be turned over” to prosecutors if it is relevant to an investigation.

Note: Ken Starr, as Trump’s lawyer, confidently asserted exactly the opposite.

Happy Ending Story

So, I’m sitting at my kitchen table around 9 pm watching something on the computer and a smoke alarm goes off, either in the apartment upstairs or next door.   It sounds like the low battery warning.   The beep is very loud, designed to get attention, its pitch calibrated to make it impossible to ignore, it is keeping a very irritating beat, relentlessly.   It continues for several long, lengthening minutes.  I think, oh, shit, the low battery warning went off  upstairs and nobody’s home, it’s going to be a long, long night.   Finally I hear footsteps overhead and go out into the hallway.

It appears to be coming from the apartment of my next door neighbor, an elderly woman who always smiles graciously when we meet in the hall.   She comes to the door in her nightgown, after I identify myself, pointing to my door as I look at the peephole and try to think of the Spanish word for neighbor.   She tells me, in Spanish, with an apologetic tone, that she speaks no English.  I  point up to the smoke alarm, tell her I will fix it.   I climb on a kitchen chair, remove the alarm from its bracket, turn off the noise.   She thanks me after I put it back up, after I put the kitchen chair back in her immaculate kitchen, thanks me again as I leave her apartment.  I smile and wish her good night, thinking afterwards how easily I could have said “de nada”.   

We have been living next door to each other for so many years, in this largely Dominican neighborhood.   How is it I don’t know enough Spanish to speak to her in her own language?