Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

Another Fine Mess . . .

Lord Beaverbrook

Lord Beaverbrook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Talk about fake news!

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

Baron Munchausen by Gustav Doré

Baron Munchausen by Gustav Doré

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

The Children's Hour


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Midterm elections are 4 weeks from this coming Tuesday.


Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

One Generation Got Old, One Generation Got Soul

Surrealistic Pillow (1967) - Marty Holding Flute at Top Left

Surrealistic Pillow (1967) - Marty Holding Flute at Top Left

Spent several hours yesterday - and most of the night - watching and listening to old Jefferson Airplane songs and online videos. These songs, many of which were anthems for a generation, brought tears to my eyes . . . especially Marty Balin’s pulsating Volunteers. As many of you know by now, Marty (born Martyn Jerel Buchwald in Cincinnati, Ohio on January 30, 1942) died on Friday; he was 76. Balin had an amazing voice - one of the greatest in the history of Rock ‘n Roll. With that voice he could, in the words of New York Times writer John Parles, “. . .offer the intimate solace of ballads like Jefferson Airplane’s “Today,” the siren wails of a frantic acid-rocker like the group’s “Plastic Fantastic Lover,” or the soul-pop entreaties of Jefferson Starship’s “Miracles. Although Balin always scored high with the public and rock connoisseurs for his pliable, powerful voice, few ever recognized the depth and quality of his lyrics; at base, Marty Balin was a poet.

And now he is dead at age 76 . . . which is sounding younger and younger all the time.

Marty was by no means the first member of the Airplane to pass away. In 2005, their drummer, Spencer Dryden (the son of Charlie Chaplin’s half-brother Wheeler) passed away at age 66 from cancer. On January 28, 2016 both Airplane co-founder Paul Kantner and the band’s original (e.g. pre-Grace Slick) singer Signe Toly Anderson passed away at age 74. Unbelievably, Grace Slick, the one member of the band everyone assumed would be first to go due to her excessive lifestyle, is still alive, flourishing and will turn 79 four weeks from today. Think about it: Grace Slick (that’s her standing next to Marty on the album cover above) is nearly EIGHTY YEARS OLD!! But then again, it is an absolute mind blow to consider the current ages of the rock musicians who played the musical score of our formative years:

  • The Nobel Prize-winning Bob Dylan is 78;

  • Eric Clapton is 72, as are The Who’s Pete Townsend and CCR’s John Fogerty;

  • David Crosby (Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young) recently turned 78;

  • The Rolling Stone’s Sir Mick Jagger is 75;

  • The Kink’s Sir Ray Davies is 74;

  • The Animals Eric Burdon is 77;

  • The Hollies Graham Nash is 76;

  • Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel are both 77;

  • Former Beatles drummer Ringo Starr is 78 and still touring, as is his band mate

  • Sir Paul McCartney, who is 76.

As I was completing this terribly brief list, a faint memory began to wend its way from the old neocortex to my frontal lobe: a brief piece of fiction I wrote in 1969, shortly after Rolling Stones’ drummer Brian Jones accidentally drowned in a swimming pool; he was all of 27. (Ironically, both Jimi Hendrix and the Doors’ Jim Morrison, who dedicated, respectively a song and a poem to Jones, would die within the next two years . . . at age 27.) Anyway, while contemplating Jones’ death, I began imagining how his eulogy would have read had he died at, say 75, or 80 or even 90? From there, it was but a short hop to writing a fictional news-story about the death of the last surviving Beatle - “Lord McCartney” - at age 93. The year in the story was 2035. Regrettably, the story, which was published in the long defunct City on a Hill Press, was long ago lost to the ravages of time. What I do remember is that it carried the screaming headline “I’M ONLY SLEEPING” - LORD MCCARTNEY, LAST SURVIVING BEATLE PASSES AWAY AT AGE 93. The “I’m Only Sleeping” part of the title came from a Lennon-McCartney song included in their 1966 album “Revolver.” It included the lyric:

Please, don't wake me, no, don't shake me
Leave me where I am, I'm only sleeping

It just seemed to fit. As I recall, my purpose in writing the piece was to engage in a bit of prophecy; what the world would be like more than 65 years later . . . what kind of an effect the generation of peace, pot and beads would have had on the world. As I recall, McCartney was made a Life Peer not only for his stellar contributions to music, but also for the important role he had played in bringing peace and harmony to the world. He had spent the last decades of his life traveling the globe, playing his music and contributing virtually ever cent he earned from these concerts to organizations working to feed, clothe and offer free healthcare to people all over the world.

A bit idealistic, no?

I also recall the story containing a bit of levity: interviews with the extremely aged fans who used to shriek and shout when, as teenagers, they went to Beatle concerts in England, America and throughout Europe. Although they frequently suffered from a bit of memory loss, when came it to John, Paul, George and Ringo, everything was crystal clear . . . as if the concert they had attended were only yesterday.


With the real-life passing of Marty Balin, I know I’m feeling a bit less immortal than last week. When I recall attending smallish rock gatherings headlined by The Great Society and The Warlocks (as The Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead were known back in 1965/66) my memory informs me “Hey bro, like that was more than a half-century ago . . . ya ain’t a hippy anymore!” Funny though, I don’t feel all that much older . . . regardless of what I see in the mirror. Like a lot of aging boomers, I still - despite the current shape of politics and the world - continue to be fueled by a mixture of idealism and anger and refuse to retire from activism; refuse to sit back and do nothing but complain while others turn the world into a capacious cesspool. We are still, in the words of Marty Balin, Volunteers of America, the lyrics of which go:

Look what's happening out in the streets
Got a revolution (got to revolution)
Hey, I'm dancing down the streets
Got a revolution (got to revolution)
Oh, ain't it amazing all the people I meet?
Got a revolution (got to revolution)
One generation got old
One generation got soul

This generation got no destination to hold
Pick up the cry
Hey, now it's time for you and me
Got a revolution (got to revolution)
Hey, come on now we're marching to the sea
Got a revolution (got to revolution)
Who will take it from you, we will and who are we?
Well, we are volunteers of America (volunteers of America)
Volunteers of America (volunteers of America)
I've got a revolution
Got a revolution

Look what's happening out in the streets
Got a revolution (got to revolution)
Hey, I'm dancing down the streets
Got a revolution (got to revolution)
Oh, ain't it amazing all the people I meet?
Got a revolution, oh-oh
We are volunteers of America
Yeah, we are volunteers of America
We are volunteers of America (volunteers of America)
Volunteers of America (volunteers of America)

Back in the day - when Balin, McCartney, Dylan, Clapton, Townsend et al were in their twenties and an oft-repeated battle cry was “Don’t trust anyone over the age of 30!” we marched, protested and campaigned, seeking, as volunteers, to change the world. We were pegged as a generation of long-haired, stoned-out Communistic irreligious immoralists who were all desperately in need of a bath . . . if not a mass delousing. Collectively, we played a pivotal role in ending the Vietnam War, passing Amendment XXVI of the U.S. Constitution (which lowered the voting age to 18), getting people to recycle, and fighting for the rights of women, the LGBTQ community and the impoverished of the planet . . . plus the legalization of marijuana. Although we grew older, many of us, I am proud to say, never truly grew up.

And we still have all that great music.
Rest in Peace, Marty

“Life is very short, and there’s no time for fussing and fighting, my friend.”

(We Can Work It Out, Paul McCartney, 1965)

Midterm elections are 5 weeks from today . . . VOTE!!!

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

Cave Clinton and Keller!

Helen Keller at Age 20

Helen Keller at Age 20

About a week ago (Friday, Sept. 14 to be precise) the Texas State Board of Education took a series of key votes which would eliminate teaching the state’s elementary school children anything about such wicked, worthless nonentities as Hillary Clinton, Helen Keller, Oprah Winfrey, John Hancock or W.E.B. DuBois. Their rationale? By removing dozens upon dozens of significant historic and contemporary figures from the public schools’ social studies curricula, they would be saving time for teaching about more “relevant” figures such as Adolph Hitler, Jefferson Davis and Kay Bailey Hutchison. According to a study undertaken by members of the board, excluding any reference to Hillary Clinton will save teachers 30 minutes of instructional time (in the course of a school semester), and Keller a whopping 40 minutes.

In an op-ed piece she wrote for the Washington Post, Texas State School Board Chair Donna Bahorich insisted that neither partisan politics, ethnicity nor gender had anything to do with determining which figures would be eliminated. After all, both Democrat Sam Rayburn (a Texan who served as Speaker of the House for longer than anyone in U.S. history) and Republican Barry Goldwater (America’s first - and so far only - presidential candidate to have Jewish heritage) were on the “thumbs-down” list. Despite Ms. Bahorich’s assertion that those slated for history’s trash heap were determined solely by necessity, her words just don’t ring true. A fine-tooth-comb examination of the school board’s list includes such folks as:

  • Benjamin Banneker, a free-born African American almanac author, surveyor and naturalist;

  • Phyllis Wheatly: the first published African-American female poet;

  • Stanley Marcus: one of Texas’ greatest success stories; the founder of Neiman Marcus;

  • Jane Addams: the Nobel Prize winning “Mother of Social Work”;

  • Thomas Jefferson

  • Hyam Salomon: A Polish-born Jew who became one of the two greatest financial underwriters of the Revolutionary War.

Mel and Norma Gabler: The Textbook Tzars

Mel and Norma Gabler: The Textbook Tzars

As shocking and upsetting as this current campaign is, one must remember that in Texas, dictating who and/or what shall be either mandated or eliminated from both curricula (and especially) textbooks, is as old as the Alamo. With respect to the latter - textbooks - there is an old expression which teaches “What happens in Texas doesn’t stay in Texas when it comes to textbooks” To fully grok the underlying meaning of this bon mot, one must first enter the Orwellian minds of the late Mel (1915-2004) and Norma (1923-2007) Gabler. Back in 1961, while sitting at their kitchen table in Hawkins, Texas, the Gablers claimed that they found numerous errors in their son’s history textbook. What they believed they were uncovering were numerous factual errors and examples of secular humanism, the censoring of conservative political and social views in textbooks. And so, armed with anger and the Divine Spirit, they founded a non-profit organization they named Educational Research Analysts, whose raison d'être has long been to read, review and rate textbooks. As stated on their website, “We are a conservative Christian organization that reviews public school textbooks submitted for adoption in Texas. Our reviews have national relevance because Texas state-adopts textbooks and buys so many that publishers write them to Texas standards and sell them across the country.”

To this day, ERA’s particular areas of concern are:

  • Scientific weaknesses in evolutionary theories

  • Phonics-based reading instruction

  • Principles and benefits of free enterprise

  • Original intent of the U.S. Constitution

  • Respect for Judeo-Christian morals

  • Emphasis on abstinence in sex education

  • Politically-correct degradation of academics

Hauntingly, these core issues have been making their way into textbooks for more than half a century . . . and not just in Texas. Remember their original statement: “Our reviews have national relevance . . . publishers write [textbooks] to Texas standards and sell them across the country.” What the Gablers were (and still are) to textbooks with ultra-conservative bent, the Texas State Board of Education is to public school curriculum. The main difference is that the Gablers, at least, were upfront about their intentions, while the State Board of Education is disingenuous to the max . . . hiding their agenda behind the false cloak of time management.

It is not terribly difficult to understand what Donna Bahorich and her colleagues have against Hillary Clinton and why they want any mention of her excised from public school classrooms; they hate everything about her and her husband the way a moonshiner despises a revenuer. But Helen Keller? What could they possibly have against Ms. Keller (1880-1968) who, in her day, was the most admired woman on the planet? I mean, here we have a woman who, despite being both deaf and blind since age 2, learned to read Braille, speak several languages, graduate from Radcliffe, write more than a dozen books, travel the world on behalf of peace, have her own film production company, become great friends with Mark Twain, visit every president from Theodore Roosevelt to John F. Kennedy at the White House, and become one of the founders of both the American Civil Liberties Union and International Workers of the World (the “Wobblies”)? What harm could there ever be in children spending a mere 40 minutes of their elementary school education learning about this amazing, iconic, heroic woman? Absolutely nothing, except for the fact that she was a woman, has long been suspected by conservative Christians of possibly being a lesbian, and made no bones about being a Socialist who stood up for the rights of other women, minorities and the poor. Then too, maybe Bahorich et al are latter-day eugenicists; people who don’t want school children to be exposed to people with disabilities . . . no matter how distinguished they are.

In Latin, “cave” (pronounced KA-vay) means “beware of.” So, the title of this week’s post, Cave Clinton and Keller is a tongue-in-cheek way of saying “Beware of Clinton and Keller!”

One could easily conclude that last week’s votes by the Texas State Board of Education (which will be recast again in November) are not all that surprising in the age of Trumpeters. And indeed, at first glance, it does seem to fit in with all the intolerance, civic illiteracy, nascent racism, anti-intellectualism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and Islamophobia that are the worst, most abhorrent ancillary aspects of Trumpism. One can also rightly fear that left unchallenged, the Texas State Board of Education’s lunatic Neo-Luddism may one day bring back the days when books were burned in town squares. The answer - and I believe there is one - comes not from changing presidents or members of Congress . . . although that certainly could not hurt. No, the real answers come from watchfully standing guard over the two institutions which have the most long-lasting effects on the nation: our school boards and our courts. Instead of spending their time arguing over whether or not classroom teachers - or even students - ought to be armed, our educational boards should pay heed to providing a quality education for every child; one that is free of partisan politics, religion or hidden agendas. Here in Florida, one of the biggest “successes” of the latest session of our state legislature is mandating that every public school classroom has a “In God We Trust” sign posted on the wall. Never mind that billions of dollars are being pulled out of public schools in the name of “school choice.” Never mind that the average classroom teacher must work a second - and sometimes a third - job just in order to live a middle-class existence. Never mind that mindless administrators are injecting their private agendas into what is taught or read. That a fundamentalist minority should have such chilling power over what is or is not taught to a generation of school children is but a few steps away from intellectual authoritarianism.

It is not Clinton or Keller of whom we should beware; it is the so-called guardians of education and public morals like Donna Bahorich (who, among other things, is the founder of Home Ed Plus, whose stated objective is “teaching classes from a Christian worldview perspective”) and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy De Vos, who wants to use America’s schools to “build God’s Kingdom.”

We began with the Latin word cave (“beware of”), and end with a Latin phrase from the great satirist Juvenal:

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Namely, “Who shall guard the guardians themselves?”

44 days until the midterm elections!


Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

The Fire Drum

“The Fire Drum”

“The Fire Drum”

Once upon a time not all that long ago, an honorable naïf from a small rural town was given a serious responsibility by the town elders: to go to the big city and purchase several items of importance which could only be found in a – relatively speaking – sprawling urban metropolis.  And so, armed with both a list of things to purchase and a wallet filled to overflowing, the man headed for the city, where he promptly found rooms in a four-story hotel, unpacked his scant belongings, and began exploring the shopping areas near his temporary quarters. 

 After a long and exhaustive day’s searching for - and ultimately purchasing - a majority of the things on his lists, the honest but not overly bright naïf returned to the hotel, ate a scrumptious meal and turned in for the night.  Soon, he was fast asleep. At around 4:00 the next morning, he was suddenly and violently roused from his sleep by the sound of beating drums. Jumping from his bed, he made his way to the window, which had a grand view of the downtown area.  In the near distance, he saw flames coming from the roofs of several buildings in the next block. Pulling on a pair of trousers, socks and shoes, he sleepily made his way down the sitars and hastened to the front desk. 

“What in the world’s going on?” the naïf asked the man on duty. The naïf was obviously only half awake, for as he was questioning the clerk, he was rubbing the sleep out of his eyes without a great deal of success.

“Oh, there’s a fire down on 4th street,” the clerk answered somewhat passively.

“Is there anything I can do to assist?” asked the visiting naïf, being painfully aware of how much damage a fire could do. After all, he did come from a village in which just about everything was built of wood.

“That’s truly kind,” the overnight clerk responded, “but the fire drums have gone off, so there’s really nothing to worry about. Everything will turn out well.  My suggestion is that you return to your rooms upstairs and go back to sleep.”

“Yes indeed,” the visitor replied, stretching and yawning. “That’s precisely what I’m going to do.  Have a good night . . .” the rural rube told the clerk. And without further ado, he climbed the stairs to the fourth floor, entered his quarters, and within a minute or two, was once again fast asleep.

The next morning at about 7:00, the visitor awoke and noticed that he was still wearing his trousers and boots.  Finding this a bit strange, he searched his slowly awakening mind until the situation with the fire came back to mind. Thinking at first this might have been a dream, he went to the window, pulled back the curtain, and saw in the next block, a bit of smoke emerging from a couple of tall buildings.  “My goodness,” he said to himself, “It wasn’t a dream . . . the fire drums really worked!  They put out the fire!!  I’ve got to get one for our town . . . I’ll be a hero!”

 Once fully dressed, the man ran downstairs and found that the same overnight clerk was still on duty.

 “Good morning friend; I’m so happy to see that last night’s fire didn’t destroy your lovely downtown,” he said to the clerk.  “Oh yes,” the clerk replied, “we here are well prepared for such eventualities.”

“Would you know where can I purchase one of those magical fire drums?” the visiting naïf asked.

“A ‘fire drum?’”  the clerk asked. “What in the world are you talking about?

“You know,” the visitor said, “one of those drums which were beating earlier this morning. The ones that put out the fire.”

“Oh yes,” the clerk said slowly and deliberately, with a bit of amusement in his voice.  “Your best bet is to go down to Solomon’s, which is about three blocks south of here on Fountain Street.  I am sure they will be happy to assist you.”

And with that, the visiting naïf made his way to Solomon’s Music Shoppe on Fountain, where he promptly told a sales clerk he wanted to purchase a “fire drum.”

“A fire drum?” the salesman asked.  “Whatever are you talking about my good man? We have snare drums, bass drums. bongos, tom-toms and timpani. What, pray tell, is this ‘fire drum’ you’re so all fired interested in purchasing?”

“You know: a fire drum . . . the drum that was making such a pounding racket during the night,” the visiting naïf told him.

“Oh yes!” the clerk blurted out. “A fire drum!  Many of us here in the big city also refer to it as a “timpano . . . and sometimes as a ‘kettle drum.’  Would you like to purchase one?”

“Actually,” the man said, “I would very much like to purchase two of them, if you’ve got them in stock.” 

“Yes, certainly,” the salesman eagerly replied.  “We actually have four of them in stock.  Would you perhaps be interested in purchasing all four?”  Then he told him the price per drum

“No, no,” the customer said.  “I only have enough money for two, and besides, I come from a small village.” The clerk went into the storeroom and within a few minutes returned with two large parcels, each containing a ‘fire drum.”  The visitor paid in cash, loaded up his wagon and was soon on his way back to his rural village.

