Tuesday, July 28, 2020
What was its purpose?
Were our national interests successfully met?
Why did we stay so long?
And what are we leaving behind?
THE PURPOSE OF THE WAR IN AFGHANISTAN
The following brief summary is from the Naval History and Heritage Command.
Thursday, July 2, 2020
First the Trump Peace Plan has been presented by President Trump and endorsed by Prime Minister Netanyahu. It is not easy, however, for all of us who love and support Israel to fall in line, because the plan itself does not represent a unifying or a centrist view in Israel. AIPAC, for example, has continued its long term policy of a two state solution, with Israel and Palestine living in peace side-by-side one day. The Trump plan would eliminate that outcome. In addition, Israel has just resolved a year long loggerhead between the left and the right in its domestic elections, with much of the left resoundingly opposed to Prime Minister Netanyahu's hopes for further annexation. In such a complex political environment, it is disingenuous for anyone to claim that being pro-annexation or anti-annexation is the only legitimate way to show support or love for Israel. It is an internal domestic hot-potato in Israeli politics, but has broad international implication.
Second, former Vice-President Biden, the Democratic challenger to President Trump for the presidency, has always been an ardent supporter of a two-state solution, and of a negotiated settlement to the conflict. He reinforced that point of view in a statement to the AIPAC policy conference which I attended in March, and repeated it in a statement in late May.
As a result, Democrats and Republicans are lining up on the issue of annexation as if it were a simple extension of their own domestic politics, rather than a separate issue to be analyzed and understood in light of our values, Israel's ideals and the pragmatic determinations about what will be best for Israel in the long run. Note, for example, the carefully worded statement from the Conservative Movement's Rabbinical Assembly which raises concerns while not crossing too far over the line of party politics.
While support of Israel is meant to be a unifying item in the American Jewish community, in recent years it has fallen prey to the polarization of American and Israeli political societies in general. The recent battle over the leadership of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations is indicative of this kind of ugliness that is used on this topic, as a leader of HIAS, a Jewish agency that provides immigration support was held back from her legitimate election by those who said her policies were not in line with President Trump and therefore she should not be a leader of the Conference.
I urge you to start fresh. Ignore the fact that Jared Kushner has designed a proposal that is clearly skewed on the Israeli spectrum to one side. Ignore the fact that the Obama/Biden presidency had a severe falling out with Netanyahu which paralyzed relations in the last year and left Israel vulnerable to UN votes without a US veto at the security council.
The fact is, Israel is considering a political maneuver with far-reaching implications, and it would be implemented by force of unilateral action. The Palestinians have no voice in the process, for a variety of reasons. But the main reason in this case is that they were not part of the process, and are not seriously being considered in the solution. American politicians have diametrically opposed views of the topic: Peace through consolidation of territorial authority, or peace through diplomacy and engagement. This is a divisive issue, about which people will differ.
Given that, you must read more and learn more. I recommend going to the Jewish Council for Public Affairs website on the topic. There they have gathered varied points of view and credible resources that argue their case. Read each point of view with an open mind. Determine what you believe and why. Then be ready to articulate that opinion in a calm, thoughtful manner in the days ahead. No one should be shaming another person on this topic as a lack of love of Israel.
As for the American election, personally I do not believe that Israel should be our first topic. Israel is one of the most important things in my life, for me, my children and our people. I believe that Israel will be part of what redeems the world. But when I vote, I vote as an American for what I believe is best for America.
I also believe that what is best for America will always be what is best for Israel, because of our deeply shared values - regardless of any given president or prime minister of the hour.
Tuesday, June 9, 2020
The national awakening and catharsis of the last two weeks since the murder of George Floyd at the hands of 4 police officers in Minneapolis, MN has been a remarkable moment in the history of racial justice in America. All citizens with a heart reacted in horror, and many of us non-blacks have turned our eyes and ears towards people and voices that we have previously ignored or dismissed. Protests have scooped up the well-meaning in a broad spectrum of ages, races and religions. The national cancer of racism, known but unresolved, has been laid bare and society has become open to ideas that just 3 weeks ago would have been received as the crackpot schemes of an unstable fringe.
I have followed the protests, watched hours of instagram, and heard what seem to be the primary points of the organizers. Much of what is being said I have been preaching literally for many years.
- There is systemic racism in America which imbues our economic structures, city planning, health care system, education, and more.
- The experience and opportunities of black Americans of any economic level or creed is different, and mostly disadvantaged, compared to their white colleagues of similar economic level or creed. Exceptions only prove the rule.
- The experience of policing in America is different for blacks than whites, not just in high crime neighborhoods but broadly across the country, and the difference is profoundly negative.
It is my hope and prayer that these 3 items will be moved, pushed, prodded, healed, solved, eliminated by our combined efforts in the new awakening that we are experiencing at this moment.
And a major piece of this is accountability. Police unions are predictably rallying to the badge to protect the wave of officers being disciplined, fired and/or prosecuted for assault on civilians in recent days. The police are justifiably astounded at the feeding frenzy demanding blue blood. We are fortunate to live in a media age, and I hope for a day when all police behavior is documented in video and audio recordings. This can only help. Yes, accountability is a non-negotiable and police forces will need to accept that it is only going to grow and it is here to stay.
But the larger issue is the systemic racism behind it all. That will not change with a city council vote or a march.
But if that is to happen, it will only be through institutional change. And that takes a more moderate approach, not a bullhorn. It takes investment, not divestment.
Our democracy, too often distracted by carnival barkers and political manipulators has risen up again to debate and advance a genuine issue of the people. It is profoundly gratifying. Examples of racial policing is one symptom of a much larger disease.
There is, nevertheless, a very real danger that it will all fade away in the months ahead. First, it is easy to be horrified and to flood the streets, but it is hard to coalesce a consensus around practical ideas that will pass muster in our democratic system. Second, the COVID virus restrictions are being lifted and people will be in severe need of work, and security. When people go back to work, and their food is in question, their ability to pursue sustained political advocacy will decrease. Any significant disconnect between the leaders with the bullhorns and the broad spectrum of people engaging racial justice seriously for the first time will hamstring the movement's momentum.
These two slogans can kill the racial justice movement's new coalition, because at their face value they are absurd:
"Defund the Police"
"Dismantle the Police"
The Minnesota Mayor was booed off the stage this past weekend for refusing to commit to defunding the police. That is the same mayor who, from the beginning, defied his own police department and demanded the arrest and prosecution of the murdering officer(s) in the Floyd case. The movement also needs to listen. The movement also needs to learn how to identify friends of the cause and not continue to use tools of extreme protest on the cusp of their ultimate victory. They must learn to create institutional change. Burning it down will not work, and will lose the support of the vast coalition that has currently rallied to the cause.
The simple truth is that society demands the police more than it needs civil rights. Look at the excesses of the Patriot Act in the wake of 9/11 and see how many liberties have been unthinkingly cast aside in the name of security.
Most people want the police. We all need the police. The police exist as a necessary and desirable arm of our government in a social contract with the citizens of a free republic to defend and protect, to serve and support the laws of the nation and her citizens of all races and creeds. We want racial justice in our policing, which will take additional investments in our police training and management.
Defunding a large and complex system of individual organizations that you actually want to invest in makes no sense.
What happens when there is no police? We are literally only days away from open rioting, looting and shoplifting in NYC when it was (correctly) assessed that the police had no power to prevent those actions. I lived in Los Angeles after Rodney King, and the same was true there. My friends in Quillota, Chile have seen the same in the past year. This is human behavior. One of the largest industries in America is the security camera industry, which is useless without the police to investigate the images they capture. People will want the police.
The prophets of Israel and the Talmud knew this lesson well:
Jeremiah 29:7 Seek the welfare of the city to which I have exiled you and pray to the LORD in its behalf; for in its prosperity you shall prosper.
The rabbinic tradition recognizes the need for authority and governance, and embraces even bad government over anarchy. For example, R. Hanina famously interpreted Jeremiah, saying "Pray for the welfare of the government, for if it were not for the fear of it, people would swallow up their neighbor alive" (Pirkei Avot, 3:2).
Policing is not a zero sum game. There are still murderers, thieves, domestic violence, fraud and more going on every minute of every day. If you defund the police, it won't take away the racism of some or the systematic racism of many. It will take the police away from what you need them to do. If you want a major initiative, you must invest in it. And it's worth it.
Yes, demand racial justice. Invest in real change. Invest in the police to make it happen.
Friday, June 5, 2020
Every major Jewish religious denomination in America has joined in condemnation and calls for justice. The words of the prophet Isaiah, Tzedek tzedek tirdof rings in the streets of our nation.
May God grant our country a clear vision of the equality of all races in all things, guide our government and our criminal justice system to the fair and equal treatment of all, raise up the calls for justice and quiet the drive to violence in our streets.
Orthodox OU and RCA:
Orthodox Agudath Israel:
Worker’s Circle (non-religious):
Thursday, June 4, 2020
Tuesday, June 2, 2020
Sunday, May 31, 2020
I write you as your rabbi in a time of racial turmoil. If we were able to gather physically, I would call on us to gather in our building to hold a community meeting and plan our involvement as a force for good at this time. I would join with others to stand up and support in person all peaceful voices for racial justice in America. I would lead any who would follow to gather with others in our area in common cause. I am frustrated that this is not possible at this time.
I recognize that many say this is "too little." Please know, this is not all I do. This is not all you should do. This note is just about this note: I will not attend a rally right now, and I hear the cry of prophecy in the wind.
Rabbi Robert L. Tobin
Thursday, May 28, 2020
Not only that, I know that it is the silent bystander that empowers evil. The police chief in Minneapolis has said publicly that he fired all four officers involved in the incident because silence is being "complicit." All four ex-officers must be arrested, charged and tried just like any other accomplices in a murder would be. As long as the other 3 walk free, the criminal justice system in Minneapolis has not done what it must to prove that it is not also complicit. This is why the protests grow, and frustration turns too often towards violence. It is the accusation that there is a culture of police complicity that empowers these acts against the black community. Prove it wrong. Arrest and charge all 4 officers.
- I will WRITE for you and everyone who will read it. Please pass it along.
- I will VOTE, with this in mind. I will tell every elected official on my ballot that this matters to me more than anything else facing America today.
- I will SHUT UP, when someone is trying to tell me what this means and what this is from their experience and point of view.
- I will SPEAK UP when I hear or see this insipid cultural prejudice against black men, and against any racial, religious, or gender victims in my community and in my country.
- I will try to FORM GENUINE RELATIONSHIPS with people who are different than me, racially, religiously and in every way - to be there when it matters.
Thursday, April 2, 2020
President Bill Clinton famously quipped "It's the economy, stupid" about presidential elections. In good economies, incumbents win. In bad economies, outsiders win. Is it that simple?
Since the beginning of March, most of the large states with urban populations, except for Florida, moved quickly to social distancing protocols. Now, in early April, almost all states have moved there. The economic impact is well known. In the last two weeks, 10 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits, and economists are predicting double digit unemployment by the end of the month. Investment portfolios have shrunk, as the stock market initially lost 25% of its value, moving most people's IRA's back 3 years in time. The stimulus package has bolstered some confidence, and Americans seem to be adjusting to the new normal for now. What will these numbers look like in 3 months? No one really knows.
News stations are doing what they do. Two nights ago I randomized a time of night and watched exactly 10 minutes of Fox and 10 minutes of CNN simultaneously. CNN was reporting about death numbers, hospital shortages and two human interest stories of people afraid or affected by the pandemic. Fox ran a segment on China's "wet markets," civil rights, and how China has not moved to change the circumstances that existed there prior to the outbreak. As I have often noted, news is not objective these days.
So, with people increasingly concerned (either about who to blame or what to do), increasingly strapped financially (unemployment, lost of savings, and soon failures of businesses and loans), polar reactions are occuring in a divided country.
For the previous year prior to March, for example, 270towin.com has consistently agreggated presidential polls showing the Florida, Colorado, Ohio and Minnesota were "up for grabs." Colorado and Minnesota have tended bluish, while Ohio and Florida have tended reddish. Now, those states are beyond the margin of error in each direction. Florida (a must win for Trump to get to 270 electoral college votes) now trends solidly Republican. But what is really interesting is that New Mexico, Virginia and Colorado - formerly safe Republican states no so long ago, are all in the Democratic column.
Even more interesting is Ohio, which went twice for Obama, and twice for Bill Clinton, and is safely Trump's these days. No president since JFK in 1960 has won the Presidency while losing Ohio, and only FDR in 1944 managed it otherwise in the last 110 years. The general wisdom is, you must win Ohio to win - as Trump did 4 years ago and looks to do again. But can Ohio be on the losing side?
The polarization of America is showing in the polls, and the old wisdom may not hold. As of today, there are only 3.5 states "up for grabs:" North Carolina, Arizona, Wisconsin and part of Nebraska. Look at this interactive map to play with the scenarios. As of today, the polls would say that the Republicans must win all of those to win the election. The Democrats have to win just one of the whole states. Here are the most recent polls in those states:
Wisconsin (April 1): Biden 48%, Trump 45%, Undecided 7% (+/- 4.2%)
North Carolina (March 1): Biden 48%, Trump 46%, Undecided 6% (+/- 2.9%)
Arizona (March 16): Biden 47%, Trump 46%, Undecided 7% (+/- 2.7%)
So, if the 3 states are each a coin flip statistically, it is like flipping three times: 3 Heads, the Republicans win. Anything else, the Democrats win. Odds of flipping Three Heads in three flips are: 1/2*1/2*1/2 = 1 out of 8, or 12.5%
Very rough numbers, because - as we learned in the Hillary meltdown/Trump victory - the undecideds will not split evenly. Someone is going to win them, and probably not until election day. And, presuming NC and AZ go typically Republican, it still comes down to Wisconsin... and within Wisconsin it is the 3rd district that will decide it, as I have already written in an earlier blog post.
Yes, the picture is polarizing. But it is also clarifying. And yes, for only the 3rd time in the last 110+ years, the winner of Ohio could very well lose.
Monday, March 30, 2020
Monday, March 23, 2020
With the increasingly severe restrictions on public gatherings and movement, the primary season is in question. Nonetheless, there WILL be a general election, by Constitutional law, in November. Therefore, there MUST be Democratic and Republican national conventions this summer. Those are in mid July.
They are almost certainly going to be held remotely, via internet links. Expect a massive confusion around how to secure voter credentials remotely, etc., but Biden should have the 1991 needed on the first ballot to secure the nomination. Unfortunately, at pre-coronovirus scheduling, he was on track to have it all done by the NJ primary on June 2. Now, it will almost certainly have to wait until NY and the others on June 28.
So, the State primaries that are left will need to function in time to bind their delegates to their candidates, if the situation is to proceed smoothly. Best practice will be to push advance paper ballots as much as possible, as in person voting should be discouraged.
At this time, I am only expecting Wyoming, Alaska, Wisconsin and Hawaii to hold their primaries in April as scheduled. That pushes the whole process off, leaving Bernie hanging out there to sow discord and weaken Biden. On the other hand, initial polls show Biden gaining slightly on Trump in national surveys - but after Hillary, who believes those any more?
Why Wisconsin Still Matters Now
Simply put, if Biden loses Wisconsin, he would need to win AZ or NC to win the election. Both of those are very hard to imagine.
So, the most interesting information we will get in April is now from Wisconsin. Wisconsin (April 7) - has actual elections, not just primaries, on this date, and they probably have to do it by paper rather than leave state and local offices empty throughout the summer.
Why is Wisconsin so interesting?
Last time, Bernie showed strong in Wisconsin against Hillary. In 2016, Bernie WON Wisconsin with 56.5 % of the Democratic primary voters. In retrospect we now realize that was a harbinger for serious (fatal) lack of support for Hillary in general. People didn't all vote "for" Bernie. Many voted "against Hillary" once in the primary, and then again in the general election, swinging the state (and the election) to Trump. All pundits and analysts seem to have missed this subtlety, except for the Trump campaign who responded by scheduling multiple trips to Wisconsin in the final weeks of the campaign, successfully turning a blue state red. They simply were smarter than anyone else.
This year, Sanders is polling BEHIND at about 38-39% of Democrats in the Primary, against Biden's 55%. In broad strokes, that means that about 17% of the voters do NOT prefer Bernie, but voted for him because they didn't want Hillary. While 38% is stronger than Bernie is getting nationally, so there is more enthusiasm for him there, it is not clear that there is the kind of anti-Biden feeling that there was vs. Hillary. Conclusion: If Bernie fails to get 40 or 50 % in Wisconsin, it is a very good sign for Biden in the national contest.
Now let's analyze that conclusion with Trump/Biden.
Where are Biden/Trump in WI polling?
From last summer through January, 2020, in Wisconsin, Biden routinely out-polled Trump by about 5% points, just outside the range of error for most polls. During that same time period, about 13% were undecided. But you must remember that Hillary, in November of 2016, polled almost identically, including about 13% still undecided. Guess where the undecideds went last time? The "undecided" voter does NOT statistically break according to the percentages of the "decided" voter in polls. The Bernie victory should have told us that could happen.
So what is happening with those swing voters in Wisconsin this year?
In February, as the Biden campaign crashed in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, the Biden/Trump polls moved along with him. By the end of February, Trump was beating Biden in all head to head polls by a solid 5% points in Wisconsin. Then came South Carolina, and the realignment of the Democratic primary in favor of Biden and against Bernie. Biden is now, once again, polling slightly ahead of Trump and within the margin of error.
Conclusion: As of now, Biden and Trump are in a statistical tie in Wisconsin with, you guessed it, 10-13% undecided.
Wisconsin will decide who is the next president. But not just Wisconsin. Drilling down, Trump won all the Republican Congressional Districts, and Hillary won all the Democratic congressional districts EXCEPT the 3rd. This is where the President of the United States could be decided.
So What is the Wisconsin 3rd Congretional District.
91% white, 56% Rural, traditionally Republican, but with half of the city voters from MN-St Paul because of Gerrymandering.
Good Luck, Joe.
As of today, it is too close to call, but a swing back to Democrat will depend on how districts like this one view the handling of the Corona Virus Pandemic and its aftermath.
Friday, March 20, 2020
First, we will be offering "seder in a box" from Premier caterers here at B'nai Shalom this year. You have the choice of the ritual items only or a full meal. Haggadot will be provided, and a link to a Passover Seder Video that you can stream on your I-Pad in case you need help "leading" your seder. This is all part of our electronic supports during the Corona Virus Pandemic, encouraging both social distancing and ongoing observance of our traditions.
Second, I will be announcing this Shabbat that we will be allowing mourners' kaddish to be said during our live streaming minyanim. That means, should we still be physically closed for Pesach, we will have remote participation minyan with kaddish for Yizkor on the 8th day of Pesach. Please plan accordingly.
ALCOHOL SANITIZERS ON PESACH THIS YEAR:
Third, regarding the CDC advice to maintain a sterile environment, especially including frequent hand washing with soap and water and hand sanitizer. The scientific community is being quite clear: soap and water is best. In the absence of soap and water, hand sanitizer must be at least 60% alcohol in order to be effective. Most alcohol is made from grain, and traditionally forbidden to be owned or to derive any benefit from it during Pesach. The demand for Pikuach Nefesh - to save human lives - OVERRIDES that prohibition.
To save human life, you MAY (even MUST) use alcohol based hand sanitizers, even if they are KNOWN to be derived from grain. Halakhikly, it is possible to argue that the destruction of the grain into an inedible form of alcohol creates a d'var chadash which is not even akhilat kelev. Since it is inedible to a dog and unrecognizable as grain, the emergency situation provides room for leniency during this time of extreme need sha'ah dehak. Nevertheless, ALL SUCH PRODUCTS ARE BEST PURCHASED IN ADVANCE OF THE HOLIDAY, AND INCLUDED IN YOUR SALE OF CHAMETZ. In this way, you will be benefiting from the grain product of a non Jew, who themself is permitted to own it.
This is not a leniency that operates in an area with no corona virus, nor is it a precedent for the future.
- Follow this Weekday and Shabbat Evening Minyan Link link at 8:00 pm weekdays, or 6:00 pm on Fridays. (For those without Zoom, the call in is: 929-205-6099 Meeting ID 304-491-162)
- Follow this Weekday and Shabbat Morning Minyan Link 7:00 am for weekday services and the following Shabbat services:
- Shabbat Morning Youth Services are from 10:00-10:30 a.m. (For those without Zoom, the call in is: 929-205-6099 Meeting ID 450-192-936).
- Shabbat Morning Congregational Services are 10:45 am - 12:00 p.m.(For those without Zoom, the call in is: 929-205-6099 Meeting ID 450-192-936).
- There will be no Shabbat minchah/havdalah online.
Please note that this leniency and system are only promised to continue until the CDC relaxes social distancing.
Please note that "counting in a minyan" will be handled as a separate issue.
FOR ADVANCED USERS: Zoom has a sound setting that isolates one voice at a time, or tries to. Congregational singing doesn't work so well that way. If you want, directions to change advanced sound settings in Zoom have been prepared by Don Batschelder for your consideration.
Stay safe and well.