RUNNING FOR CONGRESS IN 2018

February 12, 2018 Kelley Kidd. A good friend has recently announced he is running for Congress. He aims to replace a right wing Republican who now holds the 12th District of Georgia, a badly gerrymandered district that includes Augusta, Dublin and Statesboro. Most of the district is rural Southeast Georgia. The last Democrat to hold the district, or at least hold a district with that number and much of its territory was John Barrow, a white Blue Dog Democrat who campaigned heavily on protecting gun rights and helping veterans. My friend is John’s friend. He is also the immediate past president of the Georgia NAACP, a liberal lawyer and small town minister. I am advising him to run on a few basic economic issues which cut across racial, sexual and cultural lines. In short I am asking him to run as though he was a young black Bernie Sanders!

After 40 years of income stagnation or decline the vast majority of Americans are beginning to vote their anger at the death of the American dream. There are some who would claim that the dream lives in the mansions of the very rich, especially those who have increased their parents’ good fortune by making billions. Most of us know that the dream of great personal wealth is not what our American ancestors to come to this land or to live hopefully in it. We know the great American dream is not about luxury and leisure, but it is about honest reward for honest labor. The dream is dying even as handfuls of the very rich and lucky are acquiring undreamed of power at the expense of the rest of us. We sense that the game is rigged by politicians who make the rules to favor their rich friends and the great corporations controlled by their rich friends. We are angry. Thank God we are finally angry enough to do what we can to recreate a democracy in America.

The real American dream is that we create a society in which every able person willing to work hard is rewarded with a decent job. A society in which every person receives an education equal to his ability to study and to learn, regardless of the financial status of his parents or his grandparents. A society in which the sick receive medical care regardless of their income or age or sex or race or employment or religion or political and social standing. In short, we have departed from the American dream in recent years because too many of our business and professional leaders and the leaders of both parties have focused too narrowly on enhancing the economic success of the few in the always vain hope that power to the few will lead to power to the rest of us. Economic liberty to expand business opportunities for great corporations has been preferred instead of expanding the opportunities and filling the needs of the many. In the name of one ideal—that of economic liberty and opportunity—we have horribly ignored and even suppressed that most American and most Christian of ideals—that of a loving community of people who care for ourselves AND each other.

 


 

IS BERNIE SANDERS A SIGN OF THE TIMES?

February 7, 2018. Kelley Kidd. Various polls in recent months have shown Bernie Sanders to be the most favorably rated politician in America. By far. President Trump and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama all are LESS favorable in the view of American voters by large double digit figures. An old Jew from a very small state! A self-proclaimed socialist who never apologizes for that label! Really? Why in the world would a moderate-conservative electorate have such an attitude towards a man some have described as “the most radically leftist politician in the country”? And why would so many of those who like Bernie be so young when the man is so old?

The answer lies partly in the truth that the American electorate is no longer predominantly “moderate”. Most of us would be more accurately characterized as “angry”. Both major parties are now visibly and deeply split between the political centrists of the past and angry populists.

The truth is that Bill Clinton represented the same ideals as Ronald Reagan: faith in the health and resourcefulness of the large corporations of America, trust in free markets for investment and labor mobility, preference for small government and large private enterprise, a distrust of labor unions and restrictions on economic freedom, optimism about globalization of corporate ownership and direction, a joy in the successes of plutocrats. The Clinton Democrat and the Reagan Republican differed in (1) their relative concern for the needs and rights of people of color and (2) the distribution of income tax burdens between the very rich and the middle class.

But they were both what their congruent views made them; they were both neo-liberals. The establishments of each party have followed the shared philosophy as much as they have sometimes diverged on taxes and race and social issues like abortion and homosexuality. The leaders of neither party would feel comfortable in the presence of rank and file blue collar workers or the civil libertarians of either the left or the right. Both would prefer to send their kids to private colleges than to fight for the expansion of public education for poorer others. Both would compel the accused to get treatment for deviancy instead of offering options for change. Both are afraid the kindness of the affluent leads to lack of discipline among the poor. Both have led the mass of American men and women to a culture which leaves most with neither improved present lives nor real hope for the future.

The dissident wings of both parties are still tied to some of the core attitudes the past has bequeathed to the faithful on a range of social issues. But the dissidents share rage at the complacent faith of the establishment in the party version of Capitalism With a Human Face. The Trump victory was fueled by that rage. So is the popularity of Bernie Sanders. The great difference is that Trump is a demagogue whose real agenda is plutocratic and authoritarian, while Bernie represents the aspirations of democracy and widespread sharing of responsibility and benefits.

My belief is that Democrats have a short time in which to use that rage as fuel for launching a widespread populism that mates core Democratic social concerns with a renewal of commitment to dramatically improve the lives of the poor and the working class. If we miss this opportunity through timidity or complacency, no amount of finger pointing in any direction will save us from ourselves. I believe we can and must unite for the ideals Bernie has so bravely articulated in his campaign. These are merely current expressions of the core commitment of the pilgrims and the earliest Christians and the former slaves who followed Moses to Sinai and then to the Promised Land: WE LOVE OUSELVES AND EACH OTHER, ALL OF US. WE TAKE CARE OF US.

BAD DAYS FOR THE STREET

February 3, 2018 . Kelley Kidd. Wall Street has been crowded with stampeding bulls since a bigot from New York unexpectedly got himself elected President of the United States. The classic indicator of stock market prosperity has been a rise in the Dow Jones indicator number. The higher the number and the faster the rise, the more we are to expect economic good times. That is the conventional wisdom. I used to believe that. Lately not so much. Trump’s first year in office saw that indicator jump and soar. Tehn came the last week in January and the first few days of February.

Yesterday was a very bad Friday for the Dow Jones. It lost nearly 700 points, more than 2 percent of its value. A few days before it had lost more than 100 points. There was obviously bad news for investors in publicly traded stock. A look at the bad news. That little dip a few days back came on the news that three mega giants are combining to find new and cheaper ways to deliver better health services to their employees. The big tumble yesterday accompanied news that the wages of American workers increased by better than 2 percent last year compared with the year before. Since wages have been stagnant for forty years except for the pay of the very highest paid workers, this is hopeful news indeed for most of us. And the prospect of better and cheaper medical care is certainly hopeful for those of us who spend a large percentage of our incomes on health insurance and health care. That would be the vast majority of us Americans again.

So here is my question: is what is good for investors in major stocks bad for the rest of us? The converse certainly appears to be true. What is good for the rest of us is bad for the big stock holders. When prospects for us get brighter the values of Wall Street investments go down. It is enough to make me wonder if Orwell had us in mind when he ventured the notion that the most important achievement of the ruling class was to convince us that the evidence of our own eyes was useless if it contradicted the values taught to us about the nature of reality.

Capitalism is very good for everybody, right? Right?

 

 

THE BIG PICTURE OF AMERICAN POLITICS: MY THOUGHTS BEFORE THE ELECTION OF TRUMP

Today is January 30, 2018. Trump will address Congress tonight. What strikes me is how much the conversation is still dominated by exactly the same concerns that dominated our conversation back then. Here is my essay from then:

OCTOBER 2016. Kelley Kidd. With only a short time left before the 2016 presidential election I am as enthralled with the process as I have ever been since I watched Harry Truman battle to keep his job in 1948. Presidential elections tend to focus my energy on the big questions of public life, or at least on those I happen to believe are the big questions. I suspect that at the heart of American politics the big questions remain the same in each election. Perhaps the main issues of American life are not now dramatically different from those of other moments and even other nations, although particular occasions and appearances vary over time.

From my point of view one of the most cogent descriptions of the big picture came from a corporate executive last year. That description came in the context of the only game in Baltimore Oriole history which was played without any fans in the ball park. A few days before a young man named Freddy Gray had died in custody after having been arrested for running away from being watched by several policemen. To many Baltimoreans it appeared that for African-American men fleeing from policemen had become a capital crime! Rage led to violence. For the first time since the Rodney King incident in the 1990s an American city was wracked with a several nights of street violence. The word riot was used by more than a few commentators. A scheduled Oriole game was played, but the ball park seats were empty. The executive who ordered the gates closed to fans explained that the park closure was intended to protect the safety of fans. Anyone might have expected that executive to bemoan the loss to Orioles fans and to have harsh words for the rioters. Instead we got a long tweet in response to a radio broadcaster’s complaints about those “rioters”:

“I agree with your point that the principle of peaceful nonviolent protest and the observance of the rule of law is of utmost importance in any society. MLJ, Gandhi, Mandela and all the great opposition leaders throughout history always preached that precept. I also believe in a democracy it is critical that due process and the completion of any investigation must precede any judgment against any accused police member. That said, my greatest source of personal concern is focused neither on the single night’s property damage or upon the acts, but upon the four decade long period in which an American political elite have shipped middle class and working class jobs away from Baltimore and cities and towns around the US to China and others, plunged tens of millions of good hard working Americans into economic devastation and then followed that action by diminishing every American’s civil rights protection in order to control an unfairly impoverished population living under an ever-declining standard of living at the butt end of an ever more militarized and aggressive surveillance state.”

The executive was John Angelos, the son of the wealthy owner of the Oriole franchise. That same young man made these statements long before the rise of the Trump phenomenon with its emphasis on denouncing the movement of American jobs abroad and its calling for closing our borders, lowering taxes on the very wealthy and corporations to induce the latter to retain employment in the US, and its repetition of the Nixonian call for “law and order’. The greatest issues of our times seem to be linked in concern for both the rise of a police state and the decline of the economic fortunes of the many at the hands of the few. How these issues are linked seems to divide us; that they are linked appears to be a notion that transcends the usual political and economic roles of the very rich. Neither Trump nor Angelos are crowd pleasers with large numbers of us, but they are talking about the same issues.

THE ABOVE ESSAY FRFLECTED MY THINKING IN OCTOBER 2016. NOW IN January 30, 2018 THESE ISSUES ARE STILL DOMINATING OUR NATIONAL LIFE.

 

 

DO TAX BREAKS UNDERMINE RETAIL BUSINESS?

January 27, 2018 Kelley Kidd. The new federal tax legislation is taking effect already this year. Apple has announced it is bringing billions of dollars back to the United States—dollars earned or merely sored outside the country. Several other huge businesses have declared similar intentions. Walmart has declare it will shared some of the money from the reduction of corporate taxes with its employees, without however noting how much to which employees or in what form. At the same time several major businesses have announced they are closing for good. Among these are Sears and Kmart. Sam’s Club is closing, and that is a subsidiary of Walmart. Carrier, the appliance manufacturer that the President has made front page news by saving some of its jobs from going to Mexico. Will be sending those jobs and more to Mexico anyhow. Go figure. If the new tax plan is so good for American business, why are so many jobs being lost and so many businesses closing?

IS CAPITALISM REPLACEABLE?

January 17, 2018. Kelley Kidd. Recently a beloved friend from Baltimore has publicly announced that he is committed to the vision of “capitalism with a human face”. That friend was once committed to a very different vision of society than any that capitalism has actually created. He cites New Zealand and Norway as models of modified capitalism. He says Bernie Sanders is not really a socialist, but a pro-capitalist of a liberal sort. He loves being told that the income which supports Social Security and public schools comes from capitalism. This slogan “capitalism with a human face” comes from one Frink, COO of the world’s largest investment fund.

I have begun sending my Baltimore friend videos and articles showing the face of capitalism in Baltimore and its area. There is the story of Wal-Mart closing Sam’s Club without notice to its employees. That story is paired with the simultaneous headline that Wal-Mart is going to be giving some of its tax windfall to some of its workers. Of course there is no mention of how much will be given to workers. Nor does the publicity note that the tax windfall to the world’s richest family (the Waltons) comes courtesy of the elected representatives of those workers. Every nickel of those tax windfalls to the Waltons would have accrued to the workers and other poorer Americans if the retail giant had been owned democratically by the workers themselves. While Sam Walton may have been a retail businessman of some skill, the mammoth fortune of the business is itself primarily the work of others. But the capitalist dominated press and the Republican Party (especially Donald Trump) is making much of the undisclosed benefits soon to trickle back to some of the people who made the windfall by exempting foreign earnings from any taxes and by doing all the work that generated the income to begin with.

The second video I have sent to my friend is an interview with a professor who notes that children in some of Baltimore’s public schools are going without heat at times this winter. Ostensibly the reason is the lack of public funds. The professor, an undoubtedly radical black activist interviewed on The Real News, notes that the City has been spending billions in recent years to encourage real estate developers. My point on this one is simply that there is another commitment much more likely to help the people of that City than backing capitalism. Capitalism seems to be paying off extraordinarily for those best able to benefit from it—the capitalists.

Bernie Sanders has probably not decided to call himself a capitalist because the label was attractive to large numbers of American voters, but in spite of the fact that huge and constant information machines have been brainwashing virtually all American voters to despise socialism for over a century. Maybe Bernie sees some of the horrific consequences of unopposed capitalism in the world and in America specifically. I do. Maybe he has given himself the label socialist to avoid being called a traitor to capitalism every time he points to the evils of privatization and the degrading of public institutions that serve the needs of ordinary people. Or perhaps he believes as Lincoln did that the function of government is to do for the people what they cannot well do for themselves.

Capitalism created American slavery and a thousand monstrosities of anti-democratic oppressions, thefts, lies and destruction. In endorsing capitalism I would be endorsing the behavior and power of men like the Koch brothers and Trump. Capitalists can certainly take care of themselves. The ordinary poor and working people of Statesboro and Baltimore, as well as Vermont, need my help and that of my friend. We do not do those people any favors by swearing allegiance to capitalism. Is there a better way? Do I make myself a true believer, as Eric Hoffer would label the fanatical, or a utopian, as many right wing and neo-liberal pundits would claim, by denouncing current capitalism as at least as flawed as the authoritarian regimes we have called socialist. Was Martin Luther King mistaken to criticize both capitalism and Soviet communism as systems which leave most people with no effective voice in the circumstances of their lives?

I have seen very little of the globe, never hot tubbed on Malibu or jumped for joy in New Zealand. My friend has had a thousand experiences of the good life that I have rarely more than glimpsed. Maybe capitalism has made his life what it has been. I really do not know. But I have had enough of the good things in life to know that the happiest moments of his life have come from exactly the same source as the happiest moments of mine. That source is, I believe, ultimately and intimately available to most of our fellow human beings. It is the experience of giving and getting love to and from someone who loves me as I love that someone. Capitalism did not create that good nor does it enhance that good for billions of us.

My friend says the world is littered with the ruins of socialism. I suggest that the problems of many nations have been created or enhanced by capitalism. Several come to mind: Chile, Iran, Syria, South Africa, central African and Asian counties, others. Socialism did not invade Iraq in the last decade and is not responsible for the suffering of Southeast Asia from the colonialization of Vietnam through the collapse of the American imperialism. Imperialism is not in fact a stage of socialism, but capitalism. I do not believe that the evils of fascism or Nazism can be laid at the feet of anything except capitalism.

I happen to agree with Chomsky and Hedges (among many other American critics of capitalism) that democracy and capitalism are incompatible. Capitalism is the dominant economic and political system of this historical era. For now I must also acknowledge that many of the people I love most are committed to capitalism, as was my segregating Grandfather and his slave-owning Grandfather. If change is to come it must either come from within the capitalist system or from outside. Either way my commitment is to the love of my fellow humans and the planet we share. I take up this subject now only because my friend’s declaration of his commitment has shaken me into a reflection that will not be quiet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

BIBLICAL TREATMENT OF ALIENS

January 15, 2018. Kelley Kidd. A prayer breakfast to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. was held in Statesboro. Georgia last Saturday morning. I was asked to share something for the occasion.

I noted that the President of the United States had recently used obscene language to show hatred and contempt for immigrants and aliens. After observing that there were many members of the clergy there who were doubtless much more learned than I in Bible study, I said that, nevertheless, Jews have a very special affection for the Torah, the first five books of the Bible.

“Abraham was an immigrant. Isaac was an immigrant. Jacob was an immigrant. All of the people who followed Moses to Sinai to receive the Torah and the 10 commandments were refugees, “strangers” (KJV) and “aliens” (Friedman; 2001). The Torah contains 52 references to the importance of treating aliens (aka strangers and refugees) as neighbors, and the injunction to love them as we would love ourselves. “For you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”

Those of us who say that we take the Bible seriously as the guide to God’s will for us ought to at least give serious consideration to the possibility that God insists that we never oppress an alien. See e.g. Leviticus 19:33-34.

RECOVERY FROM ALCOHOLISM: Chapter I Me and “Drinking”

2017. Jacob ben Abraham. A Ramble for Rachel. The following is part one of what will be a four chapter essay. The whole thing has been written for Rachel Schwartz, who will be working soon as a teacher and counselor in “the recovery movement.” It is dedicated to her, and was composed in the hope that it would be helpful to her. The first chapter considers the drinking of alcohol and introduces the author. The second asks what alcoholism is. The third looks at Alcoholics Anonymous from an inside view. The fourth and final chapter outlines ways in which professional treatment tends to have very different objectives and methods from that of Alcoholics Anonymous. It also is my attempt to reflect on the pitfalls of conflating professional treatment with AA.

The Main Points. There are libraries full of writings about the subject of alcoholism and recovery. I have not attempted to replace them. But I hope to raise some issues that I have not seen addressed in one place, and to address those issues from the standpoint of a lifetime of experience and study. My central contention is that the recovery movement has abandoned a highly successful approach to helping alcoholics for a more successful approach to helping those who wish to help alcoholics. I will advance my contention by answering the four questions which follow.

(1) Is drinking (alcoholic beverages) in itself a problem? Stated another way, we could ask if a human culture which allows its participants to drink alcohol doing itself and them a disservice or not? Generally speaking is alcohol drinking something positive or negative for both drinkers and the culture in which alcohol is consumed? (2) What is alcoholism and how is it different from other problems? Is it the same as some other problems? (3) Is there a solution and, if so, how does that solution work? (4) Does professional treatment help the alcoholic recover and, if so, are there particular considerations that the helper needs to know?

DRINKING: BAD OR GOOD?

Who decides?
Of course the perceptive enquirer will almost certainly recognize that none of these questions have universally accepted answers. There are those who hold that drinking alcohol has a very bad effect on its consumers and on others. These may oppose any drinking at all. Islam forbids drinking alcohol and most Buddhists are also opposed. Some denominations of Christianity also have substantial reservations about the virtues of even moderate consumption of alcohol. No religious or philosophical point of view explicitly endorses heavy drinking to the point of frequent drunkenness. But many accept and even embrace drinking. It seems reasonable to suppose that the more a person sees positive values in drinking the more tolerant one is likely to be about extensive, frequent or prolonged drinking. But it also seems reasonable to suppose that the evaluator of drinking

My own answer to the question of whether drinking is generally good or not starts with acknowledging that prolonged extremely heavy drinking almost invariably damages the health of the drinker. I have respect for Buddhism and Islam and those Christian denominations which ask their members to not drink. I have no quarrel with those who decide not to drink out of respect for their religion or philosophy or mere personal preference. Nor have I any doubt that drinking should not be done by expectant mothers, people operating automobiles or other dangerous equipment, post-operative patients or people whose doctors have prescribed certain drugs that interact poorly with alcohol. And I have never known an alcoholic who could drink safely.

But for those who wish to help the alcoholic, being opposed to drinking dooms the would-be helper to ineffectiveness. Not only is a solid argument to be made for the proposition that drinking alcohol is positive for society and for the vast majority of those adults who choose to drink, but you can be certain that any alcoholic know that argument. Most alcoholics are practiced debaters on the subject. I have never known a drunk who could not give you just as good a presentation of the virtues of drinking as the one that follows. And the most important answer to any of these questions must be ones which the drinker will accept. All alcoholics love the effect produced by drinking alcohol, and despise the attitude that drinking is bad. The success of any effort to help the alcoholic depends very much on the consent and the eventual approval of the suffering alcoholic. While short term abstinence may be obtainable by incarcerating the alcoholic or by threats of punishment for drinking, I am convinced that no one with a drinking problem can be forced to stay away from drinking indefinitely. To save the alcoholic from his drinking will, by definition, require him decided and determined to not drink.

There is nothing more pathetic than the professional who is trying to convince an alcoholic that drinking is bad and that the drinker is too stupid, ignorant or deluded to see that. Such a professional is not only doomed to failure; he is also showing himself to be the victim of his own stupidity, ignorance or delusion. See, for example, The Recovery Book, which spends about 600 pages instructing alcoholics (among others) on the dangers of drinking and the supposed dictates of recovery from alcoholism, but spends not one single sentence on drinking as a positive activity for anyone at any time! Unfortunately the principle author, Al Mooney, M.D., is rather typical of the professionals in “the field”.

I do not deny that DUI Court and residential treatment patients can be found who “admit” to having hated drinking the whole time they “were using alcohol”. Baptist prayer meetings sometimes feature testimony from those who claim they abandoned God and humanity the first taste they had of demon rum! If the reader has trouble deciding whether such stuff needs to be taken seriously, then continuing to read this essay will probably be a waste of your time.

The Sources of my Information on drinking. My father was an alcoholic and so was my identical twin. I loved both and lost both to alcoholism before either had reached the age of 50. I drank from the summer I turned 18 until the summer I turned 40. From the beginning I was an abnormal drinker, and I suffered many of the consequences of being an alcoholic.

Most of my energies for 35 years have gone into becoming and remaining sober. During that time I have tried to be helpful to other alcoholics. I have spent nine years working professionally in the field(s) of alcoholism and drug addiction recovery, been a part of a DUI Court team, and read many books and articles on alcoholism and related subjects. Thousands of my clients have been alcoholics. My reading and studying has continued to focus on this subject more than any other, and I have studied all my life. Always my diligence has been sharpened by the intensely personal motives a student has when the subject of his studies is the life and death struggle of his own existence and that of those he loves most.

Then there is the information I have gotten from attending more than ten thousand meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous, listening to hundreds of thousands of alcoholics talk about their experiences and their efforts to recover. I have performed service work in AA that has ranged from the most menial to being the person representing more than a dozen AA groups at the state organizational level. I have been the founder of a group which still meets four days each week and is helpful to many, including me.

Perhaps my most significant source of information on this subject has been the huge body of experience that I have been given through hundreds of alcoholics with whom I have worked closely as an AA sponsor. They have included many medical doctors, scientists, teachers, clergymen and addiction counselors, as well as even more men and women who were not professionals of any kind. Most of these people have also been individuals who had experienced varied degrees and forms of drug abuse or addiction. More than a few have gotten well and have been living wonderful sober lives. Many others have died as the result of returning to alcoholic drinking. I loved them all and never stop learning more from them than they have learned from me.

Does not everybody already know? Offering advice about drinking is usually a thankless mission. Almost all adults believe they need no advice about what to believe or practice when it comes to religion, politics and drinking alcoholic beverages. No amount of experience or learning on the part of the advisor is likely to overcome the advisee’s conviction that he already knows that which is truly basic and worthwhile. My approximately seventy years of curiosity and study and experience may be seen as worthless compared with the reader’s innate good sense and own experience. Most people old enough to read a comment such as the one which follows are also past old enough to have a very firm conviction about the subjects the comment will address.

Danger of being sure. I can certainly identify with anyone whose mind is closed on any worthwhile issues. Been there and done that—a lot of times. My mind was firmly settled on questions about the Civil War at an early age, and similarly dug in about many related subjects. Somehow my Southern father had left a six volume biography of Abraham Lincoln in our living room. Out of idle curiosity I began to read. Carl Sandburg changed my views on Lincoln and much else. Most of all he changed my mind on the subject of the knowability of important and controversial subjects. Looking at the reasons for the beginning of the War that was his most important subject he wrote that the war came “by the capacity of so many men, women and children for hating and fearing that which they do not understand while believing they do understand completely and perfectly what no one understands except tentatively and haphazardly.” Abraham Lincoln, The War Years, Volume I, page 211 (1939). (I have recently found myself having to force myself to read still another book about Lincoln, having decided at some point that this unknowable man was perfectly known to me!) So the subject before me in this essay is one I believe fits Sandberg’s warning. The most wrong opinions are those held by the wisest students whose minds have become made up. I am warning myself here as well as you.

Humans and drinking: Match made in heaven? Of course we are talking about drinking beverages which contain alcohol. What some people refer to as “just another mood changing or mind altering drug” is much more than that. The front page article for the February 2017 issue of National Geographic magazine begins by declaring “Alcohol isn’t just a mind altering drink: it has been a prime mover of human culture from the beginning, fueling the development of arts, language, and religion.” The article demolishes the attitude that alcohol has retarded human progress. Instead it shows the enormous positive effects of drinking. It demonstrates conclusively that prohibition was not merely ineffective at achieving its goals; it was also naively prohibiting an activity that has powered human development since before it helped invent writing, agriculture and music.

Some form of drinking alcohol is a very important part of virtually every worthwhile social occasion from casual dating to holy sacrament. He who would discourage drinking alcohol is defying customs and ceremonies that bring millions of people together in bars and lounges, parties and celebrations, sports observances and once-in-a-lifetime achievements. Graduations and weddings, anniversaries and commencements, communions and Kiddush, Sabbath rituals and christenings. None of these events and many more would be crippled or demolished by abstinence from drinking alcohol.

Most of us are somehow at least vaguely aware that creative genius is frequently the partner of heavy drinking. One needs only to raise the question of which great musicians, artists, writers, actors and performers died young as the result of alcoholism. Which were driven to suicide or perished through accidents preceded by or accompanied by alcoholic drinking. And some of the most charismatic molders of political destiny also drank very heavily.

We will get ahead of this story a bit by pointing out that even Alcoholics Anonymous explicitly approves of drinking as a wonderful thing for normal drinkers: “For most normal folks, drinking means conviviality, companionship, and colorful imagination. It is joyous intimacy with friends and a feeling that life is good.” Alcoholics Anonymous, page 151 (1939, 1955, 1971. 2001). Although there are individuals in AA who are opposed to drinking, they have never carried the opinion of most members. Any person or institution which suggests—no matter how subtly—that AA disapproves of drinking has missed a degree of tolerance that goes far beyond mere resignation.

Thanking Ha Shem for drinking For Jews, dear Rachel, wine has been at the heart of our lives for millennia. “Wine in Jewish thought is symbolic of many things. Life, joy, Torah, Israel, Jerusalem, the Messiah—all are compared to wine. There is thus a halo of poetic association over the goblet of wine used in religious celebration. The fact that wine forms part of every Jewish rite, including the Marriage Ceremony, had much to do with the characteristic sobriety of Israel. Wine was associated with religion, and undue indulgence became a sin as well as a vice (Abrahams).” The Authorized Daily Prayer Book of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Empire with Commentary, J.H.Hertz (London; 1946) at page 809.

Drinking to your health. The National Geographic article cited earlier argues that fermentation of grains changed a few varieties into the nutritional foundation for the development of human society, and that the capacity to consume relatively large amounts of fermented alcoholic beverages distinguished our primate ancestors from other species long before we that distinction resulted in the rudiments of our culture. Alcohol is still a damned good, immensely varied food that is properly used to enhance the pleasure of eating almost every other food. There are more varieties of alcohol in a well-stocked grocery store than there are varieties of bread, cheese and meat combined. Of course this variety in grocery stores does not even include the even more immense varieties of beverages that can be obtained from distilled alcohol.

And a lot of what alcohol does within the human body and spirit is also very positive. Moderate drinkers average longer lifespans than people who never drink. Countless studies have shown that drinking red wine lowers blood pressure, enhances vascular performance and improves cardiac health. The symbolic value of certain alcoholic beverages is also very positive. And a medicinal drink after work or before retiring is often recommended by competent counselors to relieve anxiety and induce needed relaxation. The same drink at different times can have contrasting, even opposite, beneficial effects: the same drink that wakes me up can also help me sleep, and the same drink that braces my courage can soothe my overactive vigilance.

Alcohol the chemical. My introductory chemistry course in college taught me that alcohol is not just another mood-changing and mind altering chemical any more than sex is just another fun activity for adults. Alcohol is a functional group of the huge category of organic chemicals, the category which contains all of the chemicals that make living organisms different from nonliving things.

In fact the alcohols are the equivalent for organic compounds that water is for inorganic ones. Alcohols are virtually universal solvents for all other organic compounds. So alcohol dissolves other organic compounds, including the ones that compose the human body and the wastes of the human body. Alcohol and its byproducts enter every living cell of the human body, altering and reshaping the chemistry of those cell. It also readily dissolves or suspends in water and fruit juice and vegetable liquids. The biochemical impacts of alcohol on the consumer are chemically MUCH more complex, unpredictable and both salutary and disastrous than those of any other mind changing drug.

Alone among the mood changers, alcohol is usually consumed by drinking, carried and stored indefinitely in a huge variety of other liquids. Its biochemical effects include euphoria and depression, intoxication and drunkenness and unconsciousness and stimulation and sedative and euphoria and loss of anxiety. It can be an eye opener and a night cap, an aphrodisiac and the destroyer of any hope of sexual performance. And it can do each and all of these things in the same person within the same day or night.

Prohibition and drinkers, especially alcoholics. The suggestion that alcohol is bad is especially offensive to alcoholics. And, as the text of Alcoholics Anonymous points out, most moderate drinkers recoil from condemnations of drinking as well. Alcoholics Anonymous, page 103: “We are careful never to show intolerance or hatred of drinking as an institution. Experience shows that such an attitude is not helpful to anyone. Every new alcoholic looks for this spirit among us and is immensely relieved when he finds we are not witch-burners. A spirit of intolerance might repel alcoholics, whose lives might have been saved had it not been for such intolerance. We would not even do the cause of temperate drinking any good, for not one drinker in a thousand likes to be told anything about drinking by one who hates it.” Contrary to the widespread perception that AA opposes drinking, AA actually condemns such attitudes.

But of course drinking alcohol is not always beneficial for the drinker or for others who depend on him. That truth brings me to the second topic—problem drinking. No one who has lost a loved one through alcoholism can be immune to the suggestion that alcohol consumption can be very bad for the health of the drinker. Certainly no one who has represented thousands of victims of drunken behavior and hundreds of DUI cases and can be callous about the potential of drinking to lead to misbehavior. And no one who has lost everything in life he held dear except life itself as the result of drinking should ever forget that drinking can dissolves much more than organic compounds. I qualify for all these consequential roles created by uncontrolled drinking. I am also aware that the number of alcohol-related fatalities in this country far exceed the current figures on opiate overdoses—the national darling of substance abuse concern. If I generally approve of drinking and drinkers, I do not do so from a position of either ignorance or indifference to the case for concern.

Is it a vice of the bad or weak? I start on this subject with my own background. Like most middle class Protestant white children raised in the Deep South during the 1940s and 50s, I was taught that drinking any alcohol was an activity best left to the weak, bad and rather stupid people everyone referred to as “drunks”. I was told that many of the patients at the nearby central state mental hospital were alcoholics, the nicer name for the same people as the afore-mentioned drunks. By the time I finished high school, however, I had determined from observation that most adult people drank beverages that contained alcohol—beer or wine or whiskey. I also learned while very young that most people enjoyed drinking without ever having serious problems as the result, and that most who did have troubles were, like my father, of good intelligence, industriousness and moral character.

Returning to Mr. Lincoln I was first struck by the accuracy of his own depiction of both the alcoholic and the principal bearer of help for him. His speech to the temperance crusade of his times (the Washingtonian Society) was as complimentary of the drunkard as it was of what he drank. And it praised the sobered drunkard as the most effective bearer of help. I quote some of the speech below to show how extraordinary Mr. Lincoln was in his wisdom on these subjects. I would also note that the Washingtonian Society was begun as a fellowship of problem drinkers who got sober and stayed that way through helping each other and other drunkards who wished to achieve the same results.

In my judgment such of us who have never fallen victims have been spared more from the absence of appetite than from any mental or moral superiority over those who have….If we take habitual drunkards as a class, their heads and hearts will bear an advantageous comparison with those of any other class….The practice of drinking is just as old as the world itself. When all of us opened our eyes upon existence, we found intoxicating liquors recognized by everybody, repudiated by nobody Even then it was known that many were greatly injured by it but none seemed to think that the injury arose from the use of a bad thing, but from the abuse of a very good thing. Another era into which the old reformers fell, was the position that habitual drunkards were incorrigible. We could not love the man who taught this doctrine. We could not even hear him with patience. It looked…like throwing fathers and brothers overboard to lighten the boat for our own security.

 

Mr. Lincoln referred to the “reformed drunkards” of the Washingtonian Society as the best helpers of other drunkards. “In my judgement, it is to the battles of this new class of champions that our late success is chiefly owing

Mr. Lincoln’s views were apparently not well received by many of the more righteous members of the community in Springfield, Illinois in 1840. And they would not have been widely endorsed in Milledgeville, Georgia when I was growing up. They certainly accorded with my own sentiments. No doubt the congruence of my affection for my Father with the sentiments of Mr. Lincoln contributed mightily to my growing admiration for both Lincoln’s role in the Civil War and for the views of those who defended the Union against the Confederacy. So in my case the love of an alcoholic Southern father helped to stimulate doubts about the prejudices of his class and region.

Drinkers who drink alcohol usually don’t!! I drank alcoholic beverages for twenty two years, but never referred to what I drank as alcohol and rarely thought of what I did as “drinking alcohol.” No drinker I ever knew before I came to AA ever referred to drinking alcohol. Had there been any reference to “using alcohol” I am sure I would have thought the speaker was referring to rubbing alcohol or to finishing furniture, certainly not to drinking at all. The teacher or counselor of serious drinkers must stay aware that the drinker drinks Coor’s or Eagle Brewery or Jim Beam or Chablis or Crown Royal or screwdrivers or any of a thousand wonderful beverages to his or her way of thinking. Almost never alcohol. The drinker usually sees the speaker telegraphing an unwelcome attack by referring to drinking alcohol!

Even the most avid detractors of drinking admit it is unique. Dr. John Mooney, founder of Willingway Hospital, claimed that alcohol was just another one of a “smorgasbord” of drugs that we have the opportunity to choose from. He argued that for those who chose to drink, instead of snorting cocaine or shooting heroin, alcohol was simply their “drug of choice”. The reason we categorize it separately, as for example in the phrase “drugs and alcohol”, is not because is fundamentally “any different than any other drug of abuse”, but only because alcohol is “legal”. Of course such an assertion does not deal with any of the many reasons why alcohol is legal and others are not. Nor does it acknowledge that drinking is not only not criminal. It is also widely approved and appreciated.

I will not digress here to comment on the fate of the prohibition movement or the consequences of many efforts to discourage drinkers from drinking. Except I will note I have not yet met an alcoholic who traces his recovery to being prohibited from drinking.

One final thought on this subject that may serve as a transition from the subject of drinking to that of alcoholism. A brilliant attorney friend of mine is also admittedly both an alcoholic and a drug addict. He says the following as a way of distinguishing the two problems: “When I use highly addictive drugs I have a normal reaction. I get highly addictive. When I drink alcohol I have an abnormal reaction. I behave as though addicted, and my behavior and health consequences are terrible. Normal people enjoy drinking and live better as a result.”

 

 

 

 

JACOB ON DRINKING AND ALCOHOLISM; A PRIMER FOR RACHEL

Thanksgiving 2017. Jacob ben Abraham. The following essay has been written out of love for Rachel, who will be working soon as a teacher and counselor in the recovery movement. It is dedicated to her, and was composed in the hope that it would help her do her work. She is a perfectionist who gets miserable if she suspects her work is anything less than the best. I would adore her if she decided to sweep floors or pump gasoline instead. But since she chooses to teach, I want her to know everything I know that might help her achieve her almost impossible goal. She has picked work that frustrates everyone who takes it seriously. I have looked for her for four decades. Now that I have found her, I want terribly to be some small part of her joy in life. If anybody else gets anything from reading this essay, that is OK too.

The subject of this essay is the subject I know best—recovery from alcoholism. My father was an alcoholic and so was my identical twin. I loved both and lost both to alcoholism. I drank from the summer I turned 18 until the summer I turned 40. From the beginning I was an abnormal drinker, and I suffered many of the consequences of being an alcoholic. Most of my energies for 35 years have gone into my own recovery and trying to be helpful to others who are alcoholic. Somewhere along the line I have spent nine years working in the field of alcoholism and drug addiction recovery, been a part of a DUI Court team, and read many books and articles on alcoholism and related subjects. Always my diligence has been sharpened by the intensely personal motives a student has when the subject of his studies is the life and death struggle of his own existence and that of those he loves most.

Perhaps my most significant source of information on this subject has been the huge body of experience that I have been given through listening to hundreds of alcoholics with whom I have worked closely as a sponsor. They have included many medical doctors, scientists, teachers, clergymen and addiction counselors, as well as even more men and women who were not professionals of any kind. Most of these people have also been individuals who had experienced varied degrees and forms of drug abuse or addiction. More than a few have gotten well and have been living wonderful sober lives, and many others have died as the result of returning to alcoholic drinking. I loved them all then and love them still.

 

DRINKING

Offering advice about drinking is usually a thankless mission. Almost all adults believe they need no advice about what to believe or practice when it comes to religion, politics and drinking alcoholic beverages. No amount of experience or learning on the part of the advisor is likely to overcome the advisee’s conviction that he already knows that which is truly basic and worthwhile. My approximately seventy years of curiosity and study and experience may be seen as worthless compared with the reader’s innate good sense and own experience. Please bear with me a few moments while I say a few things on this subject that will be foundational in the subsequent writing about alcoholism and recovery.

Of course we are talking about drinking beverages which contain alcohol. What some people refer to as “just another mood changing or mind altering drug” is much more than that. The front page article for the February 2017 issue of National Geographic magazine began by declaring “Alcohol isn’t just a mind altering drink: it has been a prime mover of human culture from the beginning, fueling the development of arts, language, and religion.” The article finishes off the notion that alcohol has retarded human progress with data that shows the enormous positive effects of drinking. It demonstrates conclusively that prohibition was not merely ineffective at achieving its goals; it also took dead aim at the fuel that has powered human development since before it helped invent writing, agriculture and music. Being anti drinking is as stupid as it is repressive.

Some form of drinking alcohol is a very important part of virtually every worthwhile social occasion from casual dating to holy sacrament. He who would discourage drinking alcohol is defying customs and ceremonies that bring millions of people together in bars and lounges, parties and celebrations, sports observances and once-in-a-lifetime achievements. Graduations and weddings, anniversaries and commencements, communions and Kiddush, Sabbath rituals and christenings. None of these events and many more would be crippled or demolished by abstinence from drinking alcohol.

For us, dear Rachel, wine has been at the heart of our lives for millennia. “Wine in Jewish thought is symbolic of many things. Life, joy, Torah, Israel, Jerusalem, the Messiah—all are compared to wine. There is thus a halo of poetic association over the goblet of wine used in religious celebration. The fact that wine forms part of every Jewish rite, including the Marriage Ceremony, had much to do with the characteristic sobriety of Israel. Wine was associated with religion, and undue indulgence became a sin as well as a vice (Abrahams).” The Authorised Daily Prayer Book of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Empire with Commentary, J.H.Hertz (London;1946)at page 809.

Alcohol is the universal solvent for organic chemicals, that huge range of compounds which compose the human body and most of the things the human body depends upon. Incidentally and often consequently alcohol has a very great many effects on humans that no other compound can have. Drinking alcohol introduces consequences for every lining organ, tissue and cell in the human body. Mind changing drugs affect the transmitting of signals between nerve cells; alcohol does that, but alcohol does more. Much more.

Alcohol is a food. A damned good, immensely varied food that is properly used to enhance the pleasure of eating almost every other food. There are more varieties of alcohol in a well stocked grocery store than there are varieties of bread, cheese and meat combined. Of course this variety in grocery stores does not even include the even more immense varieties of beverages that can be obtained from distilled alcohol.

And a lot of what alcohol does within the human body and spirit is also very positive. Moderate drinkers average longer lifespans than people who never drink. Countless studies have shown that drinking red wine lowers blood pressure, enhances vascular performance and improves cardiac health. The symbolic value of certain alcoholic beverages is also very positive. Champaign toasts and beer bashes are as mandatory for certain celebrations as fireworks on the fourth of July.

The suggestion that alcohol is bad is especially offensive to alcoholics. But, as the text of Alcoholics Anonymous points out, most moderate drinkers recoil from condemnations of drinking as well.

I start with the subject of Alcoholics Anonymous. There are two very different paradigms called by the same name—AA. One is a very simple program and fellowship which originated in the efforts of two alcoholics to help each other stay sober in 1935. I will call that “Plain AA.” The second is probably more familiar to most people these days. It has grown out of the efforts of professional “treatment” to adapt the former to the real or supposed needs of clients suffering from drug addiction, substance abuse and chemical dependency—to use the most familiar labels.

 

 

JUSTICE JACKSON: COMPELLED FLAG SALUTE UNLAWFUL

December 3, 2017. Kelley Kidd. Robert Jackson was an Associate Justice of the United States from 1942 until his death in the 1954. He had already served as Solicitor General and Attorney General of the United States. And he was the chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials of the Nazi war criminals following World War II. In all those jobs he had many opportunities to confront and ponder issues involving the balance between freedom of expression and the power of legally constituted authority. The continuing struggle to resolve such issues is a deep layer of the bedrock of our culture and of our daily living. These issues are often unspoken questions in our schools and work places, as well as in our media and political institutions.

While not as famous as some of the other Supreme Court members in our history, Robert Jackson remains a favorite of mine. I have frequently consulted his opinions and writings when confronted with public and private questions of conscience. Today I would like to share a few paragraphs from his opinion in West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette. The year was 1943 and this country was in the middle of a life and death struggle with Japanese militarism, Italian Fascism and German totalitarianism. School children and their parents were threatened with official sanctions because the kids were refusing to salute the Stars and Stripes. Only three years before the Supreme Court had come near to unanimously approving similar actions taken by another school board when other children had refused to salute. But the earlier Court did not include Robert Jackson. Although an almost new member of the Court in 1943 Jackson’s words were chosen to represent the views of the Court in striking down the school board’s actions as violations of the rights of the children and their parents.


“Freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of freedom’s substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order.”

“Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unification of the graveyard.”

“If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”

In this current interlude, when many millions are being persuaded that athletes should be punished for not saluting our flag or anthem, Robert Jackson’s words can recall us to the sensibilities necessary to avoid the dark destinies of our authoritarian impulses. Unity and patriotism have their place, but the fixed stars of our national conscience can still guide us to much greater aspirations than any urge to seek the impossible consensus of a diverse and free people.