Bringing a Spork
To the Table
While a Republican Senate “work group” is hammering out the next iteration of TrumpCare, the Democrats continue their Chicken Little impersonation without providing clear, articulated ideas about how they would repair Obamacare. Jon Ossoff’s loss in Georgia’s 6th District last night reflects that those deep Red districts, while not necessarily enamored of the President, are not bailing out of the Republican Party because of Trump. If the Democrats hope to flip the House --- as well as some Senate seats --- in 2018 they are going to have to do more than bring a Spork to the table.
First and foremost, what do the Democrats stand for, other than being anti-Trump? We are currently watching the result of 8 years of Republican frustration with Obama as the new President signs one Executive Order after another that undoes EPA rules, the Cuba agreement, gun control, civil rights (LBGT) regulations, and so on. While there have been no legislative accomplishments to speak of, McConnell and Ryan are emboldened by the total lack of opposition they now face. Those old enough to remember the 1993 Clinton attempt at passing health care will recall it being sabotaged by a very effective series of television ads featuring an older couple --- “Harry and Louise” (you can look them up on Wikipedia) --- who bemoaned all that might occur if the new health care package were to become law. Back in ’09-’10 you might remember the Republicans screaming from the rooftops about the “death panels” that Obamacare would introduce, etc. Public outcry led to a very watered-down version of the original Obamacare proposal. So, while the Democrats have no idea what’s in the Senate version of the bill, they certainly know what the House passed (a nightmare) and have plenty of material to work with. But what do we see? Whining and moaning from Democratic Senators, trying to invoke the fear of a health care bogeyman without providing any substance constituents might run with, much less anything to rally around.
The fact is, the Republicans are tougher, meaner, less compassionate about the poor, and more willing to look the other way regarding Trump as long as they can achieve their primary goals: undoing Obama’s legacy and providing massive tax cuts for wealthy Americans --- with the misbegotten notion that it will “spur the economy” (check out how that worked in Kansas if you want to see where we’re going with that one). And the Democrats? While claiming they represent the “working man” and middle class they have watched that base slowly but surely leak away starting with Richard Nixon’s 1968 “Silent Majority” and “hard-hat” alliance right up through Trump’s ascendance. Union membership in the U.S. has declined by 50% since 1983 (from 20% to 10%) and the Democratic leadership under Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Tom Perez, and Keith Ellison does not seem to have any clear direction or ideas that might bring “middle class” Americans back under their “Big Tent.” Breaking away from the “identity politics” that have defined them for a generation and creating a new, well-articulated party profile that demonstrates to the real people who populate this nation is what's called for.
With that, it is important to also recognize that what Trump has ushered in is an age where politicians no longer require the media --- mainstream or otherwise --- to propel their message. Jared Yates Sexton’s article in The Daily Beast on June 19th --- Why Trump Doesn’t Need Fox News Anymore --- shows how Trump has created a cult of personality in which “he, alone” provides “the truth” --- or at least what his base (and others) want to hear. Sexton clearly shows how Trump now controls his own narrative, how the Fox News “talking points” one used to hear in a working-class bar (from Roger Ailes’s memos to your “Fair and Balanced” ears) are no longer bandied about. Trump, in his two years in politics, has used celebrity and Twitter to usurp a major political party while bypassing all the media outlets. That he has only a passing acquaintance with facts and the truth does not matter to people who believe Trump and Breitbart and InfoWars.
While Hillary Clinton referred to this group as “deplorables,” they are, nonetheless, our fellow citizens and their disgruntled anger has to be acknowledged and understood --- not condescended to or disparaged. Figuring out how to appeal to low-information, fact-free voters while fashioning a party that clearly articulates WHAT it stands for and how it will implement its ideas to benefit the American people is the real challenge for the Democratic Party. Presently they keep showing up at a formal dinner table carrying their plastic spork thinking they’ll have an equal seat, ready to engage In the witty repartee and serious political dialogue --- but everybody sees that spork and knows this is not someone we need to take seriously.
The Silence of the NRA
While lots of headlines were about Bill Cosby’s (mis)trial this past week, the acquittal of Jeronimo Yanez, the Minnesota police officer who shot and killed Philando Castile before our eyes (as a result of his girlfriend’s livestreamed video) was seemingly overlooked. As significant, Mr. Castile, who legally owned a firearm and informed Officer Yanez of that, has not been defended by the NRA. Much like President Trump never Tweeting about a Muslim death (17 year old Nabra Hassanen was killed in Virginia this weekend), the NRA seems to only be upset when the rights of white gunowners are involved. Speaking far more eloquently to this issue (and several others leading up to it) is Trevor Noah from last night’s Daily Show. Please watch the entire clip as the NRA segment comes after some biting satire about the President.
