Play Ball!

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game logoThere was still a chill in the early morning air when the team gathered at Eugene Simpson Park for batting practice, and for whatever camaraderie this contentious group could muster.  These were Republican congressmen, and they were about to do something good, out in the open before a friendly crowd.  The game they were preparing for would benefit children and literacy, while costing the taxpayers nothing.

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Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La) greets fans before the 2016 game.

hodgkinson mugshotPractically unnoticed, a slightly unkempt, doughy middle-aged white man with close-cropped sandy hair and a scraggly, salt and pepper beard, emerged from his home in a white van parked on the edge of the field.  Gesturing at the gathering players, he asked a passerby, “Are they Republicans or Democrats?”  In Alexandria, Virginia, home to powerful politicos of every stripe, this was not a strange thing to ask.

“Republicans,” the stranger reported.  “They are practicing for a charity game with the Democrats tomorrow.”

The man nodded, and the stranger moved on.  The man returned to his van to retrieve an assault rifle, and for good measure, he pocketed a sidearm.  Calmly he carried his weapons to the edge of the third-base dugout, where he began to fire on the weekend Republican athletes.

practice screenshotHe was an astonishingly poor marksman.  Of the over fifty rounds he got off before he was felled by return fire from a congressman’s bodyguards, most sprayed buildings and vehicles flanking the field. Only five hit people; only two inflicted life-threatening wounds.  The first was Majority Whip Stephen Scalise, whose leadership rank had brought a protective squad capitol police at the scene.  The other two were members of the bodyguard unit itself, whose were return fire probably averted a bloodbath

 

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Rep Scalise takes a late throw during the 2015 Congressional Charity Game.

 

Rep. Scalise was grievously wounded in the pelvis and lower abdomen.  Matt Mika, a former congressional staffer and now an agricultural lobbyist, was hit multiple times, including life-threatening wounds to the chest. The others with injuries, less serious though still significant, included staffer Zachary Barth and two members of the bodyguard detail, David Bailey and Crystal Griner.  The gunman, James T. (“Tom”) Hutchinson of Belleville, Illinois, died of wounds sustained in the gunfight.  His was the only fatality that morning.

 

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hodgkinson picketsAlmost immediately, the press discovered, in Hutchinson’s social media, his strong left-leaning political passion, and his fierce opposition to President Trump.  “Trump is a Traitor,” he posted on March 22. “Trump Has Destroyed our Democracy. It’s Time to Destroy Trump & Co.”  Democrats, too, came under his rhetorical fire.  He was a fierce critic of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign, branding her with the worst epithet he could muster: “Republican Lite.”  His cover photo depicted the Democratic Socialist candidate Bernie Sanders.  His profile picture was of the American flag, with the caption “Democratic Socialism explained in three words: We the People.”

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bernieSen. Sanders immediately took to the airwaves and Twitter to distance himself from this heinous act.  In a statement, he said he “was sickened by this despicable act.  …Let me be as clear as I can be. Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms,” he said. “Real change can only come about through nonviolent action, and anything else runs against our most deeply held American values.”

RyanSpeaker Paul Ryan tried raising the issue above the fractious tribalism of Congress.  “We are united in our shock and anguish.” He intoned from the floor of the House.  “An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.”

For once, I find wisdom in the Speaker’s words.  I wish I could be confident he meant them as I took them.  It was indeed an attack on all of them, not because they were Republicans, but because they were Washington politicians.  Now it is time, not to pretend that this was not a political act.

“You know” Rep. Ryan said”every day, we come here to test and challenge each other. We feel so deeply about the things we fight for and believe in. At times, our emotions can get the best of us. We are all imperfect. But we do not shed our humanity when we enter this chamber.”

I would suggest that Mr. Hutchinson’s heinous action was was crazy, but it also an act of political desperation brought on at least in part because it felt to him that the people who enter the House of Representatives, and the Senate and Statehouse as well, do in fact leave their humanity in the cloakroom. 

 

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Rep Darrell Issa scheduled a meeting with his constituents, but never showed up.  Where was he?

Repealing the Affordable Care Act, which is funded with a sharply progressive tax that costs the wealthy the most though they directly benefit the least, satisfies the plutocrats but feeds the seething anger of the middle class and the poor.  Replacing it with legislation that will result in tens of millions of people, mostly disabled, elderly, or poor, losing the ability to

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Across the street on the roof of his office, Issa photographed the crowd on his smartphone.  He did not speak to it.

pay for the care that is keeping them alive today, adds injury to insult.  To do so in such a rush that even the lawmakers do not know the true costs of the legislation (perhaps because they fear that knowledge of the real cost might spark a conflagration of opposition) lays bare the contempt the officeholders hold for the voters who elected them. These are not acts of compassionate men.

 

 

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This the picture he got of the crowd he invited and ignored..

Images of politicians locking their doors to their constituents, or hiding on rooftops to avoid crowds, only reinforce the schism that their inhumanity has created, and amplify the anger that issues from the rift. The president is the very exemplar of contempt, for the courts, the congress, and the mob at his political base.  For openness.  For truth.

 

 I am not condoning political violence, but I think I can see whence it arises.

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Inhumanity is not the exclusive province of Republicans.  Mrs. Clinton ran as a populist but was funded primarily by the corporate and financial sectors, and liked to talk about her foreign policy experience and her gender rather than domestic economic policies where her hypocrasy was more likely to show.  Many wondered whether she might be more beholden to the plutocracy than to the people. After all, she had amassed millions in personal wealth while working in the public sphere, and made more money addressing Goldman Sachs behind closed doors for half an hour than they made from half a decade of hard work.   In the general election, both candidates ran less on issues than on disparaging each other:  “crooked Hillary” and “basket of deplorables.”

As a blow against American democracy, the DNC’s rigging of the primary system to stop the surge of their most popular candidate from upsetting their dynastic system was on par with the Republicans’ gerrymandering of the South to cement their hegemony there. The Democrats’ ramming through the ACA without a single Republican vote lost, and their abolition of the filibuster in executive nominations before the Senate, led to voter disillusionment that lost them their majority in the Senate.  The Republicans doubled down when they banished the filibuster from Supreme Court nominations, which the Democrats had spared.

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How much proof do you need that voters feel abandoned?

The president, a seeming stranger to transparency and truth, promised to return a strong America to its middle-class roots, and instead delivered a government larded with billionaires, generals, and disestablishmentarians.

 In all of this, the Little Guy, like Tom Hutchinson, was left out, not only of the negotiation, but also seemingly of any consideration at all.  On social media, and on sidewalks in front of federal buildings in Illinois, while he writhed and moaned in frustration, but nobody seemed to notice.

 If his anger surprises you, you have not been paying attention.

