Saturday, November 18, 2017


Image result for money laundering

The news is a bit dated now, but it’s still important. Paul Manafort, one of Donald Trump's former campaign managers, has been indicted by a federal jury for money laundering and tax evasion. What's next? There's an old proverb that says a very good prosecutor could indict a ham sandwich if he had a mind to. Robert Mueller is very good at what he does, so, we'll see.
Lest you think I’m being flippant, let me assure you that I understand the seriousness of the charges Mr. Manafort faces. In fact, If he had contacted me several years ago, I could have warned him about the dangers of money laundering.   
I’m married to an eagle-eyed accounting whiz. She’s meticulous and she’s as honest as the day is 24 hours long. There are days when I may be working on something here on the second floor while she’s on the third floor reconciling our books in Quicken. Just about the time a bolt of inspiration is about to strike me, I hear the dreaded words. “Okay, Slick, what did you buy at Wal-Mart last week? It cost 97 cents.” My response is almost always “I dunno.” I think you can guess what’s next. I go upstairs and read the receipt. “FLTLS HEAVY 0017500207222...0.097” I haven’t got a clue. I then go to Wal-Mart’s customer service and discover that it’s spray starch. I’m tempted to ask why they didn’t they didn’t label the receipt “spray starch,” but realize that would be pointless. When all's said and done, my accountant gets the information she needs and I try to find that lightning bolt that was about the strike me before I was interrupted.
What does this have to do with money laundering? A lot.

Most of us have occasionally left a stray dollar in the wash. In our house, that money becomes Nancy’s property even if I’m the one who carelessly leaves it in my jeans prior to depositing them in the washer. It’s usually not a problem, but sometimes there’s more than a buck at stake.

A while ago, Nancy inadvertently left four twenty dollar bills in a pair of her jeans. They went through the fill, wash, rinse, and spin cycles, along with scads of loose change I’d been leaving in my jeans for who knows how long. When she retrieved the jeans, the twenties had been thoroughly shredded. We worked feverishly to put the money back together, piece by piece, thanks to Nancy’s eagle eye, I was able to take the pieced together money to the bank and retrieve sixty of the eighty dollars that had been laundered.

But, there’s more to the story. All the loose change I’d been laundering broke the washer. I can’t remember the exact amount of money Jim, Guion’s repairman, dug out of the washer in the process, but it was enough to buy us a couple of burgers at J’s Carry Out. I don’t know how much the repairs cost, but suffice it to say good professional help these days isn’t cheap.

I learned a couple of valuable lessons when the smoke cleared. First, a good accountant is a godsend. Second, money laundering can get quite expensive. If only Paul Manafort had spoken to me before he launched into what might become his very expensive adventure.

What a witch’s brew we have. Our political air is full of shady deals with foreign powers, money laundering, collusion, conspiracy, tax evasion, under the table sales, and dossiers. I suppose I should be discouraged, but I think I should try to look at the bright side. This whole mess is about the only  thing about our politics that’s bipartisan right now.  Michael Flynn is nowhere to be found. We haven’t seen hide nor hair of Trump the younger for some time. The Podesta boys, who were locked arm and arm with Mr. Manafort, are scurrying for the hills, waiting for the next shoe to drop. Hillary’s just written her best imitation of a Greek tragedy,  buying dossiers, selling  “smidgens” of uranium to the Russians on the sly, while the Russians are probably selling it to the North Koreans and Iranians. Bill made a half a million bucks for a speech he made in Moscow, thanks to the generosity of Vladimir Putin’s bankers.

It’s enough to make my head spin.

I’m not sure this is going to end well. I think it might look a bit the old slaughter operations at Tyson. Folks who worked there used to tell me that cows came in one end and everything after that was a bloody mess.

How can those of us on the sidelines escape what’s coming? About the only advice I can offer comes from  Hamlet’s words to Ophelia - “Get thee to a nunnery!”

Thursday, November 02, 2017


"First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen."  

  • From Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee’s eulogy to George Washington (1799)

The above statement would almost surely have been accepted by most Americans as true until a few days ago. Then, on October 26th, Christ Church in Alexandria, Virginia, banished our first President from his place of honor. In a letter to their congregation, the church’s vestry said they were going to remove two plaques that had been erected in 1870, one honoring Washington and another honoring Robert E. Lee. They explained their reason for doing so this way:

“Hebrews 13:2 says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some you have entertained angels unawares.” Christ Church lives into this call, feeding the hungry with our Lazarus ministry, welcoming the stranger in our refugee ministry, and inviting all to worship with us. The plaques in our sanctuary make some in our presence feel unsafe or unwelcome. Some visitors and guests who worship with us choose not to return because they receive an unintended message from the prominent presence of the plaques.”

Washington’s history with Christ Church goes  back to 1773, when he purchased pew number five. The Washington Papers project credits him with being a vestryman and a lifelong contributor to the church (source Rod Dreher’s “American Conservative,” October 28th).

What had Washington done to merit such rejection? While it’s true that he was a slave owner, it’s also true that he emancipated a large number of them in the 1780’s. He would have emancipated all of them if he hadn’t been legally prevented from doing so by the language of a will.

Was it from the way he put down the Whiskey Rebellion in the 1790’s, when he led a 10,000 man state militia into Pennsylvania that crushed the rebellious farmers who had refused to pay the federal excise that had been levied on liquor?

Some of our Presidents have done far worse. Woodrow Wilson used the Espionage Act of 1917 to suppress and imprison socialist Eugene Debs. Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator and savior of the American union, suspended the writ of habeas corpus, a fundamental American legal right. Franklin Roosevelt, who shepherded the nation through the Great Depression and World War II, put thousands of loyal Japanese-Americans into internment camps. Richard Nixon gave us Watergate.

Does the vestry of Christ Church really expect us to believe the reason they’re relegating George Washington to the catacombs or wherever else they’re going to plant the plaque because a symbol honoring him is making some people “feel unsafe or unwelcome?” Who are these people? How many are there? Rod Dreher’s words here are exquisitely insightful - “Find five people who did this. I dare you.”

I spent a few of my formative years as an acolyte at Christ Episcopal Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts. As it is with its sister church in Alexandria, Virginia, the church I attended has a long,  storied history. It was founded in the early 1760’s. I can still see in my mind’s eye a plaque in the narthex wall commemorating what the vestry in those times claimed was the “first shot fired in the American Revolution.” Legend has it that some brave patriot taunted the British as they were on their way to Lexington and Concord and a stray shot aimed at him wound up in the narthex wall.

There is another plaque in honor of Abraham Lincoln, who visited the church some time during the Civil War. There was also one other plaque. It was there to honor George Washington!

So, what’s next? Should the Christ Church I attended remove the plaque honoring our first President? Should it be removed for the sake of ecclesiastical symmetry? Should Lincoln’s plaque stay until some offended soul complains about the way he suspended habeas corpus? Or, should it go right now?  And, what of the plaque below the bullet hole in the narthex wall? Shouldn’t it stay? After all, a bit of historical fantasy is good for tourism. Right?

Is it any wonder that the number of baptized Episcopalians in America has declined by 25% since 1980?  (source: Covenant - the Living Church, July 2017)

I’m am really getting tired of the offense and willful blindness of our history that some self-absorbed leaders are taking at every turn. I realize that our history hasn’t always been pretty. We’ve done some good. We’ve  done some bad. It’s all part of who we are. If those taking umbrage don’t like it, they need to stay at home, lock their doors, turn off the TV, radio, computers, and steer clear of social media. That way, they won’t have to deal with us and we won’t have to deal with them.