Use the 25th Amendment to remove Donald Trump from power

I wrote the following letter Aug. 16, 2017 to my congressman, Rep. John Yarmuth, Democrat of Kentucky’s 3rd District:

Dear Rep. Yarmuth,
After careful consideration of the effects it may have on the stability of the nation, I write today to ask you to initiate the use of the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to remove President Donald Trump from power.

The amendment allows the Vice-President and a majority of the Cabinet to recommend the removal of the president in cases where the president is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office,” and allows the House and Senate to confirm the recommendation over the president’s objection by two-thirds vote.

Though it may appear that partisan loyalty by the Vice-President and cabinet members would impede the process, under Section 4 of the 25th Amendment, Congress has considerable input.

In lieu of waiting for a cabinet majority to make the recommendation, Congress may by law provide an independent body, described as a “disability review body” which, with the Vice-President’s concurring, could declare the president unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and send its own written declaration to the Senate president pro tempore and the House speaker.

Twenty-fifth Amendment author U.S. Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana, concurring with former President Dwight Eisenhower, said the question of whether a president should be removed is “really a political question.” Bayh continued that the decision to invoke the 25th Amendment should rest on the “professional judgment of the political circumstances existing at the time.”

Today, President Trump’s performance in office has demonstrated ineptitude and instability which have endangered the security of the nation and the lives of millions of innocent Americans and residents of other nations. I strongly believe that circumstances show, based on Senator Bayh’s criteria, that President Trump is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. These circumstances include the president’s:

Indiana’s Birch Bayh gave us the tools to clean up the Trump mess.

*Inability to abide by the 14th Amendment’s requirement of equal protection of the law, as shown by his use of derogatory sweeping generalizations of minorities.

*Failure to devote effort to his job in the crucial first months in office, constantly vacationing at his own resort while his agenda flounders in Congress.

*Hazardous and ill-considered nuclear saber rattling done on his personal whim, instead of relying on plural input by military strategists.

*Lack of basic linguistic skills, which undermines the communicating to the public needed to ensure consent of the governed, and use of gaslighting trickery and evasive adhominem responses to criticism.

*Refusal to sit for the crucial American tradition of independent media scrutiny, instead calling reporters enemies of the people, a verbal assault which undermines the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In the May issue of The Atlantic magazine, National Constitution Center president and George Washington University law professor Jeffrey Rosen, while acknowledging that use of the 25th Amendment’s never before employed involuntary removal mechanism on a president not incapacitated by illness “could trigger a political crisis,” added: “…(T)he constitutional test of the president’s being ‘unable to discharge the powers and duties’ of the office was intended to be vague and open-ended.”

Rosen added: “Because the Twenty-fifth Amendment was intended to leave the determination of presidential disability to politicians, rather than to doctors, nothing in the text or history of the Amendment would preclude the vice president, Cabinet, and Congress from determining the president is ‘unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office’ if they deemed it in their political interest to do so.”

The intractable and worsening dangers posed by President Trump’s clear inability to discharge the powers and duties of his office now outweigh any negative effects of the use of the 25th Amendment. Though sufficient votes in the House and Senate certainly would not exist now to remove the president, appointing a disability review body would communicate to the administration that President Trump’s fitness for the office is an issue that will very possibly result in his facing removal if he continues using his current tactics.

I urge you to propose a discussion on the prompt creation of a disability review body for the purpose of weighing the evidence on using the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to remove President Donald Trump from power.


Brian Arbenz

Louisville, Ky.


Spanning 43 years, My Letters To And From A Distant Dad

“…do not capitulate. It may be too late sooner than you think. Be adamant, my boy.”

I publish these excerpts from letters between my biological father and myself not because they reflect a person who contributed positively to my life, nor because they display any father-son dynamics as most anyone else would recognize those. I publish them because I believe they are interesting.

dad and me LETTERS wordpress
Two George Morrisons, writing the news for WAVE-TV in Louisville circa 1950, and the younger, now named Brian Arbenz, at a signing of one of his books in 2011. 

I have only a patchwork of the many missals written until my father’s death in 2007 at age 82. The correspondence began one evening in 1964 when our mother encouraged us to write to Dad in advance of a trip to Albuquerque my sister and I would make for a two-week visit. I was five and this was three years after my parents, who had lived in that city for four years, were divorced. The great majority of letters between my father and myself are lost forever, but this collection (encompassing letters, then e-mails starting at the usual 1990s point) is a treasure trove of observations on personal and worldwide matters (genres which intertwine in me) between two people 2,000 miles apart. Both are named George Morrison (my legal name until I changed it in 2014 was the same as my father’s, though we had different middle names).

These communications, which sometimes are supportive, sometimes straightforward and critical, are not classically those of a father and son, but two complex, gifted and oft struggling people. For 11 years in my adulthood, we were estranged, with no contact of any sort. The angry letters that launched that period are not in here. As said, this is not any complete look at a familial tie, but talk between two Georges who were very different people, yet alike in that they were unconventional and often went against their generational grain. The younger George Morrison became a radical leftist in the late 1970s, when the campus me-generation was raising beer glasses, not consciousness like a decade prior. Yet I was so ideologically precise and abstinent from pleasures that a ’60s campus existence might not have fit me much better.

Mom and Dad, though continually at odds over unresolved divorce fallout, had during their college years at the University of Louisville in the late 1940s been united as significant others, literature lovers, champions of intellectual freedom and, I figure, Henry Wallace voters.

“Your mother and I believed art was the salvation of man,” Dad wrote circa 1980 when I was about 22. That sets the time frame for the rest of these letters, which mean nothing more and nothing less than what they say:

Summer 1964, me to Dad:

“I’m not sure I want to fly out to Albuquerque to visit you if the North Vietnamese don’t stop shooting down American planes.”

(After I read this aloud to Mom, she explained the geography involving the war her five-year-old son was hearing about on the news, and I erased that sentence.)

Summer 1975, me to Dad:

“I’m writing this letter at 2:30 a.m….. Not only could writing letters to you be, like you said, a good way to restart the lines of communication and develop my writing ability, but a good insomnia cure!”

May 1976, Dad to me:

“I received your graduation announcement and being sorry that I cannot respond in some material way, I can only say ‘congratulations.’… You did not seem too overwhelmed with what was being done to you the last time I talked to you on the telephone. But being a bright lad, you… are most likely at least minimally prepared for university work. I hope the meaning of that word ‘university’ has made an impact on you. It comes from the Latin aggregate ‘universus,’ which means ‘universe’ and that means everything there is to know in reality. That would seem to imply that in a university, one is allowed to sick himself upon all there is to know that he doesn’t know, including how man thinks; but I wouldn’t rely on it if I were you. They will still try to shape you the way they want you to look. It seems to me that what a man must do if he intends to take studying seriously is to brace himself for that final confrontation when he tells the teachers to go fornicate with themselves, that he is by far the best judge of how and to what extent he will achieve autonomy.

“The best advice I can give you as your elder, not necessarily as your father is: do not capitulate. It may be too late sooner than you think. Be adamant, my boy. I feel compelled to say also that one is not irrevocably tied to his genes. It is true that you are to a great extent what your mother and I and our predecessors made of you. It is true that you are different from everyone else living today or who has ever lived in the potential you have for developing yourself, for understanding your uniqueness, for reverencing your human sensitivity, for knowing and coming to terms with a world that is not always, in fact not even often, very nice. Dare yourself to think anything you want to think.”

1979, Dad to me, after I visited him for the first time in 12 years. I was 21 and was happily pursuing socialist revolution for the world and enjoying a job in a pizza restaurant (not really paradoxical to my leftism, as I was successfully testing my ability to work for ethical, rather than monetary incentives):

“My first thought is, what are you reading to support all these views?… Many others are going think ill of you, denounce you, and they’re not going to be gentlemen about it…. You may be seen as nothing more than a truculent neurotic masking his own failures.

“You have some grievances with society, but you still are a person who values money for college, and reliable airline service… So save that pizza money and consider making another trip out here.”

1983, me to Dad:

” ‘If you want change you must change the inner soul,’ Soviet poet Andrei Voznesensky has said. This sums up exactly how I feel about the attempt to build socialism. It must stop being a matter of structures put in place by the ruling officials and must become based on personal values and an appreciation, by people on the grass roots, of cooperation. Voznesensky is not anti-socialist, but he does not favor the approach to governing used by the Kremlin. He has been in and out of favor with the state.”

1983, Dad to me:

“I don’t think much of this Russian you quote playing footsie with language. How can you support the Soviet Union when it represses writers and poets the way it does?”

Late 1999, Dad to me:

“Anticipation of the millennium began longer ago than most realize.  I remember the beginning of 1950 and the second half of this century.  ‘It won’t be all that long,’ someone said where we were all gathered.  I couldn’t help wondering which of us would survive.  Not many have; but it seems I might, barring some unexpected step-up in schedule.”

Me in Sandias for LETTERS WordPress
 A 9-year-old George photographed by his 42-year-old father in the Sandia Mountains above Albuquerque. 

Circa 2000, Dad to me, on the 1940s feminist in Mom’s life:“…Your mother was assistant to the Dean of Women at the University of Louisville when I met her.  Her boss was Hilda Threlkeld.  Dean Threlkeld advised your mother not to get married, that perhaps she might not like being married, that there were many other satisfying pursuits in life for women other than marriage, even sex, she said, although one must remain discreet.  Dean Threlkeld warned your mother specifically about me, saying that my war experiences may have left me with long term problems….  After our marriage, your mother and I drove to Maysville, Kentucky, to visit the Dean, who was raised in Maysville.  She seemed very curious about the progress of our life together.”

Circa 2002, Dad to me, when my job with the U.S. Census was at about the 2-year point:

“It was nice to hear from you.  You sound terrific, as if the rigid government bureau schedule is doing something positive. “  (In fact, Dad’s impression was right. The change from self-employment through much of the 1990s to a “real job” life helped me become more organized and contented.)

Circa 2002, Dad to me, on the Morrisons and media (Dad worked in TV news and wrote three self-published books):

“As for abandonment, I think you might consider the cumulative effect of abandonment, as it occurs from generation to generation.  I was abandoned and sent to an orphanage when I was seven.  I think you already know that.
“Does that help to explain my drive to entertain others in order to attain approval and establish identity?  I think it does.  Does abandonment in your father’s life in any way intensify facts you interpret as abandonment in your own life?  Yes, I think it does…. My own impression is that you have chosen a professional life that is best for someone who sees himself as abandoned as a child.  Writing is a marvelous way of daily dialogue with one’s secret self, even if the writing is for others on the business of others.  And you have developed a very good, lively writing style.  It should not be replaced, in my opinion at least, just for the sake of a mid-life change.”

circa 2003, Dad to me, on his son’s radical outlook:

“My real feeling… is this:  you have never had much of a feeling for the advantages to be offered by compromise.  No self-respecting activist can tolerate compromise.  Isn’t that true?  I see compromise as change or amendment of existing facts of one’s life.  In a positive sense, one uses compromise to bring about beneficial change.  There is no need to discuss the negative of the same equation, since I don’t see benefit in negatives.”

2003, me to Dad, after I made my first visit to Logan, West Virginia, where Dad was born and lived until age 3, when his father (also named George Morrison), a successful home builder but heavy drinker, died at about age 50.

(My visit was partly to talk to Logan Banner newspaper editor Keith Davis about the unsolved and widely written about murder in 1932 of Mamie Thurman. She was my father’s half-sister, (who was 25 years older than Dad) the topic of debates and student term papers, and supposedly a ghost who still roamed the woods near where she was killed. The headline atop page one of the Banner the next day was: “Mamie’s Nephew.” Well, sort of; I hadn’t even known of this woman’s existence until a year and a half before this visit. While in Logan, I wrote a piece about the community for FORsooth, the monthly radical peace and justice paper of the Louisville chapter of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, of which I was the editor.)

“What I have to say about Logan could not be produced in the very tight time frame of the last few days, during which I had to get FORsooth out (with a column by me in it you’ll find interesting) and work at the bureau (of the census).
“Now, finally, I am free to write.
“Logan was spellbinding. In this parallel universe to my environs, it has been existing all these years. People were hospitable and hardworking, too busy to lament their town’s loss of population because of the decline of coal’s labor intensiveness. The town defied a number of stereotypes. It had nice restaurants, a fairly good newspaper, clean streets and pretty architecture. The accents surprised me, too — gentle southern, not twangy like Eastern Kentucky.
“Keith Davis, whose Central Ohio accent has been modified some by that southern, told me something during our “dialogue” (We interviewed one another simultaneously) that allowed me to more clearly understand the key difference between Mom’s family and, as you put it, the other half of my double helix.
He said my being in Logan was a matter of utmost public interest. Perhaps this was because it signified the entry of the Mamie legend into a third generation of Morrisons — perhaps even assuring its permanence.Me how I feel March 2016 (3)
“Here [in the Louisville area, specifically New Albany, Ind.] where I dwell because of Mom’s family, I am by no means a public figure, despite writing news and columns for weekly sections of the Courier-Journal. Mom’s family isn’t going to inspire any books. Students aren’t going to write term papers on the fate of any of its members. Youth won’t hang out in the woods in pursuit of any of its ghosts. Television stations and newspapers wouldn’t consider mom’s family worthy of any special series (although the New Albany paper wrote a very nice piece on Grandpa upon his death).
“Mom’s family excels at the conventional and the essential.
“Your family, on the other hand, can’t help but be the center of attention. Whether on Holden Mountain in June 1932 or the story of how your step father died [in a police shooting, circa 1930] and the ensuing existence in an orphanage and, certainly, by the legend of Mamie.
“Being a Morrison gives one a huge repertoire of implausible anecdotes with which to instantly impress people. Unfortunately, being a Morrison also gives one the need to impress people to compensate for a lack of self-esteem and security.
“I have lived many decades of my life putting my primary energy into trying to do precisely that. I was a pistol with jokes and voice impressions in every newsroom where I worked. I finally discerned, with the assistance of a good self help book and a couple of friends willing to be outspoken, that I was behaving outlandishly because I needed people’s laughter as approval.
“I even took to the stage in 1988, performing stand-up comedy in a bid to get that sense of validation on a grander scale.
“I was living the legacy of the Morrisons, using the only tools it gave me to offset the emptiness it left me with.
“I have another legacy, of course — that left by the Rodmans. They were not perfect. I know Grandma Olive Rodman was extremely difficult during her youth and middle age, before I came along. Still, Mom’s family gave basic, essential, non-glamorous if not always complete nurturing. After Mom, Grandpa is my primary hero for the job he did standing in as my substitute father, something beyond that which was required of him.
The family did nothing worthy of mystery novels or network television (Keith Davis said Unsolved Mysteries of NBC has called him about the Mamie case). They won’t be the source of amazing stories that will make me the life of the party. And I must resist the temptation to indulge in telling those attention riveting stories from your side of the family in excess, always telling myself that the family I want people to know about — the one I am a product of — is the one that was involved in the truly amazing spectacle of raising a boy and his sister and preparing them as best as could be done for the world.
“I mean a world where we are valued simply because we are people, not because of our ability to entertain people in perpetuity.
Something else I received from Mom’s family is an ability to be positive about life, despite everything.
“My life growing up was generally a very good experience and I am pleased overall with where I am today as well. I was able to learn fine reporting skills from Courier-Journal editing, something not available to all but a tiny few people in hinterlands communities our size. I am able to use those skills in a leftist, peace and justice newspaper that fits my sensibilities. Only a tiny few journalists in cities of any size can count that as a blessing.
I have said some things here that needed expressing. I hope they will add value to our correspondence. The Logan trip indeed was a worthy venture.


The First Time I Went South — I Mean Really South

SixteenthStBaptistBomb01Is this what revolution looks like – Grand Slams and coffee on Formica?

Growing up right on the Mason-Dixon Line of mixed Hoosier-Kentuckian-West Virginian stock, I could never get a handle on exactly whether I was a southerner. Louisville and Southern Indiana had strong unions and lots of Catholics (clearly Midwestern traits) but also generous use of the pronoun “you all” by pick-up truck driving GED holders whose workweeks ended with trips to their favorite fishin’ spots.
I did not venture into an unambiguously southern area until 1983 when, at age 25, I decided to spend a few leftover Christmas vacation days from my newspaper reporting job in Southern Indiana and travel to Atlanta.
Would it be the cosmopolitan, diverse “too busy to hate” city of its major-league image, or a provincial small town with tall buildings, as some critics regard it?
The trip shed little light on that question; the below-zero temperature was the second coldest ever recorded in Atlanta and even though there was no snow and the sky was cloudless blue, the place absolutely shut down. Nope, I’m not a southerner, I decided as I motored almost alone along the normally packed freeways, enjoying the easiest big-city driving I had ever experienced.
A Yankee gets great restaurant service, too, when he is the only one there, unless the weather “crisis” has prevented the wait staff from coming to work.
It warmed up to the normal Southern December high 40s just as I decided to amend my itinerary and head west on Interstate 20 to Birmingham.
Ah, the real south, in its meteorological element – and away from Atlanta’s glitz and economic verve. Birmingham, I figured, would be different.
The city too hateful in the early ‘60s to get busy and accept integration. The church bombings. Fire hoses on people peaceably assembling. Bull Connor. That was the Birmingham I knew from flashpoint news coverage and assigned civics class readings.
Once in the real place, I drove through an area called Red Mountain I had heard was lovely (yes, the homes and trees indeed were, but the police car that tailed me the whole time took the joy out of the tour), then stopped at a Denny’s. There, architectural mediocrity aside, the feeling was more uplifting.
Blacks and whites dined, with the dress of both varying from suits to work ware. An utterly ordinary scene, but that is what made me gaze in awe for a moment around the room.
For this display of everyday, nondescript familiarity to come about, it took children dying in bombings, peaceful demonstrators being gassed and beaten, followed by a long obstinate Congress finally passing the most sweeping domestic legislation in the nation’s history.
Twenty years later, racial Birmingham picthe fruits of this heroic struggle were that people of all colors can eat lunch oblivious to the racial justice angle of their joint presence as they chat about the weather, church and the upcoming football bowl games.
Is this what revolution looks like – Grand Slams and coffee on Formica?
As I learned much more over the next couple of decades about the issue of racial justice, I came to understand that the crucial matter anymore is whether the servers and dishwashers at restaurants such as Denny’s can make adequate and stable wages and afford health insurance — not who can be served.
Being able to ride on any part of the bus is a great and overdue boost to human dignity, but it becomes largely a symbolic victory if there is no adequate job to which to ride.
We have so far to go to achieve true equality, but recalling a winter afternoon in Birmingham assures me that if that city can go from homicidal carnage to casual mixed-race dining in 20 years, we can end hunger, war, and patriarchy.
And someday a visitor to Rwanda, Stonewall, Guatemala or Immokalee will contrast the history of suffering there with the present equality and nonviolence and marvel at what is gloriously mundane.
Continue reading “The First Time I Went South — I Mean Really South”

The Truth Is Out There — Eight Times Presidents Leveled With Us

prez J“Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.” — George W. Bush, Aug. 5, 2004. The president, flanked by Vice-President Chaney and other staff members, was reading from a prepared text, so rather than this being a classic W flub, perhaps he was preparing us for more Homeland Security.

“We could make no more tragic mistake than merely to concentrate on military strength. For if we did only this, the future would hold nothing for the world but an Age of Terror.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower, State of the Union Address, Jan. 9, 1958. Yes, Ike saw it coming. Tragically, W, Obama and the present regime have not figured out that militarizing the Mideast leads to Al-Quaida leads to 911 leads to invasion of Iraq leads to ISIS leads to drone bombing civilians leads to more ISIS recruits.

“We have a tendency to condemn people who are different from us, to define their sins as paramount and our own sinfulness as being insignificant.” – Jimmy Carter. Not sure when he said this, but it defines the narcissistic, starved for circumspection arguing style in today’s echo chambers.

“We must never remain silent in the face of bigotry. We must condemn those who seek to divide us. In all quarters and at all times, we must teach tolerance and denounce racism, anti-Semitism and all ethnic or religious bigotry wherever they exist as unacceptable evils. We have no place for haters in America — none, whatsoever.” – Ronald Reagan, 1984. Well, look who was one of those politically correct, liberal defenders of the multiculture!

“I think that people want peace so much that one of these days, government had better get out of their way and let them have it.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower. Many sources verify this, but none includes a date or context. The statement displays Eisenhower’s long view that the military-industrial complexes of all the nuclear nations were perpetuating the arms race, rather than it being based on nations’ genuine security needs. It has inspired many grassroots efforts at striving for real peace by direct citizen diplomacy.

“A few months ago, I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not.” –Ronald Reagan, March 4, 1987, televised address. So, the Democrat majority in the House and Senate impeached him, right? No. House Speaker Jim Wright (far less of a criminal than Dennis Hastert, the speaker whose House impeached Clinton), said impeaching Reagan would be “divisive,” and Democrat leaders were described as bending over backward to find excuses not to pursue impeachment.

“Life is unfair.” – John F. Kennedy, May 21, 1962, press conference, responding to complaints from some military reservists who felt they had done their duty but now were being deployed overseas. The whole quote explained that while some soldiers never leave the country, others randomly end up in danger; some survive, others die. Within this context, it appears “life is unfair,” is not brusque, but still a card the president is selectively pulling to deflect criticism. Overall, however, in a universe where random chance is the ultimate power, JFK’s three-word summation applies.

“See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda.” – George W. Bush, May 24, 2005 in Greece, N.Y., explaining his strategy to sell his ultimately failed proposal for Social Security reform.

Brian Arbenz has lived under 12 presidents. Eight truths in 12 presidencies. That’s not such a good total!

How do you solve an overthinking problem? Try thinking less

There was a time when one office co-worker or member of the lunch bunch was the go-to person for questions like, “Who was Lincoln’s first vice-president?” or “What year did ‘Jeopardy’ premier?”

I remember that time well because I was that one turned to to instantly produce “Hannibal Hamlin” or “1964.” Then came Google on I-pads and my principal role in the group was obsolete.

Brian Arbenz reading at a literary event in 2015.

As with all who find themselves displaced by technology, I had to find new skills to, in this case keep my sense of validation, rather than employablity.

For a while, that was tough! Gradually, though, I learned that I can have a purpose in the group by – this is so simple it is embarrassing – just being a pleasant person. I’d put that: by just being me, but the problem was, “me” had equaled “knowledge” for as far back as I could recall. Being the brain was a great gig for so long that I complacently stuck with it, until my support system was yanked away, forcing me to access the many parts of myself I had been ignoring.  So, thank you, Google!

That’s the positive angle on the new, less cerebral, more personable me. There also have been unhappy developments which have influenced this change.

Months after Robin Williams’ stunning death in 2014, his loved ones laid out how he simply could not control the genius currents constantly running his mind, pushing him always to observe, create comedy and dazzle, a three-step process that had long been as natural, even automatic to him as breathing.

His stuck-on mind was so fast, that being humorous on the spot became a command more so than a talent. He began hallucinating, then experiencing dementia through a condition called Lewy Body Disorder, so named from a protein called alpha-synuclein abnormally deposited in the brain in configurations known as Lewy bodies.

No, I have never had that, or experienced anything like Robin Williams’ reported symptoms.

Nor has my mind reached the level of dysfunction endured by Phil Ochs, an outspoken folk singer in the early 1960s. He was my kind of person: left wing, esoteric and fearless.

The son of an army doctor in World War II, Phil Ochs’ genius produced biting satire which attacked shortcomings he saw among progressives, as well as excoriating capitalism and racism.

Colorful, handsome and daring, Ochs had high standards for his art and for left activism. He occasionally argued with members of his own audiences over pronouncements they shouted.

Yes, I can identify with Phil Ochs, primarily because his depth of understanding was a burden. In a society of snappy phrases and sound bites, getting elaborate messages out through pop culture eventually is futile, I believe.

I figure that may have been one of the factors in his losing his mind in the 1970s, even becoming dissociative from his own identity.

His changes seemed innocent at first. His music’s ardent leftist tone softened as Ochs did songs of centrist Americana and he became longing for martyred brothers John and Robert Kennedy.  The changes then kicked into rapid gear. After becoming homeless, Ochs was diagnosed as genuinely perceiving that he was someone else – a self-invented persona Ochs gave the name John Butler Train (after JFK and William Butler Yeats). And he believed he, as Train, had killed the great folk figure Phil Ochs.

He eventually regained his identity and seemed clear headed and contented if apathetic while living with relatives on Long Island, N.Y.

He did child care for nephews and nieces, played cards and did little else, acting blasé about his musical achievements and the political struggles wrapped up in them. Internally, however, Phil Ochs was not so sedate. He committed suicide in 1976.

Again, my strains in life have not been as great as what Ochs faced, but had I achieved some national stature, who knows?

I’ve gone through some similar outlook adjustments. I took on the world in my late teens and early 20s, often championing leftist causes in my writings in mainstream and my college media, as well as letters to the editor in newspapers and over Marxist nations’ shortwave radio stations (shortwave was then essential in much of the world, but in the 1970s and ‘80s followed by only five percent of Americans, generally introverts and the NSA’s unit which created dossiers by monitoring letters like mine).

Suddenly feeling worn down by the absence of results in the me-generation society around me and put off by the sectarian splits on the world’s left, I started seeking social democratic change. I became more mellow and less strident, much in the same manner as Phil Ochs had, and started feeling more affinity with the society’s better angels. I even gave a tip of the hat to John and Bobby Kennedy.

I saw great progress possible via better social policies like family planning, gun controls, mass transit and restorative justice.

My path has resembled Phil Ochs only to a limited extent, but considering his end, the similarities have been enough to give me pause.

If there is one similar thread in what I have chronically experienced and the derailments of Williams’ and Ochs’ lives, it is overthinking. I am constantly aware — hyperaware of meanings to be defined from events, encounters and statements, even unscripted ones.boy on the bus

“You’re too much of an empath,” one acquaintance told me after I described how a stranger’s momentary frustration that morning over one of life’s rough spots was sticking with me all day.

Yes, I have trouble letting simple events I observe remain simple; I must fight the ingrained habit of referencing everything to the realm of complex ideas, concepts and polemics.

While sauntering along an apartment walkway to visit a friend in what happened to be the year 2001 I was greeted unexpectedly by a pleasant chatty little girl on a trike. She looked a little like the character Josephine Floyd, who speaks to her father in a picturephone call in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Most people would be content to note the nominal resemblance and move on. My instincts for drawing parallels wouldn’t nearly be sated with that.

I instantly decided to write a column for the monthly peace and justice newspaper I edited telling how the encounter with this charming child crystalized in my mind the differences between the future year envisioned by Arthur C. Clark and Stanley Kubrick and the real 2001.

That actual year was about whether little children would get health care, a home and eventually a job beyond Taco Bell, not whether life on a space station would beckon their fathers, who in the real 2001 may be known to the Josephine Floyds of the nation more for their signatures on child support checks.

That column was never written, a sign that my red hot penchant for epiphanies was beginning to cool.

My mind for spotting parallels creates memes with messages.

Then came social media, which reconnected me with elementary school chums with whom I’d had almost no contact for decades. That opened my eyes to something else that might be an imbalance in my mind – it turns out I have precise memory skills that are astonishing, maybe even spooky to some.

“You mean everyone can’t do that?” I asked a 6th grade classmate from 40-plus years earlier when he was flabbergasted at how I, from memory, tagged everyone in his copy of the class picture – in two minutes. No, that is not a normal skill, I learned.

Though neither he nor any of the other schoolmates I checked in with after joining Facebook thought it troubling that I could, say, remember particular questions they had asked our teachers during lessons on adjectives and adverbs or South American geography, I became a little self-conscious.

Was this newfound ability a gift, or was it creepy? After all, some of these folks about whom I could remember such details were people I had never actually talked to back in school.

More to the point of my present agenda, would it be an obstacle to improving my social contacts – just another reminder that I have always been different?

When asked by an innocently smiling person from way back, “How do you remember all this?” I, perhaps out of a sudden awareness that this could indeed be a problem, or just being lightheartedly self-effacing, told her, “I’m forgetful impaired.”

Truth is, my bigger situation is hyperawareness. And as a method of treatment, I am experimenting with being less precise on arcane data. In conversations, I’m saying, “that was more than 30 years ago,” instead of my traditional way of citing of the exact number when that number is not essential to the topic.

I’m asking myself, how much should I hold onto empathy over some complete stranger missing a bus this morning, or a driver pulling away not realizing their soft drink had been placed on their car roof.

Or a telephone customer to whom I gave the wrong serial number on a model railroad set sold at the store where I at age 18 worked my first job, forcing her and her husband to drive across town on a snowy night in pursuit of a coveted product it turned out we did not have. Yes, self-forgiveness is another issue involved in my being “forgetful impaired,” perhaps better described as an inability to let go.

I’m also using paraphrases more when they will do instead of exact quotes in recounting statements by public figures, or a judge’s ruling on a water rate hike, or my 2nd grade teacher when she taught us what homonyms were in 1966 – uh, make that more than 50 years ago.

Brian Arbenz, a self-published of author and independent journalist, lives in Louisiville, whose residents may notice he seems less deep in thought these days. 

1021 and 1022: gifts by Obama to Trump are our top 2 threats

Former President Barack Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act in 2012.

No red flags in that, you may say, because he is civil and progressive Barack Obama, the man we miss for, if nothing else, the fact that he would not make fun of a person’s disability. The man who is the antithesis of this Trump-Bannon-Pence crowd of haters and tyrants, right?

Well, remembers these numbers: 1021 and 1022. If Trump’s police come to take you away because you have been outspoken against U.S. wars or racist policies, it will likely be because of Sections 1021 and 1022 of the NDAA.


They give the federal government broad powers to arrest anyone, including U.S. citizens in or outside the country, on suspicion of terrorism-related crimes, and to imprison them indefinitely without trial.

And it’s Trump’s law now.

A judge’s voiding of the powers in sections 1021 and 1022 during Obama’s presidency as unconstitutional was reversed by an appeals court and the House of Representatives has twice voted down efforts to rescind them.

President Obama said upon signing the NDAA he would strictly avoid using it to infringe on rights, but in 2012 the Huffington Post farsightedly asked whether we could count on successor presidents to feel the same way. Dan Johnson, founder of People Against the NDAA (PANDA) ( told Huff Post:

“The 2012 NDAA’s detention provisions apply to anyone, anywhere. But who is most likely to have the NDAA used against them? It depends on how you define the word terrorist. The Department of Homeland Security said that individuals or organizations ‘reverent of individual liberty’ and ‘suspicious of centralized federal authority’ pose a threat. The state of Georgia calls publishing ‘public records’ terrorism. The FBI added the director of an anti-fracking film to the terror watch list…. The government won’t define ‘terrorist,’ in order to keep their options flexible.… Under Section 1021, anyone who has committed a belligerent act, which even the government could not define when questioned in court, can be detained indefinitely, without charges or trial, as a ‘suspected terrorist.’ ”

Let’s review: Anyone. Detained indefinitely. Without trial. Without charges. For a belligerent act. Belligerent defined however the government wishes. And it is bi-partisan and the courts are upholding it.

Of the three members of Congress who have passionately urged NDAA sections 1021 and 1022’s rescinding, two are Republicans. Those two include my senator, Rand Paul, a man I otherwise do not respect at all. Paul opposes the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and is a doctor who won’t join the AMA, instead choosing the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, which spreads dangerous hokum against vaccines. And he is our hope.

As I have been writing for years, things are not as partisan as we think. And now, because the many underreported bipartisan agreements of our time include one called the NDAA, we face more danger than we think.

Brian Arbenz, of Louisville, is a justice and nonviolence activist and independent journalist.

John Hollinden: at 7-foot-7, he was forever deftly rebounding from misfortune just as giant

As a junior in high school in Southern Indiana in 1975, I was baffled over how a visiting basketball player who was 7 feet, 2 inches tall could have left our New Albany High School gym one night with only two points to his name.

John Hollinden of Central High School in Evansville was described in a newspaper story as “frail” at only 198 pounds – that’s about 40 pounds below the ideal weight for 7-foot-2. A staffer on our high school radio station which broadcast the game said the towering 16-year-old looked uncoordinated and lost on the court.

Cutting the nets flatfooted was easy for the nation’s tallest player.

That seemed to me out of synch with an era when 7-foot-2 meant awesome dominators like Kareem-Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain or Artis Gilmore, who would shortly power the Kentucky Colonels to the ABA championship across the river in Louisville.

Moreover, this was Indiana – where even being 6-foot-5 or so generates expectations that you will be savvy at hoops.

A Hoosier over seven feet tall not being good at basketball? That’s like a member of the Cousteau family being afraid of the water!

So, I put thoughts of John Hollinden and his sorry predicament out of my mind, until a year later when, as senior, I picked up the newspaper to read about that year’s Central-New Albany game.

There was the name Hollinden in the box score – well what do you know, the frail can’t-do toothpick-shaped klutz didn’t go away. Then I looked at his point total – 26, whoa!

Welcome to Hoosierdom, John Hollinden. And my apologies for writing you off early. It was a lesson to my 17-year-old self not to be dismissive or belittling toward an endeavoring person just because their obstacles at first appear immense.

For John Hollinden, his pitiful performance the previous year contrasted with 26 points as a senior was to be a lifelong pattern of extraordinary height alternately being a curse and a blessing.

John’s 1976 senior picture at Evansville Central High School

By graduation time he was 7-foot-4, and was offered a scholarship at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Ok. There, though still an underweight 220 pounds, he impressed coaches with his stamina and coordination, which bespoke that John Hollinden was forever past his days of struggle to catch up with growth spurts. And that was fortunate, because he wasn’t through: John was 7-foot-5 when his freshman season at ORU started in late 1976 and he reached 7-foot-6 by the spring.

And that caused more problems. John, not yet suitably strong for the physical college game, didn’t get much playing time his first season, and fans who packed opponents’ arenas to see a person now billed as the tallest college basketball player in the nation sometimes booed and shouted insults at the giant they felt should have made their cost of admission pay off with a superhuman performance to tell their grandchildren about someday.

Long used to people – like me back in 1975 — being initially unimpressed with him, John was undeterred. Still, it was becoming taxing for him just to leave campus, as every single person he would encounter would stop in their tracks and ask the inevitable questions about his height and avocation.

For such occasions, John printed up a t-shirt bearing the words: “My name is John Hollinden. I’m 7 foot 5. I do play basketball.”

Such resourcefulness is typical of giants, who must custom order their clothes, beds and shower stalls. The sense of humor displayed by his informational shirt, however, showed that unlike many 7-foot-plus basketballers who dislike constantly drawing notice away from the court, John was comfortable being a spectacle.

“I enjoy meeting people, especially when we’re visiting different cities,” he told his hometown paper the Evansville Press in 1979. “The attention doesn’t bother me.”

After two years of less than abundant playing time at Oral Roberts, John decided in 1978 to transfer to Indiana State University at Evansville, delighting fans in his hometown still reeling from the deaths of the entire basketball team of the crosstown University of Evansville in a plane crash en route to a game months earlier.

In a city where the name John Hollinden had been a household word since he was a 9th grader, he could put away the t-shirt explaining himself, but had he needed it, the height listed would require updating: John, after the one-year off from playing sports the NCAA requires of a transfer student, was 7-foot-7 as he joined the ISUE Eagles roster in the fall of 1979.

His constant weight training and protein diets had been adding needed bulk, but his body’s refusal to stop growing kept John’s weight at about 25 pounds under where the sport demanded it be.

“He’s not an NBA-type dominant center,” cautioned Wayne Boultinghouse, coach at ISUE (now called the University of Southern Indiana). “We don’t want to be overly optimistic…. It’s difficult to measure what John will mean to our team, but I’m sure he’ll be a plus.”

Evansville Press staffer Mark Tomasik wrote: “Wayne Boultinghouse believes the attention Hollinden attracts will help promote the Eagles program. And he’s certain Hollinden can handle the demands on his time.”

Indeed, John happily accepted ISUE public relations as an extra duty.

“If reporters want to talk with me or photographers want to take my picture, it’s all right,” he told the press. “I just put myself in their position. I’d want to do the same.”

Constantly being photographed, even to poke fun at his height (such as here with the team dentist), was all in fun for the good natured giant John Hollinden.

In fact, it was more than drawing cameras that John Hollinden soon excelled at; he finished the 1979-80 season the 2nd best shooter (56 percent) and the fourth best rebounder (8.3 per game) in the Great Lakes Valley Conference. John’s towering defensive presence, Boultinghouse said, was a major reason ISUE gave up the least points per game of any GLV team.

“When I talk to other coaches, they always mention the influence of Hollinden,” Boultinghouse said. “His intimidation can’t be measured by statistics.”

Back home again on the banks of the Ohio River, the once frail high schooler and target of insults as a collegian now had hit his long-awaited stride. John Hollinden made the All Great Lakes Valley Conference team.

As his senior season ended in 1981, though John was primarily interested in playing in the European basketball league, he put his name in the draft of the NBA, that league for which coach Boultinghouse had figured his 7-foot-7 star was not dominant enough. The Dallas Mavericks drafted John in the 11th round, but he signed a contract with a Swedish team in the European league.

Days before his scheduled departure for Sweden, John Hollinden looked the picture of a man comfortable with himself, an accomplishment that was as towering as his physical stature, considering his awkward beginnings as a Hoosier hoopster. (Evansville Press columnist Tom Tuley recalled a stiff and jittery 14-year-old Holliden giving one word answers while doing his first interview with media as a 6-foot-9 freshman at Central High.)

Now, gymnasiums full of sarcastic doubters were behind him and life in Europe’s great cities was ahead for the musically talented, athletically gifted and bright young man from Evansville.

It never happened.

The day before he was to leave for Sweden, John was driving alone for pleasure on a road outside the city when his car crashed. He was paralyzed from the waist down. Days later, doctors said the 23-year-old would never regain movement or feeling in his legs.

The 7-foot-7 John Hollinden, listed among the 20 documented tallest people in history, would permanently be at eye level with the rest of us, from his wheelchair.

Don’t think for an instant that bitterness or anguish entered John’s life, even though it’s true, here was a guy who was going to be the marvel of Europe’s fast spreading fascination with basketball. And now he can’t walk because he, as it were, missed the plane by a day. No, in the years to come he wouldn’t be dunking, blocking and passing to cheers in Stockholm, Barcelona and Brussels, nor politely posing for 10 times the press pictures, nor cheerily telling inquiring passersby in seven languages how tall he was.

John Hollinden’s unmatched ability at overcoming the roadblocks that seem always to come with his extraordinary endowments would now go into overtime.

He became a speaker at schools in the Evansville area. He helped out with the Tri-State Food Bank and the United Way. An accomplished musician who played several instruments, John joined the Mid-America Singers at his renamed University of Southern Indiana.

His friends and former coaches described John as a good Christian, in the sense of Christian as caring about others and seeking a peaceful outlook.

He was still the center of attention, with his niceness, glibness and busy civic involvement drawing raves, as the name John Hollinden immediately prompted admiration and gushing among Evansville-area people. Before, they considered whether they could do as much as he did if gifted with a 7-foot-7 frame; now it was his giant resilience that left fans wondering if they would be capable of John Hollinden’s strength in the face of such terrible misfortune.

Despite his undaunted resolve and good cheer, John’s condition was straining him. Leg infections, common among paraplegics because of their inability to position their legs properly to avoid physical stress and bedsores, began plaguing him in 1985, four years after the car crash.

By early 1990, “he knew his time was coming,” John’s former high school coach John Wessel recalled in an Evansville Courier interview.

The infections worsened and John had both legs amputated in January 1991. “I went to see him in the hospital after that operation, and he had more grit and determination than the law allows,” Wessel said.

In October 1992, however, John Hollinden died of cardiac arrest brought on by complications from infections. He was 34.

USI students still celebrate John.

In the obituary story, Wessel recalled the trying days when his young Central High prospect’s unaccommodated rapid growth left most of us in the stands dismissing John Hollinden as a sideshow.

“There was a game during his sophomore year when he got ridiculed pretty good,” the coach said. “I tried to console him afterwards, but he said, ‘It’s OK, coach. Someday, they won’t.’ ”

Southern Indiana folks watched as a young man given the greatest reach ever in our near-religion of a game more than once found himself in that age old fix of his reach exceeding his grasp. While the more cynical among us kept giving up on him as a failed star, John Hollinden — when towering above us and then confined below — just kept figuring out how to reach in new directions.

Brian Arbenz, who once dreamed of being over 7 feet tall, today is contented to be a foot shorter than that while recalling the inspirational life of John Hollinden. Arbenz formerly worked as a sports writer in Southern Indiana.