politics | New entry into 'World's Stupidest Politician' contest

In what must be a bid for the "World's Stupidest Politician" award, Democratic state senator Guy Glodis of Massachusetts has recommended the United States bury Islamic extremists with pig entrails in a bid to deter terrorists from attacking us. I only wish I was kidding.


politics | Wanted... bold and self-confident liberalism

I'd like to follow up on my criticism of Martin Frost's willingness to write off the bold and self-confident opposition of Howard Dean to Bush on foreign policy as well as healthcare, education, taxes, etc. Two fantastic essays have cropped up on Alternet.

One of them, based on book excerpts from Dispatches from the Culture Wars: How the Left Lost Teen Spirit, argues persuasively that the reason liberals find themselves losing to Republicans isn't because the Republicans easily command a majority, but because the liberal (i.e. Democratic) leadership has essentially refused to engage in active opposition.

The second, Too many lies, too little outrage, breaks down the American public's complacency regarding the clear and mounting evidence that the Bush administration spun deceptions on top of deceptions to sell its war in Iraq. I am willing to give the American public a little slack, if only because the opposition party is largely failing to mount much opposition. To paraphrase Aaron Sorkin's The American President, people are thirsty for leadership, and in the absence of real leadership, they'll crawl through the sand and grasp at a mirage.


politics | Leading Democrat surrenders half the field

On last Friday's edition of MSNBC's 'Buchanan & Press,' leading Texas Democrat Martin Frost made this astonishing statement: "Well, I think the price of admission to being a serious Democratic candidate is to be strong on national security. And I don’t think you can run as an anti-war candidate and win the election." He was speaking about Howard Dean's insurgent campaign for the Democratic nomination.

When pressed further on the subject, he added these gems: "I think that Howard Dean has the appearance of being another McGovern... And I would hope that we would find a candidate that would speak to the broad middle of the country, because as you know the only three Democratic presidents who have been elected in a very long time were all from the south."

Frost's criticism can be distilled into a single sentence: We need a moderate southern candidate who won't take the president to task on the war but will harp on health-care, education, and taxes. In short, Frost is asking for the most inoffensive of Democratic nominees, the blandest of the bland. It reeks of a political calculus designed to alienate the least number of possible constituencies, and it’s the kind of approach that paralyzes real policy discussion in favor of vague platitudes that induce yawns and captivate no one. Worse still, it ignores the policy realities of today in favor of outdated political strategies crafted in the immediate wake of 9-11. It represents the political cowardice of a large swath, if not the majority, of the Democratic leadership today. Let's pick it apart piece by piece.

First, being against the war in Iraq as it was perpetrated as well as against an utter disaster of a post-war policy is not the same as being soft on national security. I would expect the Republican president of the United States to parrot that line, but for a Democratic leader to say so is shameful. It is to surrender the field not just on the war, not just on national security, but also on the whole of foreign policy. Howard Dean has articulated very clear reasons for his opposition to the timing and method of waging war against Iraq, and he's also made well-reasoned arguments for what he would do as an alternative. That's more than can be said of virtually any other Democratic candidate with any credible chance of winning the nomination, so it shouldn't surprise anyone that the Democrats get beaten in every poll when it comes to national security. They're not losing that debate, because the Republicans are right. They're losing it, because they refuse to show up.

That's despite an amassing mountain of evidence that the administration purposely deceived the American public in order to garner support for war in Iraq. That's despite the undisputable quagmire that post-war involvement in Iraq has become. That's despite the increasing casualty count that's running at an average of one American soldier per day after the war is over.

Secondly, Frost's assertion that Dean won't appeal to the broad middle of the country is less hogwash than a purposeful unwillingness to engage that broad middle in an honest argument about the failures of Bush's policies. Only when it becomes self-evident that a Bush policy is unpopular with a large segment of the population would Frost's approach warrant a strong opposition. But Dean is both willing and able to challenge the people in a direct discussion without needing to qualify his positions against politically calculated votes he made in the past. He's not trying to cater to conservatives just enough to win the center. He's trying to beat conservatives and win the White House.

It's that kind of clarity and audacity that can excite the American people and generate a real undermining of Bush's popularity, a popularity which already sits on the brink despite two wars and 9-11. Dean has it. I've yet to see another serious Democratic candidate who also has it, and that is why Dean has surged from unknown dark horse to media hot topic and serious challenger.


Governor Howard DeanLet the campaign begin!

Not to get too political for everybody's tastes, but former governor of Vermont, Howard Dean, has officially announced his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination. He's been in the race for months, and was largely considered a dark horse with limited chances at the nomination. To borrow a phrase, that was then.

He's now in position to win the MoveOn.org online primary, which has no real value in terms of the nomination but is hugely significant in terms of mobilizing grass-roots and banking serious donations. More importantly, he's come out as the favored candidate of the more progressive elements in the party and is seriously positioned to challenge perennial front-runners such as Lieberman or Gephardt. Strong showings in New Hampshire or Iowa, and Dean could become the real life Jed Bartlett.

From where I'm standing this is all a good thing. To mine eyes, Dean is the only candidate both willing and credibly able to challenge Bush directly and articulate a strong opposition in the 2004 elections. That's why I'm voting for him in the MoveOn primary, and why I'll be harping his credentials from now until he either wins the White House or bows out of the race. Let the campaign begin!


When Jews question Jews

This is an admittedly lengthy post, so I apologize up front, but something has been bugging me of late. It's based both on some personal experience and the ongoing Rushkoff debate. For those unfamiliar with the issue, Douglas Rushkoff has recently written a very interesting book entitled Nothing Sacred. That, along with some op-eds he's written, has prompted some to refer to him as an atheist, and imply his Judaism is less authentic, due to his writings. Though this is admittedly not the majority of people responding to him, it's caused him some degree of frustration.

Now take my experience. As a columnist and writer for Jewsweek, I've written pieces which are admittedly controversial in approach. They touch on sensitive subjects like the relationship of American Jews to Israel or how we remember the Holocaust. It's my job, and I'm glad to do it, but when readers respond they sometimes cross a certain line, the same line they cross from time to time with Rushkoff.

For example, this week I wrote an op-ed discussing the Israeli government's general inability to shut its mouth when it was in its best interests. One person in particular chose to express their disdain with my view, which is fine, but in so doing they felt the need to question my Judaism: "As a Jew (I'm not sure you are), you should know that you should be respectful at least to your fellow Jews." I felt very much like sending back that exact sentence, verbatim.

Now, I'm sure I'm a Jew. If you doubt that, I can introduce you to my rabbi, and all three rabbis who presided over the beit din at my conversion. But regardless of that, what relevancy does it have to my commentaries? Unless I'm discussing my own Jewish identity, it hardly seems appropriate to use it as a form of criticism, yet this particular incident is not the least bit isolated.

Another individual responded to a feature story I'd done, in which I discussed the upcoming challenges of the next Jewish generation. He chose to respond to my editor, not me, and he felt the need to include the following: "Worse still, being a convert brings up questions about his accountability as both a journalist and a commentator on being Jewish." Say what!? So says this reader, "When he uses such phrases as 'our parents,' 'our grandparents,' and 'our generation' ... he is, by the strictest definition, writing a lie." I'm what!?

Let me be clear here. I write for a living, for an audience, and I have every expectation that people will disagree with me. I encourage them to, because I want to have that discussion. But at what point did a large segment of our community find it appropriate to question the Jewish identities of those Jews who do not share the consensus or write opinions that don't align with theirs? As a Jewish thinker, I know the answer. We've (yes we've) been doing it to each other for at least a couple hundred years, and it lies at the root of the interdenominational divide.

But that doesn't make it smell any less like the excrement it is.


Another week, another Jewsweek

The new issue of Jewsweek just went up, and I've got another cover story. This one's on the issue of government funding to Middle East studies centers, many of whom have been criticized as promoting anti-American and/or anti-Israel biases. A warning up front: This is a magazine style article, so it's fine to read, but this isn't sexy. It's an article about political and ideological arguments and how much money gets allocated for something.

I also followed up my posting about Israeli officials' chronic inability to shut their traps with a full-fledged op-ed in this week's issue. I also designed the cover, and some other graphics, but enough about me. No, really.

If you get a chance, I recommend an article about a Brooklyn Jew who made aliyah and then converted to Islam as well as a book review on the topic of Israeli refuseniks. And if you were ever interested in the gay and Jewish topic, there's a piece on a recent documentary that discusses the subject.


politics | Not that I want to keep blaming Canada, but...

Concordia University, long notorious as a bastion of anti-Israel sentiment and a hotbed for particularly destructive protests to that effect, has cleared a Palestinian activist of harassment charges after he painted a swastika on an Israeli flag this past March. The swasika was drawn onto an Israeli flag that another student had drawn on a public display.

According to the activist, Laith Marouf, contends it wasn't meant to disparage Jews but merely Israel. "Unfortunately, we have no other symbol we can associate with fascism. It's the simplest way to send a message about a fascist government, by using the swastika." In seeming opposition to that statment, Marouf claimed in his hearing that he drew the swasika inverted so as to represent the Hindu symbol of life, not the Nazi emblem, "as that is such a powerful symbol," though he did admit he knew full well most students wouldn't notice the subtle difference. Would it matter if they did?

So what is it? Commentary on the appropriation of symbols, anti-Israel screed using a Nazi emblem as a fascist symbol, or anti-Semitic action that got a pass from a university that's steeped in this stuff? Who knows, but the swastika is no longer an officially condemned hate symbol and form of harassment at Concordia University.

In related news, another student banned from Concordia for his role in the violent protests against Benjamin Netanyahu is now facing deportation from the whole of Canada and has apparently incured losses totalling $32,411.87. One expensive protest, wouldn't you say?

media | Why media diversity matters to you

As a journalist and politically active S.O.B., I'm particularly miffed by the recent FCC decision to allow companies to swallow up even more newspapers and TV stations in single markets. Why is this a problem? Because it saps media diversity, thus depriving us of competing voices and strengthening a largely corporate media that fails to serve as a true democratic watchdog. Just take a look at talk radio, or regular radio, all of which was similarly deregulated in the 1990s. Not exactly the bastion of diverse points of view is it?

All of which is why I highly recommend you click over to the Free Press Media Reform Network. They're leading a charge against the FCC's deregulation, a move that passed along party lines despite massive public protest against it, and they're also educating on a host of related issues you should know about.

I know. I'm a shill. Sue me.

media | CNN's biased and Israeli officials are stupid

Arutz Sheva's email edition for today features a media watch criticism of a recent CNN online piece headlined "Israeli official dismisses Hamas cease-fire." Their concern, of course, is that CNN's headline seems to imply that (a) Hamas has agreed to a cease-fire and (b) Israel is the intransigent party.

Well let's get into this shall we? First, the headline to the actual article includes the word "report" at the end, which helps. Beyond that, the Arutz Sheva criticism has a point, but it also manages to miss the larger point as far as Israel should be concerned. What was an Israeli official doing dismissing the Hamas cease-fire reports in the first place!? To a reporter, no less!?

Any journalist or PR person knows that the second an "official" leaks a statement of this nature, it gets turned into the hook for a new story. As the hook, it will make it into the headline, and that's hardly CNN's fault. When the reporters go snooping for an Israeli reaction, however, what would happen if all they heard was, "As of yet, no cease-fire agreement has been offered up by Hamas, and until one is announced we simply cannot comment on something that hasn't happened yet." Such a statement, for one thing, would be impossible to spin as Israel being intransigent. Better still, it would put the spotlight right back on Hamas, emphasizing that it's up to the Palestinian terror groups to cease firing.

But no, that's not what the Israeli official said. So while media watchdogs can duly complain, this time it's not CNN's fault. It's the Israeli officials, and there's way more than one of them, who are chronically unable to shut up.


history | Farming vs. education, the Jewish dilemma?

Slate, ever the repository of explanations to questions few of us were asking, features an article by Steven E. Landsburg entitled Why Jews Don't Farm. The piece argues that Jews, unique among other religious or cultural groups, quit agriculture in decidedly higher numbers as early as 200 C.E. Why would Jews abandon farming in larger numbers relative to Christians or Muslims in order to take up urban occupations?

"The exodus from farms to towns was probably not a response to discrimination," says Landsburg, citing economic historians Maristella Botticini and Zvi Eckstein. Instead, those urban, non-agricultural jobs "require literacy, which requires education—and for hundreds of years, education was so expensive that it proved a poor investment despite those higher wages."

"But the Jews (like everyone else) were beholden not just to economic rationalism, but also to the dictates of their religion. And the Jewish religion, unique among religions of the early Middle Ages, imposed an obligation to be literate." So it all boils down to the fact that Jews have made education a priority, and the by-product of that is that Jews have increasingly taken up the posh jobs of the higher educated.

I'm fine with that argument, though it's probably only one part of a larger equation. What I find most interesting about Landsburg's piece is the line near the end: "The second effect of the literacy obligation was to drive a lot of Jews away from their religion." He notices world population trends between the sixth and 18th centuries, when world populations increased dramatically but Jewish populations didn't. "A reasonable guess is that a lot of Jews were becoming Christians and Muslims," says Landsburg. No duh.

I don't know that I buy this part of the thesis, that education was too expensive so most Jews opted for the easy life as Christians or Muslims. Other factors almost certainly played a greater role - desire to assimilate, attempts to avoid persecution, etc. Still it raises an interesting point, that such obligations can serve to cull out the fat so-to-speak and render the remaining community a stronger whole of truly committed Jews full of rich appreciation and understanding for their heritage.

As it turns out, I made just that argument in a Jewsweek column some weeks back. Shrinking, getting rid of barely Jewish Jews, can be a good thing in the long run, though I never used the economic argument. Go me.


LearningIsrael returns!

I've put up the new site design for LearningIsrael.com, which I've operated for about a year and a half now. The old design wasn't well executed, and this design should tighten up the focus while expanding the level of resources provided. In any event, over the next few months, I'll be rolling out more materials. As of right now, the new design houses only the links section... but there are approximately 150 of them catalogued by category with brief descriptions. That's something, eh?


I shill, I shall, and I do not like green eggs and ham

I've been busy with some side stuff to keep up on my blogging, but I will make do with pointing you towards a couple of recent articles I have authored.

First up, a column entitled I'm too sexy for my Talmud, I celebrate the truly sexy nature of Judaism. Second up, in response to a recent lament by Avraham over at Protocols, I've taken to task the qualms with politicizing the Holocaust. In a fairly lengthy feature, entitled Bush's Auschwitz field trip I discuss how everybody's been politicizing the Holocaust since day one. Enjoy...