Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

'45 Is NOT the Best Friend Israel Ever Had

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One of the easiest ways to start a heated argument these days is to claim that Donald Trump is unquestionably NOT “the best friend Israel ever had.” For many American Jews and non-Jews alike especially - those who view politics mostly through the “blue and white” Israeli lens - 45’s moving the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and then recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights provided more than enough brownie points to earn him the exalted title of “The best friend Israel ever had.”. Gee, and I have long been of the opinion that when it comes to Israel - or Canaan, Judea, Palestine Eretz Yisrael or whatever you choose to call it - Moses, Theodore Herzl and David Ben Gurion dwarf the man who currently occupies the White House.

Like the vast majority of American Jews, I am both a staunch Zionist and an ohayv Yisrael (a lover of Israel). Unlike many, I am able to read, speak, write and understand both ancient and modern Hebrew with a reasonable degree of proficiency, and am a close student of both her history and politics. Again, like a majority of American Jews, I am not a particular fan of P.M. Netanyahu, am totally against the BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanction) Movement, and am a devoted Democrat. I find no disparity between loving and supporting the Jewish State and finding fault with - and speaking out against - various policies, principles and politicians whenever necessary. To my way of thinking, this does not make me - or those who are of similar mind - any less a Zionist than those whose litmus test is 100% fealty. Sorry guys: Democracy should not - and in fact does not - make any such demands.

Which gets us back to the question of whether or not Boss Tweet is “the best friend Israel ever had.” The answer has to be a resounding NO!! While there are dozens upon dozens (hundreds?) of idiotic, mean-spirited, mendacious anti-democratic things ‘45 has done to make his eventual historic ranking beneath that of Presidents Andrew Johnson, Zachary Taylor and Warren G. Harding, the one which should truly bother American Jews the most is his making Israel a wedge issue in American politics. To wit, the POTUS - with the knowing acquiescence of Bibi Netanyahu - have done the unthinkable: turned support for Israel - which for decades has been a bipartisan imperative - into a political wedge issue. Trump, with the active support of Stephen Miller and Jared Kushner, have done everything in their power to convince America that Democrats are anti-Israel anti-Semites while Republicans are the only people who “truly can be counted on” to support Israel. As the New York Times’ Tom Friedman noted just the other day, Few things are more dangerous to Israel’s long-term interests than its becoming a partisan matter in America, which is Israel’s vital political, military and economic backer in the world.

As I noted in an essay posted last February (Politics - Like Acting and Aging - Ain’t For Sissies) ‘45’s strategy for reelection would involve turning the as yet unnamed “Squad” into the face of the Democratic Party, thus hopefully shoring up his support among evangelical Christians (who form the largest pro-Zionist bloc in America) while convincing more and more Jews that if they love Israel, they must vote Republican.

(It should be noted that a majority of white evangelicals consider Israel to be the Jesus Landing Pad. Once all the Jews congregate in Jerusalem, Jesus can return with his flaming sword. Jews who refuse to accept him as their savior will die. In other words, Jews are nothing more than eschatological doormats for white evangelicals.)

The “Trumptanyahu” strategy vis-à-vis keeping two duly elected Muslim members of Congress from entering Israel (Reps. Omar and Tlaib) is the bottom of the barrel. Yes, both of these women (along with the other two members of “the Squad” - Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts) are supporters of the BDS movement and would never, ever get my vote. Nonetheless, it is up to the voters of their districts - not the Israeli P.M. and certainly not the POTUS - to cast judgment on them by driving a lethal spike into the heart of the democratic principles which have guided our countries for generations. Historically, no president has ever - and I mean EVER - forced a foreign leader to deny duly elected members of Congress from entering his/her country. By doing so, it shows that both Trump and Netanyahu are more interested in being reelected than in preserving democratic values. Bibi caved after reading a Trump tweet to the effect that permitting Omar and/or Tlaib entry would be a sign of “weakness.” It should be kept in mind that Netanyahu, like Trump is facing national elections, which he- again like Trump - must win in order to keep from going on trial for corruption. And, in order to win and retain his position as P.M., he must stay in the good graces of the most conservative, ultra-nationalist factions in Israel’s political universe . . . just as ‘45 must cater to his political base made up largely of ultra-conservative, pro-gun white evangelicals. The two - ‘45 and Bibi - are in their way, fraternal twins. Indeed, many a pundit has declared “Netanyahu is pretty much identical to Trump . . . but with a better vocabulary - in 2 different languages.”

‘45’s latest foray into foreign policy via tweet has drawn harsh criticism from both sides of the aisle. Even the vaunted, establishmentarian AIPAC (America Israel Public Affairs Committee) has broken with the president over the Tlaib/Omar fiasco. "We disagree with Reps. Omar and Tlaib’s support for the anti-Israel and anti-peace BDS movement, along with Rep. Tlaib’s calls for a one-state solution. We also believe every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand," AIPAC tweeted this past Thursday. Both Florida Senator Marco Rubio and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) chastised P.M. Netanyahu (though not the president by name) for denying entry to two members of Congress. Said Senator Rubio, “I disagree 100% with Reps. Tlaib & Omar on #Israel & am the author of the #AntiBDS bill we passed in the Senate,” he tweeted. “But denying them entry into #Israel is a mistake. Being blocked is what they really hoped for all along in order to bolster their attacks against the Jewish state.” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) called Israel’s decision to bar the two representatives “outrageous,” and revealed that in recent exhaustive talks with Ron Dermer, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, that they would be permitted their visit. But then the POTUS became involved and all bets were off.

This of course puts Democrats in a politically dicey situation; condemning many of Omar’s and Tlaib’s comments (and rightfully so) while supporting their right to visit Israel and perhaps see how democracy works - even if not perfectly so - in the Middle East.

Trump and Netanyahu share many political commonalities . . . not the least of which is gleefully putting short-term gains (e.g. reelection) before long-term progress.

In any event, it is growing clearer every day that Donald Trump is NOT the “best friend Israel ever had.” And those who ignore all the other noxious aspects of his being, ultimately do so at the sake of weakening and perhaps losing the state they truly love. For with the exception of moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem and recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan, he hasn’t done jack. What he has done is go against virtually every Jewish value handed down from Mt. Sinai, codified in rabbinic literature and passed on from generation to generation.

That is definitely not the mark of a haver - a “friend”.

So go ahead . . . attack me, call me an anti-Semite; tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about; insist that I am a deluded liberal stooge . . . but please try and do it in Hebrew if you can.

 445 days until the next presidential election.

 Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

 

The Inexplicable Confidence of the Utterly Incompetent

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It seems that with every passing week and month, the partisan political divide has become wider, nastier and far more case-hardened. Political stereotypes (“Hollywood is made up of nothing but intellectually snobbish, irreligious, far-left dupes”; “the South is made up of uneducated, gun-toting bigots”) have supplanted reason and made conversation - let alone progress - next to impossible. We’ve all been victimized by stereotypical belief patterns, whether at work, while socializing or at family gatherings. And, to be perfectly honest, it hurts; precisely because it drives a wedge between people who used to be close. One of the hardest things to deal with is the political certainty of those who in reality evince precious little - if any - knowledge of politics. If it is of any succor however, remember the words of King Solomon, writing under the name of Kohelet:

.מַה־שֶּֽׁהָיָה֙ ה֣וּא שֶׁיִּֽהְיֶ֔ה וּמַ֨ה־שֶּׁנַּֽעֲשָׂ֔ה ה֖וּא שֶׁיֵּֽעָשֶׂ֑ה וְאֵ֥ין כָּל־חָדָ֖שׁ תַּ֥חַת הַשָּֽׁמֶשׁ

Namely, “What has been is what shall be; and what has been done is what shall be done; and there is nothing new under the sun.”

Long, long ago, the extreme confidence of the incompetent was noted by Socrates who, we are told, said something along the lines of “the only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” Then there was Charles Darwin who, towards the end of his life noted that “ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.” Not long after Darwin’s demise (1882), a new academic field, Political Philosophy, proved that this was actually true. The so-called “father” of political philosophy was a French polymath (a person of wide-ranging knowledge or learning) by the name of Gustav Le Bon. Le Bon (1841-1931) whose areas of academic interest included medicine, sociology, anthropology and physics, was most famous for his 1895 work The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind, which has long been considered one of the seminal works of political psychology. As far back as 1895, Le Bon described the psychological underpinnings of support for such demagogues as Hitler, Mussolini, Joseph McCarthy and Donald Trump - who wouldn’t become part of the world scene for decades to come.

In a 1999 paper, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers David Dunning and Justin Kruger brought statistical truth to what has been known by philosophers since Socrates and Darwin. Simply put, that incompetent people think they know more than they really do, and tend to be more boastful about it.

To test Darwin’s theory, the researchers quizzed people on several topics, such as grammar, logical reasoning and humor. After each test, they asked the participants how they thought they did. Specifically, participants were asked how many of the other quiz-takers they beat.

Dunning and Kruger were shocked by the results, even though it confirmed their hypothesis. Time after time, no matter the subject, the people who did poorly on the tests ranked their competence much higher. On average, test takers who scored as low as the 10th percentile ranked themselves near the 70th percentile. Those least likely to know what they were talking about believed they knew as much as the experts.

What do YOU see when you look in the mirror?

What do YOU see when you look in the mirror?

Dunning and Kruger’s results have been replicated in at least a dozen different domains: math skills, wine tasting, chess, medical knowledge among surgeons and firearm safety among hunters. For readers of this blog, the most important finding of their study - and those studies which have since followed - is that the less people know about civics, politics and foreign policy, the more they claim to understand. Whether or not Donald Trump, his advisers and strategists have ever read, heard of or digested what has come to be known as the “Dunning-Kruger Effect” is as irrelevant as it unlikely. Nonetheless, they act as if they do.

The Dunning Kruger Effect is a type of cognitive bias, whereby people with little expertise or ability assume they have superior expertise or ability. This overestimation occurs as a result of the fact that they don’t have enough knowledge to know they don’t have enough knowledge. When they look in the mirror - assuming they ever do - they see a genius . . . or a titan or one whose every judgment is correct. A study published in the April 2018 issue of the journal Political Psychology aimed the “Dunning Kruger Effect” specifically in the direction of partisan politics. Researched and written by University of Maryland Political Science professor Ian Anson, Partisanship, Political Knowledge, and the Dunning‐Kruger Effect found that those who evinced the least political knowledge (e.g. the ability to name Cabinet secretaries, identify the length of term limits for members of Congress or the names of programs that the U.S. government spends the least on) were far more likely to overestimate their level of political knowledge. Anson’s study found little difference between unknowing Democrats and unknowing Republicans. Indeed by itself, this is awfully depressing.

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While the results of Anson’s study suggest that being uninformed leads to overconfidence across the political spectrum, other studies have shown that Democrats now tend to be more educated than Republicans, possibly making the latter more vulnerable to the Dunning-Kruger Effect. In fact, a Pew Research Center poll released in March of 2018, found that 54 percent of college graduates identified as Democrats or leaned Democratic, compared to 39 percent who identified or leaned Republican.

Writing in Psychology Today, cognitive neuroscientist Bobby Azarian speculated that the Dunning Kruger Effect “ . . . may help explain why certain Trump supporters seem to be so easily tricked into believing proven falsehoods when the President delivers what have become known as “alternative facts,” often using language designed to activate partisan identities. Because they lack knowledge but are confident that they do not, they may be less likely than others to actually fact-check the claims that the President makes.”

Getting through to people is never easy . . . especially in light of what everyone from Socrates and Darwin to Dunning, Kruger and Anson have both posited and proved. The best answer on the horizon is, of course, to overwhelmingly defeat Donald Trump and all those who feed their partisans with half-truth and outright lies, and replace them with people possessing greater intellectual honesty and modesty.

Remember this: a wise person knows what they know; a very wise person knows what they do not know; a truly wise person knows, trusts and engages with those who know the things that they themselves do not know.

452 days until the election . . .

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone


It

Clara Bow: The “It” Girl (1905-1965)

Clara Bow: The “It” Girl (1905-1965)

This week’s essay, simply entitled “It,” is the 756th hebdomadal (weekly) essay I’ve written and posted since February 5, 2005. Back then, the blog was entitled Beating the Bushes: Barack Obama was a virtually anonymous junior senator from Illinois, Pete Buttegieg had just graduated magna cum laude from Harvard, and was heading off to Oxford’s Pembroke College where had had just been named a Rhodes Scholar; real estate magnate Donald Trump was beginning the second season of The Apprentice, and the bestselling fiction novel was John Grisham’s The Broker. No one had yet heard of Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, or the terms sexting, and ransomware; for weeks and months on end, one of the top news stories dealt with Terri Schiavo, a severely brain-damaged woman, whose epic life-or-death battle came to the forefront of America's conscience — and to the highest court in the land.

One of the biggest differences between writing essays in 2005 and today is that back then, one had at least a week’s worth of leisure to research, cogitate and prepare before coming up with – and committing to - a title . . . let alone determining what in the Hell one was going to be writing about. By comparison, today, each potential topic lasts about ten minutes before taking a backseat to some other breaking news of earth shattering importance. Take for an example this week: just as one was beginning research on an essay dealing with the 2nd round of Democratic debates, there was the presidential attack on Rep. Elijah Cummings, and the city of Baltimore with all its racist overtones; the Presidential son-in-law’s involvement in that city’s decline, and the horrific massacres in Gilroy, California, El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio which have led to yet another debate about automatic weapons, gun safety laws, mental health and the relationship between the current administration and galloping white supremacy. This is not even to mention the Iranian seizure of additional oil tankers in the Straits of Hormuz, North Korea’s newest nuclear missile tests or the administration’s promise to impose new tariffs on $300 billion worth of Chinese consumer goods.

All-in-all, a vast smörgåsbord of temptations guaranteed to afflict one with acute weltschmerz combined with progressive intellectual dyspepsia. Oh how one longs for the days when screaming headlines were the exception, not the commonplace. What those of us who closely follow, write about - and are deeply invested in - politics on all levels, we cry out for change; for a reality in which class replaces crass; for a stable of political animals who place the broad weal of humanity above the narrow straitened path of partisanship. In short, we seek those who possess that ineffable quality called “It.” Being ineffable (too great to be spoken in words) “It” is nearly impossible to define; but one senses it when one sees it.

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On the window shelf in my library, one finds several keepsakes which are, in my estimation, the symbols of my rather complex being. There, from right to left one finds a small statue of Moses grasping the Tablets of the Law, (representing my Jewish self); a magnificent wooden cigar box (my fascination with the inexplicable); a bust of Thomas Jefferson (symbolizing the ultimate Renaissance Man); a photo of my beloved father Henry in uniform, with the Taj Mahal looming in the background (the ultimate gentleman as warrior); a photo with Annie (the strongest, most resilient human being I know), and a truly rare photo of silent actress Clara Bow - the original “It” girl - my all-time favorite movie star.

I am happy to report that over the past several weeks I believe we have been in the presence of an “It” leader-on-the-rise: South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Buttigieg, whose name is still so unpronounceable that most people refer to him as “Mayor Pete,” possesses “It.” He is a masterful articulator and very good at sidestepping controversy. Asked, as he stood next to Bernie Sanders onstage at the most recent Democratic debate, whether age was an important factor to consider in the upcoming election, Buttigieg gave a roundabout answer that stressed the importance of ideas and vision over age, while also explaining that looking to younger people was the important evolution needed for our country’s future. But probably most memorable was his directing a statement to sitting Republican congressmen: “And if you are watching this at home, and you are a Republican member of Congress, consider the fact that when the sun sets on your career, and they are writing your story—of all the good and bad things you did, the thing you will be remembered for is whether in this moment, with this president, you found the courage to stand up to him or you continued to put party over country.”

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As a serious practicing Christian (He was raised and educated Catholic as a child, and became an Anglican [Episcopalian] while studying at Oxford), Mayor Peter has had no problem calling out Republicans for what he sees as their sectarian hypocrisy: “For a party that associates itself with Christianity, to say that … God would smile on the division of families at the hands of federal agents, that God would condone putting children in cages,” Buttigieg said, “has lost all claim to ever use religious language again.” This is the kind of straight-shooting attack that many Americans have been waiting for. Possessing “It,” Mayor Pete has the ability to be animated without being antagonistic; didactic without being demeaning and plain-spoken without resorting to puerility.

At age 37, Mayor Pete may seem too young to be a serious contender for POTUS. Indeed, he is 36 years younger than ‘45, 40 years younger than Joe Biden, 41 years younger than Bernie Sanders and 33 years younger than Elizabeth Warren. Were he to be elected, this would represent the greatest age differential between a president and his successor; JFK was 27 years younger than Dwight Eisenhower. The one thing JFK and Mayor Pete have in common - besides a Harvard education - is that ineffable quality we began this essay with: IT.

(And by the way, for those whose primary interest in any candidate is where they stand vis--à-vis Israel, Mayor Pete is a strong - though not totally uncritical - supporter of the Jewish State . . . far more prominently so than most progressive Democrats.)

2020 may well not be Mayor Pete’s year, although, in my humble opinion, the time is ripe to - in the soaring words of JFK, to

“Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans . . . .unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world. Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

458 days until the election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

To Impeach or Not to Impeach: That Is the Question

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Although relatively low in entertainment value, former counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s testimony before two House committees did prove at least five things:

First, that a majority of the Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee and Select Committee on Intelligence never read more than the briefest of summaries of the Mueller Report;

Second, that Attorney General William Barr’s assessment of that report was an absolute crock of beans;

Third, that candidate and then President Trump and his associates engaged in potential profit-making ventures with one of America’s worst enemies and then committed numerous provable acts of judicial obstruction;

Fourth, that not only did the Russians cyber-invade the voting systems in all fifty states in an effort to guarantee a Trump victory - they are hard at it for the 2020 election; and

Fifth, that despite the hearings, the House is hardly any closer to impeaching the POTUS than it was the day before the hearings. And while Democrats should be applauded for asking hard questions based on their (or their staff’s) reading and understanding of the lengthy, dry-as-dust report, Republicans were far more interested in bad-mouthing and taking cheap shots at Director Mueller - turning an American icon of Lincolnesque proportions into a senescent partisan hack.

Yesterday, Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler (D-NY) announced that he had asked a federal judge to unseal grand jury secrets related to the Mueller investigation, using the court filing to declare that lawmakers have already in effect launched an impeachment investigation of President Trump. In a legal maneuver that carries significant political overtones, the committee attorneys told a judge that it needs access to the grand jury evidence collected by Mr. Mueller as special counsel — such as witness testimony — because it is “investigating whether to recommend articles of impeachment” against the president. With the filing, Chairman Nadler was attempting to sidestep the debate raging inside the Democratic Party over whether the full House should hold a vote to formally declare that it is opening an impeachment inquiry. By declaring that his committee was in effect conducting such an inquiry, he was heading off a politically difficult vote in the committee or the full house to pursue impeachment.

To impeach or not to impeach: that is the question. Although a majority of Democrats across the country favor impeachment proceedings, only around 100 Congressional Democrats have already gotten on board. (Follow this link to see the latest tally of which Democrats favor impeachment, which say “not yet,” and which have yet to respond.) The percentage of Republicans polling against impeachment proceedings easily equals the president’s national approval ratings - about 43% at best. Among independents, impeachment is supported by a plurality, with “not sure” coming in a rather distant second. For House Democrats, impeachment is being debated and discussed along three different lines: the legal, the political and the moral.

The Legal: Despite what A.G. Barr, Republicans in Congress, the president’s base and conservative trolls everywhere may aver, there is a welter of evidence to show that crimes have been committed. Perhaps no one pierced what the New York Times’ Virginia Heffernan called “the clouds and cacophony” of the morning session (e.g. the Judiciary Committee) more magisterially than Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) who wielded the gavel during afternoon session. (n.b.: for purposes of full disclosure: I have long been close to the Schiff family; his father and late mother were students of mine for many years, and I have, on occasion, served as family rabbi. My respect and admiration for Adam are boundless.) In his opening remarks, Chairman Schiff “. . .scorchingly outlined President Trump’s three-way betrayal of his country and the American people.” Adam is always low-key and lawyerly; broad emotionalism is simply not his style. The most important point he got across in his opening remarks was that even if the two-year Mueller investigation couldn’t establish criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians, their disloyalty to country was “something worse” than a crime, and Mueller’s team amply established it. “A crime is the violation of a law written by Congress,” Schiff intoned, “but disloyalty to country violates the very obligation of citizenship, our devotion to a core principle on which our nation was founded, that we, the people, not some foreign power that wishes us ill, we decide who shall govern us.”

As one who has actually read, digested and taken copious notes on the entire Mueller report (it took me more than 5 weeks), I can attest to the fact that there were crimes ‘aplenty involving  candidate Trump, President Trump and much of his staff and administration.

The Political: To impeach or not to impeach is also an issue with a major political component. As of today, Speaker Pelosi is not in favor of impeaching the 45th POTUS. Why? Certainly not because she believes he is innocent or falsely accused, but rather because there is a highly critical national election on the horizon. As the highest ranking official in the opposition, she must determine if supporting and carrying out impeachment proceedings in the House (which stand a snowball’s chance in Hell of succeeding in the Republican-led Senate) will put a major roadblock in her party’s attempt to take back the White House and both houses of Congress in 2020. Knowing that there will undoubtedly be a tremendous amount of Russian meddling in the 2020 election, she must do what is best and politically smartest to garner the maximum number of votes in places like Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, and West Virginia. As such, will it be better (and politically smarter) to run on “kitchen-table issues” like jobs, healthcare, taxes, and Social Security (among others) or on impeaching Donald Trump? If it’s the latter, will she then see her party drowning in the very swamp he has created? She must determine which is more politically potent: hatred of Trump or concern for the working class. Never underestimate the political smarts of Nancy Pelosi; she is one of the shrewdest political operators in American history.

Make no mistake about it: Should House Democrats decide to proceed with impeachment hearings, the Trump White House will Twitter away with all the wrathful vengeance and fury of the Biblical plagues. And while they will be applauded by their base for standing up to “the Socialist Squad,” they will likely gain few if any new supporters. On the other hand, it is possible that pushing the impeachment envelope may keep many independent voters away from the polls, fed up with Democrats who, in their opinion, are far more interested in getting rid of ‘45 than in addressing their middle-class needs and concerns. For the Democrats, this could easily become their Sisyphean challenge.

In an interview Adam Schiff gave nearly 2 months ago (well before the Mueller’s presentation to Congress) to Los Angeles Times staff writer Christine Mai-Duc, the California Democrat summarized the political conundrum about as well as is humanly possible:

I think the most powerful arguments both for and against impeachment are really mirror images of each other. If we don’t impeach him, what does that say to future Congresses and presidents about whether this kind of conduct is compatible with office? And by the same token, if we do impeach him, and he’s acquitted in the Senate, and there is an adjudication that that conduct is not impeachable, that may be a worse precedent. So I think before we go down the road of something that would absorb the whole Congress and whole country and lead to a very predictable result, we should be sure that this is the right thing to do for the country.

The Moral: Without question, our current president lacks both a moral compass and basic human decency. It may well be that Democrats must respond to all this immorality and indecency with a tactic which is not all that politically smart. After all, to many Americans - whether they are consciously aware of it or not - Donald Trump has two distinct advantages: he is a media celebrity and he stridently opposes virtually everything that has a moral component.

Those who aren’t ferociously enamored with Donald Trump are well aware of his many, many flaws and shortcomings: his racism, sexism, xenophobia, crudity, heartlessness, narcissism and perhaps above all, his utter inability to tell the truth. He is, without question, the least moral, most disloyal citizen to ever occupy the White House. And if for no other reason than this, Democrats should proceed with impeachment. Much of the nation is both benumbed and bewildered at the Republicans’ spinelessness; at their rank inability to confront the leader of their party. It seems to me that if the Democrats do not proceed with impeachment hearings that they too will be guilty of spinelessness. It may not, in the long run, make for smart politics. Goodness knows it will - succeed or fail - carry all the marks of courage and good citizenship - qualities sorely lacking in our time and place.

In the mid-1930s, shortly before the beginning of World War II, Austrian Robert Musil, the author of The Man Without Qualities (easily one of the greatest novels-of-ideas ever written) noted that “No culture can rest on a crooked relationship to truth.” Herr Musil, you said a mouthful. The political culture of the United States (and now, with the ascension of Boris Johnson, of Britain) is sick. It is unserious, crooked and lethal. There is no honest way to dissociate the rise of Trump and Johnson from the societies that produced them. The triumph of indecency is rampant. Choose your facts. The only blow Trump knows is the low one. As the gutter is to the stars, so is this president to dignity. 

Although impeaching him will likely not succeed in the Republican-controlled United States Senate nor fix what is wrong with our political culture, it is nonetheless, in my very humble opinion, the right thing to do. Some will respond “Although I agree with your assessment, winning the presidency is far more important.” I disagree: sometimes it is essential to do what in the short-term may be the wrong thing . . . but for the right reason.

In the long run, if we impeach him it’s not because we despise ‘45 so much; it’s because we love our country and its ideals so very much more.

467 days until the presidential election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

Will There Be a Morning After?

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Once upon a time, the new school year began shortly after Labor Day. I don’t know about you, but here in South Florida, our Fall Semester begins on Monday August 12 - when many kids will still be up north at summer camp. So why does our school year begin so incredibly early? Only G-d and the Palm Beach County Board of Education know. for certain . . . perhaps. Likewise, once upon a time, presidential elections began in earnest on Labor Day weekend of the year in which the nation went to the polls. Nowadays, presidential campaigns begin on the day the president takes the oath of office. And mind you, some of the potential candidates are gearing up not for the election four years hence, but occasionally a full eight years into the future. Of course, our current POTUS began his reelection campaign the very day he placed his hand on the Bible - a book he’s probably never read cover to cover. In other words, nowadays we seem to have both a never-ending school year and a presidential election season without end.

It goes without saying that a high percentage of the American public is anxiously awaiting - if not praying for - the end of the Trump presidency. We are up to here with all the bald-faced lies and “leadership via Twitter”; with the ceaseless name-calling, and revolving door executive department; with the utter societal divisiveness and the disparagement of the CIA, FBI and the press; with the dismembering of our international alliances and the catering to those who are most base and intolerant . . . and on and on and on. For the first time in our lives, many, many Americans - myself included - are in fear for the future of a country whose very slogan, e pluribus unam (“Out of many comes one”) is on the critical list.

But merely dislodging Trump and his clueless, avaricious crowd’s hands from the levers of power is neither a certainty nor a cure-all; American polity and society have long been fraught with cancerous cleavages. But never in our history have they been so case-hardened and, what’s even worse, so frighteningly weaponized. One of the most pernicious things Trump has done in his brief political career is to make fear the central plank of his presidency; the fear of the “other.” Historically, that is the despot’s way. Where most candidates for president have presented policies and visions meant to inspire, Trump has somehow convinced a sizable plurality that without his firm grip on the reins of authority and leadership, America is doomed - doomed to be brought down by enemies invading our once-great nation. Trump’s America is largely peopled by White Christian males (financed by self-serving billionaires) who fear that their “kind” are losing the country to “socialists,” “illegal aliens,” the arbiters of “political correctness” and atheists.

In the past week, we’ve gotten more than a sneak peak of their 2020 campaign strategy: running against the “socialist America haters”; making the entire “Democrat Party” into a tool of Representatives Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. (I predicted this in an essay nearly six months ago entitled Politics - Like Acting - Ain’t for Sissies..) Trump has his mindless minions so well-trained, so brainwashed, that should he actually lose both the popular vote (which he did in 2016) and the Electoral College, there will begin, the morning after the election, a cacophonous hue and cry of refusal and threat. The “defeat,” they will stridently claim, was all a gigantic hoax; a deadly lie promulgated by the “fake media.” This may well be, I fear, the first time in American history where there won’t be a relatively smooth transition from one presidency to the next. In short, it is possible that there may be no morning after. We saw a minor version of this with the election of Barack Obama in 2008: for 8 years, millions refused to accept him as ‘‘their president,” because he was not - and never would be - “one of us.”

I can easily imagine ‘45 holding a series of post-election campaign-style rallies in which he fans the flames of militant dissension by refusing to concede defeat. He will likely claim that “millions of undocumented illegals” voted twice, thrice and even more to steal victory and insure his defeat; that the will of the people had been thwarted by the Communists and Socialists who, beginning day one of the new administration, will begin confiscating their weapons, outlawing Christianity, and putting the government into the hands of “The Squad.” If such be the scenario, his intent will be nothing short of calling for civil war. Now, whether or not he has given thought to what his words could actually lead to is worth debating, for likely he has not. Nonetheless, as haunting as this possibility is, do remember that a clear majority of the approximately 390 million guns in America, are in the hands of self-identified conservatives, white nationalists and fans of conspiracy. Theoretically, what havoc they can wreak is beyond belief.

So what is to be done? (And mind you, I am plagiarizing neither Lenin nor Chernyshevsky; I may be a progressive, but I ain’t no Commie. This is incredibly close to our family history; just yesterday, Madam [our mom, who’ getting close to 100 years] was loudly decrying all her friends and colleagues - like John Garfield, Marsha Hunt and Larry Parks - who lost their careers due to accusations of being Commie sympathizers).  It seems to me that the first thing we can do is accustom ourselves to the fact that we may very well wind up voting for a Democratic candidate who is not our first choice. In the long run, we must vote for - and lend support to - the candidate who has the best chance of sending Boss Tweet back to where he comes from - whether it be Germany, Queens or his mother’s womb. I could care less, just so long as he leaves. Our support must be given to a candidate who is fearless, not feckless, who carries him- or herself with dignity, and has a functioning moral compass. This person must be skilled in the art of governance, capable of appointing a Cabinet of skilled professionals whose virtuosity is vastly above the venality of their predecessors; a president who is already on speaking terms with the people he or she will have to work with, and knows the value of doing justice, loving mercy and walking with humility. Again I repeat: it is likely that this person may not be your ideal candidate and may have a few cobwebs in the attic. But then again, as Grandpa Doc used to say: “If heaven were meant only for perfect people, it would be the emptiest piece of property in the universe.”

Once we have our candidate, we cannot - indeed must not - go sit on the sidelines licking old wounds. We must do everything in our individual and collective power to ensure that ‘45 and his ilk suffer the greatest defeat in all history. It’s time for progressives and moderates, for Democrats and Independents to finally start acting like a vast majority and rid our country of the mindless meanness which suffuses society. America still has the ability to be a beacon of light to the world . . . to guarantee that there will be a morning after.

No one said it would be easy . . . but it’s as essential as the dreams we dream or the very air we breathe.

473 days until the most significant election in American history.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

 

 

A Circus of Spineless Enablers

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In the world of social psychology, “enabling” is a term often used to connote a relationship with an addict. It might be a drug addict or alcoholic, a gambler, or a compulsive overeater. Most frequently, it’s the enablers, rather than the addicts, who suffer the effects of the addict’s behavior. In the world of contemporary politics, “enablers” are those who sit silently and spinelessly by, while their leader(s) - who are addicted to a mélange of outrageous behaviors and psychological instabilities - lead the nation along the path of destruction. These spineless enablers, are better known as “the Republican caucus” where seldom is heard a discouraging word . . . but the skies are much cloudier all day.

About the only ones who’ve found spines are those who have already retired from office, announced that they will be retiring or, in a few rare cases, have actually been defeated for reelection. Then there are those like South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who have gone from voluble anti-Trumpster to mostly adoring lapdog. How many remember all the way back to 2016 when Graham - the late Senator John McCain’s best friend - called Sir Donald of Orange everything from a “kook,” a “jackass,” “a little jerk,” a race-baiting bigot,” and “the most flawed nominee in the history of the Republican Party.” What a difference an election makes.

Then there is the case of Texas Senator Ted Cruz. During the 2016 primary season, when Cruz was a serious candidate for president, then-candidate Trump made fun of Cruz's wife's appearance and suggested that his Cuban-born father had had a hand in John F. Kennedy's assassination. He also savaged the senator on Twitter: "Why would the people of Texas support Ted Cruz when he has accomplished absolutely nothing for them?" Back when he had a spine, Cruz responded by calling Trump "a sniveling coward," ''a pathological liar," "utterly amoral" and "a serial philanderer." He refused to endorse him during the 2016 Republican National Convention, only to suddenly announce his support barely a month before Election Day 2016. Today, they are as thick as thieves.

There once was a time when Republicans stood for things like balanced budgets, limited government, a strong military and could be counted on for expressing a full-throated loathing for dictators and autocrats. And, beginning with the post-Nixon years, they frequently carried the Holy Book into battle against immoralists and malefactors of all stripes. From today’s perspective, that time seems to have been generations ago. Today, Republican office-holders at nearly every level are little better than clowns in a circus made up of spineless enablers; men - and even women - who remain mute while their leader rants and raves, sets records for telling lies, adds trillions to the deficit, picks fights with our closest allies and further isolates America from the rest of the world. Don’t these elected officials realize that their “leader” is a racist, immoral, foul-mouthed buffoon . . . not to mention a criminal?

Why won’t they open their mouths even once? How can anyone with an ounce of sense, a conscience and a true love of country stand idly by while the POTUS and his administration of acting understudies separates already traumatized children from their parents and then sequester them for weeks and perhaps months on end in for-profit “detention centers” (here I’m using the term we employed back in WWII); how can they continue showing loyalty to a man who spends the majority of his time playing golf, Tweeting, and holding endless love-fests (campaign rallies) and firing staff? How in the name of all that’s holy, healthy and sincere can they get a good night’s sleep? The answer to this last question is difficult to parse. However, it would seem that many, many Republicans are simply in fear; fear that should they rise up and relocate their backbones, take a stand against corruption, mendacity and gross incompetence and quit being enablers, that they will be called foul names, find themselves facing deep-pocketed challengers in the next primary, and actually losing their seats in Congress.

Is there ever going to be a “straw that breaks the camel’s back” before it’s too late?  Will the Jeffrey Epstein case turn into America’s “Profumo Scandal” and bring the government down? Will ‘45’s latest race-tinged rant against four members of the House of Representatives finally get the (mostly) white men on Capitol Hill to scream out ENOUGH ALREADY!? And most importantly, can all we’ve been through over these past 2 1/2 years finally get the workaday world to figure out that America deserves far, far better than a circus master with an unerring sense of that which is both immoral and macabre, and vote him out?

What America needs now, more than ever, are citizen patriots; experienced leaders; incorruptible elections and a solid moral compass. And while about a dozen or so Republican senators and representatives have called the president’s latest “Love it or leave it” rant “unacceptable,” their response - in a great Talmudic idiom - is little more than דחית בקנה (dah-kheet ba-kaneh - “pushing him away with a weak reed.” I have to believe that in their heart of hearts, a large majority of the president’s spineless enablers are truly embarrassed by the words and deeds of their party’s leader and fear for the country’s future should he retain his office. But what they fear even more is being voted out of office if they turn their weak reeds into steely spines.

Without question what we do not need is a circus of spineless enablers.

479 days until the next national election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

Thinking About Joyce Kilmer

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Our maternal grandmother, Anne (a.k.a. “Granny Annie”) was, among many other things, a walking encyclopedia of poetry. She could - and would - at the drop of a hat recite by heart everything from Vachel Lindsay’s Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight and Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade to Frank Lebby Stanton’s Keep a-Going’! , William Cullen Bryant’s Thanatopsis, Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha and Joyce Kilmer’s Trees. These poems - and dozens of others - were the soporifics which lulled us to sleep in our earliest years. Oddly and eerily, for the past couple of days, I’ve been trying like the Dickens (pun intended) to remember (without having to resort to a Google search - no challenge there) which poet wrote Trees. I could still recite it by heart, but somehow had misplaced the poet’s name. . . . a clear-cut “junior moment.” Actually, it turns out that my temporary forgetfulness was a goad to this week’s essay . . . a little something which likely occupies a treasured spot and purpose in my Celestial Cigar Box. Just before falling asleep early on the morning of July 4, the name “Joyce Kilmer” (1886-1918) reached the old frontal lobe. Eureka! Along with the Kilmer recollection came yet another of Granny’s beloved poets: Lucy Larcom (1824-1893), perhaps best known for Plant a Tree, whose first line goes “He who plants a tree plants a hope.”

When I woke up on the morning of July 4 and started reading online editions of various newspapers, I was struck dumb to see an article by A.P. science writer Seth Borenstein entitled A Way to Fight Climate Change? Plant a Trillion Trees. So that’s what the remembrance of Kilmer and Larcum was all about . . . planting trees to save the planet. From what I’ve learned over the past couple of days, there is a new study just published in the journal Science which concludes that planting billions of trees around the world would be the cheapest and most effective way to tackle the climate crisis. Since trees absorb carbon dioxide, which contributes to global warming, a worldwide planting initiative could remove a substantial portion of heat-trapping emissions from the atmosphere.

The researchers say a program at this scale could suck up about two-thirds of the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions caused by human activities since the start of the industrial revolution, or nearly 25% of the CO2 in the atmosphere. "This is by far — by thousands of times — the cheapest climate change solution," study co-author Thomas Crowther, a climate change ecologist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, told The Associated Press. Crowther stressed the need for urgent action, given how rapidly climate change is already progressing, and said tree planting would have near-immediate results, since trees remove more carbon when they are younger.  "It's certainly a monumental challenge, which is exactly the scale of the problem of climate change," Crowther said.

Replenishing the world’s forests on a grand scale would suck enough carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to cancel out a decade of human emissions, according to an ambitious new study. Scientists have established there is room for an additional 1.2 trillion trees to grow in parks, woods and abandoned land across the planet. If such a goal were accomplished it would outstrip every other method for tackling climate change – from building wind turbines to vegetarian diets. The hundreds of gigatons worth of anthropogenic emissions which could be removed from the planet is beyond belief.

Lack of accurate information meant for years experts severely underestimated the number of trees on Earth. Combining data from ground-based surveys and satellites, Dr Crowther and his colleagues arrived at a figure of three trillion trees on earth – over seven times more than a previous Nasa estimate. And so, they have determined that if somewhere between 1.5 and 2 trillion trees were planted, we would come light years closer to our goal of saving the planet.

The world’s longtime leader in reforestation is, of course Israel, where over the past 118 years through the Jewish National Fund, the tiny country has planted more than a quarter-billion trees, turning a desert into a garden. They have proven that it can be done, and that along the way, reforestation also creates jobs, food and hope.

Besides the politics involved in stopping climate change (the administration of the planet’s largest contributor to anthropogenic poisoning blithely rejects science), there is that haunting, depressive feeling that when all is said and done, there’s next to nothing we can do to stem the tide; to save the planet from an ecological apocalypse. However, there is reason for optimism; while we’ve been sleeping, kvetching and growing increasingly impotent, there’s actually a lot going on . . . much of it unnoticed and unknown:

  • The United Nations Trillion Tree Campaign has already planted more than a billion trees on several continents. One can select the continent - or country or town - they wish to assist.

  • India has been tackling reforestation in a massive way. Not that long ago, 1.5 million volunteers in the state Madhya Pradesh state planted more than 66 million trees in less than 12 hours.

  • There is an 8,000 km wall of trees being built in Africa - making it the largest living structure on the planet once it's finished. The wall aims to spread across the width of Africa and through more than 20 countries including Senegal, Nigeria and Ethiopia. A decade on from its launch, the wall is currently 15% complete, with 11.4 million trees planted in Senegal alone.

  • An international organization called Plant For the Planet is engaging students from around the world to become “Justice Ambassadors” in the fight to help heal the planet. To date they have planted billions of trees, millions of tons of food, and seen scores of nearly extinct creatures coming back to life.

  • Various states, counties, cities and towns have instituted their own projects and rules for making their home turf a bit more edenic.

  • There are companies, such as Truewood, (they make and market wonderful wooden watches) which will plant 10 trees for every watch sold. In their first two years in business, they have already planted more than a half-million trees. (I myself already own and proudly wear 4 Truewood time pieces.)

As mentioned above, planting billions and billions of trees also helps increase biodiversity, creates jobs, and feeds hundreds of millions of previously starving people. It is also far, far less expensive - and far, far quicker - than changing the planetary economy from carbon-based to renewable.

Kilmer was undoubtedly on to something when he wrote:

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast . . .
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

And even more to the point, perhaps, was Lucy Larcom’s Plant a Tree, in which she proclaimed:

He who plants a tree
Plants a hope . . .

Wayfarers he may not live to see.
Gifts that grow are best;
Hands that bless are blest;
Plant! life does the rest!

Heaven and earth help him who plants a tree,
And his work its own reward shall be..

488 days until the next election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone


Ditch Mitch

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Many people who watched Wednesday and Thursday night’s Democratic “debate” (put in quotation marks because it was not, by definition a debate) noted that the first night did not contain a single reference to the POTUS, and that neither night contained a single mention of Israel.. Conservative commentators and garden variety Trumpeters quickly concluded that the first-night gathering didn’t mention their idol because all the Democrats are afraid of him, and that Israel was never brought up because the Democrats are anti-Semitic Israel haters. What they failed to mention - and what a lot of people watching did not notice - were the dozens of negative references to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). From the number of times Mitch was mentioned, one might assume that the 2020 election is first and foremost a race to replace the 77-year old “Senator No.”

Hmmm . . . not such a bad idea, come to think of it. For more than anyone on Capitol Hill, the Kentucky senator is the living, breathing embodiment of the Trump agenda - or lack thereof. To the best of his ability, he spinelessly - and silently - puts up with whatever canal water spews forth from his boss, and refuses with every fiber of his being to allow anything passed by the Democratic-led House to get an airing in the upper chamber. Four years before he became Majority Leader, “Senator No” told members of the Heritage Foundation in no uncertain terms that “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” And although he failed in that mission, once he was sworn in as Majority Leader (Jan. 3, 2015), he did everything in his power to put an enormous blockade in the way of anything Obama wanted to do . . . up to and including refusing so much as a hearing for Merritt Garland, Obama’s pick for a vacant seat on the Supreme Court. McConnell’s rationale?The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President.”

If one reads between the lines here, what McConnell is really saying is that no “lame duck” president should have the right to nominate a Supreme Court Justice - and especially in an election year. I wonder how that would work for Mitch if the boot were on the other foot; that the lame duck president would be a Republican and the Senate controlled by Democrats. McConnell’s knowledge and understanding of what the Constitution has to say about the separation of powers and what are and are not presidential prerogatives is not that lame; he is a smart man. However, more than that, he is a vicious, take-no-prisoners partisan Republican. Surely he must know that American history is replete with Presidents making Supreme Court nominations during their last year or so - 19 to be precise. (Hauntingly, two of those lame duck nominations - both of whom were elevated on the court - were Jews who would go on to be among the giants of the SCOTUS: Louis D. Brandeis (nominated by Woodrow Wilson) and Benjamin Cardozo (nominated by Herbert Hoover).

It has long been as clear as mother’s milk that one of 45’s major aims has been to erase virtually everything Barack Obama ever accomplished during his eight years in office . . . or short of that, take credit for those things he cannot destroy. To achieve this despicable goal, Boss Tweet needed a trained seal in the Senate. He found him, of course, in Mitch McConnell. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why the president found a spot for the Majority Leader’s wife Elaine Chao in his cabinet (she’s Secretary of Transportation), and a high-ranking job as head of the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC) for the Majority Leader’s brother-in-law, Gordon Hartogensis. (The PBGC is an independent agency created by Congress in 1974 to essentially pay out pension benefits to workers if their private pension funds fail. Hartogensis is married to Grace Chao, Secretary Elaine Chao’s younger sister.). Ain’t that cozy?

Increasingly, the hyper-partisan McConnell is being seen for what he truly is: a corrupt obstructionist who, for whatever reason he has chosen, has become 45’s lapdog. And while Democrats are making him a central figure in their push to take back the Senate in 2020, there are quite a few Republicans across the country - including his home state, Kentucky - who don’t think too highly of him either. According to one Democratic strategist, Matt Canter, a pollster at Global Strategy Group, “McConnell is a transcendent figure in American politics; he is a unifier. He unites everyone in hatred and animosity toward him, including Republicans. He’s a walking, talking definition of what people hate about Washington and the corrupt political system today.”

Seen in this strategic light, is it any wonder that Senator McConnell was so roundly attacked this past Wednesday and Thursday on MSNBC? Nationally, Democrats are already up and running with a website - “Ditch Mitch” - who’s aim is to defeat McConnell in his bid for a 7th six-year term. For Democrats, of course, taking back the Senate is just as important - if not more so - than defeating ‘45 or holding on to the House of Representatives. Today, Republicans hold a 53-47 edge over the Democrats in the Senate. However, there are 22 Republicans up for reelection as compared to a mere 12 Democrats. In recent polling, Democrats hold a slim 3% lead in swing states. However, being exposed to messaging about McConnell, that lead grew to 12 points. In other words, the “Ditch Mitch” movement is beginning to resonate with voters.

McConnell’s approval rating among swing-state voters in the survey is just 26%, with 50% viewing him unfavorably. Among independents, just 18% view him favorably, and 58% have a negative opinion. In counties that swung from former President Barack Obama to President Trump, his approval rating is 25%, while 53% have a negative opinion.Three highly touted Democratic Senate candidates ― Iowa’s Theresa Greenfield, Texas’ M.J. Hegar and Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon ― all focus on McConnell’s influence in their campaign launch videos; they barely mention the president. Hegar refers to her potential opponent, Sen. John Cornyn, as “that tall guy lurking behind Mitch McConnell in basically every single video.”

Then there’s Kentucky, where no one has officially thrown their hat into the ring to challenge Mitch McConnell. Those in the know believe his challenger will wind up being former Marine combat pilot Amy McGrath, who narrowly (51%-47.8%) lost a 2018 congressional race to a 3-term incumbent in a district which Boss Tweet won by more than 16 points in 2016. McConnell has the absolute highest disapproval rating in the country (50%) and scores even worse in his home state. Twenty-two senators can boast of an approval rating 50 percent or above, but McConnell is the only senator with at least half his own constituents rating him unfavorably. This is, of course, not a good sign for the Majority Leader. Indeed, he has become a great unite.

For anyone interested in helping Amy McGrath decide to run against “the Grim Reaper” (that’s the nickname he recently gave himself) check out her Facebook page or the website supporting her putative candidacy.

Defeating Donald Trump is critical. No question. But recapturing the United States Senate and exiling Mitch McConnell is likely of even greater significance.

494 days until the next presidential election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone


The Super Hero

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Most reasonably well-educated literate people are familiar with the term “narcissism,” have heard the term “narcissistic personality,” or are aware that many professionals are convinced that Boss Tweet, the nation’s 45th POTUS is a walking exemplar of that syndrome. According to the Mayo Clinic’s overview of narcissistic personality disorder, “NPD is a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others.” Sound familiar? By now, a wide rage of practicing psychiatrists and psychologists has pretty much concluded that ‘45 is afflicted with this disorder. Even more chilling, the Mayo Clinic overview informs that behind the narcissist’s . . . mask of extreme confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that's vulnerable to the slightest criticism.

Without question, a certain amount of narcissism - not to mention both egotism and egoism - exists in most successful public people. Those lacking a healthy sense of self and innate feeling that they possess the requisite tools for making a difference, should best stay the hell away from the political arena. It is also extremely helpful to have the hide of a rhinoceros, be a good listener, and demonstrated ability to learn from others. Generally speaking, those afflicted with NPD do not possess any of these qualities. The fact that any succeed in that arena is generally due to them simultaneously possessing an amoral, autocratic bent. Again, case in point, ‘45.

One lesser-known subset of NPD is called the “Hero Syndrome,” which is generally defined as “A phenomenon affecting people who seek heroism or recognition, usually by creating a desperate situation which they can resolve.” The phenomenon has been noted to affect civil servants, such as firefighters, nurses, police officers, programmers, and security guards. Fans of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, may recall a highly-rated 2002 episode called “Vulnerable,” in which actress Mary Kay Place guest stars as the director of an expensive nursing home who keeps overdosing residents, with the neuromuscular blocking agent succinylcholine (SUX), and then giving first aid in the therapy of unexpected respiratory depression. She thereby becomes a hero. This all comes to light when the Special Victims Unit investigates a parallel case in which one of the residents actually dies. Their investigation turns up Hope Garrett (played by Ms. Place), who turns out to be nuttier than a fruit cake and more dangerous than a black widow spider.

This month, we been witness to the president ‘s Super Hero side, in which he has “identified” at least three major crises, announced bold solutions for them that could easily be more lethal than the crises themselves, and then at zero minus eight, pulled America out of the flames of impending disaster. In Greek Drama, the role Boss Tweet is playing has long been known as Deus ex Machina - literally, the god in the machine . . . the one who saves or spares at the very last moment. (n.b. In ancient Greek drama, many tragedy writers used this literary device - Deus ex Machina - to resolve complicated or even seemingly hopeless situations in the plots of their plays.

Let’s take a gander at the 3 most recent situations in which ‘45’s “Hero Syndrome” has been on display for one and all to see:

First, on Friday evening June 7, ‘45 announced with great fanfare that the escalating series of tariffs he planned to impose on Mexico — starting at 5 percent and growing to 25 percent - unless they stepped up actions along their northern (our southern) border to keep “illegal aliens” from “invading” the United States. . . . had been “suspended.”

According to the president’s original threat (which had been announced one week earlier) unless the Mexican government would agree to - and put in place - an expansion of a program to allow asylum-seekers to remain in Mexico while their legal cases proceed, these tariffs would go into effect on Monday, June 10. Not surprisingly, ‘45 immediately began taking enormous heat from global leaders, business executives, Republican and Democratic lawmakers, and members of his own staff; all warning that he risked disrupting a critical marketplace. And then, with less than 72 hours to go, he announced that the tariff threat had been “suspended,” due to his efforts.

Turns out, ‘45 wasn’t the Deus ex Machina - the super hero - he wished the world to see. The deal to avert tariffs by having Mexico agree to the “deployment of its National Guard throughout Mexico, giving priority to its southern border,” had actually been under negotiation over the past several months. In reality, the Mexican government had already pledged to do what the president had publicly demanded on May 31, 2019, had been agreed to in March during secret talks in Miami between Kirstjen Nielsen, then the secretary of homeland security, and Olga Sanchez, the Mexican secretary of the interior. And for anyone paying attention to the situation, they would have remembered then-Secretary Nielson’s announcing the Migrant Protection Protocols during a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee on December 20, 2018.

So much for Trump the “Super Hero.” And yet, he continues to flap his wings, proclaiming that he - and he alone - was responsible to bringing the Mexican government to its knees . . . and, at the last possible moment.

Second: This past Friday, June 21, our Commander-in-Chief announced via Twitter that at the very last possible moment, he had called off an airstrike against Iran after learning it might lead to no fewer than 150 civilian deaths. In a series of tweets on Friday morning, Mr. Trump said he was prepared to retaliate against three sites in Iran for that country’s downing of an American surveillance drone, but that he pulled back because the death of that many Iranians would not be “proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone.” “We were already cocked and loaded,” POTUS proclaimed. (Gee, I always thought the expression was (“Locked and loaded.”)

Boss Tweet said in an NBC interview later that day that news reports that he had called off the mission while it was underway were inaccurate. But two senior United States officials said again on Friday that the military had received the president’s go-ahead and that jets were already headed toward targets in Iran when the mission was aborted. Within 24 hours of aborting the “cocked and loaded” bombing raids, ‘45, fearful that Bolton, Pompeo and his right flank might consider him a spineless dove, went back to saber rattling with a vengeance: “I'm not looking for war and if there is, it'll be obliteration like you've never seen before. But I'm not looking to do that. But you can't have a nuclear weapon. You want to talk? Good. Otherwise you can have a bad economy for the next three years.” Whether this back-and-forth is another example of Trump’s “Hero Syndrome” affliction or just pure political chess is anyone’s guess. I for one believe that ‘45 may well have done the right thing . . . but for the wrong reason; that he ratcheted up war rhetoric in order to come out a hero for the 2020 campaign . . . even if it was/is at the expense of international alliances, the safety of Israel or the stability (?) of his White House. Remember, by unilaterally pulling out of the JCPA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action . . . the “Iran Deal”) and bringing back economic sanctions, the administration made an increasingly hostile Iran all but inevitable. It’s reminiscent of a firefighter torching a building in order to go in, save a few lives and then be declared a hero.

Third: A week ago today (June 17), ‘45 told the nation that “shortly,” his administration would be deporting “millions of immigrants.” This promise, like so many others he has made, is little more than red meat for his base. Think about it: deporting “millions” of immigrants - most of whom have been here for years - would be an absolutely monumental undertaking that would cost taxpayers billions upon billions of dollars - not to mention being a major assault on such American values of justice and compassion. How many buses and airplanes would it take to deport even a million human beings? How long would it take to organize such a program? Are there enough bureaucrats and administrators in the federal government to figure out precisely where to return these people to? Again, this is political red meat, not reality.

And then, suddenly this past Saturday the president abruptly scrapped plans for Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to round up some 2,000 immigrants who have already received final deportation orders. These raids, he announced, were to have taken place yesterday, Sunday June 23. ‘45 averred that he was calling off the raids in order to give Democrats “two weeks to come up with a plan to curb undocumented immigration.” Here, we see another aspect of the Hero Syndrome: saving people through what appears to be a last-minute humanitarian act. Does ‘45 expect the Democrats to be able to solve the problem of what to do with undocumented immigrants within 336 hours? Of course not. Will he ever mention his initial plan to deport millions of “illegals” again? Don’t hold your breath. It’s all about optics and running for reelection - an activity Boss Tweet has been fully engaged in ever since January 20, 2017 - the very day he took the oath of office.

Falling prey to his Hero Syndrome affliction; acting like some “god in the machine” and offering last-minute changes in fate and destiny - are increasingly at the top of the president’s political playbook. Democrats would do well (once their presidential field has dramatically decreased) to run ads with video captures of ‘45’s innumerable flip-flops. These would not for the purpose of getting Trumpeters to leave the fold; rather, their intention would be to broaden the Democratic tent and ultimately send Boss Tweet back into the ether.

America does not need a mindless heroic poseur.

What we need - indeed what American deserves - is a human with a heart, a soul and a plan.

501 days until the presidential election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

Sen. Elizabeth "I Have a Plan For That" Warren

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There is a specter haunting presidential politics: whether to support the candidate whose policies and personality one likes best, or instead, to support the one person you believe will have the best chance of defeating the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. At this early date, few political wonks, geeks or activists have come close to aligning themselves to a particular candidate. Indeed many are caught between the devil and the deep-blue sea when it comes to answering the question “What yardstick or barometer should one use in selecting their presidential candidate?”: ideology and policy (which are based largely on fact) or a sense that candidate X or Y has the best chance of cold-cocking ‘45 and his alternate reality universe on November 3, 2020 (which is, of course, based far, far more on emotion)?

Hey, here’s a novel thought: what’s to say that we cannot find and support a candidate who combines intelligent, well thought-out policies with passion, a down-to-earth personality and the ability to inspire? For those of us who are already deep into our search, the name “Elizabeth Warren” is growing in stature and believability. While few have been watching, Senator Warren has been crisscrossing the United States and talking to voters face-to-face. It seems that hardly a day goes by without her offering up yet another plan or proposal addressing America’s most pressing “kitchen-table” needs. As a result, she has been moving up in the polls; as of today, June 17, 2019, the newest NBC NEWs/WSJ poll shows that a combined 64% of Democratic primary voters now say they are either enthusiastic or comfortable with Elizabeth Warren, up from 57% in March. A combined 27% say they either have reservations or are very uncomfortable with her candidacy, as compared to Senator Bernie Sanders (her chief progressive opponent) for whom 56% are either enthusiastic or comfortable (down from 62% in March), and a combined 41% say they either have reservations or are very uncomfortable with him. And, according to Bloomberg News’ Sahil Kapur, “A national Economist/YouGov poll released last week showed Warren in second place among the large Democratic field with 16%, behind former V.P. Joe Biden’s 26% and ahead of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’s 12%.

Typical of the Massachusetts’ senator, candidate Warren has neither crowed nor led a pep rally over these new polling figures. “I’m out there doing what I believe in. I get a chance to talk about what’s broken in America, how we can fix it, and build a grassroots movement to get that done. And I get to do it every day.” The one thing she does seem to communicate virtually every day is her latest “plan” for everything from rebuilding America’s infrastructure, to providing (and paying for) childcare for working-class and impoverished families, addressing (and paying for) Medicare for All, fixing a broken immigration system without resorting to fear-mongering, addressing global warming and reversing the Trump tax cuts for corporations and the hyper wealthy. (At this point in the essay, you may wish to check out Senator Warren’s campaign website, which details all of her proposals; they are a real eye-opener.)

And for all her efforts, the Republicans’ response has consisted of precisely 3 words: “Pocahontas,” “Socialist,” and “Radical.”

Pocahontas (Rebecca Rolfe)

Pocahontas (Rebecca Rolfe)

I would venture a guess that only a tiny fraction of those referring to her as Pocahontas have any idea of who she was, of why she has a place in American (and British) history, or that she who was born Princess Matoaka, in present-day Gloucester County, Virginia in c. 1596 and died Rebecca Rolfe in Kent County, England, at age 21. All they likely know is that in 1986, Senator Warren claimed to have Cherokee ancestry, took a DNA test to back it up, and has since apologized. The DNA test concluded that the “vast majority” of her ancestry was European but that her lineage was very likely to include one Native American ancestor somewhere between six and 10 generations ago. Regardless of this, ‘45 stuck her with the nickname “Pocahontas” and continues to mock her to this very day. And that, as mentioned above, is the sum and substance of what most Americans know about her . . . which is really next to nothing.

The coming months will predictably bring a whittling down of the roster of Democratic pols seeking nomination. They will leave the field either because they’ve:

  • Come in 5th, 6th, or lower in a primary;

  • Run out of money;

  • Made an on-camera boo-boo;

  • Had something from their past dug up and magnified to the point where it defines them;

  • Shown themselves to be not ready for prime time.

And since a majority of the 20 or so hopefuls are currently spending the majority of their time and money just making a name and identity for themselves with the public - separating themselves from the pack - you had better believe that there’s also going to be quite a bit of negativity.

Here’s where Senator Warren is different. Quite different. Like Senator Sanders, former Vice President Biden and Mayor Pete-of-the-unpronounceable-last-name, Elizabeth Warren doesn’t need to spend all that much time introducing herself to the public. But unlike them, she spends the lion’s share of her campaign time speaking truth to power; explaining what she intends to do in a Warren Administration.

And unlike most - if not all - of those running for the nomination, Senator Warren already has an enormous paid staff in place and working. By the end of March, Warren's campaign staff numbered about 164 people, according to payroll spending released this week in a quarterly Federal Election Commission disclosure. The 69-year-old candidate, who was the first major contender to jump in the race with a New Year's Eve announcement, now has a team of more than 170 people and plans to bring on new hires every month in the second quarter of 2019, campaign officials confirmed.

As Warren and her advisers see it, it's part of a larger strategy that diverts from past presidential campaigns that have prioritized spending on television ads. As voters change the way they consume information online, they say, Warren has focused on building a campaign operation in early-voting states like Iowa and New Hampshire, holding events (58 town halls in 14 states) where the emphasis is on answering questions (more than 250 from audiences), engaging with the press (105 one-on-one interviews and 44 media availabilities), and demonstrating substance on policy.

“We are building a grassroots organization that’s built to last,” said Kristen Orthman, the campaign’s communications director. “We have front-loaded a tight-knit team and set our organizational plans, priorities, and culture faster and in finer detail than anyone.” In other words, Elizabeth Warren began putting together her campaign - and future presidential staff - long, long before her official announcement.

As far back as 2009, journalists were beginning to take interest in Elizabeth Warren. In late October 2009, Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi wrote a major piece entitled Elizabeth Warren for President. (And mind you, this was less than a year into the Obama Administration.) In that article, Taibbi wrote: “We need someone … to re-seize the Party from the Wall Street interests that have come to dominate it … [Someone] who will know the difference between real regulatory reform and a dog-and-pony show, and will not be likely to fill a cabinet with bankers from Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley.”

The strength of Warren’s campaign is a series of detailed policy proposals aimed at correcting a series of corrupting inequities in American life. The first major proposal she released, on January 24th, was aimed at perhaps the biggest problem in American society: the wealth gap.

While working people almost all live off highly-taxed “income,” high net worth individuals mostly live off other revenue streams: carried interest, capital gains, inheritance, etc. Warren’s plan would create a net worth calculation that would hit households worth between $50 million and $1 billion with a 2% annual “ultra-millionaires tax.”

She has a similar plan for corporate tax, one that would wipe away the maze of loopholes big companies currently use, and force any firm that makes over $100 million in profits to pay a new 7 percent tax. “Amazon would pay $698 million instead of zero,” she says. “Occidental Petroleum would pay $280 million … instead of zero.”

Other proposals include a Too Big To Fail breakup program for Silicon Valley that would designate internet firms that “offer an online marketplace” and have annual revenues of $25 billion or more as “Platform Utilities.” Under the plan, “Google’s ad exchange and businesses on the exchange would be split apart,” and “Google Search would have to be spun off as well.”

Warren has also unveiled ambitious plans for cancelation of student debt and free college, universal child care and a new corporate accountability plan that would force high-ranking corporate executives to certify they’d conducted a “due diligence” inquiry, making it easier to prosecute them for misdeeds conducted under their watch.

She even created an “economic patriotism” plan that overtly targets many of the excuses for domestic job loss offered by her own party — automation, a “skills gap” or just blunt economic reality when trying to compete with cheaper labor abroad. She calls bull on it all. “No,” she writes, “America chose to pursue a trade policy that prioritized the interests of capital over the interests of American workers.”

She then laid out a series of plans that create “aggressive intervention on behalf of American workers,” create a “Department of Economic Development” and put an end to practices like corporations using public money for R&D, then eating the benefits in stock buybacks while exporting jobs. Her plan would give taxpayers an equity stake in publicly developed enterprises.

This idea has such broad appeal that it even had Tucker Carlson talking it up last week as he denounced companies that “wave the flag, but have no loyalty or allegiance to America.” She even got Carlson to rip Republicans, saying, “Republicans in Congress can’t promise to protect American industries. They wouldn’t dare. It might violate some principle of Austrian economics…”

Can Elizabeth Warren capture the Democratic nomination and even the White House? Can her utterly unique blend of political progressivism and economic populism; of small-town-Middle-American-single-working-mother values and Harvard Law School professorship; of writing books for the masses which discuss elite topics . . . actually work? (Senator Warren has written more than a dozen books. My favorites include A Fighting Chance, This Fight is Our Fight: the Battle to Save America’s Middle Class, All Your Worth: The Ultimate Lifetime Money Plan, and The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Parents Are (Still) Going Broke.

Can Elizabeth Warren succeed? Can she actually grab the Democratic nomination and then defeat ‘45? To be honest, I do not know the answer; my crystal ball has been in the repair shop since early November 2016. What I do know is that she is not the radical her opponents accuse her of being; rather, she is running against a radical who has instilled fear and silence in his supporters and both hatred and total fatigue in his challengers. Simply stated, Elizabeth Warren is surging in the polls because the more people learn about her and hear what she has to say, the more they realize just how refreshing and revitalizing a bipolar opposite can be.

The more ‘45 calls her Pocahontas, accuses her of being a Socialist and an effete intellectual snob without engaging her in serious debate about all the serious dinner-table issues she has spent a lifetime dealing with, the more obvious it will be that the emperor has no clothes . . . and even fewer brains.

When it comes to running against Donald Trump, Elizabeth Warren can honestly say “I have a plan for that too!”

508 days left until the 2020 election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

Throwing a Monkey Wrench into Medical Research

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This past week, while donning his horrendously-tailored “soup and fish,” dining with the Windsors and about-to-be former British P.M. Teresa May, commemorating the 75th anniversary of the D-Day Landing, playing golf in Ireland and bashing Senate Minority Leader Schumer, Speaker Pelosi and Director Mueller, ’45 somehow managed to find the time to throw a toxic monkey wrench into the future of medical research. ‘45’s announcement that the federal government is changing its policy on the use of human fetal tissue in medical research sent a collective chill up the spines of clinicians and researchers from Maine to California. His announcement - which has been percolating for quite some time - has precious little to do with science and everything to do with partisan politics. It is obviously designed to please the many anti-abortion groups which have strongly supported ‘45, the very man who once proclaimed on “Meet the PressI am firmly pro-choice in every sense of the term.”

As mentioned a few sentences above, the push for banning the use of human fetal tissue in government-sponsored research has been percolating for the past several years. The level of controversy around fetal tissue research waxes and wanes. Human fetal tissue research has been done in the United States since the 1930s, and NIH has been funding this type of research since the 1950s. There was a ban on such funding, however, during part of the terms of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Federal money was restored with bipartisan support in a 1993 bill for the NIH. Among the backers of that effort were some strong abortion opponents, such as Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), who argued that the research could help people — like his daughter — with diabetes.

NIH spent $115 million on human fetal tissue research in 2018, a tiny fraction of the nearly $14 billion it spent on clinical research overall. NIH currently funds roughly 200 projects that use fetal tissue, according to HHS.

Fetal tissue once again became a hot-button issue in 2015 with the release of doctored videos, later discredited, purporting to show Planned Parenthood officials discussing tissue donation policies and reimbursement. Last fall, the Trump administration announced it was conducting a review of all research involving fetal tissue to ensure it was consistent with statutes and regulations governing it.

Under the new policy, employees at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will no longer conduct research with human fetal tissue obtained from elective abortions, after using up any material they have on hand. Officials also immediately stopped funding a multiyear contract at the University of California-San Francisco using human fetal tissue in mice to research HIV therapies. Federally funded projects at other research institutions using fetal tissue can continue until their grants expire. But renewal for these projects and future proposals will have to go through a newly established ethics review process to receive funding. It’s not clear yet what standards that process will entail or whether such experiments will be able to proceed under government sponsorship.

Additionally, under the new policy, extramural researchers who submit applications that pass scientific review and score high enough to be funded will now encounter a new and time-consuming layer of review. Under a procedure described in a 2006 law that governs NIH policy, HHS will need to announce in the Federal Register that it plans to assemble an ethics advisory board to review each proposed grant and invite public nominations for that board. The board would be made up of 14 to 20 people from various backgrounds, including at least one theologian, one ethicist, one physician, and one attorney. No more than half of the panel members can be scientists. The HHS secretary must wait at least 30 days after the publication to appoint the board. The board will then have up to 150 days to recommend to the secretary whether the proposed research should be funded.

Even then, the Secretary can overrule the committee if he finds its recommendation “arbitrary and capricious.” 

(Truth to tell, it has long been the case that every NIH-sponsored clinical trial must be thoroughly vetted and scrutinized by an Institutional Review Board [IRB] which is made up of physicians, scientists, bio-engineers, ethicists and so-called “public members.” I have been an active member of the largest of these boards for nearly 25 years and have easily vetted more than 2,000 research protocols in that period of time. So this is , in reality, nothing new.)

The anti-abortion (“pro-birth”) crowd has somehow convinced its followers that banning medical research which uses human fetal tissue will somehow keep women from obtaining abortions. Where they ever came up with this idea is beyond me. It has about as much logic behind it as enshrining the Volstead Act in our Constitution (about 100 years ago) , proclaiming that it would greatly reduce the number of people imbibing alcohol. What it did do was create a world of bootleggers, murderous gangs, bathtub gin and the likes of Al Capone, Frank Nitti and Eliot Ness.

Many of these same pro-birth advocates claim - in the name of scientific research - that there are “effective options” to using human fetal tissue, including monkey or hamster cells for vaccines as well as blood collected after birth from umbilical cords that are rich in blood-forming stem cells. They also suggest the use of adult stem cells and “organoids” — artificially grown cells that somewhat mimic organs. Another suggestion made to Alex Azar - the former president and chief lobbyist for Eli Lilly and Company and current Secretary of Health and Human Services - was that using tissue from a miscarriage could be an acceptable alternative to using tissue from an aborted fetus because it’s from “a natural death, not an intentional killing of the child.”

Checking with many of my IRB colleagues, they say that the use of adult stem cells and organoids “aren’t close to being ready for prime time. . . they cannot mimic real tissue.” The use of human fetal tissue in medical research holds out the hope for real progress coming up with therapies and even cures for HIV, Parkinson’s Disease, Diabetes and various forms of neurodegenerative disease such as Alzheimers Hunington’s and Lewy Body Dementia.

Considering the Trump family medical history, one would think that ‘45 would be more interested in doing research which might save his sanity - or that of his children and grandchildren in the future - than scoring electoral brownie points with anti-abortion activists in the present. The United States has long been a world leader in medical research. Creating new, potent and safe drugs, devices and procedures is a long and difficult process which requires scientific brilliance, firmly embedded in ethical practices. It also requires an absolute minimum of partisan politics. Diseases, syndromes and impairments are neither Republican nor Democrat, liberal or conservative. They can strike anyone and everyone.

We owe it to future generations to remember this simple truth and let the researchers get back to their labs and clinics and do what they do best.

516 days till the next election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

 

Can Facts Change Minds?

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John Maynard Keynes (1st Lord Keynes, 1883-1946) was far, far more than a brilliant macro economist for whom an entire academic theory was named; he was also a giant among intellectuals. Once, when asked how he dealt with radical changes in economic theory, he responded somewhat archly, “When facts change, I change my mind - what do you do sir?” Lord Keynes’s response - although perfectly understandable in its time and place - would be all but incomprehensible in the age of Trump. For today, the presentation of facts is terribly skewed; for many, that which they believe to be true is a fact, while that which they disagree with is a malevolent lie - or, in contemporary parlance, “fake news.”

“Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth” is the first law of propaganda and perverse, take-no-prisoners politics. The quote, often attributed to Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels (when in fact it may well have been first said by Lenin) has long undergirded that which is worst in political strategy. As far back as the 1840’s an entire political party - the so-called “Know Nothings” - was birthed on the false conspiratorial fear that Irish Catholics were streaming across (and for some, under) the Atlantic in order to take over the United States. The liar-in-chief behind this xenophobic, nativist canard was one Lewis Charles Levin, a 3-term member of Congress from Pennsylvania’s First District. He would eventually be voted out of office, suffered a total mental collapse, and spent his last months as a resident of the Philadelphia Hospital for the Insane. From all indications, Levin never really believed his lies; nonetheless he continued telling them to his gullible, fearful constituents. No amount of facts could change the minds of his fellow “Know Nothings.”

So too, no amount of facts could dissuade the followers of Senator Joseph McCarthy from firmly believing that there were Communists controlling the State Department, as well as writing, directing and starring in Hollywood movies. In those days, McCarthy and his young assistant, Roy Cohn, seemed to be everywhere repeating again and again the scurrilous charge that America was under attack from within.  A lie told often enough becomes the truth . . .

Then again, no amount of facts could dissuade “true believers” that the U.S. Destroyer Turner Joy had been attacked by the North Vietnamese, thus necessitating passage of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and a prolonged, deadly war in Southeast Asia. Today, there are still many, many people who know for a fact that Barack Obama was:

  • Born in Kenya;

  • Is a practicing Muslim, and

  • Was brought to Hawaii as an infant in order to one day make him POTUS, thus bringing Sharia law to America.

And although he has (kinda, sorta) disavowed these asinine lies, ‘45, the “birther-in-chief,” is still looked upon by many of his acolytes as the keeper of absolute truth. Here too, as with the “Know-Nothing” conspiracy, McCarthyism, and the Gulf of Tonkin - to name but 3 - no amount of fact gathering can change the minds of true believers. The more lies, the more truth; the more objective facts disproving ‘the truth,” the stronger, more obdurate the “true believers” become. Were the Trumpeteers to be presented with Lord Keynes’ question about what they would do when facts change, they would likely respond “Nothing! We would know that these new ‘facts’ were nothing more than FAKE NEWS!”

Mind you, I’m not making this up out of thin air. As a blogger with a fairly obvious political bias - and an addiction to facts - I am frequently the recipient of comments from the other side of the aisle. Many of these Tweets inform me just how very little I know about politics, history, economics or a dozen-and-one other areas of knowledge. I have learned over the years not to respond with facts . . . no matter how reputable or solidly researched they may be. I simply do not have the time or the stomach to get into cyber shouting matches . . . nor do I have a particular love of banging my head against a wall. An awful lot of these communiqués repeat - and almost verbatim - the same words, arguments and attacks; as if they had all garnered “knowledge” from the same source. As but one example: should I happen to mention the number of provable untruths and outright lies the POTUS tells or tweets per day, I will be reminded that President Obama (frequently called “Obummer” by these folks) frequently proclaimed that “Under Obamacare, those who are happy with their healthcare plan can keep it.” Truth to tell, this was not Obama’s finest moment; it was as much a political ploy as an untruth. But to keep bringing it up again and again, means not only that Obama spoke an untruth, but that his enemies cannot come up with any other lies with which to tarnish him.

Occasionally, I will receive mentions of Solyndra, Loretta Lynch (which actually goes back to Bill Clinton), Benghazi and “Pizzagate” (both of which involved accusations against Hillary Clinton). All of these have been debunked by responsible fact checkers (known to conservatives as members of the “Fake News” world). And yet, if one responds with an up-to-date list of ‘45’s lies and misstatements (which as of the end of April; 2019 numbered 10,111) his core base will merely shake their heads and proclaim that the numbers research was underwritten by none other than George Soros . . . case closed.

Without getting into the myriad psychological reasons why facts generally do not change minds, let us instead ask: how in the world can or should one talk or reason with that friend, coworker or family member who is a staunch ‘45 supporter? Or someone who does not believe that there is such a thing as climate change . . . or utterly dismisses Darwin? If facts aren’t going to change their minds, how does one proceed? And more importantly, what do candidates running for POTUS say (or not say) out on the campaign trail in their quest of getting voters to change their minds?

The publication of the Mueller Report is a perfect example of how facts can fall by the wayside and fail to change minds. (It should be noted that one hell of a lot of people who have denied or derided the report’s findings have not even read it; they rely on A.G. Barr’s - and the president’s - conclusion that “there was no collusion, no obstruction of justice . . . the POTUS has been exonerated.” I am currently knee deep in the report’s second volume and can tell you that there is plenty of guilt etched on its pages. But those who firmly believed that the POTUS and his administration were/are as pure as the driven snow before the report’s publication, still hold fast to their beliefs. Likewise, those who firmly believed that the POTUS and his administration are/were as guilty of sin before the report’s publication, still hold fast to their beliefs.

Partisan politics contain a large measure of tribalism - of self-identification. It’s sort of like glorying in your love and support of the Dodgers while reviling anything having to do with the Giants or Yankees. In politics, sharing fake news stories on social media that denigrate the candidate you oppose is a way to show public support for one’s partisan team—roughly the equivalent of painting your face with team colors on game day. To a great extent, even facts or information can have a tribalistic component. In many cases, intelligence, education and literacy have little to do with beliefs; identifying as a Christian or Jew; a conservative or progressive; a Democrat or Republican has a far greater allure. Facts which go counter to one’s tribal identity are, therefore, most frequently rejected.

The great Russian writer Leo Tolstoy once boldly stated “The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.” In our current social, cultural and especially political climate (which by no means began with ‘45) Tolstoy’s insight is a particularly bitter pill to swallow.

If facts cannot change political thoughts or alliances, then what are all those Democrats and one, perhaps two Republicans seeking the presidency to do? How are they to proceed? How are they to convince people that there are many bad ideas (backed by lies) out there that aren’t helping our economy, our future and our standing in the world? Not by attacking all those ideas all the time. Attacking things like The Wall, tariffs, huge tax cuts for the wealthy, immigration, guns, abortions etc., means continuing to speak about them. Each time a politician attacks a bad idea, he/she winds up feeding the very monster they are trying to destroy.  Their campaign time is better spent championing good ideas than tearing down bad ones. From where I sit, they shouldn’t be wasting time explaining why bad ideas are bad. To do so is simply fanning the flame of ignorance and stupidity.

The best thing that can happen to a bad idea is to let it fall by the wayside. The best thing that can happen to a good idea is that it is shared and discussed. A suggestion to all those seeking the position of president: Feed the good ideas and let bad ideas die of starvation.

In 2016, the Oxford English Dictionary chose “post-truth” as its word of the year, defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” And while it’s a far cry from Lord Keynes’ wisdom quoted at the beginning of this post, it says a great deal about the obstacles we face going in to 2020. And so, we return to Keynes for a closing thought:

“It is better to be roughly right than precisely wrong."

523 days until the next election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

Buchanan and Trump: What's Past Is Prologue

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One of the spookiest aspects of what’s going on in modern media is that major news stories and sidebars - which could and should be of historic importance - come and go in the blink of an eye, while pieces which are really no more than spicy gossip hang around for weeks and months on end. As but one example: a week ago, Federal District Judge Amit P. Mehta’s handed down a decision, which gave the president a stinging defeat in his bid to block a House subpoena of his financial records. Less than a week later, the case, DONALD J. TRUMP, et al. Plaintiffs v. COMMITTEE ON OVERSIGHT AND REFORM OF THE U.S. HOUSE OF ) REPRESENTATIVES, et al. Defendants (Case No. 19-cv-01136 (APM) has already faded into oblivion. At the same time, the doctored YouTube video of a “drunken” Speaker Nancy Pelosi has already attained legendary internet status. And, to make things worse, hardly any major media coverage included a key element in Judge Mehta’s decision: a section dealing with the nation’s 15th president, James Buchanan.

In what may well be the greatest irony of the century, the White House’s appeal of Judge Mehta’s decision will now be heard by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, whose current chief judge is none other than Merrick Garland, whom President Obama nominated to the Supreme Court in 2016 after the untimely death of Justice Antonin Scalia. (For those who may not recall, within minutes of President Obama making Judge Garland’s nomination public, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell proclaimed it DOA . . . a first in American history. And what makes Judge Mehta’s decision even more ironic is that all ‘45 said about it was something to the effect that “What do you expect? The judge was appointed by Obama!”)

Very few news sources mentioned that Judge Mehta opened his decision by quoting President James Buchanan protesting against a congressional investigation nearly 160 years ago, in which he claimed that said congressional investigation was a means of “furnishing material for harassing [the President], degrading him in the eyes of the country.”

I do, therefore, . . . solemnly protest against these proceedings of the House of Representatives, because they are in violation of the rights of the coordinate executive branch of the Government, and subversive of its constitutional independence; because they are calculated to foster a band of interested parasites and informers, ever ready, for their own advantage, to swear before ex parte committees to pretended private conversations between the President and themselves, incapable, from their nature, of being disproved; thus furnishing material for harassing him, degrading him in the eyes of the country . . . – President James Buchanan

In this statement, the feckless Buchanan (who served as the nation’s 15th POTUS from 1857-1861) was objecting to the House of Representative’s decision to investigate whether his administration had sought to improperly influence the actions of Congress. Sound familiar? Buchanan argued that Congress had no general powers to investigate him, outside of formal impeachment proceedings. If Congress were allowed to investigate his conduct outside of impeachment, he warned, it “would establish a precedent dangerous and embarrassing to all my successors, to whatever political party they might be attached.” Again: sound familiar?

“Some 160 years later,” wrote Judge Mehta in his introductory paragraph, “President Donald J. Trump has taken up the fight of his predecessor.”

At this point, two truisms come to mind: the first from Winston Churchill (who was likely misquoting philosopher George Santayana) and the second from Shakespeare:

  • Churchill: “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and

  • Shakespeare (from The Tempest): “What’s past is prologue.”

In light of our current political imbroglio, the apothegms of Churchill and Shakespeare are most prophetic. From what we know about ‘45 and a majority of his advisers and followers, they aren’t what one would call “students of history.” Lacking knowledge of - let alone curiosity about - American political history - they could easily cause history to repeat itself . . . which might not be such a bad thing.

Certainly, there are profound differences between James Buchanan and Donald Trump. For one, Buchanan (1791-1868) was our only bachelor president, while ‘45, of course, has been twice divorced and thrice married. And while Trump is the only president who never held elective office and one of the few who never served in the military, Buchanan was perhaps the most “prepared” public servant to ever be elected to the presidency. For prior to his election in 1857, he had:

  • Served as an enlisted infantry man during the British invasion of Baltimore (1814);

  • Was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives (1814-16); the United States House of Representatives (1821-31) and the United States Senate (1834-45);

  • Served as chair of the House Judiciary Committee (1829-31), Minister (Ambassador) to Russia (1832-33); U.S. Secretary of State under President James K. Polk (1845-49); and as Minister to England (1853-56).

And yet, besides being our only bachelor president, he is best remembered - if at all - for such historically disastrous episodes as “Bleeding Kansas,” the “Dred Scott Case” and the “Panic (financial collapse) of 1857.” And oh yes, at a time when the nation was terribly divided between pro- and anti-slavery factions, he was a a divider . . . a “Peace Democrat,” soon to be known as “Copperhead.” Much of what Buchanan accomplished (or rather, failed to accomplish) made the Civil War inevitable. Many historians and political scientists considered him “an invertebrate” when it came to making difficult decisions.

There are, to be sure, quite a few similarities between Buchanan and Trump:

  • In his run for the White House, Buchanan carried five northern states while sweeping the South, accumulating 45 percent of the vote. Trump would take six northern states, almost sweeping the South, and capturing 46 percent of the vote.

  • Both men were educated in Pennsylvania. Both were northerners and nominated to the presidency in Ohio cities.

  • Our 15th and 45th presidents came into office extremely wealthy. Both were old for their era when elected: Buchanan, 65, and Trump, 70. Popularity greatly mattered to both. Their views on states rights paralleled one another to a considerable degree.

  • Quarrels with Mexico and border protection dominated a great deal of their attention during their time in office.

  • White males were primarily responsible for both of their elections (of course, in 1857, neither women nor few non-whites could vote). Investigations also dominated both presidencies, with Buchanan dismissing his investigation as an “inquisition” while Trump branded his a “witch hunt.”

And oh yes, for the past many decades, presidential historians and political scientists have ranked Buchanan - along with Andrew Johnson, William Henry Harrison and Warren G. Harding - as America’s worst presidents. For the past two years, Donald Trump has ranked dead last . . . even worse than Buchanan.

Where ‘45 has to contend with the likes of House Committee Chairs Adam Schiff, (Intelligence) Jerry Nadler (Judiciary), Richard Neal (Ways and Means), Elijah Cummings (Oversight and Reform) and Maxine Waters (Financial Services), Buchanan’s single bugbear was Pennsylvania Representative John Covode, a former blacksmith who rose to become chair of the The Select Committee to Investigate Alleged Corruptions in Government. In 1860, Covode (1808-1871) and his committee (known to history as ‘The Covode Committee’) was mandated to conduct an investigation of the Buchanan administration to see if there was sufficient corruption and mismanagement to warrant impeachment. Despite the fact that they never did find sufficient grounds to impeach, it doomed the president; Buchanan was largely responsible for the dismemberment of his political party (then known as “Democrats,” caused the creation of a new party (“the Republicans”) and aided greatly in the election of Abraham Lincoln, the Founding Father of that party. For his efforts - or lack thereof - Buchanan went down in history as the worst (or second worst) President in American history.

Without question, Judge Mehta knows his political history. Otherwise, why would he quote Buchanan at the beginning of his legal decision? Churchill/Santayana/Shakespeare were right: ‘45 will not only challenge Buchanan for last place in the ranking of worst presidents; he could also be responsible for the dismemberment of an entire political party.

If only he, his advisers, staff and family had paid attention to the lessons of history, ‘45’s legacy might look more hopeful today. But do remember: Abraham Lincoln, the man who succeeded the heretofore last-place Buchanan, is unanimously considered the best POTUS in our history. (With the single exception of the preeminent presidential historian Jon Voight . . . who claims ‘45 is even greater than the Great Emancipator.)

Shakespeare’s Antonio was correct: “What’s past is prologue.”

530 days until the next election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

 

Shades of Dr. Max

Dr. Max Rafferty

Dr. Max Rafferty

Way back in 1968, California had a real barn-burner of a senate election pitting Democrat Alan Cranston (the former state Comptroller) versus Republican Dr. Max Rafferty (that’s him in the photo), the then state Superintendent of Public Instruction. Dr. Max was such a “far right reactionary” that many California Democrats actually changed their voter registration to Republican for the sole purpose of voting for the incumbent, the much-admired and respected liberal Republican Thomas Kuchel. Despite the influx of new Republican primary voters, Dr. Max defeated Senator Kuchel, and then went on to lose the general election to Cranston by more than 340,000 votes. (Of course, a vast majority of the Democrats who had re-registered as Republicans, returned to the fold for the general election.)

Defeated for reelection to his state education post two years later, Dr. Max moved to Alabama, where he took a job as Chancellor of Troy State University. Upon learning of Rafferty’s planned move, the beloved San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen wrote “In leaving California and moving to Alabama, Dr. Max is raising the IQ of both states simultaneously.” (Dr. Max would continue living in Alabama, and actually became a surrogate for George Wallace. On June 13, 1982, Dr. Max died when his car plunged off an earthen dam into a pond near Troy. He was 65.

This now half-century old memory fought its way back to my frontal lobes while I was in the process of reading various Tweets and Facebook postings from ardent “pro-life” (or rather, “pro-birth”) supporters of the nation’s newest and cruelest total abortion ban - the one just signed into law by Alabama Governor Kay Ivey. Many of these Tweets and postings were aglow with the joy of knowing that as of this coming November, physicians who conduct abortions in Alabama could be sentenced to 99 years in prison, and women undergoing abortions could be held legally liable for their actions. And, as a result, many of these Tweeters were now half-seriously considering moving to Alabama, where “morality is back in style." I responded to several of them that in leaving their home states and moving to the land of Ivey, they would - like Dr. Max - be raising the IQ of two states simultaneously. Not knowing the historic context behind my tweets, they were, to say the least, perplexed. Now, Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio and other states are in competition with one another to pass their own pro-birth, anti-woman bans ASAP.

Truth to tell, for many of these state legislatures, rushing to pass regressive anti-abortion ”fetal heartbeat” legislation, the reason for turning back the clock to pre-Roe v. Wade days hasn’t got all that much to do with religion or morality. Rather, it has lots to do with putting a powerful emotional wedge issue squarely on the 2020 ballot. To their way of thinking, this issue will help 45’s reelection bid. But already, there are signs that Republicans themselves - including the POTUS himself - are becoming political contortionists; pols who, while seeking to convince their base that they are still adamantly pro-birth, are also attempting to distance themselves from the cruelest, most testosterone-driven aspects of the newest pieces of legislation.

One might think Alabama legislators and their base would be more concerned about paying attention to the state of their state than whether or not women and their physicians are going to be enjoined and even imprisoned for making decisions about their bodies and lives. If the Republican politicians and citizens of Alabama were really, truly concerned about life - rather than merely birth - they would be appalled at what is going on in the Yellowhammer State. For in poll after poll, Alabama rates dead last - or close to it - in just about every economic and social category. According to recent state rankings by U.S. News & World Report, Alabama is:

  • 50th in education;

  • 46th in health care;

  • 45th in economy;

  • 45th in opportunity and

  • 45th in crime and corrections.

  • Alabama’s overall rating among the 50 states is 49 . . . Louisiana - another state spending the lion’s share of its legislative time on banning abortions - comes in dead last, while on the other end of the scale:

  • Washington is number 1. New Hampshire number 2, and Minnesota number 3.

In passing their worst-in-the-nation anti-abortion bill, Alabama’s Republican legislators and Republican governor are clearly doing everything in their power to ensure continued support from their party’s (read: Trump’s) political base. This is unbelievably myopic. In order to go beyond maintaining their base - let alone expanding it - they are going to need to attract more suburban women and educated urbanites. With passage of this bill - and all the attendant negative press and their increasingly riven party - they are going to lose even more potential voters. If the myopic pols, in turn, say “All we need to do is repeatedly warn our constituents about all the pre-born lives that will be destroyed if we are not reelected, and how we are truly doing God’s will” - they are going to find themselves in even worse shape. For, as bad as education, job growth, farming, infrastructure and healthcare are in Alabama (and Louisiana, Missouri, Georgia and Ohio) right now, things are going to get even worse. How so? Economic boycotting by individuals and corporations who otherwise might visit, build, hold conventions or invest in these hyper pro-birth states. This will give more rational candidates the ability to engage in issues of even greater day-to-day concern.

In last week’s post (“The Death of Biodiversity”) we mentioned the many conservative politicians who refuse to join the growing legions of folks who see climate change as an issue of paramount importance. Their rationale? The “I’m not a scientist” excuse. Why is it that the vast majority of politicians who use this tactic act like board-certified OB-GYNs when it comes to abortion? Why is it that those who argue adamantly against any and all gun safety measures (“It’s an encroachment on personal liberty!”) have no problem with government involvement in - and regulation of - a woman’s right to choose? Could it be that they are too dense to recognize radical inconsistency? Or are there simply more campaign dollars to be had from the likes of pro-gun and anti-abortion PACS than teachers’ unions, Planned Parenthood and the National Organization for Women?  

I bet even a Luddite like Dr. Max would have known the answer.

536 days until the next election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

 

The Death of Biodiversity

Extinction.jpg

Just this past week, the United Nations issued a sweeping 1,500-page report detailing how humans are transforming Earth’s natural landscape so dramatically that as many as one million plant and animal species are now at risk of extinction. Compiled by hundreds of international experts and based on thousands of scientific studies, this report is, without question, the most exhaustive - and deeply chilling - look yet at the decline in biodiversity across the globe and the dangers this decline creates for human civilization. A summary of its findings, which was approved by representatives from the United States and 131 other countries, was released Monday in Paris. The full report is set to be published later this year. And yet, in the same week we joined in on approving the UN biodiversity report, U.S representatives pressured the Arctic Council to issue a short joint statement that excluded any mention of climate change whatsoever.

In covering the Arctic Council’s summary communiqué, the New York Times reported: “It was the first time since its formation in 1996 that the council had been unable to issue a joint declaration spelling out its priorities. As an international organisation made up of eight Arctic countries and representatives of indigenous groups in the region, its stated mission is cooperation on Arctic issues, particularly the protection of the region’s fragile environment. According to diplomats involved in the negotiations, at issue was the United States’ insistence not to mention the latest science on climate change or the Paris Agreement aimed at averting its worst effects. The omission is especially notable because scientists have warned that the Arctic is heating up far faster than the world average because of rising greenhouse gas emissions.” 

The illogic of signing on to the U.N. report - which begins with “The main message of our report is that transformative change is urgently needed. There are no other options” - while virtually in the same breath grossly narrowing the focus of the Arctic Council’s summary conclusion, is emblematic of an Administration that does not know its gluteus maximus from its rectus femoris.

Getting back to last Monday’s U.N. report, the 145-plus scientists/authors who contributed to the massive report say they found overwhelming evidence that human activities are behind nature’s decline. They ranked the major drivers of species decline as land conversion, including deforestationoverfishingbush meat hunting and poaching; climate change; pollution; and invasive alien species. Their report - the full version of which will be published in late Summer/early Fall - also contains innumerable approaches and projects which must be undertaken by every nation on earth if humanity expects to ever reverse the all but certain death of biodiversity. Make no mistake about it: a planet bereft of millions upon millions of arable acres; of species of trees, plants, quadrupeds, birds, bees, butterflies, fish, mammals and insects is a planet which one day will no longer be able to sustain human life. And when we pass the “point of no return,” it won’t matter how rich, powerful or famous anyone is: a billionaire can drown, starve or broil just as easily and with equal certainty as a poor, backward illiterate.

What possible reason (or reasons) could any cult, country, or corporation have for turning a blind, unbelieving or hostile eye towards the overwhelming evidence of science when it comes to drastic climate change and the ensuing death of biodiversity? Several thoughts come to mind:

  • Many religious fundamentalists and creationists really, truly believe with every fiber of their being that anything and everything which occurs in this life and on this planet is part of God’s plan - whether we understand it or not. Among these, one will find folks who believe that the world is less than 10,000 years old; that dinosaurs and homo sapiens were contemporaneous; and that the death of various species has nothing to do with human action, but, once again, with Divine Will. To my way of thinking - and with all due respect, one simply cannot love God and and ignore the earth. Then too, there are those who have lapped up the Kool Aid and simply believe that scientists are all part of the “fake news” conspiracy.

  • Within the realm of politics, many oppose the findings of science not because they are intellectual pygmies, but rather because they fear the so-called “New World Order,” a cabal, working in secret as well as through official-­seeming, above-­ground means, seeking to establish an all-powerful, possibly Luciferian, one-world government. The very thought of signing on to such international pacts as the United Nations-backed Paris Agreement on global warming - to their way of thinking - merely opens the doors to other countries or international bodies telling us what we may or may not do. While this may well be a sop to a more America-central version of foreign policy, it may also an obedient response to those who fund reelection campaigns and fear losing market share.

  • One also suspects that opposition to the conclusions of science has little - if anything - to do with either religious scruples or political philosophy, but rather the bottom line. Let’s face it: in order to stem the tide of gross climate change and the incipient shrinkage of biodiversity, corporations will have to spend trillions of dollars. Retooling industry - moving from nonrenewable sources of energy to solar, wind, geothermal and other forms of energy - is not cheap. Success cannot be measured in terms of fiscal quarters or years; rather, success can take decades, if not more. Unfortunately, corporations are far, far more concerned with the next quarter than the next generation. The same goes for government: keeping taxes low today makes reelection a greater possibility tomorrow. The senator or representative who votes to raise taxes for the sake of tomorrow is going to run afoul of those who provide the majority of campaign dollars.

Research shows that every day, we use - and then toss out - over 500 million plastic straws here in America, most of those end up in our oceans, polluting the water and killing marine life.  In response to this obscenity, many cities, towns and counties here in Florida passed local ordinances banning their use in restaurants and fast-food joints. In response to an avalanche of lobbying by cash-wielding representatives of the plastics industry (who contribute tons of $$$ to politicians) the Republican-led Florida legislature caved and passed by a vote of 24-15, HB 771, which would have barred any local government from adopting or enforcing a ban on plastic straws until July 2024. Their reasoning?

  • That banning single-use plastic straws is beyond the scope of municipal governments, and

  • That there is yet insufficient proof that all the trash emanating from these millions upon millions of straws is harmful to marine life . . . that a thorough-going study by a committee of the legislature must first investigate the situation . . . which many legislatures declared “bogus.”

  • During floor debate, one legislator actually said ‘Straws make up a tiny portion of America's plastic litter, which in turn makes up a tiny portion (about 1 percent) of global plastic pollution. Banning them will have approximately zero impact on the world's oceans.

I’m happy to report that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis - a conservative Republican who is a stalwart Trump supporter - vetoed the measure. Good for you Governor!

OK, banning single-use plastic straws isn’t going to solve the worst of all possible crises . . . which we may dub geo necrosis (the death of the world). But hey, a journey of a billion miles does begin with a couple of steps.

The Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) is, perhaps, the greatest pro-environmental text in all Human history. For in very first chapter of the first book of that mighty tome, one finds God’s very first commandment. If one will thumb their way to Genesis 1:28, one will find:

. פְּר֥וּ וּרְב֛וּ וּמִלְא֥וּ אֶת־הָאָ֖רֶץ וְכִבְשֻׁ֑הָ וּרְד֞וּ בִּדְגַ֤ת הַיָּם֙ וּבְע֣וֹף הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וּבְכָל־חַיָּ֖ה הָֽרֹמֶ֥שֶׂת עַל־הָאָֽרֶץ

(Pronounced p’ru ur’vu umel’uh et ha-aretz v’khib-shuha; u’rdu beeg-daht ha-ya u’va-ofe ha-shamyim, u’khol khayah ha-romeset ahl ha-aretz)

Translated from the original Hebrew, God’s very first commandment states: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky and all the beasts which walk the earth.” It all seems pretty straightforward . . . with one exception. That is the Hebrew term וְכִבְשֻׁ֑הָ (v’khib-shua), normally translated as “conquer it.” Sorry, but without access to commentary, people have long mistranslated what God expects of us with regards to the Earth and all its gifts. No, it does not mean “conquer,” which has long given humanity license to do whatever they bloody well please with the world and its wonders - and with Co’s Divine imprimatur. But digging into commentary, one learns that v’khib-shuha means something far more akin to act as “protectors” than as “conquerors.”

To oh so many of you who contort and pervert the original meaning of this, the very first commandment, I say “If you really, truly want to do God’s will and fulfill Co’s (“His/Her”) word, protect and mentor the earth and its many, many creatures. Come to grips with the fact that In order to safeguard a healthy planet, we need to shift from a sole focus on chasing economic growth and doing what is best for corporations to doing what is best for all that which God has created. And if it costs hundreds upon hundreds of billions of dollars, Euros, Yen, Rubles and Shekels, so what? Saving the world God created; rescuing the creatures co created . . . these acts can also create an awful lot of new employment. Saving the earth; protecting as much biodiversity as we can - it’s as religious an act and can be imagined.

While it is crystal clear that ‘45 and a majority of his acolytes are more interested in cutting taxes, overturning Roe v., Wade and propping up the Second Amendment than in saving the bees, butterflies and the biosphere, the 20-odd Democratic candidates for POTUS are all deeply concerned. To get a sense of where they stand and what they propose, check out what the various candidates propose. It might just give you a modicum of hope.

Remember: This planet is our one and only home. We have no other choice; we must care for it.

541 days until the next election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

 

Why Do So Many Brits Dislike '45?

Trump and Queen Elizabeth.jpg

Rarely - if ever - in the fifteen years this blog has been up and running, have I reposted content from another writer. I hope you won’t mind if I break that longstanding tradition this week, and run a piece written by a British journalist named Nate White. For I find in what follows a wonderfully satiric - yet deeply on-the-mark - description of the POTUS. I hope you will agree it’s a marvelous retort as to why so many British citizens (and people from many other countries ,are appalled by what’s happening in America. (And yes, there are a few words in the following essay that I myself generally do not use . . .)

Question:  Why do some British people not like Donald Trump?

A few things spring to mind.

Trump lacks certain qualities which the British traditionally esteem.

For instance, he has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honour and no grace – all qualities, funnily enough, with which his predecessor Mr. Obama was generously blessed.

So for us, the stark contrast does rather throw Trump’s limitations into embarrassingly sharp relief.

Plus, we like a laugh. And while Trump may be laughable, he has never once said anything wry, witty or even faintly amusing – not once, ever.

I don’t say that rhetorically, I mean it quite literally: not once, not ever. And that fact is particularly disturbing to the British sensibility – for us, to lack humour is almost inhuman.

But with Trump, it’s a fact. He doesn’t even seem to understand what a joke is – his idea of a joke is a crass comment, an illiterate insult, a casual act of cruelty.

Trump is a troll. And like all trolls, he is never funny and he never laughs; he only crows or jeers.

And scarily, he doesn’t just talk in crude, witless insults – he actually thinks in them. His mind is a simple bot-like algorithm of petty prejudices and knee-jerk nastiness.

There is never any under-layer of irony, complexity, nuance or depth. It’s all surface.

Some Americans might see this as refreshingly upfront.

Well, we don’t. We see it as having no inner world, no soul.

And in Britain we traditionally side with David, not Goliath. All our heroes are plucky underdogs: Robin Hood, Dick Whittington, Oliver Twist.

Trump is neither plucky, nor an underdog. He is the exact opposite of that.

He’s not even a spoiled rich-boy, or a greedy fat-cat.

He’s more a fat white slug. A Jabba the Hutt of privilege.

And worse, he is that most unforgivable of all things to the British: a bully.

That is, except when he is among bullies; then he suddenly transforms into a snivelling sidekick instead.

There are unspoken rules to this stuff – the Queensberry rules of basic decency – and he breaks them all. He punches downwards – which a gentleman should, would, could never do – and every blow he aims is below the belt. He particularly likes to kick the vulnerable or voiceless – and he kicks them when they are down.

So the fact that a significant minority — perhaps a third — of Americans look at what he does, listen to what he says, and then think ‘Yeah, he seems like my kind of guy’ is a matter of some confusion and no little distress to British people, given that:
* Americans are supposed to be nicer than us, and mostly are.
* You don’t need a particularly keen eye for detail to spot a few flaws in the man.

This last point is what especially confuses and dismays British people, and many other people too; his faults seem pretty bloody hard to miss.

After all, it’s impossible to read a single tweet, or hear him speak a sentence or two, without staring deep into the abyss. He turns being artless into an art form; he is a Picasso of pettiness; a Shakespeare of shit. His faults are fractal: even his flaws have flaws, and so on ad infinitum.

God knows there have always been stupid people in the world, and plenty of nasty people too. But rarely has stupidity been so nasty, or nastiness so stupid.

He makes Nixon look trustworthy and George W look smart.

In fact, if Frankenstein decided to make a monster assembled entirely from human flaws – he would make a Trump.

And a remorseful Doctor Frankenstein would clutch out big clumpfuls of hair and scream in anguish:

‘My God… what… have… I… created?

If being a twat was a TV show, Trump would be the boxed set.

On behalf of Nate White, this is Kurt Franklin Stone

The Celestial Cigar Box

The Celestial Cigar Box

The Celestial Cigar Box

This week let’s take a sorely needed break from politics, the only endeavor in which “stupidity is not a handicap’” (Napoleon Bonaparte). In its stead, let’s spend a bit of time wrestling with experiences which defy empirical explanation and comprehension - that which Hamlet put best when he told his peer and friend “There are more things in heaven and earth Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” (Hamlet: 1.5. 167-68.) The genesis for this essay is a chat I had the other day with a friend over a cuppa tea. First, my friend shared with me an experience she had had with her diseased sister . . . on the anniversary of her passing. This in turn brought to mind a long forgotten - and deeply inexplicable - experience I had had nearly 45 years ago. (I shall share this experience below.) As we chatted and chattered on, an idea began to blossom: that this might make a great topic for a book. By the time I got home, I had decided that I would start writing, emailing and otherwise communicating with people I know or have interviewed from various walks of life - politics, academia, the film/television industry and medicine, to name but a few - and ask them if they would be interested in sharing their “More things under heaven and earth” experiences with me. By the time I unlocked the door and was greeted by my wife Annie and our dog Fred (Astaire Stone), I even knew what the title would be: The Celestial Cigar Box. This rather bizarre title will become more understandable once you’ve read the following tale . . . a tale which not only defied empirical explanation, but forever changed my life.

BTW: If, in reading my tale you find yourself remembering something that happened to you and wish to share, please email me.  Perhaps you may find yourself appearing in my (hopefully) next book.

And away we go . . .

It was early Fall 1976. I had taken a year’s leave of absence from rabbinic school and found a great job working in the Governor’s Office in California. Governor Jerry Brown, then age 38 and still sporting a full head of hair, was nearing the midway point of his first 4-year term and dating singer Linda Ronstadt, I had a position in the governor’s Office of Planning and Research, whose main responsibility was creating the boss’s visionary plans for the future of the planet . . . everything from colonizing outer space to suing big business in the ‘name’ of endangered Redwood trees. I was assigned to write and edit a book entitled As Their Land Is, which those of us around the water cooler subtitled The Theology of Ecology. It was a great job in which I got to put my passion for writing to use in the name of environmental ethics . . . something which few - if any - were doing in government back in the latter seventies. My immediate boss, by the way, was the multi-talented Bill Press who, at age 79 is still writing great books, hosting a daily progressive radio talk show, and blogging for the Huffington Post .

I was happy as could be . . . but beginning to wonder whether or not I would ever complete the final three years of my rabbinic education . . . which would require my leaving California and moving to Cincinnati, Ohio. Then two things happened almost simultaneously:

  • First, the Office of the Governor offered me a new contract at a higher salary and that which every political staff person craves: an office with a window.

  • Second, I was contacted by the Office of the Dean at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, wanting to know what date they could expect me back at school, and whether I would be willing to take a biweekly student pulpit in a place called McGehee, Arkansas, approximately 100 miles southeast of Little Rock.

Talk about a dilemma! Which way to turn? In my indecision, I paid a visit to a very wise friend and laid out the situation. “How,” I asked at the end of my tale of woe, “How can I ever know which is the right decision?” Thinking while stroking his beard, my friend finally said: “There is a correct answer, but damned if I know what it is. However, keep your eyes and ears open . . . and a sign will come that will open your eyes, clear your mind and make the decision obvious . . .”

I left and went back to Sacramento, wondering what in the world he was talking about.

About a week later, I left my office and headed back to the house I was renting about a mile from the State Capitol. Parking my car in the driveway, I climbed the four steps to the front porch and reached above the front door lintel, where I kept my house key. Standing on my tiptoes, I grasped the key. Suddenly, the phone in the living room began ringing; I just knew that it was the Office of the Dean calling from Cincinnati wanting to know what I had decided. At just that moment, the key dropped out of my hand . . . and disappeared. I mean disappeared. It could not have landed on the wooden porch, for I heard no sound of clanging metal on wood. It could not have blown by a sudden gust of wind onto the flower bed below, because it was a breathless day. It could not have landed in a cuff of my trousers, for the pants were without cuffs.

And all the while, the phone kept ringing.

There was only one thing to do: somehow enter through the window to the right of the porch, which led to my bedroom. If only the window were unlocked. Jumping off the porch, I went to the front window and pushed on the bottom of the window sash. Eureka! It was unlocked. Shinnying up the tiny opening I managed to get my shoulders through and then start wiggling the window open. It quickly dawned on me that if a police car came cruising by (and the local police station was less than a block away) it would look like a break-in . . . a tuchus sticking out of a window wriggling its way into a house.

And the phone kept ringing . . . it sounded louder and louder.

Landing with a resounding PLOP on the carpet-less wooden floor, I uttered a silent prayer of thanks that no police cruiser had passed the house while I was doing my breaking-and-entering act. Rolling over onto my feet, I made it to the phone in less than 2 seconds, hoping and praying that it would not stop ringing before I could pick it up. Eureka again! I picked it up and heard a voice on the other end: “Is this Kurt Stone?”

“Yes, indeed it is,” I said with great anticipation. “And I presume that this is the Office of Dean in Cincinnati?”

“Yes, it is . . . how did you know?”

“Just a lucky guess,” I said. And then, without pausing for a breath, I continued “On what date will classes be beginning? When do they want me to start doing services in McGehee?” Mind you, all this was said as if it had been scripted. I had made my decision without a moment’s hesitation.

But how did I know which way to go? Was the lost key “the sign” my wise friend had foretold? And while I was at it, what in the world had happened to the key? I went out and spend 15-20 minutes looking for it . . . before realizing that I would never find it. It was irretrievably lost.

The next day I went to visit my friend and told him all that had occurred . . . the dropped key, the ringing telephone, the open window and my knowing precisely what to do. All the while, he was smiling a peculiarly seraphic smile . . .

“But what happened to the key?” I finally asked.

“Oh, you’ll get that back someday . . . it’s being stored for you in your celestial cigar box.”

Kurt And Clinton.jpg

“My celestial what?” I asked, having no idea what I was hearing.

“Your celestial cigar box,” he said, his eyes shining with delight. “You see, everyone goes through these sorts of things . . . these inexplicable experiences which contain answers and insights. Most people have no idea of what they are seeing, feeling or experiencing. They are too closed off. The sign, the answer is right in front of them, but they are painfully ignorant of what is before them . . . It just makes no sense.”

“But you - you were open to a mystery . . . to something which defied logic. And it contained an answer you needed. Someday, after you’ve gone through this life, you will, hopefully, reach the world to come, and there, you will be handed your cigar box . . . and in that box will be the key that unlocked a far, far more important door than the one for the front door to the house on State Street.”

And you know something? He was more profoundly correct than even he knew. For in early Fall, 1977, I arrived in McGehee, Arkansas to meet my new congregants. One of them, knowing that I had just come from working with Governor Brown (who was, among other things, a graduate of Yale Law), told me I just had to meet a young couple who were coming to town . . . and that they were both graduates of Yale, and that he was running for state Attorney General. Turns out they were named Clinton . . .and he won his election , , , and a few more after that. (That’s a picture of us above . . . 40 years after we first met)

Although I am certainly in no hurry to see what’s in my celestial cigar box, It’s so incredibly heartening to know that Shakespeare was correct: that indeed, “There are more things . . . in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

If you are of a mind - and get a chance - please let me know if you have ever experienced a “celestial cigar box” moment. You just might make it into my next book.

556 days to go until the next election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

 


The Ashes and Embers of Notre-Dame de Paris

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How truly sad, ironic and chilling that just days before Easter, La cathédrale de Notre-Dame de Paris, the haunting 850-year old Gothic masterpiece should be swept by a colossal fire. Predictably, responses have been widely diverse. In addition to the tears shed, Psalms intoned, and vast sums already donated for its reconstruction, many of the cyber-cretins who inhabit their modern version of the Asylum of Charenton have proclaimed that it was a conspiracy - an act of Muslim terror. Just as predictably, the so-called “Yellow Jackets” have begun protesting that the donated restoration funds (already in excess of $1 billion) can and should be spent for aiding the hungry, the homeless and the grossly impoverished of France. The ashes and embers of Notre-Dame have brought people the world over together; so too, these same ashes and embers have torn people both up and apart.

Without question, Notre-Dame de Paris is the most famous of all Gothic Cathedrals of the Middle Ages and is, for its size, antiquity and architectural interest. It was built on the ruins of two earlier churches, which were themselves predated by a Gallo-Roman temple dedicated to Jupiter. The cathedral was initiated by Maurice de Sully, bishop of Paris, who, in about 1160 conceived the idea of converting into a single building, on a larger scale, the ruins of the two earlier basilicas. The foundation stone was laid by Pope Alexander III in 1163, and the high altar was consecrated in 1189. The choir, the western façade, and the nave were completed by 1250, and porches, chapels, and other embellishments were added over the next 100 years.

Stonehenge

Stonehenge

This is not the first time Notre-Dame has been severely damaged. After the French Revolution it was rescued from possible destruction by Napoleon, who crowned himself emperor of the French in the cathedral in 1804. Notre-Dame underwent major restorations  in the mid-19th century. And the popularity of Victor Hugo’s 1831 historical novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (originally titled Notre-Dame de Paris , which takes place in the cathedral, was said to have inspired the renovations.  (n.b. As of this morning, Hugo’s classic novel is now the #1 best seller on Amazon.com.)

One of the things which has always fascinated me about Notre-Dame is how long it took to be built: nearly 250 years. Imagine that! The people who went to work on the first days of construction - more than 1,000 carpenters, masons, metalsmiths and other laborers knew that they wouldn’t live long enough to see it through to completion. Nor would their children or grandchildren. And yet they persisted, going to work six days a week. Today, no one has that kind of patience; no one takes the long view. A skyscraper must be completed in the wink of an eye; and, without all the architectural brilliance of Notre-Dame de Paris.

In terms of lapsed time, Notre-Dame actually took a fairly short time from foundation stone to completion. Consider, if you will that:

  • The Great Wall of China, the longest man-made structure in the world, took more than 2,000 years to build, cost more than 400,000 lives and has yet to be completed. According to legend, every one of those 400,000 deceased slaves were buried within the wall.

  • No one truly knows how long it took to build the Kufu (Cheops) pyramids at Giza in Egypt. The ancient Greek historian Herodotus of Halicarnassus  estimated that it took 30 years. This makes no sense whatsoever. Consider that the Great Pyramid consists of 2,300,000 blocks in the largest pyramid,. The average weight of each block was around 6 tons. If Giza truly took 30 years to build, that would be putting in 210 2 1/2 ton blocks a day!, 365 days a year . . . presuming you had nearly a million slaves at work. (For those who assume that these were the Hebrew slaves mentioned in the Biblical Book of Exodus, you’re getting your history from Cecil B. de Mille; the pyramids were already completed before the first Hebrew - Joseph, the son of Jacob and Rebecca - entered Egypt.)

  • Two other Wonders of the World - Petra and Stonehenge (above) - not only took more than 500 years to construct; no one really knows how they were built, considering what tools were yet to invented. Indeed, human ingenuity is truly remarkable.

One of the things which has long attracted me to the study of history and human accomplishment is just how small and relatively insignificant it makes me feel. The wonders created by people throughout the ages frequently defy understanding; how they built, wrote, created and generally brought so much awe-inspiring artistry into the world is to make one mute and dumbfounded. But beyond their urge and ability to create such wonderments, I find their patience, their innate ability to take the long view, all the more compelling. Shakespeare, Michelangelo, the architects and master builders of Cheops and Notre-Dame de Paris, not to mention Petra, Angkor Wat and the Moai Statues on Easter Island Chichen Itza, and Machu Picchu, all understood the value of taking the long, long view.

The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China

Of course, none of those involved in creating the timeless classics of the world lived under the shadow of fear; fear that the world could be destroyed by the lethal mayhem of missiles, the pushing of “the button,” or a mostly man-made ecological apocalypse. Without that fear, the giants of the ages were free to build, create and even legislate for the eons . . . not just for tomorrow.

Sadly, we now live in an era where our leaders are far, far more concerned about their todays, apparently forgetting - or not giving a fig - about our collective tomorrows. We hogtie future generations with the overwhelming debt created today, all the while engaging in cacophonous argumentation about our planet’s future - argumentation which blocks out the sound of the ticking clock. Few seem to grasp that having greater riches today cannot save our future progeny or planet from the bill which will eventually come due.

Perhaps - just perhaps - out of the ashes and embers of Notre Dame de Paris we can learn a lesson about working together; about taking a long view which ultimately can help us win the future. I have no doubt that the cathedral which has stood for eight-and-a-half centuries will eventually be shored up and reconstructed.

This is both good and great. One need not be a Catholic to stand in awe of this masterwork.

The question is; can we find the strength and wisdom to take the long, long view which the cathedral so wondrously symbolizes?

562 days until the next election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

 


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Laughter: The Only Medicine?

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Let’s face it: the level of civic anger and despair - not to mention the consequent imbibing of Gamay Beaujolais and other tasty varietals - is at an all-time high. Patience, propriety and political maturity have become as rare as a winning season for the Miami Marlins. What were once low-decibel disagreements between friends, colleagues or acquaintances have morphed into cacophonous, often friendship-busting battles. Families have to think twice about who will or will not be invited to Thanksgiving dinner - or next week’s Passover Seder - lest a rancorous dust-up occur. Simply stated, in far too many cases, partisan politics have driven a wedge between far too many people. Our levels of pique and personal enmity have soared to stratospheric heights; we have forgotten how to laugh - at ourselves and at others.

I have long been of the opinion that one important mark of a successful person is that while co (my pronoun for her/she) tends to be quite serious about what they do, they don’t necessarily take themselves too seriously. A bit of self-directed humor - the ability to laugh at oneself - can be a good thing. Those who laugh at - and make fun of - others but go bananas when others laugh at - or make fun of - them are - in my experience - people afflicted with terribly thin skin, as well as an admixture of low self-esteem, egotism and overarching narcissism. When it’s a run-of-the-mill person that’s afflicted with this “thin-skin-mixed-with-egotism-low-self-esteem-and-narcissism syndrome” there is little harm that he or she will tear down society. When it’s the most powerful person on the planet who’s so afflicted, we’re all in danger.

Unlike just about anyone who’s ever been in the public eye, ‘45 greatly prefers that people be angry with him, rather than laughing at him. To him, it’s a mark of achievement to infuriate women, minorities and assorted college-educated progressives. Unlike just about any other “leader” we’ve ever encountered, our anger is something he revels in. What he cannot and will not abide is for people to laugh at or ridicule him. That’s why he never attends the White House Correspondents’ Dinner (often referred to as WHCD or “NerdProm”). The last one he attended was in 2011 - 5 years before he ran for POTUS. You may remember how infuriated he became when then-President Obama skewered “The Donald” saying, among other things, ”No one is prouder to put this birth certificate matter to rest than The Donald. And that's because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter, like, did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac?” (n.b. The 2011 WHCD took place just days after Mr. Obama released his long-form birth certificate - a document Mr. Trump then claimed did not exist. )

Yes, ‘45 simply hates it when people laugh at or ridicule him. And when they do, he fires back, both guns blazing. How many times has he threatened and insulted” Saturday Night Live” for portraying him as a malevolent, clueless clown?  Seeing a humorous - though accurate - reflection of himself is something ‘45 just can’t stomach.  It tears at his self-image - one of vast wealth, brilliant achievement and utter decisiveness. But ‘45, like any vainglorious narcissist, cannot tolerate looking in a mirror that reflects his true ugliness.

That’s why he hates it when anyone laughs at him.  He thinks people should be afraid of him, angry at him, in awe of him and in love with him. It gives him power when anyone gets outraged.  He wants that attention along with the adoration.  But he cannot stand being a joke or a failure, and he will go to great lengths including obstructing justice to maintain his self-image.

We are all familiar with the various nasty nicknames he’s pinned on those who run against or disagree with him: “Low Energy Jeb,” “Little Marco,” “Crying Chuck” and “Pencil Neck [Adam] Schiff” to name but a few. In ‘45’s case, he’s not laughing at them; rather, he’s in full-scale attack mode. And woe betide anyone who actually tries to employ facts to back up their case against him - or to use his own words to show up the wizard behind the curtain. It’s at that point Sir Donald of Orange will haul out the “Fake News!” claim.

There are already far, far more nicknames the public has created for our ‘45th POTUS than ‘45 has created for his enemies. There is actually a website devoted to the more than 400 nicknames people both great and small have affixed to the man who would be tyrant. Some of my favorites are:

  • America’s Black Mole: Given by John Oliver on Last Week Tonight.

  • Barbarian at the Debate: Given by Charles M. Blow.

  • Groper-in-Chief: Given by Nicholas Kristof.

  • Riptide of Regression: Given by Dan Rather.,

  • Dimwit Don : by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Kurt Eichenwald, and

  • Cadet Bone Spurs by an anonymous blogger who goes by the handle “Eagle of Freedom”

Want to get past the anger and distress while brandishing little more than a verbal whoopee cushion? Perhaps the best thing will be laughter and ridicule; two things which the POTUS hates the most. True, if enough people would join in on the laughter and ridicule, it might force him to respond with acts of madness. But who knows? Perhaps if he acts with even greater madness, people on his side of the aisle will gird their loins, hitch up their trousers and finally, finally stand up to him, shouting out ENOUGH ALREADY . . . SIT!!

If you’ve got a new nickname for “Don the Con,” please send it along and we’ll add it to the list.

For after all, in the long run, laughter could very well be the best - if not only - medicine of all.

How’s about Mrs. Putin?

569 days until the next election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

Is Bibi "Your Prime Minister?"

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This past Saturday evening, on his way back from an event at the California-Mexico border, ‘45 made a brief stop in Las Vegas, where he spoke at the annual meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition. Throughout the crowd one could see many men - and a few women as well - wearing red kippot (yarmulkes) emblazoned with “Trump” in white. This isn’t a dig; truth to tell, I’ve owned a L.A. Dodger kippa for more years than I can count. ‘45 began his nearly hour-long speech with a dig at Rep. Ilhan Omar, who came under fire earlier this year for comments appearing to accuse American Jews of dual loyalty to Israel, spurring the president to claim last month that Democrats “hate” Jews.” (Gee, I’m a Democrat, as are my mom and sister, my wife and kids, as well as our machatunim (Hebrew for “our children’s spouses’ parents”) and none - so far as I am aware - can be accused of hating Jews.)

In going after Rep. Omar, ‘45 mockingly “thanked her” by adding “Oh, I forgot. She doesn’t like Israel, I forgot, I’m sorry. No, she doesn’t like Israel, does she? Please, I apologize.” Predictably, this got a roar of laughter and a prolonged bit of clapping from the assembled crowd of adoring acolytes. He then seemed to confuse the Republican group with US Jews in general when he asked how they could have supported his predecessor Barack Obama. “How the hell did you support President Obama?” he asked the audience. “How did you do it?” he asked, to which several of the attendees yelled back “we didn’t.”

The president got the crowd going by reminding them that in keeping his campaign pledge to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and developing such a strong relationship with Israeli P.M. Bibi Netanyahu, he had proven himself to be the “best friend Israel ever had in the White House.” He then went off the rails when he proclaimed “I stood with your prime minister at the White House to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights,” and then, speaking of the Democrats added “If implemented, the Democrats' radical agenda would destroy our economy, cripple our country, and very well could leave Israel out there all by yourselves. Can't do that." [Emphasis added]

Whether or not ‘45 was engaging in misstatement by referring to Bibi as “your prime minister,” he was unknowingly agreeing with both Rep. Omar and every Neo-Nazi in the Land of the Free - that American Jews are guilty of “dual loyalty.” It didn’t take long for Trump’s inanity to be called out on Twitter by the head of the American Jewish Committee, who Tweeted Mr. President, the Prime Minister of Israel is the leader of his [or her] country, not ours. Statements to the contrary, from staunch friends or harsh critics, feed bigotry'; by the head of the Anti-Defamation League :Mr. President, words matter. As with all elected officials, it's critical for you to avoid language that leads people to believe Jews aren’t loyal Americans.; and by Rep. Eliot Engel, the Jewish chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee: I somehow doubt the president would say 'Your Taoiseach' to a roomful of Irish-Americans." ) (n.b. Taoiseach - pronounced Tea-schock - is Irish for “Prime Minister”).

It just so happens that today, April 9, 2019, the Israelis go to the polls to elect another government. Because they have a parliamentary form of government, voters cast ballots not for candidates, but rather for parties. As such, it can take several weeks to figure out who won, who lost, and who will be the next P.M. Most of the intervening time is spent not in counting votes, but rather in the political chess moves required to put a coalition together. In other words, Israeli voters aren’t choosing between Bibi Netanyanu and former Israeli Chief of Staff Benny Gantz but rather between Likud (Netanyahu’s party, which itself is a coalition) and Kachol Lavan (“Blue and White”), Gantz’s party which includes both Labor, Meretz (“vigor”), which is both leftist and green and the centrist Yesh Atid (“There is a future”) parties.

So if, as ‘45 says, Benyamin Netanyahu is “our” prime minister, does that mean he would be the overwhelming choice of American Jews . . . if we were voting?

Highly, highly unlikely.

In an opinion piece published yesterday in Haaretz, writer Jonathan S. Tobin noted that “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s critics are right to argue that the cheers he always gets at AIPAC conferences shouldn’t mislead us. If American Jews could vote in Israel’s election, most of them wouldn’t think of casting a ballot for the Likud or its allies.” Bibi has his fans on the American Jewish right as well as within the Orthodox community. But there is no question that among the overwhelming majority of those U.S. Jews who identify as liberals, as well as with those who are affiliated with the non-Orthodox denominations or consider themselves unaffiliated ("Jews of no religion"), the prime minister and the right wing and religious parties that back him have precious little support. For a large majority of American Jews, Netanyahu - like every Likudnik P.M. since Menachem Begin was elected in 1977 - has always been considered out of touch with the liberal sensibilities of the majority of Democrat-voting American Jews. The unabashed Jewish nationalism of Begin and his successors has never gone down well among Americans who conform to writer Cynthia Ozick’s quip that "universalism is the parochialism of the Jews."

Then too, Netanyahu’s openly antagonistic relationship with former President Barack Obama and his close friendship with Donald Trump puts him at odds with American Jews, who loyally supported the former and despise the latter - exactly the opposite of Israeli opinion about the two American leaders. This is perhaps best born out by how American Jews responded to ‘45 calling Netanyahu “your Prime Minister.” People who attended the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas applauded the statement with great gusto; a clear majority of the American Jewish public was deeply shocked and troubled at what sounded like the age-old canard about “dual loyalty.” When such a charge - made either tacitly or directly - comes out of the mouth of a person like Rep. Omar, it is the height of Antisemitism; when coming from the mouth of the President of the United States, it is a laudable truism.

I just don’t get it.

Benjamin Netanyahu is not my Prime Minister. My country has no P.M. It is Israel, which I love, admire and support (והוא יכול להתמודד עם מימין לשמאל או משמאל לימין) despite whatever disagreements I may have with its current administration - that is the country with a Prime Minister.

Shame on you Mr. President. Whether knowingly or not, you have sent out a message which is both dangerous and impolitic . . . and all for the sake of your political future.

575 days until the next election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone