Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The Inhumanity of the Pro-Life Movement

If the damage weren’t so devastating, one would say that it is ironic that the movement to protect human fetuses, that brands itself “pro-life” and sprang from the moral and religious reverence for human life of the Catholic Church and Evangelical branches of Christianity, is in fact an inhumane movement.

The reader may well ask, “How can I call the pro-life movement inhumane?”  The dictionary definition of inhumanity is lacking kindness, compassion; being cruel.

Let me count the ways in which the pro-life movement is inhumane.

First, it is an act of cruelty towards the very lives that the movement seeks to save.  The life of a child is a difficult one filled with anxiety, insecurity, and fear.  Even when raised in what can be described as a loving family, things typically happen within the family that cause a child to suffer from these emotions.  And these are children who are wanted.

How cruel it is to force a child to be born into a family that does not want him or her.  How much more will that child suffer than the average child?  And if the child is given up for adoption or placed in a foster home, how much more will the child suffer? 

That the fate of these children once they are born is of no concern to the pro-life movement is itself an act of cruelty.  What’s worse, many of the same conservative Evangelical forces that are pro-life are actually in favor of reducing government aid to needy families with children.  Making it more likely that some of these saved children will suffer from malnutrition, poor health, and inadequate housing.  That some now offer short-term housing for women and their newborns is not an answer to the problem they have created.  

Second, it is lacking compassion for the living person, the woman who is bearing the child.  Any woman who makes the decision to abort the life moving within her struggles with that decision, not because of the pressures of society or family, but because of the biological and psychic bond between the mother and her unborn child.

It shows a total lack of respect for another human being, one who is living, to not acknowledge this decision-making process.  Whether she is in a bad marriage.  Whether there just isn’t enough money for another baby.  Whether she is at her wits’ end.  Regardless the reasoning, abortion is never undertaken lightly.

“Ah,” the pro-life advocate will say, “then she should have practiced birth control.”  Of course, the Catholic Church does not sanction protective birth control of any sort.  But putting that aside, this retort points to the third way in which the movement is inhumane.  

As has most recently been shown in the passage of a restrictive abortion bill by the Alabama State legislature, pro-life activists will not even allow an exception from their crusade for women who have been raped or been the victim of incest.  Such women had no choice to practice birth control.  But nevertheless the movement would force these women to bring into life children who were formed either by their rapist or their father or other relative who abused their trust.  If this is not a lack of compassion, if this is not cruelty, I don’t know what is.

Another cruelty, is that most pro-life advocates will not allow an exception for cases where the mother’s life is at stake.  They are pro-life for the unborn fetus, but anti-life for the living mother, who more than likely has living children.  They show more compassion for the fetus than for those living children; how will they be harmed by the death of their mother?

The Religious Right, as well as the Republican Party, has for the past several decades been extremely clever at setting the terms of debate, ever since the days of Lee Atwater.  At branding themselves in a way which comments favorably on themselves and branding their opponents, typically Democrats, in way which comments unfavorably on them.

Thus the recent pro-life hashtag, #EndInfanticide.  How in the world do you fight against the image that by protecting a woman’s choice, you are promoting infanticide?

I suggest that you fight fire with fire.  It is not enough to counter “pro-life” with “pro-choice.”  The slogans just don’t carry the same moral weight.

There are four strategies I would suggest.  The first is that Democrats and other pro-choice activists must make very clear that they are anti-abortion.  No one is pro-abortion.  Everyone detests the idea.  It’s just that in certain situations, some feel it is the lesser of two evils.  Thus the first new hashtag for the pro-choice movement should be, #antiabortion.

The second is calling the pro-life movement on the inhumanity and the hypocrisy of their position.  Thus I propose a second hashtag, #prolifeisinhumane.

The third is to bring the Christian denominations that have official policy supporting Roe v Wade to the forefront.  It must be clear that this is not a fight of the religious against the secular.  One can be Christian, religious and have a moral and religious reverence for life and yet support the right to end a pregnancy in properly limited circumstances.  This is not a contradiction.  Indeed, as I argue above, it is the pro-life position that is a contradiction.  Of course other religions should be included, but this should not be allowed to appear as a Christianity v other religions issue.

The fourth is to come up with a new name or names to replace “pro-choice”  as it just doesn’t have the necessary moral heft.  This one I had trouble with.  It has to have the right image, be short, and resonate.  Possibly “Pro-Mother” or “Pro-Child” with the accompanying hashtags.

It is past time for the tables to be turned on the Religious Right and for Democrats and other pro-mother/pro-child people and religious institutions to set the terms of debate.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The Failure of Religion to Lead

I was reading a book the other day that happened to quote two verses from the Bible that just stopped me in my tracks, realizing what a failure not only we are as humans but what a failure religion has been in leading its flock.  The verses were:

“For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”
“Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord?  He that hath clean hands and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.”

These are core principles of Christian teaching, together with “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  Similar teaching with different words can be found in all the great religions.

According to a 2017 Gallup poll, 37% of Americans are classified as “highly religious” based on their self-reports of church attendance and the importance of religion in their lives.  Another 30% are classified as moderately religious.  

Yet the same poll found that 48% of highly religious Americans approve of Trump’s performance in office, 40% of the moderately religious.  Regarding party affiliation, 80% of Republicans are classed highly or moderately religious, but only 61% of Democrats.

How does one make sense of this data considering the teachings noted above?  It is obvious that there is a serious disconnect between what people feel being religious means regarding their own and others’ actions and the teachings of the Bible and other spiritual sources.  This is not only seen in the support of the religious for Trump but in their everyday actions, be it within their family or in the context of their work.  

We live in a culture that promotes the quest for power at all cost, vanity, and deceitfulness.  We live in a culture that is supremely irreligious.  But why do the religious, who rebel against some aspects of modern culture, not stand up against this ethical and moral cancer?

One could look at this situation and say that the failing is due to the weakness of man.  But that is only part of the answer.  The more damning (pardon the pun) answer is that our major religions, especially the more orthodox branches, have failed to pass on the most meaningful aspects of their religion … how one acts towards his fellow man.  Of course they give lip service to the moral and ethical responsibilities of man, but they do not press the point.

Instead the orthodox branches of religion are obsessed with gaining power, with having influence, and as a result stress the functional aspects of orthodox religious practice far more than the moral or ethical aspects.  The only moral aspects they promote are cherry-picked from the Bible and again are geared to their defeating what they see as enemies of their power.

And so, whether it’s their stand against a woman’s choice, which they label “pro-life” and “anti-abortion” (is anyone pro-abortion?), or whether it’s their stand against the LGBT community, that is the orthodox moral litmus test for being a good Christian or a good Jew.  To abstain from vanity, from deceitfulness, from the quest for power and wealth at all cost seems not to concern them.

And this is not just a criticism of Evangelical Christians (much has been written about the apparent hypocrisy of their support for Trump) or ultra-orthodox Jews.  The Catholic Church in general has fallen into this same trap.  Actually, the preeminence of survival is nothing new for the Church.  It has historically seen its most important role as preserving its power, its presence.  So for example, during WWII, Pope Pius said nothing about what was happening to the Jews in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy or the conquered countries.  He was more concerned that the church not be attacked.

And what about the ongoing scandal of the abuse of children, not just boys, by Catholic clergy?  Not just the abuse, but the deceitful, disingenuous actions of church leaders in keeping the truth of this monstrous moral failure from their own flock.  All in the name of preserving the power and strength of the Church.  

If one reads the Bible in its entirety, not just the favored sections intoned in the culture wars, they will know that they and their religion have failed.  That they are not leading a religious life in any truly meaningful way.  Evangelicals may be “born again,” and ultra-orthodox Jews may maintain all the rituals and study the Bible and pray for hours, but orthodox Christians are not doing what Jesus would do, and ultra-orthodox Jews are not doing what G-d would have them do in dealing with their fellow man.  And by the way, I should note that the eastern religions are not free of this problem.  Look at the violence that Buddhist monks have promoted against the Muslim Rohingya of Myanmar.

Religion should be at the forefront of a real culture war, which is to say against the prevailing culture’s promotion of power, vanity, and deceitfulness.  It should be our moral compass.  But that would take real courage because it would risk turning people off and thus “weakening” the church’s power and presence.  

It is ironic that it is the less-orthodox, less-conservative branches of the religions that do a better job at teaching the moral values of their religion, and those who are classified as “not religious” who do a better job at implementing those values.  Something has gone haywire.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Tariffs 101 - The Big Trump Lie

Trump is fond of saying, in support of his trade war tariffs, that as a result China is paying billions of dollars directly into the U.S. Treasury.  That is blatantly and categorically false.  Either Trump knows the truth and is lying, or he is just dumb about how tariffs work, which is certainly possible.

What really happens when tariffs are imposed is that the producing country, here China, does not pay a penny.  The tariffs are instead paid by the company importing the product into the U.S., typically an American company.  It is they who are paying the billions of dollars into the U.S. Treasury.

And guess what the importing company then does?  They pass the cost on to their consumer, whether it is a business or the American public.  

So at the end of the day, the billions of dollars in tariffs are in fact paid by the American consumer, not China.  China is only hurt by the tariffs in so far as the increase in the cost of their products to consumers because of the tariffs causes sales to decline.

And that, as Edith Ann (the Lily Tomlin character) would say, is the truth.

* Note:  Prior to publishing, this post was sent to the New York Times as a letter to the editor.  When a few days later they published an editorial making this very point, I was free to publish my post.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

The Problem with a President Bernie Sanders

Senator Sanders is a good, intelligent, forthright man.  His heart is in the right place.  And he certainly believes strongly about what is right and what is wrong.

But there’s a problem with Sanders as President.  It lies in primarily two areas:  rhetoric and policy development.

When it comes to rhetorical style, Bernie Sanders and his fire-breathing progressive allies share much with Donald Trump.  It is confrontational in both tone and substance.  As Trump and many autocrats have shown, this is certainly the way to build a devoted, unwavering base.

But such a style and the unwavering … dare one say, unthinking … political support it engenders does not bode well for the future of our democracy.  If Sanders, or AOC (Ocasio-Cortez), or Trump say something, their followers take it as gospel truth and praise the speaker.  A healthy democracy depends on people thinking, sifting through competing ideas, not leaving it to leaders to think.

This style also exacerbates the us v them aspect of politics and social dynamic.  Before the recent extreme polarization of American politics, people were usually sorely disappointed when they lost an election, but the call by all was for unity, for forming a “loyal” opposition.  In Congress or elsewhere, there were political disagreements, people took their stands, but it was with the feeling that everyone had the country’s best interest at heart and so there was civility in the midst of disagreement.  People could agree to disagree.

Gone are those days.  While the problem started with Senator Dole's very negative relationship with President Clinton during his 2nd term, it became all -consuming when Obama was President and Republicans in Congress, led by Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, decided that they were just going to say, “no,” to anything floated by Obama; their only purpose in Congress was to defeat him.  It went so far as to not giving Obama’s 2016 Supreme Court nominee a hearing in order to keep the slot open should a Republican win the next election, even though that was almost 8 months away and the start of the new term 10 months away.

There is a danger in Sander’s campaign style as with the combative style of some of the newly-elected progressives in the House.  The danger is that you may win some battles, but you will ultimately lose the war. You will not change the culture/government in the ways you would like because you have alienated many rather than generated good will among your opponents.

The other problem with Sanders as President comes in the all-important area of policy development.  Let’s take as an example Sander’s Medicare-for-All.  A wonderful idea, but as I explained in my post, “Medicare for All or Some?” not the way to ultimately get to where he wants to be ... universal single-payer coverage.  But Sanders has no use for discussing all the problems, all the dislocation, inherent in implementing his health plan should it pass.  

I draw from this, in combination with his rhetorical style, that Sanders is not a reasonable man … meaning that one cannot reason with him and he can’t employ reason with those not on his team, convincing them to support him or finding a place for compromise where both sides win.  It’s like W saying, “Either you’re with us or against us.”  Like it’s impossible to imagine the reality of someone being on your side but having a difference of opinion on tactics.  What we very much need in a President is a reasonable man.

So I was not for Sanders in 2016 and I’m not for him now.  But not for the reasons of the Democratic Party establishment.  Not because he fights the larger ills of our culture and government.  Not because he sees the ills of capitalism.  Not because he thinks the super rich are richer than they need be.  I have no problem with any of those positions.

It is rather because his rhetorical style will leave us with a country which drifts even further apart.  Where the concept of an American social contract is even more distant.  Where the phrase “my fellow Americans” becomes an unimaginable anachronism.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

What Trump Did and Didn’t Do - The Mueller Report and Beyond

There is no way to get around the fact that the Mueller Report makes very clear that there was no collusion or cooperation with Russia regarding its interference in the election for the purpose of insuring Trump’s election.  Therefore Trump and his campaign did not commit that crime, or at least the evidence was not sufficient to ensure successful prosecution of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the criminal standard Mueller was using.

With regard to the obstruction charge, I don’t know the fine points of law on this subject, but Mueller was not willing to say what he did regarding the Russia charge … there was no obstruction.  And so he said that the findings do not exonerate Trump.  He just laid out the facts for and against.

But in our system of justice, if you don’t have enough facts to prove a crime, even though it sure looks like it, the person should not be charged, and if he is he will be found not guilty.  Thus from this technical perspective, Barr was correct in his prosecutorial decision.

So Trump and his campaign either did not commit these crimes, or at least could not be successfully prosecuted for them, which we must take as legally the same thing.  Innocent until proven guilty is our system’s maxim.

One more point should be made about Trump not being guilty of a crime.  Many people point out how the report is loaded with examples of Trump lying and forcing others to lie.   But lying is not a crime, unless it’s under oath, and Trump did not lie under oath because Mueller never got to take live testimony from him.  Nor was there sufficient evidence to prove that he forced others to lie under oath, which would be what’s termed “suborning perjury.”

But there is one potential crime that the Mueller report does not seem to have addressed:  accessory after the fact, or aiding and abetting, Russia’s interference in the election.  Certainly Trump and his campaign knew that Russia was interfering in the election.  That was a crime and the Special Counsel has indicted numerous Russian operatives in that regard.

Now, failure to report a crime is generally not a crime itself.  However, if you take action to help conceal the crime, then you become an accessory after the fact which is a crime.  And so the question is, did Trump and/or campaign officials help or conspire to conceal information of Russia’s election interference.  Did they do something beyond not reporting?  That remains for Congress to investigate.

But beyond the Special Counsel’s narrow prosecutorial question, whether there was sufficient evidence to successfully prosecute a crime, that leaves the question whether Trump committed a "high crime or misdemeanor" which is an impeachable offense, or whether he acted in a manner not befitting the office of President.  These are both questions for Congress to assess.

With regards to cooperating with the Russians or obstructing justice, the Report lays out a multitude of facts, which may well meet the lesser standard of proof for an impeachable offense, which is closer to the preponderance of the evidence, was it more likely it happened or not.  Also there is the question of whether he was an accessory after the fact, or aided and abetted.   As for being unfit for office, unfortunately, one cannot impeach a President for being unfit for the office.  Only the public can remove him for that cause by voting him out of office. May the investigations begin.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Rep. Omar Is Her Own Worst Enemy

There are many commendable things to say about Rep. Omar.  First and foremost, she stands up for what she feels is right regardless how unpopular her position may be.  
However, Rep, Omar has a habit of sticking her foot in her mouth.  The problem is not what she is saying, at least as far as I’m concerned, it’s how she is saying it.

Most recently.  In a speech regarding civil rights and Muslims, she said that after September 11, because “some people did something,” Muslims began losing access to their civil liberties.

That phrase was so insubstantial and vague that it was guaranteed to provoke an outpouring of anti-Omar and anti-Muslim invective from Trump and other right-wing sources.  Did she give any thought to the fact that she was addressing a very sensitive subject for her fellow Americans?

What she could and should have said, accurately, was that because Muslims from foreign countries caused the destruction of the World Trade towers and the horrific death of thousands of Americans, American Muslims were losing access to their civil liberties.   This would not have been a betrayal in any sense of her cause, her people or her faith.  She would have merely been speaking the truth.  And no one could have used that statement to attack Muslims.

It she does not feel comfortable speaking that truth, if she is not comfortable criticizing other Muslims or Muslim leadership while excoriating American actions, then she will not be respected.  And will not serve the people of her faith well.

Anyone who has the attitude that they cannot criticize their own because so many others criticize them unjustly, is doing themselves and their people a disservice.  Whether it’s American nationalists, fervent Jews, or agitated Muslims, the goal should be to make America, or Israel, or orthodoxy, or Palestine the highest example of humanity.  And that can only happen through self-criticism.

In the specific case of Rep. Omar, instead of her election to the House being a source of much-needed expansion of sensitivity to Muslim issues through her intelligent comments, she has instead repeatedly created controversy and hurt her cause through careless (or possibly not careless) phrasing of issues.  She has given ammunition to her enemies and deprived her mainstream supporters of cover for their support. 

If Rep. Omar and her fellow newly-elected fire-breathing progressives in Congress really want to move their projects forward, they would be well advised to tone down the rhetoric, to reduce their confrontational stance, to acknowledge the concerns and doubts of opponents and address those concerns and doubts.  If they continue to fight fire with fire, they will end up accomplishing nothing of substance and a huge opportunity to advance social justice in our country will be lost.

Monday, April 8, 2019

We Need a National Discussion on Race and Racism

We as a people have never had a conversation about race.  That is a sad fact.  Race and racism have of course been discussed by groups and between people, but we have never had a national discussion.  There has never been a national reconciliation about race and racism.  Not even after the Civil War. 

Given all the challenges we currently face stemming from confrontational polarized politics, it may seem like the wrong time to bring up this topic.  But nevertheless for the future health of our country and for the future wellbeing of the 12.7% of our population which is black, this discussion must take place.  And in order for it to take place, people need to have a clear understanding of the history of the African-American experience in this country.

Many books have been written on this topic, or at least with such a title.  Many of the books tell about all the contributions of African-Americans, whether it be in science, government, music, etc.  To me, these books seem to be trying to convince both whites and blacks that African-Americans deserve to be valued.  But this tact has not and will not change white America’s attitude because it does not address white feelings of difference, feelings of fear, or feelings of superiority.

Then there are books which very clearly and in great detail tell the facts about slavery, the civil war, emancipation, and the more recent past including of course the Civil Rights movement.  The most moving and insightful of the books that I have read was W.E.B. DuBois’ The Soul of Black Folk.  These books powerfully relate the injustice that African-Americans have as a group suffered over the centuries.

But surprisingly, none of the books that I have seen, except for books about African-American radicals like Malcolm X, provide a frank assessment of the lives of blacks, especially average blacks, in modern America.  How they are treated by white America.  

This is an essential part of waking America up and having the discussion we need to have.  For there is a general impression among many whites that African-Americans have been given so much preferential treatment and have so many rights that it is their fault if they are still living in poverty and ignorance.  According to a 2016 PEW report, 38% of whites feel that the country has made the changes needed to give blacks equal rights.

What follows is a very brief attempt to clearly outline the African-American experience in this country.

First of all, who were these people who became enslaved?  They were free people living normal lives, having various roles in their mostly rural communities, who were captured by either black or white slave traders.

In 1790, just after the adoption of the Constitution, there were 680,000 black slaves (19% of the population) and 58,000 black freemen.  By the outbreak of the Civil War, there were 1.8 million black slaves (approximately 12% of the population) and 360,000 black freemen.  The vast majority were plantation slaves and their life was toil, fear, and degradation.  They were the property of their owners and could be used, bought, sold, and killed at the whim of their owners.

After the Civil War, after emancipation, there was a brief period in the South where some blacks started coming into their own, owning land and attaining political office, but that quickly changed as the Federal government supported the white power structure, Reconstruction ended, and the era of Jim Crow laws came into being.  While no longer slaves, blacks had no de facto rights and could be summarily punished or even lynched for offending the white power structure.  They were poor and downtrodden, with nowhere to go.  Their hopes that came with emancipation dashed.

In the North, the 13th Amendment didn’t really change the lives of blacks much, except in the border states of Maryland, West Virginia, and Kentucky where there had been substantial numbers of slaves.  Blacks in the North were mostly, with several well-known exceptions, looked down upon before and after emancipation by the general population.  It’s true that abolitionists didn’t think anyone should be a slave; it was immoral.  But like pro-life Evangelicals, they didn’t think much about what happens to the freed slave.  The assumption was that if you are free you can take care of yourself.

The Great Migration of blacks to the North that began in 1915 changed their lives in many ways and did open more opportunities, but they were mostly segregated in slums and had few opportunities beyond manual labor or service.  Their lives were certainly materially better than living in the South, but they were still a mostly uneducated, looked-down-upon class by white America.  The “American dream” was not available to them.

During the 20th century, a black middle class and professional class did grow that was able to materially partake of the “good life.”  But this accounted for a relatively small percentage of blacks.  Most were stuck in the ghetto living under terrible conditions and with only minimal educational opportunities.  In 1966, 41.8% of African-Americans were poor.  Life was still a dead end for many.

The Civil Rights movement brought more rights for African-Americans and improved the lives of many:  23% of blacks aged 25 and older had college degrees in 2016, 50% of black households had incomes over $43,000 in 2014.

But it did not substantially change the lives of many blacks.  While the poverty rate fell, 26% of blacks were still poor in 2014.  

So where do things stand today?  Regardless of the metric … income, education … black Americans still lag substantially behind white America.  College degrees: 23% blacks v 36% whites.  Median household income:  $43,000 blacks v $72,000 whites.  Poverty rate:  26% blacks v 10% whites.   Unemployment:  10.3% blacks v 4.5% whites.  One statistic makes the stubbornness of this inequality despite improvement very clear:  median black household income today, while almost twice as high as in 1967, is just what white household income was back in 1967.

Putting aside material advancement, which is undeniable, the Rights movement did not much change the attitude of white Americans towards black Americans.  Discrimination is still pervasive although often less obvious.  Thus even if one has “made it,” blacks are still conscious of their unequal standing in the eyes of whites.  According to the 2016 PEW report noted above, only 8% of blacks think that the country has made the changes necessary to give blacks equal rights, while 43% think that the country will never back the necessary changes,

Even before the empowerment of the ALT-right movement by the Trump administration, discrimination against blacks and a feeling that blacks are not as smart or good as whites, or were “different,” was endemic in America.  Republicans even want to take away their vote whenever possible.  While surveys show that whites generally approve of the principle of racial equality today, when it comes to implementation in the workplace or schools, for example, less than 30% think the government should take action to insure equality.

Many whites, especially Republicans, and some blacks as well, place a large share of the blame of poverty and the lack of advancement on blacks themselves.  And to some extent this is true; for most people, education and advancement must be gone after, it’s not given to you.  

But after having been beaten down for generations, lower class blacks need to grow up in a culture that encourages you to have thoughts of education and advancement and provides the means to implement your thoughts.  Middle and upper class blacks go to schools and have role models that do that.  But lower class blacks live in a culture where neither their family and peers nor representatives of the government power structure they have contact with provide that encouragement or the means to implement.  For them, life experience makes it very difficult to imagine that their lives could be different.  A large new study of intergenerational effects on social  mobility makes this clear.

Now let me address the feelings of fear, of difference, of superiority that lie behind continuing racism, whether at a very low or aggressive level.  First of all, what is there to fear?   Even assuming that blacks would rise up in violent revolt, this is not the 1860s South where black slaves accounted for 38% of the population.  As to fear of individual black men, our fear is based on the knowledge that we have mistreated blacks and made many prone to violence.  If we treat blacks like human beings, then there would be no reason to fear.

It is true that African-Americans are different from WASPS and most other ethnic or racial groups in this country.  But then they are all different from each other.  At one time, that difference caused discrimination and even violence between groups.  But we’ve gotten over that for the most part.   The time has come to get over that regarding blacks as well.

And as for superiority, if a group that has the advantages that white Americans have enjoyed for centuries doesn’t score better, have more degrees, and make more money there would be something amiss.  There is no inherent intelligence difference between the various races.  That canard of race “science” has long ago been debunked.  Give blacks the same social support and opportunity that whites have enjoyed since the Civil War and in time they will reach the level of education and income of whites.  There will always be blacks who are poor and uneducated, just like there will always be whites who are poor and uneducated.  It has nothing to do with race, it has mostly to do with opportunity,

The point of this short primer is that despite emancipation, despite all the laws that protect civil rights, despite integration, and despite the undeniable improvements in the material living standards of large numbers of blacks, most African-Americans have never realized the true fruits of freedom because they have never experienced equal opportunity in anything from the government or society at large.  Starting most importantly with equal opportunity in primary and secondary education.

They are still not truly free in a very important sense of the word.  We are still far away from Martin Luther King’s dream of one day all people being able to join hands and sing, “Free at last!  Free at last!  Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Joe Biden — 3 Strikes You’re Out!

Joe Biden is a good man, intelligent, experienced, and may have a very good chance of defeating Trump in 2020.  But he should not be the Democratic candidate for President in 2020.

There are at least three reasons why Joe Biden should not be President.  First, Joe Biden was not just against busing and affirmative action in the 60s and 70s, it’s the reason why.  He saw no reason why white people today should have to pay for the suffering of black Americans over the centuries.  “I’ll be damned if I feel responsible to pay for what happened 300 years ago.”  

The language he used in opposition to civil rights would have done George Wallace proud.  Yes, he has become a strong supporters of civil rights and allied himself with Barack Obama.  But in between he was also a tough on crime Democrat who said in 1990, “One of my objectives, quite frankly, is to lock Willie Horton* up in jail.”   He was a proponent of legislation that led to the mass incarceration of black men.

Perhaps he has truly reformed.  But a man who so consistently appealed to the racial fears of middle-class white America should not be a Democratic candidate for President.

Second was his handling, as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, of the confirmation hearings of Judge Thomas as Supreme Court Justice and the testimony of Anita Hill.  Just this past Tuesday, he said that he regretted that he “couldn’t” give her the kind of hearing she deserved.  How disingenuous.  He certainly could have had he wanted to.  But he didn’t.  And perhaps even worse, he made the decision not to call other women who were waiting to testify regarding Judge Thomas’ sexual harassment.  It is thanks to Joe Biden that we are stuck with Clarence Thomas sitting on the Supreme Court.

Third, while there have always been some questions about his interactions with women, a former Nevada state legislator has come forward recently with an accusation of inappropriate touching.  Not groping, mind you, but nevertheless inappropriate, intimate touching.  “He leaned into me from behind, inhaling my hair, and kissing me on the back of my head.”  This was not an innocent peck on the cheek.  And this was not 30 years ago, this was in 2014.  

In response Biden said that “he did not believe he acted inappropriately,” but admitted he had made “expressions of affection” over the years.  Whether he then believed he acted inappropriately isn’t the question.  It’s whether he now admits that he did what was claimed and that in retrospect, by today’s standards, it was inappropriate.  That’s the answer that I would have wanted from Biden, but politicians rarely admit they made a mistake, even when caught.

We have to recognize now because of the #MeToo movement how frequently women have had to submit to such unwanted behavior by men with power.  It may not have been socially or politically incorrect at the time, but Joe Biden should have known better and been in greater control of himself.

Yes, Joe Biden might be able to win back the white middle-class vote.  But this is not the man who should be leading the Democratic Party and be President of the United States … certainly not at this moment of time.

* Willie Horton was a black convicted murderer who got a weekend furlough while Michael Dukakis was Governor of Massachusetts, didn’t return, and committed several crimes including rape before being arrested.  He was used by Republicans as an example of Dukakis being soft on crime during his 1988 presidential campaign.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

The Mueller Report and the AG’s Decision

The long-awaited report has arrived and, at least as it’s been summarized by the Attorney General, Democrats are very disappointed.  

Regarding Russia’s interference in the election, Mueller found no collusion or coordination.  Given the information that has been made public over the course of the investigation, this is not a surprise, or should not be.  Knowledge of  Russia’s dirty tricks, and hoping to benefit from the dirt, is not the same as colluding or coordinating.

Regarding obstruction of justice, the Special Council declined to make a “prosecutorial” decision.  He has just presented evidence for and against.  Why he chose to not make a decision is beyond me.  

Without question, Trump acted to obstruct, he had the intent to obstruct, and it pertained to an ongoing proceeding, namely the investigation.  So it would seem that the Attorney General’s three requirements for prosecution were met.  One of course needs evidence to prove all three points, but just from Trump’s own Tweets, one would seem to have sufficient evidence on all three points.  

The fact that the report exonerated Trump and the campaign from collusion with Russia should not in any way impact the obstruction charge.  Perhaps most people would not try to obstruct a proceeding if they knew they were innocent.  But Trump is not most people.  He obviously was obsessed by this investigation.  The mere fact of it roiled him.  So not only should the exoneration on collusion not be determinative regarding the obstruction charge, as the Attorney General said in his letter, it should really have no impact.

As for the Attorney General’s decision to make the decision his and say there wasn’t sufficient evidence, it is unseemly and reeks of politics.  Mueller, after months of deliberation, was very careful to say that while he wasn’t recommending a charge, the report did not exonerate the President regarding obstruction.  

Yet the Attorney General did just that, although actually what he said was that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to charge the President.  Now, insufficient evidence does not mean not guilty.  But for the public, and certainly for Trump’s supporters, that is a distinction without a difference.

Congress and the American people clearly need to see the entire report.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Medicare for All or Some?

Progressives are pushing the Democratic Party to embrace a universal single-payer health care system, what is being called Medicare For All.  But is that the best way to proceed for the American people?

I am in favor of a universal single-payer system in the United States.  Where every person is covered, where there are no deductibles, where there are only reasonable copays.  

But there are serious problems with the attempt to pass a Medicare For All plan now.  How would the transition be handled?  What happens to all the insurance companies and their employees?  

And there is the fact that many people do not want to be forced to change the insurance they have now.  Obamacare had major shortcomings, so many are not confident about the government’s ability to run a plan.  Even most people on Medicare do not experience a government run plan.  They have a Medicare Advantage plan run by a private insurance company that beefs up the coverage provided by “pure” Medicare.

So I don’t think the ground work is there for a Medicare For All plan now.  Instead, I would suggest going back to Obama’s idea and have Medicare For All as an option in the insurance marketplace.  Let people choose.

At the same time, improve Obamacare by finding ways to reduce the horrendous deductibles and co-insurance that people who buy the lower cost plans have to pay.  Even with the maximum out-of-pocket built into these plans, a serious illness would bankrupt many a family.

This approach would do two things.  It would enable people to compare and choose the Medicare For All option.  The ability to choose is critical.  The second is that it would give lower income Americans who do not have employer plans more affordable health care, whether through the private option or the public option.  And it would not disrupt the lives of all the people who work in the insurance industry.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Donald Trump’s Thuggery

In a recent interview with Breitbart, as reported in various mainstream media, although interestingly not The New York Times or the Washington Post, Donald Trump stated the following. “I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump. I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough—until they go to a certain point and then it would be very bad, very bad.”

For whom would it be very bad?  The obvious answer is Trump’s opponents.  He’s made this kind of veiled threat before, but never quite this directly.  And as always, he removes himself from threat.  It is these supporters who would vent their anger on his opponents, with no direction from him.  He would hold himself absolutely clean, take no responsibility.

Breitbart has responded to this coverage by saying that there is nothing in this quote, or the context of it, which suggests violence.  It said Trump was talking about getting politically tough.

How disingenuous.  When he said that if his supporters get pushed past their breaking point it will be “very bad, very bad” he is clearly not talking about political revenge, he is talking about physical violence.

This is thuggery.  It may not be a crime.  He is not inciting violence.  But it is a threat; another kind of obstruction of justice.  He is telling the opposition that if he gets impeached or if he is voted out of office in 2020, perhaps even if the impeachment process is formally started or investigations get too close, all hell will break loose. 

We have already had incidents of Trump supporters going after opponents.  And while Trump said in response that “we must never let political violence take root in America,”  he also said, referring to himself, “There’s no blame; there’s no anything.”  And he has never admonished his supporters not to resort to violence in support of him.  

Taken together with Michael Cohen’s sworn testimony that if Trump loses the 2020 election “there will never be a peaceful transition of power,” Trump’s comment must give pause. It must be taken seriously.

This is language we expect from a Hitler, a Mussolini, not from the President of the United States.  Even for Trump this is a new low.  This admittedly does not rise to the “high crimes and misdemeanors” required for impeachment.  But it’s far worse than “conduct unbecoming.”  He may not be inciting violence, as legally defined, which would be a high crime, but he is condoning it and thereby encouraging it.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Unfortunate Democratic Hubris

The new crop of Democratic progressives in the House scares me.  I am a liberal and a progressive.  But these new Reps have a huge chip on their shoulder.  Not surprising given the past two years of dealing with Donald Trump, but that’s no excuse, certainly not for someone who seeks to be a leader.  

They are arrogant and self-righteous.  They are in fact the mirror image of those on the Right they hold in contempt.  They throw out excoriating labels without thought for they see the opposition as cartoons, cardboard figures, all guilty of the worst of conspiracies to destroy our democracy.  As I said in my previous post, it smacks of McCarthyism on both sides.

They call things immoral which are not immoral, other than perhaps in the religious sense.  Immoral means something that does not conform to the pattern of ethical and social conduct accepted by a society.  Thus, for example, being filthy rich is certainly not immoral in our society.  Jesus may have said it was immoral to be rich, but modern-day Evangelical preachers certainly don’t say that, nor does our society.  In fact to be rich beyond one’s wildest dreams is an accepted goal or fantasy.

It is, however, unjust for someone to be a billionaire many times over or for a baseball player to get $330 million over 13 years, when many people in this country are dirt poor, when they do not have adequate medical care, where 1 in every 8 Americans cannot depend on having enough food on the table, where a large proportion of people live in substandard housing, where the middle class is no longer middle class but sinking into lower class, when young people either can’t get an advanced education because of the expense or they become saddled with huge debt, and the list goes on.

Thus progressives quite rightly propose various ways to tax the wealth of the extreme rich.  But “unjust” doesn’t have the self-righteous ring of “immoral.”  It doesn’t have the God-like condemnation of “immoral.”  

Likewise the other day when a Republican used as an example a black appointee of Trump’s to prove that he wasn’t a racist … that was not a racist tactic.  It was a political tactic to evade the issue.  Whether the Representative is in fact a racist cannot be gleaned from this incident.  He was just supporting his President.  

Just like Representative Omar cannot be called an anti-semite because of her comments that AIPAC encourages people to pledge their allegiance to Israel or uses money to influence people.  She may in fact be anti-Semitic, but that can’t be gleaned from her statements.  

AIPAC, like all PACs, does gain influence by spreading money around; that’s the American way.  And there is a certain “Israel right or wrong” aspect to their posture which I don’t like and think is not in America’s best interest, but that does not equate with pledging your allegiance to Israel.  

Basically, she’s an American muslim who supports the Palestinian cause.  That’s not being an anti-semite or racist, that’s a political position.  She is, however, immature and does not choose her words carefully, nor when called on them does she back down.  She seems intoxicated by the publicity she is reaping.  

In fact, Omar is also guilty of the same thing she accuses Israel’s supporters of … blind support.  She has never criticized, as far as I can tell, the Palestinian elected leadership, not Arafat who for decades was a disaster for the Palestinian people, nor the current PLO or Hamas.  I on the other hand am an American Jew who in general supports the Palestinian cause but I also have lots of criticism for the Palestinian leaders as well as Israel.

We are living in a time when the number of people who are willing to give opponents the benefit of the doubt regarding their humanity, their good faith, seem to be in the minority.  People who try to be objective.  Whether on the left or the right, there is such a loathing for people on the other side (often even in their own Party), a feeling that they are beyond contempt, worthless, that it is hard to see how we as a nation are going to heal and get back to the point where, as the legal phrase goes, people agree to disagree.

It is a sad state of affairs for the country that for most of its history, regardless its flaws, has been the guiding light of democracy for the rest of the world.  The country of the Bill of Rights, of freedom of expression.  Of agreeing to disagree.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Criticizing Israel - Questioning One’s Loyalty

We have a real problem in this country when it comes to commenting negatively about Israel. Recently, Representative Ilhan Omar has come under intense criticism for her statements.

Her main target and the statement that got the most criticism dealt with the power of AIPAC.  While the way she phrased her comment, talking about promoting allegiance to a foreign country, was not accurate and unfortunate, her basic point about AIPAC and its power is well-taken.  

There is a difference between being anti-semitic and being against a particular government of Israel.  The latter has nothing inherently anti-Jewish about it. 

I say this as a Jew who while very supportive of the existence of Israel has been very critical of Israeli governments and policies regarding Palestinians for decades.  The current Israeli government has at times even called American Jews like myself anti-semitic because it’s an easy way to counter criticism.

It is unfortunate that some American supporters of Israel also invoke the anti-semitism label whenever someone criticizes the Israeli government, especially if someone is a Muslim.  Would they call someone anti-American if they criticize the policies of President Trump?

That said, once Rep. Omar was called on the fact that support, even strong support, for Israel by an American does not mean allegiance to Israel, she has refused to back down from her characterization of such support.  That is a mistake and shows a lack of maturity, not anti-semitism.

She may feel that such support is not in the best interests of the United States, and I would agree.  But reasonable people can disagree on what is in the best interests of our country.  I have no question that those who support Israel feel that is in the best interests of our country.  And that is the proper question.  The issue of allegiance is a red herring.  

Likewise, Republicans calling her anti-American because of her lack of support for Israel is nonsense.  Actually both her accusing supporters of Israel as having allegiance to Israel, and Republicans calling her anti-American because of her lack of support smacks of McCarthyism.  Questioning people’s loyalty to country is going down a very dark road.

Representative Omar may well be an anti-semite.  But that cannot be gleaned from the statements she has made.