Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

Catastrophe In Christchurch

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What can one say about the grizzly, incomprehensible catastrophe in Christchurch that has not already been said? What words can be added that might alleviate the shock and pain, the anger and disbelief that are now pervading the hearts and souls of a vast majority of people on the planet? I for one am, as they say, “up to here” with all those proclaiming that their “thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families and loved ones.” It’s not, of course that there’s anything wrong in thinking about the 4-dozen plus men, women and children who were hideously and heartlessly gunned down by a deranged, self-styled “eco-fascist,” or in saying Kaddish - the Jewish prayer for the dead. No, there’s absolutely nothing wrong in this. In my book, one can say Kaddish for anyone, be they Muslim, Christian or Jew, Jane, Buddhist or Sikh. I know that for some of my coreligionists, to say Kaddish for non-Jews - and especially for Muslims is a shanda - a bit off heresy. But truth to tell, the Kaddish, despite being universally known as “the Jewish prayer for the dead,” does not - with one exception, Kaddish d'Ithadata [קדיש דאתחדתא which is said at an open grave - does not say word one about death or dying. Rather, the essence of the other 4 forms of Kaddish is marvelously universal, expressing the profound hope that “May G-d, who makes peace in the universe, grant peace to us, to all of co’s* nation, Israel, and indeed, to all those seeking peace, and let us say Amen.” (*co’s is my gender-neutral possessive pronoun for the Divine, understood in this case as “His/Her.”)

What gets me about the “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families” response is that it is just too damned easy. It has always seemed to me that at times like these, the best prayer is one in which we beg the Divine to give us the all the strength and wisdom it will take to do more than pray . . . to pull together to do whatever we can to repair a world gone mad. In the case of New Zealand, Kiwi Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s immediate response to the massacre was one of action; she immediately called for her government to meet today (which by the time this is posted will be yesterday) to make changes in the nation’s relatively lax gun laws. “There will be changes to our gun laws,” she said at an afternoon news conference within hours of the shootings.

Gun ownership rates in New Zealand are much lower than in the U.S., and the country's rates of gun violence are generally considered very low. As Radio New Zealand reported: “In 2016, there were nine gun murders or manslaughters in New Zealand, a rate of 1.87 per million people. By comparison, Australia had nearly 10 deaths per million in 2016, Canada had 5.4 deaths per million, and the United States had 106 deaths per million.”

Christchurch, New Zealand’s 3rd largest city (population just under 400,000) is often called “The most English City outside of London.” It is a truly lovely place filled with greenery, artistry and the Avon River, which wends its way through the city center. New Zealand itself is one of the most isolated countries in the world. Made up of two major islands - one created largely through volcanic activity, the other the offspring of ancient glacial formation - is a peaceful, progressive, statutorily nuclear-free country. The shock of last week’s Christchurch mass murder is incredibly palpable; such things simply do not occur in New Zealand - a country where low crime rates are a part of its identity and mass shootings simply do not occur.  Hell’s bells: few - if any - of their Bobbies regularly carry guns.

And yet, a horrible catastrophe has taken place in Christchurch. Prior to going on his ghastly shooting spree - which he live-streamed on social media - the alleged mass murderer, a 28-year old Australian native (whose name I will not mention) issued a rambling, often incoherent 74-page manifesto. In it, he wrote "The origins of my language is [sic] European, my culture is European, my political beliefs are European . . . . My philosophical beliefs are European, my identity is European and, most importantly, my blood is European." He declared himself to be pro-Brexit, both a racist and what he called an eco-fascist “though not a xenophobe” (!), admitted an affinity with the aristocratic mid-20th century British fascist Oswald Mosely, denied being an anti-Semite, and claimed that China is the country which comes closest to aligning with his political and social values. Even ‘45 got a brief mention in the alleged murderer’s manifesto, much of which is a self-interview. Asking himself whether he was a Trump supporter, he responded: “As a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose? Sure. As a policy maker and leader? Dear god no.”  It should be noted that no other president, autocrat, prime minister or dictator received so much as a single syllable of mention.  Only ‘45.

And although in responding to the Christchurch massacre, ‘45 could not bring himself to unequivocally state that white-nationalism, racism and Islamophobia were a growing, organized international threat to all civilized nations, he is not - I repeat, is not - the cause of what went down last week . . . or just a couple of hours ago in Utrecht. Rather, ‘45 is a sickening symptom. Whether or not he’s a racist, anti-Semite or Islamophobe is, to my way of thinking, pretty much irrelevant; that racists, anti-Semites and Islamophobes believe him to be one of their gang is of great relevance.

Responding to all those in the mainstream media (AKA in Trump-speak as “Fake News”) who found ‘45’s response a dodge, presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway urged members of the 4th Estate to “. . . dial back the scope of the coverage.” Speaking further of - and to - the media, Ms. Conway exploded “They insert themselves ― ‘I must speak! I must say something!’ No, you don’t. You can actually shut up and pray for people and wait for the authorities to make their judgments.” Once again, the “thoughts and prayers” meme where concerted action is the true requirement.

It is well beyond the scope of logic or rational thought to assign a single reason - or two or three - for the frightening worldwide growth of anti-Antisemitism, anti-Islamist and gross Xenophobia accentuated by military-grade arms throughout the world. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t engage in a vigorous discussion about what we can do.

  • First and foremost, we must admit that we have a terrible problem; that it’s far, far more than “a small group of people that have very, very serious problems, I guess” in the words of POTUS.

  • Next, the media should stop running the names, faces and histories of these wanton murderers. Part of their motivation in carrying out mass murders is to go out in a blaze of glory . . . thereby granting themselves a fair measure of satanic immortality.  I am happy to report that National Public Radio has stopped referring to the alleged murderer by name.

  • Next, here in the United States we must do everything in our power to get rid of Citizens United - which holds our politicians in thrall to NRA dollars. Without Citizens United, the NRA loses much of its power over politicians . . . who then could be free to  restore an assault weapons ban, severely restrict the number of rounds in any single ammo magazine, institute universal background checks, or any of a host of other measures carried out in other countries.

  • Use the president’s bully pulpit to call in the tsars and moguls of the social media world to engage in serious - and I mean serious - conversation about what safeguards they can institute within their various platforms to keep violent bigots of all stripes from using the internet as a heinous clubhouse for evil.

Above all, we must insist on leadership . . . real leaders, not mere Tweeting rhetoricians. We must confront and eradicate the immoral equivalence of war with actions that identify, contain and eliminate the purveyors of mass murder.

Not just thoughts and prayers . . .

596 days until the next election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

What's In a Name?

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Spent the past several hours researching the onomastics of a handful of feminine names in preparation for the naming of twin sisters next week. (Believe it or not, although they were born a mere 2 minutes apart, they don’t share the same date of birth; one arrived at 11:59 p.m. on a Wednesday, the other at 12:01 a.m. on a Thursday.) Over the years, it has never ceased to amaze me how names come into prominence, hang around for several years, and then fade away, only to be replaced by a bunch of new (or old) names. Jane, Gary, Susan, Tom and Doris have long faded from popularity, while Emily, Jayden, Brice and Olivia are ascending. Believe it or not, I actually officiated at the naming of a newborn whose parents chose the cognomen “Brooklyn.” Undoubtedly the tide will change; I can imagine 85 years from now when the rabbi is told that the little one is being named after her late great grandmother “Brooklyn” and asks “So what name have you chosen?” the answer will be “Bracha!” Names, like most everything else, go in cycles.

The rabbis of old tell us that the most valuable thing a person can possess is his/her name. But wait: there are, they aver, different kinds of names:

  1. The name or names we are given by our parents, over which we have no choice;

  2. The names by which we are called, whether they be shortened versions (“Riki” for “Erica” or “Teddy” for “Theodore”), titles we’ve earned, or inexplicable nicknames, such as “Babe,” “Rocky” or “Hen.”

  3. This third name, so the rabbis tell us, is not only the most important - and thus the most valuable of the valuable - but, generally speaking - unpronounceable. “How’s that possible?” one may well ask. Simple: the most valuable of all names is the one we earn for ourselves which, when you stop and think about it, is unpronounceable . . . more an emotion or feeling than a mere combination of words.

In the world of politics, few well-known governors, senators or presidents have gone through a career without being tagged with a nickname . . . or two or more. Consider the following:

  • The nation’s 8th President, Martin Van Buren had to deal with a collapsing economy, which history knows as The Panic of 1837. As a result, he was nicknamed “Martin Van Ruin.”

  • President U.S. (“Unconditional Surrender”) Grant’s successor, Rutherford B. Hayes, lost the popular vote to Samuel Tilden. After a lengthy and contentious procedure that made Bush v. Gore look like a walk in the park, Hayes was named president. Many charged fraud . . . hence his historic nickname: “His Fraudulency.”

  • Most presidents have acquired nicknames such as “Tricky Dick” (Nixon), “Old Hickory” (Andrew Jackson), “The Gipper” (Ronald Reagan) and “Slick Willie” (Bill Clinton).

  • Father and son California governors Edmund G. Brown - Sr. and Jr. - were known, respectively as “Pat” and “Jerry.” And of course, the younger Brown was long known as “Governor Moonbeam,” thanks to the late Chicago columnist Mike Royko.

  • Speaking of California governors, Arnold Schwarzenegger is still referred to as “The Governator.”

  • The late Florida governor and senator Lawton Chiles was known as “Walkin Lawton.” Chiles walked 1,003 miles from Pensacola to Key West to attract attention for his Senate bid.

Then there is the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, who has received more nicknames (in excess of 400 at last count) than anyone in American history. Among some of the more hilarious (and snarky) are:

  • Adolf Twitler

  • Benedict Donald

  • Genghis Can’t

  • Hair Apparent

  • The Boychurian Candidate

  • Vanilla ISIS and

  • The Lyin’ King

Of course, the 400+ presidential nicknames come from many, many wits, comics and critics ranging from Dan Rather and Jon Stewart to John Oliver and Jimmy Kimmel. When it comes to all the names and insults ‘45 has tagged his opponents with, it is a totally different story. Could one person possibly come up with all those insults? Or does “Boss Tweet” have a stable of writers left over from The Apprentice? Nearly every politician in the United States and around the world has, at one time or another been the target of a Trump-Tweeted nickname or insult:

  • North Korean dictator (and current Trump BFF) Kim Jong Un: “Rocket Man”

  • Former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton: “Crooked Hillary”

  • Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren: “Pocahontas”

  • Former FBI Directory James Comey: “Leakin’ James Comey!”

  • Journalist Carl Bernstein: “A man who lives in the past and thinks like a degenerate fool.”

  • Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal: “Da Nang Dick; an embarrassment to our country!”

  • House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff: “Little Adam Schitt”

  • Actor Robert De Niro: “A very low I.Q. individual”

  • 3-time Academy Award winner Meryl Streep: “One of the most overrated actresses in Hollywood”

  • Former DNI Director James Clapper: “One of the biggest liars and leakers in Washington.”

For pundits, partisans and late-night talk show hosts, ‘45 is the gift that keeps on giving. Or, as Jimmy Kimmel recently said, “He is our guarantee against unemployment.” Yes, there is quite a bit of humor on the surface; the man is the Platonic ideal of a buffoon; the perfect example of a man whose foot is never more than half-an-inch from his mouth. However, he is also the President of the United States; the face of the nation and its ideals to the rest of the world. I for one find him to be the biggest embarrassment in the history of the country. Even our lowest-ranked presidents - Buchanan, W.H. Harrison, Pierce, Andrew Johnson and Harding - managed to carry themselves with the requisite dignity one would expect from the country’s chief executive. True, they were political failures, and while their records may have been historically embarrassing, they themselves were gentlemen. In the case of Donald Trump and his presidency, both are sui generis - e.g., in a class by itself.

I find it somewhere between utterly bewildering and totally stupefying that there are still millions of people in this country who continue to believe that this nearly 73-year old toddler is the best president we’ve ever had. Or that there are hoards who are perfectly sanguine about electing him to serve yet another 4-year term. It makes me wonder if they know what the term “autocrat” means - let alone can even spell it . . . and positively shudder to think that the Savoyard moralist Joseph de Maistre (1753-1821) was correct when he wrote that “Every country has the government it deserves.”  I don’t know about you, but I FOR ONE DO NOT DESERVE HAVING THIS PUERILE MISCREANT LEADING THE COUNTRY I LOVE!

If it turns out in the long-run that we do, what kind of name will we have earned for ourselves and our posterity?

604 days until the next election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

 

How Do You Say "Witch Hunt" in Hebrew?

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Without question, there has been a budding “bromance” between between Israeli P.M. Bibi Netanyahu and President Donald Trump for quite some time. Netanyahu greatly admires the current American president, and sees him as a bipolar improvement on his predecessor, Barack Obama. We all remember Netanyahu’s unique, distinctly partisan political address to Congress, in which he warned against the Iranian anti-nuke deal, as well as his hyper partisan support of Trump over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. We all are aware of his praise for the American president’s executive decision to move our Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem - which convinced many American Jews to label ‘45 “the greatest friend Israel ever had in the White House.” But this was just the beginning. With every passing week, Bibi Netanyahu has become more and more a Trump clone, and less and less a political scion of Ben Gurion, Meir, Peres or Rabin. Unlike Trump, Netanyahu is a totally political animal; unlike his American counterpart, he has spent virtually his entire adult life engaged in this singularly ego-laden pursuit - sometimes masterfully, other times maladroitly. Where ‘45 has shown himself to have a particular fondness for “autocrats” (a cleaned-and-pressed synonym for “dictator”), Netanyahu has a fancy for living a life of luxury. For much of his business and now political career, ‘45 has been hounded by the legal system; now suing or declaring bankruptcy, now being sued or staring down the barrel of indictment. Likewise Netanyahu who, throughout much of his political career, has been dogged with scandals involving such emoluments as pink champagne, Cuban cigars, jewelry and even tickets to a Mariah Carey concert — in exchange for political favors to billionaires. The latest charges against the Israeli P.M., his wife Sarah and son Yair - which will likely end with multiple indictments - concerns their receiving gifts worth more than $280,000 in return for promoting policies that benefited powerful allies. To Trump, $280,000 is mere chump change (or at least is until Congress gets a handle on his real net worth); to Bibi, it’s a vast fortune. Like the POTUS - whose position pays $400,000 a year plus a rather large residence - the Israeli P.M. - whose job pays $168,210 per annum, plus a residence and expenses - has been spending an increasing amount of time dealing with both the legal and political ramifications of all the scandals hovering over their heads.  Both have charged ad nauseum that they are piteous victims of a “witch hunt” (that’s ציד מכשפות - pronounced tzayed m’kashefote in Hebrew). Unlike the vast American public, which to a large extent is politically illiterate, sadly gullible and sees things in black and white, the Israeli public is deeply political and loves nothing more than engaging in full-throated debate. Nonetheless, despite this generalized differences, both ‘45 and Bibi abide by pretty much the same political/campaign strategy: keeping their base happy while denigrating and designating the opposition as members of a vast, unpatriotic conspiracy. For Trump, this involves equal measures of fear and flattery, of outrageous boasts and outlandish lies, and slogans to beat the band. Unlike Trump, who operates in a two-party (though somewhat fragmented) political system in which Democrats control the House, and Republicans both the Senate and White House, Bibi is faced with a semi-parliamentary, multi-party system in which even the tiniest faction has a shot at becoming part of a coalition government. As a result of the incredible אַנְדְרָלָמוּסִיָה (ahndra-lamoosia - “utter chaos”) which is threatening to destroy Netanyahu’s governing coalition, he has been making concessions with - and promises to - some pretty unsavory elements in the world of Israeli  politics .Facing national elections next month (April 9), Netanyahu has given his הַסכָּמָה (hahs-kahma  - approval) for a far-right party, עוצמה יהודית (Otzma Yehudit - “Jewish Power”) to be part of a mainstream list.  This is an obvious political sop to the most nativist element in Israeli Society . . . pretty much like ‘45 dog whistling and offering political cover to white nationalists, neo-Nazis and racists, as he did after Charlottesville.

