Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Circling Back on the (Still Predicatable and Boring) Presidential Process


Here are the "Odds" from Vegas (Bovada) as of today:  Clinton is still a clear favorite over Trump for the White House.

Hillary Clinton -340
Donald Trump +280

A CNN news poll today puts Hillary +13% over Trump if the election were to be held today. So...

Looking back at my early February posting, there have been no surprises.

Here we are, as predicted, on May 4, 2016, and both Trump and Clinton have prohibitive leads and clear paths to their nominations.  Cruz and Kasich have now both suspended their campaigns and Trump is unopposed to lead the Republican ticket. Sanders has admitted that he is only trying to get more delegates to force his ideas into the Democratic platform for legislative action in the new congress after the elections.

Keep catching up on your old movies and books, as nothing interesting is likely to happen until the showmanship of the Conventions themselves.  And after that... since both Clinton and Trump are completely known commodities, there is no reason to believe that any significant shift will occur in the electorate in the next 6 months to November.

The Republicans meet in Cleveland on July 18-21.  The Democrats will meet in Philadelphia on July 25-28.  It is possible that the Republican "bump" could see polls close to each other going into the Democratic convention, but Clinton will then likely pull ahead coming out of Philly.  Stay Tuned for electoral map musings in the days ahead.

(Official Disclaimer:  My political comments and views are my own and don't represent any institution or anyone else - except other well informed individuals :) )

Thursday, March 24, 2016

MPAC's toolkit for Muslims against Terrorism

I continue to be astounded by the stereotyping of Muslims as terrorists. While the single most vile terrorist trend in the world today is certainly the terrorism that is found within Islam, one must be more level headed than to declare Islam and Muslims to be terrorists.

I encourage you, for example, to go to this Toolkit against Terrorism for American Muslims by American Muslims.  Published by the Muslim Public Affairs Council, its purpose is to take the Homeland Security Enterprise to the Muslim community through a patriotic Muslim American voice.  This is not propaganda for you and me to read.  It is a sincere effort to build the Muslim case against terrorism and violence, and to teach the values of "See Something, Say Something."

Remember, in Brussles the arrest of Salah Abdeslam (the "mastermind" of the Paris attack and leader of the Brussles terrorist cell) was the result of a tip from within the Muslim community.  It was this arrest that seems to have scared the cell into launching their subway and airport attacks unprepared.  They left behind vital information and materials in their apartment, didn't plan the transportation of luggage effectively, dropped a fully functional laptop in a garbage can where it was discovered, and didn't have a third trigger manufactured for the third bomb in the airport.  While their attack was horrific, it was rushed and sloppy, because a Muslim did the right thing by Islam and tipped off the authorities.

Of course, the argument goes, that the bombers were living in open sight with arrest warrents on their heads.  Why didn't friends or family turn them in?

If you see something, say something.  Islam in America has found roots to flourish as a peaceful and democratic religion.  Materials like the MPAC's guide are not the exception, but they get very little press.  That's okay.  Let's hope that they work.

Keurigs and "Kumkums" on Pesach

I have received a large number of questions regarding various instant coffee devices on pesach and shabbat.  Here is a quick summary of the issues for those who wish:

PESACH (Passover):

The Keurig device has two sharp tubes which puncture the coffee packet.  The upper one serves to inject boiling hot water into the cup, and the lower one serves as the point of egress for the brewed coffee.  Both tubes are inside the boiling coffee at the time of cooking.  Both have metal and plastic components and can not be kashered for Pesach.

However: If you have been careful to use only unflavored coffee throughout the year from the time of purchase of the Keurig, then your Keurig has always been (and continues to be) kosher for passover. In this case, the device does not even need to be cleaned, as it is already fit for Pesach use.  You probably want to clean it anyways in a passover sink, but that's just to make sure it isn't gross. ;)

The countertop water heater ("kumkum") is even easier.  Since it has only had water in it, it is also already kosher for passover.  wipe down the outside and it is ready to go.


Boiling water is a forbidden activity on Shabbat (it is a "toldah" of "dye making" to be specific).  Therefore any benefit derived from newly boiled water on Shabbat is also completely forbidden on Shabbat.  There are 3 common household items that are called into question: the dishwasher, the "instant hot," and the water heater.

Dishwashers.  Dishwashers that require a handle to close and lock them in order to function can only be loaded, not run, on Shabbat.  Modern dishwashers with timers can be set prior to Shabbat, and loaded on Shabbat as long as the timer buttons are not manipulated on Shabbat.  If it goes on later, great.  If not, too bad.  You may take out the dishes in the morning and use them for shabbat, but should not take out dishes that you don't need yet.  Those get put away after havdalah.

Instant Hot.  This device is installed at the sink, and boils the water as it passes through the spicket to your mug.  There is no way to use this on Shabbat.  Some have a hot water reservoir which automatically refills and reboils if you drain water out to use.  This is p'sik reisha, a direct and inevitable forbidden action, so is prohibited.

Hot water heaters.  This is the large tank or tanks in your home that provide water for sinks and showers.  They routinely heat and turn off in cycles to keep a constant temperature.  The water as a whole does not boil.  Water at the metal surface of the heating implement within the tank may boil from time to time.  As you drain water in your sink or bathrooms, new water comes into the tank and mixes with the much larger amount of existing water.  The addition of new water does NOT force the tank to boil, as in the instant hot.  Therefore it is not p'sik reisha, is indirect and unintended, and is therefore permitted.  You may take hot showers on Shabbat, and you may even choose to use the hot water in your sink to mix tepid instant coffee (yuck).

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Vegas says it's Hillary over Donald in the Fall

The smartest and most accurate predictors of anything in America are consistently the Vegas odds makers.  What are they saying about the election?

Democrats:  As of today, with Super Tuesday 6 days away, Hillary Clinton is predicted by Vegas to be to overwhelming and unstoppable favorite to win the Democratic Party's nomination. But aren't Hillary and Bernie tied at this point with 52 and 51 delegates respectively at this point in the primaries? Not really.  This is because the party officials and leaders, who make up over 500 "super delegates" at the convention, have  committed to Clinton 503-70 at this point. Sanders would need to win 430 more delegates than Clinton in the primaries just to level the playing field.  That's simply not going to happen.  Here are the odds. ( -1000 means you have to bet $1000 to win only $100).

Odds as of February 24 at Bovada
  • Hillary Clinton -1000
  • Bernie Sanders +400
  • Joe Biden +2500

Republicans:  As of today, with Super Tuesday 6 days away, Donald Trump is predicted by Vegas to have a safe path to the nomination of the Republican Party.  This is closer, but not that close. Trump is predicted to win, largely because he has 82 primary delegates already won, verses Cruz at 17 and Rubio at 16. Trump's lead going into Super Tuesday is significant.  If he extends that lead on Tuesday, which the state polling seems to indicate he will do, expect his odds to become more "
hillary-esque."  Something like -500 is easily thinkable.  Interestingly, Cruz - who is currently winning more than Rubio in delegates and polls and is likely to do well on Super Tuesday - is seen as the distant 3rd place bet at this time.  Here are the odds.

Odds as of February 24 at Bovada
  • Donald Trump -300
  • Marco Rubio +200
  • Ted Cruz +4000
  • John Kasich +4000

Who will be President?

Each candidate's odds of winning here is a factor of both their likelihood to win the nomination of their party, and then their ability to win against likely opponents.  Hillary has been a favorite in this book since it was opened last year, and that has not changed.  Trump was originally behind both Cruz and Rubio in this book, even when winning in the polls.    Here are the odds.

Odds as of February 24 at Bovada
  • Hillary Clinton -150
  • Donald Trump +200
  • Marco Rubio +500
  • Bernie Sanders +1000
  • Michael Bloomberg +2500
  • Ted Cruz +10000
  • John Kasich +10000

Vegas doesn't get much wrong, so - barring some basic and startling new information on one of the candidates - the coming Clinton-Trump general election will result in President-elect Hillary Clinton on the morning of November 9, 2016.

Of course, T.V. needs you to stay tuned in, so the spin and the talk will continue ad naseum.  In the meantime, catch up on some old Netflix and make sure you are registered to vote in the NJ primary on June 7.  Registering now will be much more exciting than actually voting on June 7, because the delegate counts will likely be irrelevant at that point in the process.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

When Orientation is Normal in the Military

The following obituary was announced by the Department of Defense for this past week. May her memory be a blessing for those who knew and loved her, and may we all take pride in both her service and her sacrifice.  This is the support and love that an open policy on orientation makes possible in the U.S. Military today.

Maj. Adrianna M. Vorderbruggen, USAF, 36 of Minnesota died December 21 in Afghanistan
Maj. Vorderbruggen was a 1998 graduate of Wayzata High School in Minnesota where she was a talented athlete and a three year starter on the women's soccer team. She graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 2002 and later earned a Master's degree in forensic sciences at George Washington University. Her father, Joseph Vorderbruggen said that his daughter "loved life" and "loved the military. "Whatever goal she had, she found a way. "Maj. Vorderbruggen was assigned to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, 9th Field Investigations Squadron, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.

 Maj. Vorderbruggen is survived by her wife, Heather Lamb, her four year old son Jacob and her father Joseph Voderbruggen.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Jewish Groups Universally Defend Muslim's Rights against Donald Trump

From the JTA.

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Jewish groups blasted Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump for his proposal to block all Muslims from entering the United States.
“A plan that singles out Muslims and denies them entry to the U.S. based on their religion is deeply offensive and runs contrary to our nation’s deepest values,” the Anti-Defamation League said in a statement Monday evening hours after Trump, a real estate billionaire and reality TV star, issued his call.
“In the Jewish community, we know all too well what can happen when a particular religious group is singled out for stereotyping and scapegoating,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL’s CEO. “We also know that this country must not give into fear by turning its back on its fundamental values, even at a time of great crisis.”
The American Jewish Committee’s director of policy, Jason Isaacson,noted the timing of Trump’s statement, which called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” coincident with the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.
“As Jews who are now observing Hanukkah, a holiday that celebrates a small religious minority’s right to live unmolested, we are deeply disturbed by the nativist racism inherent in the candidate’s latest remarks,” Isaacson said. “You don’t need to go back to the Hanukkah story to see the horrific results of religious persecution; religious stereotyping of this sort has been tried often, inevitably with disastrous results.”
Trump in his news release alluded to the massacre in San Bernardino, California, last week of 14 people by a couple apparently radicalized by the Islamic State terrorist group.
“Without looking at the various polling data, it is obvious to anybody the hatred is beyond comprehension,” he said. “Where this hatred comes from and why we will have to determine. Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in Jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life.”
Other Jewish groups condemning the comments included J Street, Bend the Arc, the National Jewish Democratic Council, the Israel Policy Forum, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and JAC, a Jewish political action committee.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Patience in the Face of Terror

With the attack on a county program center in San Bernadino this week, we have been shown the combination of a "sleeper" terrorist and a "soft" target.  It is devastating.  With 14 dead and more wounded, the professionals are now working on identifying the circle around the dead terrorists. But there are many lessons to be learned.

First, there were immediate attempts to react to the attack and label it. Was it a disgruntled employee?  Was it domestic terrorism? Was it international terrorism? It had elements of each.

The first question was, is this a disgruntled employee, and therefore "just" a violent mass murder?  Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and Tashfeen Malik, 27, fired as many as 150 bullets inside the San Bernadino County Inland Regional Center where he had worked. In retrospect, his employee status was merely part of the long play to identify a target and its weakest moment - the holiday party. He was not disgruntled, in conflict, or identified as a threat in any way.

The second thought was, is this an "anti government" domestic terror attack, like Oklahoma City?  After all, it was a county building.  But this also didn't make sense, as it was not a "government" office, and its purpose was to provide services to the special needs community.  Hardly a focal point for anti-government sentiment.

Finally, the truth starts to emerge.  They had thousands of rounds stockpiled at home. They had built pipe bombs and purchased military equipment and clothing. They had been deleting their computers and destroying their phones in the last few days before the attack. They purposefully dropped off their six month old baby (!) with her grandmother.  They attended the holiday party to case the location one last time, and then returned armed for war and began shooting.

At some point in the last few years, Syed made a change in his understanding of Islam and of America.  Born and raised in Chicago as a first generation American, he had no criminal record.  He had the right to travel to the Middle East, which he did.  He had the right to apply for immigration for his fiancee and co-terrorist.  And he did.  He had the right to pass a criminal background check and screening in California to purchase guns, which he did.  He had all of the rights and privileges that you and I have.  They were employed, and welcomed in their neighborhood.  America had done nothing wrong, and until they pulled the trigger neither had they.

This is the most difficult form of terrorism to prevent.  At best, you hope to stumble across them as they slowly stockpile materials to be used in bombs.  If you are lucky, someone will become aware and turn them in, but they were perfect in how they laid low. But this is a country of freedoms, and Syed was a born citizen like you or me.  What level of government intrusion into personal freedoms would have revealed this plot in advance? Certainly not one that you or I would tolerate.

The only way to stop them would have been to have had secured doors at the facility, and trained armed people in the building to respond during the shooting.  The truth is that only armed guards, or trained and armed citizens, can stop a shooter like this.  They are not on watch lists, no-fly lists, nor are they persons of interest in any crime.  They were known in the building and had the right to enter.  People like this can always start the shooting.  The question is, how fast can we stop it once it starts?

Once again, the response to the shooting by some has been to try to ban guns on the one side, or to scapegoat Islam on the other.  

Terrorists and criminals will always have access to guns, and will always be able to make bombs. The more pragmatic answer to these scenarios, though many are afraid of its stark reality, is to allow regular folks to become trained and licensed in the handling of firearms for defense. In Paris, in San Bernadino, in Charleston... no one in the room had a chance. The training should be a high bar and the vetting for a public concealed carry should be a high standard, but the only other solution is to hide and hope that the shooter misses you for the next 10-15 minutes while the police scramble to get to you.

And yes, there is a strong and determined voice in Islam to murder the enemies of their brand of Islam.  The enemies of ISIS include other muslims, westerners, Jews and whoever gets in their way. Those of us on the outside of Islam looking in continue to assert that Islam itself has to reject the terror and the truth is most of Islam does, unless you start talking about Israel.  

The FBI and Homeland Security are on the case.  The back story will be known, and new leads in the war on terror will be found and followed. The Islamic community in this country will continue to be supportive and cooperative to pursue and prevent this kind of murder, as they have proven to be since 9/11.

In the meantime, patience. No new stereotypes.  No new legislation.  Let the professionals do their job, and know that on a day to day basis in this country you really are entirely safe (unless you drive on I-95 in rush hour!).