Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

M.A.S.A.

               And You Thought  Paranthropus robustus Was Extinct?

              And You Thought Paranthropus robustus Was Extinct?

Case in point: less than 24 hours after learning precisely how corrupt, mendacious and greedy '45's one-time campaign manager Paul Manafort truly was (and likely still is), we discover that there is a cadre of '45 supporters who both willingly and pridefully proclaim I'D RATHER BE RUSSIAN THAN DEMOCRAT!  When I saw a photo of a couple of these pinheads wearing tee shirts emblazoned with that particular  message while attending a '45 love/hatefest, my first thought was was "My sweet LordHuxley, Orwell and Bradbury have all risen from the dead and are now sitting on the board of a revamped, dystopian Republican National Committee!"

When I was a kid, a lot of our friends and neighbors were accused of being Communists - which in those days was generally a synonym for either "liberal," "progressive" or "Democrat"  These folks, who were, as a class, mostly Jewish, successful, literate and a bit more artistic than most, had their lives turned upside-down and inside out because of what conservatives - both Democrats and Republicans - deemed their treacherous allegiance to a foreign power . . . the Soviet Union.  And because they had at one time signed a petition denouncing racism, or contributed to a group which favored an end to segregated schools or opposed the Nazis as early as the 1930's, they were labeled  "Comsymps" -Communist sympathizers - and were thrown out of their jobs as actors and directors, producers  and choreographers,  composers and screenwriters. While it is true that some of them actually did pay dues to a Communist club or belong to a Communist cell back in the late 1930s or early 1940s, one should remember that Stalin's Russia, for better or for worse, was our ally.  Nonetheless, these "premature anti-Fascists" ultimately paid a high price for their idealism.  They were hauled before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and given two options: name names of fellow "conspirators" or be blacklisted. To conservative Democrats and Republicans, anything less than 100% pro-American, anti-Russian sympathies were simply unforgivable.

(BTW: the next Tales From Hollywood & Vine essay will deal with the Hollywood Blacklist.) 

Looking at the photo above, listening to the Republican base whose approval and espousal of such inanities as finding greater kinship with autocratic, dictatorial Russia than with a major American political party makes me wonder what in the world "Make America Great Again" (MAGA) means. It also makes me realize that although her precise figures may have been too high  and her public statement a bit impolitic, Hillary Clinton was not far off the mark when she characterized a certain percentage of '45's die-hard supporters as "deplorables." To my way of thinking, while they may or may not necessarily be "deplorable," they are definitely gullible and guileless, unworldly and relatively uneducated when it comes to history, politics and economics. But above all they appear to possess less than a fourth-grader's knowledge of the past, are pathologically dissatisfied with the present, and filled to overflowing with a paranoiac fear of the future. "I'd rather be an Russian than a Democrat!"  Indeed!

                                       That's One "Deplorable" Cap

                                      That's One "Deplorable" Cap

Oh really?  Do you truly support a dictatorship which has no problem imprisoning or even executing journalists who do not toe the party line?  Probably yes; I mean, hasn't your revered leader repeatedly told you that reporters are "the enemy of the people?"  Do you really prefer dictators to small-d democrats?  Apparently you do.  But tell me this: how is wishing or preferring to be a Russian making America great again? How are deriding, disdaining, disapproving and ultimately dividing this country between Jews, Muslims and Christians, between new arrivals and decades-old immigrants (like 45's family) making the country great? How is separating children from their parents and deporting heroic non-citizen members of the U.S. Military furthering the cause of Americanism? 

Answer?  It cannot – in any shape or form.

What this country needs now, today, more than ever, is not a movement carrying the acronym MAGA; we need one based on the letters MASA - e.g. "Make American Sane Again." Make America a place where liars and and provocateurs are disbelieved at best, vilified and buried under 7 million metric tons of litigation at worst. In Spanish, "masa" means "dough" - something which ultimately becomes a basic staple of life . . . namely, bread.  What this country cries out for is more "masa" (bread) and less mendacity.

Make sure you go to the polls in November (If not earlier) and help "Make America Sane Again."

569 days down;

904 days to go;

83 days until the midterm election.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"We're All Right, We're All Right"

This one's for you Jill . . .

 Claude Monet's  Bassin aux nympheas et  sentier au bord de l′eau                                                      (1900)

Claude Monet's Bassin aux nympheas et  sentier au bord de l′eau                                                     (1900)

The other day, an old, beloved friend posted on her Facebook page "by the time i finish reading, scanning scrolling through my fb feed, my soul is crushed . . ."  Although understanding of - and largely in agreement with - her sentiment, I was deeply saddened by what she posted, for historically, she's always been an immensely creative artist who sees and responds to the world in colors that would make Monet sit up and proclaim vas-y meuf! (roughly "You go girl"!).  Her plight got me to thinking and fearing that the "crushing" of her soul might put a roadblock in the path of her creativity. This fear got me to thinking:With the dire road our society, our country, culture - indeed our very world - has been traveling on, it is indeed true that each day brings yet another potentially stultifying soul screwing.  But then I remember that at base I,  like my friend, am somewhat of an artist who historically, hears (rather than sees) and responds to the world in literary - rather than literal - colors.  Where my friend garners strength from the easel and art museum, I turn to the word processor and the library . . .

And so, with this brief introduction, permit me to introduce felicitous phrases from three very different sources - Abraham Lincoln, Robert F. Kennedy and Paul Simon - which may give my friend - and all of you - a bit of uplift  . . .

The first, Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address as read by British actor Charles Laughton in the  1934 film Ruggles of Red Gap, is likely the greatest speech in American history.  At the time Laughton recorded the scene below, he was, ironically, studying to take his citizenship examination.  By the time of the film's release, he was a naturalized citizen of the United States. (BTW, Laughton always considered this scene the best he had ever played)

"Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives, that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Next is a speech by then-Senator Robert F. Kennedy, given precisely a half-century ago.  It is most fitting that we should be reminded of his words at this very point in time, when news about this most recent quarter's uptick in the nation's "Gross National Product" is celebrated  as the greatest accomplishment since the parting of the Red Sea . . .

 

University of Kansas, March 18, 1968

Even if we act to erase material poverty, there is another greater task, it is to confront the poverty of satisfaction - purpose and dignity - that afflicts us all. 

Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things.  Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year, but that Gross National Product - if we judge the United States of America by that - that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. 

It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them.  It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. 

It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities.  It counts Whitman's rifle and Speck's knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. 

Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play.  It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. 

It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. 

And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.
     
If this is true here at home, so it is true elsewhere in world. 

Lastly, one of the greatest songs ever penned and performed by an American songwriter: Paul Simon's "American Tune" The version which follows was performed on October 1, 2011 at Mr. Simon's induction into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. 

Many’s the time I’ve been mistaken
And many times confused
Yes, and I’ve often felt forsaken
And certainly misused
Oh, but I’m all right, I’m all right
I’m just weary to my bones
Still, you don’t expect to be
Bright and bon vivant
So far away from home, so far away from home

I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered
I don’t have a friend who feels at ease
I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered
Or driven to its knees
Oh, but it’s all right, it’s all right
For lived so well so long
Still, when I think of the road
We’re traveling on
I wonder what went wrong
I can’t help it, I wonder what’s gone wrong

And I dreamed I was dying
And I dreamed that my soul rose unexpectedly
And looking back down at me
Smiled reassuringly
And I dreamed I was flying
And high above my eyes could clearly see
The Statue of Liberty
Sailing away to sea
And I dreamed I was flying

Oh, we come on the ship they call the Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age’s most uncertain hour
And sing an American tune
Oh, it’s all right, it’s all right
It’s all right, it’s all right
You can’t be forever blessed
Still, tomorrow’s going to be another working day
And I’m trying to get some rest
That’s all I’m trying to get some rest

(©1973 Words and music Paul Simon)

(BTW: Mr. Simon adapted the music for this wonderful song from Bach's St. Matthew's Passion, which Bach, in turn, had taken from an earlier German Lutheran song by one Hans Leo Hassler called "Herzlich Tut Mich Verlangen," . . . "Sincerely, I Desire."

And so, at a time when reality is crushing oh so many, it is good to occasionally take a break and immerse ourselves in a an uplifting restorative . . . if but for a few moments.  We will ride out these times of gloom and insanity and once again be able to turn our faces to the brilliant sun.

Smile dear friend; get out your palette and return to your easel.  Giverny awaits . . .

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

Of Grey Wolves and Bald Eagles

                    Our Nation's Symbol: Once Again in Danger of Extinction?

                   Our Nation's Symbol: Once Again in Danger of Extinction?

On June 20, 1782 Congress voted to make the Bald Eagle the symbol of the United States of America.  The Founders chose this particular bird because of its long life, great strength and majestic looks, and also because it was then believed to exist only on this continent. To most of the Founders, the Bald Eagle represented unlimited freedom.  Alone among this august body, Benjamin Franklin pushed for the Turkey for the new nation's national symbol.  Franklin railed against the Bald Eagle, writing "For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. . . . . Besides he is a rank Coward."  Despite Dr. Franklin's opposition, an image of the "rank coward" soon would adorn gold and silver coins as well as the nation's Great Seal. Sadly, by the early 1960's there were, at best, only 415 breeding pairs left in America's Lower 48 states due to the effects of the insecticide DDT. This deadly poison accumulated in their bodies and made the shells of their eggs so weak that, in trying to incubate them, they would instead crush them.  Miraculously, as of last year  the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service reports that there are currently 10,000 breeding pairs of Bald Eagles in the Lower 48.

So what brought back our nation's noble symbol from the brink of extinction . . . along with such other creatures as the grizzly bear, the grey wolf and grey eagle, the whooping crane and the American alligator?  

A 45-year old law enacted virtually unanimously by both houses of Congress called The Endangered Species Act.  That's what did it. This seminal act represents a commitment by the American people to work together to protect and restore those species most at risk of disappearing forever, partly by blocking ranching, logging and oil drilling on protected habitats.  Recent polling shows that 84 percent of the American public supports the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and 87 percent agree that it is a successful safety net for protecting wildlife, plants, insects, and fish from extinction. Horrifyingly, the ESA is currently undergoing a full-frontal assault not seen in decades by the Trump Administration, along with its Republican-controlled Congress and vast coterie of pro-business, anti-ecology lobbyists.  This assault is being driven in part by the fear that the Republicans will lose ground in November’s midterm elections and no longer be in a position to do the bidding of their deep-pocketed mega-supporters who care far, far more about profits than planet earth.  According to a recent article in the New York Times"In the past two weeks, more than two dozen pieces of legislation, policy initiatives and amendments designed to weaken the law have been either introduced or voted on in Congress or proposed by the Trump administration. The actions included a bill to strip protections from the gray wolf in Wyoming and along the western Great Lakes; a plan to keep the sage grouse, a chicken-size bird that inhabits millions of oil-rich acres in the West, from being listed as endangered for the next decade; and a measure to remove from the endangered list the American burying beetle, an orange-flecked insect that has long been the bane of oil companies that would like to drill on the land where it lives."  During the 2016 run for the White House, '45 made it crystal clear that when elected (narcissists never put things inthe conditional tense - if) that he would make deregulation - the loosening of not only environmental protections but banking rules,  fuel efficiency standards  and fair housing enforcement — a centerpiece of his administration.  One thing you've got to give him: he's a man of his (or his backers') word.

Since being signed into law by then-President Richard M. Nixon in December, 1973, the ESA has provided common-sense, balanced solutions for government agencies, landowners, and concerned citizens to conserve endangered wildlife and their habitats. The Act included three key elements:

       • Preventing listed species from being killed or harmed

       • Protecting habitat essential to these species’ survival

       • Creating plans to restore healthy populations

Sensible and effective? Generally speaking yes.

The product of a bunch of wild-eyed, Socialist-loving tree huggers who put the survival of snails and beetles above the legitimate profits of business?  Not even close.

But now, if Congress, the administration and the lobbying class have their way, federal departments will be forced to factor in the cost of abiding by the ESA in their budgets.  For quite a while, Congressional Republicans have argued that following the ESA's mandates are overly costly, take away jobs from working class Americans, and make it increasingly difficult for ranchers, loggers, fishermen, miners and oil drillers to turn a profit . . . and all at the expense of a snail, lizard or plant.  Besides being a mendacious characterization, the fact is that the Trump Administration has been severely slashing budgets for the EPA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency and Dept. of the Interior (all of which deal with ESA issues) since early 2017.  But the administration has filled many executive branch positions with people who, in their previous lives, worked or lobbied for those businesses which most want to see the ESA go the way of the buffalo. As but one example, David Bernhardt, the Deputy Secretary of the Interior (who is most responsible for responding to the ESA for his department, is a former oil lobbyist and lawyer whose legal clients included the Independent Petroleum Association of America. Moreover, before getting into politics, his boss, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke sat on the board of an oil pipeline concern . . . the same Ryan Zinke who has over the past year been increasingly opening up federal lands for oil, gas and mineral exploration and extraction.

One can argue that the Endangered Species Act also plays a large and positive role in efforts to deal with global warming.  Many of the lands which come under ESA scrutiny produce oil, gas and coal - which are largely responsible for poisoning our atmosphere, warming our oceans and eroding climatologcal protections. Those who argue that the right for individuals, companies and corporations to make a profit takes precedent over a "supposedly" endangered fish, animal or plant are self-delusional.  What good can a large and diversified portfolio do anyone on a super-heated planet?  How can tens of billions of personal or corporate dollars save you from rising tides, unbreathable  air or a dramatically declining zoological biome?  Simple answer: it cannot.  To where do you plan to move?  Star base 74 orbiting the planet Tarsas III in Sector 001?

The current administration - largely through executive orders - has shown itself to be hauntingly insensitive to the natural world.  As but one example, back in 2015, after an American trophy hunter killed a beloved lion named Cecil in Zimbabwe, the Obama administration made it nearly impossible to import African lion trophies into the country. (This was under terms of the Endangered Species Act.) Now, according to documents obtained by the advocacy group Friends of Animals, the Trump administration has issued more than three dozen permits to bring lion trophies back to the U.S. Turns out, the overwhelming majority of those hunters are mega donors and fundraisers for the Republican Party. Where is the humanity?  Lions and whales and grey wolves and bald eagles were occupying this planet long before homo sapiens.  And within our genus, we are the only ones who haven't become extinct.  There's a lesson to be learned here: a planet which becomes inhospitable to oh so many species may eventually become inhospitable to all . . . including us, the so-called "Crown of Creation."

By law, the Department of the Interior (DOI) is required to consider public input before advancing any plan to gut the ESA.  Contact your member of Congress (whether he/she is a Democrat or Republican) and make it known in no uncertain terms that you won't vote for anyone who favors dismembering the ESA; that you only support those who put the planet over profit.  Then too, do connect with the DOI and tell them that the purpose of government is not to do the bidding of their donors, but to do what is best for both the nation and the world.  A good group for this endeavor is Friends of the Earth.  This is not an either/or situation; ultimately, it's about living in harmony with all creatures, both great and small.

The bald eagles will thank you and so will our great, great grandchildren . . .

556 days down, 917 days to go

111 days until the midterm election!

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

 

 

 

Blandly Brainy: The Antidote to Boorishly Braggadocious?

