Week 4, 2019: From Indifference to Mendacity

Sometimes a muted emotional response is commendable. When called for a foot fault on match point during her quarterfinal at the Australian Open this past week, Serena Williams hardly “batted an eyelid.” What a contrast to the ruckus that ensued during last fall’s U.S. Open. On the other hand, a lack of emoting can and usually does signal indifference. Cue Wilbur Ross, the billionaire in charge of the Commerce Department. “I know they are, and I don’t really quite understand why,” Ross said on national TV in response to being asked about furloughed federal workers going to food banks to make ends meet. Quite honestly, a dead man would have shown more compassion than Ross did as he then suggested those same workers might apply instead for emergency, “low interest” loans. Did he mean like the almost 9% loans his department’s federal credit union was offering during the crisis?

Here is Ross as dead man walking during the federal shut-down on CNBC.

And here is Ross earlier this year telling Congress (in effect): “Yes, I’m not only tone deaf I’m literally deaf, too.”

The good news is that we’re not yet Russia, though Ross’s cabinet colleague, Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin, is trying to help bring America and the former “Evil Empire” together by ending sanctions on Russian tycoon Oleg Deripaska. Study this next photo and ask yourself: does this guy have the look of a nice man? Most of Deripaska’s smiles could be mistaken for snarling, and his eyes are typically narrowed in an angry expression I refer to as “snake eyes.” Then there are Deripaska’s cocked eyebrows. There I don’t blame in. The further East you travel in Europe, the less people genuinely smile as a rule of thumb in the belief that if you’re happy you’re a fool. As in, don’t you realize the true nature of the socio-political environment you inhabit?

I’d say this woman does. She’s Anastasia Vashukevich, a Belaursian escort and blogger who was just returned—against her wishes—to Russia, where as she noted strange things happen. Among her clients is none other than Deripaska, Putin’s buddy, of whom Vashukevich claims she has evidence of Russian collusion. How long she stays alive now that she’s back in Russia from Thailand is anybody’s guess, Putin aside (as he no doubt knows exactly how long he’ll go before “intervening”).

Notice a visual theme (hint: cocked eyebrows, the sign of those who are wary in a lawless land).

Speaking of festering sore spots around the world, there’s little chance of Zimbabwe improving anytime soon. Yes, Robert Mugabe is gone—replaced by his former, loyal lieutenant, Emmerson Mnangagwa. Here is the man known as “the crocodile” returning to Robert Mugabe International Airport in Harare this past week after making a pit-stop at the Davos Conference. Why was Mnangagwa there? To insist he’s a great guy, eager for foreign investment. Notice in this case how not only the Crocodile’s upper lip is raised in a sign of disgust, but also how emotionally in synch his aides are. The three men to Mnangagwa’s right in this photo are all spotting the same look. As a spurning emotion, a sign of something “stinks” or tastes bad, disgust hardly suggests openness.

One final note here among the photographs that caught my eye this week. Let’s admit that being “open” (as in “open for business”) doesn’t necessarily provide a safety net when it comes to ensuring good governance. Roger Stone has been mugging for the TV cameras during the past few days, doing his best to imitate Richard Nixon’s “victory salute”: the very same one Nixon gave even on boarding the helicopter that took him away from the White House after resigning his presidency. I could be showing Stone’s imitation of Nixon’s victory salute or even the Nixon tattoo he’s got on his upper back.

But somehow this photo of an eyes-wide-open, eager to cash-in Stone flanked by his fellow swamp mates Paul Manafort and Lee Atwater on the occasion of opening their K-Street lobbying firm back in the 1980’s was just too sweetly bitter for me to pass up. Among their clients were foreign dictators, overseas political parties with likely ties to drug trafficking and, of course, also some guy named Donald Trump.