To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle.
--- George Orwell

Monday, June 20, 2022

Terrance McGowan, Morgan Stanley & The Problem of Family Embezzlement On Wall Street

 


To: Attorneys for Terrance McGowan & Tim Moore, Morgan Stanley 

Fr: William McGowan Author/ Journalist 

Re: Family Embezzlement/ Lot 22 

Date: June 19, 2022

 

Dear Attorney of Record: 

 

I send this with sadness and disappointment but please regard this email as notice that I am withdrawing from the settlement agreement I made through legal representatives for my brother Terrance McGowan, in conjunction Matt Moore, in June 2019.  

 

This withdrawal stems from: 

 

1/ Your client’s failure to follow through on certain key pledges he made in that agreement.

 

and 

 

2/ The fact that the agreement was based on what turns out to erroneous financial information supplied to me and my 6 (six) siblings by your client in order to misinform, deceive, limit his financial exposure and manipulate family awareness & sentiment. 

 

and 

 

 3/ That I was not represented by counsel at the time our stipulation negotiations took place. 

 

and

 

4/ That I was the target of undue psychological and emotional abuse, as well as bullying, degrading insouciance, contempt, insult and fecklessness, during the whole course of dealings with your client on this matter, which was as damaging as it was shocking.  

 

You should make your client aware that I reserve the right to pursue all rights and remedies available to me including all civil and criminal penalties in any and all relevant jurisdictions---county, state and federal. 

 

Please also make your client aware that I reserve the right to pursue all institutional and journalistic avenues as well, specifically rejecting the notion of “controversy” as articulated in the now-voided stipulation, as an inappropriate infringement on First Amendment liberties tantamount to “prior restraint.”  

 

In addition, please inform your client that it is my contention that he engaged in conduct that represents, at the very least, a significant violation of the Morgan Stanley Code of Ethics, as well as the ethics code maintained by Goldman, Sachs, where your client worked at the time of the covert sale of the family property in question. (This is referred to in the now-voided stipulation agreement as “Lot 22” in the Village of Croton-on Hudson, New York.)  

 

At the center of these ethical codes, which your client surely knows from signing them, is the importance of acting with a sense of “propriety” at all times and in all dealings with clients, colleagues and the public, and to avoid all manners of “impropriety” up to and including anything that would even give the “appearance of impropriety.” 

 

The Morgan Stanley code puts a particular emphasis on erring on the side of “Doing the Right Thing.” I’m absolutely sure this has very little to do with secretly selling family property, concealing that for NINE YEARS, and then taking refuge in legalisms, which were, and still are, spurious. As per these ethical lapses, I’m sure that if your client behaved toward a client in the same abusive, underhanded and manipulative way he acted toward me, he would be have been seriously chastised by Morgan Stanley and/ or Goldman Sachs and perhaps even terminated on violations of these firms’ ethics policies alone (apart from any and all criminal and civil transgressions.) 

 

More importantly, it is my contention:

 

a/ That your client very likely committed Embezzlement or Attempted Embezzlement, depending on the jurisdiction evaluating the actions, in the amount of $70 K. This is considered a D Level Felony in NYS and also, quite obviously, a violation of the aforementioned 2021 Morgan Stanley Ethical Guidelines. (Whether your client’s partners at the time at Goldman Sachs---Tim Moore and Alyson Theobald Russ, who are now his current partners at Morgan Stanley---knew about the funds associated with this embezzlement is still to be determined.)  

 

and 

 

b/ That his refusal, despite numerous requests, to provide documentation of what bank and trading accounts that sum both “landed in” and travelled through (both at both Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs) over the many intervening years suggests that the $70K funds may have been invested in a significantly “up” market, post-October 2010, to multiply substantially. This, I would contend, compounds the illegality, the financial damages that were incurred and the ethical violations on your client’s part. 

 

Your client was given ample time and opportunity to supply needed information but did not. He also had more than enough time and opportunity to make the appropriate amount of restitution that the facts, the circumstances and the law would merit, but did not. 

 

Instead, he chose to: 

 

a/ Lie about the timing of the sale, providing shifting and contradictory explanations to various family members as to the reason why he went through with the sale at that particular time, why he chose not to alert the family to the fact that the land had in fact been sold and what in truth he did with the funds over NINE YEARS of concealment. 

