Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

Notes From the Underground Or, Apropos of the Coming Storm

This essay was in the process of  contemplation and composition when, thanks to Hurricane Irma, all the lights, air conditioning and internet were lost. Consequently, it has had to be put off until just how. It's weird going a week without posting an essay.  So far as I know, this is the first week I've missed since February 2005.  In any event,  I am delighted to report that we are all well, suffered precious little damage, and now find ourselves with cool air, cold water and hot WiFi.  Who could ask for anything more? And by the way, if the title of this piece doesn't make a lot of sense, do familiarize yourself with the Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky, the father of Existential literature . . .  

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Waiting for a hurricane to arrive exacts a crushing toll on one's nerves and psyche, not to mention putting one's kishkes into painful twisted knots.  As a Californian who has gone through several major earthquakes, I can tell you a simple truth: I greatly prefer severe quaking to interminable waiting. Earthquakes happen when you least expect them; one is spared the dozens upon dozens of hours of continuous television and radio coverage - of the countdown to  climatologic Armageddon.  True, one can take precautions and make preparations for Andrew, Wilma, Harvey or Irma; but in the long-run, they're going to exact whatever vengeance they choose.  There are also any number of precautions one can take against earthquakes (most in terms of construction), but again, in the long-run they're going to exact as much vengeance as they please.  The big difference, as stated, above, is in the waiting.  Waiting for Irma reminded me of the scene in Casablanca when Rick, Ilsa and Sam were hanging out at La Belle Aurore, waiting, waiting for the Nazis to reach Paris.  All they could do was wait, listen to the cannons, and drink champagne . . .

Even before Irma arrived, there were interminable tornado warnings . . . each extended by fifteen, thirty, sixty minutes or more.  In comparison to the bear which is a category 5 hurricane, a tornado is a mere bee sting.  When Irma finally arrived, we were hunkered down, listening to what sounded like a 10,000-mile long freight train whizzing past our the house at lightening speed for hours on end. This was, to say the least, both a frightening and a deeply humbling experience.  Frightening for obvious reasons.  (Heck, the only folks who wouldn't have suffered from fright were, like Rick, Ilsa and Sam, probably indulging in a bit of the grape). Humbling, to realize in CAPITAL LETTERS how utterly powerful and destructive the forces of nature and nature's God, can be.  

This show of immense, ineffable power makes all our petty pride and status-filled striving seem as utterly insane as the rantings of Dostoevsky's Raskolnikov.  Nothing - not wealth, nor status nor connections - can  every hope to overpower the forces of nature.  And anyone who causes us to believe they can is an utter fool . . . and even worse, a self-deluded idiot. 

Coming on the heels of Hurricane Harvey, I thought to myself (while sitting in the dark near my wife and dog) "who in their right mind can still deny climate change and its role in creating not one but two massive blows in a single week?"  Well, in the weeks leading up to these latest hurricanes, Rush Limbaugh and his buds-with-mikes were coming across like Irma truthers. Limbaugh the loon actually had the errant chutzpah to tell his devoted fringe that hurricanes and massive tropical storms are simply part of a liberal conspiracy solely aimed at furthering the discussion on climate change,   And then, within 24 hours, he announced that he was evacuating South Florida . . . for reasons of "security."  Ah consistency; the hobgoblin of little minds! 

For those who are not aware, there is a single street in Palm Beach (S Ocean Blvd, Palm Beach, 33480 to be precise) on which live (at least during the winter) four of the world's biggest, baddest, boldest climate change deniers: Ann Coulter, the increasingly irrelevant Flush . . . eh, Rush, '45, and the Brothers Koch. These aren't just homes; they are palaces ranging in size from 20,000 to more than 62,000 square feet - not to mention the beach-front acreage.  One has to wonder if all that has happened to their princely abodes will change their minds about the state of the weather.  One can only hope.

So now we dig and dry out, decide whether or not to finally install those hurricane-proof windows and shutters, and await the next storm (perhaps Hurricane Melania?).  It all makes great fodder for the High Holiday sermons I shall begin delivering in less than a week.  One of points I shall do doubt be highlighting is how disasters such as Harvey and Irma tend to bring out the best, most humane aspects of an otherwise disparate and divided folk. One can see it in the patience and consideration that drivers show in going through intersections one car at a time; of neighbors going door to door to see if there's anything they can do - and then extending a hand, arm or leg in the cause of community. I've read and heard of Muslims helping Jews and rock-ribbed conservative Christians lending assistance to same-sex  couples.  It is, without question, a very, very good thing to learn that the folks next door are just as human, just as vulnerable, just as loving as you are.  

We will, without question, long remember Harvey and Irma - their power, their destructiveness and terrifying ability to totally destroy and uproot.  May they also be long remembered as having been the cause for us reaching out to our neighbors as if they were the closest of kin.  And may Harvey and Irma also teach the naysayers that hurricanes, tornadoes and tropical storms have as much to do with the misdeeds of man as with the power of the Divine. 

Be safe, be proactive, but above all be kind . . .

Copyright©2017 Kurt F. Stone

Zelig Eshhar: Putting Cancer in the Rear-View Mirror

                        Professor Zelig Eshhar

                        Professor Zelig Eshhar

(Introductory Note) Back in early June when this blog moved to its present site, the subtitle also changed: from "Formerly 'Beating the Bushes'" to "Politics and a Whole Lot More."  Well, this week is mostly "A Whole Lot More" and a tiny bit of "Politics." The underlying basis for this week's piece comes from an aspect of my professional life which I have rarely, if ever, written about.

For nearly 2 dozen years, I have served as a "community member" of two different Institutional Review Boards; first, Cleveland Clinic Florida and, for going on five years, Schulman Associates IRB (Institutional Review Board).  It is our job to carefully screen, edit and approve medical research projects - some dealing with surgical procedures, some pharmaceuticals and yet others, visionary techniques.  Our "primary directive" is to help safeguard the rights of research subjects and to make sure that all research is carried out in an ethical manner.

Over these many years, I have read, digested (to the best of my lay ability) and edited easily more than 1,000 research protocols.  By this point in time, I guess you could say that I qualify, medically speaking, as either a "lay professional," or perhaps a "professional layperson."  For it is my job to translate medical and scientific terminology into understandable English at, say, an 8th or 10th-grade level.  

Having written this, let's enter enter the world of Zelig Eshhar, cancer research and CAR-T . . . 

 

There's a pretty good chance that few, if any who are reading this piece have ever read or heard of Zelig Eshhar, let alone be conversant with the medical acronym CAR-T.  Trust me when I tell you that shortly, that's going to change; that both Professor Eshhar, an Israeli immunologist at Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science and his breakthrough research will become as well known as penicillin, Viagra and joint replacement surgery.  

Professor Eshhar's breakthroughA is called CAR T Therapy, which stands for Chimeric Antigen Receptor T-cell Therapy.   T-cells are the white blood cells that fight foreign or abnormal cells, including cancerous ones. Under normal circumstances, T-cells try to fight cancerous cells – but because the body has been weakened by the cancer, the response is usually not strong enough to prevent the spread of cancer. In addition, cancer cells are genetically programmed to evade T-cells - essentially to see them as "the enemy." Dr. Eshhar figured out a way around this by extracting T-cells from the patients and then genetically modifying them to develop longer-lasting and more aggressive responses to the disease. As a result, research subjects experienced significant improvement – and even elimination of the disease altogether.  In a sense, what Dr. Eshhar's process does is retrain T-cells and put them back into the body. CAR T therapy represents a quantum change in both theory and practice.  Instead of using chemotherapy, which is essentially a poison used to kill various tumors or cancer cells, CAR T takes an immunological approach in which one's own body provides the "slaying" mechanism.

Chemo drugs are huge money-makers for the pharmaceutical industry.  Various companies - such as Roche, Novartis and Eli Lilly pour tons of money into researching what they hope will become the next blockbuster drug.  And if (and when) they come up with a drug that works on a particular type of cancer (breast, prostate, lung, pancreas, etc.), it can be worth billions of dollars in global sales. 

Currently, the biggest sellers are:

  • Roche's Avastin (Bevacizumab) with global sales of $6.7 billion;  used to treat breast, colorectal , kidney and ovarian cancers. 
  • Celgene's Revlimid (Lenalidimide) with global sales of $4.2 billion;  used to treat Multiple myeloma (a cancer of plasma cells)
  • Roche's Retuxin (Rituximab), with sales of $7.5 billion; used to treat non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (a cancer that starts in white blood cells called lymphocytes)
  • Roche's Herceptin (Trastuzumab) with sales of $6.5 billion (used to fight a type of breast cancer called HER 2+)
  • Johnson & Johnson's Imbruvica (Iritunib capsules) with sales of $5.3 billion (used to treat certain kinds of leukemia - a blood cancer - and lymphoma.

(BTW: many chemotherapy drugs you see advertised on TV end in either mab or nib. The former stands for "Monoclonal Antibody," [a  type of protein made in the lab which can bind itself to substances in the body like cancer cells]; the latter stands for a small molecule Inhibitor. A nib drug blocks [inhibits] the cell's ability to divide and grow.)

CAR T-cell Therapy is a horse of a different color. As Professor Eshhar explains it, "T-cells and antibodies in patients and animals are part of the immune system, capable of distinguishing tumor cells from normal cells. These cells, however, are not enough to fight the cancer cells, which manage to “evade and avoid them. The end result is cancer and an immune system that is not efficient enough to thwart it."  Stumped by this reality, Eshhar decided to combine the antibodies with the T-cells, figuring, in his words that "Two are better than one."

What he did was extract the T-cells and genetically engineered  them to include a molecule that has the cancer recognition skills of both the antibodies and the T-cells. The modified T-cells were then injected into patients. As Eshhar explained it, these T-cells “now recognize the cancer and will now be efficient because I engineered them so they will attack the cancer."  This is the simple essence of Chimeric Antigen Receptors.  To date, this process has shown spectacular success; so much so that the company which began experiments with CAR-T - Kite Pharma - was just bought out by Gilead Sciences, Inc. for a whopping $12 billion.  Not bad for a company (Kite) which has never turned a profit.

And so, cancer care has taken a gigantic, formative step; away from medicines on the chemical level and towards therapy on the genetic.  The growth and acceptance of Eshhar's technique is moving as a geometric rate.  Just 4 days ago, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Novartis' CAR T-cell therapy for young people up to age 25 with a form of leukemia called "acute lymphoblastic leukemia" - a type of cancer of the blood and bone marrow that affects white blood cells.  And just last month, the online Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News reported the first successful use of CAR-T in  therapy for Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM), a virulent, fast-growing type of central nervous system tumor that forms from supportive  tissue of the brain and spinal cord.  (This, by the way, is the type of cancer that Arizona Senator John McCain recently had surgery for. The average survival for malignant glioblastoma is around 14 months.)

Various research projects involving CAR-T have shown startling results ranging from total remission of certain types of cancer to its total disappearance.  More time, more dollars and more research will be needed before it can be declared "the silver bullet" in cancer treatment. But for now, it is terribly exciting, extremely hopeful and awesomely imaginative.  When asked how much money he could make off the sale of KITE Pharma (on whose Scientific Advisory Board Professor Eshhar serves), the good doctor responded "I am not a banker and I don’t know the laws. I don’t know how much we will get. I prefer not to relate to this. Research is what interests me, to improve the treatment and make it more effective.”

So what is this potential miracle cure going to cost?  No one knows for sure, but Novartis has pegged the price of its newly-approved CAR-T drug Kymriah at $475,000 for a single infusion, an amount that is within the range anticipated by oncologists and that Novartis characterized as "well below a price level that could be justified on cost."  As time goes by and new CAR-T medicines become available, the price will likely come down. But make no mistake: for the foreseeable future, it's going to be a highly expensive therapy.  But in an article published just a couple of days ago the online Life Science Washington experts anticipate that "Through further collaboration between academic groups and industry, and with a greatly improved local infrastructure, and an increased understanding and predictability of therapy resistance, there is great hope that CAR-T will become an efficient and affordable therapy – for the benefit of everyone."

In my introductory remarks I noted that this week's piece was "mostly 'a Whole Lot More' and a tiny bit of 'Politics.'"  So where does politics enter the realm of CAR-T?  In this one closing thought:

The progress that can and should be made in this ground-breaking therapy will require a staggering investment - both on the part of big pharma, foundations and the federal government.  Regrettably, this is all happening at the very moment in which the administration has proposed cutting funds for the National Institutes of Health (NIH)  from $31.8 billion to $26 billion. They are also seeking a $1 billion cut in funds for the National Cancer Institute.  It doesn't take a genius to realize that this is bad, bad timing. Hopefully Senator McCain, who is one of the most widely respected voices on Capitol Hill, will be able to convince his colleagues to stem this heartless tide.

Then too, it is indeed highly ironic that a world class Israeli immunologist working at an Israeli institute, (and assisted by scientists named Kohn, Levy and Rosenberg) should be getting his most deserved moment in the sun at  precisely the same time that neo-Nazis and white supremists are airing their diabolic dreams and desires in front of every camera and microphone pointed their way.  God forbid any of them should wind up needing CAR-T therapy.  Will they turn it down because its "parents" are Jewish . . . ?

Copyright©2017 Kurt F. Stone

Shake Hands With the Devil

                        Mnuchin,  '45 and Cohen

                        Mnuchin,  '45 and Cohen

OK, by a show of hands, is there anyone out there who remembers the last time we had a 24-hour news cycle without at least one breaking story guaranteed to shoot the old systolic up into the stratosphere?  Waiting . . . waiting.  Hmmm . . . by the absence of hands, I guess that means the answer is "no" - that for the longest time, every day brings at least one bulletin, one screaming headline, one hyper-dramatic (or hyper-inane) matter which is all but guaranteed to eclipse (or make us all but forget) yesterday's screaming headline. Now mind you, it's not just the White House and its current occupant who are totally shouldering the blame for this rise in cacophony; the media plays a huge role as well. After all, there are just so many sources and platforms for news (both real and fake) and views, and thus, so many ways to make a pile through selling ads. The competition for these ad dollars is intense.  In other words, '45 has been a boon-and-a-half to all those who book and sell ad time and space.

In the main, we've become unknowingly inured to the fact that today's front-page-above-the-fold, top-of-the-hour screamers (North Korea, the Mueller investigation, the pardoning of "Sheriff Joe") quickly gets pushed back a page or three until they are largely relocated to the file marked "ho-hum." Occasionally, a story comes along with so many aspects ("sidebars") as to possess what in show business is  called "having legs" -- that is, staying power.  One obvious example is the Charlottesville horror and what it says about the POTUS and the country he supposedly leads.  By now, everyone knows that there is a Grand Canyon of difference between the scripted and off-the-cuff '45. The former presents him as a man possessing a modicum of compassion and a desire to bring a fractured nation together. The latter unshackles him from these chains of sane moderation and permits the "loose cannon" of his soul to escape the censor of his lips.  

One day '45 (unscripted) blames "many sides" for the violence in Charlottesville, absolves himself of any blame by insisting that these sorts of incidents occurred when Barack Obama was POTUS and proclaims that there were "some very fine people" in attendance at the confrontation. Then, less than 48 later (and four days after the actual event) the scripted '45 states "Racism is evil -- and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans . . . . Those who spread violence in the name of bigotry strike at the very core of America."  Then, in another (unscripted) speech in Arizona, he goes back to his initial approach, in which he does not specifically condemn the KKK, neo-Nazis or white supremacists . . . and which draws ecstatic  reviews from the likes of  David Duke and the White Supremacist website The Stormer. 

That the POTUS does not find any moral difference between neo-Nazis, white nationalists, white supremacists and what he has been told to refer to as the "Alt-Left," is both highly disturbing and terribly frightening. That those Jewish people who support him - either as financial backers or actual employees - have remained mostly mum is disgusting.  Just the other day, '45, flanked by, among others, Gary Cohen (Director of the White House Economic Council) and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin came down to the lobby of Trump Tower for what was supposed to be a press event dealing with infrastructure. Instead, the two most visible and highly placed Jewish members of the administration (save Jared and Ivanka, who seem have been on an extended holiday in the "Land Beyond Denial") stood in obvious shock and discomfort as their boss (unscripted) once again proclaimed “There is blame on both sides. I have no doubt about it – and you don’t have any doubt about it either.”

Since that August 15th gobsmacking, much has been made over the fact that 45's Chief Economist Gary Cohen actually gave serious consideration to resigning his post.  To date, he has not.  What the former president of Goldman Sachs did do was  release a critique of the president in an interview with the Financial Times in which he stated “This administration can and must do better in consistently and unequivocally condemning these groups and do everything we can to heal the deep divisions that exist in our communities."  Giving some insight into the storm brewing in his kishkes (Yiddish for "guts") Cohen further stated “I have come under enormous pressure both to resign and to remain in my current position.  As a patriotic American, I am reluctant to leave my post . . . because I feel a duty to fulfill my commitment to work on behalf of the American people. But I also feel compelled to voice my distress over the events of the last two weeks. Citizens standing up for equality and freedom can never be equated with white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the KKK."

Good for Mr. Cohen; his words make sense.  But if he is that disaffected, that disgusted and alienated, why in hell is he still working for a man and an administration which kowtows to racists, white supremacists and people who, given the chance, would gladly consign him, his family and all those he loves to crematoria?  And while we're at it, why are Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, '45's son-in-law Jared Kushner, '45's longtime personal lawyer Michael D. Cohen and billionaire backer Sheldon Adelson (among others) as mute as Marcel Marceau?  Sam Nunberg, a former campaign adviser came to '45's defense, rationalizing that “I have spent thousands of hours with this man. He does not have one anti-Semitic bone in his body.” Nunberg, who himself is Jewish condemned the neo-Nazi protesters as “a bunch of disgusting people. A bunch of people saying anti-Semitic stuff.”  Nonetheless, he had not a single word to say about his former boss's lack of response.

I'm sorry; this just doesn't cut it.  I find it difficult to swallow that a man who quietly accepts the plaudits of anti-Semites and racists isn't in some way either an anti-Semite or racist himself, or at best, an egregiously opportunistic fool.  From a political point of view, '45 - who has been campaigning for reelection since the day he was inaugurated - knows how badly he needs to hold on to his ever-shrinking base.  And, if in order to maintain that base - which includes the likes of David Duke, Richard Spencer, Sheriff Joe and all their jackbooted followers - he must be acquiescent . . .  so be it.

WRONG!  To my mind, it is the sacred obligation of any and every American - whether Jewish or not - who believes in equality and humanity to denounce '45 and those who persist in supporting him.  Obviously this is not the case; there are Jewish people out there who are willing to rationalize his actions and overlook his immoral recrudescence.  As a progressive political blogger who also happens to be a rabbi, I am frequently on the receiving end of nasty comments from readers informing me that they are more than willing to overlook '45's "shortcomings" because " . . . on the one issue that matters - Israel - he is the best thing that's every happened!"  Whenever I receive a comment containing this sentiment, I write back asking the correspondent to provide examples with which to under-gird  their contention; to tell me precisely what he has done for Israel that makes him such a great friend of the Jewish State. Generally, the answer is something like "Well, at least he's not Obama, who made an 'Apology Tour,' bowed down to the King of Saudi Arabia and had his Ambassador to the U.N. vote against Israel every chance she got." I'm sorry, but it's always been my strong belief that a POTUS who is not good for the country cannot be good for Israel.

In just a little over a month, Jewish people the world over will be observing Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, where we confess our sins, beg for forgiveness and search our souls for the moral strength we need in facing a new year.  

Are you listening Messrs Cohen, Mnuchin, Kushner, Adelson, Nunberg et al?

218 days down, 1,239 to go.

Copyright©2017 Kurt F. Stone

The Ever Shrinking Universe of Donald Trump

   A Group of Interacting Galaxies (Taken From the Hubble Telescope)

   A Group of Interacting Galaxies (Taken From the Hubble Telescope)

Quantum cosmologists - folks like Albert Einstein, Carl Sagan, Steven Hawking and Alan Lightman - study and theorize the origins of the universe.  Amazingly, the field is not a new one by any stretch of the imagination; as early as the 5th century B.C.E.,  the philosopher Democritus proposed that all matter was made of tiny and indivisible atoms, which came in various sizes and textures—some hard and some soft, some smooth and some thorny.  To be certain, there are significant disagreements between cosmologists about such things as the age of the universe, precisely when the "Big Bang" (BB) occurred, etc.   But then again, what could you expect when the two words making up the very name of the field (quantum and cosmology) are bipolar opposites? (quantum is the theory of the utterly small, while cosmology is the study of the unimaginably gigantic.)

One thing on which most every cosmologist agrees is the Big Bang theory, which posits that 14 billion years ago the entire observable universe was, in the words of MIT professor Alan Lightman “roughly a million billion billion times smaller than a single atom” and has been expanding ever since, to its current size of something like 100 billion galaxies.  When I first read that statement in Lightman's wonderful 2014 work The Accidental Universe: The World You Thought You KnewI spent the better part of a week pondering the bit about the pre-BB universe being "roughly a million billion billion times smaller than a single atom."  The thing that truly revved my mental engine was contemplating what was outside that universe.  Intellectually, of course, the answer is simply "nothing" . . . for there cannot be anything outside the universe.  But from a "grand-scheme-of-things perspective," the query produces a profound mind cramp.  Nonetheless, I will pretend that I follow what these brilliant ladies and gentlemen are positing, and agree that the universe has been expanding ever since the Big Bang. (Yes, there certainly are female quantum cosmologists; one of the greatest by far is Sandra Faber of the University of California, Santa Cruz,  co-inventor of the "theory of cold dark matter.")

Moving on from the mind-numbing realm of Quantum Cosmology to maddening world of big-time politics, we ask "What's outside a political universe when it starts shrinking?  And here, we are referring specifically to the current POTUS.  For over the past several weeks, his universe has been devolving at an alarming rate.  Consider that during a rather brief span - which for most new presidents would be a "period of good feelings," he has:

  • Sacked his National Security Adviser Michael Flynn after a mere 2 weeks and 2 days on the job;
  • Canned James Comey, Director of the FBI;
  • Shown his Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, the door;
  • Axed his Director of Communications Anthony Scaramucci after a mere 10 days on the job;
  • Fired his Chief of Staff Reince Preibus and Preibus' deputy, Katie Walsh;
  • Disbanded both the American Manufacturing Council and the Strategic and Policy Forum after members began resigning in droves;
  • Saw every member (minus 1) of the Presidential Committee on the Arts and Culture submit their resignations in a stinging rebuke which ended with the words "Supremacy, discrimination, and vitriol are not American values. Your values are not American values. We must be better than this. We are better than this. If this is not clear to you, then we call on you to resign your office, too." (BTW, the committee member who did not sign the letter was the committee chair, First Lady, Melania Trump); 
  • Accepted the resignation (?) of chief political strategist Stephen Bannon, who has already met with Breitbart News' chief financial backer, multi-billionaire Bob Mercer, and is ready to go to war with "globalists," who apparently include '45, his former boss and protégé;
  • Begun to be on the receiving end of some serious rebukes questioning his sanity, stability and moral integrity from leading Republicans including Senators Corker, Flake, Rubio and Hatch as well as a gaggle of former party leaders and professional media conservatives;
  • Been utterly trashed by his Art of the Deal ghost writer Tony Schwartz, who  predicted that '45 is getting ready to "call it quits" - and that the resignation will happen soon; 
  • And lastly (at least for purposes of this essay) has seen charity after charity, and cause after cause, cancel mammoth black-tie galas at Mar-a-Lago, thus putting a significant crimp in his income.

Indeed, things are not going well for the POTUS; his "base" is beginning to thin even while his world is imploding.  His universe is shrinking, leaving him more isolated than ever.  And what's worse, in the days following the neo-Nazi/white supremacist tragedy in Charlottesville, he has shown himself to be a moral albino; a man without a conscience or scintilla of shame.  And owing to his peculiar "mental makeup" (to be both kind and diplomatic) he has  become increasingly untethered.  I for one fear he is fully capable of launching a preemptive strike against North Korea as a means of expanding his deflated universe.

(n.b. The most recent issue of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists unequivocally states that the bellicose rhetoric of both North Korea's Kim and America's '45 has obscured a critical fact: to wit, that North Korea's Hwasong 14 ICBM is not nearly as powerful nor lethal as either side advertises, and as of now, is incapable of reaching the continental USA.  Much of what we are hearing and fearing is political hot air. Unquestionably, the misinformation serves both sides' political needs.)

One small sign of just how far his universe has imploded was Friday's announcement that he and the First Lady will skip this year's Kennedy Center honors "in order to allow the honorees to celebrate without political distraction."  Reading between the lines, what he's really saying is "I don't want to be booed by so many cultural icons on national television; my ego couldn't take it."   '45's decision to stay away from the star-studded gala means it will be just the fourth time in the program’s 40-year history that a president will not be in attendance. In 1994, President Bill Clinton skipped the event while on his way to Budapest for a conference. In 1989, President George Bush was preoccupied with a summit meeting in Malta with Mikhail S. Gorbachev. In 1979, Jimmy Carter did not attend because of the Iran hostage crisis.

In the seven months '45 has been POTUS, the moral authority of both Office of President and the country that the vast majority of the planet looks to for leadership has been both critically damaged and severely diminished.  How long it will take to put the brakes on this precipitous slide is anyone's guess.   Clearly though, there already exists enough evidence to impeach '45 on the grounds of abuse of power, obstruction of justice, and violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution.

There is already enough evidence of mental impairment to invoke the 25th amendment.  Just the other day, Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) did just that; she introduced a resolution asking Vice President Mike Pence and the Cabinet to consider removing President Trump from office under terms of that Amendment. 

Simply stated, the man must be removed from office.

To those who shake their head and say "But if we somehow manage to do the impossible and get him out of our hair, that means Mike Pence will become President," I respond in the words of former Labor Secretary Robert Reich: " . . . a principled right-winger is better for America and the world than an unhinged sociopath."

We conclude with a return to the world of science:

Some quantum cosmologists belong to a school of thought called the "two-headed theory" of the universe. This school sees the Big Bang as sort of a pothole in the long road of time, with the future pointing away from that moment in two opposing directions. In this theory, time moved in a way we would consider backward for billions of years — with the universe contracting all the while — until it shrank to subatomic size. Then the big bang occurred and time began to progress, and the universe expanded, in the way we see now.

So perhaps what we are going through these past 7 months is precisely that - albeit in miniature; a shrinking, chronologically retrogressive period in which our reality becomes too impossible to imagine, let alone wrap our heads around.  But remember, there is that second "head" . . . the Big Bang which causes the universe to progress, to grow, to - in terms of this essay - get us back on the path of political sanity and moral clarity.

It doesn't take an academy of quantum cosmologists or brainy theoretical astrophysicists to accomplish this task.  What it does - and will - take are elected officials with guts and principles and a citizenry that awakens to the realization that one need not be systemically predisposed to speaking out . . . just genetically incapable of remaining silent. 

Donald Trump must go!

211 days down, 1,246 (?) to go.

Copyright©2017 Kurt F. Stone

 

 

 

 

 

This Is Serious . . . Very, Very Serious

                                     Indy and Short Round

                                     Indy and Short Round

Up until late yesterday, I was fully prepared to devote this week's essay to '45, North Korea and the insane rhetorical brinkmanship going back-and-forth between the two nuclear nations.  Of how the POTUS has, whether consciously or not, taken a page from Richard Nixon's "I'm madder and badder than thou" playbook in order to scare the pants off of Kim Jong-un, and how '45's North Korean counterpart has ratcheted up his rhetoric to proclaim that his ICBM is " a gift for the American bastards" even as he promised a missile launch in the direction of Guam. I was looking forward to comparing '45's oratorical flourishes ("fire and fury like the world has never seen," as well as "locked and loaded,") to those of his North Korean counterpart, and quoting Asian sources who are now wondering aloud just who is more dangerous - Donald Trump or Kim Jong-un?  I was even thinking about putting in a word or two about '45's wild and woolly threat to take military action against Venezuela. 

I even had what I thought was a pretty good title containing just a soupçon of satire: This Is Serious . . . Very, Very Serious," which as any Indiana Jones aficionado knows, was said  (in slightly abbreviated form) by cinema's favorite archaeologist/adventurer when he and "Short Round" (a.k.a. "Shorty") were trapped in a death room as long-bladed swords began slowly and ominously descending from the ceiling. This scene and quote was of course in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

And then along came the horrifying events of the past 24 hours in Charlottesville, Virginia, which shoved my original essay into the "maybe next week" column. The one thing I have salvaged from the North Korea/mutually assured insanity/utter chaos at the White House piece is the title, which works just as well . . . if not better.

This Is Serious . . . Very, Very Serious. 

At this juncture, there is little need to go into much detail about the "Unite the Right" atrocity which took place in the town along the Rivanna River; constant cable coverage has pretty much made any such recap unnecessarily redundant.   For certain, this is a story that will continue receiving coverage for many days, if not weeks to come.  And among the media sidebars we should expect will be pieces putting faces on the leaders and major perpetrators, as well as informative (and no doubt chilling) sketches about the roughly one-dozen jack-booted, tiki-torch and Confederate flag-bearing, armed White Power, pro-Nazi, anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic groups that gathered in the shadow of the University of Virginia and Jefferson's Monticello.  Their goal? According to their leaders, to protest the removal of a statue of General Robert E. Lee from a nearby park. Their not so hidden agenda? To come to physical blows with any and all counter-protesters, thus sending a visual message to those who support their twisted, hate/fear-inspired Weltanschauung.  We know what they are and who they hate: Jews, African Americans, the LGBTQ community, Muslims, environmentalists, Democrats . . . indeed, anyone who doesn't look or think like them.  What they fear is that America is no longer "theirs."  In their rheumy eyes, America has been taken over by the dregs of society and must be stopped.  

What took place on the streets of Charlottesville was obviously not spontaneous.  Rather, it was the product of months of not-so-hidden prodding and planning and a couple of generations of growing, twisted psychopathology.  Seeing the torch-bearing hundreds wearing their various uniforms, brandishing guns, rifles and automatic weapons while chanting the old Nazi refrain Blut und Boden ("blood and soil") was - and is - a stark reminder that something serious . . . very, very serious . . . is taking place in the United States.  To wit, a growing and technologically savvy minority of miscreants who want to return to a time when America was controlled by White Men; when Jews, African Americans, women and immigrants knew their place and all heroes looked and sounded like John Wayne.   

Rhetorical responses to the Charlottesville massacre - in which, as of this writing, 3 have died and more than 2 been dozen injured - have ranged from the predictably outraged to the shockingly hateful to the toxically tepid.  A smattering of statements and Tweets:

  • David Duke, former head of the KKK (who attended the "United the Right" rally) called is "a turning point" in the effort to help people like him "fulfill the promises of Donald Trump."
  • Richard Spencer, co-editor of AltRight.com Tweeted "We came in peace. It was the police and antifa(cists) that used force against peaceful, lawful demonstrators. 
  • The POTUS's brief comment to the press was, to say the most, less than room temperature: "We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides, on many sides. What is vital now is a swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives."  Among the questions he ignored at the end of his statement were  "Do you want the support of these white nationalists?" and "Do you think the violence in Charlottesville should be considered terrorism?"

Responses to 45's comments varied greatly:

  • Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT): "We should call evil by its name. My brother didn't give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home."
  • Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO): "Mr. President - we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism."
  • Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL): "Very important for the nation to hear @POTUS describe events in #Charlottesville for what they are, a terror attack by #whitesupremacists."
  • Andrew Aglin, Founder of the Daily Stormer (a neo-Nazi, white supremacist, alt-right website): "['45] refused to even mention anything to do with us. When reporters were screaming at him about White Nationalism he just walked out of the room."
  • Barack Obama quoted Nelson Mandela: " . . . for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite."
  • Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT): "No Mr. President. This is a provocative effort by Neo-Nazis to foment racism and hatred and violence.  Call it out for what it is."
  • Even Anthony Scaramucci '45's former Communications Director (he lasted less than 2 weeks) insisted “I think he needed to be much harsher as it relates to the white supremacists, you have to call that stuff out.”

Hours after these responses to his public comments - both negative and positive, the Tweeter-in-Chief took to the internet and wrote "We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!"

Again, he did not specifically condemn the alt-Right, white supremacist or Neo-Nazi perpetrators. This is serious . . . very, very serious.

If '45 really, truly wants to "condemn all that hate stands for" he could start by immediately - and very publicly - firing:

  • Stephen Bannon, his White House Chief Strategist  and former Executive Chair of the far-right Breitbart News and
  • Sebastian Gorka, his far-right, anti-Semitic Deputy Assistant, who came to his boss's inauguration wearing a badge, tunic, and ring of the Order of Vitéz,  a far-right group listed by the State Department as having been " . . . under the direction of the Nazi Government of Germany' during World War II." (It should also  be noted that Gorka's mother Susan worked closely as a translator with David Irving, the discredited historian described by a judge as a "Holocaust denier … anti-Semitic and racist, and that he associates with right-wing extremists who promote neo-Nazism."

Alas, there is every reason to believe that '45 would gladly fire Bob Mueller and/or A.G. Sessions before he'd ever let go of Bannon and/or Gorka . . . and for the same reason: he doesn't want to do anything that would possibly alienate his beloved "base."  For it's his base - which apparently includes white supremacists, neo-Nazis, racists and anti-Semites - that ultimately gives him the adulation and ego strokes which keeps his emotional/psychic furnace ablaze.  It's this base that that makes him feel real, feel alive . . . feel presidential.

And this is serious . . . very, very serious.

Copyright©2017 Kurt F. Stone

"Give Me Your Fired, Your Boor(s) . . ."

                        Emma Lazarus

                        Emma Lazarus

Just when you thought inane political promises and boorish behavior couldn't do any greater harm to the principles that have long made this country great, along comes a guy like senior presidential adviser Stephen Miller, who makes one realize "You ain't seen nothing yet!" For Stephen Miller, in the words of journalist Walter Einenkel ". . . is a strange man. A strange, racist man. A strange, racist, gives-you-the-heebie-jeebies man."  Well, what can you expect from a guy whose first post-university (Duke) job was press secretary for that paragon of political pestiferousness, former Rep. Michelle Bachmann? MIller's latest foray into alt-right delirium was on full display at a press gathering this past Thursday where he not only endorsed his boss's' Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE) Act, which would cut legal immigration by 50%,  (from one to one-half million per year) but, to add insult to insanity, trashed poet Emma Lazarus's words at the base of the Statue of  Liberty . . . "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free . . ."

When a reporter read Lazarus' words to Miller, he dismissed them, saying, “The poem that you’re referring to was added later. It’s not actually part of the original Statue of Liberty.” (n.b. This is true; Emma Lazarus wrote her poem - "The New Colossus" - as the centerpiece of a campaign to raise funds for Lady Liberty's base.  The base - featuring her poem - was completed in 1903, 16 years after her death. Nonetheless, despite this bit of historic accuracy, Miller - whose ancestors first glimpsed the statue when they entered the U.S. having fled the poverty, terror and anti-Semitism of Russia-Poland, showed a profound lack of compassion and understanding.) It should be noted that Miller has long supported drastic immigration reform, and stridently argued - like his boss - that immigrants come here not speaking English, unwilling to learn it, and with the conscious intent of receiving "freebies" while taking jobs away from "real Americans." 

The endlessly stated notion that non-English speaking immigrants don't want to learn to speak English and come to these shores solely for the purpose of receiving handouts is both a racist stereotype and largely untrue. The reality of the situation has lived in the Stone family home for years and years.  My wife Anna and her parents came to the United States from Argentina not quite 50 years ago. Under the far-right, anti-Semitic Movimiento Nacionalista Tacuara life had become far too dangerous for Jews; they fled Buenos Aires. Arriving in America, Anna and her parents learned English, worked very hard, and became model American citizens. As a result of her early experiences, Anna decided to become a teacher specializing in ESOL - English for Speakers of Other Languages. For many years, she has taught and mentored refugees, asylees and victims of human trafficking at Broward College in Ft. Lauderdale under the auspices of "Project RENEW," which is an acronym for Refugees Entering New Enterprises and Workforce.  It never ceases to amaze me how hungry her students are to learn and become a part of America.  In any given class, Anna will have refugees from a wide range of countries, cultures and educational experiences.  A Spanish-speaking surgeon from Cuba might be sitting next to a Creole-Haitian who does not even know how to spell his name in any language sitting next to an Arabic-speaking Iraqi who never made it beyond the fifth grade.  All are there seeking to learn.  

Most - if not all - of her students work at one, two or even three jobs while attending her classes.  Many have to take two or even three buses to get to class. Many have young to raise and to educate.  Anna knows her students' children and from time time will tutor them in math, history and what used to be known as "civics."  Many of her students would be killed if they returned to their native countries. Over the years, Anna has seen her students struggle, grow and dream American dreams.  Many are now American citizens and able to provide for their families.  They are a far cry from the "takers" and "unwilling learners" that anti-immigration hawks are endlessly talking about.  (By the way, I am delighted to report that on the most recent World Refugee Day, the Broward Area Task Force on Refugees presented Anna with the coveted "Friend  of Refugees" award.  Please don't tell her I did a bit of bragging . . . my wife is terminally humble.)

Getting back to the economic side of the issue, Miller, like his boss - as well as presidential advisers Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway along with a huge slice of Republican America - have long proclaimed (if not believed) that immigration reform should be based solely on economic necessity, not compassion. They endlessly state that only by making deep cuts in the number of people permitted to enter the country each year, can we hope to bring our economy back to "full employment" . . . to "bring jobs back to America."  And yet, when pressed for statistics to back up claims that immigration was costing Americans jobs, Miller cited several studies that have been debated by experts.  Simply stated, the economy does not work that way.  Cutting back on the number of people entering the United States will simply not mean more jobs - and higher paying ones at that - for "real" Americans.

A guest editorial writer in our local Sun Sentinel noted: Economists who study immigration overwhelmingly agree that immigration is an economic boon to our country. Indeed, nearly 1,500 Republican, Democratic and independent economists — including six Nobel laureates — recently released a letter stressing the "near universal agreement" among economists of all stripes on "the broad economic benefit that immigrants to this country bring." To that consensus, [Arkansas Senator] Cotton responds: "Only an intellectual could believe something so stupid."  Now there's one hell of an amazing construction - the part about "Only an intellectual could believe something so stupid."  The man who made this comment - Senator Cotton - is a graduate of both Harvard and Harvard Law!  Last time I checked, most Cantabs ("Harvardians") are pretty damned intellectual.  In any event, immigrants are actually good for the economy . . . and this is a provable historic fact.  Consider that:

  • In the United States, an immigrant or a child of an immigrant founded more than 40 percent of our Fortune 500 companies.

  • One in every 10 Americans who work at a private company in the United States works for an immigrant.

  • Despite accounting for just 14 percent of the population, immigrants make up nearly 30 percent of all new U.S. entrepreneurs, and their businesses employ nearly 6 million workers across the United States.

Immigration also drives innovation.

  • Half of all early-stage research in the United States is done in our universities, and immigrants were behind more than 75 percent of all patents at the top U.S. patent- producing universities several years ago.
  • Immigrants are also more likely to be of working age. Without immigration, the United States faces an aging workforce, with 10,000 baby boomers retiring every day and too few workers entering the job market to replace them.
  • Immigration isn't going to solve the aging crisis, but it certainly will help. Just half of native-born Americans are of prime working age (25 to 64 years old), but more than 72 percent of all immigrants fit into this category. In part because of this, immigrants are also huge net contributors to Social Security and Medicare.

If the RAISE Act had been the law of the land in generations past, few if any of those pushing for its passage would have been permitted into America.  Consider that:

  • Stephen Miller favors immigrants who speak English. But the 1910 census shows his own great-grandmother, Sarah Miller spoke only Yiddish.
  • According to immigration documents, '45's grandfather, Friedrich Trumpf arrived at Castle Gardens in 1883, speaking not a word of English and listed his occupation as "none."
  • Kellyanne Conway’s great-grandfather, Pasquale Lombardo, was from Naples, Italy.  According to the 1910 census, he spoke only Italian.
  • Stephen K. Bannon’s great-great-grandfather, Mattias Herr, was born in Bavaria in 1836 before moving to Maryland. It’s not clear whether he spoke English or knew a skilled trade.

Poet Emma Lazarus was also descended from immigrants: her Sephardi family first came to the colonies in the late 17th century.  She must be spinning in her grave . . .

198 days down; 1,259 to go.

Copyright©2017 Kurt F. Stone

A Gem of a Read

On September 26, 1789, the United States Senate, by acclamation, approved the first five Justices of the Supreme Court.  Nearly 228 years later (on April 7, 2017 to be precise), the Senate, by a party-line vote of 54-45, approved the nation's newest (and 113th) Justice, Neil Gorsuch.  101 years ago, Louis D. Brandeis, known across the nation as "The People's Lawyer," became the Supreme Court's 67th Justice - and more historically, the nation's first Jewish Justice. In the intervening century, the Court has been served by an additional 7 Jewish Justices - Benjamin Cardozo, Felix Frankfurter, Arthur Goldberg, Abe Fortas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Bryer and Elena Kagan - two of whom (Brandeis and Frankfurter) historians generally rank as the 3rd and 4th greatest of all time, and Benjamin Cardozo, as the highest-ranked "near-great." At present, the Supreme Court is home to 3 Jewish and 6 Catholic Justices.  And had the United States Senate not dug in its heels and refuse to take up the appointment of President Obama's 3rd and final nominee - Federal Judge Merritt Garland - the Court may well have had a 4th Jewish Justice.

When Brandeis was first nominated by President Woodrow Wilson, there was a lot of talk - and much of it negative  - that he was a Jew. Massachusetts Senator Henry Cabot Lodge privately complained that "If it were not that Brandeis is a Jew, and a German Jew, he would never have been appointed."  Fast forward 101 years: not only was there nary a word about Merritt Garland's religion to be heard; few people even knew he was Jewish.  How times have changed.

Up until a few months ago, no one had ever written a book about the 8 Jewish Supreme Court Justices.  To be certain, there have been individual biographies, hagiographies and articles about Brandeis, Cardozo, Frankfurter et al - but no single volume devoted exclusively to these remarkable 6 men and 2 women.  That gaping hole has been filled - and brilliantly so - by acclaimed historian David Dalin, who earned both his M.A. and PhD at - ironically - Brandeis University (the only university named after a Supreme Court Justice), as well as a second M.A. and rabbinic ordination at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

Dalin's towering work Jewish Justices of the Supreme Court [Brandeis, 2017], subtitled From Brandeis to Kagan, is meticulously researched, immensely learned, filled to overflowing with great anecdotes and -  best of all - a delightful read.  For a book to be both scholarly enough to satisfy professional academics and entertaining enough to enthrall amateur (from the Latin amator, meaning "lover") history/biography enthusiasts is really quite a difficult feat.  But Dalin, who has also written the definitive biography of perennial presidential candidate  Harold Stassen and The Myth of Hitler's Pope: Pope Pius XII And His Secret War Against Nazi Germany has that rare ability. 

In the current work, Dalin introduces the reader to the eight Jewish Justices not as paragons of perfection, but as real flesh-and-blood people who just happen to be brighter, more accomplished and focused than anyone we've ever known or met.  As far as their "Jewishness," they run the gamut:  from Brandeis " . . . who enjoyed eating ham and whose funeral did not even incorporate the Kaddish . . . " (but who was one of the most celebrated Zionist leaders in history) to Cardozo, a Sephardi who did keep kosher and was a lifelong member of the Orthodox Shearith Israel in New York; to Stephen Breyer, who's long been married to an Anglican Protestant and has a daughter who's an Episcopalian priest; to Elena Kagan, who somehow convinced her rabbi to permit her to become a bat mitzvah at her family's Orthodox shul. (And by the way, it is likely that the Portuguese-descended Benjamin Cardozo - and not Sonia Sotomayor -  should be considered the first Hispanic member of the Supreme Court.)

To my way of thinking, the place where Dalin's work shines brightest is in its handling of such landmark cases as Schenck v. United States,  Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States, Brown v. Board of Education, Miranda v. Arizona and Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission - in all of which the various Jewish Justices played leading roles.

David Dalin's knowledge is encyclopedic; his love of the subject obvious.  As I came ever closer to the end of this truly brief 284-page book, I found myself slowing down . . . not wishing for it to conclude.  I guess that's about the highest compliment one can give any book.  Jewish Justices of the Supreme Court left me with feelings of both awe and undeniable pride.

Do pick up a copy of Jewish Justices of the Supreme Court.  It is a gem of a read.

Copyright©2017 Kurt F. Stone

Who Came First: Jews or anti-Semites?

                         Ha-Emet.net

                         Ha-Emet.net

It is likely that anyone who has ever seriously studied the history of Judaism and the Jewish people has, at one time or another, facetiously wondered aloud "Who came first: Jews or anti-Semites?"  Or, to clothe the query in tacky thread-bare garments: "If God, in co's* (that's my divine pronoun, meaning "his/her") infinite wisdom had  not created the Jewish people so that they could become a "light unto the nations," would the evil impulse have created anti-Semites in order for humanity's worst to have a universal, eternal source of blame and obloquy?"  It's a tough question, for despite the fact that the term Antisemitism is of relatively recent vintage (first coined by a German political agitator named Wilhelm Marr not quite 145 years) the fear, phobia and fable about Jews and Judaism go back to the dawn of time.  And, as long as it has existed, anti-Semitism has consisted of two coterminous ideological strains:

  • That which claims that because they are spawns of Satan, Jews are inherently weak and utterly immoral . . . or
  • Jews are all active participants in an eternal international conspiracy whose end goal is total world domination.

As I write these words I am reminded of the classic Blondie song One Way Or Another, whose lyric begins:

               

                              One way or another I'm gonna find ya/I'm gonna getcha getcha getcha getcha . . .

 

                                                                                           

Historically, Anti-Semitism has, generally speaking, be kind of like the Dow Jones average, where there are times when its strong and roars like a lion and others when its weak and  rather quiescent.  Ever since the end of World War II, Anti-Semitism has, for the most part, been more rhetorical  than real.  With the creation of the Internet, there are today, tons of sites which permit bigoted troglodytes to introduce new generations to conspiracies involving Zionist bankers, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the Federal Reserve and the spread of AIDS - not to mention the "sins" of Israel. To be sure, this does represent an upward spike in Antisemitism. And, since ;45's election and inauguration, anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. (which had surged more than one-third in 2016) jumped more than 86% in the first quarter of 2017. Many in the press point a finger at '45 for making this latest spike possible.  "Not so!" proclaim a significant minority of American Jews and Christian Zionists. They defend the president, pointing to his having a Jewish daughter and Jewish grandchildren, a Jewish Treasury Secretary, a Jewish  Secretary of Veteran's affairs and innumerable Jewish lawyers . . . all of which drives hardcore anti-Semites crazy.  "He's the best friend the Jewish State ever had" others insist, without offering much proof.  "If there is any rise in anti-Semitism, it's got nothing to do with him!" they conclude. 

There are, to put is diplomatically, chilling indicators that '45, his administration and advisers, are inconsistent.  Consider that:

  • The President's senior in-house political strategist, Steve Bannon is, in the words of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect's Executive Director Steven Goldstein " . . . the most dangerous anti-Semitic threat to American Jewry of our time, with only Patrick Buchanan coming close."  In his struggle for supremacy with Jared Kusher, Bannon has repeatedly referred to the president's Jewish son-in-law as a "globalist" . . . a term which has  been used as an anti-Semitic dog whistle and echoes pernicious anti-Jewish conspiracy theories.
  • On International Holocaust Remembrance Day in January, a statement from '45 failed to mention the millions of Jews who were murdered at the hand of the Nazis. Earlier in April, [now former] White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer mistakenly said Nazi leader Adolf Hitler didn't use chemical weapons while referencing chemical weapons attacks by Syria's leader, before apologizing and backtracking.

  • In May, when '45 visited Yad Vashem, Israel's national holocaust memorial, he wrote what the Washington Post termed "a strangely upbeat, self-referential" note all in caps: "IT IS A GREAT HONOR TO BE HERE WITH ALL OF MY FRIENDS — SO AMAZING & WILL NEVER FORGET!”  The same article compared '45's entry with that of his predecessor who, on his first visit in 2008 wrote: “I am grateful to Yad Vashem and all of those responsible for this remarkable institution. At a time of great peril and promise, war and strife, we are blessed to have such a powerful reminder of man's potential for great evil, but also our capacity to rise up from tragedy and remake our world. Let our children come here, and know this history, so that they can add their voices to proclaim 'never again'." And may we remember those who perished, not only as victims, but also as individuals who hoped and loved and dreamed like us, and who have become symbols of the human spirit.”

  • Earlier this month, while visiting Poland on his way to the G-20 summit in Berlin, '45 became the first POTUS in nearly 30 years to go to Warsaw without visiting the Ghetto uprising monument.

  • Perhaps most importantly, just the other day Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ordered the closure of the State Department's Office of Global Criminal Justice, the agency which for more than two decades has monitored and sought to bring to justice war crimes and those participants in crimes against humanity and genocide. According to a State Department press release, the decision is a product of an “employee redesign initiative.” To my way of thinking, this is a gross obfuscation of truth.  

  • At the same time, '45 and Secretary Tillerson have left vacant the post of "Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism," (SEAS) most recently held by Ira Forman, who was my direct superior in the 2012 Obama reelection campaign.  In a Washington Post op-ed piece which Ira published less than two weeks ago, he wrote: When testifying before Congress in June, Tillerson said that, even as he has considered making the appointment, he has been vexed by the concern that anti-Semitism could actually get less attention if the special envoy position continued to function. The secretary stated: “One of the things we are considering — and we understand why (the envoys) were created and the good intentions behind why they were created — but one of the things we want to understand is, by doing that, did we weaken our attention to those issues? Because the expertise in a lot of these areas lies within the bureaus, and now we’ve stripped it out of the bureaus.” Ambassador Forman began the next paragraph by saying that he and his colleagues "couldn't disagree more." 

This last matter is of great importance.  To leave this post vacant - along with thinning out much of our diplomatic corps - is to send a message that Jews and other minorities really do not count; that our current administration is far more concerned with keeping the political support of narrow-minded, conspiracy-loving bigots, than protecting the rights and freedoms of a community which has done so much to make this country great.  

I urge - nay, implore - you to take a minute or two and sign this petition demanding that the White House allocate the resources to reinstate the nation's Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism.  Let your voice be heard!

As the POTUS and his administration continue tooting dog-whistles called variously "America First," "Make America Great Again" and "Globalists versus "Nationalists," our country - our world - is becoming an increasingly dangerous place.  By making this country safe for millionaires and billionaires and shutting ourselves off from the rest of the world - except when it comes to steroidal capitalism - they are creating a new Gilded Age - a time when disparity between haves and have-nots was staggering, rugged individualism trumped community, and conspiracy theories were given free reign. 

184 days down, 1,273 to go.

Copyright©2017 Kurt F. Stone

The Myth of the Liberal Media

700_liberal_media.jpg

At the outset, let's begin by telling a blatant truth: that the myth that American society - its politics, culture and moral values - are being threatened - if not under lethal attack - by the so-called "liberal media" is just that . . . an utter myth.  Media (being the plural of medium) can be defined as the main means of mass communication (broadcasting, publishing and the Internet) regarded collectively.  By definition, it is neither liberal nor conservative; it is just media. However, as most of us know, the term "liberal media" has, over the past decade or so, become a phrase of damnation, an odious anathematization which instantly condemns the bearers of what may well be objective, fact-based truths, to an execrable fate. To blame something on "the liberal media" is, in essence, to declare Beelzebub the editor, and Mephistopheles the publisher. And where or where might the proof reside? In the mere fact that the published piece opposes, disagrees, or even, God forbid - disproves,  what your side knows to be  self-evident truth.

The truth is that contemporary American media itself is neither liberal nor conservative.  Rather, it is what it has long been: corporate.  American history is dotted with the names of corporate media barons: Hearst, Pulitzer, McCormick, Ochs, and Chandler in days of yore, and today, Murdoch, Bloomberg and Smith (the latter being the head of Sinclair Broadcast Group, which controls a hefty slice of America's evening news broadcasts from coast-to-coast.) Generally speaking, corporate America tends to be conservative  . . . unless there are greater profits to be realized in being liberal.  This is not meant to be snide; it is reality.  For that which drives big business is profit, and wherever profits are to be best realized, that is where corporate American will plant its flag.

Case in point: ever since the beginning of '45's administration, MSNBC''s and CNN's ratings have been on the rise.  And although Fox News  is still on top, the two "liberal cable outfits" are getting closer and closer.  As a result, NBC's (which oversees MSNBC) new Chairman Andy Lack started restaffing his lineup with conservatives like Nicole Wallace (a former spokeswoman for President George W. Bush and, later, the 2008 presidential campaign of John McCain and Sarah Palin); conservative activist and radio host Hugh Hewitt, and former Fox News anchor Greta Van Susteran.  (It should be noted that after a couple of months of occupying a late afternoon slot, Van Susteran was fired.)  In other words, NBC wanted to restock their shelves with conservatives.  By any stretch, this is not what a liberal media outlet would do.  What it is, is the activity of a corporate giant seeking to add conservative muscle.

For many, the definition of "liberal media" begins and ends with elitism; they see in the various "liberal" anchors men and women who look down their noses at John and Jane America.  Admittedly, it is true that the evening lineup of MSNBC is top-heavy with Ivy League-educated folks. Consider that:

  • 7:00-8:00 pm: Chris Matthews: B.A. Holy Cross; lecturer, Harvard University
  • 8:00-9:00: Christ Hayes: B.A Brown University
  • 9:00-10:00: Rachel Maddow: B.A. Stanford. Rhodes Scholar, D. Phil, Oxford Univ.
  • 10:00-11:00: Lawrence O'Donnell:  B.A. Harvard Univ. 
  • Legal Affairs: Ari Melber: B.A. Michigan; LLB Cornell Law

One may wish to compare this to the Fox News lineup:7:00-8:00:

  • 7:00-8:00: Martha MacCallum: B.A. St. Lawrence
  • 8:00-9:00: Tucker Carlson: B. Trinity College
  • 10:00-11:00: Sean Hannity: Dropped out of Adelphi Univ.

One can easily see how Fox-fans might connect an Ivy League education with being a liberal elitist. (It should be noted that one of MSNBC's in-house conservatives, the aforementioned Hugh Hewitt, has an A.B. from Harvard and a law degree from Michigan, and NIcolle Wallace earned her B.A. at Berkeley.)  But this is beside the point.  MSNBC, like CNN and Fox News, while definitely being part of the media, are not unbiased news organizations, although one can give points to CNN and especially MSNBC for doing some groundbreaking investigative reporting and having reporters stationed around the world. Having said this, if it's real, basically unbiased news you want, go to such outlets as the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and a handful of regional papers.  Even National Public Radio - despite its reputation for being stridently liberal - is a great source for objective news. This is not to say that these papers and media sources do not have their political bent. They do. However, to the greatest extent imaginable, they keep their opinions to their op-ed pages, while saturating their news pages with wire service and bureau news.  And regardless of what '45 may tweet, neither the Times nor the Post are failing and about to shut their doors. As for NPR (and PBS), which conservatives know for a fact are funded by the federal government (and their favorite Bête noire George Soros), and should go the way of the Dodo bird, their legions of small-contribution listeners and viewers are actually expanding.  

So far, we've only dealt with national media outlets.  Statistics show that a strong majority (57%) get their news and views from cable, local or nightly network news, compared to 38% online (social media, websites/apps), 25% radio and 20% print newspapers.  (Tellingly, many conservatives, libertarians and fans of talk radio would be predisposed to dismiss these statistics because they come from a recent Pew Research Center poll, which Limbaugh, Hannity, Savage et al consider to be latter-day Stalinists.)  As mentioned at the outset, media itself is neither liberal nor conservative; it is corporate.  And if a corporation with significant holdings in radio and television stations determines they can make more money by pushing conservatism and damning the opposition for presenting "fake news," so be it.  Got to keep those dollars rolling in; got to keep the shareholders happier than pigs in slop.  When Fox or OAN report that the POTUS has created a "Presidential Commission on Election Integrity" (PCEI) due to the "fact" that had not more than three million ineligible voters cast ballots last November, he would have easily won the popular vote, that's considered unbiased news (at least by those who tune in to Fox or OAN).  However, when The New York Times, Bloomberg or NPR report the same story - along with an interview or quotes from people who specialize in voter fraud and can prove that no such irregularities occurred - that is "fake news."  (By the way, Kansas Sec. of State Kris Kobach, the man who '45 appointed to head the PCEI earned his B.A. at Harvard, an M.A. and PhD from Brasenose College, Oxford, and his law degree at Yale.)  

Over the last several years, Sinclair Broadcasting Group (which is on the verge of a $3.9 billion merger with Tribune Media), has been supplying local TV news broadcasts with canned, conservative "news" videos which are seamlessly run on dozens upon dozens of stations across the country. Sinclair distributes news scripts to its stations, one of which suggested the FBI’s investigation into President Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn was politically or personally motivated. “Did the FBI have a personal vendetta in pursuing the Russian investigation against President Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn?” Sinclair anchors asked. In a devastating bit of satire, HBO's John Oliver pointed toward segments which prove that Sinclair media tells its stations they “must run,” which include right-wing video op-eds from Sinclair executive Mark Hyman and the station’s chief political analyst, former '45 campaign surrogate Boris Epshteyn.

In a recent email, my old college chum Jon Pearson shared the following thought about the "liberal media."

As Lawrence O'Donnell would say, "Let's give Jon the last word":

 I rarely watch FOX news. Perhaps I should. But every time I turn it on I see some good-looking blonde woman sitting on a couch with two or three men commiserating about how bad the Democrats, Obama, Hillary etc. are. Rarely do they talk about numbers…always values and visions. Twenty-two million Americans may be thrown off health care if the new Republican bill passes. The number is never mentioned on FOX…only the values “freedom of choice” for all Americans…vision…a country where you can choose. (Yeah, and your choices suck if you happen to be old, sick, or poor…How about: we ALL pay something…all of our rates go down…because it is INSURANCE…and any of us (young and healthy included) may get sick or hit by a bus. That principle is never brought up. Stay with a sterling value “Freedom” “Responsibility” (except for your responsibility to others)…”Independence”…etc. Also, if FOX doesn’t have the facts they fill them in. If CNN doesn’t have all the facts they “they can’t be sure.” “We can’t be sure at this point what Trump knew or when.” When not sure FOX simply floats a story they make up. This is neither “liberal” nor truly “conservative” it is BS.

179 days down, 1,278 to go.

Copyright©2017 Kurt F. Stone

 

An Essay Composed (Mostly) For Those Who Will Never Read It

Nowadays, it goes without saying that from the point of view of politics, culture and worldview, we are an incredibly divided nation. Oh so many are scared, angry, depressed and more than willing to believe the absolute worst about those who don't - or won't - walk in their shoes. Others look down their noses at those they consider to be bumpkins without brains. As a result, few can begin to comprehend how anyone in the "other camp" can believe or support "that which" or "those whom" they believe or support.  Certainly, this is not the first time in American history we've reached such a bifurcated impasse. Hell's bells; way back at the turn of the (18th) century, supporters of Jefferson and Adams were as estranged and resentful of one another as the Blues and Greens of the early Byzantine Empire. 

Undoubtedly, the most glaring difference between supporters of Jefferson and Adams - as opposed to modern-day progressives vs. Trumpeters - is in the quality of their verbal assaults: While Jefferson's camp accused President Adams of having a "hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman,"  Adams' men called Vice President Jefferson "a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father."  As the presidential campaign of 1800 progressed, Adams was labeled a fool, a hypocrite, a criminal, and a tyrant, while Jefferson was branded a weakling, an atheist, a libertine, and a coward.

Ah, those were the days of imaginative, articulate lies and utter nonsense!

Of a certainty, there were - and are -  some fascinating similarities in the political feuds of the late 18th-early 19th century and those of the late 20th-early 21st century:

  • Back then, as today, there was a division between those who placed trust in the federal government and those who firmly believed that "that government which governs least governs best." (In today's parlance its the difference between "Government does have a role to play in our lives" versus "Government is the problem.")
  • Back then, as today, one line of thought strongly held that neither society nor government should put stumbling blocks in the way of stalwart individualism, while the other proclaimed the communitarian principle that "we are our brother's keeper."
  • Back then, as today, there was a plethora of professional, non-partisan and deeply partisan media. The major difference, of course, is that back then, it consisted of innumerable morning, afternoon and evening  newspapers and periodicals, while today, it consists of everything from TV and radio to cable, blogs and Tweets.
  • Back then, as today, political partisanship could be brutal.  But unlike in days of yore, contemporary political partisanship is lacking in civility, tact and even wit.

As a political writer, I spend a lot of time reading and listening to the "other side."  It is important, nay crucial . . . and not only because I'm committed to composing and posting a minimum of one political essay a week. It is important because I really, truly want to know what those who disagree with my point of view think; I want to know what they think, what they believe, and from where they get their information.  Often I find myself wondering how many fans of  National Public Radio, MSNBC or the Daily Kos,  tune in to Fox, or One America News,  listen to Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage or Joe Pags, or read the National Review On Line, Newsmax or The Blaze.

It is at this point, that  we will begin addressing ourselves to the latter - to the dyed-in-the-wool Trumpeters; the angrier-than-thou mad conservatives and conspiratorialists . . . despite the fact it is highly unlikely they will ever read this essay. 

In reading a ton of online comments you make on various websites, I notice that a vast majority use the same derogatory terminology against those who disagree ('snowflakes,' 'libtards,' and 'elitists,'), repeatedly tell those who point out the exaggerations, mistruths, outright lies and gross inconsistencies of '45 that the source of their anger is that we lost the election . . . "get over it." A high percentage continue believing that Barack Obama was born in Kenya and sent to Hawaii as an infant in order to become an Islamic "Manchurian Candidate"; that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by liberals; that illegal immigrants are the cause of most of our problems (both economic and social); that given the chance, Democrats will take away guns from red-blooded Americans; that the first thing Barack Obama did as president was make an "apology tour" in which he bowed down to the King of Saudi Arabia.  (By the way, there are a couple thousand photos of our current president doing precisely the same thing just a couple of weeks ago . . . with nary a peep from you or your sources of information.)

And the glory of it all is that whomsoever challenges, brings forth facts, statistics or real-world proof that much of what the alt-right Trumpeters profess is simply not true . . . those folks (myself included) will be attacked, negated and thrown by the wayside because their (our) facts, statistics and real-world proofs are the product of "fake news."  We are accused of being snotty, snobbish elitists and globalists who care not a whit about morality and good old American values.

Let me ask all those who, after nearly a half year, still believe that '45 is the greatest POTUS in American history and that Barack Obama was the worst, most corrupt and traitorous president of all time . . . let me ask you a handful of questions:

  1. Being absolutely truthful, are you more a) pro-Trump and all he proclaims to stand for or b) anti anything dealing with Obama, Clinton and all they seem to have accomplished?
  2. Are you really, truly proud to have Donald Trump representing America on the world stage?
  3. Do you really, truly believe that a billionaire businessman understands the plight of a struggling, largely forgotten middle-class better than anyone else?
  4. Do you really, truly believe that making sure the wealthiest 1% acquire even more wealth through enormous tax cuts is going to net you, your family and neighbor jobs that will permit you to own your own home, send your children to college and put away enough for retirement?
  5. Do you really, truly believe that those who cannot afford health insurance should be on their own? 
  6. Do you really, truly believe that all the millions of jobs we've lost to China, Pakistan, the Philippines and other countries are going to be coming back to America?  And if they don't, are you satisfied that spending federal dollars on retraining workers for new jobs is wrong?
  7. Do you really, truly think there's a serious problem with voter fraud in the country despite the fact that every reliable study shows that it's rarer than winning a super ball lottery?
  8. Do you really, truly believe that this country is under attack close to be taken over by the forces of terror and evil?

I understand your anger and fear.  You are angry because America and the world of the past few decades is not at all the same as America and the world you used to know.  "There's a world of difference between "My Three Sons" and "Transparent." There are far too many "foreigners," and far too few patriots; one whole hell of a lot of men publicly proclaiming their love for men and far too many females announcing they are really males . . . and on and on.  Yes, I certainly do understand your anger and fear; today is not at all like yesterday.  But America has long been a country which accepts challenges presented by the new and the changing, and arms itself with energy and optimism. We have two choices: to arm ourselves in order to conquer the future, or to spend our days figuring out whose to "blame."  Historically our presidents have, more often than not, spurred us on to the light of a new day, not condemned us to fear new-fangled corners of darkness.

I'm sorry that the vast, overwhelming majority of people who live with anger and fear will never read this essay  . . or indeed, ever pay attention to those who look at the world through different eyes.  They have been schooled to believe that we are evil, immoral and anti-American. We are not - or at least should not be - enemies of one another, because when all is said and done, we are all members of a country with a glorious (though complex) past who seek to conquer the future for the good of the nation, and ideally, for the good of the entire world.  

170 days down, 1,287 to go.

Copyright©2017 Kurt F. Stone

 

The Pianists: A Parable

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Over the past 12 1/2 years, the one weekly piece I've gotten the greatest number of positive comments about had nothing to do with politics.  Rather, it was a parable I originally made up off the top of my head and eventually - after many "tellings" -  committed to writing.  And so, after many years, "The Pianists: A Parable" makes a return engagement.  Its underlying "message" or "lesson" will likely be different for different people; that's just in the nature of parables.  And so, without further ado, let's venture off into parable land . . .

   (Note: The following was discovered on a papyrus scroll in a cave. Due to its extreme age, estimated at not less than 3,800 years, there were many gaps (or lacunae) which made the text difficult to render . . . )

Once upon a time long ago, a group of weary wanderers received a Divine Commandment from on high. It forever changed their lives. The resonating basso voice of the Nameless Muse said: “Thou has been chosen for greatness. Hear now this commandment which I command thee this day: Thou shalt become Piano Players and lovers of music. Throughout all thy generations, thou shalt diligently teach thy children to study and to practice, to play and to love, the music of the Piano. For Piano is thy life and the length of thy days. It shall add glory, meaning and contentment to thy lives. Piano shall fulfill thy souls. I am thy Muse.”

To facilitate their lives, Co* [This pronoun means "he/she"] gave them a manuscript with explicit step-by-step instructions on how to build a proper piano. To further guide them along their path, the Muse also provided the Piano Players (or “Pianists”) with The Holy Score, which contained Sonatas, Fantasies, and Concertos, Partitas, Trios and Quartets. Needless to say, those hearing the Muse’s Divine Directive were moved beyond compare; slowly they began seeking the means by which to fulfill Co’s awesome decree. This they did throughout their generations, as they continued wandering the wilderness, ever searching for their place in the sun.

 After many years of meandering, the nascent Pianists did find a permanent home in a land they called “Pastoral.” Once settled, they began devoting their lives to Piano and its attendant joys. Over many generations, they became renowned for the skill and artistry, the dedication and single-mindedness with which they fulfilled their Prime Command. They endlessly studied the Holy Score, adding variations and brilliantly original compositions of their own. They were a happy people living happy, creative lives. But there were dark clouds on the horizon. . .

Other peoples and cultures (whom they simply referred to as “Outsiders”) mocked them and scorned them. To the Outsiders, they seemed so different. And in a very real sense, they were. For owing to the extreme discipline required in order to become players of Piano and lovers of music, the Pianists generally lived apart from all others. They even developed their own language with which to speak amongst themselves; they called it “P’santayr.” Not having been witness to the original Command on High, the Outsiders could not understand the commitment and devotion with which the Pianists lived their lives. They kept strange hours and seemed to do nothing but practice, practice, practice. They played pieces from the Holy Score religiously three times each day. And one day in seven they rested, doing nothing but attending the Odeon – their place of musical devotion. They dressed alike and all ate high protein diets. They rarely participated in activities that the Outsiders considered "normal," "necessary" or “important.” How, the Outsider’s wondered, could any people devote so much of their lives to something so frivolous and nonproductive as Piano playing and music?

Because of their uniqueness, they were often persecuted. In fact, many Outsider cultures tried to eliminate them. Many believed that the Piano Players were a powerful, monolithic people bent upon taking over the entire world and forcing all others to be like them. Strangely though,  many others found in the Piano Players an inherent weakness; one which made them easily susceptible to the will of the devil. Against all reason, the Outsiders became convinced that the Piano Players believed themselves to be better than everyone else, although this certainly was not the case. True, the Muse had long ago informed the Pianists that they were Co’s “Chosen People.” But that did not make them better – only chosen. But Chosen for what? Why, to be Players of Piano and devotees of music – not an easy task when you think about it. No, they were not better, but they were different and unique. Unfortunately, many people could not (and still cannot) understand that people who are “different” or “unique” need not be feared.

After generations of living extraordinary lives in Pastorale, the Pianists were conquered by Outsiders and forced to leave their homeland. Before long, they were dispersed to the four corners of the earth. As the generations came and went, the Piano Players contributed greatly to the countries and cultures in which they found themselves living. Nonetheless, they continued to be persecuted and scorned for their uniqueness. To the Outsider way of thinking, they just didn’t fit in. Nonetheless, they did continue to provide both themselves and the entire world with sonatas, concertos and symphonies of dazzling brilliance and profundity. They created a body of musical literature that covered virtually every emotional aspect of life. No matter where they found themselves in the wide, wide world, they continued to study, to play, and to luxuriate in the heavenly music they had been commanded to create. It gave their lives meaning and purpose, just as the Muse had predicted. And, despite the fact that they were grossly misunderstood and even harmed, music continued to be the central focus of their lives – the driving force that kept them together as a people.

After 2,000 or more years, the Pianists lived in almost every country in the world. Never vast in number, they were nonetheless believed by the Outsiders to be an enormous monolithic congregation. In a sense, one can readily understand how the Outsiders might reach this unwarranted conclusion. Because of their unique culture and common purpose, the Pianists felt themselves to be a single family. Theirs was a singular global connection. Since all Piano Players adhered to roughly the same daily ritual of practice and study, they understood each other’s lifestyles, needs and expectations. And since they all spoke “P’santayr,” they could communicate with one another whenever the need arose.

For countless generations, Pianists would only marry amongst themselves. This they felt to be their sacred obligation. Whenever or wherever a community of Pianists might suffer, their fellows could always be counted on to come to their aid. Additionally, when finally permitted to enter mainstream professions – law, medicine, banking and academics – the Pianists tended to become rather successful. This was due in great part to the tremendous discipline and love of learning that had been instilled in them throughout all their generations. Simply stated, they approached each and every challenge as if it were part of the Holy Score. The Outsiders – perhaps through jealousy, envy, or sheer ignorance – had a tendency to look upon their success as positive proof that the Pianists were international conspirators – evil people bent upon taking over the entire world. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

With the arrival of modern times, many strange things began to occur among the Piano Players. They found the pull of Outsider society to be increasingly strong and alluring. The time they devoted to playing Piano and studying music became less and less. While most considered themselves devoted Pianists in the cultural sense, many turned away from age-old forms of study and practice. They no longer trained their children for a lifetime of practice,  playing and love of music. Why? Many said that they were deeply concerned lest their children feel “odd” or “strange” around their Outsider neighbors. No longer did they play Piano three times a day, as had their ancestors. Rarely did they attend the Odeon on the Seventh Day. No longer did they steep their children in the musical culture of their grandfathers and grandmothers.

Rather, now they began sending them to twice-weekly lessons for three or four years in order to learn to play but a single piece of Piano music – and largely by rote at that. The parents rarely, if ever, took their children to the Odeon on the Seventh Day. In far too many homes, the children were unable to practice, for the parents did not even have a Piano.  Far too frequently, the message these Pianist children received was: “Piano must be important to you for the next several years.”

“Why?” their children would ask.

“Because we say so,” the parents would answer.

Often they would add: “However, if after you have completed your lessons, you do not wish to continue, that will be your decision.” The children questioned why something that should be important to them was rarely seen or heard within their own homes. It was a very good question, a very good question indeed.

It eventually became the custom that at the age of thirteen, each child would play his or her single piece of music at a glorious recital that would be attended by family and friends. Plans for the recital (and the banquet which would invariably follow) began years before the child knew how to locate Middle C, or had ever heard of Bach, Beethoven or Brahms. The day of the recital was filled with tension and anxiety, lest the child not “perform” up to capacity. It became increasingly obvious that many of those who attended these recitals did not have the slightest idea of how to act or what to expect. They had become, in short, a musically illiterate folk.

Many of those in attendance would recalled their own recitals, and realized that it was really the last time they had ever played Piano, attended the Odeon, or devoted themselves to music. Some would remember their parents and grandparents, and how they devoted their lives to the pursuit of Piano and music. But these children – the ones who played the single recital piece – were different. Despite the fact that they might play their single piece with ability and skill, they were, for the most part, incapable of reading the musical score or recognizing its emotive worth. Moreover, few, if any, had the true love of music, which the Muse had long ago commanded. True to form, few would ever play Piano after their recital. This new generation merely went through the motions without much feeling or understanding. What they did understand, was that after the recital, they would receive gifts of money. After the performance, the family would throw a magnificent banquet that would last until all hours of the night. Quite often these festivities cost far more than the family could truly afford.

The elders grew fearful. “How silly it is to spent all that time and money just to teach our children a single piece of music,” they said. “And for what? For the sake of a single recital and a great feast? It is a tragedy. Our children no long truly know how to play Piano, speak ‘P’santayr,” or have that great love and devotion to music which has always been our heritage. Where will it all end?”

 But the elders came to realize that they were, at least in part, to blame. They were the ones who took to speaking “P’santayr” only when they did not wish their children to understand. Then too, they were the ones who let the very culture of Piano slowly slip through their fingers, preferring instead the ways of their non-Pianist neighbors.

Fortunately, the elders, working in consonance with their children and grandchildren, came up with a solution that not only solved their growing problem, but actually caused a musical renaissance among the Pianists. In short, they . . .

(At this point, the manuscript suddenly ended, leaving posterity to ponder just what the solution was . . .)

©2009, 2017 Kurt F. Stone

 

Ironic? Definitely. Irenic? One Can Always Pray.

                               Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA)

                               Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA)

Like millions of Americans, I am praying for the recovery of Louisiana Representative Steve Scalise, the House Majority Whip who was critically wounded by a deranged gunman during an early-morning baseball practice nearly two weeks ago.   In the shooting, in which four others were injured, Scalise was only struck once, far from his most vital organs. However, the bullet traversed his hip, shattering bones and unleashing concussive forces that caused severe internal bleeding and organ damage. When he was medevaced off the field, he was reportedly conscious and in good spirits. By the time he arrived at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, in the District of Columbia, he was in critical condition: unconscious, and on the brink of death.  One hopes that the relative dearth of daily news about the congressman's progress is a good sign . . . the "No News Is Good News" syndrome. Indeed, as of the middle of last week, after three surgeries (with the prospect of several more to come), his condition had been upgraded to "fair."

Through no fault of his own, Rep. Scalise has now incurred hundreds of thousands - if not millions - of dollars of future medical expenses.  Fortunately, he is covered by some pretty good health insurance and thus will likely wind up being responsible for only a tiny fraction of these costs.  Now, contrary to the widespread urban legend that members of Congress receive free health insurance for life, Scalise and his colleagues are, ironically, covered under Obamacare.  They sign up through the District of Columbia exchange; the Federal Government pays about 70% of their monthly premium.  It's a good deal; especially for a member like Steve Scalise.  For contrary to the notion that all members of Congress are multimillionaires, Rep. Scalise is, according to the most recent figures (2015), the 19th poorest member of the legislative branch, with a net worth of at least minus $20,999.00  (Actually, this is a vast improvement; in 2007, the year he was first elected, Rep. Scalise reported a net worth of minus $421,438.00.)  

And here's where irony comes in:  Like virtually all of his Republican colleagues in the House, Rep. Steve Scalise voted to (mostly) repeal and (just about totally) replace the very system of healthcare which will save him from even greater and graver financial disaster. For without many of the Affordable Healthcare Act's (Obamacare) best-wrought clauses, Rep. Scalise - like somewhere around 20-24 million other Americans would - were he not a member of Congress - be in dire shape.  The "American Health Care Act" (ACHA) passed by the House back on May 4th,  includes an amendment that would allow states to obtain waivers from certain insurance requirements mandated by the Affordable Care Act. States could get waivers to: increase how much insurers can charge based on age, establish their own requirements for essential health benefits that plans must include, and allow insurers to price policies based on health status in some cases. That last waiver could lead to higher premiums for those with preexisting conditions who don’t maintain continuous coverage.  An amendment — penned by New Jersey Rep. Tom MacArthur — specifically exempts Congress and its staff from the effects of such state waivers.  It must be admitted that this was done for procedural, not political reasons a bit too arcane to be gone into in this piece. A second, stand-alone bill proposed by  Representative Martha McSally (R-AZ) would strike the exemption of Congress from state waiver provisions should the AHCA be enacted into law.   Crazy, no?  But in any event, Representative Scalise - like so many of his fellow Americans - is going to be way behind the financial eight-ball should this hastily-drawn, monstrously conceived legislation get to the president's desk for final approval.

A reasonable political observer might expect the case of Rep. Scalise to be brought up again and again in the AHCA debate.  After all, it is an enormous elephant in the legislative room.  But as reasonable as this might seem, it is not likely going to happen; neither Republicans nor Democrats are going to be mentioning the name "Steve Scalise" - unless attached to the words "Our thoughts and prayers . . ."  Why is this?  Well, as The New Republic's Brian Beutler succinctly put it in a recent article, "Republicans are the governing majority, they have no interest in letting Scalise’s ordeal become a symbol of anything related to health policy . . . . Democrats have been reluctant to politicize the shooting for different reasons: Scalise is a colleague, the dead shooter was a former volunteer for Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign, and the media surely would have punished anyone who interrupted the Kumbaya moment on Capitol Hill. Fascinatingly, since the ball-field shooting, none of the normal post-slaughter debate over "More guns vs. Better gun control" has been heard; and I mean nary a peep.  Perhaps this Kumbaya moment  in the case of guns will extend to the current healthcare debate.  Then again, perhaps that's a bit overly Pollyanna.  At least while we are praying for Rep. Scalise's recovery, we can pray for a bit more sanity.

The recently released Senate version of the ACHA (now called The Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017) is - if possible - even worse than that which passed the House last month.  Like the House version, it is ruthless, soulless and vicious; it ensures that healthcare premiums are going to become out of reach for older, less healthy Americans as more and more younger and healthier Americans decide they simply don't need coverage.  It will gut Medicaid, which is a lifeline for a tremendous number of Americans.  Consider that

  • 20 percent of Americans are enrolled in Medicaid;
  • 39 percent of children in the US are enrolled in Medicaid;
  • 49 percent of births are covered by Medicaid; and
  • a full 64 percent, or nearly two-thirds of nursing home patients, are covered by Medicaid. 

In a world ruled by sanity, insurance costs and healthcare deductibles are kept in check by having the maximum number of people - people of all ages and stages of well-being - sharing costs.  Republicans of all stripes - and some Democrats - have long argued that requiring people to purchase coverage is wrong, unconstitutional and even Socialistic.  Make no mistake about it: even greater than their hatred of "individual mandates" and "shared responsibility" is their love of extraordinarily generous tax cuts for their already hyper-wealthy backers and benefactors.

And yet, beyond the irony of Rep. Scalise's perilous condition during the very time healthcare is a central focus, is the possibility of the irenic moment this irony could provide.  For those who do not do crossword puzzles, the word irenic may be unknown.  It comes from the Greek word ειρήνη (eirēnē), meaning "peace."  In theology, it specifically  connotes the process of reconciliation between different denominations or sects of a religion.  And that is what this ironic moment could be providing: ειρήνη - a coming together, a reconciliation between those who believe healthcare for all is a right, and those who hold that tax-cuts for the few is a given.  As The New Republic's Beutler wisely notes, "The best thing that could possibly come of Scalise’s shooting wouldn’t be some fleeting moment of political unity. It would be pulling Republicans back from the brink of trading American lives for tax cuts."

How ironic.

156 days gone, 1,301 to go.

Copyright©2017 Kurt F. Stone

 

Of Witch Hunts and Whiners

  Norman, Norma  & Cousin Mitzi  (c.2008)

  Norman, Norma  & Cousin Mitzi  (c.2008)

About a month ago, '45 began characterizing his many woes as "The single greatest witch hunt of a politician in history"  To say this whine is childish and betrays an appalling ignorance of American history is putting it mildly. Perhaps even worse, it both demeans and utterly trivializes the debasing, life-shortening horrors of the real victims of American witch hunts - from Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne and Tituba (the first of the so-called "Salem Witches"); to Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman, Eugene Debs and U.S. Rep. Victor Berger (victims of the post-WWI "Red Scare"  overseen by then-U.S. Attorney General A. MItchell Palmer); to John Garfield, Zero Mostel, Norman Corwin, Norma Barzman, Marsha Hunt and literally hundreds of members of the so-called "Hollywood Blacklist"; to the literally thousands of gay and lesbian government employees whose lives and careers were upended due to Senator Joseph McCarthy's so-called "Lavender Scare." (Eerily, one of the people most responsible for this "scare" was Senator McCarthy's chief counsel, the young Roy Cohn who, it turned out, was himself a closeted gay man and would, many years later, become '45's personal attorney.)

The history, reality and psychological underpinnings of conspiracy theories, witch hunts and blacklists have long been a personal political and academic passion.  Indeed, my senior thesis at University, written more than 45 years ago, researched the impact that McCarthyism had on the 1952 presidential election between Illinois Governor Adlai E. Stevenson and General Dwight David Eisenhower.  Talk about a real drubbing: Republican Eisenhower beat Democrat Stevenson by 6.7 million votes and demolished him in the Electoral College by a margin of 442-89. That year also saw the G.O.P.  recapture both the House and Senate. One big reason for this Republican sweep could be laid at the feet of McCarthy and his "reds under the bed" conspiracy, which Governor Stevenson refused to endorse.  His so-called "effete, Ivy League, blue blood" background (he was a Princeton grad, his paternal grandfather was Vice President of the United States and his maternal great-grandfather had been Abraham Lincoln's campaign manager) did not sit well the majority of American voters. They were in the mood for a witch hunt against anyone who had ever belonged to, supported, or made a donation to a group like "Committee For the First Amendment," "The American Civil Liberties Union," or the "Hollywood Independent Citizens Committee of the Arts, Sciences and Professions." (HICCASP)

The latter two groups - made up mostly of Hollywood progressives - were the special targets of Senator Joseph McCarthy, California state Senator Jack B. Tenney (who chaired a California version of HUAC and Hollywood film censor extraordinaire. Joseph Breen.  Together, they carried out out one of the nastiest witch hunts in all American history; by comparison, the current '45 imbroglio has as much to do with a real witch hunt as a jug of $10.00 moonshine has to a bottle of Armand de Brignac Brut Rose.  As a Hollywood Brat, I have gotten to know, interview - even befriend - a number of those who were blacklisted and exiled from what was once called "The Land of Mink-Lined Swimming Pools and Plastic Palm Trees."  

For several years, my late cousin Mitzi would invite a group of blacklistees to her house on Maple Drive in Beverly Hills to eat and share memories of times past.  (That's Mitzi in the photograph alongside the legendary Norman Corwin (1910-2011) and screenwriter Norma Barzman, the exiled wife of screenwriter Ben Barzman - best known for the 1948 classic "The Boy With Green Hair."  Now nearly 97, Norma is one of few surviving members of the Hollywood Blacklist. Their senior surviving member, my friend Marsha Hunt, will become, god willing, 100 this coming October 17.  The longtime honorary Mayor of Sherman Oaks, Ms. Hunt still lives in the same house (on the corner of Fulton and Magnolia), just around the corner from ours that she occupied when I was a kid delivering her papers for the now defunct Valley Times.

These artistic souls, along with hundreds and hundreds of their colleagues now deceased - understood the meaning "witch hunt" in a way that our current POTUS could never possibly fathom.  They all woke up one day to find that they were being reviled, hunted down and eventually stripped of every ounce of their creative worth just because certain people claimed they were traitors . . . or sexual deviants.  Most lost their jobs and livelihoods, some actually committed suicide and, if they chose to keep working as actors, directors, cinematographers, choreographers or set designers, had to either leave the country or - if they were screenwriters - to employ a "front" - a person who would put their name on a screenplay for which they had never so much as typed a single letter.  

This, my dear '45, is what a witch hunt is truly like.  These people did not suffer from persecution complexes; nor did they believe that the entire world revolved around them.  They - like the witches of Salem, the Native Americans of America's great heartland or turn-of-the-century Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe - were subjected to their contemporaneous witch hunts because they were "different," "foreign,"  or had beliefs and ideas that were out of the mainstream.  Then too, they frequently served as convenient scapegoats for ignorant, bigoted, amoral politicians seeking to better their lot in life.  The bulls-eyes were placed on their backs without their knowledge, without their consent, and generally speaking, without due cause.

On the other hand, it is you, Mr. '45, who have put the bulls-eye on your own back - by showing total contempt and disregard for the high office to which you were elected; by being both an enemy of - and stranger to - the truth; by offending far too many decent people and showing far too little concern for anyone or anything which cannot benefit you on a personal level. Yes, you still do have a cadre of  diehard, zealous supporters out there; men, women and children who still believe that everything you say is the god's honest truth and that anyone who disagrees is part of an evil conspiracy meant to bring you down. But please do remember something history teaches: that conspiracies are, far more often than not, built on foundations made of sand . . . and that demagogues are self-deluding builders of sand castles.  Quit whining about witch hunts; you haven't the slightest idea what you're talking about. To paraphrase the late Senator Lloyd Bentsen, "I've known victims of witch hunts; some of them are - or were - friends of mine.  Believe me Mr. T.,  you are no victim of a witch hunt."

Mr. President: might I strongly urge that in place of whining, it might benefit you both personally and politically to engage in the study of history.  It has a lot of revealing things to teach . . . even to someone who thinks he's the smartest kid in the class.

148 days down, 1,309 to go.

Copyright©2017 Kurt F. Stone

 

 

"Shouting 'Theatre' in a Crowded Fire"

                Abbie Hoffman (1936-1989)

                Abbie Hoffman (1936-1989)

Back in the 1960's and early 70's, Abbie Hoffman was a well-known political activist of the then-vibrant counter-cultural left.  Hoffman (1936-1989) was a puckish provocateur with a penchant for injecting madcap theater into the most serious political issues of the day. Founder of the Youth International Party - whose members were known as Yippies - Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, his "partner in crime" - loved nothing better than deflating the high and mighty through the staging of screwball publicity stunts.  In August 1967, Hoffman and his Yippies threw fistfuls of real and fake dollars from the balcony of the New York Stock Exchange onto the traders on the floor below. In 1968, his political party ran a swine they named "Pigasus the Immortal" for POTUS as a way to mock the sociopolitical status quo. Despite the hilarity of his stunts, Hoffman was deadly serious about the causes that motivated him: Vietnam, the draft, racism, bigotry and above all, inequality.

Hoffman was also a bestselling author whose   book titles were as provocative as his political stunt: Revolution For the Hell of It (1968), Steal This Book (1971), Soon to Be a Major Motion Picture (1980) and Steal This Urine Test: Fighting Drug Hysteria in America (1987). Abbie was also eminently quotable:

  • "The first duty of a revolutionary is to get away with it."
  •  "Sacred cows make the tastiest hamburgers."
  • "A modern revolutionary group heads for the television station."
  • Free speech means the right to shout 'theatre' in a crowded fire."

One wonders how Abbie Hoffman would respond - and what he would be doing - to the world of '45, Islamophobia, the alt-right, "alternate facts" and the politics of fear.  Would he find anything funny to do or say, or would he retreat into the silence of self-medication? (Sadly, the bi-polar Hoffman did just that in 1989, when he overdosed on Phenobarbital and liquor at the age of 53) Or would he somehow find a way to "shout theatre at a crowded fire?" Would he somehow find a supply of pins - not to mention a following - with which to prick and deflate the balloons of narcissism, political cowardice and puerile myopia?  What kind of stunts would he pull at pro-'45 rallies, or gatherings of the gullible who believe that the only way to save America from our enemies is to close our doors, padlock our bathrooms and legislate solutions to problems we truly do not have?

This last case deals with the smallish 'Anti-Sharia' marches held earlier today in a couple of dozen cities and at least 20 states. Organizers called the "March Against Sharia" rallies to protest what they say is the threat to U.S. society posed by the set of traditional Muslim practices, which they say includes oppression of women, honor killings, homophobic violence, female genital mutilation and other abuses.  And while it is true that some if not all of these abuses exist among a  tiny, extraordinarily fundamentalist faction within both Sunni and Shiite Islam, they present no threat whatsoever to America.  Ironically, many of those who came out to protest the oppressive way these Islamic fundamentalists treat women, gays and other minorities, think nothing about overturning Roe v. Wade; find no incongruity in being dead set against a woman's legal right to "equal pay for equal work"; or denying legal protections to LGBTQ Americans.  I can imagine Abbie (who were he alive today would be 81) leading a counter-parade with bearded men attired in bikinis or elderly women in football uniforms.  Got to get out those pins.  Got to deflate those balloons.

In  a gathering in Harrisburg, Penn., about 60 "anti-sharia" protesters were separated from the same number of counter-protesters. "This is a march against sharia, not Muslims," Steven R. Moore, of Washington County, Pa., told The Washington Post. "We are not affiliated with any extremist groups. ... Sharia is a barbaric system that the Islamic State is trying to impose in our country."  I can see Abbie carrying a poster emblazoned with a photo of "Pigasus" above a caption reading "I wish everyone kept kosher or hallal."  The very idea that Islamic law is making great inroads in America beggars the imagination.  And yet, nearly a dozen-and-a-half state legislatures have already passed laws banning or restricting sharia.  In most cases, legislators pushing this sort of legislation use the same "urban legend" examples for why such legislation is essential.  Most site the Muslim cabdriver in Minneapolis who refused to permit a blind fare's seeing-eye dog into his vehicle because "according to sharia, dogs are unclean." Then too, there's the case of another cabdriver who supposedly refused to permit a female member of the American military into his vehicle because according to sharia, it is a sin for a female to be attired in the garments of a male. (This too is an urban legend). In other words, the anti-sharia gang argue, it is illegal for one religion to impose its religious laws or values on anyone else.

So why do many of these same people argue that if an employer is against abortion because he or she is an observant Christian they cannot by law be forced to provide insurance coverage for such a procedure?  By the same token, what's to say that an Orthodox Jewish employer cannot forbid a worker from bringing a BLT for their lunch? At one point during the 2016 Republican primary, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, in attempting to outflank the Manchild from Manhattan, said that if he became POTUS, he would significantly beef up police presence in those neighborhoods were "people all dress the same, live by a separate code of law, and persist in speaking a foreign tongue."  I remember listening to this and immediately thinking to myself "My god: he's talking about the Chasidim in Williamsburg, Brooklyn!"

Fortunately, even without Abbie Hoffman, all these anti-Sharia protests met up with even larger numbers of counter protesters carrying signs proclaiming things like "We stand with our Muslim neighbors," "My Sharia knows no hate!" and "I am a Christian and I stand with Islam!"  The only thing missing was Abbie's peculiar sense of humor. For had he been in Chicago, Detroit, New York, Seattle or Philadelphia, he probably would have been wearing a keffiyah,  munching on a bagel and lox, and carrying a sign reading !דורך מיר איר ניטאָ אַלע אַ בינטל פון ידיאָץ "By me, you're all a bunch of idiots!" 

How's that for shouting "theatre in a crowded fire?"

141 days down, 1,316 days to go

Copyright©2017 Kurt F. Stone

 

'45's Null Hypothesis & the Future of Planet Earth

Beautiful-Planet-Earth-Sunrise-Desktop-HD-Wallpapers.jpg

Last week I attended - via teleconference - a daylong medical ethics workshop held at the University of Kentucky.  The topic for this year's gathering was "Human Subjects Protection: Changes." It was a phenomenal, mentally challenging day.  The first speaker was Dr. Craig Kundrot, a Yale-trained molecular biophysicist who is currently Director of the "Space Life and Physical Sciences Research & Applications Division" at NASA.  In other words, he's the person in charge of figuring out the long-term physical and psychological effects that long-term space flight has on the human body. Currently, NASA is working on our Mars venture, which will take astronauts away from planet Earth for a minimum of 18 months. The case study Dr. Kundrot presented dealt with our only set of twin astronauts, Scott and Mark Kelly.  Because the Kellys have virtually the same genetic material, NASA can study how long-duration space flight affects the body and mind, using Mark - who is now retired from NASA -  as the control.  

Needless to say, Dr. Kundrot's presentation had all those in attendance flying high with thoughts of Mars, the vastness of the universe and the courage and brilliance of those charged with turning this fabulous dream into an even more fabulous reality.

And then, 24 hours later, '45's announcement that he was pulling the United States out of the Paris Accord brought us all down to his version of reality.  In '45's view, the historic, non-binding 195-nation accord was agreed to for one reason and one reason only: to stick it to the United States. Or, as he described it, "The agreement is a massive transfer of United States wealth to other countries."  In his mind, the Paris Accord has nothing to do with saving the planet from the ravages of climate change; it is all about money, lost jobs and his "America First" brand of isolationism.  This should come as no surprise, and for two reasons:

  • Our President sees reality through dollar signs, and
  • He contends that climate change (global warming) is a hoax.

In the words of my former boss, California Governor Jerry Brown, " . . . Trump is the null hypothesis; he's demonstrating that climate denial has no integrity and no future.  And the exact opposite, that climate activism is the order of the day."  Governor Brown is, without a doubt, the best-educated, most philosophically adroit office holder I've ever worked for.   I mean, who else could use the term "null hypothesis" as if he were speaking about today's grocery list? [n.b. During his first stint as governor back in the 1970's, I worked in his Office of Planning and Research where I specialized in environmental ethics.]

Now, just to keep us up to date, a "null hypothesis" is  a commonly accepted fact that researchers work to nullify or discredit. Of course, what is the "commonly accepted fact" today, might become tomorrow's universally rejected twaddle.  That which nullifies or discredits a null hypothesis is referred to as "the alternate hypothesis."  

An example:  In centuries past, several scientists, including Copernicus, set out to disprove their contemporaneous "null hypothesis" that the earth was flat. This eventually led to the rejection of the "null" and the (almost) universal acceptance of the "alternate" - namely, that the earth is round. Most people accepted the alternate — the ones that didn’t created the Flat Earth Society! What would have happened if Copernicus had not disproved it but merely proved the alternate? No one would have listened to him. In order to change people’s thinking, scholars first had to prove that their thinking was wrong.  

In retrospect,  believing  the world to be flat way back when, was about as inane as the "climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese" lyric constantly chanted by '45 during the 2016 campaign.  

Today, although the vast, vast majority of scientists have thoroughly discredited the null hypothesis (that pernicious climate change is a hoax), there are still those (apparently including our POTUS) who think the vast majority of scientists are full of it.  (Never forget that more than 8 years ago, the future '45 and 3 of his children signed a letter to President Barack Obama calling for a global climate deal. Today,  no one working in '45's White House will answer the question "Does the President believe there is global warming?"  Oops!

Over the last several days, numerous "fact checked" transcripts of the president's climate change speech have appeared on the web. The number of untruths, misstatements and outright whoppers are numerous, to say the least.  But then again, the audience before whom the POTUS was speaking in the Rose Garden that day, was predisposed to believe that everything he says  is a pearl of truth.  Among the alternate bits of reality which escaped the fact checkers' attention were  the dire predictions of an organization called "The National Economic Research Associates" [NERA], whose chilling statistics and "what-ifs" of economic catastrophe '45 used to bolster his case for pulling out of the Paris Accord. To listen to '45, his decision was based on economics, his love of coal, and strong desire to keep the world from "laughing at us."   Turns out, NERA, an economic consulting firm founded by the neo-conservative Hudson Institute's Irwin Stelzer (known as "Rupert Murdoch's right-hand man) has long been a shill for the coal industry. Its statistics and warnings of doom have been used by climate change deniers for years . . . including the densest of all deniers, Senator James Imhofe (R-OK).  In other words, '45's null hypothesis - that climate change is a hoax - is itself a hoax backed up by "facts" and statistics which are full of - as Granny would have it- "canal water." That is to say, one hoax backed by yet another.

While '45 was correct about not wanting other countries "laughing at us anymore," his resolve was misplaced: they are laughing . . . at him.  This has been '45's modus operandi from the moment he entered politics: to convince a certain segment of American society that we are victims; that the world hates us, is taking advantage of us. and we should all be afraid. This is what an aged British friend of mine used to refer to as "the Poor Pitiful Pearl syndrome."

Despite all the negativity and predictions of doom the president used to justify pulling out of the Accord (and potential ceding of international leadership to the Chinese),  we are happy to report, that 45's political tone-deafness could actually prove to be a boon for both democratic activism and the future of planet Earth. Again, we return to Governor Brown and  the State California, which has the planet's 6th largest economy (just ahead of France).  The day after '45's speech in the White House Rose Garden, Governor Brown announced that he was leaving for China, where he would work with high-ranking Chinese officials to work on joint carbon-reduction projects.  Moreover, Governor Brown is already putting together a coalition of countries, states, cities and corporations that will work together towards the creation of new energy-efficient projects, millions of renewable energy jobs, and a universal lowering of greenhouse emissions.  He has more knowledge and experience about what we used to call the "theology of ecology" than any elected official in America. 

Already, some of America's most populous cities and states, most profitable corporations and countries around the globe, have shown a deep and abiding interest in joining this movement - regardless of whether or not '45 and the federal government will be a part of it. This is the living, breathing definition of "people power" - a force which has historically disproved more than one null hypothesis.  

Fear ye not. Do not give up.  For together we, the residents of Earth can and will save our planet from degradation. One day soon, humans will land on Mars, thus creating an alternate hypothesis:  that when people of good will, high ideals and abundant creativity work together, dreams can become reality.

138 days down, 1,319 days to go . . .

Copyright©2017 Kurt F. Stone.


 

As Dad Used to Say . . .

Yesterday, June 1, 2017 was a day that will live in infamy: the day upon which the President of the United States launched his personal effort to officially make America a second-rate nation. It just so happens that today, June 2, we are observing the "pre-launch" of our new, relocated, and improved website/blog. The K.F. Stone Weekly (which was originally called "Beating the Bushes") has been up and running since February 2, 2005, during which time we have posted nearly 675 essays.  In honor of our "pre-launch" we are posting the very first, very brief essay from 64 months ago, entitled "As Dad Used to Say. . ."

In reading this essay, you will note a handful of parenthetic emendations.  They are meant to prove the truth of that old saw which goes "The more things change, the more they remain the same."

And so, without further ado, forward into the past . . .

 

 

          My Dad, Henry E. Stone (1915-2002)

          My Dad, Henry E. Stone (1915-2002)

Dad used to say: "The gravest sin of all is treating me like a fool."  Well, the Bushies (Trumpeters) commit that sin on a daily basis -- against all of us. Just how stupid and gullible do they think we are?  Who in their right mind would attack a mountain of overdue bills by first going on a spending spree?  Who but a fool would be concerned with rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic?  Well, the Bush ('45) Administration's proposal for privatizing Social Security is just that.  Making all the recent tax-cuts permanent is more of the same.  Fudging facts (and here I'm being overly kind) and telling the American public that unless "fixed," the Social Security program is going to be totally bankrupt by (pick a year) is the height of arrogance.

And for what?  Giving your friends and political allies short-term financial gains?  Making the world safe for . . . safe for what?  With each day's headlines, I am more and more reminded of the 1920's -- the era of Harding, Coolidge and Hoover -- three of the weakest, most politically inept men to ever occupy 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.  Unless we, the loyal opposition, mount a serious unified campaign in both 2006 (2018) and 2008 (2020), America is going to become a second-rate nation.  It's time to begin beating the Bushes . . . (stumping the Trumps) . . .

Copyright©2005, 2017 Kurt F. Stone

 

R.W. Emerson, D.J. Trump, Inconsistency, and the Folly of Transcendentalism

             Ralph Waldo Emerson at Age 75

             Ralph Waldo Emerson at Age 75

Yes, I know, the title of this week's essay is a bit off-putting and cumbersome.  But please, do read on; the essay is hopefully better than the title.  Back in 1841, Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), the father of American Transcendentalism, published an essay entitled Self-Reliance, best known for the line "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds . . ." Self-Reliance contains the most thorough statement of Emerson’s emphasis on the need for individuals to avoid conformity and false consistency and instead follow their own instincts and ideas. Although not nearly as well known, that which follows "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds . . ."  provides the clarity one needs to better understand what Emerson was getting at:

". . . adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — 'Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.' — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood."

One has to wonder what Emerson, "The sage of Concord," would have made of '45, the "Emperor of Inconsistency," the man who takes great pride in being both inconsistent and unpredictable.  Would Emerson have put a giant disclaimer at the beginning of Self-Reliance . . . something to the effect of "What follows is both well and good for the likes of Socrates, Copernicus, Newton and the gang but definitely not when it comes to Trump?" Or would he simply have given up entirely on Transcendentalism - the philosophy which emphasizes the inherently unknowable character of reality - and and do something totally inconsistent . . . like become, say,  a wino?

'45's penchant for inconsistency and unpredictability were on full display during the European leg of his recently concluded 10-day foreign jaunt.  In his address to NATO, '45 pushed around leaders of the 28-member nations on their contributions to the trans-Atlantic alliance.  Besides demonstrating a lack of understanding as to precisely how the 68-year old alliance works (member nations do not make payments to the United States), '45 returned to the "America First" meme he used to great applause (or  consternation) and acclamation ( or stupefaction) during the presidential campaign. One will recall that during the campaign, the future POTUS repeatedly stated that NATO was "very obsolete," and then, once he had spent a mere 82 days in office, declared NATO rehabilitated. Moreover, he took credit for transforming it into "a modern, cost-sharing, terrorism-fighting pillar of American and European security."  Last month, when '45 hosted António Guterres, the new UN Secretary General, he announced “I said it was obsolete. It’s no longer obsolete.”  And yet, in his speech in Brussels the other day, in addition to chastising the 27 other leaders for not spending enough of their national budgets on defense, made the historic, unpardonable mistake of not explicitly endorsing Article 5 of NATO's founding document.  (n.b. The article, known as the collective-defense clause, stipulates that an attack on any member is an attack on all. It was invoked for the first - and only - time in response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.)  Needless to say, this went over like the proverbial lead balloon.  Grading '45's Brussels appearance, one international relations specialist noted: "Diplomatically, the speech was inept at best and deliberately insulting at worst." 

Then, there was the issue of climate change. Meeting in Taormina, Sicily, leaders of the G7 - the world's most exclusive geopolitical club -  issued their 2017 declaration pledging commitment to the 195-nation Paris accord on climate change.  In an announcement that one reporter said "hearken[ed] to a characteristically reality TV cliffhanger," '45' issued a Tweet in which he stated "I will make my final decision on the Paris Accord next week!"   Former Goldman Sachs executive - and current chief economic adviser - Gary Cohn told reporters that the president "continues to study" the Paris agreement. Throughout the presidential campaign the future '45 threatened several times to pull out of the Paris climate accords, a groundbreaking agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions. All along he has been fairly consistent in calling steps to cut climate-warming emissions bad for business. He’s even called climate change a Chinese hoax “to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”  But as of yesterday - according to his latest Tweet - he isn't sure precisely what he's going to do.  One wonders who he's going to be speaking to and what he's going to be reading in the next couple of days in order for him to make up his mind.  If, as expected, '45 pulls the U.S. out of the climate accord, we will then become one of just three countries on the planet who don't care about saving the planet - the other two being Syria and Nicaragua. 

Taking "a couple more days" to study up on climate change prior to making a decision fraught with consequence for both the future of Planet Earth and America's global leadership is akin to cramming for a final exam consisting of precisely three "no-brainer" questions:

  1. What is your name?
  2. Do you want to pass the test?
  3. Would you prefer to receive an "A+" or a "C-"?

To pull out of the Paris Accord would be tantamount to answering :

  1. "I can't for the life of me remember."
  2. "I want to fail."
  3. "Can I opt for an 'F-'"?

About the only constant in 45's otherwise life of inconsistency is the pursuit of wealth and celebrity. Towards those ends, he has spent a lifetime associating almost exclusively with the hyper-wealthy (witness the president's Cabinet).  For '45 and many of his ilk, the question of climate change - like those of healthcare, the defunding of education and much of the social safety net, and being accountable to such "inanities" as the law and the federal tax code - is based on their peculiar worldview:

  •  If you are richer than Croesus you don't have to worry about health insurance: you can afford it no matter what the cost.  
  • You don't have to care public vs. charter schools; you can afford the best prep schools in the land.
  • You don't have to give a fig about the social safety net: you've never "committed the crime of being poor" (a sarcastic expression found in Sinclair Lewis' Elmer Gantry).  
  • You don't have to worry about the legal system; you can afford the best attorneys in the land.

Two things, however that no amount of wealth can defend against are catastrophic illness and a seriously deteriorating global climate.  And yet here, our notoriously inconsistent president seems to be horribly consistent: wealth is the best - indeed the only- safety net against reality.  In this one instance, Emerson was correct: a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

For everything else concerning '45 and his utter love affair with inconsistency, Emerson may well want to rethink the entire self-reliance-is-at-the-heart-of-Transcendentalism school of thought and admit - at least in this case - its total folly.  

'45 is definitely no Socrates . . . nor Jesus, Luther, Copernicus, Galileo, or Newton.  And without question, he is absolutely no "pure and wise spirit."

Just a rich, aging man-child who is whistling in the dark.

129 days gone, 1,328 to go.

Copyright©2017 Kurt F. Stone

 

Oh For the Life Of a Sardine!

                        Sir Charles Chaplin as Calvero in "Limelight" (1952)

                        Sir Charles Chaplin as Calvero in "Limelight" (1952)

Unbelievably, there was a time – and not so very long ago – when one could get through an hour or a day, not to mention a week or even a month or more, without benefit of some earth shattering political crisis upending our personal, psychological and civic equilibrium. Ah, those were the days; periods of halcyon innocence! Weeks without feelings of looming doom! Most lamentably, they are no longer part of ourreality. And whether or not these periods of relative calm will one day reappear is a question that not even the wisest of the wise would dare attempt answer. 

Ever since that fateful day when the man-child of Manhattan descended upon his gilded escalator to announce his candidacy for POTUS, we, the political- and news-junkies of America, the reporters, essayists and pundits of the world, have become afflicted with a case of  communal gastric reflux.  And, to make the condition even worse, it carries numerous comorbidities including  tachycardia (rapid heart rate), hypertension (abnormally high blood pressure), prime-time sweats, insomnia and what we shall term fóvo papoutsión (Φόβο παπουτσιών) -  roughly speaking, "the fear of the next shoe dropping."  It all adds up to what the Germans call weltschmerz - a feeling of dread, melancholy and world weariness.

The question before us is whether or not there is anything we can we do to save ourselves from all the depressing inanity and insanity currently enveloping us. Well, occasionally ungluing oneself from the 24-hour news cycle can be beneficial.  For many, addiction to the latest breaking bulletin - which, predictably, will  be endlessly diced, sliced and  repeated ad nauseum - is as strong as the tug of muscatel to a wino or texting to a teen.  An occasional breaking away from persistent information overload is a good thing, and can act as palliative - a medicine which helps relieve pain without actually dealing with the cause of the condition.  Everyone - up to and including God in heaven - deserves an occasional "time out" from the woes of the world.  The Bible informs us (Gen. 2.2) that even The Almighty takes a shabbos schluf - a Sabbath nap - one day in seven.  Perhaps then, an act of Imatatio Dei - imitating The Divine - and removing oneself from all the sturm und draang (storm and stress) of '45, Lavrov, Flynn, Comey, Sessions, Kushner et al can be a good thing.

Perhaps a bit of laughter is called for . . .

 I know that when this political news junkie gets overwhelmed, my thoughts turn to home - Hollywood - and comedy . . . especially Sir Charles Chaplin. Why? Well, the man's movies make me laugh -- and cry and think and give me hope.  Sir Charles (1889-1977) was arguably cinema's first and greatest genius. Coming from an English boyhood of almost Dickensian poverty, he rose to become the complete cinematic package: actor and writer;  composer and editor; producer and director.  It is said that at his peak, he was the best-known, most beloved person on the planet. And, unbeknownst to all but the most fanatic Chaplin maniacs, he was quite a philosopher.  Among his most thoughtful statements, several are forever in my mind:

  • "Life laughs at you when you are unhappy; life smiles at you when you are happy; but life salutes you when you make others happy." 
  • "Life is laughter when seen in a long shot, but it is a tragedy when seen in a close up."
  • "A day without laughter is a day wasted." and
  • "I remain just one thing, and one thing only -- and that is a clown. It places me on a far higher plane than any politician."

Not at all bad for a man who had no more than a 2nd grade education. And yes, apropos of Sir Charles' last statement, he was quite political. One need only watch his 1940 masterwork of anti-Nazi satire, The Great Dictator, to get an idea of just how political he was. Partly as a result of making this movie - in which he played  a Hitler lookalike named "Adenoid Hinkel, Der Phoeey of Tomania" and a lookalike Jewish barber - Chaplin, never particularly popular among moralists, prigs, anti-Semites and conservatives, became the subject of a toxic witch hunt which would eventually lead to his being exiled from the United States.  (n.b. Although moralists accused Chaplin  of being a child-molester and anti-Semites railed against him for being a "dirty gutter Jew," he was, in fact, neither. When asked in a 1915 interview if he was indeed  a Jew, he famously answered "I have not that good fortune.")

At the precise point when the witch hunt against Chaplin was reaching its apex, he was engaged in the making of his final American-produced film, Limelight. His most autobiographical cinematic work, Limelight is the story of Calvero, a once famous British Music Hall performer, now aged and well down on his luck. With the help of a suicidal ballerina (played by the luminous 20-year old Claire Bloom), Calvero does manage to make a comeback, where he reprises some of his most famous set pieces - including a hilarious bit with a pair of "trained" fleas and several silly songs.  Which brings us to this essay's title, Oh For the Life Of a Sardine!  This is the title of a brief ditty Calvero sings towards the end of both the movie and his life:

 

                                                                                                 When I was three my nurse told me
                                                                                                              About reincarnation
                                                                                                And ever since I've been convinced,
                                                                                                        Thrilled with anticipation
                                                                                                       That when I leave this earth
                                                                                                       It makes my heart feel warm
                                                                                                           To know that I'll return
                                                                                                              In some other form.
                                                                                                          But I don't want to be a tree
                                                                                          Sticking in the ground -- I'd sooner be a flea.
                                                                                                           I don't want to be a flower
                                                                                                               Waiting by the hour
                                                                                                   Hoping for pollens to alight on me.
                                                                                                             So when I cease to be
                                                                        I want to go back, I want to go back, I want to go back to the sea!
                                                                                                           Oh for the life of a sardine!
                                                                                                               That is the life for me!
                                                                                                 Cavorting and spawning every morning
                                                                                                            Under the deep blue sea.
                                                                                                      To have no fear for storm nor gale.
                                                                                                      Oh to chase the tail of a whale!
                                                                                                           Oh for the life of a sardine!
                                                                                                               That is the life for me!

No matter how I'm feeling, this song always makes makes me laugh, always picks me up. It, like just about everything Sir Charles ever filmed, acts as a much-needed palliative. That he could write, compose and perform such a piece during a time when personally, society's moralists and the House un-American Activities Committee were running him to ground is a testament to the importance of taking a  much-needed "time out."  Time-outs, to pilfer a bit of Shakespeare, " . . . are such stuff as dreams are made on."

And so, dear reader, instead of obsessively awaiting the next dropped shoe, take a bit of a time out; watch Blazing Saddles or Monty Python's The Life of Brian; read some P.G. Wodehouse or Mark Twain, listen to a song by Tom Lehrer . . . or contemplate living the life of a sardine.  It will put the roses back in your cheeks and prepare you to get back in the fight. For as Sir Charles wisely noted:  

                                                                                     “You'll never find a rainbow if you're looking down.”

122 days down, 1,335 to go.

Copyright©2017 Kurt F. Stone

 
 

 

"What an arrant, rascally, beggarly, lousy knave . . ."

            "Fluellen" by Joseph Noel Paton

            "Fluellen" by Joseph Noel Paton

Another day another disturbing headline; another week another heretofore unthinkable act. This past week began with the firing of FBI Director James Comey.' 45's initial explanation for this bizarre – though perfectly legal act – was that "he had acted on the recommendation of Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod Rosenstein," who had harshly criticized Director Comey for the way he had handled the Hillary Clinton email kerfuffle this past July and then again just days before the 2016 presidential election. Two days later, in an interview with NBC's Lester Holt, '45 "undermined his own alibi," flatly stating that he had determined to ax Director Comey long before receiving Rosenstein's memo. Furthermore, in addition to smearing Comey ("he's a Showboat, he's a grand stander") '45 so much as admitted that he was motivated by concerns about the Russian scandal. According to many legal authorities and (Democratic) members of Congress, the President' s statements could lead to serious legal charges and challenges . . . the most onerous of which would be obstruction of justice. (n.b. It will be remembered that both Presidents Nixon and Clinton were charged with obstruction.)  Things have progressed so far and so quickly that just yesterday, in a piece he wrote for the Washington Post, Harvard Law Professor Laurence H. Tribe called for '45's impeachment. 

Add to this '45's reported request that Comey "pledge loyalty" to him and the clear indication that A.G. Jeff Sessions - who had publicly recused himself from anything concerning the FBI Trump/Russia investigation - nonetheless ordered DAG Rosenstein's memo to the president . . . and you have both a political and Constitutional  hornet's nest of historic proportions.  

But wait: there's more . . . and more.

In the hope of diverting attention away from the entire Comey/Russia investigation/obstruction of justice debacle, the President decided to breathe life back into the phony issue of mass, nationwide voter fraud. He did this by launching a commission on 'election integrity' to be co-chaired by Vice President Pence and Kansas Sec. of State Kris Kobach, who has been described as "an architect of restrictive voting and immigration laws around the country." It will be recalled that shortly after his inauguration,' 45 began insisting that "3,000,000 to 5,000,000 people voted illegally." (Besides being demonstrably untrue, the reality is that one is more likely to be struck by lightning than to commit voter-impersonation fraud in the United States.")  Ironically, since '45 began to claim “rigged” elections and millions of illegal voters, public support for the idea of widespread fraud actually has dropped. A recent Politico-Morning Consult poll showed that 43 percent believe fraud is very or somewhat common — down from 64 percent in a 2015 CBS News poll.  

If all this weren't enough, over the past 24 hours, the Dutch television documentary program Zembla (Dutch for "new land") ran two exhaustively researched bombshells entitled The Dubious Friends of Donald Trump - part one subtitled The Russians, and part two, The King of DiamondsShockingly, what these two classic "follow the money" documentaries have painstakingly unearthed is an extraordinarily complex international web of interconnecting corporations, shell companies and international holding firms in which the Trumps and Kushners are active participants. What they all have in common are ties to the so-called "Russian Oligarchs" - the multi-billionaires who, at the time the Soviet Union fell apart, divvied up all the regime's assets - oil, coal, land, buildings, minerals. These oligarchs are, in essence, leaders of the so-called "Russian Mafia."  They have been cited for crimes ranging from money laundering and murder to dealing in Angolan "blood diamonds" and human  trafficking, not to mention prostitution. Since day one, whenever '45 has been asked about his ties to the Russians, he has flatly stated “I have nothing to do with Russia – no deals, no loans, no nothing!”  One thing the Zembla documentary makes crystal clear is that, the press has been asking '45 the wrong question.  Instead of asking "What investments have  you made and/or business dealings do you have in Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union?" they should have been asking "What investments and/or business dealings do the Russians have with  you?"  According to the investigative journalists from Zembla, the answer is "a staggering amount."  Do yourself a favor: check out the two Zembla videos and get to know such shadowy figures as Tevfik Arif, Felix Sater, Sam Pa and Lev Leviev as well as such shadowy firms as "Bayrock," "KazBay B.V." and "88 Queensway Group." 

These two YouTube videos are not your run-of-the-mill tin hat conspiratorial garbage; they are works of utterly serious investigative journalism . . . works which over the past 24-36 hours have quickly gained both traction and viewership around the globe.  For anyone who has had the gnawing suspicion that the current administration is quickly turning America into nothing more, nothing less than "the family business," this two-part documentary is a must.

And yet, despite the welter of facts, evidence, Tweets, and bouts of foot-in-mouth disease, '45 still has a solid hold (at least for now) on his base and the overwhelming majority of Republicans in Congress.  Find it hard to believe?  Asking yourself how in Hell anyone could not find grave fault in the firing of James Comey, the manner in which '45 carries himself or his flagrant lying?  Well consider this:

  • Recent NBC/SurveyMonkey polling shows Republicans find the firing of Comey to be appropriate (79 percent of Republicans said it was, only 38 percent of all adults agreed);
  • Despite the fact that the President has dropped his original  explanation for Comey's axing, 43% of his supporters still believe that  '45 really did fire Comey over Clinton’s emails (43 percent said that, but only 24 percent of all adults agreed);
  • These same folks think that the Russia allegation is a distraction (78 percent of Republicans said so while 54 percent of all adults disagree and say it is a serious issue).
  • Gallup finds '45’s approval is a robust 84 percent among Republicans but an abysmal 41 percent among all adults.

The reasons for this ungodly disconnect are many, and require delving into the fields of abnormal and political psychology, as well as epistemology (the investigation of what distinguishes justified belief from opinion) as well as psycho-history.  Regrettably, we have neither the time nor space for what amounts to a cross-disciplinary doctoral dissertation. Suffice it to say that long before '45 took the oath of office, what is now known as the "alt-right" began retraining a large segment of the American public fervently disbelieve anything said, written or concluded by mainstreeram sources like The New York Times, Washington Post, network television or academicians.  They have trained their minions with an almost Pavlovian predictability to see anything going against their predigested beliefs to be the product of a vast left-wing conspiracy.  Shades of Joseph McCarthy . . .

So where are we headed?  To an impeachment?  How about an authoritarian takeover?  Or maybe a revolution?  Sorry, but ever since my crystal ball came back from the cleaners, it's been on the fritz.  Although impeachment at first sounds great and may well happen if enough Republicans begin putting patriotism ahead of party, remember that the next two people on the Constitutional totem pole are named Pence and Ryan; the former an unreconstructed "prayer warrior," the latter a devotee of Randian Objectivism.  

There are no end of nasty words to describe the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue;  characterizations of who he is and what he is doing to our country.  Lamentably, I wasn't raised  to be readily comfortable with profanity.  However, having learned a fair amount of Shakespeare as a lad, I do know a few turns of phrase which, if translated into modern English, are about as filthy as one can get.  And so, we conclude with Fluellen's (that's him in the picture above) base assessment of Michael Williams (whom he believes to be engaged in a traitorous relationship with the French Duke of Alençon) in Henry V, Act IV, Scene 8:

                                                                                                   "What an arrant, rascally, beggarly, lousy knave . . ." 

If the shoe doth fit . . .

117 days down, 1,340 days to go.

Copyright©2017 Kurt F. Stone

LIFE Is a Pre-existing Condition

 

 

                           A First-Inning Celebration 

                           A First-Inning Celebration 

This past Thursday, '45 and a couple of dozen Republican House members gathered in the White House Rose Garden to celebrate passage (by a single vote) of their greedy, sadistic and dangerously sophomoric "American Healthcare Act." To call their celebration premature or overblown would be kind, for in truth, it was tantamount to breaking open a case of champagne because your team scored a run on an inning-ending double play in the top of the first of the first game of the season. But then again, '45 does relish victories, no matter how small or pyrrhic. And if there is a God in the heavens, this 217-213 vote victory will be of the pyrrhic sort – the definition of which is  "Coming at far too great a cost to have been worth it all.  There's no question that the Democrats – none of whom voted in favor of this atrocity – fully understand the meaning of "pyrrhic victory." Moments after the vote tally was announced many of them began singing Steam's "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye" to their colleagues across the aisle.  They were, of course, referring to the 2018 mid-term election . . .

One wonders how many of the 217 Republicans who voted for this bill (20 voted against it) had read – let alone –understood just how nasty, misguided and hardhearted a piece of legislation their party gurus had crafted. For indeed, the American Healthcare Act guts some of the most widely supported aspects of Obama care, such as:

  •  Denying insurance companies the right to charge significantly higher rates to people with pre-existing conditions;
  •  Eliminating lifetime caps on insurance coverage, and
  • Creating a system in which enhancing and fostering wellness is just as important as treating illness.  

Who knows? Perhaps a lot of the Republicans voting in favor of this bill really didn't support it, were betting that the Senate version would eliminate its most egregious clauses, but nonetheless felt they had to walk in lockstep with their wealthiest donors, most of whom are more concerned with the enormous tax advantages coming their way began with the health of the American public.

For make no mistake about it, the House version of this bill has as much to do with putting hundreds of billions of dollars into the pockets of the wealthiest Americans than with making sure that all Americans can afford health insurance. The Republicans were in such a hurry to keep '45's campaign promise to "repeal and replace" Obamacare that they couldn't even wait for the Congressional Budget Office's cost analysis - which would have provided an estimate of how much the bloody thing will cost and how many millions of people will likely be losing their insurance.  According to the Tax Policy Center, the bill would cut taxes by about $765 billion over the next decade.  The lion's share of the tax savings would go to the wealthy and hyper-wealthy.  The top 20 percent of earners would receive 64% of the savings and the top 1% of earners (those making more than $772,000 in 2022) would receive 40% of the savings. Additionally, this bill would allow insurance companies to charge older customers up to five times more than younger customers — up from a maximum 3-to-1 ratio under the current health law.

And yet, '45 and his merry band continue to proclaim that the AHCA will provide better coverage for all at a greatly reduced cost (unless one is poor, un- or under-employed or has a pre-existing condition).  Truth to tell, most all of us have some sort of pre-existing condition.  For under terms of the AHCA, pre-existing conditions include - to name but a few -  Acne, allergies, anxiety, asthma, basal cell skin cancer (a type of skin cancer that doesn't tend to spread), depression, ear infections, fractures, high cholesterol, hypertension, incontinence, joint injuries, kidney stones, menstrual irregularities, migraine headaches, being overweight, restless leg syndrome, tonsillitis, urinary tract infections, varicose veins, and vertigo. 

In other words, life itself is a pre-existing condition, which means that an awful lot of people are either going to be without affordable health insurance, or else shoved into into pricey (and grossly underfunded) "high-risk pools" where coverage will be beyond their means.  And then hospital emergency rooms will return to being the healthcare destination of first - and last - resort for the un- and under insured.  By law emergency rooms must tend to anyone who walks through the door.  This fact has long served as both a talking point and rationalization for anti-Obamacare conservatives. "No one is denied medical attention," they declare; "all they have to do is get themselves to an E. R." While this is technically true, an E.R. can do next to nothing for an uninsured person walking in, telling a nurse or doctor they simply don't feel well, go through a battery of tests, and then be diagnosed with, say, Crohn's disease, glioblastoma (an incredibly aggressive cancer) or Multiple sclerosis, all of which require rigorous long-term care. For those without insurance, the diagnosis is tantamount to a death sentence. 

So now the American Healthcare Act act goes over to the Senate, where it's most politically lethal aspects will be amputated, rewritten and likely rehabilitated. This is going to take weeks, if not months. And then, following the vote on whatever the Senate comes up with, it goes back to the House of Representatives. Whether or not that House and Senate can reach a rapprochement is anyone's guess.

Unquestionably, healthcare is going to be the central issue in the 2018 midterm election. Those House members voted in favor of the AHCA will be wearing a bull's-eye on their political backsides. If the Democrats play it smart (and frequently they do not) they will not only aim their arrows at these bull's-eyes, but make a clear-cut and audacious case for universal health insurance. Moreover they should continually make the case that affordable healthcare is not a privilege, but a right. Yes, the Republicans will continually and breathlessly brand this audacious proposal with a label reading "Socialist" . . . But so what? Isn't it time that America stop being the only developed nation on earth (there are 33 of them) without some sort of universal healthcare - whether it be Single-Payer, Two-Tier, or Insurance Mandate?  

President Theodore Roosevelt started pushing for universal healthcare way back in 1912 – the same year Norway instituted their system. FDR, Truman, JFK, LBJ, Carter, Clinton, and even Richard Nixon all pushed for some form of national healthcare. After 105 years, isn't it about time? The American Healthcare Act – whatever its final form may be – must be rejected by the American people. For if life itself is a pre-existing condition, it must be covered.

After all, doesn't the Declaration of Independence affirm that we are all endowed by our Creator with "certain unalienable, Rights, that among them are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness."

Note well that "Life" comes before both "Liberty," and "the Pursuit of Happiness."

109 days down, 1,348 to go.

 Copyright©2017 Kurt F. Stone