This past March (the 23rd to be precise), The Washington Post ran an article entitled The top 15 Democratic presidential hopefuls for 2020, ranked.  Their list included  a bunch of Senators (Sherrod Brown [10th place], Chris Murphy [7th], Kristen Gillibrand [6th], Corey Booker [5th] Kamala Harris [4th] and Elizabeth Warren [2nd]); several former and currently serving governors (Steve Bullock [15]), Andrew Cuomo [11th], Deval Patrick [9th] and Terry McAuliffe [8th]); a former U.S. Attorney General (Eric Holder in 12th),  former Vice President Joe Biden (3rd) and one celebrity (Oprah Winfrey in 14th).  Topping the list? Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

                                               Blandly Brainy v. Boorishly Braggadocious

                                              Blandly Brainy v. Boorishly Braggadocious

Two days ago, CNN's Chris Cillizza and Harry Enten offered up their "definitive ranking of 2020 Democrats."  Their list expunged Oprah, dropped Bernie from 1st to 5th, and elevated Joe Biden from 3rd to 1st.  Of course, it's still pretty early and anything can happen.  It is good to recall that at  this time in 1974, almost no one outside of Georgia had ever heard of  Governor Jimmy Carter, and that in July 2006, about the only people who could identify then-Illinois Senator Barack Obama were those who had watched his spellbinding keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic convention - the one which nominated  the losing ticket of John Kerry and John Edwards (remember him?). 

There are a ton of factors, traits and talents which go into a successful presidential run. First and foremost, one must be 110% committed to running and possess an oxymoronic mixture of self-confidence and humility.  A sense of humor devoid of pointed playground nastiness is a good thing. Having a well-recognized name and face can be both an asset and a potential liability.  A strong spine and thick skin are also of vast importance . . . as well as tenacity, the ability to listen,  political experience, an innate understanding of the issues, personal relationships with experts in disparate fields, knowing people who know what one does not, and the ability to hit the ground running on day one. Sure, it's a lot to ask.  But then again, being POTUS is unlike any other job on planet earth, and definitely not one for a boor, blowhard or mendacious braggart.  Indeed, what the public should be looking for is a man or woman possessed of traits, abilities and public comportment which are the  bipolar opposites of '45.  We need a leader who appeals to that which is highest, fairest and bravest in the American people; one who will not vilify or condemn 'the strangers in our midst' just for the sake of scoring political points. 

Having said all this, I urge readers to consider California Representative Adam Schiff, the current ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee and for the past year or so, one of the calmest, steadiest and most trustworthy voices in America. I cannot for the life of me understand why Rep. Schiff has yet to be included on anyone's 'Top Ten' list of potential Democratic presidential candidates. Perhaps it's because members of the House have an incredibly lousy track record for winning the presidency; James A. Garfield is the only person who went straight from the House to the White House -  18 others served as representatives years before being elected (or appointed in the case of Gerald Ford) Chief Executive. Then too, perhaps Rep. Schiff's absence from all the top ten lists is due to his persona; he's bland where others are flashy; he almost never uses the word "I" and has a perpetual quarter grin on his face along with a tiny glint in his eye.  He does not speak in grand sweeping generalities, but rather in succinct truthful phases which are easily understandable. But make no mistake about it: he's one of the smartest, best prepared members of Congress who draws compliments from both sides of the aisle.  Perhaps his so-called liabilities are, when all is said and done, among his greatest strengths.  Being blandly brainy can be a distinct asset when one is going toe-to-toe against an incumbent who is boorishly braggadocious.

Rep. Schiff has been getting under the president's skin for quite some time.  Back in February 2017, '45 began referring to him in his daily Tweets as "Little Adam Schiff"; by July of that year, the president began referring to him as "Sleazy Adam Schiff."  Others in the right-wing media circus refer to him as "a pencilneck prevaricator," a ''lying leaker" and  a "bug-eyed 'Trump Derangement Syndrome' crazy." In one Tweet, the president wrote: "Sleazy Adam Schiff, the totally biased Congressman looking into "Russia," spends all of his time on television pushing the Dem loss excuse!" The California representative's response took the high road - albeit with a joy buzzer in his hand: "With respect Mr. President, the problem is how often you watch TV, and that your comments and actions are beneath the dignity of the office."  It takes a lot inner strength to refrain from lobbing dreck-infected rhetorical missiles back at someone who has just demeaned you in such a childish way.  Even one of this country's most seasoned political pros - former V.P. Joe Biden - fell into the president's trap, when in speaking about Trump's comments about grabbing women by their genitals stated "A guy who ended up becoming our national leader said, ‘I can grab a woman anywhere, and she likes it . . . They asked me if I’d like to debate this gentleman, and I said ‘no.’ I said, ‘If we were in high school, I’d take him behind the gym and beat the hell out of him. Ive been in a lot of locker rooms my whole life . . . . I’m a pretty [darn] good athlete. Any guy that talked that way was usually the fattest, ugliest SOB in the room.” To which '45 responded, "Crazy Joe Biden is trying to act like a tough guy. Actually, he is weak, both mentally and physically, and yet he threatens me, for the second time, with physical assault. He doesn’t know me, but he would go down fast and hard, crying all the way. Don’t threaten people Joe!"  One had better believe that were Joe Biden to become the Democratic nominee, this nonsensical palaver would play out in TV adds running a thousand times a day.  Although there exists an inexhaustible supply of video footage, it will be near impossible locating an inch of Adam Schiff being arch, petty or mean.  That's just not the way he was raised.  What all that video will likely show (save egregious edits) is a man discussing densely turgid and critical issues in an easily understandable manner.

Among the things Republicans will use against him is the very district (28th) he represents in Congress. For part of his district includes Hollywood and among his earliest financial backers were Jewish billionaires such as Director Steven Spielberg, music mogul David Geffen Dreamworks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg, Power Rangers creator Haim Saban and the late former MCA chair Lew Wasserman. The implication would of course be that Schiff is guilty by association. There is always the possibility that the trolls, bigots and xenophobes who inhabit the dark net will see in this nothing more than the furtherance of a globalist (read: Jewish) conspiracy.  Not too long ago, Adam was the target of a false email allegation that his sister Melissa was married to the son of George Soros (who right wing goons believe is Satan's financier); turns out, among other things, Adam Schiff doesn't have a sister . . . only an older brother Daniel.  Some Democrats, on the other hand, will  find him too moderate, too wonkish and not enough of a political bomb thrower for their tastes.  What they will get - should he run - is a principled, deeply honest,  well-schooled (Stanford, Harvard Law) mensch with the political skills, instincts  and courage of a Kennedy, the prosecutorial athleticism of a Robert Mueller,  and the comfortable deportment of a Barack Obama who, despite what his detractors believe, was actually a moderately centrist Democrat.

BTW: for anyone wanting to know more about Adam Schiff, feel free to check out my April 1, 2017 essay  Who Is Adam Schiff?  Up until the last year-and-a-half, I believe I had written more about Adam than anyone outside of California or Washington, D.C.  I've been following him and his family for years and years, and can proudly tell you he is the real deal, and should definitely be considered for inclusion in a top-ten list. 

Let's confront Boorish Braggadocio with Bland Brilliance . . . 

549 days down, 924 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

 

The Odd Couple

trump-and-evangelicals.jpg

From this humble writer's perspective, the president's week-long - and as yet ongoing - jaunt to Europe has been a disastrous embarrassment.  From giving terribly mixed messages about America's future relationship with its NATO allies to making the ludicrous claim  that "Germany is a captive of Russia," giving distinctly bipolar  opinions of British P.M. Teresa May and actually keeping the Queen of England waiting and then walking in front of her, '45's time in Europe has, so far, been more risible than Monsieur Hulot's Holiday.  . . . And mind you this is even before his sit-down with that satanic old pro Vladimir Putin. You can bet your bottom dollar (or ruble) that Putin will be as fully prepared and disciplined as a Trappist Monk, while the POTUS likely be just winging it, seeking to rely on his country club charm . . . which will likely be as potent or useful as a Pomeranian at a dog fight.  One would think - and indeed, might hope - that the week's blunders,  buffoonery,  lies and utter mortifications (added to so many others over the past year-and-a-half) might result in a demonstrable erosion of his vaunted political base.  But no; as of earlier today - 48 hours after a dozen Russian intelligence agents were indicted by the Justice Department for cyber-hacking in the 2016 presidential election - 45's standing with his base is holding steady . . . and with one group in particular: deeply conservative white fundamentalists and Christian evangelicals the two are not synonymous). 

          Prosperity Gospelers Cheering On  Their Messiah

         Prosperity Gospelers Cheering On  Their Messiah

Despite 3 marriages and numerous affairs, an all but total lack of religiosity (beyond the rhetorical), ignoring the Biblical dictum to "Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God," and  gleefully embodying all seven deadly sins  '45  is still supported and lionized by better than 80% of white American Evangelicals men . . . and women as well.  Talk about an "Odd Couple!"  In light of how stridently united America’s white Evangelical Christians are in their abhorrence of the Clintons and Barack Obama for their “immorality" and "hatred of all things Christian," this critical subset of the president's political base has all but defied Donald John Trump and actually thank Jesus for his being elected. The question is "How can this be?  What do white Evangelicals see in him that causes them to utterly ignore his sins and vulgar language, his lies, hard-hardheartedness and braggadocio ("I am a very stable genius") his utter disregard for anything but wealth . . .?" 

It certainly is not his religiosity.  For despite having some notable evangelicals  and fundamentalists in his employ - V.P. Mike Pence, A.G. Jeff Sessions and Press Sec. Sarah Huckabee Sanders spring to mind - the POTUS has shown himself to be a religious illiterate . . . both in word and in deed. Back during the 2016 campaign, CNN's Chris Cuomo asked Trump about his being audited by the I.R.S.  Unbelievably, the Republican nominee responded, “I’m always being audited by the IRS, which I think is very unfair… maybe because of the fact that I’m a strong Christian and I feel strongly about it.”  His evangelical supporters likely stood up before their television sets and cheered; their man had "come out" as a 'strong Christian'!  And yet, this was the same guy who bragged about the size of his genitals during a presidential debate and once said he would date his then 24-year-old daughter if they weren’t related.  Then too, there was the time '45 was asked whether he was "more of an Old Testament guy or a New Testament guy?"  His answer?  “Probably equal, I think. It just an incredible…the whole Bible is an incredible…”  At this point, he started talking about how he jokes that his own book The Art of the Deal is only his second favorite book.

So what is it about '45 and his white evangelical/fundamentalist base?  What is it they see in him that keeps them so thoroughly in thrall?  Could it be his full-throated opposition to abortion?  His support for unfettered access to guns?  His opposition to same-sex marriage or permitting Muslims - and other non-Christians and people of color - from entering the United States? His support for funding charter (read: religious) schools at the expense of public schools?  His disbelief in the findings of climate scientists or his unwavering support for Israel (a.k.a. "The Holy Land" in evangelical parlance)?  How about his historic tax cuts which will put millions into the pockets of multi-millionaires and ultimately add trillions to the federal deficit?

                                                 Joel Osteen and D.J.T.

                                                Joel Osteen and D.J.T.

Believe it or not, the answer may just have something to with the latter issue: tax cuts.  Although the Christian Bible (Matthew: 19:23-24) states "Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God,"  despite this, there are millions upon millions of God-fearing, Trump-supporting Christians who live, act and vote as if Jesus' words had never been given voice. Strange, no?  Welcome to the world of the prosperity gospel which gives '45 a sort of diplomatic immunity regardless of his many, many carnal sins and transgressions. The "Prosperity Gospel" teaches that the rich are rich because God has blessed them and the poor are poor because God is punishing their immorality.  Prosperity theology is common among white Pentecostal fundamentalists; Pastor Joel Osteen, for example, is a strong proponent. Although the Houston, Texas-based evangelical never officially endorsed his presidential campaign in 2016, Osteen described Trump as a “friend of our ministry” and “a good man.” (BTW: Osteen's Houston-based Lakewood Church has nearly 45,000 members.  His services are seen in more than 100 countries; his net worth is in the neighborhood of $50 million and he and his wife Victoria live in a 17,000 square foot mansion. I don’t hold any of this against him . . . just wanted to let you know that preaching the Prosperity Gospel does pay pretty well.) Osteen is certainly not the only person preaching this gospel; other "superstars" include  Benny Hinn, T.D. Jakes, Kenneth Copeland, Rick Warren  and Paula White, to name but a few.)

Sometimes people equate right-wing libertarians with right-wing evangelicals.  In point of fact, they have very different views in some respects. While many libertarians combine extreme fiscal conservatism with socially liberal views on abortion, porn, marijuana and same-sex marriage, the prosperity gospel crowd combines extreme fiscal conservatism with a disdain for all those things—although the ultra-rich are so adored in prosperity theology circles that Trump’s evangelical supporters are quite prepared to overlook his sexual history. To prosperity theologisers, Trump wouldn’t be so rich if he didn’t enjoy God’s stamp of approval. 

During the eight years of his presidency, Barack Obama was detested by the Christian right and proponents of the Prosperity Gospel, despite the fact that he had a much longer history of attending church and obviously knew a lot more about the Bible than his successor. Obama had obviously led a much more clean-cut life than Trump, but to the Christian Right and proponents of prosperity theology, none of this mattered one iota.  Right-wing white evangelicals equate Donald Trump with money and power—and therefore, their understanding of Christian morality— while equating Barack Obama (and indeed, very nearly all Democrats) with socialism and giveaways for poor Americans they consider freeloaders . . . people whose very poverty shows what God thinks about them.

Prosperity gospelers seem to have found their messiah in '45.

I have to wonder what  the good Lord has to say about it.

Perhaps "הזוג המוזר" ("The odd couple")

543 days down, 930 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

 

[In]civility & Its Discontent (Yes, It's Meant to Be a Play On Words)

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One would have to be all but comatose not to realize that when it comes to politics, Americans are about as polarized as can be. For the most part, things are pretty much black-and-white.  Case in point: According to a recent poll undertaken by Axios's Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei, '45's approval rating with Republicans is hovering at 90%; among Democrats, the figure is no more than 8%.  A survey underwritten by The Economist and reported in the conservative National Review showed that a majority of Democrats (82 percent) are in favor of banning semi-automatic weapons, which include handguns as well as rifles, while over half the Republicans (53 percent) are against any such proposal.  The partisan black-and-white split is just as obvious when it comes to repealing Roe v. Wade: A new poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that while 81% among Democrats and 67% among Independents are against the SCOTUS overturning the landmark 1973 decision, nearly 55% of those polled who identified as Republicans are in favor of its repeal.  Then too, in yet another Axios poll, 61% of Republican voters firmly believe that the FBI is framing the POTUS, while 78% of Democratic voters firmly believe the opposite. 

Talk about black and white!

Of late, there is a highly contentious issue which divides Democrats and Republicans even within their own camps: the matter of civility in political discourse versus political correctness and outright attack in public places.  The issue has been brewing for quite some time.  More than four years ago, then pre-candidate Trump began assigning cutting nicknames to politicians in both parties - not only as a means of garnering added attention (as if he really needed it )but as a way of building himself up at the expense of those who were more politically experienced and civically mature.  As time went on, the slurs became nastier and more obvious.  Then came the almost daily diet of half-truths and outright lies, as well as the assignment of blame to the evil monolith called "Fake News."  Topping all this were the litany of inane executive orders, the all-but total dismemberment of anything and everything Obama, the incompetence, corruption and revolving door quality of his administration and the utter blind devotion of his  "sheeple."  All this led to the hyper-pyrexic (feverish) state we are currently in.