 

(In fact, on the evening of May 19, 2019, several hours after I discovered the land had been sold, I spoke to your client on the phone and asked if in fact he had sold the property, when he had sold it and why he had not informed me or any of my other siblings to that effect. To which he answered, as con men and criminals always seem to do: “Well, I don’t ever remember not telling you.” )

 

and 

 

b/ Malign & gaslight me and manipulate family sentiment---all to avoid financial and ethical accountability and the just recovery of opportunity costs at the appropriate and lawful rate of interest at the time of, and subsequent to, the embezzlement over almost NINE YEARS of concealment, evasion, lying by omission and contempt. 

 

and 

 

c/ Go on to negotiate this now-voided settlement in bad faith, refusing to acknowledge any opportunity costs associated  with the sale as well as opportunity costs associated with the NINE YEAR concealment of these funds wherever these funds were parked ---or put to work. 

 

The recession of 2008-2010 left me in very bad financial shape. Had your client acknowledged the property sale instead of concealing it AND had he disbursed funds directly associated with that sale in October 2010, I would have been spared a series of cascading financial events that I am still digging my  way out of today. There was also the matter of the interest rate your client insisted on, which was the Applicable Federated Rate, when a much more fair and just rate of interest over the NINE YEARS of concealment would have been more appropriate and ethical.  

 

At one point in the NINE YEARS of concealment your client maintained (back in the winter of 2015, if memory serves) your client and I had lunch in the cafeteria of Goldman Sachs. It was one of at least 10 face-to-face encounters I had with your client between Oct 2010 and May 2019, including family weddings, funerals &ad hoc beer-and-burger get togethers, these last  several times on his invitation.

 

That lunch in 2015 was also one of my first visits to that Wall Street area since September 11, 2001 when I scrambled to get into Lower Manhattan as a volunteer first responder to assist emergency medical personnel at a triage unit near the Staten Island Ferry and later at Ground Zero itself. It was kind of unsettling and triggering being down in Lower Manhattan at all after that historic, traumatic event. But in hindsight, the lunch meeting with your client was even disturbing. 

 

In fact, during this lunch meeting, as his fellow Goldman Sachs machers swirled around us, your client gave me an earnest lecture on retirement savings. This instruction on retirement savings coming while my money AND my family members’ money was jingling in his pocket, so to speak. Or compounding in value in his Goldman trading account at that time (moving, of course a few years later when your client and his partners transitioned to Morgan Stanley. ) 

 

In the time since I discovered the “family embezzlement” your client committed, I have read quite a bit on this subject. (This AARP article is a good introduction if you need one.) But I have not encountered an anecdote in print which was as revealing, as incriminating or as perverse as the in-person, face-to-face duplicity I experienced over lunch that day at Goldman Sachs. Saving for retirement. Indeed! 

 

Regards,

 

William McGowan

 

 

  

 



Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Annals Of Bunco: Skeptical Questions About Jeffrey Goldberg's 'Suckers & Losers' Story That 'The Atlantic' Just Can't Seem To Answer

 


To: Anna Bross, Director of Communications, The Atlantic.

Fr: William McGowan, Coloring The News blog

Re: Jeffrey Goldberg’s Suckers & Losers Story 9/20 

Date: March 23, 2022

 

Hi Anna: 

As I’ve explained several times over the last year, I’m working on a book—my fourth—about intellectual dishonesty and repression in the time of Trump and Woke. (Working title at the moment is The Captive Mind as per Czeslaw Milosz or maybe Battle Not With Monsters from Nietzsche.) Part of the book is about “Resistance Journalism” and the collapse of norms and standards in the media during campaign 2020. As you may have noticed, we are still digging our way out of that wreckage. Case in point, the NYT’s admission last week that the emails on Hunter Biden’s laptop were authentic, not anything close to Russian disinformation. Likewise revelations about Kamala Harris’ experience and competence as well as Biden’s mental fitness. 


But many in the media resist accountability, still unready to acknowledge how far off the rails the press went in order to drive Trump from the White House.  

 

Along these lines, I’m looking pretty closely at Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg’s Suckers and Losers piece from early September, 2020, and would really like answers to the questions I have been posing to you at regular intervals for more than a year now, but which you and others at the Atlantic I’ve reached out to---Don Peck, David Frum, Jim Fallows and Nicholas Thompson--- have refused to engage. Again: For more than a year now.  


The follow up reporting that Goldberg said would be forthcoming over 18 months ago has not materialized. I’m getting the feeling that Goldberg’s piece is not nearly as sturdy as he insisted when it first dropped. In fact, after much triangulated reading and re-reporting, I can’t dismiss that the piece may in fact be a “Deep State” dirty trick that Goldberg got suckered by, or that it might be a fabrication---a good-old, whole-cloth hoax. As the hacks on Fleet street used to say back in the day, “Make it early. Make it short. And if you have to make it up.”  

 

So once again I’d ask you have a look my inquiries and come back with some kind of response. My questions are:

1/ A few days after the piece dropped, Goldberg said he would have more reporting in the coming days to bolster the story; CNN characterized him as saying what we’d seen so far was just “the tip of the iceberg.” Addressing his reliance on four anonymous sources to make the claims he did about Trump’s reluctance to go to a World War I American military cemetery while in France, Goldberg told Jim Sciutto that he would be “continuing to make the effort to move this material directly on to the record.” 

So, what happened to that reportorial effort to expose the rest of the iceberg by getting the unnamed sources to forgo their anonymity? (In fact, instead of an iceberg, there has been even less than a warm bucket of spit.) Why didn’t Goldberg have any luck in moving his sources onto the record as he assured us they would? And why was he so confident those anonymous sources were going to come forward; had they agreed to do so before and then pulled out after the piece came out, perhaps dismayed by the way the Atlantic seemed to have coordinated the publication of the piece with post-Labor Day Biden campaign schedule? Did Goldberg get out too far over his skis on this point, panicked maybe by the pressure that skeptics of the piece put on him? (I’m pretty sure I saw flop-sweat when Goldberg was on CNN’s Reliable Sources w Brian Stelter.)  

2/ Goldberg’s piece maintained that Trump didn’t go to the military cemetery in France because he had contempt for the dead soldiers there and that the excuse he gave that the weather was too inclement to fly in a helicopter to the cemetery was a cover for not wanting to drive the 1.5+ hours each way it would take there, which might get his high-maintenance hairdo wet. On one cable interview, Goldberg added that Marine pilots were actually miffed at Trump blaming the weather, taking it as a slight to their flying skills. 

Within days it was learned that the Navy had in fact determined that bad weather had made it too risky to fly and that documentation of that determination was sought and received in a 2018 FOIA request by Buzzfeed’s Jason Leopold, which Leopold had posted on Leopold’s Twitter account, which was not referenced in Goldberg’s story. This documentation would seem to have splintered a major plank of Goldberg’s story. And also raised more doubts about his heavy reliance on anonymous sources when more objective documentary evidence was not too hard to find. 

So why was there never a correction to the story, or at least an editorial clarification noting what the Navy said about the weather in France at the time and the decision to forego flying that day? Why did your fact checkers decide to go with what the anonymous sources said about the decision not to fly over what the Navy told Jason Leopold in 2018, presuming the fact checkers were aware of that FOIA request? What’s with this concealment? (Apologies for the trope.) 

3/ The piece says that Goldberg’s relied on “four people with firsthand knowledge of the discussion that day.” It distinctly does not say these people were actually on the line for these discussions and accurately heard what was being discussed first hand, perhaps by themselves or by others in the chain of command. This suggests to me that the sources of information about that phone call might have been from the national security personnel who routinely monitor presidential phone calls, either when the president is speaking with foreign leaders in the Oval office or when the president is travelling overseas. It also suggests that the “first-hand knowledge” of the substance of the discussions might have been distorted in the re-telling, as in a game of phone tag, either innocently or intentionally. 

Could what Goldberg’s sources said was “first-hand knowledge” of the discussion actually have been something other than “first-hand?” Did the Atlantic make any effort to determine whether what Goldberg heard was actually “from the horse’s’ mouth?” 

4/ Alex Marlow, editor of Breitbart and author of the NYT best-seller Breaking The News: Exposing the Media’s Hidden Deals and Secret Corruption. (Threshold Editions, May 2021)  says the strongest reason for doubting the Goldberg story is the numerous for-the-record  denials from various Trump aides who were on the trip and would have been in direct position to know because they were in the room when discussions were being conducted between the President’s entourage in France and the Secret Service in Washington. (pp 43-48) Why were these sources not contacted for the original piece? And why were their subsequent denials to other publications not noted in any follow up reporting once those denials were noted? Not all of the deniers were still working for Trump or even in his good graces at the point Goldberg published his piece, it should be noted. John Bolton, for example, had left the White House in a highly agitated, irritable state and had published a very negative book about Trump and his experience as National Security Director. Bolton said he never spoke to anyone from the Atlantic and certainly did not hear anything that Goldberg reports. Did you reach out to these Trump aides and officials and were rebuffed? Or did you not reach out?   

5/ I noticed that Goldberg interviewed Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman shortly after the Suckers and Losers piece, posting that interview on September 14th. Can’t help but ask: Was Vindman a source or did he help Goldberg locate a source, courtesy of the network of national security aides Vindman was part of before the Ukraine/Impeachment imbroglio and his subsequent retirement earlier this year? Was there any involvement from Eric Ciaramella, the CIA analyst who was te actual whistleblower on the Trump’s Ukraine impeachment phone call with whom Vindman colluded? Did Goldberg have any role in securing Vindman a visiting fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perry World House this last year for his PhD? 

6/ Did Goldberg’s much-derided and debunked New Yorker piece about Saddam’s fictitious WMD program and Saddam’s equally fictitious ties to Al Qaeda (The Great Terror, March 25, 2002) cast a shadow over the fact checking process for the Suckers and Losers piece? Many of Goldberg’s sources on that effort---anonymous sources as well as sources who allowed themselves to be named---quite obviously lied to Goldberg, and inputs from intelligence sources--- American, German and Israeli---were unreliable. Were there a lot of “on author” notations on the Atlantic manuscript as a New Yorker fact checker told me there was on that 2002 WMD piece, meaning that the magazine had no documentation and had to rely on Goldberg’s word and that word alone? Are any of those fact checkers still working at the Atlantic?  

7/ Could you comment on the account of Suckers and Losers in Battle for the Soul: Inside the Democrats’ Campaigns to Defeat Trump, a book that was published in May of last year(2021) by former Atlantic writer Edward-Isaac Dovere who is now at CNN? (see pp 415-416)  If you’ll recall, a day or so after the Suckers and Losers piece dropped, Dovere put a question to Biden at a press conference about it---the lead question in fact. What did Biden think about the story and what it said about Trump’s “soul,” Dovere wanted to know. So at that point in time, at the very beginning of the campaign’s final, post-Labor Day leg, I think it’s safe to assume that Dovere had no problem with the credibility of the piece.

But the way that Dovere’s book is worded in relation to the Goldberg piece leaves the impression that the author lost a bit of confidence in it since the time Goldberg’s piece dropped and the time the book went to the printer. (Note, again, that Dovere left the Atlantic and is now at CNN) It’s as if he’s trying to distance himself from it, that he developed the sense that it is tainted. Dovere doesn’t even mention the Goldberg piece by its title, instead referring to it as “an article in the Atlantic.”  And his description of the text lacks detail, as if a fact-checker or a lawyer went through it and took out anything that could not be corroborated or verified independently. Anybody at the Atlantic notice this? Anyone from outside the magazine reviewing Dovere’s book or writing about it for publicity call in about this?

8/ I have not done any kind of rigorous analysis of the frequency of Goldberg’s television appearances since Suckers & Losers but you as the magazine’s publicist probably have that information at the ready. Has the publicly-aired doubts about this article’s credibility and veracity led any TV bookers to bar or cancel Goldberg in places where he might have  otherwise been invited? 

9/ Goldberg’s story implies that Trump was less than patriotic---and that on that trip to France at least, he put his complicated hairdo first instead of valorizing honorably dead American soldiers.

