Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Why Term Limits Are Not Universally Good.

So Donald Trump the other day gave a speech at Gettysburg, PA.  This historical site was used by Trump to give an overview of his first 100 days.  He buried his own lead by first suggesting that he would sue those accusing him of sexual assault since a tape of him bragging about doing it came out. (Spoiler Alert he won't sue, he threatens a lot but rarely follows through).  But one thing he suggested was to push for a Constitutional Amendment to create term limits on Congress.  This was a nod to the right-wing of the GOP who on occasion call for it until they get in office.  But I think we should talk about them.

Term Limits have been used at the state and local levels for some offices, often the executive.  After FDR won the Presidency 4 times, there was a successful scramble to change the Constitution to make the US Presidency limited to two terms, which was a standard set by George Washington and followed until the 1940s.  There have been times since then that term limited Presidents would have been likely re-elected.  But the executive is different from the members of Congress.  Limiting the President is a way of not allowing a single individual to have so much power.

However that is not the case for members of Congress.  The House members get re-elected every 2 years and the Senate every six.  We control their number of terms.  But if there is a person elected by a district or even a state who is doing a good job for that district or state and represents them well, why should they not be able to keep that person in the office?  If they don't represent their district or state they should be ousted.  The system works on paper.  But we have professional politicians and a system that makes them often set in stone to win unless they do something completely outrageous.

The American electorate clearly does not think about their member as the problem.  Often their tenure gives them power to bring home what we once called pork barrel projects.  Gerrymandered districts means that a candidate may not share all one's values but they are often closer than the opposition.  Also the amount of money being able to be poured into races from outside sources, specifically from special interests, allow people who will not be represented by a candidate to effect the race.

So better than term limits what if we:
1.  Used population algorithms to create Congressional districts instead of a meeting in a state house. '
2.  Limit money from outside sources, one can't donate to a candidate that won't represent them.
3.  Limit incumbent's ability to use tax payer funded office mailings in an election year to promote self.
4.  Grow local and state parties in areas dominated by one party over the other.

We have seen that when people work hard they can break a candidate's streak of victories but that is hard.  That is the term limit we already have.  Frankly I think the Constitutional amendment takes away freedom and is lazy.  Aren't those things unAmeican?

Sunday, October 16, 2016

A Challenge to All Of Us

Tonight Jews around the world will begin an 8 day holiday that has multiple connections to our past.  Sukkot is a celebration of joy, and that main function is to rejoice in nature in structures (Sukkot) that we build to include natural materials. We eat and some people sleep in these structures meant to be temporary.  It is an agricultural celebration of the harvest and the antecedent to our modern American Thanksgiving, a reminder of our time wandering in the wilderness living in tents in non-permanent housing, and it also is about remembering that with joy comes the reminder that life is fragile, like the structures we build.  

Part of the tradition is to invite people into our sukkah (the structure) and share our bounty, our abundance.  I know that most of my friends do not celebrate this holiday but I would like to make a connection to another commemoration today.  Today is World Food Day and to that end the organization I work with in Kenya is launching our biggest fund raiser in cyberspace. 

When Global Interfaith Partnership started its Umoja Project in Chulaimbo, Kenya, teachers and guardians there identified hunger as the primary problem affecting students’ attendance and academic performance. Since 2008 we’ve had a school lunch program feeding 3,200 students in 18 schools, ensuring that each child receives one nutritious meal a day.

Our goal this fall is to raise $25,000 for the 2017 school lunch program.

I have seen the results of the this program, in the eyes of children eating the maize and beans they receive for lunch,  in the teacher's pride while showing the rising test scores since our program came to their school, and in the relief of guardians when they can be assured their charges will be able to continue their education with full stomachs.  

You don't have to be Jewish to feel motivated to share your abundance and you don't need a holiday to help feed hungry children.  So here is a simple opportunity to do that, from the comfort of you mobile devise, and  your own home.  Twenty-five dollars will feed one child, for a year.  And by doing so you give that child an education, increased safety and a sense of hope for the future.  But if all my friends give $5.00 each I will reach my goal and then some. Help me make one small impact on a world that needs good news.  Help me celebrate in November that we can continue the work we have been doing for 10 years.    

The #FoodForThought Challenge runs October 16 – November 29, 2016, during which I have a personal goak to raise $500 to contribute to our organizational goal of  $25,000.  Click HERE and make a small (or a large)  donation and help change the lives of the children living Western Kenya.  

Saturday, October 8, 2016

What Is Going on in the Locker Room

I will admit from the start that I have never been the stereotype of a classic man's man.  I have never been to a strip club, I find the concept of Hooter's to be childish, and I think the use of sex to sell hamburgers is cheap.  But I also believe in a pro-sexuality life, I enjoy burlesque, I have friends who write erotica that makes 50 Shades seem more like 50 yawns, and I have been reluctant to judge people harshly for things they do that are consensual and not violating a promise to someone else.  It is in this vein that I say what I am about to say.

I have never been in a locker room where someone was judged well when they suggested they sexually assaulted someone.  Let me repeat, sexual assault have never been seen as manly among any group of men or boys I have hung around.  Have they used crude language to describe what they would like to do with a woman or even to a woman?  Of course.  But every conversation I have ever had did not include lines that what my friends wanted to do was not consensual. I am quite certain that any of my friends today who talked about grabbing a woman's crotch without consent would be immediately and without reservation ridiculed.  Perhaps when we were in 8th grade we would have thought that funny, but I can't think of a time since.  You see when you engage in sexual behavior without consent, that is sexual assault not sex.  Donald Trump was not talking about sex.  Donald Trump, in his recently released hot microphone conversation, was bragging about assaulting someone.  You may think this is just guy talk, but he has also been accused of doing exactly what he said on the tape he wanted to do.  He is a sexual predator and looking to be excused for it.

Now his minion who not inexplicably works for CNN suggested to let it pass, suggesting we are not hiring a Sunday School teacher.  (just to be clear I wouldn't let Trump near any of the kids in my school)  And that is fair, except Trump has been not only running as a Christian Conservative but has suggested his Christian values are the reason that he has been audited by the IRS.  Seriously, I wish I was making this up, I could get a book deal at least.  He flaunts the fact that he has evangelicals on his side and proclaims that he would role back LGBT rights because of his faith.  So he finds two people who love each other who are engaged in a monogamous relationship, vile, but as a newly wed he bragged he tried to get another married woman into his bed.  Not to give her pleasure but to conquer her, another conquest or acquisition.

So his defense is the President Bill Clinton was worse.  The childish defense of a failed soul.  But let's think about it.  Let's say everything that Bill Clinton was accused of is true.  I am not certain all of it is.  The things we know are true are terrible.  I believe he should have resigned after the facts of Monica Lewinsky came to light, and wrote a letter to the White House saying as much.  But in the end Clinton was embarrassed by his failures, blamed no one and moved on.   He didn't brag about it and while he is a flawed human, he truly focused his energies for the greater good since leaving office.  But he is also not running for anything anymore.  So his background is not valid.

Evidence is coming to light that Trump has acted in the manner he described since he has been on the campaign trail.  Think about that for a second.  That while running for President of the United States he has harassed and in one cases allegedly assaulted a woman.  And conservatives are still standing by him.  That is failure of the party system far more than anything I can think of right now.

There are many people in the GOP who I feel are bad for women.  They are not likely to fund programs for women's health, would make abortions relegated to back alleys and force woman to continue to earn less than men for the same work.  But at least I know many of them are outraged by what Trump has been saying.  My hope is that their outrage will make them see this is not conservatism, this is not what the republican party stands for and this is not a good candidate for President of the greatest (and we are still great) country in the world.

If you continue to support Trump after this revelation and his non-apology apology that was excuse filled and probably written by a spokesperson, then you are certainly free to do that.  Overlooking flaws in politicians is a common practice and we all do it.  But don't ever again call yourself a social-conservative, suggest that your positions are about protecting women or attack anyone over who they sleep with, either the sex, gender or number.  You would be giving up that right to have any authority to speak of that.

I am not sure how this will move the needle for Trump.  The anti-Hillary crowd will struggle to find a way to rationalize anything.  You might simply say that this rawness is refreshing because he is like "one of us".  Except it isn't, I can't think of a conservative friend I have who would talk or act like this.  That is simply not who they are.  I hope this finally breaks through to them to see they may need to give up 4 years and come back with a candidate that is at least a Republican.  They can still believe the myths they have told themselves about Hillary.  But at least the country will be certainly be more stable.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Colin Kapernick and Justice for All

We are a funny nation.  We seem to be comfortable holding two diametrically opposed views in our heads at the same time.  Freedom of speech, but the expectation not to use it.  Hear me out.  Colin Kapernick decided to remain seated or kneeing during the National Anthem at games his San Francisco 49ers are playing in to protest what he sees as unfair treatment of minorities by police. It is a quiet, non-violent and singular protest.  However many people, including some police, have attacked him saying it disrespects the flag, our military and the country itself.  In fact some have even called for him to be deported.  To where?  No one cares.  You see this emotional reaction is one fueled by ignorance and entitlement of those who do not feel the fear that comes from watching young black men and women killed in police custody or by police for apparently no reason.  Yes, I know, some of the most celebrated of the recent cases of police shooters are not as cut and dried as the Black Lives Matter movement said.  However, there is a serious pattern, or at least the perception of one, that seems to devalue the lives of black people, especially black men.  And Kapernick is drawing attention to that.

I don't want to debate that.  It is highly complicated and in fact there are some existential rabbit holes we could go down.  Black on black crime, gang fighting, absentee fathers have all be used to attack the movement.  That is for another time.  But I want to talk about the protest itself.

The National Anthem is an interesting thing we in America have.  That and the Pledge of Allegiance both have an ironic feel to them in a country built on the notion that we are a free people that the government is there to pledge allegiance to us, not the other way around.  One of the funny memes about this incident is the one that shows a so-called patriot saying "Stop disrespecting the government I am arming myself against".   But this is what we have allowed to be considered patriotism. Again the opposing views held by the same individual.  In some cases in the same sentence.  The idea the one can attack the President, members of the government, government institutions, (FBI, ATF, IRS) on the same website where they call for action taken against someone like Kapernick who just doesn't want to honor a song that he feels is hypocritical.  I would be more comfortable if he was avoiding the pledge than the anthem.  But still his protest, and the growing number who join him, are making a statement that is not disrespecting any individual, just calling for us to do a self-audit of what we are willing to live with in this country where famous and wealthy black men will tell you they have a visceral reaction to police and a fear if they are pulled over.

There was a time where I didn't say the pledge for example.  I still find it odd but I rarely am asked to do it.  I remember a nun, a member of the Catholic Worker Movement, who said once that she will say the Pledge of Allegiance when it wasn't a lie.  She felt there wasn't liberty and justice for all. That was a protest I could understand.  One of silence and conviction and that is in fact what Kapernick and the others are doing.  By the way, it is his right to do it and the flag we are pledging at that moment of his silence is a symbol of that right.  It is why we fought wars, it is why we can feel comfortable supporting a candidate that we want.  It is why the talk radio screamers who are making fun of those protesting can do just that.  And if Kapernick and others lose sponsorship contracts and even their jobs, well the same freedoms apply to that.  You see that is how the country is great.

Here is what I believe.  If Kapernick is so wrong to do it, don't call him names and ask him to leave the country.  Teach him why he is wrong or make what he is doing wrong. If you are right and his protest is in vain then he looks like a fool.  If you are outraged that this man is standing up for what he believes in then how can you defend someone standing up for what you believe in when you are considered wrong by the crowd?  Seriously. we are all Kapernick in some way.  We all have an unpopular but strongly held belief somewhere.  Thank the universe that we live some place where we can express it without fear of government interaction on us.  We should applaud him for doing so and if we think he is wrong, make him see the error of his ways.  But our culture moves too rapidly for that and so we sit, and jeer and burn his jersey, and call him names and in some cases prove his point. That there are two Americas.  And sometimes they exist in the same head.


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

An Interesting Twist on Another Year

Twenty-nine years ago today was one of the worst days of my life, if not the worst.  As the sun set on August 31 in 1987 I was sitting alone in a police interrogation room when a brash detective, who I remember being a stereotype of a TV cop, told me Linda was murdered.  Most of the rest of the evening is a blur.  Linda and I were embarking on a life journey together and our plans were still embryonic.  We had been together for only year but that single tragic moment changed my life and the effects of that day stayed with me throughout the last 3 decades.  Certainly I tried to move on with life and did.  I married and had a child.  I made many mistakes.  I failed at marriage, more than once, but with time and understanding the death of Linda played a lessor role in my life.  However for me, Linda will always be part of me.  I remember resonating with images from culture that played on this theme of lost love.  On Star Trek:  Deep Space Nine, we are introduced to the leader of the space station in the moments of losing his young wife in the Borg attack.  Later in the episode he is being examined by the Bajorian prophets, aliens who live outside of time.  They communicate with him through images from his past.  They keep coming back to the moment of his wife's death and when he asks why they keep showing him that moment they say, They respond by telling him he lives there, in that moment.  I know what that means, I often over the years lived in that moment of the cop telling me what happened.  Sisko hadn't moved on.  He was stuck in the past and the prophets showed him.  Moving on is normal.  But even if we do move on, sometimes the past still is present.  Robyn Hitchcock captured it in the song My Wife and My Dead Wife.  In the song, the story teller is a happily re-married widow, but the images of his dead wife continue to invade his life.  In the song one scene is powerful for someone living through grief:

I'm making coffee for two
Just me and you
But I come back in with coffee for three
Coffee for three?
My dead wife sits in a chair
Combing her hair
I know she's there
She wanders off to the bed
Shaking her head
"Robyn," she said
"You know I don't take sugar!"

And so it is.  But over time the love doesn't die but new love can develop and often does. Linda's death was the end of her life and our life together.  But my life still goes on and over the years I changed, I found joys and new tragedies.  I have laughed, loved and built a new life.  Linda's influence and the parts of her she shared with me are still part of me and that will never change.  But there is a whole new me, different from one that Linda ever knew, but that Dianne, my current, wife has helped create.  So at the death of Gene Wilder,when people started posting pictures of him and Gilda Radner, his wife for a few years and the person most people associate with him, I had mixed feelings.  Wilder lost Radner to cancer and he worked tirelessly to use his and her celebrity to raise money for cancer research in her name, as well as awareness of the disease.  It easy to continue to see them as a couple for eternity.  But what some people may not know is that through the work to promote this awareness and to raise the money he had a partner.  That partner was his wife Karen Boyer.  As people posted pictures of Gene and Gilda from 30 years ago, saying "together again", my mind went to Dianne, or any spouse who joined someone's life after a tragic death.  It must be difficult in general to be the person living in the shadow of the lost spouse, but in this case with Gene and Gilda, their life was public, large and we suffered with him when she died too early.  But we didn't follow his life afterward.  He moved forward, fell in love, built a life with Boyer, and in his dying days she shepherded him into eternity.   I imagine she would be hurt by the sentiments of those that are thinking of that eternity with Gilda and not Karen.  This question of who we spend eternity with in the life after death goes back to the Christian Bible as Jesus is asked this question.  This weekend  I celebrate my new home with Dianne. Next week we will celebrate Noah making the Dean's List at the luncheon.  Today I said my prayers in memory of Linda, I still feel her influence on who I am today.  But I see my life apart from her and maybe we should strive to feel the Gene Wilder, who never stopped loving Gilda, built a life with Karen.  May Karen find comfort in her loss and may Gene Wilder rest in arms of the eternal.  We can leave it at that.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Man Goes on Killing Spree and Celebrates by Eating One of His Victims

A local man recently dawn camouflage and with a rifle and scope took off for a day of killing.  He found a spot to hide among his potential victims and was able to kill a handful by late afternoon.  As dinner time came he butchered one of his victims and used the flesh to flavor a stew while he secured the others for his ride home.  Each bite seemed to remind him of why he worked so hard to get the his prey.  So goes another successful day for the best hunter in the county.  

This fictional account is an example of how I have come to see much of the political reporting this season.  Recently an Associated Press story about Secretary Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, is one of many examples.  A tweet read:
At least 85 of 154 people who met or had phone conversations with Hillary Clinton while she secretary of state, donated or made pledges to her family charity.

While this tweet, on its face is absurd, Sec. Clinton could have weeks of meeting or speaking with 154 people, the idea was those who were not part of a diplomatic meeting were that number.  They included such unsavory people as Bono and Elie Wiesel of blessed memory.  Now if this was a political pundit or opinion writer then it would be less of a problem.  The constant drone of opinion writing and broadcasting on the 24 hour so-called news stations and talk radio has us grabbing for the salt so regularly cable companies are doing promos with Morton's.  But this is the AP, a standard in journalism.  This is the problem this year.  Throughout the campaign, Donald Trump, Senator Cruz, Governors Christie and Bush, all had news stories with headlines and copy that told half-truths to make them look good, bad, or competitive in what can only be describes as massages the story.  In some cases news organizations, especially television, gave Donald Trump tons of air time because he drove ratings.  His brand of nonsense speak, anger challenging and dull witted ideas, coupled with his celebrity and ability to say what many people wish they could made him must watch TV for those who both loved and hated him.  Les Moonves, CEO of CBS admitted this to be true saying "it may be bad for America but it is good for CBS".  

Hard news outlets, in print, TV, radio or new media are supposed to be the referees of our political fights, holding those involved to decorum befit their institutions, or at least to the truth.  I am aware politics in a contact sport.  There is a story that once about 100 years ago a man who his Congressional seat in part by calling his opponent a practicing HETEROsexual.  At one point in our history we even had duels, with pistols, but when Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton the press wasn't holding his coat.  Today we see news reporters who seem more interested in ratings than facts and always trying to be the ones who can take down someone more than inform the people.  This is bad.  It is bad for America because in the information age what is real, true and meaningful is hard to find in a world where an accusation that Sen Ted Cruz's father was friends with Lee Harvey Oswald and that Sec. Clinton has brain damage becomes headlines without context.  If the AP, CBS, NBC et. al are simply trying to outdo each other and leaving the truth in the ditch on the side of the road, there is no informed voter base and thus all our elections are from ignorance.

I know there will be a din of liberal bias accusations in the responses.  If you see that as true you help make my point.  I actually think the bias is there, just for ratings, as Mr. Moonves points out.  But what is fascinating is that I have discovered a whole new source of facts, from a highly unlikely source.  Both certain opinion writers, television personalities and even some talk radio hosts have become voices of reason, even with the later also continuing the classic radio antics like count-downs to President Obama's last day in office and calling for Sec. Clinton to be in jail.  There is a thoughtful left who traffics in facts-based opinion and a right-wing voice that is more interested in reality than the ever increasing sizzle or the meatless steaks.  They choose to express their ideas with a clear bias, because it is their job.  And while their opinion can be based on a faulty premise they see or an interpretation, they seem to strive to be above the nonsense of so much of the media these days.  
We all want to hear people who agree with us, and for many to hear people we could never agree with to argue with.  Social media has allowed that to be an instant process as well, sending an accolade to someone who shares your views or an insult to someone who doesn't has never been easier.  So we live in our little cloistered political bubbles and stay ignorant.  So take my advice.  See who is on another station, turn the dial, read a new column or website.  Broaden your political opinion.  You will likely find a lot of dreck.  But maybe you will find one or two people who you don't agree with but can help you better see a new perspective on an issue.  Perhaps you will learn a piece of a story you didn't know.  Maybe you will find that your hard-held political beliefs are mutable with facts.  I don't know.  What I do know is that this year the people who are running for President are disliked more than ever and I would argue that a lot of that dislike is unearned and the product of media hype. Major political races have come to look like Wrestlemania and too often the sources of our news are Mean Gene and Bobby Heenan.  That is not how democracy should work.  


Friday, July 8, 2016

The Sun is not quite so sunny today

As I think about my last days at camp and two hours from the start of Shabbat festivities I am carrying around the pain and anguish that has become too common in my life as of late.  Two black men, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling were shot by police in what most people feel were situations that did not require deadly force.  I hope that a transparent investigation brings justice.  I fear that too often it appears that justice is not easily found, because the situations are not easily understood in light of media outrage and platitudes.  These two, the last in a long line of African Americans killed by police in situations that have raised questions.  So last night, as I tried to sleep I checked my phone to find some people had decided to attack police officers in Dallas, TX.  Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, and Michael Krol are among the names as I have not read the other two.

What has brought us to this point?  I am not sure.  I have seen people blame President Obama, Black Lives Matter, and even Israel.  Seriously that last one threw me.  I have seen people blame the gun culture, the failure of understanding others who are different, systemic racism and even male aggression.

This cultural disease cannot be boiled down to one thing, and while we see patterns, we must see each case on its own.  Trying to push blame on someone or one ideology is ridiculous.  We make up the culture, we choose what to let be the topic of the day and we choose what we will work on.

What strikes me hard is that the Dallas Police Department has worked hard in recent years to address the issues raised by the apparent injustice against African Americans.  Through training, promotion of black officers and community engagement they have reduced charges of excessive force and have built bridges into the black community.

Joe Walsh, a former Republican member of the House of Representative who now has a radio tweeted that he declared war on Black Lives Matter and the President of the United States.  This ignorant fool who has his own personal problems in life, shared a voice seen by many, from the White Supremacists to angry suburbanites looking to lash out.

In both cases the anger is misdirected and in both cases dangerous.  The first took the lives of 5 officers and the second could inspire the same.  But that is not the answer and nor should it be.

We can be angry today, but that anger should be channeled into changing how we think.  There will always be people who will try to destroy order for their own gains.  They must be stopped.  There will always be people who hate a group or individual because of their races, ethnicity, religion, who they love etc.  They must be shunned.  There will always be people who think the answer to a problem is violence.  They must be stopped.  There will always be people who cannot and will not reason things out, they must be isolated from others.  We have the power.  Stop praying about it and do something.

If you have problems with the police, make an appointment and have some talk to  you.  If you don't understand why someone is wearing a Black Lives Matter t-shirt, ask them.  If either are too angry to be helpful, find someone who isn't.  Build community connections between you and people who you currently see as different, other, or outside of your comfort zone.  You will be surprised what  you learn and what might happen when you build bridges.

The answer to violence is not more violence.  The answer to violence is to create a culture where violence is shunned and suppressed.  It is our responsibility.  All of Us.  All we I have been talking about Korach who wanted to over-throw Moses and Aaron as leaders of the Israelites.  We worked with the children on problem solving and the values of a good leaders and how to protest injustice.  It makes me want the whole country to go to camp.  To create these mini-diverse communities where you can learn about others and let your person expression be who you are.  Maybe then today I would be able to see more colors in the sky and feel more ready for Shabbat.