Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

Filtering by Category: American History

To Impeach or Not to Impeach: That Is the Question

To Impeach Or Not to Impeach.jpg

Although relatively low in entertainment value, former counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s testimony before two House committees did prove at least five things:

First, that a majority of the Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee and Select Committee on Intelligence never read more than the briefest of summaries of the Mueller Report;

Second, that Attorney General William Barr’s assessment of that report was an absolute crock of beans;

Third, that candidate and then President Trump and his associates engaged in potential profit-making ventures with one of America’s worst enemies and then committed numerous provable acts of judicial obstruction;

Fourth, that not only did the Russians cyber-invade the voting systems in all fifty states in an effort to guarantee a Trump victory - they are hard at it for the 2020 election; and

Fifth, that despite the hearings, the House is hardly any closer to impeaching the POTUS than it was the day before the hearings. And while Democrats should be applauded for asking hard questions based on their (or their staff’s) reading and understanding of the lengthy, dry-as-dust report, Republicans were far more interested in bad-mouthing and taking cheap shots at Director Mueller - turning an American icon of Lincolnesque proportions into a senescent partisan hack.

Yesterday, Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler (D-NY) announced that he had asked a federal judge to unseal grand jury secrets related to the Mueller investigation, using the court filing to declare that lawmakers have already in effect launched an impeachment investigation of President Trump. In a legal maneuver that carries significant political overtones, the committee attorneys told a judge that it needs access to the grand jury evidence collected by Mr. Mueller as special counsel — such as witness testimony — because it is “investigating whether to recommend articles of impeachment” against the president. With the filing, Chairman Nadler was attempting to sidestep the debate raging inside the Democratic Party over whether the full House should hold a vote to formally declare that it is opening an impeachment inquiry. By declaring that his committee was in effect conducting such an inquiry, he was heading off a politically difficult vote in the committee or the full house to pursue impeachment.

To impeach or not to impeach: that is the question. Although a majority of Democrats across the country favor impeachment proceedings, only around 100 Congressional Democrats have already gotten on board. (Follow this link to see the latest tally of which Democrats favor impeachment, which say “not yet,” and which have yet to respond.) The percentage of Republicans polling against impeachment proceedings easily equals the president’s national approval ratings - about 43% at best. Among independents, impeachment is supported by a plurality, with “not sure” coming in a rather distant second. For House Democrats, impeachment is being debated and discussed along three different lines: the legal, the political and the moral.

The Legal: Despite what A.G. Barr, Republicans in Congress, the president’s base and conservative trolls everywhere may aver, there is a welter of evidence to show that crimes have been committed. Perhaps no one pierced what the New York Times’ Virginia Heffernan called “the clouds and cacophony” of the morning session (e.g. the Judiciary Committee) more magisterially than Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) who wielded the gavel during afternoon session. (n.b.: for purposes of full disclosure: I have long been close to the Schiff family; his father and late mother were students of mine for many years, and I have, on occasion, served as family rabbi. My respect and admiration for Adam are boundless.) In his opening remarks, Chairman Schiff “. . .scorchingly outlined President Trump’s three-way betrayal of his country and the American people.” Adam is always low-key and lawyerly; broad emotionalism is simply not his style. The most important point he got across in his opening remarks was that even if the two-year Mueller investigation couldn’t establish criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians, their disloyalty to country was “something worse” than a crime, and Mueller’s team amply established it. “A crime is the violation of a law written by Congress,” Schiff intoned, “but disloyalty to country violates the very obligation of citizenship, our devotion to a core principle on which our nation was founded, that we, the people, not some foreign power that wishes us ill, we decide who shall govern us.”

As one who has actually read, digested and taken copious notes on the entire Mueller report (it took me more than 5 weeks), I can attest to the fact that there were crimes ‘aplenty involving  candidate Trump, President Trump and much of his staff and administration.

The Political: To impeach or not to impeach is also an issue with a major political component. As of today, Speaker Pelosi is not in favor of impeaching the 45th POTUS. Why? Certainly not because she believes he is innocent or falsely accused, but rather because there is a highly critical national election on the horizon. As the highest ranking official in the opposition, she must determine if supporting and carrying out impeachment proceedings in the House (which stand a snowball’s chance in Hell of succeeding in the Republican-led Senate) will put a major roadblock in her party’s attempt to take back the White House and both houses of Congress in 2020. Knowing that there will undoubtedly be a tremendous amount of Russian meddling in the 2020 election, she must do what is best and politically smartest to garner the maximum number of votes in places like Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, and West Virginia. As such, will it be better (and politically smarter) to run on “kitchen-table issues” like jobs, healthcare, taxes, and Social Security (among others) or on impeaching Donald Trump? If it’s the latter, will she then see her party drowning in the very swamp he has created? She must determine which is more politically potent: hatred of Trump or concern for the working class. Never underestimate the political smarts of Nancy Pelosi; she is one of the shrewdest political operators in American history.

Make no mistake about it: Should House Democrats decide to proceed with impeachment hearings, the Trump White House will Twitter away with all the wrathful vengeance and fury of the Biblical plagues. And while they will be applauded by their base for standing up to “the Socialist Squad,” they will likely gain few if any new supporters. On the other hand, it is possible that pushing the impeachment envelope may keep many independent voters away from the polls, fed up with Democrats who, in their opinion, are far more interested in getting rid of ‘45 than in addressing their middle-class needs and concerns. For the Democrats, this could easily become their Sisyphean challenge.

In an interview Adam Schiff gave nearly 2 months ago (well before the Mueller’s presentation to Congress) to Los Angeles Times staff writer Christine Mai-Duc, the California Democrat summarized the political conundrum about as well as is humanly possible:

I think the most powerful arguments both for and against impeachment are really mirror images of each other. If we don’t impeach him, what does that say to future Congresses and presidents about whether this kind of conduct is compatible with office? And by the same token, if we do impeach him, and he’s acquitted in the Senate, and there is an adjudication that that conduct is not impeachable, that may be a worse precedent. So I think before we go down the road of something that would absorb the whole Congress and whole country and lead to a very predictable result, we should be sure that this is the right thing to do for the country.

The Moral: Without question, our current president lacks both a moral compass and basic human decency. It may well be that Democrats must respond to all this immorality and indecency with a tactic which is not all that politically smart. After all, to many Americans - whether they are consciously aware of it or not - Donald Trump has two distinct advantages: he is a media celebrity and he stridently opposes virtually everything that has a moral component.

Those who aren’t ferociously enamored with Donald Trump are well aware of his many, many flaws and shortcomings: his racism, sexism, xenophobia, crudity, heartlessness, narcissism and perhaps above all, his utter inability to tell the truth. He is, without question, the least moral, most disloyal citizen to ever occupy the White House. And if for no other reason than this, Democrats should proceed with impeachment. Much of the nation is both benumbed and bewildered at the Republicans’ spinelessness; at their rank inability to confront the leader of their party. It seems to me that if the Democrats do not proceed with impeachment hearings that they too will be guilty of spinelessness. It may not, in the long run, make for smart politics. Goodness knows it will - succeed or fail - carry all the marks of courage and good citizenship - qualities sorely lacking in our time and place.

In the mid-1930s, shortly before the beginning of World War II, Austrian Robert Musil, the author of The Man Without Qualities (easily one of the greatest novels-of-ideas ever written) noted that “No culture can rest on a crooked relationship to truth.” Herr Musil, you said a mouthful. The political culture of the United States (and now, with the ascension of Boris Johnson, of Britain) is sick. It is unserious, crooked and lethal. There is no honest way to dissociate the rise of Trump and Johnson from the societies that produced them. The triumph of indecency is rampant. Choose your facts. The only blow Trump knows is the low one. As the gutter is to the stars, so is this president to dignity. 

Although impeaching him will likely not succeed in the Republican-controlled United States Senate nor fix what is wrong with our political culture, it is nonetheless, in my very humble opinion, the right thing to do. Some will respond “Although I agree with your assessment, winning the presidency is far more important.” I disagree: sometimes it is essential to do what in the short-term may be the wrong thing . . . but for the right reason.

In the long run, if we impeach him it’s not because we despise ‘45 so much; it’s because we love our country and its ideals so very much more.

467 days until the presidential election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

Buchanan and Trump: What's Past Is Prologue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

530 days until the next election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone


Every Scandal Needs a Name

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

The Whiskey Ring.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

688 days until the next election,

Copyright© 2018 Kurt F. Stone

Adams & Jefferson Must Be Turning Over in Their Graves

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

Jefferson and Adams

Jefferson and Adams

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

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

Matthew Whitaker

Matthew Whitaker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

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

Lewis Chas. Levin (1808-1860)

Lewis Chas. Levin (1808-1860)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Typical anti-Catholic Cartoon of the 1840s

A Typical anti-Catholic Cartoon of the 1840s

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

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

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

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

The Burning of St. Michael’s Church

The Burning of St. Michael’s Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright©2011, 2018 Kurt F. Stone

Wisdom From Mt. Rushmore

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We begin with a note: Over the past nearly decade-and-a-half that The K.F. Stone Weekly (originally Beating the Bushes) has been on line, we have devoted several essays to the four presidents whose faces are carved into Mt. Rushmore, which is located in the Black Hills region of South Dakota.  Looking back, we noted that these pieces were invariably posted on or near the 4th of July.  And what better time to ponder the words, deeds and dreams of four of this nation's best, most accomplished, most literate, most verbally prophetic and iconic presidents?  There  is simply no gainsaying that the "Mt. Rushmore Four" - George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt - are right up there when it comes to the rankings of American historians, political scientists ... even Business Insider.  Most sources rank Lincoln 1st, Washington 2nd, Theodore Roosevelt anywhere from 4th to 7th and Jefferson either 5th or 7th.  

In addition to being great leaders, all four shared a tremendous sense of self - of understanding their respective strengths and weaknesses. They also shared an innate expressiveness and were engaged in a vast range of issues, interests and pursuits.  And we - their posterity - are all the wealtheir  for their wisdom, insights, and aphorisms.  And so, without further ado, let's take our semi-annual visit to the Black Hills and partake in our political patrimony - learning lessons through their actual words- which do contain some  archaic spellings - that are as important - if not more so - than they were at the time they were originally composed . . .  (BTW: these are not quotes or statements used in previous Fourth of July visits.)


George Washington:  Good afternoon gentleman.  May I be the first to wish one and all a happy 242nd birthday to this great nation.  Abraham, Theodore: you young fellows have simply no idea how difficult, how  incredibly dicey it was to get this country off the ground. The political and military odds were long and challenging.  It took a courage, intelligence and steadfastness to an unfathomable degree - not to mention all the many miracles of a bountiful Lord.  

Thomas Jefferson: ah general, you sound like a Deist this afternoon!  But what you say is true.  While I can't speak to the military side of the equation, I can tell our younger colleagues that the political debates were as difficult as playing 56 different games of chess simultaneously.  The fact that the winner - the United States of America - came back from the brink of political defeat on more than a dozen occasions is a sure sign that divine miracles played a role . . .  So what do you have in mind by way of celebration, general?

George Washington: I think that in light of what the country is going through on this, our 242nd anniversary - the current president's odd way of handling the office, the divisive partisanship and utter lack of civility - it might be a good thing for each of us to share some of our thoughts . . . impart wisdom to those who firmly believe that their side is utterly righteous and knows it all and that tje opposition is both evil and without a scintilla of common sense.  Perhaps unbeknownst to us so many years ago, we were talking and writing about principles and policies which are even more difficult today. 

And may I suggest that we limit ourselves to, say, no more than ten quotes . . . perhaps even less?  Remember, the nation has a president who admits to never reading books and only reads and writes in 280 keystrokes

Abraham Lincoln: I think we can all agree, General, that this is a fine idea.  And speaking for all, might I urge you to go first?

George Washington:  Thank you Abe.  Let's see what I remember . . .

  • The bosom of America is open to receive not only the Opulent and respectable Stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations And Religions; whom we shall wellcome to a participation of all our rights and previleges.
  • The power under the Constitution will always be in the people. It is entrusted for certain defined purposes, and for a certain limited period, to representatives of their own choosing; and whenever it is executed contrary to their interest, or not agreeable to their wishes, their servants can, and undoubtedly will, be recalled.
  • If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent, we may be led, like sheep, to the slaughter
  • Guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism.
  • It is far better to be alone than in bad company

George Washington: Tom?  It's your turn. I know you're far more literate - and literary - than I, but please, try to keep your quotes to the agreed upon limit . ..

Thomas Jefferson: Certainly General . . . and I appreciate that you kept your comments so brief . . . so that I might be a bit more voluble . . .

  • Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add 'within the limits of the law' because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual
  • Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.
  • Nothing gives one person so much advantage over another as to remain always cool and unruffled under all circumstances. 
  • I believe we may lesson the danger of buying and selling votes, by making the number of voters too great for any means of purchase. I may further say that I have not observed men's honesty to increase with their riches.       
  • The whole art of government consists in the art of being honest.        
  • If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be

General Washington: Mr. Lincoln, I am sure we are all anxious to hear which of your many, many aphorisms you have chosen . . .

Abraham Lincoln: Indeed, a few comments to hopefully help  put things into perspective:

  • America will never be destroyed from the outside.  If we falter and loose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.    
  • We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.

  • The money power preys on the nation in times of peace, and conspires against it in times of adversity. It is more despotic than monarchy, more insolent than autocracy, more selfish than bureaucracy. It denounces, as public enemies, all who question its methods or throw light upon its crimes.

  • A statesman is he who thinks in the future generations, and a politician is he who thinks in the upcoming elections. 

  • Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.

  • Those who are ready to sacrifice freedom for security ultimately will lose both.

  • I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country....corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”


George Washington: Colonel Roosevelt? It's your turn.  What gems have you to share with modern Americans this July 4th weekend?

Theodore Roosevelt: As you know General, it is hard for me to be brief

  • The conservation of natural resources is the fundamental problem. Unless we solve that problem it will avail us little to solve all others.     

  •  All contributions by corporations to any political committee or for any political purpose should be forbidden by law.

  • To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.

  • Patriotism means to stand by the country. It Does not mean to stand by the President.

  • Of all the questions which can come before this nation, short of the actual preservation of its existence in a great war, there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us.


George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt: On behalf of the four of us - and all those we have served during our lifetimes - please remember that this country IS already great!  If it is to continue surviving as a great nation, a nation which can and should continue being the hope of the world, remember our words, our thoughts and know we are praying for you to act with both passion and purpose.  And, by unanimous vote, we have chosen to give the last word to Mr. Jefferson:

  • Some are Whigs, liberals, democrats, call them what you please. Others are tories, serviles, aristocrats, &c. The latter fear the people, and wish to transfer all power to the higher classes of society; the former consider the people as the safest depository of power in the last resort; they cherish them therefore, and wish to leave in them all the powers to the exercise of which they are competent.

Enjoy this, the 242nd anniversary of our birth . . .

528 days down, 945 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone


Desperately Seeking At Least One 'Profile in Courage'

Profiles in Courage.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The book and its subject?

A Nation of Immigrants,

522 days down, 951 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone


June 5, 1968: A Memory Awash in Claret


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

509 days down, 963 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone







Distraction, Diversion and Political Optics

     (Kudos to Sandy Gotttstein, Alaska's gift to the world, for contributing to this piece in more ways than she will ever know . . . )

            John Carlos and Tommy Smith at the 1968 Olympics

            John Carlos and Tommy Smith at the 1968 Olympics

By now, , after more than 16 months of  off-the-wall Trumpian weltanschauung, it is clear that whenever the President begins flying too close to the flame of political immolation, he unveils a diversionary issue bound to keep his base both delighted and in thrall.  Most recently, as the Mueller investigation continues picking up Republican support;  the administration continues forcibly taking migrant children from their parents and placing them in separate detention centers, to “deter” illegal immigration; and the world waits and watches as '45 keeps flip-flopping on tariffs and that summit with Kim Jong-un,  what does he do?  He turns up the heat on the various  National Football League (NFL) players who have been refusing to stand for the National Anthem prior to kick-off.  Now mind you, this isn't an issue that just began; it's been around the sports world for more than half-a-century.  Many will remember the 1968 Olympic games in Mexico when African-American 200 meter medalists Tommy Smith and John Carlos both raised a black-gloved "human rights salute" during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner.  The two received their medals from David Cecil (the 6th Marquess of Exeter) shoeless but wearing black socks to represent black poverty. Smith wore a black scarf around his neck to represent black pride, while Carlos had his tracksuit unzipped to show solidarity with blue-collar workers. (n.b. Smith went on to a brief three-year career in the NFL before becoming a longtime professor of sociology at Santa Monica College; Carlos, who was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles but never played due to a severe knee injury, became a track and field coach at Palm Springs High School. In 2008, the two were honored with the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage at the 2008 ESPY Awards.)

Fast forward nearly a half-century, and we find San Francisco Forty-Niner quarterback Colin Kaepernik first sitting on the ground (3rd pre-season game) then from the 4th pre-season game onward, taking a knee during the playing of the National Anthem.  When queried by the national media, he explained "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder", he said, referencing a series of events that led to the Black Lives Matter movement and adding that he would continue to protest until he felt like "[the American flag] represents what it's supposed to represent."  As in the case of Smith and Carlos in 1968, few people paid attention to what Kaepernik's underlying motives were in carrying out his protest; of what he was truly saying. Most simply attacked him for being unpatriotic, for desecrating the memory of all those who fought and died for our freedoms, and for showing utter disregard for the flag and all that it has long stood for.  And, as with Smith and Carlos, Kaepernik's professional sports career has all but ended because of his protest.  

By continually attacking those NFL players who have been kneeling during the National Anthem, '45 has accomplished several things:

  1. Getting the NFL to set a policy which mandates that those players who do not stand during the singing of the National Anthem will remain in their respective locker rooms until the anthem has been completed . . . and that any player who does not obey this mandate will be fined;
  2. Shifted the political optics away from such issues as Mueller, children of immigrants, tariffs and North Korea towards a group of largely minority millionaire gladiators;
  3. Set up a potential issue for the 2018 midterm elections (e,g., "Yes or no: are you for or against the flag and all it stands for?" a question whose complexity demands far more than a monosyllabic response.)
  4. Shown that the POTUS - like an awful lot of Americans - haven't got the slightest idea about the background, history or meaning of the Star Spangled Banner, nor what the law has to say about it or the flag it represents.

While most Americans know that the words of the Star Spangled Banner were written by Francis Scott Key (1779-1843), few know that he served as the decidedly pro-slavery, anti-abolitionist United States Attorney for the District of Columbia for nearly a decade. Nor do many know that his poem,  written in 1814 and set to the tune of a popular British song called To Anacreon in Heaven, consists of four stanzas and did not officially become our National Anthem until 1931.  It contains some decidedly racist lyrics: in the 3rd stanza, as but one example, we read No refuge could save the hirling and slave/from the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave /And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave/O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.  When Key wrote these words on the back of a letter 204 years ago, the "land of the free" definitely did not include African Americans or non-citizens.  When I was in grade school (during the height of McCarthyism) our teacher, Miss Collette, had us sing all four stanzas every day at the beginning of class:


For those who do not have access to audio or video, here are the four stanzas:

O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight
O’er the ramparts we watch’d were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there,
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream,
’Tis the star-spangled banner—O long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O thus be it ever when freemen shall stand
Between their lov’d home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with vict’ry and peace may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the power that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto – “In God is our trust,”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.


I personally challenge the president and any member of his Cabinet (or Congress) to sing any (if not all) of these stanzas correctly.  And as for the president's suggestion that those football players who do not stay out on the field of play and sing our National Anthem should be be deported, this flies in the face of a 75-year old decision by the United States Supreme Court: West Virginia State Board of Education v. BarnetteWhile this decision specifically dealt with the illegality of forcing school children to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance, Justice Robert Jackson noted for all time that ". . . we apply the limitations of the Constitution with no fear that freedom to be intellectually and spiritually diverse or even contrary will disintegrate the social organization. To believe that patriotism will not flourish if patriotic ceremonies are voluntary and spontaneous instead of a compulsory routine is to make an unflattering estimate of the appeal of our institutions to free minds. We can have intellectual individualism and the rich cultural diversities that we owe to exceptional minds only at the price of occasional eccentricity and abnormal attitudes. When they are so harmless to others or to the State as those we deal with here, the price is not too great. But freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order."  Some will argue that the court's decision only applies to public places like class rooms, court rooms and city hall chambers - not to privately-owned spaces.  Maybe yes, maybe no.  But do keep in mind that a large percentage of professional sports' stadia (and the land upon which they have been erected) have been underwritten with public tax dollars which, by definition, makes the West Virginia State ruling apply to them as well.  What legal strategy is '45 and his Justice Department going to use to deport American citizens?  Where is he going to send them?  Guantanamo?  Back to Africa?  To Neptune or Mars?

At least one NFL team co-owner - the Jets' Christopher Johnson - has gone on record as saying that while his personal preference was for his players to stand on the field during the singing of the National Anthem, that fines related to national anthem protests “will be borne by the organization, by me, not the players. . . .I never want to put restrictions on the speech of our players,” he said. “There are some big, complicated issues that we’re all struggling with, and our players are on the front lines. I don’t want to come down on them like a ton of bricks, and I won’t. There will be no club fines or suspensions or any sort of repercussions. If the team gets fined, that’s just something I’ll have to bear.”  One wonders how long it will take for the next NFL owner to break with both the POTUS and league commissioner Roger Goodell, who is paid in excess of $35 million a year plus the lifetime use of a jet.  After all, this is a world in which billionaires abound, making unfathomable sums through the gladiatorial efforts of the multimillionaires they employ.  That even one should show independence is a good sign . . .

So let the POTUS try to divert our attention from issues that truly matter with political optics that are as disturbing as anything ever created by Edvard Munch.  We shall neither be deceived, diverted nor distracted, for we are, when all is said and done, "The land of the free and the home of the brave."

494 days down, 978 days to go.

Copyright2018 Kurt F. Stone

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

March on Pennsylvania Avenue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

430 days done, 1,029 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone


From Generation to Generation

                           May 9: 1970: The March on Washington

                           May 9: 1970: The March on Washington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From one generation to another, we say:

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


400 days down, 1,157 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

The Ever-Contracting Universe of D.J.T.

                  Pearl Buck, JFK, Robert Frost, Mrs.Kennedy

                  Pearl Buck, JFK, Robert Frost, Mrs.Kennedy

On April 29, 1962, President John F. Kennedy (who, as of this past Wednesday has - unbelievably - been gone for 54 years) hosted a lavish black-tie White House banquet honoring 49 Nobel Laureates from the Western Hemisphere. Prominent attendees included then-Canadian Liberal Party leader Lester Pearson, writer (and Nobel Laureate) Ernest Hemingway's widow Mary Welsh Hemingway, Poet Robert Frost, novelist John Dos Passos, literary critics Lionel and Diana Trilling, and two-time Academy Award winner Frederic March, who read excerpts from the works of Nobel Prize winners Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis, Pearl S. Buck and George C. Marshall. 

In his welcoming remarks to his august guests, President Kennedy (a month shy of his 45th birthday and himself a Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer)  keenly observed  “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”  Although these words (likely written by Kennedy's Ted Sorensen) are generally well-remembered, what followed is not: “I think the pursuit of knowledge, the pursuit of peace, are very basic drives and pressures in this life of ours--and this dinner is an attempt, in a sense, to recognize those great efforts, to encourage young Americans and young people in this hemisphere to develop the same drive and deep desire for knowledge and peace."

Talk about a class act.  The Kennedy years - that brief interregnum between Eisenhower and Johnson - were frequently called "Camelot," a glittering kingdom where, in the words of C'est Moi:

 A knight of the Table Round should be invincible,
 Succeed where a less fantasticbman would fail /
Climb a wall no one else can climb,
 Cleave a dragon in record time,
 Swim a moat in a coat of heavy iron mail.
 No matter the pain, he ought to be unwinceable,
 Impossible deeds should be his daily fare.

Turn the page, advance 54 years, and we now find ourselves in the midst of Camelot's dark and ugly underbelly, as in the words of Seven Deadly Virtues:

The seven deadly virtues, those ghastly little traps
Oh no, my liege, they were not meant for me
Those seven deadly virtues were made for other chaps
Who love a life of failure and ennui . . .
 I find humility means to be hurt
 It's not the earth the meek inherit, it's the dirt
 Honesty is fatal, it should be taboo
 Diligence-a fate I would hate . . .

Nowhere does the difference between the Kennedy years and today reveal itself more starkly than in the matter of Nobel Laureates.  Where Kennedy delighted in dining with and basking in the aura of the crème-de-la-crème of brilliance and scholarly accomplishment, '45 has turned both a blind eye and a deaf ear to all of them. Simply stated, in 2017, there is no place at  today's 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for the best and brightest in the scholarly empyrean.  Why? Perhaps '45, who has on any number of occasions reminded his cadre of followers that he is "a very intelligent person" is simply cowed by their brilliance and fears that they would easily show him up for the brainless blowhard he is. (Actually, they probably would not; they are far too classy a bunch for such bad manners.) Not that such an unmasking would deter his ardent base from believing he is the Great Oz. Perhaps he is playing up to the solid, stolid anti-intellectualism of his political universe, which is largely made up of those for whom climate change is nothing more than a deceitful conspiracy, and the  only "Big Bang Theory" they've ever heard of is that which attaches to Leonard Hofstadter and Sheldon Cooper, rather than Albert Einstein and Edwin Hubble.  Then too, perhaps he simply does not want to suffer the unprecedented embarrassment of having his invitations turned down.  For truth to tell, more than one of the Nobel Laureates was relieved by '45's decision to not have a gala in their honor.  

Make no mistake about it: '45's universe, unlike that of Einstein and Hubble is constantly contracting: intellectually, morally and politically. America - indeed, the world - seems to be populated by an ever decreasing number of people and nations who have one thing in common: a need, desire and ability to idolize him no matter what he does or says;  no matter whether he is as inconsistent as a major league strike zone or as intellectually vapid are a flat-earther. During the past year or more, a lot of people have come to understand that '45's universe contracts every time an individual, group or cause changes its mind about him.  He possesses total recall when it comes to slights, challenges or personal affronts, and clinical amnesia when it comes to any - if not all - his yesterdays.  For so many, the only thing one must know about him is that he is rich . . . really, really rich (or so he says).

When I attended university nearly a half-century ago, I took just enough "Physics for Philosophy Students" courses to figure out how much I did not know about physics. I do recall learning something about Edwin Hubble's discovery (theory?) that the universe was not static . . . that it was constantly expanding. This was the find which revealed that the universe was apparently born in a "Big Bang." That when the universe was just ten-to-the-minus-thirty-fourth of a second or so old — that is, a hundredth of a billionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second in age — it experienced an incredible burst of expansion known as inflation, in which space itself expanded faster than the speed of light. During this period, the universe doubled in size at least 90 times, going from subatomic-sized to golf-ball-sized almost instantaneously.  As a student of philosophy, history and political science, I found this terribly difficult to grok.  And so, I found myself asking the professor, "If the entire physical universe was the size of a golf ball, what reality existed outside that golf ball sized orb?"  When he told me "nothing whatsoever," I tried to . . . as the modern expression goes . . . "wrap my brain around that one." After a sleepless night or two, I decided that there were simply some things better left to the astrophysicists, G-d bless them all. I was better off studying Hume than Hawking.

To the best of my knowledge (which is woefully slight), the question remains: "What reality exists outside a constantly expanding physical universe?"  With regards to this week's topic, it is far, far easier to answer the question "What reality exists outside a constantly contracting political universe?"  To be certain, the discards include ideals, programs, equality, humanity and long-term vision.  And if something is not done over the next several years, '45's "real America" - i.e. his universe - will consist of only those who are mostly white, Christian, highly conservative, terribly rich and highly autocratic.  And while I know that JFK was far from a saint (extra-marital affairs, an addiction to painkillers and being the son of a father who was a fascist and likely anti-Semite), at least he did his best to expand the universe in which he lived. And he made us proud to be Americans . . .

297 days down, 1,049 to go.

Copyright©2017 Kurt F. Stone     

Are We Living In a Dystopian Novel?


Literary scholars (of which I am definitely not one) have long debated what the first dystopian novel was.  Some claim it was Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726); others say the honor belongs to either French writer Jules Verne's Paris in the Twentieth Century (1863) or British author H.G. Welles' The Time Machine (1895); then there are those who swear the honor belongs to one of two American novel: either Ignatius Donnelly's Caesar's Column (1890) or Jack London's The Iron Heel (1908).  It is likely that some readers of The K.F. Stone Weekly have not yet read - nor heard of - several of these classic works,  and as such, are likely unable to define the term "dystopian." However a brief rendering of some of the most famous novels in the genre - Kafka's The Trial, Orwell's 1984, Huxley's Brave New World, Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, Phillip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? or Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games - should give at least a hint as to the definition of dystopia.  Simply stated, dystopian novels, stories or movie adaptations deal with an imagined future time, place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad - typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one. In other words, "dystopia" is the bipolar opposite of "utopia."  


In light of the many changes that have radically altered civil society over the past generation or two - and especially since the advent of the Internet - and a populace conditioned to view reality through the lens of "optics" -many of the most dire and frightening predictions of great dystopian novels have come chillingly true.  Consider, if you will, brief summaries of a handful of dystopian novels; the pictures they paint are haunting:

  • The Iron Heel (1908): Focusing on the breakdown of politics in a future American society, Jack London imagines the rise of an oligarchic tyranny which bankrupts the middle classes and rules over its poor subjects with a crass, uncaring iron heel;
  • 1984 (1949): George Orwell creates a highly disturbing future world of "Newspeak," and "Big Brother," in which 2+2=5;  hot is cold, up is down, constant surveillance and a government-controlled media;
  • Fahrenheit 451 (1953): America has become a society in which books are burned and intellectual thought is illegal. Ironically, when first published, Bradbury's book was itself banned for containing "questionable themes";
  • The Drowned World (1962):  A vivid picture of a world irreversibly changed by global warming; the cities of Europe and America lie submerged in tropical lagoons, while a biologist cataloging flora and fauna is beset with strange dreams.
  • The Handmaid's Tale (1998): Set in a totalitarian, post-nuclear world, Christian theocracy has overthrown the US government. Women are forbidden to read, and the few capable of having children are subjugated and forced to serve the wider needs of society by becoming breeding machines.

What makes these - and many, many other - dystopian novels so chillingly, mind-numbing is how closely they approximate the direction American society has been taking over the past several decades.  The rise of cyber reality, untrammeled, self-centered consumerism, instantaneous hand-held communications, creeping authoritarianism, a rising tide of religious and ethnic intolerance, a growing distrust of science, and a penchant for accepting the most outlandish conspiracy theories as reality, has changed society a thousand times over. Today, as in dystopian novels, there exists a sizable plurality which disdains those they view as effete intellectuals, derides those who hold different opinions on matters of race, politics or sexual orientation, and despises those who will not walk in lockstep with their anointed leaders.  These are people who have been conditioned to turning a blind eye toward provable facts, all the while claiming that these facts are nothing more than lies promulgated by elitist elements for their own purposes. 

Of all the many disabilities and outright lies '45, Bannon, Limbaugh, Fox News, conspiracists like Alex Jones and white supremacists like Richard Spencer and David Duke have foisted upon American society, perhaps none is quite so diabolic - or brilliant - as that of "Fake News."  For over the past several years, they have trained and conditioned their Pavlovian followers into believing that anything in print, on the Internet or broadcast over the airwaves which does not jibe with their preconceived notions of reality is a big fat lie; a lie spread by the Fake Media.  This is utterly brilliant.  All '45 or his lieutenants have to do to negate something in the news which questions their facts or veracity is to proclaim that they are part and parcel of the "Fake News" conspiracy. 

Sometimes the Fake News angle goes beyond belief. Take General Jon Kelly's press conference the other day in which he denounced Florida Congressional Representative Fredrecka Wilson  for having given herself credit for the construction of a new FBI building in Miami.  Turns out that a video taken of that event by the Ft. Lauderdale News Sun Sentinel proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Rep. Wilson never said any thing of the sort. Turns out, that according to General Kelly and presidential press secretary Sarah Sanders, the Sun Sentinel video was a hoax; just another example of Fake News being perpetrated by the liberal mainstream media.  

Other examples abound - going back to that which got the future '45 his first political notice: "birtherism."  Polling done during the 2016 election showed that two-thirds of the Trump supporters knew for a fact that Barack Obama was born in Kenya, is to this day a practicing Muslim, and was sent here as a child for the purpose of eventually turning America into an Islamic nation.  Then too, '45's rabid base still "knows" that he scored the "biggest victory" in the history of presidential elections, and had more people attend his inauguration than any president in the modern era.  And how do they know these things when facts, photos and statistics prove them wrong?  Why their fearless leader told them so!


And while one can easily respond with "Don't lose too much sleep over it; these crazy people represent far less than a majority," I say this: members of this "crazy plurality" represent some of the most heavily armed people in America.  Whether '45 knows it or not, the people who consciously created this Republican base (the very base which '45 and most of the cowards in Congress spoon feed) have their own frightening, dystopian agenda: to create a Civil War; a conflict which will pit the followers and descendants of the Old South, Joe McCarthy, Charles "America First!" Lindburgh and the Koch Brothers against the descendants of FDR, Kennedy, King and Obama . . . not to mention Richard Hofstadter who, while not a dystopian novelist, did, back in November, 1964, write one of the most important dystopian essays of all time: The Paranoid Style in American Politics.

I for one do not wish to live within the pages of 1984. The Chrysalids or The Running Man. My choices tend towards George Eliot's Middlemarch and Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward  where at least idealism still has a chance.

264 days down, 1082 to go.

Copyright©2017 Kurt F. Stone







Where Once Were Giants . . .

Of late, our local PBS station has been rerunning Ken Burns' brilliant seven-part 2014 documentary The Roosevelts: An Intimate History.  It has kept me in rapt awe - the backgrounds, accomplishments and vast range of interests and abilities of these two distant cousins whose family fortunes had been secured several generations before their respective births (Theodore in 1858, Franklin in 1881).  Patricians of the first rank, the interests and accomplishments of TR of Oyster Bay and FDR of Hyde Park (who, in matter of truth, did not know each other all that well and whose sides of the family had a natural aversion to one another), were both broad and awe-inspiring.  I remember watching the series, narrated by the gifted actor Peter Coyote (born Rachmil Pinchus Ben Mosha Cohon) back in 2014.  For some reason it didn't affect me in the same way as it has this time around.  After giving the matter some thought, I discovered the reason why.

But first . . .

                                                        The Cousins Roosevelt

                                                        The Cousins Roosevelt

Neither TR nor FDR ever had to do a day's work; they never had to earn a penny.  And yet,  despite all this - despite the private tutors, exclusive prep schools, summers in Europe and undergraduate years at Harvard - they worked harder than any wage-earning laborer,  devoting their lives to expanding their personal horizons by devoting themselves to the political arena. and public service.  These men were, in brief, the embodiment of that all but forgotten motivator known as noblesse oblige (the obligation of honorable, generous, and responsible behavior associated with high rank or birth). Indeed, it gives me increasing pride that my parents decided to give me the middle name "Franklin," after the recently deceased POTUS. 

Yes, I am more than aware of the fact that there are a lot of contemporary "movement conservatives" who deride T.R. for being "more concerned about parkland than profits," and Franklin for being "a Socialist in aristocrat's clothing" and the "founder of the national debt."  Then too, many liberals score Theodore for having "made far too many trophies of far too many big game animals" and his Hyde Park lantsman for "turning his back on the Jews of Europe." Wall Street hated both these American blue bloods for being traitors to their class, while Main Street loved these patricians for offering the American working-class people first a "Square" (TR) than a "New" Deal (FDR).  Sure, they had their faults: TR was both an egomaniac and perpetual child; FDR wasn't terribly loyal to his wife and frequently played fast and loose with the truth.  Both could be insecure and mother-fixated. Both overcame debilitating physical conditions - TR's childhood asthma and FDR's polio)  which would have permanently invalided most anyone else.  But true to their heritage, they came to see themselves as preeminently healthy men with "physical conditions."  Nothing more, nothing less. 

And yet, despite the shortcomings and character flaws, they were  giants; real honest-to-god giants.   In addition to being the youngest-ever member of the New York State Legislature, New York Police Commissioner, New York Governor, a Rough Rider in the Spanish American War,  Assistant Secretary of State, Vice President and President of the United States, TR found time to father six children (one of whom died in WWI, and one in WWII), be one of the best traveled men of his time, write more than 3 dozen books (histories, biographies, political essays,  flora and fauna) including several which are still in print.  Likewise FDR, who was married to cousin Theodore's niece Eleanor, served in the New York State Senate, was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Navy, ran unsuccessfully for Vice President in 1920, was elected Governor of New York, and like his elder cousin, fathered six children.  Three of his sons would become combat officers in WWII.  Unable to walk or stand unaided due to polio, FDR nonetheless manged to stand and campaign in virtually every one of the then 48 states through 4 presidential campaigns. 

Unlike the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, neither of the Roosevelts - nor the Kennedys, Pells, Chaffees, Cabots, Lodges, Frelinghuysens, Rockefellers, Adamses Saltenstalls or Griswolds - sought political office as a lark . . . as just another quaint jewel-encrusted fob on a rich man's golden watch chain.  For the scions of American capital, politics was a calling, an urge - sometimes a necessity - to give something back.  And whether one agreed with their politics or not (I for one find little to recommend in the actions of say, the Cabots, Lodges or Frelinghuysens, but rather admire the Pells, Chaffees and Browns of California) the fact that generation after generation served the people is both noteworthy and laudable. Nowhere does the historic record find, say, a Griswold, Kennedy or Adams serving in office in order to benefit "the family business." Nowhere do we find them crowing over their family wealth, position or possessions. Though both TR and FDR had their suits tailored by Brooks Brothers, wore shoes and boots cobbled by Foster & Sons and ties handmade by Charvet, they were as comfortable in their own skin as a Main Street druggist.  Today, by comparison, we are led by a parvenu whose ego is far larger than his net worth, his manners those of a boorish brat, his braggadocio overpowering enough to make a battle-hardened marine wince.

Both TR of Oyster Bay and FDR of Hyde Park surrounded themselves with experts; men - and occasionally women - who knew more than they did about the one-thousand-and-one things a president must grapple with on a daily basis. They - the cousins Roosevelt -  were wise because they knew what they knew.  They were truly wise because they knew what they did not know.  They were exceptionally wise because they found - and listened to - people who knew one whole hell of a lot more about what they themselves did not know.  And in the end, it was they - TR or FDR - who made the decisions, embraced the applause . . . and when necessary, bore the blame.  Though as playful as pugnacious children and as intellectually appetitive as college freshmen, these men - like a majority of their predecessors and successors - represented the United States of America with both dignity and aplomb.  There was never the fear that through word, deed or spontaneous impulse that they would ever embarrass the nation they were elected to lead.

Yes, where once were selfless giants  now lives a selfish pygmy . . .

255 days down, 1,099 to go.

Copyright©2017 Kurt Franklin Stone