As soon as Doug Mastriano mauled his way onto Pennsylvania’s political scene by bloviating the Big Lie that the 2020 Election was “stolen” from Donald Trump (despite 60 court decisions proving otherwise), I knew he reminded me of someone. I couldn’t quite place him, but knew I had seen him before.
So, I sat down in my comfortable chair to watch one of my favorite old movies, the brilliant 1953 Academy Award winning “From Here to Eternity,” starring Burt Lancaster, Frank Sinatra, Montgomery Clift, Donna Reed and Debra Kerr. When Ernest Borgnine (as Sgt. Fatso Judson) sneakily pulled a switchblade knife on Frank Sinatra’s likeable “ Pvt. Maggio” in an early barroom scene, it jolted me straight up. That was it.
Mastriano was Borgnine: bullying, sadistic, crass, pig-headed, closed minded and a bigot, who referred to the physically smaller Sinatra’s Italian-American Maggio as “a little wop.” Borgnine’s Sgt. Fatso Judson, in charge of the Stockade at the Army Base in pre-Pearl Harbor Hawaii, ends up beating Sinatra’s Maggio to death simply because he didn’t like him.
When Montgomery Clift’s character Robert Prewitt—Maggio’s best friend—confronted Borgnine’s Fatso Judson about killing the happy-go-lucky Sinatra character, the brutish Sgt. admitted it, bragging that Maggio “deserved it.”
The more I looked at the bully Borgnine in “From Here to Eternity,” the more I saw Mastriano. This was fiction, I told myself, but Mastriano was all too real.
Not being one who judges a book by it’s cover—despite Mastriano’s eerie physical resemblance to Borgnine’s evil character–I did some research from Mastriano’s own writings. I went back 21 years, and found his “thesis” which he wrote toward his Master’s Degree at the Air Command & Staff College, Air University. Remarkably, it’s available on the official Department of Defense website.
Entitled “The Civilian Putsch of 2018: Debunking the Myth of a Civil-Military Leadership Rift,” it was an arresting title for a thesis, written in 2001, which created an imaginary world 17 years in the future. Odd, I thought, for a Military College to accept fiction in a Master’s Degree program. Having taught & taken creative writing & screenwriting classes, I thought Mastriano’s poorly written, made-up story, might be more appropriate for that setting. But, fiction? At a Graduate Military School?
Nevertheless, I persisted, and plowed through Mastriano’s mock-reality, hoping for some interesting story-telling or new insights. Instead, what I found was 65 pages of a fanatical diatribe, reminding me of the other-world screeching of Savonarola, the puritanical Dominican friar of 15th Century Italy who headed “bonfires of the vanities,” to destroy of all things condemned by religious authorities.
Throughout the pages of his parade of prejudices, Mastriano expressed his “disgust with anyone who doesn’t hold his view that homosexuality is a form of ‘aberrant sexual conduct,” said former George W. Bush Administration White House official Peter Feaver, who Mastriano footnotes in his paper. If anything, Feaver failed to turn the temperature up high enough.
Mastriano’s madness over “homosexuals in the military, “ and a “morally depraved and relativistic populace”, gushes from his pen, like a crayon-scrawled edict nailed to a church door, rather than a “research” paper. His apocalyptic vision of a decaying world and military is obsessed with “moral anarchy,” “worship of Hedonism,” and the consistent theme that the “assault started with the insertion of homosexuality in the military.” But Mastriano was just warming up. It was time for him to pull a Fatso Judson, and unsheath his switchblade.
“The political correctness of the 1990’s established moral relativism as the norm, “ Mastriano wrote, railing against “homosexuality sensitivity training.” Ironically, Mastriano also writes about the “duty to uphold the Constitution,” as opposed to “overzealous loyalty to one person,”—the exact opposite of what he himself, and his fellow “Stop the Steal” sycophants did for Trump.
Mastriano’s misogynistic & homophobic missive, which called for the reinstatement of the “macho warrior spirit” in the military, at a time when women and gays were being welcomed to serve, is far too reactive to be called “research,” and it’s as discredited as the book he whipped up about the life of World War I hero, Sgt. Alvin York—so full of falsehoods that the publisher is reissuing a “corrected” copy this year.
We were warned about bone-headed bullies like Mastriano, by Frank Sinatra in 1945, some eight years before Maggio confronted Borgnine’s Fatso Judson. To support the US War effort against the Fascists in Europe, and to fight growing anti-Semitism at home, Sinatra did a short documentary, accompanied by a patriotic song.
The film was called “The House I Live In,” and the song was entitled “What is America To Me.” (Watch the 10 minute short film and hear the Sinatra song by clicking on this link:
In the dramatic lead-up to the song, Sinatra—who was a passionate civil rights advocate at the time, and always took the side of the underdog—stopped a group of boys from picking on a young Jewish kid.
“You must be a bunch of those Nazis I been hearing about, “ Sinatra said to the boys, who surrounded him, screaming that they were Americans.
“I’m an American,” Sinatra said. “Religion makes no difference except maybe to a Nazi or somebody that’s stupid.” Then, Sinatra went on with a monologue that defined what he felt it was to be an American, foreshadowing his role of Maggio years later:
“This country is made up of 100 different kinds of people, and 100 different ways of talking, and 100 different ways of going to church—but they’re all American ways. Wouldn’t we be silly if we run around hating people because they comb their hair different than ours? Wouldn’t we be a lot of dopes?
My Dad came from Italy, but I’m an American. Should I hate you because your people came from Ireland or France or Russia? Wouldn’t that be a first-class fat-head? Use your good American heads—don’t let anyone make suckers out of you.”
What America was to Frank Sinatra in 1945, or 1953, or throughout the rest of his adult life, was far different from the shriveled, theocratic straightjacket shouted about by Mastriano for the past two decades. If only he had listened more to the sound of other people’s voices instead of his own, and took a moment to understand the meaning of the words Sinatra sang to lift an entire nation in 1945:
“WHAT IS AMERICA TO ME?
A NAME, A MAP, THE FLAG I SEE—
A CERTAIN WORD—DEMOCRACY—
THAT IS AMERICA TO ME.”
I’m with Sinatra, and Shapiro, on this one—defending democracy.
Five years ago in late August, 2017, Billy Joel walked out on stage at Madison Square Garden, where, as the Artist-in-Residence, he performed monthly to standing room only crowds.
On the left side of his dark suit jacket, a yellow Star of David was pinned prominently over his heart. For the singer/songwriter who has performed more than 100 times at one of the world’s premiere concert arenas, sold more than 150 million records and won virtually every music award, it was a bold and dramatic action, surprising some of his fans, since Joel is known for not being overtly political.
Joel’s jolt came less than ten days after the White Supremacist/Nazi march in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a young women walking to peacefully protest the anti-Semitic and racial hatred spewed by the “Unite the Right” mob, was deliberately run down and killed by a White Supremacist driving a car into the group of counter-protestors.
Charlottesville was where many Americans were introduced, for the first time, to the pernicious and hateful “Great Replacement Theory,” which called for violent White Domestic Terrorist actions against Blacks, Jews and immigrants. The chant “Jews Will Not Replace” was screamed throughout Charlottesville by mostly male, White Supremacists, aiming to drive Jews out of American society.
To compound the terrible and deadly, hate-fueled events in Charlottesville that day– Donald Trump went on television and refused to place responsibility on the Nazis and White Supremacists, but instead, stated there were “very fine people on both sides.”
Trump’s despicable statement “enraged”, Joel, as he told The Times of Israel.
“No, Nazis aren’t good people, “ Joel said. “My old man, his family got wiped out. They were slaughtered at Auschwitz. Him and his parents were able to get out.”
Joel’s comments about his family’s treatment by the Nazis was an understatement.
In Billy Joel: The Definitive Biography, by Fred Schruers (Crown Archetype Books, NY, NY, 2014), the author details the systematic campaign by the Nazi’s against Joel’s ancestors, simply because they were successful Jews living in Nuremberg, Germany, where Billy Joel’s father (Helmut, later Americanized to Howard) was born.
Joel’s paternal grandfather, Karl Amson Joel, started a business in household linens in 1927, which he called the Karl Joel Linen Goods Company. His business was so profitable that he, his wife and their young son — Billy Joel’s father — were able to move into a wealthy section of Nuremberg.
As Karl Joel’s business rose in prominence and the Nazis rose in power, the Nazis fixed their sights on eliminating the Joel’s business and the family operating it.
The Billy Joel biography reports that “in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum database titled ‘Index of Jews whose German Nationality was Annulled by Nazi Regime, 1935–1944,” Billy’s grandfather is falsely accused of “monetary and currency offenses” in the records of two separate files.
“After taking part in the making of the documentary The Joel Files ,I realized what the film’s director, Beate Thalberg had discovered,” Billy told the book’s writer, Fred Schruers. “ My relatives were hounded out of Germany at an absurd price — a paradigm of the economic casualties during the Nazi takeover.”
But Karl Joel was not simply an “economic casualty”: he and his family were specific targets of the Nazis and were used as examples by Nazi propagandist Julius Streicher in the virulently anti-Semitic publication Der Sturmer.
Streicher ran front page articles calling Billy’s grandfather a “Yid,” and falsely accused him of underpaying and sexually harassing his workers. The Nazis made up thousands of lies against Germany’s Jews to dehumanize them and turn their political base against them.
Billy Joel’s father was one of four Jews in his Nuremberg classroom, forced to sit apart from their classmates, and forbidden from using the public swimming pool. As circumstances for Jews in Germany became more dire, and Karl Joel was arrested three times while being called the “Jew Joel,” a “bloodsucker,” and “oppressor,” young Helmut (Billy’s father) was sent to a boarding school in Switzerland.
Meanwhile, the Nazi equivalent of Fox News, Der Sturmer continued its relentless Twitter-like name calling attacks on Karl Joel, labeling him the “Nuremberg Linen-Jew Joel.”
Karl Joel was ordered by the Nazis to stamp all of his outgoing packages with a “J”, a German plant manager was installed at his company, and suppliers began to boycott him. In June, 1938, a new law was passed requiring all Jewish businesses to be forfeited to Aryan ownership. Karl Joel’s linen business was taken from him at one-fifth its’ actual value.
“My grandparents fled in the night,” Billy Joel told author Schruers, “using fake passports, and escaped across the Swiss border to Zurich. They got in touch with my father at his school and told him they had left Germany for good.”
To escape Europe, Billy Joel’s grandparents and his father “secured places aboard a cruise ship called the Andora Star, for a 1939 passage across the Atlantic to Cuba, where they resided for two years before the United States — strictly limiting the immigration of Jews to protect “the ideal of American homogeneity” — allowed them entry.
Karl Joel’s brother Leon and his family were not so fortunate. They boarded the SS St.Louis, and after the Voyage of the Damned was refused entry in Havana and at every US Port, Billy Joel’s aunt, uncle and family were send back to Europe, and executed in the gas chambers at Auschwitz.
Billy’s father, fluent in German and trained as a concert pianist, was drafted into the US Army in 1943, fighting in General George Patton’s Third Army. When Howard Joel’s battalion liberated the Dachau Concentration Camp near Munich in April, 1945, he didn’t know that his relatives had been slaughtered at Auschwitz.
I interviewed Billy Joel at his Oyster Bay, Long Island, motorcycle shop/museum in May, 2019. I wanted to thank him for wearing the Star of David as a powerful statement of protest to what happened in Charlottesville, and as a strong rebuke to White Supremacy, of Trump’s depiction of “fine people on both sides,” and of the “Great Replacement Theory” lie. His bold action was particularly poignant for me, having converted to Judaism 42 years ago. I married a Jewish girl from Joel’s hometown of Hicksville, Long Island, who was in the Hicksville High School Choir with him, so we shared a few things in common.
“There are no good Nazis, “ Joel said. “They killed my family members.”
Then he told me how the Nazis, once they confiscated his grandfather’s linen factory, used the machines in the factory to make the black and white striped prison uniforms which they forced Jews to wear, including his family members who were executed at Auschwitz. It was too macabre and twisted to imagine.
“I’ll continue to fight them as long as I can, and to use my voice to speak out against that kind of hate, “ Billy Joel said.
I thought back to his simple, straight-forward and quietly, powerful act of pinning a yellow Star of David above his heart on his dark suit, and thought of the decades of family and global history behind it, and the millions of Jews and non-Jews for whom Billy Joel’s voice rang out clear and true, without having to sing one note on that night in New York City.
It all came down to a Hula Hoop and a large, white bedroom pillow, with a leather belt tied tightly around its’ waist to underscore the question of when life actually begins.
That image and message were implanted in my brain 52 years ago, when I sat in the New York State Senate gallery, witnessing the live debate on New York’s liberalized abortion law, enacted in 1970.
I was a 21-year old Legislative Assistant for a Brooklyn Democrat that spring in Albany, and marveled at how a liberal Republican State Senator from Manhattan, Roy Goodman, had perfectly framed the issue of when, precisely, life began.
“Imagine this is the unfertilized egg,” Goodman said, holding up a Hula Hoop for all to see. Then, with his other hand he held up a white bedroom pillow, with a leather belt tied around the pillow’s middle.
“And, imagine this is a sperm cell, looking for an egg to fertilize,” Goodman smiled, knowing all eyes were riveted on him. Laughter rippled throughout the gallery where I sat. Think Woody Allen’s parachuting sperm in his movie “Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex.”
Goodman began to guide the “pillow”—with its leather spermatozoa tail– into the opening of the Hula Hoop.
“At what point does actual life begin?” he bellowed throughout the Senate Chamber? “Here?” He brought the belted pillow across the bottom of the Hula Hoop.
“Here?” he pushed it all the way through. “Or, someplace else, way down the road?”
Goodman’s brilliant illustration of a complicated question was clear to everyone. If a potential life began immediately at conception, what about the life of a sperm cell or an egg before conception? How far back before conception were religious fundamentalists willing to go to mark the “potential” for life? Pre-ejaculation? Pre-menstrual cycle? He reduced the anti-abortion absolutists screed to the theatre of the absurd, with the help of a Hula Hoop, a pillow, a leather belt and common sense.
The New York State Legislature settled on 6 months after the moment of conception, as the precise time of fetal viability, despite the fact that Senator Goodman’s own Jewish faith taught that life did not begin until the moment of birth. It would be three more years before Roe v. Wade settled upon that same 6-month standard.
The most liberal abortion law in the nation—following 142 years of New York having one of the most restrictive statutes—was an earthquake for women’s rights, the right to privacy and the guarantee for women of equal protection under the law, to exercise a legally protected right of personal control over their own bodies. At last, it was actual life, not an elusive “potential of life,” that mattered.
“Suddenly, New York had the most liberal abortion law in the world, ” said Dr. Alan Guttmacher, a leading pioneer in the field of birth control. Other states—Hawaii, Washington and Alaska—quickly followed suit, passing similar laws before Roe v. Wade was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. Roe clearly drew upon those State Legislative legal precedents and practical experience.
That history—my living history—and the history of millions of American women, was ignored by the Ayatollah Alito in his dreadful draft of a US Supreme Court opinion, overruling“ bothRoe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which enlarged the constitutional basis for Roe to include the Due Process clause of the 14th Amendment. In Alito’s religiously-biased illusion, the 14th Amendment, like women, didn’t matter.
Ayatollah Alito, who, as the New York Times’ brilliant Supreme Court expert Linda Greenhouse pointed out, claimed membership in the Concerned Alumni at Princeton, a conservative group known for opposing the increasing number of women and non-white students at Princeton. Years later, after Princeton’s conservatives—led by such hatemongers as D’inesh D’Souza– couldn’t stop the influx of female students, Alito rapaciously ripped away privacy and equal protection rights for women across America.
That hard won women’s right had been championed by the first female justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, Sandra Day O’Connor—appointed by President Ronald Reagan—and backed by six other justices appointed by Republican Presidents: Chief Justice Warren Burger, Potter Stewart, Harry Blackmun, John Paul Stevens, David Souter, and Anthony Kennedy, in the Roe v. Wade, and Planned Parenthood v. Casey decisions. They were joined by the towering legal minds of Justice William O. Douglas, William J. Brennan, and Thurgood Marshall. Those two significant Supreme Court decisions establishing and expanding a woman’s right to choose the course of her own reproductive rights—without government or religious interference—were decided by a robust majority of seven Republican justices, joined by four Democrats. It didn’t matter to Alito that he was appointed to the Supreme Court seat previously held by the history-making Justice O’Connor. He did not share her passion for women’s equal rights, the right to privacy, nor for individual liberty.
Astonishingly, Ayatollah Alito devoted paragraphs and pages of his dystopian decision to 400 years of twisted history about the “quickening” of fetuses, and crimes for doctors administering drugs to women to bring about miscarriages. His blind search to prop-up his pre-existing prejudices, “found” there was no specific mention of a right to “abortion” in the original Constitution, drafted by 55 wealthy white men. Conveniently, Alito failed to mention, or notice, that women themselves were not mentioned in the Constitution, until 1868, when the 14th Amendment went into effect, recognizing all women and Black men, as individual citizens. Instead, Alito attached an archaic array of 28 draconian “fetal life” laws—enacted by states from 1825-1868, when women were still treated like property of the men they were married to, without any constitutional rights of their own. It would not be for another nearly 60 years until women won the right to vote.
Writing in a New Yorker article entitled “What’s Missing from Alito’s Decision to Revoke the Right to Abortion,” Jessica Winter schooled the Ayatollah that: “No State law outlawed marital rape until 1975; no man was found liable for sexual harassment until 1977; and, pregnancy was a fireable offense until 1978.”
Finally, as if straining to carve out a special protected status for fetuses over the rights of actual existing “persons”—contrary to American history, common law, practice, morality and the diverse religious practices of many Americans—wasn’t enough magical thinking, Ayatollah Alito went after the privacy rights to interracial marriage, procreation, contraception, and marriage equality on page 44 of his inflammatory Fatwah:
“What remained was a handful of cases having something to do with marriage, (Loving v.Virginia, 1967, right to marry a person of a different race or procreation; (Skinner v. Oklahoma, 1942, right not to be sterilized); Griswold v. Connecticut, 1965, (right of married persons to obtain contraception); Eisenstadt v. Baird, 1972, (same right for unmarried persons).”
But, adds Ayatollah Alito, in a warning of how he’ll go after Lawrence v. Texas (right to sodomy between consenting adults), and Obergefell v. Hodges (right to marriage equality) which Alito raged against in a dyspeptic dissent in the case, foreshadowing his full in-flagrante flipping-off of women’s rights in overruling Roe and Casey:
“None of these decisions involved what is distinct about abortion: it’s effect on what Roe termed “potential life.”
Ironically, in his rush to dismiss all privacy and equal rights that differ from his narrow catechism of beliefs, the Ayatollah trashed the institution of marriage, the one thing all religions agree upon, even if they differ on when actual life begins. He dismissed those highly significant individual rights cases as having “something to do with marriage,” as if, marriage was no longer a preferred predicate, or in the best interests of the state, to nurture a “potential life,” as Alito insisted upon in Obergefell v. Hodges. Procreation? Sterilization? Contraception? Societal stability? None of those actual things matter, according to Alito, as much as the “potential for life,” despite its’ obvious reliance upon the existence of all of the others for its conception and development.
Republican State Senator Roy Goodman had it correct over 50 years ago. If the leather-belted pillow enters the Hula Hoop, or the Hula Hoop jumps over the pillow, actual life, does not begin. In the real world—and not a cloistered, imaginary religious one–that precise moment should be a decision left to the individual woman, in consultation with her doctor.
Ayatollah Alito, anathema to a living “person’s” actual rights to liberty—since the Constitution explicitly mentions “persons,”–would be loathe to admit, that the term “potential for life,” or even a “potential person,” never existed in the Constitution or in the jurisprudential traditions of this nation, until, of course, Roe v. Wade introduced it into law.
To accept that new legal term, and reject the 49-year old legal precedent for a living individual’s liberty which Roe v. Wade established, is to literally, throw the actual life-giving bathwater out with the “potential baby.” As mothers have known for millennia, you can’t have one without the other.