The leaders of Otzma Yehudit are self-identified disciples of U.S.-born Rabbi Meir Kahane, who preached a radical form of Jewish nationalism that promoted unabashed and virulent anti-Arab racism, violence and political extremism. While he was alive, ADL and the vast majority of American Jewish organizations and leaders roundly condemned Kahane and the organizations he founded including the Jewish Defense League (JDL) and Kach, seeing his extremism and hate as anathema to Judaism and democratic values. 

Gen. Benny Ganz

Gen. Benny Ganz

It was the same in Israel. For example, upon Kahane’s election to the Knesset, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and his Likud party rejected Kahane’s bigotry and made it a point to leave the parliament hall when Kahane rose to speak. Ultimately, Kahane’s racist activities led to the banning of his Kach Party from the Knesset and it was made illegal under Israeli law, which remains in effect to this day.  Already, a member of the current Knesset, the Meretz Party and Labor MK Stav Shaffir (one of my favorite Israeli politicians) petitioned the Central Elections Committee to disqualify Otzma Yehudit from running in the upcoming election. Then too, as an additional move on Israel’s  political chessboard, Benny Ganz, the 20th Chief of Staff of the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) announced the formation of a new centrist political party - “Blue and White” - after the colors of the Israel flag.  In his first press conference, Ganz thanked Netanyahu for his “10 years of service” stating “No Israeli leader is king . . . . We will continue from here.”  Army Chief of Staff is the probably one of the most important, if not the most important, public positions.  According to a leading Israeli think-tank, 78% of the public trust the IDF, while only 30% trust the government to the same extent. Although many of his policies remain a mystery, Ganz is already polling a couple of points ahead of Netanyahu. 

At the moment, no one knows for certain what the forthcoming indictments of the Netanyahus will mean for the upcoming Israeli elections — in much the same way that no one truly knows what the Mueller report will mean to America’s 2020  presidential election.  If the political parallels between Netanyahu and Trump carry any meaning, both men should watch their backs . . . for, to misquote Donne: No man is an island/entire of himself . . . send not to know for whom the bell tolls/it tolls for thee.

611 days until the next election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone


The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good

 
Alice Roosevelt Longworth

Alice Roosevelt Longworth

Alice Roosevelt Longworth (1884-1980), the daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) and wife of House Speaker Nicholas Longworth III (1869-1931), was long the doyen of Washington society. Being invited to one of her afternoon teas - long held in her Beaux Arts townhouse just above Dupont Circle at 2009 Massachusetts Avenue - was a sign of having made it - of having arrived. Alice was a witty, fearless, way-ahead-of-her-time grande dame long known for the quality of her tea and an unerring ability to speak her mind. She is perhaps best-remembered for having described two-time Republican presidential candidate Thomas E. Dewey as “The little man on the wedding cake,” and the slogan embroidered on the pillow adorning her settee, which served as a kind of throne: “If you haven’t anything nice to say about anyone, come sit next to me!”

“Lady Alice’s” bon mot could easily be the slogan of all seasoned political operatives; particularly those tasked with doing opposition research.  For those not in the know, opposition research is to bare-knuckle political campaigning as advance scouting is to professional baseball . . . an absolute must. The purpose of researching an opposing candidate is, of course, to have a collection of “facts and fables” with which to  tar one’s opponent(s) if and when it becomes necessary.  I have long been of a mind that opposition research should also be carried out with the same diligence on one’s own candidate; the theory being that If we can find out what our guy/gal has done, so can they.  It is one way of lessening the possibility of getting caught with one’s pants down - both literally and figuratively.  

Today, of course, with all the cyber search engines at one’s beck and call, opposition research is ever so much easier than in days of yore. The Internet contains far, far more anecdotal information than a week or two spent going over miles of microfiche files at the Library of Congress. Then too, it is also far, far easier to find and post tons of “facts” - and images - which simply are not true.  Case in point, a photo of former Texas Representative - and potential Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke posing before a camera, the words “vegan,” “feminist,” “atheist” and “queer” painted on his mostly nude body. (As if any of these should absolutely disqualify a person from running for the presidency.) Despite the fact that this “fact” is nuttier-than-nougat, the photo - and “story” behind it has already wound up in thousands upon thousands of cyber mailboxes, which means there are lots of people who are dead certain that Beto is a beast.

Of course, opposition research is nothing new.  As but one example, back in the presidential election of 1884 between New York Governor Grover Cleveland (D) and Maine Senator (and future Secretary of State) James G. Blaine (R), the candidates’ campaign slogans were based on what was worst and most immoral in their opponents’ lives and careers.  Blaine’s campaign slogan - based on the out-of- wedlock child Cleveland allegedly had fathered was “Ma, Ma, Where's my Pa, Gone to the White House, Ha, Ha, Ha!”  Likewise, Cleveland’s campaign slogan, “Blaine, Blaine, James G. Blaine, The Continental Liar from the State of Maine!” referred to Blaine's involvement in unethical business deals with the railroad industry and his behavior after they were exposed.  Although there were actual issues in the campaign, no one remembers what they were . . . short of the far more interesting matter of Cleveland’s promiscuity and Blaine’s perfidy.

Although political campaigns can - and do - engage and entertain (and enrage) the masses, they are also - ideally - meant to enlighten the electorate. Sadly, with the sweep and scope of 21st century opposition research, they have made the latter - the enlightenment part - next to impossible. And the product of the opposition research has been getting fiercer and more fatuous - not to mention earlier - with every passing cycle. The fact that there is already a negative hit job being done on Beto O’Rourke -even before he’s decided whether or not he’s going to run - is simply breathtaking in its mendacity. We already “know” many negatives about Senators Warren, Klobuchar, Harris and Booker to name but four. Please note that each of the links leads to a series of articles detailing their negatives far more than their proposals.  In the 50-plus years I’ve been engaged in politics and political campaigning, I’ve never seen the “fruits” of opposition research being published a full two years before an election. This is both a shame and a pity, and is an early indicator of just how filthy the 2020 cycle is going to be.    

Elizabeth Warren, as an example, has been going around the country talking up specific proposals she would like to see enacted - whether or not she is elected POTUS. One of these is a much-needed (and highly doable) program to make childcare and preschool affordable.  Although rarely talked about, childcare and preschool accessibility and affordability is of major importance.  The percentage of income that goes into these early forms of education is staggering.  Senator Warren’s plan has been well thought out, and if enacted, could have a positive effect on American society.  To date, there has been precious little conversation about her proposal.  From the right side of the aisle, predictably, it has been dismissed as ‘socialism,’ and ‘turning over the raising of children to the state.’  From the left side of the aisle, one hears complaints that the plan doesn’t go far enough — that it should involve free, direct public provision of child care, not subsidies to private provision. As the New York Times’ Paul Krugman has noted, “There’s certainly a case for a more expansive policy. There’s also no chance that it will happen anytime soon.” While the demurral is well intended, one must remember, that the perfect can be the enemy of the good.   In other words, rejecting going on a one-mile jog because a 2 mile jog would provide more needed exercise is likely to keep people from jogging at all.

Interestingly, like Senator Warren in 2019, Hillary Clinton had a serious plan back in 2016, but the news media was too busy obsessing over emails to pay attention. Most of what we read, hear or see about Senator Warren’s nascent campaign deals with whether or not she has so much as a single drop of Native American blood or how much she’s worth, rather than what she’s proposing to do as president.  In other words, opposition research has “proven” that she’s not perfect.

We’ve arrived at a point in American political history that most of what we know about presidential (or congressional or state legislative) candidates is that they are not perfect; that they are far too human to be worthy of our support, let alone our vote. Stated so baldly, you know it’s trash; we should be seeking and supporting people who are smart, thoughtful, experienced in the fine arts of governance, leadership and diplomacy; people who are both willing and able to listen and learn; candidates who tend to surround themselves with advisers who are even smarter, more thoughtful, and more experienced than they are.

By demanding or expecting the perfect, we are making it virtually impossible for the good to ever succeed.

Or, in the words of “Princess” Alice’s father, the nation’s 25th president, “Look Toward the stars but keep your feet firmly on the ground.” 

618 days to go until the next presidential election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

Politics - Like Acting and Aging - Ain't For Sissies

Reps. Ocasio-Cortez, Omar and Tlaib

Reps. Ocasio-Cortez, Omar and Tlaib

There is an old Hollywood axiom which states “. . . even more than talent, charisma or looks, the prime ingredient in becoming a star is the ability to accept rejection.” To a great extent the same axiom can be applied to both politics and writing. One week you’re up and finding favor; the next you’re down and being accused of callowness, insensitivity and yes, even treachery. In contemporary politics, once one has gone off the rhetorical rails, the opposition frequently - and gleefully - turns that person (or people) into the face of an entire political party. And those who, for whatever reason - fail to launch a twenty kiloton broadside against the political miscreants - are likewise accused of being in league with - and for all intents and purposes -agreeing with them.

Take the case of the three most widely publicized members of the newly-elected 116th Congress: Democratic Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY), Rashida Tlaib (MI) and the Somali-born Ilhan Omar (MN). Without question, they are young, relatively inexperienced and have an awful lot to learn about the world - despite the fact that all three managed to get themselves elected to Congress . . . no mean feat. As a result of their perceived “differentness,” – and many of the things they have both said and proposed -  the three have garnered far, far more publicity than the rest of their large freshman class, made up of 59 Democrats and 29 Republicans. Besides the fact that both Tlaib and Omar are practicing Muslims (Tlaib wears a hijab) and the 29-year old Ocasio-Cortez is a self-proclaimed Socialist, the 3 have also made statements both to the press and via social media regarding Israel which are at odds with the majority of Democrats and virtually all Republicans. All three support the BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanction) movement and have made comments which many take as being anti-Semitic.

About a week ago, Rep. Omar tweeted that American politicians’ unequivocal support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins” ($100.00 bills). This comment drew an immediate condemnatory rebuke from Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the entire Democratic leadership. Within hours of her tweet, the Speaker and the leadership issued a joint statement calling Omar’s “use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters” deeply offensive and insisted on an apology. In response, Omar said her intention was never to offend “my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole. . . . This is why I unequivocally apologize.” Many Democratic members have urged holding a House vote on a ceremonial resolution condemning anti-Semitism. As of yesterday, there were no concrete plans to consider one. For his part, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy refused to believe Rep. Omar’s apology. The president, who rejected her apology, went even further calling for her resignation from Congress.  “Anti-Semitism has no place in the Congress . . . she is terrible” the president said during a Cabinet meeting.  Rep. Omar quickly fired back “You have trafficked in hate your whole life—against Jews, Muslims, Indigenous, immigrants, black people and more. I learned from people impacted by my words. When will you?"

Personally, I received an email from a longtime reader two days ago who angrily (and sadly) wanted to know why I never condemn “anti-Semitic Democrats,” write about the BDS movement, or have condemned Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib and Omar. Actually, I started writing about the noxious anti-Israel BDS campaign nearly 3 years ago in a blog entitled While BDS Is NOT a Gastric Condition, It IS a Bloody Pain in the Rear. And I have been crystal-clear about my absolute revulsion when it comes to the hatred of Jews. However, many have a far broader understanding of what constitutes anti-Semitism. They tend to view those who favor a two-state solution (myself included), are against expanding settlements on the West Bank (again, myself included) or are highly critical of the Netanyahu administration (שוב, אני עצמי) as being anti Zionist at least, anti-Semitic at worst.  Believe me; I have been called both an “anti-Semite” and a “self-hating Jew” on more occasions than I care to count. It’s at times like these that instead of taking a stiff drink, I look up on the wall where proudly hangs my now 40-year old  סמיכ לרבנות  - rabbinic ordination.  

Without question, Reps. Ocasio-Cortez, Omar and Tlaib are permitted to speak their minds; that’s what free speech is all about. Then too, those who oppose what they say and believe via their speeches, tweets and YouTubes have every right to push back and express their extreme revulsion. Many of the newest Democratic members of Congress come from a different generation . . . born after Vietnam, Watergate and the Iranian Revolution. Many of them have different worldviews and expectations from their elders. In short, they have an awful lot to learn. If they wish to have an impact on Congress and the future of America, they will have to take counsel from a far broader spectrum than they have  up to this point. But at the same time, there are, among the many, many new members of Congress, a larger number of combat veterans than we have seen in decades. They too bring a new face to Congress.

Republicans are already hard at work transforming Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib and Omar into the new face of the Democratic Party. In a recent piece in the Washington Post, journalist Sheryl Gay Stolberg noted: In the 116th Congress, if you’re a Democrat, you’re either a socialist, a baby killer or an anti-Semite. That, at least, is what Republicans want voters to think, as they seek to demonize Democrats well in advance of the 2020 elections by painting them as left-wing crazies who will destroy the American economy, murder newborn babies and turn a blind eye to bigotry against Jews.  Although what Republican strategists are attempting to do is far from the truth, it is nothing new.   Remember,  politics, like acting and aging, ain’t for sissies.   “So why don’t Democrats give ‘em a taste of their own poison and make Reps. Steve King and Louis Gohmert - along with the likes of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and presidential adviser Stephen Miller into the face of the G.O.P?  Why not tag them with being pro-white nationalists, racists, and anti-immigration autocrats whose major constituency is under-educated white Christian men?  It is likely because Democrats just aren’t as skilled as their Republican counterparts when it comes to blowing dog whistles or bare-knuckle brawling.  

Unquestionably, anti-Semitism - which has never been eliminated - is once again on the rise - in America, Europe, the Middle East and South America. Just yesterday, seven British parliamentarians quit the Labour Party over the European Union and anti-Semitism- both being largely attributable to party leader Jeremy Corbyn, a longtime supporter of the Palestinians.  In many parts of the world, anti-Semitism is the “gift that keeps on giving” - a handy ism which keeps governments and businesses from being blamed for social, educational and financial inequality.  And although the hatred of Jews and Israel is not nearly so virulent in the United States as in other parts of the world, it is fast becoming a meme for the misbegotten - a trope for Trumpsters . . .

To paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt: “He who would engage in politics must first develop the hide of a rhinoceros.”

623 days until the next presidential election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

Challenging Surrealism One Signature At a Time

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This coming Thursday is Valentine’s Day: 24-hours devoted to romantic love, the giving of roses and chocolates. And oh yes, a lot of commercial huckstering. Historically, and most ironically, Valentine’s Day has roots in Christian martyrdom. It also has links to massacres: the notorious St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929 easily comes to mind. Although the historic link between passion and martyrdom may be difficult to limn, it does have a place in modern times. In modern times, St. Valentine’s Day is associated with the city of Chicago and the names Capone, Moran and O’Banion (that’s the 1929 “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” at the SMC Cartage Co. garage), and the 2018 mass murder at the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in which 17 students and staff members were gunned down, and an additional 17 injured by one person armed with an AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle and multiple magazines.

In the year since this utterly horrific event took place, the world has changed - not only for the students, faculty and families of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas (MSD) but for anyone and everyone who cares about gun violence in America. Survivors like David Hogg, Cameron Kasky and Emma Gonzalez have become leaders of a national movement called “March For Our Lives,” spoken at Harvard and helped galvanize a nation. They have also been accused of being homosexuals, paid actors and stooges for “gun-hating ultra-leftists.” Throughout it all, they have put their collective trauma to good use, often acting with greater energy, reason and maturity than those who insist that arming teachers and administrators is the answer . . . not gun safety measures. Less than a month after the MSD massacre, the Florida Legislature did pass a bill which raised the minimum age to buy rifles and shotguns to 21; extended a three-day waiting period for handgun purchases to include long guns, and banned bump stocks that transform guns into automatic weapons.

