Monthly Archives: June 2021

מתוך רבים, אחד

The title of today’s blog is the Hebrew translation of the Latin phrase “E Pluribus Unum” or in English, “Out of many, one.”  The Latin version is prominently displayed on the Great Seal of the United States and most U.S. currency.  Reference to “many” has always been viewed as a descriptor of the diverse American population.  Diverse in terms of nation of origin, race, religion, gender and ideology.  However, this past Sunday, we witnessed a different, and perhaps, more utilitarian value of this adage.

Naftali Bennett: The rise of Israel's new PM - BBC NewsBy a vote of 60-59, the Israeli Knesset (parliament) sanctioned a new governing coalition, headed by prime minister Naftali Bennett, consisting of members from eight political parties.  מתוך רבים, אחד A New York Times headline describes the alliance as “A Fragile Israeli Coalition, With Some Underlying Glue.”  Fragile because its membership spans the political spectrum ranging from Bennett, Israel’s first orthodox Jewish prime minister and leader of the ultranationalist Yamina party, to Mansour Abbas, the first Arab-Israeli citizen to serve as a deputy minister.  The glue?  A desire to deny former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu another four years in office after what coalition members viewed as a 12-year toxic environment which divided the country.

Some American analysts such as Richard Haass, author and president of the Council on Foreign Relations, express pessimism about the coalition’s future.  Haass believes the new government will have a difficult time reconciling intra-coalition differences when faced with contentious issues such as expansion of Jewish settlements on the West Bank.  In contrast, Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for USA Today, has a more optimistic outlook.  Page hopes the coalition, in order hold together, will be forced to find more centrist common ground, promoting compromise over confrontation.

I was originally going to title this entry, “David Versus Goliath: The Sequel,” with Israeli as the sling-shot toting future king and America as his adversary.  But in this version, David does not slay the giant.  Instead he sees the titan as merely a bigger version of himself, struggling with many  of the same issues, primarily interested in his own security and prosperity.  David says to Goliath, “We have too many experiences in common from which we can both learn.  Like us, your current legislative majority is hanging on by a thread, one vote, 51-50 counting your vice-president.  At any time, that majority could collapse.”

The litmus test for membership in the Israeli coalition?  Ensuring Netanyahu does not return to power.  All else is negotiable.  Which raises the question, “Why hasn’t a multi-party alliance coalesced in the U.S. Congress to ensure that Trump and his message of faux populism laced with corruption are banished from the political landscape?”  This is where David (aka Israel) provides the model America could emulate.

I know, you are going to point out we are mired in a two party system.  That may true de jure, based on the labels on which most sitting members ran for election.  De facto, there are at least six parties.

  • Progressive Democrats (Warren, AOC)
  • Centrist Left Democrats (the majority of the current members of Congress)
  • Conservative Democrats (Manchin, Sinema)
  • Conservative Republicans (Cheney, Romney)
  • Insurrectionist Republicans (Hawley, Greene, Jordan, et. al.)
  • Independents (Sanders, King)

In Israel, no member of the new governing coalition is expected to change his/her party affiliation.  Their only obligation is to caucus with the majority on parliamentary votes of confidence.  Why couldn’t the same be true in Congress?  Cheney and Romney need not switch parties.  But they should consider becoming part of a “democracy caucus” for which the unifying glue is unconditional support of expanded voting rights and accepting the will of the people.  Imagine if Romney or Cheney gave the the following speech on the floor of their respective chambers of Congress.

Today, I re-affirm my commitment to conservative Republican values and allegiance to the Constitution.  However, I fear both are threatened if the current leadership of my party continues to question the outcome of the 2020 presidential elections, pursues policies which restrict the ability of Americans to vote and promotes debunked conspiracy theories.  Therefore, until such time as my party rebuffs such attacks on democracy and the rule of law, I cannot support any return to power by Republican leadership.  On matters of leadership and legislative rules, I will caucus with the Democrats.

How farfetched is this scenario?  The seed has already been planted in the form of the “problem solvers caucus,” a bi-partisan group of 56 House members who are “committed to finding common ground on many of the key issues facing the nation.”  Their current agenda includes response to the pandemic, infrastructure, health care, immigration, criminal justice reform and gun/school safety.  Ironically, voting rights is not on the list.  However, the caucus did support several House rules changes to reduce gridlock authorized by Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy continue to support Trump and his Trumpettes in Congress because they believe it is their path to re-assume the leadership in 2022.  But what happens if the ten Republican representatives and seven GOP senators who voted their conscience when it came to Trump’s second impeachment told the minority leadership, “We do not give a damn if a majority of the next Congress is elected as Republicans, you have already proven you cannot be trusted with the power of majority status.  Therefore, on the first day of the 118th Congress next January we will caucus with the Democrats.”

Seventeen GOP members of Congress–Liz Cheney (WY), Tom Rice (SC), Dan Newhouse (WA), Adam Kinzinger (IL), Anthony Gonzalez (OH), Fred Upton (MI), James Beutler (WA), Peter Meijer (MI), John Katko (NY), David Valadao (CA), Richard Burr (NC), Bill Cassidy (LA), Susan Collins (ME), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Mitt Romney (UT), Ben Sasse (NE) and Pat Toomey (PA)–have the power to shut down the caravans that continue to make the unholy pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago.  My bet is many of the cowards who fear Trump voters while denouncing the former guy behind closed doors, will quickly turn once they realize permanent minority status is the consequence of doing otherwise.  As members on both sides of the aisle have often declared, “Being the minority party in Congress is no fun.”

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

The Invisible Brand

 

Italian artist Salvatore Garau recently auctioned an invisible sculpture for 15,000 euros ($18,300). According to as.com, the sculpture’s initial price was set between 6,000 and 9,000 euros; however, the price was raised after several bids were placed.

~Newsweek/June 1, 2021

Was there a typo in the dateline?  Did the story actually come from the April 1, 2021 issue of Newsweek?  Or more likely, is Salvatore Garau an Italian descendent of P. T. Barnum or Mark Twain?

Artist sells invisible sculpture for over $18KOnce the story was verified, my interest shifted from Signore Garau to those who had bid on his non-sculpture sculpture.  And what would the unidentified owner do with his/her newly obtained “masterpiece?”  Would he/she loan it to the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence, Italy where it would occupy its own alcove next to that of Michelangelo’s David?   Would it find a permanent home among the statuary in the gardens behind the owner’s villa, overlooking a pond filled with equally invisible fish?

As is so often the case, it was a totally unrelated story that caused me to break out in a cover of Johnny Nash’s 1972 hit, “I Can See Clearly Now.”  The headline?  “In a world first, El Salvador makes bitcoin legal tender.” (Reuters/June 9, 2021)  Salvatore Garau had brilliantly demonstrated art’s ability, if not responsibility, to help us better understand and appreciate the human experience through imaginative representations.  The purchase of an invisible statue was a creative, yet logical, extension of cryptocurrency.  Garau ‘s statue “I Am” was nothing more than a metaphor for invisible money being pursued by millions of investors and now a sovereign nation.

The only remaining question is whether other art forms will follow suit.  If Johnny Nash were still with us (he died on October 6, 2020) would he, ala Harry Chapin’s sequel to his hit “Taxi” titled (drum roll) “Sequel,” produce an updated version of his 1972 recording and call it, “I Cannot See It Clearly Now?”  Or will some modern-day satirist publish The NEW Adventures of Tom Sawyer with the following revised text in Chapter II in which young Tom practices what he learned as a finance major at a prestigious American university, how to create wealth without creating value.

CHAPTER II–Tom and the Magic Piggy Bank

One Saturday morning, Tom appeared on the steps of his home holding a piggy bank when his friend Jim came skipping by humming “Buffalo Gals.”  Jim stopped for a moment and saw what appeared to be Tom dropping coins into the slot.  However, there was no sound, and on closer examination, Jim realized there was nothing between Tom’s thumb and forefinger each time he positioned his hand over the porcine vessel.

“What are you doin’ Tom?” Jim asked.

“Getting rich,” Tom replied.  “I put these invisible coins in my bank, and magically, they are worth more every day.  Do you want in on it?”

“What do I have to do?  Can I just pretend to drop money in the bank like you do?”

“No, of course not.  Someone has to manage the process.  You buy the invisible coins from me with regular money and I drop them in the bank.”

“How do I get my money back?”

“You don’t actually get it back.  You wait until someone else thinks the invisible coins will be worth more than you paid for them and buys them from you.  They never actually leave the piggy bank.  And the more people who want to buy your coins the more you make.”

And sure ‘nough, another friend Ben stopped on his way to the swimming hole. “Wanna join me?” Ben asked.

“Nah, Tom and me is getting rich,” Jim replied.

By sundown, everyone in St. Petersburg, Missouri had gathered in front of Aunt Polly’s house, clamoring to get a share of the invisible coinage.  None noticed how there was no limit to the number of imperceptible discs the bank could hold.  And each left dreaming about how they would buy a new car, boat or villa in El Salvador with their new-found wealth.

CHAPTER III–Tom Relocates to the Cayman Islands

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

The Mything Link

 

1st black mayor marks new chapter in Montgomery history shaped by race - al.comSeeking to dilute images of its racist past, officials in Montgomery, Ala., voted Tuesday to add the motto “Birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement” to the city seal.

Los Angeles Times/July 3, 2002

If you want to understand the spin machine that colors our understanding of the American experience, spend a couple of days in Montgomery, Alabama, as I just did.  The most direct route from our home in Northeast Florida is navigated along “The Jefferson Davis Highway.”  The historic marker on the property now occupied by the DoubleTree Hotel where I stayed commemorates the shooting of an innocent black man by city police.  The state capitol dome is surrounded by eight murals which highlight events ranging from the original founding of the region as a “white settlement” by the French to the post-Civil War era depicted by black laborers constructing modern day buildings which, of course, they were then prohibited from entering.

Almost everything in the capitol building is a shrine to the confederacy and segregation.  The old state court chamber is identified as the place when Jefferson Davis lay in state.  And the only statue in the building is of Lurleen Wallace, the 46th governor and first woman to hold that office, although her 1966 campaign was as surrogate for out-going governor and husband segregationist-supreme George who was term limited.  What was known only to her doctor and George Wallace (even she was not told), Lurleen Wallace had been diagnosed with colon cancer.  Despite her condition, she continued to campaign and was elected to the state’s highest office but served only 14 months before succumbing to the disease on May 7, 1968.

So let’s give credit where credit is due.  Montgomery, Alabama was “the cradle of the confederacy,” having served as the first capital of the secessionist alliance.  But what about the added phrase, “Birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement.”  It is not like a group of white men and women suddenly had a moment of moral consciousness.   Or that George Wallace, upon the death of his beloved Lurleen, gave a speech as he left the capitol claiming, “The time has come to atone for the way we have viewed and treated the black citizens of our state.”

Let’s be honest, Montgomery became the locus of the civil rights movement because it was the perfect venue for leaders of the movement to demonstrate both the de jure and de facto legal, social and economic injustice which were ingrained in the state’s history, laws and culture.  A more appropriate moniker would be to call Montgomery the epicenter of America’s acknowledgement the aspirational goal of “all men (and women) created equal” was, as Shakespeare wrote, often “more honored in the breach than the observance.”

I found my journey to Montgomery more meaningful in the shadow of the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa race massacre, an event that was not merely spun, but buried with the victims.  Which brings me the ultimate purpose of this post, to try and decipher the debate over the “1619 Project,” an on-going examination, according to the New York Times which published the original series, “that aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of the United States narrative.”

As with any historical narrative, the principal author Nikole Hannah-Jones brought her own perspective and life experiences to the work, in some cases overstating the relationship of certain facts to her thesis.  To her credit, when legitimate critiques were made, she revised the text in subsequent versions.  The best example is her adding the word “some” to her contention colonists fought the Revolutionary War to preserve slavery which was increasingly being questioned by colonial governors appointed by King George III.

The debate has now shifted to the use of Hannah-Jones’ essays as teaching materials in public schools.  As reported by Education Week, three state legislatures –Arkansas, Iowa and Mississippi–have introduced bills to ban its use.  And U.S. senator Tom Cotton (Insurrectionist-Arkansas) has called for a national prohibition.  The Mississippi bill calls the 1619 Project “a racially divisive and revisionist account,” while the Iowa bill claims it “attempts to deny or obfuscate the fundamental principles upon which the United States was founded.”  My question, “Exactly which fundamentals are they referring to?”  Let me guess.

  • Puritans came to America to promote religious freedom?  According to the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), “While Puritans sought refuge from the Church of England’s oppression, they in turn oppressed all non-Protestants in the New World, including Puritans advocating separation of church and state, such as Rhode Island founder Roger Willams.”  So much for religious freedom.
  • America has always been “exceptional?”  Again, according to ACTA, “Ironically, the term was coined by Joseph Stalin in reference to America’s proletariat being largely unwilling to join the communist movement sweeping Europe at the time.” Sometimes, exceptionalism is a term on which we can all agree, when applied to the United States.
  • Paul Revere was responsible for alerting colonists to the arrival of British troops in Boston harbor?  In fact there were five riders that night.  And the longest ride, twice the distance of Revere’s, was completed by one Israel Bissell. One might argue Revere’s fame is due to the fact poet William Wadsworth Longfellow found more words that rhyme with Revere than with Bissell.
  • And of course the Euro-centric whopper, Columbus discovered America?  Despite the fact Norse explorer Leif Erikson outpaced Columbus for this honor by more than 500 years. (Maybe the MAGA shaman thought the crowd was celebrating Viking-awareness day.)

In economics, there is room for Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes.  In psychology, Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud.  So why not make space in history classes for Hannah-Jones alongside the likes of Donald Ritchie and Albert S. Broussard, authors of the popular high school text American History: The Early Years.  Maybe, just maybe, it will avoid another generation of Americans learning, 100 years after the fact, that 300 plus Black Americans were massacred in Tulsa, Oklahoma or other examples of racial injustices which, as so perfectly articulated by comedian David Steinberg, “expose the tattered underwear beneath America’s tuxedo.”

What are those who want to ban the 1619 Project from classrooms afraid of? That students will desert the foundations of the American experience. Or will they, as President Joe Biden suggested in his speech in Tulsa on the 100th anniversary of the death and destruction on May 31 and June 1, 1921, recognize the greatness of America is enhanced every time its citizens’ “come to terms with its dark side.”

POSTCRIPT:  There was one upside to my drive from Amelia Island to Montgomery.  A sign that life in America is returning to some semblance of normalcy as evidenced by the fact, in rural Georgia and Alabama, “Jesus Saves” billboards and yard signs again outnumber Trump 2020 and MAGA posters.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP