A GENERATION ENDS

My aunt, Rita Nachem, died two weeks ago at 97. A generation ended. Last Friday night at my synagogue, I said Kaddishfor her. But as much as I mourn, I celebrate her life and those of all my aunts and uncles.

Aunt Rita was the last survivor of six Finkle children, including my mother Blanche. My grandparents, Lyon and Minnie, had three children in quick succession then paused before bringing into the world another three. Each older kid was assigned a younger sibling to assist Grandma. Aunt Rita, ten years younger, was my mother’s “baby.”

All my aunts and uncles on both sides of my family are gone. Added together—counting only first spouses, eliminating one I never knew, and including my great uncle and aunt, Moe and Anne Horowitz, who I consider second parents—they numbered twenty. Until I became an adult, I never considered my aunts and uncles by marriage distinct from my parents’ siblings. I never felt less than their nephew.

Uncle Larry Nachem died some years ago. Carolyn and I called him a day or two before his death and chatted. He did not fear the inevitable. Actually, he sounded pretty good. People in their final days often experience a resurgence—if for only a moment. While it’s not always possible, we got to say goodbye. We were glad.

Over the years, we called Aunt Rita regularly as did my other cousins, and spoke with her two weeks before she died. Obviously declining, she sounded tired. Nonetheless, as the matriarch of the family, she asked about us and our children. She uttered no complaints.

We often visited Aunt Rita in the Boston area—the last time in May 2017 during an unusual cold spell. She lived in a wonderful independent-living community near my cousin Sue (my cousin Bev lives in far northern California) and maintained an active life—bridge, movies, discussions. When she turned 90, all the cousins who could—it’s a long trip from Israel—gathered to celebrate.

I mentioned relationships going beyond “blood.” I’m proud that Aunt Rita was fully Carolyn’s aunt, too. No “by-marriage” asterisk there. Aunt Rita was always interested in Carolyn’s storytelling and acting career, as well as Seth, Yosi and Aaron. Carolyn was always fascinated by Aunt Rita’s travels—she and Uncle Larry traversed the globe—and her thoughts on opera, books and current events.

At seventy-four, I harbor no illusion about living forever. My parents’ generation is gone. Mine will leave the stage, as well. Each survivor will endure the pain of loss until we are no more. But memories of my family stay with me. Live in me. I’ve been lucky to have a large and loving family. And with three adult children plus nephews and nieces, and all those remaining cousins—I’ve lost a few—there’s plenty of family left.

Death represents no mystery. We all die. Life after? That’s a mystery to the living. Ultimately, we’ll be forgotten save for those with a passion for family trees. But for as long as we survive in someone’s memory, we’ll enjoy something of an extended life. I don’t believe in heaven. But being remembered—hopefully positively, if only for a short time—works for me.

For you who are celebrating Rosh Hashanah starting Sunday night, Happy New Year. May you enjoy health, peace and prosperity.

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THIRTY PIECES OF SILVER

On August 22, the S&P 500 Index set a record for stock market bull runs (an aggregate annual increase of at least 20%) by reaching 3,453 days. The streak began on March 9, 2009 when the Great Recession pummeled the economy; the S&P closed at 676. On August 23, President Trump told Fox & Friendsthat if he were impeached, the stock market would crash. Really?

Let me run some numbers. This past Wednesday (August 29), the S&P set another new record at 2,914. That’s a 27% increase over Trump’s 18 months in office—roughly 18% annually. That’s good. But over the seven months since last January 26 when the S&P 500 set a previous high, the S&P was up only 44 points—little more than 0.1%.

Now, go back to November 1, 2016 with the presidential election a week off and fewer than three months remaining in Barack Obama’s second term. The S&P 500 closed at 2,165—a 320% increase over the 92 months since the March 2009 low. From that date during the Obama presidency—remember, he inherited a financial collapse from George W. Bush—the S&P climbed nearly 40% a year.

Yes, the bull market continued under Trump. But it began under Obama. Did Obama have a better grip on the economy? Not necessarily. A president can affect the economy through good or bad judgement, but most economists warn that the economy has a life of its own. Raising or lowering taxes, the Fed changing interest rates, running a budget surplus or deficit, regulating or deregulating the financial industry may—or may not—produce corresponding market gains or losses.

Economic trends, domestic politics and world affairs also produce unexpected results. For example, markets often drop during the threat of war then rise when war begins. Investors prefer certainty to uncertainty, knowing when to choose between plan A or plan B. Also, investors—particularly on Main Street—often act irrationally, chasing bull markets and driving up stocks until they’re overvalued and collapse.

If you own stocks in some form—about half of Americans do—and follow them daily, your financial hopes and dreams experience regulars ups and downs. When a president “delivers” positive market returns in the present, you might fear rocking the boat, ignoring historical fact that long-term, markets rise. So here’s a question:

If Congress finds wrongdoing on the part of Donald Trump before or after the Mueller commission releases its report, would you oppose impeachment? The hit to the market—if there is one—likely will be short-term. Remember the dot.com boom? The dot.com bust followed. Then a recovery. Then another plunge. Then another record recovery.

Despite market history, some Americans may heed Trump’s warning. They’ll betray the nation for thirty pieces of silver. Or, depending on their portfolios, a great deal more. All to prop up a facade of short-term stability. That would make a mockery of American ideals.

This nation doesn’t need Donald Trump to thrive. Yes, Americans put him in the White House—albeit with fewer citizen votes than Hillary Clinton thanks to the Electoral College. Still, the United States deserves better. We’re hardly a perfect nation. But we’re far too good to be misled by an egotist who professes faith in Jesus while worshipping the dollar.

I have not computed percentage increases to account for compounding, but the absolute numbers are—pardon the word—facts. This post was vetted by my financial advisor, Ira Fateman of SAS Financial Advisors. Any errors, however, are mine alone.

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I LOVE A PARADE—SOMETIMES

Have you ever marched in a parade? I don’t mean strolled with a crowd down Main Street on July Fourth or behind Dykes on Bikes during San Francisco’s Pride Week. I mean marchedas part of a military unit? I have. But I’d be ashamed to see our troops march down Pennsylvania Avenue this Veterans Day. (Fortunately, they won’t.)

I can’t remember being in a parade during basic training (Fort Dix, New Jersey) or Advanced Infantry Training (Fort McClellan, Alabama) during summer and autumn 1966. But in May 1967, my student company at the Army’s Infantry Officer Candidate School (Fort Benning, Georgia) paraded for our graduation and commissioning as second lieutenants.

We rehearsed a lot. Two hundred men took 30-inch steps in unison while a band played traditional marching music. Each of us corrected the rifle position of the candidate in front. Drudgery? We had all volunteered for the six-month OCS program and took it seriously. We also enjoyed marching. Yes! There’s something about marching to music with a couple of hundred men (no women then)—it could be thousands—that stirs up testosterone and just feels good.

Passing the reviewing stand, the acting student company commander saluted. The platoon leaders and fellow candidates presented arms. The guests on the reviewing stand included the post’s commanding general, the head of the Infantry School, and our battalion commander, Lt. Colonel Bert Bishop. (I owe a lot to Col. Bishop’s sage, man-to-man advice to the company prior to graduation.)

What made that parade at Fort Benning so important? Like all OCS classes, we celebrated something real—our graduation after a rigorous six months. For Mr. Trump? A parade in Washington is all about ego—being the one saluted by “his” troops. He also sees the opportunity to boast to world leaders that the U.S. has a potent military and thus Donald Trump possesses a big stick (othermen’s and women’s lives being placed at risk) along with a big mouth (he, having never served, remains safe).

I suspect that North Korea’s Kim Jung-un, China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin—all of whom love parades—comprehend the power and reach of American military might. So does French President Emmanuel Macron, who invited Trump to the 2017 Bastille Day parade in Paris that seemed to spark Trump’s obsession with military pomp and circumstance.

So, what purpose would a Washington parade serve? To drum up support for more American tax dollars going to the Pentagon? The Pentagon’s annual budget exceeds $700 billion. “B” as in boy!To frighten the Taliban in Afghanistan? We remain at war there 17 years after our post-9/11 invasion. To honor America’s active duty military and veterans? Denise Rohan, national commander of the American Legion, put it best.

The money required for the parade—estimated at up to $90 million—said Rohan would be better spent providing services to troops and vets “until such time as we can celebrate victory in the war on terrorism and bring our military home.”

Still, Trump lusts after the salutes of a stream of military personnel and with it TV exposure. Only he’d rather not be commander-in-chief but king. Along with the many tens of millions of dollars such a parade would waste, you can take that assessment to the bank.

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BROWN PEOPLE

On August 8, Fox News’s Laura Ingraham stated, “In some parts of the country, it does seem that the America we know and love doesn’t exist anymore.” She also said, “Massive demographic changes have been foisted on the American people…” Changes “…most of us don’t like.” Who are the “most of us” upon whom such changes have been forced?

Ingraham clearly referenced white anxiety—white Americans suffering growing numbers of brown people in “their” country. According to CNN, Fox’s fan base is almost 100 percent white. The immigration issue disturbs whites. (Months ago, President Trump asked why more immigrants don’t come from Norway. He might find the answer in his mirror.) The next night, Ingraham denied her comments related to race or ethnicity. Rather, they expressed her desire for secure borders following the rule of law and shared goals of “keeping America safe and her citizens safe and prosperous.”

Three words to Ingraham (which she will reject): Get over it. American immigration policy doesneed a thorough (which does not mean not racist) review and overhaul. I do notbelieve that the United States should—or can—circle the wagons and compel white dominance. Of course, I’m selfish. A white, Christian America excludes me and my family. I’m also a realist—and a humanist.

Last weekend, Carolyn and I visited our son Yosi in Los Angeles. We had dinner at a brown (Colombian) restaurant. Brown people ran it—and well. The next day, we went to L.A.’s revitalized downtown to browse The Last Bookstore, which occupies an old bank. So did many other people of all ethnicities—people who share the love of reading.

On our flight home, we sat among thirty-five new UC Berkeley freshmen on their way to orientation—brown, yellow, black and white members of the class of ’22. All bright and eager—the successful professionals, business people and artists and citizens of the next decade and beyond. Not “the white stuff”—“the right stuff.”

Ethnic diversity also impacts my own Jewish community—although we’ve been a diverse people for millennia. A visit to Israel reveals Jews with roots in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, India, China, East Africa and the Americas—North and South. Skin tones and hair color run the range from dark to light. Features vary all over the place. All are Jews.

San Francisco-based B’chol Lashon  (“In every language”) provides summer-camp and other experiences for Jewish kids with other than total—or even partial—Ashkenazi (Eastern European) background. They can see themselves clearly in the Jewish mirror. They’re in my mirror, too, because we’re all a single Jewish people with many backgrounds and customs.

My synagogue, Congregation Sherith Israel, embraces Jews of all genetic types—those born into Jewish families and Jews by choice. We’re now running an ad on the outside of San Francisco’s MUNI buses to make our position clear that there’s room for everyone under our awe-inspiring dome:

(photo) CHICKEN SOUP + (photo) SRIRACHA BOTTLE = (logo) SHERITH ISRAEL

To be an American is to adhere not to any particular ethnicity but to American values. It’s time to reaffirm that our flag of red, white and blue pledges the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to the red, white, black, yellow and brown.

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THE SUITCASE

Retrieving the newspaper from my front steps last week—I’m a dinosaur—I saw a white suitcase on the sidewalk. My first reaction? As a native New Yorker and a Jew with family in Israel (I was last there in March/April), I’ll attest that the risk of confronting a bomb is real. But who would target my leafy street? I waited.

Several hours later, I went for a walk. The suitcase? Still there. I noticed it lacked one wheel. I concluded that someone—perhaps a homeless person; they wander the neighborhood—didn’t want to lug it any further. An hour later, the suitcase was gone. I felt relieved.

This wasn’t the first abandoned suitcase I’ve encountered. Several years ago, for example, I saw two—open and stuffed with clothing—in the Presidio National Park near my house. Who leaves packed suitcases in a park? My imagination produced a short story, Two Suitcases By the Side of the Road.

The protagonist, a retired executive, encounters two suitcases on a short hike in—yes—the Presidio. A widower who writes fiction to occupy his time—with little success—he imagines the person who left them: a woman he names Grace. He envisions his character fleeing marriage to a dull dentist in Marin County to live with a woman in Santa Barbara. Grace’s plight spurs him to examine his own figurative baggage—an early infidelity and a ruined friendship.

We all carry baggage—errors and indiscretions tucked into hard-shell cases securely locked. But refusing to acknowledge the deeds we regret can haunt us. The protagonist wonders if his imagined Grace can handle her own past transgressions and find happiness. He concludes the story with this observation:

“I’d like to say I know more about how things with Grace will turn out, but that’s asking too much. Particularly of Grace. We each look at our life—turn it over, dissect it—and arrive at a pretty good sense of where we’ve been and a decent idea of where we are. Where we’re going? That’s pushing it. We try to write the stories of our lives, but our lives write us.”

My baggage could fill an old-fashioned steamer trunk. Maybe two. I deal with it by periodically hunkering down in a quiet corner of my mind, unpacking my trunks and sifting through their contents. Repressing awkward matters that mar our past only nourishes them until they sprout so large they burst from their confinement and do additional damage. A little fresh air and sunlight keeps them from metastasizing.

On the other hand, I find objectionable the desire of people to spew endless streams of detailed confessionals. (This commentary represents a one-time general statement; I retain the option to return to it in the future.) The penchant—common here in California—to constantly air one’s blemishes to friends, family and the public constitutes a narcissism I find overwhelming and alienating.

So, I keep my balance while keeping my failings to myself. In doing this—and risking the ire of therapists everywhere—I leverage my mistakes as learning tools while keeping them at a sufficient distance to avoid plunging me into depression. That would result in life writing a chapter for me I won’t appreciate.

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CONFESSIONS OF A TRIBALIST

Last May, the author Michael Chabon—himself Jewish—told graduating Reform rabbis and educators they needed to help dissolve Judaism. The goal? A world where everyone’s the same. Amy Chua, the Chinese-American Yale law professor, who authored Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, opposes that view. I side with Chua.

In “Tribal World: Group Identity is All” (July/August 2018 Foreign Affairs), Chua writes, “The human instinct to identify with a group is almost certainly hard-wired…” In that context, she faults U.S. policymakers for underestimating “the role that group identification plays in shaping human behavior.” Tribes are for real.

I’m guilty of upholding my Jewish identity. Some friends brought up as “just Americans” have confided they envy my ethnic identity. Granted, many North American Jews exhibit no particular concern for Judaism and Jewish life, as Chabon would have them do.

The Talmud (Shevuot39a) teaches, “Kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh.” All Israel [the Jewish people] are responsible each for the other. I take this to heart.

I read baseball box scores each morning and note the performance of each Jewish player. As of yesterday, the Astros’ Alex Bregman—this year’s All-Star Game most valuable player—had 22 homeruns and 71 runs batted in. The Dodgers’ Joc Pederson hit two home runs last night. The Red Sox’ Ian Kinsler  had three hits. The Orioles’ Danny Valencia, a position player, pitched.  When Orioles relief pitcher Richard Blier—having a great year—went out for the season with an injury, that hurt. Basketball’s Omri Casspi signed with Memphis. Hooray!

It’s not just sports. Last Sunday night, Carolyn and I went to the Jewish Film Festival to see a documentary about Sammy Davis, Jr. As my synagogue’s congregation and Israel’s population attest, Jews display a wide variety of genetics and cultural backgrounds. I believe in Am Yisrael Echad—the people Israel is one. We’re universalists despite our particularism.

Am I offending others, such as Whites, Blacks, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Asians, Latinos, Cat Lovers, and Chocaholics? If so, who determines our universalistic identity? Hopefully, no one. I can see the inevitable outcome: Jews forego Chanukah for Christmas to be “like everyone else.”

Yes, tribalism can be toxic. Witness the Greater Middle East and India, for example. Examine Europe: France’s Jews, who suffered during the Holocaust with French complicity, endure violent anti-Semitism, much at the hands of Muslims. European Muslims don’t have it easy, either. A Muslim friend born in England is achieving great success as an actor yet remains wary. Mesut Ozil, five-time German soccer player of the year, left the national team after criticism for posing for a photo with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan (admittedly not my favorite political leader).“I’m a German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose,” wrote Ozil, born in Germany.

The United States offers ample proof that tribalists can be loyal citizens, who take our Constitution and values to heart. The hyphenated American—Jewish-Americans, African-Americans, Irish-Americans, Japanese-Americans and so on—helped make this nation great. When the current political idiocy ends, we will continue to do so. The hyphen enables us to bring varied religious and cultural backgrounds to a common table heaped with bagels, ribs, Mongolian beef, tacos, chicken vindaloo—and respect. All enrich the American experience.

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GONG DAY–PART TWO

Last August, I celebrated my 45th—and final—radiation treatment for prostate cancer with Gong Day—ringing a large brass gong in the cancer center’s office. But another treatment continued.

Two days ago, I received the last of six quarterly shots of Lupron, which suppresses testosterone, the environment in which prostate cancer cells form and multiply. My urologist’s office lacks a gong, so I rang one internally. My PSA (Prostate-Specific Antigen) score again was undetectable. When this last shot wears off, my PSA should rise to about 1.0. That’s way below any level of concern.

I write this to pass on the good news and tell men that watching out for prostate cancer shouldn’t be considered an option—or an embarrassment. I reference a puzzling comics panel in the San Francisco Chronicle (12-8-17): “The Fusco Brothers” by J.C. Duffy. One brother appears in a urologist’s office wearing a t-shirt declaring #1 PROSTATE. Doctor: “As a urologist, I’m naturally curious about your t-shirt, Mr. Fusco.” Fusco: “It’s just my way of saying, ‘Nothing to see here!’”

Help me out. Has the doctor notseen Fusco’s PSA results (by no means conclusive), examined his urine or given him a rectal exam? Or is he about to? Fusco is visiting a urologist, which leads me to believe his primary-care physician sent him. Did the primary believe Fusco had a different problem. Bladder, perhaps?

Now to Fusco’s statement. Does “Nothing to see here” mean he anticipates a clean prostate exam? Or, having kept his appointment, is he trying to back out?

Fusco’s smile—or smirk—suggests that his prostate has been given a clean bill of health; he wore the t-short anticipating this and to inform readers that men should follow his example. Get checked. Or maybe, following the sardonic tone of the strip, he’s a doofus, mortified by the exam process.

If you’ve got a good read on this, let me know. But I can state without reservation that blood tests for PSA don’t hurt (and they offer juice), any man can pee into a plastic cup (the bathroom’s private) and a rectal exam (while imperfect) can provide a urologist with useful information.

I’m glad my urologist followed up for several years, used some advanced technology and caught my cancer. Has treatment been a thrill? No. Difficult? Also no. The cancer center with the radiation machine I call “The Beast” has a TV and pool table—which I used. Coffee, too. I experienced some fatigue and went to the bathroom a lot. But after radiation ended, the bathroom bit slowed way down. Energy returned.

The Lupron shots produce hot flashes, but lighter clothes get me through the day and a cool bedroom helps me sleep. Critically, hormone shots offer great odds that I’ll avoid a recurrence of cancer for a long time—hopefully forever. (Although at some advanced age, it won’t matter.)

This year, 29,000 American men will die because they ignored their prostate. Forget the awkwardness of a cartoon character and take it from a real flesh-and-blood guy who’s been there. A #1 prostate is one that gets checked regularly. And if needed, undergoes a relatively short period of treatment that can produce long years of health, activity and joy.

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I, VLADIMIR

I, Vladimir Putin, meet privately with President Trump in Helsinki earlier in week. In private, we discuss many important things. Now, I tell Americans at higher ends of intelligence about what I say to my tovarichDonald.

We start with golf. I love it. Even in deepest, darkest winter, I play 36 holes bare-chested. (Also work at desk bare-chested.) My lowest 72-hole score 45. This is 27 strokes under par. For president of Russia, holes move closer. Donald appreciates.

Women we also love. Donald is my idol. Smart man divorces wife when she stops being hot. Donald does this twice so far. I divorced Lyudmilla after 30 years. She was bad for image. My girlfriend Alina only 30. Even hotter than Melania, though I don’t say this. (Donald Jr. wise to follow father’s example, dump his wife, too.)

We compare popularity. Crowds cheer me everywhere. We have ways to educate people whose hands fail to clap. I say, “Donald, you are rock star.” In speech in Montana early this month, he tells supporters he broke all Elton John’s records. He says Elton John needs organ to draw crowds, not Donald Trump. I nudge his arm. Donald Trump has organ. Not bigger than mine, but huge.

We discuss most serious issues. I tell Donald little green men in Ukraine not Russians, but droids produced by Disney. Crimea always part of Russia. I give Crimea’s Russian speakers chance to come home. Like Donald wishes to make Canada part of U.S., free Canadians from Justin Trudeau and government from foolish burdens like providing healthcare. For Donald’s 2020 campaign theme, I propose “Make America 62 States.” Why not? U.S. took over Mexican territory, lands of native peoples, Hawaii. All Russia asks for is control Near Abroad: Belarus, Moldova, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Romania, Hungary, Georgia. Maybe Syria to protect naval base at Tartus.

We laugh about income taxes. Only fools pay. Giving tax returns to fake media? This not for rich people with money laundered in Zurich, London, New York, Miami. And why should Russians connected to Kremlin reveal loans and equity positions arranged with orange-haired American developers? Private enterprise should be private.

Biggest item is supposed interference in 2016 election. I ask, “How could Russia do or not do this?” I answer, “We are too busy interfering in our own elections.” (I first was elected president in 2000—may Donald serve his people for 20 years!). Is my duty to keep voting process free from outside agitators like university professors, artists, writers, fake journalists, students, housewives, doctors, businessmen who not oligarchs or mafia, grocery store owners and ice-cream sellers. Besides, I say, we know how world works. Interference? Could have been Democrats or anyone.

I remind Donald in last election I receive 92 percent of vote. (We announce lower percentage to show world Russian elections fair.) I tell him this is five more points of popular vote than he says he really received—American vote totals rigged for Crooked Hillary.

Russia and America can be good friends. Man like Donald Trump understands what international relations all about: I grab mine. You grab yours.

I say, “Let us chat soon in Washington.” We will talk about many cultural favorites we share. Song: “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.” TV: “The Americans.” Cinema:Manchurian Candidate.

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SUPREME COMMON SENSE

Donald Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to fill Justice Anthony Kennedy’s seat on the Supreme Court. Republicans exulted. Democrats vowed a bitter fight against the nomination. Odds are, Judge Kavanaugh, who appears to embrace strict interpretation of the Constitution, will be seated. I hope he’ll bear in mind a 2010 Supreme Court decision and the common sense of two Torah portions.

Ten years ago, Citizens United, a non-profit corporation founded for the purpose of“restoring our government to citizens’ control” utilizing “a combination of education, advocacy, and grass roots organization,” sought to advertise a documentary film it produced critical of Hillary Clinton. Mrs. Clinton was running for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. The 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (aka McCain-Feingold) restricted corporate-sponsored advocacy communications from naming a federal candidate 30 days before a primary election and 60 before a general election. Citizens United sued the Federal Election Commission, declaring a violation of its free-speech rights under the First Amendment. Citizens United insisted that it was merely presenting information about a candidate, not endorsing or opposing one.

The issue went to the Supreme Court where liberal justices would have upheld McCain-Feingold. During initial oral arguments, soon-to-retire Justice David Souter read aloud some of the film’s narrative: “She’ll lie about anything. She’s deceitful. She’s ruthless. Cunning. Dishonest.” He concluded, “That sounds to me like campaign advocacy.”

Chief Justice John Roberts asked for additional arguments addressing broader grounds. These were made three months following Souter’s retirement. The court voted 5-4 in favor of Citizens United. Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion referenced a lower court’s decision upholding banning books published or distributed by corporations or labor unions if they promoted or opposed a specific candidate. Banning books was un-American. Under the rubric of free speech, enormous sums of money from super PACs—political action committees—began flowing into election campaigns, though not to political parties.

There’s a strong difference between speechand reach. I point to Justice Souter’s post-retirement comments in 2012: “If I exercise my liberty to the greatest possible extent, I can suppress the rights of a lot of people.” Corporations and the wealthy can spend millions of dollars promoting their views. They enjoy reach—distribution—average Americans cannot match.

The court’s decision seems based on Originalism—interpreting the Constitution exactly as written. That’s difficult. The Constitution’s writers knew of newspapers and soap boxes but not television, the internet and social media. Lack of context and adaptability can make a travesty of justice.

Here I cite Torah (Bamidbar—Numbers). In the portion Pinchas(Phineas), the five daughters of Zelophechad, who died without a son make their case to Moses that they should inherit their father’s portion of land in Canaan. God assures Moses this is just. The laws of inheritance are amended. In Mattot(Tribes), the tribes of Reuben and Gad ask Moses permission to settle in the cattle country east of the Jordan River rather than in Canaan. This alters God’s plan, but Moses says they may do so after participating in Canaan’s conquest.

During this November’s mid-term Congressional elections, voters will be bombarded by messages spread via huge sums of corporate and individual money. Such communications will give their sponsors—usually unidentified—unequaled power to sway elections. Common sense tells me that free speech will not be served.

Many thanks to Ron Laupheimer, a retired lawyer, for clarifying some issues. I am not a lawyer or legal scholar but am exercising my right to free speech—even if my reach is limited—based on, well, common sense.

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“THE ALIBI”—A FABLE

Wearing an orange jumpsuit, Joe follows the bailiff into the courtroom for his arraignment. He sits next to a haggard public defender, who nods. Joe smiles. Sure, he committed the crime. But he knows he won’t be indicted.

Joe admits he came to the end of his rope. He’d worked a good job in a shop manufacturing auto parts. But the Great Recession and foreign competition drove sales down. They let him go. It took a while, but Joe found a new job. For lower wages, yes, but jobs were scarce. His new employer faced the same business challenges, only worse. The company folded.

Joe hated collecting unemployment, but he had a family. And he did look for work. Until he figured there wasn’t anything out there for him and stopped. His wife got a job in a bakery. Minimum wage, no bennies. But something. Joe became a househusband.

He drove the kids to school then his wife to work then picked up everyone after. They once had two vehicles, but his wife’s SUV got better mileage and cost less to insure, so he sold his truck. The money went fast. At home, he cleaned a little, did laundry then watched Fox News. Under Obama, America was in deep trouble.

Once a week, Joe shopped a specialty market with low prices on dented cans, torn packages and produce a little less than prime. He still left cooking dinner to his wife.

No slacker, he occasionally dug up odd jobs to help lower their debt. It kept rising. The economy picked up then got hot. But the way Joe figured, it still left him out in the cold. He voted for Trump.

America being made great again, he reentered the job market. Automation and the skills that went with it had passed him by. When a guy got beat down like he’d been beat down, he just couldn’t get up.

Then the lightbulb went off. One afternoon, he went to the mall. Crowds were smaller given how many people shopped online, but it still contained a nice jewelry store. He reached into his backpack, pulled out a small hammer and chisel, broke a glass case, scooped up expensive watches and diamond bracelets, and walked out. An alarm sounded. He ran. A security guard tackled him. Joe wasn’t worried.

“How do you plead?” asks the judge. Joe’s attorney is about to answer when Joe stands. “Not guilty, your honor. You can let me go.” The judge scowls. “You’ll have your day in court.” Joe smiles. “Don’t need it. If I say I’m innocent, that’s all the proof you need.” The judge tilts her head. “And that works how?”

“Trump’s getting ready to meet Putin in Finland, right? Some U.S. Senate committee just said the Russians interfered with the 2016 election. All of America’s intelligence agencies concluded that before. But Trump tweeted, ‘Putin says the Russian state had nothing to with it.’ He tweets that a lot.” “So?” asks the judge. “So, Russia gets away with it. I’m just saying, I had nothing to do with that robbery, so—”

The judge bangs her gavel. It booms like a rifle shot. Joe grins in response to the resignation on her face when she announces, “Case dismissed.”

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