While many applauded this action on the part of the historically “whatever the National Rifle Association (NR) wants is fine with us” state legislature, some thought even this went too far. This crowd fears that any legislation is but a first step toward gutting the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms; that soon, there will come a knock on the door and the total confiscation of all weapons. On the other side of the gun safety issue, there have been calls to ban assault-style weapons - a law did exist in the United States from 1994-2004. Depending on whose statistics one accepts, the decade in which the ban was in place was either successful in lessening mass shootings or made virtually no difference. Ever since 2004 - when the law was cancelled - there have been renewed calls for a new weapons ban . . . one without a time limit. These calls have come, most understandably shortly after mass murders like the ones at Sandy Hook, Orlando, Las Vegas, Parkland and now Pittsburgh.

Polls on the issue of banning assault-style weapons are inconclusive. While NPR reports that after Parkland, nearly three-quarters of those polled favored such a ban, U.S. News cited a Gallup poll which claimed that a majority were against such a ban. People are frustrated, angry and feeling powerless to affect change. It has long been my belief that when people find they are fighting a losing cause against the legislature, it’s time to go back to the basics . . . changing the Constitution. As near impossible as this is on a federal level (our Constitution has been amended a mere 27 times, with 10 of those amendments being enacted on the same day [December 15, 1791] and 1 amendment [the 21st] being enacted to repeal another [18]). However, it is actually doable on a state level. How is this possible? Well, in the case of state constitutions, petitions can replace politicians.

Here in Florida, parents, students, teachers, everyday citizens and like-minded politicians have been beating the bushes, getting signatures on petitions which, if successful, will place a new constitutional amendment on the 2020 ballot. In brief, the amendment would prohibit possession of assault weapons, defined as semi-automatic rifles and shotguns capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition at once, either in a fixed or detachable magazine, or any other ammunition-feeding device. Possession of handguns is not prohibited. The petition also says that military and law enforcement personnel are exempt in their official duties, and exempts and requires registration of assault weapons lawfully possessed prior to this provision’s effective date and creates criminal penalties for violations.

In order to get on the 2020 ballot it will require 776,200 signed and certified petitions by the end of 2019. Organizers plan on gathering a minimum of 1.1 million petitions in case some signatures don’t match those on 2016 ballots and are tossed out by the various county supervisor of elections offices. So far, nearly 90,000 petitions have been signed and are awaiting delivery to the various supervisors’ offices.

The pro-gun, anti any kind of gun safety legislation crowd is taking this petition drive quite seriously. Marion Hammer, the Florida lobbyist for the NRA said of the proposed law: This petition seeks to ban practically every rifle and shotgun in America today with the exception of single-shot bolt action rifles or single-shot shotguns by calling them assault weapons. It is a blatant attempt to fool Floridians by sucking them into a deception that would effectively ban most hunting, target shooting, and significant home defense as well.

To my way of thinking, this is a blatant misstatement of the petition’s intent, and falls back on NRA surrealism . . . such as The only thing which will stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun and Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.

This kind of surrealism must be challenged. For anyone who wishes to sign the petition, go to Ban Assault Weapons NOW (BAWN); then click and download the link that says “petition” near the upper right-hand corner. If you’re not a Florida resident, you can also help by going to the and clicking “Donate.” Running a state-wide petition drive does take money . . .

Just remember this: politicians and PACS cannot kill dreams, if only the populace will sign petitions!

630 days until the next election . . .

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

Baby It's Been Cold Outside . . . and Inside Too

                                       Walking Across Lake Michigan

                                       Walking Across Lake Michigan

Less than a week ago, parts of the United States registered temperatures (including windchill) of minus 60˚ - even colder than Antarctica. And thanks to the meteorologists and climatologists standing and explaining in front of their computerized screens, we learned a new term: polar vortex. As explained by AccuWeather.com Senior Meteorologist Bernie Rayno:

A polar vortex is a large pocket of very cold air, typically the coldest air in the Northern Hemisphere, which sits over the polar region during the winter season. The frigid air can find its way into the United States when the polar vortex is pushed farther south, occasionally reaching southern Canada and the northern Plains, Midwest and northeastern portions of the United States. The vortex is capable of delivering subzero temperatures to the United States and Canada for several days at a time.

And by the way, the polar vortex and inhumanly sub-arctic temperatures have a lot to do with climate change, aka Global Warming. But leave it to ‘45, Rush Limbaugh, the Washington Times and billionaires everywhere to proclaim that last week’s weather event proves that there is no such thing. As our science-challenged POTUS sarcastically Tweeted:

In the beautiful Midwest, windchill temperatures are reaching minus 60 degrees, the coldest ever recorded. In coming days, expected to get even colder. People can’t last outside even for minutes. What the hell is going on with Global Waming [sic]? Please come back fast, we need you!

By this point in time, it should come as no surprise that ‘45, his temporary advisers and a majority of Republicans on Capitol Hill refuse to publicly admit that scientists have any idea what they’re talking about when it comes to climate change. To do so might lose them the support of deep-pocketed contributors who place the Bible above science and wealth above fact.

Of course the avoidance and disregard for provable fact is built into the Trumpian genome. Case in point: The president’s recent lashing out at the government’s most senior intelligence leaders. Testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee, leaders of the various intelligence agencies - among others, CIA Director Gina Haspel, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray and former Senator Dan Coats, now the president’s hand-picked Director of National Intelligence - testified that:

  • Iran, while still a global menace, is complying with an international agreement designed to prevent the country from acquiring nuclear weapons.

  • The Islamic State was degraded but not defeated, as the president has claimed.

  • It is highly doubtful that North Korea will ever give up all of its nuclear weapons, a sobering assessment ahead of next month’s planned summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

  • China and Russia are working together to challenge U.S. leadership in the world, undermine democratic governments and gain military and technological superiority over the United States.

Interestingly, none of the officials said there is a security crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, where Trump has considered declaring a national emergency so that he can build a wall. Coats noted that high crime rates and a weak job market are likely to spur migrants from Central America to cross into the United States. But he also sounded optimistic that Mexico will cooperate with the Trump administration to address violence and the flow of illegal drugs, problems that Trump has said Mexico isn’t addressing sufficiently.

And yet, despite a welter of facts carefully drawn from the best spies in the business, the president angrily denied their assessment of what the most serious challenges facing the United States are. In a frosty, angry Tweet, ‘45 pushed back on their intelligence assessment, stating: The Intelligence people seem to be extremely passive and naive when it comes to the dangers of Iran. They are wrong! When I became President Iran was making trouble all over the Middle East, and beyond. Since ending the terrible Iran Nuclear Deal, they are MUCH different, but.... a source of potential danger and conflict. They are testing Rockets (last week) and more, and are coming very close to the edge. There [sic] economy is now crashing, which is the only thing holding them back. Be careful of Iran. Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!

As with the welter of scientific fact surrounding climate change which ‘45 summarily rejects, so too has he spurned his intelligence chiefs’ assessment of the international dangers and challenges facing the United States. Indeed, when facts - no matter how well vetted - go against his personal understanding of how the world works, facts are left by the side of the road. For an uneducated child, it is perhaps understandable. When one is in their mid-70’s and President of the United States, it is both chilling and fraught with danger.

In just a few hours, ‘45 will deliver his second State of the Union Address. One can only wonder what he will say when he stops reading from the teleprompter and begins speaking off the top of his head. Will he at that point be speaking to the nation . . . or his beloved base? Will any of the dozens of pressures attaching themselves to his daily life - like the Mueller investigation, the new inquiry into potential crimes committed by his inaugural committee, his waning numbers, the very real possibility of being impeached - will any of these become sub- or unconscious fodder for his off-the-cuff remarks? And what of the politically dexterous woman in his rear view mirror . . . Madam Speaker? She will likely have the most difficult job of the night; keeping a straight face while Hell freezes over.

637 days until the next presidential election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone














Getting Stoned

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Milburn Stone . . . Old “Doc Adams”

Milburn Stone . . . Old “Doc Adams”

I swear by all that is holy that the next person who asks me - whether seriously, sarcastically or facetiously - whether I am related to Roger Stone is going to get an earful - if not a punch in the nose. Outside of my mother Alice, late father Henry and sister Erica (Riki) I am not blood-related to anyone bearing the family name Stone. In matter of fact, Stone is a made-up name. The four of us all got “legally Stoned” in front of a superior court judge at the Los Angeles City Hall on Tuesday, October 9, 1956. So far as I know, my father had been using the name from the moment he arrived in Hollywood back in the mid-1930’s. On that long-gone October morning, we entered the courtroom bearing the name “Schimberg,” and exited a short time later legally wearing our new last name. Ironically, on that day, the book sitting atop the New York Times bestseller list, Men to Match My Mountains, was written by none other than Irving Stone (neé Tenenbaum). Returning home from court, I was elated when it dawned on me that I was now “related” to one of my favorite people on television: Gunsmoke’s “Doc Adams,” portrayed by none other than actor Milburn Stone, who lived just up the block from us and was one of our movie-industry neighbors to whom I proudly delivered newspapers 5 days a week.

Over the years, I have been proud to carry the same last name as Cy Young Award-winning pitcher Steve Stone, pint-sized movie tough-guy George E. Stone (neé Gershom Lichtenstein), Andy Hardy’s father “Judge Hardy” played by Lewis Stone, Charles Stone, who for years on end broadcast the morning stock market report “from the offices of E.F. Hutton and Company“ on radio station KMPC, and most importantly, the brilliantly erudite journalist I.F. Stone (Isidor Feinstein) in whose honor this blog has long been named.

But Roger Stone? Forget it! Had any of the “legally Stoned” members of our tiny family found that we were related to this malevolent political trickster from Hell, we would have changed our name back to Schimberg in a heartbeat! (BTW: Late in life my father, Henry, decided to do a name search, and discovered that the CEO of Coca Cola was also named Henry Schimberg. He contacted the gent in Atlanta, only to find that alas, he was not related in any way, shape or form.)

To those who work in the political world, Roger Stone (ימח שמו) has long been what my father, ever the gentleman, would have called “an acquired taste.” Of course, few people in the political world have ever truly acquired that taste. For this Stone has, ever since the days of Richard Nixon (a tattoo of whom adorns Stone’s scapular area), CREEP (the “Committee to Reelect the President”) and dozens of elections throughout the years, been a constant source of embarrassment; an operative who has long played tag with immorality, illegality and just plain bad taste.

In 1972, the then 19-year old Stone - in what was perhaps his first dirty trick, faked a contribution from the Young Socialist Alliance to California Congressman Pete McCloskey, a liberal Republican who in 1972 was mounting a challenge to Nixon in the New Hampshire primary. After delivering the $135 in cash and receiving a receipt, Stone then drafted an anonymous letter to the conservative Manchester Union Leader with a photocopy of the receipt to discredit McCloskey. This was merely the beginning. Over the years, Stone has been an adviser - and dirty trickster - for Republicans ranging Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole, Lee Atwater and George W. Bush and against Democrats ranging from Al Gore and disgraced New York Governor Elliot Spitzer to HIllary Clinton. Partnering with Paul Manafort, Stone formed a lobbying consort, representing the interests of such unsavory despots as Zaire’s Mobuto Sese Seko, Angola’s unita rebels, and Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos. Politically a Libertarian while personally a libertine, Roger Stone has been the bane of several generations of political cognoscenti.

Niixon's the One.jpg

Nothing makes the underlying collective differences between Republicans and Democrats clearer than its best-known tricksters. For the Republicans, it has long been Stone, whose schemes, plots and ploys have been mean-spirited and reputation destroying - the work of a border-line personality For the Democrats, their best-known and most beloved trickster was the late Dick Tuck, who passed away in June of last year at age 94. Unlike Stone, who has ice water in his veins, Tuck was a merry prankster-at-large who bedeviled Barry M. Goldwater, Richard M. Nixon and other Republicans with bad-news fortune cookies, a comely spy, a treacherous little old lady and other campaign-trail tomfoolery. His New York Times obituarist described him as “a king gremlin of political shenanigans.” Wherever and whenever Tuck and his pixilated operatives appeared, strange things happened: Trains made unscheduled stops. Placards in foreign languages bore miscreant messages. At Republican rallies, bands struck up Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Happy Days Are Here Again.”

Tuck performed his political tricks with a twinkle in the eye, not a shiv in his pocket. Without question, his best-known, most endearing dido was when he hired late-term pregnant women to show up at Nixon rallies carrying signs and buttons reading "Nixon's the One." Where Stone is a bespoke plutocrat who carries a non-functioning moral compass, Dick Tuck was a rumpled leprechaun carrying a far from lethal whoopee cushion.

Roger Stone’s arrest on charges of obstruction, witness tampering and making false statements (to which he has already pleaded not guilty) could conceivably be the final nail in ‘45’s coffin. The indictment prepared by the Mueller investigation said that Trump campaign officials dispatched Mr. Stone to make contact with WikiLeaks during the summer of 2016, when the website was releasing a trove of damaging information about Hillary Clinton that had been stolen by Russian intelligence operatives . This is truly serious stuff. And unlike similar situations with close Trump associates like Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen, ‘45 cannot claim to have had only fleeting, insignificant interactions with Roger Stone; the 2 have been close for nearly 40 years.

Moreover, Stone’s legal team - Robert Bushel, Grant Smith (son of former Rep. Larry Smith) and Kendall Coffee - all are connected to the law firm Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler, which was dissolved after Ponzi scammer Scott Rothstein was sent to jail for 50 years. Perfect. 

As proud as I have long been to be related to three Stones - Alice, Henry and Erica - I now find myself wishing that instead of getting Stoned oh so many years ago, we had instead kept the original family name. I’ll swap Coca Cola for Trump’s trickster every day of the week . . . and 5,000 times on Sunday.

Copyright ©2019 Kurt F. Stone

Travels in Time (?)

Before beginning this week’s piece, permit me to urge you to click this link and listen; what you will hear is meant to set an emotive tone for what you are about to read . . .

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Of President Trump’s 5 children, the two least-known, least photographed are 25-year old Tiffany (currently a law student at Georgetown University) and 12-year old Barron, who is a 6th grader at Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School in Potomac, Maryland.

Eerily, in 1889 - fully 130 years before Barron (note the double “r” in his name) was born - the now long-forgotten Victorian-era lawyer, diplomat and author Ingersoll Lockwood (1841-1918) published the first in a series of children’s adventure novels starring a character named Baron (with one “r'“)Trump. The first of these novels was entitled The Travels and Adventures of Little Baron Trump and His Wonderful Dog Bulger . This novel, and its sequel, Baron Trump’s Marvelous Underground Adventure (1893) were quickly forgotten as was a later satirical novella by Lockwood entitled 1900: Or the Last President. This, the last of Lockwood’s works, begins on a Tuesday in November, “a terrible night for the great city of New York.” Anarchists and socialists have laid siege to a hotel on Fifth Avenue, screaming, “death to the rich man.”

What’s really quite remarkable about Ingersoll Lockwood’s otherwise gone-and-ought-to-be-forgotten books (beyond naming his main character “Baron Trump”) is the eerie prescience one finds within their pages. Indeed, it seems almost as if the writer knew the latter-day Trumps and were made aware of the state of uncivil society in the early 21st century. Then again, currently living in an age of Jonesian (as in Alex) conspiracy theories as we do, perhaps Lockwood at one time had played host to a visitor from a time traveler named Trump.

When it comes to great Victorian-era children’s adventure-cum-fantasy literature, Lockwood’s works are as forgotten as the films of John Bunny and Flora Finch. Twain’s A Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and any of the Baum Wizard of Oz fantasies are still read. By comparison, I think we can safely say that not a single Lockwood novel was ever made into a motion picture . . . a sort of latter-day imprimatur. Nevertheless, there’s still something utterly fascinating and prescient about the Baron Trump novels or 1900 subtitled Or the Last President.

The Last President.jpg

With breathtaking foreknowledge (?), Ingersoll Lockwood presents Baron Trump as continually talking about his gigantic brain. While meeting with the Russian government, he talks about his glorious gray matter. As foreign women fall for him, he mentions his superior intelligence before casting them off. He once sued his tutors, alleging that they owed him money for everything he had taught them. He won. Born Wilhelm Heinrich Sebastian Von Troomp - but better known as “Little Baron Trump” - he travels both around and under the globe with his dog Bulger, meeting residents of as-of-yet undiscovered lands before arriving back home at Castle Trump. Lockwood’s Trump is precocious, restless, and prone to get in trouble, with a brain so big that his head has grown to twice the normal size. Mind you, these novels were a): written for children, and b): were all published in the Victorian era.

What did Lockwood know? Was this Trump a time traveler? Just kidding.

Lockwood’s novella 1900: Or, the Last President, is steeped in paranoia over the gold standard and fears about what would happen to a country still torn apart by civil war. If anything, Lockwood’s works are disquieting because their mood of anxiety and reprisal for old battles feels genuinely familiar. In this novel, the main character carries the title “Don,” and owns a hotel on whose grounds Trump Towers currently stands. Lockwood’s satire - meant to be read and digested by literate children - chastises the rise of socialism and populism, inferring their fictional rise here as disastrous and leading to chaos. And yet, for a man of his time, Lockwood was rather broadminded. Despite being an ardent Catholic himself, he had little use for moralists, and had a passionate belief in the power of noblesse oblige - namely, “with wealth and power comes much responsibility for those who possess neither.”

Without question, there are those who, once becoming turned on to Lockwood’s novels, will come up with some sort of “time traveler’s conspiracy” and spread the word that Ingersoll Lockwood was actually engaged in giving ’45 both marching orders and a world view more than a century ago. This, of course, is abject twaddle. In reality, what it is is an eerie and unpredictable view of the future from the past . . . and a pleasant afternoon’s read to boot.

658 days until the next election.

Copyright©20019 Kurt F. Stone

The Losers Hall of Shame

Okay all you trivia mavens: let’s see if you can figure out what the following all have in common:

1.     Former New York Met pitcher Anthony Young (1966-2017);

Met Pitcher Anthony Young

Met Pitcher Anthony Young

2.     John “The Engineer” Turmel (1951- );

3.     Richard Burton (1925-1983) and Peter O’Toole (1932-2013);

4.     The Prairie View A&M Panthers football team;

5.     The Reverend Glynn (Scott) Wolfe (1908-1997);

6.     Lehman Brothers (1850-2008) and

7.     Donald J. Trump (1946 - )

Stymied? Well, they are all members of the “Losers’ Hall of Shame.” First, a brief visit with 6 of the first 7:

  • Pitcher Anthony Young holds the all-time Major League Baseball record for the greatest number of games lost in a row: precisely 29 between April 14, 1992 and May 1, 1994. Despite retiring with a respectable career era of 3.89, his won-loss record was a horrific 15-48 . . . which works out to a winning percentage of just .238.

  • The Prairie View A&M football team holds the all-time NCAA record for most consecutive losses: 80 games between 1989 an 1998

  • According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Canadian John “the Engineer” Turmel holds the all-time record for both the most elections contested, and for the most elections lost, having contested 96 and losing 95. The only election he did not lose was cancelled.

  • Actors Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole, who were among the few major movie stars who were also great actors, hold the record for having received the greatest number of Academy Awards Best Actor nominations (7) without ever winning

  • The Reverend Glynn “Scott” Wolfe holds the world’s record for the greatest number of marriages and divorces: 29. His longest marriage lasted 11 years; his briefest a mere 19 days. At his death in 1997, none of his surviving ex-wives and but one of his estimated 40 children attended his funeral.

  • Lehman Brothers, which came into existence in 1850, holds the all time record for the largest bankruptcy in American business history: approximately $691 billion, following the 2008 financial meltdown.

  • · President Donald J. Trump: as America’s 45th president, he ordered this country’s longest governmental shutdown. As of today, January 13, 2019, that shutdown has lasted more than 3 weeks . . . with no end in sight.

You can make book on Anthony Young, Richard Burton, Peter O’Toole and the rest of the losers not crowing over their missteps. Young probably felt far better over his career ERA than his all-time record for ineptitude. So too did Burton and O’Toole likely find far greater pride and solace in their truly great film roles than for all those times they failed to win an Oscar.

‘45, on the other hand, will likely take eternal, boastful pride in holding the record for creating and orchestrating the longest governmental shutdown in all American history. Back in mid-December of last year, the president told then-Speaker elect Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer “I am proud to shut down the government for border security . . . I will take the mantle . . . . I will be the one to shut it down.” Of course, by the time the shutdown had lasted a mere 7 days, he was placing blame squarely on the shoulders of “Cryin’ Chuck and Nancy” and all the Democrats in Congress.

The fist governmental shutdown did not occur until the republic was more than 200 years old. The year was 1976, That first partial shutdown came under President Gerald Ford when he vetoed a spending bill amid a dispute over the budget for the Department of Health, Education & Welfare - a federal department which no longer exists under that name. A whole slew of shutdowns would ensue over the next two decades. There were half a dozen during Jimmy Carter's four years in office, and eight between 1981 and 1989 during Ronald Reagan's administration. During the Clinton era, there was a major shutdown caused by then-House Speaker Newt Ginrgrich’s “Contract With America.” That shutdown lasted a mere 5 days followed by a 21-day impasse which stood until just the other day as the longest government shutdown ever.

And now we have a new record . . . which our current president owns with pride but nonetheless blames on everybody but himself. He is quickly becoming the Anthony Young or John “The Engineer” Turmel of American history. His spot in the “Losers Hall of Shame” is assured.

But ‘45 seems far, far more concerned about getting funding for his wall on our Southern border than anything else. Lacking an ounce of empathy or understanding for the working stiff (which our most blue-blooded presidents – the Roosevelts - did possess), he is more than willing to upend lives, families and American safety in order to get what he wants. And his suggestions as to what people who live paycheck-to-paycheck should do? “Have a garage sale — clean out your attic, basements, and closets at the same time,” sell “unwanted, larger ticket items through the newspaper or online . . . watch children, walk pets, or house-sit.“ How’s that for empathy?

Besides the president’s all but total lack of understanding of how government works, there is this fact: unlike virtually every other shutdown over the past 4 decades, this POTUS is using said shutdown as a partisan political tool - as a way of keeping his most manic political supporters on his side. He is far more concerned with the 2020 presidential election and hearing the riotous cheers of his shrinking base than he is with the lives and families of those who are on the federal payroll. He simply cannot understand how anyone can go without a paycheck or two . . . or three or four. Hey, they can just go to their parents for a handout or get another part time job in order to tide them over until they get their back pay. Never mind that airline travel is being endangered, that the purity of the food we eat is no longer being investigated, or that medical research projects upon which our very lives depend are going without funding dollars. What’s far, far more important to ‘45 is getting his $5.7 billion for a border wall which cannot - and will not - keep illicit drugs or murderous thugs out of the country.

Will the president’s utter hard-hardheartedness come back to haunt (and ultimately destroy) both him and the party he owns in the 2020 election? Only those with a fully functional crystal ball can possibly know the answer. It would seem, however, that if this issue is brought up again and again by whomsoever the next Democratic nominee (Sherrod Brown? Kamala Harris? Elizabeth Warren? Amy Klobuchar? Joe Biden? Bernie Sanders? Adam Schiff?) may be, it will cause one whole hell of a lot of American voters to turn against ‘45 and the party of close-mouthed cowards he leads.

Let ‘45 be elected to the Losers Hall of Shame instead of a second term in the White House. Goodness knows, it will wreak far less damage upon the men, women and children of this country, as well as our traditional allies around the world.

666 days to go until the next general election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

The Worst-Rated Movie of All Time

King Cyrus the Great

King Cyrus the Great

In addition to writing books and essays about politics, I have spent more than 20 years worth of Wednesdays teaching courses at Florida International University which go by the name All Politics All the Time: The Interior Game of Chess.” Mondays and Thursdays have long been my days for medical ethics teleconferences, which are deeply challenging and give one the sense that perhaps - just perhaps - they are making a bit of a difference in the world. Then, for sheer pleasure, there’s Monday and Thursday nights. For more than 20 years, I have taught film courses at both Florida Atlantic University’s Jupiter campus (Mondays) and at their main campus in Boca Raton (Thursdays). For me, these classes - and the movies I screen and discuss (mostly classic Hollywood “studio era” productions) - are expressions of what I refer to as my “genetic inheritance.” Let’s face it: I’m a proud “Hollywood Brat.”

At least once every trimester, I am asked what, in my opinion, are the “10 best films of all time.” (I always begin with Casablanca, Buster Keaton’s The General, and Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, and finish my list of personal favorites with Kurosawa’s Rashamon. Not too long ago, a student asked me what, according to critics and reviewers, were the worst films of all time. And so turning to the two standard sources of cinematic wisdom - the International Movie Data Base (IMDB) and Rotten Tomatoes, I did an afternoon’s research. According to IMDB the 3 lowest-rated films, coming in at morbidly anemic 2.0-2.1 (out of a possible 10) were:

  1. 1 .9: Disaster Movie (2008)

  2. 1.9: Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966) and,

  3. 2.0: Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2 (2004)

Strangely, despite being so terribly bad, all three films did reasonably well at the box office. I guess H.L. Mencken was correct when he wrote “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”

But wait: this just in! As of last October, there is a film which has scored a new, heretofore unimaginable rating of 1.6. And it seems only fitting that the subject matter of the worst film of all time should be the worst POTUS of all time. The film? The Trump Prophecy, directed by Stephan Schultze from a book by Mary Colbert, and starring such unknowns as Chris Nelson, Paulette Todd and and Don Brooks. The movie’s plot line can be summed up in five words: G-d sent ‘45 to be king. “Where in the hell does such an absurd idea come from?” you may well ask. Well, believe it or not, it comes from a particular slice of Evangelical Christians whom we will choose to call “Christianists.” This meme (G-d sent ‘45 to be king - or in Trump’s own dreamy delusion “President for life”) has been a part of Christianist belief for nearly 8 years. According to Ms. Colbert’s book, in 2011, Mark Taylor, a former firefighter, had a blinding epiphany in which the Almighty told him that Donald Trump would be elected president in 2016. Opening his Bible, Taylor found himself looking at the 45th chapter of the book of Isaiah (chapter 45 . . . the 45th POTUS . . . get it?) This particular chapter deals with G-d’s anointing Cyrus to be the first King of Persia. Cyrus, for those who have forgotten their ancient history, was born in the sixth century B.C.E. and became the first emperor of Persia. Isaiah 45 celebrates Cyrus for freeing a population of Jews who were held captive in Babylon. For many, Cyrus - who was a secular Persian - became the model for a nonbeliever appointed by God as a vessel for the purposes of the faithful.

Before too long, Taylor’s epiphany began spreading within the evangelical community. The connection (and perceived similarities) between Cyrus and Trump began growing. Lance Wallnau, a prominent evangelical author and lecturer proclaimed “I believe the 45th president is meant to be an Isaiah 45 Cyrus,” who will “restore the crumbling walls that separate us from cultural collapse.” His website proclaims that Dr. Wallnau, through his “broadcasts and viral media influenced 3-5 million undecided evangelical voters” to cast ballots for Donald Trump in 2016. Of course, Wallnau isn’t the only one who has climbed aboard the “Trump is Cyrus” bandwagon. So too have Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council; Ralph Drollinger who leads weekly bible study groups at the White House attended by Mike Pence and members of the Cabinet; Libery University President Jerry Falwell, Jr., and Fox News’ “Judge” Jeanne Pirro.

At first (and second and even third) blush DJT would seem the absolute worst role model for devout evangelical Christians. After all, this is a man who has been married three times, has had affairs with porn stars (one of which while his 3rd wife was pregnant), is a world-class liar and is an irreligious, narcissistic egomaniac. How any religious Christian - let alone Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Shintoist or Jain can hold him in high regard is beyond the scope of reason. And yet, his political base is filled with a particular breed of evangelical who see him as the anointed of G-d.

What gives with these people? And what does it say about these peculiar folks who many refer to as “Christian Nationalists,” or “Dominionists,” though I prefer “Christianists.” In an op-ed which ran recently in the New York Times, writer Katherine Stewart noted that This isn’t the religious right we thought we knew. The Christian nationalist movement today is authoritarian, paranoid and patriarchal at its core. They aren’t fighting a culture war. They’re making a direct attack on democracy itself. They want it all. And in Mr. Trump, they have found a man who does not merely serve their cause, but also satisfies their craving for a certain kind of political leadership. These Christianists are potentially quite dangerous to democracy, tolerance and morality. They are to Christianity what Islamists are to Islam: corrupters of faith who have turned an ancient belief structure into a “divine” rationalization for autocracy, intolerance and bigotry.

One month prior to the recent midterm elections - in which the Democrats delivered a body blow to both ‘45 the GOP, a thousand theaters across the United States screened “The Trump Prophecy” . . . the worst-rated movie of all time. Produced by Liberty University (founded by the late Jerry Falwell) The Trump Prophecy sought to convince undecided evangelical voters that ‘45 and his minions are as pivotal to American history as was Cyrus to the Jews; just as Cyrus freed the Jews of Persia to return and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem, so has "‘45 moved the American Embassy to Jerusalem.

Trump+Cyrus.jpg

Even Israel has gotten into the act. Recently, an Israeli organization, the Mikdash (Hebrew for “Temple”) Educational Center, minted a commemorative “Temple Coin” depicting ‘45 and King Cyrus side by side, in honor of the POTUS’ decision to move the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Israeli P.M. Netanyahu (who like the American president is being hounded by an official investigation into possible crimes including bribery and personal enrichment) has heavily implied that ‘45 is Cyrus’ spiritual heir. To the Israeli P.M. and all the Christianists who have thoroughly reveled in The Trump Prophecy, the president is just like Cyrus: a man who is not Jewish and does not worship the God of Israel, but he is nevertheless portrayed in Isaiah as an instrument of God — an unwitting conduit through which God effects co’s (“his/her)” divine plan for history. Cyrus is, therefore, the archetype of the unlikely “vessel”: someone God has chosen for an important historical purpose, despite not looking like — or having the religious character of — an obvious man of God. It is but a two-hour movie away from making the connection between Cyrus and ‘45.

How very, very fitting that the worst-rated movie of all time should be about the worst president in the history of the republic.

And how utterly frightening.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

Robert Frost, Donald T., and the Abhorrence of Complexity

wall.jpg

First and foremost, Anna, Fred (that’s Fred Astaire Stone, our mixed-breed pooch) and I wish all of you a New Year of health, happiness and sanity. Unbelievably, this is the first time since February 1, 2005, when the then-named “Beating the Bushes” made its debut, that a week - let alone two - has gone by without a new essay. In comparison to “Joltin Joe Dimaggio’s 1941 streak of 56 straight games with a hit, our string of 724 weeks without missing an essay is bit of Okay. The reason(s) for missing two straight weeks are certainly not because of a lack of things to write about. Needless to say, between the sudden departures of White House Chief of Staff John Kelley and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis (the so-called '‘Adults in the Room”); the tanking of the Dow Jones; ‘45’s bizarre visit to Iraq where he swore up and down that he - and he alone - had initiated a 10% pay raise for members of the military; and a government shutdown which seems to be based on nothing more than utter puerility, there have been tons and tons of topics to write about. No, this respite has been caused by our packing and moving to a new home just up the road in Boca Raton, and Anna’s health, which, sorry to relate, has taken a decided turn for the worse. But she has urged me back into battle. And so, here we are once again, rhetorical brickbats at the ready.

Getting back to thinking and typing after this brief bi-weekly detour, I am struck by the absurdity of the federal government being partly shut down and held hostage over ‘45’s inane wall. Not only is it the height of useless stupidity; it has become the ultimate symbol for the man, his administration and his abhorrence of complexity. It also brings to mind the late, great poet Robert Frost and his second best-known work, Mending Wall. - the one which opens with the words Something there is that doesn’t love a wall . . . and ends with Good fences make good neighbors. On the surface, the connection between our 45th president and the first poet to grace a presidential inauguration with an original work, should be as “Clear as mirth,” in the words of another poet, the immortal Algernon Swinburne. Regrettably, the connection is far murkier, for Trump has never been a reader nor Frost a schemer.

It is highly unlikely that ‘45 has ever read - let alone had read to him - any Robert Frost. But if someone had - and that work was Mending Wall, one might presume that the “master builder” (with apologies to Ibsen) would have believed that the San Francisco-born, Lawrence, MA-raised poet was a kindred spirit. He undoubtedly would have believed that were the multi Pulitzer Prize-winning poet alive today, Robert Frost would be both a supreme and an enthusiastic backer of Trump’s border wall. After all, didn’t he write not once, but twice, that Good fences make good neighbors? (n.b. In 2010, Sarah Palin [remember her?] quoted this line in a post on Facebook, though with a bit of creative license ("Fences make for good neighbors."). This was meant to serve as a warning to a journalist who was moving in next door to Alaska's first family as part of the research for his book on the disastrous former vice presidential candidate. 

Truth to tell, Frost, like nearly 60% of the American public would be dead-set against a wall along America’s 2,000 mile long Southern border. For in his poem - which does begin with the words Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, is not about enemies, but ostensibly about two New Englanders setting out to repair the stone barrier which sits between their farms. In the poem, after one farmer states Good fences make good neighbors, the other says to himself:

I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
‘Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall, I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down . . .

To ‘45’s way of thinking, Good fences make secure, sovereign nations. It’s as simple as that . . . although he likely doesn’t really believe it in the first place; he’s just genuflecting at the feet of his financial backers and the herd of right-wing media bloviators he watches or listens to on an hourly basis.

One of the things which have always attracted me to Mending Wall is its surprising complexity. For although on its surface it easily understands and supports the necessity of walls in good repair, in reality, it supports precisely the opposite - open spaces which permit neighbors to communicate with one another. The narrator is openly skeptical about the efficacy of walls, complaining about the gaps "at spring mending-time," which appear even if "No one has seen them made or heard them made." Yet he isn't unwilling to join with his neighbor to "set the wall between us once again." He will do the work, even as he confides in us that it is all "just another outdoor game."

In the end, that which has caused ‘45 to shut down the government is at root, his utter abhorrence of complexity . . . those things which cause him to read and reflect, to ponder and propose, to listen to voices other than his own . . .

November 3, 2020 is a mere 672 days away.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

Every Scandal Needs a Name

Even the most amateur, armchair historian knows that American history is dotted and spotted with presidential scandals. Some have been more luridly entertaining than crucial; others far more politically critical than mere wheezes. The most entertaining have aged so poorly as to be no more than minuscule asterisk points in the nation’s political history. Others have been so utterly critical as to threaten the nation’s very future as a representative democracy. Among the former - the relatively entertaining - are President Andrew Jackson’s marriage to Rachel Donelson (1828) and President Grover Cleveland’s affair with a widow named Maria C. Halpin (1884).

The Whiskey Ring.jpg

The first involves Andrew Jackson (“Old Hickory”), the nation’s 7th president, who married one Rachel Donalson in 1791 - many, many years before he was elected president. Rachel had previously been married and believed that she was legally divorced. However, after marrying Jackson, Rachel found out this was not the case. Her first husband charged her with adultery. Jackson would have to wait until 1794 to legally marry Rachel. Even though this happened over 30 years previously, it was used against Jackson in the election of 1828. Jackson blamed Rachel's untimely death two months before he took office on these personal attacks against him and his wife. Years later, Jackson would also be the protagonist of one of the most notorious presidential meltdowns in history.

The second involves Grover Cleveland, the nation’s 24th POTUS. Cleveland, the Governor of New York, had to deal head on with a scandal while he was running for president in 1884. It was revealed that he had previously had an affair with a widow named Maria C. Halpin who had given birth to a son. She claimed that Cleveland was the father and named him Oscar Folsom Cleveland. Cleveland agreed to pay child support and then paid to put the child in an orphanage when Halpin was no longer fit to raise him. This issue was brought forth during his 1884 campaign and became a chant "Ma, Ma, where's my Pa? Gone to the White House, ha, ha, ha!" However, Cleveland was honest about the entire affair which helped rather than hurt him, and he won the election.

Then there are the critical scandals which tore at the fabric of American politics. The first was the 1872 Grant-era Credit Mobilier Scandal. When it was was found that a company called Credit Moblier was stealing from the Union Pacific Railroad, they tried to cover this up by selling stock in their company at a large discount to government officials and members of Congress, including President U.S. Grant’s Vice President Schuyler Colfax. When this was discovered, it hurt many reputations including that of the Vice President.

Also pertaining to General/President Grant was the so-called “Whiskey Ring Scandal. ” In 1875, it was revealed that many government employees were pocketing whiskey taxes. President Grant called for swift punishment but caused further scandal when he moved to protect his personal secretary, Orville E. Babcock, who had been implicated in the affair. Grant went so far as to appoint former Missouri Senator John B. Henderson as America’s first Special Prosecutor. In this position, Henderson came close to bringing down the entire Grant Administration. Grant would leave the White House in disgrace, a sick, financially bankrupt man who would become utterly dependent on Mark Twain and the firm Merrill Lynch (which provided him a sizable advance on his autobiography) to bring him out of financial peril. Grant died in 1885, about 8 years after leaving the White House. It would take decades before his reputation would begin undergoing to long, painful trek towards rehabilitation.

Nearly a half-century after the Whiskey Ring, the rapacious Harding administration became embroiled in a scandal named after a Wyoming oil reserve: Teapot Dome. This would turn out to be the worst of the many illegal activities occurring during the short-lived administration of Warren Gamliel Harding, generally accepted by historians as being one of the worst presidents in American history. (Included in the list of failure are the likes of Andrew Johnson, Herbert Hoover, Franklin Pierce, William Henry Harrison and James Buchanan.) In the Teapot Dome scandal, Albert Fall, Harding's Secretary of the Interior, sold the right to the oil reserves in Teapot Dome, Wyoming, and other locations in exchange for personal profit and cattle. He was eventually caught, convicted and sentenced to jail. “Teapot Dome” also included poker-playing politicians, illegal liquor sales, a murder-suicide, a womanizing president and a bagful of bribery cash delivered on the sly. Before the scandal reached the Oval Office, Harding had died. While the official cause of death was listed as myocardial infarction (heart attack), many believe Harding was poisoned by his wife Florence (known as “The Duchess”) so as to spare her husband’s already tarnished reputation.

Fifty tears after Teapot Dome, a new suffix entered our political vocabulary: “GATE.” This, of course, was due to the daedal (cleverly intricate) Nixon-era power grab named after a Washington, D.C. hotel: the Watergate. For those who are either too young or willfully forgetful, Watergate began with the June 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters, which led to an investigation that ultimately revealed multiple abuses of power by the Nixon administration. As the investigation into this and the break-in at Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office (Ellsberg had published the secret Pentagon Papers) developed, Richard Nixon and his advisors worked to cover-up the crimes. Then came the “Saturday Night Massacre.” In an unprecedented show of executive power, the president ordered Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus to fire Archibald Cox, a Harvard Law professor who was the special prosecutor. Both Richardson and Ruckelshaus refused Nixon’s order, and resigned their posts in protest. The role of attorney general then fell to Solicitor General Robert Bork, who reluctantly complied with Nixon’s request and dismissed Cox. Less than a half hour later, the White House dispatched FBI agents to close off the offices of the Special Prosecutor, Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General. This led to upwards of 50,000 people wiring both Congress and the White House, demanding that Nixon either be impeached or resign. Nixon, enough of a political realist to understand that he would like be impeached by Congress, resigned instead on August 9, 1974.

Over the next quarter century, there would be two additional scandals: Iran-Contra during Ronald Reagan’s second term in which Senior administration officials secretly facilitated the sale of arms to Iran, which was the subject of an arms embargo. The administration hoped to use the proceeds of the arms sale to fund the Contras in Nicaragua. Under terms of the Boland Amendment, further funding of the Contras by the government had been prohibited by Congress. After many hearings, President Reagan told the American people: A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that's true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not.

The other kerfuffle involved President Bill Clinton, who was actually impeached for lying about an extra-marital sexual encounter with a White House intern named Monica Lewinsky. The scandal is sometimes referred to as "Monicagate," "Lewinskygate," "Tailgate," "Sexgate," and "Zippergate."  The House approved two articles of impeachment against him: perjury and obstruction of justice. After a five-week trial, the Senate acquitted him, and fulfilled the rest of his second term. Despite having been impeached, Clinton successfully completed his second term; at the time he left the White House in January 2000, his national approval ratings were strong.

And now, nearly two decades after Monicagate, the nation finds itself waist-deep in the horrifically Byzantine sins of Donald Trump, his personal businesses, his family, his political entourage and a thousand-and-one other entities. To date, several of his closest associates have been tried, convicted and sentenced of crimes ranging from tax evasion to obstruction of justice. His business connections with the Russians and Saudis have been called into question, as have those of many members of his Cabinet, as the nation - and indeed, much of the world - anxiously awaits the final report of the (Robert) Mueller investigation. As a result of his “crisis-a-day” mentality and inability to get through 24 hours without Tweeting a fistful of lies, he finds his national approval rating to be the lowest of any president prior to his first mid-term election. And despite proclaiming that the 2018 midterms were a “tremendous success” because “we won the Senate” (conveniently forgetting that it was already controlled by the Republicans before the election), he now faces the prospect of a strongly Democratic House coming down with a lethal case of subpoena envy. The three main investigative committees in the House - Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform - will now be chaired by, respectively, Adam Schiff, Jerry Nadler and Elijah Cummings - three seasoned pros who can be trusted to undertake investigations without partisan predetermination. Just the thought of these three august gentlemen wielding gavels should give the president sleepless nights . . . that is, if he ever sleeps.

Every scandal in American history has, we have seen, a one- or two-word nickname that easily summarizes what the scandal was about. It is next to impossible to imagine what name or nickname history will give to all the malfeasance, misfeasance, misdoing, misconduct and downright misbehavior which has been coming out of this current White House. Perhaps just The Trump Administration?

Anyone got a suggestion? If you do, please share . . .

688 days until the next election,

Copyright© 2018 Kurt F. Stone

Of Mycoplasma Genitalium and Blue Whales

Mycoplasma genitalium

Mycoplasma genitalium

According to scientists, who readily admit that they will know more tomorrow than they did yesterday, the smallest living thing in the world is a bacterium called Mycoplasma genitalium. Considered to be an ultra micro-bacterium smaller than other small bacteria, it has a size ranging from 200 to no more than 300 nm. (“nm” stands for “nanometer.” A single nanometer is 1/1,000,000,000 of a meter (or one millionth of a millimeter), meaning that it is close to 1/1,000,000,000 of a yard). In other words, a single strand of Mycoplasma genitalium (which can cause one of the newest and most virulent of all sexually transmitted diseases) only becomes visible when placed under a powerful electron microscope. And when it is, it appears to be absolutely gigantic.

Balaenoptera musculus

Balaenoptera musculus

Now on the other hand, zoologists - who likewise are learning new things all the time - believe that the largest living thing in the world is a Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus) which can grow to 100 feet long and weigh in excess of 400,000 pounds - that’s 200 tons. Of course, it is next to impossible to weigh anything approaching 400,000 pounds; this is but an estimate based on weighing various parts of the creature once it has been harpooned (or beached), cut into parts and weighed. For more than a century, these maritime behemoths were hunted, captured and carved up to the point of extinction. Since the turn of this century, the hunting of Blue Whales has been made illegal. As of 2002, the IUCN (The International Union for Conservation of Nature) estimates that globally, there are currently somewhere between 10,000 and 25,000 Blue Whales left on the planet. But that number may be growing.

Whereas it is virtually impossible to see a Mycoplasma genitalium without the aid of an electron microscope (which then makes it appear to be as large as a T. Rex, it is impossible to miss a Balaenoptera musculus . . . if only one knows which seas they inhabit.

In any event, just contemplating the smallest and largest living creatures on the planet brings to mind a verse from the book of Psalms (104:24) which states:

מָֽה־רַבּ֬וּ מַֽעֲשֶׂ֨יךָ ׀ יְֽהוָ֗ה כֻּ֭לָּם בְּחָכְמָ֣ה עָשִׂ֑יתָ מָלְאָ֥ה הָ֝אָ֗רֶץ קִנְיָנֶֽךָ

Namely: “How great are Your works, O LORD! In wisdom You have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.”

Rep.-elect Ilhan Omar

Rep.-elect Ilhan Omar

I can hear readers asking “What in the world does all this have to do with a political blog?” Well, let me remind you that the blog’s subtitle is “Politics AND A WHOLE LOT MORE.” In this case, this initial discussion of the smallest and largest living things on earth has quite a bit to do with politics. Case in point: the recent media attack on newly-elected Representative Ilhan Omar, (D-Minn.), one of two Muslim women (the other being Michigan Democrat Rashida Tlaib) elected to the 116th Congress. Rep-elect Omar has made it clear that she will continue wearing her hijab (Muslim head covering) while serving in Congress. (Rep.-elect Omar was born in Somalia; Rep.-elect Tlaib in Detroit, the child of Palestinian parents. Tlaib, who supports a two-state solution [which even Israeli P.M. Netanyahu supports), does not wear a hijab.)

Immediately upon announcing that she would continue wearing a hijab, Republicans and other staunch supporters of Israel began researching the history of wearing hats (or indeed, any head covering) on the floor of Congress, and unearthed the fact that on September 14, 1837, the House adopted a rule stipulating that no Member could wear a hat on the floor during a session of the House.  With virtually no debate, the rules were modified to read: “Every member shall remain uncovered during the sessions of the House.”  Truth to tell, this rule was meant to be a slap at the Brits, who customarily wore top-hats during sessions of the House of Commons. Over the years, this edict came to include top-hats, bowlers, boaters and, of course, yarmulkes. Nowhere, however, was the subject of hijabs - or other religious head coverings - mentioned . . . until just the other day. (One wonders if the august members of Congress ever considered that a toupee is also a head-covering? The House turned down its most famous hat-wearers, Bella Abzug and Frederica Wilson [she of the sequined cowgirl hats], stating that they were mere “fashion statements,” not part of “religious garb.”)

What Mycoplasma genitalium and Blue Whales have to do with the issue of Rep. Omar and her hijab is this: The other day, Yahoo News ran a piece about this situation, and noted that Rep.-elect Omar, along with Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi and Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern are planning on submitting a partial repeal of the rule which will allow religious accommodation - e.g., the wearing of a Muslim hijabb, Jewish kippah (yarmulke) or Sikh dastar. Already, the Yahoo News article noted, several Orthodox Jewish groups - including The Orthodox Union and Agudath Israel have come out in favor of the rule change. 

The Yahoo News article began with a quote from “Conservative minister” (as well as Harvard-trained attorney and radio talk show host) E.W. Jackson, that “The floor of Congress is now going to look like an Islamic republic . . . . We are a Judeo-Christian country. “We are a nation rooted and grounded in Christianity and that’s that. And anybody that doesn’t like that, go live somewhere else. It’s very simple. Just go live somewhere else. Don’t try to change our country into some sort of Islamic republic or try to base our country on Sharia law.” As deluded, deranged and disconcerting as the reverend’s comments were, far worse were a majority of the comments coming from the e-verse which had read the piece. (As of Monday morning, there were nearly 11,500 comments). Among some of the more bigoted and hateful we find (all are copied and printed 'sic erat scriptum' - warts and all):

  • Elect one Muslim and the entire country is supposed to transform its' rules to accommodate her religion. Who is she representing, because it clearly isn't the "American" people. (4,177 “thumbs up” and 575 “thumbs down”);

  • ”There's no reason whatsoever to change the House rules to accommodate Omar. If she seeks to work in the House of Representatives then SHE can bloody well do the changing to accommodate the culture in which she finds herself.” (4,268 “thumbs up” and 375 “thumbs down”);

  • “How much freedom of religion would we have if every member of Congress were Muslim?” (3,545 “thumbs up” and 304 “thumbs down”);

  • “Just curious. What is her goal of being a congresswomen? Is it to represent her district and the citizens in it? Or it is to represent Muslims and disregard what her actual constituents want? We all know the answer.” (67 “thumbs up” and 2 “thumbs down”);”

  • “Electing these people into office which by the way is the goal of the Muslim Brotherhood to take over the nation, and female mutilation with be the law and not an elective!” (97 “thumbs up” and 4 “thumbs down.”);

  • “The path of muslims and Islam is always the same.1) Establish a Mosque 2) Create an enclave 3) Grow the population and outbreed them. 4)Claim victimhood 5) Resist host authorities and customs. 6) Exploit lawfare. 7) Institute Sharia law. 8) Secede. 9) Take control and destroy everything in their path. Thanks Bathhouse Barry.” (470 “thumbs up” and 41 “thumbs down”).

Before anyone begins getting an utter feeling of dread, remember this: even Mycoplasma genitalium, when put under a powerful electron microscope, can wind up appearing to be as vast as a Blue Whale. This is not to say that the number or percentage of people in America who agree with Reverend Jackson and express their dumbed-down, stereoscopic bigotry online are of sufficient numbers to overthrow our representative Democracy. They are not. Doesn’t the recent midterm election show that we are neither down nor out? It’s just that the media has become society’s electron microscope, making whatever is placed on its stage appear to be far, far larger (or in this case, menacing) than it truly is. Just as few fans of MSNBC, NPR or the New York Times ever take the time to check out Fox News, OAN or Breitbart to get an idea of what kind of drek the president’s base is being fed, so too do few Trumpeters ever take the time to check out more fact-based sources. If they did - and could get past the urge to regurgitate what they “know for a fact” is “fake news,” they might get the idea that there are more of us than of them.

Remember this: according to biologists and geneticists, Mycoplasma genitalium, if not attended to carefully, can be fatal. But according to cetologists (scientists who specialize in the science of whales), Blue Whales are, miraculously, making a comeback . . .

694 days until we go to the polls and elect a new POTUS . . .

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone



 

 





 

It Takes a Cohn (or a Cohen) to Be a Conspiratorialist

Roy Cohn and Sen. Joseph McCarthy

Roy Cohn and Sen. Joseph McCarthy

Unless you’ve been hanging out in Tristan da Cunha (the planet’s most isolated island) or engaged in a long-term toot, you are aware that ‘45 has been ratcheting up his attacks on the Mueller probe. And, in keeping with Tristan da Cunha - which is a volcanic island - these attacks are about to erupt. Among his most recent Tweets, our chlorotic Commander-in-Chief has vented:

  • Did you ever see an investigation more in search of a crime? At the same time Mueller and the Angry Democrats aren’t even looking at the atrocious, and perhaps subversive, crimes that were committed by Crooked Hillary Clinton and the Democrats. A total disgrace! and,

  • So much happening with the now discredited Witch Hunt. This total Hoax will be studied for years! and my most recent favorite,

  • When will this illegal Joseph McCarthy style Witch Hunt, one that has shattered so many innocent lives, ever end-or will it just go on forever? After wasting more than $40,000,000 (is that possible?), it has proven only one thing-there was NO Collusion with Russia. So Ridiculous!

This last one really got me to laughing; I’m a huge fan of irony . . . as in a post on Facebook complaining how useless Facebook is or a traffic cop getting her license suspended due to gobs of unpaid parking tickets. In Tweeting about “. . . this illegal Joseph McCarthy style Witch Hunt . . .” ‘45 is engaging in irony with a capital “I” How so? Well, long before DJT decided to punish the planet by going into politics with a vengeance, his mentor was attorney Roy Cohn, who, while still in his twenties, was the man who, more than anyone, was responsible for the McCarthy witch hunts of the 1950s. Rarely did the dipsomaniac Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-WI) make a move, impugn a reputation or destroy a life without the diabolic advice or assistance of Cohn (1927-1986), best described in the words of Politico as “a Jewish anti-Semite and a homosexual homophobe.” Cohn, of course, did not for a second believe that leftists, progressive dentists and the Hollywood elite were all “conspiring” with the Soviets to take over America; for him, the made-up conspiracy was a means to an end: power for Cohn and perhaps a presidency for his pupil. McCarthy, for those who remember their history, was taken down a thousand pegs by attorney Joseph Welch on June 9, 1954, (“Have you, at last, no sense of decency?”) and died less than 3 years later of acute alcoholism at age 48.

The Young DJT With Roy Cohn c. 1974

The Young DJT With Roy Cohn c. 1974

Fast forward two decades and we find Cohn - a longtime legal adviser to Fred Trump - mentoring the thirty-something Donald Trump, then beginning to make his way in the world of high-stakes Manhattan real estate.  One can hear Roy Cohn in many of ‘45’s pronouncements. As Peter Fraser, who was Cohn’s lover at the end of his life and met Trump several times, told The New York Times earlier this year, “That bravado, and if you say it aggressively and loudly enough, it’s the truth — that’s the way Roy used to operate to a degree, and Donald was certainly his apprentice.” People who knew Cohn and know ‘45 — people who have watched and studied both men—say they see in Trump today unmistakable signs of the enduring influence of Cohn. The frank belligerence. The undisguised disregard for niceties and convention. The media manipulation larded with an abiding belief in the potent currency of celebrity. “Roy was brutal, but he was a very loyal guy,” Trump told an interviewer in 2005. “He brutalized for you.” ‘45 anastomosed Roy Cohn’s lessons onto his soul; so completely, that in the end, he turned some of that cold calculation on his teacher, severing his professional ties to Cohn when he learned that his lawyer was dying of AIDS.

‘45 and Michael Cohen - His Former “Fixer”

‘45 and Michael Cohen - His Former “Fixer”

Fast forward yet another couple of decades, and we find another Cohn in '‘45’s life. This time he spells it Cohen, used to be a liberal Democrat, is the child of a Holocaust survivor, and throughout his adult life has been far more interested in opulence than power. And yet, he became widely-known as as “Trump’s fixer.” His loyalty for - and fascination with - his former boss (who just the other day slammed him for being “weak”) had almost nothing in common with ‘45’s politics. Cohen has never been a political adviser; that job has been shared at various times by Stephen Miller, Jared Kushner and the departed Steve Bannon. And of the three, Miller - who was and is largely responsible for putting immigration at the top of ‘45’s political to do list - continues having great potency with his boss. Of course, this past week, Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty to one count of lying to Congress, and will be sentenced shortly. When asked about this, the president dismissed his former longtime attorney by calling him “weak” - as mentioned above - and said that the only reason he had pleaded out was to reduce his jail time. Because Cohen has been privy to more about ‘45’s relations and negotiations with Vladimir Putin and the Russians than anyone else (save, perhaps 45’s sons, daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner), Cohen can potentially do more damage than anyone on the planet. And there’s the issue of all those beautiful women . . .

Don’t be surprised if at sometime in the near future, the POTUS tweets that Michael Cohen is actually part of the conspiracy to bring him down.

Regardless of whether it’s spelled C-o-h-n or C-o-h-e-n, it is likely that the president will never grasp the irony of it all. Nonetheless, he is still proving to be Roy Cohn’s best-trained student.

But alas, as Oscar Wilde correctly noted more than 125 years ago:

Irony is wasted on the stupid.

701 days to go until the next election . . .

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone



Among the Many Things I Do Not Understand . . .

Someone once taught me that while a smart person knows what they understand, a wise person understands what they do not know. Among the many, many things I neither know nor understand are:

  • Why are there Braille signs at the drive-through windows at the bank?

  • What’s another word for synonym?

  • If vegetarians eat vegetables, what do humanitarians eat?

  • Why don't we ever see the headline, "Psychic Wins Lottery"?

  • Why is lemon juice made with artificial flavor and dish-washing liquid made with real lemons?

  • Why is the person who invests all your money called a broker?

  • Why is the time of day with the slowest traffic called rush hour?

  • If con is the opposite of pro, is Congress the opposite of progress?

  • If flying is so safe, why is the airport called a 'terminal'? and,

  • Why the deaths of less than a half-dozen people from eating e-coli infected romaine causes every grocery chain in the country to pull it from their shelves, yet nary a single national retailer has pulled guns and rifles from their stores despite more than 300 mass shootings in the first 11 months of 2018?

45887189_10156984090839602_5394026019474636800_n.jpg

OK, I do fully grasp that in the case of ingesting romaine lettuce, the Centers For Disease Control (CDC) did issue a warning about the potential dangers - however slim they may be - from eating the leafy stuff, and warned that it was “a matter of public health.” Well, along the same lines, both the American Public Health Association and the American Psychiatric Association labeled gun violence in America a major public health epidemic . . . and nothing has yet happened. The only difference I can see is that the CDC is an arm of the federal government possessing quasi-legal power, while all the two health associations have in their quivers are science, front-line “soldiers” and first-hand experience with the effects of mass gun violence. As a physician friend of mine aptly put it, “I’m not anti-gun. I just abhor having to remove so many bullets from human bodies.” As a rabbi, my sentiment is somewhat similar: “I’m not so much anti-gun as I am totally against having to perform funeral after funeral of children who have died from being mowed down by automatic weapons.”

Then too, in the romaine vs. gun violence example, the lobby representing lettuce growers hasn’t got one one-hundredth the financial backing, mega-wattage or influence that the National Rifle Association - the gun owners’ and (more importantly) gun manufacturers’ lobby - has on the course of political events. Simply stated, while, politically speaking, the various vegetable growers associations have all the clout of an amoeba, the NRA, like Superman, can bend steel in his/her bare hands. Recent reliable polling shows that support for stricter guns laws among registered voters in America is at 68 percent, compared to just 25 percent who oppose stricter gun laws. And yet, the way Congress votes and campaigns, one would assume that few - if any - Americans are against unfettered access to guns, rifles and military-grade automatic weapons. This cognitive dissonance owes far more to Citizens United v FEC (the Supreme Court decision which made bucks far more important than ballots) than doing the will of the people.

To my way of thinking, the above presents two of the most politically important issues Democrats should push for in both the 116th Congress (which begins in 38 days) and the upcoming 2020 elections, which are now a mere 709 days away. My heartfelt recommendation to my fellow Democrats is that while they should flood the administration with subpoenas, they should, far more importantly, begin shaping the and explaining the issues which will carry the country in November of 2020. From where I sit and write, contemplate and advise, the most important issues - the ones which can best cross party lines because they are, inherently national issues- are:

  • National Healthcare;

  • An end to senseless fear as a political motivator;

  • Reversing pernicious climate change (believing that scientists know what they’re talking about is a good start);

  • Reviving public education;

  • Enacting sensible gun control legislation, which contains a muscular mental health component;

  • Restoring both civility and maturity to our public life;

  • Rereading and recommitting ourselves to both the Declaration of Independence and Emma Lazarus’ The New Colossus, and

  • Ending Citizens United, and

  • Tearing down walls - whether real, imagined or politically chimerical - which separate us from both our age-old values and the rest of the world.

My dear Democrats: do not fear that by speaking truth to power on these issues, you will further inflame ‘45’s base, thus causing him to gain support. If you stop and think about it, there is next to nothing he can do to attract new “true believers” to his base; he’s already pretty much peaked. And with that base now standing at a woozy, anemic 38% of the electorate, that simply, simply will not be enough for him or his party to continue destroying the country. From where I sit and write, he’s losing members of his political base every day, as all but the hardest of the hard core are finally, finally, beginning to feel a queasiness in their gizzard about the man and the movement who have succeeded largely through sewing fear and mendacious dissension into the very soil of civil society. Professional politicians, generally speaking, have excellent instincts; they can sniff out political weaknesses from a thousand miles away. As a result, don’t be overly surprised if ‘45 - a sitting POTUS - is actually challenged by fellow Republicans - and starting soon - for the 2020 nomination. Keep an eye out for the likes of Ohio Governor John Kasich, soon-to-be former senators Jeff Flake (AZ) and Bob Corker (TN) and former U.N. Ambassador (and South Carolina Governor) Nikki Haley. That eventuality would force members of the G.O.P. to take sides - not against the Democrats, but against themselves.

At the same time, it is - and will continue to be - incumbent upon the Democrats to unite behind a platform that is long on issues the public truly cares about, and short on internecine warfare between “moderate” and “progressive” wings of the party. Please realize that to the Republican base, we are all the same: socialistic, tree-hugging, anti-Israel, immoralists; to them there isn’t a wit of difference between Joe Manchin, Adam Schiff and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Let ‘45 and his party refine and further consolidate their white, largely rural, male base while we expand ours to include ever more and more citizens who seek to conquer the future. Let them continue shouting “Lock her up!” sucker-punching journalists and quoting the president’s every twitter pronouncement as if it were part of the Sermon on the Mount. We, on the other hand, shall do our best to deal with everyday challenges that affect everyday people, while hopefully ignoring the ephemeral slings and arrows of fictive conspiracies.

I would predict that before foo long, potential Democratic candidates will begin sticking toes into the waters of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina - all of which have primaries or caucuses in a mere 14 months. Before too long, the roster of possibilities will be about as large as the NFL’s Pro Bowl team. Please, please . . . I beg you: go toward the future rather than against one another. For it is only through unity that we can ever hope to right the ship of state . . .

If we cannot - or will not - do this, it will be yet one more thing I do not understand.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone










Drowning in a Dystopian Sea

It-Cant-Happen-Here-book-cover1.jpg

Back in July of 2012, I posted an essay on OpEd News entitled Buzz Windrip is Alive and Well. Those who are fans of Sinclair Lewis, will recall that Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip was the character who bullied his way into the White House in Lewis’ 1935 dystopian satire It Can’t Happen Here - a novel about a demagogue (loosely based on Louisiana Governor Huey Long) who defeats FDR by, among other things, promising to restore American values and giving $5,000.00 to every family in America. Once president, Buzz, -guided by his diabolic Trilby, a p.r. man named Lee Sarason - turns America into a corporate state replete with concentration camps, government-run newspapers and a personal army of “Minute Men” called “Corpos.” As haunting as Lewis’ novel was in 1935, it was even more so when I wrote the essay in July 2012, in the midst of the presidential election. As one might well imagine, the rise of Donald Trump from celebrity TV show host to POTUS has put the now 83 year old novel back on many bestseller lists. It is a novel which should be read by all . . . now more than ever.

