Friday, July 27, 2012


I regret that for the next week and a half I will be out of pocket. I’ll be visiting a part of the country that is actually supposed to be in play for Mitt Romney – the great state of Wisconsin. Perhaps I’ll even meet someone who plans on voting for him. Fancy that.

While I’m gone, I hope you enjoy the Olympics. It’s a great tradition that every couple of years our world comes together and competes in a wholesome and playful way. I only wish the networks didn’t show so much gymnastics and diving and concentrated instead on sports that don’t have subjective scoring. I hate to think that the best competitor doesn’t necessarily win.

Anyway, that’s just my taste. The best thing about the Olympics is that there’s usually something for everyone. And lots of it.

Take care everyone, and I’ll talk to you after the Olympics.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


As we here in Washington, D.C. prepare for the REAL Olympics – the one held on the first Tuesday in November – it is worthwhile to remember that politics is not the world’s only spectator sport; it’s merely the most interesting. This year’s competition is especially so because of how different it is from the other sports.

Consider what it takes to be a champion in football, basketball, hockey or baseball. By the time you’re ready to compete for a title, you’ve first had to prove yourself over a long season just in order to make the playoffs, and then you must dismantle one competitor after another to reach the championship round. At that point, appreciative fans take their hats off to both teams for successfully running the gauntlet. To the victors go the trophy and a “ring” they can proudly wear for the rest of their lives. But even the so-called “losers” are generally esteemed for playing their sport at the highest level and are often viewed as the team with the best chance of breaking through and winning the title the following year.

Well, that’s sports. This year’s Presidential campaign is just a tad different. We’ve narrowed it down to the championship round, but somehow, I don’t see either of the competitors getting much respect.

Perhaps that evokes memories of Rodney Dangerfield. But I’m reminded more of Jim Mora. Back when he was coach of the Indianapolis Colts and had just lost a game, he was asked “So, do you think you guys will make the playoffs this year?” And his reaction is a classic: “Playoffs?” he whined, incredulously. “You’re talking about playoffs? Are you kidding me? Playoffs?” Nobody is asking Barack Obama or Mitt Romney if they think they’re going to win the election, but if they did, they might want to practice mimicking Jim Mora and just substitute “The White House” for “Playoffs.” The thing is, though, for all their problems, one of those two is going to win, and that’s what makes this election so intriguing.

In one corner of this prize fight we have the defending champ – Barack Obama. There is no question that he is a talented campaigner, but the problem is that this go-around, it’s not enough for him to deliver oratory about hope and change. He actually has a record to defend.

Seasoned political observers will tell you that when it comes to the Presidency, the incumbent’s chances are almost invariably tied to the economy. In this case, we’ve had a struggling economy throughout Obama’s Presidency, and the hoped-for recovery has never materialized. What’s more, our nation’s infrastructure is getting more and more brittle, our weather disasters are getting more and more devastating, and our days of reckoning in Medicare and Social Security are getting closer and closer. Combine all that with a bloated national debt, which limits our future ability to use federal funds to solve problems, and it is difficult not to conclude that our best days are behind us. This is not exactly the formula our President was looking for to kick off his re-election campaign.

Much, if not most, of this mess is obviously not Obama’s fault. Only a right-wing nut would deny that. Then again, only a knee-jerk liberal would deny that he must shoulder a significant share of the responsibility. And ironically, much of the problem is that for the first couple of years of his Administration, when his party had 59-60 Senators and a big majority in the House, he spent much of his time getting pushed around by the minority party. I know my share of liberals who live well outside of Washington who still think that Barack walks on water. But I haven’t spoken to a single Democrat in Washington who, if given the choice, wouldn’t turn back the clock and vote for Hillary. Not one. And that’s largely because they think Hillary would have had the stones to stand up to Mitch McConnell, Eric Cantor and the other obstructionists (including those in the Democratic Party who failed to support the President when he needed them). By contrast, whenever McConnell, Cantor and their fellow elephants pushed back at Obama, he always seemed ready to compromise -- to meet them halfway … and then some.

Obama spent the first 2 ½ years rolling the same boulder up the same hill, trying to get everyone to sing Kumbaya together. Yes, he originally campaigned as a unifier (i.e., he promised to try to get that boulder up the hill), but after trying and failing for many hundreds of days, you really do have to wonder what motivated him to keep trying. Lack of inspiration? Lack of experience? Inability to channel his inner Lyndon Baines Johnson and kick some butt? It wasn’t until it was time for Obama to begin thinking about his re-election campaign that he decided to give up the Mr. Nice Guy act and govern like the progressive who the nation elected four years ago. The only problem is that, by then, the Republicans had taken enough control over Congress that they could largely shut down the government. And the result is an economy that is as stagnant as a mosquito-breeding pond.

No, this isn’t all Obama’s fault. But as the President, he’ll take the blame. After all, when it comes down to a White House race, the fundamental question is always the same: “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” And this year, the answer is obvious. For the vast majority of the nation – and especially those families with children -- we feel a whole lot worse off. Then again, there is a small group who are actually a whole lot better off. I’m referring to the core constituency of Mitt Romney. For them, it truly is morning in America.

If Barack Obama has been the resistible force, Romney has been the movable object. On virtually every public policy issue, Mitt can be found squarely on both sides. Immigration? Check. Abortion? Check. Climate change? Check. I could continue down the list, but what’s the point? It is pretty well known that Romney supports whatever positions he think will get him elected at the time. That’s not exactly a scoop.

But there is one area in which Romney seems to have a recognizable center of gravity. He has no problem whatsoever with the ever-widening disparity in wealth between the very rich … and everyone else.

More than any major politician in my lifetime, Romney seems to be at peace with being an aristocrat. We’ve had other aristocrats – the Kennedys, for example – but they went out of their way to lift up the common people. Mitt seems just fine with the status quo. You remember that line of his about how he wasn’t concerned with the poor because they have their hand- outs? Or his comment about how he enjoys firing people? Those lines have certainly helped to cement the impression that he is as callous as he is unprincipled. But what is even more telling is how he failed to table his plans to build a car elevator at one of his mansions. Talk about conspicuous consumption. Who could possibly need a car elevator? It’s reminiscent of that scene from Eddie Murphy’s “Coming to America” when Murphy, an African prince, employed beautiful women to join him in the bathroom and scrub his family jewels. Does Mitt not realize that this is America? We don’t have princes. And if we want private car elevators, we don’t run for office.

Nor we do roll back the clock on democracy. More than 40 years ago, Mitt’s own father, George Romney, set a precedent that Presidential candidates release years and years of their personal tax returns. Being a multi-millionaire, George realized that the country had a legitimate interest in making sure that he made his money appropriately. What’s more, George recognized that in order to demonstrate the bona fides of his extreme wealth, he was obliged to release more than just a year or two of tax returns – for even the worst crook can live cleanly for a short period of time if he’s running for office.

That all makes sense, right? And yet, still, Mitt won’t follow his father’s lead. He won’t release more than a couple of years of tax returns. Republicans are now coming out of the woodwork asking Mitt to back down and take his medicine. But still, he won’t budge.

Amazing, isn’t it? This is the issue Mitt Romney has picked to draw the line. This is the one principle that he will not compromise. If you don’t like Romney’s stand on social issues, just wait – that stand will change. If you don’t like his environmental or immigration positions, be patient – he’ll come around for you. If you don’t think he has anything to say on foreign policy, no problem – he’ll come up with what he thinks you want to hear. But if you want to know (a) the extent to which he has used overseas tax shelters to avoid paying U.S. taxes, (b) whether there are years in which he has made millions of dollars in income and paid virtually no taxes at all, or (c) whether he has fully complied with the tax laws throughout the last ten years … you’re just going to have to remain in ignorance.

No, my friends, Mitt Romney’s campaign won’t play in Peoria. Nor, for that matter, will it work in my own hometown of Bethesda, MD. We’re pretty damned affluent here – but most of us don’t have money in the Cayman Islands or in Swiss bank accounts. And I don’t think any of us have our own personal car elevator. Even some of the members of our prestigious country clubs (like Congressional and Avenel) probably have trouble relating to this guy. And speaking as someone who lives in the merely-upper-middle-class part of Bethesda – and who attended two of the same colleges Romney did – I can’t relate to the guy at all. I just don’t see myself as a feudal lord. And in light of that fact, I don’t see what’s in it for me to vote for the guy.

The truth is that I believe Romney probably didn’t break the tax laws. The whole point is that rich people don’t need to break them, because there are so many absurd loopholes for rich people that they can avoid paying much tax without breaking the law. Clearly, we need to have a national conversation about taxes. And it should start with a study of these ridiculous tax shelters and other loopholes. Romney, in my view, has a moral obligation to do his part in that conversation and show us how he has avoided paying taxes over the years. I suspect that he has known for years that he wanted to run for President, and he sure knew the precedent his own father had set. He can’t now claim that as a matter of privacy or principle, he shouldn’t have to follow his dad’s lead. That’s just hogwash.

Amazingly, though, despite all his problems with flip flopping, putting his foot in his mouth, coming across like a feudal lord, and being tone deaf, Romney is still in a dead heat with Obama in the polls. This is the equivalent of a Super Bowl game in which each team has thrown three interceptions and fumbled four times … and accordingly, it’s a close game. I’ve watched professional sports for over 4 ½ decades and I’ve never seen such a mess.

In the poorest played football games, the team that has the ball at the critical time usually loses (due to a turnover). My assumption is that despite the miserable economy, since Obama is the more skilled political athlete, it will be Romney who will make that fatal turnover. So far, the political odds makers agree with me – Intrade has given Obama a 58/42 chance of winning. That sounds about right. But it also means that Romney has a chance. And given how horribly he has done so far, that tells you just how far Obama has fallen in the public’s esteem since his glorious inauguration of January 2009.

Somehow, I don’t think the winner of this particular Super Bowl will be wearing any ring to commemorate the victory. But at least it will be entertaining. And I suppose that’s all a sports fan can ask for.

Saturday, July 14, 2012


Last Sunday, I attended a program sponsored by a group called the New Story Leadership (NSL). Every year, NSL brings to Washington, D.C., a small number of young-adult students from Israel, Gaza or the West Bank. Half of the students are Jewish, the other half are Palestinian. The idea is that each student would become an intern in a different Washington organization, and the students would periodically assemble and tell their own personal narratives to the public. The students appear to have been hand-picked for their intelligence, articulateness, wisdom beyond their years and sensitivity to a variety of perspectives. Most importantly, they also seemed to be proud representatives of their respective peoples, rather than the types who are always criticizing their own countrymen while dealing sympathetically with others. (Trust me, my “self-hating-Jew” radar is strong, and I saw none of that on the stage last Sunday.)

The idea is that these students will become the leaders of tomorrow. After hearing the Class of 2012 deftly handle an audience that was mixed both in ideology and ethnicity, I can only say that if they were to become the leaders of tomorrow, we all would be extremely fortunate, and so would the cause of peace.

When it comes to talking about Israel and Palestine, rarely do we use the words “fortunate” and “peace” in the same sentence. Lately, things have seemed even more hopeless than ever. This was drummed in to me near the end of last Sunday’s session, when the students had stopped telling their personal stories, and it was time for them to respond to questions and comments from the audience. The first audience member who spoke didn’t ask a question at all. She just wanted to tell the students how incredibly inspiring they were and how she would never forget them. We next heard from another woman, who offered a question that retained the affirming theme of the session.

But then, my gender took over. The comments became provocative, political and partisan. Soon, the students heard themselves being criticized for not addressing squarely enough political questions like “what do you think of the Settlements.” They were also asked to identify whether they were advocates of the “two state solution” or “one state solution,” and some of the old activists in the audience would applaud lustfully if the student happened to give the answer they liked. Talk about sucking the aura of peace right out of the room.

At the end of the Q&A session, we were all treated to the audience comment I found most memorable. It came from an older man who I believe would consider himself a “progressive Christian.” He seemed so sure of himself, as if what he had to say was common knowledge and no rational observer could possibly question it. Here’s his statement: “the two-state solution died ten years ago.”

Even after the session was over and I glowed with excitement about having met such an impressive group of young men and women, I couldn’t jar that old man’s comments from my head. What if he’s right? I wondered. What if the expansion of the Settlements, combined with the high birth rate within the settler community, has made it impossible for Israel ever to cede enough prime West Bank land to make room for two viable states in the region?

I have my own idea of self-evident truths. And one of them is that there will never be a “one-state solution,” or at least not one that preserves peace and dignity. The Israeli Jews have the military power in the region, and I don’t see that changing. Either they will kick the Palestinians out of the area they control (much like Andrew Jackson kicked the Indians out of most of America). Or the Jews and Palestinians will divide up the land and live in peace. But I don’t see the Israeli Jews simply giving up the one thing that they have pined for over nearly two full millennia – a stable, majority Jewish state. So for me, if there is to be a peaceful solution, it must be a “two state solution.”

And yet, isn’t the increasingly right-wing nature of the Israeli population reducing the likelihood of such a solution? Haven’t most Israelis essentially given up on the idea that the Palestinians could ever be trusted to accept the idea of a Jewish state? To be blunt, isn’t it possible that the region might have to experience hell on earth before it would ever know peace?

Sure, that’s possible. And yet still, we must work for peace. In fact, even if I were to stipulate to having looked into a crystal ball and convinced myself that the Jews and Arabs will wage a vicious war that will destroy much of the region, even so, I would still advocate working for peace. Why? Because just as it is good to love learning for its own sake, so it is with working for peace. Learning is sacred. Peace work is holier still.

Perhaps those words ring poetic, but fall flat intellectually. We think of peace work as being useful only if it gets the job done. By contrast, when it comes to learning, we accept that it bears all sorts of hidden fruit – and that is why our academies celebrate both “theoretical” knowledge and its “practical” applications. Intellectuals don’t worry about “getting the job done;” they have faith that the mere exercise of learning is fruitful.

In Western culture, our philosophers have continuously announced their bias in favor of knowledge above all else. My own beloved Spinoza is no different. He would speak about how the higher forms of knowledge are eternal – and this is coming from a man who thought that when our bodies die, our thoughts go with them. Spinoza, you see, reasoned that (a) the whole world is IN God, (b) true knowledge (e.g., the knowledge of mathematical principles) is knowledge about God, and (c) God is eternal. Therefore, knowledge must be eternal as well.

Working for peace, most would say, is different. Peace work isn’t about learning the great truths; it is simply about fostering love. And love, as any Hollywood scriptwriter can tell you, is ephemeral. One day, you’ve got a crush on the girl with the curl; the next day, you hate her. Where’s the eternality in that? Spinoza defined “love” as “pleasure, accompanied by the idea of an external cause.” But doesn’t that suggest just how short-lived love can be? We are always falling in and out of love – or at least, in and out of “like.” Think about all those so-called friendships on which we have worked so hard only to have realized that at the end of the day, we could never stay friends. Tell me, was that time well spent? Perhaps not.

But peace work is different. It isn’t just working on developing “love.” It involves developing a particular kind of love – one that combines love and understanding. In other words, it combines love with knowledge. And it is that combination that makes it so holy. When we do peace work in earnest, we open the eyes, minds and hearts of one another. We teach ourselves, one heart and one mind at a time, that the paranoia that has consumed us and the resentment that we have been harboring are truly our demons. We teach ourselves, one heart and one mind at a time, that we are all members of the same family, commonly known as the universal brotherhood of man. And that neighboring peoples of similar ethnicity – the ones who tend to wage the bloodiest and most intransigent wars – are in fact first cousins. We teach ourselves, one heart and one mind at a time, that there is nothing more spiritual than turning enmity into friendship, embracing our differences, and at the same time, recognizing our similarities. We teach ourselves, one heart and one mind at a time, that just as we can come to love our parents, spouse and children unconditionally, so too can we pine unconditionally for an era of peace and universal dignity.

One cannot truly be wise, unless one loves. And one cannot truly love, unless one loves peace. But peace isn’t something you can truly love from afar. You must work for it.

So, if you are a Jew or a Palestinian, your decision on whether to work for peace hardly rests on whether you believe that the two-state solution is dead, or that the one-state solution was always an illusion. You are still faced with the opportunity to love, learn and teach all at the same time. Every heart you unlock, every cross-cultural friendship you make, and every pearl of wisdom that you learn from your cousins is eternal. This, my friend, is the Promised Land. It’s not about a place. Or a time. It’s about an activity. Peace work.

Note: Representatives of the New Story Leadership Class of 2012 will tell their stories and respond to questions/comments Sunday, July 15th at 10:00 a.m. at the Islamic Society of the Washington Area, 2701 Briggs Chaney Road, Silver Spring, MD. The session will be sponsored by the Jewish-Islamic Dialogue Society of Washington (JIDS) (

Saturday, July 07, 2012


I must admit that I stopped listening to Rush Limbaugh. I can’t lie to you; I stopped cold turkey.

When he started slut-shaming a law student because she dared to advocate expanding contraceptive health care coverage, that was the last straw for me. I haven’t listened to him since.

Admittedly, I find tuning Rush out to be almost as difficult as listening to him. I think of him as one of the most evil men in American public life and pride myself on opening my eyes and ears to evil. I’ve forced myself to read Mein Kampf, for crying out loud. If you can do that, you can certainly listen to Limbaugh on AM radio. Compared to Hitler, Rush is a veritable Abraham Joshua Heschel!

It is certainly a goal of mine to be able to stomach Rush enough so that I can listen to him once again. It’s not something I could accomplish today, or probably even for another month or two, but someday, mark my words, I’ll hear him spew hatred again – hatred directed toward anyone and anything who would dare advance a progressive cause.

Clearly, one of those causes is the need to combat climate change. We progressives have spoken about that issuefor many years. We have listened to the scientific community and taken their conclusions at face value, or at least their central conclusions: Climate change is real. It is substantial. It is man made. And it is profoundly dangerous to our species, among others.

We progressives have even dared to suggest that climate change is more important than the short-term economic reports that tend to dominate the news. During an election year, that’s blasphemy. But that’s the way we progressives tend to talk. For that, Rush has termed us “tree huggers” and “environmentalist wackos.”

I remember a couple of years ago, during the so-called Snowmaggedon that dumped literally feet of snow on the Washington, D.C. area, when Rush and the self-proclaimed “:Dittoheads” who love him were laughing at the environmentalist community. We had been talking, you see, about polar icecaps melting and other signs of “global warming,” when in fact, we could plainly see for ourselves what a crock that was. We didn’t even need to go outside – our power was out for days, so we could sit in our own houses in our “liberal suburbs,” and experience global COOLING for ourselves.

Yup, that was one funny joke, wasn’t it? Even the Good Lord must have thought so – he’s the one who dumped the 2 ½ feet of snow on his favorite nation’s capital. Maybe God is a Dittohead after all.

Well, there’s one thing I learned from Snowmaggedon: environmentalists really do need to stop using the term “global warming.” The preferred term is “climate change.” And yes, it does entail some amount of global warming, but part of this phenomenon is that there will always be some areas and some time periods where the weather is unusually cold. That doesn’t disprove the existence of climate change; it reinforces what the scientists are saying. Our addiction to fossil fuels is creating EXTREME weather patterns of various types, and all of those extremes can be disruptive, regardless of whether they involve extreme heat, extreme cold, extreme moisture, or extreme dryness.

I have friends in the energy industry who will acknowledge that climate change is real, but what they have trouble admitting is that there’s anything we need to do about it. The mantra goes something like this: “Mother Nature is powerful. She can take whatever we throw at her.”

Fine. Maybe she can. But at what cost? Just this week, we’ve seen more deaths from the brutal heat, and that’s just here in the USA. I can only imagine all the loss of human and animal life that is being, or soon will be, experienced in East Africa due to desertification. They will bear the brunt of our excesses long before we will. Ironic, isn’t it? We guzzle oil. They die first.

Today, in Rush Limbaugh’s least favorite city (DC), it reached 105. It hit 106 in Indy yesterday. This past winter in Minnesota, it rarely got below 10. Yes folks, this has been one freakily hot year in America – hot enough that even the Dittoheads have to be wondering if “Algore” was right after all. For them, the issue has become a matter of pride and politics. They don’t want the world to warm up because it would mean that the liberals were right, and worse yet, it would mean that some form of collective tampering with the Invisible Hand might be necessary. God forbid, right?

The thing is, though, nobody likes brutal heat. Progressives don’t. Dittoheads don’t. In fact, the Dittoheads might find it especially unbearable. After all, vegans like me should be able to survive several days without power in 100 degree heat. But when you feel compelled as a matter of politics and patriotism to eat tons of beef and pork, this global warming, I mean “climate change,” can get rather challenging.

A few more summers like this, and who knows? We might even see a dip in Rush’s ratings.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012


First and foremost, happy July 4th, everyone.

Secondly, allow me to apologize that I couldn't post anything last weekend. Like many hundreds of thousands of others in the Washington, D.C. area, my family lost power for several days (four days and one hour to be exact, but who's counting). This was my city's boffo summer power outage. Two years ago, we were treated to the winter variety, which is now commonly known as "Snowmageddon." If anything, this episode seemed even more dangerous. There were fallen trees and power lines all over the place, and sadly, a number of fatalities as well.

For all of us, these events are grim reminders of just how much we have all become dependent on electricity. But for me, they are also a reminder of what happens when you combine (a) increasingly profound climate change, (b) a nation with an aging infrastructure in so many respects, and (c) a metropolitan area with countless tree-lined neighborhoods. It's ironic that perhaps the most beautiful thing about my nation's capital, our trees, is becoming the city's great nemesis. What do you bet that our society will decide to respond to these increasingly potent power outages not by addressing climate change or aging infrastructure but rather by chopping down trees?

I so wanted to post last weekend about the Obamacare decision, which for me was a sorely welcome development. For now, let me simply say that John Roberts has indeed practiced what he preached in saying that his job isn't to second guess the legislature but rather to interpret the law as an impartial umpire would. Whether or not you agree with his reasoning in this case, you need to respect his courage and his integrity.

Now, if you feel the need to knock someone (or some thing), allow me to suggest an alternative. CNN! That network has been getting on my nerves for years, and their absurd treatment of the Court's Obamacare opinion was the last straw. Remember -- Fox News also jumped the gun, but at least Fox fixed their mistake within a couple of minutes. The Einsteins at CNN allowed their talking-heads to blather on for quite a while about how the Court was overturning Obamacare. Fortunately, I work in a law office where people knew better than to get their legal news from CNN. Millions of others weren't so lucky, so they were treated to sheer nonsense masquerading as news.

I hope you all join with me and boycott that network for a good while. I ask that not only because of their Obamacare coverage but because of their general pattern of insipid reporting and fluff interviewing. To be sure, CNN does have a couple of folks who I respect a lot (Anderson Cooper and David Gergen come to mind), but enough is enough. If CNN is going to be the preeminent bipartisan news network on cable TV, it is going to have to radically transform itself. And the only way that will happen is if enough of us boycott the network and force them to shake things up root and branch.

I'm going to sign off now and continue to do the things I couldn't do when my power was out, but I'm happy to be back and in touch with you all. Once again, happy Fourth!