Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

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Sen. Elizabeth "I Have a Plan For That" Warren

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There is a specter haunting presidential politics: whether to support the candidate whose policies and personality one likes best, or instead, to support the one person you believe will have the best chance of defeating the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. At this early date, few political wonks, geeks or activists have come close to aligning themselves to a particular candidate. Indeed many are caught between the devil and the deep-blue sea when it comes to answering the question “What yardstick or barometer should one use in selecting their presidential candidate?”: ideology and policy (which are based largely on fact) or a sense that candidate X or Y has the best chance of cold-cocking ‘45 and his alternate reality universe on November 3, 2020 (which is, of course, based far, far more on emotion)?

Hey, here’s a novel thought: what’s to say that we cannot find and support a candidate who combines intelligent, well thought-out policies with passion, a down-to-earth personality and the ability to inspire? For those of us who are already deep into our search, the name “Elizabeth Warren” is growing in stature and believability. While few have been watching, Senator Warren has been crisscrossing the United States and talking to voters face-to-face. It seems that hardly a day goes by without her offering up yet another plan or proposal addressing America’s most pressing “kitchen-table” needs. As a result, she has been moving up in the polls; as of today, June 17, 2019, the newest NBC NEWs/WSJ poll shows that a combined 64% of Democratic primary voters now say they are either enthusiastic or comfortable with Elizabeth Warren, up from 57% in March. A combined 27% say they either have reservations or are very uncomfortable with her candidacy, as compared to Senator Bernie Sanders (her chief progressive opponent) for whom 56% are either enthusiastic or comfortable (down from 62% in March), and a combined 41% say they either have reservations or are very uncomfortable with him. And, according to Bloomberg News’ Sahil Kapur, “A national Economist/YouGov poll released last week showed Warren in second place among the large Democratic field with 16%, behind former V.P. Joe Biden’s 26% and ahead of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’s 12%.

Typical of the Massachusetts’ senator, candidate Warren has neither crowed nor led a pep rally over these new polling figures. “I’m out there doing what I believe in. I get a chance to talk about what’s broken in America, how we can fix it, and build a grassroots movement to get that done. And I get to do it every day.” The one thing she does seem to communicate virtually every day is her latest “plan” for everything from rebuilding America’s infrastructure, to providing (and paying for) childcare for working-class and impoverished families, addressing (and paying for) Medicare for All, fixing a broken immigration system without resorting to fear-mongering, addressing global warming and reversing the Trump tax cuts for corporations and the hyper wealthy. (At this point in the essay, you may wish to check out Senator Warren’s campaign website, which details all of her proposals; they are a real eye-opener.)

And for all her efforts, the Republicans’ response has consisted of precisely 3 words: “Pocahontas,” “Socialist,” and “Radical.”

Pocahontas (Rebecca Rolfe)

Pocahontas (Rebecca Rolfe)

I would venture a guess that only a tiny fraction of those referring to her as Pocahontas have any idea of who she was, of why she has a place in American (and British) history, or that she who was born Princess Matoaka, in present-day Gloucester County, Virginia in c. 1596 and died Rebecca Rolfe in Kent County, England, at age 21. All they likely know is that in 1986, Senator Warren claimed to have Cherokee ancestry, took a DNA test to back it up, and has since apologized. The DNA test concluded that the “vast majority” of her ancestry was European but that her lineage was very likely to include one Native American ancestor somewhere between six and 10 generations ago. Regardless of this, ‘45 stuck her with the nickname “Pocahontas” and continues to mock her to this very day. And that, as mentioned above, is the sum and substance of what most Americans know about her . . . which is really next to nothing.

The coming months will predictably bring a whittling down of the roster of Democratic pols seeking nomination. They will leave the field either because they’ve:

  • Come in 5th, 6th, or lower in a primary;

  • Run out of money;

  • Made an on-camera boo-boo;

  • Had something from their past dug up and magnified to the point where it defines them;

  • Shown themselves to be not ready for prime time.

And since a majority of the 20 or so hopefuls are currently spending the majority of their time and money just making a name and identity for themselves with the public - separating themselves from the pack - you had better believe that there’s also going to be quite a bit of negativity.

Here’s where Senator Warren is different. Quite different. Like Senator Sanders, former Vice President Biden and Mayor Pete-of-the-unpronounceable-last-name, Elizabeth Warren doesn’t need to spend all that much time introducing herself to the public. But unlike them, she spends the lion’s share of her campaign time speaking truth to power; explaining what she intends to do in a Warren Administration.

And unlike most - if not all - of those running for the nomination, Senator Warren already has an enormous paid staff in place and working. By the end of March, Warren's campaign staff numbered about 164 people, according to payroll spending released this week in a quarterly Federal Election Commission disclosure. The 69-year-old candidate, who was the first major contender to jump in the race with a New Year's Eve announcement, now has a team of more than 170 people and plans to bring on new hires every month in the second quarter of 2019, campaign officials confirmed.

As Warren and her advisers see it, it's part of a larger strategy that diverts from past presidential campaigns that have prioritized spending on television ads. As voters change the way they consume information online, they say, Warren has focused on building a campaign operation in early-voting states like Iowa and New Hampshire, holding events (58 town halls in 14 states) where the emphasis is on answering questions (more than 250 from audiences), engaging with the press (105 one-on-one interviews and 44 media availabilities), and demonstrating substance on policy.

“We are building a grassroots organization that’s built to last,” said Kristen Orthman, the campaign’s communications director. “We have front-loaded a tight-knit team and set our organizational plans, priorities, and culture faster and in finer detail than anyone.” In other words, Elizabeth Warren began putting together her campaign - and future presidential staff - long, long before her official announcement.

As far back as 2009, journalists were beginning to take interest in Elizabeth Warren. In late October 2009, Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi wrote a major piece entitled Elizabeth Warren for President. (And mind you, this was less than a year into the Obama Administration.) In that article, Taibbi wrote: “We need someone … to re-seize the Party from the Wall Street interests that have come to dominate it … [Someone] who will know the difference between real regulatory reform and a dog-and-pony show, and will not be likely to fill a cabinet with bankers from Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley.”

The strength of Warren’s campaign is a series of detailed policy proposals aimed at correcting a series of corrupting inequities in American life. The first major proposal she released, on January 24th, was aimed at perhaps the biggest problem in American society: the wealth gap.

While working people almost all live off highly-taxed “income,” high net worth individuals mostly live off other revenue streams: carried interest, capital gains, inheritance, etc. Warren’s plan would create a net worth calculation that would hit households worth between $50 million and $1 billion with a 2% annual “ultra-millionaires tax.”

She has a similar plan for corporate tax, one that would wipe away the maze of loopholes big companies currently use, and force any firm that makes over $100 million in profits to pay a new 7 percent tax. “Amazon would pay $698 million instead of zero,” she says. “Occidental Petroleum would pay $280 million … instead of zero.”

Other proposals include a Too Big To Fail breakup program for Silicon Valley that would designate internet firms that “offer an online marketplace” and have annual revenues of $25 billion or more as “Platform Utilities.” Under the plan, “Google’s ad exchange and businesses on the exchange would be split apart,” and “Google Search would have to be spun off as well.”

Warren has also unveiled ambitious plans for cancelation of student debt and free college, universal child care and a new corporate accountability plan that would force high-ranking corporate executives to certify they’d conducted a “due diligence” inquiry, making it easier to prosecute them for misdeeds conducted under their watch.

She even created an “economic patriotism” plan that overtly targets many of the excuses for domestic job loss offered by her own party — automation, a “skills gap” or just blunt economic reality when trying to compete with cheaper labor abroad. She calls bull on it all. “No,” she writes, “America chose to pursue a trade policy that prioritized the interests of capital over the interests of American workers.”

She then laid out a series of plans that create “aggressive intervention on behalf of American workers,” create a “Department of Economic Development” and put an end to practices like corporations using public money for R&D, then eating the benefits in stock buybacks while exporting jobs. Her plan would give taxpayers an equity stake in publicly developed enterprises.

This idea has such broad appeal that it even had Tucker Carlson talking it up last week as he denounced companies that “wave the flag, but have no loyalty or allegiance to America.” She even got Carlson to rip Republicans, saying, “Republicans in Congress can’t promise to protect American industries. They wouldn’t dare. It might violate some principle of Austrian economics…”

Can Elizabeth Warren capture the Democratic nomination and even the White House? Can her utterly unique blend of political progressivism and economic populism; of small-town-Middle-American-single-working-mother values and Harvard Law School professorship; of writing books for the masses which discuss elite topics . . . actually work? (Senator Warren has written more than a dozen books. My favorites include A Fighting Chance, This Fight is Our Fight: the Battle to Save America’s Middle Class, All Your Worth: The Ultimate Lifetime Money Plan, and The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Parents Are (Still) Going Broke.

Can Elizabeth Warren succeed? Can she actually grab the Democratic nomination and then defeat ‘45? To be honest, I do not know the answer; my crystal ball has been in the repair shop since early November 2016. What I do know is that she is not the radical her opponents accuse her of being; rather, she is running against a radical who has instilled fear and silence in his supporters and both hatred and total fatigue in his challengers. Simply stated, Elizabeth Warren is surging in the polls because the more people learn about her and hear what she has to say, the more they realize just how refreshing and revitalizing a bipolar opposite can be.

The more ‘45 calls her Pocahontas, accuses her of being a Socialist and an effete intellectual snob without engaging her in serious debate about all the serious dinner-table issues she has spent a lifetime dealing with, the more obvious it will be that the emperor has no clothes . . . and even fewer brains.

When it comes to running against Donald Trump, Elizabeth Warren can honestly say “I have a plan for that too!”

508 days left until the 2020 election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

Buchanan and Trump: What's Past Is Prologue

Buchanan and Trump.jpg

One of the spookiest aspects of what’s going on in modern media is that major news stories and sidebars - which could and should be of historic importance - come and go in the blink of an eye, while pieces which are really no more than spicy gossip hang around for weeks and months on end. As but one example: a week ago, Federal District Judge Amit P. Mehta’s handed down a decision, which gave the president a stinging defeat in his bid to block a House subpoena of his financial records. Less than a week later, the case, DONALD J. TRUMP, et al. Plaintiffs v. COMMITTEE ON OVERSIGHT AND REFORM OF THE U.S. HOUSE OF ) REPRESENTATIVES, et al. Defendants (Case No. 19-cv-01136 (APM) has already faded into oblivion. At the same time, the doctored YouTube video of a “drunken” Speaker Nancy Pelosi has already attained legendary internet status. And, to make things worse, hardly any major media coverage included a key element in Judge Mehta’s decision: a section dealing with the nation’s 15th president, James Buchanan.

In what may well be the greatest irony of the century, the White House’s appeal of Judge Mehta’s decision will now be heard by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, whose current chief judge is none other than Merrick Garland, whom President Obama nominated to the Supreme Court in 2016 after the untimely death of Justice Antonin Scalia. (For those who may not recall, within minutes of President Obama making Judge Garland’s nomination public, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell proclaimed it DOA . . . a first in American history. And what makes Judge Mehta’s decision even more ironic is that all ‘45 said about it was something to the effect that “What do you expect? The judge was appointed by Obama!”)

Very few news sources mentioned that Judge Mehta opened his decision by quoting President James Buchanan protesting against a congressional investigation nearly 160 years ago, in which he claimed that said congressional investigation was a means of “furnishing material for harassing [the President], degrading him in the eyes of the country.”

I do, therefore, . . . solemnly protest against these proceedings of the House of Representatives, because they are in violation of the rights of the coordinate executive branch of the Government, and subversive of its constitutional independence; because they are calculated to foster a band of interested parasites and informers, ever ready, for their own advantage, to swear before ex parte committees to pretended private conversations between the President and themselves, incapable, from their nature, of being disproved; thus furnishing material for harassing him, degrading him in the eyes of the country . . . – President James Buchanan

In this statement, the feckless Buchanan (who served as the nation’s 15th POTUS from 1857-1861) was objecting to the House of Representative’s decision to investigate whether his administration had sought to improperly influence the actions of Congress. Sound familiar? Buchanan argued that Congress had no general powers to investigate him, outside of formal impeachment proceedings. If Congress were allowed to investigate his conduct outside of impeachment, he warned, it “would establish a precedent dangerous and embarrassing to all my successors, to whatever political party they might be attached.” Again: sound familiar?

“Some 160 years later,” wrote Judge Mehta in his introductory paragraph, “President Donald J. Trump has taken up the fight of his predecessor.”

At this point, two truisms come to mind: the first from Winston Churchill (who was likely misquoting philosopher George Santayana) and the second from Shakespeare:

  • Churchill: “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and

  • Shakespeare (from The Tempest): “What’s past is prologue.”

In light of our current political imbroglio, the apothegms of Churchill and Shakespeare are most prophetic. From what we know about ‘45 and a majority of his advisers and followers, they aren’t what one would call “students of history.” Lacking knowledge of - let alone curiosity about - American political history - they could easily cause history to repeat itself . . . which might not be such a bad thing.

Certainly, there are profound differences between James Buchanan and Donald Trump. For one, Buchanan (1791-1868) was our only bachelor president, while ‘45, of course, has been twice divorced and thrice married. And while Trump is the only president who never held elective office and one of the few who never served in the military, Buchanan was perhaps the most “prepared” public servant to ever be elected to the presidency. For prior to his election in 1857, he had:

  • Served as an enlisted infantry man during the British invasion of Baltimore (1814);

  • Was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives (1814-16); the United States House of Representatives (1821-31) and the United States Senate (1834-45);

  • Served as chair of the House Judiciary Committee (1829-31), Minister (Ambassador) to Russia (1832-33); U.S. Secretary of State under President James K. Polk (1845-49); and as Minister to England (1853-56).

And yet, besides being our only bachelor president, he is best remembered - if at all - for such historically disastrous episodes as “Bleeding Kansas,” the “Dred Scott Case” and the “Panic (financial collapse) of 1857.” And oh yes, at a time when the nation was terribly divided between pro- and anti-slavery factions, he was a a divider . . . a “Peace Democrat,” soon to be known as “Copperhead.” Much of what Buchanan accomplished (or rather, failed to accomplish) made the Civil War inevitable. Many historians and political scientists considered him “an invertebrate” when it came to making difficult decisions.

There are, to be sure, quite a few similarities between Buchanan and Trump:

  • In his run for the White House, Buchanan carried five northern states while sweeping the South, accumulating 45 percent of the vote. Trump would take six northern states, almost sweeping the South, and capturing 46 percent of the vote.

  • Both men were educated in Pennsylvania. Both were northerners and nominated to the presidency in Ohio cities.

  • Our 15th and 45th presidents came into office extremely wealthy. Both were old for their era when elected: Buchanan, 65, and Trump, 70. Popularity greatly mattered to both. Their views on states rights paralleled one another to a considerable degree.

  • Quarrels with Mexico and border protection dominated a great deal of their attention during their time in office.

  • White males were primarily responsible for both of their elections (of course, in 1857, neither women nor few non-whites could vote). Investigations also dominated both presidencies, with Buchanan dismissing his investigation as an “inquisition” while Trump branded his a “witch hunt.”

And oh yes, for the past many decades, presidential historians and political scientists have ranked Buchanan - along with Andrew Johnson, William Henry Harrison and Warren G. Harding - as America’s worst presidents. For the past two years, Donald Trump has ranked dead last . . . even worse than Buchanan.

Where ‘45 has to contend with the likes of House Committee Chairs Adam Schiff, (Intelligence) Jerry Nadler (Judiciary), Richard Neal (Ways and Means), Elijah Cummings (Oversight and Reform) and Maxine Waters (Financial Services), Buchanan’s single bugbear was Pennsylvania Representative John Covode, a former blacksmith who rose to become chair of the The Select Committee to Investigate Alleged Corruptions in Government. In 1860, Covode (1808-1871) and his committee (known to history as ‘The Covode Committee’) was mandated to conduct an investigation of the Buchanan administration to see if there was sufficient corruption and mismanagement to warrant impeachment. Despite the fact that they never did find sufficient grounds to impeach, it doomed the president; Buchanan was largely responsible for the dismemberment of his political party (then known as “Democrats,” caused the creation of a new party (“the Republicans”) and aided greatly in the election of Abraham Lincoln, the Founding Father of that party. For his efforts - or lack thereof - Buchanan went down in history as the worst (or second worst) President in American history.

Without question, Judge Mehta knows his political history. Otherwise, why would he quote Buchanan at the beginning of his legal decision? Churchill/Santayana/Shakespeare were right: ‘45 will not only challenge Buchanan for last place in the ranking of worst presidents; he could also be responsible for the dismemberment of an entire political party.

If only he, his advisers, staff and family had paid attention to the lessons of history, ‘45’s legacy might look more hopeful today. But do remember: Abraham Lincoln, the man who succeeded the heretofore last-place Buchanan, is unanimously considered the best POTUS in our history. (With the single exception of the preeminent presidential historian Jon Voight . . . who claims ‘45 is even greater than the Great Emancipator.)

Shakespeare’s Antonio was correct: “What’s past is prologue.”

530 days until the next election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

 

Laughter: The Only Medicine?

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Let’s face it: the level of civic anger and despair - not to mention the consequent imbibing of Gamay Beaujolais and other tasty varietals - is at an all-time high. Patience, propriety and political maturity have become as rare as a winning season for the Miami Marlins. What were once low-decibel disagreements between friends, colleagues or acquaintances have morphed into cacophonous, often friendship-busting battles. Families have to think twice about who will or will not be invited to Thanksgiving dinner - or next week’s Passover Seder - lest a rancorous dust-up occur. Simply stated, in far too many cases, partisan politics have driven a wedge between far too many people. Our levels of pique and personal enmity have soared to stratospheric heights; we have forgotten how to laugh - at ourselves and at others.

I have long been of the opinion that one important mark of a successful person is that while co (my pronoun for her/she) tends to be quite serious about what they do, they don’t necessarily take themselves too seriously. A bit of self-directed humor - the ability to laugh at oneself - can be a good thing. Those who laugh at - and make fun of - others but go bananas when others laugh at - or make fun of - them are - in my experience - people afflicted with terribly thin skin, as well as an admixture of low self-esteem, egotism and overarching narcissism. When it’s a run-of-the-mill person that’s afflicted with this “thin-skin-mixed-with-egotism-low-self-esteem-and-narcissism syndrome” there is little harm that he or she will tear down society. When it’s the most powerful person on the planet who’s so afflicted, we’re all in danger.

Unlike just about anyone who’s ever been in the public eye, ‘45 greatly prefers that people be angry with him, rather than laughing at him. To him, it’s a mark of achievement to infuriate women, minorities and assorted college-educated progressives. Unlike just about any other “leader” we’ve ever encountered, our anger is something he revels in. What he cannot and will not abide is for people to laugh at or ridicule him. That’s why he never attends the White House Correspondents’ Dinner (often referred to as WHCD or “NerdProm”). The last one he attended was in 2011 - 5 years before he ran for POTUS. You may remember how infuriated he became when then-President Obama skewered “The Donald” saying, among other things, ”No one is prouder to put this birth certificate matter to rest than The Donald. And that's because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter, like, did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac?” (n.b. The 2011 WHCD took place just days after Mr. Obama released his long-form birth certificate - a document Mr. Trump then claimed did not exist. )

Yes, ‘45 simply hates it when people laugh at or ridicule him. And when they do, he fires back, both guns blazing. How many times has he threatened and insulted” Saturday Night Live” for portraying him as a malevolent, clueless clown?  Seeing a humorous - though accurate - reflection of himself is something ‘45 just can’t stomach.  It tears at his self-image - one of vast wealth, brilliant achievement and utter decisiveness. But ‘45, like any vainglorious narcissist, cannot tolerate looking in a mirror that reflects his true ugliness.

That’s why he hates it when anyone laughs at him.  He thinks people should be afraid of him, angry at him, in awe of him and in love with him. It gives him power when anyone gets outraged.  He wants that attention along with the adoration.  But he cannot stand being a joke or a failure, and he will go to great lengths including obstructing justice to maintain his self-image.

We are all familiar with the various nasty nicknames he’s pinned on those who run against or disagree with him: “Low Energy Jeb,” “Little Marco,” “Crying Chuck” and “Pencil Neck [Adam] Schiff” to name but a few. In ‘45’s case, he’s not laughing at them; rather, he’s in full-scale attack mode. And woe betide anyone who actually tries to employ facts to back up their case against him - or to use his own words to show up the wizard behind the curtain. It’s at that point Sir Donald of Orange will haul out the “Fake News!” claim.

There are already far, far more nicknames the public has created for our ‘45th POTUS than ‘45 has created for his enemies. There is actually a website devoted to the more than 400 nicknames people both great and small have affixed to the man who would be tyrant. Some of my favorites are:

  • America’s Black Mole: Given by John Oliver on Last Week Tonight.

  • Barbarian at the Debate: Given by Charles M. Blow.

  • Groper-in-Chief: Given by Nicholas Kristof.

  • Riptide of Regression: Given by Dan Rather.,

  • Dimwit Don : by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Kurt Eichenwald, and

  • Cadet Bone Spurs by an anonymous blogger who goes by the handle “Eagle of Freedom”

Want to get past the anger and distress while brandishing little more than a verbal whoopee cushion? Perhaps the best thing will be laughter and ridicule; two things which the POTUS hates the most. True, if enough people would join in on the laughter and ridicule, it might force him to respond with acts of madness. But who knows? Perhaps if he acts with even greater madness, people on his side of the aisle will gird their loins, hitch up their trousers and finally, finally stand up to him, shouting out ENOUGH ALREADY . . . SIT!!

If you’ve got a new nickname for “Don the Con,” please send it along and we’ll add it to the list.

For after all, in the long run, laughter could very well be the best - if not only - medicine of all.

How’s about Mrs. Putin?

569 days until the next election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

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

Reps. Ocasio-Cortez, Omar and Tlaib

Reps. Ocasio-Cortez, Omar and Tlaib

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

623 days until the next presidential election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

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

                                       Walking Across Lake Michigan

                                       Walking Across Lake Michigan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

637 days until the next presidential election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone














Getting Stoned

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Milburn Stone . . . Old “Doc Adams”

Milburn Stone . . . Old “Doc Adams”

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

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

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

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

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

Niixon's the One.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright ©2019 Kurt F. Stone

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

wall.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 3, 2020 is a mere 672 days away.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

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

Roy Cohn and Sen. Joseph McCarthy

Roy Cohn and Sen. Joseph McCarthy

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

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

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

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

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

The Young DJT With Roy Cohn c. 1974

The Young DJT With Roy Cohn c. 1974

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

‘45 and Michael Cohen - His Former “Fixer”

‘45 and Michael Cohen - His Former “Fixer”

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

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

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

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

Irony is wasted on the stupid.

701 days to go until the next election . . .

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone



Among the Many Things I Do Not Understand . . .

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

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

  • What’s another word for synonym?

  • If vegetarians eat vegetables, what do humanitarians eat?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • National Healthcare;

  • An end to senseless fear as a political motivator;

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

  • Reviving public education;

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

  • Restoring both civility and maturity to our public life;

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

  • Ending Citizens United, and

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone










Adams & Jefferson Must Be Turning Over in Their Graves

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

Jefferson and Adams

Jefferson and Adams

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

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

Matthew Whitaker

Matthew Whitaker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone





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

Lewis Chas. Levin (1808-1860)

Lewis Chas. Levin (1808-1860)

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Typical anti-Catholic Cartoon of the 1840s

A Typical anti-Catholic Cartoon of the 1840s

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

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

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

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

The Burning of St. Michael’s Church

The Burning of St. Michael’s Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright©2011, 2018 Kurt F. Stone

Those Pesky, Incomprehensible Constitutional Amendments

amendment ballot WTVT_1539812899329.jpg_6233370_ver1.0_640_360.jpg

(West HIlls, CA) During the midterm elections of 1964, California voters, like Florida voters in 2018, were asked to approve or reject a number of Constitutional Amendments. Then, as now, many of the ballot amendments, were written in incomprehensible legalize. One particular amendment - #14 - was a real doozy. It read, in part, as follows:

“Neither the State nor any subdivision or agency thereof shall deny, limit or abridge, directly or indirectly, the right of any person, who is willing or desires to sell, lease or rent any part or all of his real property, to decline to sell, lease or rent such property to such person or persons as he, in his absolute discretion, chooses.”

A cursory reading of the amendment seemed to imply that no one could be denied the right to purchase or lease a property based on their race, creed or color. In fact, the amendment did precisely the opposite; it was meant to overturn the 1963 Rumford Fair Housing Act, which the State Legislator had enacted in order to help end racial discrimination by property owners and landlords who refused to rent or sell their property to “colored” people. And so, in order to hopefully keep this discriminatory amendment from encoded in the state Constitution, liberals and progressives began a mass “No on Prop. 14” campaign. I can well remember going door-to-door with my slightly older sister Erica, two wide-eyed teenage idealists, attempting to explain to our neighbors why a “no” vote on Prop 14 actually meant a “yes” vote for racial equality in the housing market.

Despite our best efforts, it failed: Prop. 14 passed with 65.39% of the vote (4,526,460 votes in support and 2,395,747 votes against). Soon after it was passed, the federal government cut off all housing funds to California. And then, the California Supreme Court held that that Proposition 14 violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the federal Constitution. Their decision was eventually upheld by the United States Supreme Court The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the California Supreme Court's decision in Reitman v. Mulkey (1967), holding that indeed, Proposition 14 was invalid because it violated the equal protection clause. The proposition was repealed by Proposition 7 in the November, 1974 election

Historically, this represents one of the more egregious instances of linguistic obfuscation.  The current Florida ballot, which includes 12 constitutional amendments (although it ends with # 13, there is no there is no #8 – the state Supreme Court took it off the ballot). Sadly, many voters fail to read, review or ponder these amendments prior to arriving at their respective polling places. And then, when they see how much there is to read, they become frustrated and confused. In an attempt to cut through the verbosity and pesky mumbo jumbo, we present a brief pro-and-con of what’s on the ballot. Many, many thanks to our family friend, the Sun Sentinel’s Dan Sweeny, for his wisdom and insight.

Amendment 1: Increased Homestead Property Tax Exemption

Proposed by: Florida Legislature

What it would do: Floridians would be able to deduct the value of their homes between $100,000 and $125,000, in addition to the existing homestead exemption on the first $50,000. So, a home worth $200,000 would now be worth $125,000 in terms of taxable value. But a home worth $100,000 would still only be able to take $50,000 from the value.

Pros: Homeowners whose homes are worth more than $125,000 would get an extra $25,000 off the cost of their homes when determining property taxes. Given that median home prices in South Florida are well above $125,000 (Broward: $298,900; Palm Beach: $323,000; Miami-Dade: $365,000 and Monroe: $629,000, according to Realtor.com), that’s a significant tax cut for South Florida homeowners. Most homeowners will save between $200 and $300 a year.

Cons: This tax cut would not affect renters or those in homes with the lowest values, which means the poorest Floridians would not benefit. Plus, it may mean a few hundred bucks in savings for Florida homeowners, but all of that adds up to major holes in county budgets: about $650 million worth in just the 2019 fiscal year. That could mean increases in taxes and fees elsewhere to make up for the shortfall, or a reduction in services. MY VOTE: NO

Amendment 2: Limitations on Property Tax Assessments

Proposed by: Florida Legislature

What it would do: Right now, the assessed value of non-homestead properties can be increased only 10 percent in any given year, excepting school district taxes. But that limitation is set to expire on Jan. 1, 2019. If voters approve this amendment, the limitation on property tax increases would be made permanent.

Pros: Taxpayers would be protected from large, sudden increases in property taxes in the future when the value of properties rises in boom years.

Cons: There is no organized opposition to Amendment 2. MY VOTE: NO (No tax revenue should be limited or prohibited in the constitution.)

Amendment 3: Voter Control of Gambling in Florida

Proposed by: Petition drive carried out by Voters In Charge, a political committee largely financed by Disney and the Seminole Tribe.

What it would do: Any expansion of casino gambling in Florida would have to be approved by voters. That includes expansion of slot machines and other electronic betting devices as well as games like blackjack, roulette and craps.

Pros: From the perspectives of Disney and the Seminole Tribe, the pros are obvious. This amendment makes it harder to expand gambling in Florida, decreasing competition for tourist dollars. And for people who consider gambling a societal ill, making its expansion harder in Florida also has obvious positives.

Cons: With the state and the Seminole Tribe in and out of court over their revenue-sharing agreement regarding Seminole casinos, the future for that line of revenue, which brings hundreds of millions of dollars to the state, is unclear. Preventing the Legislature from pursuing gambling legislation means the state may not be able to make up that revenue should it ever go away. MY VOTE: YES

Amendment 4: Voting Restoration

Proposed by: Petition drive carried out by Floridians for a Fair Democracy, a political committee funded in large part by the American Civil Liberties Union, several philanthropic nonprofits, and the children of billionaires David Bonderman and Jim Simons.

What it would do: This amendment would restore the right to vote for all ex-felons, except murderers and sex offenders, who complete their sentences.

Pros: The high-minded upside is that voting rights are given to American citizens who have been disenfranchised and now have no say in what is supposed to be a representative democracy. The practical effect depends on how many of the estimated 1.6 million ex-felons who have been disenfranchised opt to register to vote. For those that do, though, studies have shown a correlation between being civically engaged and low recidivism.

Cons: Gov. Rick Scott and other Florida officials who support the current clemency process have argued that it’s important for offenders to prove that they are ready to re-enter society before regaining the right to vote. MY VOTE: YES

Amendment 5: Supermajority Vote Required to Impose, Authorize, or Raise State Taxes or Fees

Proposed by: Florida Legislature

What it would do: Passage of this amendment would require a two-thirds majority of the Legislature to raise any tax or fee.

Pros: The obvious positive point from a taxpayer’s perspective is that it would be incredibly difficult for the Legislature to raise taxes.

Cons: The downside is actually the same as the upside. Critics of the amendment, including a new Floridians for Tax Fairness committee backed by labor union money, argue that it would protect corporate giveaways and make the Legislature far less nimble in times of crisis. MY VOTE: NO

Amendment 6: Rights of Crime Victims, Judicial Retirements

Proposed by: Constitution Revision Commission

What it would do: The main thrust of the amendment would set up a list of rights of crime victims, including the right to due process, to be “reasonably protected from the accused,” the right to have their safety considered when judges set bail, and the right to be heard at public trial proceedings.

The amendment would also raise the required retirement age for judges from 70 to 75, and require judges to not consider a state agency’s interpretation of a law when interpreting the law themselves.

Pros: Most Florida sheriffs support the amendment for its major expansion of victims’ rights.

Cons: The Florida Public Defenders Association and the Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union have joined the League of Women Voters in opposing the amendment, according to the League. They say the new victims’ rights would mean people accused of crimes would face new time limits on appeals and that a current provision that states victims’ rights cannot infringe on the rights of the accused would be eliminated. MY VOTE: NO

Amendment 7: First Responder and Military Member Survivor Benefits; Public Colleges and Universities

Proposed by: Constitution Revision Commission

What it would do: To raise any fee — tuition not included — a university board of trustees would need nine votes out of its 13 members. For a fee to be raised system-wide the State University System’s Board of Governors would need 12 out of 17 members to approve.

Additionally, the surviving spouses of military members and first responders killed in the line of duty would receive a payment of death benefits from the state and would have some educational costs at public institutions waived.

Pros: The costs of college could be kept down by requiring a higher threshold to increase fees. The amount of taxpayer dollars it would cost to pay out death benefits and educational expenses is negligible.

Cons: Like Amendment 5, which makes it harder for the Legislature to raise taxes, setting the bar higher to increase fees would allow a small group of trustees to prevent any fee raises, potentially handicapping a university’s ability to pay for services. MY VOTE: NO

Amendment 9: Prohibits Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling; Prohibits Vaping in Enclosed Indoor Workplaces

Proposed by: Constitution Revision Commission

What it would do: Offshore drilling would be banned in “Florida territorial seas,” which includes about nine miles west of Florida and three miles east of Florida or to the Gulf Stream, whichever is furthest. The amendment would also add vaping to the state’s already-existing ban on smoking in indoor workplaces.

Pros: For environmentalists, a constitutionally mandated ban on offshore drilling would be a big win. As for vaping, there’s still a great deal of disagreement about just how bad secondhand e-cigarette vapor is compared with traditional cigarette smoke, but most of the studies out so far show that, while not as harmful as smoke, it’s also not 100 percent safe, containing not just nicotine but also aluminum and carcinogenic hydrocarbons.

Cons: There’s the potential loss of state revenue that would come with selling offshore drilling rights. Vapers would have to go out in the hot sun to get their fix. MY VOTE: YES

Amendment 10: State and Local Government Structure and Operation

Proposed by: Constitution Revision Commission

What it would do: First, this amendment would permanently move legislative sessions in even-numbered years to January. It also would make constitutional requirements of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement counterterrorism office and the state’s Department of Veterans Affairs. Finally, the amendment requires all counties to have an elected a sheriff, tax collector, property appraiser, supervisor of elections, and clerk of court. If this amendment passes, Broward County would have to have an elected position of tax collector, and Miami-Dade County would have to have an elected sheriff.

Pros: For some, having elected positions rather than these constitutional officers being appointed by an elected body means more accountability.

Cons: Allowing a county commission to select these positions means the commission gets to pore over resumes to find the best person for the job. The life experiences and personality traits that allow one to win a countywide elected office may not necessarily be the same as those that make somebody a good cop, or a good accountant. MY VOTE: NO

Amendment 11: Removal of Obsolete Provisions

Proposed by: Constitution Revision Commission

What it would do: This would simply delete wording regarding a high-speed rail amendment that has since been repealed and delete wording that bans property ownership for “aliens ineligible for citizenship.” This is no longer an issue, but harks back to century-old, now-overturned laws such as the Chinese Exclusion Act.

Pros: The already overly long Florida Constitution would be just a little more precise and brief with the removal of outdated and unconstitutional provisions.

Cons: None MY VOTE: NO

Amendment 12: Lobbying and Abuse of Office by Public Officers

Proposed by: Constitution Revision Commission

What it would do: Elected officials would be banned from lobbying the bodies they were elected to for six years after leaving office. Former justices and judges would also be banned for six years from lobbying the legislative or executive branches of state government. In addition, the amendment would ban any elected official from using their office to receive a “disproportionate benefit” for themselves, their families or their businesses.

Pros: With the Florida Legislature’s eight-year term limit, lawmakers-turned-lobbyists would be unable to lobby most former colleagues.

Cons: It remains to be seen just how much teeth this would have, given that the amendment leaves it up to the Legislature to determine what penalties lawmakers would face for abusing the lobbying ban. MY VOTE: NO (It could easily keep many first-rate people from ever running for office.)

Amendment 13: Ends Dog Racing

Proposed by: Constitution Revision Commission

What it would do: Technically, this amendment doesn’t actually ban greyhound racing in Florida. It bans people from racing dogs “in connection with any wager for money or any other thing of value,” and also bans would-be gamblers from betting “money or any other thing of value on the outcome of a live dog race occurring in this state.” Greyhound racing would be banned by 2021, and track owners would be allowed to keep their gambling permits even if they halt racing by 2019. In other words, Florida’s 11 dog tracks would still be able to operate as card rooms and, in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, larger-scale casinos that offer slot machines.

Pros: For animal rights advocates, the end of dog racing in Florida would be a huge coup. Florida has more dog tracks than the rest of the country combined.

Cons: Greyhound trainers, breeders and others involved in the business say the end of live dog racing in Florida means significant job losses. MY VOTE: NO (As much as I love dogs and hate greyhound racing for humanitarian reasons, this issue simply does not belong in the state constitution; it would be better handled by local county governments.)

The above is a mixture of the reasonably objective and totally subjective; a blend of hard fact and opinion (hopefully) backed up by knowledge. You don’t’ have to agree with me; you do have to do some contemplation; you bloody well must cast your vote!

Midterm elections are a mere 16 days away!

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

The Children's Hour

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Without question, the governor’s race down here in Florida is turning into a textbook example of all that’s wrong in American politics. Pitting former Republican Representative Ron DeSantis (whom the POTUS endorsed a full two months before the primary) and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum (who was endorsed by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders just a week before the Democrats’ hotly contested primary) the race has been characterized with far more shadow than substance; more catcalls, charges and counter-charges, than substantive issues. Mayor Gillum and his surrogates have pointed out Rep. DeSantis’ ties to racist, antisemitic, organizations such as the Proud Boys, while the DeSantis campaign has texted thousands upon thousands of Floridians with “Jewish sounding names,” warning that both Mayor Gillum and his running mate, Orlando entrepreneur Chris King, are both anti-Semites; that Gillum has strong ties to CAIR (The Council on American-Islamic Relations), and that when he was a student at Harvard 20 years ago, King made a blatantly anti-Semitic comment. And where DeSantis and his running mate, Florida state Rep. Jeanette Nuñez are busy denouncing their opponents for being “ultra far-left, socialist anti-capitalists who want to raise taxes, expand sanctuary cities and boycott Israel,” the Gillum/King ticket is damning their opponents for being in the hip pocket of the National Rifle Association, “big sugar,” and Donald Trump. The political amplifiers are set at maximum when it comes to ad hominem attacks, and barely audible when dealing with issues.

Yet again, what is supposed to be a serious political campaign has turned out to have about as much credibility as characters in Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour. There is no mistaking the fact that the political worldviews of Mayor Gillum and Rep. DeSantis are, to say the least, completely bipolar. One need only check out their respective websites to find out what their goals and proposed solutions are. Mayor Gillum is a progressive Democrat from the Bernie Sanders wing of his party. His top issues include gun safety, education, jobs, healthcare and Israel. With regards to the latter, Gillum, who has been accused of cozying up to the Palestinians, flatly states “I will continue to support anti-Boycott, Divest and Sanctions [BDS] legislation passed last year with overwhelming support in both houses of the legislature . . . . As Governor, I will continue to push back against anti-Israel efforts, like BDS, that question Israel’s existence as a Jewish state, and will support bipartisan measures that help deter such practices.”

Rep. DeSantis is is a highly conservative Republican from the Donald Trump wing of his party. His main issues include the environment, education, immigration, ending what he calls “judicial activism,” ”Stand[ing] up for law-abiding Floridians by defending their Second Amendment rights ”and “Defend[ing] First Amendment speech rights against those in academia, media and politics who seek to silence conservatives.”

Interestingly, while Mayor Gillum’s website goes into far greater detail presenting his pro-Israel bona fides, and his commitment to the Jewish State, Rep. DeSantis’ only mention is an attack on his opponent for what he calls “His anti-Israel Associations.” These “associations” include the above-mentioned CAIR, as well as Dream Defenders and Black Lives Matter. Fact checkers at the Tallahassee Democrat found some of Rep. DeSantis’ charges less than compelling, others down-right wrong. Interestingly, applying the same investigative standards to charges against Mr. DeSantis for associations with far-right groups and giving speeches at gatherings of alt-right and what is now being referred to as “White Chauvinist” groups, fact checkers found ample evidence that indeed, he does have these associations. And as will be recalled, less than 24 hours after Gillum won the Florida Democratic primary, DeSantis was warning voters that if elected, his opponent’s “left wing agenda” would “monkey things up.” Where many heard in these words a “racist dog whistle,” Gillum characterized them as “a bullhorn.”

Neither candidate DeSantis nor his campaign have denied that they were responsible for all the text messages to voters they presumed were Jewish. Despite calls from community leaders - both Jewish and non-Jewish - that he disavow and apologize for the text, DeSantis has been mute. And to a certain extent, the texts have done their job. Yesterday’s op-ed section of the Sun Sentinel carried 2 letters supporting Ron DeSantis for governor specifically because “Gillum and his running mate are both anti-Semites.” “I don’t know why that should be surprised people. read one (a reader named “Bluestein) “Gillum is an Obama acolyte, cut from the same socialist cloth, and, in my view, there was no bigger anti-Semite than he.”

In a time when anti-Antisemitism is on the rise, this pointing fingers at Gillum and King, accusing them of being anti-Semitic and anti-Israel is beyond unacceptable. It shows that DeSantis, his staff and supporters, are willing to do and/or say anything to score political points. And even worse, it shows a complete lack of understanding when it comes to Jews. They presume that pushing the twin buttons marked “anti-Semites” and “Haters of Israel” will cause a mass exodus of the Chosen People from the column marked (D) to that marked (R).

Sorry Ron, but the vast majority of us are hopefully too smart, too politically savvy, to buy in to the schund (Yiddish for “rubbish”) you’re pushing out. I hope and pray that both you and Andrew Gillum will stay away from all this nonsense during your debate on October 24 in Davie, Florida and try to stick to the issues. If you do, Mayor Gillum will come out on top.

Ironically Mr. DeSantis, Davie, which historically was the headquarters of the South Florida K.K.K., is today a town with a large Jewish community, an active Chabad, a Jewish high school and the county’s largest kosher pantry. I predict that if you stick to the “Gillum and King hate Jews and Israel” meme, you will come out the loser.

We wish you well . . . and pray that you will enjoy returning to the practice of law.

Midterm elections are 4 weeks from this coming Tuesday.

BE SURE TO VOTE!!

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

 

 

 

"A Time Comes When Silence is Betrayal"

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On April 4, 1967 - precisely 365 days before his assassination - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a speech before an antiwar group called "Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam."  It is possible that this speech helped put a target on his back. The opening line of this magnificent speech - an unequivocal denunciation of America’s involvement in that Southeast Asian conflict -  said it all: A time comes when silence is betrayal."  (Frequently misquoted as "There comes a time when silence becomes betrayal.") About six months ago (February 27, 2018, to be precise) Congressman Cedric Richmond (D-LA) quoted Dr. King's prophetic statement while speaking on the floor of the House of Representatives about the tragic massacre at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.  It is a quote and a truism which should be etched in our minds and upon our hearts: A time comes when silence is betrayal. 

Of course, prophetic statements are bound neither by time nor circumstance; they carry eternal, timeless truths. I cannot think of a time when Dr. King's call to truth and justice has been more cogent or motivating since that day - June 16, 2015 - when, accompanied by Neil Young's Rockin' in the Free Worldthe orange menace made his grand entrance (descent, really) on his gilt-overlaid escalator in order to announce his candidacy for President of the United States.  Ever since, the steady stream of exaggerations, evasions, outright lies, autocratic dictates, brazen cupidity and crude, unpolished inanities have been met with utter disdain by what reputable pollsters find to be a clear majority of the American people.  But despite being a statistical majority, this group - made up of nearly every Democrat and a high percentage of independents as well - has been largely impotent and unheeded.  Why? Because the president has taken over the Republican Party lock, stock and barrel.  Few wish to challenge him for fear of political retribution and defeat.  '45' has injected and perfected a hauntingly un-American style of rule.; call it American autocracy. And although the Republican men and women of Congress are well aware of their leader's pettiness, insecurity and general incompetence, they keep their collective lips firmly buttoned. '45' has them under his thumb.  By maintaining their silence, the Republicans are not only betraying their oaths of office; they are complicit in permitting the POTUS to get away with running the most corrupt, least professional administration in American history.

That is, until very recently.  Finally, finally, there are signs that Dr. King's wisdom in sinking in, and that people - both in and out of government - are beginning to speak truth to power.  Let's back up this contention with a couple of examples:

  1. This past Thursday (8-/16-18) the United States Senate passed a resolution by unanimous consent affirming that the media “is not the enemy of the people.” The resolution, submitted by two Democratic Senators - Hawaii's Brian Schatz and New York's Chuck Schumer - took direct aim at the president. Although unanimously passed the resolution carries not a shred of legislative authority.  Nonetheless, in using and negating the president's own tagline - "The press is the enemy of the people" - the Senate delivered a stunning rebuke to the man who has long attempted to punish and stifle the press. One part of the resolution unambiguously states " . . . tyrannical and authoritarian governments and leaders throughout history have sought to undermine, censor, suppress, and control the press to advance their undemocratic goals and actions . . ."  Perhaps most importantly, the resolution ends with the words ". . . condemns attacks on the institution of the free press and views efforts to systematically undermine the credibility of the press as a whole as an attack on our democratic institutions."
  2. At the same, more than 300 editorial boards of newspapers across the country  answered a nationwide call from the Boston Globe to express disdain for the president's attacks on the news media. The same morning that the editorials were being read in newspapers from, Caribou to Colorado, the president tweeted that the "fake news media" is the "opposition party." The Miami Herald's editorial stated "We all - as citizens - have a stake in this fight, and the battle lines seem pretty clear. If one first comes successfully for the press as an "enemy of the American People," what stops someone for coming next for your friends? Your family? Or you? The Minneapolis Star, looking to answer the president's mantra about "There is no truth," answered "Let's start with a fundamental truth: It is and always has been in the interests of the powerful to dismiss and discredit those who could prove a check on their power. President Donald Trump is not the first politician to openly attack the media for fulfilling its watchdog role. He is, perhaps, the most blatant and relentless about it."  The Denver Post editorial board noted "We believe that an informed electorate is critical to Democracy; that the public has a right to know what elected officials, public figures and government bureaucracies are doing behind closed doors; that journalism is integral to the checks and balances of power; and that the public can trust the facts it reads in this newspaper and those facts coming from the mainstream media."  These hundreds of editorials got under the president's extremely thin skin.  He responded with a Tweet: "There is nothing that I would want more for our Country than true FREEDOM OF THE PRESS. The fact is that the Press is FREE to write and say anything it wants, but much of what it says is FAKE NEWS, pushing a political agenda or just plain trying to hurt people. HONESTY WINS!" 
  3. As a means of directing media attention away from Trump's former "Celebrity Apprentice" cast member and White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman's story about her former boss, the president announced (and Tweeting that Omarosa as "a loser" and "a dog") that he had taken away former C.I.A. director John Brennan's security clearance, and was considering doing the same to nearly a dozen other former (and one current) member of the national security establishment.  It should be noted that in the main, members of the intelligence community are among the most political non-partisan people in government.  '45's problem with Brennan - who served as C.I.A. director under President Obama from March 8, 2013-January 20, 2017 - was that Brennan accused the president of being "paranoid,"   cited his "constant misrepresentation of the facts," and described him as a "charlatan."  Cancelling the security clearances of the cream of the intelligence community crop is a frightening prospect: it denudes the government of hundreds of years of experience, institutional memory and insight.  In an incredibly gutsy - and totally unique - response, 13 former U.S. intelligence chiefs signed a letter to the president in support of their colleague, John Brennan.  Even before the 13 former intelligence agency chiefs published their open letter, was an angry open letter to the president from retired Adm. William McRaven, who headed U.S. Joint Special Operations Command and oversaw the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden. In an op-ed published by the Washington Post, he excoriated Trump’s “McCarthy-era tactics” and said he would “consider it an honor” for Trump to revoke his security clearance in solidarity with Brennan.  The fact that Adm. McRaven's and the 13 intelligence chief's would make their feelings known is extraordinary.  It is also an indication that the wall of silence is beginning to shatter.

Back in the mid-1960's to mid 1970's, people like me (and probably a lot of you, my dear readers) were accused by politicians - most frequently Republican - of being "traitors," "anti-American" and "enemies of the state." Today, what with all that has been going on, I sense that it is we who are more loyal, patriotic and supportive of American ideals than the so-called "super-patriots" of the new, Trump-lead G.O.P.  We have never kept a closed mouth nor turned a blind eye to our country; our ideals remain as vibrant and motivating as back in the days when our shout was "Hey, hey LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?"

I for one see in the above actions, a potential shot across the bow of Trumpian treachery.  Do remember that this government belongs to us; that's it's future is in our hands.  Silence, I pray, is beginning to give way to shouting; betrayal to forthrightness.

576 days down.

901 days to go.

77 days until the midterm elections . . .

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

Talk about black and white!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

537 days down, 936 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Desperately Seeking At Least One 'Profile in Courage'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The book and its subject?

A Nation of Immigrants,

522 days down, 951 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

 

June 5, 1968: A Memory Awash in Claret

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

509 days down, 963 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone