Sunday, February 18, 2024

20 Questions for Biden and Trump

Like it or not it appears increasingly likely our top choices for president of the United States will be phlegmatic old men, both bent on burnishing their respective image as the only person who can save our republic. 


With that in mind, here are 20 questions each candidate—Joe Biden and Donald Trump—should be required to answer, without equivocation or bluster, either during a televised debate or during a vetting by the combined editorial boards of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, the answers to be published by both newspapers:


What is America’s greatest international challenge?


What is America’s greatest domestic challenge?


What is America’s global role, if any?


Are there any treaties or global organizations you would pull back from or any you would like to enter or foster?


Which foreign leaders, past and present, do you admire and why?


Which of our presidents do you admire and why?


What if any censorship should public libraries have on the books and periodicals they house?


What role should the federal government have over the distribution of water among the states?


Should we change any policy in regard to federal lands, parks, monuments?


Should there be any limitations on development along coastlines threatened by flooding?


What do you believe are the root causes for illegal migration to America and how would you correct those issues?


What obligations, if any does the United States have toward Taiwan?


Are there any federal departments you would eliminate or sharply curtail their functions, institutions such as the FDA, CDC, OSHA, FBI, FTC, IRS?


Are there any new departments or services you would initiate?


Do you support the principle of separation of church and state?


What concerns do you have about the environment in America and the world and, if any, what are the best ways to mitigate them?


What is your assessment of race relations in America, and if needed, how would you improve it?


Do you support the Affordable Care Act? If not, how specifically would you guarantee health care?


Explain in detail your position on reproductive rights, the role of government, judges, doctors in determining a woman’s options during pregnancy? 


Should the Constitution be amended to require mandatory retirement at 75 of all elected federal politicians, appointed federal judges and federal/military positions requiring Senate confirmation?

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Solicitations Abound in My Bundled Mail

When did Gilda and I become Holy Rollers? Must have been during the last three weeks, based on the accumulated mail I picked up Friday after our three week stay in Tucson.


Among the letters, magazines and travel brochures were six solicitations from organizations and people we never before had correspondence with. 


The first one I saw shocked me from my complacency. A red panel on the exterior envelope carried the following question: “Have you and I fought hard enough to defend God’s role in America?” 


It came with a return address of “In God We Trust, 1701 Pennsylvania Ave, N.W., Suite 200, Washington, D.C. 20006.” For those not familiar with our nation’s capital, that’s just a few blocks west of the White House. 


I couldn’t resist peering inside the envelope. A letter from Michael Chartrand, founder of In God We Trust, complained that “donations … are way down from last year. As a result, I have incurred a significant amount of debt.”


He was downright sensible in his ask—just “$25, $35, $50, or even $100 would be a big help.” 


Two pages later came the anguished plea: “Without your support, In God We Trust won’t be able to get out of debt, and I won’t be able to carry on this important work,” which, I should explain, Chartrand said he has been “working very hard to stop the atheists and God-haters campaign to remove religion from American life.” 


Getting back to that office address, turns out Suite 200 at 1701 Pennsylvania Avenue is a virtual office location run by DaVinci Virtual, landlord to many seeking Washington cache for their exploits. 


Michael Chartrand was unknown to Gilda and me. Not so Mike Huckabee and Mike Pence. (As an aside, what’s with all these Mike/Michaels? Does the Bible-thumping network believe that name is saintly when it comes to pulling in dollars from the devout and gullible?)


Huckabee addressed Gilda as “my fellow American of faith.” He’s seeking money and affirmation that she stands with Israel and is full-throated in support of Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. 


Mike Pence had no comment on Israel. He focused on abortion, specifically his condemnation of “chemical abortions,” the use of two mail-order pills that can terminate a pregnancy. It is an issue before the Supreme Court this year. He asked for money to fund his organization.


Kathy Branzell, president of National Day of Prayer Task Force, wants Gilda to “commit to spend 5 minutes in prayer each day throughout the rest of 2024” so that God will begin “to change and heal the hearts of our leaders.” And, oh, by the way, after pledging to pray, “please send along a one-time gift of $100.”


This National Day of Prayer crusade is really pushing the envelope. Not one, but two letters came from Pat Boone. Yes, the Pat Boone of bobby-soxer 1950s music fame. Still flashing his bright white smile, Pat wanted Gilda to know May 2 is the day “tens of millions of believers” will gather again. With Gilda’s financial support, of course. 


Now, Gilda and I contribute thousands of dollars each year to worthwhile causes that support a woman’s right to choose, feed the hungry and homeless, expand cultural institutions, to name a few. Did any of those organizations sell their mailing lists to her new-found pen pals? 


You can unsubscribe from an email list, but how do you stop old fashioned solicitations by mail? 


Do you think prayer is the answer? 

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Ask Me If I Care Biden Misspoke

Ask me if I care that during a tempestuous news conference Thursday Joe Biden had a mental lapse when he wrongly identified the president of Egypt as the head of Mexico. Has it given me pause in my support of his reelection?


Go ahead, ask me! 


Not really. Anyone, no matter their age or intellect, may make a mistake in the heat of an argument, in the glare of TV cameras. Recall that President Gerald Ford is thought by some to have lost his 1976 election bid when he mistakenly said during a televised debate that Poland, then part of the Soviet bloc, was a free country. 


I’m willing to give Biden a pass given his understandable outrage at the unprofessional characterization made by special counsel Robert Hur that Biden was a “well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.”


Hur was chosen to investigate whether Biden had broken any laws by keeping secret government documents long after he left office as vice president in 2017. He was picked to do the investigation by Biden’s attorney general, but he was appointed a federal attorney by Donald Trump. Hur might have failed to find grounds to charge Biden with any crime, but he wielded a partisan skewer for Trump by repeatedly harping on Biden’s alleged physical and mental vulnerabilities, clearly political, not legal, or even medically qualified, assessments. 


Biden might have conflated Egypt with Mexico because both countries have had border closing issues, Mexico with our migrant crisis and Egypt with the ongoing war in Gaza. 


Who among us has not misspoken? Surely almost every politician, from Trump to Nikki Haley, has had a speech slippage. My bottom line is that I can accept a minor bit of forgetfulness by a president, but I cannot accept a candidate’s rejection of America’s role as a superpower to protect and even expand democracy at home and abroad. Donald Trump is a grifter, an autocrat-in-waiting, bent on seeking revenge against any and all he perceives have offended him. 


Do I wish Biden was sprier? Walked less stiffly? Not talk so corny? Sure. But compared to Trump he is competent, caring, compassionate, collegial, considerate. And, …


Unlike Trump, Biden will not hand any part of Ukraine to Vladimir Putin. Unlike Trump, Biden will not denigrate NATO. Unlike Trump, Biden will not pardon insurrectionists imprisoned for their actions January 6, 2021. Unlike Trump, Biden has embarked on a modernizing infrastructure program. Unlike Trump, Biden has rejected ultra right extremists. Unlike Trump, Biden seeks to work with allies. Unlike Trump, Biden favors affordable health care for all. Unlike Trump, Biden believes reproductive decisions should be made by a woman in consultation with her family and medical team, not by politicians or judges. Unlike Trump, Biden believes in the positive power of labor unions to build a stronger middle class. 


So, no, given the choice between a blowhard and a real president, I choose Joe Biden. He’s not perfect, but he’s beyond doubt the better choice.  

Monday, February 5, 2024

Moments in Time for Vergara, Biden, King Charles

Sofia Vergara is having a Sophia-Loren-“Two Women” moment. Her tour-de-force portrayal of Miami cocaine drug godmother Griselda Blanco in Netflix’s “Griselda” mini series is sure to amass for her streams of accolades and nominations, if not awards, for her dynamic, intense, captivating, and, to be honest, unexpected, performance. 


Just as “Two Women” propelled Loren beyond buxom women roles, “Griselda” highlights Vergara’s acting chops beyond the sexy, comic housewife caricature she portrayed for 11 seasons on ABC’s “Modern Family” sitcom.


Loren won a best actress Academy Award for “Two Women.” It’s too early to say which awards Vergara might take home (“Griselda” is not a film so an Oscar is not possible), though her bravura acting might open up for her roles she previously would not have been considered for.


Her age might work against her ascendancy to more meaty engagements. Loren was 25 when “Two Women” debuted in 1960. Vargara is 51. Though other actresses her age and older, such as “Nyad’s” Jodie Foster (61) and Annette Bening (65), and “May December’s” Julianne Moore (63) have secured prime roles this past year, they have enjoyed decades as leading ladies. 


“Griselda” is an intense, six-part series, more compact but just as deadly as the multi-year “Gomorrah,” an Italian series centered on the drug trade in Naples. “Gomorrah” was fictitious. “Griselda” is based on a real-life character who transformed the Miami drug experience. 



As long as we’re on the subject of a “moment” that can change perception of an individual, President Biden is having a “Barbary Coast Pirate” moment. 


Just as President Thomas Jefferson in 1804 sent the navy and marines to “the shores of Tripoli” to deal with Muslim pirates interfering with commercial seafare in the Mediterranean, Biden has unleashed our military to thwart southern Yemen Houthi rebels/pirates from attacking shipping in the Red Sea. 


Stifling piracy from nearby Somalia in the early 21st century required international cooperation from America, Russia, China, India and other nations. Biden similarly has enlisted allies, but the Houthis pose a more dangerous foe as they are not so much interested in booty but rather in disrupting, even destroying, shipping as a means of forcing Israel to stop its war in Gaza. The Houthis mostly operate from their territory adjacent to a critical passage way leading into and out of the Red Sea. 


The mobility of modern missile warfare complicates Biden’s moment. It is difficult to imagine permanently stopping the Houthis, just as Israel is finding it nearly impossible to end rockets from the Gaza Strip being launched from areas supposedly secured by its military. 



Having waited so long to ascend the throne, King Charles III is in a moment hardly anyone is ever prepared to face. Cancer has invaded his body. 


Though the palace has declined to specify the type of cancer, it almost certainly is one that emerges suddenly without prior warning, such as pancreatic, bladder or liver cancer. 


No matter what one feels about Charles from his relationship with Diana, a degree of sympathy for his predicament is in order. He has always been an outspoken conservationist and more public than his mother, Queen Elizabeth, on matters of state. To be king for less than two years is disheartening. 


One also has to feel sorry for William, the heir apparent Prince of Wales, who already was contending with an undisclosed medical matter that hospitalized his wife for two weeks. 


It is during times like these that health issues reinforce the shared humanity of the royals, their subjects and their followers around the world.  

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Why Hamas Ideology Cannot Be Erased

There’s a reason Hamas and other extremist Muslim groups will never accept Israel’s existence: To do so would violate their version of Islam. 


Simply put: They believe any land once controlled by Islamic leaders can never be ceded to infidels; it is the duty of true believers to retake it. 


Their dedication to extreme Islam not only is a threat to Israel but also endangers all lands previously controlled by Muslims, such as all or parts of Spain, Portugal, Greece, Macedonia, Bosnia, Serbia, Albania, Moldavia, Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria and Russia. 


Religious zealotry has been a motivating factor in warfare for millennia after millennia, distinct from the crass land and resource grabs of expansionist entities like the Roman and Mongolian empires, as well as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. 


The Bible informs that God decreed the conquest of Canaan to provide a home to the Israelites. Orthodox Jewish extremists in Israel rely on biblical texts to assert Jewish sovereignty over the West Bank. Spanish and Portuguese colonies in the Americas had the blessing of popes to mine riches and convert the indigenous. Mohammed forged Arabia into a proselytizing religious force across northern Africa and eastward into Persia, modern day Iran. His successors expanded Islam’s reach into the Iberian Peninsula to the west, the Caspian Sea to the east and, under the Ottomans, to the very gates of Vienna to the north with the (unsuccessful) siege of the Hapsburg capital in 1683. 


All that domination by Islamic forces has left a modern day conundrum. While predominantly all Muslims have tolerant relations with Western nations, extremist offshoots do not. They even battle other non extremist Muslim factions.


Islam often is proclaimed as a religion of peace, but to Islam’s extremists it is peace on its terms, not the peace of Western Enlightenment civilization.  


Isis, al-Qaeda and the Taliban are noteworthy examples of militant extremism. In Hamas’ case, the rejection of Israel is centered on an Islamic Waqf, a form of permanent endowment that cannot be repealed. Land once under control by Muslims cannot be considered lost, but rather is forever to be reclaimed.


Article 11 of Hamas’ charter states, “The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf [endowment] consecrated for future Muslim generations until Judgement Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be given up. Neither a single Arab country nor all Arab countries, neither any king or president, nor all the kings and presidents, neither any organization nor all of them, be they Palestinian or Arab, possess the right to do that.”


Ceasefires may come and go. The struggle by Hamas to eradicate Israel is permanent. 


Can extremists be defeated in battle? Probably. Can their ideology be erased? Doubtful. Witness the resurgence of Isis, al-Qaeda and the Taliban after losing battles with Western forces. 


Hamas. Hezbollah. Houthis. Modern day Hamans from biblical times and Hitlers from the not too distant past who want to kill Jews.  

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Answers, Not Bromides, Wanted: How to Stop Hamas?

Perhaps you saw Megan K. Stack’s guest opinion piece in Sunday’s New York Times headlined, “The Case Against Israel Is Strong.” Under a different headline (“Don’t Turn Away from the Charges of Genocide Against Israel”) her thoughts appeared in The Times online edition a few days earlier (https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/12/opinion/israel-icj-genocide-south-africa.html?smid=url-share).


I have no guarantee The Times will publish my reaction to Stack in print or online (interestingly, there is no online mechanism to comment on her piece as there is for Times staff-written articles), so here’s what I sent as a Letter to the Editor: 


Ms. Stack writes passionately about Gaza. Anyone with any degree of humanity and compassion must share her depression about the death of thousands of innocents.


But I wonder what her answer would be to the question of Hamas? Since 2007 Hamas has ruled Gaza. Despite blockades from Israel and Egypt, billions upon billions of dollars in aid and material have poured into Gaza, enough to have turned it into a “Dubai on the Mediterranean,” enough to feed and clothe and employ Gaza’s two million residents.


Instead, Hamas turned Gaza into a launching pad for violence and terror, both above ground and in tunnels underneath schools, homes and hospitals. Hamas could have built a democratic entity. Instead it ruled by terror directed against Palestinians in Gaza and Israelis.


Cease fires after past battles between Hamas and Israel simply allowed Hamas to regroup and rearm and build more tunnels. And then fire more rockets into Israel. A cease fire existed on October 6. Hamas broke it October 7.


Israel suffered the equivalent loss of some 40,000 American lives on its 9/11 tragedy October 7.


How would she defang Hamas? Would she believe Hamas would abide by a cease fire, much less peace, when its charter advocates Israel’s destruction and the killing of Jews?  


Her arguments for excessive force by Israel are compelling but do not address the root cause of the conflict, the rejection by Hamas of Israel’s and Jews’ right to exist. Over and over Palestinian leadership rejected proposals for a separate Palestinian state.


If the neighbor next to your home repeatedly fired bullets and tossed grenades into your home, if your family members were injured or if one or more were killed, what would you do if the police wouldn’t or couldn’t stop them? And you wouldn’t or couldn’t move. What would you do?


Answers, not bromides, please.

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Smiles From My Facebook Feed

My Facebook feed contains lots of personal updates of the comings and goings of friends and family and, for some unknown reason, several daily missives about the New York Yankees, the New York Giants, The Far Side and other comic panels including Dennis the Menace, lots of product promos, examples of Jewish Humor, and the musings/rantings of political commentator wannabes (like me). 


Among the more entertaining postings, many shared by my sister Lee, are aphorisms, several of which I have included here with, I hope, proper attribution: 


“Bread is like the sun. 

It rises in the yeast 

and sets in the waist.” 

—Asty Hany


Under a picture of Donald Trump

“Who does not know the truth 

is simply a fool …

Yet who knows the truth and calls it a lie

 is a criminal.” 

—Bertolt Brecht


Under a portrait of a voluptuous woman, circa 1860

“Got my DNA and turns out 

I’m 86% Danish Butter Cookie 

from the Costco region.” 

—La Vie en Rose Arts


“If there’s a hell, it should probably

be filled with people who claimed

faith in Jesus 

while trying to strip the sick of care, 

the terrified of refuge, 

and the vulnerable of protection, 

and reveling as if this was a righteous victory.”

—John Pavlovitz


“Happiness is when you realize 

your children have turned out 

to be good people.” 

—Still Moments


“Everyone needs a friend 

who they probably shouldn’t be allowed 

to sit next to at a serious function.” 

—Margaret Quica Alarcon 

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Am I a Bad Jew for Having Doubts?

Am I a bad Jew? Am I bad because I do not spend virtually every waking hour monitoring news on TV, cable, the Internet, or reading newspapers and magazines devoting countless column inches to stories on the Israel-Gaza war? 


I have friends and acquaintances who are obsessed with being in the news loop. Obsessed, not in a derogatory way. Just more engrossed than I. Not more dedicated to Israel’s survival. Just more all-consumed than I allow myself to be. Maybe I’m just more optimistic that in the end all will work out. For the better. As it has in the past. 


During my first trip to Israel in 1966, when I was 17, I was impressed by the devotion Israelis had to the news. Riding on an Egged bus everyone would stifle any noise when the hourly chimes rang on the bus’ radio and the news began. I shortly learned it was not just news they were listening to. The radio broadcast in code military call-ups for reservists. A perceptible exhale could be heard when the news concluded. 


A year later, June 1967, with my sister in Israel packing crackers for the military, I could not stay away from radio reports, especially when early communiques came from Egyptian media proclaiming a successful drive up the Mediterranean coast toward Tel Aviv. When the truth surfaced, euphoria and relief energized my listening and viewing time.


For years since then, whenever in my car or at home, I made a point of tuning the radio to an all news AM station at the start of each hour, anxiety stoking my act, fearful of news of another Mideast war that could presage Israel’s destruction.


Fast forward through the Yom Kippur War, wars in Lebanon, actions in Gaza and the West Bank. Through years of Israel’s invincibility I became inured to its vulnerability. October 7 changed the canvas.


This war is different from all others. It is being fought by an army with a strict military code of honor against a terrorist organization with no scruples, no shame, no restraint on inflicting casualties on civilians including its own people, the very people it purports to be representing and protecting. Indeed, those very ordinary Palestinians now subjected to intense bombing and shelling reveled in the murder of Jews young and old and in the destruction of settlements that employed thousands of Gazans and whose residents were among the most liberal favoring peace with Gaza.


Am I a bad Jew because I see humanity destroyed on both sides of the battle? 


In any war, any armed confrontation, accidents, unintentional casualties, may occur. No weapon is 100% precise. No one who pulls the trigger or releases a rocket or bomb is infallible. 


The morality of a regime and its armed forces is on display in the manner in which they address mistakes. A breakout blurb under a headline in last Tuesday’s front page New York Times provided stark counterpoint between a democracy with Western liberal values and a regressive, repressive, oppressive regime waging a war: 


“Israel says an episode that killed dozens is under review,” it said. 


Hamas, on the other hand, and its Muslim state and terrorist supporters, have applauded the barbaric atrocities of October 7. No regrets. 


Today, Sunday January 14, marks 100 days since the assault and the abduction of near 250 hostages. More than half remain hidden in Gaza. The release of all the hostages is but one of Israel’s objectives. The others include finding and killing Hamas leaders and destroying its ability to threaten Israel again. 


Am I a bad Jew because I never thought it was possible that any of the hostages would be returned alive? 


Let’s be honest. Destroying Hamas was never a realistic goal. Dismantling its ability to launch rocket attacks on Israel, yes, that was possible, though even after seven weeks of intense bombing and on the ground action, missiles still rain down from Gaza.

 

To anyone with even just a speck of humanity in their heart and soul the loss of life and devastation in Gaza must be excruciating. It is no exaggeration to say thousands of innocents have been killed by Israel’s justified response to the inhumane attack.   


The destruction of an evil force to no one’s surprise requires extraordinary action. Eight decades later we still debate the morality and efficacy of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We ponder the fire bombing of Tokyo that killed more people than either atomic bombing did. The destruction of Dresden is hardly criticized. 


The collateral damage inside Gaza could not easily be avoided given the vast underground tunnel network Hamas built with funds and supplies that could have, that should have, been used to make living in Gaza more tolerable. 


Can Gaza be rebuilt? Look to history for an answer. From the destruction of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan modern economies emerged with democratic values. It required the population to jettison past beliefs and the acceptance of new philosophies. 


All those who opine Israel should cease military operations have yet to advance a plausible scenario in which Hamas renounces its charter to destroy Israel and kill Jews. Until those bent on Israel’s destruction are silenced, rehabilitated, eliminated, no amount of external and internal pressure can be expected to stop Israel’s mission of revenge and liberation. 


Am I a bad Jew for voicing my doubts?