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Arizona Senator Jeff Flake

Political violence, rhetorical and real, is becoming the norm in America today.  The violent rhetoric promulgated on the internet spills over into violence on the streets.  Riots triggered by racial incidence have occurred in Maryland, Missouri, and California.  Mobs shouting support for free speech have shut down appearances by controversial speakers in California and Vermont, where a professor was assaulted for simply moderating the event.  Candidates have been compelled to withdraw from elections because of death threats.  Mass shootings have been used to praise Allah, to punish gay lifestyles, to push back at police violence, and now to protest Republican policy making in Congress.

freedom of speechTo deny or ignore the political nature of this violence is to bury our heads in the sand.  Worse yet is to use the violence to double-down on the political tribalism that is driving it.  Our whole government has given itself over to a gooey mixture of partisanship and military-industrial complexity, which has oozed into the machinery of government and hardened there, like cement.

Our two political parties become drunk with power when they hold it, and overpowered with lust for it when they do not. In pursuit and defense of power, unholy alliances are forged with wealth, both domestic and foreign.   In their relentless pursuit of power for its own sake, they have lost sight of this principle, enshrined in the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

slot machineThe government in Washington today is the results of a raggedy patchwork of elections that were subject to a host of perverse pressures.  They have been gerrymandered, procedurally overwrought, steered by huge billows of cash from God knows where, distorted by slick Madison Avenue techniques and online social media corrals, and digital putinperhaps even hacked by foreign and corporate interests with nefarious intents.  Many potential voters have lost faith in the system.  They avoid the polls altogether. Many who do come vote not for what they believe in, but to stem an evil, if ill defined, tide they feel is swamping them. 

Governments thus constituted do not have the consent of the governed.  Their powers are not just.  The populace feels this, and a lumbering discontent roams the land.  Violence breaks out here and there.

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Outlines of Gerrymandered Congressional Districts in the 1990s

There is an old joke that goes something like this:  A traveler has a flat while driving past an insane asylum.  As he tries to change tires, the lug nuts keep rolling into the ditch.  A lunatic watches the man’s frustration as he fetches them from the mud. The lunatic has a suggestion: “Why don’t you put the lug nuts in the hub cap so they won’t roll away?”  The traveler tries this, and it works.  He says to the lunatic, “That was a good idea.  I thought you were supposed to be crazy.”  The lunatic, drawing himself up indignantly, replies, “I may be crazy, but I’m not stupid!”

i have a dreamWhat Tom Hutchinson did was evil, yes, and it was crazy, but it was not irrational.  Why are Republicans and Democrats alike getting death threats when they run for office?  Why are the legislative and the executive branches mired to their axles in mud?  Because politics has lost its humanity.  The checks and balances that were the genius of the founding fathers, their loving and respectful gift to us, have been spurned because they are were awkward and inconvenient, not realizing that that very inconvenience was the tool that men like Calhoun used to build the compromises that made America great.  They encourage majorities to respect the interests of minorities.  We need them back.

“For all the noise and fury, we are a family,” says Paul Ryan, ironically if imperfectly quoting Macbeth’s reflection on life.  (A more complete tweet would be:  “it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” An interesting reference, considering the state of Congress and the White House today.  But I digress…) 

Ryan went on to say (and this is the soul of his massage):

“These were our brothers and sisters in the line of fire. These were our brothers and sisters who ran into danger and saved countless lives.

“So before this House returns to its business, I want us to slow down and reflect, to think about how we are being tested right now. Because we are.  

I ask each of you to join me in resolving to come together…to lift each other up…and to show the country—show the world—that we are one House. The people’s House—united in our humanity. 

I really believe that, Mr. Speaker.  Do you?  Because if you do, slow down and reflect.  Think of the common people who are every day exposed to gunfire because of firearms in the hands of felons and lunatics, with no bodyguard to protect them.  Think of unarmed black men who fear for their lives when they are stopped for a failed tail light.  Think of the police officers who fear for their lives because they don’t know the black man is unarmed.  Think of those lying wounded in the street, who may become homeless if they get medical care they now suddenly need but cannot afford.

Continue to think about government being too big, about business being over-regulated, about taxes being too high and ill-distributed.  You are right about those things, and the Left needs to accept them into the deliberations.

Think about the powerless, and how they can be empowered. Think about how power corrupts, and what to do about it.

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Think about how, and why, you are being tested right now.  Because you are.  You have some serious soul-searching to do. So does the RNC.  So does the President.  So does each Democrat, and the DNC. So do all of the nameless bureaucrats who toil in the offices of the Capitol, the West Wing, The Pentagon, Langley, and Foggy Bottom.

The republic is broken, much as Madison predicted (in Federalist #10) that it would be if partisanship prevailed over public interest.  You, Mr. Speaker, are among the few with the power set it right.

Power and leadership are not the same thing.  Winning is more than just slyly passing your whole program intact. Leading is accepting (even embracing, if you can) the ideas of those with whom you disagree, while zealously promoting your own.  Winning is adopting policy that serves the people over the party. Instead of fighting the checks and balances, embrace them as a source of your strength.

Be a leader instead of a power broker, and you will begin to quell the fires that are starting to consume us.  You will become a hero, not just of the conservative caucus, but of all America.  Do not do it for this reason, though; do it because it is the right thing to do. One of the lives you save may be your own.

I believe you when you say, “It is that humanity which will win the day.  It always will.”  Yes!  You are my man.  Let’s play ball!

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Walls

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walls

Mending Wall

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!’
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors’.

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Well-Mended Wall

Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
‘Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.’ I could say ‘Elves’ to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

–Robert Frost (1914)

 

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Good Neighbors: A West German family enjoys the Berlin Wall –Henri Cartier-Bresson, 1962

 

Kremlins

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Kremlin def

Kremlin is a word that really has no English equivalent.  Perhaps ‘castle’ or ‘citadel’ comes closest. but even the largest castle is dwarfed by a small kremlin.  These words miss something grander, more essentially Russian, about kremlins.

Old Russian cities formed around their kremlins and walled monasteries; in medieval times the line that divided the church from the rich and powerful was indistinct at best, and kremlins girded both the secular and sacred. 

tobolsk

The kremlin at Tobolsk

In the countryside around these central structures the serfs tilled the land for the noblemen who dwelt within.  Near the gates merchants, tradesmen, artisans and ladies of the night gathered to ply their goods and services.  Inside the wall princes and priests plotted their intrigues and their wars.  Novgorod, Moscow, Smolensk, Pskov and many other cities had kremlins.  There is even a small kremlin in Tobolsk, deep in Siberia, 1500 miles east of Moscow.

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Between the Carpathian Mountains to the southwest and the Urals to the northeast lies a vast expanse of gently rolling lands known as the Russian Plain, through which meander many long and mighty rivers.  Because of the bland topography, these rivers criss-cross the plain in all directions.  Their names are rife with history and romance: the Rhine, the Danube, the Dnieper and Dniester, the Volga, the Don.  Owing to the relatively flat terrain, these waterways are easily navigable, with gentle currents and few shallows, shoals or rapids.  In a pre-industrial world, they provided a watery network, connecting the Baltic, Mediterranean, Black and landlocked Caspian Seas, that facilitated the movement of goods, troops, and culture throughout Eastern Europe.

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Control of this area endowed its owner with substantial strategic and economic advantage, but maintaining control was difficult. War-like peoples surrounded it on all sides.  To the north were the Norse, renowned for their berserk ferocity.  To the south was Byzantium, heir to the efficient Roman war machine.  To the west were the barbarous Slavs, and to the east lay the Mongol horde.  In the middle lay a loose-knit, polyglot cluster of kingdoms centered in Kiev, known as the lands of the Rus’.

smolensk

The kremlin at Smolensk

Control of this politically roiling landscape required at least two things:  An all-powerful commander of a formidable military force (eventually, the tsars), and a series of impregnable fortresses in which to consolidate control (the kremlins). 

A succession of strongmen built fortifications at strategic points along river.  The walls of these fortresses were initially made of wood, but were eventually replaced by stone, to become the kremlins we know today.

In the 9th century, the Kievan Rus’ built a citadel on the Dnieper to defend against aggression from the south.  This kremlin gave rise to Kiev, which became the the first iteration of what would eventually become Russia.  It stood until the Mongols sacked Kiev in 1240; very little remains.  The Rus’ then moved their capital to Novgorod, where they constructed another oaken kremlin on the Volkhov River.  Stone walls replaced the wooden ones there, beginning in 1302.

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The kremlin of Pskov

To the north, in Pleskow (now Pskov), which was allied with the Novgorod Rus’, a kremlin arose where the little Pskov River flows into the larger Velikaya near its mouth on Lake Peipus, the source of the River Neva.  Here, in 1240, Alexander Nevsky of Novgorod turned back an invasion of Teutonic Knights in an epic battle on the ice, immortalized in Sergei Eisenstein’s 1938 film masterpiece.  (Historians disagree on the reliability of the accounts of this event.)  The site controls access by the landlocked lands of Rus’ to the Gulf of Finland, and thus the Baltic Sea.  Peter the Great, who dreamed of building a navy and was wont to make his dreams come true, later made his capital near there to give Russia’s interior access to the ocean.

The Grand Principality of Moscow, soon to be Muscovy and then Russia, annexed Novgorod in 1478.  This was part of “the gathering of the Rus’ lands by  Grand Prince of Moscow Ivan the III, known as Ivan the Great.  It was then that the history of modern Russia began, although the word “Russia’ was first used by his grandson Ivan IV, the ‘Terrible’.

 At the site of today’s Moscow Kremlin a succession of walls went up and came down.  Slavs built an oaken palisade in in the 11th century, known as the Moscow Grad.  In the 14th century, a sturdy stronghold of white limestone replaced it.

 

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Ivan the Great

Ivan III replaced the limestone, between 1485 and 1495, with the walls we know today.  They are 5 to 19 meters high, 3.5 to 6.5 meters thick, built of stone faced with red brick.  Along the top, for its entire perimeter, runs a walkway, 2 to 4.5 meters wide, for is full perimeter, flanked by a 2.5-meters-tall crenelated wall facing outwards, and topped in a swallow-tailed style.  The walls contain interior passageways leading to  lightless rooms where the tsars’ most dangerous prisoners lived in solitary confinement while they slowly went mad.  Twenty defensive towers loom above the walkway, each with a different height and style.  Four heavy gates pierce the wall, flanked by gate towers.  These are now crowned by illuminated Soviet red stars, which replaced the gilded double-headed eagles of the Romanovs.

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The Moscow Kremlin. The tower on the left, called the Secret Tower, holds a secret escape route.  The other two towers are the only nameless of the twenty.  Within the wall, on the right, is the tall Bell Tower of Ivan the Great. Behind it, to the left, the four golden domes of the Assumption Cathedral peek over the trees.  Between the nameless towers the single golden dome of the Archangel’s Cathedral is surrounded by four gray metal domes. and next to it the much smaller Annunciation Cathedral.  Behind that is the baroque yellow Grand Palace.

Within the 68 acre triangle enclosed by the Kremlin Wall lie many large buildings, both sacred and secular.

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Coronation of Alexander II in the Palace of Facets

The oldest secular building is the Palace of Facets, constructed between 1487 and 1492 to serve the tsars for state ceremonies and official entertainments. Next oldest is the Terem Palace, first residence of the tsars.  The Grand Kremlin Palace, commissioned by Tsar Nicholas I and built between 1837 and 1849 in a Baroque style, joins these structures together into one vast government complex. 

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The Communist Party convenes in the Hall of Congresses in 1966.

The newest building inside the Kremlin is a Soviet-era glass and concrete monstrosity built in Khrushchev’s time as a home for the Congresses of the Communist Party.  Because of its large 6000-seat capacity and superb acoustics, today it hosts popular concerts.

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Cathedral of the Annunciation

There are several churches within the Kremlin; in a more secular Russia, some of them now serve as museums.  The oldest is the Bell Tower of Ivan the Great, which is contemporaneous with the present wall.  The most important is the Cathedral of the Assumption, which before the 1917 revolution was a symbol of Russia’s claim of dominance in the Eastern Orthodox Church. 

The Cathedral of the Annunciation was once reserved as a private place for princes and tsars to worship, and the Cathedral of the Archangel was the final resting place medieval Russian autocrats.  The Cathedral of the Twelve Apostles contained the lavish Patriarch’s Palace, and the Church of the Deposition of the Robe was a private chapel for the Patriarchate. 

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st basils sunset

The church most often associated with the Kremlin by Americans is the Cathedral of Basil the Great, with its colorful bouquet of onion domes.  It actually lies outside the Kremlin.   It was built from 1555-1561 on orders of Ivan IV, known as ‘the Formidible’ (more literal), or more commonly today, ‘the Terrible’, (which is a more apt description of the man).  To commemorate his conquests of Kazan and Astrakahn, and to praise the glory of God, it was built in the shape of flames leaping skyward.  It was consecrated in 1561 and secularized by the Soviets in 1928, today it is owned by the Russian Federation and serves as a museum.

Today the Kremlin is the capitol of the Russian Federation.  Its hegemony, under the firm hand of Vladimir Putin, reaches across the vast expanse of Russia, and who knows how far beyond.

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Saint Basil the Great

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In the year 359 the Goths were a loosely- knit horde of warrior kingdoms nipping at the heels of a stumbling Roman Empire.  The age of Christian persecution was waning, with the Emperor Constantius II himself professing Christian beliefs.  A controversy within the Church, which began at the Council of Seleucia, was troubling the Emperor:  did the gospel’s assertion that “the Son was like the Father” mean that they were built of the same substance, rather than that they were alike in some other way.  He called a Council in Constantinople in 359 to settle the question.

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St. Basil the Great

Among those who attended was a thirty-year old priest from Ancyra, Galatia, in what is now Turkey.  Dark-skinned, ascetic, and mystical, Basil first took the side of same substance, but at the conference changed his stance.  He took the more mystical view that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit were a single entity, more unified in His essential nature than simply being three separate things made of the same substance would imply.  This central mystery today lies at the heart of many Christian faiths.

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Ruins of the ancient citadel of Caesura, where Basil built the first hospital

Basil went on to work among the sinners and the poor.  He preached to a large polyglot congregation every morning and evening, at other times working among thieves and prostitutes.  He spoke truth to power, not fearing to chastise public officials who failed their public duty to administer justice.  Outside the city of Caesarea, he built a huge humanitarian complex called the Basiliad, which included a hospital, a hospice, a poorhouse, and a soup kitchen, which his contemporaries compared with the Seven Wonders of the World.

Like many of the righteous who came before or followed him, it was probably difficult to get along with Basil face-to-face.  He was firm in his faith, and he could be both imperious and hot-blooded in its defense.  His orthodoxy, though, did not blind him to both the good and evil in those around him.  If it did not compromise the truth, he could shift from liturgical language and converse in the common dialect of the street or the imperious language of the Roman court.

what is your ownBasil was drawn to an ascetic, communal monasticism.  By 358, a band of like-minded monks had gathered around him.  He settled them into his family’s Galatian estate along with his brother, sister and widowed mother, to live with him in a life of piety, prayer, and devotion to charitable works.

During the Soviet Era, it was fitting that the Cathedral of Saint Basil stood at the head of Red Square, a symbol of the communistic ideal that was espoused, if not practiced, by the politburo in the Kremlin next door.  It descended into irony as the oligarchic kleptocracy of Putin rose to power.

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Red Square today.  On the left is St. Basil’s Cathedral, colorful and inviting.  On the right is the citadel of Moscow, the Kremlin, stern and forbidding.

Basil’s writings, and the example of his life, have had profound influence on Christian Orthodox thought in both the East and the West.  Nearly two millennia after his death, it is difficult to be sure how much of the text in the many liturgies and prayers which bear his name were actually written by his hand, and how much came later, inspired by his example.  Either way, his influence is vast.

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Julian the Apostate

When the Emperor Julian ascended to the Roman throne, he blamed Christianity for the flagging of the Empire.  He renounced his father’s faith in Christ, and tried to restore the pagan, neoplatonist polytheism that had seen Rome through its days of glory.  Entangled in the persecution of Julian the Apostate, an uncompromising Basil was arrested and tortured by Roman soldiers.  On June 29, 362, he was executed, a martyr to his Christian faith.  Julian himself died in battle a year later, and Rome returned, at least nominally, to Christian rule during its final days.

St. Basil is canonized by both the Western and the Eastern Orthodox Churches.  The Basiliad is gone, but his thought continues to guide the Judeo-Christian world nearly two millenia after his death.  He continues to make the world a better place.

st basil old

Fat Cat in a Hat

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I have used the laws of this country just like the greatest people that you read about every day in business have used the laws of this country, the chapter laws, to do a great job for my company, for myself, for my employees, for my family, et cetera….

…I have made the tough decisions, always with an eye toward the bottom line. Perhaps it’s time America was run like a business.”

–Donald Trump, who filed for bankruptcy four times

$$$$$$

That makes sense. Big Businesses, like Trump’s, exploit multitudes of common people for their labor, and vacuum up their cash for the private benefit of a few large stockholders and elite executives.  That is Capitalism, and it is good.

Business which run more like government should, where the executive suite serves to benefit its employees and the common people, reek of Socialism, which is bad.

Everyone knows that.

$$$$$$

We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes

–Leona Helmsley, NYC Real Estate & Hotel Mogul, who was jailed in 1992 for tax evasion and business fraud.

It makes me smart.”

–Donald Trump, on not paying any taxes.  He was elected President of the United States in 2016.

leona

Leona Helmsley, “The Queen of Mean”, was successfully prosecuted by then U.S. Attorney (and now Trump sycophant) Rudy Giuliani for income tax evasion and fraudulent business practices.  She reported to prison on April 15, 1992, the day personal taxes fall due.  Prisoner No.15113-054, estimated net worth over five billion dollars, served nineteen months in federal prison.  Upon release she had to sell all her NY hotels, most of which sold drinks, because New York law does not allow convicted felons to hold liquor licenses.

At the same time Donald Trump was building his real estate and hotel empire in New York and beyond, allegedly committing many of the same heinous acts that sent Helmsley to jail.  Now he is the leader of the free world.

What a difference twenty five years can make.

trump on helmsley

Drummed Out!

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Marching to a Different Drummer 

Short of dying in office, there are three ways an American president can cease to be one before his or her term is up:  1) Article I, Section 2-Impeachment, 2)  Amendment 25, Section 4-Declaration of Incapacity, and  3) Common Law-Resignation.  Only one of these—resignation—has ever actually occurred.  Each has grave consequences for the republic, but they are different.

1) ARTICLE I:   Impeachment

The most frequently discussed means of removing a president is impeachment.  The constitution provides for impeachment only in the case of “Treason, Bribery, of other high Crimes or Misdemeanors.”  Only the House of Representatives can bring an impeachment resolution, which requires a simple majority to pass.  Any member of the House can introduce an impeachment resolution, which is then referred to an ad hoc committee to work out the details.  More often in modern times the House Judiciary Committee itself initiates an impeachment resolution, and drafts recommendations for the floor of the House.  Until recently, the Attorney General could appoint an independent Special Prosecutor with the power to recommend impeachment directly to the House, but the legislation that empowered that was allowed to expire after the Clinton impeachment,  out of concern for the political effect of imbuing an individual who was not elected with such signal power.  If the House passes an impeachment resolution, then the Judiciary Committee recommends a slate of “managers” to prosecute the accused in the trial that follows.  Only upon conviction at this trial is the impeached person stripped of his office.

Impeachments are tried before the Senate.  When the defendant is the President of the United States, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presides and serves as judge.  A panel of “managers” appointed by the House on the recommendation of its Judiciary Committee prosecutes the case against the accused, and the entire Senate serves as a jury.  A two-thirds majority of senators present is necessary to convict. 

Once convicted, the offender is immediately removed from office.  In the case of the president, the vice president assumes the higher office, and the vice presidency remains vacant.  Ouster from office is the only sentence the Senate can confer.  Article I provides that “Judgement in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgement and Punishment, according to Law.”

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The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson

The provision for impeachment is intentionally Byzantine.  Over time it has become even more so, growing into equal parts constitutional law, politics, and pageantry. The framers did not intend for impeachment to be easy or routine.  In all of U.S. history only two presidents have been impeached by the House—Andrew Johnson (1861) and Bill Clinton (1988)—and neither was convicted in the Senate.  A bill of impeachment was introduced in the House against John Tyler in 1841, but it did not pass.  Richard Nixon resigned from office in 1974 with impeachment resolutions pending; his resignation rendered them moot.

During America’s first two centuries, the constitutional provision for impeaching a president was invoked only once—against Andrew Johnson–in the turbulent, polarized circumstances immediately following the Civil War.  In modern times, the country has seriously considered it three times in fewer than fifty rears—against Nixon, Clinton, and Trump.  It has never succeeded in removing a president from office.  Are we in danger of reducing impeachment to a routine political tool?

25th AMENDMENT:  Incapacity

Article II Section 1 of the Constitution provides for the succession of presidential power in the event of the death, resignation, or incapacity of the President:

In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the Same shall devolve on the Vice President, and the Congress may by Law provide for the Case of Removal, Death, Resignation or Inability, both of the President and Vice President, declaring what Officer shall then act as President, and such Officer shall act accordingly, until the Disability be removed, or a President shall be elected.

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The wording of this clause, particularly as it relates to incapacity, introduced ambiguities that the founders did not foresee.  When William Henry Harrison died in office, his powers and duties devolved onto Vice President John Tyler.  Tyler took more, though.  He declared that not only the powers and duties, but also the office itself, was now his.  At the suggestion of Daniel Webster, he took the Presidential Oath of Office as prescribed by the Constitution.  Since then every vice president who has succeeded a fallen president has taken the oath, following the Tyler Precedent.

Despite criticism at the time, he claimed to be President, rather than merely Acting President.  This was an important distinction, because the constitution provided for only one president, who had to be elected.  If a Vice President succeeded a President with a temporary disability, the he became President and finished out the term.  The previous president was gone, even if he recovered from his incapacity.  The vice presidency remained vacant.

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Garfield’s deathbed

When President Garfield lingered after being shot, Vice President Arthur declined to assume the presidency while Garfield lived.  Similarly Vice President Marshall demurred when Woodrow Wilson was incapacitated, but not killed, by a stroke.  Neither wanted to bear the mantle of the Tyler Precedent while a president lived who might recover.

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In 1945, Franklin Roosevelt’s health began to rapidly decline, and Vice President Truman feared he might have to face a similar decision involving one of the nation’s most revered presidents.  A cerebral hemorrhage ended FDR’s life before Truman faced such a crisis.  He never forgot, though, and unsuccessfully pushed for a constitutional amendment on succession.  Eisenhower had two heart attacks while in office, but did not die.

In 1965, following the assassination of John Kennedy, Congress finally adopted the text of the 25th Amendment.  By May of 1967, it was ratified by 47 state legislatures.

Section 4 of the Amendment deals with the involuntary removal of a president who has become incapacitated in the judgement of his colleagues.  It reads:

Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.

A simple majority of the Cabinet, or “such other body as Congress may by law provide” (although it never has), can empower the President pro tem of the Senate and the Speaker of the House, acting together, to relieve the President of his powers.  The President can resume the power simply by declaring himself fit to do so.  The Congress, by a two-thirds vote of both houses taken within 21 days, can take them way again.  It is not specified how often this cycle can be repeated.

This process does not remove the president from office.  Rather it transfers the powers and responsibilities of the office to the Vice President, who becomes Acting President, an office not defined in the constitution.  The door is left open for the President to reassume his duties if circumstances change.  Since he is still President, presumably his term limits clock continues to run.

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Was Reagan impaired in Office?

The Section 4 process has never been invoked. The Framers of the Amendment apparently had in mind a physical incapacity like Garfield’s wound or Wilson’s stroke, where it would be a useful tool.  Invoked against a vigorous but allegedly demented president, the results might be unpredictable.  It could conceivably paralyze the executive and legislative branches for the remainder of that president’s term in office.  The potential constitutional precedents of using this clause for alleged mental defects are terrifying,

3: EXTRACONSTITUTIONAL:  Resignation

The Constitution refers to the resignation of a president, but only one, Richard Nixon, has actually done it.  How that was engineered is instructive.

tricky dickNixon was a flawed human being, ambitious and bullying, with questionable ethics, but he had greatness in him  His first run for national office, as Eisenhower’s running mate, was tainted with allegations of corruption that dogged him throughout his subsequent career.  Along the way, he acquired the sobriquet “Tricky Dick”.

nixon chinaNixon’s achievements on the national level were real, however, and substantial, especially in foreign affairs.  As Vice President, his “Kitchen Debate” with Nikita Khrushchev is remembered more than half a century later. As President, he signed two substantial arms control treaties, and opened the era of “peaceful coexistence” with the USSR.  He supported Israel through the Yom Kippur War.  He opened trade and cultural exchanges with China and the Middle East, and weakened Soviet hegemony there.  He signed the Paris Accords that ended US involvement in the Viet Nam War and led to the suspension of the draft.

During his campaign for election to a second term, though, Nixon’s ethics came again to haunt him.  Agents of his campaign organization (which he called CRP but reporters named CREEP-the Committee to RE-Elect the President) was allegedly caught breaking into the opposing party’s headquarters in the Watergate Hotel to steal data and plant surveillance devices.  Nixon denied any knowledge of that activity, and it was never established whether he knew of the burglary beforehand.

Subsequent evidence clearly showed, though, that he had led a frantic effort to prevent any knowledge of the break-in from reaching the public.  Surreptitious recordings Nixon had made of his White House conversations, laced with obscenity (“[expletive deleted]”), showed a clearly unravelling president, bullying his aides into ethically questionable acts to protect his crumbling reputation.

Archibald Cox was appointed as Special Prosecutor to investigate the matter, only to be fired by Nixon when he got too close.  Attorney General Elliot Richardson, and his deputy William Ruckelshaus, then resigned out of conscience.  The event came to be known as the “Saturday Night Massacre.”

Sat Nite Massacre

A new Special Prosecutor was named.  Congressional  committees took up the cudgel and held a series of hearings, some televised and some closed.  Popular demonstrations erupted across the nation, where the word impeachment became increasingly common in chants and on placards.  The pressure on the president was immense.  “I have reason to suspect,” wrote Senator Barry Goldwater, “that all might not be well mentally in the White House.”

Nixon’s defense strategy was to act presidential, preferably on TV.  In one unfortunate effort, a haggard Nixon assured Americans that “I am not a crook!”  He was at his most presidential when seen in his role as a statesman.  He therefore embarked on a series of overseas trips, with a posse of reporters and photographers, to the Middle East and the USSR.  One result of all this jet travel was a case of phlebitis that sidelined him for weeks.

impeachment demonstratoMeanwhile, the investigation ground on.  Televised hearings and the publication of transcripts of the White House tapes whipped the public to frenzy.  Eventually the Judiciary Committee voted to send three articles of impeachment to the House floor, for 1) obstruction of justice, 2) abuse of power, and 3) contempt of Congress.  All were based on the cover-up.  Nixon’s direct involvement in the Watergate burglary has never been established.

resignation letterWith the votes in both the House and Senate trending strongly against him, Nixon knew the jig was up.  If he was impeached he would very likely be convicted, and his place in history would be to be the only president ever convicted after impeachment.  If he cut his losses by leaving office before impeachment, he might still preserve some of the positive legacy he had worked a lifetime to achieve.  It was a Corleonean offer that he could not refuse.  Nixon resigned.

nixon quit quoteA big advantage of the engineered resignation is that it does not directly set any constitutional precedents.  A disadvantage is that it is clumsy, has to be tailored to each situation, and is very susceptible to politics.  Finding that Godfather deal may be difficult, and a bold, principled office-holder may be resistant to the approach.

The Situation We Are In Now

Impeachment has been tried but never worked.  Declaring incapacity has never been attempted, and a vigorous, feisty executive does not seem like the person on which to try out this process for he first time.  Inducing a resignation seems like the path most likely to succeed and least likely to result in harmful precedent. 

Consider President Trump.  He has not dedicated his life to statesmanship or politics, and his sense of legacy is not invested in his public works.  He can walk away without feeling diminished, blaming others for obstructing his attempts.

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He has dedicated his life to wealth and power, and to Trump as a brand.  Threatening that would surely give him pause. 

Suppose the emoluments clause were invoked to require him to actually divest all interest in, and knowledge of the operations of, the Trump Organization; to require it to change its name to something that does not exploit the presidential connection; and to cease all contact with the principals of the Organization, whether family or not.  Rather than submit to such rigorous ethics and constitutional constraints, would he resign? Perhaps.

Keep Eyes on the Prize

The biggest risk in all this talk of impeachment is that it will distract us from the real task at hand.  Our country went astray before Trump was elected.  In fact, he was elected in large part because voters saw his lack of political experience as an asset, in sharp contrast to pro politicians who opposed him in the primaries, and his dynastic opponent in the general election, whom many voters felt belonged to a professional political elite that was responsible for the morass that Washington has become.  We overlooked his obvious shortcomings and underestimated the hucksterism that he, to his credit, made no effort to conceal, because we wanted to change Washington and correct the social inequities that plutocracy was producing.  We believed him when he said he was going to “drain the swamp.”  We voted for something new, and we got it, but it turned out to be something very different from what we longed for.

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“This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.” –Donald Trump

Freeing the White House from its current occupant will not free the country from the coalition of ideologues, starry-eyes hopefuls, foreign operatives, and nincompoops who put him there.  Replacement of the president is only a tool in the central task of rebuilding America as a nation of principle, vision and hope.  To do this we must begin respecting one another again, listening and compromising for the benefit of majority and minority alike, and forsaking the tyranny of a narrow but iron-willed majority.  We must learn not just to tolerate, not just to respect, but to revere our diversity for the richness and strength it bestows on us.  We must wrest power from the plutocrats and restore it to an inclusive electorate. We must build bridges that bring us together, not walls that keep us apart.  We must embrace and reinvigorate Lincoln’s ideal, that “government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Compared to that real task lying before us, simply removing a president from office seems like a walk in the park.

Rock ’em, Sock ’em Politics

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When a politicians dons the strait jacket of ideology, or takes the opiate of corporate dark money, he sacrifices free will and independent thought.  When a majority does this, government becomes robotic, mechanically serving its unseen owners.

To manage this it misrepresents its intentions to voters, using industrial-strength informatic techniques pioneered in 20th century Moscow and Berlin in the service of politics, and perfected on Madison Avenue to serve commerce. With such tools are the freedoms of common men and women neutralized as well, and the cogs of clockwork government are lubricated.

Robotic government stops functioning in the interest of the people whose consent once empowered it, just as a factory full of robots fails the workers who used to ‘man’ it.  As the capitalist no longer has to share the profits of his factory, so the plutocrat no longer has to extend the benefits of his government.  In both cases, the benefits of the efficiencies achieved inure to management, bypassing the rank-and-file.

 The main function of humans (what science fiction likes to call the ‘organic component’, or the ‘wetware’) in such a government is mutual obstructionism. The passion of such government dedicates itself to stopping the other side from getting away with something very bad, but ill-defined.  Both sides become mired in this important function, so that the robots may proceed with their dark work unnoticed, unencumbered by empathy or ardor.

But not without intelligence. Heuristics and artificial intelligence have made robot smarts quite intimidating, however soulless they might be. Perhaps it is time for a little artificial intelligence in Washington, if there is to be any intelligence there at all. Are you ready for President Watson?

Is this how government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall perish from the Earth? Not with a bang but a whimper?

Tweet & Tower: Epigram in the Age of Trump

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Donald Trump did not invent the tweet, nor the political tweet.  Not even the presidential tweet.  The art of the epigram, or tweet, has been around for centuries, and many masters have come and gone.  Consider this gem, tweeted fully half a millenium ago, which practically defines the genre:

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The history of the tweet goes way farther back than that.  Over a millennium earlier, another gifted twittermeister had a nearly identical thought:

ciceroNor is this the oldest surviving tweet.  This one comes from two centuries earlier:

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The turn of the 18th century was a fruitful time for the tweet.  Alexander Pope’s long poems barely survive, but the tweets he set like jewels within them continue to gleam .  I know you’ve heard this one:

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and this one, which might have been a DM to President Trump:

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Trump may have passed on the inspirational tweets of Pope, preferring the acerbic wit of Pope’s contemporary, Jonathan Swift.  If this tweet had been written in he first person singular, it might have come from Trump himself:

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Although all of Swift’s wisdom might not be welcome:

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These tweets ushered in the Age of Enlightenment, which may have brought us the greatest tweeter of all time:

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Franklin may not have invented the political tweet, but he certainly perfected it.  His advice to American patriots is remembered long after the war ended.

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He could be a lot more pointed, too.  This one foreshadows John C. Calhoun’s warnings, fifty years later, about the tyranny of the majority.

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The presidential tweet was a natural follower of the political tweet.  It first reached full flower in the hands of a master—President Abraham Lincoln.

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Both Roosevelts had the knack, too.  Theodore Roosevelt, who actually made his living as a best-selling author both before and after his presidency, had this advice to the common man:

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This advice, intended for presidents but widely applicable, is perhaps TRs most successful tweet:

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The mid 20th century brought a virtual golden age of the political tweet, including the presidential tweet:

will rogersFranklin Roosevelt was a Democrat, and his tweets sometimes seem to address the 21st century GOP, enhancing his status as a political clairvoyant:

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And there is this DM to Paul Ryan from both Roosevelts:

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Other memorable 20th century presidential tweets include Truman’s about where the buck stops, Eisenhower’s to beware the military-industrial complex, and Kennedy’s plea to ask not what your country can do…etc.  Ronald Reagan, the Great Communicator, was a master of the presidential tweet.

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Even into the twenty first century, the presidential tweet flourished.  The homespun, self-deprecating humor that sometimes bubbled up in presidential tweets from Lincoln to Reagan became a dominant theme in the opening decades.

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In 2016 the nature of the presidential tweet changed.  Previous presidents used Tweets to communicate directly with their constituents, humanizing their images.  The humor let us see brief glimpses into the hearts of the men who occupied the Oval Office.  Policy and fact did not enter into most of these tweets; this would have not been consistent with their intimate purpose.

Donald Trump has changed all that.  He seems oddly unwilling, or unable, to relate to people on a human level.  His tweets seem aimed at manipulation rather than revelation.  They are seldom humorous, except for a ubiquitous, smarmy sarcasm, and they never self-deprecating.  They are chockablock full of “alternative facts” unencumbered by even a hint of proof.  This made up data is often used to defend nasty attacks on people and institutions that without them would have no foundation at all.

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They are sometimes laced with a creepy paranoia which feels particularly out of place in a President of the United States and Commander in Chief.

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Perhaps saddest of all, the literary quality of these neo-epigrams vanished when their purpose became propaganda.  I know that this has no significance in the grand political scheme of things.  The epigram—the tweet—has been an art form for millennia; I hate to see it go.  In the end, cultures are remembered by the art they leave behind, often in the remains of practical objects: shards of pottery, battered cutlery, bits of personal adornment.  If artificial intelligence ever scans the autistic, ADD-riven snippets of our government today, they will surely conclude that there were virtual Visigoths at our cybergate.

Unicorn: Fantasy & Alternative Fact

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Earth Day & the Unicorn

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Do you associate Earth Day with Ira Einhorn, the Unicorn?  Well, don’t!

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Unicorns

unicornFrom the German, the surname Einhorn could be translated “one horn”.  Perhaps this was among the reasons that Ira Einhorn, America’s consummate hippie on the 1970s, liked to call himself the Unicorn.  Unicorns possessed mystical qualities that must have appealed to Ira as well.  A touch of its horn could heal the sick and purify water.  It was irresistibly drawn to virgins, who were used as bait during medieval unicorn hunts. 

Leonardo DaVinci wrote in his notebooks:

unicorn huntThe unicorn, through its intemperance and not knowing how to control itself, for the love it bears to fair maidens forgets its ferocity and wildness; and laying aside all fear, it will go up to a seated damsel and go to sleep in her lap, and thus the hunters take it.

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Because of its affinity for virgins, medieval Christian iconography frequently showed a unicorn with the Virgin Mother.  It came to represent the annunciation, and even Jesus Himself. 

However, the legend has a dark side, too.  Only a virgin can entrap this virtuous beast, and only through betrayal.

Marco Polo saw unicorns quite differently.  They were, he wrote:

marco polo…scarcely smaller than elephants. They have the hair of a buffalo and feet like an elephant’s. They have a single large black horn in the middle of the forehead… They have a head like a wild boar’s… They spend their time by preference wallowing in mud and slime. They are very ugly brutes to look at. They are not at all such as we describe them when we relate that they let themselves be captured by virgins, but clean contrary to our notions.

rhinoPolo seems to be describing the Indian rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis) which were common south central Asia in his day, though now they are rare and endangered.  A mostly nocturnal animal, they were seen by day most often through the shifting morning mists of their wetland habitat.  Generally peaceful, a male was prone to deadly violence when another male challenged his choice of mate.

Two very different kinds of unicorn, both embodied by Ira Einhorn:  the counterculture peacenik with aspiration to the mystical, who liked to call himself the Unicorn; and the angry lover and venal beast who, spurned by his girlfriend, became the Unicorn Killer.

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The Unicorn Killer

einhorn thinking 1Born into a middle-class Pennsylvania family, Einhorn studied at the University of Pennsylvania, where he became involved in the anti-war and nascent ecological movements.  Bearded, charismatic, and iconoclastic, Ira rose to prominence as Philadelphia’s #1 Hippie.  He advocated free love, peace and flower power.  On the first Earth Day in 1970, he became a sort of master of ceremonies for the live broadcast of outdoor events scheduled in Philadelphia.  It was a role that suited him well, appealing to his broad narcissistic streak.  He later claimed that Earth Day was his idea, and that he had been instrumental in organizing events across the country.  Other organizers challenge his account, and in fact, there is no record of his having done any organizing.

holly hippieHelen ‘Holly’ Maddux, flower child, was a stunning blonde from Tyler, Texas, attending Bryn Mawr College near Philly when she was drawn into the powerful vortex of the Unicorn.  During the years they lived together, though, Holly discovered that Ira had a dark side, jealous and verbally (at least) abusive.  After five years, she had had enough.  She moved to New York, and became involved with another man.  Incensed, Einhorn holly & irathreatened to throw her remaining belongings into the street if she did not come personally to collect them.  Against the advice of friends and family, she returned to Philadelphia to retrieve her things.  She was never seen alive again.

Meanwhile, Einhorn was cultivating new contacts among the local politicians and corporate bigwigs. Philadelphia’s upper crust invited him to elite parties; businesses hired him as their consultant for marketing to a counterculture growing ever more affluent.  On graduating from Penn, he had become a professional hippie, and was turning it into a lucrative career—a con man for the Age of Aquarius.  Yes, he told the police when they asked after Holly, she had been to the apartment, but she had gone to the co-op for tofu and sprouts, and never returned.

A year after Holly’s disappearance, neighbors noticed a nasty smell emanating from Einhorn’s apartment.  This annoyed but did not surprise, for his personal hygiene and housekeeping were both suspect, consistent with his status as a grown-up flower child.  Then the downstairs neighbors complained of a foul, reddish-brown liquid dripping into their apartment from Einhorn’s apartment, directly above.

When police responded, a nude Einhorn met them at the door.  He offered no resistance as they searched his apartment.  In his bedroom closet, they found a steamer trunk that contained shards of Styrofoam, crumpled newspaper, piles of air fresheners, and the decomposed remains of a woman, her skull smashed by multiple blows with a heavy object.

“Looks like we found Holly Maddox,” said the officer to the Unicorn.  “You found what you found,” was Ira’s sardonic reply.

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At his arraignment he was represented by Arlen Specter, who would soon begin a 30-year career in the U.S. Senate, represented Ira.  Arguing that his client was a nice Jewish boy from a good family who posed no peril to the public or risk of flight, Arlen got his bail reduced to $40,000.  The $4000 bond was paid by one of his wealthy society patrons.  He immediately fled to Europe and remained on the lam for 20 years.  He had already been arraigned, though, and his trial went forward.  In 1993, he was convicted in absentia of the murder of Holly Maddux.  He got life in prison with no possibility of parole.

einhorn returnsWhen he was finally located in France, extradition was difficult.  France had abolished the death penalty, and the treaty provided that they need not return a prisoner to a country that might execute him.  In 1972, the U.S Supreme court had suspended capital punishment until each state’s procedure could be reviewed and found to comply with the 8th amendment proscription of cruel and unusual punishment (Furman v. Georgia 408 US 238-1972).  In 1977, when the murder had occurred, Pennsylvania had not undergone that review; hence, Einhorn could not be executed then, and could not be now.  After four more years of haggling, France was compelled to return him to Philadelphia to stand trial.

einhorn trial sketchAt a new trial, the Unicorn’s defense was (pardon the pun) outside the box.  His power and righteousness had been so great back then, and his knowledge of secret government mind-control projects so damning, that unidentified enemies (the CIA or the KGB?), in a nefarious plot to neutralize him, had murdered Holly and planted her body in his apartment as a frame.  In self-defense, and out of respect for her vegan beliefs, he had decided to compost her in his closet. 

Had he produced reasonable doubt?  Hardly.  A jury took just two hours of deliberation to convict him of first degree murder.  He is serving life without parole.

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Earth Day

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Earth Day, by the way, was the idea of Gaylord Nelson, A Democrat who served as governor and senator for the great state of Wisconsin, and steadfastly refused credit for this signal achievement, preferring to believe that it just growed, like Topsy.  Still, his conservation chops put him in a league with Theodore Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot and John Muir.  In 1946, he married Carrie Lee Dotson, a nurse he had met during his military service; both she and the marriage were going strong when he died at 89 of heart failure.  He had no use for colorful nicknames or boastful claims.  He just rolled up his sleeves (he was equally at home in denim and linen) and went to work.  He was the real deal.

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As governor, Nelson’s overhaul of the state’s natural resource program brought him national recognition as the “conservation governor.” He took a chaotic bureaucracy and transformed it into a single Department of Resource Development. He established the Youth Conservation Corps that created green jobs for over 1,000 unemployed young people in the state. He fought to earmark $50 million for the Outdoor Recreation Action Program (ORAP) to acquire land for public parks and wilderness areas. The extreme popularity of his achievements in conservation paved Nelson’s road to the U.S. Senate in 1962. 

In 1969, having seen the empowerment derived from campus activism in the 1960s, Nelson proposed a day when citizens across the country would host events, preferably outdoors, to raise awareness of environmental problems, and encourage grass-roots political involvement. April, a season of rebirth and hope, seemed the perfect time. 

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Judy Moody and Denis Hayes, staffers in the office of US Senator Gaylord Nelson, begin planning for the Environmental Teach-In, which became the first Earth Day

His proposal brought immediate, overwhelming support. National media widely broadcast the plans for this so-called “Earth Day” and enthusiastic letters flooded into Nelson’s office.  Engaged crowds turned out for planned events from coast to coast, including the one in Philly with the sleazy MC who wanted us to believe he dreamed the whole thing up.  He did not.  He was a charlatan, and ultimately a killer, who scammed a nation and then ran away

Nelson created a small national office to offer support to the thousands of grassroots efforts that sprung up everywhere, but he firmly rejected any top-down organization.  “Earth Day planned itself,” he later reflected, and in fact, it did, with just a nudge from Nelson.   An estimated 20 million Americans, young and old, gathered on April 22, 1970 to confront the ecological troubles in their cities, states, nation, and planet—and to demand action from themselves and from their elected officials.

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Today, with so many of the environmental protections in peril from short-sighted attacks on regulation in any form, and greedy corporate interests that see that valuable natural resources now in public trust may soon become vulnerable to seizure by plutocrats for private gain.

This Earth Day, help the unicorns’ magical horns clean the water and heal the sick planet.  Let it doze not in the lap of a chaste maiden who will betray it, but in the mighty arms of mother Gaia, whom we can trust.  Let us gather behind them like a conquering horde, and advance together to make the Earth a better place tomorrow than it was yesterday.

…and don’t forget, April 28 is Arbor Day.  Make a note of it!

 C’mon, let’s go!

Faces of Courage, Faces of Hate

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Sometimes a news photo so completely reflects the tenor of its time that it survives intact, becoming a bit of history itself: the Vietnamese children fleeing, naked and terrified, from the flaming horrors of war that pursue them. The mother in Minimata tenderly bathing her grown child, who was maimed, even before he was born, by industrial indifference. The man confronting a line of tanks in tiananmenTienanmen Square, and winning that battle if not the war. These pictures woke the world, and helped to make it permanently better. Joe Giddens’ picture deserves a place in this pantheon.

 

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Let us never forget that resistance is not always a fist in the air. To resist evil requires us to show that there is a way to be something better, to go somewhere higher. Sometimes all that takes is a smile.

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Birmingham, UK – Saturday April 8 2017

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When the English Defence League held a “non-violent” anti-Islam rally in Birmingham’s Centenary Square, the tension in the air was palpable. For the EDL, “non-violence” does not preclude the use of intimidation; their rallies often end in physical strife.  Police presence at such gatherings is routine.

The Birmingham Central Mosque responded to the event by opening its doors and inviting everyone, regardless of caste, race, beliefs, or role in life,  to come in for tea.  At the EDL demonstration, woman in a hijab was less accommodating.  When she shouted “No more Islamophobia! No more wars!” from the periphery of the roiling crowd, she was immediately mobbed by 20 or more burly white supremacists.

That is when Saffiyah Khan stepped forward.  Khan, 25, a Brummie by birth with Muslim family in Bosnia and Pakistan, came to the aid of the embattled woman, drawing much of the fury onto herself.  When EDL leader Ian Crossland leaned in and shook his fist in Khan’s face, a policeman intervened, and both of them were led away. Khan maintained her calm, and her beatific smile, throughout the incident, despite all the bluster that surrounded her.

Press Association photographer Joe Giddens caught the moment that perfectly reflects encounter—the courage of a young woman and a police officer holding their ground in a bubble of hatred.

“It is more important to smile than to shout,” Khan later told reporters.

“The dirty unwashed left wing scrubber was grinning because she managed to disrupt a demo.” Crossland wrote on Facebook afterwards.  “And the disrespectful witch chose the minute’s silence for the victims of the terror attack in Stockholm and Westminster. She’s lucky she got any teeth left.”

Ethnic problems no doubt plague the Midlands, just as they do the UK, Europe, the US, and the rest of the world.  Honestly, though, whom would you turn to to lead us out of this quagmire, the calm brown woman and the stern white Bobbie, or the brick-faced pack of mad dogs that surround them?

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“Nonviolence means not only external physical violence but also violence of the spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.”
Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr