AUMFs are really MFs, as they give POTUS authority to wage wars w/o first asking Congress. Let’s support Barbara Lee’s legislation to repeal 2001 & 2002 AUMFs

Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California wants to repeal the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) and the 2002 Iraq AUMF, which three presidents have now used to start shooting wars in what the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) calculates to be 18 different countries.

AUMFs authorize the president as commander-in-chief to authorize the use of American military forces unilaterally, without having to go to Congress for the permission or money. The 2001 AUMF enabled President Bush II legally to invade Afghanistan, and pretty much anywhere else he wanted to send troops. The 2002 AUMF specifically allowed Bush II to invade Iraq without having to go back to Congress for approval.   

These AUMFs are really MFs, to use the parlance of Michigan Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib. Until repealed, they just keep on keeping on, giving a legal fig leaf to unconstitutional authoritarian actions by the president. Our Constitution states that Congress has the sole authority to decide when we go to war. Yet a majority of current members of Congress did not vote on any war that the United States is currently fighting.  

To most Representatives and Senators, handing war-making authority to the president lets them off the hook with their constituents. They can say that they are in favor of or against a particular conflict, but they never have to have a voting record to put the lie to their words. It gives foreign powers—and the president himself (until a woman president comes along)—the illusion that the country is unified in supporting the war. Of course, I dare say most Americans would be unable to name the 18 countries in which we have fought under cover of the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs.

Tragic to note, not one of these wars has worked out with the U.S. getting what it wants. Iraq was perhaps the most foolish American invasion ever and led to the growth of ISIS throughout the Middle East and elsewhere. Afghanistan has been the quagmire that even a cursory reading of world history would have predicted.

We must repeal the two AUMFs as a first step in shrinking the military budget and changing U.S. foreign policy to focus on multilateral negotiations and economic actions, not brute force. In 2019, the United States is going to spend more than $700 billion in the military budget. We could easily cut the military budget to under $400 billion if we withdrew from our many dirty little wars and stopped development of robotic weapons that work without human command and the next generation of nuclear weapons.

Imagine having $300 billion to spend on building dedicated mass transit, fixing roads, bridges and sewer systems, cutting the number of children in public elementary school classes, preparing vulnerable areas for extreme weather events and investing in carbon neutral technologies. Combine that with the billions more we could raise by doing what Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez proposes: returning to the income tax system pre-Reagan, when the highest marginal rate was 70%. Then we would have enough to address our many social problems and pay down our national debt. The entire history of the United States and the Western European democracies demonstrate that replacing military spending with domestic investments and raising taxes on the wealthy leads to a stronger economy in which there are mostly middle class people, with few ultra-wealthy. The opposite approach, favored by Republicans, of lowering taxes on the wealthy and spending as much as possible on the military to the detriment of domestic programs, has proven to create a society in which most are struggling to get by and a few have fabulous incomes and assets.

Repealing the AUMFs thus carries constitutional, moral, foreign policy and economic implications. Constitutionally, it will put war-making decisions back where they belong—in the hands of Congress. The moral dimension is obvious: fewer wars, less death, destruction and displacement. On the foreign policy level, we will end up in fewer wars, because the bar for starting a war will be much higher—not just the whim of an imperial president, but the vote of democratic Congress. Finally the economic case for repealing the AUMFs is compelling: fewer wars means fewer expenditures, which in turn should lead to investing more in building our future.

Representative Lee is working to get 50 co-sponsors to legislation to revoke the two AUMFs. I urge all readers to write, call, email or telegraph their Representatives and Senators and tell them that you want them to support and co-sponsor legislation to repeal the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs.

Trump’s wall is a typical GOP maneuver: Propose a stupid idea that hurts non- whites to solve a non-existent problem

As Stephen Colbert pointed out, Republican strategist Stuart Stevens best characterized Donald Trump’s Oval Office speech about the proposed wall along our Southern border hours before Trump gave the speech: “There are numerous examples of presidential addresses made to calm a public. This will be the first to frighten a calm public.”

The partial federal government shutdown is now well into its third week and millions of Americans are suffering because Donald Trump and his Republican flunkies in the Senate insist on building a wall along the border of Mexico, a bad solution to a non-existent problem. We already do tight security screening and illegal entry is way down, thanks to a combination of better Latin American economies and the unwelcoming attitude of the current administration.

It’s not the first time that Republicans have addressed a non-existent problem with a solution that will hurt many people, primarily non-whites, and not help the country. Remember, the states under GOP control have passed dozens upon dozens of restrictive voting laws to address the non-existent problem of voter fraud by individuals. Just as the origins of building a wall is racism, so was the wave of new voter laws, which have targeted minorities, the young and the poor. For example, the Texas voter ID law allows voters to use a hunting license as proof of identification, but not a Texas university ID card. As with the wall, new voter registration laws solved a non-existent problem by targeting non-whites.

Time and time again, Republicans have used non-existent problems in the economy as the excuse to give tax breaks to the wealthy. Once again, there were no long-term problems with the economy. But even if there had been—as there were in 2008—the way to grow the economy and create jobs is never to give tax breaks to the wealthy. What works much better is to give tax breaks to the poor and lower middle class. But what works the best is to raise taxes on the wealthy and invest the money in the economy—building new dedicated mass transit, fixing roads and bridges, making college more affordable, developing carbon neutral technologies. Yet every time the Republicans seize power, the first thing they do is lower taxes on the wealthy. They did it under Reagan, Bush II and now, Trump. Lowering taxes on the wealthy hurts not only racial minorities and the poor, but the middle class and most of the upper middle class, in several ways: It takes money out of the economy, as the rich invest their tax savings in the secondary stock market, bigger houses and other non-productive assets. More important, the government has fewer funds to invest in programs that actually grow the economy and create jobs.

The Afghanistan war breaks the GOP pattern of solving a problem that doesn’t exist with something stupid and racist, but just a little bit. We did have a terrorism problem in 2001. The Afghan War started within a month of 9/11, supposedly to hunt Al Qaida. So the problem was real, but the solution was just plain stupid—the wrong answer, almost by definition, since every outside power that has ever tried to invade or control Afghanistan has instead got caught in the worst kind of intractable, unending, unwinnable quagmire. The Soviet Union, England, the Sikhs, the Mughals—all of these governments invaded Afghanistan, and all soon regretted it. As has the United States.

That brings us to Iraq. Let’s set aside the war for a second and think about what the government had done by 2003 to fight terrorism—greater cooperation with allies, an enormous increase in surveillance, enhanced airport and border security and the development of drones are just some of the many ways we fought terrorism from outsiders after 9/11. Some would say, and include me in this group, that we committed overkill. By 2003, terrorism was no longer a problem, thanks to the Draconian measures the Bush II Administration took, with the cooperation of the Democrats. Thus the war in Iraq was another wrong-headed GOP solution to a non-existent problem that ended up severely hurting populations of non-whites. It perfectly follows the pattern of the wall, voting restrictions and tax breaks for the wealthy.

Those who say Trump has taken over the Republican Party are absolutely and completely wrong. Trump and the GOP were a match made in heaven. Trump’s policies and actions are completely consistent with Republican ideology since Reagan. His decision-making process fits right into Republican strategizing: Create a problem and solve it with a cockamamie idea that hurts non-whites. The wall represents the apotheosis of Reaganism. Those Republicans like Romney and Corey Gardner who criticize Trump only dislike his obvious emotional instability, his crude style, his addiction to lies and the overtness of his racism. They’re fine with his policies.

Trump’s foreign policy does represent a break from Republican ideology, to be sure. He rejects traditional alliances and seems fond of autocrats—perhaps picturing himself as the de facto leader of an international white nationalist movement. Of course, the true leader is Vladimir Putin.

But he deserves credit for announcing the drawdown of about half the troops in Afghanistan. We can only hope that he follows through on this promise, and soon brings home all our remaining troops in Afghanistan.

That would be a start to dismantling the global U.S. military machine now operating in 80 countries total. We have active troops fighting in 14 countries and have recently bombed or used drones in 7. Our military personnel conduct counterterrorism training in 65 countries. All this, in addition to our 40 military bases around the globe. While Trump courts disaster to turn his back on our allies, start a trade war with China and replace multilateralism with go-it-alone bellicosity, his instinct to bring home U.S. troops is a good one.

But even when he gets it right, Trump screws it up. Of all the many places where the United States has an active military engagement, just about the only one we can justify is our presence in Syria. We have no business in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, the Central African Republican, Yemen, Mali and elsewhere, but our small force in Syria does bring a small measure of stability to the civil-war ravaged country. We can only leave once there is a permanent political solution that protects the Kurdish population. To do otherwise would mean we have abandoned an ally, a despicable action that we know Trump has embraced before in both his business and political careers.  

The Party will matter more than the candidate for Democrats in 2020, so Dems should play the Electoral College game

Whoever the Democrats run as president in 2020 will represent the Party and the Party platform far more than is usual, mainly because there is so much unity among Democrats when it comes to platform issues—no matter what the mainstream media says.

On every issue on which the mainstream media says there is disagreement—be it minimum wage, healthcare or immigration—all Democrats are at a position extremely to the left of Republicans and relatively close to each other. All want a dramatic increase in the minimum wage. All will return to a foreign policy built on negotiating treaties and acting in unison with our allies. All will open the borders to refugees and end the crackdown on immigrants. They all will increase the federal government’s hand in healthcare and rollback the Trump rollbacks of Obama regulations. All will want to increase incentives to use solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy. Every Democrat will nominate pro-abortion judges. Under each and every Democrat, a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress will lead to tax increases on the wealthy and corporations.

Thus, to select a 2020 Democratic candidate because of his or her stand on the issues is foolish. There are not the stark contrasts between potential candidates, as there were between Gerry Ford and Ronald Reagan in 1976, or between Edward Kennedy and Jimmy Carter in 1980. It’s more like the Republicans in 2016, when everyone running agreed on every issue with the eventual nominee.

With issues out of the consideration, Democrats should nominate the most electable candidate. While some, especially believers in Beto O’Rourke’s “magic,” would define electability entirely in terms of charisma, I prefer to look at the electoral map, which as we know favors the GOP because it gives a greater say to smaller, more rural states. Even though 21st century Democrats have enjoyed a huge advantage in the popular vote for president, winning four out of five times, the electoral advantage Republicans hold have led to their winning three of five elections.

Current political divides leave the election in the hands of a handful of states with 93 votes in the Electoral College, all of which went for Trump in extremely tight races in 2016: Florida (29 electoral votes), Ohio (18), Michigan (16), Pennsylvania (20) and Wisconsin (10). At the very least, the Democrats have to figure out a way to turn 39 of these 93 electoral votes.

Luckily, the good citizens of Florida almost assuredly just gave Democrats 29 of the 37 electoral votes they need by voting to allow Sunshine State ex-cons who have served their time to vote. That move has the potential to add 1.3 million people to the Florida voting rolls in 2020, most of whom are predicted to vote a straight Democratic Party line. Recent Florida elections have seen razor thin margins, meaning that the vote to give rehabilitated felons the vote should turn Florida a deep shade of blue.

With Florida’s 29 electoral votes in the Democratic column, all Democrats have to do is turn one other of these swing state. One of the surest ways to get a swing state to vote for a candidate is if the candidate calls that state home. Since 1920, there have been 30 presidential elections. Win or lose, 45 of the candidates (75%), won their home state and 15 (25%) lost their home state. In four of the elections, 1920, 1940, 1944 and 2016, both major party candidates came from the same state. If we net out those elections, candidates win their home state almost 80% of the time (41 candidates out of 52).

The male candidates currently under discussion include Corey Booker, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Beto O’Rourke, Martin O’Malley, Eric Holder, Andrew Cuomo, Chris Murphy and Sherrod Brown. Only one of these men resides in one of the key swing states, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, a likeable guy, a long-time liberal, friend of labor and admired by both the centrist and the leftist wings of the Democratic Party.

Sherrod Brown is the safest bet if the Democratic Party decides to play the Electoral College game because running Brown for president almost guarantees winning Ohio’s 18 electoral votes, which when added to Florida’s give the Democrats the White House. The wild card, of course, is John Kasich, another Ohio favorite son. If Kasich heads the Republican ticket—a distinct possibility if Trump has resigned or been impeached and convicted—it would cancel out the home state effect.

Kasich aside, a Brown-Harris, Brown-Warren, Brown-Gillibrand or Brown-Klobuchar ticket would be nearly ideal: It starts with a distinct electoral edge. It sends competent, deeply experienced and likeable progressives to the White House. And it readies the American people to elect a woman in 2024 or 2028

But really, any of the men on the above list except Beto O’Rourke would be fine to lead the 2020 Democratic ticket. To these names I would like to add Gavin Newsom, Jay Inslee and Phil Murphy. The Democrats do indeed have a deep bench ready to steer the country away from the disastrous economic, tax, foreign, environmental, educational and energy policies of the current administration.

If Democrats want to win in 2020, they won’t nominate a woman for president and will nominate a woman for vice president

The Democratic Party is full of smart, experienced and personable women who would do a great job as president. The list begins with Hillary Clinton, but obviously nominating her would court disaster, as the irrational “lock her up crowd” is still rather quite large. Why give Republicans another reason to come out to the polls? Hillary would perform particularly poorly against any Republican other than Trump, because none of them would have Trump’s baggage and Hillary would still have hers.

The four women I like for president are Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand. I personally think it’s about time that a woman served as president.

But nominating any of these truly competent woman or any other woman would be a mistake. About 34% of all voters, including 59% of Republicans, do not personally want to see a woman as president in their lifetime. That’s a steep demographic hill to climb. We know that any male Republican candidate, but especially Trump, will attempt to associate a female candidate with weakness. The news media is sure to exercise its double standard for female candidates: questioning them for past actions and family situations that go unspoken when the candidate is a male.

There is plenty of evidence that a backlash against the very necessary and important #Metoo movement has formed. Leading the anti-#Metoo-ist charge is Trump Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, who has pushed through new college regulations regarding claims of assault that favor the accused. Of particular interest is a recent Bloomberg News report that men at Wall Street investment banks, brokerages and other financial institutions are avoiding being alone with women, rather than risk an accusation of sexual harassment. These powerful business men, virtually all of whom had a mentor at the beginning of their careers, call it the Pence Effect, after Vice President Mike Pence, who will be alone in a room or at dinner with a woman only if it’s his wife. Now Pence can blame his squeamishness on his religion, but these Masters of the Universe blame it on the potential for a misunderstanding or false accusation. The article never mentions the fact that a mere 2% of sexual harassment or assault accusations are false. That means the likelihood of dining alone with a woman resulting in a false accusation is close to nil. That is, if the man keeps the conversation during business hours to business matters, and the dinner conversation to business or non-threatening personal matters. No physical contact beyond shaking hands, when appropriate. That these men don’t realize that all it takes to avoid assault charges is not to assault suggests a terrible truth about the lack of respect that women still suffer in the business and public worlds.

Whoever the Republicans run, it’s essential for Democrats to win in 2020. Why take a chance? What if the answer to the question, “Is America ready for a woman president?” is still no?

But on the other hand, it is extremely important that America moves forward. We have to lay the groundwork for a female presidency in the near future. A woman has twice run for vice president and once for president. Running a woman as a vice presidential candidate in 2020 keeps women in the presidential campaign limelight. And let’s face it, Harris, Klobuchar, Warren and Gillibrand are all more competent and presentable candidates than Geraldine Ferraro and Sarah Palin were. A woman vice presidential candidate will make a Democratic ticket more attractive to millennial voters.

But whereas all four women would make wonderful presidents and vice presidents, I would not consider Elizabeth Warren as someone’s running mate, because she’s already 69. In four or eight years, she’ll be in her seventies, on the verge of being too old to run for our highest office.

Interestingly enough, running one of the three younger women as vice president makes Joe Biden a more appealing choice to head the ticket. Biden will turn 78 in 2020 and, if elected, figures to serve one term only. Whoever is his vice president will be the presumptive presidential frontrunner in 2024. Making it Harris, Klobuchar, Gillibrand or another woman sets up the probability that a woman is elected president in 2024, assuming the Democrats do what they say they’re going to do.

Biden wouldn’t be my first, second, third or fourth choice among Democratic men. I still don’t like the way he mistreated Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings in 1991. Moreover, I would rather see a younger, more vigorous person in office.

But who should it be? Tune in tomorrow for the last in my series of articles on who the Democrats should nominate in 2020.

With a deep bench of talent, the Democrat’s mantra should be ABB: Anyone but Beto

The Democrats are blessed with a large number of candidates whose experience, politics and personality make them qualified to assume the office of the presidency. Even if we rule out the most well-known but all fairly ancient Democrats—the septuagenarians Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders—the Democrats’ cup runneth over with talented candidates.

Unfortunately Beto O’Rourke is not one of them.

Yet, Beto is the one that the mainstream news media want to focus on. The other day, MSNBC’s pseudo-progressive Chris Matthews pumped up O’Rourke’s candidacy. This week, The New York Times ran a front-page feature focused  focused on his potential candidacy. The only other possible candidates mentioned in the article are those the writer believes Beto particularly threatens—Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker and Joe Biden

What’s more, strong anecdotal evidence exists that large numbers of probable Democratic voters are intrigued by Beto. Other than Biden, Bernie and Hillary, O’Rourke attracted the most support in a recent national poll, although he won a mere 9% of participants. My Facebook universe of more than 3,500 friends, which is decidedly Democratic and progressive, generates at least two dozen updates a day about the 2020 election. About a sixth of the posts wail over the possibility of Hillary running and another sixth propose Bernie as the top choice. A handful of posts mention other candidates, while the remainder—about two-thirds—propose Beto as the top candidate.

Yet what has he done? Not much, as it turns out.

He served three undistinguished terms as a back bencher in the House of Representatives. Between forming an environmental coalition, speaking out (sometimes inaccurately) on many issues and paying her interns a decent wage, the spunky Alexandria Octavio-Cortez has already had a greater impact as a congressional representative than Beto did in six years, and she hasn’t even taken office yet. Before he ran for office, he had an undistinguished career in business.

Beto, like JFK, both Bushes, Al Gore, Nancy Pelosi, Jerry Brown and Mitt Romney, does have the advantage of coming from a politically connected family. His mother is the stepdaughter of the Secretary of the Navy under JFK, while his father served as county commissioner and county judge and is a longtime political crony of former Texas Governor Mark White. We can assume that Beto called in decades of chits in first running for office as an unknown mediocrity.

When the news media and social media gush about O’Rourke, they focus on one fact and two feelings. First and foremost, they mention his charisma, which is, to quote Webster’s “a personal magic of leadership arousing special popular loyalty or enthusiasm for a public figure.” Charisma is an amorphous feeling that has been applied to JFK, Reagan, Clinton, Obama and George W. Bush (only in comparison to his 2000 opponent, Al Gore). No one likes to use the “c” word when talking about Donald Trump, Adolph Hitler, Huey Long or Mussolini, but we know that large numbers of people were irrationally devoted to these individuals. Some individuals with charisma were decent leaders, but most were fairly mediocre like JFK or Clinton, or full scale disasters like Ronnie and Georgie. Then there are the manipulative, lying demagogues. Many Democrats seem very likable, especially Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar and Corey Booker. Others have the gravitas that I prefer in a leader, including Kamala Harris, Jay Inslee and Sherrod Brown. All have greater credentials and have accomplished more in their lives than Beto.

Beto-heads like the fact that O’Rourke raised so much money from so many small donors for his failed campaign to unseat Texas Senator Ted Cruz. That’s the fact. We’ll never know, however, what portion of the small givers were as much anti-Cruz as they were pro-O’Rourke. A lot of people despised Cruz before they ever heard of Beto. Remember that Cruz is considered unctuous, hypocritical and untrustworthy by large numbers of people, and is even disliked by many of his allies in the Senate. No one has ever written that Ted has even a modicum of charisma, charm or even likeability.

Finally, supporters of O’Rourke believe that his great showing against Cruz in Texas demonstrates that he can beat Trump nationally in 2020. The implicit reasoning behind this feeling seems to be that the nation as a whole is more liberal than Texas. Yet Texas has a lot of minorities. Its demographic future seems to be similar to the path taken in Nevada, Virginia and Colorado, all states that are turning or have turned blue. Besides, it is Trump not Cruz who commands the so-called Republican base of evangelicals, those opposed to immigration and racists. They preferred Trump over Cruz in the 2016 primaries. If Beto couldn’t beat a despicable Cruz, why does anyone think he can handle the more formidable Trump?

Compare Beto to the last newcomer anointed as a charismatic Democratic savior who leaped ahead of more experienced Democrats, Barack Obama. First of all, Obama had far more relevant experience. He had been a prominent Senator who had made noises during his four years representing Illinois, and a Constitutional law professor before that. When we focus only on domestic affairs, Obama turned out to be a good president, but during his first few years in office he made several mistakes stemming from his lack of experience as an administrator. Can we expect the less experienced and less well-educated O’Rourke to do any better than Obama?

It’s not just that Beto is at best marginally qualified to be president. It’s that the Democratic bench is so deep and talented that it makes little sense to put the nation’s future in Beto’s hands.

In a related column tomorrow, I will consider some of these other Democrats from the standpoint of what should be the most important factor in 2020—electability.

Great victory for Dems & the American people last night no matter what mainstream media says, but we have to start preparing for 2019

Media pundits are trying to shade the election as a wash, but I see it as a major victory for Democrats, everyone who believes America is a multicultural society, and the 99.5% of us who don’t have a lot of money.

The central outcome of the 2018 midterm election is that the Democrats won back the House. The Dems will now be able to block obnoxious Republican legislation and open a series of investigations into Trump and Trump administration corruption and lawbreaking. For example, it’s a cinch that one or more House committees will now subpoena Trump’s past tax filings. The Democrats will also be able to wrestle concessions from Republicans in some no brainer areas such as criminal justice reform and repairing our frail infrastructure of mass transit, roads, bridges and sewer systems. While it’s doubtful progressives will see progress on the big issues such as healthcare and raising taxes on the wealthy, we also won’t face defunding of Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security.

Perhaps most important, control of the House means that something is now blocking the Trump and GOP’s path towards authoritarian control by a minority party. That the Republicans picked up a couple of Senate seats does not change the balance of power the way the Dem’s House victory does. It was always a pipedream to think that the Senate could change hands with so many Democratic seats open this year. On the bright side, a lot of GOP Senators will be up for reelection in 2020, vulnerable to Trumps’ unpopularity among a large majority of voters. The Trump agenda is now effectively blocked, except when it comes to installing rightwing judges.

One reason why the results look so much more balanced than actuality is that the GOP won many of the races the mainstream media focused on: Florida Governor and Senate, Georgia Governor, Texas Senate. Many of the vilest of Republican candidates won, like Ted Cruz, Ron DeSantis and Marsha Blackburn, and at this point Brian Kemp and Rick Scott, too. To the good, Scott Walker and Chris Kobach, two of the most deplorable of the deplorables, did lose. But many of the most attractive Democrats went down, mainly Beto O’Rourke and Andrew Gillum (and maybe Stacey Abrams), all christened by the news media as rising stars. Pundits on multiple cable stations salivated at the thought of Beto running for president in 2020.

Luckily, the Democrats have plenty of attractive possible candidates who could prove formidable in 2020, including Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren, Gavin Newsom, Chris Murphy, Corey Booker, Martin O’Malley, Andrew Cuomo and Jay Inslee (not to mention yesterday’s news such as Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine). All, except maybe Bernie, would make competent presidents. All would tack left on healthcare, Social Security, infrastructure development, public education, social inclusiveness, a foreign policy paced on cooperation with other countries and action to address global warming. One will catch fire with Democratic voters. Let’s then hope that before too long the cable analysts stop pushing Beto. Someone who couldn’t even defeat Ted Cruz won’t have a chance against the Donald.

But before 2020 comes the very important off off year of the 2019 local elections that will do much to determine whether we continue to become an autocratic government whose sole objective is to enrich those already wealthy. If Democrats can continue to grab state legislatures, they can be in firm control to implement the results of the 2020 census. Remember that Dems lack of competiveness in 2010, the last election to determine who set the boundaries of Congressional districts, led to the current dire situation. Democratic state legislatures will also be able to end the wave of voter suppression laws that in all likelihood caused the defeat of Hillary Clinton in 2016, and of the statewide candidates in Georgia and Florida this year. Finally, state legislatures can serve as a bulwark against an increasingly conservative federal court system.

Participation in the electoral process can never be a one-off activity, like a vacation to Machu Picchu. You have to keep voting for Democrats at every level in every election and keep participating to drive the Democratic Party further left. I urge all readers to begin now to investigate the open offices and who is running as a Democrat in their 2019 local races and communicate to everyone you know how important it is to keep coming out to vote for Democrats in 2019.

A lay sermon on voting against Trump and for Democrats on November 6

In Jewish tradition, the Tree of Life, the name of the synagogue where an anti-Semite with an AR-15 killed 11 worshipers, is the Torah. For example, the final song before closing the synagogue ark after reading from the Torah calls the Torah a “tree of life. The passage goes ”It is a tree of life onto them that lay hold of it, and happy is every one that retaineth it.” (from the 1958 Hebrew Publishing Company edition of the Synagogue Service New Year and Atonement)

The Torah—or the Five Books of Moses or the Pentateuch, as it is also known—records the mythic history of the Jewish people from the birth of the universe through the exodus from Egypt and the wandering in the desert for 40 years before entering the Holy Land. But beyond the narrative, the Tree of Life is a guide for how to live one’s life. Rabbis have identified 613 specific commandments in the five books, most of which have been subject over the centuries to repeated interpretation to bring them up to date to cover situations, technologies and times that have changed dramatically since the original writing of the Torah, about 2,600 years ago. Each time someone follows any one of the 613 commandments, he or she performs a “mitvah,” a good deed. The idea of the Torah as a book of action as much as a book of history is central to all branches of Judaism.

I don’t believe I’m wrong to propose that action in the world—be it prayer, acts of kindness or bravery of making your voice known, dominates the way Jews live in the world, be they Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist or atheist. Moses stresses the importance of acting in the world in his very last speech to the Jewish people, at the end of Deuteronomy. I’m going to give two translations, first the standard one you can find on the internet: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, so that we may follow all the words of this law.

Now the slightly more formal translation in the 1962 Jewish Publication Society of America translation: “Concealed acts concern the Lord our God; but with overt acts, it is for us and our children ever to apply all the provisions of this Teaching.”

There’s a double message here. First that our salvation and our objectives on earth can only manifest themselves through action. It doesn’t matter what you say or what you think. You are judged on what you do. It sounds very existential to me, which may explain why so many atheists of Jewish background insist they are good Jews and that there are a number of Synagogues for atheist Jews across the country.

The second message is just as clear: Our actions should depend on the real world—the things that are revealed. This affirmation of science and the application of facts stands in stark opposition to certain other religions that expect us to ignore facts in favor of faith, which, as Emily Dickinson once pointed out, “is a fine invention when gentlemen can see, but microscopes are prudent in an emergency.”

The countdown of the 2018 midterm election has seen so many truly disturbing events that the more religious among us may have come to believe we are living in apocalyptic times. The brutal assassination of Jamal Khashoggi; the wave of pipe bombs sent to public figures whom Donald Trump has constantly demonized in speeches and tweets; the racist murder of two African-Americans outside a supermarket in Kentucky; the dreadful Tree of Life slaughter. Many others probably feel as I do—as if I’m on the ropes of a fight ring and am being hit on the jaw time and again by a heavyweight boxer. That the violent and hateful rhetoric of Donald Trump and the Trumpites running for office has engendered an atmosphere of permission for the crimes and hate speech is hard to dispute. Since the latest mass murder and hate crimes, Trump and his administration have put the pedal to the metal in advocating various forms of racism both directly and using coded language and action. In talking with Pittsburgh Jewish leaders, Trump said that he, like them, likes to negotiate, an anti-Semitic slur. Mike Pence invited a spiritual leader who is a Jew for Jesus to pretend to be a rabbi and give a speech at a memorial ceremony for the Tree of Life dead, a poke in the eye to virtually every Jew. Trump used his authoritarian streak to ratchet up the hate when he asserted that he could overrule the 14th amendment and outlaw birthright citizenship with an executive order. We wake up each morning asking ourselves, what fresh hell will come today?

While the Torah is clear that we shouldn’t wait around for a miracle of faith, but act, its writers could not have anticipated the complex challenges of a post-industrial world in which the ultra-wealthy have made a devil’s pact with racists and the authoritarian right. But I infer a very clear application of the Torah’s message: Vote, and do not vote for liars and those who dispute scientific truth.

Scientific truth, of course includes a belief in global warming and the idea that racial constructs are meaningless. It includes an understanding that immigrants—legal and illegal—raise the wages and employment of everyone and commit fewer crimes than the native born. It recognizes that single-payer universal healthcare leads to lower healthcare costs; that lowering taxes on the wealthy does not create jobs; and that the more guns in a society, the more people are killed and injured by guns. It dismisses outrageous lies like the Saudi arms deal will create a million jobs, the caravan of refugees 900 miles from the border represents a national threat, or the United States is the only country to grant birthright citizenship. It discounts all racial and cultural stereotyping. In other words, to vote for truth requires us to reject Trumpism in its whole and its parts.

For Americans of good faith, be they Jewish or non-Jewish, believers or atheists, that means one thing and one thing only: wherever you are, vote straight line Democratic. I know that no Democrat will align exactly with your positions, but 2018 is one year when must vote by party, not individual, if we are to defeat the evil of Trumpism. Hold your nose and cast your ballot for that imperfect candidate, as long as she/he is a Democrat. The future of our country depends on it.

And you’d be doing a mitzvah.

Antisemitism was root cause, but automatic weapons the method for killing 11 at Pittsburgh Synagogue. To stop mass shootings, we must ban automatic weapons!

Reactions by Jews and non-Jews to the massacre of 11 people at Tree Of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh overwhelmed my Facebook feed this morning. Many stars of David. Many portrait photos with “#TogetherAgainstAntisemitism” added. Lots of expressions of shock, anger, fear and sadness.

It was a horrible event, another bloody example that we must pass laws that outlaw automatic and semi-automatic firearms, and pass a number of other gun control and gun safety laws on the federal and state levels. Licenses for guns with mandatory renewals. Seven-day waiting period for all gun sales. A stronger national registry of those banned from owning guns. Repeal of ”stand your ground” laws. Limits on annual purchases of ammunition.

This particular slaughter of the innocents hit me, and many I knew, particularly close to home, not just because I’m Jewish, but because it occurred in my old home—the neighborhood in which I lived for many years. Tree of Life synagogue is located three blocks from our former house in Squirrel Hill. I knew many people that went to Tree of Life. The list of victims includes two people I knew well. One coached one of my son’s Little League teams and the other served as a long-time Treasurer for another Pittsburgh Synagogue which I attended for a while.

In our grief, whether personal or empathetic, we must remember one thing: These 11 Jewish lives are worth no more—and no less—than the lives lost at Parkland, Newtown, the Charleston AME Church, San Bernardino, Las Vegas and the Orlando night club. Going beyond mass murders, usually committed with automatic rifles, the 11 Jewish lives exterminated by the gunfire of an anti-Semite are worth no more—and no less—than the lives of the innocents killed in Yemen, Syria and the Israeli-occupied territories. Only hypocrites can mourn the loss of Jewish lives and not also be moved to tears by the deaths of Palestinian protesters and the starvation of Yemeni children. We can widen the circle of victims of human stupidity, greed and cruelty to include the refugees from war, famine, gangs and government suppression now routinely turned away or forced into captivity in the United States and Western Europe.

Humans are creating a lot of innocent victims in the 21st century, a sad carryover from the gory 20th century, which featured world wars, mass starvations, enormous post-war migrations and the development and use against innocent bystanders of nuclear weapons. What unites the two centuries is not only violence, but the singular cause for most of it: racism—fear and disdain for people of another color or ethnicity. It is clear, however, that Donald Trump has made a bad situation worse. FBI statistics show that hate crimes overall increased precipitously the day Trumpty-Dumpty took office and have stayed high ever since. Some have postulated that his many comments alluding to violence against his opponents have emboldened violent action both by rightists in the United States and by autocratic governments elsewhere. Moreover, Trump and his administration’s hostility towards immigrants makes the Donald the leader of a new world order of nativist political movements in Great Britain, Italy, Hungary, Poland, Brazil and elsewhere.

A new analysis of the global terrorism database shows that the extreme right committed two-thirds of terrorist acts on American soil last year. Under Trump, the American right has felt an expansive sense of empowerment in the United States that has too often manifested itself in violence. The right has so many targets: Blacks, Muslims, Jews, gays, immigrants, Latinos, the transgendered, abortion providers. In many ways, the melting pot has turned into a shooting gallery.

We should learn two lessons from this week of horrors that began with the fallout of the butchering of an American resident by the Saudis and was dominated by the delivery of pipe bombs to a dozen or more people Trump routinely lambasts with violent language: On the spiritual level, we should learn to care about and act against the misery of all people, be they your next-door neighbor, your religious brethren or victims of war halfway around the world.

On the practical level, we’ve learned profoundly that it’s a lot easier to buy an automatic weapon than to construct a bunch of sophisticated bombs from scratch. If we want to stop this particular kind of misery—mass murders perpetrated by nuts of all political and religious persuasion—we have to ban automatic and semiautomatic rifles and place much greater restrictions on owning, carrying and using other types of firearms.

Our Middle Eastern policy favors Saudi Arabia over Iran and that makes absolutely no sense

The reaction of Donald Trump and other administration officials to the butchering of U.S. resident and Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi Arabian security staff illuminates the larger absurdity of American foreign policy in the Middle East.

Whether it’s not believing it happened, accepting the Saudis’ several sanitized versions of the brutal assassination, or minimizing the transgression and soft pedaling the reaction to this barbarism, Trump, his factotums and right-wing pundits give two reasons for putting their faith in the Saudi version: the money Saudis pay U.S. companies for arms and the strategic importance of Saudi Arabia in U.S. foreign policy. In the age of fracking, few talk about Saudi oil.

Putting money above morality and a free press merely demonstrates—for what seems like the five hundredth time this year—the amoral corruption of Trumpism. Democrats, mainstream journalists and many government officials across the globe rightly see the depths of depravity in going easy on the Saudis. Perceptive commentators have noted that Trump’s frequent violent language against reporters may have made the Saudis believe that they had “permission” to use torture and murder to silence one of the regime’s strongest critics while issuing a de facto warning to other journalists questioning Saudi actions in Yemen and elsewhere. Strangely, no one has yet compared the dismemberment of Khashoggi—likely initiated while he was still alive—to the ISIS beheadings of a few years back.

But I’ve yet to see any U.S. politician or pundit push back on the assertion that Saudi Arabia holds a strategic importance in U.S. policy. That strategic importance is tied to constraining Iran, the Saudis fierce rival in the region for the hearts and minds of Moslems. Thus what most people, including Democrats, really mean by “strategic importance of Saudi Arabia” is “we’re choosing Saudi Arabia over Iran.” And what a crazy decision that is in so many ways.

Let’s start with past harm to the United States. An ally of the Unites States before the 1979 revolution, Iranian students took 52 Americans hostage a few days after that revolution started. Iran held the 52 Americans for 444 days. Although the hostages were beaten and lived in fear, every single one of them came back alive. Since then, there has been no documented case of any American dying at the hands of the Iranian military or police. It is true that Iran has supported political groups engaged in violence against America and its allies, but giving groups money and arms is far different from pulling the actual trigger. If it wasn’t, we couldn’t justify our support and military sales to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel and other countries which have committed atrocities.

Compare the harm inflicted on the United States by Saudi Arabia. It is common knowledge that virtually all of the 9/11 hijackers who killed almost 3,000 Americans were Saudis who received monetary support from other Saudis. Less well-know are the many direct and indirect ties between the 9/11 perpetrators and financers and Saudi government officials.  can now add Jamal Khashoggi to the toll of dead American residents attributable to Saudi Arabia.

Now let’s consider the assets of our friend the Saudis compared with our enemy the Iranians. Saudi Arabia is a desert country of 33 million with lots of oil and no other natural resources. It has no history of democracy and its educational system does not produce graduates with marketable skills. Besides oil, Iran has a wealth of natural resources, an historically strong, Western-looking middle class, and a well-educated population of 81.5 million. Iran held elections with real meaning for decades until a U.S.-supported coup d’état helped to install Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as dictator in 1953; today there are semi-free elections in Iran. Saudi Arabia occasionally has local elections to offices without any power.

While neither country offers the freedoms we are used to in the West, Iran is definitely a more open society than Saudi Arabia. The cultural history of Saudi Arabia—dominated by nomadic tribes and Islam—has little in common with the West, whereas Iran is Persia, whose civilization is one of the foundational precursors of European thought and culture. Persian/Iranian history is rich in important non-religious thinkers and writers. Other than Mohammed the Prophet and his first prominent followers, who has the Arabian Peninsula produced? Look at the Wikipedia articles titled “List of Saudi Arabian Writers” and “List of Persian Writers.” The Arabian list has 37 names; the Persian has 188, including some I recognized as literary masters: Ferdowski, Omar Kayyám, Saadi, Hafez, Leila Kasra, Muhammad Iqbal.

As usual, our foreign policy has no basis in history. Our saber-rattling for years only goaded Iran to invest more in its military and to developing nuclear weapons. Economic sanctions, however, brought Iran to the table and led to the Iran Nuclear Treaty, which the Trump Administration has unfortunately shredded. Theocrats may often have the last word in Iran, but the middle class and business classes put enormous pressure on the elected government and the religious leaders to provide a growing economy. (The Saudis, of course, don’t face that demand since the sheer wealth of the Saudi Princes enables them to put more than half the population on welfare.) So why the heck do we need to arm anybody to counter Iran, when economic threats have worked just fine? Sure, the military arms industry will suffer, but that shouldn’t matter to any government that feels a responsibility to its people and the world. A foreign policy based on bellicosity often leads to war.

But don’t expect the horrific killing of Jamal Khashoggi to change basic U.S. policy. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Prince Muhammad bin Salman, AKA MBS (as in “more BS”) step down as head of government, maybe returning in five or 10 years, maybe forever exiled from political leadership for committing the sin of not covering up his bloody tracks. But the U.S. will continue to consider the Saudis as allies and Iran as a mortal enemy, at least as long as the industrial military complex dominates our political process.

Bad idea of the year, consumer division: Banks now trying to get children hooked on debit cards by enabling parents to use them for giving allowance

If there’s an award for bad idea of the year, non-politics division, the early frontrunner must certainly be giving children their allowance on debit cards. Pushed by banks and app developers, the debit card spares parents the annoying task of getting cash to give the kids for their weekly or monthly allotment or as payment for chores. It also allows them to see all the purchases the kid makes and restrict purchases from certain stores. Many of these new cards attached to apps also give parents the option of designating some of their payments to savings accounts. The past few weeks have seen a very small but persistent media campaign about the paperless allowance, including an article in the New York Times’ “Your Money Advisor” column.

According to the Times’ sympathetic article, financial advocates say that the main benefit of the cards “is that they can prompt parents to talk with their children about money.” Prompt, by the way, means reminds. So even the so-called advocates admit the cards fulfill no real function, since any online calendar or the bugging of the kids for their cash can serve to prompt the parent. Of course, we can’t forget the convenience of not having to stop at the ATM or bank to make sure you have the bucks to pay the little dears. Just load up the cards.

These so-called financial advocates must represent the banks and app companies, because they certainly don’t represent families.

Forget about the fees, which give parents and children less buying power. The prepaid cards deny children the opportunity to learn firsthand what money is and what it can do: With a card, the child is unable to see money accumulate or understand what it means to exchange money for a product or service. With a card, the child doesn’t get the experience—and pleasure—of going to the bank to deposit or withdraw money and seeing principle grow in the passbook or knowing when you see the new deposit appear online the number and denomination of dollars and change it represents. The card thus denies the child the opportunity to use money to learn basic math and financial skills.

Because the child knows or will find out that the parent can use the card to monitor and veto purchases, the child loses the sense of ownership over the money. When the parent designates some of the allowance to savings, it’s not the child saving, it’s the parent. The child is the active saver only when she-he sees the money and makes the decision to put some away. Part of learning how to handle money is to make mistakes with the small amounts children get for their allowance. Parental supervision of how every penny of an allowance is spent is an ultimate form of helicopter parenting, keeping children intellectual slaves to their parents long after they should be stretching out and starting to take responsibility for themselves.

One app company makes cards for children as young as six. Imagine a six-year-old who never gets to convert ones to fives or to count out fifty pennies and stuff them in a paper roll. Moreover, think of the kind of consumer this child will grow into. A consumer who has primarily used debit cards. One who is used to paying fees, and in fact probably grows up not even knowing that his use of the card comes with fees. A consumer whose concept of money is completely abstract. One whose math skills may not translate into a practical understanding of what buying power is and means. In other words, a consumer trained to be a financial rube. Perfect for banks and retailers.

Frankly, I don’t see any use for a debit card, because federal laws free banks to pile on fees. No-fee credit cards I like, but only if you do what I have done since I got my first credit card 48 years ago—pay off the entire balance at the end of every month to avoid incurring any interest or fees. But use of both credit and debit cards should wait until a child has basic math skills and has demonstrated financial responsibility. Most college kids are forced to use credit cards to make purchases at their universities. That’s soon enough to be introduced to this very complicated and fee-ridden way of keeping track of your money.