Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

Filtering by Category: 2020

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