Archive for the 'Government' Category

Is anyone listening?

Many years ago, in a country far, far away, there lived an old man who thought he had seen it all. He had been through every kind of natural and man-made disaster but had managed to cheat death and live a peaceful existence. Until now.

His neighbors and friends, having been impacted by global warming, immigration, declining food stocks and 24/7 exposure to events around the world, had grown increasingly sullen, insular and argumentative.  Mere differences of opinion could not be solved by peaceful discussion. A profound loss of common decency was replaced by strident self-interest. This rapidly deteriorating state-of-affairs was something the old man hadn’t  seen before. His neighbors, once unified and caring, had turned surly. They no longer spoke to one another. They only sought the company of those who were like-minded and who shared similar opinions of right and wrong.

People separated into two distinct groups, each easily identifiable by the color of their clothing. One group wore red. Red shirts, red pants and red shoes. The other wore blue, including their underwear. The Blues walked down the left side of the only street in the country, while the Reds filled the right. Some Reds and some Blues, more strident than others in their group, wore large felt hats emblazoned with their group motto Me First. They also carried large signs that, in appropriately colored letters, shouted their group’s demands. They carried the signs wherever they went; into the supermarket, the church and the schools.

Their children were indoctrinated from the age of three by TVs, computer screens and smart phones. Talking heads poured forth their vitriol twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Panel discussions deteriorated into near brawls. Children freely mocked other children without punishment.

Each group embraced leaders who promised to ignore the pleadings of the other group.  Once amiable and social despite their differences, the leaders of each group now shunned their counterparts and never crossed the street. Eye contact became rare; verbal intercourse was only used in dire circumstances. The unwillingness of the groups to speak with each other left the street in disrepair and eventually all public conveyances had to be removed from active service. Unable to move without restraint, people became even more insular.

The only meaningful activity was voting in elections that occurred every two years. Pitting Blues against Reds, these elections were preceded by attack-ads that focused on the personal traits and imaginary foibles of one’s opponent. Real issues, in particular the much-needed repair of the only street in the country, were either ignored or promises made that were either impractical or required solutions that were well beyond the available financing. Elections regularly caused the in-party to lose control. Every two years, any positive steps taken by the party last in power were undone by the incoming party.  Soon, fed up by the lack of any solution, the street issue faded into obscurity.

Although elections occurred only every two years, campaigning was non-stop. Fundraising for candidates began the day after the bi-annual election. Pleas for funding soon eclipsed the funds raised in the last election. People, fearing that the other side would eclipse their own meager resources, poured money into the pockets of their chosen candidates. Property taxes, income taxes and other revenue sources were regularly reduced by the party in power in order to fund candidates.

Other public services began to diminish. Schools closed, police and fire personnel were laid off and the street continued to crumble. Each side blamed the other for this lack of service. Those who won an election would initially promise to create greater unity with the other party. This commitment soon faded, and threats continued to be hurled across the potholed street by both Reds and Blues. Blues who were seen consorting with Reds were deemed traitors. Reds suffered the same consequences. Meaningful discourse ended.

Financially bankrupt, their infrastructure in ruins and unwilling to compromise, the country became insolvent and unmanageable.  Other countries surrounding it viewed the dire situation as an opportunity for expansion. Efforts to fend off the attackers weakened the country and left it without recourse. It gave up and was absorbed by its strongest neighbor.

The old man, now close to death, walked the barely recognizable street. He confronted his former countrymen, whose Red and Blue uniforms were now in tatters and indistinguishable. He asked, “How did this happen?” But no one listened.

Has the pendulum swung too far?

“I want all Jews to die.”

That chilling statement was made by Robert Bowers, the man who shot and murdered eleven Jews on Saturday at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

My second thought, immediately following the realization that a new horror had emerged, was Thank God the shooter wasn’t Muslim or Hispanic. Adding more fuel to the xenophobic rantings of the president of the United States and others who condemn or ridicule people for their religious beliefs or who fear for their lives was unnecessary in the already supercharged atmosphere surrounding the mid-term elections.

There is little doubt that the president’s Twitter rants, rallies and politics have exacerbated and made fair game of the practices once held in check by more socially conscious and healing-attuned public servants. Poking fun at the handicapped, demeaning women, excusing the behavior of neo-Nazis and outright bald-faced lies have opened the door to even more despicable acts by others who once were forced to occupy the deep, dark recesses of this America we all love. The improving economy and Wall Street have, until now, served as cover for Republican congressmen who are unwilling to confront this man. Even otherwise observant Christians and Jews, who would normally be repelled by his statements and immoral conduct, are reluctant to reject him due, in part, to their affirmation of his Supreme Court selections and his social agenda.

Trump’s failure to accept any blame for what is happening to the social fabric of this country is evidenced by his continuing assault on the press and his pronouncement of “fake news” on anything that does not fit his view of the world. Despite Saturday’s horror in Pittsburgh, he continued to Tweet on Monday “There is great anger in our Country caused in part by inaccurate, and even fraudulent, reporting of the news. The Fake News Media, the true Enemy of the People, must stop the open and obvious hostility and report the news accurately and fairly.” Like the failure of his self-appointed commission to bring to light any voter fraud, he offers little evidence of fraudulent reporting. He fails to note that the anger of his base towards the media is fomented by his own “fake news”, offered as red meat to those who believe he can do no wrong.

Anti-Semitism is an unwilling cousin to the xenophobic hysteria surrounding the immigrant caravan headed toward our southern border. Clutching it tightly as a wedge issue in the election, Trump and others have cited unproven and wildly exaggerated claims about the caravan’s composition. At a political rally in Kentucky earlier this month, Mr. Trump declared that Democrats “want to open America’s borders and turn our country into a friendly sanctuary for murderous thugs from other countries who will kill us all.”

George Soros, a Jew, has been widely and falsely claimed to be the principal supporter of the caravan. On October 22, a pipe bomb was found at Mr. Soros’s house; the police have charged a Trump supporter, Cesar Sayoc, with mailing the bombs to Mr. Soros and other Democrats who Trump frequently criticizes.

It is no coincidence that the rise in anti-Semitism has dramatically worsened in the first two years of the Trump presidency. It also coincides with increased Jew hating in Europe. The Anti-Defamation League reported that the U.S. experienced a nearly sixty percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents in 2017 versus 2016. The League said…

“A confluence of events in 2017 led to a surge in attacks on our community – from bomb threats, cemetery desecrations, white supremacists marching in Charlottesville, and children harassing children at school,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL CEO and National Director. “These incidents came at a time when we saw a rising climate of incivility, the emboldening of hate groups and widening divisions in society.

The road to the right continued to broaden with Sunday’s presidential election in Brazil which brought Jair Bolsonaro to lead the government. He has exalted the military, advocated torture, promised to pack the supreme court and threatened to destroy, jail or exile his political opponents. Per the NY Times, he won by tapping into a deep well of resentment at the status quo in Brazil — a country whiplashed by rising crime and two years of political and economic turmoil — and by presenting himself as the alternative.

When I was a child, I lived in a Chicago ghetto where I believed that everyone in my world was Jewish, other than the janitor. When it was Passover, there was only a vast emptiness in my elementary school. Since my parents and friends were from Russia, I assumed that everyone in that country was Jewish. Except for the language, I might as well have been living in Israel. I was comfortable with my identity.

That changed in high school and reversed itself completely in college. I learned that I was a member of a very small minority with different holidays, different foods and a different house of worship. I became increasingly aware of my Jewish history and I was less comfortable with who I was. I felt different. Terms like The Holocaust, anti-Semitism and bigotry became frequently used parts of my vocabulary. I married, reared our children in the synagogue and counted on it as my go-to sanctuary. I have generally been on the fence about calls for more protection in the temple during the high holidays and I have objected to armed guards during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

I used to talk about the pendulum and how it will always swing in the opposite direction after reaching its maximum horizontal position. How good times would eventually give rise to bad times and how it would again reverse itself after running its course.

Today, with the murder of eleven pious Jews, I have my doubts.

ReDemrocans

It was reliably reported this morning that Donald Trump has personally contacted Hillary Clinton to offer her a deal.

Smarting from what he perceives to be an unfair advantage gained by the Democrats at their Philadelphia convention, Mr. Trump believes that his only chance to make it to the Oval Office is to team up with Secretary Clinton. The details of the deal offered by Mr. Trump are sketchy but they are believed to include the following:

Both Mr. Trump and Secretary Clinton would run together as “ReDemrocans”.

Following their victory in November, they would become “Co-Presidents” jointly occupying the White House. Due to the crowded quarters, the vice-presidency would be abolished.

Presidential decisions would be made by Mr. Trump on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Secretary Clinton would assume that responsibility on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. No decisions would be made or actions taken on Sundays.

Secretary Clinton is free to appoint her own cabinet. Mr. Trump does not want a cabinet.

Congress would be equally divided between Republicans and Democrats. The current imbalance will be resolved by coin flips. Future congressional elections will be unnecessary. Vacated positions would be filled by one or the other Co-President depending on the day of the week that the vacancy occurred. Ditto for the Supreme Court.

In the event that one of the Co-Presidents should die in office, the remaining Co-President will commit suicide.  The country can then figure out what to do after that.

When contacted by Fox News about the deal, Mr. Trump denied any knowledge of it and blamed Chelsea Clinton for leaking the story. “It must be her time of the month” he said.

Trumpenstein

Following last Friday’s Shabbat service, we went to dinner with a few other congregants at a local eatery. It’s one of the highlights of the evening and is usually accompanied by some cheap wine, interesting conversation and strengthening of friendships.

I was fortunate to grab a seat right across the table from Ralph. Always erudite and entertaining, his company is welcomed. Looking across at him I noted that his right eye seemed to be irritated and tearing. I’ve noticed it before but I’ve never asked him about it. Being halfway into my first glass of wine, I felt confident enough to broach the subject. Ralph kindly offered me a rather detailed explanation of the relatively harmless malady that he has endured for years. “Always the right eye?” I asked.

Maybe it was the wine and his eye that then led to a discussion of the brilliant Mel Brooks movie, Young Frankenstein.  To my amazement, Ralph had never seen the movie and so had no idea why I launched into it. “You see, there’s this guy Igor, Dr. Frankenstein’s helper, who has this big hump on his back. And scene to scene it migrates from the right side to the left side. Then back again. Frankenstein occasionally comments on the migration but Igor seems unaware of it.” I had visions of Ralph’s malady behaving in the same manner as Igor’s hump.

Which, naturally enough, led us into politics and to an analysis of the rise of Donald Trump…a logical segue since Trump rhymes with hump.

Now I don’t think that The Donald is nearly as funny as Peter Boyle’s portrayal of the Frankenstein monster in the Mel Brooks movie. But I do think that the movie bears some amazing parallels to the rise of Trump in the Republican party.

In the beginning of the movie, Doctor Frankenstein, ably portrayed by Gene Wilder, has sworn off the business of creating the kind of monsters that his ancestors long ago trafficked in. But, overwhelmed by the call for greatness, he ignores the evil failures wrought by his predecessors and decides to resurrect the grisly, ancient practice. Sort of like Republican leaders who ignore this country’s changing demographics and continue to bow and scrape before old, rich white men.

Wilder and Igor, played by the google-eyed Marty Feldman, piece together the monster from a body stolen from the local cemetery and grey matter taken from the town’s brain depository. A mishap causes them to unknowingly insert a maniac’s brain into the creature’s skull. Wilder and Feldman try to make the best of their error.  Like trying to create the Republican party from wise and caring folks but doing it instead with the bits and pieces of angry people who’ve been told that they live in the worst of times and should do something about it.

Thinking the monster is under control, Wilder and his lab assistant played by the lovely Teri Garr, drop their guard and allow him to escape the confines of the castle and roam wildly through the countryside. Taking advantage of the charms of the funny Madeline Kahn is merely an hors d’oeuvre as the creature burns and pillages. Sort of like those in the Republican party who ignored, and then cheered The Donald as he alienated nearly everyone on the planet.

“I think we’ve had more than enough,” says the local police chief.  Played by the wooden-handed Kenny Mars, the chief enlists the villagers to seek out and destroy the monster.  Just like the Republican old guard who finally recognize what they’ve created and have taken up the cudgel in an effort to dismember The Donald.

Cornered, and having learned his lesson, the Mel Brooks monster retreats to the castle, is relieved of his ferocity and becomes a member in good standing of the community.

And here all parallels with the Brooks fantasy end. For Trumpenstein hasn’t learned anything, except that being a monster can be very rewarding.

Ignore and Dissent

Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader in the senate has decided that the “advise and consent” language of the Constitution isn’t enough of a check and balance on the black guy’s ability to fill vacancies on the Supreme Court. Simply ignoring the black guy is the preferred course of action.

As Mitch elaborated “Republicans think the people deserve a voice in this decision. The President does not. So we disagree in this instance and as a result, we logically act as a check and balance.”  A bit of twist on the reading of the Constitution that will be embraced only by the party faithful…along with climate change denial, the age of the planet and need to trash the Affordable Care Act.

Fearing that his own party might sabotage McConnell’s plan to keep anyone to the left of Genghis Kahn off the court, Mitch has simply decided to ignore the problem until it has gone away. As soon as a Republican is seated in the Oval Office, Mitch will suddenly find the time to consider a nomination. Meanwhile, per the Senate leader, there are other important matters that the Senate will fill its time with. High on that list include consummation of the Louisiana Purchase, establishing statehood for Alaska and, in a nod to Liberals, the possible abolition of slavery.

A potential glitch in Mitch’s ignore and dissent plan is the possible election of a Democrat to the Oval Office and, heaven forbid, the loss of enough Senate seats to put the Woody Allen look-alike Harry Reed back in control of that austere body.  Along with Hillary Clinton steering the ship of state, poor Mitch might actually be on the short end of a confirmation process that installs Ralph Nader in the seat vacated by Justice Scalia.

Not to be outdone by McConnell’s circular logic, Republican Senator Grassley, head of the committee that would actually conduct the nomination hearing had this to say “…a lifetime appointment that could dramatically impact individual freedoms and change the direction of the court for at least a generation is too important to get bogged down in politics.” Duh.

In contrast to those who would blatantly ignore the Constitution by postponing their job until after the election, Senator Corey Booker, Democrat of New Jersey said “We swore to defend the Constitution of the United States and to faithfully discharge the duties of the offices we hold. There was no addendum to the oath that excuses us from our responsibilities during an election year.”

So there you have it.  Republicans simply don’t want to lose the Supreme Court advantage they’ve had for decades and they’d rather shut down the government once again in order to get what they want. It’s a naked power grab and all other convoluted explanations of Republican behavior are blatant lies easily understood by anyone with a third grade education.

Perhaps rather than worrying about the seat that Judge Garland might occupy, Republicans should be more worried about their own seats come November.

I’m Available

As long as the Republicans have decided to close their eyes, ears and mouths when it comes to even considering a Supreme Court replacement for Scalia, I’d like to apply for the job.

It makes no sense to me for the Black Guy to nominate a truly qualified person since the selection would be sentenced to the bowels of an already constipated Senate.  And the nominee would be also be harming his or her chances at some other important job.  Like Postal Commissioner or Surgeon General, guys who have a lot of impactful things to do.

So, since I have no desire to shred envelopes or tell people to quit drinking good vodka, I hereby throw my hat into the ring. I’ve got very little to do for the next ten months so I can devote my full attention to filling the vacancy created by Scalia’s timely departure.

And I have no baggage to bring to the Court. I’m not an attorney, know next to nothing about the law and have, as evidenced by my blogs, no axe to grind with anyone. My last brush with the law was a parking ticket thirty years ago, so vetting by the FBI should take less than a day.

If I am nominated and confirmed, I promise to emulate the way some others behave on the highest bench in the land. In particular, I will refrain from opening my mouth in open court, thereby eliminating any possibility of shaming myself or causing embarrassment to my colleagues. This has worked well for at least one member of the court who has, it is said, been present but silent for more than two decades.

Actually, what with the ease of communicating electronically, I can stay home, listen to the proceedings with my stereo headphones and then vote by pressing a button, just like many of our Congressmen or Senator Rubio.

My nearly four score age is a plus too. Already living on borrowed time, an accelerated departure is probably in the cards as a result of the stress I will be under deciding the fate of others. Forget about the lack of impunity or accountability enjoyed by the sitting justices. Being Jewish, I bring a boatload of guilt to the job, sure to make my life a living hell. So, I’m probably up for a short, quiet, no waves tenure that’ll probably be over before The Donald squats in the Oval Office.

On the rare occasions that I will be present in the courtroom, I promise to bring a stoic, judicial appearance that will bring confidence to my colleagues and to those presenting arguments to the Court. Nodding knowingly at the right moments and curling my lip when appropriate will enhance my stature with others.

Depending completely on my law clerks to form my opinions will be standard operating procedure. After all, who knows the law better, an old guy like me or someone fresh out of law school angling for a future zillion dollar job with a multi-national law firm.

So there you have it. A no-risk solution to a problem that everyone thought was a Constitutional crisis. I’ll even buy my own lunch.

I hope that the Black Guy and the Kentucky Colonel are reading this blog. You guys know how to reach me. But don’t take too long. I expect to soon hear from The Donald about the job of Attorney General.

Nothing is Going to Change

Nothing is going to change.

We will gnash our teeth, mourn the loss of innocent gunshot victims and then slowly forget exactly what happened.

Nothing is going to change.

We will conveniently blame the mentally ill and offer up solutions that avoid dealing with the real causes of mass mayhem.

Nothing is going to change.

After a period of outrage, we will meekly allow the gun lobby to falsely promote the idea that “if those poor people had guns, this would never have happened.”

Nothing is going to change.

The safely gerrymandered House of Representatives will bemoan the loss of life and offer their condolences to the families of those murdered.  But it will do nothing meaningful to address the problem.

Nothing is going to change.

Those of us who want more restricted access to guns will stop and say “What’s the use, the horse is out of the barn. There are already 350 million guns in the United States.  It’s too late.”

Nothing is going to change.

Republican controlled state legislatures, seeing an opportunity to expand gun ownership, will allow the killing instruments to be carried everywhere. Their mantra will be “save lives, carry a gun.”

Nothing is going to change.

Donald Trump will double down on his racist remarks and promise fairy tale solutions to dealing with “those people.” Like-minded xenophobes will cheer and wave their guns.

Nothing is going to change.

Carly Fiorina will issue bald faced lies in a flagging campaign to garner the votes of unquestioning dupes, while denying the murderous outcome of her actions.

Nothing is going to change.

Personal grievances and political disputes will continue to be settled in a country awash with guns.  A country that has forgotten who we once were.

Nothing is going to change

The NRA will be proven correct.  Guns are not the problem.  Guns are the solution.

Nothing is going to change

Unless we change.


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