Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

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

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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

Statues Built of Snow

                     Harbin Ice Sculpture

                     Harbin Ice Sculpture

There used to be a time when the term “gridlock” referred to an irksome traffic jam on a rush-hour roadway, not a systemic malignancy in the American body politic. Waxing nostalgically, I greatly prefer the former to the latter; at least with the former, one always has the option of either taking an alternate route or simply waiting for the traffic jam to ease up. In the latter case however, there is, generally speaking, no alternate route to take; that's the nature of political gridlock. And what’s worse there is no guarantee that the political hornet’s nest will ever ease up.  

By now, most of us are pretty well conversant with the nature and reality of political gridlock; rarely does anything of significance ever get done because one side spends the lion’s share of its time and energy blaming the other side for all the inaction. Those who are hopeful idealists seek that "alternate route" which will ultimately permit legislation to be enacted; forprogress to be made. That "route" involves compromise, reaching across the aisles, and forcing partisan political orthodoxy take make way for real progress. Remember when politics used to be defined as "The art of the possible?" Today, alas,  political factionalism and feuding have become roadblocks to "the possible - to keeping even the most obvious and necessary pieces of legislation from being enacted. It has also given rise to a whole gaggle of candidates who run on promises of "Draining the swamp," "Reaching across the aisle," and "Seeking to find common cause for the commonweal." Of course, once these folks get elected – assuming they do – they become just about as partisan and case hardened as the people they replaced.  

Feuds - and not just the political sort - are nothing new. It took the Bible all of four chapters to introduce a blood feud into the world - that of Cane and Abel. History is replete with feuds, such as those between Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I of England. And of course, Shakespeare gave the literary world the ultimate fictional family feud between the Montagues and Capulets in Romeo and Juliet.  In more modern times, Hollywood has manufactured feuds between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis and sisters Olivia De Havilland and Joan Fontaine in order to stimulate box office grosses.

The reasons why families, political factions and religious sects engage in feuds are as numerous and varied as the feuds themselves. How and why some last but a few years while others flourish for decades, centuries, and even millennia is a whole other story. Why, as an example, are Shiite and Sunni Muslims still engaged in mortal theological conflict after more than 1400 years; that's difficult to understand without a reasonable grounding in Islamic history. The original schism, which I explained in brief nearly a dozen years ago in an essay entitled Shiites and Sunnis: The Schism That Will Not Heal, explained the "why" behind their mutual antipathy but did not - indeed, could not - come close to explaining why the feud was as powerful today as it was at the time of the Prophet Mohammad's death way back in the year 632 C.E.  

At the same time, the question of why congressional Republicans - who  up to 100 days ago were incredibly unified, speaking mostly with a single voice- are now as factionalized as a coalition of Israeli politicians - that's actually pretty easy to explain. Generally speaking, when a party controls both houses Congress and the White House, it tends to begin devouring itself by devolving into ideological factions, each of which finds it next to impossible to work with those who are not in 100% agreement with their worldview. (The same thing occurred with the Democrats in the early years of the Obama administration when, controlling both houses of Congress and the White House they are the ones who had a hard time agreeing on many issues – especially healthcare.)Just as the Republicans were unified in their opposition to Barack Obama during his two terms in office, so too are Democrats (mostly) unified in their opposition to '45 and the Republican agenda.

What is perhaps most maddening (though not terribly surprising) about the political gridlock which has been afflicting Congress for years is the blatant finger-pointing that passes for progress. In other words, just as Democrats blamed Republicans for being obstructionist during the Obama administration, it is now the Republicans' turn to put the mark of Cain on the Democrats. Although not terribly surprising, it is, as mentioned above, most maddening. Why? Because both parties show themselves to be more engrossed in in the folly of feud then in the art of the possible. Compromise is next to impossible when one is engaged in a feud; the "other side" is no longer a mere competitor – he or she is your mortal, immoral enemy.  

Is there a solution to gridlock and political feuding (both inter--and intra--party)? Can it be solved merely by "throwing the bums out," "draining the swamp," or some other puerile slogan masquerading as political strategy?  I for one believe there may well be, but it's going to take a new generation of political animals who are accustomed to taking the long view -- who understand that real progress not only takes a long time, but patience, professionalism and the knowledge that compromise and capitulation are bipolar opposites. 

In reality, both sides know they are full of it.  It is not merely that "We're going to get back atyou for what you did to us." Both sides know that they are individually and severally responsible for the gridlock. They build houses of straw and then are amazed when the slightest breeze causes the structures they've erected to collapse. Or, in the words of the great Sir Walter Scott, "We build statues out of snow, and weep to see them melt."

100 days down, 1,357 to go.

Copyright©2017 Kurt F. Stone

 

 

An Obsession (un)Worthy of Munchausen, Griffith and Palissy

                    Baron Munchausen

                    Baron Munchausen

This coming Saturday, April 29, 2017, marks a dubious historic milestone: '45's first One Hundred Days in office.  And unlike the first One Hundred Days of FDR - or JFK, LBJ, GWB or the rest of the presidential gang - '45 will have next to nothing to show for it -- save the confirmation of a new Supreme CourtJustice which is, in his inimical terminology, simply yuuuge.  Absenting this one achievement - which never would have happened without a historic, ill-considered change in Senate rules - absenting this, what do '45 and his administration really, truly have to show for their first One Hundred Days?

A humiliating withdrawal of their signature "repeal-and-replace" health care proposal? An abysmal fracturing of the GOP? A passel of Executive Orders - the lion's share of which are meant to bend, fold, spindle and mutilate   Obama's legacy? Picking fights with the very people whose support he needs? A whole bunch of policy about-faces? A series of incomprehensible phone conversations with various world leaders? A record number of weekends playing golf in Palm Beach? The telling of more fables, lies and outright bullsh*t than ever attributed to the real or fictional Baron Munchausen (that's him on the left, as imagined by Gustave Doré)? Not precisely the kind of First One Hundred Days historians are going to remember favorably.

In the midst of all this wibble-wobble, there are precisely two things '45 has maintained a rock-solid, obsessive consistency about:  increasing the nation's military budget by no less than 10%  and building his cockamamie wall on America's southern border. Of course, where he originally promised ad nauseum that Mexico would pay for that piece of useless architecture, '45 is now pruning every last dime he can out of the federal budget so that we, the taxpayers, can pick up the tab . . . until the time when he, Mr. "Art of the Deal" can finally, finally convince our neighbors to the south that it is in their best interest to pay back the $12 - or $20 or $50 billion - this monster will wind up costing. And of course, '45 is obsessively, compulsively constant in his insistence that the purpose of this wall is to preserve American lives, protect American jobs and defend American honor. 

