how we got where we are (October 28, 2013 at 9:26am)

In order to avoid the work I ought to be doing, I spent the last half hour or so deleting drafts of old blog posts that were begun but not finished. This one is dated October 28, 2013 at 9:26am. There’s a beginning and an ending, but the middle never managed to get written. The middle is always the hardest part.

The situation has deteriorated radically since 2013.


Well, the Republicans are right about one thing: it all began with Ronald Reagan. The modern GOP is the direct legacy of the Reagan Worldview. Not his politics — lawdy no, Reagan was much too liberal to fit into the current Cone of Crazy that constitutes the Tea Party. But his approach to the world is deeply imprinted on Republican DNA.

We see it in a couple of ways. First, the total abandonment of science and rationality for anecdote and ideology. Reagan had no use for facts that didn’t fit well with what he already believed. He was fond of quoting Sam Adams, saying “Facts are stupid things” (what John Adams actually said was “Facts are stubborn things”). Just a couple of examples: Reagan repeatedly claimed “There is no word for ‘freedom’ in the Russian language” (there is: svoboda). He believed nuclear missiles, once fired, could be ‘recalled’ (they can’t). He claimed the Environmental Protection Agency had suppressed a report demonstrating that “eighty percent of air pollution comes not from chimneys and auto exhaust pipes, but from plants and trees” (they didn’t, and it doesn’t). And on two different occasions Reagan publicly stated he’d personally assisted in liberating some of the Nazi death camps during WWII (he hadn’t; he spent the war in Hollywood making training films for the U.S. Army).

Major source of air pollution

Major source of air pollution

This is now standard Republican drill. Make shit up to support your belief, repeat it often, repeat it with passion, repeat it even after you’ve been told it’s wrong, claim the people who disagree with the shit you made up are trying to suppress the truth, present yourself as a victim of liberal elites, repeat it all again.

The Republican casual disregard for reality is troubling

Second, the notion that government has no value.

Government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem.

Here’s a classic example of the Reagan Approach. He’d twice flown over the Mount St. Helens volcano, and he’d come to the following conclusion:

“I have a suspicion that one little mountain has probably released more sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere of the world than has been released in the last ten years of automobile driving or things of that kind that people are so concerned about.”

And there you have it. In reality, the volcano emitted about 2,000 tons of sulphur dioxide per day at its peak output; cars in 1980 produced approximately 81,000 tons per day. But Reagan didn’t need or want stupid facts; it was enough to have belief. And why listen to anybody who might challenge that belief?

And right there, you have the modern Republican party. The political party whose elected representatives actually believe women are biologically prevented from getting pregnant through rape, who believe wind is “a finite resource” that will be “slowed down” by windmills, who believe vaccines are dangerous and that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by scientists in order to…something,

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a conversation between knur and gary

Knur: You are called Listening?
Gary: Negative. Listening is the process by which I attend auditory input. I am Gary.
Knur: Before I die, Gary, I request information.
Gary: I am listening, Knur.
Knur: My onboard televison-o-scope reports many of your fellow beings on a distant island were recently rendered exanimate. I offer comfort and support.
Gary: Your offer is accepted. On Earth we refer to these events as ‘massacres’.
Knur: These mass exanimation events, they are ceremonial? Ritualized?
Gary: Negative. They are unplanned, yet expected.
Knur: Curious. Confirm for me, please. Multiple exanimation events are regrettable, correct?
Gary: Confirmed. We experience sorrow.
Knur: My understanding is limited. This mass exanimation was implemented through the manipulation of a device intentionally designed to rapidly launch multiple projectiles driven by expanding high-pressure gas produced chemically by exothermic combustion of a propellant sealed within a prefabricated cylindrical package. Accurate?
Gary: Accurate.
Knur: Logic suggests the elimination of projectile-launching devices would decrease the incidence of mass exanimation.
Gary: Affirmative.
Knur: Therefore, would it not…
Gary: No.
Knur: And yet…
Gary: No. The elimination of such devices cannot be achieved.
Knur: Explain.
Gary: It is prohibited by the normative rules inscribed and certified by our progenitors.
Knur: Hail the progenitors!
Gary: Hail the progenitors!
Knur: The normative rules are immutable?
Gary: Mutable, but intractable.
Knur: By what manner, then, does your society attempt to reduce mass exanimation events?
Gary: By a twofold process. First, we offer an aim-oriented flow of ideas and associations intended to extend compassion to the victim’s consanguineous groupings and associations. Second, we appeal to an invisible being who is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. It is anticipated the two processes when combined will lead inevitably to a reality-oriented conclusion.
Knur: …
Gary: Also, the existence of the invisible being is not subject to proof or evidence.
Knur: …
Gary: …
Knur: Ineffective?
Gary: Affirmative.
Knur: …
Gary: …
Knur: That’s fucked up, Gary.

