Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

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Will There Be a Morning After?

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Once upon a time, the new school year began shortly after Labor Day. I don’t know about you, but here in South Florida, our Fall Semester begins on Monday August 12 - when many kids will still be up north at summer camp. So why does our school year begin so incredibly early? Only G-d and the Palm Beach County Board of Education know. for certain . . . perhaps. Likewise, once upon a time, presidential elections began in earnest on Labor Day weekend of the year in which the nation went to the polls. Nowadays, presidential campaigns begin on the day the president takes the oath of office. And mind you, some of the potential candidates are gearing up not for the election four years hence, but occasionally a full eight years into the future. Of course, our current POTUS began his reelection campaign the very day he placed his hand on the Bible - a book he’s probably never read cover to cover. In other words, nowadays we seem to have both a never-ending school year and a presidential election season without end.

It goes without saying that a high percentage of the American public is anxiously awaiting - if not praying for - the end of the Trump presidency. We are up to here with all the bald-faced lies and “leadership via Twitter”; with the ceaseless name-calling, and revolving door executive department; with the utter societal divisiveness and the disparagement of the CIA, FBI and the press; with the dismembering of our international alliances and the catering to those who are most base and intolerant . . . and on and on and on. For the first time in our lives, many, many Americans - myself included - are in fear for the future of a country whose very slogan, e pluribus unam (“Out of many comes one”) is on the critical list.

But merely dislodging Trump and his clueless, avaricious crowd’s hands from the levers of power is neither a certainty nor a cure-all; American polity and society have long been fraught with cancerous cleavages. But never in our history have they been so case-hardened and, what’s even worse, so frighteningly weaponized. One of the most pernicious things Trump has done in his brief political career is to make fear the central plank of his presidency; the fear of the “other.” Historically, that is the despot’s way. Where most candidates for president have presented policies and visions meant to inspire, Trump has somehow convinced a sizable plurality that without his firm grip on the reins of authority and leadership, America is doomed - doomed to be brought down by enemies invading our once-great nation. Trump’s America is largely peopled by White Christian males (financed by self-serving billionaires) who fear that their “kind” are losing the country to “socialists,” “illegal aliens,” the arbiters of “political correctness” and atheists.

In the past week, we’ve gotten more than a sneak peak of their 2020 campaign strategy: running against the “socialist America haters”; making the entire “Democrat Party” into a tool of Representatives Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. (I predicted this in an essay nearly six months ago entitled Politics - Like Acting - Ain’t for Sissies..) Trump has his mindless minions so well-trained, so brainwashed, that should he actually lose both the popular vote (which he did in 2016) and the Electoral College, there will begin, the morning after the election, a cacophonous hue and cry of refusal and threat. The “defeat,” they will stridently claim, was all a gigantic hoax; a deadly lie promulgated by the “fake media.” This may well be, I fear, the first time in American history where there won’t be a relatively smooth transition from one presidency to the next. In short, it is possible that there may be no morning after. We saw a minor version of this with the election of Barack Obama in 2008: for 8 years, millions refused to accept him as ‘‘their president,” because he was not - and never would be - “one of us.”

I can easily imagine ‘45 holding a series of post-election campaign-style rallies in which he fans the flames of militant dissension by refusing to concede defeat. He will likely claim that “millions of undocumented illegals” voted twice, thrice and even more to steal victory and insure his defeat; that the will of the people had been thwarted by the Communists and Socialists who, beginning day one of the new administration, will begin confiscating their weapons, outlawing Christianity, and putting the government into the hands of “The Squad.” If such be the scenario, his intent will be nothing short of calling for civil war. Now, whether or not he has given thought to what his words could actually lead to is worth debating, for likely he has not. Nonetheless, as haunting as this possibility is, do remember that a clear majority of the approximately 390 million guns in America, are in the hands of self-identified conservatives, white nationalists and fans of conspiracy. Theoretically, what havoc they can wreak is beyond belief.

So what is to be done? (And mind you, I am plagiarizing neither Lenin nor Chernyshevsky; I may be a progressive, but I ain’t no Commie. This is incredibly close to our family history; just yesterday, Madam [our mom, who’ getting close to 100 years] was loudly decrying all her friends and colleagues - like John Garfield, Marsha Hunt and Larry Parks - who lost their careers due to accusations of being Commie sympathizers).  It seems to me that the first thing we can do is accustom ourselves to the fact that we may very well wind up voting for a Democratic candidate who is not our first choice. In the long run, we must vote for - and lend support to - the candidate who has the best chance of sending Boss Tweet back to where he comes from - whether it be Germany, Queens or his mother’s womb. I could care less, just so long as he leaves. Our support must be given to a candidate who is fearless, not feckless, who carries him- or herself with dignity, and has a functioning moral compass. This person must be skilled in the art of governance, capable of appointing a Cabinet of skilled professionals whose virtuosity is vastly above the venality of their predecessors; a president who is already on speaking terms with the people he or she will have to work with, and knows the value of doing justice, loving mercy and walking with humility. Again I repeat: it is likely that this person may not be your ideal candidate and may have a few cobwebs in the attic. But then again, as Grandpa Doc used to say: “If heaven were meant only for perfect people, it would be the emptiest piece of property in the universe.”

Once we have our candidate, we cannot - indeed must not - go sit on the sidelines licking old wounds. We must do everything in our individual and collective power to ensure that ‘45 and his ilk suffer the greatest defeat in all history. It’s time for progressives and moderates, for Democrats and Independents to finally start acting like a vast majority and rid our country of the mindless meanness which suffuses society. America still has the ability to be a beacon of light to the world . . . to guarantee that there will be a morning after.

No one said it would be easy . . . but it’s as essential as the dreams we dream or the very air we breathe.

473 days until the most significant election in American history.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

 

 

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

Ditch Mitch

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Many people who watched Wednesday and Thursday night’s Democratic “debate” (put in quotation marks because it was not, by definition a debate) noted that the first night did not contain a single reference to the POTUS, and that neither night contained a single mention of Israel.. Conservative commentators and garden variety Trumpeters quickly concluded that the first-night gathering didn’t mention their idol because all the Democrats are afraid of him, and that Israel was never brought up because the Democrats are anti-Semitic Israel haters. What they failed to mention - and what a lot of people watching did not notice - were the dozens of negative references to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). From the number of times Mitch was mentioned, one might assume that the 2020 election is first and foremost a race to replace the 77-year old “Senator No.”

Hmmm . . . not such a bad idea, come to think of it. For more than anyone on Capitol Hill, the Kentucky senator is the living, breathing embodiment of the Trump agenda - or lack thereof. To the best of his ability, he spinelessly - and silently - puts up with whatever canal water spews forth from his boss, and refuses with every fiber of his being to allow anything passed by the Democratic-led House to get an airing in the upper chamber. Four years before he became Majority Leader, “Senator No” told members of the Heritage Foundation in no uncertain terms that “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” And although he failed in that mission, once he was sworn in as Majority Leader (Jan. 3, 2015), he did everything in his power to put an enormous blockade in the way of anything Obama wanted to do . . . up to and including refusing so much as a hearing for Merritt Garland, Obama’s pick for a vacant seat on the Supreme Court. McConnell’s rationale?The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President.”

If one reads between the lines here, what McConnell is really saying is that no “lame duck” president should have the right to nominate a Supreme Court Justice - and especially in an election year. I wonder how that would work for Mitch if the boot were on the other foot; that the lame duck president would be a Republican and the Senate controlled by Democrats. McConnell’s knowledge and understanding of what the Constitution has to say about the separation of powers and what are and are not presidential prerogatives is not that lame; he is a smart man. However, more than that, he is a vicious, take-no-prisoners partisan Republican. Surely he must know that American history is replete with Presidents making Supreme Court nominations during their last year or so - 19 to be precise. (Hauntingly, two of those lame duck nominations - both of whom were elevated on the court - were Jews who would go on to be among the giants of the SCOTUS: Louis D. Brandeis (nominated by Woodrow Wilson) and Benjamin Cardozo (nominated by Herbert Hoover).

It has long been as clear as mother’s milk that one of 45’s major aims has been to erase virtually everything Barack Obama ever accomplished during his eight years in office . . . or short of that, take credit for those things he cannot destroy. To achieve this despicable goal, Boss Tweet needed a trained seal in the Senate. He found him, of course, in Mitch McConnell. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why the president found a spot for the Majority Leader’s wife Elaine Chao in his cabinet (she’s Secretary of Transportation), and a high-ranking job as head of the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC) for the Majority Leader’s brother-in-law, Gordon Hartogensis. (The PBGC is an independent agency created by Congress in 1974 to essentially pay out pension benefits to workers if their private pension funds fail. Hartogensis is married to Grace Chao, Secretary Elaine Chao’s younger sister.). Ain’t that cozy?

Increasingly, the hyper-partisan McConnell is being seen for what he truly is: a corrupt obstructionist who, for whatever reason he has chosen, has become 45’s lapdog. And while Democrats are making him a central figure in their push to take back the Senate in 2020, there are quite a few Republicans across the country - including his home state, Kentucky - who don’t think too highly of him either. According to one Democratic strategist, Matt Canter, a pollster at Global Strategy Group, “McConnell is a transcendent figure in American politics; he is a unifier. He unites everyone in hatred and animosity toward him, including Republicans. He’s a walking, talking definition of what people hate about Washington and the corrupt political system today.”

Seen in this strategic light, is it any wonder that Senator McConnell was so roundly attacked this past Wednesday and Thursday on MSNBC? Nationally, Democrats are already up and running with a website - “Ditch Mitch” - who’s aim is to defeat McConnell in his bid for a 7th six-year term. For Democrats, of course, taking back the Senate is just as important - if not more so - than defeating ‘45 or holding on to the House of Representatives. Today, Republicans hold a 53-47 edge over the Democrats in the Senate. However, there are 22 Republicans up for reelection as compared to a mere 12 Democrats. In recent polling, Democrats hold a slim 3% lead in swing states. However, being exposed to messaging about McConnell, that lead grew to 12 points. In other words, the “Ditch Mitch” movement is beginning to resonate with voters.

McConnell’s approval rating among swing-state voters in the survey is just 26%, with 50% viewing him unfavorably. Among independents, just 18% view him favorably, and 58% have a negative opinion. In counties that swung from former President Barack Obama to President Trump, his approval rating is 25%, while 53% have a negative opinion.Three highly touted Democratic Senate candidates ― Iowa’s Theresa Greenfield, Texas’ M.J. Hegar and Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon ― all focus on McConnell’s influence in their campaign launch videos; they barely mention the president. Hegar refers to her potential opponent, Sen. John Cornyn, as “that tall guy lurking behind Mitch McConnell in basically every single video.”

Then there’s Kentucky, where no one has officially thrown their hat into the ring to challenge Mitch McConnell. Those in the know believe his challenger will wind up being former Marine combat pilot Amy McGrath, who narrowly (51%-47.8%) lost a 2018 congressional race to a 3-term incumbent in a district which Boss Tweet won by more than 16 points in 2016. McConnell has the absolute highest disapproval rating in the country (50%) and scores even worse in his home state. Twenty-two senators can boast of an approval rating 50 percent or above, but McConnell is the only senator with at least half his own constituents rating him unfavorably. This is, of course, not a good sign for the Majority Leader. Indeed, he has become a great unite.

For anyone interested in helping Amy McGrath decide to run against “the Grim Reaper” (that’s the nickname he recently gave himself) check out her Facebook page or the website supporting her putative candidacy.

Defeating Donald Trump is critical. No question. But recapturing the United States Senate and exiling Mitch McConnell is likely of even greater significance.

494 days until the next presidential 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

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

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

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

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

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

Pocahontas (Rebecca Rolfe)

Pocahontas (Rebecca Rolfe)

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

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

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

  • Run out of money;

  • Made an on-camera boo-boo;

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

  • Shown themselves to be not ready for prime time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

508 days left until the 2020 election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

Throwing a Monkey Wrench into Medical Research

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This past week, while donning his horrendously-tailored “soup and fish,” dining with the Windsors and about-to-be former British P.M. Teresa May, commemorating the 75th anniversary of the D-Day Landing, playing golf in Ireland and bashing Senate Minority Leader Schumer, Speaker Pelosi and Director Mueller, ’45 somehow managed to find the time to throw a toxic monkey wrench into the future of medical research. ‘45’s announcement that the federal government is changing its policy on the use of human fetal tissue in medical research sent a collective chill up the spines of clinicians and researchers from Maine to California. His announcement - which has been percolating for quite some time - has precious little to do with science and everything to do with partisan politics. It is obviously designed to please the many anti-abortion groups which have strongly supported ‘45, the very man who once proclaimed on “Meet the PressI am firmly pro-choice in every sense of the term.”

As mentioned a few sentences above, the push for banning the use of human fetal tissue in government-sponsored research has been percolating for the past several years. The level of controversy around fetal tissue research waxes and wanes. Human fetal tissue research has been done in the United States since the 1930s, and NIH has been funding this type of research since the 1950s. There was a ban on such funding, however, during part of the terms of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Federal money was restored with bipartisan support in a 1993 bill for the NIH. Among the backers of that effort were some strong abortion opponents, such as Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), who argued that the research could help people — like his daughter — with diabetes.

NIH spent $115 million on human fetal tissue research in 2018, a tiny fraction of the nearly $14 billion it spent on clinical research overall. NIH currently funds roughly 200 projects that use fetal tissue, according to HHS.

Fetal tissue once again became a hot-button issue in 2015 with the release of doctored videos, later discredited, purporting to show Planned Parenthood officials discussing tissue donation policies and reimbursement. Last fall, the Trump administration announced it was conducting a review of all research involving fetal tissue to ensure it was consistent with statutes and regulations governing it.

Under the new policy, employees at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will no longer conduct research with human fetal tissue obtained from elective abortions, after using up any material they have on hand. Officials also immediately stopped funding a multiyear contract at the University of California-San Francisco using human fetal tissue in mice to research HIV therapies. Federally funded projects at other research institutions using fetal tissue can continue until their grants expire. But renewal for these projects and future proposals will have to go through a newly established ethics review process to receive funding. It’s not clear yet what standards that process will entail or whether such experiments will be able to proceed under government sponsorship.

Additionally, under the new policy, extramural researchers who submit applications that pass scientific review and score high enough to be funded will now encounter a new and time-consuming layer of review. Under a procedure described in a 2006 law that governs NIH policy, HHS will need to announce in the Federal Register that it plans to assemble an ethics advisory board to review each proposed grant and invite public nominations for that board. The board would be made up of 14 to 20 people from various backgrounds, including at least one theologian, one ethicist, one physician, and one attorney. No more than half of the panel members can be scientists. The HHS secretary must wait at least 30 days after the publication to appoint the board. The board will then have up to 150 days to recommend to the secretary whether the proposed research should be funded.

Even then, the Secretary can overrule the committee if he finds its recommendation “arbitrary and capricious.” 

(Truth to tell, it has long been the case that every NIH-sponsored clinical trial must be thoroughly vetted and scrutinized by an Institutional Review Board [IRB] which is made up of physicians, scientists, bio-engineers, ethicists and so-called “public members.” I have been an active member of the largest of these boards for nearly 25 years and have easily vetted more than 2,000 research protocols in that period of time. So this is , in reality, nothing new.)

The anti-abortion (“pro-birth”) crowd has somehow convinced its followers that banning medical research which uses human fetal tissue will somehow keep women from obtaining abortions. Where they ever came up with this idea is beyond me. It has about as much logic behind it as enshrining the Volstead Act in our Constitution (about 100 years ago) , proclaiming that it would greatly reduce the number of people imbibing alcohol. What it did do was create a world of bootleggers, murderous gangs, bathtub gin and the likes of Al Capone, Frank Nitti and Eliot Ness.

Many of these same pro-birth advocates claim - in the name of scientific research - that there are “effective options” to using human fetal tissue, including monkey or hamster cells for vaccines as well as blood collected after birth from umbilical cords that are rich in blood-forming stem cells. They also suggest the use of adult stem cells and “organoids” — artificially grown cells that somewhat mimic organs. Another suggestion made to Alex Azar - the former president and chief lobbyist for Eli Lilly and Company and current Secretary of Health and Human Services - was that using tissue from a miscarriage could be an acceptable alternative to using tissue from an aborted fetus because it’s from “a natural death, not an intentional killing of the child.”

Checking with many of my IRB colleagues, they say that the use of adult stem cells and organoids “aren’t close to being ready for prime time. . . they cannot mimic real tissue.” The use of human fetal tissue in medical research holds out the hope for real progress coming up with therapies and even cures for HIV, Parkinson’s Disease, Diabetes and various forms of neurodegenerative disease such as Alzheimers Hunington’s and Lewy Body Dementia.

Considering the Trump family medical history, one would think that ‘45 would be more interested in doing research which might save his sanity - or that of his children and grandchildren in the future - than scoring electoral brownie points with anti-abortion activists in the present. The United States has long been a world leader in medical research. Creating new, potent and safe drugs, devices and procedures is a long and difficult process which requires scientific brilliance, firmly embedded in ethical practices. It also requires an absolute minimum of partisan politics. Diseases, syndromes and impairments are neither Republican nor Democrat, liberal or conservative. They can strike anyone and everyone.

We owe it to future generations to remember this simple truth and let the researchers get back to their labs and clinics and do what they do best.

516 days till the next election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

 

Shades of Dr. Max

Dr. Max Rafferty

Dr. Max Rafferty

Way back in 1968, California had a real barn-burner of a senate election pitting Democrat Alan Cranston (the former state Comptroller) versus Republican Dr. Max Rafferty (that’s him in the photo), the then state Superintendent of Public Instruction. Dr. Max was such a “far right reactionary” that many California Democrats actually changed their voter registration to Republican for the sole purpose of voting for the incumbent, the much-admired and respected liberal Republican Thomas Kuchel. Despite the influx of new Republican primary voters, Dr. Max defeated Senator Kuchel, and then went on to lose the general election to Cranston by more than 340,000 votes. (Of course, a vast majority of the Democrats who had re-registered as Republicans, returned to the fold for the general election.)

Defeated for reelection to his state education post two years later, Dr. Max moved to Alabama, where he took a job as Chancellor of Troy State University. Upon learning of Rafferty’s planned move, the beloved San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen wrote “In leaving California and moving to Alabama, Dr. Max is raising the IQ of both states simultaneously.” (Dr. Max would continue living in Alabama, and actually became a surrogate for George Wallace. On June 13, 1982, Dr. Max died when his car plunged off an earthen dam into a pond near Troy. He was 65.

This now half-century old memory fought its way back to my frontal lobes while I was in the process of reading various Tweets and Facebook postings from ardent “pro-life” (or rather, “pro-birth”) supporters of the nation’s newest and cruelest total abortion ban - the one just signed into law by Alabama Governor Kay Ivey. Many of these Tweets and postings were aglow with the joy of knowing that as of this coming November, physicians who conduct abortions in Alabama could be sentenced to 99 years in prison, and women undergoing abortions could be held legally liable for their actions. And, as a result, many of these Tweeters were now half-seriously considering moving to Alabama, where “morality is back in style." I responded to several of them that in leaving their home states and moving to the land of Ivey, they would - like Dr. Max - be raising the IQ of two states simultaneously. Not knowing the historic context behind my tweets, they were, to say the least, perplexed. Now, Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio and other states are in competition with one another to pass their own pro-birth, anti-woman bans ASAP.

Truth to tell, for many of these state legislatures, rushing to pass regressive anti-abortion ”fetal heartbeat” legislation, the reason for turning back the clock to pre-Roe v. Wade days hasn’t got all that much to do with religion or morality. Rather, it has lots to do with putting a powerful emotional wedge issue squarely on the 2020 ballot. To their way of thinking, this issue will help 45’s reelection bid. But already, there are signs that Republicans themselves - including the POTUS himself - are becoming political contortionists; pols who, while seeking to convince their base that they are still adamantly pro-birth, are also attempting to distance themselves from the cruelest, most testosterone-driven aspects of the newest pieces of legislation.

One might think Alabama legislators and their base would be more concerned about paying attention to the state of their state than whether or not women and their physicians are going to be enjoined and even imprisoned for making decisions about their bodies and lives. If the Republican politicians and citizens of Alabama were really, truly concerned about life - rather than merely birth - they would be appalled at what is going on in the Yellowhammer State. For in poll after poll, Alabama rates dead last - or close to it - in just about every economic and social category. According to recent state rankings by U.S. News & World Report, Alabama is:

  • 50th in education;

  • 46th in health care;

  • 45th in economy;

  • 45th in opportunity and

  • 45th in crime and corrections.

  • Alabama’s overall rating among the 50 states is 49 . . . Louisiana - another state spending the lion’s share of its legislative time on banning abortions - comes in dead last, while on the other end of the scale:

  • Washington is number 1. New Hampshire number 2, and Minnesota number 3.

In passing their worst-in-the-nation anti-abortion bill, Alabama’s Republican legislators and Republican governor are clearly doing everything in their power to ensure continued support from their party’s (read: Trump’s) political base. This is unbelievably myopic. In order to go beyond maintaining their base - let alone expanding it - they are going to need to attract more suburban women and educated urbanites. With passage of this bill - and all the attendant negative press and their increasingly riven party - they are going to lose even more potential voters. If the myopic pols, in turn, say “All we need to do is repeatedly warn our constituents about all the pre-born lives that will be destroyed if we are not reelected, and how we are truly doing God’s will” - they are going to find themselves in even worse shape. For, as bad as education, job growth, farming, infrastructure and healthcare are in Alabama (and Louisiana, Missouri, Georgia and Ohio) right now, things are going to get even worse. How so? Economic boycotting by individuals and corporations who otherwise might visit, build, hold conventions or invest in these hyper pro-birth states. This will give more rational candidates the ability to engage in issues of even greater day-to-day concern.

In last week’s post (“The Death of Biodiversity”) we mentioned the many conservative politicians who refuse to join the growing legions of folks who see climate change as an issue of paramount importance. Their rationale? The “I’m not a scientist” excuse. Why is it that the vast majority of politicians who use this tactic act like board-certified OB-GYNs when it comes to abortion? Why is it that those who argue adamantly against any and all gun safety measures (“It’s an encroachment on personal liberty!”) have no problem with government involvement in - and regulation of - a woman’s right to choose? Could it be that they are too dense to recognize radical inconsistency? Or are there simply more campaign dollars to be had from the likes of pro-gun and anti-abortion PACS than teachers’ unions, Planned Parenthood and the National Organization for Women?  

I bet even a Luddite like Dr. Max would have known the answer.

536 days until the next election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

 

Laughter: The Only Medicine?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Riptide of Regression: Given by Dan Rather.,

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

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

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

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

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

How’s about Mrs. Putin?

569 days until the next election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

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

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Wasn’t it Albert Einstein who defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”? Maybe yes and maybe know. Over the years I’ve read articles claiming that it was Benjamin Franklin . . . or Mark Twain . . . or writer Rita Mae Brown in her 1984 novel Sudden Death who was the creator of record. Regardless of who birthed the truism one must admit that it is both clever and spot-on. Seeing as major league baseball is back in season (Hallelujah!) we can give the following example of Einstein’s “razor”: the general manager of a team which came in dead last in the previous 3 seasons opens the next season with precisely the same roster yet expects to make it to the World Series. This is, of course, utter insanity.

Another prime example - this from the world of politics - would be ‘45’s decision to launch yet another full-scale assault on the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”) the day after declaring himself totally exonerated by the Mueller investigation. (n.b. until the full report is turned over to Congress and the public, ‘45 is jumping the gun; A.G. Barr’s 4 page Cliff Notes version of the Special Counsel’s 400+ page report obviously doesn’t say much of anything. It’s akin to summarizing Dostoevsky’s massive Crime and Punishment in a single sentence: A super broke college dropout becomes convinced that the universe is telling him to kill a pawnbroker because that’s what great men do — which he does, but eventually confesses to at the urging of an extremely Christian prostitute.)

‘45’s renewed interest in healthcare comes on the heels of his administration’s announcement this past week that it supported a conservative judge’s December ruling to wipe out Obamacare completely, based on a technicality involving the individual mandate, which Sir Donald of Orange already has eliminated. “If the Supreme Court rules that Obamacare is out, we will have a plan that is far better than Obamacare,” POTUS said Wednesday, a day after declaring that “the Republican Party will soon be known as the party of healthcare.” Why in the world he has once again returned the total dismemberment of Obamacare to center stage (without having the faintest idea what he’s going to replace it with) is anyone’s guess. Several possible answers come to mind:

  • Perhaps it’s because the man is utterly obsessed with uprooting and destroying every vestige of his predecessor’s record.

  • Perhaps it’s because he is nuttier than a fruitcake or that when it comes to retail politics, the man is stunningly tone deaf.

  • Perhaps he is catering to his base - the only folks left in American society who can feed his ego . . . the men, women and children wearing those red “MAGA” hats and endlessly shouting out “LOCK HER/HIM/THEM UP!!” If this is the case, it would mean that in his self-deluded state he believes that so long as he can hold on to their votes, he can easily be reelected.

  • Perhaps he’s once again proving to himself and the world what he claimed on January 23, 2016: "I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and wouldn’t lose any voters, OK? It’s, like, incredible.”

  • Perhaps by reviving the “Obamacare is evil and therefore must go” meme, he is revealing a central focus of his 2020 campaign: that all Democrats are Socialists intent on nothing less than the total destruction of America.

What ‘45 and his cabal don’t seem to understand is that a majority of the American public supports the ACA, especially provisions which debar health insurance companies from charging higher rates to those with preexisting conditions and permits younger Americans to continue being covered by their parents’ healthcare plans until age 26. Nor do they seem to grasp that the single-most important issue which caused them to lose the House this past November was healthcare. Why the president, his advisers and Department of Justice would once again pick a fight they just lost is beyond reason. So far, leading Republicans on Capitol Hill have shown little desire to make themselves into - in the president’s words - “The party of healthcare.”

“We’re coming up with plans,” Trump said ambiguously this past Wednesday, just as he’s been saying for years. Yet neither he nor any other Republican has come up with a viable healthcare plan that would cover as many people as Obamacare or offer people as much protection. That’s not fake news. That’s just a fact. And here’s another fact: if Obamacare goes, at least 20 million Americans will once again be without health insurance. Out of necessity, they will have to go to emergency rooms to receive care . . . and this is the most costly form of healthcare ever devised.

POTUS has appointed and anointed 3 senators (John Barrasso (R-WY), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), and Rick Scott (R-FL)—to come up with a plan. (It should be noted that former FL governor Scott refused to permit a single federal dollar to enter his state to help expand Medicaid and, as the one-time CEO of Columbia/HCA, the hospital company was fined $1.7 billion for Medicare fraud.) One wonders what sort of proposal they’re going to come up with. For many Republican congressional leaders, they’ve urged the White House to come up with their own proposal . . . and not rely upon the Republican-led senate. In other words, GOP legislators are scared to death about having to defend “Trumpcare” in 2020.

Living as we do in a world and a time where political conspiracies are as commonplace as a beer at a ballgame, permit me to spin one myself. What if ‘45’s mega-wealthy “friends” and supporters have simply become fed up with him and convinced him that destroying Obamacare from stem to stern (or from brain to big toe) is the best way of assuring overwhelming victory in 2020. They know how stupid he is; they understand both his naivete and his narcissism; they cannot afford to be identified with him . . . he is simply not one of them. So what to do? Convince him to take over leadership of a cause which stands the best chance of putting him out of their misery.

There is some evidence to support the theory of billionaires turning their backs on ‘45 so that he won’t be reelected. Already this year, we’ve seen the Koch brothers - Charles & David - publicly announce that they will neither support nor spend a single dime on ‘45’s reelection. Instead, they will be putting their time, energy and vast financial resources (and those of their contributing network) behind those who advocate for establishing permanent legal status for “Dreamers” (undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children), as well as on gubernatorial and congressional races, prioritizing issues including poverty and drug addiction. 

And so, at least on the political surface - and for whatever reason - the president has given the Democrats a remarkable gift . . . just so long as they remain reasonably unified, coalesce around a candidate who can win, and keep their eyes on the prize. Even with this remarkable “gift that keeps on giving,” the Democrats do have a historic tendency to shoot themselves in the foot.

Stand tall, act wisely and please, please . . . remember how much is at stake. A gift box left unopened is a more than sad. Several gift boxes left unopened is . . . in the words of Einstein, (or Franklin or Twain or Rita Mae Brown) insanity.

583 days until the next election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone


The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good

 
Alice Roosevelt Longworth

Alice Roosevelt Longworth

Alice Roosevelt Longworth (1884-1980), the daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) and wife of House Speaker Nicholas Longworth III (1869-1931), was long the doyen of Washington society. Being invited to one of her afternoon teas - long held in her Beaux Arts townhouse just above Dupont Circle at 2009 Massachusetts Avenue - was a sign of having made it - of having arrived. Alice was a witty, fearless, way-ahead-of-her-time grande dame long known for the quality of her tea and an unerring ability to speak her mind. She is perhaps best-remembered for having described two-time Republican presidential candidate Thomas E. Dewey as “The little man on the wedding cake,” and the slogan embroidered on the pillow adorning her settee, which served as a kind of throne: “If you haven’t anything nice to say about anyone, come sit next to me!”

“Lady Alice’s” bon mot could easily be the slogan of all seasoned political operatives; particularly those tasked with doing opposition research.  For those not in the know, opposition research is to bare-knuckle political campaigning as advance scouting is to professional baseball . . . an absolute must. The purpose of researching an opposing candidate is, of course, to have a collection of “facts and fables” with which to  tar one’s opponent(s) if and when it becomes necessary.  I have long been of a mind that opposition research should also be carried out with the same diligence on one’s own candidate; the theory being that If we can find out what our guy/gal has done, so can they.  It is one way of lessening the possibility of getting caught with one’s pants down - both literally and figuratively.  

Today, of course, with all the cyber search engines at one’s beck and call, opposition research is ever so much easier than in days of yore. The Internet contains far, far more anecdotal information than a week or two spent going over miles of microfiche files at the Library of Congress. Then too, it is also far, far easier to find and post tons of “facts” - and images - which simply are not true.  Case in point, a photo of former Texas Representative - and potential Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke posing before a camera, the words “vegan,” “feminist,” “atheist” and “queer” painted on his mostly nude body. (As if any of these should absolutely disqualify a person from running for the presidency.) Despite the fact that this “fact” is nuttier-than-nougat, the photo - and “story” behind it has already wound up in thousands upon thousands of cyber mailboxes, which means there are lots of people who are dead certain that Beto is a beast.

Of course, opposition research is nothing new.  As but one example, back in the presidential election of 1884 between New York Governor Grover Cleveland (D) and Maine Senator (and future Secretary of State) James G. Blaine (R), the candidates’ campaign slogans were based on what was worst and most immoral in their opponents’ lives and careers.  Blaine’s campaign slogan - based on the out-of- wedlock child Cleveland allegedly had fathered was “Ma, Ma, Where's my Pa, Gone to the White House, Ha, Ha, Ha!”  Likewise, Cleveland’s campaign slogan, “Blaine, Blaine, James G. Blaine, The Continental Liar from the State of Maine!” referred to Blaine's involvement in unethical business deals with the railroad industry and his behavior after they were exposed.  Although there were actual issues in the campaign, no one remembers what they were . . . short of the far more interesting matter of Cleveland’s promiscuity and Blaine’s perfidy.

Although political campaigns can - and do - engage and entertain (and enrage) the masses, they are also - ideally - meant to enlighten the electorate. Sadly, with the sweep and scope of 21st century opposition research, they have made the latter - the enlightenment part - next to impossible. And the product of the opposition research has been getting fiercer and more fatuous - not to mention earlier - with every passing cycle. The fact that there is already a negative hit job being done on Beto O’Rourke -even before he’s decided whether or not he’s going to run - is simply breathtaking in its mendacity. We already “know” many negatives about Senators Warren, Klobuchar, Harris and Booker to name but four. Please note that each of the links leads to a series of articles detailing their negatives far more than their proposals.  In the 50-plus years I’ve been engaged in politics and political campaigning, I’ve never seen the “fruits” of opposition research being published a full two years before an election. This is both a shame and a pity, and is an early indicator of just how filthy the 2020 cycle is going to be.    

Elizabeth Warren, as an example, has been going around the country talking up specific proposals she would like to see enacted - whether or not she is elected POTUS. One of these is a much-needed (and highly doable) program to make childcare and preschool affordable.  Although rarely talked about, childcare and preschool accessibility and affordability is of major importance.  The percentage of income that goes into these early forms of education is staggering.  Senator Warren’s plan has been well thought out, and if enacted, could have a positive effect on American society.  To date, there has been precious little conversation about her proposal.  From the right side of the aisle, predictably, it has been dismissed as ‘socialism,’ and ‘turning over the raising of children to the state.’  From the left side of the aisle, one hears complaints that the plan doesn’t go far enough — that it should involve free, direct public provision of child care, not subsidies to private provision. As the New York Times’ Paul Krugman has noted, “There’s certainly a case for a more expansive policy. There’s also no chance that it will happen anytime soon.” While the demurral is well intended, one must remember, that the perfect can be the enemy of the good.   In other words, rejecting going on a one-mile jog because a 2 mile jog would provide more needed exercise is likely to keep people from jogging at all.

Interestingly, like Senator Warren in 2019, Hillary Clinton had a serious plan back in 2016, but the news media was too busy obsessing over emails to pay attention. Most of what we read, hear or see about Senator Warren’s nascent campaign deals with whether or not she has so much as a single drop of Native American blood or how much she’s worth, rather than what she’s proposing to do as president.  In other words, opposition research has “proven” that she’s not perfect.

We’ve arrived at a point in American political history that most of what we know about presidential (or congressional or state legislative) candidates is that they are not perfect; that they are far too human to be worthy of our support, let alone our vote. Stated so baldly, you know it’s trash; we should be seeking and supporting people who are smart, thoughtful, experienced in the fine arts of governance, leadership and diplomacy; people who are both willing and able to listen and learn; candidates who tend to surround themselves with advisers who are even smarter, more thoughtful, and more experienced than they are.

By demanding or expecting the perfect, we are making it virtually impossible for the good to ever succeed.

Or, in the words of “Princess” Alice’s father, the nation’s 25th president, “Look Toward the stars but keep your feet firmly on the ground.” 

618 days to go until the next presidential election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone