Category Archives: Politics

Scrutinizing the ‘Squad’

President Trump’s singling out of four progressive freshman Congresswomen – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan – for strong criticism resonated strongly with his supporters, among them many in our own community.

And, at least in part, for good reason.

Ms. Tlaib has denounced what she asserts to be “continued dehumanization and racist policies by the State of Israel that violate international human rights, but also violate my core values of who I am as an American” and compared contemporary Israeli society – citing “different colored license plates if you are Palestinian or Israeli” (gasp) – to the era of segregation in the U.S., when African-Americans had to drink from different water fountains than whites, had to sit in the backs of buses and suffered beatings and lynchings.

(For the record, Ms. Tlaib, the green license plates are for cars registered to holders of Palestinian Authority identity cards. Palestinians with Israeli citizenship or eastern Yerushalayim residency permits have access to regular yellow Israeli ones.)

As to Ms. Omar, she famously tweeted about how “Israel has hypnotized the world” and “the evil doings of Israel.” And, of course, about the “Benjamins” she implied are the reason for Congress’ support for Israel.

Even after apologizing for that canard, she claimed that American elected officials who support Israel are advocating “allegiance to a foreign country.”

Both Congresswomen, moreover, support the BDS movement to boycott Israel.

But the members of “The Squad,” while they may share socially progressive attitudes, are not all the same. And it would be both a mistake and a misstep, I think, to lump them all together as some nefarious “gang of four.”

Yes, in May, 2018, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, moved by images from Gaza, tweeted her chagrin at what she characterized as a “massacre” and referred to the “occupation of Palestine” – both woefully uninformed and ugly statements.

But, to her credit, after being informed of some facts, she quickly acknowledged that she is “not the expert” on the Middle East and promised to “learn and evolve” regarding Middle East affairs. That was no mere perfunctory apology. She hasn’t made any similarly Israel-negative references since, and in fact has strongly declared her affirmation of Israel’s legitimacy as a nation.

Her much-assailed invocation of the term “concentration camp” for border detention centers was also, whether a wise choice of phrase or not (not), the product of the sensitive Congresswoman’s having been moved by disturbing images and reports from the border. In a lengthy radio interview with Pulitzer Prize winning journalist David Remnick, she demonstrated intelligence, eloquence and compassion on the topic. And, asked by Mr. Remnick if she had meant to compare the detention centers to Auschwitz, she didn’t hesitate to respond, “Absolutely not.”

More disturbing of late was Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s “no” vote on a resolution condemning the BDS movement. But, from her own words, in which she expresses anti-Likud but not anti-Israel sentiments, she clearly doesn’t understand how BDS stands in stark contrast to her professed support for Israel as a country.

Ms. Pressley, for her part, supports a bill that would prevent Israel from using American military aid for the “military detention, interrogation, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children.” But she strongly opposes BDS, has vocally condemned anti-Semitism and has enjoyed close ties with Jewish leaders in Boston, most of which is included in her district.

This is not meant as an endorsement of either of the latter representatives, only as an attempt to bring a degree of discernment to the members of a foursome who, despite certain similarities, are hardly, ideologically speaking, conjoined quadruplets.

The time-honored and wise approach of Klal Yisrael throughout the ages has been to maintain as good relations as possible with all political leaders and representatives – whether or not they are “on the same page” as us on every issue, even on every important issue. Obviously, when a representative evidences animus for Jews or Israel, such relations may be difficult or impossible.

But one thing is certain. We must be wary about jumping to, and especially voicing, negative conclusions about people in positions of influence based on less- than-justified assumptions or “guilt by association.”

I can’t say that I know what either Ms. Ocasio-Cortez or Ms. Pressley believes deep down in her soul about Jews or Israel. “Man sees what is before his eyes; Hashem alone sees into the heart” (Shmuel I, 16:7).

And maybe one day, chas v’shalom, we’ll witness the two joining their anti-Israel colleagues, supporting BDS and a “one-state solution”. Maybe they’ll appear on the House chamber floor waving Palestinian flags and brandishing copies of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

But nothing in their records leads me personally to the conclusion that either woman deserves our scorn.

And what’s more, attributing abhorrent attitudes to people who haven’t evidenced them is a dangerous habit. Because publicly casting such aspersions is not only wrong, it can lead to their becoming self-fulfilling prophesies.

© 2019 Hamodia

Caution: Untruths Ahead



Award-winning investigative reporter Michael Isikoff recently released an in-depth report on the origins of the theory that the July, 2016, murder of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich was a political assassination.

In the wake of the early-morning killing on a Washington, D.C. street, an assortment of pundits and talk-show hosts claimed, with no basis but much confidence, that Mr. Rich had been involved in the leaked Democratic National Committee e-mails that year, and that Hillary Clinton and/or other partisan actors had conspired, in revenge, to order the hit.

Although law enforcement branches investigating the murder maintained from the start that it was simply a robbery gone wrong, the “Clinton did it!” conjecture proved wildly popular in some circles.

But then, last summer, Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s indictment of 12 Russian military intelligence agents for hacking the e-mail accounts of Democratic Party officials, echoing the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that the leaked DNC emails were part of Russian interference in the 2016 elections, pretty much put the conspiracy theory to rest.

As it happens, Mr. Isikoff has now confirmed that Russian operatives were not only those behind the hacking of the DNC e-mails but were the source of the “Seth Rich Democratic Hit Job Conspiracy Theory” in the first place.

The fanciful hypothesis originated, it seems, in a fabricated “bulletin” disseminated by Russia’s foreign intelligence service, known as the SVR (Sluzhba vneshney razvedki Rossiyskoy Federatsii, if you really must know). It was posted on an obscure website apparently monitored by partisan players, and was picked up by political commentator Sean Hannity, who ran with the “news.” From there it spread like kudzu.

That reviled shrub is known for suffocating native plants. Russian disinformation seeks to smother truths.

And, of even more concern, it seeks to foment discord among Americans.

Much of the conversation about Special Counsel Mueller’s report has been about whether Russian interference, in the form of operatives posing online as American citizens, aimed at electing President Trump.

But, whether or not that was a goal of the subterfuge, the report’s more trenchant revelation, at least to me, is that the Russians “had a strategic goal to sow discord in the U.S. political system,” in particular, by “post[ing] derogatory information” about political figures.

The efforts to fuel feuding have continued, too. NBC News reported last month that it obtained communications from last year among associates of Yevgeny Prigozhin, one of the Kremlin-linked oligarchs indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, laying out a new plot to manipulate and radicalize African-Americans and stoke racial tensions, with the goal of “undermin[ing] the country’s territorial integrity and military and economic potential.”

Shortly after that report, coincidentally, I read several separate citations of “facts” about former President Obama. They made one or both of a pair of claims: that “the Obama administration initiated the policy of separating families”; and that the Department of Homeland Security had concluded that Mr. Obama had “incited smugglers” of children from Central America.

The popularity of the claims led me to suspect that the claimants had culled their “facts” from sources similar to, if not identical with, those that spread the Seth Rich conspiracy theory. And had not bothered to confirm them.

The facts:

There was no Obama administration policy of separating families. There was only an ad hoc – and rarely executed – separation of children from suspected smugglers posing as family members (or from parents who were deemed a danger to their children). The “zero tolerance” policy of routinely separating children from all parents who crossed the border illegally, whatever one might think of it, was ordered by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions at President Trump’s behest.

And the policy that the DHS concluded had “incited smugglers” was not an Obama effort at all, but rather the Flores Agreement, which prescribes procedures for dealing with migrant children taken into custody – and which was created during the Clinton administration and has been in force ever since. Whether the agreement has indeed inadvertently resulted in widespread placing of children into the hands of adult strangers is arguable. But that it has nothing to do with Mr. Obama isn’t.

I don’t know if the origin of the false anti-Obama claims is connected to Russian efforts to stoke racial animus. At least some of the persistence of anti-Obama sentiment, despite his disappearance from the national stage, likely is tainted with base racism.

But it really makes no difference. What is important is that political assertions these days, when polarization of the body politic is already at a high and when Russian efforts to stoke ill will continue apace, should be viewed with the utmost suspicion.

© 2019 Hamodia



Loony Tooner

Cartoons employing anti-Semitic tropes became a thing again last week.

The memory of the New York Times International Edition’s offering of a Portuguese cartoonist’s depiction of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a dog, magen David around his neck, held on a leash by a blind, be-yarmulked President Trump – had barely begun to fade.

Enter Ben Garrison.

Mr. Garrison’s oeuvre is decidedly anti-establishment, always provocative and often offensive. His favorite targets, in no particular order, have included former President Obama (depicted as a snake), Janet Yellen, the Federal Reserve, George Soros (a vulture) Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer (also snakes), international bankers and Hillary Clinton (a mere groundhog – and a kisser of a demon’s ring).

And the cartoonist’s hero, as you might have guessed, is President Trump, whose reciprocal appreciation of the Montanan caricaturist came in the form of an invitation to last week’s White House “Social Media Summit.” The gathering, which took place last Thursday, was billed as a focus on the “opportunities and challenges of today’s online environment.”

“Honored to be invited to the White House! Thank You Mr. President!” Mr. Garrison gushed in a tweet, which, perhaps unexpected by the cartoonist, swiveled the spotlight back in his direction.

“Back,” because the cartoon that became the spotlight’s focus was one the cartoonist drew in 2017 and was denounced at the time by the ADL. The artwork depicted then-U.S. National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster and retired General David Petraeus being controlled by strings held by George Soros, who, in turn, is shown suspended from strings held by a hand labeled “Rothschilds.”

Subtlety, as noted, is not Mr. Garrison’s specialty. Presenting “the Rothschilds” as nefarious controllers of the world is one of the oldest and most persistent anti-Semitic themes out there.

That particular piece of artistry was commissioned by another of Mr. Garrison’s admirers, radio host Mike Cernovich. That would be the fellow who helped promote the bizarre “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory about Mrs. Clinton’s purported running of a human trafficking ring, which led to a credulous man firing an assault rifle in the D.C. area pizza parlor ostensibly involved in the criminality.

“The thrust of the cartoon is clear,” the ADL contended at the time. “McMaster is merely a puppet of a Jewish conspiracy.” With the recent resurrection of the cartoon last week, an assortment of commentators called out Mr. Trump for having invited Mr. Garrison to his event.

This is not, of course, the first time the president has been seen by some as coddling people with less-than-kind views about “Jewish influence.” He first fueled such speculation himself when, back in 2015, he told members of the Republican Jewish Coalition: “You’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money. You want to control your politicians, that’s fine.”

Then, in 2016, a Trump campaign commercial featured images of Mr. Soros, the object of vehement anti-Semitic scorn in Europe; Ms. Yellen, then Federal Reserve chairwoman; and Goldman Sachs chairman Lloyd C. Blankfein – all of them Jews – with the candidate warning about “global special interests” and “people who don’t have your good in mind.”

And then there was the other campaign ad that depicted Hillary Clinton labeled the “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever!” superimposed on piles of money, next to a large six-pointed star.

Then, the following year, after the violence at the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, there was Mr. Trump’s comment after the mayhem, that there were “some very fine people on both sides” of the Confederate statue issue – although only one side prominently yielded a crowd of marchers chanting, “Jews will not replace us!”

There are many reasons why many people don’t find Mr. Trump to be their cup of tea. Some include on their list of accusations that he harbors, or tries to encourage, anti-Semitism.

Which is nonsense.

His Jewish daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren, his full-throated condemnation of anti-Semitism (“Our entire nation… stands in solidarity with the Jewish community,” he said after the Poway shooting, “We forcefully condemn the evil of anti-Semitism and hate which must be defeated”) and his unbridled support for Israel’s current government make the thought unthinkable.

As to the “evidence” to the contrary above, none of it is dispositive. Yes, it was all pounced upon by lowlifes like former KKK leader David Duke and Daily Stormer publisher Andrew Anglin to claim the president as one of their own. But, while the neo-Nazis are welcome to their fantasies, each of the instances of Mr. Trump’s alleged anti-Semitism can be regarded as, if somewhat tone-deaf, benign.

There’s no reason, though, to be so understanding about Mr. Garrison. Portraying “Rothschilds” as devious puppet-masters can reflect only one thing, and it’s not something pretty.

And so it was to its credit that, the day before the “Social Media Summit,” the White house rescinded Mr. Garrison’s invitation, thereby denying those who seek to portray the president as insensitive to Jews a new hook on which to hang their hats.

© 2019 Hamodia

Repeal the Right to Guns?

A sampling of recent weeks’ gun news:

  • Pursuant to a tip, authorities found more than 1000 firearms in a home in an upscale Los Angeles neighborhood (not quite reaching the record of the 1,200 guns and seven tons of ammunition L.A. police seized from another home in 2015).
  • A Fawn River, Michigan mother, Pauline Randol, was shot dead, allegedly by her 9-year-old adopted son.
  • A Highlands Ranch, Colorado school, with 1,850 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, was attacked by a gunman who shot nine high schoolers, killing one of them.
  • On the last day of classes at the University of North Carolina, a gunman killed two people and injured four.
  • Murder/suicides by gun took place in Maine, Florida and California.

An estimated 1.4 million Americans have died in all the wars in U.S. history, going back to the American Revolution. Approximately the same number of civilian citizens have died as a result of gun shootings – since 1970.

Gun deaths in the U.S. aren’t the result of murders alone, but also of accidents and suicides. In 2016, while 14,415 people died in gun homicides, 22,938 people used firearms to commit suicide.

New Jersey Senator and Democratic presidential candidate (and who isn’t one these days?) Corey Booker has proposed a radical plan to reduce gun violence. It includes a ban on assault weapons, the closing of loopholes that allow domestic abusers to buy guns and, most ambitiously, the creation of a national licensing program that would require prospective gun buyers to undergo extensive background checks by the F.B.I., including fingerprinting and interviews, in order to obtain a renewable five-year gun license.

Sounds draconian. But a 2015 study showed that after Connecticut introduced a similar gun licensing program, gun deaths in the state dropped by 40%.

And it wouldn’t be as draconian – or, at least, not as apoplexy-inducing in some circles – as… repealing the Second Amendment.

Just reading that phrase, in those circles, evokes images of governmental tyranny and persecution of citizens deprived of the means of resistance. And outrage at the unthinkable violence such a move would inflict on a heretofore Constitutional right.

But the Constitution isn’t beyond change – the Second Amendment, after all, is itself an amendment to the foundational document. And if anyone really thinks that owning a gun (or 1000 of them) will protect him from the wrath of a gone-insane, malevolent federal force, with arsenals of tanks and rockets, the crazed fantasist shouldn’t be allowed to own a penknife.

To be sure, repealing the Second Amendment is a long shot. But it’s not an outlandish one. Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens favors it, and harshly criticized the landmark 2008 Supreme Court District of Columbia v. Heller decision that enshrined an individual’s Constitutional right to keep a gun. Mr. Stevens wrote that “the text of the Second Amendment unambiguously explains” that it was meant to allow for “a well regulated militia,” and was intended only to prevent Congress from disarming state militias and infringing on the sovereignty of the states, not to grant individuals a right to gun ownership.

Another personage, with a similar surname, the conservative columnist Bret Stephens (who, not long ago, helped bring his employer, the New York Times, to apologize, and apologize and apologize, for its inclusion of a cartoon with anti-Semitic imagery), has also advocated for the repeal of the Second Amendment, calling it “a legal regime that most of the developed world rightly considers nuts.”

Washington Times columnist Cheryl Chumley begs to differ, contending that the Second Amendment is verily divine, based, as she contends, “on rights given individuals from G-d, not government.”

How so? Because, Ms. Chumley explains, the amendment “restricts government’s ability to strip citizens from their G-d-given rights to self-protection.”

Indeed, many of us do feel more secure owning a firearm, and guns have been used to protect innocent people. But there are less lethal instruments – like TASERs or pepper spray – that can also be used to defend oneself against an assailant, but which are unsuitable for committing suicide or for the sort of school and synagogue mass shootings that have become, Rachmana litzlan, almost commonplace these days.

Although it’s unarguable that fewer guns in society will mean fewer gun deaths, there may be no point in advocating repeal of the Second Amendment. So far, not even the amount of gun violence that occurs daily has inspired anything more than an op-ed or two supporting such a radical move.

But it’s alluring (and I speak, as always in this space, for myself alone, not Agudath Israel of America) to imagine an America with a mere fraction of its current 393 million civilian-owned firearms.

© 2019 Hamodia

Hideous Headline

On the first day of Pesach, Michigan Representative Rashida Tlaib offered the “Jewish sisters and brothers” among her constituents Passover greetings, accompanied by a graphic that included two fluffy loaves of bread. A similar faux pas (perhaps, here, articulating the French should-be-silent “s”) was part of the British Labor Party’s seasonal greeting as well.

Ms. Tlaib’s ignorance of one of the most important and widely-recognized elements of Pesach observance nicely paralleled her similar unawareness of the history of the Jews and Eretz Yisrael.

Her unbridled support of the “Palestinian cause” reveals an obliviousness to the uninterrupted Jewish presence over millennia in the land that today comprises the state of Israel, and the even more trenchant fact that the Jews who were expelled from the land after the destruction of the Second Beis Hamikdash, and their descendants over all the subsequent generations, have turned daily to Yerushalayim in prayer and pined for a return to their ancestral homeland.

Although Ms. Tlaib hasn’t publicly expressed an explicit hope for an end to the Jewish presence in the Jewish land, she openly supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, advocates for a “Palestinian right of return” and backs a “one-state solution” – by which she presumably means (based on that “right of return” for all the descendants of all the emigrants from Partition-era Palestine) the transition of Israel, chalilah, into a 22nd Arab country.

The offensiveness of her infamous comment back in January about Senators Marco Rubio and Jim Risch – that, because of their opposition to BDS, they “forgot what country they represent” – has now been complemented by the craziness of her reaction to a report on the most recent conflict between Hamas and Israel in Gaza.

To be specific, to a headline in The New York Times summing up the violent happenings. The headline read: “Gaza militants fire 250 rockets, and Israel responds with airstrikes.”

The 250 rockets eventually became more than 700, and caused scores of Israeli civilian casualties, including three deaths – one of them a Bedouin father of seven; another, a 21-year-old chareidi father of a one-year-old. But, at the time of the Times’ report, the headline was an accurate, straightforward description of events.

Representative Tlaib, though, was outraged. “When will the world stop dehumanizing our Palestinian people who just want to be free?” she tweeted. “Headlines like this & framing it in this way just feeds into the continued lack of responsibility on Israel who unjustly oppress & target Palestinian children and families.”

Wha?

The headline just stated the bald facts of the conflict: terrorists shot hundreds of rockets at Israeli civilians and Israel ended the onslaught by attacking Hamas military targets from the air. Perhaps Ms. Tlaib would have preferred the chronology to be reversed, with Israeli attacks followed by Hamas retaliation. But time, alas, proceeds in only one direction.

And if the Congresswoman meant to reference the four Palestinian protesters at the border fence who were killed by Israeli forces the previous Friday, well, Palestinian violence at “peaceful protests” is legend. And those killings were preceded by the shooting of two Israeli soldiers there. That pesky arrow of time again.

The Congresswoman might also be reminded that Israel evacuated Gaza in 2005, relocating over 10,000 Jews, ethnically cleansing the region; and that the local residents, “who just want to be free,” freely elected a terrorist organization to rule them – which is what has directly resulted in their current deprivation and suffering.

If Ms. Tlaib – and we might well add her colleague Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar, who likewise wished Jews a “happy Passover” – really wanted to gain respect from Jewish constituents and other American Jews, they might have issued a full-throated condemnation of Hamas’ most recent attempt to terrorize and murder Israeli civilians. And, for that matter, of Hamas’ general embrace of terrorism, incitement of the populace under its control and sworn goal of erasing Israel from the map.

Shia Muslim Imam and President of the Islamic Association of South Australia Mohamad Tawhidi did precisely that. And he went on to call out Mss. Tlaib and Omar for their own lack of outrage over Hamas’ terrorism.

Earlier this year, while paying his respects to Holocaust victims at Auschwitz, the imam was even blunter about the two Congresswomen, criticizing them as “absolute frauds and Islamists” who “promote hatred against the Jewish people.”

I don’t claim to know what lies in the heart of either woman. But I know what seems absent from both their heads: a recognition of the facts of history, both ancient and current.

As absent, it would seem, as leavened bread in observant Jewish homes on Pesach.

© 2019 Hamodia

I’m In!

There’s no point in further delaying the news. I will soon be officially announcing my candidacy for the presidency of the United States. Most everyone else has done so and I don’t want to be left out.

The official throwing of my hat (my weekday one, as it needs replacing anyway) into the presidential ring will take place at Hamodia’s sprawling Borough Park offices at a date and time to be announced.

I will be running on the Purim Party ticket, and am currently accepting applications for the position of running mate. My life mate, unfortunately, does not qualify, as she was not born in the U.S.; in fact, she obstinately remains a Canadian citizen, an alien (in more ways, perhaps, than one, since, as numerous immigration officials at Newark airport can attest, she lacks detectable fingerprints).

My personal qualifications are well-known. I was a candle in my kindergarten Chanukah production, and graduated both elementary and high school. And I have no felony convictions.

I have never knowingly employed undocumented domestic help, and have never worn blackface. There was that do-rag a few Purims back, yes, but there are no photos that I know of. (Should you have any, please be in touch with my fixer, the aforementioned Mrs. Shafran.)

My closet, although it’s cluttered, holds no skeletons, only an assortment of old ties biding their time until they are once again of fashionable width.

And so, I feel that I am eminently qualified to occupy the seat once occupied by the venerable likes of Millard Fillmore and Warren Harding.

My platform? Thank you for asking. I support universal health care, universal child care and universal common sense training, something I’ve long felt has been sorely lacking in American society.

I have no position on minimum wage, but support a maximum one.

The Middle East will be one of my top priorities, of course. I have a secret peace plan. No, of course I can’t offer it; if I did, it wouldn’t be secret, would it? (Common sense training would have made that explanation unnecessary.)

I also look forward during my tenure, to appointing Supreme Court justices who are practicing Orthodox Jews, ideally kollel-leit and BJJ graduates.

But my campaign mantra, with which I expect my supporters to drown me out at rallies when I start rambling incoherently, will be “Build the Wall!” No, it has not been copyrighted (I checked), and, in any event, it’s not a southern border wall I will be urging, but a northern one.

Yes, as you know, there is an urgent need for a 3000-mile-long impenetrable barrier between our mainland and Canada, to protect our beloved country from the dire threat poised to invade from the north – the forces of civility and polite discourse.

Now, Canadians are welcome to embrace such un-American practices in their own country if that’s really what they want. Hockey pucks to the head and beer overconsumption take a toll on a society. But the peril posed by an import of politeness to our own political sphere is frightening.

Name-calling and personal insults, after all, are part of the republic’s DNA. We must never forget our twin guiding principles, e pluribus unum and argumentum ad hominem.

When Thomas Jefferson called John Adams a “repulsive pedant” and a “hideous… character,” the gauntlet was thrown, and it was picked up by Mr. Adams, who labeled Mr. Jefferson a “G-dless atheist” and cast crude aspersions on his parentage.

Adams’ son John Quincy played the genealogy card himself, against Andrew Jackson, disparaging the latter’s mother; and Mr. Jackson made sure that the media, which wasn’t yet fake, called JQA’s moral behavior into question.

Memorably, Stephen Douglas’ supporters called Abraham Lincoln a “horrid-looking wretch” who was “sooty and scoundrelly in aspect, a cross between the nutmeg dealer, the horse-swapper, and the nightman.” (“Nutmeg dealer”? I have no idea.) For his part, Honest Abe compared Mr. Douglas to an “obstinate animal.”

Teddy Roosevelt famously referred to William Howard Taft as “a rat in a corner.”

More recent examples of the glorious rudeness that imbues the American political realm from all its corners are readily available from news organizations, Twitter and local bars.

And, so, it is clear that we must do all we can to avoid a slippery slide into civility. Invaders from the north may only be targeting mudslinging today, but tomorrow it will be baseball, and before we know it, they’ll be coming for our guns.

So, if you care about the U.S.A., you know your choice!

© 2019 Hamodia

Is Socialism Looming?

Back in 1947, a public relations firm called Whitaker and Baxter, hired by the American Medical Association, created a term to disparage President Harry Truman’s proposal for a national health-care system.

It was a stroke of PR genius, at the dawn of the cold war between the U.S. and the communist Soviet Union, when many Americans feared communist infiltration of the republic, to label Truman’s plan for universal health care “socialized medicine.” Nearly thirty years after the fall of the Soviet Union, the phrase endures, along with at least some of the accompanying disdain it was designed to evoke.

The A.M.A. ran with the medicine ball and distributed posters to doctors with slogans like “Socialized medicine … will undermine the democratic form of government.”

Fast-forward seven decades. Universal health care is shaping up to be one of, if not the, defining issues of the 2020 presidential campaign, and in some circles is being labeled “socialist.” And indeed it is, at least in the word’s more benign definition.

Some words or phrases, of course, don’t always mean what they might seem to on the surface. Like “Important!” in the subject box of an e-mail, which almost always means the opposite. Or “a service representative will be with you shortly” on a phone call, which usually turns out to be a bald lie. “Socialist,” too, doesn’t necessarily mean what it once did.

Back in the day, a socialist was a close ideological cousin of a communist. Socialism as a governmental system may have lacked the communist element of totalitarianism and total control of people’s lives; but it still placed ownership of all means of production in the hands of the populace, with members of society receiving what they need but having no incentive to work hard to achieve anything more.

But socialism as an all-encompassing, coercive system of government is something distinct from governmental programs aimed at providing safety nets to citizens. Like Social Security, for example, or Medicare or, for that matter, the public school system. All are “socialist” creatures, at least in the sense that they are government-run and aimed at ensuring certain benefits for the entire citizenry.

Universal health care, which has been endorsed as a desideratum by a number of Democratic candidates for the nation’s highest office, is “socialist” too, for sharing the same aim – here, to ensure that all Americans have access to doctors, hospitals and medications.

As it happens, though, even “universal health care” – reflected in the increasingly popular mantra “Medicare for all,” which is becoming the Democratic counterpart to Republicans’ “Build the wall!” – has different meanings. Or, at least, there are very different vehicles for achieving that goal.

The idea of providing health care to all Americans is simple enough. But there is a den of devils in the details.

For some, like Senators Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, the way to go is a national, “single-payer” health system, in which private insurance is abolished. (As you might imagine, insurance companies are not fans of such a plan.) All sorts of costs born of the way insurance interests operate would presumably be eliminated, and medical care streamlined.

That’s the upside. The downside is that the insurance companies’ replacement would be the federal government. Frightening as that may be to some, and imperfect as such systems are in places like Great Britain and Canada, most Americans feel that the feds have done a decent job running Medicare. Back on the other hand, though, a “single payer” approach would likely mean higher taxes.

Other plans are mixtures of government and private insurers. In Switzerland, for instance, citizens buy insurance for themselves and pay deductibles, but the government subsidizes health care on an income-based graduated basis,

Then there is the approach of offering citizens discounts on government-sponsored health insurance plans, and expanding the Medicaid assistance program to include more people who can’t afford health care. That is the essential feature of something called Obamacare, the current system in place.

As in all large governmental efforts, achieving universal health care in the U.S. is a stupendously complex undertaking. But six out of ten Americans say it is the federal government’s responsibility to make it happen. The U.S., in fact, is the only wealthy industrial country in the world lacking such a system.

I’m not sufficiently proficient in assessing the necessary calculi to offer any opinion about which health-care path is the best way forward. What I do know, though, is that whatever approach ends up being chosen by the electorate, it won’t be the sort of socialism Americans once feared was lurking under the bed.

© 2019 Hamodia

Vanishing Truth

Whiplash was a distinct risk for anyone trying to follow the story – or, perhaps, non-story – of the faceoff the week before last between Kentuckian high schooler Nick Sandmann and a 64-year old Native American, Nathan Phillips, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Each was in town for a rally, Mr. Sandmann, a “Pro-Life” gathering; Mr. Phillips, an “Indigenous Peoples March.”

A short video of the younger man silently smiling at the older one as the Native American chanted and banged on a drum was offered to the public, with the smile characterized, and harshly criticized, as a disrespectful smirk.

Then a longer video emerged, indicating that the smile was benign, and that the two principals were not in conflict.

Or that they were even principals at all, as it became evident that both of the men were reacting to, and at least one of them being crudely insulted by, a group of “Hebrew Israelites.”

Those are black racists dressed in colorful caps and robes adorned with Jewish symbols who try to achieve a sense of self-worth by pretending that they are the “real Jews,” and white people “Edom.” They often appear with display boards inscribed with the English renditions of the names of the shevatim; they imagine that each of various African or Caribbean populations stem from a particular shevet.

Native Americans are assigned the designation of “Dan” by the befuddled members of the racist group, and members of the group, the later video showed, were rudely berating the high school boys, perhaps because some were wearing “Make American Great Again” caps. The “Hebrew Israelites” also tried to enlist Mr. Phillips, a member in their fantasy of the “tribe of Dan,” in their verbal attack on the boys and, at one point, berated him too.

Even after longer depictions of the interaction were available, the debate among partisan players continued, with some trying to sully the boys’ and their religious school’s reputations, and others gleefully attacking the many media that fell hard for the first, incomplete, narrative.

What emerges from the fracas is something that has been increasingly evident in recent years: truth is elusive.

The kernel of the problem is that facts are mediated by people, and people are subject to biases.

Reports tinged (or, at times, saturated) with writers’ prejudices have been colorfully labeled “fake news” by the president; for their part, fact-checkers have catalogued literally thousands of his own contentions that aren’t true over the past two years. It’s hard to know what can be believed and what cannot.

That’s always been the case, of course, but it’s getting worse. Much worse. Incomplete videos are one thing. Deepfakes, quite another.

If you don’t recognize that word, you’re not alone. It’s been around for a while but only entered the larger populace’s lexicon in the past year or two. Deepfakes are videos made with the use of special software that makes it seem that an identifiable person is saying or doing something he has not said or done. Sort of Photoshop for video on steroids.

The software, which is readily available and being constantly refined, superimposes existing recordings and images onto others, creating a realistic, but entirely unreal, action, speech or expression. The technology can be used to alter the words or gestures of a politician or other public figure, yielding the very fakest of fake news.

Last year, a doctored image circulated by gun rights activists and Russian discord-sowers purported to show a Parkland high school shooting survivor and gun control advocate ripping up a copy of the Constitution. What she had actually torn up was a bulls-eye poster from a gun range.

And Myanmar’s military is believed to have used deepfakes to ignite a wave of killings in that country.

Legislators have taken note. Senator Marco Rubio, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, warned that “America’s enemies are already using fake images to sow discontent and divide us. Now imagine the power of a video that appears to show stolen ballots, salacious comments from a political leader, or innocent civilians killed in conflict abroad.”

Technology expert Peter Singer predicted that deepfakes will “definitely be weaponized” whether it is for “poisoning domestic politics” or by hostile nation-state actors to gain an edge on the battlefield.

The 24-hour news cycle and expansion of social media platforms only compound the problem. “A lie,” as the saying goes, “can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.”

Chazal teach that, when the “footsteps” of Moshiach are close, ha’emes tehei ne’ederes, “truth will go missing” (Sotah 49b).

Seems there’s cause for optimism.

© 2019 Hamodia