On Walls II

Thanks for all the responses to my essay on the symbolism of the wall. I will mention only two – one serious and the other satirical. The first was written by a very committed Zionist high school classmate who moved to Israel after Grade XII.

Walls

‘We’ll build a wall’

they say.

‘They’ being those who know.

The generals

who first declared

we’d have to live together

side by side,

and trust the others

to behave like us.

Or like we’d like to be, that is.

 

And now ‘They’ say

it’s better to build walls

that separate

and keep us out of range

of rage unbridled

and the lust for blood

set free.

 

But no one listens now

because we’ve learned

that walls cannot contain

the fury

any more than words can

realize

the dream.

                                                                                                      November ‏2001

Ricky Rapaport Friesem                          (First published in Moment, April 2003)

The poem was included in her collection, Parentheses, Kipod Press. Ricky, in 2015 wrote an iconoclastic essay on the Israeli national Anthem, Hatikva, called “Pagan Worship of Place.” In 2016, following the election of Donald Trump as president of the USA, her 2006 poem, first published in “Cyclamens and Swords” in November 2008, “Back in the USA,” was republished in Haaretz under the headline, “Will Mobility Trump Trump?” In 2017, she won the Israeli poetry award and in 2018 was the winner of the Tiferet Journal non-fiction award for writing promoting peace.

Her 2006 poem went as follows:

Back to the U.S.A / Ricky Rapoport Friesem

Another nowhere town
With a string of nowhere malls
Could be Dayton, Sacramento
Cedar Rapids or Sioux Falls.

What’s the difference? Same old shopping
Same old Big Boy, Home Depot
Toys ‘R Us and Circuit City
Pizza Hut and food to go

The motel room, same old carpet
Patterned to conceal the stains
Complimentary tea or coffee
Could be either, tastes the same

Same old wake-up call recorded
Cheerio voice to start the day
Followed by the same old breakfast
Plastic cereals, bread like clay

Eaten while the same old sound bites
Stir the air with gusts of news
Blasts of ads and blasts of music
And the same words over-used

“How’ya doin? Ya-da, ya-da
Have a nice one. Come Again.”
Wish I could, but I have changed and
Here’s not what it was back then

Oh, America I loved you,

Love you still but I can’t stay.
Gone too long and seen too much
To fit into the USA.

Written ten years before America’s election of Donald Trump, this critical depiction of a mindless, aesthetically challenged and heartless heartland that would become the base of Trump’s strongest support, suggests a distinctive cultural root to the rise of Trumpism in the USA. The other humorous feedback suggested a far more transactional root to the decline in America and the rise of the almost alt-right.

When Donald Trump visited Israel in May 2017, he went to the Kotel and placed a note in it like many Jewish people do in order to have God help them with something, solve a problem or perhaps give thanks. Here is what was written on businessman Trump’s note according to my second correspondent: “Please let me know who the contractor was for this project. I am planning something similar.”

However, a third explanation suggests that the transactional turn is but a cover for a far moreinsidious cause, the ability of con men to take Americans for a ride and install in place of a republic, a kleptocracy on the Russian model, the model prevalent in the vast majority of states run by very authoritarian-prone leaders. The campaign for the wall is but a distraction from the real program of walling off any close look at Donald Trump’s financial wheeling and dealing.

A third reader sent me a copy of an interview on Fresh Air by Terry Gross with Franklin Foer, a national correspondent for The Atlantic and his article, based on access to four years of correspondence, about Paul Manafort called “American Hustler: Oligarchs, Shady Deals, Foreign Money – How Paul Manafort Helped Corrupt Washington and Laid the Groundwork for the Subversion of American Politics.”

Given the opportunities presented and his own accumulated expertise since 1980 in running conventions, taking head counts and amassing delegates, Paul Manafort, like Roger Stone, a pioneer of modern trickster lobbying for foreign autocrats and plutocrats and political campaigns, dubbed the “torturer’s lobbyist,” volunteered as Donald Trump’s campaign manager. He was indicted in October by Robert Mueller. Manafort had been a lobbyist for Russian oligarchs and the Ukrainian political kleptocrat, Viktor Yanukovych (see Bullough below), and the Russian business mafioso, and billionaire, Oleg Deripaska.

When Yanukovych was swept from power and Deripaska hit a financial wall, Manafort, the epitome of vulgar consumerism, was left emotionally, politically and financially bereft and had a breakdown in 2015. He owed Deripaska, the Russian oligarch, $20m., while supporting a mistress in an expensive Manhattan apartment and his very large family home in the Hamptons. The emotional breakdown was evidently triggered when his daughter, in response to his newfound frugality re her imminent wedding expenses, discovered that he had lied and had not broken off his relationship with his mistress as promised.

This is but the superficial appearance of a kleptocratic system that goes much deeper than run-of-the-mill conspiracy theorists allege. A number of researchers attest to that. One turned out to be a prophet. Richard Palmer, a CIA station chief in Moscow in the early nineties. He testified in 1999 before Congress as follows:

  • America’s founding fathers feared the elevation of the pursuit of private gain at the expense of the public good
  • Billions in Russian money ended up in accounts in the Bank of New York
  • The Clinton administration plans to deal with money laundering by tabling new legislation enhancing banking regulations went nowhere
  • In October 2001 as part of the Patriot Act, George W. Bush included Title III, the International Money Laundering Abatement and Anti-terrorist Financing Act requiring suspicious money transfers to be reported to the government
  • Real estate transactions were exempted from the legislation and the result was an enormous increase in the purchase of luxury properties and condos anonymously through shell companies
  • In 2007, Bradley Birkenfeld revealed how American plutocrats were facilitated in investing assets abroad in tax-free havens anonymously
  • In 2010, Congress passed the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) requiring foreign banks to report American assets held abroad
  • In the same year, the U.S. Supreme Court in Citizens United determined that corruption be defined very narrowly to refer effectively only to open bribery
  • The Obama administration in 2016 introduced two pilot projects in Miami and Manhattan to create a robust enforcement regime for reporting properties sold to anonymous foreign nationals
  • In November 2016, Americans elected a president who owed much of his recovery from bankruptcy to borrowing overseas capital of dubious origin and selling high end condos and properties to Russian oligarchs and Saudi princes; under Trump, real estate remained exempt from the provisions of the Patriot Act attempting to unveil the use of questionable capital from abroad to be invested in American real estate
  • Americans demanded disclosure of deposits in Swiss and other banks but the U.S. itself has become banking’s secrecy jurisdiction with little appetite for helping foreign governments repatriate stolen monies laundered in the US
  • In parallel, American professionals – lawyers, accountants and financial advisers – have largely fallen in line to become complicit in hiding stolen and ill-gotten gains
  • Dark money in the millions is now being spent to influence the results of American elections.

In the next blog, Wall III, in addition to cultural, business, Supreme Court and corrupt factors behind the support for Donald Trump in an age of legalized bribery and the rise of rot from within to become the cream on our coffee, I will probe the mass psychology and sociology that made this possible. In the meanwhile, the following references may be helpful in filling out the story of how kleptocracy has infested both America and much of the rest of the world.

Zephyr Teachout (2014) Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin’s Snuff Box to Citizens United, Harvard University Press.

Review, Thomas Frank, The New York Times, 18 October 2014: the dialectic & telos of scandal

Louise Story and Stephanie Saul (2015) “Towers of |Secrecy: Piercing the Shell Companies,” The New York Times, 7 February.

Bradley Birkenfeld (2016) Lucifer’s Banker: The Untold Story of How I Destroyed Swiss Banking Secrecy

Cf, https://www.c-span.org/video/?417080-1/bradley-birkenfeld-discusses-lucifer

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9pNDL1j08iA

Oliver Bullough (2018) Moneyland: Dark Commerce: How a New Illicit Economy Is Threatening Our Future

Review, Andy Beckett, The Guardian, 7 September

Franklin Foer (2019) The Atlantic, “Russian-Style Kleptocracy Is Infiltrating America.”

Vadim Nikitin (2019) London Review of Books, “Kleptocracy,” 41:4, 21 February.

 

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