Notes on Democracy
1. Watergate & Democracy
Over the weekend the Blast focused on the attempted parallels between the President’s firing of James Comey and Nixon’s famous “Saturday Night Massacre.” What was not discussed and needs attention is what is/was at the heart of both of these Special Counsel investigations --- FIXING a Presidential election! Yes, the whole Watergate scandal, at its heart, was about the Nixon administration making sure they would win the 1972 election. This is a seldom, if ever, discussed facet of the scandal, as the bribery of witnesses and the cover up led by the President and his closest advisors tried to make the scandal go away. If you go back and examine the history, however, you will discover that the zealous Nixon team of “dirty tricksters” was busy working long before the arrests at the Watergate complex.
Nixon’s foremost Democratic opponent, going into the New Hampshire primary in February 1972, was Edmund Muskie, the Senator from Maine. Muskie had been Hubert Humphries running mate in the 1968 loss to Nixon and an early Gallup poll (August 1971) showed him running ahead of Nixon. Keep in mind, Nixon’s first term was no cakewalk. The Vietnam War had consumed much of the Presidency and his secret mining of Haiphong Harbor and secret bombing of Cambodia were not playing well with the American public. Wanting to run against the Democrat with the least possibility of winning the election, Nixon’s team went to work. Shortly before the 1972 New Hampshire primary Muskie had to defend himself against “the Canuck letter” which had been published by William Loeb in the Manchester Union Leader, New Hampshire’s leading newspaper. The letter, purportedly from a Florida man who had conversed with Muskie when he was campaigning there, defamed U.S. citizens of French-Canadian extraction (a sizable number of New Hampshirites). This was followed by an attack on Muskie’s wife’s (Loeb editorialized she liked to drink and tell jokes) and resulted in Muskie standing out in a light snowfall and breaking down (“crying” as it was reported) in his own defense, and defense of his wife’s honor.
Woodward and Bernstein later uncovered that the “Canuck Letter” was penned by Nixon staffers and were intended to reverse Muskie’s momentum --- which it did. In the end, Nixon ran against the candidate he knew he could defeat, the South Dakotan Senator George McGovern. Winning in a landslide, Nixon believed his troubles (i.e., Watergate) were behind him but, of course, they weren’t. But let’s remember what was at the heart of the Watergate scandal: an attempt to fix the 1972 Presidential election. And let’s not forget that this entire Trump brouhaha is about Russia interfering with a Presidential election --- something the Distracted-in-Chief has yet to even mention in all his narcissistic Tweeting.
2. Julius Caesar & Democracy
Well, the Public Theater’s production of Julius Caesar in Central Park, NYC, ended it’s run last night, with several alt-right protesters disrupting the performance calling the actors “Nazis” and comparing them to “Goebbels.” What is striking about these protests is the sheer ignorance behind them. If they actually knew their Shakespeare they would realize that Caesar’s assassination leads to the decline of Rome and, by the play’s end, is seen for the heinous and misbegotten act it was. The alt-right protesters, of course, are only reacting to the fact that this Caesar was dressed up as our current President (we’ve already discussed that the 2012 Acting Company production with an “Obama” Caesar elicited no such protests) --- they seem to have no knowledge of the drama.
Let’s be clear here, though, about what the important issue at the heart of all this is: free speech. Whether it’s leftist campus protesters not allowing speakers to present their ideas at a college or alt-right protesters trying to stop a public performance of any play, the offense here is the attack on the First Amendment and the right of free speech. For those who may not be clear, or sure, of what the First Amendment is about, let’s not mince words: short of shouting “Fire” in a crowded theater or intentionally inciting violence of any sort, everyone and anyone can express their ideas and opinions in public --- without interference or censorship --- period. You may disagree, indeed dislike or hate, what I have to say, but you have to defend my right to it.
Our conservative Supreme Court just allowed an Asian rock band to “trademark” their name --- The Slants --- saying that even though the term is disparaging and even hateful (to a particular racial group), they are protected by the First Amendment (as are the Washington Redskins). So, while you may not like what a speaker on campus has to say, or you may not like Caesar portrayed as Trump, you have to allow those people to present their view publicly to ensure our most important democratic principle is protected. Period.
45 Years Ago
(is not that far back)
At least one third of the population of the U.S.A. in 2017 was around in 1972 --- 45 years ago. For those who weren’t --- and those who were but might have been too young to remember it well --- here are some of the highlights of that year. The Cowboys won their first Super Bowl (before they were “America’s Team”) and Shirley Chisholm, an African American Congresswoman from Brooklyn announced she was a Democratic candidate for President. Richard Nixon made historic trips to China and Russia (where he signed the SALT I arms limitation treaty). The Godfather was released in theaters and the Equal Rights Amendment passed Congress and went to the states for ratification. The United States Supreme Court ruled the death penalty unconstitutional (Furman v. Georgia) and Ms. magazine began publishing. The Democrats nominated George McGovern and the Republicans went with Nixon/Agnew (again). The Dow Industrial average reached 1,000 points for the first time and Eugene Cernan became the last man to walk on the moon. Women were allowed to run in the Boston Marathon for the first time and Dartmouth College admitted women for the first time. And, on June 17th, the Democratic Headquarters in the Watergate Complex was broken into (after two unsuccessful attempts in May). Little was made of the story at the time.
