Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

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

                               Drs.  Vibhav and Sonal Rangarajan and Their daughter, Radha

                              Drs.  Vibhav and Sonal Rangarajan and Their daughter, Radha

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find you voice!

516 days down, 957 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

 

 

June 5, 1968: A Memory Awash in Claret

RFK.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

509 days down, 963 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

 

 


 

 

 

 

Cause or Effect?

        Candidate Arthur Jones: Cause or Effect?

       Candidate Arthur Jones: Cause or Effect?

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

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

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

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

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

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

So school me: is it cause or effect?

502 days down, 970 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

Distraction, Diversion and Political Optics

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

             John Carlos and Tommy Smith at the 1968 Olympics

            John Carlos and Tommy Smith at the 1968 Olympics

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

494 days down, 978 days to go.

Copyright2018 Kurt F. Stone

Israel and the Holy Land Are Two Very Different Places

                 Pastor Robert Jeffress                                           Rev. John  C. Hagee

                Pastor Robert Jeffress                                           Rev. John  C. Hagee

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

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

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

 

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

Pastor Robert Jeffress:

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

Rev. John Hagee:

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

487 days down, 985 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

 

Meet Ryan Watts

                                     Ryan Watts

                                    Ryan Watts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

481 days down, 981 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

Like Rats Boarding a Sinking Ship

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

It showed.

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

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

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

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

And on and on and on . . .

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

Even a rat is smarter than that . . .

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cheering For Chaos . . . A Truly Bad Idea

Impeachment.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

466 days down, 996 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

 

It's a Dog's World

                                      Fwed Astaire Stone

                                     Fwed Astaire Stone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

459 days down, 1002 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

 

 

 

 

You Just Can't Make This Stuff Up

             Lord Byron (1788-1824)

            Lord Byron (1788-1824)

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

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

You just can't make this stuff up!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

452 days down, 1009 days to go.

Copyright© 2018 Kurt F. Stone

WWJD?

WWJD.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WWJD? ("What would Jesus do?")

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

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

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

Truly, only G-d knows . . .

445 days down, 1,016 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

 

Paging Mr. Orwell . . . Mr. George Orwell

                                George Orwell

                               George Orwell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

438 days down, 1,021 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

 

March 24, 2018: the Beginning of a Movement Or Just a Moment in Time?

March on Pennsylvania Avenue

This past Saturday, March 24, 2018, the world became a smaller place.  For the first time in many years, we were reminded that despite our myriad histories, religions and world views, we are, essentially, a single species with a single set of values, hopes and fears.  And all it took was an utterly remarkable group of teenagers from Parkland, Florida, to remind us of this truth and get the globe off its collective derriere. Throughout the United States and indeed, around the globe, children and adults, school children and their grandparents, gathered with their idealism, their political signs vigor, and an awakening social consciousness to shout "NEVER AGAIN!" - To change a world over-saturated with lethal weapons of mass destruction.   Finally, finally, America's - and the much of the world's - children came to the conclusion that if leaders and elected officials would not - or   could not - stop the murders, it was up to them.  What took the leaders and elected officials by surprise was the courage, wisdom, and articulate strength of the student survivors of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.   And, despite all the knocks, slurs and peurile ad homonem attacks hurled at them by the pro-Second Amendment, "Make America Great Again!" crowd, they remain both steadfast and unafraid.

The collection of signs and placards were as varied and imaginative as anything seen since the anti-war protests of the Vietnam era:

  • "With guns, you can kill terrorists; with education,  you can kill terrorism"
  • "Strive for peace; ban the piece"
  • "Don't kill my future: end gun violence"
  • "Isaiah 11:6: 'And a little child will lead them'"
  • "You can't fix stupid . . . but you can vote it out!"
  • "Students today, voters in November: we are change!"
  • "Girls clothing in school is more regulated than guns in America"
  • "Thoughts and prayers don't stop bullets"
  • "Too old to create change? Move aside: We'll do it"
  • "The scariest thing in a school should be my grades"
  • "Voting is Like Driving - 'R' Goes Backward - 'D' Goes Forward" and, perhaps the most compelling,
  • "This is not a moment; it's a movement!"

Charged with being "puppets,"  "paid stooges of George Soros and liberal Hollywood elitists" as well as "pawns of the ultra-left fake news media," the student leaders from Stoneman Douglas and schools across the country have proved themselves to be anything but mindless dupes. They are both media savvy and in possession of a political consciousness well beyond their tender years. The media savvy is obvious: no group or movement has so captured the eyes and ears, the hearts and minds of a nation through sheer luck. As Slate's Dahlia Lithwick notes: What we saw on Saturday afternoon in Washington, D.C., was stunningly original media, as far removed from the hackneyed conventions and archetypes of cable television as you could imagine. The irony is that great masses of adults who have been brainwashed by television believe that young people behaving like genuine young people can only have been scripted and staged.  Interestingly, American high schoolers don’t watch much TV. They Instagram and Snapchat, watch Netflix and YouTube. Fifty percent of American millennials don’t watch any television at all. Members of Generation Z—the kids who organized the rally Saturday in Washington D.C.—watch even less. One study shows only about 36 percent of them watch traditional programs. That means these kids aren’t influenced by standard reality television tropes and probably explains why they would not bother to perform them, as they’ve been accused of doing.

The political smarts of the group that got the rallies started were made abundantly clear when they decided that it would be far wiser to have their message of outrage and change come solely from the lips of their contemporaries, rather than from those of elected officials.  What struck me most was how relatively little "political tribalism" was on display at the more than 800 rallies across the country.  The conjoined issues of gun violence and the dire need for sensible legislative action wasn't made out to be a purely partisan tension between Democrats and Republicans or progressives and conservatives. Rather, it was spoken of as a matter of civics and sanity.  Media accounts coming in from a clear majority of the nation-wide rallies reported that thousands upon thousands of the youthful attendees registered to vote . . . thus declaring that they are an emerging force to be reckoned with. This is a great sign for the future of participatory democracy.  For their overarching "threat" - if indeed that is the proper word - was not one of violence, but rather of voting pro-gun, NRA-funded politicians out of office.  

Already, their message and nascent power is beginning to cast shadows on pro-gun, pro-NRA politicians.  Just here in Florida, we are seeing our junior senator, Marco Rubio, scrambling to defend himself from attacks made by his youthful constituents . . . who have promised that they will vote against him in 2022 - the next time he's up for reelection - unless he begins distancing himself from his NRA handlers.  Then there is  Brian Mast (R-Fl 18), a first-term Republican whose district extends from West Palm Beach northward to Vero Beach. A U.S. Army explosive ordinance disposal expert who lost both his legs in Afghanistan, Mast entered the House as a favorite of the NRA. Nine days after the "Valentine's Day Massacre" in Parkland (where Mast had recently resided), he broke with the NRA and began calling for sweeping restrictions on guns.  Needless to say, Mast's turnabout got him in political hot water with fellow Republicans who began labeling “blue falcon,” suggesting a supposed ally who ends up stabbing fellow soldiers in the back.  Although nominally Republican, Mast might still win reelection . . . with the help of moderate independents who seek to reward him for his political courage.

I for one hope the hundreds of thousands of young Americans who participated in the #marchforourlives (which already has more than 350k Twitter followers) will never permit their moment/movement to be co-opted by elected officials. I also hope they will expand their agenda to include other issues like education, healthcare and global warming. 

They seem to understand that in order to succeed, their cause must continue being fueled by the energetic idealism of youth.  Take it from one who marched a half-century ago against the war in Vietnam: it can be done; youthful idealism is a self-renewing fuel . . .

430 days done, 1,029 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

 

The Right to Try: Is It a Lie?

Right-to-try.jpg

Last Tuesday (March 13, 2018) in a gutsy, contentious vote, the Republican-controlled House failed to pass a "right-to-try" bill (H.R. 5247) that would have given terminally ill patients access to experimental drugs and medical devices without FDA authorization. The final 259-140 vote, which fell short of the necessary two-thirds support from the House chamber, represented a setback for the president, who called on Congress to approve the bill in his State of the Union address six weeks ago . . . as well as a small libertarian think tank (the Goldwater Institute)  which has been the driving force behind the effort.  The bill - which got to the House floor without having gone through a single committee hearing - would permit patients suffering from terminal illnesses, upon a request from their physician to a specific pharmaceutical company or medical device manufacturer, to get access to a non-approved medication or device available without having to go to or through the FDA.  While at first glance the legislation would appear to be a compassionate no-brainer, this "right-to-try" legislation (RTT) is, in reality, a lie whose main beneficiaries are not terminally-ill men, women and children.

In his first State of the Union address, the only piece of legislation 45 specifically mentioned was this "right-to-try" bill, which had, in a slightly different form, unanimously passed the Senate.  In the president's address, he said: "We also believe that patients with terminal conditions should have access to experimental treatments that could potentially save their lives. People who are terminally ill should not have to go from country to country to seek a cure — I want to give them a chance right here at home. It is time for the Congress to give these wonderful Americans the 'right to try.'"  On the surface, right-to-try legislation seems like a no-brainer;  after all, who but a heartless ghoul would deny terminally ill patients access to potentially life-saving drugs, treatments or devices?  That's on the surface. However, descend a few steps beneath that surface and a plethora of problems begin to emerge.  

First and foremost is the matter of safety.  The  proposed federal law would only require the successful completion of a Phase I study, which isn’t enough to ensure efficacy or safety on its own. (Phase I studies, which enlist healthy subjects, are primarily interested in determining what - if any - adverse events [bad side effects] a drug may have; what the maximum tolerated dose [MTD] might be, and how the body absorbs, metabolizes and excretes the drug [PK].  What a phase I study does not look for is whether or not the drug, device or procedure is beneficial - i.e. capable of having a curative effect. In order to find out if a drug or device works requires additional phases using subjects who actually have the disease or malady.  The "gold standard" for a phase II or III study is called "Double-blind, placebo-controlled," in which neither the doctor nor the subject knows whether they are receiving the study drug or a dummy "sugar pill." All these phases (which can also include phase IV and post-marketing) take years and tens - sometimes hundreds - of millions of dollars to complete. But underlying all the research is the ethical mandate "First, do no harm."  Contrary to our unfounded optimism about medical progress which insists that new drugs must be good drugs, fewer than 10 percent of drugs that enter Phase I end up being approved; for oncology, that figure falls to 5.1 percent.  In other words, "right-to-try" drugs, far from having passed scientific or medical muster, can be unproved and worthless at best, lethal at worst. 

In clinical trials, participants (and/or their insurance carrier) are only charged for "standard-of-care" procedures.  The sponsor pays for everything else . . . especially the medication.  Under terms of the "informed consent" (which all test subjects read and sign before entering a test phase), if the medicine(s) or procedures cause any harm, the sponsor is financially responsible and the participant does not lose any of their legal rights.  Under terms of federal right-to-try legislation, the patient (or their insurance carrier) is on the hook for payment - which can be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars - and cannot sue.  Then too, the very act of using right-to-try therapies can render terminally-ill patients ineligible for health insurance or hospice care when they need it most. Of the right-to-try laws (now on the books in 38 states), half allow insurers to deny patients hospice coverage should they require it after the use of right-to-try drugs. Several have made it clear that health insurers are not obligated to cover the costs of any complications that may arise.  In Colorado, patients undergoing experimental treatment secured under terms of right-try legislation are denied coverage even six months after the treatment has ended.

Unbeknownst to many, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has long had an "Expanded Access Program," under terms of which a terminally ill patient’s treating physician, after first having determined that their patient ". . . has a serious or life-threatening condition and no comparable or satisfactory alternative therapy" . . .  then approaches the pharmaceutical company to ask for its agreement that it will provide the drug being sought.  The company has the right to approve or disapprove the physician’s request."  If the company agrees to the physician’s request, the physician can then apply to the FDA for permission to proceed.  Should they do so, they are highly likely to be allowed to proceed. (Between 2010 and 2015, the FDA approved fully 99% of these requests.)  Opponents of this process (starting with the Goldwater Institute) claim that a terminally ill patient could be dead long before the paperwork has been completed.  This is simply not true. Today, the FDA Expanded Access form takes 45 minutes to complete, and the FDA will reply to emergency requests within no more than 24 hours.

So once again, on the surface, federal "right-to-try" legislation seems to be as simple, logical and compassionate as anything under the sun. To libertarians, it is simply a matter of the government keeping the hell away from the individual's right to choose for themselves (except, of course, if that individual is a pregnant female). Who but a political Simon Legree could deny dying patients the right to try unproven medications . . .  even if it turns out to be a "hail Mary pass?"

Who indeed?  Days before the failing House vote (in which 2 Republicans crossed over and voted nay, and 24 Democrats yay), more than 75 patient groups, including the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Lung Association and the Cystic Fibrosis Association, had sent a letter to House leaders saying the bill “would not increase access to promising therapies” because it didn't deal with the main barriers to experimental drugs  — the cost of drugs and company restrictions on making therapies available outside of clinical trials.  And by skirting the FDA, the letter added, the proposed right-to-try pathway would be “less safe” for patients than the agency's existing program (expanded access), for overseeing the use of unapproved therapies outside of trials.  Reading between the lines, the goal of federal "right-to-try" legislation is not to make experimental drugs available to desperate patients. The goal is to weaken FDA oversight of the drug approval process.  Weakening FDA oversight can easily open the gates, admitting a parade of medical charlatans to come storming through, preying on the already desperate, dangling "miracle cures" which may well contain nothing more miraculous than hot air and hollow promises.

423 days down, 1,036 days to go . . .

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

 

 

The House at 18 Rehov Agron

                              18 Rehov Agron, Jerusalem

                            18 Rehov Agron, Jerusalem

Despite the fact that more than 70% of American Jews voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump continues receiving the strong support of about a quarter of that community.  And for two reasons: 1) he is perceived as being "the best friend Israel ever had in the White House," and 2) he is neither Barack Obama nor HIllary Clinton, whom a strong majority of those polled continue believing are profoundly anti-Israel. Indeed, so absolutely central is Israel to the politics of Trump's Jewish supporters that they are more than willing to overlook '45's questionable ethics, personal boorishness and relationship with the truth in exchange for what they perceive as his unfaltering support for the Jewish State.  Throughout the 2016 presidential primary and general election, the one-time television star promised that if elected, his very first day in office would see him officially move America's embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  It should be noted that just about every Republican who ran in the 2016 primary made the exact same promise.  And although '45 did not announce the move on his very first day in office, he did eventually make it official - on December 6, 2017.  

Even before the December announcement, '45 had drawn praise from Israeli P.M. Benyamin Netanyahu for delivering what he termed "the most bold and courageous  and forthright speech" delivered by an American President at the United Nations. In that September speech, '45 roundly and loudly called the Iranian nuclear deal the worst, most disgraceful pact ever signed by an American president.  Coupled with his officially recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital, '45's stock with his Jewish supporters became even stronger.  It should be noted that 23 years ago - during Bill Clinton's first term in office - Congress passed the "Jerusalem Embassy Act," (Public Law 104-45) which officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and called for the relocation of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  Every six months from November 1995 (when the law was enacted) until December 2017 (when '45 made his announcement) presidents Clinton, G.W. Bush and Obama signed waivers putting off the relocation, fearing that it would be an impediment to Middle East peace talks.  

The United States has had a diplomatic presence in Israel - and before that, Palestine - since 1844. From 1857 to the late 19th century, the American diplomatic "mission" was located in a building just inside the Jaffa Gate in the Old City.  In 1912, the mission relocated to its present location on 18 Rehov Agron, a substantial home built by a German Lutheran missionary in 1866. The mission was officially designated a consulate in 1928. The United States, along with 85 other countries currently, have their embassies in Tel Aviv.  (Before 1980, a number of countries, including the Netherlands and Costa Rica, maintained embassies in Jerusalem; for the past 37 years, that number has been zero.) In 1989, Israel began leasing to the US a plot of land in Jerusalem for a new embassy. The 99-year lease cost $1 per year. To this day, the plot has not been developed, and remains an empty field.  If, when and for how much the new embassy will be built is still a matter of gross speculation - despite the December 6 announcement. (The other day, speaking with P.M. Netanyahu, '45 boasted that the cost of a new facility would be $250,000.  Actually, he was citing a ballpark figure for renovating and adding to an existing facility at 14 David Flusser to use as a temporary embassy.  Cost of a newly-constructed embassy has been estimated at anywhere between $500 million and $1 billion.)

What is definitely not a matter of speculation is the monkey wrench the president's announcement has thrown into the future of any and all future peace talks.  As a result of taking this preemptive, unilateral step, the United States has lost its diplomatic edge.  It will be increasingly difficult - if not impossible - for America to bring opposing factions to the table for serious discussions.  To the rest of the world, America has already cast a major point of contention - the status of Jerusalem - in case-hardened concrete, so why even negotiate? '45 once described the prospect of a peace pact between Israelis and Palestinians as the “ultimate deal,” a foundational diplomatic breakthrough that could burnish his presidency and help restore America’s standing in the world. With the December announcement, the United States has become diplomatically isolated and toothless, the president something approaching a sideshow oddity.

While from a point of pure idealism it is both proper and fitting that the United States should be the first country to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital; one democracy standing in support of another. From a point of realpolitik it creates an international path underlain with political IEDs.  America's decades-long role as the undisputed, evenhanded, leader in Middle East mediation efforts has been dangerously and significantly undercut. Already, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has turned to other world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Jordan's King Abdullah, to help pressure Trump to change his mind. The chances of their having any influence over the American president are slim to none. The fact that the President's unilateral action has made Israel into even more of a pariah nation will likely have little if any effect on Donald Trump; so long as he is lionized by the likes of Netanyahu, Sheldon Adelson, as well as his hardcore Jewish and evangelical Christian supporters  that should be sufficient.

One of the most maddening aspects of all this is the ever-widening gap being created within the American Jewish community itself.  For in the opinion of many of the most vocal, even the slightest disagreement over how Israel carries out its political mission is tantamount to an excommunicable  offense (חֵרֶם - cherem).   In a time in which antisemitism is growing at an alarming pace, it is indeed disgusting that some of it should be coming from the Jewish community itself.  Just because an individual does not agree with, say, the Israeli government increasing the number of settlements, does not make them a self-hating Jew or worse, a traitor.  But that is what many of us are being accused of with regards to the latest disagreement over moving the American embassy to Jerusalem.

If there will ever be a workable solution to the crisis between Israel and the Palestinians, it will take a strong, steady hand at the helm.  Ever since the December 6, 2017 announcement, just whose hand that will be has become anyone's guess. 

Please Mr. President: you've made a steady habit of changing your position on a whole host of issues.  Why not keep up your record?

415 days down, 1,142 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

 

Scott Pruitt: Forward Into the Past

                       Photo by Sean McCabe

                      Photo by Sean McCabe

By now - a little more than one year into the Trump presidency - it should be abundantly clear that the primary qualification for occupying a Cabinet post is a psychopathic need to defund, dismember of destroy the very department one has been chosen to lead. It also helps to possess a personal, political or religious philosophy that goes counter to the department's very mission statement.  Take Scott Pruitt, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator as a prime example.  Before he was nominated to head the EPA, the 49-year old Pruitt (he will turn 50 in early May) served 6 years (2011-2017) as Attorney General of Oklahoma.  During those years (as well as his 8 years in the Oklahoma legislature) Pruitt opposed abortion rights, same-sex marriage, the Affordable Care Act and . . . environmental regulations, as a self-described "leading activist against the EPA's activist agenda." 

But wait . . . there's more . . . a whole lot more . . . a whole, whole  lot more!

 

Pruitt, a close associate of former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, lobbied hard for the job, believing that his anti-Paris climate accord stance would come in handy. In the lead-up to '45's rejection of the Paris agreement, Pruitt was all over the media map, sparring with Tapper and Scarborough, religiously arguing that the agreement would slow the U.S. economy by hindering America's God-given right to mine, burn and export fossil fuels, even going so far as to suggest the agreement was part of a plot by European leaders to weaken America. Wondering why Pruitt doesn't mention the effect burning fossil fuels have on man-made climate change? Don't, because he doesn't. Really. Our EPA Administrator is a world-class climate change denier who, while serving as Oklahoma A.G., sued the very agency he would one day grow up to administer at least a dozens times.

In a recent CNBC interview quoted by Scientific American's, Doina Chiacu and Valerie Volcovici "Pruitt said " I would not agree that [carbon dioxide's] a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.. "But we don’t know that yet, we need to continue to debate, continue the review and analysis.”

Isn't there something wrong with this picture?

But wait . . . it gets even worse.

Besides being an unabashed shill for the Koch brothers and other petroleum biggies doesn't believe in Evolution! No, really!  In a recently discovered  series of radio interviews from 2005, Pruitt - then an Oklahoma state senator, spent five hours among about a host of hot-button  issues:

  • "There aren't sufficient facts to establish the theory of evolution, and it deals with the origins of man  which is more from a philosophical standpoint than a scientific standpoint."
  • Lamented that ". . . minority religions" are pushing mainstream Christianity "out of the public square."
  • Advocated amending the Constitution to ban abortion, prohibit same-sex marriage and protect the Pledge of Allegiance and the Ten Commandments.
  • Described the Second Amendment as divinely granted and condemned federal judges as a “a judicial monarchy” that is “the most grievous threat that we have today."    
  • Did not object when the program’s host described Islam as “not so much a religion as it is a terrorist organization in many instances.”

The ever ambitious Pruitt has made no secret of the fact that should 45's Attorney General Jeff Sessions either resign or get canned, he would give anything to replace him. Should this horror come about, Pruitt's successor, Andrew Wheeler, is already waiting in the wings.  Compared to Pruitt, Wheeler - a former coal lobbyist, EPA bureaucrat, and aide to the snowball-wielding Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe, is, if possible, even worse.

We are about to enter election season.  There is far more at stake than mere seats in the House and Senate; there is a future fraught with even political greater incompetence, insensitivity and self-service than we have experienced over the past year. The future is ours to shape and guide.  The last thing on earth America needs in times like these are backward-looking leaders whose marching orders come from either the mirrors they look in or the last person they've listened to.

406 days down, 1,151 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

 

 

From Generation to Generation

                            May 9: 1970: The March on Washington

                           May 9: 1970: The March on Washington

 Many readers of this blog still have indelible memories of May 9, 1970, when America's incursion into Cambodia, the military draft and the killing of 4 unarmed college students by members of the Ohio National Guard at a mass anti-war protest at Kent State University, resulted in hundreds of thousands of students, teachers, veterans, moms, dads and grandparents from virtually every state in the union descending and marching upon the nation's capitol. It was a difficult, horrifically polarizing time. And even though this particular march - which got tons of publicity all over the world - did not immediately end the draft (that wouldn't  happen until January of 1973) nor bring our troops home from South East Asia (which officially occurred on April 30, 1975), it did energize and politicize an entire generation of young Americans. Indeed, many of those who marched on Washington on May 9, 1970  (myself included) were turned into lifelong political activists; people who ever since have been incapable of sitting idly by while injustice, insanity and gross insensitivity continue ruling the corridors of power.

Back in those days - as many will recall - we were tagged with every name in the book: long-haired-hippie-drug-addled-free-love-Communist-conspirators, unwashed-traitorous vermin, etc. Many had their phones tapped by J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, and had places of "honor" on President Richard Nixon's infamous "enemies list." It was, to say the least, a trying time. But it was also a time when many of us found our political voice and first came to understand how much "We the People" can accomplish when speaking (and shouting) with a single voice.

  We were, of course by no means the first - and by no means the last - group of protesters to descend on Washington, D.C. by the hundreds of thousands:

  • On March 3, 1913, thousands of women - with upwards of half-a-million spectators watching - marched up Pennsylvania Avenue demanding suffrage rights.  On August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment was ratified, thus guaranteeing women the right to vote.
  • On August 8, 1925, spurred by hatred of European Catholics, Jewish immigrants and African-Americans, and inspired by the silent film Birth of a Nation (in which Klansmen were portrayed as heroes), some 50-60,000 Klansman marched down Pennsylvania Avenue (all clad in Klan regalia) demanding a tightening of American immigration laws.
  • On June 17, 1932, some 20,000 veterans of "The Great War" (WWI) assembled in Washington for the so-called "bonus march," in which they demanded that the $1,000.00 "bonus" promised them at the end of the war, be paid immediately.  They were met with armed opposition from Army Chief of Staff Gen. Douglas MacArthur and his adjutant, Maj. Dwight D. Eisenhower.
  •  Best remembered for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, this enormous demonstration, held on August 28, 1963 called for fighting injustice and inequality against African-Americans. The march united an assembly of 160,000 black people and 60,000 white people, who gave a list of “10 Demands”, including everything from desegregation of school districts to fair employment policies. The march and the many other forms of protest that fell under the Civil Rights Movement led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1968—though the struggle for equality continues in different forms today.
  • January 20, 2017: the day of '45's inauguration, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators - mostly women -  gathered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and lined the frozen-over Reflecting Pool to rally for women’s rights, urge women to run for public office and call on citizens to fully engage on issues from sexual assault and racial equality to immigrant protections and gun violence. Largely unnoticed by the press, the marchers in Washington were joined by an estimated total of 2.6 million women who came out to protest across the United States.
  • And finally, this coming March 24, will be the "March for Our Lives," a gathering of who knows how many hundreds of thousands of American school children (members of "Generation Z"), their friends and families who will descend upon the nation's capitol protesting in favor of serious, meaningful gun safety legislation.

Historically, the effect these mass gatherings have had on their target issues have been a mixed bag: the 1913 suffragette, 1932 Bonus and 1963 civil rights and 1970 anti-war marches were largely successful.  (In the case of the Bonus Army's demand to be paid for their service in WWI, Congress passed (over FDR's veto) the 1936 Adjusted Compensation Payment Act, which guaranteed the veterans nearly $2.5 billion in payments.)  Then too, some marches, like the 1925 KKK rally had little, if any effect (President Coolidge had already signed the highly  restrictive, xenophobic Johnson Reed Immigration Act in 1924, nearly a year before their gathering).

Precisely what immediate effect the upcoming march for gun safety legislation will have is anyone's guess.  A clear majority of the members of Congress and the White House are so closely aligned with the demands and wishes of the National Rifle Association that even such common-sense measures as reinstituting the ban on Assault Weapons, severely limiting the amount of rounds of ammunition in a single magazine, denying weapons to those on terror watch lists or simply raising the age at which a young person can purchase a gun seem, at this point in time, far out of reach.  

Perhaps these - and a host of other measures - won't even get a full airing out on the floor of Congress . . . which would be a sin.  One thing, however, which will likely occur as a result of this march is precisely what occurred to those generations which marched on Washington in 1913, 1963, 1970, and 2017: a lifelong passion for political involvement, and the certain knowledge that together, we the people, can often be the ultimate stimulus for meaningful change.

There is an old saw which goes "The more things change, the more they remain the same."  Well, in this case, just as the protesters of my/our generation endured the jibes and catcalls of the hawks and the deaf ears of many members of the entrenched political elites, so too are the members of the Stoneman Douglas generation (the "Millenials") catching grief and tone deafness from both the Trumpeteers and today's entrenched political class. But this younger generation, like that of the '60s and '70s - now mostly receiving Social Security - shall succeed . . . perhaps not tomorrow or next week for soon and perhaps forever. For they - like we - shall soon be casting their first votes, propelled by the fuel of activism and unwilling to sit on the sidelines letting others bolster the status quo.

From one generation to another, we say:

  • We are with you - we shall join hands with you;
  • We will march with you - whether in Washington, Chicago, L.A. or Parkland;
  • We all have skin in the game;
  • And as has been sung at every march across the generations,

"WE SHALL OVERCOME!"

400 days down, 1,157 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

Cache and Carry

Cache and Carry.jpg

According to Mark Twain, it was British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli - the self-proclaimed "blank page between the Old and New Testament" - who first said "There are lies, damn lies and statistics." It just may be that, Disraeli  - who lived from 1804 to 1881 and served as Queen Victoria's P.M. from 1874 to 1880 - was the first person to understand the difference between news and "fake news," which he chose to call "statistics."  Well, here's a frightful statistic (in its true sense): since 2013, there have been 290 school shootings in America.  Moreover, in the first 45 days of 2018, there have been 17 school shootings, which works out to one every 63.5 hours.  

 As numbing as this latter statistic is, it becomes even more stupefying when one of the shootings takes place in in one's own backyard. Our son Ilan graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School many years ago (he has now been a practicing attorney for more than a dozen years), and our daughter Nurit, her husband Scott (also an attorney) and their daughter Claire, live within jogging distance of Stoneman Douglas. Just about any and everyone who lives in or next door to Parkland knows children who died or were injured in the Parkland massacre.

Sadly, there are all sorts of predictable responses from those who actually could make a difference - or else have a specific political ax to grind:

  • The "our thoughts and prayers are with you" crowd of public officials who issue these 7 words and then do next to nothing else. 
  • The right-wing conspiracy theorists who blame the attack on an ISIS affiliate, or see the Parkland  massacre as being the inevitable result of ethnic gang violence.  (Believe it or not this one comes from '45's A.G. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, who seems to have had no idea that Parkland is a largely upper-middle class Jewish town) and just last year was named "Florida's Safest City" by the Washington-based National Council for Home Safety and Security.
  • Calls ranging from more metal detectors in schools, greater scrutiny of - and treatment for - people with mental health issues, and the arming every teacher in America (despite the fact that the current administration has drastically cut funding for all three) to reinstating the absolute ban on assault weapons, drastically curbing the number of  ammo rounds per  magazine and making it legally impossible for anyone on a "terrorist watch list" to purchase a weapon.
  • Lastly, there are many who place blame squarely on the FBI, which was reportedly given information about the alleged shooter but failed to act upon it.  Even as I write this last bullet point, the POTUS has Tweeted: "Very sad that the FBI missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter. This is not acceptable. They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign - there is no collusion. Get back to the basics and make us all proud!" (Needless to say, this Tweet drew an immediate negative response on social media.  One Stoneman Douglas survivor Tweeted: "17 of my classmates are gone. That's 17 futures, 17 children, and 17 friends stolen. But you're right, it always has to be about you. How silly of me to forget. #neveragain"

Of course, for each and every one of the above-mentioned actions (and there are a lot of others which could be added) there are people who will tell you that "Guns don't kill people; people kill people," shout out "We've got the Second Amendment!"  or urge that what we really need are more people locked and loaded . . . have cache, will carry.  

And along with all this, Speaker Ryan, (who just this past Friday was at a fund raiser in Key Biscayne, less than an hour's drive from Parkland) has announced that Hell will freeze over before he'll bring any form of gun safety (a.k.a. "gun control) legislation to the House floor.  To say that his stance is predictable is not surprising; to say that it will likely cause a mass national response is hopeful.  With each passing school shooting, an increasing number of American students, parents and neighbors are demanding that Congress show both the guts the sanity and humanity to enact legislation with teeth that will stem the tide of this horrific "one school massacre every 45 days" reality.  Without question, we feel powerless; we scream out into the night "what in the Hell can we do?" We fear that there is next to nothing we can do to change the direction of an administration and a Congress that cannot (strike that, will not) listen to us.  Our frustration, our anger, is both palpable and perhaps - just perhaps - about to burst forth as the fuel for meaningful action.

So what can we do?

These are the first, most obvious steps:

  • Do a little research: find out how much funding your senators, congressional representative, governor or state legislators have received from the National Rifle Association and how the NRA's political action committee (PAC) rates them. (Note to Floridians: Senator Marco Rubio is the sixth largest recipient of NRA funding: $3.3 million.)
  • Write, call or email your senators, congressional representative, governor or state legislators demanding that they pass specific pieces of legislation - such as those mentioned above. If your senator(s), congressional representative, governor or state legislator is a Democrat, it is reasonable to assume that they are just as frustrated as you are.  Nonetheless, write, call or email them and express your thanks.  If they are Republican, the response (if any) will be what we call the "All due consideration" letter . . . i.e. "Thank you for writing . . . I will certainly give all due consideration to your point of view . . ."
  • Contact your local Democratic Party and find out how to become a deputy registrar of voters.  It's easy; it's rewarding, and can go a long way toward voting out members of congress who consistently stand in opposition to passing sensible gun safety legislation.
  • Add your name to an ever-growing list of people demanding that members of congress immediately return all campaign contributions from the NRA or other gun lobbying groups.  Make them put up - or explain themselves.

The first rule in the politician's playbook is "Get thyself reelected."  In order to do this, one must first raise tons of money.  When you or I donate to a candidate (whether incumbent or challenger), we generally expect nothing in return except an elected official who will agree with us most of the time.  Not so when it comes to accepting unlimited contributions from billionaire- and corporate-created PACs. They expect something in return for their "investments."  You don't vote the way they want, you'll find yourself challenged by a well- heeled opponent during the next election cycle. These funding entities (which, "thanks to" the Supreme Court's 2010 decision in the Citizens United v. FEC case were declared to possess the same the rights and protections as individuals) is one of the central reasons why it is next to impossible to pass rational gun safety legislation.  Overturn Citizen' United and the NRA - plus all the other pro-gun PACs - will be neutered, defanged and declawed.  

Overturning a decision of the Supreme Court is certainly not easy.  But neither is it impossible.  There are nearly three dozen groups collecting signatures, organizing events, marching and educating citizens on how to successfully drain this fetid swamp. Neutering, defanging and declawing the NRA (a lot of whose members actually favor gun safety legislation) is absolutely essential.  Channeling our grief, anger and disbelief into positive action such as this can go a long, long way.  It's been done before . . . and can be done once again.

89 years to the day (February 14, 1929) before the Parkland horror, there was another mass murder . . . the "St. Valentine's Day Massacre," in which four of Al Capone's goons, armed with two Thompson submachine guns and two shotguns, murdered 5 members of the "North Side Gang" as well as two bystanders in a Chicago garage.  Unlike today's media, newspapers across the country published photos of the seven bloody bodies. The nation was both horrified and outraged - at gangsters, at bootleggers and at the deadly violence created by Prohibition.  Eventually, the shock and emotional nausea - not to mention the leadership of Presidents Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt, congress and J. Edgar Hoover's FBI - led to both the repeal of Prohibition and the "Tommy" gun's demise.  Eventually, this rapid-fire weapon would accompany GI.s onto the battlefields of Europe.  But it wasn't only national shock and horror which led to the removal of Tommy guns; it was a concerted effort on the part of the people, the White House and Capitol Hill.

Gun safety can happen.  Together, we can take the tools of mass murder out of the hands of deranged killers and haters of humanity.  Together, we can place the lives, the safety and the sanity of our children above the "rights" of the merchants of death.

393 days down, 1,164 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

 

 

The Profligacy of a Presidential Parade

                                   "Generals"  Wastemoreland & Hershey Bar

                                  "Generals"  Wastemoreland & Hershey Bar

Upon reading that '45 was seriously proposing a military parade marching down Pennsylvania Avenue to showcase our strength and as a tribute to our troops, I found imagining him attending the parade in some ridiculous military uniform.  Suddenly, I found myself awash in long-forgotten visual memories from the 1960s of General "Hershey Bar" and General "Wastemoreland," two guerrilla-theater icons of the Viet Nam-era, left-coast, anti-war movement. Wearing outrageously ornate military uniforms, Generals "Hershey Bar" (Bill Maton) and "Wastemoreland" (Thomas Michael Dunphy) were as inextricably tied to the anti-Viet Nam, anti-draft years as Country Joe and the Fish, Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton, Joan Baez and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.

The very idea that '45 should order up a military parade replete with soldiers, sailors, marines, not to mention tanks, missiles and weaponry marching down Pennsylvania Avenue in 2018  is as repugnantly ridiculous as LBJ ordering the same in 1968 -- which he did not do.  Generally speaking, military parades are held at the end of a war, when there is something to cheer about.  At those times, it's the soldiers, sailors, marines - officers and non-coms - who are at center stage - not their Commander-in-Chief.  But should '45 actually go through with his plan, it will be all about him, not the troops. In matter of fact, a large proportion of warriors will still be in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and dozens upon dozens of nations where we continue having both an overt and covert military presence.

Goodness knows there is no need for us to show the world just how much firepower we have; the United States spends more on defense than the next seven countries combined.  Most of the countries holding these sorts of parades are "wannabes" - second-tier autocracies trying to prove to the rest of the world that they should be feared . . . if not respected . . . for their military might.  Think North Korea.  When goose-stepping soldiers accompanying bombs, tanks and assorted lethal weaponry march past the reviewers' stand in Pyongyang, it is partly for the benefit of the world, but mostly for the aggrandizement of their "Outstanding Leader," Kim Jong Un. While it is not all that difficult to fathom Kim Jong Un's (and North Korea's) pathological insecurity, one would need the analytic skills of a Freud or Adler to limn '45's lethal mixture of insecurity and narcissism.

According to official White House rhetoric, the purpose of this parade is ". . . a celebration at which all Americans can show their appreciation."  At a recent press briefing, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters, "President Trump is incredibly supportive of America's great service members who risk their lives every day to keep our country safe." Not mentioned in the briefing were two facts: first, that the real purpose of the parade was to show the world just how powerful the U.S. is, and second, to cast anyone who objects to a military parade through the streets of Washington as unpatriotic, cynical, or both.

It is possible that the parade will never come off.  Perhaps cooler heads and steadier hands will convince '45's handlers that the "benefits" of such an event will easily be outweighed by its cost and the misuse of work hours.  Estimates for the parade are already hovering above the $20 million mark.  Considering the fact that the federal budget has recently been hit with a double deficit whammy - the tax-cut-to-end-all-tax-cuts, and the additional $300 billion "sweetener" used to keep the government up and running - the last thing we need is a $20 million+ ego massage for the POTUS. I can think of a lot of ways that $20 million can be spent . . . such as providing veterans with post-military training or assisting them with PTSD-caused opioid addiction (both of which have been radically cut). 

It wasn't all that long ago that the term "tax and spend" was used by nearly every Republican to attack and stereotype nearly every Democrat.  The GOP was the party of fiscal sanity, lower taxes and less spending.  It would now seem that this term has been erased from the Republican campaign book; from now on every use of the "tax-and-spend" epithet will be repulsed by Democrats referring to their colleagues across the aisle as the party of "axing-taxes-and-profligate spending."  Not the sort of thing any professional politician wants hanging from his/her lapel.

If '45 really, truly wants to have his parade, I will be only too happy to put him in contact with Tom Dunphy (General Wastemoreland).  Now in his late 70's the general still resides in Berkeley where he writes poetry.  I'm sure he will be happy to loan you his uniform for the parade . . .

386 days down, 1,171 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

 

 

 

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Winners and Underdogs

Superbowl LII.JPG

During his 2016 campaign for president, the future '45 loudly promised a group in Billings, Montana: "We're going to win so much, you're going to get sick and tired of winning." Implied in this abject bit of bumptious bloviation is/was a truth which will likely bite the 45th POTUS in the seat of the pants one of these days: to wit that Americans actually don't like winners; that we as a nation and a people, generally speaking greatly prefer rooting for underdogs than perpetual winners. Need proof?  One need go no further than last night's Superbowl LII, which, as every sentient being on the planet knows, was won by the underdog Philadelphia Eagles 41-33 over the seemingly perfect New England Patriots. 

Without question, the New England Patriots are the most successful football franchise of the Superbowl era.  Quarterback Tom Brady and Coach Bill Belicheck are the only duo to have won 5 Superbowls. Brady is everything an all-American hero should be: handsome, humble, richer than Croesus, lives in a breathtaking estate with an even more breathtaking wife, the Brazilian supermodel Gisele Caroline Bündchen. Hell, the California-bred Brady probably never even had a zit when he was a teenager.  And Bill Belichick, though rather dour and taciturn, is to coaching football what Magnus Carlsen is to the game of Chess: simply the best there is. And yet, polls show that outside of New England, Brady, Belichick and the Patriots are the most hated football team in America.  Why? Because all they ever do is win; they are boringly predictable.  Not so the Eagles, who up until last night, had never won a Superbowl, having lost to the Oakland Raiders 27-10 in 1980 and the Patriots 24-21 in 2005.  And to make matters even worse, the three other teams in their division — the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, and Washington Redskins — had each reached the mountaintop multiple times.

There is something in America's DNA which gives causes most of us to root for the underdog - the upstart - and express contempt for the perpetual winner . . . whether it be in the realm of sports, civics or wherever competition is a way of life.  Why is this so?  What does the trend - some call it a need - to root for the underdog say about human psychology?  Some say its underpinning is our sense of fairness and justice, which is both common psychologically, and enforced culturally. When an underdog is challenged by a stronger force, we root for the underdog because we seek a balancing of the two forces.  Then there are those scholars believe that we have a need to identify with the underdog; that this plays somewhat into our sympathetic, cooperative nature . . . but it also plays into the fact that most of us see ourselves as an underdog on some level.

So, when '45 crows ""We're going to win so much, you're going to get sick and tired of winning," he has (perhaps unwittingly) stumbled upon something which, if rephrased a bit, would be a pretty profound truth. However, in true Trumpian fashion, he's gotten it wrong; it's not the winner him- or herself who tires of victory . . . it's the one(s) who witness(es) the winner's endless string of victories.  A more profound statement would go something like "We've become so tired of watching the other guys win and win and win that we can no longer stand it.  When I'm elected POTUS, it's finally going to be our turn!"  

In his own eyes, Donald Trump is both a victor and an underdog; a man who is both a stupendous success and an utter commoner.  This bipolar self-image is part of what makes the  man so unpredictable - not to mention impossible to figure out.  For he's no more a reviled perpetual winner (like the New England Patriots) than a much beloved underdog (like the now World Champion Eagles). If what social psychologists posit about the DNA sequence which causes us to ultimately turn away from (if not actually hate) the perpetual winner and reattach to the beloved underdog, then '45 is headed for his own none-too-pleasant rendezvous with destiny.

379 days down, 1,178 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone