Archive for September, 2011

THE REAL HALL OF FAMERS

Posted Sep 30 2011 by with 4 Comments

America is big on halls of fame. Walls and walks of fame, too. But we’re missing one hall, and it’s more important than all the others combined. Yet we’ll never build it—it would honor too many people and so be way too costly. But these folks should be acknowledged.

By way of explanation, I just spent a week with three friends on a road trip from Boston to Cleveland visiting several sports halls of fame. We started in Boston where we took in a Red Sox game at Fenway Park. The next day we arrived at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. I loved shooting hoops on their court, and I can say scoring two on a peach basket isn’t easy. The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York was terrific. We enjoyed the Boxing Hall of Fame in Canistota, New York—small but interesting. Then it was off to Cleveland for Indians’ baseball at beautiful Progressive Field, the Pro Football Hall of Fame in nearby Canton and, for good measure, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame fifteen minutes’ walk from our hotel. Fabulous!

We got a good taste of how this nation reveres athletes and rockers. And there’s nothing wrong with that—to a point. In truth, many hall inductees’ personal lives don’t measure up to their professional feats. So while gambling may keep Pete Rose out of Cooperstown and juicing steroids eliminate the entry of some home run record setters and power pitchers, abuse of other drugs and alcohol along with rap sheets generally don’t bar the door. Halls of fame don’t celebrate attaining the pinnacle of human values. But let’s not sell ourselves short.

It’s important that we also honor ordinary Americans involved with family, jobs and community while upholding the law: The Unsung Heroes Hall of Fame. And we don’t need an expensive building and handsome plaques to do it. A little acknowledgment would do it.

I saw some of those heroes on my trip. They looked like baggage handlers and flight attendants, reception clerks and housekeeping staff, ticket takers and ushers, wait staff and cashiers. These ordinary people were extraordinarily friendly, helpful and patient. They worked hard, and they cared.

I was particularly impressed by how the folks in Cleveland are trying to restore their city. Cleveland lost ten percent of its population in the last decade. Its 1940 population of 878,000 dwindled to 433,000 in 2008. Yet Cleveland not only built new baseball and football stadiums (which of course draw money from the suburbs) but also the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame designed by famed architect I.M. Pei. I saw new life in the old Warehouse District, too, with condos and apartments served by a number of really good restaurants. And the city also serves as home to the notable Cleveland Clinic.

Yes, Cleveland has a long way to go as America’s industrial heartland attempts to reinvent itself. But residents will tell you, “Cleveland rocks!” What really rocks is that they still give a damn. America’s problems are severe. There’s no way around that. But we live among millions of Hall of Famers giving it their best shot and determined to both adapt and succeed. Let’s treat each other—and this missive goes double for Washington—with the respect we all deserve.

For all of you observing Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year—may 5772 bring you health, prosperity and shalom—peace.

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LET’S TAX UN-AMERICANS

Congress’ “supercommittee”—six Democrats and six Republicans—is now meeting to determine how to help the nation get out of its debt crisis. They’ll recommend budget cuts. That’s a given. But the idea of raising revenue remains a legitimate consideration.

As Doug Oberhelman, CEO of Caterpillar, told CBS News early this week, no politician who stands against revenues or budget cuts should even go through the door. In other words, if you can’t bring that mindset to the table, stay away from the table. Of course, Tea Party activists will question Mr. Oberhelman’s capitalist bona fides, although his company employs 93,000 people worldwide. But people say interesting things when they’re off their meds. Like the folks at the Tea Party-sponsored Republican presidential debate, who earlier this week cheered the idea of people without health insurance being left to die.

But hold on. Now is the time to think out of the Beltway. Because we can raise revenues without collecting a nickel from Americans. We’ll simply tap the wallets of un-Americans. Here’s what I propose:

• Place a dollar fee on every ticket sold to a foreign movie. Only un-Americans watch them, and they insult this nation when they do. As if Americans can’t make enough films to fill our theaters. Foreign movies take jobs from our actors and crafts folks. And those subtitles! You go out to see a movie, not read one. And while we’re at it, charge an annual licensing fee to watch BBC America on cable. As if any real American can understand what the British are saying, right?

• Put another buck fee on every meal served at or taken out of Chinese, Thai, Indian and Mexican restaurants. Our forefathers built America on fried chicken, chicken-fried steak, burgers and pizza. Oh wait… did pizza start in Italy?

• Take out a major chunk of the salary of every foreign player in the National Basketball Association. These guys come here to be famous and make millions. They should pay for the privilege—especially since they play for their own countries in the Olympics and other international tournaments. And while we’re at it, those foreign baseball and hockey players can help out, too.

• Re above, stick a fee on every ticket sold to Major League Soccer games. Real Americans don’t attend them. Oh, and send half the proceeds to the National Football League.

• Charge a $100 entry fee to every American returning from a vacation overseas—including Canada and Mexico. (Except me, since I serve as a goodwill ambassador for the USofA.) If God didn’t want us to go to Disneyland, Disneyworld and Dollywood, we’d never have staged the American Revolution and opened Colonial Williamsburg.

But don’t think I have all the answers. Prove that you’re a real American and send in some of your own suggestions. Because Congress and the “supercommittee” need all the help they can get.

No post on September 23. I’ll be traveling—in America!

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COJONES

Yesterday—three days before the tenth anniversary of 9/11 (and with the government on alert to possible terror threats in New York and Washington, D.C.), President Obama addressed a joint session of Congress. He asked—17 times—that his proposed $447 billion American Jobs Act be passed “right now.”

CBS’s Nora O’Donnell put it succinctly: “The President came out fighting tonight.” Colleague Bob Schieffer, long a keen observer of Washington politics, stated that Mr. Obama was “not the cool, detached college professor.” He exhibited, “a lot of Harry Truman.”

I’m delighted that the President showed some cojones—Spanish for, simply put, “balls.” As the nation’s economy struggles, it’s more than time to tell it like it is.

The President cited a number of objectives in the new jobs legislation: helping small business (although CBS’s Anthony Mason correctly noted that small business owners don’t hire when taxes are cut but when demand grows), repairing the nation’s infrastructure, putting teachers back to work and greeting returning veterans not just with kind words but with job opportunities. He also called for reforming the tax code, which did not seem to inspire House Majority leader John Boehner, who I thought looked a bit uncomfortable. I suspect that Mr. Boehner is willing to support much of the President’s proposals but faces continuing opposition on the far right.

Mr. Obama took on Democrats, too. He called for gradual adjustments to Medicare and Medicaid (while protecting Social Security from cuts). No one doubts the need for healthcare, but Democrats have been lax in not recognizing that rising health care costs are outstripping the country’s ability to pay for these programs. Sensible changes need to be discussed—and made.

Back to the Republicans: Mr. Obama acknowledged that America is a land of rugged individualists (as I recall, Ronald Reagan bought his ranch with Hollywood money; George W. Bush leveraged family connections) but “no single individual built America on their own.” Rather, he emphasized, “We’re all connected and must assist each other.” The federal government, he pointed out, underwrote the Transcontinental Railroad and Land Grant colleges that brought rugged individualists across this vast nation a wide variety of goods plus the great benefits of higher education.

As to the Republican response, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said, “My way or the highway doesn’t work. What works is building consensus.” Memo to Mr. Cantor: that’s what the President has attempted to do. You and your party bear the brunt of his failure.

Last night won’t end the President’s fiery comments. He will take his case to the American people in speeches across the country. Yes, he will have to provide details on the source of funds for the American Jobs Act to show that he is serious. But he has now demonstrated a welcome new passion by challenging Congress. “We can stop the political circus,” he said. Perhaps the clowns will take off their greasepaint and get to work.

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PROPHETS AMONG US

If Job couldn’t understand God’s ways, how can we? I refer to individuals who claim to speak for God and even speak to Him. God appeared to Job out of the tempest (or whirlwind) but did all the talking until the end when Job capitulated. “Indeed, I spoke without understanding / Of things beyond me, which I did not know” (Job 42:3-6).

Two sets of verses in the Book of Deuteronomy, 13:2-19 and 18:9-22 (the latter in this week’s portion, Shofetim) deal with the problem of recognizing prophets (and witches and soothsayers) and their prophecies. They advise on distinguishing true prophets from false. According to Deuteronomy, a real prophet’s predictions must come true. But miracles do not confirm a prophet. The prophet’s words must fall within the parameters of the Torah and its commandments. This concept proved so difficult to grasp that the Sages drew no comprehensive or universal conclusions. Revelation—and with it prophecy—was deemed to have ended with the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE.

The 2012 presidential campaign poses a similar question. How can the electorate know when a candidate’s words ring true? And as the Republican primary campaign moves forward, how will Americans respond to a candidate like Texas Governor Rick Perry, who claims—or whose supporters claim—to have been chosen by God?

Rachel Tabachnick, born a Southern Baptist and a convert to Judaism, who writes for talk2action.org, recently spoke with Terry Gross on National Public Radio. She offered interesting insights. Perry’s August 6 prayer rally in Houston was orchestrated by two ministries of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), an emerging Christian movement that seeks control over what it terms “seven Mountains:” American arts and entertainment, business, family, government, media, religion and education. All, the NAR believes, have fallen under the control of demons. The NAR engages, according to Tabchnick, in the pursuit of Dominionism: Christians “must take control over the various institutions of society and government.” Major topics of Perry’s Houston rally and others like it, says Tabachnick, include “anti-abortion, anti-gay rights and the conversion of Jews in order to advance the end times.” Not surprisingly, the NAR wants to convert Muslims, whom demons, they believe, hold in bondage.

Are believers in Dominionism entitled to their beliefs? Yes. Are they entitled to impose them on others? No. People may think they can divine God‘s will beyond “Love thy neighbor” and “Do unto others,” but how can they know? Of course, what they can do is threaten the liberties of others who don’t believe as they do. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat on August 28 dismissed the threat of Christian archconservatives. He advised journalist to see their “tendencies for what they often are: not signs of religious conservatism’s growing strength and looming triumph, but evidence of its persistent disappointments and defeats.” Certainly, this is not the first time a Christian movement has swept the nation. I am not, however, that sanguine.

Rabbi Gunther Plaut, editor of The Torah: A Modern Commentary, offers perspective. “Ultimately it must be the people, in their ongoing history, who will distinguish true from false.” Americans will hear many claims over the next fourteen months. Rabbi Plaut’s words of wisdom will be put to the test.

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