Netroots and Anti-Semitism

T-Shirt sold at Netroots Nation calling for people to “Resist Racism, Sexism, Zionism, …”

The Netroots conference has met annually since 2006, and serves as a think-tank for progressive political activists and bloggers especially from the Daily Kos for which the conference was originally known as Yearly Kos. Last week was the first time it was held in Philadelphia, so I decide to give it a try and connect with fellow progressives, strategize on issues of common interest, and learn about various Presidential candidates. Instead, I was frustrated by the idealogical purity required by many participants.

Judaism has informed my progressive values such as standing up to hate, welcoming the oppressed, feeding the hungry, healing the sick and protecting the environment. Moreover, in foreign policy I see Israel as an example (albeit imperfect) of these values and the only true democracy in the Middle East.

I know that there are many on Daily Kos and elsewhere on left who do not share my views of Israel, and I was a bit worried when I browsed the biographies of the Netroots speakers and the attendees and found that all of the references to “Israel” were parts of references to Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) and related groups.

Nevertheless, I was heartened to see a panel scheduled entitled How We Fight Anti-Semitism. Unfortunately, it would have been more accurately entitled “How we fight accusations of Anti-Semitism.”

The moderator and panelists spoke well about the threat of anti-Semtism on the right. Trump may not have invented racism or anti-Semitism, but he has certainly given cover to racists and anti-Semites. Anti-Semtism is now more socially acceptable, and what was once said in whispers or dog-whistles is now overt. GOP leaders spread anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. If even a small number of people are influenced by these memes and come to believe that George Soros and the Jews hate America and are organizing an invasion of illegal immigrants from the South to take our jobs, spread disease, commit crimes and engage in terrorism, then attacks like those at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue are not surprising.

However, the panelists went too far when they claimed that anti-Semitism on the left is entirely a fiction devised by the right in order to divide and conquer the Democrats.

There is some truth to what the panelists said about the Republicans. For example, the GOP accused Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of Holocaust denial when she used the term “concentration camp” to describe the detention facilities which the Trump administration uses to hold refugee children. This is an accurate use of the term “concentration camp,” that is, a place where undesired people are collected in overcrowded conditions. Often life in these places are unhealthy, difficult and dangerous. Perhaps some of those who object to AOC’s terminology do not understand the distinction between concentration camps and death camps. However, the true purpose of these accusations was to divide the Democrats and distract from criticism of the President and his immigration policies.

In contrast, when Democrat Rep. Ilhan Omar says support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins,” it is unknown whether her comments stemmed more from ignorance or from anti-Semitism. Either way she deserved to be corrected. Indeed, the Democratic leadership were right when they condemned her.

But we must not bury our heads in the sand and deny every accusation of anti-Semitism. The Republicans do not have a monopoly on anti-Semitism. Nor must we defend ourselves with “what-about-ism.” Even if White Nationalism is a greater threat, we are hypocrites if we white-wash any anti-Semitism on the left. In fact, we probably have more influence over our allies than over our opponents, so attention to lesser transgressions of our allies is worthwhile.

In Judaism, we have the notion of Tocheichah (constructive criticism). I hope that this article is read in this spirit. I do not point out fault in order debase my friends but rather to help them understand how we can all do better.

Doc Jess attended the panel with me and she had a similar reaction to mine, and walked out. (See the Democratic Convention Watch website for more about her experience at Netroots Nation.)

I stayed behind and waited until the end in order to ask a question about the reality of a certain amount of anti-Semitism on the left. I hoped to describe my frustration when I would happen to join a political rally for a progressive cause only to find that it had been co-opted by an anti-Zionist group.

The panel ended without an opportunity to ask this question, so I continued on to the next event on my agenda — a rally on Arch Street against the mass incarceration of children on the border. There was a large crowd and I was glad to hold a sign high and help protect the rights of these children.

However, soon the crowd was led in a chant repeating the refrain “No Walls Anywhere: Not America, Not Israel.”

All of a sudden, as a supporter of Israel, I no longer felt welcome.

I believe in freedom of speech. If the person with the megaphone wanted to hold a rally in favor of the BDS movement, then he is certainly welcome to do so. But please do it one block away, or an hour earlier or later. If you think your cause is right, then advertise it and like-minded people will come and support you. But you should not take a rally intended to support immigrants and refugees at the US boarder and turn it into a rally about Israel. Either you are co-opting the crowd which someone else organized, or you are engaging in bait-and-switch and tricking people like me into seeming to rally in favor of a cause they would not otherwise support.

I tried to be heard, but to no avail. I saw other people in the crowd who seemed similarly distressed by the turn which the rally had just taken. I then separated myself from the group and returned alone through the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

One of the panelists from that morning recognized me and expressed her regret that insufficient time had been allotted for questions and I had been unable to ask mine. I took the opportunity to tell her what concerned me about the panel and how the rally I had just left was a perfect case in point. She was surprised that I do not support BDS and told me that if I do not support BDS then they have no need for me at a rally of any kind.

I do not necessarily see eye-to-eye with the candidates I support on every issue, but there is a saying in politics, “If you agree with me on 9 out of 12 issues, vote for me. If you agree with me on 12 out of 12 issues, see a psychiatrist!”

Similarly, if we adopt a narrow view of politics and shun the support on a given issue of anyone who does not support us on another issue, then we are doing ourselves harm. We should embrace a wide tent and welcome the support of anyone who is generally supportive of many of our goals. That is the way to build a majority and win elections. Similarly, in Congress, we should seek common ground and create alliances and co-sponsor bills even with legislators that diametrically oppose us on other issues. [Editor’s Note: Former President Obama recently made a speech against rigidity among Progressives: “you start shooting at your allies because one of them is straying from purity on the issues, and when that happens, typically the overall effort and movement weakens.” Also, an article about Black Lives Matter adding criticism of Israel to their agenda.]

There is much to do, but we can make progress one issue at a time. If instead we shun those who lack ideological purity, then we will accomplish nothing.

“Maybe US v. Nixon was Wrongly Decided”

Donald Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to replace Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court (July 9, 2018)

In 2016, the Republican Senate refused to consider Merrick Garland (Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit – the second highest court in the land) as President Obama’s nominee to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court of the United States after the death of Antonin Scalia. After 293 days of obstruction, the GOP ran out the clock giving President Trump the opportunity to seat Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court.

Now, swing-justice Anthony Kennedy has announced his intention to retire from the Supreme Court giving Trump the chance to fill yet another seat on the Supreme Court. He has nominated Brett Kavanaugh – a former clerk of Anthony Kennedy who currently serves under Merrick Garland as a judge on the DC Circuit court.

How did Trump happen to chose Kavanaugh among the twenty-five candidates which the White House says were under consideration. Trump and his family and their businesses, his Presidential campiagn and his administration are under investigation by the special council and the states for a variety of matters which may come before the Supreme Court. Can a sitting President be subpoenaed? Can he be indicted? Can he pardon people who might otherwise turn state witness and testify against him? Can he pardon members of his own family or even himself? These are all questions which have not yet come before the courts and can only be resolved by the Supreme Court.

Kavanaugh is unique among the 25 judges under consideration in his interpretation of executive privilidge.

In an article for the Minnesota Law Review in 2009, Kavanaugh wrote that Congress should pass a law exempting the president from criminal prosecution and investigation while in office, including from questioning by criminal prosecutors or defense lawyers.

In the Minnesota Law Review, Kavanaugh argues:

I believe that the President should be excused from some of the burdens of ordinary citizenship while serving in office…. We should not burden a sitting President with civil suits, criminal investigations, or criminal prosecutions.

United States v. Nixon (1974)

In fact, Kavanaugh has claimed that even without action by Congress, the President may already be above the law and enjoy immunity was any indictments or discovery while he is in office. At a 1999 roundtable organized by the Washington Lawyer suggested several years ago that the unanimous high court ruling in 1974 that forced President Richard Nixon to turn over the Watergate tapes, leading to the end of his presidency, may have been wrongly decided.

But maybe Nixon was wrongly decided — heresy though it is to say so. Nixon took away the power of the president to control information in the executive branch by holding that the courts had power and jurisdiction to order the president to disclose information in response to a subpoena sought by a subordinate executive branch official. That was a huge step with implications to this day that most people do not appreciate sufficiently…Maybe the tension of the time led to an erroneous decision.

The U.S. v. Nixon marked limits on the president’s ability to withhold information needed for a criminal prosecution and led directly to Richard Nixon’s resignation on August 9, 1974. Associate Justice William Rehnquist recused himself as he had previously served in the Nixon administration as an Assistant Attorney General, but the other eight justices ruled against Nixon’s claims of executive privilege. This unanimously decision included the support of three justices nominated by President Nixon himself: Associate Justice Lewis Powell, Associate Justice Harry Blackmun and the author of the decision Chief Justice Warren Berger.

In our Declaration of Independence, our country’s founders bemoaned King George’s “obstruction of the administration of justice”. Accordingly, in the United States Constitution the three branches of government serve as checks and balances which guarantee that no one – not even the President is above the law. Allowing unlimited executive privileges eliminates the thin line which separates our democracy from a simple monarchy.

In a few weeks we will be reading the Torah portion Shoftim in which the future kings of Israel are enjoined to make an extra copy of the Torah and keep this scroll of the law with him so that he should refer to it at all times and come to understand that while he was head of state, even he was not completely sovereign, he was still subject to the law.

And he shall write in his own name a Sefer Torah. When he goes forth to war he must take it with him; on returning, he brings it back with him; when he sits in judgment it shall be with him, and when he sits down to eat, before him, as it is written: and it shall be with him and he shall read therein all the days of his life. (M Sanhedrin 2:4)

In the same portion (Deut. 16:20), the Torah declares tzedek, tzedek tirdof: “Justice, justice shall you pursue.”

Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof. (Deut. 16:20) Art by Rabbi Jonathan Kremer.

If we believe in justice, then everyone must be accountable under the law, and if a judge fails to understand this, then that judge does not deserve a life-time appointment to the Supreme Court.

Jewish Dems Condemn Trump’s Embrace of Putin at Helsinki Summit

Demand Trump and Republicans Hold Russia Responsible for Its Crimes

Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin in Helsinki, Finland.

It is the duty of the President of the United States to uphold the oath of office to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, and to defend the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. President Trump abdicated these responsibilities with his reckless embrace of Russia, an adversary that has actively undermined America’s democratic institutions and sought to sow discord in the United States.

As opposed to reaffirming the unanimous assessment of the U.S. intelligence community regarding Russia’s intervention in the 2016 election, Trump reiterated the Russian narrative about its own crimes. As opposed to defending the U.S. government and its citizens from a known adversary, Trump inexplicably undermined his own law enforcement and intelligence agencies with Putin by his side. As opposed to upholding his constitutional role as Commander in Chief, Trump kowtowed to a leader who poses an ongoing threat to America’s national security and our interests abroad.

President Trump’s actions in Helsinki were a betrayal of American values and interests, and an international disgrace. Since entering office, the president has isolated America from our allies and weakened our standing in the world. Jewish Democrats are outraged about this increasingly dangerous situation and demand that President Trump and Republicans in Congress fully acknowledge Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, hold Russia responsible for its crimes, and take concrete action to defend our democracy against this ongoing threat.

Gerrymandering is not a game… Except when it is

Board Game Invented by Austin Siblings Takes on the Supreme Court, 32 Governors, and 37 State Legislatures

Three Austin siblings, Josh, Louis, and Rebecca Lafair, invented a board game, Mapmaker: The Gerrymandering Game, after growing up in a gerrymandered district (Texas Congressional District 10). They want to spread the word about gerrymandering in a fun, hands-on way. Moreover, they want to remind politicians that gerrymandering is not a game.

The Lafair siblings launched Mapmaker on Kickstarter on July 10th. They reached their funding goal in only 6 hours, with support from Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lawrence Lessig, David Daley, and other big voices in the anti-gerrymandering movement. The Kickstarter runs until August 8th. As part of the campaign, backers can buy games for themselves; their state legislators, who draw maps in 37 states; their governors, who veto maps in 32 of these states; and Supreme Court Justices, who rule on maps. Inside every box, the siblings are including a “Gerrymandering is Not a Game” proclamation.

High school senior Josh Lafair explains,

The more I learned about gerrymandering, the more I realized how terrible it is for our country. Today’s partisan divide can be traced back to gerrymandering. Non-competitive districts take away the incentive to compromise, so politicians don’t need to reach across the aisle.

“We’ve noticed that halfway through their first game, players often comment, ‘I finally get how packing and cracking works.’ Then they have deeper conversations about gerrymandering afterwards,” reveals Louis Lafair, who graduated last month from Stanford University.

Rebecca Lafair, a senior at Northeastern University, says, “Before 2021 redistricting, which will affect elections for the next decade, we hope to add momentum to the anti-gerrymandering movement.”

Mapmaker is not just a teaching tool or political gimmick. It is also a really fun game. Like real gerrymandering, it is full of scheming and strategizing, maneuvers and outmaneuvers. Steve Jackson, inventor of Munchkin and founder of Steve Jackson Games, describes his experience playing as “engrossing.” Aaron Schimmoller, a Settlers of Catan addict, calls Mapmaker “better than Catan.” Over one hundred people have playtested and helped the Lafair siblings improve Mapmaker.

This is not their first game. At age 11, Louis invented his first board game, which was subsequently published by Go! Games. The Austin area publisher is partnering with them for their Kickstarter campaign to ensure high quality production and seamless fulfillment.

You can support Mapmaker on Kickstarter, like them on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter. For more information about the board game, please contact [email protected] or [email protected].

Support Our Transgender Soldiers

Dear Brave Members of the U.S. Armed Services,

I am writing to express my regret for the thoughtless edict sent out by our “Twitter-in-Chief” banning transgender service members (after expressing support for the LGBT community during the campaign). Trump’s ban is an inexcusable, un-American expression of hate. It simply does not reflect the values of our country.

I join the vast majority of Americans who are eternally indebted to you for the daily sacrifices you make to keep us safe. Transgender troops are especially brave because you not only risk enemy fire like other service members, but you also face being stigmatized because of your sexual identity.

I would like to applaud the military leadership for not confusing a morning tweet with an actual policy directive. The American people will always have your back, just as you risk your lives to protect ours. We are grateful for your continued service.

 
On the same day that Trump tweeted about banning transgender people from serving in the military, Tal Schneider, a blogger and journalist in Israel, tweeted the following about the Israeli military:

Open Letter to Senator Calls for Single-Payer Solution to Health Care Woes

Dear Sen. Toomey:

Last night, after the defeat of a series of ill-considered, clandestine plans to overtun the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “Now it might be appropriate to ask what are their ideas. It would be interesting to see what they suggest as the way forward.”

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) deplaning in Maine to a round of applause after voting against the repeal of the ACA. Photo: BLCKGRD's Twitter Page

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) deplaning in Maine to applause after voting against the repeal of the ACA. Photo: BLCKDGRD’s Twitter Page.

Indeed, a willingness to listen to bipartisan solutions is long overdue. We need to build on the gains in insurance coverage we have already seen by repairing the holes in the ACA. In my mind, the best and simplest way to accomplish that is a single-payer solution, i.e., “Medicare for all.” This would cover everybody’s basic health care needs and allow private insurance to specialize in supplemental insurance if people so choose.

Sincerely,

Dr. Daniel E. Loeb

Watch this video for more information on a single-payer health care system:

Political Prisoners in the United States? Depoliticizing our criminal system

 

Does the United States actually have political prisoners?

Green states do not disenfranchise. Yellow states only disenfranchise those who are actually in prison. Purple states also disenfranchise felons who are out on parole. Red states disenfranchise prisoners who are on parole or probation. Orange states restrict the rights of some to vote even after they have completed their sentences. (Source: The Sentencing Project)

Green states do not disenfranchise.
Yellow states only disenfranchise those who are actually in prison.
Purple states also disenfranchise felons who are out on parole.
Red states disenfranchise prisoners who are on parole or probation.
Orange states restrict the rights of some to vote even after they have completed their sentences.
(Source: The Sentencing Project)

Probably not by the strict definition of the term: people incarcerated for their political beliefs. But there are millions of American citizens in the criminal justice system who are pawns in our political system. The criminalization of an activity and the pursuit, arrest and incarceration of people engaged in those activities have political ramifications which, in turn, can tempt lawmakers to make decisions which favor their own political viewpoints.

[Read more…]

The Fraudulent Voter Fraud Schadenfreude

The inaugurations of  Donald Trump, 2017 (left) and Barrack Obama, 2009 (right).

The inaugurations of Donald Trump, 2017 (left) and Barrack Obama, 2009 (right).

Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer’s first press conference centered on “alternative facts” about the attendance at Trump’s inauguration. There is no crime in having a sparsely attended inauguration. Lyndon B. Johnson had only 27 people on hand, including himself, yet that was sufficient for him to lead our country. Indeed Trump had a decent attendance at his inauguration by historical standards. However, to claim that this inauguration was the most well attended in history is simply counter-factual. Attendance was only one-third of Obama’s first inauguration. In fact, Clinton’s first inauguration, both of Obama’s inaugurations and the Women’s March on Washington all had higher attendance than Trump’s inauguration.

However, if Trump is consistent about one thing, it is inconsistency.

In the next press conference (referred to by the White House as the “first official press conference,” suggesting that the previous one somehow didn’t count), instead of re-litigating the inauguration, the administration decided to re-litigate the election. Although Trump won the electoral vote, his inability to win the popular vote remains a sore spot for him. [Read more…]

Nostalgic for Last Week’s America?

oathSo much of the America I had taken for granted as recently as last week has disappeared.

President Donald Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” feels increasingly appropriate, leading many Americans wonder if Trump will really remain President for four years of will one of the many scandals swirling around him lead to his impeachment, or if Trump’s erratic behavior and plummeting popularity will lead his cabinet to invoke Section 4 of the 25th Amendment.
[Read more…]

Day 1 of Hell

170120195839-03-trump-signs-exec-orders-super-teaseTwo executive orders were issued tonight. The first basically prohibits all government agencies from implementing any rules. They can send nothing to the Office of the Federal Register. Remember, while Congress passes laws, it’s the agencies that implement them, and they do so via regulations sent to OFR for public review and comment and then implementation. (Full memo after the jump.)

The second order basically allows Ben Carson to do anything possible to prevent the ACA from functioning. Again, full text after the jump. Welcome to North Korea — they are dismantling the Federal government, just like they said they would. And in answer to the question: why are you publishing this? I say: so that there is a record.
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