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Trump’s move on Jerusalem is his latest shot at Obama

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I guess it’s only natural for non-Jews to think all Jews are the same. Many non-Muslims think all Muslims are the same, even though we know that Shiites hate Sunnis and vice versa; and some Jews even think that all Christians are the same, which, of course, they’re not: there’s a huge difference between evangelicals who believe Adam and Eve played with dinosaurs in the Garden of Eden versus more enlightened Episcopalians, Lutherans and Unitarians.

But all Jews aren’t the same. The distinctions between us can be quite profound. In general, I’d divide Jews into two broad categories: the Orthodox and all the rest. The Orthodox, and especially that sub-group known as Ultra-Orthodox, are our version of the Taliban. They are extremists. They believe in the literal truth of the Bible (in this case, the Old Testament), just as the more irrational evangelicals believe in the literal truth of the entire Bible (Old and New Testaments). Even among Ultra-Orthodox Jews, there are further nuances. Probably the most extreme of the Ultra-Orthodox Jews are the Hasids, or Hasidic Jews. These groupings were formed in the shtetls and ghettoes of Eastern Europe and Russia in the 1600s and 1700s, when the Renaissance was happening in Western Europe; but they tend to live lives that are more medieval and Dark Ages than modern era. These are the men who always wear black suits and wide-brimmed caps. They usually have beards and always have long earlocks, because the Book of Leviticus tells Jewish men not to shave them. And you very seldom see Hasidic women around town, because they’re pretty much kept at home, raising the kids, cleaning the house, and cooking for their large families. (A similarity between Hasids and Islamic people is that men and women are segregated in mosques and synagogues.)

Hasidic Jews are by far a minority in the world, even in Israel, but they have an outsized voice in Israeli politics. There, the governing Likud Party—the party of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—is quite conservative, but has not been able to secure a solid majority in order to rule the Knesset, or Parliament. Thus, they’ve had to ally with other parties, and in Likud’s case, they’re partnered with very conservative parties, such as Yisrael Beitanu, which stands for extreme Zionism and right wing populism, including keeping Israel a Jewish state and making Jerusalem the capital of Israel.

It wouldn’t be true to say that there are no “liberals” in Israel. Probably the majority of the population is “liberal” in the sense that they’re secular rather than orthodox; they want a peace treaty with the Palestinians, they think Israel should give back the Occupied Territories and stop building settlements, and they certainly don’t think Jerusalem—a divided city—should be declared the capital.

But the Ultra-Orthodox Jews have much more influence in Israeli politics than their small numbers deserve. It’s as if the wing of the Republican Party that favors Roy Moore were to be able to dictate policies here in America. (They can’t, quite yet, although we have to be on our guard.) With his alliance with Israeli’s Ultra-Orthodox, Netayahu has proven to be an extremely right wing, conservative leader, which is why America’s extremely right wing, conservative leader, Donald Trump, likes him so much.

But there’s another reason why Trump and Netanyahu are political bedfellows. That’s because Trump could not have been elected without the strong support of the wacko wing of Republican Christians, the ones who believe in things like The Rapture and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. These people are among the most pro-Israeli in America, not because they have any particular love for the Jews—they’d convert us in an eyeblink if they could—but because they believe that Jesus can’t return to Earth until certain conditions in Israel are met, among the most important of which is—you guessed it—making Jerusalem Israel’s capital. Thus, the radically conservative American Christians (Franklin Graham, chief among them) are strong supporters, not only of America’s security commitment to Israel, but of making Jerusalem the capital. (And, of course, these Christians also are the most rabidly anti-Muslim people in America.)

Trump needs to keep these right wing American Christians happy, and one way to do that is to give in to their demand that Jerusalem be declared the capital of Israel. Indeed, this is the only way to understand why Trump has just taken the first step towards recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city, by declaring his intention to move the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv.

American Jews do not support this move. It is provocative—Arab nations will be up in arms, and the safety of all Americans will be endangered. It is stupid—no other country in the world thinks Jerusalem should be Israel’s capital, it will never actually happen, and it will only further isolate us from our friends and allies, mainly the Europeans. And it is so unnecessary. Nobody believes that Trump’s move will move the Middle East closer to peace; indeed, exactly the opposite.

There’s one more way to understand Trump’s dumb move: Obama was dead-set against it. With each passing day of this regime, Trump’s main agenda as President becomes clearer: to un-do anything and everything Obama did. His vengeance toward and hatred of his predecessor seem unbounded. Maybe it dates to 2011, when Obama let Trump have it over his birtherism at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, and an embarrassed Trump could be seen steaming and furious. Whatever its origin, Trump as President is driven, not so much by policy or even ideology, but by a mad, sociopathic obsession with getting even with and humiliating Barack Obama. It won’t work, of course: personally, Obama is too secure and serene in his own mind to let anything Donald Trump does get to him. And policy-wise, Trump’s stupid anti-Obama moves will easily be undone, once he’s removed from office. The important thing to realize now, concerning this Jerusalem-as-capital move, is that it will never happen, and is merely one more egregious thing attempted by this worst President ever, as he lashes out on his way toward impeachment.


What some Alabamians are saying about the Roy Moore scandals

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AL.com, Alabama’s biggest news website, just published an opinion piece on Moore. The columnist was careful not to take sides, but he did look at the situation Biblically, and he made the gentle suggestion that some people who are standing by Moore might be compromising their values, or might not fully understand just what Jesus said. “For Christians,” he wrote, “the question is not if we follow Jesus, but how.”

Well, that’s a good, healthy conversation for Christians to have. Meanwhile, the column prompted some comments that are a reflection of just how divided Alabamians are over whether Moore is being framed, or is a pedophile. One pro-Moore writer, name of Evangelico, displayed the hysteria and irrationality that mark large swaths of the Christian right when he said, Jesus Christ was the holy, eternal Son of God. The only source of eternal life. How dare someone like this columnist drag the name of Jesus Christ through the mud to justify ungodly government programs such as DACA, and Obamacare.”

This is the sort of blithering nonsense we’ve come to expect from radical religious Republicans over the last thirty or so years. Muckraking televangelists like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson got filthy rich accusing Democrats of being ungodly atheists in the 1970s and 1980s; political hacks, ranging from Pat Buchanan to Ralph Reed, Rick Santorum and Mike Pence, carried their water even further, suggesting that liberals were anti-American, thereby stoking fear and resentment amongst their under-educated followers, particularly in rural areas of the Bible Belt. The result is that these Christians now get to define God’s political agenda. We now know, according to Evangelico, that God hates DACA and Obamacare. (Presumably, God approved leaving the Paris climate accords, and is in favor of tax cuts for corporations.) How Evangelico can read the mind of God is a bit of a mystery.

 To be fair, several other commenters rejected Evangelico’s assertion. Apparently God was a little bit of a socialist in the OT. It is very GODLY to give unto the poor – especially healthcare. Jesus healed the sick for free and would approve of the ACA. You should pray about it if you call yourself a Christian,” wrote SECorBust, in words that even a non-Christian can agree with. As one who is uncomfortable with overt expressions of religiosity intruding into the public sphere, I at least welcome sane Christians, as SECorBust seems to be, when they take steps to distance themselves from their more rabid co-religionists.

Another Alabamian columnist at the website provided a handy chart about some of the differences between Moore and the Democratic nominee for Senator, Doug Jones.

One would think that rational Alabama voters would weigh all these factors in deciding whom to support, but, pace Donald Trump, it’s entirely conceivable that the chart could include another distinction:

“Stood in the middle of 20th St., in downtown Birmingham, and randomly shot people.”

Roy Moore: Yup. Doug Jones: Nope.

Would it change Evangelico’s mind if Moore were a mass murderer? Probably not–unless, that is, God told Evangelico to stop supporting Moore. But the God whom Evangelico claims to hear would never do anything against Roy Moore, because that God–the father of Jesus Christ–wants Republicans to be elected all across the U.S. That God doesn’t care about the moral fitness of Republicans. He is willing to suspend every moral edict Jesus uttered, if it means electing Republicans. Lest you think this sounds sacrilegious or even blasphemous, keep in mind that this is what Evangelico believes. God told him so. “You must vote for Roy Moore, Evangelico. He is the man I want to be Senator. Don’t argue with me, Evangelico. Just do as I say. That’s a good boy. Oh, and don’t forget to give money to your pastor. I am the Lord, your God.”

Speaking of pastors, 50 of them came out publicly in favor of Moore. They said he is “an unmovable rock in the culture wars,” using a phrase made infamous by the Catholic provocateur, Pat Buchanan, when he launched his political attacks on the Clintons, in the early 1990s. At the 1992 Republican convention, Buchanan yoked GOP politics to Christianity when he claimed that a Clinton victory “is not the kind of change we can tolerate in a nation that we still call God’s country.” Buchanan, like Evangelico, knows for certain just how God would vote. Buchanan was an unmovable rock, unpersuadable by any evidence, common sense or legal principle, guided only by his theological biases. So are Evangelico and Roy Moore. Nothing can ever make them change their minds. God has spoken to them.


The Wine Country Fires: A Perspective

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For my readers who are unfamiliar with the Wine Country of Northern California that’s been ravaged by these recent wildfires, I want to give a little geography lesson, and tell you why the disaster is so epic, even for a state that’s seen some pretty devastating wildfires.

As many of you know, my career was in the wine industry, with a focus on the wines of California. Living in Oakland, I traveled frequently to the wine regions of Napa Valley and Sonoma County, which were the epicenters of the fires. Both are roughly 40 miles north of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Area.

This is the heart of California’s multi-billion dollar wine industry. Its wines made California famous; those from Napa Valley remain the most expensive in America. The area is preternaturally beautiful, as wine country tends to be: rolling hills, forested mountains and, in the verdant valleys, jeweled vineyards, with creeks and rivers splashing through riparian corridors.

As near as I can tell (and it will be some time before the facts can be determined), the series of fires appear to have started in a single location: near the northern Napa Valley town of Calistoga. This is a village of great rustic charm, a tourist draw with its charming little wineries, mud baths, spas and restaurants. Apparently, the fire then went in two directions: South, towards the city of Napa, some 30 miles away, and west, to the even larger city of Santa Rosa, the county seat of Sonoma County, which is twenty miles away. There was vast destruction all along the way. The worst, as has been widely reported, was in Santa Rosa, where homes by the thousands were torched, but there also was extensive ruin around the city of Napa.

To appreciate the scale of the fire, though, you have to realize that, in spreading westward from Napa to Sonoma, the fire found, not one, but at least two separate routes. One route led directly west from Calistoga, across the Mayacamas Mountains separating Napa and Sonoma counties (the mountains themselves rise to 4,700 feet), and thence directly into the Santa Rosa region. But another route found its way, 30 miles to the south, from the city of Napa across the region known as Carneros, which runs along San Francisco/San Pablo Bay, spanning both counties; and from there, it hit the town of Sonoma, and poked its way northwest into the Sonoma Valley, also known as the Valley of the Moon, where it caused extensive damage in the charming towns of Kenwood and Glen Ellen, on the way to Santa Rosa.

This is a geographic scale that is unimaginable. The entire area contained within it didn’t go up in flames, of course, but for such a huge expanse to have burned is mind-boggling. The total fire acreage was in the hundreds of thousands. Of course, there have been other large-acreage fires in California, but they’re almost always in wilderness and mountainous regions. Napa-Sonoma by contrast is thick in houses, buildings and people.

By contrast, one of the worst fires in California history prior to the Wine Country Fires was right here in Oakland, which by contrast burned only 1,520 acres in the Oakland Hills Firestorm of 1991 (although the total number of homes destroyed then was approximately 3,000, close to the total number of burned homes, about 5,000, in the Wine Country Fires. But the Oakland neighborhood that went up in flames was densely packed with houses).

In wine country and California history lore, the burned areas are famous names: Napa, Calistoga, Oakville, Carneros, Sonoma Town, Glen Ellen, Santa Rosa. It’s impossible to describe the emotional impact to outsiders. To come up with a silly but illustrative example, it’s as if a wildfire had destroyed the Manhattan neighborhoods of Chelsea, Times Square, the Upper West Side, Harlem and the Financial District. Had that happened, of course, the world’s media would have gone into hyperdrive. In the case of the Wine Country Fires, the media of course took notice, but the feeling here in Northern California is widespread that the national media, including television and print, under-reported the extent of the disaster, focusing instead on Trump-related issues.

The same thing happened in 1991 after the Oakland Hills Firestorm. I remember writing letters of complaint for the media’s failure to report in sufficient alarm its hugeness. It had been, after all, the worst fire in American history, as measured by several parameters: the greatest destruction in real estate/insurance value (with the possible exception of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire), and the worst urban-wildland interface fire in U.S. history. Now, here we are again, with the Wine Country Fires establishing new records.

The talk in wine country now is of recovery and rebuilding. I, personally, doubt that there will be much impact on the wine market, although I could be wrong: as I keep saying, we still don’t know how many vineyards were destroyed, how many wine storage facilities, how many winemaking production and distribution centers, or, for that matter, how many winery workers lost their homes or died. Nor do we know what the effects will be of smoke taint. Economically, the cities and towns—Napa and Santa Rosa above all—will take a very long time to rebuild, and one weeps for the tens of thousands of people who lived there who lost all.

Emotionally, for all of us with ties to wine country, the impact will be lifelong. It’s such a shock. It’s so hard to wrap one’s head around the scope of destruction. We who have driven those roads—Highway 29, the Silverado Trail, Route 128 over the Mayacamas, the Oakville Grade Road, Highway 12 in Sonoma, the 101 Freeway through Santa Rosa—and we who have enjoyed the amenities that burned down (I stayed at the Fountaingrove Inn, with Gus, many times)—we still cannot fathom how vast this monster was. The fire was, as Governor Brown stated, the worst in California in his 79 years on Earth, and when all the numbers are in, it will certainly be officially declared the worst in California’s history. The dates Oct. 16-19, 2017, for many of us, will be one of those, like Nov. 22, 1963, that is seared into our memories for the rest of our lives.

 


Strange v. Moore? Who the hell cares

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I don’t see what all the sturm und drang is about that Alabama Republican Senate primary. So Moore won instead of Strange. So what? They’re both toxic versions of the same person: homophobic, extreme right-wing religious fanatics, who would trample the Constitution under their jackboots and use the Bible instead of U.S. law in their legislative rule-making.

Moore’s bizarre radical Christian ideology is well-known and is best exemplified by his psychotic view of gay rights. “Homosexual conduct should be illegal,” he told C-SPAN, adding that gay sex “is the same thing” as having sex with “a cow, or a horse, or a dog.”

Shades of Rick “Man on Dog” Santorum! Can we agree people like Santorum and Moore suffer from serious mental health issues?

But Luther Strange isn’t any better. After the U.S. Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage constitutional, Strange declared his unyielding opposition. Recognizing the difficulty of going against a direct Supreme Court ruling, Strange—who was Alabama’s Attorney-General at the time—said he’d work out more creative ways to prevent queer people from marrying. I expect the focus will now turn to the exercise of one’s religious liberty,” he announced. “I will continue to defend the religious liberties of Alabamians and ensure that people and businesses honoring their religious beliefs are protected.” This clever, mean-spirited scheme by the Christian right was dreamed up to make same-sex marriage as difficult as it can be for decent, law-abiding gay people, under the phony guise of “religious liberties.”

So really, from the point of view of reason, fairness, logic and sanity, what difference does it make which Republican is elected in Alabama? That state—which also has given us the inestimable gift of former KKK member Jefferson Beauregard Sessions–lost its moral authority decades ago, about the time they elected a guy named John Patterson as governor. As Attorney-General, Patterson repeatedly “frustrated and opposed” attempts by African-Americans to have Brown v. Board of Education (the Supreme Court decision that struck down segregated public schools) enforced. As governor, Patterson promised [that] if a school is ordered to be integrated, it will be closed down,” and he had black students who staged a sit-in at Alabama State University expelled.

Sounds like a certain Republican president who wants professional athletes fired for expressing their right of free speech! And then, of course, Alabama also gave us the immortal white supremacist, George Wallace, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions’ spiritual godfather.

The mainstream media claim is that this Strange-Moore showdown portends some kind of internecine war within the Republican Party “that could undermine their best-laid plans to defeat Democrats in 2018” by draining financial resources away from the general election into the primaries.

But that argument doesn’t hold water. America has clearly entered a post-two party era in which primaries on the left and the right are a given. (Just ask Hillary Clinton.) There will be primaries regardless of what happened in Alabama or anyplace else.

The thought of Roy Moore in the Senate is hardly a cheerful one, and one despairs at the utter sickness now epidemic among poor white Alabama voters addicted to pathological interpretations of the Bible. One can only hope this fanatic, Moore, will be an isolated voice of cranky craziness in the Senate, even among his fellow Republicans. Yet, had Strange been elected instead, he would probably have voted 100% the same way Moore will (assuming he beats the Democrat, which seems likely). So, as I said, for me, it’s Tweedledum and Tweedledee: two seriously deranged, morally-impaired, dangerous and ignorant theocratic bigots, both in the fascist mold of the Donald J. Trump, both out of step with history, both profoundly wrong for America.


Dictators always start by killing the free press

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He’s still at it, calling everything he doesn’t like “fake news” and claiming that he, himself, is the only trustworthy source of information in the United States. Here he was the other day, on twitter: Only the Fake News Media and Trump enemies want me to stop using Social Media (110 million people). Only way for me to get the truth out!” And here: “I love reading about all of the ‘geniuses’ who were so instrumental in my election success. Problem is, most don’t exist. #Fake News! MAGA.”

Fascists often disparage real journalism in order to hoodwink a credulous public. There was once a man, Carl Severing, who in the early 1930s was Minister of the Interior in Weimar Germany. This was the period when Hitler was rapidly consolidating power, and while Severing was not a Nazi, his rightwing policies helped pave the way for Hitler’s takeover, in 1933. Severing cracked down on the free press; one of his more famous dictums was, “Press freedom has become press license. We cannot permit demagogues to inflame the masses any further.”

That was the beginning. Hitler seized power on Jan. 30, 1933, and almost immediately set out plans that would give the Nazis total power over all newspapers.”  His propaganda chief, Josef Goebbels, oversaw the Reich Press Law (Oct. 4, 1933), which allowed “the Propaganda Ministry, through its Reich Press Chamber, [to] take over the Reich Association of the German Press, the organization which regulates the profession.”

Said Goebbels, in words that might have been tweeted by Donald Trump, Not everyone has the right to write for the public. That right has to be earned through moral and patriotic qualifications…the concept of freedom of opinion is under lively discussion. Indeed, the people’s belief in it everywhere has become shaken… bounds must be set to freedom of thought and freedom of opinion at the point where these begin to conflict with the interests of the nation as a whole.”

He did not use the words “fake news,” but Goebbels’ (and Hitler’s) animosity toward a free press had significant overlaps with Trump’s. Would-be dictators hate it when enterprising journalists crack through their veils of secrecy and report on their misdeeds and crimes. Indeed, no tyranny in history has ever tolerated a free press, or has survived unfettered scrutiny.

Muzzling the press, however, can work only if a large segment of the public agrees with the would-be dictator that “bounds” really do need to be set. In the Germany of the early 1930s, this situation existed: millions of Germans blamed the newspapers (and Jews, which owned many of them) for their woes: unemployment, inflation, and the disrespect with which they felt they were treated by the victors of World War I.

In today’s America, many of Trump’s most ardent supporters are similarly resentful of what they call the “libtard” media: CNN, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Washington Post and other outlets. They cannot stand the fact that their hero, Trump, is having his every move closely watched and reported. It enrages them that he cannot do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, to whomever he wants, without this disreputable Fourth Estate hounding him. If you tell them that freedom of journalism is a bedrock principle of western democracy, they laugh; they do not want democracy, they want an autocracy of the right, and a religiously-oriented one, at that. They want an authoritarian who will ram through his policies without restraint. They want the loyal opposition silenced. They cannot tolerate a media that reports, investigates, exposes lies and corruption, nor can they tolerate an independent counsel who is tasked with getting to the bottom of the disturbing facts unearthed by enterprising reporters. Hitler led his country, and most of Europe and the world, to destruction by first persuading people that a free press was a threat. Trump is following exactly the same playbook. His epitaph might well be Severing’s dictat: “Press freedom has become press license.”

P.S. Here’s some real fake news: Pence’s tweet from July 25: “Proud to break Senate tie to open debate to rescue Americans from failed Obamacare. Thanks to @POTUS, this is beginning of end of Obamacare.”

Didn’t exactly work out that way, did it, Mr. Vice President?

 

 

 


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