Friday, July 31, 2009

Rahm Emanuel: Jew and Zionist

I've been busy or exhausted every evening this week, with no time to write. (I do have a couple of topics in mind, and maybe I'll get to one on Sunday.)

That said, and in light of several poisonously deranged members of the Knessetincluding the Rosh Memshalah, or Prime Ministercalling Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod self-hating Jews, this wonderful Ha'aretz article is well worth reading. Let me know what you think.

Also worth reading: today's New York Times Editorial, which follows yesterday's Washington Post's plea to Obama to keep on keeping on the Middle East peace traintwo, count 'em, two 70's soul classics referenced there—while moderating his tone.

In the meantime, Shabbat shalom, good Shabbos.

Friday, July 24, 2009

No more Mr. Nice Guy

As the healthcare “debate” turns war of attrition, I find myself, variously, seething at mean-spirited Republican rejectionists like Jim DeMint, who previously was most famous for proposing to ban gays and single mothers from teaching; exasperated with self-serving Democrat reactionaries like Senate Finance Committee chair Max Baucus, whose reelection in Montana—home to a whopping three-tenths of one percent of the U.S. population—seems largely financed by healthcare corporations and lobbyists; and plain frustrated with a floundering, ineffectual President Obama, who needs desperately to recalibrate his approach.

Don’t get me wrong: I like Obama, I LOVE Obama. But Mr. President, here are some free pointers:
  • Stop worrying about appearing bipartisan. In the long run, no one cares. Like our monkey and ape cousins, we are, by nature, partisan, or tribal, animals. As a human creation, politics is, therefore, necessarily partisan—which, by the way, is a word rarely in currency until Republicans lose elections. (Where was their spirit of bipartisanship when they railroaded through tax cuts for the wealthy? Where was it when they introduced torture by secret fiat?) Anyhow, they lost and you won—decisively. Screw them.
  • Don’t let the obstructionists lure you into the murky mire of dollars and cents. That’s where they want you—where they can bog you down forever. Stick to the big picture, or as Paul Krugman wrote in this morning’s New York Times, remind the country that “when it comes to reforming health care, compassion and cost-effectiveness go hand in hand.” Treat us openly and like adults. Tell us the truth: be patient, because the cost efficiencies will come only in the long term, as a flood of thankful and healthy young families enters a government backed insurance alternative and helps average down premiums; as insurance companies become (unwillingly) more competitive; and as doctors, hospitals, and drug companies start focusing on results, not pills and procedures.
  • Talk about human rights and security, and not patient rights. Americans have long accepted as fundamental the right of the individual to live securely. Except for a few extremist libertarians, we happily pay for a military to secure us internationally, for police and firemen to secure our safety, and for paramedics to secure our well being in emergencies. None of these examples is substantially different from, or more fundamental than, our right to good health, which is quite simply the greatest source of individual security.
  • Keep on task. Voters elected you because you impressed with your ability to break down and explain complicated issues and to remain focused under duress. Two nights ago, a journalist suckered you into a rash response to a loaded question. Talking off topic about Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s unfortunate arrest, you accidentally implicated the whole Cambridge police department in a potentially racist action. Now while I am, like you, pretty much convinced that, consciously or not, race played a focal role in the way the arresting sergeant treated the professor, I am also convinced you should have answered (for now) in a more considered, more measured way. Sadly, I’m sure your election didn’t signal the dawning of racism-free new day in America. (If only it had.) But by providing the moronic press with a sloppy sound bite, you ensured that healthcare would not lead off that evening’s or the next morning’s news broadcasts. And that’s just a shame.

Unfortunately the fight ahead is a tough one, and I have to agree with the New York Times’ Gail Collins: “Watching Barack Obama trying to push members of Congress toward some kind of agreement on a health care bill gives you a new appreciation for why Hillary Clinton decided to just write the whole thing herself and dump it on them.” But it’s not a fight that you—that WE—can afford to lose. Ultimately, it’s not even a fight about costs or rights, but a battle to prove our compassion, our humanity, as citizens of the wealthiest nation in history.

As a Jew, my duty is clear. It’s contained in the concept of tzedakah, which is an amalgam of justice and helping the poor, and is an attribute of Gd we’re obligated to emulate. The Talmud describes tzedakah as greater than all Temple sacrifices, and Moses Maimonides (a doctor upon whose oath many Jewish physicians swear) demands we give freely so the poor don’t have to ask. Historically, many Jewish communities built communal hospitals and retirement homes, employed doctors, and established mutual aid societies because they understood tzedakah to demand care for all.

But because we Jews are an insignificant minority, I’ll close with the words of Pope Benedict XVI, the leader of America’s and the world’s biggest Christian denomination. In his June 29, 2009 Encyclical, CARITAS IN VERITATE, Benedict seems to agree largely with Jewish tradition by telling us that in caring for others we find “the Face of (Gd’s) Person,” that as a collective the more we “strive to secure a common good corresponding to the real needs of our neighbors, the more effectively we love them. Every Christian is called to practice this charity, in a manner corresponding to his vocation and according to the degree of influence he wields in the (nation). This is the institutional path—we might also call it the political path—of charity, no less excellent and effective than the kind of charity which encounters the neighbor directly, outside the institutional mediation of the (nation).”

Stay healthy my friends.

Good Shabbos. Shabbat shalom.

Monday, July 20, 2009

My kinda town

Back again after a week spent on my third trip in a month-and-a-half.

This time it was the big one, the one I’ve been waiting for since returning to graduate school in the late spring: the summer seminars at Spertus College in Chicago. And despite missing the family and a torturous stomach upset—thank you Imodium—I had the best time. Some highlights:
  • I found a new academic home in the Spertus Institute for Jewish Studies. Its building is a stunning work of abstract art in concrete, steel, and glass; its location on Michigan Avenue, opposite Grant Park, is perfectly central to everything; and its physical, technological, and human resources are amazing, including my teachers and fellow doctoral students. I learned more than I’d imagined possible, which is, of course, a double edged sword—now I have a million new paths to follow.
  • I spent hours shooting the shit with old friends. It was great hanging with you and catching up. Those of you I didn’t get to see, I’ll hook up with next spring. I promise.
  • I learned that beyond being the home of meat, Chicago’s also a foodie heaven for those with a vegetarian bent. With Daliah, I threw down a mind blowing seitan Radical Rueben at the deservedly famous Chicago Diner; with Brad, I enjoyed (slightly modified) tapas at Emilio’s; and with Geoff, I tasted two spectacular Asian dishes (and a delightful bottle of Rioja) from the vegan menu(!) at Opera.
  • I remembered why Chicago has always been my favorite American city. (Well, for the 25 years since I first visited.) It’s not simply because of the stunning skyline and world-class museums. Rather, and away from the skyscrapers, bright lights, and beautifully tended gardens that line the Magnificent Mile, it remains an honest and tolerant Midwestern city of human-scaled neighborhoods filled with good people and the camaraderie born of years spent laughing in the face of brutal winters. And when, like last week, her days are mild, clear, and sunny, Chicago is as great a place as any on earth.
All that and and a Jewish community of almost 300,000. What's not to love?

So now it’s back to whatever reality is.

Shavuah tov. Have a great week.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Really? You've got to be kidding me!

I've never planned on blogging American politics, but this is more about posing questions than proposing answers: Is it just me, or are the Republicans losing their embittered minds? (How do these people walk? Eat? Breathe? Face themselves in the mirror?)

In just the past 24 hours, I've learned from senior Republicans that:

Yes, I realize I'm posing a rhetorical question. And yes, I realize the Democrat caucus is mediocre and disorganized at bestactually, it reminds me most of a circular firing squadbut here's another question: If one (or more) of my friends is a vocal Republican, how do I treat him or her seriously? (How do I respect him? How, indeed, do I remain friends with her?)

Friday, July 3, 2009

Sad, but inevitable

In a well researched article in today's Washington Post, Purity of Federal "Organic" Label Is Questioned, Kimberly Kindy and Lyndsey Layton confirm long circulating rumors that the USDA's 2002 organic certification program's "shortcomings mean that consumers, who at times must pay twice as much for organic products, are not always getting what they expect."

In support of their argument, Kindy and Layton offer a barn-full of evidence, including:
  • USDA provides exceptions for "organic" foods to contain "245 non-organic substances"
  • USDA never implemented its mandate for annual pesticide testing
  • Dairy farms sell "organic" milk from cows that spend little or no time grazing outside
  • Farmers feed "organic" livestock "non-organic fish meal, which can contain mercury and PCBs"
This simply must change. Now! And I don't want to hear fellow liberals blaming the Bush administrationeven though it did eviscerate the USDA, the FDA, and the EPA. Shrub and his cronies are discredited and gone. Our Democrat Executive and Congress should act immediately to protect our food supply, our health, and the environment from the excesses of agro-conglomerates.

But this isn't only about the government. We must take responsibility for ourselves and our children. You can play a major role by:
  • Visiting local farmer's markets
  • Getting to know the people who grow our food
  • Asking them about their practices
  • Supporting their work
Learn more from Farmer's Market Online, read its blog, and heed its byline: "Shop Smart. Buy Responsibly. Buy Direct from the Producer."

Shabbat shalom. Good shabbos.