Of course, Lewis’ classic is by no means the first - or best - dystopian novel ever written. Jack London’s 1908 best-seller, The Iron Heel, is the granddaddy of ‘em all. Part science fiction, part dystopian fantasy, part radical socialist tract, The Iron Heel offers a grim depiction of warfare between the classes in America and around the globe. Originally published more than a hundred years ago, it anticipated many features of the past century, including the rise of fascism, the emergence of domestic terrorism, and the growth of centralized government surveillance and authority. A difficult though engrossing read, The Iron Heel begins as a war of words and ends in scenes of harrowing violence as the state oligarchy, known as “the Iron Heel,” moves to crush all opposition to its power. This too, is a must read.

Kafka The Trial.jpg

The one dystopian novel which to me is most haunting of all, is Kafka’s The Trial, in which an unassuming office worker named Josef K. is arrested and prosecuted by a remote, inaccessible authority, with the nature of his crime revealed neither to him nor to the reader. In the middle of chapter one, Josef K, speaking about the policemen who have come to arrest him, utters a remark which, in this age of Trump, the growing autocracy and his core fanatics - those who gladly accept his stunning egotism, his constant lies and tactless, embarrassing demeanor - shakes me to my very core: “ . . . do I really have to carry on getting tangled up with the chattering of base functionaries like this? — and they admit themselves that they are of the lowest position. They're talking about things of which they don't have the slightest understanding, anyway. It's only because of their stupidity that they're able to be so sure of themselves. I just need few words with someone of the same social standing as myself and everything will be incomparably clearer. . .”

The one thing most dystopian novels - including Animal Farm, 1984, Brave New World and The Handmaid’s Tale have in common is that they don’t suggest how to turn dystopia into sanity - let alone utopia. But then again, these novels - plus oh so many others - are literature attempting to portray a dismal reality . . . not prescriptions for saving society from itself. About the best dystopian literature can do is wage all-out war - literally - against the autocrats and purveyors of mass insanity. Although understandable, it is, indeed, unfortunate.

In the situation we find ourselves here in the United States - and increasingly in many developed countries - the “solution” to what ails us . . . to what is splitting our social compact apart . . . is both discoverable and ultimately doable. First and foremost, the enablers must get up off their knees, stand straight and tall, and start doing the job(s) for which they were elected. Medicine’s first principle is the Hippocratic Oath: primum non nocere, namely, “First, do no harm.” In politics and civic engagement the primary oath is to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” To my way of thinking, it should have primum non nocere appended . . . “First, do no harm.” For the past two years plus, too many elected officials have acted in contravention to this primary oath; they have, by refusing to speak truth to power, enabled the nation’s leader to put ego before ethics and use his office for his personal profit. They have stood mutely by while he has bad-mouthed and foully nicknamed anyone who challenges him, disparaged and insulted the heroic, while making friends of tyrants and enemies out of allies. Through their silence and inaction, they have seemingly made primary oath “First, get yourself reelected’; and second, “Do nothing to tick off your financial supporters or political base.”

By hitching their fate and future to the wagon of a man and a movement which cares little if anything for the common clay - Buzz Windrip’s “forgotten man” - they have suffered a whooping at the polls and the very real prospect of destroying a political party whose very history begins with Abraham Lincoln. Why didn’t a single Republican take Donald Trump to task when he said that the late john McCain was “not a hero?” Where were the admonishing voices when, just the other day, the POTUS labeled retired Navy admiral William H. McRaven - the Navy Seal who oversaw the capture and assassination of Osama bin Laden - “a Hillary Clinton fan” and “an Obama backer” and actually suggested that he should have captured bin Laden sooner. Why would the Commander-in-Chief say something as outrageous as this? Simple. Because last year, Admiral McRaven called the president’s description of the news media as the “enemy of the people” the “greatest threat” to American democracy he had ever seen. And while several of the admiral’s military and intelligence colleagues found the president’s charges outrageous, not a single enabler in his Cabinet or on Capitol Hill uttered a word.

And by the way, referring to Representative Adam Schiff – the incoming Chair of the House Select Committee on Intelligence as “Little Adam Schitt” is likely going to come back and bite ’45 in the rear.  Adam Schiff is simply not the kind of man you want to toy with: he has more brains and better political instincts than the president can even begin to comprehend. And, Mr. Schiff is greatly admired and respected by the media and virtually everyone on Capitol Hill. Why? Because he is brilliant, even-tempered and knows what he’s talking about . . .

If we as a nation are not to drown in this dystopian sea, we must demand that the president’s cowardly enablers unloosen their shackles, don their life vests and start acting like leaders. Do not fear that standing up for what is right might get you into the president’s cross hairs or that he might call you a bad name; the recent midterm elections show that, like the Wizard of Oz, the curtain has been pulled back, revealing a rudderless leader who is only capable of leading us to the bottom of the sea.

Remember: there are only 714 days until America goes back to the polls and finishes the job we began two weeks ago . . .

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

Adams & Jefferson Must Be Turning Over in Their Graves

Question: What two things do Supreme Court Justices Louis D. Brandeis, Benjamin Cardozo, Felix Frankfurter, Arthur Goldberg, Abe Fortas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, and Elena Kagan have in common?

Jefferson and Adams

Jefferson and Adams

Answer: First, they all are (or were) Jewish; and second, were the new “acting attorney general” Matthew Whitaker’s worldview be the historic law of the land, none of them would have ever been nominated - let alone seated - on the United States Supreme Court, Whitaker’s reasoning? Look no further than point number one: they are (or were) Jewish. Back in 2014, when Whitaker was running for a United States Senate seat from Iowa (he came in 4th in the Republican primary, garnering a paltry 7.53% of the vote), he stated in a question-and-answer session that he would not support "secular" judges and that judges should "have a biblical view of justice." Asked if he meant Levitical or New Testament justice, he replied "I’m a New Testament [sic].” Many understood this to mean that Whitaker would disqualify non-Christian judges. I can just hear Adams and Jefferson screaming out: “Idiot! This is utterly unconstitutional . . . read Article VI, Clause III, which reads, ‘The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

Then too, Whitaker has on more than one occasion stated that the courts are “supposed to be the inferior branch.” Whitaker has been been critical of the Supreme Court’s 1803 decision in Marbury v. Madison). This decision, arguably the most important in American history, allows judicial review of the constitutionality of the acts of the other branches of government. Whitaker, of course, is woefully, stupidly wrong. Commenting on Whitaker’s opinion of Marbury v. Madison, Laurence Tribe, the Carl M. Loeb University Professor at Harvard Law (and one of the preeminent Constitutional scholars of the past half century) said, "the overall picture he presents would have virtually no scholarly support," and that they would be "destabilizing' to society if he used the power of the attorney general to advance them."

Matthew Whitaker

Matthew Whitaker

Those who have been paying attention to the ever-widening story of Matthew Whitaker, now know about his work on the board of an invention assistance company, World Patent Marketing, that the Federal Trade Commission has labeled a “scam.”  Reporting on the scam, a team of researchers for the Washington Post explained: “Whatever the concept, no matter how banal or improbable, investigators found, the salesperson would pronounce the idea fantastic and encourage the customer to pay for a package to market and patent the idea, documents show. Many people ended up in debt or lost their life savings, according to the FTC.” Ironically, Whitaker’s brief bio on the World Patent Marketing website described the former U.S. Attorney for the District of Southern Iowa as having “ . . . obtained invaluable insight and experience regarding the enforcement of federal crimes including . . . corporate fraud, terrorism financing and other scams.”

If all this - the churlish, puerile understanding of both the U.S. Constitution and makeup of the federal government as well as the highly partisan (e.g. pro-Trump) political weltanschauung were not enough to disqualify Matthew Whitaker from serving as acting attorney general, there is the question of its legality. The first question, of course, is its timing: Doing this the day after the midterm elections pretty much erased any doubt that this was delayed for political reasons and then done as quickly as possible. Sessions reportedly wanted to stay on until Friday, but White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly told him no. Despite saying that he did not personally know Whitaker (there exists at least one video to the contrary) it’s not at all difficult to paint Whitaker as a stooge for Trump in the Justice Department — or at least someone Trump had to know sided with him on substantial, Russia-related matters. Thanks to his brief career as a pundit for CNN, Whitaker has taken Trump’s side on many aspects of the Russia investigation.

Which brings us to the next problem: whether this appointment is even legal. George Conway (husband of White House adviser Kellyanne Conway) and former solicitor general Neal Katyal argued Thursday in the New York Times that it’s not. They argue, compellingly, that the Constitution explicitly requires principal officers of the U.S. government — that is, those who have no superior except the president — to be confirmed:

In times of crisis, interim appointments do need to be made. Cabinet officials die, and wars and other tragic events occur. It is very difficult to see how the current situation comports with those situations. And even if it did, there are officials readily at hand, including the deputy attorney general and the solicitor general, who were nominated by Mr. Trump and confirmed by the Senate. Either could step in as acting a.g., both constitutionally and statutorily.

A principal officer must be confirmed by the Senate. And that has a very significant consequence today . . .

With this past week’s midterm election results mostly tabulated, it is clear that the vote against Donald Trump was overwhelming. And even though the Senate will continue to be in the hands of the president’s party, one must believe that there’s a lot of thinking, worrying and reassessing going on. From where I sit, ‘45, whether from the point of intent or just plain ego, has pushed that most dangerous of buttons . . . the one labeled BEWARE: CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS! One wonders if he or his aides can hear the sound of Adams and Jefferson turning over in their graves.

I for one hope the sound continues growing in intensity . . .

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone





"Nativism," "Nationalism," and "Americanism": We've Seen It All Before

Lewis Chas. Levin (1808-1860)

Lewis Chas. Levin (1808-1860)

Note: In the final days leading up to Tuesday’s midterm elections, the POTUS has reverted to the political witch’s brew he firmly believes got him elected two years ago: three parts hatred of immigrants, two parts abject fear and five parts outright lies seasoned with Nativism, Nationalism and appeals to Americanism. Sorry to report, but King Solomon, employing the nom de plume “Kohelet” was right: “There’s nothing new under the sun.” Using immigration and fear of the alien as a wedge issue - if not foundational building block - of a political movement, is nothing new. American demagogues have been being playing off the same script since virtually the beginning of our nation’s history. This week, let’s meet one of the most prominent - if not most self-deluded - of these anti-immigration, pro-nativist folks, Lewis Charles Levin - preacher, publisher, lawyer, Congressional Representative and ultimate “Know Nothing.” What follows comes largely from my book The Jews of Capitol Hill (©2011, Rowman & Littlefield)


In the biblical book of Ecclesiastes, Koheleth, the self‑named author, states a profound truth: “What has been will be, and what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” [Eccles. 1:9]. Koheleth’s verity, which extends to both the political and the religious realm, might well serve as the epitaph for Pennsylvania’s Charles Lewis Levin, the second Jew to serve in Congress. For the major issue that obsessed Levin and made his brief moment in the political spotlight possible has resurfaced time and again. In Levin’s day, it was called “Nativism.” Toward the end of the nineteenth century, it was termed “Populism.” In the second half of the 20th century, it went under the name “White Supremacy”, or as one historian termed it, “the cult of national patriotism.”  Today, it is largely subsumed in the often-rancorous debate over “Immigration Reform.”  Indeed, it was a major issue in the 2008 presidential campaign. And today, in 2018, the national Republican base believes it is the single-most important issue . . . at least when it comes to getting their loyalists to the polls.

The issues Levin raised in the Twenty‑ninth, Thirtieth, and Thirty‑first Congresses – prayer and Bible-reading in public schools, keeping America free of foreign influence, strengthening moral values – are still being raised and debated on the House floor in the early 21st century.

Equal parts crusading moral zealot, paranoid conspiratorialist, spellbinding orator, and agitating dogmatist, Levin fashioned a barely coherent political philosophy that sought nothing less than “the attainment and preservation of America’s `national character.’” As he declared early in his first congressional term, “I go for everything American in contradistinction to everything foreign.” In the end, he proved himself remarkably unsuccessful in achieving his goal.

From the way Lewis Levin railed against paupers, drunks, Catholics, and those who “had not been sufficiently long in the country to have lost the odor of . . . steerage,” one might have taken him for some priggish Back Bay snob. Far from it. Although little is known about his antecedents or early life, it is clear that Lewis Charles Levin was the son of Jewish parents. Born in Charleston, South Carolina, on November 10, 1808, Levin spent the first sixteen years of his life growing up in a city that was home to early-nineteenth-century America’s largest Jewish population – somewhere between 600 and 700. From his later actions, it is clear that for the majority of his life, Levin felt like an outsider and tried desperately to escape from his Jewish past. Although there is no concrete evidence that he ever formally converted to another religion, he did become an advocate of Protestantism and married two non‑Jewish women, Anna Hays and Julia Gist.  

Levin graduated from South Carolina College [University of South Carolina] in 1824. Beset with wanderlust, he spent the next fifteen years earning a precarious living as an itinerant Christian preacher and teacher, settling variously in Maryland, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi. He also found the time to “read law,” and was admitted to practice in several states. In 1839 or 1840, Levin – at the time married to Anna Hays of Kentucky – moved to Philadelphia, which, notwithstanding his disaffiliation, was then home to some 1,600 Jews.

In 1842, Lewis Levin purchased a newspaper, which he called the Temperance Advocate. For the teacher/preacher/lawyer/cum budding journalist and politician, the subject of temperance was an early passion. His speeches and articles against the evils of drink brought him to the attention of like‑minded souls; in 1843, he was elected president of the Pennsylvania Temperance Society. In this capacity, Levin continued speaking out against drink, the stage, and anything that in his estimation led to moral debasement.  Like a fire-and-brimstone preacher, he distrusted man’s natural impulses. Without discipline and self‑control, he feared, American society would collapse beneath the weight of its immorality.

Levin sold the Temperance Advocate in 1843 and purchased a larger paper, the Daily Sun. Now he added the evil of foreign influences to his arsenal. Levin was not alone in disparaging foreigners. In the 1840s, America began playing host to its first great wave of European immigrants.  Many of these new arrivals were Irish Catholics, victims of the great Potato Famine. Their arrival served to fan the flames of dislocation, uncertainty, and religious intolerance. As a result, many Americans, looking for scapegoats, became attracted to the burgeoning “nativist” movement. This movement, which would eventually coalesce into a national political party, sought to identify and promote a purely American ethos. Foreigners, particularly Irish Catholics, became easy targets in a highly confusing time. Levin took this antipathy toward foreigners, and molded a paranoiac fantasy: the monarchs of Europe were plotting to take over America by means of the spiritual influence of the Catholic Church. In an article he wrote in his Daily Sun, Levin claimed that the crowned heads of Europe were planning,

 [To] people the country with Catholic immigrants, in order to provide for the contingency so patriotically prayed for . . . of our government changing to a monarchy---whereby his holiness [the Pope] will have a King ready, sprinkled with holy water, to mount the throne in the name of Catholic liberty!

A Typical anti-Catholic Cartoon of the 1840s

A Typical anti-Catholic Cartoon of the 1840s

In 1844, Levin published a broadside entitled A Lecture on Irish Repeal, in Elucidation of the Fallacy of Its Principles and in Proof of Its Pernicious Tendency in the Moral, Religious, and Political Aspects. In it, he attacked both the Irish “Repeal” movement [the fight for the repeal of Ireland’s union with England and Scotland] and its leader, Daniel O’Connell. Levin claimed that in creating Repeal Clubs throughout America, O’Connell [1775-1847] and his followers were, in reality, establishing beachheads for an eventual Papal takeover of America. Levin claimed that he had uncovered “a nefarious plot to debauch and contaminate the institutions of the United States and to set up a monarchy.” His pen dripping with vitriol, Levin concluded, “The Irish Catholic vote is to be organized to overthrow American liberty. The extensive ramifications of Repeal Clubs have suddenly become affiliated societies, to carry out the intentions of His Holiness, the Pope!”

Fueled mainly by the diatribes of journalists, propagandists, and pamphleteers like Levin, the nativist movement continued to grow. In the mid-1840’s, a new political faction variously called the “Native American Party,” “American Republicans,” or the “Know Nothings,” came into existence. Wherever and whenever they held their conventions, violence against Catholics and Catholic churches was sure to follow. The party attracted followers by raising the fear that immigrants posed a concrete threat to the American way of life. When Levin and his allies added the issue of Bible in the public schools, their ranks swelled dramatically. One plank of the Native American Party’s platform boldly proclaimed:    

 We maintain that the Bible, without note or comment, is not sectarian – that it is the fountainhead of morality and all good government and should be used in our public schools as a reading book.

The Bible to which the Nativists referred was, of course, the King James [Protestant] version, which, they claimed, the Catholics wanted excluded from the schools. Levin’s diatribes to the contrary, this was simply not the case. As one Catholic bishop of the time stated, “I do not object to the use of the Bible provided Catholic children be allowed to use their own version.” Levin retorted that the King James Bible was actually a nonsectarian book! He and his Nativist allies pushed for what they called “Bible Education” – a program of learning that would inculcate proper moral values and promote Americanism. Underlying all this was, of course, an implied attack on the Catholic Bible, the Catholic Church, and Catholics in general. Although the Nativists attracted numerous followers, their appeal remained largely among a narrow segment of society. With regard to the Catholic-versus- Protestant-Bible issue, one contemporary observer wryly noted, “A large majority of the Protestants who fought out the question of reading the Bible in the public schools . . . would not have known the difference between the Protestant and the Catholic Bible if it had been placed in their hands.”

The Burning of St. Michael’s Church

The Burning of St. Michael’s Church

In July 1844, Levin was indicted by a grand jury for inciting to riot. He made political capital by claiming that he had actually tried to stem the violence, which had taken place in Philadelphia’s Southwark district.  Moreover, he claimed, the indictment was part of a “Popish plot.” His name prominently before the public, Lewis Charles Levin declared his candidacy on the American Party ticket for Congress from Pennsylvania’s First District. During the three‑man campaign, Levin kept hammering away at the “pernicious foreigner” issue. His standard stump‑speech message from 1844 sounds hauntingly familiar even after more than a century and three-quarters: “Unless a remedy be found to impede the influx of foreigners in the United States, the day [will] not be distant when American‑born voters find themselves a minority in their own land.” Largely on the strength of this message and his public notoriety, Levin captured the First District seat. Shortly after the election, he stood trial on the charge of “riot, treason and murder.” He was found not guilty.

Levin served three terms in Congress, during which he became one of the least popular men on Capitol Hill. In speech after speech, Levin subjected his colleagues to rancorous attacks on the Catholic Church. Whenever a member of the House would challenge him or take him to task, Levin would simply accuse his antagonists of being a “paid agent of the Jesuits who hang around this Hall.” At one point Levin attempted to win Southern support for the American Party by claiming that the abolitionist movement was inspired by the Pope and his agents. Most Southerners, offended by Levin’s bravado and naked political opportunism, turned away in disgust.

  It has long been a truism in Congress that the best way to succeed on Capitol Hill is to make oneself an expert on a single issue or area of interest – farm price supports, foreign policy, defense, etc. For Levin, given his unique political pathology, that area of expertise, not surprisingly, was immigration and naturalization. Levin proposed changing the naturalization law to require a residence period of twenty‑one years in order to qualify for American citizenship. Moreover, he pushed a concept he called “federal citizenship,” whereby the federal government would be granted the exclusive right to determine qualifications for voting. After a prolonged and rancorous debate, the House concluded that Levin’s proposal was unconstitutional; it usurped the clearly enumerated right of the individual states to set voting qualifications.

Levin’s psychopathic hatred of immigrants was so great that he opposed a bill setting minimum passenger-space requirements for transatlantic ships bearing newcomers to America. The bill’s sponsor, New York Representative George Rathbun (best-known for being one of the few Congressman who have ever gotten into a fistfight with a colleague on the House floor), argued that current overcrowded conditions on the ships were “a revolting spectacle, a disgrace not only to our laws and our country, but to humanity itself.” In speaking out against Rathbun’s proposal, Levin sarcastically suggested that the legislation be amended to read “A bill to afford additional facilities to the paupers and criminals of Europe to emigrate to the United States.” Levin’s diatribe notwithstanding, Rathbun’s bill passed overwhelmingly.

Levin and his political allies attempted to turn their Nativist faction into a national political party but met with little success. Levin easily dominated the Native American Party’s three national conventions, held in 1845, `46, and `47. The party’s demise can largely be blamed on Levin himself. By resolutely demanding that “birth upon the soil be the only requisite for citizenship,” Levin caused an irrevocable split among his nativist colleagues. By 1848, the Native American Party was finished as a political force. Predictably, Levin was easily defeated for reelection to a fourth term in 1850, and returned to Philadelphia, where he took up the practice of law.

In the last years of his life, Levin’s tenuous mental makeup got the best of him. He spent at least the last three or four years of his life as a patient in hospitals for the insane in Baltimore and Philadelphia. Lewis Charles Levin died in Philadelphia on March 14, 1860 at age fifty-one, thus ending both a tortured life and a sorry chapter in American political history. Levin was buried in the nondenominational Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia. His wife, Julia, tried to raise funds for a monument to his memory, but someone connected with the campaign absconded with the funds. To this day, no tombstone graces Levin’s final resting place. Ironically, Julia Gist Levin and Louis Levin [his son] converted to Catholicism in 1880.

In the spring of 1921, Congress went back to the issue of immigration, this time considering a bill that would establish a national quota system. Under  terms of this system, the number of immigrants in one year from any given country could not exceed 3 percent of the number of persons of that nationality residing in the United States in the base year of 1910. What infuriated Congressman Adolph Sabath (a Hungarian-born Jewish representative from Illinois) was that the bill's supporters kept referring to it publicly as temporary emergency legislation, but privately agreed that once enacted, it would become permanent. Sabath introduced an amendment to exempt all political refugees. It was rejected.

Less than three years later, Congress enacted the National Origins Act, which not only excluded virtually all immigrants from East Asia, but also lowered quotas to 2 percent based on the 1890 census. The act was, without question, slanted in favor of immigrants from Northwestern Europe. In their minority report, Adolph Sabath and his colleague Samuel Dickstein (a Polish-born Jewish Representative from New York best known for being the father of the House Un-American Activities Committee) condemned the obvious bias behind this disparity:

 It is curious to note that, taking the census of 1890 as a basis, Germany would be comparatively in the most favorable position, and Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Italy, Yugoslavia, Poland and Russia, with whom we were allied during the late conflict, are the most unfavorable. The obvious purpose of this discrimination is the adoption of an unfounded anthropological theory that the nations which are favored are the progeny of hitherto unsuspected Nordic ancestors, while those discriminated against are not classified as belonging to that mythical ancestral stock. No scientific evidence worthy of consideration was introduced to substitute this pseudo‑scientific proposition.

It was not until 1965, during the Lyndon Johnson administration, that Representative Emmanuel Celler finally got Congress to “get that idea (national origins) ripped out of the immigration fabric” by passing the Celler-Hart Immigration Act.  Although the final bill did not call for any significant increase in the then-current annual immigration level of 300,000, it did eliminate altogether – and forthwith – the old national quotas framework.   Signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson at a dramatic ceremony held at Ellis Island in New York harbor, it marked the end of a long – and often lonely – crusade.

But regrettably, Levin and the anti-immigrant Know-Nothings are back with a vengeance. Indeed, there is “nothing new under the sun . . .”

Copyright©2011, 2018 Kurt F. Stone

America: Our Shared Responsibility

Tree of Life Synagogue, Pittsburgh

Tree of Life Synagogue, Pittsburgh

While sending one’s “thoughts and prayers” to victims and survivors of mindless, horrific, hate-filled acts of terrorism is certainly a decent and understandable thing to do, it is simply not enough; these acts cry out for positive, purposeful responses. Sending out “heartfelt prayer and condolences is akin to merely hoping and praying that a patient survives a bout of Sepsis (that’s blood poisoning) where a proactive protocol of, say, vancomycin and Merrem would be of far greater value and immediacy. Of course, the specific act of mindless, horrific, hate-filled terrorism we have in mind is yesterday’s lethal massacre at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood, which as of noon, today (Sunday October 28) left 11 dead and 6 injured.

Responses to this base act of anti-Semitic terrorism have ranged from the heartbroken and speechlessly distraught to the insanely conspiratorial. Fingers have been pointed from both sides of that civic chasm which is America in the early Twenty-First Century. Predictably, the crazies of the psychotic right have blamed the real victims for forcing the perpetrator to act as he did in order to protect their world - i.e. white Christians - from being annihilated by international Jewish conspirators who, they unflinchingly believe, control both the media, and global banking. From the other, less crazy, fringe, fingers point at the POTUS for rhetorically creating an atmosphere which gives tacit permission to psychotics of all stripes to get off the sidelines and enter their evil game of with lethal vengeance.

For many of us who are Jewish the long-held belief that America is different - that here, we can live both openly and safely as Jews - has taken a tremendous hit. Yesterday’s attack at Tree of Life is likely the single-worst, most overtly – and lethal - anti-Semitic attack in all the 364 years we’ve lived in die golden medina . . . “the Golden Land.” Oh sure, there have always been Jew-haters in the United States. Our “otherness” has been of concern to blue bloods and bigots alike for a couple of hundred years. But despite this fact, we’ve succeeded, have made overwhelming contributions to American society and have, for the most part, eliminated overt hatred for the Children of Israel from our country. Where once it was as difficult for a Jew to gain admittance to an Ivy League college as for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, today the presidents of Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Cornell (respectively, Lawrence Bacow, Peter Salovey, Christopher Eisgruber and Martha E. Pollack) are all Jewish. And yet, at the same time, all of their campuses have at one time or another been papered with anti-Semitic posters and anti-Israel protests on behalf of BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanction) groups. Yes, even the Ivy Leagues.

While expressing his sorrow and revulsion regarding the murders at Tree of Life Synagogue, POTUS also stated that in lieu of fighting for tighter gun laws, “If they had protection inside, the results would have been far better. If they had some kind of protection within the temple it could have been a much better situation. They didn’t.” It was a point he repeated several times in his remarks to reporters at Joint Base Andrews a few hours after the shooting. In response, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto told a packed press conference “I’ve heard the president’s comments about how we should arm guards in our synagogues, our churches, our mosques. I’ve heard the conversation over the past year about how we should arm security guards in our schools . . . . We shouldn’t be trying to find ways to minimize the dangers that occur from irrational behavior. We should be working to eliminate irrational behavior and the empowerment of people who would seek to cause this kind of carnage from continuing,”

This past Wednesday, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) posted a tweet (deleted just after news of the Pittsburgh terrorist attack was made public) warning that three wealthy Jewish Democrats are “buying” the midterm elections for their party. McCarthy’s post appeared after liberal billionaire philanthropist George Soros ―  one of his targets ― had been sent a pipe bomb. McCarthy’s tweet also named former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and California businessman Tom Steyer. Is this a “dog whistle” for anti-Semites and White Nationalists or merely the rhetoric of an unthinking politician? I rather doubt the latter . . .

President Trump, Rep. McCarthy and a host of Republican politicians may well not be anti-Semitic themselves. However, in the words of Florida Gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum who, responding to charges that his opponent, former Republican Representative Ron DeSantis is a racist - a charge which DeSantis vehemently denies, pointedly said "Now, I'm not calling Mr. DeSantis a racist, I'm simply saying the racists believe he's a racist." The same can be said about POTUS: We’re not calling the POTUS (or any number of the president’s most ardent supporters) anti-Semitic; we’re simply saying that many anti-Semites believe he’s one of them.

On the other side of the aisle, there have been renewed calls for banning assault-style weapons (such as the one which spewed so much death in Pittsburgh), severely limiting the amount of rounds in any single ammunition pack, and doing everything in our power to keep deadly weapons out of the hands of bigots, racists and white nationalists. While offering up these basic solutions is both obvious and easy, enacting and putting them to work is not. That’s where we, the great unwashed public, have a powerful role to play.

Most potential mass-murderers - especially those motivated by hatred of African Americans, “Liberals,” Jews, Muslims, the so-called Hispanic Caravansary, et al - are rarely silent about their extraordinary delusions and fears or their plans to do something about them. The alleged Pittsburgh shooter (whose name I refuse to write) posted a steady stream of hate-filled tirades on his Gab site, the last of which stated “HIAS [the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society] likes to bring invaders in to kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people be slaughtered. Screw your optics. I’m going in.” Groups such as ADL (Anti-Defamation League) and SPLC (Southern Poverty Law Center) are staffed by some of the best cyber counter-terrorism experts in the world. They are constantly monitoring and sharing what they find online. Believe me: there were undoubtedly hundreds - if not thousands or tens of thousands - who read the Pittsburgh shooters posts prior to his going on his deadly rampage. The problem is that no one reported what they were reading to responsible authorities. If they had, things may well have turned out differently. We are all responsible for keeping our eyes open . . . for being watchful and eternally vigilant.

We are living through what historians might term an interregnum - a terribly difficult period between the king (or society) that was and the king (or society) that will one day be. And he (or she) who rules during the interregnum (the interrex), is but a provisional ruler. In British history, that would be Oliver Cromwell; in American history it is undoubtedly Donald Trump. Cromwell (1599-1658), in literal fashion, killed off the old regime by signing King Charles I’s execution order; but Cromwell’s rule didn’t represent a new era. Driven by a belief that he was God’s chosen instrument of Protestant redemption, Cromwell purged Parliament of dissenters and royalists, many of whom fled to Ireland. He then invaded Ireland, massacring thousands of Catholics and deporting many more to the colonies. In England, he imprisoned thousands of his political enemies without trial. When Cromwell died of an infection, he passed his title of Lord Protector on to his son, Richard. But Parliament rebelled, and within two years Charles II became king. In 1661, three years after Cromwell’s death, his body was removed from Westminster Abbey, and he was posthumously tried and “executed” for high treason, his severed head displayed on a pike outside Parliament. Out of this chaos, the modern English constitutional system was born. By 1689, the British Bill of Rights had been signed, laying down limits on the powers of the monarch, setting out the rights of Parliament, and guaranteeing free elections and the freedom of speech.

If Trump is a transitional figure like Cromwell, then the new that is struggling to be born is a complete realignment of American party politics - as well as the relearning of civic engagement in the cyber age. This new alignment will have to take account of what America has become - a nation whose ruling elite is no longer exclusively white, Christian and largely male; an America which has, for too long, been far, far more beholden to the whims and will of big money donors than the vox populi — the “voice of the people.”

If we are to one day find ourselves living and thriving in an America which truly lives up to the values and dreams of its founders, we will have to finally, finally realize that this nation is a shared responsibility. We will have to learn to reject the pomp and cant of the wealthy, the celebrated and those with the best press agents. We will have to remember that the preamble to our Constitution begins with the words “We the People,” and not “They the Elite.” Today, and increasingly in the future to come, “We the People” are going to be more Hispanic, Asian and Middle Eastern, and less White, Christian and Male.

America is indeed, our shared responsibility.

Midterm elections are a mere eight days away. Make sure you vote for our future . . . our shared responsibility. History . . . and the good folks of Squirrel Hill . . . will thank you.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone