To Be Set Right

On the conflicted values of a Millenial Zionist.

I grew up in a Jewish family in Lexington, Kentucky.  As we were a small religious minority in the area, my parents took great pains to make sure I had a Jewish education.  This included Sunday School, Hebrew School, and a series of summer camps.  Throughout all of it, in addition to the history, religion, and cultural lessons, ran a strong thread of Zionism. 

Looking at Jewish history, it is easy to see why this was the case.  The Jewish story is one of repeated exile, pogrom, and holocaust.  Our history is rife with sad remembrances, and celebrations that boil down to “they tried to kill us, they failed, hallelujah.”  Israel, which came into existence around the time my parents did, was and remains the only Jewish-majority modern state.  Its brief history hit on familiar themes: they tried to kill us, again and again, but we persisted. 

I choose my pronouns carefully: I was raised thinking of Israel as my country, too, though I have only been there once, as a young tourist.  I have understood, as have many Jewish Americans, that if circumstances warrant, I can always move to Israel; living there is my birthright.

My intellectually formative years took place between the first and second intifada.  I mourned along with my family when Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated.  I remember the adults wondering aloud whether this meant the end of the peace process.  I also remember them saying, in hushed tones, how glad they were that the assassin was not Palestinian.  

By the time I started college, I had developed a fascination with the history and politics of the Middle East, and wrote pro-Israel columns in the campus newspaper.  I decried the hypocrisy of Israel’s neighbor states, who kept Palestinian refugees in squalor as political pawns, never permitting them to develop or integrate, all while claiming to be their champions in the world community.  I advocated for returning Gaza to Egypt, and returning the West Bank to Jordan (or, a fortiori, Transjordan).  

The core of my support for Israel in their conflict with the Palestinians was a deeply-ingrained belief, fomented and nurtured over many years of Zionist education, that the Palestinians and their supporters did not appropriately value human life.  I was outraged when Hamas placed its bases and military assets next to hospitals and orphanages, or when suicide bombers sought to maximize loss of life.  I viewed those incidents as proof that in this asymmetrical conflict, Israel had the better weapons, but the Palestinians had the freedom to kill indiscriminately.  

My views began to change after Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount set off another wave of violence.  His administration, and later, that of Benjamin Netanyahu, undermined my belief in Israel’s virtue.  The aggressive settlement expansion, the serial objections to direct negotiation, and the policies that treated non-Jews as second class citizens disgusted me.  These were not our values; these did not represent who we want to be as a Jewish nation. 

It is possible to love your country and hate your government, as any liberal who lived through the Trump years can attest.  But it became harder and harder, under the Netanyahu government, to identify as a Zionist without implicitly ratifying the disgusting policies of the Likud party. Zionist became a political position more than a statement of national pride.  Do you support Palestinian independence, or are you a Zionist? 

I opt for both.  I am a Zionist, proud of the establishment of a Jewish state and committed to preserving and protecting this one small country that will always welcome members of its diaspora.  It may be hard to fathom, but the relative safety and acceptance of Jewish people in the United States is a historical anomaly.  Through most of history, Jewish people have been at best tolerated, and at worse, faced with systematic extermination. 

I am also an American, and one of our foundational tenets is a belief in the right to self-determination.  Israel has made plain that it will not welcome the Palestinians into their country as citizens, jeopardizing the Jewish majority.  That means the people of Palestine need to be given real self-government, sufficient land to form a viable state, and the economic assistance required of any new state to develop and join the world community.  

It has been hard to find truly neutral accounts of what is happening in Israel these days.  Most of my reading- my algorithms skew liberal- has been decidedly anti-Israel, portraying them as attacking Gaza for no reason, and killing indiscriminately.  The pro-Israel writing dates the start of the present violence to rocket attacks from Gaza, ignoring the eviction of Palestinians from East Jerusalem to make way for Jewish settlers.  

Israel conducts its egregious actions under color of law, “legally” evicting Palestinians and slowly, steadily transitioning key parts of East Jerusalem to Jewish occupation, foreclosing it as a future capital for a Palestinian state.  The Palestinians do not have the ability to act under color of law, so they resort to violence.  Lacking the technical prowess of the IDF, that violence is often indiscriminate.  Rocket launchers are placed atop schools, hospitals, and media buildings to deter counterstrikes; if they were kept away from civilian centers, as Israel demands, they would be quickly and cataclysmically destroyed by Israel’s superior military might. 

There are no “good guys” in this conflict.  For all its social services, Hamas is a terrorist organization, and its indiscriminate attacks coupled with its refusal to even acknowledge Israel’s right to exist disqualifies it as a player in the peace talks.  Israel has the power to improve the lives of the Palestinians living under its control, but refuses, and takes every opportunity to avenge rocket attacks with devastating reprisal strikes, often disproportionate to the provocation.  

Jewish Americans like me, who grew up idolizing Israel, must now reckon with a government of right-wing extremists seeking to consolidate power and crush the prospects of a two-state solution.  As Jewish identity and Zionism were so closely linked in my religious education, it can be hard to question fidelity to Israel without shaking the foundations of that identity.  

I identify as a Zionist because my belief in the necessity for a Jewish state, and my appreciation for the establishment and existence of that state, is valid.  I identify as pro-Palestinian because I believe that people have a right to self-determination, and to their own pursuits of life, liberty, and happiness.  I criticize Israel because I support Israel, and I believe that the best way I can show support is to advocate for less extreme policies and a greater acceptance of Palestinian rights.  I criticize the Palestinians because I support their goal of statehood, and believe the actions of Hamas and its supporters are contrary to that goal.  

As Senator Carl Schurz once said, “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.”  For Jewish Americans like me, that is our challenge and obligation if we choose to identify as Zionists: to set things right, and to speak out against actions that undermine our values.  

It has been just under twenty four hours since the ceasefire took hold.  I pray it lasts.


Published in: on May 21, 2021 at 10:59 am  Leave a Comment  
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What Will Come After?

Some initial thoughts on what we are learning from COVID-19

As New York enters the second week of our surreal pandemic dystopia, I want to take a few minutes to think about what will happen when the crisis is over.

In the early days, there was a sense among my colleagues and friends that this would cause a major disruption for a few weeks, and then everything would return more-or-less to normal.  I no longer think either part of that is accurate.  This will not be over for months, and it seems increasingly likely that we will lift our stay-home orders only until a new wave comes, and then rinse, repeat*.

I also do not think things will- or should- return to the way they were before the pandemic.  This crisis, and our response to it, have laid bare some weaknesses and inefficiencies that we should address as we look to rebuild our economic and social lives.  These are just observational, and my views on them might change as time goes by, but I want to share them now because they’re on my mind.

The first, as alluded to in my previous post, relates to working remotely.  I spend over two hours each work day commuting to the office.  Last week, I was more productive than in any week this calendar year.  I think that a broad swath of industries should be looking into why they require in-person attendance at a physical office, when the work can be done just as efficiently from home.  While client meetings and collaboration with colleagues is made easier in a shared physical space, I do not see the need for that to be the everyday expectation.  I intend to speak with my employers about arranging a regular work-from-home schedule, to reduce the amount of time wasted in transit.

Another truth that has been laid bare is the role of essential employees.  While many industries are shut down, and many jobs are being performed from home, some service industries simply cannot.  Health care providers, particularly nurses and doctors, are being rightfully honored for their sacrifices and dedication.  During times like these, they literally save lives through their efforts.

At the same time, we need to recognize the tremendous sacrifices being made by our grocery store workers, our delivery personnel, our restaurant cooks, and other essential workers who have been long-derided as “low skilled.”  By showing up to work in public places during a pandemic, they are exposing themselves and their families to a major, life-threatening virus.

I think the time has come for those who fight against giving them a $15 minimum wage to sit down and shut up.

The extraordinary changes being made to health care by our government highlight major failings in our system, failings that have always been present and are only now getting attention due to the severity of the crisis.  My health is directly affected by my neighbor’s health.  If they can’t get tested or treated, that puts me at risk.  Health care is a communal problem, not an individual one.  Universal, single-payer health care needs to happen, now.

Crises also test leaders, and there has been a major contrast between two of our leaders: President Trump and Governor Cuomo.  Full disclosure: I did not previously support either one of these guys, but the contrast between how they are handling COVID-19 couldn’t be more stark.

The president initially called this a hoax, and promised that we would be down to zero cases in no time.  He blamed the media for making a big deal out of it, and refused to accept testing kits from the WHO, saying that we would simply make our own “beautiful” tests.  By the time he started to take it seriously, the virus was already spreading beyond containment.  He continues to say things that just aren’t true: every American who wants a test can get it (nope), a Navy hospital ship will be arriving in New York harbor by next week (three to four weeks, minimum), and his handling of the situation has been perfect (not by any objective standard).

Governor Cuomo has been consistently saying hard truths, explaining the steps he is taking and his reasons for doing so, and focusing on facts and logistics.  I couldn’t believe it when he ruled out a shelter-in-place order for NYC, but after hearing his reasoning, it made sense to me.  He told us how many hospital beds we have, how many we need, and what he’s doing about it.  He has been candid about the challenges he is facing, including competing with other states for supplies since the federal government is impotent.

He told us that the buck stops with him, and he is responsible for upsetting people with the hard decisions he is making.  That is what leadership looks like, and when the dust settles after all this, I will be re-evaluating my political opposition to him.

I’ll end with a few observations on my home confinement.  I have been outside once in the last four days, a brief walk to a local wine shop to pick up a bottle or three and to chat with the gloved, masked owners.  Spring has come, finally, not that any of us can really appreciate it.

Over the past few days, I learned to use Zoom, and have enjoyed video conferencing with friends and loved ones.  It has been hard to keep conversations going, because the pandemic is all that is on anyone’s mind.  I did a brave thing, and posted a video of myself singing and playing guitar on social media, which I counted as a big achievement.

I’m throwing a lot of darts, and am so glad I thought to put up a board just a few weeks ago.  Fin, my 18 year old cat, seems to resent the frequent interruptions to his stringent sleep schedule, though he is appreciating the extra attention and treats.

Of course, I want this to end as soon as possible, but I am mentally getting settled in for at least a month of living and working from these few rooms of my home.

I hope you are all doing well, staying safe, and keeping in touch with your loved ones.


*I am unabashedly self-satisfied at finding a hand-washing metaphor to employ there.

Published in: on March 22, 2020 at 11:47 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Caucus

Wherein I spend a weekend ruining my shoes, knocking on doors, and witnessing a debacle.

To briefly summarize a prior entry on these pages, my sister is working for the Pete Buttigieg campaign, and based on her strong support and my own analysis, I am strongly supporting his candidacy.

Last month, my sister, who works policy but was also helping out in Iowa, asked if I would join her to knock on doors, turn out likely caucus-goers, and serve as an observer at one of the caucus sites.  I booked myself for a long weekend, and flew to Des Moines.

As you might imagine, in the days before the caucuses, Iowa is drowning in political ads.  Every billboard, every commercial break, and every residential street features flashy ads for the half-dozen or so viable candidates.  I use the word viability on purpose: it has special significance in the caucus system.

My first impression of the campaign was that it was obsessively well-organized.  From headquarters to the staging areas, from office fronts to volunteers’ homes, the Pete for America team was more than ready to compete.  I received my training alongside Steve Adler, the mayor of Austin, Texas, who gave me pointers on how to engage effectively with voters.

It was the first time I have knocked on doors for a candidate since 2004.

In an interesting coincidence, one of my cohorts from those days of campaigning in Lexington, Kentucky in 2004 is now serving high up in the Pete for America organization, and he provided training for the caucus observers.  There were easily a hundred people in my training session, one of several.  Once again, the campaign showed its ability to organize its volunteers and deploy them where they were needed.

Knocking on doors in Iowa was a revelation.  Almost everyone who answered the door was friendly, politically-aware, and willing to engage, even if they were inclined to support a different candidate.  A surprising number were still undecided, but not out of apathy: they were more knowledgeable about the issues than most people I have encountered, and were balancing several factors that would determine their preference.

Because of the way the caucuses work, even a non-supporter could help us out if they would consider Pete as their second choice.  A corollary of this: it’s a bad idea to bad-mouth the other campaigns, because we might need their supporters on caucus night, and beyond.

My canvassing took place in Huxley, Story City, and Ames.  While all these locations are within Story County, a liberal bastion where the university vote tends towards the most progressive candidates, they were very distinct.  Huxley was a moderate district, about evenly split between Democrats and Republicans.  Story City appeared quite conservative, with only every fifth or sixth house registered for the Democratic Party.  Ames was full of students, a large number of whom were not planning to caucus.

On the caucus night, I went to my assigned location, an auditorium on the ISU campus.  The major campaigns each had precinct captains, who are locals in charge of mustering their supporters and persuading undecideds.  My role was to ensure that the rules were being followed, the playing field even, and to provide any support I could for the precinct captain.

Within minutes of my arrival, I was called upon to act.  One of the campaigns had begun putting up dozens of yard signs around the caucus location.  I spoke to the precinct chair, the person in charge of running the proceedings, to see if that was allowed.  If it were, I would drive to headquarters and pick up some of our own signs to post.  The chair decided it was not, and asked the other campaign to take down the signs.

I did my best to support our captain, fetching supplies from his car and lugging palettes of bottled water into the auditorium.  When the actual caucusing started, all observers had to retreat to the orchestra pit, which was my vantage point for most of the process.

Here’s how the caucus worked in my location: since it was an auditorium, certain rows were reserved for the various campaigns.  Caucus-goers registered, and then gathered with their preferred candidate’s supporters.  Undecided voters walked up and down the aisles, asking questions, as the various campaigns tried to win their support.  Once all attendees had been registered, each campaign was given one minute to speak, giving an elevator pitch for their candidate.  Then, everyone was told to go to their preferred area for alignment.

In the first alignment, a head count was taken of the total attendees, and the number caucusing with each candidate.  The goal was viability: for any candidate with more than 15% of the total attendees, those votes were locked in.  Groups of less than 15% were considered non-viable, and their voters could change their minds and go to their second choice, either joining a viable candidate or creating a new viable group.

My precinct was deeply liberal.  The two most liberal candidates took a great majority of the vote.  At the first alignment, the Buttigieg supporters were between ten and fifteen percent, just shy of viability.  Most shocking, the Biden support was under 5%, plainly not viable.

During the realignment process, I watched from the orchestra pit as the Yang and Buttigieg camps discussed possible alliance.  I learned later that the Yang folks had been instructed not to join any other campaign, and to continue caucusing with Yang even if he was not viable, in order to register their support, even if it wouldn’t result in any delegates.  Most of the Biden folks, deflated, just left after the first count.

In the end, my caucus did not produce any delegates for the Buttigieg campaign.  I left dejected, feeling like we had blown it, and that our high hopes of winning in Iowa were doomed.  I did not know it at the time, but my caucus was an outlier: all across the state, Mayor Pete was winning delegates and pushing his campaign to the front of the pack.

I drove from Ames to Des Moines for the victory party.  It was in a small gymnasium, crowded with volunteers and precinct captains.  Everyone compared notes, and I learned that our results had been very positive in other caucuses.  A large television streaming CNN announced that there was some unknown delay in posting results; it soon became clear that we would not receive any actual numbers until the following day.

I pushed my way towards the podium, and was about fifteen feet away from Mayor Pete when he came out to speak.  It was the first time I had seen him in person.  I tried to take a few pictures and record him speaking, but soon had to stop.  He is an electrifying speaker, and his speech was so well-received and so optimistic, I listened transfixed.  I left feeling good, not just about the campaign, but about our country.  It was a feeling I haven’t had in several years.

I flew back to New York in the wee hours of Tuesday, without sleep.  Over the next three days, results trickled in, showing that we had, in fact, won the most delegates in a nail-biter with the Sanders campaign.  It was a stunning result for a political upstart.  The establishment candidates got trounced.

After the debacle of releasing the results, there has been a lot of talk about whether Iowa’s caucuses should remain first-in-the-nation.  While I was extremely impressed by how knowledgeable the voters are about the issues and candidates, I can’t defend the caucus system.  Many people I spoke to while I was canvassing didn’t feel up to attending because of their health, or inability to be out for several hours just to vote.  The accessibility issue is a big deal, and disenfranchises people who really need their voices heard.  I spoke to a fire fighter who would be on shift during the caucus; his vote would not be considered.

If Iowa switched to a primary election instead of a caucus, I think they could make a case for retaining their early slot in the process.  They really do provide a good chance for campaigns to showcase their organizational efforts, though I have major concerns about the lack of diversity, and the out-sized role it gives their voters.  Until they abandon or majorly reform the caucus system, though, I must register my opposition to their primacy in the primary elections.

Overall, attending the caucuses was a positive experience, delayed results notwithstanding.   The degree of organization by the Pete for America campaign was just incredible.  I came back to New York with a fire in my belly for the long election, that is just now underway in earnest.


Published in: on February 7, 2020 at 10:21 am  Leave a Comment  

All In for Mayor Pete

Wherein I make an earlier-than-expected endorsement for President. 

Around the time the twelfth prominent Democrat announced their exploratory committee, I decided to spend 2019 in a permanent seat on the political fence.

My reasons for this weren’t lazy or apathetic: I follow politics more closely than most, and have a bevy of opinions on the candidates, the issues, and the erstwhile sport of electoral politics.  Rather, my benign neglect resulted from two equally important factors: so many of the candidates are just SO good, and would make SUCH good presidents;  I wanted to see how the fared in the early process of ramping up, building a national following, and articulating an election message that has broad enough appeal to defeat the sitting president next year.

Today, I’m setting that plan aside, and declaring my early support for Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana.

Like most of the country, I had never heard of Mayor Pete until he started considering a run for the presidency.  South Bend may be a small town, but I have some personal ties: both my parents are Notre Dame alums (go Irish!),  my younger brother was born there, and my uncle still lives there.  It’s a great town, but won’t be confused with a metropolis.  Mayor Pete is an unlikely mayor, particularly in Indiana: he’s gay, married, and all of 37 years old, barely old enough to seek the presidency.

As a candidate, his strengths are immediately apparent as soon as he starts to speak.  He can speak to the “religious left,” a thing I did not previously know to exist.  He draws constant contrasts with Mike Pence, Indiana’s former governor and our current veep, in a plainspoken but intelligent way that shows Pence to be the cynical hypocrite that he is.

But most of all, Pete knows how to recruit quality staff.

This morning, I learned that my sister will be taking a leave of absence from her top-tier law firm to work for his campaign full-time, advising them on immigration policy.

I haven’t written much about my sister previously, so let me briefly make up for it here.  Elizabeth has one of the smartest, most incisive minds of anyone I know, and she has a moral drive that is downright inspiring.  When the travel ban took effect, she went to LaGuardia and advised members of congress, along with detainees, helping protect their rights.  When the border crisis began, she rushed down south to take cases reuniting small children with their families.  She worked as an asylum officer, and clerked for a federal judge.  She’s absolutely brilliant, and when she believes in a cause, she does everything she can to make a difference.

In short, my sister is a major inspiration to me, and is one of the very few people who can and does utterly sway my views about political topics, because I trust her instincts, and I trust her analysis.

If you had held a gun to my head yesterday and asked me who I would vote for in the primary, Mayor Pete would have had my vote, but I wasn’t ready to commit.  His decision to hire my sister helped.  Her decision to join the campaign sealed it.  If someone as inspiring, hard-working, and intelligent as my sister believes so strongly in this small-town mayor, then he’s the real deal, full stop.

It is going to take a lot of hard work for a politician with a last name I still have to google to spell correctly to win the nomination.  I’m going to need some time to reconcile that next week, I’ll be the same age as my preferred candidate for president.  I trust that both of us are up to the task.

And while we’re here: BOO-duh-jij.  I think.


Published in: on March 27, 2019 at 2:56 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Was Lincoln a Founder?

How we view the bones of American history may be a product of our own demographics. 

John Quincy Adams would be my test-answer delineation for where the “founding fathers” ended and the list of presidents-I memorized-once-but-know-little-else-about begins. The former I view as a group of problematic faves, where some of their ideas and accomplishments were awesome and inspiring and others, mostly having to do with their treatment of women, people of color, and the poor, were shocking and awful.  The latter is a group that kept the basic status quo of the founders chugging along, the same vices as before but none of the transformative evolution of society.

Then came Lincoln.  He stumbles into our history, with a war and tales of heroism and brutality that changed our country, and he does brave things that make us substantially better.  He frees the slaves. He saves the union. He acquires that mythos, that same granite veneer that makes him the face on the five, while history majors grumble about his impure motives.  

I’ve always thought of Lincoln as an anomalous figure in history.  The founding fathers came as a group, not as one individual dominating everyone around them.  The generals of the Civil War are pretty well-known, but that’s mostly because wars are interesting and people like writing about them.  They weren’t transforming the country, at least in a lasting way, the way Lincoln was. He had no peers, and even his vaunted “rivals” are of the sort where, if you hear their names, you say “oh yeah…sounds familiar.”  

So why isn’t he considered a parent of our nation?  This came up in a political speech I was watching a few weeks ago- this mild-mannered Colorado senator said, in a rhetorical valley during an otherwise fiery speech, that he considered Lincoln a founding father.  The idea struck me, so I started to think about it.

My initial instinct is “no,” because there’s something different about establishing the country and our system and making big changes to it later.  For twenty minutes, give or take, I was pretty solid on the idea that there’s a meaningful distinction to be drawn, and that Lincoln is plainly on the other side of the line.  We had been a country since 1776; you can’t found something that started four score and seven years before your contribution.

One idea was nagging at me, though.  The way I’m perceiving the country and its history is through a lens of demographically relating to the founders in very specific ways: I’m white, male, and educated.  For folks like that, the country really was founded in 1776. So when I ran the “privilege check” part of my totally-not-neurotic process for forming opinions about things, some red lights were going off.  

Hilariously, I realized- as I have on several other occasions, but just can’t seem to correct- that this group of founders I supposedly relate to have no actual kinship with me.  I’m a Jew, a descendent of early-20th-century imports. My only relationship to them is through a modern demographic lens, and I think that’s telling in the “defaults” we learn growing up.  I like to joke that as a Jew, I’m white in a bull economy.

But I would not have had an invitation to the convention in Philadelphia.

I think that the Ante-Quincy Adams crowd founded the country for white men.  I think Lincoln founded it for people of color, and so did King. I think Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucretia Mott got royally cheated by our history books, since I never learned enough about them to even correctly spell their names without the aid of Google.  As someone who sought out history in school, drank it up and kept refilling the glass time and again, even to today, it’s only in the last three years or so that I’ve really learned anything about them.

And they founded the country, too.  

If we persist in claiming that our country is exceptional because it is an idea, or even an ideal, then we can’t let the tyranny of chronology dictate the bounds of who is considered a founder.  Designing systems of democracy is no more important than opening up those systems to more people.

As I read, daily it seems, about the travesty happening at our southern border, the menacing over-imprisonment of our citizenry, and the creeping racism and xenophobia of our nominal leadership, I realize that our grand experiment in democracy hasn’t really gotten underway; there are still empty seats at the table.  Perhaps our youngest founding fathers- even the term smacks of patriarchy- are yet to be born.


Published in: on March 12, 2019 at 7:32 am  Leave a Comment  

Repeal and Replace

It’s time to repeal the 2nd Amendment to the United States Constitution

Our Constitution’s 2nd Amendment, enacted in 1791, reads as follows:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

While there has been much legal wrangling over whether this right is individual or has something to do with militias, I believe the interpretation is clear, even if the wording is sloppy: under the 2nd Amendment, the government can’t infringe on people’s right to have arms.

At the time it was passed, the amendment was likely prompted by two motivating factors: to serve as a check on the power of the federal government, and in response to gun regulations imposed prior to independence by our formal colonial power, England.  The taste of revolution was still fresh in the mouths of the drafters, and there is probably some truth to the notion that the purpose of the amendment was to reserve to the people the power to, if need be, overthrow the government.

Many things have changed in the ensuing 227 years (eleven score and 7 years ago, if you want to be fancy).  For one, our government cannot be overthrown by armed civilians.  The military sciences have evolved to the point where governments are largely immune from direct attacks by their citizenry: it would take military cooperation for a new revolution to succeed.  In an age of nuclear weapons, air forces, and tanks, an armed citizenry wouldn’t stand a chance.

Moreover, the scope of “arms” has changed dramatically.  The muskets of our founding gave way to rifles, to machine guns, to assault weapons.  As pernicious as the much-maligned AR-15 may be in the media, people forget that it isn’t even an automatic weapon: it’s essentially a cosmetically-upgraded hunting rifle.  Our guns have gotten more powerful, and with our population density and the rise of mental illness, mass shootings have become commonplace.

I know that many people identify strongly with the right to own guns.  Blaming the NRA is foolish: contrary to popular belief, they don’t contribute very much money at all to politicians.  They are powerful because people support them.  A lot of people.  Many of them are motivated to vote based on gun rights, and see the waxing and waning cries for regulation as the opening salvos in an attempt to strip them of their legally-owned guns.

While the issue of liberty versus regulation may well be a zero-sum game- every regulation results in a corresponding decrease in gun ownership liberty- it’s not a binary choice.  There can be a middle ground, in which gun ownership is legal but highly regulated.  However, that middle ground is fundamentally inconsistent with the 2nd Amendment, which proscribes any infringement on gun ownership rights.

We need a full and unencumbered discussion on what gun ownership should look like in the 21st century.  I don’t know what the shape of that regime should look like; I personally hate and fear firearms, but don’t believe my personal views should be foisted upon everyone else.  I do think I should be given a voice, as should the other stakeholders- including, most especially, passionate and responsible gun owners.

In order to have that discussion, and implement substantial new regulations, we need to repeal the 2nd Amendment.  It’s presence guarantees a court battle over every rule, and if we’re reading it dispassionately, the plain language of the amendment is likely to invalidate any meaningful gun control or regulation as an infringement on the right to bear arms.

You hardly need me to recount the extent of the gun violence problem in the United States.  It’s unique to us, and it is unacceptable.  Our allegiance to liberal gun policies makes violence worse, and more widespread.  We simply cannot continue living with mass shootings as a regular occurrence.

The historic justifications for the 2nd Amendment have long since passed into history, and repealing that amendment does not mean taking away everyone’s guns.  It means lifting a broad prohibition on any meaningful gun control.  Gun owners should be licensed, tested, and safety-screened, as they are in other countries.  We can and must work together to accommodate the concerns of lawful gun owners with the concerns of the millions of us who will not accept routine mass shootings as a cost of living in the United States.

The time for repeal has come; perhaps our leaders can summon the courage to act before the anger of the populace sweeps them from office.



Published in: on February 19, 2018 at 12:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Even a Broken Clock

The decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was long-overdue.  

I am not a fan of our current president.  I’m sure that does not come as much of a surprise to anyone even passingly familiar with my writing.  My political views place great value on open-mindedness, humility, civility, and the role of objective facts and analysis.  Consequently, I think the current occupant of the White House is unqualified and dangerous.

Due in large part to the self-selection of social media, geography, and real-life society, a vast majority of my friends share this view.  Unfortunately, many of us make the mistake of concluding that because the president is dangerous and unqualified, anything he says or does must be wrong.

Admittedly, that formula produces accurate results in the large majority of cases.  However, over the last month, the president did something that- while controversial- I believe was exactly the correct course of action to move the Middle East closer to peace.

He recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Naturally, as soon as this decision was announced, it was decried as dangerous folly by my fellow Trump critics.  After all, failing to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was a bipartisan norm for our chief executives.  Official recognition of Jerusalem, coupled with moving our embassy there, has been one of the largest carrots we have dangled in front of the Israelis for decades, in hopes of persuading them into making a lasting peace with the Palestinians.

In a sense, this policy shift reminds me of President Obama’s steps to de-isolate Cuba.  In that case, as now, a long-held, bipartisan foreign policy position was being forfeited by a new chief executive with limited governing experience.  The president’s critics- then and now- immediately proclaimed it a mistake.  Then, as now, those critics accused the president of giving up leverage and compromising our long-term strategic goals.

One persistent error in American foreign policy has been our failure to recognize when our policies are not working.  The Cuban embargo lasted for decades, and did nothing to resolve our tensions with their government.  Our refusal to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital did not compel Israel to make hard concessions for peace over the decades.

There is no final peace agreement that does not include an Israeli capital in Jerusalem.  Our stubborn refusal to acknowledge that reality does nothing to bend Israel to our will.  If you telegraph so persistently- as we have- that you are going to give the horse the carrot eventually, no matter what, it ceases to serve as an effective incentive.  It did, however, provide Palestinians with the hope- however remote- that Israel would be forced to cede Jerusalem to some international body, or that the city might be a shared capital of both countries.

Our president’s move effectively takes this issue off the table.  The predicted violent uproar in response largely failed to materialize.  The Palestinians have announced that they are unwilling to continue working with the United States, but they must recognize even now that will be an untenable position in the long term, as only the United States has sufficient influence on Israel to facilitate a comprehensive settlement.

The idea that this compromises our perceived neutrality in the conflict ignores reality; we have been compromised since at least the 1980s.  No international observer truly believes that we are impartial in this dispute.  The United States has been and remains Israel’s closest ally in the world.  That is not a surprising revelation to anyone following the abortive peace efforts over the years, least of all to the Palestinians.

There is a more subtle aspect to this policy shift.  It represents, for the first time, the United States intervening to settle a disputed issue unilaterally.  Israel was quite pleased at this particular outcome, but they must surely realize that the next issue could go the other way, particularly with our volatile and unpredictable president at the helm.

Perhaps the United States will decide that large swaths of Israeli settlements must be demolished in the West Bank, or that a certain number of Palestinian refugees must be readmitted to Israel.  We have the leverage to force compliance, should we so choose.  Consequently, this new precedent of unilateral decision-making should give Israel pause.

The message sent by this policy shift is that the status quo cannot be indefinitely sustained.  The current Israeli leadership seems satisfied to remain in stalemate, and the Palestinians still have not consolidated the necessary collective will to make a meaningful peace.  This unilateral move undermines that status quo, and signals that the United States is committed to moving towards peace, with or without the participation of the primary governments involved.

I do not believe- and this may be my anti-Trump bias, but it’s based on his other governing decisions- that the president considered all of the implications of his decision before making the announcement.  I am not convinced that he is a leader who understands nuance, foreign policy, or long-term strategy.  More likely, he was convinced to make this announcement at the behest of one of his pro-Israel supporters or family members; perhaps the recently-disclosed financial arrangements between Israel and his son-in-law played a role.

Regardless of his motives, however, I do believe that in this case, the president got it right.  Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and our refusal to recognize it as such was nothing more than a relic of a negotiating tactic that produced no results over the decades it had been our policy.  Just like the Cuba embargo, its time has passed, and we need to move on from ineffective foreign policy decisions.

To paraphrase an old saying, even a broken president is right twice a term.


Published in: on January 10, 2018 at 9:45 am  Comments (1)  
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Splitting Hairs

Wherein I learn to pick my battles. 

Over the past several years, I have become increasingly aware of the system of oppression and enabling that is broadly called rape culture.  A few weeks ago, if you had asked me how many women I know have been either assaulted or harassed, I probably would have guessed almost all of them.

Then, this past week, the “me too” movement hit social media.  I was and am dumbstruck to read so many stories and testimonials about the horrible experiences inflicted on women I know, women I love.  I am absolutely disgusted that harassment and assault are so widespread, and am beginning to understand why some women are mistrustful of men as a default.

The movement has also caused me to be introspective in two ways.  First, and most difficult, is examining and acknowledging the ways in which I, as a male, have contributed directly to rape culture.  I know I have made thousands of jokes or joking remarks that were insensitive, offensive, and even potentially traumatizing if the listener has abuse in their past.  I have advanced stereotypes that serve to protect the status quo, and reinforce oppressive gender roles.

The second introspection has been focused on what I can do to help fix this pervasive cultural problem.  Frankly, social media has been shit help with this.  Almost every day, I see some well-meaning dude getting piled on for responding to “me too” by expressing sympathy, clicking “like,” clicking “sad face,” asking victims for advice on how to do better, or a wide range of other engagements.  I’m not saying the criticism those men are receiving is off-base, but it is daunting to observe, and makes it feel risky to engage at all.

There isn’t any truly good guidance on what men should do, leaving me to extrapolate from the negative space around tried and objectionable approaches.  I saw one article that was moderately helpful, and shared it, in the hope that other men might find it useful.  One of its major takeaways was that men need to learn to say “not cool,” and “that’s inappropriate” as a response to sexist or oppressive comments.  I know this is an area where I have been personally lacking, so I resolved to keep those responses at the ready going forward.

In a completely separate train of thought, I have been long neglecting to get my hair cut, so today, I finally set some time aside around lunch and made my way to the barber shop near my office.  This particular barber shop is inexpensive, plays reruns of How I Met Your Mother on a loop, and generally gets my hair cut moderately well in about fifteen minutes.

Today, however, I had a new barber.  He told me he’s been there for a few months, but we hadn’t yet crossed paths.  I gave him his marching orders- No. 2 buzz on the sides and back, short scissor cut on top- and he got started.

Now, in my experience, barbers come in two flavors: those that like to do their work in silence, and talkers.  Most of the barbers in this shop speak primarily Russian, which is fine by me, as they leave me to my thoughts.  This guy, however, was a talker.  While I tried to appreciate Ted’s shenanigans on the small screen in front of me, he asked about my job, where I live, how often I come, all that stuff.  Then, he stumbled on a topic we could both engage on to some degree, sports.

Specifically, we talked about the recent injury of my favorite quarterback, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, who is likely  out for the season with a broken collar bone.

New Barber Guy told me that he used to play basketball, and had been injured lots of times.  He asked if I could guess what injury hurt the worst.  I shrugged.

“My pinky got fractured, man.  That was the worst.  I cried like a little bitch.”

My eyes widened: I had my moment.

“Not cool.”

“Huh?  What’s not cool?”

“That’s inappropriate.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Saying you cried like a little bitch.  You shouldn’t say that.”

“Why not?”

I had reached the end of my rote script, and had to improv.

“Uh, well, two reasons.  You shouldn’t call women bitches, and also, you should say that women are weak and cry and stuff.”

I was not being particularly articulate, and won’t clean it up for this recounting.  For context, though, the barber to whom I was speaking had about a foot of height and at least 75 pounds on me.  He was also doing the edges of my beard with a straight razor.

There was a long silence.

“I dunno, man,” he finally said.  He proceeded to continue cutting my hair in complete silence.  I felt uncomfortable, but a quick glance at my watch told me that there was only about five minutes of hair cutting left.

That assumption was wildly off-base.  Unnamed Barber Guy took forty-five more minutes- for a total of nearly an hour- cutting my hair in awkward silence.  He didn’t say another word throughout it. When it was done, he pulled off my apron, and then pulled down a small mirror to show me the back.

I thanked him, overtipped, and went back to the office, my entire lunch break now squandered.  Later in the afternoon, catching a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror, I noticed that the front of my hair is completely wrong- he left a big poof where no big poof is supposed to be.  I have decided this was probably on purpose.

My first reaction to this was to say “well, next time pick your battles, don’t fuck with the barber, particularly while he’s cutting your hair!”

But it occurs to me that the little bit of discomfort that caused me pales in comparison to the constant oppression that the women in my life are going through every day because we have normalized shitty behavior.  It’s going to be uncomfortable from time to time, but that’s really no excuse when silence is complicity.

So yeah, pick your battles.  I’m gonna try to pick all of them.


Published in: on October 18, 2017 at 2:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
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How Can We Cure Our Chronic Illness of Police Murder?

The only thing new is our collective awareness of the problem. 

This week, two incidents of police violence are in the national spotlight.  The first, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, involved a man, Alton Sterling, selling CDs outside a gas station.  Two police officers threw the man violently against the hood of a car, forced him to the ground, pinned him in a prone position, and then shot him several times in the chest.  He died.

Across the country, in Minnesota, a man, Philando Castille, was pulled over for an allegedly busted tail light.  He had his girlfriend and a four-year-old in the car with him.  He told the officer that he had a (legal) firearm, but was going to retrieve his ID from his pocket.  The officer shot him several times in the arm and chest.  He died.

Both men were black.  All police involved were not.

This week’s tragedies are the latest installment in an ongoing narrative about police violence against black men.  Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Dante Parker, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott. The list goes on.  Each time, there is outrage on social media, and the same tired choreography plays out in public: the authorities pledge to get to the bottom of things, usually in press conferences held by white leaders surrounding themselves with people of color.  Protesters chant and demand justice, remind us that black lives matter.  The right wing retorts that blue lives matter, or all lives matter.  There are investigations, sometimes charges are even brought, but more often they aren’t.  There are acquittals of those charged.  Rinse, repeat.

This parade of horribleness has been featured prominently in the culture these past few years, leading some- including me, at one time- to wonder: what’s changed?  Why is this happening now?

The sad truth is that nothing has changed.  This violence isn’t new.  What’s new is that we have become a society of camera-wielders.  We capture these deadly encounters.  Where a mere decade ago, Alton Sterling would be dismissed as another stupid criminal who pulled a gun on some cops and was killed, now we have evidence that directly, indisputably refutes the police account of his murder.  We have cell phone video from Minnesota, where we can see and hear the rabid, berserk police officer who had just killed Philando Castille, still inexplicably pointing his gun at the dying man and his girlfriend with a four year old child in the backseat.

The culture has changed.  People are aware, and with that awareness comes anger.  With that anger comes calls for accountability.  And as yet, there is no accountability.  Black teenagers are told that they must take great care not to provoke police, not to do anything that might be interpreted as threatening.  They get shot anyway.  Their very existence is perceived as a threat.  Police are not yet facing legal consequences.  Social consequences are ill-defined, trickier to employ.  George Zimmerman gained a following of idiots after shooting Trayvon Martin.  Society is sick.

I feel sick, watching this.  Sick, and helpless to make it right, or even to make it better.  Petitions and protests don’t seem to be working.  Spilled ink- or pixels, let’s update the metaphor- isn’t helping.  I’m a middle-class white male professional, full of privilege, and I can’t figure out how to leverage that privilege to stop this madness.  I want desperately to stand up and be counted as an ally, to affirm that black lives matter, but somehow my efforts seem at best futile, and at worst, appropriative of a movement and a mantle that isn’t mine to claim.

Thank you, Michael Heyliger, for your suggestion that would-be allies put pen to paper.  Expressing anger isn’t a solution, but it’s as good a first step as any.


Matt Santos Redux

Obama’s political team borrows a cliche, and ineffective, tactic from The West Wing.

For those of us who spent the earliest part of this century in disbelief at the election and re-election of George Bush, The West Wing was a refuge.  In Aaron Sorkin’s liberal fantasy, we could watch week-by-week as a brilliant president and his competent staff wrestled with political issues in an intelligent, thoughtful way, their decision based on public policy rather than monied interests and cynical political calculations.

Towards the end of the series, President Bartlet, portrayed by Martin Sheen, was termed out, and the show shifted its focus to the election battle between Republican candidate Arnold Vinick and Democratic candidate Matt Santos.  On election night, just as Santos was eking out a victory, his vice-presidential candidate, Leo McGarry (portrayed by the late John Spencer) died.  Typical Hollywood melodrama.

With his running mate dead, the president-elect had to select a new person to appoint.  Republicans threatened to make it a difficult confirmation process.  Santos decided to float the idea of nominating his former opponent, Arnold Vinick.  The two meet in the penultimate episode.

“I know your game,” Vinick says.  “Get me to say I’d consider it, then you have your people leak it to the press. You figure that’ll soften the Republicans and they’ll talk about a confirmation for Vinick.  Then you announce who you really want, which I assume is Baker. Then you put public pressure on the Senate to give the same speedy confirmation to Baker that they were gonna give to Vinick.”

This scene returned to my mind this week with the news that Obama is considering- just possibly- nominating Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval to the Supreme Court.  Sandoval, a moderate Republican, is very popular in his state, and was seen as a rising star in the party before its sudden and precipitous lurch to the right.

Of course, no formal vetting has taken place, and the president has not said a word about Sandoval, but the mere rumors have already led the media to ask pointedly of Senate Republicans, what would you do if it was a member of your team nominated to the bench?

So far, the Republicans haven’t bought it.  I am not aware of a single member of the caucus who has softened their position based on a prospective Sandoval nomination.  It’s a good thing, too: I do not believe President Obama has any intention of nominating Brian Sandoval.  This leak, which is surely coming from his administration, is designed to put the Republicans in an even more ridiculous posture than they have put themselves, arguing that they will not give hearings or consideration to a nominee well before a nominee has been named.

Based on their bizarre and foolhardy opening salvos in the nomination fight, one might forgive Obama for assuming that the Matt Santos tactic would catch at least a handful of Senate Republicans with promises of consideration for the nominee.  However, they- and we- have not been so easily fooled.

In the end, Matt Santos nominated Vinick as Secretary of State, choosing a more preferred candidate for the vice-presidency.  Obama will likely nominate one of his preferred candidates- the smart money is on Sri Srinavasan but I’m personally hoping for Loretta Lynch- to the Supreme Court.

The Brian Sandoval name-floating is nothing more than a political gamble.  It appears to have failed.