Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

Filtering by Category: '45

A Circus of Spineless Enablers

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In the world of social psychology, “enabling” is a term often used to connote a relationship with an addict. It might be a drug addict or alcoholic, a gambler, or a compulsive overeater. Most frequently, it’s the enablers, rather than the addicts, who suffer the effects of the addict’s behavior. In the world of contemporary politics, “enablers” are those who sit silently and spinelessly by, while their leader(s) - who are addicted to a mélange of outrageous behaviors and psychological instabilities - lead the nation along the path of destruction. These spineless enablers, are better known as “the Republican caucus” where seldom is heard a discouraging word . . . but the skies are much cloudier all day.

About the only ones who’ve found spines are those who have already retired from office, announced that they will be retiring or, in a few rare cases, have actually been defeated for reelection. Then there are those like South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who have gone from voluble anti-Trumpster to mostly adoring lapdog. How many remember all the way back to 2016 when Graham - the late Senator John McCain’s best friend - called Sir Donald of Orange everything from a “kook,” a “jackass,” “a little jerk,” a race-baiting bigot,” and “the most flawed nominee in the history of the Republican Party.” What a difference an election makes.

Then there is the case of Texas Senator Ted Cruz. During the 2016 primary season, when Cruz was a serious candidate for president, then-candidate Trump made fun of Cruz's wife's appearance and suggested that his Cuban-born father had had a hand in John F. Kennedy's assassination. He also savaged the senator on Twitter: "Why would the people of Texas support Ted Cruz when he has accomplished absolutely nothing for them?" Back when he had a spine, Cruz responded by calling Trump "a sniveling coward," ''a pathological liar," "utterly amoral" and "a serial philanderer." He refused to endorse him during the 2016 Republican National Convention, only to suddenly announce his support barely a month before Election Day 2016. Today, they are as thick as thieves.

There once was a time when Republicans stood for things like balanced budgets, limited government, a strong military and could be counted on for expressing a full-throated loathing for dictators and autocrats. And, beginning with the post-Nixon years, they frequently carried the Holy Book into battle against immoralists and malefactors of all stripes. From today’s perspective, that time seems to have been generations ago. Today, Republican office-holders at nearly every level are little better than clowns in a circus made up of spineless enablers; men - and even women - who remain mute while their leader rants and raves, sets records for telling lies, adds trillions to the deficit, picks fights with our closest allies and further isolates America from the rest of the world. Don’t these elected officials realize that their “leader” is a racist, immoral, foul-mouthed buffoon . . . not to mention a criminal?

Why won’t they open their mouths even once? How can anyone with an ounce of sense, a conscience and a true love of country stand idly by while the POTUS and his administration of acting understudies separates already traumatized children from their parents and then sequester them for weeks and perhaps months on end in for-profit “detention centers” (here I’m using the term we employed back in WWII); how can they continue showing loyalty to a man who spends the majority of his time playing golf, Tweeting, and holding endless love-fests (campaign rallies) and firing staff? How in the name of all that’s holy, healthy and sincere can they get a good night’s sleep? The answer to this last question is difficult to parse. However, it would seem that many, many Republicans are simply in fear; fear that should they rise up and relocate their backbones, take a stand against corruption, mendacity and gross incompetence and quit being enablers, that they will be called foul names, find themselves facing deep-pocketed challengers in the next primary, and actually losing their seats in Congress.

Is there ever going to be a “straw that breaks the camel’s back” before it’s too late?  Will the Jeffrey Epstein case turn into America’s “Profumo Scandal” and bring the government down? Will ‘45’s latest race-tinged rant against four members of the House of Representatives finally get the (mostly) white men on Capitol Hill to scream out ENOUGH ALREADY!? And most importantly, can all we’ve been through over these past 2 1/2 years finally get the workaday world to figure out that America deserves far, far better than a circus master with an unerring sense of that which is both immoral and macabre, and vote him out?

What America needs now, more than ever, are citizen patriots; experienced leaders; incorruptible elections and a solid moral compass. And while about a dozen or so Republican senators and representatives have called the president’s latest “Love it or leave it” rant “unacceptable,” their response - in a great Talmudic idiom - is little more than דחית בקנה (dah-kheet ba-kaneh - “pushing him away with a weak reed.” I have to believe that in their heart of hearts, a large majority of the president’s spineless enablers are truly embarrassed by the words and deeds of their party’s leader and fear for the country’s future should he retain his office. But what they fear even more is being voted out of office if they turn their weak reeds into steely spines.

Without question what we do not need is a circus of spineless enablers.

479 days until the next national election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

The Super Hero

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Most reasonably well-educated literate people are familiar with the term “narcissism,” have heard the term “narcissistic personality,” or are aware that many professionals are convinced that Boss Tweet, the nation’s 45th POTUS is a walking exemplar of that syndrome. According to the Mayo Clinic’s overview of narcissistic personality disorder, “NPD is a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others.” Sound familiar? By now, a wide rage of practicing psychiatrists and psychologists has pretty much concluded that ‘45 is afflicted with this disorder. Even more chilling, the Mayo Clinic overview informs that behind the narcissist’s . . . mask of extreme confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that's vulnerable to the slightest criticism.

Without question, a certain amount of narcissism - not to mention both egotism and egoism - exists in most successful public people. Those lacking a healthy sense of self and innate feeling that they possess the requisite tools for making a difference, should best stay the hell away from the political arena. It is also extremely helpful to have the hide of a rhinoceros, be a good listener, and demonstrated ability to learn from others. Generally speaking, those afflicted with NPD do not possess any of these qualities. The fact that any succeed in that arena is generally due to them simultaneously possessing an amoral, autocratic bent. Again, case in point, ‘45.

One lesser-known subset of NPD is called the “Hero Syndrome,” which is generally defined as “A phenomenon affecting people who seek heroism or recognition, usually by creating a desperate situation which they can resolve.” The phenomenon has been noted to affect civil servants, such as firefighters, nurses, police officers, programmers, and security guards. Fans of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, may recall a highly-rated 2002 episode called “Vulnerable,” in which actress Mary Kay Place guest stars as the director of an expensive nursing home who keeps overdosing residents, with the neuromuscular blocking agent succinylcholine (SUX), and then giving first aid in the therapy of unexpected respiratory depression. She thereby becomes a hero. This all comes to light when the Special Victims Unit investigates a parallel case in which one of the residents actually dies. Their investigation turns up Hope Garrett (played by Ms. Place), who turns out to be nuttier than a fruit cake and more dangerous than a black widow spider.

This month, we been witness to the president ‘s Super Hero side, in which he has “identified” at least three major crises, announced bold solutions for them that could easily be more lethal than the crises themselves, and then at zero minus eight, pulled America out of the flames of impending disaster. In Greek Drama, the role Boss Tweet is playing has long been known as Deus ex Machina - literally, the god in the machine . . . the one who saves or spares at the very last moment. (n.b. In ancient Greek drama, many tragedy writers used this literary device - Deus ex Machina - to resolve complicated or even seemingly hopeless situations in the plots of their plays.

Let’s take a gander at the 3 most recent situations in which ‘45’s “Hero Syndrome” has been on display for one and all to see:

First, on Friday evening June 7, ‘45 announced with great fanfare that the escalating series of tariffs he planned to impose on Mexico — starting at 5 percent and growing to 25 percent - unless they stepped up actions along their northern (our southern) border to keep “illegal aliens” from “invading” the United States. . . . had been “suspended.”

According to the president’s original threat (which had been announced one week earlier) unless the Mexican government would agree to - and put in place - an expansion of a program to allow asylum-seekers to remain in Mexico while their legal cases proceed, these tariffs would go into effect on Monday, June 10. Not surprisingly, ‘45 immediately began taking enormous heat from global leaders, business executives, Republican and Democratic lawmakers, and members of his own staff; all warning that he risked disrupting a critical marketplace. And then, with less than 72 hours to go, he announced that the tariff threat had been “suspended,” due to his efforts.

Turns out, ‘45 wasn’t the Deus ex Machina - the super hero - he wished the world to see. The deal to avert tariffs by having Mexico agree to the “deployment of its National Guard throughout Mexico, giving priority to its southern border,” had actually been under negotiation over the past several months. In reality, the Mexican government had already pledged to do what the president had publicly demanded on May 31, 2019, had been agreed to in March during secret talks in Miami between Kirstjen Nielsen, then the secretary of homeland security, and Olga Sanchez, the Mexican secretary of the interior. And for anyone paying attention to the situation, they would have remembered then-Secretary Nielson’s announcing the Migrant Protection Protocols during a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee on December 20, 2018.

So much for Trump the “Super Hero.” And yet, he continues to flap his wings, proclaiming that he - and he alone - was responsible to bringing the Mexican government to its knees . . . and, at the last possible moment.

Second: This past Friday, June 21, our Commander-in-Chief announced via Twitter that at the very last possible moment, he had called off an airstrike against Iran after learning it might lead to no fewer than 150 civilian deaths. In a series of tweets on Friday morning, Mr. Trump said he was prepared to retaliate against three sites in Iran for that country’s downing of an American surveillance drone, but that he pulled back because the death of that many Iranians would not be “proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone.” “We were already cocked and loaded,” POTUS proclaimed. (Gee, I always thought the expression was (“Locked and loaded.”)

Boss Tweet said in an NBC interview later that day that news reports that he had called off the mission while it was underway were inaccurate. But two senior United States officials said again on Friday that the military had received the president’s go-ahead and that jets were already headed toward targets in Iran when the mission was aborted. Within 24 hours of aborting the “cocked and loaded” bombing raids, ‘45, fearful that Bolton, Pompeo and his right flank might consider him a spineless dove, went back to saber rattling with a vengeance: “I'm not looking for war and if there is, it'll be obliteration like you've never seen before. But I'm not looking to do that. But you can't have a nuclear weapon. You want to talk? Good. Otherwise you can have a bad economy for the next three years.” Whether this back-and-forth is another example of Trump’s “Hero Syndrome” affliction or just pure political chess is anyone’s guess. I for one believe that ‘45 may well have done the right thing . . . but for the wrong reason; that he ratcheted up war rhetoric in order to come out a hero for the 2020 campaign . . . even if it was/is at the expense of international alliances, the safety of Israel or the stability (?) of his White House. Remember, by unilaterally pulling out of the JCPA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action . . . the “Iran Deal”) and bringing back economic sanctions, the administration made an increasingly hostile Iran all but inevitable. It’s reminiscent of a firefighter torching a building in order to go in, save a few lives and then be declared a hero.

Third: A week ago today (June 17), ‘45 told the nation that “shortly,” his administration would be deporting “millions of immigrants.” This promise, like so many others he has made, is little more than red meat for his base. Think about it: deporting “millions” of immigrants - most of whom have been here for years - would be an absolutely monumental undertaking that would cost taxpayers billions upon billions of dollars - not to mention being a major assault on such American values of justice and compassion. How many buses and airplanes would it take to deport even a million human beings? How long would it take to organize such a program? Are there enough bureaucrats and administrators in the federal government to figure out precisely where to return these people to? Again, this is political red meat, not reality.

And then, suddenly this past Saturday the president abruptly scrapped plans for Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to round up some 2,000 immigrants who have already received final deportation orders. These raids, he announced, were to have taken place yesterday, Sunday June 23. ‘45 averred that he was calling off the raids in order to give Democrats “two weeks to come up with a plan to curb undocumented immigration.” Here, we see another aspect of the Hero Syndrome: saving people through what appears to be a last-minute humanitarian act. Does ‘45 expect the Democrats to be able to solve the problem of what to do with undocumented immigrants within 336 hours? Of course not. Will he ever mention his initial plan to deport millions of “illegals” again? Don’t hold your breath. It’s all about optics and running for reelection - an activity Boss Tweet has been fully engaged in ever since January 20, 2017 - the very day he took the oath of office.

Falling prey to his Hero Syndrome affliction; acting like some “god in the machine” and offering last-minute changes in fate and destiny - are increasingly at the top of the president’s political playbook. Democrats would do well (once their presidential field has dramatically decreased) to run ads with video captures of ‘45’s innumerable flip-flops. These would not for the purpose of getting Trumpeters to leave the fold; rather, their intention would be to broaden the Democratic tent and ultimately send Boss Tweet back into the ether.

America does not need a mindless heroic poseur.

What we need - indeed what American deserves - is a human with a heart, a soul and a plan.

501 days until the presidential election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

Buchanan and Trump: What's Past Is Prologue

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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

 

Why Do So Many Brits Dislike '45?

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Rarely - if ever - in the fifteen years this blog has been up and running, have I reposted content from another writer. I hope you won’t mind if I break that longstanding tradition this week, and run a piece written by a British journalist named Nate White. For I find in what follows a wonderfully satiric - yet deeply on-the-mark - description of the POTUS. I hope you will agree it’s a marvelous retort as to why so many British citizens (and people from many other countries ,are appalled by what’s happening in America. (And yes, there are a few words in the following essay that I myself generally do not use . . .)

Question:  Why do some British people not like Donald Trump?

A few things spring to mind.

Trump lacks certain qualities which the British traditionally esteem.

For instance, he has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honour and no grace – all qualities, funnily enough, with which his predecessor Mr. Obama was generously blessed.

So for us, the stark contrast does rather throw Trump’s limitations into embarrassingly sharp relief.

Plus, we like a laugh. And while Trump may be laughable, he has never once said anything wry, witty or even faintly amusing – not once, ever.

I don’t say that rhetorically, I mean it quite literally: not once, not ever. And that fact is particularly disturbing to the British sensibility – for us, to lack humour is almost inhuman.

But with Trump, it’s a fact. He doesn’t even seem to understand what a joke is – his idea of a joke is a crass comment, an illiterate insult, a casual act of cruelty.

Trump is a troll. And like all trolls, he is never funny and he never laughs; he only crows or jeers.

And scarily, he doesn’t just talk in crude, witless insults – he actually thinks in them. His mind is a simple bot-like algorithm of petty prejudices and knee-jerk nastiness.

There is never any under-layer of irony, complexity, nuance or depth. It’s all surface.

Some Americans might see this as refreshingly upfront.

Well, we don’t. We see it as having no inner world, no soul.

And in Britain we traditionally side with David, not Goliath. All our heroes are plucky underdogs: Robin Hood, Dick Whittington, Oliver Twist.

Trump is neither plucky, nor an underdog. He is the exact opposite of that.

He’s not even a spoiled rich-boy, or a greedy fat-cat.

He’s more a fat white slug. A Jabba the Hutt of privilege.

And worse, he is that most unforgivable of all things to the British: a bully.

That is, except when he is among bullies; then he suddenly transforms into a snivelling sidekick instead.

There are unspoken rules to this stuff – the Queensberry rules of basic decency – and he breaks them all. He punches downwards – which a gentleman should, would, could never do – and every blow he aims is below the belt. He particularly likes to kick the vulnerable or voiceless – and he kicks them when they are down.

So the fact that a significant minority — perhaps a third — of Americans look at what he does, listen to what he says, and then think ‘Yeah, he seems like my kind of guy’ is a matter of some confusion and no little distress to British people, given that:
* Americans are supposed to be nicer than us, and mostly are.
* You don’t need a particularly keen eye for detail to spot a few flaws in the man.

This last point is what especially confuses and dismays British people, and many other people too; his faults seem pretty bloody hard to miss.

After all, it’s impossible to read a single tweet, or hear him speak a sentence or two, without staring deep into the abyss. He turns being artless into an art form; he is a Picasso of pettiness; a Shakespeare of shit. His faults are fractal: even his flaws have flaws, and so on ad infinitum.

God knows there have always been stupid people in the world, and plenty of nasty people too. But rarely has stupidity been so nasty, or nastiness so stupid.

He makes Nixon look trustworthy and George W look smart.

In fact, if Frankenstein decided to make a monster assembled entirely from human flaws – he would make a Trump.

And a remorseful Doctor Frankenstein would clutch out big clumpfuls of hair and scream in anguish:

‘My God… what… have… I… created?

If being a twat was a TV show, Trump would be the boxed set.

On behalf of Nate White, this is Kurt Franklin 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

Is Bibi "Your Prime Minister?"

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This past Saturday evening, on his way back from an event at the California-Mexico border, ‘45 made a brief stop in Las Vegas, where he spoke at the annual meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition. Throughout the crowd one could see many men - and a few women as well - wearing red kippot (yarmulkes) emblazoned with “Trump” in white. This isn’t a dig; truth to tell, I’ve owned a L.A. Dodger kippa for more years than I can count. ‘45 began his nearly hour-long speech with a dig at Rep. Ilhan Omar, who came under fire earlier this year for comments appearing to accuse American Jews of dual loyalty to Israel, spurring the president to claim last month that Democrats “hate” Jews.” (Gee, I’m a Democrat, as are my mom and sister, my wife and kids, as well as our machatunim (Hebrew for “our children’s spouses’ parents”) and none - so far as I am aware - can be accused of hating Jews.)

In going after Rep. Omar, ‘45 mockingly “thanked her” by adding “Oh, I forgot. She doesn’t like Israel, I forgot, I’m sorry. No, she doesn’t like Israel, does she? Please, I apologize.” Predictably, this got a roar of laughter and a prolonged bit of clapping from the assembled crowd of adoring acolytes. He then seemed to confuse the Republican group with US Jews in general when he asked how they could have supported his predecessor Barack Obama. “How the hell did you support President Obama?” he asked the audience. “How did you do it?” he asked, to which several of the attendees yelled back “we didn’t.”

The president got the crowd going by reminding them that in keeping his campaign pledge to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and developing such a strong relationship with Israeli P.M. Bibi Netanyahu, he had proven himself to be the “best friend Israel ever had in the White House.” He then went off the rails when he proclaimed “I stood with your prime minister at the White House to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights,” and then, speaking of the Democrats added “If implemented, the Democrats' radical agenda would destroy our economy, cripple our country, and very well could leave Israel out there all by yourselves. Can't do that." [Emphasis added]

Whether or not ‘45 was engaging in misstatement by referring to Bibi as “your prime minister,” he was unknowingly agreeing with both Rep. Omar and every Neo-Nazi in the Land of the Free - that American Jews are guilty of “dual loyalty.” It didn’t take long for Trump’s inanity to be called out on Twitter by the head of the American Jewish Committee, who Tweeted Mr. President, the Prime Minister of Israel is the leader of his [or her] country, not ours. Statements to the contrary, from staunch friends or harsh critics, feed bigotry'; by the head of the Anti-Defamation League :Mr. President, words matter. As with all elected officials, it's critical for you to avoid language that leads people to believe Jews aren’t loyal Americans.; and by Rep. Eliot Engel, the Jewish chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee: I somehow doubt the president would say 'Your Taoiseach' to a roomful of Irish-Americans." ) (n.b. Taoiseach - pronounced Tea-schock - is Irish for “Prime Minister”).

It just so happens that today, April 9, 2019, the Israelis go to the polls to elect another government. Because they have a parliamentary form of government, voters cast ballots not for candidates, but rather for parties. As such, it can take several weeks to figure out who won, who lost, and who will be the next P.M. Most of the intervening time is spent not in counting votes, but rather in the political chess moves required to put a coalition together. In other words, Israeli voters aren’t choosing between Bibi Netanyanu and former Israeli Chief of Staff Benny Gantz but rather between Likud (Netanyahu’s party, which itself is a coalition) and Kachol Lavan (“Blue and White”), Gantz’s party which includes both Labor, Meretz (“vigor”), which is both leftist and green and the centrist Yesh Atid (“There is a future”) parties.

So if, as ‘45 says, Benyamin Netanyahu is “our” prime minister, does that mean he would be the overwhelming choice of American Jews . . . if we were voting?

Highly, highly unlikely.

In an opinion piece published yesterday in Haaretz, writer Jonathan S. Tobin noted that “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s critics are right to argue that the cheers he always gets at AIPAC conferences shouldn’t mislead us. If American Jews could vote in Israel’s election, most of them wouldn’t think of casting a ballot for the Likud or its allies.” Bibi has his fans on the American Jewish right as well as within the Orthodox community. But there is no question that among the overwhelming majority of those U.S. Jews who identify as liberals, as well as with those who are affiliated with the non-Orthodox denominations or consider themselves unaffiliated ("Jews of no religion"), the prime minister and the right wing and religious parties that back him have precious little support. For a large majority of American Jews, Netanyahu - like every Likudnik P.M. since Menachem Begin was elected in 1977 - has always been considered out of touch with the liberal sensibilities of the majority of Democrat-voting American Jews. The unabashed Jewish nationalism of Begin and his successors has never gone down well among Americans who conform to writer Cynthia Ozick’s quip that "universalism is the parochialism of the Jews."

Then too, Netanyahu’s openly antagonistic relationship with former President Barack Obama and his close friendship with Donald Trump puts him at odds with American Jews, who loyally supported the former and despise the latter - exactly the opposite of Israeli opinion about the two American leaders. This is perhaps best born out by how American Jews responded to ‘45 calling Netanyahu “your Prime Minister.” People who attended the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas applauded the statement with great gusto; a clear majority of the American Jewish public was deeply shocked and troubled at what sounded like the age-old canard about “dual loyalty.” When such a charge - made either tacitly or directly - comes out of the mouth of a person like Rep. Omar, it is the height of Antisemitism; when coming from the mouth of the President of the United States, it is a laudable truism.

I just don’t get it.

Benjamin Netanyahu is not my Prime Minister. My country has no P.M. It is Israel, which I love, admire and support (והוא יכול להתמודד עם מימין לשמאל או משמאל לימין) despite whatever disagreements I may have with its current administration - that is the country with a Prime Minister.

Shame on you Mr. President. Whether knowingly or not, you have sent out a message which is both dangerous and impolitic . . . and all for the sake of your political future.

575 days until the next election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

What's In a Name?

No Name.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Adolf Twitler

  • Benedict Donald

  • Genghis Can’t

  • Hair Apparent

  • The Boychurian Candidate

  • Vanilla ISIS and

  • The Lyin’ King

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

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

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

  • Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren: “Pocahontas”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

604 days until the next election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

 

The Worst-Rated Movie of All Time

King Cyrus the Great

King Cyrus the Great

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

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

  1. 1 .9: Disaster Movie (2008)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And how utterly frightening.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 3, 2020 is a mere 672 days away.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

Every Scandal Needs a Name

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

The Whiskey Ring.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

688 days until the next election,

Copyright© 2018 Kurt F. Stone

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

Roy Cohn and Sen. Joseph McCarthy

Roy Cohn and Sen. Joseph McCarthy

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

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

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

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

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

The Young DJT With Roy Cohn c. 1974

The Young DJT With Roy Cohn c. 1974

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

‘45 and Michael Cohen - His Former “Fixer”

‘45 and Michael Cohen - His Former “Fixer”

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

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

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

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

Irony is wasted on the stupid.

701 days to go until the next election . . .

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone



Drowning in a Dystopian Sea

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

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

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

Kafka The Trial.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

Adams & Jefferson Must Be Turning Over in Their Graves

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

Jefferson and Adams

Jefferson and Adams

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

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

Matthew Whitaker

Matthew Whitaker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone





Another Fine Mess . . .

Lord Beaverbrook

Lord Beaverbrook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Talk about fake news!

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

Baron Munchausen by Gustav Doré

Baron Munchausen by Gustav Doré

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

Of Grey Wolves and Bald Eagles

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

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

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

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

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

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

       • Preventing listed species from being killed or harmed

       • Protecting habitat essential to these species’ survival

       • Creating plans to restore healthy populations

Sensible and effective? Generally speaking yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

556 days down, 917 days to go

111 days until the midterm election!

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

 

 

 

Like Rats Boarding a Sinking Ship

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

It showed.

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

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

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

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

And on and on and on . . .

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

Even a rat is smarter than that . . .

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cheering For Chaos . . . A Truly Bad Idea

Impeachment.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

466 days down, 996 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

 

WWJD?

WWJD.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WWJD? ("What would Jesus do?")

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

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

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

Truly, only G-d knows . . .

445 days down, 1,016 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

 

The Profligacy of a Presidential Parade

                                  "Generals"  Wastemoreland & Hershey Bar

                                  "Generals"  Wastemoreland & Hershey Bar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

386 days down, 1,171 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

 

 

 

 . 

Will He Or Won't He?

     Donald Trump and Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller III

     Donald Trump and Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller III

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

337 days down, 1,121 days to go.

Copyright©2017 Kurt F. Stone