screaming

I watched the video with the sound off.

I’m not a dispassionate person by nature, but much of my professional experience and training (as a medic, as a counselor in the Psych/Security unit of a prison for women, and as a private investigator specializing in criminal defense) has taught me to be a detached observer/participant. Well, as detached as possible. You can’t be effective on the job if you allow yourself to fully experience the shock, the horror, the revulsion while you’re doing the job. The emotional distance between you and what you’re doing and seeing is the only thing that allows you to do the job well. You put all that ugliness aside and deal with it later. The problem, of course, is that you always have to deal with it

That’s why, last night, I watched the video of the attack on the Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand with the sound off. I didn’t want to hear the screaming. It’s harder to be a detached observer when you hear the screaming.

“I am just a regular white man, from a regular family, who decided to take a stand to ensure a future for my people.”

How do you even begin to explain all this, to understand it? Do you start with Brenton Tarrant, the shooter? He doesn’t really believe he’s just a regular white man, of course. He’s a white supremacist who thinks shooting unarmed people in a house of worship somehow makes him a hero. But if you focus on individual shooters — the Brenton Tarrants, the Anders Breiviks, the Dylann Roofs — it’s easy to overlook the connections that link so many of these white supremacy shooters.

“The origins of my language is European, my culture is European, my political beliefs are European, my philosophical beliefs are European, my identity is European and, most importantly, my blood is European.

We must crush immigration and deport those invaders already living on our soil, It is not just a matter of our prosperity, but the very survival of our people.”

There it is. Tarrant’s ‘justification’ for murdering Muslims at prayer. Fear and hate born out of the irrational notion of white victimhood, then transmitted, promoted and amplified by the Internet. Tarrant referred to this in his Great Replacement ‘manifesto’ (they all seem to have manifestos, these shooters; without a manifesto you’re just a fucking nutcase — with a manifesto you’re a hero).

This Great Replacement conspiracy theory didn’t originate with Tarrant. It’s been banging around in white supremacy circles for almost half a century. It began with a 1973 French novel, Les Camps des Saints, in which Western civilization is destroyed through the mass immigration of Third World peoples. The author of the novel, Jean Raspail, said he got the idea for the plot when he was visiting the Riviera.

“What if they were to come? I did not know who “they” were, but it seemed inevitable to me that the numberless disinherited people of the South would, like a tidal wave, set sail one day for this opulent shore, our fortunate country’s wide-gaping frontier.”

There it is again. The ‘justification’ for the Great Replacement theory. The fear and belief that white European Christian populations are being systematically replaced by non-European brown-skinned populations through mass migration and demographic growth. If you’re in Europe the immigrants are Middle Eastern, North African, and Sub-Saharan; if you’re in the US, the immigrants are from Central and South America. This notion of white European culture being overrun by non-white alien cultures resounds throughout the online white supremacy community.

Would Tarrant have acted in the absence of that community, in the absence of the reinforcement and amplification of that conspiracy theory? I don’t know. But the thing is, the echoes of Great Replacement filter through mainstream US and European politics.

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

Does this make Trump responsible for the Christchurch mosque massacre? No, of course not. But it helps white supremacists like Tarrant justify their actions. Tarrant stated he viewed Donald Trump “as a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.” When Trump refers to an influx of families fleeing violence and poverty as an ‘invasion’ on the Southern border, he’s feeding the conspiracy theory. When he claims people seeking asylum is a ‘national emergency,’ he’s feeding the conspiracy theory.

When it was revealed that an audio tape of the torture and murder of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi existed, Trump refused to listen to it.

“I don’t want to hear the tape. No reason for me to hear the tape. I know everything that went on in the tape without having to hear it “

I totally understand that. It’s why I watched the video with the sound off. It’s harder to be detached when you hear the screaming.

But the truth is, even with the sound off I still heard the screaming in the mosque. I’m still hearing it this morning. That business about dealing with the horror later? That’s mostly bullshit that allows you to do what you need to do. But if you’ve ever heard the screaming in any context, you can never unhear it.

If you have any humanity at all, if you have any decency at all, you never stop hearing the screaming.

[orders beer]

— I mean, this Chinese massage parlor sex thing?
— What about it?
— I mean, well, it’s an actual thing. It sounds like a bad movie, but there’s an actual Chinese massage parlor sex thing. Young Chinese women living in the US as sex slaves, what the hell, you know?
— I know.
— I mean, we’ve got President But Her Emails nattering like a nutjob about South American gangs bringing bound and gagged women over the border five or six at a time in the backs of vans, and ten miles north you’ve got actual real no-shit sex trafficking going on.
— Yep.
— I mean, it’s not just rub-and-tug wink-and-nod stuff, it’s actual sexual slavery. Also money laundering. On, like, a massive scale.
— Sure looks that way.
— I mean, the woman who started the massage parlor sex thing? She’s, like, an Asian MAGA queen or something. Donates money to President Witch Hoax, joins his golf club, takes selfies with every Republican big hat she can stand next to.
— I know.
— I mean, she actually runs a business that promises to sell access to President No Collusion to Chinese businessmen, some of whom may not actually be businessmen at all, if you know what I mean.
— I know what you mean.
— I mean, you know, Chinese intelligence agents. Operatives. Whatever they’re called.
— Yes, I already said I know what you mean.
— I mean, this is, like, a national fucking security issue. It’s not just your basic influence peddling, introducing businessmen to President I Never Paid Hush Money to a Porn Star, stuff like that. This could be some serious national security problems.
— It could.
— I mean, like, let’s say there’s an owner of a popular sports team who’s a buddy of President Did You See the Size of My Inauguration Crowd, and has been getting handjobs at a strip mall. Chinese agent, operative, whatever, says “Sure would be nice if IBM was allowed to share some tech secrets with China, maybe you should mention that to your buddy the president.”
— Does IBM still exist?
— NOT THE FUCKING POINT.
— Okay.
— I mean, that could happen. We know President I Won 380 Electoral Votes is easily manipulated by flattery, right? So it’s possible Chinese agents…
— Operatives…
— Whatever. I mean, it’s actually possible they could shape foreign policy just by leaning on some influential jamoke whose been getting his chicken choked down at the Flowers of Szechuan Spa, right?
— That’s what I’d do if I was a Chinese agent. Operative. Whatever.
— I mean, c’mon, shape foreign policy, peddle influence, AND make some serious coin all at the same time?
— It’s the Chinese version of the Russian model of the criminal American Dream.
— I mean, all it would take to work is somebody like President I Hire the Best People sitting in the Oval Office.
— And then there’s Russia.
— I mean, Russia, fuck me with a chainsaw. Russia. Let’s not even talk about Russia right now.
— [sigh]
— [deep sigh]
— [orders beer]

manafort, the torturer’s lobby, & an otherwise blameless life

Paul Manafort has spent his career–his entire adult life, really–serving the very worst people in the world. I’m not being hyperbolic here; I’m being literal. He has literally served the literally worst people in the world.

In 1992 the Center for Public Integrity released a report detailing how nations having long, verifiable records of serious human rights abuses paid Washington lobbyists to press Congress for financial aid. By ‘serious human rights abuses’ I mean everything from intimidation of political opponents, to political imprisonment, to physical and mental torture, to systematic rape as a strategy, to extrajudicial murder. The CPI report was titled The Torturer’s Lobby. The firm of Black, Manafort, Stone, and Kelly (BMSK) features heavily in that report.

BMSK’s client list has included:

Jonas Savimbi — whose guerrilla army forcibly ‘recruited’ child soldiers, forced women and girls into sexual slavery, killed and mutilated tens of thousands, and whose indiscriminate use of landmines created “one of the largest amputee populations in the world.”

Mobutu Sese Seko — whose brutal authoritarian rule “became notorious for corruption, nepotism, and the embezzlement of between US$4 billion and $15 billion during his reign.” Before executing one of his rivals, Sese Seko had his eyes gouged out, his genitals torn off, and his limbs cut off one by one.

Ferdinand Marcos — who in addition to illegally amassing a fortune of between five and ten billion dollars, abducted and imprisoned somewhere between 70,000 to 120,000 people, tortured at least 35,000 people, and murdered more than 3500. One report listed 19 different types of physical torture used by Marcos’ forces, four types of sexual torture, and five types of emotional torture (one of which was described as “government units mutilating, cooking and eating the flesh of victims in front of their family and friends to sow terror”).

Sani Abacha — whose security forces, according to the US State Department, routinely “tortured prisoners with whippings, suspension by the limbs from the ceiling, burning with candles, and extraction of teeth.”

Manafort’s foreign client list gradually became more sophisticated, but no less corrupt, cruel, and malevolent. He found work with Putin-friendly clients in former Soviet nations who were less bloodthirsty, but equally cold-blooded. At the same time, BMSK worked for US entities (like the Tobacco Institute) and were deeply involved in Republican politics. The BMSK business model was based on the notion that anyone seeking to get and keep power ought to have a lobbyist. Corporations, African warlords, special-interest groups, regional strongmen — if they had a LOT of money, Manafort would work for them.

By 2005, Manafort had winnowed his client list down to essentially one client: Viktor Yanukovych, the president of Ukraine. There was none of that ugly mutilation or gross torture with Yanukovych; if he needed an opponent dead, a little dioxin would do the job without all the fuss. Manafort was able to construct a shadow government within the Yanukovych regime; he had intelligence assets in just about every governmental agency. Unfortunately for Manafort, the citizens of Ukraine grew weary with the scale of the corruption; in 2014 Yanukovych had to flee for his life. The money soon dried up.

Manafort desperately needed a new client — preferably who was open to the idea of shady business transactions. Comrade Trump, who had his own Russian connections, needed a campaign manager. Bingo. It’s no coincidence that once Manafort joined the Trump campaign, the GOP platform on support for Ukraine changed.

(Photo by Alex Wong)

Let me say it again. Paul Manafort has spent his life working for the worst people in the world, and he got rich doing it. He may not have personally tortured anybody or raped anybody or mutilated anybody or kidnapped anybody or murdered anybody, but he willingly, knowingly, and effectively worked for people who did.

Judge T.S. Ellis had to know this about Manafort when he sentenced him to 47 months (with credit for time served). He had to know this about Manafort when he claimed Manafort “has lived an otherwise blameless life.” Ellis had to know all this. But let’s face it — Ellis belongs to the same culture as Manafort. He was appointed to the bench by Ronald Reagan, who was also one of Manafort’s early clients. But before his judicial appointment, Ellis worked for the firm of Hunton and Williams, who made billions of dollars facilitating the corporate practice of outsourcing and offshoring. Ellis, I’m sure, feels he himself has lived an otherwise blameless life.

There’s a lot of blamelessness going on in the world. It just isn’t evenly distributed.

Addendum: The same applies to Roger Stone, by the way. The Stone in Black, Manafort, Stone, and Kelly is Roger.