Must Everybody Now Get Stoned?

November 29, 2014

Three years ago my sons and I, returning from a rafting trip in Oregon, were driving the Redwood Highway through Northern California when we passed the entrance to a field with a banner which read The Kate Wolf Music Festival.  Intrigued, I suggested to the boys that we enter and check it out.  But my sons had had enough of what they called ” weirdo alternatives” having encountered them in large numbers almost everywhere we went in Southern Oregon. Threatening mutiny, they adamantly refused.  We drove on.

But my interest was piqued and for a year I awaited the announcement of  the next year’s Festival.  I was actually fascinated to discover what had become of the remnants of the hippie generation, which I was certain I would find at a gathering of this sort  – a question that had beguiled me ever since I had heard Scott McKenzie sing about San Franciscans with flowers in their hair in the mid 60s.

So in early July, 2012 I drove the 600 or so miles to Black Oak Ranch in Laytonville, north of Mendocino.  I did not know exactly what to expect.  But as soon as I entered the gates, the aroma of one substance made it clear to me that I was no longer in Kansas. Marijuana was everywhere.

It took only an hour to find a group of friends.  A collection of men and women, in their mid to late 20s, had set up a tent near mine and were singing songs to welcome in the Jewish Sabbath, which would soon be upon us. I joined them and for three days we enjoyed each others’ company and they provided a rich vein of material with which to tap into the mentality of the hippie culture which still thrives in many parts of America’s West Coast.    What fascinated me most was the fact that every one of the fourteen people I met under that tent was involved, in one way or another, in the cultivation or dispensation of marijuana. From medical marijuana dispensaries to on-line websites to greenhouses, all of them had found a way to make a living from the sale of cannabis in modern day California.

Business, they told me, had boomed since California passed a ballot initiative in 2010 legalizing the sale of  medical marijuana.  Farmers, who had hidden their most lucrative cash crop for decades, suddenly came out in the open and were able to sell and have their cannabis processed unlike any time before. Some had become millionaires overnight.

Over the past few years  I have become quite used to seeing, smelling and sensing marijuana freely used in Southern California. My children, who attend Orthodox Jewish day schools, tell me it is easily obtainable in their own school yard; it is passed around at parties – and it is doesn’t matter much whether the party goers are conservatives or liberals.   Increasingly, pot smoking is seen as a sign of distinction, as if you are proving your credentials as a genuine bon vivant by rolling that bulging joint between your fingers.

Never having been a pothead in my youth- in fact having loathed smoking in general – I could not attest to the buzz so many seem to receive from the recreational use of marijuana.  But the fact  that so many people in California and other places seem to enjoy  the experience –  and can purchase and smoke (or otherwise ingest) marijuana on a fairly regular basis, has become the force which has propelled its acceptance in 21 states, first as a medical palliative  – and now increasingly as a recreational drug of choice.

As of today four states – Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Colorado have legalized the recreational use of marijuana.  On November 4th it was legalized in the nation’s capital;

So we must have come a long way from the unenlightened 1960s right?

Well, not exactly.  Federal law still characterizes marijuana as a Substance 1 barbituate – placing it on the same level as heroin and cocaine in its addictive and health endangering properties. And this is for good reason.  There have been no conclusive studies which have rebutted the notion that marijuana , taken as a regular relaxant, does not have long term medical risks.   If cigarettes and alcohol are mind altering substances that can have deleterious long term affects on one’s health , marijuana is very much still in that category.

And although the relaxant properties of THC can alleviate pain, there are substantial doubts about its applications.

“Smoking is generally a poor way to deliver medicine,” says Dr. Akikur Mohammad, MD, a board-certified psychiatrist with a specialty in addictive medicine. “As a doctor, I assure you that it is almost impossible to administer safe, regulated dosages of medicines in smoked form. Morphine, for example, has proven to be a medically valuable drug, but no responsible physician endorses smoking opium or heroin.

Recent studies have also suggested that marijuana use in youth can lead to permanent damage, a problem that would likely be exacerbated by widespread legalization. Ultimately, though, definitive conclusions on the medical benefits or drawbacks of marijuana are hard to come by, since the drug’s status as a Schedule 1 substance by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency makes it’s difficult to obtain even for research purposes.

The immediate effects of taking marijuana  – what we refer to as our our “high” –  include rapid heart beat, disorientation, lack of physical coordination, often followed by depression or sleepiness. Some users suffer panic attacks or anxiety.

But the problem does not end there. According to scientific studies, THC, remains in the body for weeks or longer.

Marijuana smoke contains 50% to 70% more cancer-causing substances than tobacco smoke. One major research study reported that a single cannabis joint could cause as much damage to the lungs as up to five regular cigarettes smoked one after another. Long-time joint smokers often suffer from bronchitis, an inflammation of the respiratory tract.

And the drug can affect more than your physical health. A recent study from the University of Texas at Dallas  links heavy, long-term use of marijuana  with smaller growth in the orbitofrontal cortex–a brain region associated with decision-making and addiction.  And a recent study in Britain linked high potency cannabis with the incidence of psychosis.

Young brains, that are not yet fully developed, are extremely susceptible to permanent damage from mind altering substances.  And the claims that marijuana is not addictive are nonsense,  according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse

“It is estimated that 9 percent of people who use marijuana will become dependent on it.1 The number goes up to about 1 in 6 in those who start using young (in their teens) and to 25-50 percent among daily users.2 Moreover, a study of over 300 fraternal and identical twin pairs found that the twin who had used marijuana before the age of 17 had elevated rates of other drug use and drug problems later on, compared with their twin who did not use before age 17.3 “

With such a significant body of evidence to suggest that this stuff is just not good for you, how is it that we are now seeking to legalize it as if none of it matters?  From the opium dens of Shanghai, Paris and  London in the 1800s to the drug dependencies of our greatest jazz men – Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Stan Getz, we have seen the devastations that such addictions can wreak on vibrant minds. Why are we dropping our apprehensions about marijuana, and possibly other mind altering substances, when the evidence has been with us for hundreds of years?

Perhaps it has something to do with a hedonistic culture which just does not want any obstacles placed in the way  of enjoying the true recreational pleasures of life.  It is only when we start dying in our hundreds of thousands ( eg: from nicotine related causes or sexually transmitted diseases)  that we suddenly wake up to realize how wrong headed our attitudes and tolerances have been.

There is a legend that Bob Dylan, in recording Rainy Day Women #12 and 35 , the first single from his famous 1966 album Blonde on Blonde, insisted that all the musicians recording it with him be either drunk or stoned  – hence the famous refrain – Oh I would not feel so all alone /everybody must get stoned. 

Apocryphal though the story might be, I have to wonder if Dylan ever thought that one day American society, once the barriers to freely acquiring hallucinogenic substances had been demolished –  might be taking his edict quite seriously? And did he ever stop to wonder what kind of society we might have, when everybody, in fact, does get stoned?

1. Anthony, J.; Warner, L.A.; and Kessler, R.C. Comparative epidemiology of dependence on tobacco, alcohol, controlled substances, and inhalants: Basic findings from the National Comorbidity Survey. Exp Clin Psychopharmacol 2:244–268, 1994.
2. Hall, W.; and Degenhardt, L. Adverse health effects of non-medical cannabis use. Lancet 374:1383–1391, 2009.
3. Lynskey, M.T.; Heath, A.C.; Bucholz, K.K.; Slutske, W.S.; Madden, P.A.; Nelson, E.C.; Statham, D.J.; and Martin, N.G. Escalation of drug use in early-onset cannabis users vs. co-twin controls. JAMA 289(4):427–433, 2003.
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Ferguson Episode Betrays the Hollowness of Black America’s Leadership

November 27, 2014

In Ferguson, Missouri, a Little Caesar’s, a locally owned store that provided local jobs to members of the black population, has been completely burned down; nothing is left. The people who worked there are now unemployed.

Rocks, bricks, bottles and tear gas canisters flew across the streets of that city this week. Police cruisers were set ablaze. A law office was burned.

A Walgreens drug store close by, another source of local jobs, was looted.

Protesting the St. Louis County Grand Jury decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson for having fatally shot 18 -year -old Michael Brown in August, huge crowds gathered in New York City and in Oakland, California. In New York, some 2,000 people took to the streets of midtown Manhattan, marching down Broadway and through Times Square chanting, “Justice for Mike Brown.” The marchers, most of them young adults, spread over four blocks.

What’s this furor about?

The St. Louis County Grand Jury declined to indict police officer Darren Wilson, 28, for the August confrontation that killed 18-year-old Michael Brown.  A  jury of nine whites and three blacks  – empanelled months before they knew anything about the Ferguson shooting –  met on over 25 separate days to decide the matter.

Those jurors were the first  to hear, see, and read every last piece of evidence.  That evidence has yet to be seen by the public.  What we do know is:

  • They listened to 70 hours of testimony from about 60 witnesses;
  • The jurors were presented with five indictment options, ranging from first-degree murder to involuntary manslaughter;
  • Three medical examiners testified;
  • Three autopsies returned consistent results;
  • Two shots were fired while Officer Wilson was in his police car;
  • Brown’s body lay 153 feet east of Wilson’s car;
  • There was less than 90 seconds between the first shot and the arrival of a second police car;
  • Audio of the final 10 shots was captured on video.                                                                                                                                                                                                  

The reaction from America’s default black leadership was predictable:

Rev. Jesse Jackson speaking at a news conference  on Monday in  Springfield Baptist Church in Greenville, South Carolina had has this to say on the topic of Ferguson:

“All we really want is justice, [the] issue is not riots, the issue is justice… it’s not uprising, it’s uplifting.  We need to stop police rioting and killing… which is provocative and painful… there is a fear of retaliation. It would not be smart to retaliate with the violence… not because we are afraid, but because we are wise.”

Notice that in Jackson’s view of the matter it is the police who are rioting.

Rev. Al Sharpton was no better.  He did not seem to think there was anything wrong with the Ferguson rioting by the black community, failing to mention it and restricting his comments to an attack on St. Louis District Attorney Bob McCulloch

” Last night the appearance by the district attorney made it clear to everyone why we had little faith in a state prosecution. I have been out involved in civil rights all my life. We have seen cases go ways that we felt were right and ways that we felt were wrong. I have never seen a prosecutor hold a press conference to discredit the victim. “

It should be noted that the entire case rested on the issue of whether in fact Michael Brown had presented a threat to the officer’s life . Characterizing Brown as a juvenile delinquent who had earlier in the evening robbed a convenience store and who had actually assaulted the officer was entirely relevant to the issue of Officer Wilson’s guilt or innocence.

In short, neither of the two most prominent black leaders in the country could bring themselves to outright condemn the rioting in Ferguson or elsewhere. In fact, by their silence, they seemed to condone it.

I have written extensively on the issue of the penchant of prominent black leaders to revert to the language of victimhood in the face of familial breakdown, high crime rates and lack of ambition within their communities.

But thankfully there are forthright black leaders who are not spinning on this very convenient victimhood treadmill.

Take  Stacy Washington,  a St. Louis resident who hosts a local radio talk show there:

“Now that we have a grand jury decision, may the process of healing begin in earnest. I truly hope for a refocus of protest energy towards reflection and away from blaming the police for the difficulties facing black Americans today. We must begin to look at improving ourselves instead of blaming groups of others for endemic problems that plague the black community. May God grant the Brown family peace and closure.”

Joe HicksOr my good friend, Joe Hicks, a former executive director or the Greater Los Angeles chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Los Angeles City Human Rights Commission who is now a conservative activist:

“From the inception — and despite the hyperbolic rhetoric from national black leaders, local protesters and political opportunists of all stripes — my position was that the facts and a thorough investigation would tell the story of what happened on that street between teenager Michael Brown and Officer Darren Wilson. Now that Officer Wilson’s actions have been deemed within the scope of a lawful police response to the dangerous actions of Mr. Brown, it’s now important to watch how the so-called black leadership responds. Will they irresponsibly reject the decision, along with the facts it revealed, and continue to claim that Brown was the murder victim of a racist white cop? To what extent will Ferguson protesters defy the orders of authorities for lawful behavior? We don’t need a replay of the violent, pathological riots we saw on the streets of that small suburb of St. Louis.”

Michael DozierOr Dr. Michael Dozier

“It amazes me that there are so many who dismissed the fact that Michael Brown robbed a convenience store and attacked a police officer prior to being killed.  Once again, the black community largely turned a blind eye to the real issues affecting the very lives of our youths. Black-on-black crime is an epidemic and thousands of black children are brutally killed every year, yet we do not see the Al Sharptons or Jesse Jacksons protesting their deaths. The President doesn’t proclaim their lives would reflect the life of a son he never had. The black community needs to stop with the excuses and victimization and stop allowing antagonists to come into their communities to promote their own agendas.”

Kevin MartinOr  Kevin Martin:

“Now that the grand jury has rendered a decision, people on both sides can now peacefully debate the result. The decision does not give anyone the right to engage in property destruction, physical assaults and general chaos if they don’t agree with that decision.  The grand jury looked at all the evidence, and it surely did its best to render a judgment respectful of all parties. It is long past the time for those who might seek to use violence to achieve an outcome to decamp from Ferguson and allow the community to heal.”

Perhaps it is best summed up by Johnathan Gentry  who wrote of the rioters on his Facebook page on  Nov. 25, 2014:

You showed absolutely no respect to Michael Brown, his family, your community, or yourself! But yet, you demand respect as a human being. His family asked for a “Peaceful” protest. Yet, you disregarded, dishonored & disrespected their wishes & burned down your own city anyway. It’s your own actions & behavior that’s keeping you bound, stuck & not getting ahead. Everything you stood for went down the drain last night by burning down your own community. That’s no ones fault but YOURS!! Your behavior confirmed everything .“Your iniquities have turned these blessings away, and your sins have kept good from you.” (Jeremiah 5:25)

His video below says it all:

It is time for men and women such as these, who respect the rule of law, who will not bow to a corrupt black leadership that uses any incident it can to out ” whitey” as a racist, bigoted savage, to now attain their place in the media as spokesmen for a new generation of black leaders. It is only with the encouragement of individuals such as these, providing leadership and inspiration, that the black community will emerge from their self inflicted cycle of violence and recrimination and join the rest of the population of the United States in responsible citizenship and communal achievement.


Iran Runs Rings Around the United States

November 26, 2014

The joke seems to be on the United States.

The fiasco that has become the negotiations between the P5 +1 Consortium, (led by the United States) and the Islamic Republic of Iran have played themselves out for 18 months, but show no success in slowing down Iran’s drive to achieve status as a nuclear power.  Instead, the protracted talks have given Iran invaluable time to build its infrastructure for the construction of  a nuclear weapon which any astute observer will recognize as the regime’s ultimate goal.

And so we reach another threshold in which Secretary of State John Kerry calls for an extension of time for a final agreement with Iran on the consummation of its nuclear ambitions.

He claims that the Iranians have somehow earned this extension, having not violated the interim agreement and that the sanctions regime, imposed 18 months ago, remains intact.

But he seems to have overlooked the following facts:

  • Yukio Amano, the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency complained only last week that ” Iran had not provided any information that would enable the Agency to clarify suspected work on weaponization”
  • A November 17th report from the non-partisan Institute for Science and International Security (with the unfortunate acronym of ISIS) discloses that the Iranians are stonewalling the IAEA on the military purposes of their uranium enrichment.
  • Iran continues to construct ballistic missiles in violation of  United Nations Security Council resolutions
  • Foundation for the Defense of  Democracies Report finds that  the weakened sanctions have not resulted in allowing the Iranians to reap an extra $700 in oil revenues but an extra $22 billion and that the regime is covertly evading the oil exports sanctions.
  • A Washington Post report indicates that Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei  has no intention of allowing his regimeto be browbeaten into submission, commenting that”  On the nuclear issue, the United States and European colonialist countries gathered and applied their entire efforts to bring the Islamic Republic to its knees but they could not and they will not,” 

The entire negotiation process has been carried out as an attempt to avoid military conflict between the United States, its allies and Iran. But Iran has cleverly manipulated the process through obfuscation and denials, pushing the United States to allow it not only an increase in the number of centrifuges it might operate but increasing the amount of low enriched uranium it will be allowed to produce.

Do the Iranians want a deal?  Yes, very badly because it will lift a paralyzing sanctions regime from their economy and prevent  a new uprising from an increasingly discontented populace.  But they are also aware how easy it is to push around a weak U.S. administration and its allies, who are apparently more desperate for a deal than their adversaries and  who are so very keen to put the whole matter behind them. A deal, at this stage, will be almost certainly to the Iranians’ advantage and will be set up so that its breach will be subtle and invisible.

But there is another factor at play.  It is well recognized that Iran has seen its own interests in the Middle East threatened by the rise of  the Sunni Islamic  State and finances proxies in Syria and Iraq to confront it.   The United States has similar interests of course and therefore a rapproachement  has been sought.  On November 6th it was revealed in the Wall Street Journal that Barack Obama in mid- October had sent a secret letter to Iranian Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei requesting Iranian cooperation in the battle against Islamic State.  And although Administration officials will furiously deny it, there is no question that the two policies – containing Iran’s nuclear drive while fighting Islamic State – have come into direct conflict.

An added ingredient is the fast unraveling relationship between this Administration and the State of Israel.  The prime reason for the United States’ efforts to deter Iran’s nuclear ambitions was once its commitment to the security of Israel.  No longer. Israel’s security has become an issue relegated to the back burner and the Administration is proceeding in its talks and negotiations with the Iranians as if the mullahs had never threatened to wipe the Jewish state off the map.

The Israelis may have given a sigh of relief this week that there is no agreement (since no agreement is better than a bad agreement), but that will not stop them from making a significant noise about the treachery of the Iranians or the likelihood that they will eventually take some  kind of action of their own to either neuter or eliminate Iran’s nuclear potential once the negotiations collapse.

But if there is an Israeli  strike and the Middle East erupts in even greater turmoil as a result, this Administration will need to shoulder the blame for its craven and cowardly policies in confronting a rogue regime whose word should never have been trusted in the first place.


The Israeli Left’s Drift into Irrelevance

November 25, 2014

If you ever wondered how it happened that Israel’s lost its political standing in Israeli society , then look no further than this piece from Israeli journalist Uri Misgav in Friday’s Ha’aretz.

Written with a style that would barely obtain a passing grade in a 10th grade English class ( a hanging intro which has almost no connection with the thrust of his argument, followed by a reference to events in 1929 which he does not bother to explain and then a vituperative name calling of his prime minister without bothering to enumerate the man’s sins), the opinion piece resembles a fish flapping helplessly on a boat deck, furious that it has been baited while futilely gasping for oxygen.

Misgsav seems to believe that the Netanyahu government has taken Israel back to the year 1929, the year which signaled the most destructive outbreak of violence between Arabs and Jews up until that time.

To briefly recount that history:

Following a minor dispute at the Western Wall in the late summer of August, 1929  Haj Amin al Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem distributed leaflets to Arabs in Palestine and throughout the Arab world which claimed that the Jews were planning to take over the al-Aqsa Mosque. The leaflet was an act of incitement to the local Palestinian Arab population to rise up in rebellion against both the Jews and the British. What followed were brazen unprovoked attacks upon Jewish communities in Jerusalem, Hebron and Safed in which  133 Jews and 116 Arabs were killed.

The 1930 Shaw Commission  established by the British government found, incontrovertibly, that Arab incitement had been the catalyst for the massacres.

But back to Misgav.  Here he is describing his failing faith in Israel’s future and the relevance of  the year 1929:

“But the events of the last few months resonate of 1929 from every corner: the Gush Etzion settlement bloc, Hebron, Gaza, Jerusalem. Jaffa’s turn will surely come soon. Murderous violence, blood feuds, divisiveness and incitement. The familiar border lines are swiftly being erased. The 1967 Green Line never really existed as a proper border; the occupation and the settlement enterprise prevented it from becoming one. Now, the 1948 borders are being blurred — not only geographically, but with regard to fundamental principles.”

OK. But he seems to have forgotten today’s true parallel with 1929 is the incessant incitement by Palestinian leaders over the false and fabricated Jewish plot to attack the al Asqa mosque.  How is it that Mr. Misgav cannot  see that the slaughter of the four rabbis in the Har Nof synagogue last week has its mirror  in the unbridled fury that Hebron’s Arab population unleashed on its Jewish neighbors in a five hour unprovoked blood letting that left 67 Jewish men, women and children murdered and mutilated?   This was no tit for tat nor blood feud between rival clans. It was an out and out massacre, condoned and incited by the Arab leadership  of the time.

Of course the problem for Misgav is not an unrelenting Arab rejectionism  but the country’s current leadership and the author spares no vitriol for the Israeli prime minister:

“Presiding over this whole terrible tumult, with irresponsibility and atrocious leadership, is former U.S. citizen Benjamin Nitay (as the prime minister called himself when he lived in the United States). He and his failed, reckless government, which was established and is being maintained with the help of 25 Knesset seats borrowed from the ostensibly sane silent majority. The government of the Habayit Hayehudi party, which has forged a tightening alliance of shared interests with the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic Movement, with the goal of returning us to 1929.”

“Irresponsible”  “failed” “reckless”??  … hmmm.  Better descriptions  I would think of the Rabin Government – who signed an agreement with a terrorist organization whose leader only days later was bragging how the Oslo Accords were in fact only part of the phased plan for the destruction of  the State of Israel; or perhaps of the Barak Government , who in a brief 18 months in office incompetently led the country into final negotiations with the same terrorist, giving him impetus to launch  the Second Intifada; or then perhaps the Sharon Government, who officiated over the hand over of Gaza to an even worse terrorist entity, an act which has precipitated an unending series of conflicts and endangered hundreds of thousands of lives in Israel’s south.  Or perhaps the Olmert Government, who failed to appreciate the threat posed by Hezbollah in the country’s north and was taken by surprise in 2006 when 4,000 rockets were unleashed against the country and who allowed the following military engagement to end inconclusively.

Netanyahu, on the other hand, has faced down an increasingly hostile U.S. Administration with diplomatic aplomb; he has represented the State of Israel with defiance and clear logic at the United Nations; he has insisted , as would any other national leader in a similar situation, that a condition for any peace treaty with Israel’s adversaries be the acceptance of Israel’s right to exist within secure borders- as well as an acknowledgement of  its fundamental  character as a Jewish state; and he has been unstinting in his commitment to confronting the Iranian mullahs on their drive towards nuclear power.

Netanyahu’s predecessors proved that concessions don’t bring peace, but usually war and he is not about to make the same mistake without  different kinds of assurances.  He also understands, better than any of his adversaries on the left, that escalating global antisemitism is not the result of Israel’s actions or inactions but the recrudescence of a ideological contagion which has made the State of Israel’s existence even more fundamentally necessary.

It is natural that Misgav conflates the aims of the Netanyahu government with those of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic Movement. After all, for the members of the left they are both cut from the same fundamentalist cloth.  But the failure of this hackneyed leftist apologist  to mention anything about Arab incitement or irrredentism, and his apparent willingness to place all blame for the current climate of hostility between Israelis and Palestinians on the shoulders of the Israeli government, makes it clear that had he been writing in 1929, he would have undoubtedly ascribed the guilt for the massacres of Palestine’s Jewish communities to the defenseless Jews themselves.

 


Neil Young Still Trips Down that Ol’ Hippie Highway

November 24, 2014

I have to admit that being a Neil Young fan has its challenges.  Yes, there is lots of new music to listen to (eight albums, including live releases, in the past four years); plenty to read (two auto-biographies in the same time period) and even some new audio hardware ( the PONO, whose development Mr. Young led).  But after a while it does get a bit much.  Some of the albums are true stinkers ( A Letter Home and Le Noise are almost unlistenable); the books endlessly focused on cars, drugs, booze and more cars  and Young’s obsession for improving technology a bit self aggrandizing.

Now we can add an overweening desire to sermonize as part of the problem.

Back in 2005 Young issued an album titled  Living With War – a barbed, venomous attack on President George W. Bush and the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars over which he was then presiding.   The album was choc-a- block with political screed.  With song titles such  as Let’s Impeach the President; Shock and Awe and Looking for a Leader, Young could not be mistaken for anything but that frayed-jeaned Woodstock warrior who is still so certain that the era of  peace, love and anti-militarism (read draft dodging)  still holds the answers for our future happiness and prosperity.

Granted, Young has always been something of renegade, even against his own audience ( for a brief timE in the 1980s he was a supporter of Ronald Reagan).  But his turn to chic liberal political causes in recent years has truly augmented his image as something  of a throwback, unwilling to examine in any depth the sagacity of the movements to which he attaches his name and driven as much my ideology than common sense.

His latest support for the anti- Keystone XL pipeline  campaign is a case in point.  Drawn into the fight to prevent the pipeline’s construction by his paramour, uber-environmentalist Darryl Hannah, Young has seemed to agree with  NASA Scientist and all round global warming Cassandra, James Hansen, that  the construction of the pipeline will mean  “game over ” in the battle to save our planet from the poisons of carbon dioxide.  Hansen’S May 12, 2o12 New York Times editorial sent Young into a flurry of activity about our environmental future and he has now pledged himself to its rescue.  And so we can expect many more Young albums which bristle with indignation against oil companies, multinational corporations and well paid CEOs (of which , of course, he is virtually one).

It is quite amusing to see very rich men pretending that they are still just money scrounging buskers panhandling on the streets of  Toronto.  Young, now 68 – and looking very much  his age – still wears torn, patched jeans; baseball caps worn backwards ( a habit I thought outlawed in the 1990s) and drives one of his dozens of 50s era vintage cars. He recently ditched his wife of 36 years  (with whom he struggled to raise two children stricken with cerebral palsy) to take up with actress Hannah and has suffered health problems, including an aneurysm.

It all seems to fuel his output, which, for an artist of his age, is prodigious.

But one almost has to laugh at the irony of an artist who doesn’t seem to recognize how his own lyrics designed to skewer one president, are finding an even more fitting target in his successor:

Take for instance  the lyrics  for Lets Impeach the President:

“Lets impeach the President for spyin’

On citizens in their own homes 

Breaking every law in the country

Tapping our computers and telephones”

 

Or how about  these  words from Looking for a Leader:

 

“Yeah we got our election

But corruption has a chance

We got to have a clean win

To give us confidence

America is beautiful 

But she has an ugly side”

Spoken like the Canadian he is, a man who has lived in the United States for 40 years and yet to take out American citizenship.    But don’t you have to wonder whether this seeker of truth and promoter of justice will one day turn his muse to the clear violations of law and constitutional protections orchestrated by the very leader he once painted as a savior?

I await that album with much anticipation.

In the meantime, I am still almost certain to still indulge myself in Neil Young music.  Why?  I guess  there are some adolescent  habits you just can’t kick.  Yet, I am going to be on the look out, along that ol’ hippie highway, for that sudden sting of reality that  jolts Neil from the dreamland of 1969 to the present day suppressions and  legal violations which occur daily in Barack Obama’s America.

 

 

 

 

 


Obama and the GOP Should Learn the Lessons of the 1860s

November 23, 2014

On Thursday evening, President Barack Obama delivered a speech that has been widely characterized  as presenting a red cape to a charging bull.  His decision to extend executive action to offer a solution, although perhaps partial or temporary, to America’s complex illegal alien problem has been variously portrayed, as an attempt to subvert Congress; to over ride the Constitution; to restore the imperial presidency and/or to cynically grant amnesty to a new potential base of Democratic voters.

It may be all of those things.  But both the President and  the GOP would be well advised to carefully navigate the rapids of this fast moving river of American political rancor  – now approaching full flood  – and remember  the lessons learned by their forbears in the  mid-1860s.

In 1865, President Andrew Johnson,  Lincoln’s successor, was faced with the vexing problem of how to deal with the reconstruction of the South and the rebuilding of the Union.  A Southerner himself  (in fact the only southern senator to remain in Washington D.C. when the South seceded), he was intent on resisting pressure to punish the Southern governments following what he knew would have been Lincoln’s policy of clemency.  But the majority Republican party contained many voices calling for a vendetta against the Southern traitors.  Leading Congressional figures such as Charles Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens claimed that the southern states, by their acts of secession, no longer had any independent Constitutional legality and that Congress could determine how and if they should be reconstituted.  Johnson found himself in the position of either  having to execute a policy which he felt certain was a continuation of the dead President’s legacy and in the best interests of the country  – or of earning the unending wrath of Congress which might lead to a Constitutional crisis.

The 1864 national election had resulted in a sweeping Republican victory  but at the time, the American political system did not allow Congressmen elected in a national election to take up office until a full 13 months later unless summoned by the President to do so.  In very much the same position Barack Obama finds himself today, Andrew Johnson stood in between Congresses with the somewhat questionable authority to act on his own through executive order. And on May 29, 1865, he extended clemency to the Southern states, allowing them to reconstitute, ratify the 13th Amendment and repudiate the Confederate debts.  The new states, including eventually Mississippi and Texas, fell in line with the Union and by April of 1866, Johnson could officially declare the southern rebellion over.

Except in one very important regard.   The newly reconstructed  states would not allow its black population to be accepted as full citizens.  In most states blacks were to be prevented by law from intermarriage with whites; anti vagrancy laws were designed to force blacks into work as servants and a new set of Black Codes came in effect, preventing  full suffrage.

Abolitionists in Congress were enraged and vowed to bring a new level of punishment to the South.  Led by Sumner and Stevens, these Radical Republicans, forced through a  Civil Rights Bill – the nation’s first – which sought to outlaw the Black Codes. Johnson vetoed it but Congress over rode his veto (also for the first time on a matter of true substance), in effect elevating  Congress above the presidency as the true ruler of the land.   After the mid-term elections in November 1866, and the strengthening of the hand of the Republican Radicals who now controlled two thirds majorities in both houses, the executive and legislative arms of government were at war, resulting  in intense political back biting , manipulation and a deep cynicism  –  all  too common features of the political system in our own time.  The impeachment of the President, the first time it had occurred in American history, eventually took place, not as a matter of punishing a sitting executive for ” High Crimes and Misdemeanours” but for purely  personal and partisan political issues which had much more to do with revenge  than saving the country from an incipient tyranny.

In the end neither the President nor Congress came out well from this conflict.  Johnson, stubborn and unwilling to compromise, emerged with his political career in ruins and was not  nominated by his party to run for President in 1868.  His historical reputation  has never truly recovered.  Congress, however, soon earned a reputation as a den of hatred where vicious political vendettas were carried out on those who did not toe the Radical Republican line.  The Radicals were viewed, quite justifiably, not only as having used their mandate to enfranchise southern blacks but to ensure a one party stranglehold on both the north and the south.

But the real victims of the struggle between Congress and the Presidency were the blacks themselves.  When Congress imposed a series of laws which practically  disenfranchised many whites and elevated blacks to high positions of office, in preference to whites, rampant corruption spread and the traditional white Southern fear of blacks transformed into a vehement hatred. It  resulted in the emergence of the Ku Klux Klan and an intensely racist  culture which prevailed in the southern states for another 100 years.

Barack Obama and his would-be adversaries – John Boehner and Mitch McConnell – should think deeply about the lessons this political deadlock has to teach us.  The President, leading what is essentially a minority government, has much to gain by compromise and finding common ground with his adversaries. He may win this battle but go down to crushing defeat later as the Republicans muster the full power of their indignation and block him at every turn.    But the Republicans, flush with power after their electoral mid-term successes and now setting their sites on installing one of their own in the White House in 2016, cannot gain by becoming the ‘Party of Retribution.’  They need to present their own ideas – and legislation – for immigration reform, offering an alternative that speaks to the wishes of the American majority.  To deepen the divide will not serve either them or us well.  For as the British historian Paul Johnston has commented ruefully on this earlier era in American politics: ” The Republican extremists followed in exactly the same footsteps of the secessionists themselves, making a harmonious and balanced government impossible.”

Ultimately, in this struggle for ascendancy between the Presidency and Congress, it should be remembered that the government serves at the behest of the citizens and while immigration reform is a hot button issue which can roil sensibilities on both sides of the divide, the U.S. government can no longer afford to be viewed as a laughing stock, devoid of common sense and integrity.  Harmony, civility and a balanced government, to the greatest extent possible, should be the objective of every American president and every Congress. It is the mark of true leadership and a sign of maturity in a system that is becoming increasingly petty and spiteful.

 

Avi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance and blogs at The Intermediate Zone

 

 

 


Ben Bradlee and the Slow Death of American Journalism

November 20, 2014

When Ben Bradlee, the cosmopolitan former editor of the Washington Post died on  October 21st, the world of American journalism mourned the loss of  one of its greatest icons.  Bradlee, after all, was almost single handedly responsible for the abrupt shift in the role of the print media in the early 1970s from an institution which sought  to gather, present and analyze the news to one that became fixated on the pursuit of justice. For many the high water mark of his long and storied career came when Richard Nixon boarded a helicopter on the White House lawn on the morning of August 9, 1974 and slashed his arm through the air in a final wave of farewell to his staff.  Bradlee knew that his paper’s unrelenting commitment to  the investigation of the Watergate break in and cover up had been  the key factor in leading to the events of that day.   The abuse of power had been confronted and justice served.

But a review of that period might reveal much darker motives which impelled Watergate reportage and the subsequent Congressional investigation.  The overwhelming defeat of  Democrat George McGovern’s 1972 for the presidency had not sat well with the Beltway media. In McGovern, many had felt they had found the antidote to the United States’ rightward drift as the first Nixon Administration had not only maintained but escalated the war in Indo-China and had allowed many of the progressive Johnson reforms to be undermined.  The Nixon White House endured four years of stinging coverage from Washington reporters, commentators and news editors and was very much at war with them.  But the trouncing of McGovern, one of the greatest electoral landslides in American history, was a rebuke to the media who had lavished such untoward attention on a candidate whose far left views and policies had  proved decisively out of  touch with the American public.

But that was not the only impetus for the persistent desire to ” get” Nixon.  How many know, for instance, that Bradlee himself harbored a deep resentment of the Nixon White House for purportedly preventing the Post from receiving a range of broadcast licenses it had applied for in the late 1960s?   And  we can’t forget the closeness of Bradlee and his then wife Toni to John F.Kennedy and his wife Jackie, who were their Georgetown neighbors during Kennedy’s Senate years.  Bradlee shared Kennedy’s abiding contempt for Richard Nixon, an attitude made clear in his own  book Conversations With Kennedy.  Bradlee had come to see Kennedy’s immediate successors Johnson and Nixon as impostors who had stolen the mantle of American leadership and committed himself to restoring the crown to its rightful owners.

Hatred for Nixon and his Administration was so dominant that the Post, New York Times, Time and other major newspapers and magazines zeroed in on the indiscretions and sleight of hand of the new Administration, focusing intently on behavior they had entirely overlooked in previous administrations.   After all,  FDR had created his own ‘ Intelligence Unit’, responsible only to himself, with a staff of eleven financed by state department special emergency funds.  Prefiguring another Democratic president 80 years later, he was not above using the FBI and the IRS to harass his political enemies.  Lyndon Johnson had few qualms using executive power to target his adversaries  and the Kennedys’ use of dirty tricks was legion.  Robert Kennedy was in fact one of the most underhand and vicious Attorney Generals in U.S. history, employing his agents to carry out dawn raids on the homes of U.S steel executives and the IRS to question their financial integrity.  His own and his brother’s womanizing,  which included virtual orgies in the White House and allowing a bevy of women access to the President without the slightest background checks, was well known within the Washington Press Corp ( some of whom apparently participated in the romps) but nothing was said.  And Bobby Kennedy’s almost certain involvement in the death of Marilyn Monroe, a service carried out to protect both himself and his brother, went unmentioned by anyone in the Press at the time despite considerable circumstantial evidence that could have implicated him.

The Watergate break-in, the petty, almost laughable bungled burglaries in May and June, 1972, conducted by men associated with the White House, if not directly controlled by Nixon himself,  was dismissed by most at the time as a random urban crime.  But the Post, smelling a rat, took on the case with gusto, running the story on its front page 79 times in the next two years  and in the final month of the 1972 election season ramping  up its coverage with a series of investigative reports by the now famous team of Woodward and Bernstein. Once the Courts and Congress got involved and matters devolved to the point of a potential impeachment of the President in 1974, the media, led by the Washington Post, had a field day and became the cheerleader in the saga’s denouement.

That the same attitude and standards had never been applied to Nixon’s Democratic predecessors seemed to worry no one. By the time of his ouster Richard Nixon had been so demonized as a latter day Richard III that nothing could save him.  The media, more than the courts and more than Congress itself , had ground him up into pulp.  And on top of the ash heap which had once been his Administration stood a glowing Ben Bradlee, certain of the righteousness of his actions and sure that it would restore a Democratic president to power.

Many who have reviewed the events of that time have lauded it as an example of the strength of American democracy and the ability of the system to cauterize a tumor when it recognizes its malignant spread.  But that is not the way others abroad have viewed it.   The English author Paul Johnson, writing in his majesterial A History of the American People has called it an act of startling political immaturity, as close to a witch hunt as the 20th century would ever produce.   Others in Europe were dazzled by the spectacle of American self-flagellation, as if  the country had fallen into collective  penance for the wrongs committed in Vietnam.

Of course it went further than it should have ever gone and the entire process did incalcuable harm to the office of the Presidency and the trust in both an unbiased media and a responsible judiciary.  Nixon had to carry much of the blame himself  for the fiasco which ensued and the many poor decisions he made as his enemies closed in on him. But the punishment never matched the offense and  if presidents can be routinely dismissed for dissembling  and cover ups  then neither Woodrow Wilson,  FDR , Lyndon Johnson , Bill Clinton or Barack Obama should ever have completed their terms of office.

But more egregious than this was the course upon which the media, encouraged by its victories in the Watergate scandal,  now set its compass.  With its reporters lionized as the new Knights of the Realm, the Washington Post reached the zenith of its power as a journal of reportial integrity and became the flagship for media authenticity. Nothing was said about the sheer malice and hubris which had driven the campaign to unseat a sitting President.  No explanation was given about how  there had become established one set of standards for Democrats and another for Republicans.   From the mid-70s onward, the news sections of the print media – and soon to be followed by television and radio – would no longer see themselves as mere purveyors of the unbiased presentation of the news but  as vested with a responsibility, as if from High, to filter the news through their own particular prism of right and wrong.   The search for justice, at least as liberals understand it, swiftly became more important than the conveyance of actual truth.

Which perhaps explains where we are today.  What conservative, reading the news in our present day, cannot help feel the deepest loathing at  the media’s refusal to doggedly investigate the multitude of scandals swirling around the Obama Administration?  Where today, after all, are our contemporary Woodwards and Bernsteins, scraping through the garbage cans of our federal officials searching for leads on such notorious scandals as the Benghazi attack, Fast and Furious campaign and  the IRS scandal?   If such reporters exist, then they must necessarily  suffer ostracism like the award winning investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson, hunted and spied upon by the government and sidelined, on spurious grounds, by the very news organization which employed her.  We should never forget that no American died as a result of Watergate and its subsequent cover up.  But when Americans do die because of Government action or inaction, when our own ambassador is abandoned and subsequently murdered and the government then seeks to cover up its willful negligence in allowing it happen, is it not right that we should expect howls of outrage from our media barons and their unfettered determination  to expose the truth?

Unfortunately those who expect such an outcome are living in a different century.  For in the 21st century, truth is hardly relevant to any story.  What matters today is how the story conforms to or supports a particular narrative and how much attention it can attract from advertisers.  To understand this tragic development we need to follow a disreputable trail that leads back to Ben Bradlee and 1970s Washington.  But to understand how the media operates today, we probably need  to borrow the observations of White House counsel John Dean – “we have a cancer within the media, that’s growing daily….. it grows geometrically now because it compounds itself.”

Avi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance in Los Angeles and the coordinator of the March AFA  international conference Shocking Truths: The Repression of Free Speech in the Western Media. 

 

 


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