We can’t get away from hearing about Watergate now, of course, not because it is the 45th anniversary of the break-in but because people are seeing (justifiably or not) parallels to Nixon’s obstruction of justice and cover up with the behavior of our current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The question is: how valid are the comparisons?
Here’s what we have that might be deemed similar: Trump fired Comey because he was investigating the President’s campaign staff’s possible collusion with the Russian hackers. That certainly sounds a lot like Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre” when he ordered Attorney General Eliot Richardson to fire Special Counsel Archibald Cox --- and Richardson refused and resigned. Next in command at the DoJ, William Ruckelshaus, did the same. Finally, Robert Bork, the Solicitor General, carried out the President’s unsavory directive. Trump’s recent Twitter rants about possibly firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein seem to fall into the Nixon pattern, but we’ll see. The reason all this Trump business does not match Watergate is that in the latter we had the physical break-in and 5 suspects under arrest. Presently, with Trump, there may be “obstruction of justice” because of what Comey has told us Trump ordered (?) him to do (and there may be others who verify that but that’s all testimony only Special Counsel Bob Mueller and his staff presently know --- or don’t!)
I know some reputable attorneys have been in the media claiming what Trump has already done is “obstruction of justice” but just as many (though maybe not quite as reputable) are saying there’s “no there, there.” The fact is, we don’t know and, until there is more evidence right out there in public view, we can’t say. There is lots of smoke, certainly, but I’m not sure we’re seeing any real flames here.
Those who remember Watergate will recall that it wasn’t until the Spring of 1973 --- almost a full year later --- that the shit began to hit the fan. In April of 1973 John Dean began cooperating with investigators and in July Alexander Butterfield revealed THE TAPES. That’s when flames, smoking guns, and small nuclear explosions engulfed the White House, not before. So, what we need right now is less jumping to conclusions (particularly those of us who are NOT lawyers and are only listening to our siloed echo chamber) and to have some patience. Mueller et al are apparently beginning to “follow the money,” just as Woodward and Bernstein did in 1972-73. That’s always a sound way to go. Let’s wait and see what the eminent Mr. Mueller presents us with by New Year’s 2018. If there are bombshells before then, let’s make sure we’re seeing real fire and not more smoke.
Looking Back/Looking Ahead
As we reach the midpoint of 2017 celebrations abound --- graduations, Father’s Day, Flag Day (DJT’s b’day) --- and we’re on the cusp of summer with its warmer, longer days and slower pace. Political news is breaking everywhere and all the time, it seems, and the horror of the Congressional baseball field shooting hangs over us, too. As we wrap up the week the Blast is going to avoid the heavy-duty stuff and just amble around some “under the radar” topics that have also popped up this week.
In 1949 the “top ten” names for boys, from 1 to 10, were: James, Robert, John, William, Michael, David, Richard, Thomas, Charles, and Larry. Boomers in their late 60’s remember going to school with lots of guys with those names (and girls named, 1 to 10, Linda, Mary, Patricia, Barbara, Susan, Sandra, Nancy, Carol, Kathleen, and Sharon). Pretty bland, very “grey flannel suit” (white) “American” names. As a teacher, it was fun to watch the shifting generational names come and go. Years full of Jennifers and Jessicas, Sams and Noahs, Tylers and Taylors, etc. reflected the shifting cultural tides. By the early 21st century, teaching in New York City, I had two students named Shaquille! So this year’s MLB draft’s top ten names reflect something (I’m not sure what, exactly, but something) about what’s become culturally popular. So, without further ado, here are the top ten names of the players chosen first by major league baseball. 1. Royce 2. Hunter 3. Mackenzie 4. Brendan 5. Kyle 6. Pavin 7. Adam 8. Keston 9. Joe 10 Jake. Having watched quite a few Little League games the past few years (the Lovely Carol Marie’s grandsons play), I’m not shocked by the list and can predict that in about 7 or 8 years you can expect to see a bunch of players named Braden, Miles, Rider, Lawson, Austin, and so on.
There’s nothing deep here, just an observation. In naming our children we try (I think) to create a name that makes them a special individual, gives them a certain distinction. Sometimes the name is part of a family “tradition” or honorific toward a family member (as in “Jr.” or “III”). That can be good or bad, from the kid’s point of view, of course. Some names invite taunting and ridicule (“Wilbur,” the 309th most popular name in 1949 was part of the “Mr. Ed”/talking horse show leading to quite a bit of “playful” kidding back in the Sixties) Names, like hairstyles and hem lengths go in and out of style and popularity, simply serving as a barometer of what’s popular in the world at a particular time. Will we see a bunch of young “Piper”s as a result of Orange is the New Black in the near future? Or “LeBron”s or “Steph”s? “Odell”s? Who knows?
Nothing deep. Just keep moving, folks, nothing to see here. Just something to observe.
2. The Democratic “Base?”
As I watch the news programs I keep hearing about “Trump’s base” and the Democrat’s base. In the former case we have a pretty clear idea of who those 35% or so are: white, working/lower middle class, no college education primarily not-urban citizens. When it comes to the Democratic Party’s base I’m pretty unclear. Historically, of course, going back to the FDR’s New Deal & going forward, the Democratic base was: working class union workers, ethnic minorities (immigrants, first generation Americans), Jews, African-Americans, and the LGBT community. In other words an amalgam of groups that might define “identity politics.” Combine that with old line “Lefites” who (like Bernie Sanders) are old school Socialists or Kennedy “liberals,” add a tablespoon of “political correctness” (introduced in the last 20 years or so) and that’s the Democratic base(?). And therein, I believe, is the problem. Given that range of groups/identities what does the Democratic Party stand for? We know the talking points: an increased minimum wage, environmental justice, protection of women’s, LGBT, & “minority” rights, and so on. But what’s their message and how are they going to accomplish things? Yes, they see the Federal government as more “activist” than Republicans and, yes, they’re “for” social justice but what does all that mean? And who, in their ranks, epitomizes their “message?”
Before the 2018 midterm elections roll around the Democratic Party better solve its identity problem, get away from identity politics, and forget about harping on how awful Donald Trump is (it’s obvious, what’s your alternative?). Unless they can create a coherent, intelligent, and clear statement of who they are --- building a base around their ideas/ideals --- the Democrats will continue to whistle in the wind and stand in the wings as the Republicans and Tea Partiers run the show.
So, Delta Airlines and Bank of America have withdrawn (or “suspended”) their sponsorship of the Public Theater’s Julius Caesar production. While these corporations are well within their rights to pull their money out of productions, their motivation is purely financial and has nothing to do with politics or values. In the process, they are making a strong statement about their willingness to abandon the First Amendment and any belief in allowing --- indeed, encouraging --- open, public discourse about controversial subjects.
In the case of the Public’s staging of Julius Caesar, “Fox and Friends” (and the right wing echo chamber) sounded the alarm nationally about the “horror” of this production (while not having seen it!) because Caesar is a Trump look alike with Calpurnia (his wife) speaking in an Eastern European accent. What a shock, a production of Shakespeare that is staged in a “contemporary” manner to put the play’s message in high relief. Let’s examine three significant points about this brouhaha: (1) a 2012 production portraying Caesar as an Obama look alike; (2) the message of the play; and (3) the First Amendment.
In 2012, the year Barack Obama won re-election as President, the Acting Company –-- a theater & education repertory organization founded in 1972 by legendary actor/director John Houseman --- presented a production of Julius Caesar in which Caesar was clearly an Obama look alike. Interestingly (?), there was no explosion of publicity or public outcry about this staging. Reviews at the time made no mention of Caesar being portrayed as an "Obama" look alike. Eric Grode in the April 17, 2012, NY Times said:
This modern-dress version features a smattering of “Occupy Rome” placards, as well as somber black suits by the yard. (At this point the most daring way to stage “Julius Caesar” would be in togas.)
While alluding to the “Occupy Now” movement of the time, there is no mention of Obama at all. In the April 9, 2012, Playbill review Andrew Gans quoted the director of the production, Rob Melrose:
“Julius Caesar is a stirring parallel to today's politics; a classic story of pride and envy, arrogance and honor, opportunity and tragic strategic errors," said director Melrose in a statement. "Written in one of his most productive times of Shakespeare's life, Julius Caesar blends the historic events of the reign of this iconic Roman Emperor with tragic elements and compelling language."
So, while it cites “today’s politics” there is no “outrage” over the Obama representation mentioned. Finally, on April 11, 2012, Karl Levitt wrote in Backstage:
Julius Caesar with its theme of taking action against the threat of perceived tyranny, has always been a favorite for contemporary treatment. Here we have women in the senate, the youngest soothsayer ever as a sort of cub reporter (Caleb Carlson), and the assassination of Caesar achieved with shiny letter openers. None of this distracts, because Shakespeare’s words are being given a pleasing incisiveness and the plot is afoot.
Again, no mention of Obama, but a strong explanation of why Caesar is “always . . . a favorite for contemporary treatment." And that leads to point #2.
Before the Central Park production began on Monday night Oskar Eustis, the Artistic Director of New York’s Public Theater, addressed the audience --- because the storm of criticism from Fox et al had already begun due to reports from the show’s previews that the Trump-like Caesar is bloodily assassinated. Eustis’s short address sums up what the play is about and why a contemporary staging is relevant and important.
"We stand completely behind our production of 'Julius Caesar.' We recognize that our interpretation of the play has provoked heated discussion; audiences, sponsors and supporters have expressed varying viewpoints and opinions. Such discussion is exactly the goal of our civically-engaged theater; this discourse is the basis of a healthy democracy. Our production of 'Julius Caesar' in no way advocates violence towards anyone. Shakespeare's play, and our production, make the opposite point: those who attempt to defend democracy by undemocratic means pay a terrible price and destroy the very thing they are fighting to save. For over 400 years, Shakespeare's play has told this story and we are proud to be telling it again in Central Park."
The play, then, is about the difficulties of maintaining a truly democratic state amid polarized, conflicting interest groups and it warns of the dangers of acting undemocratically. That sponsors have withdrawn their support (from the play, in Bank of America’s case, and from the Public Theater in Delta’s) is a sad commentary about how “the bottom line” is more important to these corporations than free speech --- and how corporations, in this case, are trying to censor a public production.
And that’s the final point. Whether it is a college campus or the stage of a theater, the importance of protecting and defending the right of anyone and everyone to express her/his thoughts and ideas is the lifeblood of a democracy. Bank of America and Delta are setting a sad example by withdrawing their sponsorship from Julius Caesar --- showing they care more about making money than defending First Amendment rights. These corporations could have issued a (strong) statement that they disapproved of the depiction of Caesar as our President without withdrawing their sponsorship. No one seemed to care that an “Obama” Caesar was “assassinated” five years ago but I guess Fox and Friends missed that production --- or maybe they were too busy looking for that President’s birth certificate and couldn’t be bothered. Apparently the Bard wasn't completely correct when he said, “What’s past is prologue.” (The Tempest)
The Myth of Meritocracy
Newly minted American citizen Richard V. Reeves, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institute, has been making the rounds of the “liberal media” the past few weeks promoting his new book Dream Hoarders (with the cumbersome subtitle “How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What to Do about It”). Sunday’s NY Times op-ed page (June 10th) featured an abbreviated version of Mr. Reeves’s thesis in a piece entitled Stop Pretending You’re Not Rich. The topic is one Mr. Reeves has spent a number of years researching and his findings are as important as they are fascinating.Most Americans, when asked to self-identify, claim they are “middle class.” In a paper written for Brookings on September 3, 2015 Reeves wrote:
Class is a slippery concept, especially in a society that likes to think of itself as classless—or, more precisely, one in which everyone likes to think of themselves as middle class. In 2014, 85 percent of U.S. adults described themselves as ‘middle class’; a figure essentially unchanged since 1939, when a Gallup poll found that 88 percent described themselves in the same way.
Usually, our gauge for classification is an amalgam of income, education, family, and networks we belong to. Reeves’s research found the following regarding income:
There is plenty of argument about the extent of inequality. But nobody questions the fact that in recent decades, incomes in the upper middle class are rising relative to the rest of the distribution. Families in the top quintile receive about half of overall income.
Part of Reeves’s contention is that while we are making a lot of noise about the “top 1%” it is the top 20% that is really perpetuating the ongoing (and increasing) inequality in American society. Regarding education we know that having a college degree and/or a post graduate or professional degree provides one with a better position in our society but few of us realize what Reeves noted in the Sunday Times:
The United States is the only nation in the world, for example, where it is easier to get into college if one of your parents happened to go there. Oxford and Cambridge ditched legacy preferences in the middle of the last century. The existence of such an unfair hereditary practice in 21st-century America is startling in itself. But I have been more shocked by the way that even supposedly liberal members of the upper middle class seem to have no qualms about benefiting from it. (bold mine)
We knew that most colleges had a racist and anti-Semitic history but the persistence of legacy admissions perpetuates the stability of an Upper Middle Class (top 20%) that keeps moving further and further away from the remaining 80%.
It is difficult to separate family from housing (another area with tax breaks that favor the UMC) but it is important, according to Reeves, to note how much family adds to the domination of the top 20%. “To the extent that upper middle class Americans are able to form planned, stable, committed families, their children will benefit—and be more likely to retain their childhood class status when they become adults.” What Reeves contends is that this factor, in fact, is more powerful than “inherited poverty” and its cycles. Again, in the Sunday Times Reeves states:
Politicians and policy wonks worry about the persistence of poverty across generations, but affluence is inherited more strongly. Most disturbing, we now know how firmly class positions are being transmitted across generations. Most of the children born into households in the top 20 percent will stay there or drop only as far as the next quintile. As Gary Solon, one of the leading scholars of social mobility, put it recently, “Rather than a poverty trap, there seems instead to be more stickiness at the other end: a ‘wealth trap,’ if you will.”
So what is the core problem here that we need to take note of? According to Reeves the top 20% are going to need to become far more altruistic than they are. As he says:
Progressive policies, whether on zoning or school admissions or tax reform, all too often run into the wall of upper-middle-class opposition. Self-interest is natural enough. But the people who make up the American upper middle class don’t just want to keep their advantages; armed with their faith in a classless, meritocratic society, they think they deserve them. The strong whiff of entitlement coming from the top 20 percent has not been lost on everyone else.
If you look around (whether you are in the top 20% or the bottom 80% like most of us) it is time to face the realities of our highly classed society. Living on Connecticut’s “Gold Coast” and seeing the enormous privilege granted the public school students of Greenwich over its more “urban” neighbor Stamford is not shocking --- but it should be. We have grown to accept “the way it is” with a belief that we live in a meritocracy when, in fact, we don’t. I wonder, though, that if I had children, would they have had an unfair advantage of getting into Yale? (Probably --- though I’m sure greater $$$ gift-giving to the alma mater would make it more of a $ure thing) The statistics bear it out. The importance of Richard V. Reeves’s research and book, though, should be a paradigm shift in our thinking. Yes, there is a poverty cycle that is vicious but a reason for that cycle’s perpetuation is the equally insidious complacency of the top 20% who are benefitting from class privilege without feeling there is any obligation to give something back.
Over the Weekend
You may have noticed a story on Saturday about national demonstrations “against Sharia law” in about 19 cities. While most of these demonstrations were met with resistance in numbers greater than their own, they nonetheless believe there is a genuine threat that Muslims are trying to overturn our secular legal system and want to replace it with their draconian practices. The stupidity and hypocrisy of that notion reveals the true motives behind these demonstrations which are pure bigotry and fear.
According to the June 10th Washington Post:
ACT for America, a lobbyist organization with close ties to the Trump administration, organized nationwide marches to oppose Islamic law, which the group says is a threat to U.S. society. ACT, which has drawn condemnation from civil rights groups for its frequent criticism of Islam and its efforts to pass state-level bills targeting Islamic law and refugees, organized the protests as a nationwide March Against Sharia and a defense of human rights.
The irony here, of course, is that if we examine ACT for America, which claims on its website (actforamerica.org): “ We are the NRA of national security. We don’t just support the protection of American security --- we’re fighting for it.” They are actually a thinly veiled “hate group” (according to the Southern Poverty Law Center) organized by a woman named Brigitte Gabriel. The author of books like They Must Be Stopped and Because They Hate, Ms. Gabriel, a survivor of 1970's Muslim attacks in Lebanon (she’s a Lebanese Christian whose real name is Hanan Qahwaji and her credentials are a high school diploma and one-year certificate in business administration from a YMCA), has an ax to grind. According to Wikipedia:
Her organization, ACT for America, has been described by the New York Times as drawing "on three rather religious and partisan streams in American politics: evangelical Christian conservatives, hard-line defenders of Israel (both Jews and Christians) and Tea Party Republicans."
These are groups are right in Donald Trump’s wheelhouse, of course, so the alliance between the new administration and ACT for America is clear. And, like the administration, ACT for America, traffics in misinformation.
In June 2014, Gabriel said that "The radicals are estimated to be between 15 to 25 percent, according to all intelligence services around the world", an assertion that was found to be inaccurate by the Christian Science Monitor. (Wikipedia)
A goal of ACT for America is “to dissuade Jews and Christians from conducting interfaith dialogue with Muslims. And in state after state, it has lobbied state legislatures and school boards to purge textbooks of references that create “an inaccurate comparison between Islam, Christianity and Judaism.” (Wikipedia)
Combining ACT for America’s goals with the Christian/Evangelical right, and its energetic and vigorous assault on LGBT & gay rights, as well as women’s’ rights, we see the full-blown hypocrisy of the supposedly “Christian” groups in this nation. Inventing false narratives about “religious freedom” and portraying themselves, somehow, as being religiously oppressed because of tolerance for the LGBT community is the height of the two-faced evangelicals in this country.
According to The Southern Poverty Law Center website:
The hardliner religious-right groups that have long relied on the use of demonizing falsehoods to justify discrimination against LGBT people have not simply folded their tents and walked away. Rather, they have used their large megaphone to create a dangerous new narrative that portrays Christians who object to homosexuality on biblical grounds as victims of religious persecution. This idea is particularly compelling to millions of evangelicals who see themselves and their values as being under siege in a rapidly changing society.
This mentality, which spawns groups like ACT for America, created another wing-nut faction (that actually started in 1994!), the Alliance Defending Freedom. The Think Progress website characterizes the ADF like this:
The Alliance Defending Freedom wants to take America back to the 3rd century. Literally. On the website for its legal fellowship program, the organization explains that it “seeks to recover the robust Christendomic theology of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th centuries. This is catholic, universal orthodoxy and it is desperately crucial for cultural renewal,” the explanation goes on. “Christians must strive to build glorious cultural cathedrals, rather than shanty tin sheds.” While the Arizona-based organization has not made much progress in its mission of restoring the religious sentiments of the Byzantine Era, it has built a massive “legal ministry,” relying on 21st century attorneys and an eight-figure annual budget to reshape American law and society.
So, with money and a legal team, we have an organization that undoubtedly opposes sharia law but has no problem with implementing 3rd Century Byzantine “Christian” principles as law in the United States. Really?
The brilliant comedian Lewis Black, on his latest “Red, White, and Black” tour, tells Christians “stay out of the Old Testament, that’s our book.” Black often jokes about being Jewish but, as with all good comedy, there’s a message based in truth beneath the laugh. The Old Testament (where all the anti-gay preaching finds it sources) is the Bible for the Jewish faith --- the book of Abraham and Moses. Christians have the Old Testament but added their New Testament (which revolves around Jesus Christ) and Muslims, of course, have the Old Testament, the New Testament (where Jesus is simply a prophet), and the prophecies of Muhammad in their Koran. That any of these books should be part of our secular legal system totally violates the United States Constitution, of course, and if any of these supposedly “patriotic” groups actually understood that document they would shut up and back off. However, like our Special Ed Student –in – Chief, reading itself is a challenge and comprehension is much tougher than simple decoding --- a cognitive test far beyond their ken.
Another Week Flies By
Somehow we’re approaching the middle of June and the weeks keep flying by. As usual, it’s been a busy 7 days and today’s Blast will review the news while adding some observations and commentary you may want to consider discussing with friends over the weekend.
2. Paul Ryan and Don, Jr.
You may have caught the ever-lame Paul Ryan making excuses for the President’s clumsy attempt to intimidate Comey and quash the Russia investigation. In St. Paul’s own words:
“I would just say that of course there needs to be a degree of independence between [the Department of Justice], FBI and the White House and a line of communications established. The president’s new at this. He’s new to government, and so he probably wasn’t steeped in the long-running protocols that establish the relationships between DOJ, FBI and White Houses. He’s just new to this.”
Even if we thought Ryan believed his own bullshit, how about this question: As Speaker-of-the-House, haven’t you felt an obligation to help this novice learn about those “long-running protocols,” etc.?” Ryan, once again, is willing to publicly stand up, make a statement like that as he looks right in the camera, and have no clue as to what a huge flaming dickhead he is.
And while we’re on the subject of dickheads, how about Don Jr.’s “live-tweeting” during the Comey testimony? In case you missed it, DJT Jr sent out three tweets that reveal that rotten apples don’t fall far from their tree.
"(1)Flynn stuff is BS in context 2 guys talking about a guy they both know well. I hear 'I hope nothing happens but you have to do your job’. (2) Very far from any kind of coercion or influence and certainly not obstruction!"
"(3)Knowing my father for 39 years when he 'orders or tells' you to do something there is no ambiguity, you will know exactly what he means." (CNN June 8th)
Here’s rough, tough Donnie Jr, best known for his big-game hunting photos, showing us his best macho swagger. Like his father’s “locker room talk” with Billy Bush, now it’s just “2 guys talking” and DJT Jr weighs in with his studied legal opinion (“certainly not obstruction!”) before sharing his intimate insight to how tough Dad is because “when he orders to tells you” you know it! Given Dad’s Corleone mentality and characteristics, we just might give Donnie Jr some leeway on this one --- after all, he had to grow up with that guy.
While many probably don’t care much about the French Open (tennis) being played in Paris for the last fortnight, I had a passing thought as I watched a match on NBC earlier today (June 9th). There were 14,840 paying spectators in attendance at the event. Tonight I’ll watch the Yankees play the Orioles at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx and anywhere from 25 to 45,000 people will show up to watch that game. 11,000 fans will fill the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland for the NBA Finals this evening, too. And thousands will fill other stadia and arenas all over world, not to mention how many will watch on televisions or streaming devices! This all made me wonder about our whole history, as humans, of watching others --- particularly those who are very, very good at what they do (athletes, actors, musicians, et al). While we, ourselves, may participate in sports, or playing music, or acting in Community Theater, there is some inherent desire, it seems, to watch those who have perfected (or come close to perfection) those talents or skills. Going back to the Greek amphitheatres and the Roman Coliseum, knights jousting and lethal Mayan “basketball,” we humans derived pleasure and/or satisfaction from watching others --- identifiable to us in many ways (two arms & legs & eyes, for example) --- who excel at athletics or music or acting publicly. Forget that spectating has become a multi-billion dollar industry for a moment or two and just appreciate whatever it is you watch this weekend --- and those people who raise our spirits because of their talent, style, and grace under pressure (sometimes). Spectate away!
“It’s How You Manage Your Dreams”
So, it’s September 1967, and I’m in New Haven, Connecticut, thrilled to be there and having no clue as to what the future might bring. It’s a heady time: in June the Beatles had released Sgt. Pepper’s, the protests against the Vietnam War were heating up, Civil Rights were on the front burner and 1.3 million people were enrolled in college! Yale College cost $3,000 for room, board, & tuition (and I needed a scholarship & loan to afford it!) It took a year and a half to hit my stride academically --- I was pretty intimidated by all those Andover & Exeter guys (there were 40 in our class of 1,000 --- 4% from two schools!), in awe of many of my brilliant classmates, and overwhelmed by the possibilities the institution presented. My saving grace was sports, as usual, with football and lacrosse providing a great outlet for my energy and a natural platform for camaraderie. By the spring of 1968 the world was shifting, however, and so was I. LBJ dropped out of the Presidential race & Bobby Kennedy (my hero) jumped in. Within a week of the President’s withdrawal, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated and by early June so was RFK. 1967’s “Summer of Love” had turned into a world of despair by 1968’s summer and, by the time I returned to Yale in the fall of 1968 my new dreams were beginning to coalesce.
Approaching age 20 my worldview was becoming decidedly leftist. Looking back I can see it as a natural outgrowth of several factors: my Roman Catholic youth, JFK’s inaugural address, the friends and professors around me, and the reading I was doing. That combination of ingredients created an activist, atheist, socialist young man who, once again, was in the right place at the right time. I had left the church years before college but the basic Christian teachings (of being your brother’s keeper, of turning the other cheek, of the meek inheriting the earth, etc.) had made an abiding impression on my morals and values. JFK’s “ask what you can do for your country” seared into my 11-year-old mind and seemed inextricable from those morals and values about giving something back. Never having been particularly materialistic (we had always done fine, as a family, on not much $$$) socialism was a natural landing spot, particularly when I surveyed the landscape of what one had to do to make lots of money (sell people things they didn’t need, wheel and deal finances, be a corporate lawyer, etc.--- it appeared terribly unseemly to me). I did (and do) believe that there’s something wrong with a system that allows some people to own multiple homes when others are homeless.
In studying politics I saw no choice but to move left for a simple reason. “Liberals” believe those who are underserved or underprivileged should be able to get help (and, yes, quite possibly from the government) while “conservatives” seem to believe it is all up to the individual to “make it” or not and, if you don’t, it’s your own fault. Mick Mulvaney’s recent presentation of the Trump budget was a perfect expression of this Paul Ryan/”conservative” reasoning --- “those who pay taxes should reap the benefits, not people who need things like food stamps.” To ignore the boatload of factors that create a society of such disproportion (yes --- race, class, gender, sexual orientation) would be to deny the reality of the U.S. of A. So, as I worked my way through college, I found my dreams moving in the direction of some kind of public service and, when it all shook out, only one profession seemed appropriate, given my skill set and orientation: teaching.
One of the reasons teaching drew me was because it was a clear way to give back while allowing a certain autonomy. Your classroom is your domain and you had a chance to connect with young people at a crucial point in their development (I only considered teaching high school). It also provided opportunities to remain involved in sports (coaching) and the arts (directing plays, running cartoon clubs, teaching guitar) while providing time to nurture my dreams of writing. As I approached the end of college I wanted to write the next great American novel (I know, I’m sure I was the only one with that dream). Throughout my years as a teacher that dream never died, although it did morph.
Being able to take writing courses and workshops while teaching --- and having time to write --- short stories, poems, songs, and, yes, a novel (426 pages!) --- was a dream come true. Throughout the ‘70’s, ‘80’s, ‘90’s and right up through this new 21st century I was “living the dream(s)” that had begun at Yale in the late ‘60’s. I was coaching, directing plays, and writing --- finally producing some books (not the novel, but a two-volume book on performance assessment and a short book for Social Studies/History teachers---photos above) while getting some op-ed and book reviews published, too. And, most important of all, I had been able to “make a living” doing something I loved: teaching. (Not to mention starting two great charter schools: please see www.theparkerschool.org and www.blackstoneacademy.org) The joy of being in the classroom and working with students over the years was an incalculable treasure for me and my contact with many of my former students now, in retirement, is one of the most satisfying achievements in my life.
So now the challenge is: what are the new dreams to manage? What does one dream about as you head for the horizon? There’s still the writing, of course, (as the Blast attests) and there’s enjoying the time to catch up on reading, with friends, to go to ball games, to play (and write) music, attending theater and music and stand-up shows. As time flies by the dreams don’t necessarily diminish, they simply shape-shift, always giving us the opportunity pursue them with energy and passion.
Enjoy managing your dreams!