Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

Filtering by Category: 2018 and Beyond

Drowning in a Dystopian Sea

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

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

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

Kafka The Trial.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

Adams & Jefferson Must Be Turning Over in Their Graves

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

Jefferson and Adams

Jefferson and Adams

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

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

Matthew Whitaker

Matthew Whitaker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone





Be Careful What You Wish For

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By now, it should be pretty obvious that few Democrats are using the "i" word in the run-up to November's midterm election. Savvy Democratic politicians avoid the word for a couple of good and obvious reasons . . . and a single, terrifyingly not so obvious one.  The first good and obvious reason is that making impeachment a central Democratic issue is both strategically dicey and, from a practical point of view, utterly rudderless. 

Secondly, trying to convince Democrats, Independents and disenchanted Republicans that a "Blue Wave" is all that stands between a strong, small-d democratic republic and a treacherous autocracy is likely a fool's errand. To anyone who's not part of the staunchly Democratic base, it sounds and feels like nothing more than an extension of cable news.  Simply stated, it isn't all that motivating.  Thirdly, the unspoken message becomes "We're going to spend a majority of the next 2 years issuing a ton of subpoenas, holding tens of dozens of investigative hearings and generally putting such issues as education, comprehensive immigration reform, gun safety, the opioid pandemic and climate change - to name but a few - on the back burner."  This is no way to convince the American voting public to put Congress back in the hands of Democrats.

Then there is that terrifyingly not-so-obvious reason why savvy Democrats aren't spending much time talking about indictment . . . let alone impeachment: it might just work.  "How's that?" you ask.  "And what's so all-fired wrong with that?  At least we'd be rid of the most crassly incompetent, most boorishly narcissistic POTUS in history."  Well yes, but wishing, working and praying for such a thing carries with it an even graver, more dangerous reality: Vice President Mike Pence would then become the 46th POTUS.

Famously, John Nance ("Cactus Jack") Garner, FDR's first V.P. described his office as "not worth a bucket of warm piss." Constitutionally, the Vice President could, in less graphic terms, be called "The Waiter-in-Chief." He waits for the chance to fulfill one of two duties prescribed by the Constitution: to break tie votes in the Senate, or to succeed presidents who, for whatever reason, cannot finish a term in office.  Vice President Mike Pence has already fulfilled the former.  After Paul Manafort’s guilty verdict, Michael Cohen’s guilty plea and the immunity deals worked out for the president's longtime CFO Allen Weisselberg and National Enquirer publisher David Pecker, (all within a single tumultuous week), it seems that Mr. Pence may fulfill the latter prescribed duty as well. And if it comes to pass, in the words of a recent piece by Los Angeles Times op-ed writers Michael D'Antonio and Peter Eisner, ". . . no one will be less surprised than Pence."  

From where I sit, the mere possibility of Mike Pence becoming POTUS scares me one whole hell of a lot more than the reality of his boss continuing to occupy the nation's highest office.  Why?  Well, where '45 can be counted on to be inconsistent, incompetent, frequently incoherent and largely lacking a moral compass, Mike Pence is dangerously consistent and tethered to an absolutist moral compass which sees  his presidency as preordained by God and the mass of humanity as enemies of the Divine Plan.  Pence has frequently described himself as “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican," in that order. While it may at first blush trouble people that this very, very moral man has amicably stood by and lent sycophantic support to the nation's immoralist-in-chief, once one gets to know the underpinnings of his belief structure, this seeming inconsistency makes perfectly good sense.  To understand Pence, one must first get to know his favorite Biblical verse (Jeremiah 29:11) which is on proud display at the Vice President's residence.  In Hebrew, the verse reads: 

     כִּי֩ אָֽנֹכִ֨י יָדַ֜עְתִּי אֶת־הַמַּֽחֲשָׁבֹ֗ת אֲשֶׁ֧ר אָנֹכִ֛י חֹשֵׁ֥ב עֲלֵיכֶ֖ם נְאֻם־יְהֹוָ֑ה מַחְשְׁב֚וֹת שָׁלוֹם֙ וְלֹ֣א לְרָעָ֔ה לָתֵ֥ת לָכֶ֖ם אַֽחֲרִ֥ית וְתִקְוָֽה

Literally translated as "For I know the thoughts that I think about you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope."  To Vice President Pence and those, like him, who were raised in the Calvinist tradition, everything, which happens - both the seemingly good and the wicked, the moral and immoral are predestined.  To those of us who were not raised or schooled in this translation, the actual meaning of Jeremiah 29:11 is somewhat different:

 “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  In other words, to Mike Pence's way of thinking the Lord has ordained the V.P. to lend support to the grossly immoral Donald Trump so that Mike Pence can become POTUS.  It's sort of like the Bible’s story of Cyrus, a pagan king who served God by protecting the Jews. In this case,  '45 plays the role of Cyrus, who is serving G-d by protecting conservative, Evangelical Christians, who believe themselves to be under mortal attack.  I don't know about you, but this scenario scares the daylights out of me.  In other words, Pence believes that God has a plan for him, and if that plan requires him to temporarily abandon his principles as well as his dignity, so be it.

Pence is regarded by some as the modern version of another Old Testament figure, Daniel, who safeguarded his fellow Jews while functioning as counselor to another pagan ruler, Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel aided the Israelites by appearing to abandon his Jewishness in Nebuchadnezzar’s court. Pence, the argument goes, sets aside his moral standards to retain access to Trump. From his insider's perch, he can do more good for religious conservatives than from the outside. And if he were to take that final step to the Oval Office, then the ends would justify the means.

Pence, unlike his boss, is not heeding the counsel of billionaires who ordain things to be done in the name of future riches. Rather, he heeds Biblical imperatives which ultimately lead to both a Christian nation and an "end-time" which will bring about the so-called "Second Coming" of the Messiah. (For Jewish people, please understand that in order for this "second coming" to come about, it will require all of us to return to Israel where we will be presented with one of two choices: conversion or annihilation.)  I don't know about you, but to my way of thinking, this is no way to run a government.  

Be careful about what you wish or pray for.  A Trumpless White House means the presidency of a man who firmly believes he has taken over the office because it is God's will that America become a nation devoted to Jesus.  We're all better off with at least one of the two houses of Congress being in the hands of the Democrats; not because we want to specialize in impeachment, but because we want to get on with making American work for us . . . the non-so-rich men, women and children who have the humility to know what they do not know, the strength to overcome their worst traits and the worth to see worth in everyone.  Better than Jeremiah 29:11, is the wisdom of an ancient sage named "ben Zoma," who, in an ancient work entitled פִּרְקֵי אָבוֹת  (pirkei avot - "The ethics of the fathers") we learn the following:

הַבְּרִיּוֹתאֵיזֶהוּ חָכָם? הַלּוֹמֵד מִכָּל אָדָם.  אֵיזֶהוּ גִבּוֹר? הַכּוֹבֵשׁ אֶת יִצְרוֹ.  אֵיזֶהוּ עָשִׁיר הַשָמֵחַ בְּחֶלְקוֹ. אֵיזֶהוּ מְכֻבָּד? הַמְכַבֵּד אֶת הַבְּרִיּוֹת      

Roughly translated: Who is truly wise?  The one who can learn from anyone.  Who is truly powerful?  The one who can curb their inclinations.  Who is truly wealthy?  The one who is happy with what they have.  Who is truly honorable?  The one who honors all humanity."

Make what you wish for and/or pray for truly count.

583 days down,
894 days to go,
70 days until the Midterm election.

MAKE SURE YOU VOTE!!

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

 

 

 

M.A.S.A.

              And You Thought  Paranthropus robustus Was Extinct?

              And You Thought Paranthropus robustus Was Extinct?

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

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

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

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

                                      That's One "Deplorable" Cap

                                      That's One "Deplorable" Cap

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

Answer?  It cannot – in any shape or form.

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

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

569 days down;

904 days to go;

83 days until the midterm election.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blandly Brainy: The Antidote to Boorishly Braggadocious?

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

                                              Blandly Brainy v. Boorishly Braggadocious

                                              Blandly Brainy v. Boorishly Braggadocious

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

549 days down, 924 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

 

Desperately Seeking At Least One 'Profile in Courage'

Profiles in Courage.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The book and its subject?

A Nation of Immigrants,

522 days down, 951 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

 

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

March on Pennsylvania Avenue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

430 days done, 1,029 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

 

From Generation to Generation

                           May 9: 1970: The March on Washington

                           May 9: 1970: The March on Washington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From one generation to another, we say:

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

"WE SHALL OVERCOME!"

400 days down, 1,157 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

Cleaning Up What the Elephants Leave Behind

Elephant poop.jpg

Having grown up in and around the movie industry, we got to know quite a number of actors, directors, choreographers . . . even a thespic animal or two.  One of my favorites was a broken-back horse named "Mickey," who appeared in a couple of dozen Mack Sennett flicks.  Being a devotee of "Roy Rogers," and "The Lone Ranger," not to mention that we,  as a family were friends of Bill Williams (née Hermann Katt, the star of "The Adventures of Kit Carson") and his wife Barbara Hale (Della Street on "Perry Mason") plus getting to spend an inordinate amount of time at Corriganville, (the Western movie set out in Simi Valley), I often found myself wondering whose job it was to rid the streets of all the horse manure.  Think about it: did you ever once see a speck of horse plop on the streets of Matt Dillon's Dodge or Roy Rogers' Mineral City?"  Obviously, there were people in Hollywood who made their livings shoveling tons of equine drek between takes. About the only Western star whose penchant for stark realism demanded horse droppings on his befouled sets was the greatest of them all, William S. Hart.

So what in the world do horse plop and classic Western movies have to do with this week's topic?  Actually quite a bit.  Just as as it required a team of devoted sweepers to sanitize the streets of Dodge (or Mineral or Virginia City) from the loads of crap left by all the horses, so too does it take a cadre of devoted  Donkeys (Democrats) to clean up all the dangerous droppings left behind by the Elephants (Republicans).  Take the Republicans' recently reconciled Tax Cuts and Jobs Actwhich few members of Congress have read and even fewer understand. This bill includes something for everyone to hate - unless you are incredibly rich or incredibly stupid. For besides drastically reducing the nation's corporate tax rate from 35% (which few currently pay) down to 21% and being a boon to the super wealthy, their bill would:

  • Put a lethal stake into the very heart of Obamacare, taking health insurance away from 34 Million Americans who will go back to using the ER as their primary care physician;
  • Repeal the Alternate Minimum Tax for corporations while letting it remain for individuals and couples;
  • Repeal  the deductibility of home equity loans;
  •  Nearly double the amount of inherited wealth exempt from tax to about $10 million from a current $5.6 million;
  • Repeal the deductability of alimony payments, which will wreak havoc with low- and middle-income folks seeking a divorce while further lining the pockets or their attornies;
  • Repeal the Johnson Amendment — a 1954 measure which prohibits houses of worship and other tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organizations from endorsing or opposing political candidates;
  • Eliminate the state and local tax deduction, which is taken by many people in high-tax (read "blue"), populous states to avoid double taxation. These states include New York, California, New Jersey and Massachusetts; 
  • Eliminate employer-provided educational assistance, the student loan interest deduction, and other critical higher education tax provisions;
  • Add between $1 and $1.5 trillion to the federal budget deficit over the next decade, which will necessitate deep cuts in such social programs as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in order to pay for it as well as drastically slashing the budgets of most every federal department and agency with the possible exception of the Department of Defense.

This then s the long-promised "major, major tax overhaul" which would

  • Drastically cut corporate taxes;
  • Lop thousands upon thousands of pages from the IRS regs;
  • Simplify  tax filing to the point where one could submit their taxes on a single postcard;
  • Put lots of money into the pockets of middle-class taxpayers,
  • Be absolutely "revenue neutral," and
  • Make America fiscally great again.

Never mind that at most, the Republican plan will put $20.00 a week back into the pockets of middle-class wage earners (at least for the first couple of years), take away any number of basic deductions for those earning less than $75,000 a year, and create new ways in which so-called "Pass-Through businesses," millionaires, multi-millionaires and billionaires can vastly increase their wealth.  And all this Congress has managed to shape, create, tweak and likely pass behind closed doors.  At 500-odd pages, it is by no means the longest piece of legislation in the history of the Republic; just the worst conceived cut-and-paste mean-spirited giveaway of all time.  For months, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin had been talking about  the painstaking analysis that hundreds of his employees were engaged in preparing twenty four hours a day, seven days a week.  Well, that analysis finally was released this past Monday.  It could easily have been contained on a single postcard.  Come to think of it, a single page or postcard is most fitting for this travesty, considering that the economic theory which underpins it all ("Trickle-Down," which was based on the so-called "Laffer Curve") was originally written on a single cocktail napkin.

One of the most devilishly clever aspects of this lobbyist-written plan is that all the changes affecting corporations and the hyper-wealthy are legislatively in perpetuity, while those which, at first blush may be helpful for the non-wealthy, have a life-span of only a few years.  That is when the draconian cuts begin - those additional revenues and fiscal savings required to make sure the tax code continues enriching the already rich.  For devotees of trickle-down this makes sense: once the rich get even richer, they will spend their newfound pelf on creating jobs here at home, thus putting more dollars into the pockets of American consumers.

Right . . . and there was never any horse crap on the ground at the OK Corral. Just ask Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, or Hank Fonda and Randolph Scott. 

It is left to the Democrats to pick up the brooms and shovels and clean up this Elephant-made mess.  But it will not be enough to merely explain and endlessly repeat what the pachyderms hath wrought. The Republican base - most of whom will suffer along with the rest of us - could care less; their leaders have told them it's a real mitzvah to help the rich get even richer. Those who know or even sense that the Republicans have legalized a ginormous game of Three Card Monty don't want to hear about it; they want to know what the Democrats are planning to do about it.  And not just some Huey Long "Soak the Rich!" cure-all.  No, in order to be successful in 2018, 2020 and beyond, Democrats are going to have to do a lot of soul searching, deep creative thinking and come up with specific proposals for how we're going to retake the future on behalf of America's working- and middle-class people.  We're going to have to talk about:

  • Making major investments in education that will place far, far more emphasis on putting future skills into the hands of students than siphoning off dollars to put into the pockets of charter school pirates. 
  • Committing ourselves as a nation to rebuilding our infrastructure and retrofitting our power grids: roads, national highways, bridges, dams, levees.  And not just for the sake of creating millions of jobs; infrastructure is as much a part of national defense as are bombs, bullets and counterintelligence. 
  • Addressing and acting upon those things which truly matter to the American public, such as healthcare, retirement and gun safety rather than divisive, diverting dog-whistle issues like "religious freedom for White Christians";  putting more and more guns into the hands of already well-armed people; deporting millions upon millions of undocumented human beings and constructing an American "Maginot Line" specifically designed to keep them out; making sure that evolution and climate change aren't "rammed down the throats of our children."

It's a tall, messy, malodorous order; this cleaning up of what the elephants leave behind, but someone's got to do it for the sake of America and the future of the planet.

331 days down, 1,127 to go.

Copyright©2017 Kurt F. Stone