 

But is Goldberg the appropriate person to cast aspersions here about patriotism given his own complicated relationship to American patriotism? Many saw Goldberg’s erroneous WMD story as an example of “Israel First” journalism practiced by many neocons in the run-up to the Iraq Invasion: Which makes him an ironic defender of the honor of American troops, almost 5000 of whom perished in Iraq.  

 

Could you help me understand why Goldberg was never held to account for that 2002 WMD story---neither by the New Yorker or by the Atlantic--- despite the WMD story representing one of the most salient journalistic blunders of all time? 

 

Also, why Goldberg himself has never explained his reportorial failures here, and why he has been abusive and mean whenever he’s been pressed about it, most notably by the German war correspondent Carolin Emcke, author of Echoes of Violence? It might be relevant here to know whether Goldberg still a dual US-Israeli citizen or has he given up the Israeli passport as he told Paul Starobin of the Washingtonian he was about to do in 2013? And how did one of the most important magazines in America come to have someone as its editor-in-chief who has served in Israel’s military but not that of the United States?   

10/ From April 6 to April 8th the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics and The Atlantic will jointly host a conference called “Disinformation and the Erosion of Democracy.” The gathering is being described as “a groundbreaking three-day event exploring the organized spread of disinformation and strategies to respond to it.” The conference will bring together “a top-tier group of experts, policymakers, journalists and politicians to analyze this important phenomenon.” Among the participants are former President Barack Obama ( who will be interviewed by Goldberg), David Axelrod (who heads the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago) and Joan Donovan (of Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Policy). Joining them will be New York Times tech columnist Kara Swisher, former Times media critic Ben Smith, The Atlantic’s Anne Applebaum and Chris Krebs, former DHS cyber security director for elections. 

Explaining the basis for the conference, Axelrod said that disinformation and conspiracy theories “have become weapons with which to foment mistrust in our institutions, sow division and even political violence.” According to Goldberg: “Disinformation causes a great deal of stress on otherwise functioning democracies, and The Atlantic’s preoccupation, for 165 years, has been the state of American democracy, and the state of the democratic idea worldwide,” said Goldberg.  

Th Atlantic has been an keen-eyed sentry on the disinformation watch all through the Trump years. But it has also been a victim of disinformation, its susceptibilities to it on display in the overzealous way its own "top-tier" scribes have gone about reporting on  it. It dismissed the Hunter Biden laptop story, gave credence to the Russia Collusion hoax, was credulous about the Christopher Steele dossier at that hoax’s core and advanced Franklin Foer's completely bullshit Alpha Bank story which was planted by attorneys & operatives for Hillary Clinton's campaign-----including the hiring of Foer--- after the bogus story ran. It also pretended not to notice when its stories on these subjects came a cropper ---and that that Special Prosecutor John Durham is putting together a pretty good case against the Democratic National committee and its lawyers for lying to the FBI and to the CIA in order to get the government to surveil the Trump campaign in 2016. 

Will there be a panel on the Atlantic’s own dysfunctional experience with disinformation,  the Deep State dirty tricks it has been a part of and the erosion of its own journalistic credibility this has caused? If so, might you think about calling that panel “Suckers & Losers?”  

 

 

 

 

 


Thursday, January 6, 2022

'A Problem From Hell:' US AID Director Samantha Power's Whiney Self-Pardoning January 6 Cliches


U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) administrator Samantha Power claimed her agency’s work is “harder today than it was before” the January 6 Capitol riots on the anniversary of the event.

Power characterized the Capitol riots as an attack on democracy and claimed that the lesson of the event was that “democracy must be defended,” according to a letter obtained by Breitbart News.

“A violent mob, consumed by lies and incited by peddlers of conspiracy theories, breached our nation’s Capitol in an attempt to overturn the will of the people and prevent a transfer of power that is a hallmark of our democracy,” Power wrote.

Power said those involved in the riots did “grievous harm” to “confidence in the strength of American democracy.” She further claimed the event caused damage to the country’s global standing among other nations and the “importance of nonviolent political transitions.”

She emphasized the impact January 6 had on America’s global standing once more, claiming, “We have since seen autocrats wield the events of January 6 to diminish America’s leadership and delegitimize our efforts to support global democracy.”

As head of USAID, Power is one of America’s representatives on the world stage. Her duties include monitoring the United States’ response to “conflict and humanitarian crises; and democratic backsliding.”

Power is a longtime diplomat who previously represented America internationally while serving as U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations during the Obama-Biden administration.

Powers’ views on January 6 mirror her former boss, former President Barack Obama. Obama claimed, “our democracy is at greater risk today than it was back then,” on the event’s anniversary.

Power similarly alleged that the events of January 6 made her job at USAID more challenging than it would otherwise be.

“There is no question that our work at USAID to promote democratic processes and ideals is harder today than it was before the insurrection,” she wrote.

Power described democracy as an “ongoing journey,” then posited that the United States’ “divisions and setbacks” are good reasons for the country to address alleged domestic threats to democracy.

Our own nation’s divisions and setbacks should encourage us to both confront the urgent threats to democracy at home and to approach others on the journey with humility. But we should never doubt the virtue of our pursuit.

She commended Congress for certifying the 2020 election results following the breach of the Capitol. Power concluded her letter by claiming the lesson January 6 teaches us is “that democracy must be defended.”

Saturday, December 25, 2021

On A Silent Retreat Along The Hudson, A Skeptic Quietly Looks For 'The Present Possibility of God'

 


Here’s a Christmas story for the quietly faithful. From the WSJ, December, 1998: Quiet, Please.

"An acre of woods or seashore is not necessary to meet God." So notes the Jesuit writer William Barry, pointing out that it was in the cosmopolitan tumult of 16th-century Paris, and not in some pastoral setting, that St. Ignatius of Loyola gave spiritual instruction to the men who helped him found the Society of Jesus. 

But standing on the grounds of the Linwood Spiritual Center in Rhinebeck, N.Y., I can't help thinking that, for the average spiritually challenged person, a little solitary contact with nature might be a good thing. Located 90 miles north of New York City, the center sits on a promontory at one of the Hudson River's most majestic points. By day, the river sparkles with late autumn sunlight. At night the landscape is wrapped in absolute darkness. 

Apparently mine isn't the only soul that finds such a setting propitious. Around the country, men and women who hope to feel "the present possibility of God," as the theologians put it, are seeking out places like Linwood, drawn as much by the relief from urban stress as by the regimens of silence that are often imposed. "Sanctuaries: A Guide to Lodgings in Monasteries, Abbeys and Retreats" lists more than 1,200 retreat centers in the U.S. 

Although most religious traditions value contemplation, it is generally the Roman Catholic religious orders that run such retreats. Linwood -- once a home of Jacob Rupert Schalk, a brewery magnate -- became the property of the Sisters of Ursula in 1963. Founded in France in 1606, the Sisters of Ursula, like their Jesuit brethren, try to fuse contemplative withdrawal with worldly engagement. 

The nuns at Linwood have not taken lifelong vows of silence, but they do follow the precepts of Ignatian Spirituality, which commend periods of silence as a means of achieving the mystical recognition that God is in all things. Some of the nuns function as "spiritual directors" to visitors. In the course of a year, more than a 1,000 retreaters from all walks of life come to stay at Linwood, many spending their vacation time there. 

According to the Christian mystical tradition, silence is not just a pause between words but a medium that allows one to feel God "principally stirring and working," as the great Jesuit scholar William Johnston has written. There is a common misconception that silence is the means through which the contemplative achieves a oneness with God. In fact, the point of silence is to allow one to recognize that the oneness already exists, and that feelings of loneliness and despair are unfounded. 

As I made my own plans for Linwood, I thought that -- at the simplest level -- four or five days in retreat would be a break from the stress of a turbulent period in my life. But I also hoped for the kind of transformative experience that would reassure me that there was in fact A Plan and that God had included me in it. Abstractly, I believed in God, but it had been a long time since I could say I had felt his Presence. 

On the train I fretted over whether I'd find the experience of silence liberating or oppressive. I had read stories about people who had sought out the quiet of a monastic retreat only to flee, unnerved by the intensity of the introspection. 

Once I settled into the routine, however -- hours of solitary walking, reading and exercising punctuated by basic meals and an hour a day in conference with my spiritual director -- silence seemed like the most natural thing in the world. Although there were plenty of people around, I found myself not really interested in conversation, except (once) to find out who won the D'Amato-Schumer Senate race. Hardly a hair shirt, the verbal deprivation and solitude seemed almost luxurious. 

Sitting alone in the library one night, I seemed to sense the point "where something in the silence takes over and becomes active on its own," to borrow a phrase from the cleric Morton Kelsey. Touched by a feeling of surpassing contentment, I came about as close to a "still point" as I have ever come. The silence made the air lighter, more oxygenated -- clearer, even as it had become more richly textured. Silence really wasn't the absence of media, I began to sense. It was a medium unto itself, flooded with messages of subtle power. 

Not that the regime of silence was all sweetness and light. The bliss of night-time library visits competed with alternating states of anger and frustration on my daily walks. Anger, in part, at living in a media culture that so readily marginalized anything to do with the sacred, a culture ready to drown authentic spiritual striving in an ocean of irony. (I could just hear my friends groaning as I talked to them about this piece.) Frustration over the fact that, no matter how hard I tried to convert the feeling of contentment into a transfiguring spiritual dividend, I couldn't. Listening to the honkings of the geese in the bogs below, I began to wonder whether I was being mocked. 

Gradually, though, a new insight took hold, arriving from where I do not know. Although the Bible often presents spiritual transformation in dramatic terms -- the burning bush, the blinding light -- in fact for most people it does not come in blows. Spiritual apprehension is rather a subtle and incremental thing, in which an awareness of God develops slowly and deepens over time. 

I had entered the retreat with the hope of being bowled over. It was only after I realized how unrealistic this expectation was that I began to feel the nonepiphany epiphany that made the trip worthwhile. Although the "present possibility of God" remained for me only that -- a possibility -- there was nevertheless a fortifying certainty of heart. No blinding light but a foundation to build on. 

After five days, breaking the silence was a bit of a let-down, although it did offer me a chance to explore another kind of mystery. On my first night at Linwood, one of the groundskeepers had urged me to try to get a look at an albino deer that they had started seeing a few months before, around the time that Sister Rosemary McNamara, an albino herself, had arrived from North Carolina. I thought the story was just a hazing ritual, but this didn't stop me from patrolling the grounds after dinner, squinting into the dark, looking for the unicorn, so to speak. 

Ending my silence, I couldn't help asking Sister Rosemary about the deer. "That would be my cousin, Belva," she said, smiling. "The name is Russian -- for white." As elating as it was to confirm the existence of this creature, the words that followed left a deeper impression. 

I confided to her that I was worried that everything I had sensed that week was going to fade as soon as I left. She sat across the lunch table, the afternoon sun turning her into a pillar of blazing light. "You can either let this experience change your life, or you can say it was all a delusion," she said quite directly. "It's up to you." 

Monday, November 1, 2021

The Captive Mind: Is Alice Still In 'Wonderland' Or Is She In The White House?

 


Joe Biden campaigned on restoring the Soul of America, borrowing the title of a book by his friend & presidential historian Jon Meacham. The slogan, dripping in virtue and moral righteousness, implicitly promised he and his administration would be guided by the transparency and honesty that Donald Trump, often referred to as the nation’s “Liar in Chief,” so egregiously lacked. 

 

But as we have seen all too vividly recently, the president and his enablers are spectacular liars. They attempted to spin the debacle in Afghanizatan into “an extradordinary success,” to declare that the southern border with Mexico is “closed” even though 2 million migrants have poured over it this year and snipped that the supply chain crisis merely means that the well-to-do will have to be a little more patient about when their Stairmasters will arrive. In this administration White House press spokeswoman Jen Psaki is the penultimate gaslighter; she raises falsehood, obfuscation and concealment to an art form that is practically occult. 


As WSJ columnist Dan Henninger noted two weeks back we may have reached a tipping point in the way Americans conceive reality, citing the ways in which Team Biden has propelled us to this pass. “Ms. Psaki's skill at reordering reality for Mr. Biden is mesmerizing," Henninger wrote, "and I say without irony that she will be seen as an important figure in the transformation from believing what is real to believing what we're told is real .” 


A few days later the National Review’s Charlie Cooke satirized the Psaki style in exactly the right literary idiom, placing her “in dialogue,” as the post modernists would have it, with the hallucinogenic fiction created by Lewis Carroll. “Rumor has it that Alice (from Through the Looking Glass and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland) is preparing to apply for a job in the White House press office,” Cooke noted. “If I had a world of my own,” Cooke quotes Alice as saying, perhaps lifting a line from the job interview notes she had prepared, “everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrariwise, what it is, it wouldn’t be, and what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?” 


Cooke explained that Alice was certainly in the right place at the right time to apply for the “For having ­offered himself up as the savior of the American way, President Biden now finds himself in something of a pickle.” 


The jobs reports are lackluster. The border is a mess. Gas prices are sky high. Our supply chains are broken. Inflation, which was supposed to be “transitory,” looks more persistent by the day. Americans remain stranded in Afghanistan. China’s testing space nukes. COVID is not only still with us; it’s making its way into the Good States. And, despite its having been given a jolly, catchy name — the “Build Back Better agenda” — all the public seems to know about the president’s gargantuan spending plan is that it will cost trillions upon trillions of dollars. 

Down the rabbit hole, though, everything is still peachy. 


Indeed, insofar as America has any problems to speak of, they’re held to be either nonexistent, inconsequential, or somehow your fault. You may think you watched in horror a few months ago as a generational debacle unfolded in Kabul, but what you actually saw was “the largest US airlift in history.” Hurrah! 


You may believe that the southern border has been in a perpetual state of crisis from the moment Biden took office, but this is merely the sort of quotidian “circumstance” that could have happened under any president and is only happening now due to the inexplicable vagaries of climate change. How unfair! 


On first glance, you might think it more than a little startling that the Chinese Communist Party has managed to contrive a cache of hypersonic nuclear weapons that, if deployed correctly, would zip right past our defenses, but what you’re for some reason missing is that when it comes to the prospect of a nuclear apocalypse, “stiff competition” between nations is “welcome.” Natch. 

That inflation you’re worried about? It’s not going to happen, says the president. Or, at least, if it does happen, it’ll be because the government wasn’t permitted to spend enough of your cash. And anyhow, when you really think about it, inflation is a pretty “high-class problem” to have, isn’t it? In that sense, it’s a little like ­supply-chain disruptions, which you might well believe have the potential to seriously inconvenience you, but which, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg confirms, are ­really just the positive byproducts of Biden’s having “successfully guided this economy out of the teeth of a terrifying recession.” 


Asked today about the potential impact that this successful economic guidance might have on the delivery of consumer products going forward, White House press secretary Jen Psaki explained that we don’t really need a functioning market anyhow. No one, she sniffed, should shed any tears at “the tragedy of the treadmill that’s delayed.” 


Bothered by this approach? There’s no need to be. Instead, relax into what the Washington Post’s Micheline Maynard submits should be your “new, more realistic expectations” for the future. “American consumers,” Maynard points out, have been “pampered and catered to for decades,” to such an extent that their first reaction to deteriorating economic conditions may well be to engage in an unacceptable and “spoiled” “whine” rather than to simply “make adjustments” so that the president’s feelings might be spared. 


Oh, and while you’re at it, you might take a moment to appreciate the sheer ingenuity of the alchemy by which this administration has managed to transmute $3.5 trillion into $0 through good intentions alone. Previous generations — the ones that sat around worrying about treadmills delayed in transit, no doubt — had to face hard questions, such as how best to raise the money they wanted to spend on public services. Our generation, by a striking piece of luck, can just insist those choices away with incantations. What a trick! 


It’s so devilishly clever, in fact — and so terribly simple to boot — that one can’t help but wonder why it hadn’t been thought of until now. 


All one must do to achieve the effect is respond to any criticisms whatsoever with an emphatic, “No, you absolute rotter, that isn’t happening at all; and if it is happening, it’s not too bad, ­really; and if it is bad, it won’t be bad for long; and if it is bad for long, well, that’ll be your fault.” 


Then, having handily dispatched one’s enemies, one can simply move on to the next objection, which, yes, might be based on things that people are actually seeing, but which is equally ill-founded, for reasons that will be decided upon by Twitter within the next few days. 


Alice, she says, is able to believe “six impossible things before breakfast.” Looks as if she’ll get the job.