It all came to a head when White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked by the the owner of the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia to leave her establishment "because," as she stated in a tweet, "I work for POTUS."  Shortly thereafter, protesters drove Department of Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen out of a Mexican restaurant by yelling "shame" at her, after a press conference in which she defended her agency's policy of separating children from their parents at the border. At another Mexican restaurant in D.C., one patron went up to Stephen Miller, who is the reported architect of many of the president's immigration policies, and called him a fascist. Protesters have also staged rallies outside of Miller's and Nielsen's homes.

It was at this stage that '45, his staff and much of the Republican hierarchy started bemoaning  what they called "a lack of civility in public life."  In response to what she saw as utter hypocrisy within the GOP, California Representative Maxine Waters voiced support for the public confrontation of Trump officials at a rally in Los Angeles, using the word "harass," which really got people hot and bothered. "The people are going to turn on them, they're going to protest, they're going to absolutely harass them until they decide that they're going to tell the president 'no I can't hang with you, this is wrong,'" Waters said.

In response, the president tweeted "Congresswoman Maxine Waters, an extraordinarily low IQ person, has become, together with Nancy Pelosi, the Face of the Democrat Party. She has just called for harm to supporters, of which there are many, of the Make America Great Again movement. Be careful what you wish for Max!"  Some, reading between this tweet's lines, saw the president throwing down a threatening gauntlet.  Almost immediately,  Rep. Waters -- who admittedly, has been without a functioning rhetorical "off-switch" for much of her political career -- had to cancel several public appearances due to "a very serious death threat." Shortly thereafter, the fired-up Waters told a gathering of supporters "If you shoot at me you'd better shoot straight."

More than one commentator has, in my estimation correctly, pointed out that the debate over the lack of "civility" in political discourse has taken our attention away from issues which really, truly matter - such as the Supreme Court's decision upholding the Muslim ban; the separation of children from their parents at the border; the Commander-in-Chief's decision to discharge immigrant recruits from the U.S. military, and our new - and potentially disastrous - tariff policies.  Then too, there is a secondary debate over precisely what is the difference - if indeed, there is any - between "civility" and "political correctness."  The Republican call for "civility" is loud and clear . . . while at the same time lambasting Democrats for engaging in the unforgivable sin of "political correctness."  

Both Congressional Minority Leaders - Senator Chuck Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelos -i have weighed in on the side of civility in political discourse . . . and against their colleague Maxine Waters who has urged fellow Democrats Americans to confront individuals who work for President Donald Trump and “tell them they're not welcome anymore, anywhere.”  Senator Schumer has counseled: 

We all have to remember to treat our fellow Americans, all of our fellow Americans, with the kind of civility and respect we expect will be afforded to us, No one should call for the harassment of political opponents. That’s not right. That’s not American. The president’s tactics and behavior should never be emulated. It should be repudiated.”

So there it is in the proverbial nutshell: Should progressives respond to irrationality, bigotry and cupidity with civility or, fight fire with fire by being just as uncivil as '45 and his robotic sheeple?  Many Democrats (and non-sheeple Republicans as well) favor taking the high road - of obeying the Golden Rule and "Doing unto others as we would have others do unto us" (or as the Jewish sage Hillel's Talmudic version [Shabbat 31a] goes, “That which is hateful unto you do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole of the Torah, The rest is commentary. Go forth and study.” Or, giving in to our communal anger and frustration, should we give 'em a taste of their own medicine by matching insult for insult, barb for barb, incivility for incivility?  

My response is neither.  As angered and frustrated as so many of us are about  the childish locutions coming from the "Make America Great Again!" crew, just as many are  even angrier and more frustrated over how far these puerile, inconsistent mottoes and phrases have taken us as a nation.  To "fight fire with fire" by speaking as harshly as those on the other side of the fence is to sink to a level which, although on one level can be psychologically gratifying, is on another, not only beneath dignity; it is a losing political strategy.  Regardless of what Trump and his sheeple may say, we are simply not accustomed to boisterously damning the darkness.  But to merely ignore and/or remain mute to what is being said (as a means of redirecting attention from what is being done - and in our names) is both cowardly and an even worse political strategy.  Anger, panic and frustration can and must act as catalysts for speaking up about what really and truly is on a majority of people's minds: affordable healthcare regardless of personal financial assets or prior medical conditions; public education which is both sufficiently and sensibly funded; a public American face which can and must lead the world in addressing climate change, international trade, war and peace.  And oh yes: at least a paragraph or two about the wisdom of steadfastly supporting our democratic allies, while just as steadfastly staying out of the beds of blood-stained autocrats.

So share with me your thoughts: Shall it be Civility or Incivility or perhaps a meaningful mixture?  And which issues, do you believe are the most important for restoring hope?

Now I know that many of you, reading the title of this week's essay [In]civility and Its Discontent (Yes, It's Meant to Be a Play on Words), brought to mind Sigmund Freud's most important, widely-read and self-reflective work: Civilization and It's Discontent first published in 1930 under the title Das Unbehagen in der Kultur ("The Uneasiness in Civilization"). There is a reason for this not-terribly subtle play on words.  This is no coincidence.  For in this book, which Freud wrote in the last decade of his life, he discussed whether it were possible to discover a purpose in life . . . quite a challenge which the good doctor admitted right at the outset ". . . has never yet received a satisfactory answer and perhaps does not admit of one." Nonetheless, Freud plodded on contenting himself with "the less ambitious question of . . . what men themselves show by their behavior to be the purpose and intention of their lives. What do they demand of life and wish to achieve in it."  Freud correctly explained that in a vacuum, deeds and dreams are largely fueled by our most instinctual desires: to be maximally happy, free of pain and fear, the ABILITY (as opposed to THE RIGHT) to exercise our libidos however and whenever we choose, and being totally unfettered. 

Of course, civilizations - which create cultures - enact laws and promote social norms which  help shape our lives, thus making both civilization and culture possible.  Most accept that laws are necessary. But then there are those who rebel against boundaries and seek a civilization that is their mirror image. As such, civilization can and does leave people in a painful, often debilitating state of discontent.  This, I fear, is what we are currently facing.  While Freud offered no explicit answers for how to deal with and overcome our discontent, he did strongly urge against the "Do unto others as you would have others to do you" approach to solving what ails us.  Why? Because, he argues, on a subconscious level, we desire doing whatever in the hell we feel like doing - of tickling the itch he calls "The Pleasure Principle."  Heady stuff, no doubt, but it does offer a bit of direction in the "shall we be civil or uncivil" debate.  For if we go toe-to-toe with others, matching bluster for bluster, resentment for resentment and discontentment for discontentment, we are, both singularly and collectively, aiding in the dismemberment of civil society.

I urge you to ask yourself where you stand: do you think it wiser to return curse for curse, epithet for epithet, or to take a different less bellicose tact.  It is an internal debate which can help us, together, begin healing a civilization which  has, of late, befouled the pathway of life with the stench of discontent.

537 days down, 936 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wisdom From Mt. Rushmore

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We begin with a note: Over the past nearly decade-and-a-half that The K.F. Stone Weekly (originally Beating the Bushes) has been on line, we have devoted several essays to the four presidents whose faces are carved into Mt. Rushmore, which is located in the Black Hills region of South Dakota.  Looking back, we noted that these pieces were invariably posted on or near the 4th of July.  And what better time to ponder the words, deeds and dreams of four of this nation's best, most accomplished, most literate, most verbally prophetic and iconic presidents?  There  is simply no gainsaying that the "Mt. Rushmore Four" - George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt - are right up there when it comes to the rankings of American historians, political scientists ... even Business Insider.  Most sources rank Lincoln 1st, Washington 2nd, Theodore Roosevelt anywhere from 4th to 7th and Jefferson either 5th or 7th.  

In addition to being great leaders, all four shared a tremendous sense of self - of understanding their respective strengths and weaknesses. They also shared an innate expressiveness and were engaged in a vast range of issues, interests and pursuits.  And we - their posterity - are all the wealtheir  for their wisdom, insights, and aphorisms.  And so, without further ado, let's take our semi-annual visit to the Black Hills and partake in our political patrimony - learning lessons through their actual words- which do contain some  archaic spellings - that are as important - if not more so - than they were at the time they were originally composed . . .  (BTW: these are not quotes or statements used in previous Fourth of July visits.)

 

George Washington:  Good afternoon gentleman.  May I be the first to wish one and all a happy 242nd birthday to this great nation.  Abraham, Theodore: you young fellows have simply no idea how difficult, how  incredibly dicey it was to get this country off the ground. The political and military odds were long and challenging.  It took a courage, intelligence and steadfastness to an unfathomable degree - not to mention all the many miracles of a bountiful Lord.  

Thomas Jefferson: ah general, you sound like a Deist this afternoon!  But what you say is true.  While I can't speak to the military side of the equation, I can tell our younger colleagues that the political debates were as difficult as playing 56 different games of chess simultaneously.  The fact that the winner - the United States of America - came back from the brink of political defeat on more than a dozen occasions is a sure sign that divine miracles played a role . . .  So what do you have in mind by way of celebration, general?

George Washington: I think that in light of what the country is going through on this, our 242nd anniversary - the current president's odd way of handling the office, the divisive partisanship and utter lack of civility - it might be a good thing for each of us to share some of our thoughts . . . impart wisdom to those who firmly believe that their side is utterly righteous and knows it all and that tje opposition is both evil and without a scintilla of common sense.  Perhaps unbeknownst to us so many years ago, we were talking and writing about principles and policies which are even more difficult today. 

And may I suggest that we limit ourselves to, say, no more than ten quotes . . . perhaps even less?  Remember, the nation has a president who admits to never reading books and only reads and writes in 280 keystrokes

Abraham Lincoln: I think we can all agree, General, that this is a fine idea.  And speaking for all, might I urge you to go first?

George Washington:  Thank you Abe.  Let's see what I remember . . .

  • The bosom of America is open to receive not only the Opulent and respectable Stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations And Religions; whom we shall wellcome to a participation of all our rights and previleges.
  • The power under the Constitution will always be in the people. It is entrusted for certain defined purposes, and for a certain limited period, to representatives of their own choosing; and whenever it is executed contrary to their interest, or not agreeable to their wishes, their servants can, and undoubtedly will, be recalled.
  • If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent, we may be led, like sheep, to the slaughter
  • Guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism.
  • It is far better to be alone than in bad company

George Washington: Tom?  It's your turn. I know you're far more literate - and literary - than I, but please, try to keep your quotes to the agreed upon limit . ..

Thomas Jefferson: Certainly General . . . and I appreciate that you kept your comments so brief . . . so that I might be a bit more voluble . . .

  • Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add 'within the limits of the law' because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual
  • Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.
  • Nothing gives one person so much advantage over another as to remain always cool and unruffled under all circumstances. 
  • I believe we may lesson the danger of buying and selling votes, by making the number of voters too great for any means of purchase. I may further say that I have not observed men's honesty to increase with their riches.       
  • The whole art of government consists in the art of being honest.        
  • If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be

General Washington: Mr. Lincoln, I am sure we are all anxious to hear which of your many, many aphorisms you have chosen . . .

Abraham Lincoln: Indeed, a few comments to hopefully help  put things into perspective:

  • America will never be destroyed from the outside.  If we falter and loose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.    
  • We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.

  • The money power preys on the nation in times of peace, and conspires against it in times of adversity. It is more despotic than monarchy, more insolent than autocracy, more selfish than bureaucracy. It denounces, as public enemies, all who question its methods or throw light upon its crimes.

  • A statesman is he who thinks in the future generations, and a politician is he who thinks in the upcoming elections. 

  • Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.

  • Those who are ready to sacrifice freedom for security ultimately will lose both.

  • I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country....corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”

 

George Washington: Colonel Roosevelt? It's your turn.  What gems have you to share with modern Americans this July 4th weekend?

Theodore Roosevelt: As you know General, it is hard for me to be brief

  • The conservation of natural resources is the fundamental problem. Unless we solve that problem it will avail us little to solve all others.     

  •  All contributions by corporations to any political committee or for any political purpose should be forbidden by law.

  • To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.

  • Patriotism means to stand by the country. It Does not mean to stand by the President.

  • Of all the questions which can come before this nation, short of the actual preservation of its existence in a great war, there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us.

 

George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt: On behalf of the four of us - and all those we have served during our lifetimes - please remember that this country IS already great!  If it is to continue surviving as a great nation, a nation which can and should continue being the hope of the world, remember our words, our thoughts and know we are praying for you to act with both passion and purpose.  And, by unanimous vote, we have chosen to give the last word to Mr. Jefferson:

  • Some are Whigs, liberals, democrats, call them what you please. Others are tories, serviles, aristocrats, &c. The latter fear the people, and wish to transfer all power to the higher classes of society; the former consider the people as the safest depository of power in the last resort; they cherish them therefore, and wish to leave in them all the powers to the exercise of which they are competent.

Enjoy this, the 242nd anniversary of our birth . . .

528 days down, 945 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

 

Desperately Seeking At Least One 'Profile in Courage'

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In 1957, then Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in biography for his work, Profiles in Courage.  Still in print more than 60 years later, Kennedy's book of short biographies describes acts of civic bravery and political integrity on the part of eight United States senators including, among others, John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, Thomas Hart Benton and George Norris.  In 2018, it is still of interest both as a work of scholarship and a historical curiosity of its own.  The curiosity stems from the long-running debate over whether Kennedy himself - or the then-29 year old Ted Sorensen - was the book's true author.  (Doesn't it seem like virtually anything involving a Kennedy comes gift-wrapped in controversy?) Beyond its scholarship and curiosity, however, is what I have come to believe is the book’s overarching, admonitory lesson: the great need for acts of political courage and civic integrity in an age of political infantilism and civic cowardice - not to mention shameful, utterly humiliating public boorishness.

Of a certainty, there is little necessity to use this space for a precise portraiture of our current civic canvas and the gargantuan fear and discontent it is causing; it has, by now, seeped into the fiber of our being.  For all but middle-aged white American males lacking a college educations (according to the latest  Quinnipiac University Poll), both the POTUS, his pronouncements and executive decisions - as well as the Republican-controlled Congress - are held in historic low esteem.  Nearly 70% of the American public disapproves of the president's "zero tolerance" policy which has mandated the separation of immigrant children from their immigrant parents; 45's overall approval rating - despite a bit of improvement - is at a historic low; the level of out-and-out racial rhetoric and intolerance is  staggering embarrassing. Moreover, a clear majority of Americans disagree with the White House's treatment of our historic allies at the expense of our cozying up to autocratic regimes and leaders with mega-gallons of blood on their hands. 

Taking the president's rhetorical lead, more and more "respectable" people are showing up in the media decrying "lawless, immoral criminal, God-hating" immigrants and refugees who are "infecting" our country.  As but one example, Christian TV host Leigh Valentine, justifying and defending the president's executive order to take children away from their parents, spoke to her faithful viewers about “Children below 10 years old engaging in sexual activity. All kinds of sin and disgrace and darkness; the pit of the pits. So we’re not getting the top-of-the-line echelon people coming over this border, we’re getting criminals. I mean, total criminals that are so debased and their minds are just gone. They’re unclean, they’re murderers, they’re treacherous, they’re God-haters.”