Two of the most egregious and dangerous cuts being made in order to pay for '45's Maginot Line are those aimed at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The proposed N.I.H. cuts amount to 20% of the agency's $30 billion budget, while the proposed FDA cuts amount to 21%. The N.I.H. helps fund breakthrough medical research, creating new drug treatments, medical devices, and therapies for an unbelievably wide range of diseases and medical conditions. Without adequate financial backing from NIH, projects researching various forms of cancer, Multiple Sclerosis, heart disease, autism, diabetes, migraines, sleep apnea, infertility and tens of dozens of other potentially fatal medical issues and conditions - including so-called "orphan diseases" (such as Acromegaly, Tourette Syndrome and Job Syndrome - will have the scientific carpet pulled out from underneath them. This doesn't even begin to take into account all the scientists, doctors, statisticians and bio-engineers who would be out of jobs.  This is a horrifying prospect - especially in light of just how close the medical community is to discovering actual cures for many heretofore fatal diseases, syndromes and conditions.

Without adequate FDA funding, that agency will have to cut hundreds - if not thousands - of positions, which will inevitably lead to a severe lessening of regulatory oversight. In truth, this is precisely what '45 and his billionaire buds want; a"streamlining" of the regulatory process for new drug applications. This streamlining, they argue, will "prove to be beneficial in reducing the end consumer price point on new therapeutics and drugs, decrease the cost of research, thereby effectively bringing new products to market much sooner."

The question is, at what price? Writing as one who has spent nearly a quarter century vetting somewhere between 1,000 and 1,200 medical research proposals, I wish to state a truism learned through experience: that while FDA rules and regulations may tend to slow down progress a bit, it is both well and good. Jumping through FDA "regs and hoops"  helps insure that the risks-versus-benefits ratio inherent in any clinical trial puts the safety, efficacy and tolerability of new medicationsand therapeutics ahead oftheneeds and perquisites of industry.  Simply put, it places people and patients ahead of profits.

  Bernard Paliddy Burning His Furniture

  Bernard Paliddy Burning His Furniture

For the past many years I have spent, on average, two days a week vetting medical research proposals -- that is, making sure that the research in question is ethical and then turning medical terminology into understandable English.  The goal is to insure that those who become test subjects in various medical research programs fully understand what they are agreeing to. This is the process known as "informed consent."  Its origins go back to the "Doctors Trials" held in Nuremberg in 1946. This trial considered the fate of twenty-three German physicians who either participated in the Nazi program to euthanize persons deemed "unworthy of life" (the mentally ill, mentally retarded, or physically disabled) or who conducted experiments on concentration camp prisoners without their consent.  As a result of the trial's findings, it was determined that from that date forth, no one would ever again participate in medical experiments without their knowledge and written consent.  For the past 70 years, those who practice medical ethics (myself included) take this very, very seriously.  A significant cut in the FDA budget puts this process - informed consent - in serious jeopardy.

   Mom (in mirror), Miss Gish on the left

   Mom (in mirror), Miss Gish on the left

 

And for what? To insure putting aside several billion dollars with which '45 can fulfill his obsession with increasing the military budget and constructing his own Great Wall? History records the exploits of any number of obsessive-compulsives who went to insane lengths in order to fulfill their dreams. Back in the 16th century, French Huguenot potter Bernard Palissy became so obsessively committed to recreating ancient Chinese porcelain that he burned his furniture and even, it is said, the floor boards of his house in order to feed the fires of his furnaces (That's him above on the right). Then too, 102 years ago, movie director D(avid) W(ark) Griffith spent, borrowed and mortgaged every dime he could find in order to create a film called The Birth of a NationAlthough it did earn tens of millions, it eventually bankrupted him. (n.b.:  That movie's star, Lillian Gish, would become my mother's mentor. That's a newspaper photo of mom and Miss Lillian from 1939 or 40 at left).

Griffth's and Pallisay's obsessive compulsive manias may have been considered both insane and excessive in their own time, but at least lead to immortal works of artistic brilliance; the product of their obsessions have a place of honor to this very day.  One wonders whether '45's obsession - denuding the federal budget in order to build a wall between Mexico and the United States - will be applauded a century from now . . . not to mention in the midterm elections of 2018.  

'45 really, really ought not defund the NIH or FDA.  If he really, truly wants to preserve American lives, protect American jobs and defend American honor, he couldn't do better than fully funding ethical medical research.  Erecting wall or medical research between disease and good health will save many more lives than one constructed of concrete.

And who knows: perhaps one day medical science will discover cures for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Pseudologia fantastica.

97 days down, 1,364 to go . . .

Copyright©2017 Kurt F. Stone

The Son-in-Law Also Rises*

Of the myriad of cretinous, contradictory, incomprehensible and downright prevaricating things #45 has said in his rather brief political career, there has been, believe it or not, one stellar statement of ultimate clarity and truth: the time he told Fox News' Chris Wallace "I want to be unpredictable." With these five words, #45 came about as close as he ever has - and perhaps ever shall - to defining a coherent, all-purpose "Trump Doctrine" - as equally applicable to the realm of foreign policy, health care, "America-First" populism versus globalism or Wall Street versus Main Street and a whole host of conspiracy theories. By now, a clear majority of the populace are fairly well inured to all the shucking and jiving #45 has done on issues ranging fromNATO, military involvement in Syria and China-as-malevolent-currency-manipulator to standing up against the myrmidons Wall Street and, of course, "draining the swamp." And this does not even begin to speak about all those things he was going to accomplish on "Day One," let alone his first 100 days in office.  We're getting ever so close to 100 days and here's a list of all #45's legislative accomplishments . . .

                Kushner & Bannon

                Kushner & Bannon

If the Obama highway could be likened to a well-paved, well-plotted interstate, "Route 45" is a pot-holed turnpike filled with stupefying detours and GPS-defying U-turns.  Nowhere is all this unpredictability on greater display than in the internecine warfare going on between #45's son-in-law Jared Kushner and his Chief Strategist, Stephen Bannon. Not so very long ago, Steve Bannon was a first-among-equals with a seat on the National Security Council.  As recently as February 2nd of this year, Time Magazine ran an article asking Is Steve Bannon the Second Most Powerful Man in the World?  Now, #45 claims - with a straight face - that he did not even know his erstwhile political guru naming him campaign chief executive in the summer of 2016. It would seem that Mr. Bannon and his alt-right, Breitbart-fueled populist politics are on a downward spiral, while the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner's stock is on the rise. (Hence this week's tongue-in-cheek title The Son-in-Law Also Rises*.) Many argue that a Bannon inspired #45 would never have fired 59 missiles at that Syrian airbase, dropped a "Mother of All Bombs" on the lunar-like terrain of mountainous Afghanistan or suddenly stopped referring to the Chinese as pernicious currency manipulators.  But a Kushner inspired POTUS likely would . . . and did.

If this is true - that #45's son-in-law's stock is on the ascent -  it likely means that the battle for #45's ear is more cause for - than symptom of - all the unpredictability, flip-flops, u-turns and otherwise inexplicable changes currently going onbefore our eyes. This in-house war raises an-all critical question badly in need of an even more all-critical answer.  To wit: is this to be an alt-right administration whose policies, practices and world-view are shaped by the forces of Bannon, Breitbart, Fox News and right-wing radio, or is it to be a family business shaped largely by the president's 36-year old son-in-law whose portfolio now requires a portmanteau? Will the next four years be as revolutionary and "finger-in-the-eye-of-politics-as-usual" as anyone has ever experienced, or will it increasingly become just another standard Republican administration - sometimes maddeningly conservative and others middle-of-the-road?  And most importantly, regardless of whomsoever the POTUS is listening to, will he ever stop campaigning and get around to governing?

Eerily, Jared Kushner - whose personal and family proclivities have always tended Democrat - has, if possible, even less political knowledge or experience than his father-in-law. The one thing he does have going for him - in addition to being, like his father-in-law, a multi-centimillionaire  real estate tycoon and having no previous governmental experience - is that he's married to #45's daughter Ivanka.  And yet, despite his glaring lack of credentials, today is his father-in-law's senior advisor, heads the president's newly created Office of American Innovationand travels the world as a sort of personal emissary/ambassador without portfolio.  

#45 is by no means the first POTUS to appoint family members to a positions of responsibility; presidential nepotism has been around since this country's earliest days.  As far back as 1798, President John Adams named his son, John Quincy Adams, minister (Ambassador) to Prussia. Woodrow Wilson's Secretary of the Treasury, William Gibbs McAdoo, was also his son-in-law, married to Wilson's youngest daughter, Eleanor.  John F. Kennedy famously named his brother. Robert Frances, Attorney General and his brother-in-law, Sargent Shriver, head of the newly-created Peace Corps.  The difference with these - and many other such appointments - is that both the presidents in question and the family members granted positions - were possessed of both political and governmental experience.  The same cannot be said for either our current president or his son-in-law.

The fact that Jared Kushner's sole qualification for being at the epicenter of the #45's administration is being the president's son-in-law is actually a plus in some parts of the world.  In many Muslim countries, being a close relation to the leader is really all that counts.  Remember, Islam is a religion whose most important fault line rests with the ancient argument over what the single-most important qualification for succeeding the prophet Muhammad would be. Either:

  • Being a close relative of the prophet - this is basis for Shiite Islam, or
  • Being a close follower of the prophet's customs and practices - this is what the vast majority (Sunni) of Muslims believe to this very day.

Precisely how much influence Jared Kushner can and will exercise over his father-in-law is anyone's guess.  Precisely what advise he will offer - and whether it will have any recognizable coherence - is as yet unknown.  The one thing which is clear is this: that the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue needs someone (or indeed, a group of "someones") who can hold him in check, keep his fingers from Tweeting, and teach him the difference between bluster and reality. 

85 days down, 1,375 days to go.

(* The expression The Son-in-Law Also Rises is, alas, not my creation.  It goes back to 1930, when Hollywood wunderkind David O. Selznick married Irene Meyer, the daughter of MGM mogul Louis B. Meyer.  Upon announcing the pending nuptials, one Hollywood wag (Dorothy Parker?) famously quipped "Ah, the son-in-law also rises!"  Jared Kushner should study the life of Selznick, who would go on to produce such classics as David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities and most famously, Gone With the Wind. Jared Kushner might learn what Selznick certainly did while working for his father-in-law:  alpha males don't cede their power - even to other alpha males.  Sons-in-law can rise . . . but they can also sink.)

Copyright©2017 Kurt F. Stone  

 

King Solomon and the Magic Coin

What a week! From Senator McConnell's "nuclear option" and the confirmation of Judge Neil Gorsuch to Bannon's banishment from the NSC and the missile attack on Shayrot Air force Base in Syria  - not to mention the state visits of Egyptian President Sisi, Jordanian King Abdullah II and Chinese President Xi Jinping - the past 168 hours have been a monumental handful.  I for one am exhausted and quite unable to decide what to write about; call it an overabundance of op-ed riches. And so, taking the coward's way out, this week's piece is based on one of the many ancient parables I've translated and reworked.  There's a great thing about ancient parables; the lessons they teach never go stale . . . they are ever fresh and prescient; prescriptions from the ancient past still imparting essential wisdom.

This one's entitled "King Solomon and the Magic Coin."
 
Solomon, the wisest of all kings, so we are told, had 700 wives and more than 300 concubines. And yet, he only had 3 children: two daughters and a son. At the time this tale takes place, his son Rechavam, was 14 or 15 years of age.  Sadly, so we learn, the boy suffered greatly from what today we moderns would call “depression.”  Solomon, his father, recognized the condition and understood its origin: the boy felt that no matter who he was, what he thought or what he might accomplish in life, he could never be anything like his father.  And this depressed him.

Considering his son’s predicament, Solomon realized that it would not suffice to merely tell the boy: “look, you don’t have to be as smart, as wise, or as beloved as me.  It doesn’t really matter.  I will always consider you special no matter what.”  This, the king realized, could never act as a tonic for his son’s shattered self-image.  What was needed, the king reasoned, was something truly special – something that would permit his son to hold his head up high and feel his uniqueness.  Solomon gave the situation many weeks of serious thought, and finally came up with a plan.  Once he had decided how the situation with his son should best be handled, he set the royal minter upon the task of coming up with a unique gift – a specially engraved two-sided coin made of sapphire and lapis.  When the coin was at last delivered into Solomon’s hand he called for his son.

“My son,” Solomon said to the boy, whose eyes were cast toward the ground, his shoulders bent forward,” I have a gift for you – something that no one  will ever possess.  It is just for you.”

“Thank you father,” the boy responded without much overt enthusiasm.  “What is it?”

“A very special coin that teaches a lesson that no one else in this family truly knows.”  And with that he placed the coin in the boy’s left hand.  Looking at the coin, the boy managed a wan smile, and looking at his father, he asked: “what is the value of this coin?”

“Its value?” King Solomon said, rising from his throne, “why it is absolutely priceless.   Its value, by the way, does not lie in the sapphire and lapis with which the coin is minted, but in the wisdom that is imprinted upon it.  It is a coin that will make you wiser than anyone.”

“Wiser than anyone?” the boy asked, his eyes beginning to show signs of life.  “What does it teach?”

“Hold the coin in your hand, sapphire-side up, and close your fist,” his father commanded.  This the boy did.  “Now,” the king gently said, “you know those feelings you get that make you sense that everything is down, every attempt is doomed to failure, the world is a vicious snake pit, and every time you turn toward the right you should have turned toward the left?"

“Without question,” the boy responded with a derisive laugh.  “That’s my normal state of mind. What in the world can the coin do to help me?”

“When I tell you, open up your fist and read what is etched upon the coin.  It contains a kernel of wisdom that will lift your spirits, straightened your shoulders and give you the ability to deal with the world in a state of joy and gladness.”  The boy looked first at his father in disbelief and then at his closed fist.

“Please, open your hand and read aloud this profound truth,” Solomon said.

Slowly opening his fist, the boy looked at the red side of the coin.  Casting his eyes upon his message, he read aloud the words גם זה יעבור (gahm ze ya-ah-vor) – “this too shall pass.”
 
“You see," Solomon said, ”this side of the coin tells you that everyone has times when every white is black, every up is down, and every good is evil.  The coin teaches that this condition is only temporary.  Do you understand?” he asked.

“Yes father, I do,” the boy answered, beginning to stand just a bit straighter.  “I never for one moment thought that the way I feel could have any ending except death.  Are you sure that this lesson is true?”

“Without question,” his father said.  “Now, once you climb out of your despondency, which I know you shall, everything will start going quite well with you.  In matter of fact, things will start going so very well, that you will actually begin thinking that your previous condition was all a chimera – a figment of your imagination.  You will undoubtedly come to feel that any direction you take will be the proper one, any act you attempt will turn out successfully, and every day will be better than the last.  It is at such a time that you should look at the blue side of the coin.  Now, turn it over and read its secret wisdom out loud.”

Turning the coin over, the boy looked at what was etched on the lapis-side of the coin.  “What does it say?” his father asked.

“Why it says the very same thing גם זה יעבור (gahm ze ya-ah-vor)  -- this too shall pass,” the boy said in astonishment.  “But what does it mean?”

“It means,” Solomon gently said, that in order to get through this life, you must understand the lesson of balance.  Nothing is forever.  No streak of bad luck is infinite.  No time of good fortune lasts forever.  Balance: that is the key.  And believe me, that is a true gem of wisdom that virtually no one else shall ever possess.  I command you to keep this coin upon your person from this day forth.  And even when you have carefully memorized and taken to heart its words and meaning, you must keep it with you.  It shall then serve as a perpetual lesson for you in all times – both the good and the bad.  It will, in short, make life far more livable.”
 
“Thank you so much father,” the boy said, smiling a broad honest smile for the first time in Solomon’s recollection.  “I cannot think of a better gift or a better lesson.  And now, if you will excuse me, I think I will go out and walk in the sunshine.”

“But it is a cloudy day,” the king said with a trace of humor in his voice.

“Yes, I know,” his son said.  “But for me, the clouds have parted and the sun is shining.  May I go?”

“Certainly, my son.  Enjoy the sunshine.”  The son departed.

And from that day forth, his depression, like the clouds in the heavens, began to part, for he had learned the vital lesson of balance: גם זה יעבור (gahm ze ya-ah-vor) – “this too shall pass.”

And so, pay great heed: this is a lesson not just for Rechavam, the son of Solomon, the son of David.  It is a lesson for each and every one of us for all time.  We may be going through unbelievably difficult times, feeling like Rechavam at his lowest but . . . as the coin teaches, גם זה יעבורgahm ze ya-ah-vor  . . . this too shall pass.

78 days down, 1,382 to go . . .

(אגב: לכל הקוראים היהודים שלי, בבקשה לקבל איחולי חג פסח שמח, בריא וכשר

Copyright© 1999, 2010, 2017 Kurt F. Stone

Who Is Adam Schiff?

(The widely publicized, contentious and almost Kafkaesque issue of Donald Trump, his campaign and administration's relationship with Russia and Vladimir Putin has made instant celebrities out of  the House Select Committee on Intelligence's chair and ranking member.  The two men, who both represent California districts are, respectively, Committee Chair Devin Nunes and ranking member Adam Schiff (not to be confused with the fictional D.A. played by the late Steven Hill on TV's "Law & Order"). Nunes was  a member of the Trump transition team who has achieved public recognition - or notoriety - for reporting intelligence to the White House (which he may well have received from the White House) and then the press, without first notifying either his ranking member or anyone else on the committee; Schiff for being the voice of reason and political professionalism. Without question, Nunes is the alpha to Schiff's omega: San Luis Obispo State versus Stanford and Harvard Law; career politician versus prosecutor turned member of the House of Representatives.
 
Personally, I have had the honor of knowing Rep. Schiff and his family for many years.  His parents, Ed and the late Sherrie, were students of mine at Florida Atlantic University.  I presided over Sherrie's unveiling, and have written extensively about their son and his older brother Dan in my book
The Jews of Capitol Hill.  I've even read Adam's and Dan's literary works - which are astoundingly good.

What follows - with a bit of updating - is what I wrote about Rep. Schiff back in 2010.  Adam is a man who should be closely watched, for he has, in my humble opinion, the brains, the understanding and the drive to become a future Secretary of State, Director of the C.I.A., or - dare I say - President of the United States . . ) 
 
When Adam Schiff entered Stanford University in 1978, he was uncertain if his ultimate goal was to become a doctor or a lawyer. As a result, he wound majoring in both pre-med and political science. Upon graduation, he was accepted into both medical school and law school. Although his parents, Ed and Sherri Schiff urged him to become a doctor, their youngest son chose to attend Harvard Law, from which he received his J. D. in 1985. “All of my doctor friends say I made the right decision, and all my lawyer friends say I messed up,” Schiff once noted. “Now that I’m in politics, everyone says I messed up!” Schiff is likely joking, but being one of the Congressional Minyan’s straightest of straight arrows, who can ever know for sure?

Adam Bennett Schiff, the younger of Edward and Sherrill Ann (Glovsky) Schiff’s two sons, was born in Boston on June 22, 1960. His family had been in New England since the turn of the century. On his mother’s side, the earliest folks came from Eastern Europe, originally settling in Laconia, New Hampshire. On his father’s side, Grandpa Schiff, who was born in London (his father being from Vilna), came to America in 1906 and settled in East Boston, where he became a butcher’s assistant. The Glovsky’s, the future congressman’s mother’s family, owned Sherrill’s Music in Boston. Both families had originally been strictly religious. As a result, by the time Ed and Sherrie came into the world, their families were “somewhat rebellious toward Orthodoxy.” Nonetheless, Ed was educated at a Conservative synagogue, and is proud of the fact that as a bar mitzvah, he was able to read tanach – the Hebrew Bible.

Ed Schiff, served in the United States Army just after the conclusion of World War II, then graduated from the University of Alabama. Ed and Sherrie met when a friend of his brought her to a party; they married in 1956 and settled in Framingham, Massachusetts. Two years later, Daniel Mark, the first of their two sons was born. Two years after that, Adam Bennett came along. Ed and Sherri’s was a “mixed marriage” – he was a Democrat and she a Republican. According to the Washington Post, “Schiff credits that background for his own moderate politics.”

While living in Framingham, Ed Schiff provided for his family as a traveling salesman. When Adam was 10 and brother Dan 12, the family moved to Scottsdale, Arizona where they lived long enough for their elder son to become bar mitzvah. In late 1972, the Schiffs picked up and moved once again – this time to Alamo, California, where Ed had purchased a lumber yard. (Alamo, an unincorporated community in Contra Costa County, is located in the “East Bay” region of San Francisco.) Adam became bar mitzvah in nearby La Fayette in 1973.

As mentioned above, Adam Schiff majored in both pre-med and political science during his four years at Stanford. Upon graduating, he decided to opt for law because, “He thought it would provide a better launching pad for a political career.” Upon graduating from Harvard Law in 1985, Schiff moved back to California, where he spent a year clerking for a federal judge. In 1987 he joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles, where he spent the next six years making a name for himself as a criminal prosecutor. During his tenure, he achieved a perfect conviction record. In his most notable case, Schiff prosecuted the first FBI agent ever to be indicted for espionage. At one point the U.S. Attorney’s Office sent him to Prague where he helped the Czechs reform their criminal justice system. When Tom Umberg, a colleague in the U.S. Attorney’s office was elected to the California Assembly, he became Schiff’s inspiration for getting into politics. “I wanted to deal with the root causes of the problems I was dealing with as a U.S. attorney,” he later said. Schiff’s years and experience as a federal criminal prosecutor came into play when, as a four-term member of the House, he was named to the House Appropriations Committee, a post which traditionally requires the representative to give up all other committee assignments. Uniquely, Schiff was permitted to remain on the House Judiciary Committee, where he served on subcommittee s dealing with Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property. During his nine terms in the House, Schiff has also served on several other prestigious, high profile committees: Appropriations, the House Select Committee on Benghazi and, as of 2009,  the committee for which he has become a daily presence on the news: the House Select Committee on Intelligence.  For the past several years, he has been that committee's ranking member.

In 1993, 8-term California Assemblyman Pat Nolan pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering, and was sentenced to 25 months in federal prison. Nolan (1950- ), who had been elected Assembly Minority Leader in 1984, was one of 14 public officials convicted as part of an FBI sting operation called “Shrimp Scam. As a result of his conviction, Nolan resigned his seat, thus necessitating a special election. (After serving his time, Nolan became active in former Watergate figure Charles Colsen’s “Prison Fellowship Ministries.” He went on to become a Commissioner of the federal government’s National Rape Elimination Commission, described as a “bipartisan panel aimed at curbing rape in prison.” In 2008 Nolan’s friends and partisans urged President George W. Bush to issue him a pardon before leaving office. Nolan was not pardoned.)

Adam Schiff decided to enter the special election for Nolan’s Assembly seat despite the fact that the 43rd District (and its various predecessors) was highly conservative and had rarely sent a Democrat to Sacramento. Schiff and six other candidates ran in that election, which was won by James A. Rogan, a local prosecutor who at age 33 had been appointed by Governor George “Duke” Deukmajian to be judge of the Glendale Municipal Court. Schiff finished with 26% of the vote to Rogan’s 54%. The Los Angeles Times noted that “Rogan’s strong showing surprised most political observers who expected him to finish first but not with a majority of the vote.”

Six months later, Schiff ran against the now-incumbent James Rogan in a rematch. This time, Schiff, raising and spending $300,000 to Rogan’s $468,000, though once again losing, bettered his share of the vote: 53.7%-42.9%. Rogan, who was quickly becoming recognized as a rising star in the state party, was elected Majority Leader of the California State Assembly in his freshman term.

Two years later, Schiff was back at it. This time, he ran for the 21st state Senate seat of Newton R. Russell, who was barred by term limits from seeking reelection. The 21st District, which served the Arroyo Seco region of metropolitan Los Angeles, included many of Los Angeles’ most historic neighborhoods, as well as many of the metro area’s businesses, including many movie studios. Its three primary cities were Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena. Winning the Democratic primary with ease, Adam Schiff faced Republican Assemblywoman Paula L. Boland in the November general election. Boland was not that well known to voters in the 21st District.

Raising more than $3.2 million between them, the race hinged largely on Schiff’s assertion that Boland – who was term limited out of her Assembly seat – had merely moved from the San Fernando Valley to Glendale in order to “continue her efforts on behalf of the Valley – the kind of advoca[cy] the incorporated cities don’t need.” For her part, Boland attempted to paint Schiff as a “tax-and-spent liberal.” The Boland campaign began using a phone bank, making calls to voters in the district attacking Schiff for what his record would be if elected to the Senate. One such call backfired: it came in to the Schiff household. At the time, the candidate’s mother was visiting. As Adam tells the story, "My mother was incredulous that someone could really be doing this. She thought it was me. She said, ‘Adam is this you?'” When the nonplussed caller said no, Mrs. Schiff hit back with, "Well, that's my son you're talking about!" Sherrill Schiff would go on to become her son’s “secret campaign weapon,”   For years she walked precincts, ringing bells and knocking on doors for her son’s campaigns. In 2006, Congressman Schiff told The Hill, “To this day, I’ll be riding in a parade, and I’ll get someone hollering, ‘Hey, I haven’t gotten a call from your mom lately!”

Schiff wound up defeating Boland by the not insignificant margin of 51.8%-44.1%. At age 33, Adam Schiff had become the youngest member of the California state Senate. Schiff served one four-year term in the Senate. In his first two years (1996-1998) he authored “dozens of measures that Governor Pete Wilson signed into law.” These included “landmark school textbook legislation.” He went on to chair the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Senate Select Committee on Juvenile Justice and the Joint Committee on the Arts. He also passed the first significant patients’ “Bill of Rights” in California.

Meanwhile, James Rogan was serving in Congress, having been narrowly elected in November 1996 to replace the retiring, 12-term Carlos Moorhead. In his first Congressional race, Rogan defeated Democrat Doug Kahn by the not overwhelming margin of 50.2%-43.2%. As a member of the House, Rogan served on the Judiciary Committee, where he became one of 13 House managers in the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. Meanwhile, State Senator Schiff was paying keen attention to 27th District voters, and their representative. He came to the conclusion that the third time could be a charm; that he could defeat Jim Rogan. After his narrow victory over Doug Kahn in 1996, Rogan managed only a 51%-46% victory against longtime (1988-1995) Screen Actors Guild president Barry A. Gordon. Schiff correctly surmised that Rogan’s relatively close margin of victory was due in large part to his high-profile role in the Clinton impeachment. (Barry Gordon, the candidate Rogan defeated is best known for playing Jason Robard’s sardonic nephew “Nick” in the 1965 film “A Thousand Clowns” and social worker “Charlie Harrison” on the TV series “Fish.”) Looking at the election results, and not wishing to run for a second four-year term to the state Senate, Schiff decided to make Rogan a target. Schiff’s polling showed that a clear majority of voters in the 27th District were in disagreement with the Clinton impeachment.

Up until 1992, the 27th, a relatively affluent district, had consistently voted for Republicans. But it also voted for Bill Clinton in both 1992 and 1996, and was picking up a lot of new Hispanic residents – residents who tended to vote Democratic. This did not bode well for Rogan who, in 1999 was given a rating of “A+” by the Christian Coalition and was an advocate of the teaching of creationism in public schools. On many occasions Rogan had stated that to his way of thinking, “evolutionary theory lacks empirical evidence.”

The 2000 Schiff-Rogan rematch became the most expensive House race in American history: more than $11 million. Entertainment mogul – and Clinton friend – David Geffen vowed to raise a minimum of $1 million to defeat Rogan, which he did. As much as Schiff was banking on the voters’ negative response to Rogan’s role in the Clinton impeachment, the election did have other issues. The candidates disagreed on a whole host of issues from health care, abortion and gun control to taxes, trade and evolution. Rogan depicted Schiff as a tax-and-spend liberal who would “run through the Treasury, spending everything he can.” The “Traditional Values Coalition” printed up flyers proclaiming that Schiff was a “Champion for the homosexual agenda," and accused him of voting for one bill in the state Senate that “requires California public schools to teach children that homosexuality is a normal and positive lifestyle,” and another that “provides money to send children on ‘tolerance’ field trips to homosexual organizations . . . promot[ing] homosexuality at the public expense.”

For his part, Schiff scored Rogan for calling abortion a “Holocaust” for the African-American community and saying that the KKK “couldn’t do a better job on committing genocide on African Americans.” As noted in The Almanac of American Politics, “They also battled for the support of more than 67,000 local Armenians.”
  
California’s 27th District was the home of America’s largest Armenian population. Rogan had been the lead sponsor of a House resolution commemorating the Armenian genocide from 1915 to 1923 by Ottoman Turks. Despite being promised a floor vote on his resolution shortly before the election, then-House Speaker Dennis Hastert reneged “after phone calls from Clinton and his foreign policy appointees.” For his part, Schiff had cosponsored a state Senate resolution declaring “a day of remembrance of Armenian genocide,” and secured $400,000 in taxpayer money to produce “a documentary about Armenian issues.” Moreover, Schiff learned enough Armenian to be able to deliver a whole speech in the language – one syllable at a time – and to conclude each speech with Կեցցե Հայաստան (pronounced "Getzyeh Hayasthan!") – “Long Live Armenia!” His continued support for legislation recognizing the fact of Armenian genocide became the focus of a 2006 BBC-produced documentary film entitled “Screamers.”

Despite being outspent by nearly $7 million, Schiff nonetheless emerged victorious by the surprisingly large margin of 53%-44%. Adam Schiff was correct: the third time is a charm.

Since entering the House in January 2001, Adam Schiff has been busier than just about anyone in his freshmen class. First, he was elected by his colleagues to be their freshman class president. He joined the moderate Blue Dog Democrats, and co-founded several House groups: “Freshmen for Reform,” meant to build support for the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform legislation; and “The Democratic Study Group on National Security.” Schiff co-founded this group in 2003, along with classmate Steve Israel and Georgia Representative David Scott. Its purpose is to explore “. . . the necessary components of a smart national security strategy against evolving threats.” The group holds “regular meetings for the Democratic Caucus” and brings in “renowned speakers on a wide range of national security issues such as terrorism, military transformation, Iraq, homeland security, non-proliferation, Iran, Korea, the United Nations, and missile defense.” In 2006, Schiff co-founded the Congressional Caucus for Freedom of the Press. This “bipartisan, bicameral group” has as its aim “To advance press freedom around the world by creating a forum to combat and condemn media censorship and the persecution of journalists around the world.”

Originally given seats on International Relations (where he was assigned to its subcommittee on the Middle East and Central Asia) and Judiciary, Schiff, as mentioned above, was moved on to House Appropriations at the beginning of the 110th Congress. Adam Schiff has been regularly and easily reelected 8 times. He is one of those incumbents who can likely keep his seat virtually as long as he chooses. Just how long he will choose to remain in the House is anyone's guess.  With his newfound national visibility as ranking member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, he may find new doors opening to him in the future.

During his years on Capitol Hill, Adam Schiff has been one of the main Democrats trying to “remake the party’s image on national security issues.” At the same time, he has moved steadily from the political center toward the more moderate-to-liberal wing of the Democratic Party. As an example, upon taking his seat in the House in 2001, Schiff was one of but 28 Democrats who voted in favor of President George W. Bush’s tax cuts.  Two years later, he voted against the next round of cuts, saying it was “fiscally irresponsible” to enact additional cuts at a time when the nation was at war and “racking up large annual deficits.” He then went on to oppose both the 2004 corporate tax package and the 2005 tax cut extensions. In 2001 he sided with the Bush Administration nearly 40 percent of the time; by 2003 his support for Bush had fallen to 16 percent. He initially voted in favor of the Patriot Act and for the use of force in Iraq, though, as noted in The Almanac of American Politics (2008), “He later criticized intelligence gathering,” and, along with then-Representative (now Senator) Jeff Flake (R-AZ), “filed a bill to revise domestic surveillance procedures.”   In a June 2005 article entitled “Congressman is Gaining a Name in Foreign Affairs,” Los Angeles Times staff writer Johanna Neuman noted that Schiff was “carving out a position as a leader of a centrist Democratic national security bloc.”

Among Schiff’s signature successes have been passage of a bill making “identity theft” a crime; fostering the use of “DNA analysis in criminal investigations and . . . expand[ing] the national DNA database”; and promoting early childhood education. In both 2003 and 2004 he successfully organized opposition to proposed cutbacks in Head Start, saying that the GOP-backed legislation would “close the door of the Head Start program to tens of thousands of deserving children and their families.”

Adam Schiff is married to San Diegan Eve Sanderson. Their first child, Alexa Marion, was born in 1998. When “Adam and Eve” were about to become parents to a son in July 2002, they had what writers for The Almanac of American Politics called their “biblical moment;” namely, what to name him. Helpful well wishers suggested either “Cain” or “Abel.” Instead, they named him Elijah Harris.

In 1986, then-attorney Adam Schiff joined “Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles.” When asked how he would feel about having an African American “little brother,” he said he would be fine. He was then given three applications to look over. He chose 7-year old David McMillan because of an answer he gave to the question asking for “three wishes.” The youngster’s first wish was for a big brother. The second was for a puppy. The third answer – the one that cinched it for Adam Schiff – was for “a beautiful world.” “It was pretty amazing,” Schiff recalled years later; “for a [seven year old] to use one of his wishes for something so intangible.” Adam and David have been together ever since as big brother/little brother. David wound up graduating from both Yale and from film school at University of Southern California. Adam attended his graduation from Yale, and David was one of Adam’s groomsmen when he and Eve married. David went on to become a writer for the television show “Judging Amy.” Schiff, who is on the board of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America sponsored and passed a Congressional resolution recognizing the second century of the organization that brought the two together.   Adam Schiff is a triathlete who also runs marathons.  In 2010, he was the only member of Congress to participate in the inaugural Washington, D.C. Triathlon.  In 2014 became the first Member of Congress to participate in the AIDS/Life Cycle, a seven-day charity bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles to raise awareness and funding to fight HIV and AIDS.
  
Adam Schiff is a man with a future; he'd better stay in good shape, for he is likely going to continue standing at the epicenter of what is already turning out to be the most chilling and sordid scandal in all American political history.

I bet that by now, President Trump and those closest to him wish that Adam Schiff had chosen to go to medical school . . .

71 days down, 1,389 to go . . .

Copyright© 2010, 2017, Kurt F. Stone
 

The Right to Bear Arts

Now that #45 and the Republican-led House have failed to deliver on their sacred oath to "repeal and replace" the Affordable Care act, they can turn their politically weakened attention to other matters such as tax reform, immigration and infrastructure, the confirmation of Judge Neil Gorsuch for a seat on the Supreme Court, and, one of the heaviest of all lifts, the 2018 budget. Last week's essay, The Codification of Cruelty, portrayed this blueprint with fairly broad brushstrokes.  This week, let's engage in a serious bit of pointillism, honing in on an ultra microscopic subatomic speck of that budget: funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), which in turn funds both the Public Broadcast Service (PBS) and National Public Radio (NPR).

In fiscal year 2017, public funding for NEA and NEH amounted to $145 million a piece; CPB $445 million in public funding.  Combined, these three organizations received a grand total of $735 million in public subsidies which, in a budget of $4 trillion amounts to a Lilliputian-sized .00018%.  Or, considered by another metric, a $4 trillion budget means we are spending $456,621,004.00 every hour on the hour, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a  year (there are 8,760 hours in a year).  The $753,000,000 allocated for NEA, NEH and CPB take up just a little over 90 minutes worth of those 8,760 hours. By a final metric, and, to put this into even greater perspective, the combined cost to every single taxpayer in America for NEA, NEH, and CPB is a mere $1.43 a year.
  
Oh the humanity!
  
For many years conservatives and deficit hawks have argued that federal funding for the arts, humanities and broadcasting is, in the words of Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson "welfare for rich liberal elites."  They have derided the funded art as being obscene, the news coverage as dangerously one-sided (liberal-to-radical) and the non-news programming appealing only to a minor handful of elitist urbanites. Well I'm here to tell 'ya that I know a lot of non-wealthy, non liberal, non-elite folks who love NPR's A Prairie  Home Companion, Car Talk and Ask Me Another, as well as All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Story Corps.  Then too, there are tons of regular working-class folks who tune in to their local PBS station to watch Austin City Limits, Antiques Road Show, and This Old House as well as Washington Week in Review, PBS News Hour, Masterpiece Theatre and my personal silly favorites, Keeping Up Appearances, Fawlty Towers and the incomparably hilarious Are You Being Served?  And of course, where-oh-where would at least two generations of children be without Sesame Street?

NPR has long been home to some of the very best - and most moderately-paid - journalists on the planet.  And when I say "journalists," I mean it.  For the Nina Totenbergs, Elearnor Beardsleys, Tamara Keiths, Mara Liassons and Sylvia Pogiollis are not "infotainers"; they are unbiased reporters and correspondents stationed all over the globe covering daily events and fast-paced breaking news in ways that would make Cronkite, Lehrer, Russert, Murrow and Sevareid glow with pride.

Precisely what percentage of the NPR and PBS operating budgets are provided by the federal government is unknown - precisely because it varies depending upon the source.  While Fox News claims the percentage to be greater than 25%, NPR insists that no more than 9% of their operating funds come from the Corporation For Public Broadcasting.  Whatever the true figures are, the overwhelming majority of funding comes from corporations, foundations and the public at large.  Nonetheless, for the feds try to eliminate all funding for NEA, NEH and CPB (which ultimately affects both PBS and NPR) it is wrong, short-sighted and distinctly un-American.

How so?

During the Great Depression, FDR's New Deal provided funding for the arts.  Its "National Theater Project" was the godparent of tens of dozens of new plays, hundreds of new theater companies and tens of thousands of performances for people of all ages and races.  (The poster above advertising "Man Eats Hat" was created under auspices of this program.  This delightful farce was created and directed by the then 21-year old Orson Welles, and starred Welles and the as yet unknown Joseph Cotton.  Another program, the Public Works of Arts Program put artists and muralists, painters and sculptors to work creating works of art.  In the first four months of 1934 a;one, the PWAP hired artists who in turn produced 15,663 paintings, murals, prints, crafts and sculptures for government building around the county.  Today, many can be seen in museums or adorning the walls of Depression-era post offices, train stations or now crumbling civic edifices.  (At left is but one of the thousands of paintings, Baseball at Night, by Russian-born Morris Kantor (1896-1974), many of whose works can be found at the Smithsonian. 

My good friend Carlos Pagan, a brilliant producer of PBS programming reminds me that art - whether it be broadcast, performance or multi-media - is part of what makes America a great nation.  Without it, we are diminished; our aesthetic selves malnourished and unchallenged.  We simply cannot let CPB, NEA, NEH and NPR go without funding.  Oh, they will continue to exist, but quite possibly as shadows of their former selves.  For #45 and his minions to defund these vital and valuable resources is to proclaim that as Americans, we have, no right to bear arts . . . only arms. (Here, I must fess up.   This catchy slogan is not mine; I borrowed it from my friends at the Creative Coalition.)  Nonetheless, it is true: a government that goes out of its way to defund art, creativity and clear thinking is not worthy of approbation or respect.

In the days since the American Health Care Act was pulled from consideration, many fingers have been pointed among Republicans as to who was chiefly to blame for its failure . . . just as many Democrats have stood up and crowed over their victory.  What has been lost in all this is the real reason why the AHCA failed: because We the People banded together and said NO!  The same power exists for We the People to make sure #45 and his Congress know we want - nay, demand - that we have a right to bear arts.

For all those who agree, my friend Carlos Pagan and I urge you to log on to Protect My Public Media and sign their petition.  It's because of us that the ACA is still the law of the land.  And it will likewise be because of us that public media - that which reports and challenges, entertains and educates - will continue being funded - at least in part - by our tax dollars.

In the words of Henri Matisse, "Creativity takes courage."

We all have the right to bear arts. 

64 days gone, 1396 days to go . . .

Copyright©2017 Kurt F. Stone

The Codification of Cruelty

There is an old Hollywood legend . . . perhaps apocryphal, perhaps not and known to virtually every Hollywood Brat (including yours truly) - that Groucho Marx was denied membership in the all-Jewish Hillcrest Country Club because he was simply too crude, too lewd to fit in amongst the likes of the more staid Louis Mayer and Irving Thalberg (MGM),  Jack Warner (Warner Bros.), Harry Cohen (Columbia) and Al Jolson.  After having been turned away at least three times - so the legend goes - Marx was finally granted membership - which he summarily turned down, saying, in typical "Marxist" fashion,  "I'd never join a club that would have me as a member."  In truth, Marx eventually did become a member of Hillcrest, and, true to form, spent many a day  "punishing"  his fellow club mates by being . . . well, Groucho Marx: lewd, crude and downright rude. Groucho made a career - both in reel and real life - of essentially "punishing" and being "cruel" to all those who supported him.  This was Hollywood's version of perverse "Marxist" lunacy.
  
In a strange sense, we are experiencing perverse - though decidedly non-"Marxist" lunacy once again with #45.  "What in the hell are you talking about?" I can hear you ask. Well,  in looking over #45's first budget blueprint - with all it's overwhelming cuts (and $54 billion increase in defense spending) - we find that, like Groucho of old,  those whom this Randian budget would seem to be punishing the most are precisely those who supported and believed in him the most - his so-called "loyal base."  Taking a brief gander at some of what's in this budget blueprint, we find it:
 

  • Making draconian cuts to programs which help feed the poor and elderly (notably "Meals-on-Wheels");  
  • Axing funds for after-school programs (known as the 21st Century Community Learning);
  • Granting a $1 billion increase in a "fund portability program" (otherwise known as "school vouchers");  
  • Severely cutting funds for job training and medical research;
  • Cutting funding for the EPA by 31%, State Department (29%) Department of Agriculture  (21%), Labor Department (21%) and HUD (12%);
  • Completely eliminating funding for, among others, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Legal Services Corporation.

Those this proposed budget would hurt the most are #45's loyal base, such as:

  • Coal miners in Appalachia for whom there is not a cent devoted to bringing back jobs;
  • Un - and underemployed blue-collar workers in Rust Belt states for whom there will be no job training programs;
  • Rural Americans who will see their local airports disappear, thus necessitating traveling hours in order to catch a plane;
  • Low- and lower-middle income Americans from Maine to Arizona who will no longer have any form of health insurance;
  • People who live in states vulnerable to coastal flooding (FL., LA., and TX), because funds for flooding projects have all but dried up;
  • In opposing federal subsidies for wind energy, the budget will cost small towns and rural areas clean energy job opportunities.
  • Despite pledging $500 million to combat opioid addiction - which affects small town and rural America disproportionately - #45's concomitant American Healthcare Act (AHCA) will make it next to impossible for those falling victim to this scourge of being covered by health insurance.

 
And on and on and on . . .

Despite White House budget chief Mike Mulvaney's assertion that this budget really, truly displays "great compassion for taxpayers," it would appear that what #45 and his colleagues have presented is, in fact, a document which if passed in its present incarnation, would serve to codify cruelty. For it is a highly ideological document which gives the richest of the rich even greater tax cuts, lines the pockets of defense contractors with tens of billions of dollars and places unimaginable stumbling blocks in the path of those who, strangled with feverish anger against politicians and "politics as usual," bought into the promise that a billionaire reality show host best understood their plight, and would make their world - their America - his first priority.
 
How much actual input did #45 have on this budget blueprint?  Although one cannot be certain, it is likely the answer is "precious little."  For the man who now sits in the Oval Office (when he is not lounging about Mar-a-Lago) is not what one could call a detail kind of guy.  Rather, as with his hotels, golf courses, vodka, suits, ties, bottled water and even toilet paper, he merely puts his brand on the product and then either collects the royalty checks or files for bankruptcy.  His personal and business history shows that frequently, he leaves those who dug the trenches and performed the grunt work (precisely those who made him the man he is today) holding the bag.   I doubt few of them voted for him in 2016.
 
In a truly sad repeat, it would appear that once again, #45 is set to stick it to the very people - his ardent base - who made him POTUS.  It's almost as if Groucho - who, by the way, was a lifelong ARDENT liberal Democrat - has come back to inhabit the soul of #45, making sure that those who granted him membership in the most exclusive of all clubs, will live to regret it.
  
Except in Groucho's case, it was all good clean fun.  Hillcrest is still alive,  still prosperous (oil was discovered on the golf course in the early 1950s), and its members still regaling one another with their hilarious recollection of Marxist lunacy.

58 days down, 1,402 to go . . .

Copyright©2017 Kurt F. Stone