His return caused quite a stir – due mostly to his filled-up wagon and the enthusiastic grin on his face as he neared the village square. He simply couldn’t wait to meet up with the members of the village council and show them his marvelous purchase.  And this he did within the first few minutes of his arrival.

“But what in the world is a ‘fire drum,’” the senior-most town councilor asked.  “What is its purpose?”

“My dear friend” the returning naïf answered, “it has one purpose and one purpose only.  As its name implies, it is a magic drum that puts out fires!”

“But that’s preposterous,” another council elder broke in.  “Who ever heard of a drum that puts out a fire?  How do you know it works?

“Simply stated,” the naïf said, “whenever a fire breaks out in town, it puts out the fire.  I know. I experienced its miraculous quality when I was in the city.  Why, two nights ago, I was awakened from a deep sleep by the sound of pounding drums. Moving to the window in my room, I saw with my own eyes a conflagration in the next block from the hotel where I was staying.  Running downstairs to see if I could be of assistance, the night clerk told me that I needn’t bother; that the fire drum was sounding and that everything would be just fine.  And so, I returned to my room and quickly fell asleep.  You can believe me when I tell you that when I awoke at about 7:00 the next morning, I remembered the fire of the night before, ran back downstairs only to be told that indeed, the fire had been put out and all was well.  Then I was directed to a store where they sold fire drums and purchased two for our village. We no longer have to worry about any of our wooden homes, shops or barns being ravaged by fire anymore, for we now possess not one, but two fire drums!”

Suddenly, the man, for the first time in his life, was a local hero.

Predictably, a fire broke out in the village about two weeks later.  The good people of the council ran into the village square and began pounding on their newly purchased fire drums, secure in the knowledge that they would same the town from a fiery disaster.  But alas, despite all the banging and pounding, half the village burned to the ground. In a state of overwhelming depression, distress and disbelief, they turned on the man who had purchased the drums and began pummeling him. He began to scream:

“STOP! STOP! STOP BEATING ME!  I swear by all that is holy that these drums do put out fires!”

“Then why has our village all but burnt to the ground?”  they demanded while continuing to beat him.

“They must be defective!” he said through his agony.  “I will take them back to the city and not only get our money back, but will demand that they pay for all our damages!”

Concluding that this was indeed a proper course of action, they stopped beating their former hero and told him to gather up the fire drums and return to the big city, which he did the very next morning.  Upon arriving in the city, he immediately proceeded to the store where he had made the original purchase.  Upon seeing the clerk who had made the original sale, he approached him and began talking loud, fast and with tremendous anger, accusing the man of having sold him two defective drums.

“What do you mean ‘defective?’ the salesman demanded. 

“I mean that they didn’t do what they were supposed to do!” the rube explained.  They didn’t put out the fire!  Much of our village burnt to the ground! Not only do we demand our money back; we want you to repay us for our losses!”  The salesman couldn’t believe what he was hearing . . .

“You idiot!” the salesman yelled.  “By what bit of twisted logic did you conclude that anyone can put out a fire by simply beating on a timpano?”

  “But I was led to believe this was their purpose,” the simpleton blurted out, beside himself with shock and anger.

“My good man,” the salesman said slowly, attempting to rein in his disbelief.  “Did it never dawn on you that the purpose of these drums was not to put out a fire but simply to awaken and notify the fire department to get to work?” 

The visitor stopped dead in his tracks, for obviously, this fact – which should have been obvious - had never dawned on him. 

The rube’s trek back to his village was not an easy one, for he knew that informing the council elders of his error would make him the object of scorn and derision . . . and make him into a laughing stock. From hero to goat in a matter of two weeks . . .

The above short short story is adapted from a brief parable originally told by the Maggid (itinerant preacher) of Dubno (Rabbi Yaakov Kranz, 1741-1804) more than 200 years ago. In the maggid’s mind, the “fire drum” was meant to remind his readers and listeners of the shofar - the ram’s horn sounded during the Jewish High Holidays. Just as the parable’s naïf foolishly believed that the mere pounding on a drum could put out a fire, so too, the maggid reasoned, are there many, many people who just as foolishly believe that merely hearing the sound of the shofar extinguishes (atones for) the fire which are represented by our sins, frailties, nastiness and overindulgence, to cite but a few of the things which make even the best of us a little lower than the angels.

For my Jewish friends, the story’s meaning is as obvious as 1+1=2: don’t expect that by merely attending Yom Kippur services, fasting and hearing the 100 blasts of the shofar you have cleaned the slate and are ready for another year. Maybe you’re OK in G-d’s Book of Life (sefer ha-hyyim) ; but what about in the life of humanity? This would be tantamount to a drum that puts out a fire; rather than what the fasting, services and shofar blasts are truly meant to be : an alarm which awakens one’s personal “fire department.”

Making of oneself a better, more honest, more thoughtful and compassionate human being is not easy; it takes a lot of work, contemplation and the constant battle against temptation.When one stops and thinks about it, it is not just religious life which presents us with ‘fire drum’-like situations. In secular life, the most obvious examples deal with shortcuts. Here are but two examples:

  • Take this pill (or drink this concoction or pay gobs of money for pre-cooked meals delivered to your door) and you will lose tons of pounds and take off scads of inches. Nothing could be easier! Never mind that the pill or concoction by itself likely won’t do diddly. It had better be paired with more than a modicum of self-sacrifice, a smart, smartly-concocted diet, a regular and rigorous exercise schedule, and a host of other things which can only be found in the small print. Merely switching to sugar-free soda or taking a fat-burning pill along with one’s bacon/cheese burger and fries is never going to do the trick;

  • Vote against the other party and everything will be just fine. We really don’t need to tell you what we’re prepared to do in order to make things different; just know that we won’t be like the other guys. Sorry, but as important as your vote is - or can be - what is far, far more important in helping shape tomorrow is rolling up one’s sleeves and becoming involved in the civic activities of your town or county or state . . . not to mention our country. Civic betterment requires time and tenacity. Remember: we are all in this together.

While it is certainly true that life is a challenge - and at times a painstaking gamble - these challenges cannot be met, accomplished or overcome by the mere pounding of a drum, the popping of a pill or hearing the sound of a shofar.  To expect otherwise makes us little better than the small-town naïf of the maggid’s parable.   Prepare yourself for the future by arming yourself with the understanding that true personal (and political) progress is not the product of a sprint, but rather of a marathon.

Here’s wishing my Jewish friends and readers an easy fast and the prospect of being sealed in the Book of Life . . . and my non-Jewish friends and readers a productive Fall.

52 days until the Midterm Elections . . .

Copyright2018 Kurt F. Stone



Stumbling Blocks

Stumbling Block.jpg

Anyone care to deny that society - nay the world - has become more negative, cynical and downright intolerant over the past generation or so? Is there anyone out there who has not seen the growth of victimization?  And mind you, it is most frequently those in the majority who are most loudly complaining about their victimization.  For those of us who are Jewish, we've seen the simultaneous growth of both pro-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric and reality.  And perhaps worst of all, is the breaking of one of the Bible's (both the Hebrew and Christian versions) most oft-repeated imprecations: to not place a stumbling block in the path of the blind. (In Hebrew, the shorthand for this principle is לִפְנֵי עִוֵּר  pronounced leefnay eevair.) Versions of this crucial statement can be found in - among other places - Leviticus 19:14,  Isaiah 57:14, I Corinthians 8:9 and Romans: 14:13-23.  In the various commentaries to the original Hebrew version, the sages stress that the word "blind" is not meant to be taken literally - i.e. without anatomical sight.  Rather, "blind" (in Hebrew, עִוֵר - pronounced eevaiyr)is understood in a figurative sense: one who is uneducated, unlettered or, highly gullible.  It is in this latter meaning - highly gullible - that we see the greatest - and one of the most common forms - of contemporary sin. 

When the leader of a great nation proclaims that anyone or anything that does not agree with him  or points out his or her shortcomings is a lying "enemy of the people," this is tantamount to putting a stumbling block in front of the blind.  How so? Precisely this: many of those  "blind" folk, now armed with the warped worldview of the stumble block maker, will spread their newfound knowledge to other gullible people. Whenever leaders or opinion-makers pull the wool over the eyes of the blind, a segment of society will respond to disagreement with vituperation and vile personal attacks. What we are experiencing is nothing less than the disintegration of civil society.  And to whose benefit?  When bigotry, racism and outright illegality are met with silence and tacit support, what we face is the unraveling of civil society.  Woe unto those who permit such things to occur  . . .  again and again and again.

Over countless centuries, commentators - ranging from the most ancient to the most recent - have greatly expanded the situational meaning of  leefnay eevair to include such prohibited acts as:

  • Selling anything that has the potential of causing harm to others. This interpretation, by the way, comes not from today's anti-NRA crowd, but rather from the Talmud (Babylonian Talmud, Avodah Zarah 16a).

  • In the rabbinic text Midrash ha-Gadol there is a commentary on Leviticus 19:14 which, roughly translated, understands leefnay eevair to mean that individuals who “strengthen the hand of sinners” or assist others to commit a misdeed have transgressed the prohibition against “placing a stumbling block before the blind.” One might argue that those remaining quiet in the face of evil, i.e., not blowing the whistle on iniquities, strengthens the hand of wrongdoers.

  • The renowned Bible teacher and scholar Nehama Leibowitz (1905-1997) in her 1983 work Studies in Leviticus, notes: "But the Torah teaches us that even by sitting at home doing nothing, by complete passivity and divorcement from society, one cannot shake off responsibility for what is transpiring in the world at large, for the iniquity, violence and evil there. By not protesting, "not marking the graves" and danger spots, you have become responsible for any harm arising therefrom, and have violated the prohibition: "Thou shalt not put a stumbling block before the blind…"

Just as Leviticus 19:14 teaches an incredibly modern lesson, so too does verse 16.  To wit: to be neither  a gossip nor the kind of person who can stand by and watch their neighbor bleed.  In the first part of the verse we are admonished to " . . . not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people." In commenting on this admonition, the early medieval scholar  Rabbi David Kimchi (known by the acronym "Radak") quoted Psalm 34:13-15 which says:

Who is the person that desires life and loves days, that he may see good?
Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking guile
Stay far away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.

Radak explained that these verses embody both positive and negative precepts governing speech, thought and deed.  "Keep your tongue from evil" means positively do keep from speaking evil of other people.  "And your lips from speaking guile" - that you must not speak one way with your lips and mean another in your heart.  These days we are increasingly witnessing otherwise decent, honorable (though flawed) people being saddled with demeaning nicknames, such as "lying," "little," "low energy" and "Pocahontas," and "Rocket Man."  And to make matters far worse, when the time comes that those who insult need the support of those they once insulted, they show not a hint of remorse . . . and even deny ever having saddled these people with their  hurtful nicknames.  

Although Radak and his fellow scholars lived countless centuries before the Internet (Radak lived from 1160-1235), they wisely likened gossip, tale-bearing and verbal insults to spilled perfume; once the vial is broken, the aroma remained for all to sniff out.  In modern terms, this is likened to the lie or insult which is Tweeted or Facebooked: in all but the most vile cases, the words remain online spreading venom for all time.  Interestingly, another scholar - one who went by the nickname of "The Hafez Haim" - taught that the very listening to gossip poisons the atmosphere and causes hate.  Thus, both the talebearer and the listener are equally guilty of a sinful act.

Verse 16 ends with the words lo ta-ah-mode ahl dahm rayecha, namely," Do not stand upon the blood of your neighbor."  Most commentators - again, from oldest to newest - agree that the text means to teach that we cannot remain on the sidelines of life when people are in danger or being mistreated . . . especially by the authorities.  Indeed, there are currently far too many injustices being perpetrated in the name of "patriotism," "liberty" or "morality."  But simply stated, one person or group's notion of patriotism is another's fear of autocracy; one person or group's profession of what is moral and necessary is another's nightmarish remembrance of things past.  This is where the admonition against sitting idly upon the blood of our neighbor resonates most clearly . . .

For those of us who are Jewish, the New Year, Rosh Hashana begins in in less than a week. Our ten solemn Days of Awe are meant to be a time when we reassess our standing in this world - both in our own eyes and those of our family, friends, neighbors and community - as well as coming to grips with both our successes and failures. May this New Year -5779 - be a year in which we all repair and repave that which is cracked and crumbling.

                                                   !לשנה טובה וּמתוּקה             

                                                                                         (Wishing you a happy and sweet new year . . . ) 

593 days down
867 days to go
63 days until the midterm elections.


Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone


Be Careful What You Wish For

Mike Pence.jpg

By now, it should be pretty obvious that few Democrats are using the "i" word in the run-up to November's midterm election. Savvy Democratic politicians avoid the word for a couple of good and obvious reasons . . . and a single, terrifyingly not so obvious one.  The first good and obvious reason is that making impeachment a central Democratic issue is both strategically dicey and, from a practical point of view, utterly rudderless. 

Secondly, trying to convince Democrats, Independents and disenchanted Republicans that a "Blue Wave" is all that stands between a strong, small-d democratic republic and a treacherous autocracy is likely a fool's errand. To anyone who's not part of the staunchly Democratic base, it sounds and feels like nothing more than an extension of cable news.  Simply stated, it isn't all that motivating.  Thirdly, the unspoken message becomes "We're going to spend a majority of the next 2 years issuing a ton of subpoenas, holding tens of dozens of investigative hearings and generally putting such issues as education, comprehensive immigration reform, gun safety, the opioid pandemic and climate change - to name but a few - on the back burner."  This is no way to convince the American voting public to put Congress back in the hands of Democrats.

Then there is that terrifyingly not-so-obvious reason why savvy Democrats aren't spending much time talking about indictment . . . let alone impeachment: it might just work.  "How's that?" you ask.  "And what's so all-fired wrong with that?  At least we'd be rid of the most crassly incompetent, most boorishly narcissistic POTUS in history."  Well yes, but wishing, working and praying for such a thing carries with it an even graver, more dangerous reality: Vice President Mike Pence would then become the 46th POTUS.

Famously, John Nance ("Cactus Jack") Garner, FDR's first V.P. described his office as "not worth a bucket of warm piss." Constitutionally, the Vice President could, in less graphic terms, be called "The Waiter-in-Chief." He waits for the chance to fulfill one of two duties prescribed by the Constitution: to break tie votes in the Senate, or to succeed presidents who, for whatever reason, cannot finish a term in office.  Vice President Mike Pence has already fulfilled the former.  After Paul Manafort’s guilty verdict, Michael Cohen’s guilty plea and the immunity deals worked out for the president's longtime CFO Allen Weisselberg and National Enquirer publisher David Pecker, (all within a single tumultuous week), it seems that Mr. Pence may fulfill the latter prescribed duty as well. And if it comes to pass, in the words of a recent piece by Los Angeles Times op-ed writers Michael D'Antonio and Peter Eisner, ". . . no one will be less surprised than Pence."  

From where I sit, the mere possibility of Mike Pence becoming POTUS scares me one whole hell of a lot more than the reality of his boss continuing to occupy the nation's highest office.  Why?  Well, where '45 can be counted on to be inconsistent, incompetent, frequently incoherent and largely lacking a moral compass, Mike Pence is dangerously consistent and tethered to an absolutist moral compass which sees  his presidency as preordained by God and the mass of humanity as enemies of the Divine Plan.  Pence has frequently described himself as “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican," in that order. While it may at first blush trouble people that this very, very moral man has amicably stood by and lent sycophantic support to the nation's immoralist-in-chief, once one gets to know the underpinnings of his belief structure, this seeming inconsistency makes perfectly good sense.  To understand Pence, one must first get to know his favorite Biblical verse (Jeremiah 29:11) which is on proud display at the Vice President's residence.  In Hebrew, the verse reads: 

     כִּי֩ אָֽנֹכִ֨י יָדַ֜עְתִּי אֶת־הַמַּֽחֲשָׁבֹ֗ת אֲשֶׁ֧ר אָנֹכִ֛י חֹשֵׁ֥ב עֲלֵיכֶ֖ם נְאֻם־יְהֹוָ֑ה מַחְשְׁב֚וֹת שָׁלוֹם֙ וְלֹ֣א לְרָעָ֔ה לָתֵ֥ת לָכֶ֖ם אַֽחֲרִ֥ית וְתִקְוָֽה

Literally translated as "For I know the thoughts that I think about you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope."  To Vice President Pence and those, like him, who were raised in the Calvinist tradition, everything, which happens - both the seemingly good and the wicked, the moral and immoral are predestined.  To those of us who were not raised or schooled in this translation, the actual meaning of Jeremiah 29:11 is somewhat different:

 “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  In other words, to Mike Pence's way of thinking the Lord has ordained the V.P. to lend support to the grossly immoral Donald Trump so that Mike Pence can become POTUS.  It's sort of like the Bible’s story of Cyrus, a pagan king who served God by protecting the Jews. In this case,  '45 plays the role of Cyrus, who is serving G-d by protecting conservative, Evangelical Christians, who believe themselves to be under mortal attack.  I don't know about you, but this scenario scares the daylights out of me.  In other words, Pence believes that God has a plan for him, and if that plan requires him to temporarily abandon his principles as well as his dignity, so be it.

Pence is regarded by some as the modern version of another Old Testament figure, Daniel, who safeguarded his fellow Jews while functioning as counselor to another pagan ruler, Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel aided the Israelites by appearing to abandon his Jewishness in Nebuchadnezzar’s court. Pence, the argument goes, sets aside his moral standards to retain access to Trump. From his insider's perch, he can do more good for religious conservatives than from the outside. And if he were to take that final step to the Oval Office, then the ends would justify the means.

Pence, unlike his boss, is not heeding the counsel of billionaires who ordain things to be done in the name of future riches. Rather, he heeds Biblical imperatives which ultimately lead to both a Christian nation and an "end-time" which will bring about the so-called "Second Coming" of the Messiah. (For Jewish people, please understand that in order for this "second coming" to come about, it will require all of us to return to Israel where we will be presented with one of two choices: conversion or annihilation.)  I don't know about you, but to my way of thinking, this is no way to run a government.  

Be careful about what you wish or pray for.  A Trumpless White House means the presidency of a man who firmly believes he has taken over the office because it is God's will that America become a nation devoted to Jesus.  We're all better off with at least one of the two houses of Congress being in the hands of the Democrats; not because we want to specialize in impeachment, but because we want to get on with making American work for us . . . the non-so-rich men, women and children who have the humility to know what they do not know, the strength to overcome their worst traits and the worth to see worth in everyone.  Better than Jeremiah 29:11, is the wisdom of an ancient sage named "ben Zoma," who, in an ancient work entitled פִּרְקֵי אָבוֹת  (pirkei avot - "The ethics of the fathers") we learn the following:

הַבְּרִיּוֹתאֵיזֶהוּ חָכָם? הַלּוֹמֵד מִכָּל אָדָם.  אֵיזֶהוּ גִבּוֹר? הַכּוֹבֵשׁ אֶת יִצְרוֹ.  אֵיזֶהוּ עָשִׁיר הַשָמֵחַ בְּחֶלְקוֹ. אֵיזֶהוּ מְכֻבָּד? הַמְכַבֵּד אֶת הַבְּרִיּוֹת      

Roughly translated: Who is truly wise?  The one who can learn from anyone.  Who is truly powerful?  The one who can curb their inclinations.  Who is truly wealthy?  The one who is happy with what they have.  Who is truly honorable?  The one who honors all humanity."

Make what you wish for and/or pray for truly count.

583 days down,
894 days to go,
70 days until the Midterm election.


Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone




"A Time Comes When Silence is Betrayal"


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

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

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

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

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

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

576 days down.

901 days to go.

77 days until the midterm elections . . .

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone


              And You Thought  Paranthropus robustus Was Extinct?

              And You Thought Paranthropus robustus Was Extinct?

Case in point: less than 24 hours after learning precisely how corrupt, mendacious and greedy '45's one-time campaign manager Paul Manafort truly was (and likely still is), we discover that there is a cadre of '45 supporters who both willingly and pridefully proclaim I'D RATHER BE RUSSIAN THAN DEMOCRAT!  When I saw a photo of a couple of these pinheads wearing tee shirts emblazoned with that particular  message while attending a '45 love/hatefest, my first thought was was "My sweet LordHuxley, Orwell and Bradbury have all risen from the dead and are now sitting on the board of a revamped, dystopian Republican National Committee!"

When I was a kid, a lot of our friends and neighbors were accused of being Communists - which in those days was generally a synonym for either "liberal," "progressive" or "Democrat"  These folks, who were, as a class, mostly Jewish, successful, literate and a bit more artistic than most, had their lives turned upside-down and inside out because of what conservatives - both Democrats and Republicans - deemed their treacherous allegiance to a foreign power . . . the Soviet Union.  And because they had at one time signed a petition denouncing racism, or contributed to a group which favored an end to segregated schools or opposed the Nazis as early as the 1930's, they were labeled  "Comsymps" -Communist sympathizers - and were thrown out of their jobs as actors and directors, producers  and choreographers,  composers and screenwriters. While it is true that some of them actually did pay dues to a Communist club or belong to a Communist cell back in the late 1930s or early 1940s, one should remember that Stalin's Russia, for better or for worse, was our ally.  Nonetheless, these "premature anti-Fascists" ultimately paid a high price for their idealism.  They were hauled before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and given two options: name names of fellow "conspirators" or be blacklisted. To conservative Democrats and Republicans, anything less than 100% pro-American, anti-Russian sympathies were simply unforgivable.

(BTW: the next Tales From Hollywood & Vine essay will deal with the Hollywood Blacklist.) 

Looking at the photo above, listening to the Republican base whose approval and espousal of such inanities as finding greater kinship with autocratic, dictatorial Russia than with a major American political party makes me wonder what in the world "Make America Great Again" (MAGA) means. It also makes me realize that although her precise figures may have been too high  and her public statement a bit impolitic, Hillary Clinton was not far off the mark when she characterized a certain percentage of '45's die-hard supporters as "deplorables." To my way of thinking, while they may or may not necessarily be "deplorable," they are definitely gullible and guileless, unworldly and relatively uneducated when it comes to history, politics and economics. But above all they appear to possess less than a fourth-grader's knowledge of the past, are pathologically dissatisfied with the present, and filled to overflowing with a paranoiac fear of the future. "I'd rather be an Russian than a Democrat!"  Indeed!

                                      That's One "Deplorable" Cap

                                      That's One "Deplorable" Cap

Oh really?  Do you truly support a dictatorship which has no problem imprisoning or even executing journalists who do not toe the party line?  Probably yes; I mean, hasn't your revered leader repeatedly told you that reporters are "the enemy of the people?"  Do you really prefer dictators to small-d democrats?  Apparently you do.  But tell me this: how is wishing or preferring to be a Russian making America great again? How are deriding, disdaining, disapproving and ultimately dividing this country between Jews, Muslims and Christians, between new arrivals and decades-old immigrants (like 45's family) making the country great? How is separating children from their parents and deporting heroic non-citizen members of the U.S. Military furthering the cause of Americanism? 

Answer?  It cannot – in any shape or form.

What this country needs now, today, more than ever, is not a movement carrying the acronym MAGA; we need one based on the letters MASA - e.g. "Make American Sane Again." Make America a place where liars and and provocateurs are disbelieved at best, vilified and buried under 7 million metric tons of litigation at worst. In Spanish, "masa" means "dough" - something which ultimately becomes a basic staple of life . . . namely, bread.  What this country cries out for is more "masa" (bread) and less mendacity.

Make sure you go to the polls in November (If not earlier) and help "Make America Sane Again."

569 days down;

904 days to go;

83 days until the midterm election.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone








"We're All Right, We're All Right"

This one's for you Jill . . .

Claude Monet's  Bassin aux nympheas et  sentier au bord de l′eau                                                      (1900)

Claude Monet's Bassin aux nympheas et  sentier au bord de l′eau                                                     (1900)

The other day, an old, beloved friend posted on her Facebook page "by the time i finish reading, scanning scrolling through my fb feed, my soul is crushed . . ."  Although understanding of - and largely in agreement with - her sentiment, I was deeply saddened by what she posted, for historically, she's always been an immensely creative artist who sees and responds to the world in colors that would make Monet sit up and proclaim vas-y meuf! (roughly "You go girl"!).  Her plight got me to thinking and fearing that the "crushing" of her soul might put a roadblock in the path of her creativity. This fear got me to thinking:With the dire road our society, our country, culture - indeed our very world - has been traveling on, it is indeed true that each day brings yet another potentially stultifying soul screwing.  But then I remember that at base I,  like my friend, am somewhat of an artist who historically, hears (rather than sees) and responds to the world in literary - rather than literal - colors.  Where my friend garners strength from the easel and art museum, I turn to the word processor and the library . . .

And so, with this brief introduction, permit me to introduce felicitous phrases from three very different sources - Abraham Lincoln, Robert F. Kennedy and Paul Simon - which may give my friend - and all of you - a bit of uplift  . . .

The first, Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address as read by British actor Charles Laughton in the  1934 film Ruggles of Red Gap, is likely the greatest speech in American history.  At the time Laughton recorded the scene below, he was, ironically, studying to take his citizenship examination.  By the time of the film's release, he was a naturalized citizen of the United States. (BTW, Laughton always considered this scene the best he had ever played)

"Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives, that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Next is a speech by then-Senator Robert F. Kennedy, given precisely a half-century ago.  It is most fitting that we should be reminded of his words at this very point in time, when news about this most recent quarter's uptick in the nation's "Gross National Product" is celebrated  as the greatest accomplishment since the parting of the Red Sea . . .


University of Kansas, March 18, 1968

Even if we act to erase material poverty, there is another greater task, it is to confront the poverty of satisfaction - purpose and dignity - that afflicts us all. 

Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things.  Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year, but that Gross National Product - if we judge the United States of America by that - that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. 

It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them.  It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. 

It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities.  It counts Whitman's rifle and Speck's knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. 

Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play.  It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. 

It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. 

And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.
If this is true here at home, so it is true elsewhere in world. 

Lastly, one of the greatest songs ever penned and performed by an American songwriter: Paul Simon's "American Tune" The version which follows was performed on October 1, 2011 at Mr. Simon's induction into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. 

Many’s the time I’ve been mistaken
And many times confused
Yes, and I’ve often felt forsaken
And certainly misused
Oh, but I’m all right, I’m all right
I’m just weary to my bones
Still, you don’t expect to be
Bright and bon vivant
So far away from home, so far away from home

I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered
I don’t have a friend who feels at ease
I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered
Or driven to its knees
Oh, but it’s all right, it’s all right
For lived so well so long
Still, when I think of the road
We’re traveling on
I wonder what went wrong
I can’t help it, I wonder what’s gone wrong

And I dreamed I was dying
And I dreamed that my soul rose unexpectedly
And looking back down at me
Smiled reassuringly
And I dreamed I was flying
And high above my eyes could clearly see
The Statue of Liberty
Sailing away to sea
And I dreamed I was flying

Oh, we come on the ship they call the Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age’s most uncertain hour
And sing an American tune
Oh, it’s all right, it’s all right
It’s all right, it’s all right
You can’t be forever blessed
Still, tomorrow’s going to be another working day
And I’m trying to get some rest
That’s all I’m trying to get some rest

(©1973 Words and music Paul Simon)

(BTW: Mr. Simon adapted the music for this wonderful song from Bach's St. Matthew's Passion, which Bach, in turn, had taken from an earlier German Lutheran song by one Hans Leo Hassler called "Herzlich Tut Mich Verlangen," . . . "Sincerely, I Desire."

And so, at a time when reality is crushing oh so many, it is good to occasionally take a break and immerse ourselves in a an uplifting restorative . . . if but for a few moments.  We will ride out these times of gloom and insanity and once again be able to turn our faces to the brilliant sun.

Smile dear friend; get out your palette and return to your easel.  Giverny awaits . . .

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone

Of Grey Wolves and Bald Eagles

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

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

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

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

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

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

       • Preventing listed species from being killed or harmed

       • Protecting habitat essential to these species’ survival

       • Creating plans to restore healthy populations

Sensible and effective? Generally speaking yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

556 days down, 917 days to go

111 days until the midterm election!

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone




Blandly Brainy: The Antidote to Boorishly Braggadocious?

This past March (the 23rd to be precise), The Washington Post ran an article entitled The top 15 Democratic presidential hopefuls for 2020, ranked.  Their list included  a bunch of Senators (Sherrod Brown [10th place], Chris Murphy [7th], Kristen Gillibrand [6th], Corey Booker [5th] Kamala Harris [4th] and Elizabeth Warren [2nd]); several former and currently serving governors (Steve Bullock [15]), Andrew Cuomo [11th], Deval Patrick [9th] and Terry McAuliffe [8th]); a former U.S. Attorney General (Eric Holder in 12th),  former Vice President Joe Biden (3rd) and one celebrity (Oprah Winfrey in 14th).  Topping the list? Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

                                              Blandly Brainy v. Boorishly Braggadocious

                                              Blandly Brainy v. Boorishly Braggadocious

Two days ago, CNN's Chris Cillizza and Harry Enten offered up their "definitive ranking of 2020 Democrats."  Their list expunged Oprah, dropped Bernie from 1st to 5th, and elevated Joe Biden from 3rd to 1st.  Of course, it's still pretty early and anything can happen.  It is good to recall that at  this time in 1974, almost no one outside of Georgia had ever heard of  Governor Jimmy Carter, and that in July 2006, about the only people who could identify then-Illinois Senator Barack Obama were those who had watched his spellbinding keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic convention - the one which nominated  the losing ticket of John Kerry and John Edwards (remember him?). 

There are a ton of factors, traits and talents which go into a successful presidential run. First and foremost, one must be 110% committed to running and possess an oxymoronic mixture of self-confidence and humility.  A sense of humor devoid of pointed playground nastiness is a good thing. Having a well-recognized name and face can be both an asset and a potential liability.  A strong spine and thick skin are also of vast importance . . . as well as tenacity, the ability to listen,  political experience, an innate understanding of the issues, personal relationships with experts in disparate fields, knowing people who know what one does not, and the ability to hit the ground running on day one. Sure, it's a lot to ask.  But then again, being POTUS is unlike any other job on planet earth, and definitely not one for a boor, blowhard or mendacious braggart.  Indeed, what the public should be looking for is a man or woman possessed of traits, abilities and public comportment which are the  bipolar opposites of '45.  We need a leader who appeals to that which is highest, fairest and bravest in the American people; one who will not vilify or condemn 'the strangers in our midst' just for the sake of scoring political points. 

Having said all this, I urge readers to consider California Representative Adam Schiff, the current ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee and for the past year or so, one of the calmest, steadiest and most trustworthy voices in America. I cannot for the life of me understand why Rep. Schiff has yet to be included on anyone's 'Top Ten' list of potential Democratic presidential candidates. Perhaps it's because members of the House have an incredibly lousy track record for winning the presidency; James A. Garfield is the only person who went straight from the House to the White House -  18 others served as representatives years before being elected (or appointed in the case of Gerald Ford) Chief Executive. Then too, perhaps Rep. Schiff's absence from all the top ten lists is due to his persona; he's bland where others are flashy; he almost never uses the word "I" and has a perpetual quarter grin on his face along with a tiny glint in his eye.  He does not speak in grand sweeping generalities, but rather in succinct truthful phases which are easily understandable. But make no mistake about it: he's one of the smartest, best prepared members of Congress who draws compliments from both sides of the aisle.  Perhaps his so-called liabilities are, when all is said and done, among his greatest strengths.  Being blandly brainy can be a distinct asset when one is going toe-to-toe against an incumbent who is boorishly braggadocious.

Rep. Schiff has been getting under the president's skin for quite some time.  Back in February 2017, '45 began referring to him in his daily Tweets as "Little Adam Schiff"; by July of that year, the president began referring to him as "Sleazy Adam Schiff."  Others in the right-wing media circus refer to him as "a pencilneck prevaricator," a ''lying leaker" and  a "bug-eyed 'Trump Derangement Syndrome' crazy." In one Tweet, the president wrote: "Sleazy Adam Schiff, the totally biased Congressman looking into "Russia," spends all of his time on television pushing the Dem loss excuse!" The California representative's response took the high road - albeit with a joy buzzer in his hand: "With respect Mr. President, the problem is how often you watch TV, and that your comments and actions are beneath the dignity of the office."  It takes a lot inner strength to refrain from lobbing dreck-infected rhetorical missiles back at someone who has just demeaned you in such a childish way.  Even one of this country's most seasoned political pros - former V.P. Joe Biden - fell into the president's trap, when in speaking about Trump's comments about grabbing women by their genitals stated "A guy who ended up becoming our national leader said, ‘I can grab a woman anywhere, and she likes it . . . They asked me if I’d like to debate this gentleman, and I said ‘no.’ I said, ‘If we were in high school, I’d take him behind the gym and beat the hell out of him. Ive been in a lot of locker rooms my whole life . . . . I’m a pretty [darn] good athlete. Any guy that talked that way was usually the fattest, ugliest SOB in the room.” To which '45 responded, "Crazy Joe Biden is trying to act like a tough guy. Actually, he is weak, both mentally and physically, and yet he threatens me, for the second time, with physical assault. He doesn’t know me, but he would go down fast and hard, crying all the way. Don’t threaten people Joe!"  One had better believe that were Joe Biden to become the Democratic nominee, this nonsensical palaver would play out in TV adds running a thousand times a day.  Although there exists an inexhaustible supply of video footage, it will be near impossible locating an inch of Adam Schiff being arch, petty or mean.  That's just not the way he was raised.  What all that video will likely show (save egregious edits) is a man discussing densely turgid and critical issues in an easily understandable manner.

Among the things Republicans will use against him is the very district (28th) he represents in Congress. For part of his district includes Hollywood and among his earliest financial backers were Jewish billionaires such as Director Steven Spielberg, music mogul David Geffen Dreamworks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg, Power Rangers creator Haim Saban and the late former MCA chair Lew Wasserman. The implication would of course be that Schiff is guilty by association. There is always the possibility that the trolls, bigots and xenophobes who inhabit the dark net will see in this nothing more than the furtherance of a globalist (read: Jewish) conspiracy.  Not too long ago, Adam was the target of a false email allegation that his sister Melissa was married to the son of George Soros (who right wing goons believe is Satan's financier); turns out, among other things, Adam Schiff doesn't have a sister . . . only an older brother Daniel.  Some Democrats, on the other hand, will  find him too moderate, too wonkish and not enough of a political bomb thrower for their tastes.  What they will get - should he run - is a principled, deeply honest,  well-schooled (Stanford, Harvard Law) mensch with the political skills, instincts  and courage of a Kennedy, the prosecutorial athleticism of a Robert Mueller,  and the comfortable deportment of a Barack Obama who, despite what his detractors believe, was actually a moderately centrist Democrat.

BTW: for anyone wanting to know more about Adam Schiff, feel free to check out my April 1, 2017 essay  Who Is Adam Schiff?  Up until the last year-and-a-half, I believe I had written more about Adam than anyone outside of California or Washington, D.C.  I've been following him and his family for years and years, and can proudly tell you he is the real deal, and should definitely be considered for inclusion in a top-ten list. 

Let's confront Boorish Braggadocio with Bland Brilliance . . . 

549 days down, 924 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone


The Odd Couple


From this humble writer's perspective, the president's week-long - and as yet ongoing - jaunt to Europe has been a disastrous embarrassment.  From giving terribly mixed messages about America's future relationship with its NATO allies to making the ludicrous claim  that "Germany is a captive of Russia," giving distinctly bipolar  opinions of British P.M. Teresa May and actually keeping the Queen of England waiting and then walking in front of her, '45's time in Europe has, so far, been more risible than Monsieur Hulot's Holiday.  . . . And mind you this is even before his sit-down with that satanic old pro Vladimir Putin. You can bet your bottom dollar (or ruble) that Putin will be as fully prepared and disciplined as a Trappist Monk, while the POTUS likely be just winging it, seeking to rely on his country club charm . . . which will likely be as potent or useful as a Pomeranian at a dog fight.  One would think - and indeed, might hope - that the week's blunders,  buffoonery,  lies and utter mortifications (added to so many others over the past year-and-a-half) might result in a demonstrable erosion of his vaunted political base.  But no; as of earlier today - 48 hours after a dozen Russian intelligence agents were indicted by the Justice Department for cyber-hacking in the 2016 presidential election - 45's standing with his base is holding steady . . . and with one group in particular: deeply conservative white fundamentalists and Christian evangelicals the two are not synonymous). 

         Prosperity Gospelers Cheering On  Their Messiah

         Prosperity Gospelers Cheering On  Their Messiah

Despite 3 marriages and numerous affairs, an all but total lack of religiosity (beyond the rhetorical), ignoring the Biblical dictum to "Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God," and  gleefully embodying all seven deadly sins  '45  is still supported and lionized by better than 80% of white American Evangelicals men . . . and women as well.  Talk about an "Odd Couple!"  In light of how stridently united America’s white Evangelical Christians are in their abhorrence of the Clintons and Barack Obama for their “immorality" and "hatred of all things Christian," this critical subset of the president's political base has all but defied Donald John Trump and actually thank Jesus for his being elected. The question is "How can this be?  What do white Evangelicals see in him that causes them to utterly ignore his sins and vulgar language, his lies, hard-hardheartedness and braggadocio ("I am a very stable genius") his utter disregard for anything but wealth . . .?" 

It certainly is not his religiosity.  For despite having some notable evangelicals  and fundamentalists in his employ - V.P. Mike Pence, A.G. Jeff Sessions and Press Sec. Sarah Huckabee Sanders spring to mind - the POTUS has shown himself to be a religious illiterate . . . both in word and in deed. Back during the 2016 campaign, CNN's Chris Cuomo asked Trump about his being audited by the I.R.S.  Unbelievably, the Republican nominee responded, “I’m always being audited by the IRS, which I think is very unfair… maybe because of the fact that I’m a strong Christian and I feel strongly about it.”  His evangelical supporters likely stood up before their television sets and cheered; their man had "come out" as a 'strong Christian'!  And yet, this was the same guy who bragged about the size of his genitals during a presidential debate and once said he would date his then 24-year-old daughter if they weren’t related.  Then too, there was the time '45 was asked whether he was "more of an Old Testament guy or a New Testament guy?"  His answer?  “Probably equal, I think. It just an incredible…the whole Bible is an incredible…”  At this point, he started talking about how he jokes that his own book The Art of the Deal is only his second favorite book.

So what is it about '45 and his white evangelical/fundamentalist base?  What is it they see in him that keeps them so thoroughly in thrall?  Could it be his full-throated opposition to abortion?  His support for unfettered access to guns?  His opposition to same-sex marriage or permitting Muslims - and other non-Christians and people of color - from entering the United States? His support for funding charter (read: religious) schools at the expense of public schools?  His disbelief in the findings of climate scientists or his unwavering support for Israel (a.k.a. "The Holy Land" in evangelical parlance)?  How about his historic tax cuts which will put millions into the pockets of multi-millionaires and ultimately add trillions to the federal deficit?

                                                Joel Osteen and D.J.T.

                                                Joel Osteen and D.J.T.

Believe it or not, the answer may just have something to with the latter issue: tax cuts.  Although the Christian Bible (Matthew: 19:23-24) states "Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God,"  despite this, there are millions upon millions of God-fearing, Trump-supporting Christians who live, act and vote as if Jesus' words had never been given voice. Strange, no?  Welcome to the world of the prosperity gospel which gives '45 a sort of diplomatic immunity regardless of his many, many carnal sins and transgressions. The "Prosperity Gospel" teaches that the rich are rich because God has blessed them and the poor are poor because God is punishing their immorality.  Prosperity theology is common among white Pentecostal fundamentalists; Pastor Joel Osteen, for example, is a strong proponent. Although the Houston, Texas-based evangelical never officially endorsed his presidential campaign in 2016, Osteen described Trump as a “friend of our ministry” and “a good man.” (BTW: Osteen's Houston-based Lakewood Church has nearly 45,000 members.  His services are seen in more than 100 countries; his net worth is in the neighborhood of $50 million and he and his wife Victoria live in a 17,000 square foot mansion. I don’t hold any of this against him . . . just wanted to let you know that preaching the Prosperity Gospel does pay pretty well.) Osteen is certainly not the only person preaching this gospel; other "superstars" include  Benny Hinn, T.D. Jakes, Kenneth Copeland, Rick Warren  and Paula White, to name but a few.)

Sometimes people equate right-wing libertarians with right-wing evangelicals.  In point of fact, they have very different views in some respects. While many libertarians combine extreme fiscal conservatism with socially liberal views on abortion, porn, marijuana and same-sex marriage, the prosperity gospel crowd combines extreme fiscal conservatism with a disdain for all those things—although the ultra-rich are so adored in prosperity theology circles that Trump’s evangelical supporters are quite prepared to overlook his sexual history. To prosperity theologisers, Trump wouldn’t be so rich if he didn’t enjoy God’s stamp of approval. 

During the eight years of his presidency, Barack Obama was detested by the Christian right and proponents of the Prosperity Gospel, despite the fact that he had a much longer history of attending church and obviously knew a lot more about the Bible than his successor. Obama had obviously led a much more clean-cut life than Trump, but to the Christian Right and proponents of prosperity theology, none of this mattered one iota.  Right-wing white evangelicals equate Donald Trump with money and power—and therefore, their understanding of Christian morality— while equating Barack Obama (and indeed, very nearly all Democrats) with socialism and giveaways for poor Americans they consider freeloaders . . . people whose very poverty shows what God thinks about them.

Prosperity gospelers seem to have found their messiah in '45.

I have to wonder what  the good Lord has to say about it.

Perhaps "הזוג המוזר" ("The odd couple")

543 days down, 930 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone


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


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

Talk about black and white!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

537 days down, 936 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone










Wisdom From Mt. Rushmore

Mt. Rushmore.jpg

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


"The One Who Saves a Single Life . . . "

                              Drs.  Vibhav and Sonal Rangarajan and Their daughter, Radha

                              Drs.  Vibhav and Sonal Rangarajan and Their daughter, Radha

A couple of days ago, Attorney General Jeff Sessions stood before a gathering in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, and quoted the Christian Bible (Romans 13) as justification for the Administration's "Zero Tolerance" policy on illegal immigration. This is the policy which forcibly separates children from their parents if they cross the Southern border illegally.  According to Sessions, it is a lawful deterrent and is actually backed by the Bible.  “I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order,” When asked to comment on Sessions' use of the Bible to justify the government's separating children from their parents, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders doubled down saying it is "very biblical to enforce the law."  Of course, quoting standalone Biblical verses (from either the Hebrew or Christian version) to justify immoral actions on the part of the government is far from new: whenever Congress debates cuts in the food stamp program (SNAP - "Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program") some damn fool will quote 2 Thessalonians 3:10: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”

As one who has spent the better part of a life studying (as opposed to "reading") both the Hebrew and Christian Bible in their original languages, I can, if called on, cite tons of verses from James, Matthew, Isaiah and Proverbs (to name but a few) which command us to "feed the hungry, clothe the naked visit the sick and take in and give shelter to the stranger."

This current crappola about citing Holy Writ to justify separating children from their parents brings to mind Antonio's admonition to Bassanio in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice (Act I, Scene 3, Page 5): 

Mark you this, Bassanio, the devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.
An evil soul producing holy witness Is like a villain with a smiling cheek,
A goodly apple rotten at the heart.

Having gone this far I must tell you that although I am about to quote an ancient religious text (not the Bible), this week's essay - although it does involve a child - has nothing to do with immigration and little to do with the federal government.  The passage comes from the 2nd century (C.E.) work Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5

שֶׁכָּל הַמְאַבֵּד נֶפֶשׁ אַחַת מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל, מַעֲלֶה עָלָיו הַכָּתוּב כְּאִלּוּ אִבֵּד עוֹלָם מָלֵא. וְכָל הַמְקַיֵּם נֶפֶשׁ אַחַת מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל, מַעֲלֶה עָלָיו הַכָּתוּב כְּאִלּוּ קִיֵּם עוֹלָם מָלֵא   

Namely: "Anyone who destroys a life is considered by Scripture to have destroyed an entire world; and anyone who saves a life is as if he saved an entire world."

So what's this week's essay about?  Where am I going?  Well, yesterday, there appeared in my inbox an email from Vibhav Rangarajan, M.D., a practicing cardiologist/internist in Chicago.  Dr. Rangarajan graduated from Tufts University School of Medicine in 2010, and served his residency in Cardiology at the University of Illinois/Chicago. He is currently an instructor at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern, as well as being in private practice. He has been married since 2013 to Dr. Sonal Patel Rangarajan who specializes in pediatric gastroenterology.  They have a two-year old daughter named Radha, who was recently diagnosed with a "lysosomal storage disorder" . . . there are about 50 of these rare metabolic disorders.  The specific one that Radha has is called Metachromatic Leukodystrophy  (called by many names including "Greenfield Disease" and "MLD").  In his most heartfelt email, Dr. Vidhav admitted to having "memorized a few details about these rare diseases (lysosomal storage disorders) in preparation for my board exam, and then never gave them another thought." Why?  Because they are pediatric and he was going to be a cardiologist. Since Radha's diagnosis - which is bleak - he and Dr. Sonal have learned far, far more than they ever knew before.  

Without getting too technical, MLD is a genetic disease which interferes with the body's production of a single enzyme (protein).  Without enough of this particular enzyme - which ultimately insulates and protects nerves - all hell can break loose; it can destroy tissue throughout the brain, spinal cord, and other parts of the nervous system.  Quality of life - not to mention life expectancy - for a child with MLD is both bitter and brief.  As readers of The K.F. Stone Weekly know, I am not an M.D. - far, far from it.  However, I have been privileged to work with a team of world-class physicians, pharmocolgists, pathologists and diagnosticians for nearly a quarter century on an institutional review board, whose task it is to review, vet and make understandable, virtually every type of medical research protocol on the horizon. Our company holds a minimum of ten meetings a week via teleconference.  Over the years, I have attended hundreds and hundreds of these meetings and reviewed easily more than a thousand research protocols.  My main role is translating medical terminology into lay language. Sometimes, we review what are called "Compassionate Use Requests," which involve getting not-yet-FDA-approved and grossly expensive drugs to subjects who suffer from rare (sometimes called "Orphan") diseases and conditions.  We don't put the pressure on a particular company or drug manufacturer to grant the compassionate use status; rather, it is they who generally come to us, for it is our overarching task to insure the safety of the subject(s) who will be taking the drug.  

Regrettably, there are all sorts of diseases and conditions which do not have drugs, therapies or surgical procedures that are yet ready to be used.  It turns out, there is a drug being tested and developed for many lysosomal storage disorders, including Metachromatic Leukodystrophy by Shire Pharmaceuticals - a biotech firm which specializes in rare diseases.  At this point, Shire has even completed a multicenter Phase 1/2 trial of the drug (new drug trials generally go through phases 3 and even 4).  The drug is called SHP-611 (also known as HGT-1110) in Europe; it appears to be showing some promising results. But, for whatever reason, they have turned down the Rangarajan's request to grant Radha compassionate use status.  Why is anyone's guess, but it stinks to holy hell.  Her parents are doing everything in their power to draw attention to their daughter's plight; left untreated, this precious little girl could be in a vegetative state before too long, and likely won't ever see the age of 8. The FDA (Federal Drug Administration) cannot compel a company like Shire to provide Radha (even if her parents were able to pay) with SHP-611/HGT-1110. Recently, the president signed into law a controversial piece of legislation called the "Right to Try" law which, at least in theory, would offer terminally ill patients expanded access to unapproved treatments.  Despite crowing about how many lives will be saved by means of this legislation ("We will be saving — I don’t even want to say thousands because I think it’s going to be much more — thousands and thousands, hundreds of thousands, we’re going to be saving tremendous numbers of lives. There were no options, and now you have hope.”) the bill's true purpose is to undermine the FDA by eliminating many of the regulations they impose and oversee - regulations which ultimately protect test subjects and ultimately, patients.  Why?  Perhaps because eliminating regulations will make bringing new drugs, devices or procedures to market will be a whole lot less expensive.

When I read Dr. Vibhav's email, I was touched to the core.  Knowing that many of you - my beloved readers - are people of quality and compassion - I have decided to issue a plea . . . that you and your friends sign a petition to Shire, urging them in the strongest possible terms to grant compassionate status to Radha.  As of a few minutes ago (8:35 PM (EST) June 17, 2018 - nearly 180,000 people have signed the Rangarajan's petition to Shire.  I urge you to add your name (and perhaps a couple of dollars) to the cause. 

Do remember that ancient truth expressed in the Mishnah: "Anyone who saves a single life, it is as if that person had saved the entire world."  In his time of gross insensitivity, where each day brings hideousheadlines about man's inhumanity to manwhere every day brings yet another hideous headline; so many of us are frustrated, freaked out and feeling oh so powerless against the forces of narcissistic self-centeredness.  Well, I'm here to tell you that we do have power; we actually can make a difference, if only we find our communal voice and make our humaneness known. I urge you and your friends to  speak up on behalf of Radha; put her plight on your Facebook page; send Dr. Rangarajan's email to everyone on your list. Save Radha's life . . . save the universe.

From what I've recently learned, in Sanskrit, "Radha" (राधा) means 'success' or 'prosperity.' Together we can, G-d willing, give her the chance to live up to her name and succeed at life, while prospering in terms of health. Then too, by doing what we can for her and her family, we too can succeed and prosper.

Find you voice!

516 days down, 957 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







Cause or Effect?

       Candidate Arthur Jones: Cause or Effect?

       Candidate Arthur Jones: Cause or Effect?

Most people are familiar with the aphorism "While the optimist sees the glass as being half full, the pessismist sees the glass as being half empty."  For as long as I can remember, my response has been: "What matters most is that there's something in the glass, which would make one a realist." Of course, one person's reality is another's fantasy, just as one person's factuality is another's falsity The difference between fact and fiction - or "real" versus "fake" news - has over the past several years become a matter heated, angry debate. Recently, veteran Sixty Minutes reporter Lesley Stahl interviewed PBS Newshour host and editor Judy Woodruff. At one point in the interview, the conversation turned to '45. Stahl recalled interviewing him and asking why he relentlessly attacked the media. Woodruff told Ms. Stahl that the POTUS answered “I do it to discredit you all and demean you all so that when you write negative stories about me, no one will believe you." One suspects he doesn’t believe half of the mean-spirited and unfounded statements and tweets about the media that come out of his mouth and/or fingers, but rather uses these attacks as a shield, a dangerous shield against the truth and truthful reporting.

If you are a "glass is half full" sort, you likely believe the mainstream media is reporting things factually. If you are a "glass is half empty" sort, you likely believe the POTUS and his tight-knit circle that there's a conspiracy of fakery going on 24-hours a day.  If, like moi you are a "what matters most is that there's something in the glass" sort, you are likely concerned with cause and effect: e.g., are '45's rants and twitter raves the cause of all those merchants of mendacity succeeding with a large portion of the public,  or is '45's being elected POTUS the reflection - or effect - of all this mendacity itself?

If this last point seems a bit intellectually murky or turgid, perhaps a chillingly specific example will clear things up a bit.  According to a recent  report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, at least eight white nationalists and self-admitted Nazis are running for office in 2018. They have been as up-front and unabashedly loquacious about their hatred for African Americans, Hispanics and Muslims, as well as their firm belief that Israel and the Jews represent an even greater threat to America than Islamic terrorists. And mind you, these hateful candidates aren't running for dogcatcher in East Elbow, Idaho; they are running for the House of Representatives, the United States Senate and state legislatures.  Whether or not any of them stand a snowball's chance in hell of being elected (they do not) is besides the point.  The fact that they are actually running as Republicans and are unafraid of telling the public what they "know" to be "the truth" is. This story, which was brought to my attention by my student and constant reader Richard Cohen, has been covered by NBC News. It is a story that should cause a lot of constipation, worry and more than a few sleepless nights.

"There's nothing new about these kinds of people running for office," the more historically savvy members of the alt-right will proclaim, and then mention the late West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd, who was a member of the KKK back in the mid-1940s. Byrd spent nearly 60 years serving West Virginia in both the House and Senate, and spent nearly 60 years apologizing for ever having been a part of that noxious, racist group.  But to compare a man from West Virginia who was a member of the Klan in the 1940s to a California anti-Semite (the appropriately-named Richard Little) running for the United States Senate from California in 2018 betrays a lack of historic knowledge. Sure, Robert Byrd did belong to the Klan in 1946-47.  Then too, nearly 70% of the people in America smoked cigarettes in the 1940s, and there were actually ad campaigns proclaiming that Camels were, by far," the favorite smoke of American physicians." Then too, during the 1940s, it was illegal for a white man to marry a black woman in more than half  the states, and one could be given a "blue discharge" from the United States military for being gay. Simply stated, these were incredibly different times. In retrospect, while a majority of sensible people don't agree with their points of view,, we should nonetheless understand that Byrd's being a short-time Klansman in  1940's West Virginia - although despicable by latter-day understanding - wasn't all that peculiar.  To bring it up in the twenty-first century as a rationalization for a racist or proto-Nazi being cool in 2018 is both intellectually degraded and morally reprehensible.

The question becomes one of cause and effect:  if disgustingly noxious candidates like Arthur Jones, Paul Nehlen, Sean Donahue, John AbarrPatrick Little and others who are as openly racist and Holocaust-denyingly anti-Semitic as any Klansman or neo-Stoßtruppen, are given strength by - or are reflections of - the current president and his administration. Without question, '45 has a lot of Jewish people in his inner circle: son-in-law Jared Kusher, Secretary of the Treasury Stephen Mnuchin, former economic advisor Gary Cohn (who resigned and was replaced by the now-Catholic Larry Kudlow), former campaign advisor Sam Nunberg (whom Trump sued for $10 million),  and attorney Michael Cohen.  Many Jews believe '45 to be the most pro-Israel, Jewish-friendly president in American history, largely on the strength of his moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem. And yet, many prominent anti-Semites (like David Duke and Pastor Robert Jeffress) believe him to be a member in good standing of their houses of worship.  And yet, professional anti-Semites seem to have found a landsman, an understanding compatriot in the nation's 45th president.  Oh sure, there were racists, white nationalists and neo-Nazis during the Regan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama years; it's just that they weren't so damnably open about it . . . feeling empowered enough to run for office on platforms of extreme prejudice and hatred.  Perhaps back then, they knew that the White House would be quick to condemn their brainless bigotry; but not today.

This past week has focused attention on yet another big-mouthed, small-minded bigot: Rosanne Barr.  The Twitter tirade which caused ABC to cancel her top-rated show is by now so well known that there is no need to repeat it here.  In matters of "cause and effect," it is hard to know if her words and sentiments were caused by the words and sentiments emanating from the White House, or are a mere reflection (call it "echoing") of the current atmosphere.  Whatever the answer - if indeed, there is one - it is worth noting that it took the POTUS nearly a week to break his silence on the scandal.  That is notable.  What is just as notable - if not more so - is what he didn't say.  For in his utterly sarcastic tweet on the subject, '45 wrote: "Bob Iger of ABC [actually, he's CEO of Disney, which owns ABC] called Valerie Jarrett to let her know that 'ABC does not tolerate comments like those' made by Roseanne Barr. Gee, he never called President Donald J. Trump to apologize for the HORRIBLE statements made and said about me on ABC. Maybe I just didn't get the call?"  Rather than distancing himself from Barr's racist remarks, '45 jumped right into the argument about whether she was subjected to a double standard.

So school me: is it cause or effect?

502 days down, 970 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