This is bad enough; the bottom of the barrel.  Except for this: not a single Republican member of Congress had the courage to speak out against this racist, pestiferous putrefaction.  Not a single one!  Are they so frightened of the president and his hard corp supporters that they can turn both a blind eye and a deaf ear and then get a good night's sleep?  About the only Republicans who have found a voice on issues ranging from immigration and climate change to ginormous tax-cuts which give millions to billionaires and pennies to the poor and economically devastating tariffs are those who have already announced that they are not running again in 2018.  Their fear of being thrown out of office by the president's base is not without reason: About-to-become former Representative Mark Sanford just lost in the Republican primary after the POTUS posted a critical tweet saying "Mark Sanford has been very unhelpful to me in my campaign to MAGA. He is MIA and nothing but trouble. He is better off in Argentina. I fully endorse [state Representative] Katie Arrington for Congress in SC, a state I love. She is tough on crime and will continue our fight to lower taxes. VOTE Katie!"  (n.b. The quip about Sanford being "better off in Argentina" was a clear poke; Sanford who, when governor of South Carolina was "MIA" for several days.  Upon his return, he claimed to have "gone fishing." In reality, he was in Argentina, trysting with his South American mistress.)  Truth to tell, Representative Sanford voted with the president 89% of the time; it was those times in which he either voted otherwise or abstained that got him defeated.  Now, as a lame duck, he can speak his mind.  And indeed he has; the day after his defeat he told the a reporter from the Washington Post "The tragedy of the Trump presidency is that he thinks it's about him. The president has taken those earnest beliefs by so many people across the country and has unfortunately fallen prey to thinking it's about him."

OK, it's understandable in the current political climate that the only Republicans who would question or criticize the POTUS and his actions/words/tweets are those who won't be returning to office in 2019.  But why?  Why are so many Republican members of Congress putting their reelection and blindered support for the very worst, most corrupt and embarrassing president and administration before their allegiance to the Constitution and the future of this country?  Where are the much needed profiles in courage?  Do they no longer exist, or are we as a nation no longer worthy of their existence? 

Please, please . . . a hundred million times please: if you have a Republican representing you in the House or Senate, notify them every day of the week that you are watching and waiting for them to become a profile in courage . . . for speaking truth to power and putting this nation back on the road to sanity. Demand that they explain themselves; how they can keep their mouths shut while this administration, under the guise of "Making America Great Again," is turning our beloved country into an unfeeling, uncaring infant whose only concern is keeping the terribly rich, the religiously rigid and those who wish to resurrect the 1950's happy?  I mean, just the other day, while giving a campaign speech in Duluth, Minnesota, the POTUS actually said about a slightly long-haired protester who was being forced from the auditorium,"I can't even tell it that's a man or a woman!" . . . and the crowd cheered.  Shades of the early Beatles/Rolling Stones era! 

Ironically, shortly after Senator John F. Kennedy received his Pulitzer Prize for Profiles in Courage, he (and Ted Sorensen) went to work on his next book, which had been suggested to him by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).  Lamentably, this book, which is still in print and would not be published until after November 22, 1963, is even more relevant in 2018 than it was in 1964, 

The book and its subject?

A Nation of Immigrants,

522 days down, 951 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

 

"The One Who Saves a Single Life . . . "

                               Drs.  Vibhav and Sonal Rangarajan and Their daughter, Radha

                              Drs.  Vibhav and Sonal Rangarajan and Their daughter, Radha

A couple of days ago, Attorney General Jeff Sessions stood before a gathering in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, and quoted the Christian Bible (Romans 13) as justification for the Administration's "Zero Tolerance" policy on illegal immigration. This is the policy which forcibly separates children from their parents if they cross the Southern border illegally.  According to Sessions, it is a lawful deterrent and is actually backed by the Bible.  “I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order,” When asked to comment on Sessions' use of the Bible to justify the government's separating children from their parents, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders doubled down saying it is "very biblical to enforce the law."  Of course, quoting standalone Biblical verses (from either the Hebrew or Christian version) to justify immoral actions on the part of the government is far from new: whenever Congress debates cuts in the food stamp program (SNAP - "Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program") some damn fool will quote 2 Thessalonians 3:10: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”

As one who has spent the better part of a life studying (as opposed to "reading") both the Hebrew and Christian Bible in their original languages, I can, if called on, cite tons of verses from James, Matthew, Isaiah and Proverbs (to name but a few) which command us to "feed the hungry, clothe the naked visit the sick and take in and give shelter to the stranger."

This current crappola about citing Holy Writ to justify separating children from their parents brings to mind Antonio's admonition to Bassanio in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice (Act I, Scene 3, Page 5): 

Mark you this, Bassanio, the devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.
An evil soul producing holy witness Is like a villain with a smiling cheek,
A goodly apple rotten at the heart.

Having gone this far I must tell you that although I am about to quote an ancient religious text (not the Bible), this week's essay - although it does involve a child - has nothing to do with immigration and little to do with the federal government.  The passage comes from the 2nd century (C.E.) work Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5

שֶׁכָּל הַמְאַבֵּד נֶפֶשׁ אַחַת מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל, מַעֲלֶה עָלָיו הַכָּתוּב כְּאִלּוּ אִבֵּד עוֹלָם מָלֵא. וְכָל הַמְקַיֵּם נֶפֶשׁ אַחַת מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל, מַעֲלֶה עָלָיו הַכָּתוּב כְּאִלּוּ קִיֵּם עוֹלָם מָלֵא   

Namely: "Anyone who destroys a life is considered by Scripture to have destroyed an entire world; and anyone who saves a life is as if he saved an entire world."

So what's this week's essay about?  Where am I going?  Well, yesterday, there appeared in my inbox an email from Vibhav Rangarajan, M.D., a practicing cardiologist/internist in Chicago.  Dr. Rangarajan graduated from Tufts University School of Medicine in 2010, and served his residency in Cardiology at the University of Illinois/Chicago. He is currently an instructor at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern, as well as being in private practice. He has been married since 2013 to Dr. Sonal Patel Rangarajan who specializes in pediatric gastroenterology.  They have a two-year old daughter named Radha, who was recently diagnosed with a "lysosomal storage disorder" . . . there are about 50 of these rare metabolic disorders.  The specific one that Radha has is called Metachromatic Leukodystrophy  (called by many names including "Greenfield Disease" and "MLD").  In his most heartfelt email, Dr. Vidhav admitted to having "memorized a few details about these rare diseases (lysosomal storage disorders) in preparation for my board exam, and then never gave them another thought." Why?  Because they are pediatric and he was going to be a cardiologist. Since Radha's diagnosis - which is bleak - he and Dr. Sonal have learned far, far more than they ever knew before.  

Without getting too technical, MLD is a genetic disease which interferes with the body's production of a single enzyme (protein).  Without enough of this particular enzyme - which ultimately insulates and protects nerves - all hell can break loose; it can destroy tissue throughout the brain, spinal cord, and other parts of the nervous system.  Quality of life - not to mention life expectancy - for a child with MLD is both bitter and brief.  As readers of The K.F. Stone Weekly know, I am not an M.D. - far, far from it.  However, I have been privileged to work with a team of world-class physicians, pharmocolgists, pathologists and diagnosticians for nearly a quarter century on an institutional review board, whose task it is to review, vet and make understandable, virtually every type of medical research protocol on the horizon. Our company holds a minimum of ten meetings a week via teleconference.  Over the years, I have attended hundreds and hundreds of these meetings and reviewed easily more than a thousand research protocols.  My main role is translating medical terminology into lay language. Sometimes, we review what are called "Compassionate Use Requests," which involve getting not-yet-FDA-approved and grossly expensive drugs to subjects who suffer from rare (sometimes called "Orphan") diseases and conditions.  We don't put the pressure on a particular company or drug manufacturer to grant the compassionate use status; rather, it is they who generally come to us, for it is our overarching task to insure the safety of the subject(s) who will be taking the drug.  

Regrettably, there are all sorts of diseases and conditions which do not have drugs, therapies or surgical procedures that are yet ready to be used.  It turns out, there is a drug being tested and developed for many lysosomal storage disorders, including Metachromatic Leukodystrophy by Shire Pharmaceuticals - a biotech firm which specializes in rare diseases.  At this point, Shire has even completed a multicenter Phase 1/2 trial of the drug (new drug trials generally go through phases 3 and even 4).  The drug is called SHP-611 (also known as HGT-1110) in Europe; it appears to be showing some promising results. But, for whatever reason, they have turned down the Rangarajan's request to grant Radha compassionate use status.  Why is anyone's guess, but it stinks to holy hell.  Her parents are doing everything in their power to draw attention to their daughter's plight; left untreated, this precious little girl could be in a vegetative state before too long, and likely won't ever see the age of 8. The FDA (Federal Drug Administration) cannot compel a company like Shire to provide Radha (even if her parents were able to pay) with SHP-611/HGT-1110. Recently, the president signed into law a controversial piece of legislation called the "Right to Try" law which, at least in theory, would offer terminally ill patients expanded access to unapproved treatments.  Despite crowing about how many lives will be saved by means of this legislation ("We will be saving — I don’t even want to say thousands because I think it’s going to be much more — thousands and thousands, hundreds of thousands, we’re going to be saving tremendous numbers of lives. There were no options, and now you have hope.”) the bill's true purpose is to undermine the FDA by eliminating many of the regulations they impose and oversee - regulations which ultimately protect test subjects and ultimately, patients.  Why?  Perhaps because eliminating regulations will make bringing new drugs, devices or procedures to market will be a whole lot less expensive.

When I read Dr. Vibhav's email, I was touched to the core.  Knowing that many of you - my beloved readers - are people of quality and compassion - I have decided to issue a plea . . . that you and your friends sign a petition to Shire, urging them in the strongest possible terms to grant compassionate status to Radha.  As of a few minutes ago (8:35 PM (EST) June 17, 2018 - nearly 180,000 people have signed the Rangarajan's petition to Shire.  I urge you to add your name (and perhaps a couple of dollars) to the cause. 

Do remember that ancient truth expressed in the Mishnah: "Anyone who saves a single life, it is as if that person had saved the entire world."  In his time of gross insensitivity, where each day brings hideousheadlines about man's inhumanity to manwhere every day brings yet another hideous headline; so many of us are frustrated, freaked out and feeling oh so powerless against the forces of narcissistic self-centeredness.  Well, I'm here to tell you that we do have power; we actually can make a difference, if only we find our communal voice and make our humaneness known. I urge you and your friends to  speak up on behalf of Radha; put her plight on your Facebook page; send Dr. Rangarajan's email to everyone on your list. Save Radha's life . . . save the universe.

From what I've recently learned, in Sanskrit, "Radha" (राधा) means 'success' or 'prosperity.' Together we can, G-d willing, give her the chance to live up to her name and succeed at life, while prospering in terms of health. Then too, by doing what we can for her and her family, we too can succeed and prosper.

Find you voice!

516 days down, 957 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

 

 

June 5, 1968: A Memory Awash in Claret

RFK.jpg

The date: June 5, 1968. 11:44pm, California time. The Place: the corridor of the kitchen at the since-demolished Ambassador Hotel, 3400 Wilshire Boulevard, between Catalina Street and Mariposa Avenue. The event: The night of the California Democratic presidential primary in which New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy defeated Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy by a margin of 4 points - 46%-42%. After briefly addressing his adoring, idealistic supporters in the hotel ballroom, he ends with the words  "My thanks to all of you; and now it's on to Chicago, and let's win there!" Then, surrounded by his entourage (which included star athletes Rafer Johnson and Roosevelt Grief, writer George Plimpton and California Assembly Speaker Jess "Big Daddy" Unruh, Senator Kennedy headed towards the kitchen corridor, where he is shot three times by Sirhan Sirhan. 26 hours later doctors at nearby Good Samaritan Hospital pronounce the 42-year old senator dead.  All of this is transpiring in real time on television sets across the country and around the world.  Personally, I am sitting in the family room with my mother, glued to the tube in mute shock and absolute horror.  We are numbing ourselves, drinking endless glasses of wine; claret if I recall.

  • There are people in every time and every land who want to stop history in its tracks. They fear the future, mistrust the present, and invoke the security of a comfortable past which, in fact, never existed.
     

The night Senator Kennedy was shot was the first (and as far as I can recall, the only) time I ever got blotto with my mother.  Without all the claret, the immediate pain would have been far too much to bear. Dad had gone to bed early, so mom and I stayed up to watch the election returns. Originally, both of us had supported Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy for the  nomination.  But then, in late-March, early-April, we both shifted our allegiance to Senator Kennedy, figuring that he would have the best chance of being elected president. And besides, he was, in comparison, to "Clean for Gene" McCarthy, the most well-rounded; in addition to being firmly against the war in Viet Nam (as was Senator McCarthy), he was, we felt, far better versed in domestic issues such as taxes, education, healthcare and civil rights. And, he was a liberal idealist. Oh yes, we were aware that fifteen years earlier, he had worked as an assistant on Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, whose sole purpose was examining possible communist infiltration of the U.S. government.  But we also knew that that post was extremely short-lived (RFK quickly came to despise the perpetually drunken McCarthy as well as his puppet-master, the obnoxious Roy Cohn, and that he, RFK,  underwent a radical reassessment.  People can grow and see the error of their ways . . .

  • The future does not belong to those who are content with today, apathetic toward common problems and their fellow man alike, timid and fearful in the face of bold projects and new ideas. Rather, it will belong to those who can blend passion, reason and courage in a personal commitment to the great enterprises and ideals of American society.

Over the years, mom and I - along with lots of other political creatures - have wondered what the world would have been like in the 1970s, 80s - indeed, all the way up to this very day - had Bobby Kennedy not been felled by the assassin's bullet and actually gone on to be elected President of the United States.  No one, of course, can know for certain what the future would have become. One thing is for sure: Had Bobby Kennedy made it to the general election, Richard Nixon would have likely gone back to practicing high-priced law and writing books.  And, perhaps most important of all, Watergate and all the future distrust, paranoia, cynicism and political anomie it gave rise to - again, up until this very day - would likely never have impregnated the American political process. How long it would have taken the Vietnam War to end is anyone's guess. However, it is quite possible that as President, RFK would have entered into a peace process almost immediately if for no other reason than the caliber, the conscience, experience and political worldview of the diplomats and strategists who lived in the Kennedy stable.  Above all else, we would have had in Robert Kennedy  that rarest of political creatures: one who could learn from and have reverence for the past even while fearlessly paving the path to the future.

  • Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance. 

RFK, as most of us know, came from a famously wealthy, (though far-from-saintly) family which nonetheless believed in - and acted upon - the concept of noblesse oblige: e.g. that riches and entitlement demand social responsibility. Unlike many of the current crop of "richer-than-Croesus" officeholder,  the Kennedys wore their wealth and social position like a comfortable old cardigan. In 1968, RFK managed to forge a coalition of working class whites and black voters into a remarkable coalition  by communicating to both groups (as well as a lot of anti-war college students) and convincing them that he really, truly cared about their futures.  And mind you, many of these working class whites had voted for the openly segregationist George Wallace in previous elections.  Unlike our contemporary politics and politicians, RFK, in the words of the Century Foundation's Senior Fellow Richard D. Kahlenberg, ". . . was a liberal without the elitism and a populist without the racism."  Senator Kennedy believed in both capitalism, and the American Dream, and sought to engraft a muscular, non-saccharine idealism onto the soul of  a country frequently at odds with itself.  Would he have succeeded had he lived to become POTUS?  One can only hope.  Would we have imbibed our Claret in celebration rather than in sadness?  Again, only heaven knows.  But considering where we've arrived and what we've become over the past year to year-and-a-half, it is clear that America needs leaders who, like Robert F. Kennedy, can be both dreamer and delegate; who can look in the mirror and see not just themselves, but an entire nation, an entire world, and understand that the planet we occupy is but on loan from the Omnipresent.  And yes, we need leaders who are mature, literate, self-assured adults.

  • Every generation inherits a world it never made; and, as it does so, it automatically becomes the trustee of that world for those who come after. In due course, each generation makes its own accounting to its children.

And more than anything else - perhaps - we need leaders who can recite - let alone be fueled by - RFK's credo, which he borrowed from the first act of George Bernard Shaw's Back to Methuselah:

  •  "You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not?’".

Permit Mom and me to raise a glass to both GBS and RFK. 

509 days down, 963 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

 

 


 

 

 

 

Cause or Effect?

        Candidate Arthur Jones: Cause or Effect?

       Candidate Arthur Jones: Cause or Effect?

Most people are familiar with the aphorism "While the optimist sees the glass as being half full, the pessismist sees the glass as being half empty."  For as long as I can remember, my response has been: "What matters most is that there's something in the glass, which would make one a realist." Of course, one person's reality is another's fantasy, just as one person's factuality is another's falsity The difference between fact and fiction - or "real" versus "fake" news - has over the past several years become a matter heated, angry debate. Recently, veteran Sixty Minutes reporter Lesley Stahl interviewed PBS Newshour host and editor Judy Woodruff. At one point in the interview, the conversation turned to '45. Stahl recalled interviewing him and asking why he relentlessly attacked the media. Woodruff told Ms. Stahl that the POTUS answered “I do it to discredit you all and demean you all so that when you write negative stories about me, no one will believe you." One suspects he doesn’t believe half of the mean-spirited and unfounded statements and tweets about the media that come out of his mouth and/or fingers, but rather uses these attacks as a shield, a dangerous shield against the truth and truthful reporting.

If you are a "glass is half full" sort, you likely believe the mainstream media is reporting things factually. If you are a "glass is half empty" sort, you likely believe the POTUS and his tight-knit circle that there's a conspiracy of fakery going on 24-hours a day.  If, like moi you are a "what matters most is that there's something in the glass" sort, you are likely concerned with cause and effect: e.g., are '45's rants and twitter raves the cause of all those merchants of mendacity succeeding with a large portion of the public,  or is '45's being elected POTUS the reflection - or effect - of all this mendacity itself?

If this last point seems a bit intellectually murky or turgid, perhaps a chillingly specific example will clear things up a bit.  According to a recent  report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, at least eight white nationalists and self-admitted Nazis are running for office in 2018. They have been as up-front and unabashedly loquacious about their hatred for African Americans, Hispanics and Muslims, as well as their firm belief that Israel and the Jews represent an even greater threat to America than Islamic terrorists. And mind you, these hateful candidates aren't running for dogcatcher in East Elbow, Idaho; they are running for the House of Representatives, the United States Senate and state legislatures.  Whether or not any of them stand a snowball's chance in hell of being elected (they do not) is besides the point.  The fact that they are actually running as Republicans and are unafraid of telling the public what they "know" to be "the truth" is. This story, which was brought to my attention by my student and constant reader Richard Cohen, has been covered by NBC News. It is a story that should cause a lot of constipation, worry and more than a few sleepless nights.

"There's nothing new about these kinds of people running for office," the more historically savvy members of the alt-right will proclaim, and then mention the late West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd, who was a member of the KKK back in the mid-1940s. Byrd spent nearly 60 years serving West Virginia in both the House and Senate, and spent nearly 60 years apologizing for ever having been a part of that noxious, racist group.  But to compare a man from West Virginia who was a member of the Klan in the 1940s to a California anti-Semite (the appropriately-named Richard Little) running for the United States Senate from California in 2018 betrays a lack of historic knowledge. Sure, Robert Byrd did belong to the Klan in 1946-47.  Then too, nearly 70% of the people in America smoked cigarettes in the 1940s, and there were actually ad campaigns proclaiming that Camels were, by far," the favorite smoke of American physicians." Then too, during the 1940s, it was illegal for a white man to marry a black woman in more than half  the states, and one could be given a "blue discharge" from the United States military for being gay. Simply stated, these were incredibly different times. In retrospect, while a majority of sensible people don't agree with their points of view,, we should nonetheless understand that Byrd's being a short-time Klansman in  1940's West Virginia - although despicable by latter-day understanding - wasn't all that peculiar.  To bring it up in the twenty-first century as a rationalization for a racist or proto-Nazi being cool in 2018 is both intellectually degraded and morally reprehensible.

The question becomes one of cause and effect:  if disgustingly noxious candidates like Arthur Jones, Paul Nehlen, Sean Donahue, John AbarrPatrick Little and others who are as openly racist and Holocaust-denyingly anti-Semitic as any Klansman or neo-Stoßtruppen, are given strength by - or are reflections of - the current president and his administration. Without question, '45 has a lot of Jewish people in his inner circle: son-in-law Jared Kusher, Secretary of the Treasury Stephen Mnuchin, former economic advisor Gary Cohn (who resigned and was replaced by the now-Catholic Larry Kudlow), former campaign advisor Sam Nunberg (whom Trump sued for $10 million),  and attorney Michael Cohen.  Many Jews believe '45 to be the most pro-Israel, Jewish-friendly president in American history, largely on the strength of his moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem. And yet, many prominent anti-Semites (like David Duke and Pastor Robert Jeffress) believe him to be a member in good standing of their houses of worship.  And yet, professional anti-Semites seem to have found a landsman, an understanding compatriot in the nation's 45th president.  Oh sure, there were racists, white nationalists and neo-Nazis during the Regan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama years; it's just that they weren't so damnably open about it . . . feeling empowered enough to run for office on platforms of extreme prejudice and hatred.  Perhaps back then, they knew that the White House would be quick to condemn their brainless bigotry; but not today.

This past week has focused attention on yet another big-mouthed, small-minded bigot: Rosanne Barr.  The Twitter tirade which caused ABC to cancel her top-rated show is by now so well known that there is no need to repeat it here.  In matters of "cause and effect," it is hard to know if her words and sentiments were caused by the words and sentiments emanating from the White House, or are a mere reflection (call it "echoing") of the current atmosphere.  Whatever the answer - if indeed, there is one - it is worth noting that it took the POTUS nearly a week to break his silence on the scandal.  That is notable.  What is just as notable - if not more so - is what he didn't say.  For in his utterly sarcastic tweet on the subject, '45 wrote: "Bob Iger of ABC [actually, he's CEO of Disney, which owns ABC] called Valerie Jarrett to let her know that 'ABC does not tolerate comments like those' made by Roseanne Barr. Gee, he never called President Donald J. Trump to apologize for the HORRIBLE statements made and said about me on ABC. Maybe I just didn't get the call?"  Rather than distancing himself from Barr's racist remarks, '45 jumped right into the argument about whether she was subjected to a double standard.

So school me: is it cause or effect?

502 days down, 970 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

Distraction, Diversion and Political Optics

     (Kudos to Sandy Gotttstein, Alaska's gift to the world, for contributing to this piece in more ways than she will ever know . . . )

             John Carlos and Tommy Smith at the 1968 Olympics

            John Carlos and Tommy Smith at the 1968 Olympics

By now, , after more than 16 months of  off-the-wall Trumpian weltanschauung, it is clear that whenever the President begins flying too close to the flame of political immolation, he unveils a diversionary issue bound to keep his base both delighted and in thrall.  Most recently, as the Mueller investigation continues picking up Republican support;  the administration continues forcibly taking migrant children from their parents and placing them in separate detention centers, to “deter” illegal immigration; and the world waits and watches as '45 keeps flip-flopping on tariffs and that summit with Kim Jong-un,  what does he do?  He turns up the heat on the various  National Football League (NFL) players who have been refusing to stand for the National Anthem prior to kick-off.  Now mind you, this isn't an issue that just began; it's been around the sports world for more than half-a-century.  Many will remember the 1968 Olympic games in Mexico when African-American 200 meter medalists Tommy Smith and John Carlos both raised a black-gloved "human rights salute" during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner.  The two received their medals from David Cecil (the 6th Marquess of Exeter) shoeless but wearing black socks to represent black poverty. Smith wore a black scarf around his neck to represent black pride, while Carlos had his tracksuit unzipped to show solidarity with blue-collar workers. (n.b. Smith went on to a brief three-year career in the NFL before becoming a longtime professor of sociology at Santa Monica College; Carlos, who was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles but never played due to a severe knee injury, became a track and field coach at Palm Springs High School. In 2008, the two were honored with the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage at the 2008 ESPY Awards.)

Fast forward nearly a half-century, and we find San Francisco Forty-Niner quarterback Colin Kaepernik first sitting on the ground (3rd pre-season game) then from the 4th pre-season game onward, taking a knee during the playing of the National Anthem.  When queried by the national media, he explained "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder", he said, referencing a series of events that led to the Black Lives Matter movement and adding that he would continue to protest until he felt like "[the American flag] represents what it's supposed to represent."  As in the case of Smith and Carlos in 1968, few people paid attention to what Kaepernik's underlying motives were in carrying out his protest; of what he was truly saying. Most simply attacked him for being unpatriotic, for desecrating the memory of all those who fought and died for our freedoms, and for showing utter disregard for the flag and all that it has long stood for.  And, as with Smith and Carlos, Kaepernik's professional sports career has all but ended because of his protest.  

By continually attacking those NFL players who have been kneeling during the National Anthem, '45 has accomplished several things:

  1. Getting the NFL to set a policy which mandates that those players who do not stand during the singing of the National Anthem will remain in their respective locker rooms until the anthem has been completed . . . and that any player who does not obey this mandate will be fined;
  2. Shifted the political optics away from such issues as Mueller, children of immigrants, tariffs and North Korea towards a group of largely minority millionaire gladiators;
  3. Set up a potential issue for the 2018 midterm elections (e,g., "Yes or no: are you for or against the flag and all it stands for?" a question whose complexity demands far more than a monosyllabic response.)
  4. Shown that the POTUS - like an awful lot of Americans - haven't got the slightest idea about the background, history or meaning of the Star Spangled Banner, nor what the law has to say about it or the flag it represents.

While most Americans know that the words of the Star Spangled Banner were written by Francis Scott Key (1779-1843), few know that he served as the decidedly pro-slavery, anti-abolitionist United States Attorney for the District of Columbia for nearly a decade. Nor do many know that his poem,  written in 1814 and set to the tune of a popular British song called To Anacreon in Heaven, consists of four stanzas and did not officially become our National Anthem until 1931.  It contains some decidedly racist lyrics: in the 3rd stanza, as but one example, we read No refuge could save the hirling and slave/from the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave /And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave/O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.  When Key wrote these words on the back of a letter 204 years ago, the "land of the free" definitely did not include African Americans or non-citizens.  When I was in grade school (during the height of McCarthyism) our teacher, Miss Collette, had us sing all four stanzas every day at the beginning of class:

 

For those who do not have access to audio or video, here are the four stanzas:

O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight
O’er the ramparts we watch’d were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there,
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream,
’Tis the star-spangled banner—O long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O thus be it ever when freemen shall stand
Between their lov’d home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with vict’ry and peace may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the power that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto – “In God is our trust,”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

 

I personally challenge the president and any member of his Cabinet (or Congress) to sing any (if not all) of these stanzas correctly.  And as for the president's suggestion that those football players who do not stay out on the field of play and sing our National Anthem should be be deported, this flies in the face of a 75-year old decision by the United States Supreme Court: West Virginia State Board of Education v. BarnetteWhile this decision specifically dealt with the illegality of forcing school children to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance, Justice Robert Jackson noted for all time that ". . . we apply the limitations of the Constitution with no fear that freedom to be intellectually and spiritually diverse or even contrary will disintegrate the social organization. To believe that patriotism will not flourish if patriotic ceremonies are voluntary and spontaneous instead of a compulsory routine is to make an unflattering estimate of the appeal of our institutions to free minds. We can have intellectual individualism and the rich cultural diversities that we owe to exceptional minds only at the price of occasional eccentricity and abnormal attitudes. When they are so harmless to others or to the State as those we deal with here, the price is not too great. But freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order."  Some will argue that the court's decision only applies to public places like class rooms, court rooms and city hall chambers - not to privately-owned spaces.  Maybe yes, maybe no.  But do keep in mind that a large percentage of professional sports' stadia (and the land upon which they have been erected) have been underwritten with public tax dollars which, by definition, makes the West Virginia State ruling apply to them as well.  What legal strategy is '45 and his Justice Department going to use to deport American citizens?  Where is he going to send them?  Guantanamo?  Back to Africa?  To Neptune or Mars?

At least one NFL team co-owner - the Jets' Christopher Johnson - has gone on record as saying that while his personal preference was for his players to stand on the field during the singing of the National Anthem, that fines related to national anthem protests “will be borne by the organization, by me, not the players. . . .I never want to put restrictions on the speech of our players,” he said. “There are some big, complicated issues that we’re all struggling with, and our players are on the front lines. I don’t want to come down on them like a ton of bricks, and I won’t. There will be no club fines or suspensions or any sort of repercussions. If the team gets fined, that’s just something I’ll have to bear.”  One wonders how long it will take for the next NFL owner to break with both the POTUS and league commissioner Roger Goodell, who is paid in excess of $35 million a year plus the lifetime use of a jet.  After all, this is a world in which billionaires abound, making unfathomable sums through the gladiatorial efforts of the multimillionaires they employ.  That even one should show independence is a good sign . . .

So let the POTUS try to divert our attention from issues that truly matter with political optics that are as disturbing as anything ever created by Edvard Munch.  We shall neither be deceived, diverted nor distracted, for we are, when all is said and done, "The land of the free and the home of the brave."

494 days down, 978 days to go.

Copyright2018 Kurt F. Stone

Israel and the Holy Land Are Two Very Different Places

                 Pastor Robert Jeffress                                           Rev. John  C. Hagee

                Pastor Robert Jeffress                                           Rev. John  C. Hagee

Ten weeks ago (March 13 to be precise), I posted an op-ed entitled The House at 18 Rehov Agron. Readers may recall that the essay dealt with the then-upcoming dedication of the American Embassy in Jerusalem, and the various political and diplomatic challenges it presented to America's leadership in the Middle East peace process and the two state solution, as well as the widening rift taking place in the American Jewish community.  Not surprisingly, I received a lot of comments accusing me of being naive, gullible and dumber than dirt, not to mention a self-hating Jewish anti-Semite. Invariably, these notes spoke of former President Obama and the overwhelming majority of elected Democrats in the most vile of terms while lauding '45 as the best friend the Jewish State has ever had. Fortunately, I also managed to receive a handful of notes from people who agreed with me that being a staunch Zionist doesn't require unquestioning acceptance of every move, step or policy promulgated by the Israeli government or America's current Republican administration. Indeed, the one sentence which got '45's Jewish supporters the most maniacally hypertensive stated " . . . so absolutely central is Israel to the politics of Trump's Jewish supporters that they are more than willing to overlook '45's questionable ethics, personal boorishness and relationship with the truth in exchange for what they perceive as his unfaltering support for the Jewish State."

One might reasonably hope that now that the American Embassy dedication is fait accompli, those who have been rhetorically knee-capping anyone and everyone who  continues to disagree with '45 and his army of Holy Land pilgrims would cease and desist.  Hey guys . . . at least for now, you've won, so say thanks and shut up.  But no, listening and reading what's coming out of Trump camp - especially from its Jewish and Evangelical supporters - one would think that nothing has changed. As but one example, a profoundly angry email being circulated by a Jewish Trumpeter from Boca Raton, Florida blathers "For American Jews of the Democrat political persuasion, yesterday's opening of our new Embassy in Jerusalem should have been a wakeup call. In fact, the alarms bells should have gone off big time to the fact that not one, not one, Democrat-Jewish elected official turned up at the scene. Not one real time or former senator, congressperson, governor or dogcatcher flew over there to be part of the festivities that were over 2000 years in the making. It's time for American Jewish rank and file Democrats to wake up. The handwriting is on the wall. The Democrat party and its Jewish leaders, both elected and run of the mill community leaders have turned the corner on Israel and on the fight for Jewish survival in our own country. . . . Chuck Schumer did not attend. He uttered a tongue in cheek congratulatory comment to President Trump but this camera hugger did not travel to Jerusalem because he really didn't want to stand with Israel.  Remember, this guy [is] fiercely pro-Iran when it comes to giving that nation the nuclear and ballistic missile technology to wipe Israel off the map. On that topic [he and his like are] freely act and speak their minds. They are JINO's [Jews in Name Only]. Jewish Democrats had better wake up before it's too late. They assume that by shedding their 'Jewish' image they will be accepted by the radical Left that basically despises them but uses them for their own purposes. Time is running out . . . "

It is absolutely true that not a single elected Democratic office holder attended the embassy dedicated . . . but for a rather simple reason: the President did not invite a single Democrat from Congress to be part of the American delegation.  Following the snub, former Congressman Ron Klein, President of the Jewish Democratic Council of America criticized the president: "Not only does Trump invite an anti-Semitic pastor to the opening of the U.S. Embassy, but he makes it a partisan event by refusing to invite even one Democrat. Israel should never be a partisan tool.  It needs friends on all sides.  Shame on you, Mr. President.

 

Former Rep. Klein is absolutely correct that Israel should never be "a partisan tool." Unfortunately, such is not the case. Among the dignitaries who played central roles in the Embassy dedication ceremony were Pastor Robert Jeffress, Pastor of Dallas' First Baptist Church (who gave the event's invocation) and Rev. John Hagee, senior pastor of San Antonio's Cornerstone Church, who  gave the closing benediction. The two hold and preach beliefs which are far out of the mainstream:

Pastor Robert Jeffress:

  • Has repeatedly warned “you can’t be saved by being a Jew,” and that Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Mormonism lead followers to an eternity in hell.  
  • Believed that President Obama paved the way for the anti-Christ: "For the first time in history a president of our country has openly proposed altering one of society’s (not to mention God’s) most fundamental laws: that marriage should be between a man and a woman. While I am not suggesting that President Obama is the Antichrist, the fact that he was able to propose such a sweeping change in God’s law and still win reelection by a comfortable margin illustrates how a future world leader will be able to oppose God’s laws without any repercussions."
  • Believes that contemporary American Christians face similar challenges to Jews in pre-war Germany: “We’re not having our heads chopped off like Christians in the Middle East by ISIS, but you’ve heard me say before, I think when you look at what happened in Germany, look the Nazis didn’t take the Jews to the crematorium immediately. They wouldn’t have been allowed to do that by the German citizens. What the Nazis did was a program of making the Jews the object of ridicule and contempt in the eyes of the  German people, and only once they had marginalized them, were they able to take away their rights." 

Rev. John Hagee:

 

  • Has said the Holocaust happened because God’s “top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel,” a prelude to the Second Coming."
  • Claimed that the confirmed cases of ebola in the United States (at the time there were 3), were the result of a vengeful God angered by attempts by President Barack Obama to "divide Jerusalem."
  • "Christians don't steal or lie. They don't get divorced or have abortions." (Actually, Hagee divorced his first wife, Martha Downing, in 1975).

 

Then too, the chief Sephardic rabbi, Yitzhak Yosef, also addressed the assembled dignataries, which included the president's daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, both of whom are Orthdox Jews. Rabbi Yosef, who has been known to make controversial comments about women's dress, was criticized in March for using the term "kushi" a derogatory Hebrew word for black people, and comparing them to monkeys.  From photos taken at the event, neither Ivanka nor Jared were particularly pleased. 

Rabbi Yosef's office said that he was quoting from the Talmud, but the Anti-Defamation League in the U.S. called the remarks "unacceptable."

Over the past decade or so, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has depended more and more on the support of Evangelical Christians, even at the risk of turning off a majority of American Jews, who may be troubled by evangelicals' denegration of their faith. To evangelicals, the apocalypse (for them, the "second coming") must first be preceded by the ingathering of all Jews back to "the Holy Land," where they may all die in the final war between the forces of good and evil.  Those who have accepted Jesus will go to heaven - no matter what sins they may have engaged in prior to their conversion.  Those who have not accepted Jesus - even those who have lived  lives of moral clarity, generosity and pious humility - will be condemned to Hell.  One prominent Republican - and devout Mormon -  who took umbrage at the words and thoughts of Jeffress and Hagee was former Massachusetts governor and presidential candidate (and current Utah Senate candidate) Mitt Romney who tweeted "Robert Jeffress says “you can’t be saved by being a Jew,“ and “Mormonism is a heresy from the pit of hell.” He’s said the same about Islam. Such a religious bigot should not be giving the prayer that opens the United States Embassy in Jerusalem."

To my Jewish brothers and sisters who continue ragging on me and others like me for not understanding that Donald J. Trump is the greatest friend Israel ever had, I say this: take a long, hard look in the mirror.  The image that is reflecting back to you  has yet to learn that there is a world of difference - both historically, religiously, politically and theologically -  between מדינת ישראל (midinat yisrael), "the State of Israel" and ארץ הקדושה (eretz ha-k'dusha) "the Holy Land."

I anxiously await the responses of those of all those who know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I haven't got the slightest idea what I'm talking about . .

!למעשה, ידידי, אני באמת עושה . . . which is Hebrew for  "Actually, my friends, I really do . . .!"

487 days down, 985 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

 

Meet Ryan Watts

                                     Ryan Watts

                                    Ryan Watts

It has long been a basic political truism that in national midterm elections, the party occupying the White House tends to lose seats in both the House and Senate - as well as governorships and state legislatures. In the first midterm election for all but two presidents going back to 1946, the president’s party has lost U.S. House seats. Up until President Barack Obama, presidents with an approval rating above 50% at the time of the election lost an average of 14 House seats. Presidents with an approval rating below 50% lost an average of 36 House seats. Frequently, these losses meant a change in legislative leadership: on committees, last session's ranking member suddenly finds him/herself wielding the gavel; many of last session's incumbents are making appointments with headhunters, wondering what's next on their employment agenda.  In addition to bringing about shifts in power and renewed hope, midterm elections generally introduce the politically-minded public to a profusion of newcomers and perhaps a couple of potential goliath-slayers to boot.  

It is with this opening paragraph that I introduce one and all to 28-year old Ryan Watts, a native Tar Heel who is challenging incumbent Rep. Mark Walker in North Carolina's 6th Congressional District. A graduate of the University of North Carolina, Watts spent two years working for IBM in Washington, D.C. before returning home where he is currently senior strategy consultant for Deloitte. In this position, Watts examines the "changes technology has made both socially and economically in the U.S."  Born in 1990, Ryan Watts is a full-fledged "Millennial" - a generation which has been variously described as ". . . politically and civically disengaged, more focused on materialistic values and less concerned about helping the larger community than were Gen-X (born 1962-81) and Baby Boomers (born 1946-61) at the same ages."  Then too, Millennials have also been described in highly positive ways: They are generally regarded as being more open-minded, and more supportive of gay rights and equal rights for minorities. Other positive adjectives used to describe them include confident, self-expressive, liberal, upbeat and receptive to new ideas and ways of living. Upon researching and interviewing Ryan, he would appear to be virtually none of the former, while easily possessing an abundance of the latter.

Among Ryans' central political issues are gerrymandering (he wants to mandate "fair-districting" legislation), healthcare (which he calls "a human right"), protecting both Social Security and Medicare, sustainable energy including solar power and what he calls "common sense gun safety laws."  Sounding very much like the students from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Ryan supports universal background checks, raising the minimum age for gun purchase, and outlawing "military-style" firearms, silencers, and bump stocks. He also hopes to promote access to mental-health counseling in schools and let law enforcement temporarily confiscate firearms in crisis situations as well as "close the gun show loophole." Though Watts himself is a gun owner, he disagrees that it is necessary to be able to purchase a gun in one day.

Ryan Watts fully supports Israel.  "It is the strongest, only true Democracy in the Middle East. To not be its ally, its constant friend, is  simply unthinkable." 

Neither flashy nor a hardcore political partisan, Ryan Watts has managed to graft the energy and enthusiasm of an optimistic 28-year old on to the steady wisdom of a political realist. Despite his tender years, he brings to the table an understanding that bitter partisanship is a toxic roadblock to progress.  As Ryan explained to a reporter from his home-state News Observer, “I certainly am a Democrat, but that doesn’t mean I think Democrats are always right. I also don’t think that the Republicans are always wrong. I don’t want to spend a whole lot of time talking about Democrats and Republicans. We’re all Americans. It shouldn’t matter what party you come from."

Funded by less than $100,000 but fueled by more than 300 volunteers and a staff of 15, Ryan defeated 64-year old truck driver Gerald Wong with 77.2% of the vote in the Democratic primary.  He now squares off against the Republican incumbent, Mark Walker in a district which the Cook Political Index rates "strongly Republican" (R+9).  Unlike challenger Watts, Rep. Walker is awash in cash.  This past April 20, Vice President Mike Pence headlined a luncheon in Greensboro in which he raised more than $650,000 for Walker, the staunchly conservative head of the 154-member House Republican Study Committee.  The $650,000 roughly equaled the total his campaign had already raised.  Representative Walker is an ordained Southern Baptist minister.  A man who has a perfect rating from the NRA and less than 4% from Planned Parenthood, Walker until about two weeks ago, chaired a special committee tapped to select a new House chaplain.  Shortly after Speaker Paul Ryan announced the firing of Rev. Pat Conroy, the second Catholic to hold the post of House Chaplain, Rep. Walker was asked to chair a special committee to help select Father Conroy's replacement.  (Many Democrats suggested that Speaker Ryan - a devout Catholic himself - had ousted Father Conroy because of a prayer he offered on Nov. 6, 2017,  as Republicans were preparing to vote on their tax cut proposal that urged lawmakers to strive for economic equality in the bill.  In his post as chair of the special committee, Rep. Walker said he would like to see the next House chaplain have a family . . . which would obviously exclude Catholic priests.  When queried about this, Walker's press spokesman denied any anti-Catholic bias on the part of his boss, stating that his suggestion was based “on initial feedback from his peers on preferences for a new House chaplain.” 

Ryan Watts is the embodiment of all those Parkland students who promised they would come after those who would not change the gun laws.  He is part of a new generation who, despite tender years, has the honest political instincts of Jimmy Stewart's Jefferson Smith.  What Ryan Watts lacks in money he has more than made up for with boots on the ground.  What he has yet to gain in publicity he will rectify by making good on his promise to meet virtually every voter in his district.

I for one urge you to make a tangible contribution to Ryan's congressional campaign.  His victory will be our victory, for his is the voice of the future . . . our future.  His are the dreams of tomorrow . . . our common tomorrow.  

To reach Ryan, simply go to his campaign website. Get acquainted with a future face in Congress.  It will help make you feel like a million dollars . . . after taxes!

481 days down, 981 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

Like Rats Boarding a Sinking Ship

                         Pliny the Elder (23-79 C.E,)

                        Pliny the Elder (23-79 C.E,)

(Many thanks to my oldest friend - and fellow Hollywood Brat - Alan Wald for planting the original seed which led to this essay.  Oftentimes I think it's you who should be writing these op-ed pieces, Alan . . .)

 

The old saw about "rats leaving a sinking ship" is at least as old as Shakespeare (The Tempest, Act I, Scene 2, p.7)  which was published in 1610, and perhaps as ancient as Pliny the Elder's Natural Historywhich first hit the libraries and bookstands 1,941 years ago. No matter its origin, the sentiment it expresses is both crystal-clear and obvious: even rats (in The Tempest it's mice) are wise enough to know when a ship is so imperiled that it necessitates immediate abandonment. This is its literal meaning.  Figuratively, the meaning is far more expansive; it need not refer to a literal ship, boat, canoe or kayak.  Rather, the fatally flawed "ship" can be a company, a cause . . . even a movement, a corporation, government or an administration.  And should there come a time when said movement, corporation, government or administration founders to such an extent that its every tomorrow is in dire peril, it's time to get up, get out and get off.  Makes perfect sense . . . no?

Now, for a rat, mouse or other obnoxious rodent to board that which Shakespeare's Prospero termed "a rotten carcass of a boat" would seem to be a clear indicator of senselessness, stupidity or utter insanity. And this, mind you, would be for a mus linnaeus or muridae. How's about when the creature abandoning the rotten carcass is a homo sapiens?  What name would it have?  How should it be called, its action understood? How's about Rudolphus Giulianius? For as sure as g-d made little green apples, in joining the Trump legal team at this precise point in time, Hizzoner, the former Mayor of New York City, has boarded the corrosive carcass of a sinking ship of state.  For whatever reason is anyone's guess. Perhaps Rudy was getting tired of opening up his daily Times or Post and not seeing his name or likeness on page one; perhaps he was suffering from Fox or NBC withdrawal.  Hey, once you've served as captain of a  world-class luxury liner, it's a real ego deflator to go back to being a lowly anonymous steward.  I kind of doubt Rudy jumped on board just for the sake of an outrageous legal fee; according to most sources, the former New York mayor is worth about $45 million, and owns homes in both Manhattan and Palm Beach.  (Then too, a month ago he and his about-to-become third ex-wife, Judith Nathan filed for divorce; the claws have come out . . . both want to know the other's net worth. Stay tuned for what promises to be a costly, contentious and headline-dominating court case.) Of course, if it's $$$ Rudy needs for future expenses, he's boarding the wrong ship; his new captain is notorious for not paying his legal bills.

If the first week or two offers any indication, Rudy Giuliani is giving his client unbelievably substandard legal advice; he is not serving him well. For the president's mouthpiece has contradicted his boss's on-the-record-in-front-of-the-camera statements and contentions about the entire Stormy Daniels affair.  At one point last week, Giuliani's statements became so lacking in credibility that '45 had to come out and chastise the newest member of the legal team, saying "Hey, he was just hired like yesterday . . . give him some slack."  Among other eye-popping statements, Giuliani proclaimed that '45 reimbursed his attorney Michael Cohen for a $130,000 payment to Stephanie Clifford (a.k.a. Stormy Daniels) for silence about an affair which the president had previously denied on innumerable occasions. In an interview with Fox News just last week, Mayor Giuliani's prattling caused interviewer (and Michael Cohen client) Sean Hannity to become visibly embarrassed and uncomfortable. Giuliani - who in no way specializes in campaign finance law - asserted to Hannity that Trump repaid Cohen, dismissing concerns that the payment to Daniels violated campaign finance law. "That money was not campaign money, sorry," Giuliani said. "I'm giving you a fact now that you don't know. It's not campaign money. No campaign finance violation."

This past Saturday night, Giuliani returned to Fox News, this time with on the  9:00 p.m. "Justice With Judge Jeanine" program, purportedly one of the president's favorites. 

Giuliani began by admiting to Judge Jeanine that he was returning to national TV even though he is still not fully versed with the facts of the Stormy Daniels case or any other of Trump’s legal issues. “The facts I’m still learning… I’ve been on the case two weeks… I’m not an expert on the facts yet. I’m getting there,” Giuliani said.

It showed.

In an interview that lasted less than 8 minutes, he made several significant errors.

While once again addressing  the $130,000 hush money payment made by the president's attorney to Stormy Daniels, Judge Jeanine mentioned that if the money was intended to influence the campaign, it could violate federal law. The president's lawyer told Judge Pirro that the donation would be legal “even if it was a campaign donation.” According to Giuliani, it was legal as a campaign donation because “the president reimbursed it fully.”

This, however, is likely false. While candidates can donate unlimited money to their own campaigns, all campaign donations, and loans, must be reported to the Federal Election Commission (FEC). The failure to report the donation is a violation of federal law. The Stormy Daniels payment has never been reported to the FEC by the Trump campaign. If it was a campaign expense the president broke the law.

Chillingly, Giuliani has repeatedly brought up the possibility that the donation was intended to influence the campaign. “Imagine if that came out on October 15, 2016, in the middle of the last debate with Hillary Clinton…Cohen made it go away. He did his job,” Giuliani said on Fox & Friends on Thursday morning.

And on and on and on . . .

I for one find it incomprehensible that a once-savvy federal prosecutor/presidential aspirant would climb aboard a sinking ship . . . and then offer directions and advise which could easily cause the ship to sink even faster with greater loss of life, limb and property.

Even a rat is smarter than that . . .

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cheering For Chaos . . . A Truly Bad Idea

Impeachment.jpg

This past Tuesday, April 23, voters in Arizona's 8th Congressional district went to the polls for a special election in which they chose former Republican state senator Debbie Lesko to fill the remaining term of disgraced Representative Trent Franks, who resigned amid reports that he pressed female aides to serve as surrogate mothers for him and his wife. Senator Lesko defeated Hiral Tipirneni, a Democrat and emergency room doctor with no prior political experience by a slim margin in the overwhelmingly Republican stronghold:  a mere 5.2 points (52.6%-47.4%).  What made Lesko's margin of victory so disheartening to Republicans was that in 2016,  Donald Trump carried the eighth district, which is located on the outskirts of Phoenix - by better than 20 points. Despite dumping more than $1 million into Ms. Lesko's campaign - which historically, has been one of the reddest districts in the Western United States - Lesko's narrow victory left Republicans little to cheer about. No amount of political spin could and can undo a singular fact: that Republicans have lost support in virtually every special election since '45 and his traveling circus has taken over Washington.  

Conversely, Democrats (as well as many Republicans and Independents) are champing (or chomping) at the bit, impatiently awaiting November 6, 2018 (191 days from now), the date which may well see the nation's legislative branch (as well as many governorships and state legislatures and municipal councils) go from red to blue. In short, what an awful lot of Americans are praying for is a total, full-throated renunciation of the Trump brand.   Will this in fact occur?  Will America awaken on Wednesday, November 7 to discover that Chuck Schumer is Senate Majority Leader-elect; Nancy Pelosi (the demonization of whom sits atop the GOP strategy manual) Speaker-elect; and Adam Schiff House Intelligence Committee chair-elect? The one thing that is certain is that no one knows for sure.  As for me, in preparation for the midterms, I sent out my crystal ball for a good cleaning and polishing; it has yet to come back.

According to a new Quinnipiac poll if Democrats win control of the House of Representatives in the 2018 midterm elections, more than 70 percent of their supporters want to begin impeachment proceedings against '45.  To my way of thinking, that's not good . . . and for several reasons:

If national Democrats tailor their campaign strategy to what this and other polls say, they will wind up running against '45 and his administration, rather than for anything positive.  While this may be understandable from a psychological point of view, it nonetheless makes for  poor politics.  Democrats simply cannot take back Congress if they rely solely upon Democratic voters; they will need both independents and Republicans willing to cross over and "go where no Republican has gone before."  If all these latter groups hear is the constant braying of anti-Trump rhetoric and the promise that "day one" they - the newly-minted House - will institute impeachment proceedings, they will likely lose.  Voters, I firmly believe, are far more interested in a positive agenda that actually pays attention to such issues as education, climate change, jobs and healthcare-for-all than the negativity of Trump hatred.  Sure, the man and his mendacity, his ego and utter lack of knowledge, the level of corruption and embarrassment he has caused are all worthy of censure and removal from office.  However . . .

Cheering for impeachment is, in essence, is cheering for chaos. How so? If the next Congress becomes  overwhelmed with impeachment to the exclusion of most everything else, the politcal process will become even more toxic, hyper-partisan and  unimaginably impotent than it has been over the past generation.  And if - miracle of miracles - the House passes a bill of impeachment and the Senate finds '45 guilty, we are then stuck with Mike Pence - an arch-conservative Dominionist who fervently believes  that  ". . .regardless of theological camp, means, or timetable, God has called conservative Christians like himself to exercise dominion over society by taking control of all political and cultural institutions.

I believe that rather than impeaching and (possibly) convicting '45, a Democratic-led Congress should instead strive to make him as irrelevant as possible.  How can this be achieved?  By passing legislation that deals directly with the hopes, needs and dreams of America's overwhelming middle- and struggling classes rather than its donor-class.  Let the president veto any and all legislation his one-percent friends and allies hate; it will make him look all the more heartless, all the more despotic and autocratic.  It might even force him off the Republican ticket in 2020.  By taking back its constitutionally-mandated role as one of the three co-equal branches of government thereby rejecting this "cheering for chaos" strategy, it might go a long way raising the image of America in the eyes of the world.  "Making America great again" is far more than a slogan; it is an historic responsibility born of necessity.  To my way of thinking, perhaps the very worst thing this president has done is to make America look like a third-world country in the eyes of both our allies and our enemies. This is  simply inexcusable, and cannot be undone by the mere snapping of the political fingers.  

In addition to being a total waste of time which keeps Congress from addressing the nation's real needs on an adult level, impeachment (with or without conviction) suffers from yet another malignancy: taking away our sacred right as citizens to deliver an overwhelming rejection - a political coup de grâce - of Trumpism at the polls in 2020.  America - and the world - simply cannot abide with a so-called leader of the free world who:

  • Thinks he knows it all, thus refusing to listen to anyone;
  •  Takes personal credit for anything and everything that works and blames anyone and everyone (except himself) for that which fails;
  • Treats the greatest nation on earth as yet another holding of his eponymous economic empire, and
  • Is both a national embarrassment and an international disgrace.

The opposite of cheering for chaos was perhaps best expressed by John Donne when he wrote

"No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. . . any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee."

466 days down, 996 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

 

It's a Dog's World

                                      Fwed Astaire Stone

                                     Fwed Astaire Stone

As I begin writing this week's essay, my 10-year old mostly greyhound "Fwed Astaire Stone" is, as per usual, lying on his couch, looking out the window in the library. (BTW: "Fwed" is not a typo; that's the way his name is pronounced. At the time our kids found him abandoned in a parking lot about ten years ago, the Star of the Week on Turner Classic Movies happened to be none other than Kay Francis (1905-1968), a highly-paid ($10,000.00 a week) Warner's star of countless 1930s dramas.  Kay was a world class clotheshorse best known for her gowns and her inability to correctly pronounce the letter 'r.'  This speech impediment caused her to sound a bit like Elmer Fudd; thus she was known in the Hollywood community as "The wavishing Kaye Fwancis."  Hence, our dog "Fred" naturally became "Fwed."  Fwed, by the way, was raised and mentored by our late, lamented Chocolate Lab, "Ginger Rogers Stone."

I start out writing about Fwed not just because he is lying just a few feet away; I do so because this piece is about dogs - and other pets - and how much joy, stability and emotional health they bring into our lives. I also devote this week's essay to, among others, Queen Elizabeth and Barbara Bush, two very public women who have long been known for their love of pooches.  There is, of course, more than a note of sadness attached to both women.  In the case of Queen Elizabeth, just the other day she put down "Willow," a 14th-generation descendant of her first Corgi, "Susan." According to the British Daily Telegraph, Her Royal Highness was "hit extremely hard"  by willow's death, which came as a result of several cancer-related infirmities.  It should be noted that Willow's passing marks not only the end of the royal canine line; it also means that for the first time since she was 12 (the Queen is now 92), she will be without a dog . . .

Then there is Barbara Bush, who passed away this week and was buried less than 24 hours ago.  Mrs. Bush will long be remembered for her white hair, her enormous fake pearls, being the only woman in the nation's history to live long enough to be both the wife and mother of an American president, her 73-year marriage to the nation's 41st president and "Millie," her English Springer Spaniel - the only first dog to "write" a New York Times best-selling children's book.  In Millie's Book: As Dictated to Barbara Bush, Millie, the nation's "first dog," takes young readers through a typically busy day with the President, including early-morning briefings, deliberations in the Oval Office, and occasional short breaks for squirrel hunting; it wound up raising more than a million dollars for literacy programs. 

Of the 45 men who have served as President of the United States, just about every one was a dog/pet lover:

  • George Washington, our  first president and "Father of Our Country," had at least 8 dogs (with names like "Sweetlips," "Tipsy" and "Vulcan") not to mention a stable's worth of stallions, and a parrot named "Snipe"; 
  • John Quincy Adams kept silkworms, from which his wife Louisa spun their silk;
  • Abraham Lincoln kept goats, cats, rabbits and a dog simply named "Fido";
  • Rutherford B. Hayes kept a minimum of 7 dogs and 3 cats (including the first presidential Siamese cat, appropriately named "Siam") at the White House;
  • Benjamin Harrison: in addition to a goat named "Whiskers," Harrison had a collie ("Dash") and two oposums named "Mr. Prosperity" and "Mr. Protection";
  • Theodore Roosevelt kept a virtual menagerie at the White House including dogs, a badger, pig, laughing hyena and one-legged rooster:
  • Franklin Roosevelt had perhaps the most famous of all first dogs: his Scottish Terrier "Fala," who is immortalized at the Lnncoln Memorial.
  • Richard Nixon's Cocker Spaniel "Checkers" became the subject of one of the most famous speeches in all American political history;
  • Lyndon Johnson's twin Beagles, "Him" and "Her," made headlines when their master was photographed picking them up by their floppy ears;
  • Bill Clinton was often photographed with his Chocolate Lab, "Buddy"' and Buddy's nemesis, a cat named "Socks";
  • Barack Obama promised his daughters that once they moved into the White House, he would get them a dog - this was "Bo," a Portuguese Water Dog.

(It should be noted that the only POTUS to have mixed-breed dogs was JFK, who named them "Pushinka" and "Wolf"; every other presidential hound was a pure-breed.)

Which brings us to '45 . . . who is but one of two presidents (the other being the nation's 11th president, James Knox Polk) who had no pets.  At one point it looked as if '45 would be getting a "goldendoodle" named "Patton," a gift from Lois Pope, the widow of National Enquirer founder Generoso Pope, Jr.  “I went through great trouble to find the perfect dog for Donald Trump,” she told Newsweek. "He would’ve been a perfect dog for any president." Patton is hypoallergenic, loyal and beautiful," she said. The deal fell through, Trump telling Mrs. Pope he was simply too busy for a dog.  As things turned out, Mrs. Pope was actually relieved; she had fallen in love with Patton and wanted to keep him for herself. 

Ironically, for a man who does not like dogs, '45 uses the term over and over in his most insulting Tweets.  At one time or another he Tweeted that Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, former N.Y. Governor George Pataki and former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu "couldn't get elected dog catcher."  After one of the presidential debates, he tweeted that he watched Florida Senator Marco Rubio "sweating like a dog."  (Just checked with Fwed; he confirmed that dogs do not sweat . . .)

Much has been made of the fact that '45 has yet to fill dozens upon dozens of major positions in the government.  We are still without ambassadors in 44 nations/organizations including

  • European Union
  • Georgia
  •  Honduras
  • Iceland
  • Ireland
  • Jordan
  • Libya
  • Qatar
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Somalia
  • South Africa and
  • South Korea.

One additional post that has yet to be filled - and likely won't be - is that of First Dog  For those of us who do have dogs, we know all too well what an important role they play in our lives;  keeping us happy, emotionally healthy and calm.  They make us laugh when we are down, offer limitless love and are great listeners to boot.

On behalf of Fwed, Willow and Millie, Mr. President, we urge you to consider getting yourself a dog.  We are unanimous in agreeing that the time you spend tweeting insults and inanities could best be spend walking, petting and interacting with a furry critter who loves you despite it all . . .

459 days down, 1002 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

 

 

 

 

You Just Can't Make This Stuff Up

             Lord Byron (1788-1824)

            Lord Byron (1788-1824)

Question: What is the difference between reality and fiction? Answer: fiction must make sense; reality doesn't.  Thus said the late novelist Tom Clancy during an interview with Larry King back in the early 1990s.  A bit of research shows that Clancy had adapted his pithy insight from either Lord Byron ("Truth is always stranger than fiction"), Mark Twain ("Truth is always stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities, truth isn't"), G. K. Chesterton ("Truth must necessarily be stranger than fiction, for fiction is the creation of the human mind and therefore congenial to it") or perhaps Leo Rosten ("Truth is stranger than fiction; fiction has to make sense"). Regardless of precisely who was responsible for the original quote (it may well have been Aristotle, or Thomas Aquinas, both of whom wrote extensively about the nature of truth) there are, on a daily, even hourly basis, innumerable examples which should all be stuffed into a file entitled 'YOU JUST CAN'T MAKE THIS STUFF UP!'  A handful of examples will suffice:

  • The United States, along with France and the U.K. bombs chemical weapons plants in Syria; within 24 hours, the POTUS Tweets "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!" (Sound familiar?)
  • '45 pardons former  V.P.  Richard Cheney's Chief of Staff, Louis "Scooter" Libby, thus firing a non-so-subtle shot across the bow of Robert Mueller III's investigation into all sorts of things. 
  • Armed with subpoenas, FBI agents raid the home, office and hotel room of the president's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, whom the DOJ now admits is "under criminal investigation." In response, '45 calls the raid "a national disgrace" and further claims that "all lawyers are concerned and deflated" by the raid. 
  • Former FBI director James Comey publishes a new book, A Higher Loyalty, in which he  says the president is both "unethical" and "untethered to truth." In response, '45 Tweets that Comey is a "weak and untruthful slimeball."
  • This past Thursday, the president weighs in on rejoining the Trans Pacific Partnership, an eleven-nation regional trade pact which in pulling out of shortly after his inauguration, angrily termed "a rape of our country."  
  • Despite innumerable ethical lapses, the president recently praised embattled EPA administrator (and former Oklahoma A.G.) Scott Pruitt for the "fantastic job" he is doing.  It brings back memories of another Sooner, Michael Brown, the first Undersecretary of Emergency Preparedness and Response (a division of Homeland Security) who, three days after Hurricane Katrina wipes out much of New Orleans' Ninth Ward, was told by another president "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job!" 
  • Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin lashes out at teachers protesting to raise state education funding, claiming that the statewide walkout "inevitably" led students to be sexually assaulted and use drugs. The governor also disses protesting teachers for “hangin’ out, shoes off ... smokin’, leavin’ trash around, takin’ the day off.”

You just can't make this stuff up!

This last bit of nonsensical reality directly affects some of the most important and influential people in America: public school teachers. In recent weeks and months, the long festering infection caused by low teacher pay, disappearing pensions and their overall treatment has broken through the surface and become highly visible.  In more and more states - Kentucky, West Virginia, Arizona, Texas and Oklahoma to name but a few - teachers have been staging walkouts demanding a living wage and urging that their promised future pensions not be cut.  It is an utter pity that teachers - people whose job it is to help shape the future of society - are treated like second-class citizens. Armed with bachelors and often masters degrees (the earning of which leads to a lot of debt) they often work for less money than the clerks who manage the mini-marts where they purchase gas.  Today, few public school teachers can afford to buy a house or raise a family without benefit of a second - or even third - job.  Teachers in many states are not eligible to receive Social Security benefits upon retirement; their defined-benefit pensions have been replaced with hybrid retirement plans that combine features of a traditional pension with features of the 401(k) accounts used in the private sector.  

For years, thoughtless people have argued that teachers actually have a cushy deal: they only work 8 months a year, have summers off as well as a week in winter and a week in spring. What seldom gets mentioned - let alone understood - is that teachers spend untold (and unpaid)  hours creating lesson plans, reading essays and grading tests, as well as spending hundreds if not thousands of their own dollars providing their students with pencils, pens, paper, Xeroxes and the like that are simply not in their schools' budgets. The very same politicians and legislators who urge the arming of teachers and providing  see-thru backpacks for students (without worrying about where the money is going to come from) cannot find enough money for books and other basic educational tools. 

All across the country, teachers are staging walkouts, protesting these conditions. It is interesting to note that these protests - some of which have already led to promised raises - are all taking place in red states - states which do not permit teachers to join unions. Mind you, they are not asking for "The Moon and Sixpence" (the title of a marvelous Somerset Maugham novel assigned to us by our eighth grade English teacher Mr. Blakely); they are merely asking that they be treated as professionals who are entrusted with educating our young.  They are asking for more than lip service; they are asking that legislators quit depriving public schools of needed dollars in order to shunt them over to so-called "Charter Schools" or keeping taxes low in order to make their wealthy donors happy.

Two of the biggest motivators in getting public school teachers out of the classroom and out into the streets were the election of Donald Trump (the least intellectually curious president in recent history) and the confirmation of Betsy Devos as U.S. Secretary of Education. The latter was seen as a direct slap in the face of hundreds of thousands of public school teachers.  Ms. Devos, a multi-billionaire heir to the Amway fortune has never been an educator, let alone a student at a public school. She, her siblings and her children were educated at private religious schools. She has devoted years and years - not to mention millions and millions of dollars - to the cause of Charter Schools and home schooling, and has frequently attributed the "downfall" of public education to G-d being removed from the classroom.  

There was a time - and not all that long ago - when teachers were paid a respectable, living wage and treated as members of an honored profession.  Most of us remember the names of a handful of teachers who made a profound difference in our lives.  These teachers instilled in us both a love of learning and a thirst for knowledge.  The purpose of learning was not, strictly speakingfor the purpose of a future job.  Where today "learn-in-order-to-earn" is the unspoken meme, "learning-for-the-sake-of-knowledge" was the guiding principle back in the day. As the historian/philosopher Jacques Barzun noted in his 1981 book Teacher in America"Teaching is not a lost art, but the respect for it is a lost tradition."  (I thank my history teacher, Mr. Cousins, for turning me on to Professor Barzun a long, long time ago.)

It is frequently said that "throwing more dollars at public schools won't make them any better."  Perhaps this is so.  However, making the respect and restoration of learning and teaching a prime plank in future political campaigns just may.  We owe it to the men and women who devote their lives to educating young minds - the young minds who will one day shape our future - to support those who treat education as far, far more than a convenient sound bite.

Fiction?  Perhaps.  But do remember Twain's dictum that ". . . fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities, truth isn't." 

452 days down, 1009 days to go.

Copyright© 2018 Kurt F. Stone

WWJD?

WWJD.jpg

One must admit that when stripped of their varying rituals, practices, and fringe crazies, the three great monotheistic religions - Judaism, Christianity and Islam - have an awful lot in common.  And not just because the latter two are "daughters" of the first. At base. all three teach love and tenderness; humility and the importance of extending a helping hand to those in need; of "Doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with G-d." To be certain, there are are innumerable differences when it comes to specifics: kashrut (kosher) versus halal; the nature of Sabbath observance; the question of whether to proselylize or to keep things "in house"; the relationship between deed and creed.

This last point - the relationship between deed and creed - is of major concern.  Judaism, as opposed to Christianity (and Islam) is remarkably free (although not entirely so) of doctrine. Ask a group of rabbis or scholars a question beginning with the words "What do Jews believe about . . .?" and what you'll likely get is first a profound silence, and second, something like "Well, some Jews believe 'X' while others believe 'Y' or 'Z.'" (I long ago concluded somewhat in jest that we (male) rabbis wear beards so that when faced with a question about belief, we can stroke our beards and look thoughtfully introspective when we really don't know the answer.)  However, ask the same group of rabbis or scholars a question beginning with "What do Jews do in situation 'X' or 'Y'? and you will likely get a pretty swift response . . . even if the various answers are somewhat variegated.  Then too, as mentioned above, Jews - unlike members of most Christian sects - do not go out of their way to seek converts. It has long been our understanding that Judaism is the best religion on the planet . . . for Jews and those who seek to convert of their own free will.  Indeed, classically, a rabbi's initial response to one seeking conversion is supposed to be rejection - and not once but twice . . . in order to make sure that the potential convert is sincere.

When it comes to secular politics, there are some similarities - and many, many differences - between Jews and Christians. For many Jewish voters the issue par excellent in figuring out who to support is, not surprisingly, Israel.  But though Israel may serve as a political litmus test for many, the specific position a candidate takes may in the long run gain or lose the support of an individual voter. Some Jews (and many on the so-called "Christian Right"), will only support and vote for people who take a hawkish "single state" position. (And mind you, Jews and fundamental Christians don't necessarily express all-out support for Israel for the same reason . . . but that is a subject for another essay.)  Many Jews and Christians will tell you that '45 is ". . . the best friend Israel ever had in the Oval Office."  They base this largely on two things: bellicose rhetoric and moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem.

Other voters will only support candidates who favor a "two-state solution."  For many Jews, there are other issues of equally great - or even greater import - such as climate change, a woman's right to choose, education, healthcare, the need to keep an imprenetrable wall of separation between "church and state" - which will help determine whether or not they can in good conscience support a particular candidate.  Frequently, the positions political actors take find their basis in the more humanistic aspects of Judaism. The same can be said of many Christians, except that the positions they hold near and dear are frequently the bipolar opposites of their Jewish neighbors.

Interestingly, evangelical and fundamentalist Christians are relatively new to secular politics. The biggest boost to getting conservative Christians into politics was the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which made abortion legal in the United States.  With that fateful decision, a sleeping giant came awake and began, in the words of one commentator, ". . . adding grievance to grievance [and] aligning themselves with the Republican Party and its Teapot wing." In other words, the mass entry of evangelical and fundamentalist Christians (now referred to as "values voters") into the realm of secular politics has been at full strength only in the past four decades.  Generally speaking, the Christian Right has thrown its support behind men and women who tend to be pro-life (I prefer "pro-birth"), pro-gun, anti-science, anti Planned Parenthood, and favor money for charter schools.  To their way of thinking these are among the positions Jesus would take.  (Precisely how they know this evades me.) They also support people who talk up their Christian bona fides, are unafraid to tell us of their great devotion and faithfulness, and truly believe that America's creation was and is based on Christian principles; in short, that America is a Christian nation.

The Christian Right's influence on the 2016 election of Donald Trump was and is, to say the least, noteworthy.  It was and is also a high point of hypocrisy on their part. As writer Jay Parini noted in a recent op-ed,  "It didn’t matter that Trump was an unhinged philanderer, a braggart whose own life and example was a mockery of Christian values—as long as he delivered a reliably anti-abortion and anti-gay rights judge to replace Antonin Scalia.  Neil Gorsuch was their man, and Trump delivered."    During the 2016 campaign - and since entering office - '45 has hyperbolically proclaimed "No one loves the Bible like I do." Those who are willing to take him at his word have also heard him state such absurdities as:

Then too, the Christian right was thrilled when the newly-inaugurated president, speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast, vowed to ". . . get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment.” (n.b.: The Johnson Amendment which has been in the federal tax code for more than 60 years, protects the integrity of tax-exempt organizations like houses of worship by ensuring they do not endorse or oppose political candidates.) On May 4, 2017, '45 signed an executive order "to defend the freedom of religion and speech" for the purpose of easing the Johnson Amendment's restrictions. In announcing his executive order, he described his goal of eliminating the prohibition on election activity as potentially his “greatest contribution to Christianity — and other religions.” As it turns out, the repeal of the Johnson Act, which was included in the House version of the infamous tax bill, was removed during the reconciliation process with the Senate version, which did not include repeal.  Nonetheless, fundamental Christians still give '45 high marks for attempting if not succeeding - to get rid of it.

Many have been wondering aloud how in the world so many intensely religious people can continue supporting this man who, by any reasonably objective yardstick, is the bipolar opposite of a humble, moral, honest Christian. 

WWJD? ("What would Jesus do?")

It just might be that Jesus would seek a meeting with the POTUS and pose the question Magister praeses, quo vadis?  -  namely, "Mr. President, where in the hell are you going?"  It just might bet there will be a gathering - and soon - at the White House where the lofiest, most supportive fundamentalist Christian leaders will be asking him to explain himself.  Really.

According to a recent story on National Public Radio (a favorite bugbear of the Christian Right), As allegations continue to swirl about the president and a payout to a porn star to cover up a sexual encounter, evangelical leaders are organizing a sit-down with President Trump in June. One prominent ministry leader who is organizing the session said "The president's tone and personal life remain a concern for many evangelicals . . . .There's things that are like fingernails on the chalkboard to people of faith. That's not who we are; that's not a 'fruit of the Spirit'; that's not leading with humility," This meeting if it actually happens - could be attended by nearly 1,000 religious leaders.  (Family Research Council President Tony Perkins told Fox News' Todd Starnes "It  is not going to be a confrontational meeting, that is absolutely not true. So many evangelicals are frustrated with Congress and they are likely not to show up to vote in the fall. That's really the focus of our gathering."  In other words, according to Perkins, the "values voters" he and his colleagues claim to represent are not concerned about '45's values.  

So WWJD?  Would he attend the meeting?  Would he tell the POTUS to start acting like the fervent man of G-d he proclaims himself to be or else step aside and repent?  Will '45 begin losing the support of the most perfervid members of his political base? Will it finally be revealed to his vaunted "values voters" that the emperor has no clothes?

Truly, only G-d knows . . .

445 days down, 1,016 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

 

Paging Mr. Orwell . . . Mr. George Orwell

                                George Orwell

                               George Orwell

Marion Sherman, a long-time friend, student and congregant, sent me an email this past Sunday with a link to an "Apple News" article about "Dozens of local news anchors (being) forced to recite a speech about 'false news' controlling 'exactly what people think.'"  To the best of my knowledge, Marion's link arrived even before the story ran in either the New York Times, Washington Post or Chicago Tribune. For anyone who has yet to read or hear about this latest inanity (highly unlikely), we can sum it all up in just a few words: Sinclair Broadcasting Group, which owns roughly 170 American television stations - including their news divisions - ordered local news anchors across the country to read a script decrying “some media outlets” for “false news” and “fake stories.”  What these news anchors were doing was anything but reporting the news.  Rather, they were consciously carrying out a critical plank in the Trump political playbook: declaring in the most convincing way they can that anyone or anything which opposes the president is a big fat lie. 

This noxious bit of charlatanism might well have gone unnoticed if not for the media geeks at Deadspin, who cobbled together a rather nifty YouTube piece which showed dozens of Sinclair newscasters presenting precisely the same words in unison. By now, the video (shown in part below), has gone triple viral and winding up in the spotlight's disinfecting hot glare :

And, to make matters even worse, Sinclair - the largest and most Orwellian of all media behemoths - is currently attempting to receive approval from both the Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department to acquire Tribune Media. If this deal  were to be approved, it would allow Sinclair-owned local stations to reach more than 70 percent of American households.  At first blush, one might think that this most recent revelation about how Sinclair manipulates the news so as to put the president in a halo-esque light (while simultaneously providing its various anchors with inerrant scripts from Mt. Sinai) that this would put a gigantic stumbling block in their path to merger. But no; their brand of extremist "Trump is the truth" propaganda has received a gigantic bear hug of an endorsement from none of than '45 himself, who just yesterday Tweeted "So funny to watch Fake News Networks, among the most dishonest groups of people I have ever dealt with, criticize Sinclair Broadcasting for being biased. Sinclair is far superior to CNN and even more Fake NBC, which is a total joke." BTW: A Monmouth University poll released just  yesterday shows that when asked who Americans trust as a source for information, '45 loses to CNN by a margin of 48%-35%) and a nearly identical 45%-32% margin when the outlet in question is MSNBC.) 

Of all the historic, mind-numbing changes which '45 has brought to the position of president, perhaps none has been as unutterably dangerous as his attack upon the press; of whittling down American's faith in what used to be called the truth. Oh sure, most every POTUS has carried on love/hate relationships with at least a portion of the fourth estate in public; it goes with the territory.  But what has never before occurred is having a president so denigrate and disparage a majority of the media (read: "non-Fox," "non-Sinclair") as to transmogrify it into the ultimate enemy - a traitorous purveyor of malignant falsehoods.  In the span of a mere fourteen-and-a-half months, the President of the United States has essentially out-Orwelled George Orwell: he has turned falsehood into fact, fact into non-existence and sin into virtue.  And miraculously,  despite being a  shallow, boorish, misogynistic narcissist, has actually managed to keep the backing of many of the nation's leading pillars of moral rectitude.  Hohw has he done it?  Through a dumbing down of the American public.  It reminds me of the old canard about the fellow running for student body president who begins his speech with: "A students, B students, C students, D students . . . and my dear supporters and friends . . ."

Hardly a day goes by without a student, a reader or friend asking me 'How long is it going to take to turn things around?  Can a new House or Senate put a halt to all the maddness?"  Sorry to admit it, but I - like those far, far brighter and far, far more turned in than yours truly - do not have an answer.  Sure,  vote in a new House and/or Senate and some things are bound to change.  It will no doubt make '45 think twice about who he nominates for the federal bench or the Cabinet.  And, it is possible that some of his most mindlessly egregious executive orders will be thrown for a loss.  But no amount of electoral change is going to change all those who believe that guns are good, immigrants are bad, war is for heroes and diplomacy for sissies . . . or to convince the right that the biggest, baddest, most cancerous conspiracies are those dreamed up by professional conspiracy theorists whose business it is scare the pants off the gullible all in the pursuit of fame and fortune. 

Then too, no single election will be able to change America's sullied image in the world.  When Barack Obama became president in January 2009, he embarked upon a series of foreign trips which Republicans derided as "apology tours."  In fact, his political enemies are still talking about his "bowing down before Muslims and apologizing for America" more than a decade later. Can anyone imagine what the next president will have to do, say or promise in order to rebuild America's place in the community of nations in years to come? 

We began this essay with a reference to Marion Sherman, whom I thank for bringing the Sinclair situation to my attention.  We conclude with a shout out to another of my students, Professor Gil Klajman, one of the smartest, most insightful menschen I know, who sent me an email mentioning the Sinclair debacle and George Orwell . . . even after I'd begun writing this piece.  I for one feel blessed to live in a community of seekers and readers . . . of those who are ceaselessly expanding their intellectual horizons even while those around them profess belief in the unbelievable and find truth in that which in fact, nothing but what Grannie would have called "canal water."  

There is still hope for the truth . . . and facts.

438 days down, 1,021 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone