Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

Filtering by Category: '45

The Worst-Rated Movie of All Time

King Cyrus the Great

King Cyrus the Great

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

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

  1. 1 .9: Disaster Movie (2008)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And how utterly frightening.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 3, 2020 is a mere 672 days away.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

Every Scandal Needs a Name

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

The Whiskey Ring.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

688 days until the next election,

Copyright© 2018 Kurt F. Stone

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

Roy Cohn and Sen. Joseph McCarthy

Roy Cohn and Sen. Joseph McCarthy

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

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

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

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

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

The Young DJT With Roy Cohn c. 1974

The Young DJT With Roy Cohn c. 1974

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

‘45 and Michael Cohen - His Former “Fixer”

‘45 and Michael Cohen - His Former “Fixer”

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

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

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

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

Irony is wasted on the stupid.

701 days to go until the next election . . .

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone



Drowning in a Dystopian Sea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

Adams & Jefferson Must Be Turning Over in Their Graves

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

Jefferson and Adams

Jefferson and Adams

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

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

Matthew Whitaker

Matthew Whitaker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone





Another Fine Mess . . .

Lord Beaverbrook

Lord Beaverbrook

There is a famous story about sex and money that has been making the rounds for decades. No one knows for who first told it. Some claim it was Sir Winston Churchill. Others are dead certain it was G.B. Shaw. Then, there are those who have cast votes for Groucho Marx, Mark Twain, W.C. Fields and Bertrand Russell. My money’s on the Canadian-British newspaper publisher and backstage politician Max Aitken (1879-1964), better known as the Lord Beaverbrook. Why the Baron and not, say, Twain, Shaw or Fields? Because unlike the others on the roster of possibilities, Beaverbrook was a was a well-known serial philanderer (it is said that he even cheated on his many mistresses); by comparison, Marx, Fields et al were all reasonably loyal to their various spouses.

So what’s the story, and more importantly, what connection does it have to this week’s essay? First, an extremely abbreviated version of the story, the essence of which goes:

A man asks a woman if she would be willing to sleep with him if he pays her an exorbitant sum. She replies affirmatively. He then names a paltry amount and asks if she would still be willing to sleep with him for the revised fee. The woman is greatly offended and replies as follows:

She: What kind of a woman do you think I am?
He: We’ve already established that. Now we’re just haggling over the price.

So far as what this story has to do with this week’s essay, anyone who has been following the weekly news, the answer should be obvious. Just think Saudi Arabia, Kashoggi, murder, ‘45, His Imperial and Royal Majesty, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the putative sale of $110 billion worth of arms to the Saudis. Quite a witch’s brew, no? We won’t go into too much detail about the situation with Mr. Kashoggi, a permanent resident of Virginia, writer for the Washington Post and prominent critic of the Saudi government . . . and for a couple of reasons:

  1. It has been all over the media for the past week.

  2. The story is still developing with suppositions, denials, threats, new info and verbal reversals moving at the speed of light;

  3. There are far too many tiers to this story.

Needless to say, the situation at hand is terribly difficult to limn, On the one hand, the POTUS, who has all but made journalists the collective enemy of the state - pointing fingers and suggesting that they will get what they deserve - now finds himself in the position of having to come to the defense of Jamal Khashoggi, who is (or most likely was) a journalist . . . all the while keeping a straight face. Then too, ‘45 must talk tough to Crown Prince bin Salman - promising “severe punishment” if regime involvement in the Khashoggi’s death is confirmed - all the while proclaiming that relations with Saudi Arabia are “excellent.” And, just to slake the thirst of the right-wing Islamophobes peopling his political base, he has his namesake, Donald Jr., smearing Jamal Khashoggi, linking him to “jihadists.”

‘45’s penchant for - and fascination with - steely autocrats is known the world over. Precisely what he is fascinated by and identifies with in the likes of Putin, Kim jong-un, bin Salman and Erdogan is anyone’s guess, although they’ve all seemingly learned to play him a like Steinway. Goodness knows, all of them could teach him a thing or two (or three) about how to bully one’s political opponents. In the case of bin-Salman, he carries Jared (“The Son-in-law Also Rises) Kushners’ imprimatur for being a real reformer who can be trusted. I mean hey, the guy did give Saudi women the right to drive and actually opened up a couple of movie theaters in Riyadh. Doesn’t that put him rightup there with such reformers as Eugene B. Debs, Betty Friedan and Woody Guthrie?

Somewhere along the line, Kushner forgot to mention bin-Salman’s bloody war in Yemen, his indiscriminate killing of Saudi journalists inside his own country or his imprisoning at least 11 Saudi princes at the ultra-luxurious Ritz Carlton and then extorting billions from them. So much for basic human rights and the rule of law, But what makes the Khashoggi/Saudi/supporting American values imbroglio even more complex are the two crown jewels in ‘45’s personal diadem: acceptance among the ranks of the world’s ugliest, most powerful autocrats and ungodly sums of money. And here, we are not referring to the Trump Organization’s long and profitable history with Saudi billionaires, but rather with “Trumphausen’s” gigantic bubbe meise (באבע מעשה) about his administration’s $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia. The president keeps repeatedly insisting that in contemplating what to do, how to respond to the “alleged” murder of Jamal Khashoggi, he must keep in mind this $100 billion sale of arms . . . of the number of jobs it would create, of all the benefits it could bring the American economy, and how, if he really tightens the screws, the Saudis would likely take their checkbooks elsewhere.

Talk about fake news!

According to the barons of the American arms industry and leaders - both Republican and Democrat - on Capitol Hill, there is no $110 billion deal. Instead, there are “a bunch of letters of interest or intent, but not contracts.” According to the Brookings Institution’s Bruce Reidel Many of the letters are offers that the defense industry thinks the Saudis will be interested in someday. So far nothing has been notified to the Senate for review. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the arms sales wing of the Pentagon, calls them “intended sales.” None of the deals identified so far are new, all began in the Obama administration.

Baron Munchausen by Gustav Doré

Baron Munchausen by Gustav Doré

It is unlikely that the Saudis could cough up $110 billion any time soon. They’ve been facing lower oil prices and have committed a ton of money to their now three-year war in Yemen. President Obama sold the kingdom $112 billion in weapons over eight years, most of which was a single, huge deal in 2012 negotiated by then-Secretary of Defense Bob Gates. To get that deal through Congressional approval, Gates also negotiated a deal with Israel to compensate the Israelis and preserve their qualitative edge over their Arab neighbors. To date, not a peep has been heard about any such deal in the works vis-a-vis Israel.

Once again, the POTUS is acting far, far more like Baron Munchausen - Western literature’s most notorious liar - than the leader of the world’s greatest, most powerful democracy. (That’s Gustav Doré’s sketch of the Baron for Rudolph Raspe’s The Travels and Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen) Like the fictional Munchhausen, ‘45 seems to live on a steady diet of lies, mistruths and half-truths. Again, like Munchausen, he puts such stock in his own lies that he neither realizes nor gives a fig that others can easily see right through both him or them.

By now - approximately 1,150 words into this piece - one undoubtedly understands the purpose of having begun with Lord Beaverbrook’s quip. For in this latest “fine mess” the POTUS has once shown the entire world precisely what he is: a brazen member of what the Victorians called the “frail sisterhood” - i.e. those who are in the business of selling their bodies, values and virtues for a price. In this latest “fine mess” with the Saudis, we see that “Trumphausen” is more than ready to sell American values and virtues for a terribly steep - if not illusory - price. America is supposed to be a country whose leader exemplifies what is best about us: our values, our pursuit of justice, our willingness to stand for truth, our abhorrence of despots both powerful and petty. What we see today is an America whose leader places our historic values on the mercantile’s scale, weighing its value against the prospect of profit.

Abraham Lincoln summed up the nature and purpose of America in a his annual message to Congress (Dec. 1, 1862): “We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just -- a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless.”

Midterm elections are three weeks from tomorrow . . . if you haven’t already voted by mail, make sure to go to the polls and VOTE!

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

Of Grey Wolves and Bald Eagles

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

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

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

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

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

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

       • Preventing listed species from being killed or harmed

       • Protecting habitat essential to these species’ survival

       • Creating plans to restore healthy populations

Sensible and effective? Generally speaking yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

556 days down, 917 days to go

111 days until the midterm election!

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

 

 

 

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

 

WWJD?

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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

 

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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Will He Or Won't He?

     Donald Trump and Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller III

     Donald Trump and Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller III

By now, it is well understood by most that truth is to '45 as lox and bagels are to peanut butter and Jalapeño peppers.  In other words, they are both strangers and bipolar opposites.   Indeed, the past few years have seen the emergence of a cottage industry which keeps track of every one of '45's exaggerations, mistruths, and outright lies. In comparison to his immediate predecessors - Obama, Bush and Clinton - '45 is in a class by himself.  However, in the same breath, it must be admitted that even before his election, the future POTUS told two major, major truths which we, the American public - ignore at our own peril:

  • First, on January 23, 2016, nearly a year before his eventual inauguration, then-candidate Trump proudly Tweeted that he could "stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody" and not "lose any voters."  In a grotesque, off-the-wall way, this has turned out to be true; for regardless of whatever outrageous, puerile, mind-numbing things '45 has done, said or Tweeted over the past year or more, his most ardent supporters (his "base") have remained steadfast. In the main, they are as deaf, dumb and blind as Dr. Pangloss' most ardent disciples who believe - despite everything they've seen, heard or experienced - that this is indeed, "the best of all possible worlds."
  • And second, as early as 2015, when pressed as to how we could expect him to deal any of the nation's most difficult problems - rising healthcare costs, climate change, the gross disparity of wealth and the Middle East to name but a few - Trump told Fox News that he wished to be "unpredictable."  The Latin response to this statement would be rem acu testigisti - namely, he "hit the nail on the head."  For in going over '45's actions, statements and Tweets during his first year in office he has been - as per his 2015 promise - completely unpredictable.  Regrettably, as we've learned, his unpredictability is more often related to his last source of information - generally Sean Hannity, the sage of  St. Pius X Preparatory Seminary high school, than to his Chief of Staff, members of his Cabinet or even his own family.

These two truths lead inevitably - and lamentably -  to a question which has, over the past several weeks been uppermost in the minds of many: will the POTUS fire special prosecutor Robert S. Mueller III because his investigation is giving him both shpilkis and heartburn?  Although on this, the day before Christmas 2017, no one - including '45 himself - knows if the man insiders call "Bobby Triple Sticks"  (that's after the 'III' which appends his name) will be sacked . . . that's anyone's guess, it could very well happen. But then again, it might not. That's where '45's obsessive unpredictability comes into play. Of course, in order to get to the point where Mueller is actually canned, the president would likely have to first terminate Deputy A.G. Rod Rosenstein, appoint and anoint a replacement who would then act as lord high executioner . . . . unless he fools everyone and refuses to do the dirty deed. Virginia Senator Mark Warner has already warned '45 that "Any attempt by this President to remove special counsel Mueller from his position or to pardon key witnesses in any effort to shield them from accountability or shut down the investigation would be a gross abuse of power and a flagrant violation of executive branch responsibilities and authorities . . . . These truly are red lines and [we] simply cannot allow them to be crossed."

Would this potential "Saturday Night Massacre Redux" cause even a tiny tremor of rejection - let alone revulsion - amongst '45's most ardent fans?  Probably not. Remember, these are the very folks that '45 predicted wouldn't lose faith even if he "stood in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shot somebody." And while reasonable, rational people can take comfort in the knowledge that the blindly "epoxied faithful" represent, at best, a third of the American public, this is still a large enough number to put a systemic roadblock in the path of public unity.  Do remember, that interwoven throughout this third are racists, anti-Semites, homophobes, highly-armed 2nd Amendment gun nuts, supporters of authoritarianism, Randroidian Objectivists (many of whom sit in '45's Cabinet) and people who want to secede from the Union. 

Another "Will he, won't he?" deals with '45's love of misdirection; of turning public attention - if only for a day or a week - away from the house of cards that is about to collapse all around him, his family and his presidency.  Remember such acts of temporary misdirection as Obama's having wiretapped Trump Tower? Or how about the canard concerning the Clintons, Russia and Uranium?  Or barring transgenders from serving in the military?  Or first declaring that shortly, America would be relocating its embassy to Jerusalem, and then threatening to take retaliatory action against any and every country that voted against us at the United Nations?  Then there's the issue of how reliable and amateurish the FBI has become. Is it possible that if things get so incredibly fraught and legally untenable that '45 will initiate some large-scale military action against North Korea? Unlike the other acts of misdirection, which have been largely buoyed by rhetoric and hot air, this one would be backed up with the largest, most lethal nuclear arsenal on the planet.  And what if, for the sake of supposing, the Joint Chiefs of Staff simply said "NO!  WE WON'T DO IT!"  What then?  A mass incarceration of admirals and generals?  Instituting martial law from Caribou to Carson City?  The mind simply boggles.

There is one "Will he, won't he?" that I can highly recommend to our Commander in Chief: that he, or Mrs. Huckabee Sanders, or his private physician, announce that most regrettably, as a result of an aggressive something or other, he must resign his office, give the keys to Vice President Pence (who could very well be in legal jeopardy himself) and return to Trump Towers where he will live out his remaining days in therapeutic splendor.

Sound impossible?  Perhaps . . . but then again, this is the season for giving gifts . . .

337 days down, 1,121 days to go.

Copyright©2017 Kurt F. Stone

The Ever-Contracting Universe of D.J.T.

                  Pearl Buck, JFK, Robert Frost, Mrs.Kennedy

                  Pearl Buck, JFK, Robert Frost, Mrs.Kennedy

On April 29, 1962, President John F. Kennedy (who, as of this past Wednesday has - unbelievably - been gone for 54 years) hosted a lavish black-tie White House banquet honoring 49 Nobel Laureates from the Western Hemisphere. Prominent attendees included then-Canadian Liberal Party leader Lester Pearson, writer (and Nobel Laureate) Ernest Hemingway's widow Mary Welsh Hemingway, Poet Robert Frost, novelist John Dos Passos, literary critics Lionel and Diana Trilling, and two-time Academy Award winner Frederic March, who read excerpts from the works of Nobel Prize winners Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis, Pearl S. Buck and George C. Marshall. 

In his welcoming remarks to his august guests, President Kennedy (a month shy of his 45th birthday and himself a Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer)  keenly observed  “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”  Although these words (likely written by Kennedy's Ted Sorensen) are generally well-remembered, what followed is not: “I think the pursuit of knowledge, the pursuit of peace, are very basic drives and pressures in this life of ours--and this dinner is an attempt, in a sense, to recognize those great efforts, to encourage young Americans and young people in this hemisphere to develop the same drive and deep desire for knowledge and peace."

Talk about a class act.  The Kennedy years - that brief interregnum between Eisenhower and Johnson - were frequently called "Camelot," a glittering kingdom where, in the words of C'est Moi:

 A knight of the Table Round should be invincible,
 Succeed where a less fantasticbman would fail /
Climb a wall no one else can climb,
 Cleave a dragon in record time,
 Swim a moat in a coat of heavy iron mail.
 No matter the pain, he ought to be unwinceable,
 Impossible deeds should be his daily fare.

Turn the page, advance 54 years, and we now find ourselves in the midst of Camelot's dark and ugly underbelly, as in the words of Seven Deadly Virtues:

The seven deadly virtues, those ghastly little traps
Oh no, my liege, they were not meant for me
Those seven deadly virtues were made for other chaps
Who love a life of failure and ennui . . .
 I find humility means to be hurt
 It's not the earth the meek inherit, it's the dirt
 Honesty is fatal, it should be taboo
 Diligence-a fate I would hate . . .

Nowhere does the difference between the Kennedy years and today reveal itself more starkly than in the matter of Nobel Laureates.  Where Kennedy delighted in dining with and basking in the aura of the crème-de-la-crème of brilliance and scholarly accomplishment, '45 has turned both a blind eye and a deaf ear to all of them. Simply stated, in 2017, there is no place at  today's 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for the best and brightest in the scholarly empyrean.  Why? Perhaps '45, who has on any number of occasions reminded his cadre of followers that he is "a very intelligent person" is simply cowed by their brilliance and fears that they would easily show him up for the brainless blowhard he is. (Actually, they probably would not; they are far too classy a bunch for such bad manners.) Not that such an unmasking would deter his ardent base from believing he is the Great Oz. Perhaps he is playing up to the solid, stolid anti-intellectualism of his political universe, which is largely made up of those for whom climate change is nothing more than a deceitful conspiracy, and the  only "Big Bang Theory" they've ever heard of is that which attaches to Leonard Hofstadter and Sheldon Cooper, rather than Albert Einstein and Edwin Hubble.  Then too, perhaps he simply does not want to suffer the unprecedented embarrassment of having his invitations turned down.  For truth to tell, more than one of the Nobel Laureates was relieved by '45's decision to not have a gala in their honor.  

Make no mistake about it: '45's universe, unlike that of Einstein and Hubble is constantly contracting: intellectually, morally and politically. America - indeed, the world - seems to be populated by an ever decreasing number of people and nations who have one thing in common: a need, desire and ability to idolize him no matter what he does or says;  no matter whether he is as inconsistent as a major league strike zone or as intellectually vapid are a flat-earther. During the past year or more, a lot of people have come to understand that '45's universe contracts every time an individual, group or cause changes its mind about him.  He possesses total recall when it comes to slights, challenges or personal affronts, and clinical amnesia when it comes to any - if not all - his yesterdays.  For so many, the only thing one must know about him is that he is rich . . . really, really rich (or so he says).

When I attended university nearly a half-century ago, I took just enough "Physics for Philosophy Students" courses to figure out how much I did not know about physics. I do recall learning something about Edwin Hubble's discovery (theory?) that the universe was not static . . . that it was constantly expanding. This was the find which revealed that the universe was apparently born in a "Big Bang." That when the universe was just ten-to-the-minus-thirty-fourth of a second or so old — that is, a hundredth of a billionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second in age — it experienced an incredible burst of expansion known as inflation, in which space itself expanded faster than the speed of light. During this period, the universe doubled in size at least 90 times, going from subatomic-sized to golf-ball-sized almost instantaneously.  As a student of philosophy, history and political science, I found this terribly difficult to grok.  And so, I found myself asking the professor, "If the entire physical universe was the size of a golf ball, what reality existed outside that golf ball sized orb?"  When he told me "nothing whatsoever," I tried to . . . as the modern expression goes . . . "wrap my brain around that one." After a sleepless night or two, I decided that there were simply some things better left to the astrophysicists, G-d bless them all. I was better off studying Hume than Hawking.

To the best of my knowledge (which is woefully slight), the question remains: "What reality exists outside a constantly expanding physical universe?"  With regards to this week's topic, it is far, far easier to answer the question "What reality exists outside a constantly contracting political universe?"  To be certain, the discards include ideals, programs, equality, humanity and long-term vision.  And if something is not done over the next several years, '45's "real America" - i.e. his universe - will consist of only those who are mostly white, Christian, highly conservative, terribly rich and highly autocratic.  And while I know that JFK was far from a saint (extra-marital affairs, an addiction to painkillers and being the son of a father who was a fascist and likely anti-Semite), at least he did his best to expand the universe in which he lived. And he made us proud to be Americans . . .

297 days down, 1,049 to go.

Copyright©2017 Kurt F. Stone     

People Who Live In Glass Houses . . .

                                       Judge Roy Moore and '45

                                       Judge Roy Moore and '45

 

 

Don't know if former Judge - and current U.S. Senate candidate - Roy Moore and his supporters are fans of the great Irish wit Oscar Wilde.  I kind of doubt it; after all, Wilde was both flamboyant and gay . . . not to mention highly literate. (Sorry for being so snarky, but that's just the way I'm feeling.) Nonetheless, if any of them had indulged in his more quotable quotes, they would likely have come across this gem: "Most people are other people.  Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation." Then too, they might have come in contact with an even better chestnut which says so much about the political reality we currently face: "Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike."

For examples that bear out the truth of Wilde's second bit of wisdom, one need only listen to (ugh!) right-wing talk radio or watch either Fox or One America News Network (OAN), both of which specialize in pro-Trump stories, anti-Clinton, anti-Obama chit-chat and anti-abortion reports, while steadfastly ignoring stories about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election or just about any and every outrageous thing the POTUS has done, said or tweeted.  In listening to a sampling of right-wing talk show hosts (Hannity, Limbaugh, Beck, Savage and Pags to name but a few) I'm continually hearing that the entire Roy Moore episode is "Fake News," that in the United States one is "innocent until found guilty," and that the Bible-thumping, twice-removed Alabama Chief Justice is being railroaded by a bunch of disgusting pro-gay, anti-Christian liberals who make up the world of Fake News".  They've even gone so far as to cite Biblical precedent for what Moore is (falsely) accused of.  And yet, in the same breath, the so-called "true believers" have no problem proclaiming that Weinstein, Spacey, Halperin, Ratner, Kresiberg et al and others accused of taking sexual improprieties are guilty of both immorality and committing despicable acts (which they very well may be) . . . along with President Clinton and the late Senator Ted Kennedy.  

Whatever happened to "innocent until proven guilty?"   How can so many on the right demand fairness for Roy Moore - despite five women coming forward to essentially tell the same story - and then convict any Democrat, show business liberal or non Bible banger  in the court of public opinion?  What Judge Moore and many - though certainly not all - of the Hollywood crowd have in common is that they have vehemently denied all charges.  What they don't have in common is that Roy Moore, who throughout his more than 40 years in the public eye, has proclaimed himself to be as moral as Jesus; as upright as Ward Cleaver, is running for the United States Senate; the rest of the bunch is not. In seeking the genesis of this incongruity, we return to the words of Oscar Wilde: "Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike."

Among Capitol Hill Republicans the first party-line went something like: "If these charges are true, then Roy Moore should drop out of the race.  But not until there's been a full investigation." This approach was and - for some still is - a case of straddling a partisan political abyss.  Anyone with even a dollop of real-world experience knows that any such "investigation" could likely take months if not years to conclude.  And by then, Senator Moore would be knee deep into his six-year term . . . continuing his decades-long assault on the forces of modernity and immorality.  (n.b. In the world of abnormal psychology, Moore, his Alabama acolytes and a hefty percentage of pro-Trump Republicans suffer from what is called "Metathesiophobia," namely, a morbid, ofttimes paralyzing fear of change.)   

Yesterday, out of the woodwork, a fifth woman came forward to accuse Roy Moore of molesting her when she was all of 16, and worked as a waitress at a restaurant or diner which the then 30-year old District Attorney used to frequent.  The Senate candidate once again denied all charges, said he had never met the women, had never been to the dining establishment where she worked, and once again proclaimed that all these women making charges against him were part of a liberal, 'Fake News' witch hunt meant to damage his candidacy in favor of the "radical, pro-abortion Democrat" Doug Jones.  At a press conference held later in the day, the now 56-year old woman, Beverly Young Nelson, not only told her story in minute teary detail, but produced her high school yearbook in which then-D.A. Moore wrote: "To a sweeter more beautiful girl I could not say Merry Christmas." He signed it "Love, Roy Moore, DA."  Then the New York Daily News and a slew of other media outlets reported that Moore was allegedly barred from the Gadsden (Alabama) Mall for "hanging around the mall and flirting with young girls . . ."  And yet, despite all this, an awful lot of Alabama Republicans are even more firmly behind Roy Moore and will vote for him in the December 12 special election.  Better an alleged child molester than any Democrat . . . 

These latest charges and revelations caused Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and nearly a dozen of his Republican colleagues to urge Moore to drop out of the race.  This group included National Republican Senatorial Campaign Chair Cory Gardner (R-CO) to take things even a step further: "“If he refuses to withdraw and wins, the Senate should vote to expel him . . . he doesn't belong in the United States Senate."  The way things develop and progress these days, Moore could have dropped out of the race by the time you read this essay . . .

The one person who has yet weighed in on all this, not surprisingly, is the POTUS.  He isn't about to do or say anything that could revive stories about his sexual history.  After all, this is the man who bragged on tape about his sexual conquests, using gutter language to describe various parts of the female anatomy.  He is smart enough not to do or say anything which could put his throne in danger.  Then too, by not chiming in, he is likely bolstering the future throne of Roy Moore, who would be a solid vote and/or voice of support for anything '45 dreams up.  Remember, '45 originally supported Moore's opponent - Senator Luther Strange - in the recent Republican primary (he even campaigned for him) and then announced, even before the votes were tallied, that if Strange lost, he would gladly and enthusiastically support Roy Moore.  

Will Roy Moore drop out of the race?  Will Attorney General Jeff Sessions resign his post in order to become a write-in candidate on December 12?  Will enough Republican voters hold their noses and vote for Democrat Jones?  Only time will tell.  But one thing is certain: no matter who wins December 12, there are going to be at least two losers: Roy Moore and the POTUS.

If Oscar Wilde were still among the living, he might write something like "People who live in glass houses shouldn't store thrones . . ."

285 days down, 1061 to go.

Copyright©2017 Kurt F. Stone

 

 

Are We Really That Gullible?

                   Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke

                   Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke

Without question, there is a universe of difference between that which is coincidental and that which strains credulity to the breaking point.  Coincidence?  That's Thomas Jefferson and John Adams - the friendliest of enemies - dying within hours of one another on July 4, 1826 . . . the "Golden Anniversary" of American independence.  Coincidence?  That's Mark Twain being born on November 30, 1835 - the day Haley's Comet made its once-in-75-years appearance in the earthly skies - and then dying (as he predicted) upon its next appearance, April 21, 1910.  Coincidence? The first worker to die during the construction of Hoover Dam was J.G. Tierny on December 20, 1922. The last person to die during its construction was J.G. Tierny's son, who died on December 20, 1935 . . . thirteen years to the day.

Unlike coincidence, those things which strain credulity to the breaking point essentially test not only intelligence, but gullibility - which we shall define as "a failure of social intelligence in which people are easily tricked or manipulated."  Case in point: supply-side economics, which holds - against all proof or reason - that severely cutting taxes on corporations and the truly wealthy will foster far greater economic growth than anything ever dreamed of by Keynes, FDR or any Democrat who ever lived. This is, in essence, the philosophical foundation of the Reagan, G.W. Bush, and Paul Ryan economic strategies.  (It should be noted that the Reagan tax cuts of the 1980s were so disastrous that he was forced to support what was at the time, the largest tax increase in American history.  Few remember that fact.) But despite the counter-intuitive nature of supply-side economics, it still has many, many adherents . . . especially among those it hurts most and helps the least.  Talk about straining credibility.  Just how gullible are we?

A second example of pushing gullibility to the very edge of reason is the current imbroglio over over the awarding of a $300 million contract to rebuild Puerto Rico's hurricane-ravaged electrical grid to Whitefish Energy Holdings, LLC, a tiny, two-year old, two-employee company based in Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's hometown. Whitefish, Montana (population c. 7,300), a resort town in the Rocky Mountains of northwest Montana, is a place, like the mythical bar "Cheers," where "everybody knows your name." The company's founder is one Andy Techmanski, described on the company's website as ". . . a trained journeyman lineman with over 22 years of experience completing critical utility infrastructure projects worldwide."  Not only does Zinke know Techmanski; the secretary's son worked a summer job at one of Techmanski's construction sites. That  both Secretary Zinke and Techmanski) deny anything fraudulent or collusive in the $300 million deal is, to put it mildly, straining credulity to the breaking point.  Just how gullible do Zinke, Techmanski and the Trump Administration think we are?  Coming on the eve of the first indictments in the Trump/Russia investigation being made public, this is unquestionably a controversy (scam?) the administration neither wants nor needs.

The controversy goes beyond the Zinke-Techmanski-Whitefish connection; much of it focuses on the high rates Whitefish is charging for labor. The contract shows labor rates which are well beyond pricey: $240 an hour for a general foreman and $227 for a lineman. The per diems are also expensive: almost $80 a day for meals, and $332 a day for lodging. Employee flights are billed at $1,000 each way. For subcontractors (the bulk of Whitefish's workforce) the prices go even higher: a general foreman costs $336 an hour and a lineman, $319.  (Anyone interested in wading through the contract, put on your glasses, park  your credibility by the side of the road, and click this link.)

Not surprisingly, Presidential Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told members of the White House press corps in no uncertain terms that “This is a contract that was determined by the local authorities in Puerto Rico," and that both her boss and Sec. Zinke discussed the controversy during their meeting this past Friday.  Moreover, Sanders said,  the interior secretary steadfastly avowed he had no involvement in Whitfish's being awarded the $300 million contract. In a statement coming out of his office Zinke said "Any attempts by the dishonest media or political operatives to tie me to awarding of (sic) influencing any contract involving Whitefish [Energy Holdings] are completely baseless. Only in elitist Washington, D.C., would being from a small town be considered a crime." In a grammatically challenged addendum, Zinke noted that “Neither myself nor anyone in my office has advocated for this company in anyway (sic). After the initial contract was awarded, I was contacted by the company, on which I took no action. All records, which are being made available to appropriate officials, will prove no involvement.”

To be certain, there is something rotten in Whitefish . . . heretofore famous for being the home of the late Dodger Rookie of the Year Steve Howe and former Bulls/Lakers/Knicks/ coach Phil Jackson. This just might be the straw that breaks the political camel's back for '45 and his flying circus. Already, several Congressional committees are launching investigations into the deal. As of this past Friday, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee  became the latest panel to probe the business deal. Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and ranking member Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) asked the Department of Homeland Security to review the contract to determine whether the Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA] will be responsible for reimbursing PREPA (Puerto Rico Power Authority)  the cost of Whitefish Energy’s work. Of all the putative scandals, political blunders and treating the federal government as just another subsidiary of the Trump Organization, this one could well turn out to be the sinful siren song which ultimately strands an administration on the shoal of political ruin.  For here, '45 and his "drain the swamp" henchmen may have gone too far by treating the citizenry just once too often as gullible stooges. There just cannot be that much mindless gullibility existing in America; no supposedly free nation can be home to so many so willing to accept such bilge. 

Even as this essay is reaching its conclusion, it may well be out of date: just a few minutes ago Fox News (!) reported that Puerto Rico's Governor,  Ricardo Rosselló has asked the board of Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority to cancel the contract with Whitefish Energy. Perhaps finally . . . finally, the administration has gone too far; has treated American gullibility as a bottomless pit of credibility. Let's all keep our eye on the ball . . . and demand that we begin being treated as citizens of worth, not as gullible, guileless cretins. 

America's future is at stake.

270 days down, 1,076 days to go.

Copyright©2017 Kurt F. Stone

 

 

 

 

"Your Noble Son Is Mad"

                                                     Hamlet: Act II, Scene 2

                                                     Hamlet: Act II, Scene 2

A little over 13 months ago (September 3, 2016 to be precise), I posted an essay entitled "Sundowning?"which speculated about whether or not the then-candidate Donald Trump was showing signs of presenile dementia - of "sundowning" (a term used to refer to behavioral changes that often occur in the late afternoon or evening in people with Alzheimer's disease and similar conditions). The piece was quickly picked up by the online Daily Kos and republished under the title "Is Donald Trump Suffering From the Sundown Syndrome?" Because the Daily Kos has a far, far larger readership than The K.F. Stone Weekly, it attracted something like twenty times the number of comments I might normally expect; many of these comments were positive; quite a few were negative. The main objection readers seemed to have about the essay was not that I was speculating on whether Mr. Trump was evincing signs of clinical madness, but rather that I - a non-psychiatrist/psychotherapist/clinical psychologist - should be so bold as to diagnose a person I had neither met nor spoken with.  Among analysts, I was repeatedly told, this is a deeply unethical no-no. 

(n.b. More than a half-century ago, an informal ban, known as “the Goldwater Rule," was put into effect.  This "rule" is the legacy of an embarrassing episode from 1964. That year, Fact magazine published a petition signed by more than a thousand psychiatrists, which declared that Barry Goldwater, who was then the Republican Presidential nominee, was “psychologically unfit to be President.” Goldwater lost the election (by a far, far greater margin than Hillary Clinton), but he won a libel suit against the magazine. The bad publicity seriously tarnished the reputation of psychiatrists, psychoanalysts and armchair speculators like yours truly.  And up until the rise of Donald Trump, the "rule" was pretty much observed.)

And while I am neither so egotistical nor deluded to think that my essay Sundowning? was in any way a factor for serious inquiry into '45's mental state, it was one of the earliest.  Over the succeeding 13 months long-distance psychological analysis of the POTUS has become a burgeoning cottage industry.  Back in February of this year Psychology Today published a piece entitled The Elephant in the Room: It's Time We Talked Openly About Donald Trump's Mental Health.  This in-depth article, coauthored by Rosemary K.M. Sword and Phillip Zimbardo, discussed in great detail the need to toss aside the "Goldwater rule" and seriously investigate the mental state of the then-newly inaugurated president. Their essay - which quickly went viral - stimulated a chillingly robust discussion within the mental health community.  It also led to the creation of an organization called Duty to Warna nationwide group made up of mental health professionals.  One of the first things the group did was to publish a petition which read, in part: 

We, the undersigned mental health professionals, believe in our professional judgment that Donald Trump manifests a serious mental illness that renders him psychologically incapable of competently discharging the duties of President of the United States. And we respectfully request he be removed from office, according to article 4 of the 25th amendment to the Constitution, which states that the president will be replaced if he is ‘unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”  Within six months, the petition was signed by more than 60,000 mental health professionals.

the-dangerous-case-of-donald-trump.jpg

Just the other day, Bandy Lee, (M.D., M.Div, Assistant Clinical Professor in Law and Psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine) published an epochal work, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President.  Putting the Goldwater rule on the top shelf of a closet marked "ethics" for the nonce, the 27 writers (including Gail Sheehy and Tony Schwartz, Trump's The Art of the Deal ghostwriter), and doctors (including possibly the two greatest living American thinkers in the field of mental health Robert J. Lefton, and Judith Lewis Herman, as well as, among others, Luba Kessler and Henry J. Friedman) reached some truly troubling - though easily observable conclusions.  The various physicians, analysts and writers find '45 to be an  “extreme present hedonist.” He may also be a sociopath, a malignant narcissist, borderline, on the bipolar spectrum, a hypomanic, suffering from delusional disorder, or cognitively impaired.  It should be noted that '45 is not the first POTUS to suffer from one or more of these mental issues.  As The New Yorker's Masha Gessen has noted: "Lyndon Johnson was bipolar, and John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton might have been characterized as “extreme present hedonists,” narcissists, and hypomanics. Richard Nixon was, in addition to his narcissism, a sociopath who suffered from delusions, and Ronald Reagan’s noticeable cognitive decline began no later than his second term."  But the saving grace for all these flawed presidents - even Richard Nixon - was that they surrounded themselves with seasoned professionals - men and women who were experts in their various fields - and were, more often than not, willing to listen and incorporate both the advice and analyses they were given.  Not so '45, who appears to listen only to himself.  Needless to say, this puts America - indeed the entire globe - in a potential state of peril. For a "leader" to be as unstable, bullying, insecure and narcissistic as '45 is, he could, like a petulant child, wage nuclear war just to get back at people who don't like him.  The world simply cannot afford to have a POTUS who is still - at age 71 - going through the so-called "Terrible Twos."

It should be noted that 45's father, Fred Trump, spent at least the last decade of his life in the throes of Alzheimer's Disease.  At the time of his death at age 93, he had great difficulty recognizing people.  In an interview some years ago, Fred Trump's son, the future POTUS, said he wasn't at all scared that the disease might be the last thing he inherited from his father. "Do I accept it?  Yeah," he told the reporter who asked the question. "Look, I'm very much a fatalist."  Although Alzheimer's Disease and many other forms of pre-senile dementia are not usually hereditary, the mental well being of the President of the United States is of great concern; especially this president, who has become a poster-child for a whole host of bizarre behaviors.  In his own way, '45 is reminiscent of Hamlet. 

One might recall that in Hamlet, the most brilliant play in the English language,  Polonius, father of Laertes and Ophelia, and the gasbag Lord Chamberlain of Hamlet's uncle, King Claudius' court.  In act II, Scene 2, the pompous, conniving old fool (Polonius) informs his boss that the noble Hamlet is crazy:

 

                                                                                             Since brevity is the soul of wit

                                                                             And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,

                                                                                       I will be brief: your noble son is mad.

                                                                                  Mad call I it, for, to define true madness,

                                                                                What is ’t but to be nothing else but mad?

                                                                                                      But let that go.

Translated into a more modern rendering, Polonius says:

                                                                        Since the essence of wisdom is not talking too much,

                                                                                          I’ll get right to the point here.

                                                                                                   Your son is crazy.

                                                                                “Crazy” I’m calling it, since how can you say

                                                                       What craziness is except to say that it’s craziness?

                                                                                             But that’s another story.

Unlike Polonius, Dr. Lee and her colleagues are neither gasbags nor conniving fools. And unlike the question of Hamlet's sanity, 45's madness is not "another story."  It is absolutely central to the health and safety of a nation . . . if not of an entire planet.

261 days down, 1,093 to go.

Copyright©2017 Kurt F. Stone

Where Once Were Giants . . .

Of late, our local PBS station has been rerunning Ken Burns' brilliant seven-part 2014 documentary The Roosevelts: An Intimate History.  It has kept me in rapt awe - the backgrounds, accomplishments and vast range of interests and abilities of these two distant cousins whose family fortunes had been secured several generations before their respective births (Theodore in 1858, Franklin in 1881).  Patricians of the first rank, the interests and accomplishments of TR of Oyster Bay and FDR of Hyde Park (who, in matter of truth, did not know each other all that well and whose sides of the family had a natural aversion to one another), were both broad and awe-inspiring.  I remember watching the series, narrated by the gifted actor Peter Coyote (born Rachmil Pinchus Ben Mosha Cohon) back in 2014.  For some reason it didn't affect me in the same way as it has this time around.  After giving the matter some thought, I discovered the reason why.

But first . . .

                                                        The Cousins Roosevelt

                                                        The Cousins Roosevelt

Neither TR nor FDR ever had to do a day's work; they never had to earn a penny.  And yet,  despite all this - despite the private tutors, exclusive prep schools, summers in Europe and undergraduate years at Harvard - they worked harder than any wage-earning laborer,  devoting their lives to expanding their personal horizons by devoting themselves to the political arena. and public service.  These men were, in brief, the embodiment of that all but forgotten motivator known as noblesse oblige (the obligation of honorable, generous, and responsible behavior associated with high rank or birth). Indeed, it gives me increasing pride that my parents decided to give me the middle name "Franklin," after the recently deceased POTUS. 

Yes, I am more than aware of the fact that there are a lot of contemporary "movement conservatives" who deride T.R. for being "more concerned about parkland than profits," and Franklin for being "a Socialist in aristocrat's clothing" and the "founder of the national debt."  Then too, many liberals score Theodore for having "made far too many trophies of far too many big game animals" and his Hyde Park lantsman for "turning his back on the Jews of Europe." Wall Street hated both these American blue bloods for being traitors to their class, while Main Street loved these patricians for offering the American working-class people first a "Square" (TR) than a "New" Deal (FDR).  Sure, they had their faults: TR was both an egomaniac and perpetual child; FDR wasn't terribly loyal to his wife and frequently played fast and loose with the truth.  Both could be insecure and mother-fixated. Both overcame debilitating physical conditions - TR's childhood asthma and FDR's polio)  which would have permanently invalided most anyone else.  But true to their heritage, they came to see themselves as preeminently healthy men with "physical conditions."  Nothing more, nothing less. 

And yet, despite the shortcomings and character flaws, they were  giants; real honest-to-god giants.   In addition to being the youngest-ever member of the New York State Legislature, New York Police Commissioner, New York Governor, a Rough Rider in the Spanish American War,  Assistant Secretary of State, Vice President and President of the United States, TR found time to father six children (one of whom died in WWI, and one in WWII), be one of the best traveled men of his time, write more than 3 dozen books (histories, biographies, political essays,  flora and fauna) including several which are still in print.  Likewise FDR, who was married to cousin Theodore's niece Eleanor, served in the New York State Senate, was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Navy, ran unsuccessfully for Vice President in 1920, was elected Governor of New York, and like his elder cousin, fathered six children.  Three of his sons would become combat officers in WWII.  Unable to walk or stand unaided due to polio, FDR nonetheless manged to stand and campaign in virtually every one of the then 48 states through 4 presidential campaigns. 

Unlike the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, neither of the Roosevelts - nor the Kennedys, Pells, Chaffees, Cabots, Lodges, Frelinghuysens, Rockefellers, Adamses Saltenstalls or Griswolds - sought political office as a lark . . . as just another quaint jewel-encrusted fob on a rich man's golden watch chain.  For the scions of American capital, politics was a calling, an urge - sometimes a necessity - to give something back.  And whether one agreed with their politics or not (I for one find little to recommend in the actions of say, the Cabots, Lodges or Frelinghuysens, but rather admire the Pells, Chaffees and Browns of California) the fact that generation after generation served the people is both noteworthy and laudable. Nowhere does the historic record find, say, a Griswold, Kennedy or Adams serving in office in order to benefit "the family business." Nowhere do we find them crowing over their family wealth, position or possessions. Though both TR and FDR had their suits tailored by Brooks Brothers, wore shoes and boots cobbled by Foster & Sons and ties handmade by Charvet, they were as comfortable in their own skin as a Main Street druggist.  Today, by comparison, we are led by a parvenu whose ego is far larger than his net worth, his manners those of a boorish brat, his braggadocio overpowering enough to make a battle-hardened marine wince.

Both TR of Oyster Bay and FDR of Hyde Park surrounded themselves with experts; men - and occasionally women - who knew more than they did about the one-thousand-and-one things a president must grapple with on a daily basis. They - the cousins Roosevelt -  were wise because they knew what they knew.  They were truly wise because they knew what they did not know.  They were exceptionally wise because they found - and listened to - people who knew one whole hell of a lot more about what they themselves did not know.  And in the end, it was they - TR or FDR - who made the decisions, embraced the applause . . . and when necessary, bore the blame.  Though as playful as pugnacious children and as intellectually appetitive as college freshmen, these men - like a majority of their predecessors and successors - represented the United States of America with both dignity and aplomb.  There was never the fear that through word, deed or spontaneous impulse that they would ever embarrass the nation they were elected to lead.

Yes, where once were selfless giants  now lives a selfish pygmy . . .

255 days down, 1,099 to go.

Copyright©2017 Kurt Franklin Stone

The Ever Shrinking Universe of Donald Trump

   A Group of Interacting Galaxies (Taken From the Hubble Telescope)

   A Group of Interacting Galaxies (Taken From the Hubble Telescope)

Quantum cosmologists - folks like Albert Einstein, Carl Sagan, Steven Hawking and Alan Lightman - study and theorize the origins of the universe.  Amazingly, the field is not a new one by any stretch of the imagination; as early as the 5th century B.C.E.,  the philosopher Democritus proposed that all matter was made of tiny and indivisible atoms, which came in various sizes and textures—some hard and some soft, some smooth and some thorny.  To be certain, there are significant disagreements between cosmologists about such things as the age of the universe, precisely when the "Big Bang" (BB) occurred, etc.   But then again, what could you expect when the two words making up the very name of the field (quantum and cosmology) are bipolar opposites? (quantum is the theory of the utterly small, while cosmology is the study of the unimaginably gigantic.)

One thing on which most every cosmologist agrees is the Big Bang theory, which posits that 14 billion years ago the entire observable universe was, in the words of MIT professor Alan Lightman “roughly a million billion billion times smaller than a single atom” and has been expanding ever since, to its current size of something like 100 billion galaxies.  When I first read that statement in Lightman's wonderful 2014 work The Accidental Universe: The World You Thought You KnewI spent the better part of a week pondering the bit about the pre-BB universe being "roughly a million billion billion times smaller than a single atom."  The thing that truly revved my mental engine was contemplating what was outside that universe.  Intellectually, of course, the answer is simply "nothing" . . . for there cannot be anything outside the universe.  But from a "grand-scheme-of-things perspective," the query produces a profound mind cramp.  Nonetheless, I will pretend that I follow what these brilliant ladies and gentlemen are positing, and agree that the universe has been expanding ever since the Big Bang. (Yes, there certainly are female quantum cosmologists; one of the greatest by far is Sandra Faber of the University of California, Santa Cruz,  co-inventor of the "theory of cold dark matter.")

Moving on from the mind-numbing realm of Quantum Cosmology to maddening world of big-time politics, we ask "What's outside a political universe when it starts shrinking?  And here, we are referring specifically to the current POTUS.  For over the past several weeks, his universe has been devolving at an alarming rate.  Consider that during a rather brief span - which for most new presidents would be a "period of good feelings," he has:

  • Sacked his National Security Adviser Michael Flynn after a mere 2 weeks and 2 days on the job;
  • Canned James Comey, Director of the FBI;
  • Shown his Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, the door;
  • Axed his Director of Communications Anthony Scaramucci after a mere 10 days on the job;
  • Fired his Chief of Staff Reince Preibus and Preibus' deputy, Katie Walsh;
  • Disbanded both the American Manufacturing Council and the Strategic and Policy Forum after members began resigning in droves;
  • Saw every member (minus 1) of the Presidential Committee on the Arts and Culture submit their resignations in a stinging rebuke which ended with the words "Supremacy, discrimination, and vitriol are not American values. Your values are not American values. We must be better than this. We are better than this. If this is not clear to you, then we call on you to resign your office, too." (BTW, the committee member who did not sign the letter was the committee chair, First Lady, Melania Trump); 
  • Accepted the resignation (?) of chief political strategist Stephen Bannon, who has already met with Breitbart News' chief financial backer, multi-billionaire Bob Mercer, and is ready to go to war with "globalists," who apparently include '45, his former boss and protégé;
  • Begun to be on the receiving end of some serious rebukes questioning his sanity, stability and moral integrity from leading Republicans including Senators Corker, Flake, Rubio and Hatch as well as a gaggle of former party leaders and professional media conservatives;
  • Been utterly trashed by his Art of the Deal ghost writer Tony Schwartz, who  predicted that '45 is getting ready to "call it quits" - and that the resignation will happen soon; 
  • And lastly (at least for purposes of this essay) has seen charity after charity, and cause after cause, cancel mammoth black-tie galas at Mar-a-Lago, thus putting a significant crimp in his income.

Indeed, things are not going well for the POTUS; his "base" is beginning to thin even while his world is imploding.  His universe is shrinking, leaving him more isolated than ever.  And what's worse, in the days following the neo-Nazi/white supremacist tragedy in Charlottesville, he has shown himself to be a moral albino; a man without a conscience or scintilla of shame.  And owing to his peculiar "mental makeup" (to be both kind and diplomatic) he has  become increasingly untethered.  I for one fear he is fully capable of launching a preemptive strike against North Korea as a means of expanding his deflated universe.

(n.b. The most recent issue of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists unequivocally states that the bellicose rhetoric of both North Korea's Kim and America's '45 has obscured a critical fact: to wit, that North Korea's Hwasong 14 ICBM is not nearly as powerful nor lethal as either side advertises, and as of now, is incapable of reaching the continental USA.  Much of what we are hearing and fearing is political hot air. Unquestionably, the misinformation serves both sides' political needs.)

One small sign of just how far his universe has imploded was Friday's announcement that he and the First Lady will skip this year's Kennedy Center honors "in order to allow the honorees to celebrate without political distraction."  Reading between the lines, what he's really saying is "I don't want to be booed by so many cultural icons on national television; my ego couldn't take it."   '45's decision to stay away from the star-studded gala means it will be just the fourth time in the program’s 40-year history that a president will not be in attendance. In 1994, President Bill Clinton skipped the event while on his way to Budapest for a conference. In 1989, President George Bush was preoccupied with a summit meeting in Malta with Mikhail S. Gorbachev. In 1979, Jimmy Carter did not attend because of the Iran hostage crisis.

In the seven months '45 has been POTUS, the moral authority of both Office of President and the country that the vast majority of the planet looks to for leadership has been both critically damaged and severely diminished.  How long it will take to put the brakes on this precipitous slide is anyone's guess.   Clearly though, there already exists enough evidence to impeach '45 on the grounds of abuse of power, obstruction of justice, and violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution.

There is already enough evidence of mental impairment to invoke the 25th amendment.  Just the other day, Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) did just that; she introduced a resolution asking Vice President Mike Pence and the Cabinet to consider removing President Trump from office under terms of that Amendment. 

Simply stated, the man must be removed from office.

To those who shake their head and say "But if we somehow manage to do the impossible and get him out of our hair, that means Mike Pence will become President," I respond in the words of former Labor Secretary Robert Reich: " . . . a principled right-winger is better for America and the world than an unhinged sociopath."

We conclude with a return to the world of science:

Some quantum cosmologists belong to a school of thought called the "two-headed theory" of the universe. This school sees the Big Bang as sort of a pothole in the long road of time, with the future pointing away from that moment in two opposing directions. In this theory, time moved in a way we would consider backward for billions of years — with the universe contracting all the while — until it shrank to subatomic size. Then the big bang occurred and time began to progress, and the universe expanded, in the way we see now.

So perhaps what we are going through these past 7 months is precisely that - albeit in miniature; a shrinking, chronologically retrogressive period in which our reality becomes too impossible to imagine, let alone wrap our heads around.  But remember, there is that second "head" . . . the Big Bang which causes the universe to progress, to grow, to - in terms of this essay - get us back on the path of political sanity and moral clarity.

It doesn't take an academy of quantum cosmologists or brainy theoretical astrophysicists to accomplish this task.  What it does - and will - take are elected officials with guts and principles and a citizenry that awakens to the realization that one need not be systemically predisposed to speaking out . . . just genetically incapable of remaining silent. 

Donald Trump must go!

211 days down, 1,246 (?) to go.

Copyright©2017 Kurt F. Stone

 

 

 

 

 

This Is Serious . . . Very, Very Serious

                                     Indy and Short Round

                                     Indy and Short Round

Up until late yesterday, I was fully prepared to devote this week's essay to '45, North Korea and the insane rhetorical brinkmanship going back-and-forth between the two nuclear nations.  Of how the POTUS has, whether consciously or not, taken a page from Richard Nixon's "I'm madder and badder than thou" playbook in order to scare the pants off of Kim Jong-un, and how '45's North Korean counterpart has ratcheted up his rhetoric to proclaim that his ICBM is " a gift for the American bastards" even as he promised a missile launch in the direction of Guam. I was looking forward to comparing '45's oratorical flourishes ("fire and fury like the world has never seen," as well as "locked and loaded,") to those of his North Korean counterpart, and quoting Asian sources who are now wondering aloud just who is more dangerous - Donald Trump or Kim Jong-un?  I was even thinking about putting in a word or two about '45's wild and woolly threat to take military action against Venezuela. 

I even had what I thought was a pretty good title containing just a soupçon of satire: This Is Serious . . . Very, Very Serious," which as any Indiana Jones aficionado knows, was said  (in slightly abbreviated form) by cinema's favorite archaeologist/adventurer when he and "Short Round" (a.k.a. "Shorty") were trapped in a death room as long-bladed swords began slowly and ominously descending from the ceiling. This scene and quote was of course in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

And then along came the horrifying events of the past 24 hours in Charlottesville, Virginia, which shoved my original essay into the "maybe next week" column. The one thing I have salvaged from the North Korea/mutually assured insanity/utter chaos at the White House piece is the title, which works just as well . . . if not better.

This Is Serious . . . Very, Very Serious. 

At this juncture, there is little need to go into much detail about the "Unite the Right" atrocity which took place in the town along the Rivanna River; constant cable coverage has pretty much made any such recap unnecessarily redundant.   For certain, this is a story that will continue receiving coverage for many days, if not weeks to come.  And among the media sidebars we should expect will be pieces putting faces on the leaders and major perpetrators, as well as informative (and no doubt chilling) sketches about the roughly one-dozen jack-booted, tiki-torch and Confederate flag-bearing, armed White Power, pro-Nazi, anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic groups that gathered in the shadow of the University of Virginia and Jefferson's Monticello.  Their goal? According to their leaders, to protest the removal of a statue of General Robert E. Lee from a nearby park. Their not so hidden agenda? To come to physical blows with any and all counter-protesters, thus sending a visual message to those who support their twisted, hate/fear-inspired Weltanschauung.  We know what they are and who they hate: Jews, African Americans, the LGBTQ community, Muslims, environmentalists, Democrats . . . indeed, anyone who doesn't look or think like them.  What they fear is that America is no longer "theirs."  In their rheumy eyes, America has been taken over by the dregs of society and must be stopped.  

What took place on the streets of Charlottesville was obviously not spontaneous.  Rather, it was the product of months of not-so-hidden prodding and planning and a couple of generations of growing, twisted psychopathology.  Seeing the torch-bearing hundreds wearing their various uniforms, brandishing guns, rifles and automatic weapons while chanting the old Nazi refrain Blut und Boden ("blood and soil") was - and is - a stark reminder that something serious . . . very, very serious . . . is taking place in the United States.  To wit, a growing and technologically savvy minority of miscreants who want to return to a time when America was controlled by White Men; when Jews, African Americans, women and immigrants knew their place and all heroes looked and sounded like John Wayne.   

Rhetorical responses to the Charlottesville massacre - in which, as of this writing, 3 have died and more than 2 been dozen injured - have ranged from the predictably outraged to the shockingly hateful to the toxically tepid.  A smattering of statements and Tweets:

  • David Duke, former head of the KKK (who attended the "United the Right" rally) called is "a turning point" in the effort to help people like him "fulfill the promises of Donald Trump."
  • Richard Spencer, co-editor of AltRight.com Tweeted "We came in peace. It was the police and antifa(cists) that used force against peaceful, lawful demonstrators. 
  • The POTUS's brief comment to the press was, to say the most, less than room temperature: "We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides, on many sides. What is vital now is a swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives."  Among the questions he ignored at the end of his statement were  "Do you want the support of these white nationalists?" and "Do you think the violence in Charlottesville should be considered terrorism?"

Responses to 45's comments varied greatly:

  • Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT): "We should call evil by its name. My brother didn't give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home."
  • Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO): "Mr. President - we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism."
  • Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL): "Very important for the nation to hear @POTUS describe events in #Charlottesville for what they are, a terror attack by #whitesupremacists."
  • Andrew Aglin, Founder of the Daily Stormer (a neo-Nazi, white supremacist, alt-right website): "['45] refused to even mention anything to do with us. When reporters were screaming at him about White Nationalism he just walked out of the room."
  • Barack Obama quoted Nelson Mandela: " . . . for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite."
  • Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT): "No Mr. President. This is a provocative effort by Neo-Nazis to foment racism and hatred and violence.  Call it out for what it is."
  • Even Anthony Scaramucci '45's former Communications Director (he lasted less than 2 weeks) insisted “I think he needed to be much harsher as it relates to the white supremacists, you have to call that stuff out.”

Hours after these responses to his public comments - both negative and positive, the Tweeter-in-Chief took to the internet and wrote "We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!"

Again, he did not specifically condemn the alt-Right, white supremacist or Neo-Nazi perpetrators. This is serious . . . very, very serious.

If '45 really, truly wants to "condemn all that hate stands for" he could start by immediately - and very publicly - firing:

  • Stephen Bannon, his White House Chief Strategist  and former Executive Chair of the far-right Breitbart News and
  • Sebastian Gorka, his far-right, anti-Semitic Deputy Assistant, who came to his boss's inauguration wearing a badge, tunic, and ring of the Order of Vitéz,  a far-right group listed by the State Department as having been " . . . under the direction of the Nazi Government of Germany' during World War II." (It should also  be noted that Gorka's mother Susan worked closely as a translator with David Irving, the discredited historian described by a judge as a "Holocaust denier … anti-Semitic and racist, and that he associates with right-wing extremists who promote neo-Nazism."

Alas, there is every reason to believe that '45 would gladly fire Bob Mueller and/or A.G. Sessions before he'd ever let go of Bannon and/or Gorka . . . and for the same reason: he doesn't want to do anything that would possibly alienate his beloved "base."  For it's his base - which apparently includes white supremacists, neo-Nazis, racists and anti-Semites - that ultimately gives him the adulation and ego strokes which keeps his emotional/psychic furnace ablaze.  It's this base that that makes him feel real, feel alive . . . feel presidential.

And this is serious . . . very, very serious.

Copyright©2017 Kurt F. Stone