California: the left’s laboratory

Our state of California has become a laboratory. The progressive party, the Democrats, holds every statewide office, from governor on down, and they hold super-majorities in both houses of the state legislature. Even if every Republican legislator in Sacramento votes against a bill, the bill will pass. Therefore the left has a state in which it can do anything it wants. 

In light of that, here are three laws recently passed by progressives in California. 

The first law makes California, in the words of the Los Angeles Times, “the first state to require that school textbooks and history lessons include the contributions of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans.”

Throughout American and Western history, there has been one overriding purpose to history textbooks: to relate as truthfully as possible what has occurred in the past.

For progressives, however, that is not the overriding purpose of history textbooks. Rather, it is to enable students of various racial, national, ethnic, sexual and gender groups to feel good about themselves. California Democrats have therefore passed laws dictating that textbooks include the contributions of, among others, women, African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Asian-Americans, European-Americans and American Indians. 

With regard to social policies, conservatives are more concerned with standards, liberals are more concerned with feelings. The standard here is historical truth. But historical truth matters less to those who are more concerned with feelings.

The historical truth, of course, is that white Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) males were overwhelmingly the most active participants in founding America. Of course women, Catholics, Jews, Latinos, blacks, Asians, atheists and gays made contributions, and when they merited mention in history texts, they were mentioned. 

Imagine if we applied the California law to musical history. German/Austrian males — such as Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and Wagner — were disproportionately the greatest composers of classical music. What would progressives say about a law that demanded that histories of classical music must include composers of a dozen nationalities and not devote most of their discussions to those of German/Austrian lineage?

Actually, we have an answer. A few years ago the chief New York Times music critic, Anthony Tommasini, a progressive, published his list of the top 10 composers. He didn’t include Haydn, who, among other achievements, was the father of both the symphony and the string quartet. Why? Because, he wrote, he wanted a diverse list. Diversity, too, is a greater progressive value than historical truth. So Debussy (French), Bartok (Hungarian) and Stravinsky (Russian) made the list, but not Haydn or Handel. 

With this California law we have truly entered a Twilight Zone of the absurd. Have transgendered Americans who have made significant contributions to American history been heretofore left out of history textbooks? Have American Indians? Or bisexuals? Can you name one who has been deliberately omitted because of ethnicity or sexuality?

A second example took place this month when the California State Assembly passed a new bill. 

As described by the progressive Huffington Post: “A bill that would provide transgender students equal access to facilities and programs based on their gender identity cleared California’s state assembly. … The bill would explicitly allow students to use public restrooms and join sports teams that correspond with how they identify, regardless of their biological gender.”

In other words, if this bill passes the California State Senate — as it presumably will, given the progressive majority — students — even first-graders — will choose the restroom (or sports team) not according to their sex, but according to how they feel about their gender. No longer will a student’s biological sex determine whether he/she enters a men’s or women’s bathroom or joins a men’s or women’s team. 

And third, California has already passed laws prohibiting any business in the state from refusing to hire or firing an employee based on how one expresses his/her gender identity. That means that if one of your salesmen decides to wear a dress to work — as a man, not as a transsexual woman — no employer may demand that he show up at work in men’s clothing.

I have described only three of California’s progressive laws — those regarding sexuality. There are equally radical laws in all other realms of our lives. To cite but one, the California legislature is now considering passing what it calls the Homeless Bill of Rights. This bill, introduced by Tom Ammiano, the same San Francisco assemblyman who introduced the Transgender Bill of Rights, will allow anyone to sit, sleep, eat and otherwise live in any public place, including in front of stores and homes. It includes “the right to panhandle, the right to occupy public spaces, the right to fish through trash receptacles in search of recyclables … and the right to taxpayer-funded legal counsel if a municipality issues a citation to a homeless person for any of the protected activities.” 

This is what happens when the left does what it can. 

Welcome to California. Once the Golden State, now the Left’s Laboratory.

Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk show host (AM 870 in Los Angeles) and founder of His latest book is the New York Times best-seller “Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph” (HarperCollins, 2012).

U.S. response to a cry for help during World War II

A prosecutor by training and a historical novelist by avocation, Gregory J. Wallance has written books of historical fiction and historical nonfiction. In “America’s Soul in the Balance: The Holocaust, FDR’s State Department and the Moral Disgrace of an American Aristocracy” (Greenleaf Book Group Press: 2012), a highly readable, brief account of the dramatic interplay between the Department of State and the Department of the Treasury during the Holocaust over the fate of the Jews of Europe, Wallance tells quite a story and masterfully documents the well-deserved indictment of the World War II-era U.S. State Department.

The evidence he musters is well known to scholars, yet he brings fresh eyes to this material and introduces a factor that others have raised merely in passing — the issue of class and of the White Anglo Saxon Protestant (WASP) establishment, which was then at the peak of its power. The WASP supremacy would soon change, however, as the sons and daughters of American ethnic groups came of age during the middle decades of the 20th century, and with the election of John F. Kennedy, who always remembered that he was an Irish Catholic, a scorned outsider to the WASP establishment. Beginning with the JFK presidency, we witnessed a broadening of the American establishment with the entry of Catholic and Jews and, somewhat later, African-Americans and women, and now Asians and Latinos.

Wallance takes us inside the corridors of the State Department, then housed in what is now the Old Executive Office Building, across from the White House. He captures the tragic tension between Sumner Welles, the undersecretary of state with deep personal ties to the president, the man in the State Department most sympathetic to Jews, and his boss, Cordell Hull, a former senator and politician with deep Southern roots — married to a woman of Jewish ancestry — who, frankly, was not up to the task of being a wartime secretary of state. At the peak of the German annihilation of the Jews, a sexual and racial scandal destroyed Welles’ career. On a presidential train, he is reported to have solicited sex from an African-American porter. Hull did not get mad at his insubordinate subordinate, he got even. 

Wallance also takes us a floor above to the high level of the American State Department bureaucracy, where men — and they were then virtually all men — of similar background, class and education were quite certain that they — perhaps even they alone — knew what was in the best interest of the nation, without interference from outside agitators and special interests, such as Jews, who were concerned about the fate of their brethren and not just about the pursuit of war. He also takes us back to the prep school of Groton, where they were taught the values of national service and also of WASP supremacy, even before getting their Ivy League education.

He details the failure of the State Department to turn over  Gerhard Riegner’s telegram to Rabbi Stephen Wise, informing the head of the World Jewish Congress of the Final Solution to the Jewish Problem “because of the fantastic nature of the allegations and the impossibility of our being of any assistance if such actions — the murder of the Jews — were taken,” as if it were better not to know than to know and be unable to be of assistance.

Historian Walter Laqueur had it right: With regard to rescue, the pessimists won. They said that nothing could be done, and nothing was done. The optimists, those who believed in rescue, were never given a chance. They may have failed, but to not attempt rescue was to ensure failure.

Wallance depicts the famous confrontation between the State Department and the Treasury Department over the issuing of a license to transfer foreign currency, and thus ransoming the Jews. It was this confrontation, and the State Department’s effort to thwart the rescue, that led young Treasury Department officials to draft their “Report to the Secretary on the Acquiescence of This Government to the Murder of the Jews.” Among the accusations in the report, it said the State Department had: “used Governmental machinery to prevent the rescue of these Jews; … taken steps designed to prevent these [rescue] programs [of private organizations] from being put into effect; … surreptitiously attempted to stop obtaining of information concerning the murder of the Jewish population of Europe” and “tried to cover up their guilt by: a) concealment and misrepresentation; b) the giving of false and misleading explanations for their failures to act and their attempts to prevent action; and c) the issuance of false and misleading statements concerning the ‘action’ which they have taken to date.”

Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr. condensed this report, softened its title and took it to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in January 1944. The result was the War Refugee Board — with Morgenthau as chairman — which finally had the power to do something about rescue.

Throughout the book, Wallance does not let the reader lose sight of what these “great” men of history did not consider, namely that the decisions they made and the policies they pursued impacted real people, desperate people — men, women and children. Ruth Glassberg, then a young child, is his narrator, and her story is riveting.

With his skill as a writer evident, his sense of the scenery and the dialogue, Wallance takes us into the corridors of power. We meet Gerhard Riegner, then a young official of the World Jewish Congress operating in neutral Switzerland who first learns of the “Final Solution” of death camps and of Zyklon B. We are introduced to his informant, who has high contacts in the German government as a major industrialist and travels to Switzerland first to reveal the plans to attack the Soviet Union and then a second time to speak of the murder of the Jews. He is a source of absolutely significant and “incredible” information. It took 40 years for Eduard Schulte’s name to be known, as Riegner had promised him anonymity. We are taken to Poland’s embassy in the United States, when Jan Karski, the great Polish courier, told of the demands of the Jews he met in the Warsaw ghetto to Felix Frankfurter and Ambassador Jan Ciechanowski in preparation for his meeting with FDR.

We feel that we are literally in the room as Randolph Paul, general counsel of the Treasury Department, along with John Pehle and Josiah DuBois Jr., confront Secretary Morgenthau with their findings and their insistence on action. Wallance’s narrative is not imagined, but based on the diary of one of the participants. Thirty years ago, I examined DuBois’ most personal papers and attempted to describe the scene in Morgenthau’s office and also the moment when Donald Hiss showed DuBois the missing link in the evidentiary trail that sealed his case against the State Department. My hat is off to Wallance for the sheer pleasure of reading his depiction.

He is less prone to blame Jewish institutional politics and the divisions among Jewish leadership than David Wyman, and places responsibility directly in the hands of an establishment that failed the test in the Jewish people’s greatest hour of need. Wallance is quick to emphasize the distinct and controlling way in which Roosevelt controlled his cabinet and played off the interpersonal rivalries. Not all blame comes from FDR’s desk, and Wallance credits the war effort.

Wallance’s judgment is balanced. He allows his case to build brick by brick, story by story, document by document. He is careful to stress that the State Department of today shares little in common with its World War II predecessor, both in class and in background — a point that is easily forgotten by many, as the State Department and the Department of Defense and the White House now may hold in their hands the fate of the rebuilt Jewish community in Israel.

One may read more scholarly accounts of this period, but it is unlikely one will read a more vivid account that is both responsible and detailed without being too dense or drowning the guts of the story in myriad facts. Imagine a prosecutor presenting his case and a novelist writing his story. Consider Wallance’s mastery of detail and ability to present such detail in a compelling manner. The reader will not be disappointed.

Out of “Focus”

"David Mamet calls me Hebraically challenged," confides actor William H. Macy, a longtime collaborator of the esteemed playwright. "I’m the ultimate [gentile]. Part of me is the imploding WASP, a role I’ve certainly played to death."

With his weak smile and wounded-looking blue eyes, Macy was riveting in his Oscar-nominated turn as a car dealer struggling to cover up his wife’s kidnapping in the Coen brothers’ 1996 film "Fargo." He was the humiliated husband of an oversexed porn star in "Boogie Nights," and a beleaguered 1950s sitcom dad in "Pleasantville."

Which is why he was cautious when director Neal Slavin asked him to star in his noirish feature-film debut, "Focus" — based on Arthur Miller’s 1945 novel about a milquetoast mistakenly identified as Jewish by his anti-Semitic neighbors.

"I told Neal I was all wrong for the role," says the earnest, 51-year-old actor. "I said, ‘Anti-Semitism is a vicious thing, and I don’t want to offend anyone by presuming to know what it feels like. Plus, I don’t even look Jewish.’ And Neal very gently said, ‘That’s why you’re perfect. Intolerance has nothing to do with reality.’"

Just to make sure, Macy described the problem to Mamet. "What’s the matter with you?" the Jewish writer retorted. "When Arthur Miller writes a novel, you jump to bring it to the screen."

Mamet reminded Macy of how he’d silenced a journalist who’d asked why there were no Jewish actors in his 1991 Jewish-themed film, "Homicide." "David said, ‘Huh, interesting concept, casting by religion,’" the actor recalls. "That shut her up in a hurry."

Miller wrote "Focus" to expose the seldom-discussed anti-Semitism prevalent in New York in the early 1940s.

Macy says he didn’t witness anti-Semitism while growing up outside Atlanta in the 1950s, but another kind of prejudice profoundly affected his life. When he was 10, his father — a medal-winning World War II pilot — was so shocked by the seething racism he saw at a PTA meeting that he moved the family up North.

At his new school in Cumberland, Md., Macy experienced bias when his classmates jeered at his thick Southern drawl. He was ostracized for years until he sang a sexually explicit song at a high school talent show — and was elected class president. "I was thrust into the limelight, but I still carried this secret that I felt like the outsider," he says. "I think that’s why I’m so good at playing ordinary guys who get in over their heads."

Around 1970, Macy was studying acting with Mamet at Goddard College in Vermont, where Mamet presided over class wearing severely tailored military fatigues. "At our hippied-out school, David was the only teacher talking structure," says Macy, who ultimately mastered the playwright’s difficult, staccato dialogue. "He said, ‘Be prepared, or don’t come to class. If you ask stupid questions, I’ll throw you out."’ In 1972, Macy followed Mamet to Chicago, where he helped him co-found the St. Nicholas Theater and originated roles in Mamet’s plays "American Buffalo" and "Oleanna." He went on to star in other Mamet films such as "State and Main," in which he played a non-Jewish film director fond of matzah and Yiddishisms.

"David just loves to hear me struggling with Hebrew and Yiddish," says Macy, whose first line in "State and Main" is a bungled "Vus machs tu?" (How are you?) "I kept asking him to repeat the words, and finally Dave said, ‘As well as you can say them will be just bad enough.’"

A more difficult task was landing the role of Jerry Lundegaard in "Fargo," which Macy secured after a lengthy period of abjectly begging the Coens. "I was desperate because I’d understood in a nanosecond how to do the character," says the actor, who knew he had to make viewers feel sorry for the despicable Lundegaard. "I fantasized that Jerry’s objectives were pure, and that he felt he was trying to save his family."

Macy says he was drawn to "Focus," in part, "for the chance to play ‘The Guy’ — the leading man — which doesn’t happen that often." The film presented "an interesting acting problem, because my character, Lawrence Newman, is so passive."

He feels the film has an eerie resonance after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when innocent people began to be targets for hate crimes because they looked Middle Eastern. "Osama bin Laden teaches hatred, and so does Jerry Falwell, for blaming the attacks on homosexuals," Macy adds. "It’s our collective responsibility to stand up and tell those people they’re wrong. Just as Lawrence Newman learns in ‘Focus,’ it is our fight. We are all responsible."

"Focus" opens today in Los Angeles.