Tag Archives: Joseph Califano

Joseph Califano Sounds Democracy’s Alarm

Westport is home to far more than our share of famous people. We see them all the time — in restaurants, at the supermarket and CVS. They’re the biggest names in movies, music, finance, TV, fiction and business.

But — with the exception of a few folks like James Comey and Scott Gottlieb — we’re not real big on Washington movers and shakers.

On the other hand, you have to know where to look.

Joseph Califano

In 2007, Joseph Califano moved to town. He’s a legit DC insider. As special assistant to President Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s — aka the chief domestic advisor — he played a key role in shaping initiatives like civil rights bills and Medicare through Congress.

As President Carter’s Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, he was involved in important childhood immunization and anti-smoking campaigns.

Califano worked as an attorney for the Washington Post during Watergate, and represented clients as varied as the Black Panthers and Coca Cola.

After leaving Washington, he founded and chaired the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. He has written for The New York TimesWashington PostWall Street JournalReaders Digest, New Republic and Journal of the American Medical Association.

Califano is the real deal.

At age 86, he’s just written his 14th book. Our Damaged Democracy: We the People Must Act is timely and passionate. Looking at our 3 branches of government, Califano reveals the political, cultural, constitutional, technological and institutional changes that have rendered so much it dysfunctional.

He is blunt: We must fix our democracy before it’s too late.

Using anecdotes and examples from every modern president, and the actions of both parties, Califano says we do not need to agree on everything. We must, however, trust each other, in order to bring back systems of government that protect freedom, promote fairness, and work.

Our Damaged Democracy is gaining well-deserved national attention. On Thursday, March 1 (7 p.m., Westport Woman’s Club), we’ve got a chance to hear this remarkable and articulate longtime political insider — our neighbor — as he sounds the alarm.

The talk is sponsored by the Westport Library and League of Women Voters of Westport. It’s free, and open to the public.

And — for anyone who cares about the state of democracy — absolutely worth your time.

Antonin Scalia: The Westport Connections

The sudden death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia yesterday rocked America’s judicial and political worlds.

As discussion pivoted to the appointment of his successor, historical precedents emerged. The New York Times reports:

With Democrats and independents who caucus with them holding 46 seats in the Senate, Mr. Obama already faces a challenge getting to the simple majority needed to confirm a nominee and would face an even steeper climb to rally the 60 votes needed if Republican opponents mount a filibuster to his choice.

Filibusters of Supreme Court nominations are rare, but the Senate blocked the confirmation of Abe Fortas to chief justice in 1968, leaving the seat to be filled by his successor, President Richard M. Nixon.

Fortas’ name has become a footnote in history. But Westporters remember him well.

For years, he owned a 19th-century farmhouse on Minute Man Hill.

Abe Fortas

Abe Fortas

Adam Stolpen — an attorney and longtime area resident — recalls that nearly every summer day,  Fortas and his wife walked to Compo Beach. They’d drink martinis, swim in the Sound, and get burgers and dogs from Chubby Lane’s concession stand.

Sometimes they were alone.  Often, they brought high-powered Washington guests. Justice William O. Douglas and his wife visited; so did Isaac Stern. Lyndon Johnson came too, Stolpen says, though not while president.

On July 5, 1968 — well into an election year, when the associate justice had just been nominated by President Johnson to be elevated to chief justice — Time magazine opened its profile on him this way:

“Will you trust my judgment, Mr. Fortas?”, asked the salesman at Welch’s Hardware Store in Westport, Conn. Dubiously, the Chief Justice-designate of the U.S. fingered the new, chemically treated dustcloth, examining it carefully by sight and feel. Finally, aware perhaps that this was a matter beyond his competence, he concurred with the clerk’s opinion.

Tramping around the narrow streets of Westport, accompanied by TIME Washington Bureau Chief John Steele, Fortas was enjoying the scruffy anonymity of any other summer refugee from the city. In baggy grey pants, a flame-red cardigan sweater, scuffed brown shoes (one with a tongue missing) and…

Fortas’ nomination was already in trouble though, for ethical reasons. He had accepted $15,000, for 9 speaking engagements at American University. The money came from business interests.

LBJ aide Joseph Califano wrote later that the president said, “We won’t withdraw the nomination. I won’t do that to Abe.”

Califano added:

Though we couldn’t get the 2/3 vote needed to shut off debate, Johnson said we could get a majority, and that would be a majority for Fortas. “With a majority on the floor for Abe, he’ll be able to stay on the Court with his head up. We have to do that for him.” Fortas also wanted the majority vote.

Joseph Califano

Joseph Califano

It didn’t work.

On October 1 — just a month before the election — a slim 45–43 majority of senators voted to end the filibuster. Later that day — reading the handwriting on the wall — Fortas asked Johnson to withdraw his nomination.

And why is that Joseph Califano quote so important for “06880”readers?

Nearly 50 years later, he too is a Westport resident.


Talks With Substance

Joseph Califano was scheduled to talk about his book — How to Raise a Drug-Free Kid:  Straight Dope for Parents  — long before Staples’ Homecoming jolted Westport into a community-wide conversation about teenage drinking.  (Alcohol is a key component of Drug-Free Kid.)

So tomorrow’s 7:30 p.m. event at Bedford Middle School — co-sponsored by the Westport Public Library and Positive Youth Development — is both fortuitous and important.

Joseph Califano

Joseph Califano

An added attraction:  Califano — founder and chairman of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, and a former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare — is a Westport resident. 

The national expert on adolescent drug and alcohol use will be speaking to a hometown audience, about a national — and yet very local — issue.

He hopes his neighbors will listen.

“Most parents don’t realize the enormous influence they have on kids — for better or worse,” Califano says.  “Research shows that kids who see their parents drunk are much more likely to drink, or do drugs.”

Many parents, Califano adds, “are unlikely to use their positive power” to help their teenagers avoid illegal substances.  One major reason:  “They’re too concerned about what their kids might say, or what other parents are doing.  There’s pressure on parents, as well as on kids.”

Joseph Califano bookTomorrow, Califano will help parents identify the times when youngsters are at higher risk for using alcohol and drugs:  the beginning of middle school.  The beginning of high school.  Events like Homecoming.

“Schools can help deal with this,” Califano says.  “But parents are key.”

The drug and alcohol problem will be solved, he believes, “not in courtrooms, but in living rooms and dining rooms” across the country.

Califano speaks throughout the US.  From what he’s seen, his home town is “not much different from any affluent community where kids have the resources to get and use” drugs and alcohol.

Tomorrow he travels only a mile or two to talk.  The national expert looks forward to seeing his neighbors — parents, teachers and teenagers — in his own back yard.

(A 2nd event — “Community Conversation:  Underage Drinking — Whose Responsibility Is It?” — is set for this Wednesday, October 28, 7:30 p.m. at the Westport Library.  Co-sponsored by the Staples PTA and Smilow Family, the free-flowing open forum will include high school principal John Dodig.)